Gates Emerges As Key Contact in Egypt Crisis
“The single most important thing we can do at the moment is shaping the calculations of the military.”
-- Egypt expert Bruce Rutherford, talking to Bloomberg News
As the Egyptian Army moves to end the worsening conflict between pro-government and anti-government mobs in Cairo, the value of that institution’s long ties to its American counterpart proves more and more important.
While news reports describe embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a longtime ally of the United States, the longer, deeper alliance is between the countries two militaries.
Aside from the $1.5 billion in military aid the U.S. provides Egypt, Egyptian officers train here (some 500 each year) and Egyptian forces fight in American equipment. The tanks and personnel carriers you see rolling through Tahrir Square were made right here in the U.S. of A.
It’s a relationship forged during the Cold War, when America outbid the Soviet Union in the effort to supply and win the favor of the Egyptian forces. The relationship deepened under the 1970-1981 regime of Anwar Sadat and his successor Mubarak.
The Pentagon, through Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, has stayed in contact with its Egyptian counterpart. We don’t know the messages, but we have heard the public commendations from the U.S. military and President Obama for the army’s restraint.
Calls are growing for the military to show a full break with Mubarak by joining with the anti-government fighters against the pro-government forces attacking them. What is left of the Egyptian government, meanwhile, says the military must show its neutrality by staying above the fray.
But the military has itself to think about. Having picked all of the presidents of Egypt since 1952, the general corps is not likely inclined to give up its seat at the table in deciding what’s next for the country. Any discussion about who could replace Mubarak must include the country’s top general, Field Marshal Tantawi or one of his lieutenants.
With his family out of the country and well protected by his purloined wealth, Mubarak has opted to try to hold power until the end of his term. The 82-year-old seems sincere when he says he will die on Egyptian soil. The escalating calls from the Obama administration for Mubarak to “begin the transition process” seem to have had little effect but to incite the Pan-Arabian passions of Mubarak’s supporters.
But Mubarak would have to listen to the military and the military is very much inclined to listen to its patrons and friends in the United States. A coup would be unseemly and violate the military’s traditions, but Mubarak would have to take his generals’ word if they told him he would not be allowed to serve out his term.
The accusations from opposition figures like the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood or former U.N. bureaucrat Mohammed ElBaradei that the army is protecting the government have some truth in the sense that the army is not working to install ElBaradei and the Islamists in power. Tough luck, boys.
The discussions between Tantawi, his generals and Gates will help the Egyptian military determine what outcomes would be acceptable to the international community and obtain advice on how to obtain such a result.
The question then becomes what kind of outcome the U.S. is seeking in these negotiations. Is Gates suggesting immediate elections? Would the Obama administration accept an interim military rule in order to provide time for a legitimate political opposition to form to rival ElBaradei and the Islamists?
The military has already won even deeper respect from Egypt’s citizens for its forbearance and professionalism during the crisis. When the million-man army eventually does move to determine the way forward, the masses, likely weary of chaos and privation during the week of rioting, will be inclined to accept the generals’ decision.
Cairo Chaos Defies Easy Media Definitions
"This regime's legitimacy is finished, with its president, with his deputy, its ministers, its party, its parliament. We said this clearly. We refuse to negotiate with it because it has lost its legitimacy."
-- Essam el-Erian, senior leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, talking to Reuters
Westerners know so little about what is going on with the thousands of demonstrators, counter-demonstrators, rioters, looters, peace-seekers and undercover police arrayed in central Cairo that figuring out what’s really happening is like being the listener in the Hindu story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant.
The blind men in the story describe a wall, a snake, a spear, a tree, a fan and a rope, but none can describe an elephant because they aren’t familiar with such a thing and aren’t able to get the big picture.
The New York Times has interviewed dentists, heart surgeons, teachers and mothers for its descriptions of proud, educated, patriotic, secular Egyptians fighting for their freedom with chunks of cement and sticks. The Islamist role in the uprising is mostly mentioned to discount its presence or in the description of the beauty of the Muslim Brotherhood’s solemn prayers on the battlefield, “their faces lighted by the soft glow of burning fires a stone’s throw away.”
In the Times’ version of the elephant, the pro-government fighters are paid agents of Hosni Mubarak’s police state, sent to disrupt the peaceful transition of power.
But, flip over to the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post and a bit more of the elephant is revealed. We read about how the end of government functions has meant jails opened up with thousands of criminals pouring into the streets to mix and mingle with the fighters on both sides. We hear stories of Islamists trying to co-opt the limited secular leadership that exists within the popular uprising.
The Post talked to those like 37-year-old Maher Salman, a businessman who took to the streets in support of Mubarak, despite complaints about his decades of rule, saying, "If he goes, we will be like Iraq and Tunisia. We don't want all the things we've gained over the past 30 years to be lost."
The Journal talked to air-conditioner technician Sayed Mohammed Sayed, also 37, who came to support Mubarak and his plan to transition power between now and September: "The situation is unacceptable. The majority of protesters are young people and aren't aware of their actions and consequences," he told the Journal.
