Team Obama delivers another 'WTF' moment in Egypt, with Hillary Clinton saying Mubarak needs to go and the US special envoy saying his "continued leadership is critical". The Times papers this over as best they can:
The latest challenge came Saturday afternoon when the man sent last weekend by President Obama to persuade the 82-year-old leader to step out of the way, Frank G. Wisner, told a group of diplomats and security experts that “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical — it’s his opportunity to write his own legacy.”
But just before his remarks, Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton gave a strategy overview that stood at odds with that assessment. At a minimum, she said, Mr. Mubarak must move out of the way so that his vice president, Omar Suleiman, can engage in talks with protest leaders over everything from constitutional changes to free and fair elections.
It is hardly the first time the Obama administration has seemed uncertain on its feet during the Egyptian crisis, as it struggles to stay on the right side of history and to avoid accelerating a revolution that could spin out of control.
The mixed messages have been confusing and at times embarrassing — a reflection of a policy that, by necessity, has been made up on the fly. “This is what happens when you get caught by surprise,” said one American official, who would not speak on the record. “We’ve had endless strategy sessions for the past two years on Mideast peace, on containing Iran. And how many of them factored in the possibility that Egypt,” and presumably whatever dominoes follow it, “moves from stability to turmoil? None.”
This is what hapens when you get caught by surprise? For heaven's sake - this is what happens when too many people are talking to the press instead of to each other. I am highly confident that if the adversary were Sarah Palain or Mitch McConnell the mesage coordination would be airtight.
The Times engages in a bit more damage control here:
Just hours before offering her correctives of Mr. Wisner, Mrs. Clinton made the case at a gathering in Munich that the entire process would take time, and must be carefully managed. “Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy,” she reminded her audience, “only to see the process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception and rigged elections to stay in power.”
I think it's important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian Government, actually headed by now Vice President Omar Suleiman...
Tea leaf readers might have considered that to be a clue as to her view on Mubarak's ongoing role. Here is another (my emphasis):
And at this point, where President Mubarak has announced he will not stand for reelection, nor will his son, where he has given a clear message to his government to lead and support this process of transition...
If I were to parse this diplo-speak, I would read it to mean that she believes that Mubarak has (or ought to) instruct his goverment to negotiate, not negotiate himself.
Well. There is no doubt that Clinton and her special envoy were not on the same page. The only issue is, why couldn't Obama and Clinton communicate the message to their own special envoy that the page had been turned?
Per the WaPo, Ms. Clinton's coded message was heard but not welcomed in Egypt:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at a defense conference in Munich, urged opposition leaders not to reject talks out of hand and warned that the alternative could be a takeover by radicals.
Some opposition figures interpreted her comments as a step back from President Obama's call Tuesday for Mubarak to begin a transition from power "now."
"If the message coming now from Washington is that Mubarak can continue and his head of intelligence will lead the change, this will send the completely wrong message to the Egyptian people," ElBaradei said in an interview Saturday night. Suleiman served as Mubarak's intelligence chief for two decades before being named vice president as the crisis unfolded last week.
...In her remarks in Munich, Clinton called on the government to take further steps. But she also warned that if the transition is not carried out in an orderly, deliberate way, there are forces "that will try to derail or overtake the process, to pursue their own specific agenda" - an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood - "which is why I think it's important to support the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed now by Vice President Omar Suleiman."
And a bit on Wisner:
In addition to Clinton's remarks, the perceived dissonance in the administration's message Saturday was exacerbated when Frank Wisner, a former diplomat dispatched by Obama last week to help ease Mubarak from power, said that the Egyptian president should stay in his post for the near future.
"President Mubarak remains utterly critical in the days ahead as we sort our way toward the future," Wisner told the Munich conference via video link from New York.
A senior administration official expressed chagrin at Wisner's comments, which he said were "self-evidently divergent from our public message" and "not coordinated with the United States" government. "He's a delightful man," the official said. "But he's doing his own thing."
Winning the future. One forehead smack at a time.