Sec. of State Hillary Clinton was on Meet The Press today speaking about the crisis in Egypt. Sec. Clinton urged President Hosni Mubarak to move the nation towards democracy, but what was most important what we she didn’t say. At no point, did she endorse the Mubarak regime, or support the notion the Mubarak should remain in power.
Here is the video:
Sec. Clinton began by the Egyptian government to implement democratic and economic reforms, “I think that, as we monitor it closely, we continue to urge the Egyptian government, as the United States has for 30 years, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and begin to take concrete steps to implement democratic and economic reform. At the same time, we recognize that we have to deal with the situation as it is. And we are heartened by what we hear from our contacts that at least thus far the army has been trying to bring a sense of order without violence. And we have to make a distinction, as they are attempting to do, between peaceful protesters whose aspirations need to be addressed, and then those who take advantage of such a situation for looting or other criminal activity. And we, we have a very clear message. Long-term stability rests on responding to the legitimate needs of the Egyptian people, and that is what we want to see happen.”
Clinton would not call the Mubarak regime stable, or say that he should stay in power, “You know, I’m not going to get into, you know, either/or choices. What we’re saying is that any efforts by this government to respond to the needs of their people, to take steps that will result in a peaceful, orderly transition to a democratic regime is what is in the best interests of everyone, including the current government.”
The Sec. of State stated that the decision on Egypt’s political future should be up to the people, “David, these, these issues are up to the Egyptian people, and they have to make these decisions. But our position is very clear. We have urged for 30 years that there be a vice president, and finally a vice president was announced just a day or two ago. So we have tried to, in our partnership with Egypt, to make the point over and over again about what will create a better pathway for the Egyptian people in terms of greater participation, with political reforms, and greater economic opportunity.”
Clinton suggested that regimes like the one in Egypt can’t survive in the 21st Century, “You know, I spoke about this very clearly in Doha, it, it seems like a long time ago, but, you know, just about two weeks ago, where I outlined that whatever was possible in the 20th century is no longer possible for regimes in the 21st century. The world is moving too fast. There is too much information. People’s aspirations and certainly the rise of middle classes throughout the world demand responsive participatory government. And that is what we expect to see happen.”
When pushed by David Gregory on whether or not the US would like to see Mubarak stay in power, Sec. Clinton said, “David, you cannot keep trying to put words in my mouth. I’ve never said that. I don’t intend to say that. I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people. We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society. And we believe that President Mubarak, his government, civil society, political activists, need to be part of a national dialogue to bring that about.”
What is most interesting about the interview is what Sec. Clinton didn’t say. She offered no support to Mubarak regime. It is clear that the Obama administration would like to see democracy take hold in Egypt, but unlike the Bush administration, they aren’t about to meddle with a nation’s right to self-determination. Those who claim that the administration should be vocally backing the protesters don’t understand the delicate geo-politics of the region. Much like in Iran, the Obama administration could undermine the pro-democracy efforts, and give Mubarak a reason to crack down on the protests if they openly got involved.
A further complication arises when Egypt’s strategic role as a U.S. ally is considered. The Americans have very few allies in the region, and by endorsing regime change, the Obama administration could push Mubarak away from democracy and towards a further consolidation of his own power. Heavy handed support of the protests could both cost the United States an ally, and thwart the movement towards democracy in Egypt.
Those on the left who are criticizing Obama’s response are in essence calling for the United States to inject itself into the domestic affairs of another country by use of the same philosophic principle that the Bush administration used to justify their regime change doctrine, the only difference is in the absence of U.S. military. If we as Americans believe in self-determination and democracy, then we must let the Egyptian people choose their own path.
By not endorsing Mubarak, Clinton was subtly endorsing the protests. The United States has made its desire for democracy in Egypt very clear. If the Obama administration wanted Mubarak to stay in power, they could have endorsed him and the incremental gestures of reform that he has offered, but they didn’t, and the message is obvious. In a very diplomatic manner the United States is urging the protesters to do what 30 years of international diplomacy has not, bring real reform to Egypt.