MSNBC’s Chris Matthews admits he feels “ashamed as an American” for the way Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak is being treated. “We’re not handling it the way Americans should handle matters like this,” he said Friday. “I don’t feel right about it. And Barack Obama, as much I support him in many ways, there is a transactional quality to the guy that is chilling.” Mr. Matthews explained that in relationship politics, “You treat your friends a certain way. You’re loyal to them. And when they’re wrong, you try to be with them, you try to stick with them.”
On Saturday, former Vice President Dick Cheney reminded us that Mr. Mubarak is a reliable U.S. ally. His government received billions in U.S. aid over the last 30 years and consistently lived up to expectations. During the first Gulf War, Egypt helped us get boots on the ground in Saudi Arabia rapidly and contributed over 33,000 troops for the liberation of Kuwait. That was more than twice the number sent by France, our fair-weather friend that Mr. Obama somehow views as America’s strongest ally. Cairo assisted during the second Iraq war in less visible ways but paid a price. In 2005, members of al Qaeda in Iraq kidnapped and killed Egypt’s former ambassador to Baghdad, Ihab al-Sharif.
Mr. Mubarak’s government has been stalwart in the war on terrorism. In the 1990s, Egypt was one of the front-line states combating the rising wave of Islamic radicalism. The emergency laws the Obama administration is pressuring Egypt to lift are tools the regime used to clamp down on groups like the al Qaeda-affiliated Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Cairo works closely with Washington rounding up terrorist suspects, and the mere threat of being turned over to the Egyptians was sometimes enough to get terrorist detainees to talk.
One of the most dependable, pro-American members of the Mubarak regime is recently appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, who since 1993 has been director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service. Mr. Suleiman has a long-standing relationship with the United States dating back to his training at the U.S. Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg and has worked closely with the CIA on critical issues such as the increasing radicalization of Hamas in Gaza and blunting Iranian influence operations in the region. He holds a dim view of Islamist parties – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood – and wants to keep his country on the path of Westernization and modernization.
Mr. Suleiman is spearheading current talks with opposition groups in an attempt to forestall a complete political meltdown. The Obama administration has undermined his position through inept political signaling and obdurately insisting regime change in Egypt must happen as fast as possible. “Now means now,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs hectored last week. When special envoy and former ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner suggested the United States should help Mr. Mubarak find a face-saving way out, the State Department quickly disowned his comments. If alacrity leads to destabilization and chaos, so be it.
What if the hardline Muslim Brotherhood actually takes power? The State Department simply shrugs that the brotherhood is “a fact of life in Egypt.” Unfortunately, no matter what government succeeds Mr. Mubarak’s administration, Egypt and the rest of America’s beleaguered allies will know one thing: They can’t trust Barack Obama.
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