After days of White House insistence that it is not President Obama’s place to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs, Obama interfered in the most dramatic way possible, sending an envoy to Cairo to tell Mubarak he was finished. Soon afterward, Mubarak announced to the Egyptian people that he would not seek reelection in this September’s elections, but it is not clear if this will be enough for protestors who want his head – figuratively, at the very least – right away.
The message from Obama to Mubarak was delivered through back channels by Frank G. Wisner, a diplomat who is an old Egypt hand and who was sent into the country to serve as a direct conduit to Mubarak from the White House.
Soon afterward, Mubarak made his announcement.
Obama then spoke by phone to Mubarak and the made an unscheduled appearance at the White House. Here’s a portion of Obama’s remarks.
After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people.
Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.
Obama made the right move, helping bring about the inevitable result while lessening the chance of violence. Nevertheless, his actions, which by his own description constitute a fairly aggressive U.S. foray into Egyptian politics, contrast sharply with repeated assertions by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Monday that Obama must not do exactly what he did.
Asked if Mubarak should be removed from officer, Gibbs said:
That is not for our country or our government to determine. I don’t think that people that seek greater freedom are looking for somebody else to pick what and how that change looks like. That is, quite frankly — that doesn’t adhere in any way to an open, democratic process that allows for a full discussion and negotiation about what that freedom looks like. Freedom of — many of the freedoms I just talked about — the greater economic opportunity, greater economic freedoms — that’s not for us to determine.
If the White House can’t be frank with reporters, it shouldn’t brief at all. There was nothing anybody learned in particular from this briefing. Except that today’s statements may no longer be operative tomorrow. But even that, we knew.