And the guy dressed in Bedouin robes leading the pro-government cavalry charge on camelback certainly didn’t seem to fit anybody’s idea of a plainclothes policeman.
There may be paid thugs in the pro-government side and Islamist radicals in the anti-government side, but the situation defies easy description. There are no official spokesmen at the barricades and little reliable information as Western journalists can no longer move freely among the warring camps.
The desire for reporters to extrapolate larger conclusions from what’s in front of them is understandable. It’s also understandable that journalists would want to describe things in the context of good guys and bad guys to help readers and viewers know whom to root for in the chaos. But in a fluid situation like this one, it is imperative to not let one’s sympathies or desire to tell a compelling story shape their description of events.
There is no real parallel for this moment. There are some historical precedents, like the 1979 uprising in Iran or the Pan-Arabian movement of the 1950s and 1960s, but nothing that helps us neatly categorize the players in the drama.
Ft. Hood Study Will Reveal Causes for Worst Terror Attack Since 9/11
-- The number of Muslim Americans charged with or deemed responsible for terrorist activities since 9/11, according to a new study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina
A report on the Nov. 9, 2009 massacre of 12 soldiers and a civilian medic bound for Afghanistan commissioned at Ft. Hood is due out today.
The results of the probe, by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, come on the heels of a new study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina that shows the prevalence of homegrown terrorism, like that allegedly perpetrated by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood.
While the study shows the number retreated from a 2009 high of 47 arrests of or attacks by American Muslims like Hasan, there were still 20 such incidents in 2010, above the average of 16 in the nearly 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001.
Part of the number comes from the aggressive sting operations carried out by undercover agents who seek to lure would-be Islamists into terror plots, but part also comes from lone-wolf attackers who strike against soft targets inside the U.S.
Today’s Ft. Hood report is crucial to the process of addressing the problem of home-grown jihadis, because it will explain how Hasan, whose radical proclivities and anti-American attitudes were known by those around him, managed to be in such a sensitive position as an officer in the U.S. Army.
Obama Green Energy Talk Drowned Out By Bickering in Washington
“What has been stated from the White House is that the president’s advisers would advise him to veto any legislation that passed that would take away the EPA’s greenhouse gas authority. Nothing has changed.”
-- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson talking to reporters and defying congressional threats to block her efforts to impose new, global warming regulations
President Obama today heads to Penn State University to talk about his plan to spend heavily on environmentally friendly energy initiatives, but while the folks in State College may be happy to hear about it, the message isn’t getting through in Washington.
Here, Obama’s proposals to have the government spend on long-range research and to finance the plan with increased taxes on the oil industry isn’t getting much of a hearing.
What is being discussed is how his EPA chief is daring Congress to try to constrain her authority to regulate the carbon emissions she believes are causing the planet to warm to dangerous levels.
A bipartisan coalition in Congress is looking to block the Obama administration from imposing global warming fees by regulation after having failed to win approval for a similar plan in the Senate.
The concern is that Obama’s program – which includes increasing oil taxes and fining companies for global warming violations – would send energy costs through the ceiling. Currently oil costs are way up on broad fears of Middle East unrest, but energy costs overall have been climbing for months, threatening the nascent recovery.
It also didn’t help that the very first waiver from the EPA’s carbon crackdown was granted to a California project being built with turbines from General Electric, led by the president’s top adviser on economic recovery, Jeff Immelt.
Presidents since Jimmy Carter have promised a push for energy independence. Democrats call for alternative sources, Republicans call for greater exploitation of domestic resources. Neither has been very successful at eliciting anything like a rational national energy strategy.
While Obama seeks money for researchers he says will spur innovation, lawmakers are concerned that his plan for the future could cause serious economic problems in the present.
Those concerns, with an election looming, would suggest the president will soon have to abandon his latest effort to address his and his supporters’ fears about global warming, as well as his proposal to redistribute money from the oil industry to academic research.
Bernanke May Address Inflation Fears
“We think (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) will have to depart significantly from the latest Fed statement to really affect the dollar but his comments on inflation will be interesting.”
-- Gareth Berry, a currency strategist for UBS, talking to the Financial Times
Ben Bernanke will take questions at the National Press Club today, and at the top of the pile will be queries about what he plans to do about rising inflation.
Rising costs are wreaking havoc across the Middle East and inflation fears have gripped the shaky economies of Europe. Bernanke, though, has mostly been dismissive of the fears in the United States.
The central bank is continuing its program of printing $600 billion to gobble up U.S. debt, stoking concerns that a devalued dollar could stall the stirrings of recovery in the U.S. and hold back dollar-dependant economies all over the world.
Uncertain world financial markets will pay close attention to Bernanke’s comments today. Anything he says that suggests the bank is worried about inflation could send stocks into retreat as bullish investors fear the end of stimulus efforts. But, if Bernanke takes a pass on the issue, watch for gold and other commodity futures to jump sharply.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I think it shows how ideologically determined the Obama administration is, even after being chastised heavily in the midterm election about overreaching. It's trying to reach around Congress … when it rejected cap and trade, essentially imposing the carbon tax on the country, which doesn't want it, but it's going to try to do it by regulation.”