It's 3:00 AM: Do you know where your president is?
The mixed messages coming out of the White House on Mubarak and the crisis in Egypt is obviously not helping matters, and is making the US seem incredibly weak and indecisive.
It doesn't help when you have a bunch of blabber-mouths at the State Department who think they run foreign policy and believe they have all the answers. But the real divide is among those advisors closest to the president. Los Angeles Times:
The Obama administration's shifting response to the crisis in Egypt reflects a sharp debate over how and when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should leave office, a policy decision that could have long-term implications for America's image in the Middle East.
After sending mixed signals, the administration has appeared to settle on supporting a measured transition for easing Mubarak out of power. That strategy, which remains the subject of vigorous debate inside the administration, calls for a Mubarak crony, Vice President Omar Suleiman, to lead the reform process.
According to experts who have interacted with the White House, the tactic is favored by a group of foreign policy advisors including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, national security advisor Thomas Donilon and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who worry about regional stability and want to reassure other Middle East governments that the U.S. will not abandon an important and longtime ally.
But that position has been harder to defend as Suleiman and other Mubarak allies appeared to dig in, refusing the administration's entreaties to undertake swift reforms such as scrapping the country's longstanding state of emergency. On Wednesday, Suleiman warned ominously of a coup unless the unrest ended. That prompted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to fire back that the Egyptians should "expand the size and scope of the discussions and the negotiations and to take many of the steps that we outlined yesterday - one of which is lifting the emergency law."
We've seen this problem arise before; on the Iranian revolt, Afghanistan policy, and trade with China. Debate is endless. Leaks abound. Advisors appear to work at cross-purposes. In the end we have incoherence and a muddled policy.
Our problem is the president. It's not so much that he's indecisive, although that appears to be the case the more vital the issues to America. It's that Obama doesn't know when to cut off debate and make the hard decision. He allows these endless debates where his advisors go over the same ground over and over in the press while the State Department goes off on its own. He believes it a sign of intelligence if he listens to all sides of an issue. Fine - but how many sides are there in this debate over Egypt? A president's job is to guide his advisors toward consensus so they're all on board. It appears Obama has no desire or doesn't no how to do that. It's been more than two weeks and they're still sending out confusing, contradictory signals.
Hillary was right; that 3:00 AM call has found Obama wanting. He apparently prefers hitting the snooze button and going back to sleep.