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Rumsfeld: Mixed signals on Egypt ‘unfortunate’

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld raised fresh questions Wednesday about the Obama administration's handling of the crisis in Egypt, saying he hoped behind-the-scenes diplomacy was going more smoothly than it appears from the outside.

Mr. Rumsfeld told the "America's Morning News" radio broadcast that a confusion of public messages from the White House over the handling of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was "unfortunate" and has not helped ease the crisis in Cairo.

Seeking to stay on top of the fast-moving events in Cairo, the administration was forced to scramble over the weekend when former Ambassador Frank Wisner, sent by Mr. Obama as a personal emissary to Mr. Mubarak, said the longtime Egyptian leader should stay on at least temporarily to prevent more radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood from seizing power.

Democracy protesters in the streets of Cairo have been demanding an immediate exit for Mr. Mubarak, who has announced plans to step down only when his term ends in September.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the retired ambassador's mission was to meet with the Egyptian leader and report back and that Mr. Wisner's comments did not reflect official U.S. policy.

"His views on who should and shouldn't be the head of Egypt do not represent the views of our administration," Mr. Gibbs said Monday.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he hoped the private messages coming from the White House were more consistent than its public message so far.

"That is unfortunate, that they seem to be crossways with their assigned diplomat, Frank Wisner, and with some differences in terms of people in Washington. I don't know enough to know precisely what's taking place, but that tends not to be helpful," Mr. Rumsfeld said on the radio broadcast, which is affiliated with The Washington Times.

"I'm hoping there is effective private diplomacy taking place … and the turmoil that we are seeing will ease," he said.

The 78-year-old former congressman and defense secretary under President George W. Bush talked in the interview about passages in his just-published memoir, including his sense that the country's national security command structure needs to be modernized. Mr. Rumsfeld said many key questions remain unresolved because of an uncertain chain of command.

"A number of issues were not served up to the president in a timely manner, and that's unfortunate," he said.

But overall, Mr. Rumsfeld said the Bush administration's aggressive tactics of the global war on terror, many of which have continued under President Obama, helped save American lives.

"Here we are a decade later, and there's not been another attack. And I think that shows a good deal of success," he said.

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