During her first visit to Egypt as secretary of state, in March 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked whether human rights violations by the Egyptian government that had been documented by the State Department would interfere with a visit to the White House by President Hosni Mubarak. It was a good question: Mubarak had not been to Washington in five years, thanks to his clashes with the Bush administration over his political repression.
"It is not in any way connected," Clinton replied. "I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States."
The Post’s deputy editorial page editor, Diehl also writes a biweekly foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.
President Obama, in his You Tube Q event, addressed the continuing violence in Egypt over the government of President Mubarak and said that while Egypt is an ally, violence isn't the answer.
Thus began what may be remembered as one of the most shortsighted and wrongheaded policies the United States has ever pursued in the Middle East. Admittedly, the bar is high. But the Obama administration's embrace of Mubarak, even as the octogenarian strongman refused to allow the emergence of a moderate, middle-class-based, pro-democracy opposition, has helped bring the United States' most important Arab ally to the brink of revolution. Mass popular demonstrations have rocked the country since Tuesday; Friday, when millions of Egyptians will assemble in mosques, could be fateful.
The administration's miscalculation about Mubarak was threefold. First, it assumed that the damage done to relations by George W. Bush's "freedom agenda" was a mistake that needed to be repaired. In fact, Bush's pushing for political liberalization was widely viewed, in Egypt and in the region, as the saving grace of an otherwise bad administration.
Second, the Obama administration's Middle East experts concluded that there was no chance of serious reform - much less revolution - under Mubarak. So they plotted at playing a "long game" of slowly nurturing grass-roots movements and promoting civil society, in preparation for the day when Egypt might be ready for real reform. In this they badly underestimated the secular opposition that was rapidly growing in the blogosphere and that months ago began rallying behind former U.N. nuclear director
Third, as an emboldened Mubarak stepped up repression, staged a blatantly rigged parliamentary election in November and began laying the groundwork to present himself for "reelection" this year, the administration chose to mute its criticism. Bland, carefully balanced statements were issued by second- and third-level spokesmen, while Clinton and Obama - who regularly ripped Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - remained silent.
That policy continued until Tuesday, when - disastrously - Clinton called Mubarak's government "stable" and claimed it was responding to "the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people." Hours later, riot police attacked the thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Rightly or wrongly, Egyptian opposition activists now say, Clinton and the United States are being blamed in popular opinion for that crackdown. "She is seen as having given Mubarak the green light," one told me.