Did Obama deliberately squeeze the Egyptian President into condemning the attack on the embassy?

I’m not an expert on Egyptian politics, but Juan Cole is. And Cole says that Obama’s comment putting Egypt’s “ally” status in question was a deliberate shot across Morsi’s bow, and that it had the desired effect. Cole also reports that the official Twitter account of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt carried a strong denunciation of the attack on the embassy.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Hardball?”

  1. A mob has attacked the German embassy in Khartoum, allegedly over some month-old cartoon. This is coordinated; but surely not by al-Qaeda or a group following its conspiratorial methods. Some Salafists out there have good political brains and know their social media.

  2. “I’m not an expert on Egyptian politics…”

    How do you rate yourself on American politics – does Obama really want a “Who lost Egypt?” debate two months before the election? Just for starters, how might that impact the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, and does Obama really want to find out by experimentation?

    As a matter of negotiating tactics, would it really make sense for Obama to brandish the biggest stick first? We give Egypt lots of foreign and military aid (as Cole notes) – why not stick with threatening to cut that?

    As a matter of word choices, let’s re-run Obama’s Q&A:

    “Jose Diaz Balart – Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

    Pres. Obama: I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident. How they respond to, for example, maintaining the peace treaty in isr..with Israel. So far, at least, what we’ve seen is that in some cases they’ve said the right things and taken the right steps. In others, how they’ve responded to various events may not be aligned with our interests. And, So I think it’s still a work in progress…

    Not, for example, “In light of recent incidents it is under review…”. Instead, Obama ignores current US law and Egypt’s formal designation as a major non-NATO ally and ruminates about their status as though it is currently unknown. Their status can be changed, but the current status is know (and it takes 30 days notice by the President to change it).

    If this was any part of a serious plan to send Egypt a signal, why the lack of planning and prompt backpedaling? This is from Foreign Policy’s “Cable”:

    President Barack Obama didn’t intend to signal any change in the U.S.-Egypt relationship last night when he said Egypt is not an “ally,” the White House told The Cable today.

    Administration sources told The Cable that Obama’s “ally” comment was not pre-arranged or prepared by staff and that the question was not anticipated. Nevertheless, Middle East experts said Obama’s word choice and tone is likely a reflection of the administration’s feeling that Morsy’s reaction to the attacks has not been forceful enough.

    Put less delicately, Obama’s comment came out of the blue and reflected American anger. Understandable – we are all frustrated.

    SO, was this calculated, or simply Obama enjoying the sound of his impressive baritone? Additional data points:

    1. Obama’s 2007 pledge to meet Iranian leaders with no pre-conditions (since waived) was widely acknowledged to be an ad-lib contrary to his previous statements.

    2. Obama’s 2008 statement to AIPAC that he looked for an “undivided” Jerusalem was promptly disavowed by his team, which explained that Obama meant Jerusalem can be divided politically but not physically, such as by barbed wire. Uh huh.

    3. FWIW, Jimmy Carter said “Egypt is an ally of the US, we know Egypt well” when asked about Obama’s comment.

    1. It appears you missed the tell in the, ummm, title of the post. Perhaps you could go back, rewrite your screed as an argument in response to what Mr. Kleiman actually said, resubmit. Nice try, son.

  3. Ah, Cole. I enjoyed particularly his quote at the end of the piece, with apparent approbation, of an explanation of why people in the region are so “touchy”, as he delicately puts it, on these matters:

    “The best ally of the Islamic jihadist organizations is the deep hostility of certain right-wing Christian groups toward Islam and Muslims as well as the control of pro-Israel Jewish groups of US foreign policy…

    US interferences in Arab and Muslim affairs in favor of Israel, its occupation, and Judaization of the holy places, and the US’s embrace of groups hostile to Islam and Muslims are the main reason for the current scourge and instability, and even wars in our countries. This provocation must immediately cease if the United States wants to secure its interests and the security of its embassies and citizens.”

    First, one might ask, what is it that right-wing Christian groups “embraced” by the US actually DO that is impacting Islam? I mean, they SAY a lot of noxious things, but what do they DO? Second, I think it’s interesting that US support of Israel is deemed “interference in Arab and Muslim affairs.” There is, apparently, no other party involved. “Judaization of the holy places” is complicated but I think we can assume that this guy has problems with the mere assertion that Jews have any historical connection with Israel.

    Finally, these two things are the “main reason” for instability and wars in Arab countries.

    I understand that the person Cole is quoting actually believes this stuff. It’s part of the problem in that region of the world. I mean, we could ask this guy to consider whether there are other “touchy” religious problems in the Arab and Muslim world, not involving any outside groups at all, that often lead to violence. Between, for example, Sunni and Shia. And then to think about Occam’s razor.

    We might even ask Prof. Cole, as, you know, a professional academic political scientist, to think about that.

    1. what is it that right-wing Christian groups “embraced” by the US actually DO that is impacting Islam? I mean, they SAY a lot of noxious things, but what do they DO?

      Well, the GOP-led government invaded Iraq. That’s something.

  4. I thought this was obvious from the get-go. Tell the country (to whom we send $1.8B per year) in an abstracted way that “we just don’t know about you” when they are not defending our embassy adequately. The message is heard, and he gets the desired result. Having gotten what HE wants, he retracts the threat, giving them what THEY want. Of course, that won’t stop the GOP from attacking him for it, and portraying him as indecisive (see Tom Maguire above)/feckless/unamerican. Because only bullshit, bravado, and blundering are acceptable in their world.

  5. “Having gotten what HE wants, he retracts the threat…”

    You must have enjoyed the classic Cleavon Little hostage scene in Blazing Saddles, but do we really want an American President making threats that (a) have not been thought through by any of the many staffers affected/involved at State, Defense and Commerce; (b) would be so contrary to American interests that it would never be carried out?

    Wouldn’t Obama have been even more brilliant to simply say that the level of our foreign aid commitment to Egypt is on the table, without threatening intelligence sharing, joint military training and so on? Or are we pretending that our intelligence sharing with Egypt mostly benefits them, not us?

    And given his history of firing first and then aiming, does this sort of ‘threat and retreat’ tactic really impress other foreign leaders? Or is it remotely possible that they come away thinking Obama just mouths off more or less randomly and we all have to wait a bit to learn the real American policy?

    Just to be clear – I am not attacking Obama for being indecisive. I don’t think Egypt’s status as an ally was ever on the table, and Obama was just being reckless and/or ignorant. From the video, he seems to be having a college seminar flashback, so I lean to “ignorant”.

    1. C’mon, Tom,

      “3. FWIW, Jimmy Carter said “Egypt is an ally of the US, we know Egypt well” when asked about Obama’s comment.”

      JC is a frontrunner for worst President of the Twentieth Century–with a tendency to, at best, mouth-off after he was thrown out of office. Citing JC as authority is not helpful to your argument.

      But, since we are down to appeals to discredited “authority,” didn’t Richard Nixon observe that it was an excellent idea in foreign policy for the other side to think you might do something crazy?

    2. do we really want an American President making threats that (a) have not been thought through by any of the many staffers affected/involved at State, Defense and Commerce;

      Wowie! Here in comments we have a true BHO staff insider who knows the inner workings! I am honored indeed. It must be a great comfort to be so in the know. I am comforted by your presence!!!!

    3. Shorter Tom: Obama making a remark that got instant results was reckless and/or ignorant. That’s why I prefer the careful strategic thinking and/or intellectual gravitas of George W. Bush.

Comments are closed.