President Obama‘s remarks last night in which he didn’t commit to Egypt as an ally or an enemy is raising eyebrows. “They’re a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. … If they take actions that indicate they’re not taking responsibility, as all other countries do where we have embassies, I think that’s going to be a real big problem,” Obama said in an interview with Telemundo last night.
Judging from the subsequent reaction, it’s clear that the administration thinks this has become an issue: Press Secretary Jay Carney was walking back on the statement hours later, saying the president was speaking in strictly legal terms and that “Egypt is a long-standing and close partner of the United States.”
The State Department disagreed with the administration, pointing out that it is indeed a “Major Non-NATO Ally,” and has been since 1989.
More likely, though, Obama’s statement on Egypt is a stronger response to Egyptian government’s tepid reaction to the attack of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Obama characterised what has become a complex relationship as the Egyptian government undergoes a major transition in its government after the ouster of ally and former President Hosni Mubarak.
Consider the fact that the president called both the Libyan and Egyptian presidents overnight, but the White House readouts that summarized the calls were exceptionally different.
On one hand, Obama thanked Libyan president Mohamed Magariaf and expressed “appreciation” for the country’s cooperation in “responding to this outrageous attack.”
Obama’s statement on his call with Egyptian president Morsi took a far different tone. There was no thanks, no praise, no appreciation. Just this:
President Obama underscored the importance of Egypt following through on its commitment to cooperate with the United States in securing U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel.
It’s worth noting that Obama’s staunchest opponent in 2008 — Republican presidential candidate John McCain — agreed with this morning in an appearance on CNN’s “Starting Point.”
“First of all, I think the president is basically right. I hate to get into these word parsings, but they have gone from a staunch ally under Mubarak to one which is obviously a country that’s seeking its own way. But we have to have a good relationship with them, or we should make every effort to have a good relationship with them.”
McCain explained Obama’s rationale further:
“We also have the right to demand certain things: protection of our embassy, not sheltering terrorist groups, preventing the kinds of incidents that just took place from happening in the future. There’s no question that Egypt is going through a significant transformation.”
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