The Obama Administration thought they had solved the crisis in Egypt. Yesterday in Marquette, Michigan, President Barack Obama told students at Northern Michigan University, “What is absolutely clear is that we are witnessing history unfold. It’s a moment of transformation that’s taking place because the people of Egypt are calling for change.” But hours later, after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down, White House officials were “stumbling for their next step in a crisis that was spinning out of their control.” How could President Obama have gotten events in Egypt so wrong?
The answer could be found hours earlier when both Leon Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and General James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. First, Panetta touched off an avalanche of erroneous expectations when he testified that there was a “strong likelihood” that President Mubarak would step down by the end of the day. And where did Panetta get this valuable intel? The New York Times reports: “American officials said Mr. Panetta was basing his statement not on secret intelligence but on media broadcasts.” The Washington Post adds: “Panetta, who had little intelligence experience before taking the CIA job two years ago, has been praised … for handling public controversies with a deft touch. … Unlike other senior intelligence officials who were more circumspect in their comments on Egypt, Panetta did not hesitate in offering assessments of the rapidly shifting events.”
But the Obama Administration’s intelligence fumbling did not end there. Just 30 minutes after Panetta passed off CNN headlines as CIA intelligence, General Clapper created his own entire reality when he testified that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular.” This is, of course, completely false. In reality, the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, is the Middle East’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement. Outlawed in Egypt since 1954, when it attempted to assassinate former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Brotherhood retains the long-term goal of creating an Islamist state and implementing Sharia law. An offshoot of the Brotherhood, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981, perpetrated a series of terrorist attacks in Egypt in the 1990s, and became part of al-Qaeda. Another offshoot, the Palestinian Islamist extremist group Hamas, won elections in Gaza in 2006, staged a coup in 2007 to transform Gaza into a terrorist base, and remains committed to destroying Israel.
Clapper’s office later issued a statement to “clarify” General Clapper’s testimony, but the original testimony—especially when placed in the context of Panetta’s claims and President Obama’s speech—shows an Administration that has far too much faith in the power of the President’s rhetoric and not nearly enough concern about our enemies in the Middle East.
The worst possible outcome of the present crisis would be to replace President Mubarak’s authoritarian regime with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a totalitarian Islamist agenda. This would ultimately be a disaster for freedom in Egypt as well as for American interests in Egypt and the wider Middle East. Washington should work quietly behind the scenes with the leadership of the army and leverage its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Cairo to ensure the emergence of a government that respects the freedom and human rights of its own citizens, complies with Egypt’s international obligations to fight terrorism, and carries out its legal obligations under Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
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