As twisted as much ot the printing on the ‘newspages’ of the New York Times has become over the past decade, there still remain many articles worth reading for gathering important incites into the big issues of the day. I believe this is one of them…..
“Diplomatic Scrambles as Ally is Pushed to the Exit!” New York Tmes
“Last Sunday at 2 p.m., a blue-and-white Air Force jet left Andrews Air Force Base bound for Cairo. On board was Frank G. Wisner, an adroit ex-diplomat whom President Obama had asked hours before to undertake a supremely delicate mission: nudging President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt out of power.
What exactly Mr. Wisner would say was still in flux as he flew to Egypt, administration officials said Tuesday; he talked with senior officials in Washington several times during the nearly 14-hour flight. By the time Mr. Wisner met with the Egyptian leader on Tuesday, the diplomat knew what message he would deliver. And Mr. Mubarak had already lost the backing of his other crucial pillar of support: the Egyptian military, which declared it would not open fire on the demonstrators who were demanding his ouster.
The story of how Mr. Mubarak, an Arab autocrat who only last month was the mainstay of America’s policy in a turbulent region, suddenly found himself pushed toward the exit is first and foremost a tale of the Arab street.
But it is also one of political calculations, in Cairo and Washington, which were upset repeatedly as the crowds swelled. And it is the story of a furious scramble by the Obama White House — right up until Mr. Obama’s call Tuesday night for change to begin “now” — to catch up with a democracy movement unfolding so rapidly that Washington came close to being left behind.
“Every time the administration uttered something, its words were immediately overtaken by events on the ground,” said Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa program director for the International Crisis Group. “And in a matter of days, every assumption about the United States relationship with Egypt was upended.”
In Cairo, the protests prompted Mr. Mubarak to surround himself even more closely with current and former military leaders, including his new, hastily named vice president, prime minister and deputy prime minister.
But instead of protecting him, there is increasing evidence that over the last three days the military establishment — one of the most respected institutions in Egyptian society, and the crucial factor in deciding control of the streets — may have been moving toward pushing Mr. Mubarak out.
The first sign of the military’s deteriorating support came Saturday when rank-and-file troops ordered to buttress the retreating police instead began to cheer on the protesters. Then on Monday night, the military leadership appeared to break away, announcing that the military respected the people’s legitimate demands and that it would not use force against peaceful demonstrators.
A short time later, Mr. Mubarak’s closest aide, Omar Suleiman, the chief of Egyptian intelligence and the newly named vice president, invited opposition groups to negotiate over constitutional reforms.
Back in Washington, the administration was struggling to balance its ties to Mr. Mubarak, its most stalwart ally in the Arab world, with its fear of ending up on the wrong side of history.
But days of watching the protests mushroom on the streets of Egyptian cities convinced administration officials — some facing their first national security crisis in these roles — that Mr. Mubarak probably would not weather the political storm.
Former President George Bush, whose ties to Mr. Mubarak were cemented by the Egyptian leader’s commitment to supply Arab troops during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, called Mr. Mubarak, on his own initiative, to discuss the crisis, officials said. It was not clear what Mr. Bush told Mr. Mubarak.
At a two-hour meeting at the White House last Saturday, Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser; William M. Daley, the White House chief of staff, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta; and other officials coalesced around a strategy to start trying to ease Mr. Mubarak out, an official said.
Mrs. Clinton, officials said, suggested that the administration send Mr. Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt who knows Mr. Mubarak well, to deliver a message directly from Mr. Obama to the Egyptian leader. Officials said Mr. Wisner urged Mr. Mubarak to declare publicly that he would not run for re-election. But Mr. Wisner has extended his stay in Cairo, officials said, and may have a follow-up meeting with Mr. Mubarak if events seem to demand a quicker exit.
At the Saturday meeting, the officials also agreed that Mrs. Clinton would start calling for “an orderly transition” when she taped a round of interviews for the Sunday talk programs. Administration officials were already smarting from not coming out more fully in support of the protesters earlier. In particular, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had been criticized for an interview with “NewsHour” on PBS on Thursday, in which he answered “no” when the host, Jim Lehrer, asked if the time had come for Mr. Mubarak to go.
“They took a little while to catch up, but by Sunday morning they understood that it was over, and since then, they’ve understood how to make it happen,” said Martin S. Indyk, the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.
Still, administration officials were grappling with their public message versus their private message. Senior officials say that as Mr. Wisner traveled to Egypt, Obama officials in Washington were working on his message to Mr. Mubarak: to announce that he would not run for re-election (he did that), and to promise that his son would not run for election (he did not do that).
No one wanted it to seem as if we were pushing him out,” one administration official said. “That would not serve American interests. It was important for President Mubarak to make the decision.”
Two hours after Mr. Wisner’s plane left Andrews Air Force Base, White House officials sent an e-mail to more than a dozen foreign policy experts in Washington, asking them to come in for a meeting on Monday morning. “Apologies for the short notice in light of a very fluid situation,” the e-mail said.
The Roosevelt Room meeting, led by Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, and two other National Security Council officials, Daniel Shapiro and Samantha Power, examined unrest in the region, and the potential for the protests to spread, according to several attendees.
Significantly, during the meeting, White House staff members “made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,” according to one attendee, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to talk publicly about the meeting. The Muslim group had been suppressed by Mr. Mubarak, and Bush administration officials believed it was involved in terrorist activities. It renounced violence years ago.
Several times, two other attendees said, White House staff members said that Mr. Obama believed that Egyptian politics needed to encompass “nonsecular” parties: diplomatic-speak for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Adding to the pressure against Mr. Mubarak, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called on the president to bow out gracefully and “make way for a new political structure,” in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times. Mr. Kerry did not coordinate his message with the administration, an official said, but the White House welcomed his initiative.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Donilon was hunkered over a sprawling spreadsheet on his desk, crossing out names of more than 100 leaders and other officials in the Middle East and the United States. The spreadsheet — “matrix,” one White House aide called it — was full of Mr. Donilon’s notations and asides, as he went through which person at the State Department, the Pentagon, and White House was to call which foreign counterpart.
Mr. Obama himself spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, among other leaders.
American officials had also been in close contact with Vice President Suleiman, who may be playing a particularly pivotal role in managing the transition of power. American and Egyptian officials who know him well describe him as both a cunning operator and Mr. Mubarak’s closest aide. He is also considered the figure with the largest base of support in Egypt’s security forces because his work as intelligence chief built him deep ties with the internal security police and the military.
The momentous events in Cairo leave many questions. Will the protesters tolerate Mr. Mubarak’s staying on, even in a lame-duck capacity? Early indications were negative. How will Egypt prepare for credible elections, after nearly 30 years in which the political opposition was ruthlessly suppressed?
As Stephen P. Cohen, a Middle East expert, put it, “How can you have a transitional government that is acceptable to both the military and the people in the streets, and that is not a coronation for the Muslim Brotherhood?”
Also, how will an extended period of turmoil in a country at the heart of the Arab world affect stability across a region already being rocked by unrest from Yemen to Jordan? And for the United States, can an Egypt without Mr. Mubarak serve American interests in the Middle East?
On Tuesday night, that too remained unanswered. But Mr. Obama, addressing the nation from the White House after a 30-minute phone call with Mr. Mubarak, said, “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.”
Mark Landler and Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.”
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