Special Envoy Statement Disowned by US Gov’t

Posted on 05/02/2011 by

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[The first part is before US government issued an explicit disowning of Wisner’s statement. See edit below this section for my followup comments.]

According to US special envoy Frank Wisner, the US government wants popularly rejected Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to stay in power. As the BBC archly noted, “[t]he remarks appear to contradict previous US calls for Mr Mubarak to begin an immediate transition.”

Mr Wisner, a former ambassador in Egypt, was sent by US President Barack Obama to Cairo on Monday, apparently to urge Mr Mubarak to announce his departure.

“We need to get a national consensus around the pre-conditions for the next step forward. The president must stay in office to steer those changes,” he told said in New York.

“I believe that President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical – it’s his chance to write his own legacy.

“He has given 60 years of his life to the service of his country, this is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward.”

As I’ve argued previously, Mubarak is a dinosaur, his mindset a leftover from the early days of the Cold War. His techniques are crude and primitive, holdovers from an era where the telephone, the telegraph, and the radio were the only means of high-speed communication. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no YouTube, and no internet.

[EDIT 12.02.2011

Just to show I’m not being outrageous:

But the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.

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The classic techniques which were popular with dictators in the early Cold War were quite simple. The first step is to try and intimidate protestors, to force them back into quiet obedience. If the protesters are recalcitrant, the next step is to pull out the iron fist. All communications have to be either subverted or cut off, and all non-controlled journalists have to be roughed up and imprisoned to scare them off. After this, the final step is to openly begin the extermination of protesters, safely away from the prying and inconvenient eyes of the media.

With the apparent blessing of the US government, I posit that Mubarak now will feel license to do what he needs to do to stay in power. Like the dinosaur he is, he thinks that he’s in the position to crush the Revolution without seeing any repercussions.

To quote Mona Eltahawy, you cannot shut down anger, especially when every person with a cellphone is potentially a camera-handler, journalist, and newspaper in and of themselves. Any violent oppression of the Egyptian Revolution will not only fail, but will force the world to see Mubarak as a complete monster.

And despite the US government’s thinking it is being clever, it will have only furthered its own downfall.

[EDIT 17:16, 05.02.2011]

The US government has explicitly disowned the comments made by US special envoy Frank Wisner, who despite being “sent by President Obama to Cairo on Monday”, was

“… not [acting] in any official capacity following the trip. The views he expressed today are his own. He did not co-ordinate his comments with the US government.” — State Department spokesman PJ Crowley.

Okay, folks, all together now: WTF? Is Wisner a special envoy sent by President Barack Obama, or not?

I derive three observations from this rather swift rebuttal (or, in the internet parlance, a STFU moment) of what could have been an actual, explicit, clearly-worded statement from the otherwise vacillating and mealy-mouthed US government.

1) Mubarak does not have the good graces of his US masters to slaughter protesters;
2) The US government has no idea what is going on, and is completely panicked about everything and nothing all at one; and
3) The US government is completely, epically bungling the situation in Egypt.

All of these have very serious implications.

Point 1 implies that if Mubarak does in fact use force of arms to ruthlessly crush the Revolution, he will not do so with the blessing of the US government. That would suggest that, although the US government might make some limp-wristed condemnation of the slaughter, the US will also not support Mubarak in any meaningful way.

Point 2 means that the US government is deaf, dumb, and blind to the implications of what is happening in Egypt, both out of antiquity of thought and plain ignorance. It will probably take another week before the little lightbulb turns on over the collective US government’s head. Up until that point, all actions taken by the US government will be ineffectual and pointless.

Point 3 suggest that, whatever happens in Egypt, and by extension the greater Middle East, the US government will have a lower standing than ever. Simply put, the US is on the wrong side of history, and yet is still blindly convinced of its own exceptionalism.

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[EDIT 06.02.2011]

It seems that US special envoy Frank Wisner, sent by President Barack Obama to Egypt to talk with Egyptian president Mubarak and give a press conference as a private individual, has a vested interest in the situation. His ‘real’ employer, Patton Boggs, is an adviser to ‘the Egyptian military’, whatever that means.

Patton Boggs states that its attorneys “represent some of the leading Egyptian commercial families and their companies” and “have been involved in oil and gas and telecommunications infrastructure projects on their behalf”. One of its partners served as chairman of the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce promoting foreign investment in the Egyptian economy. The company has also managed contractor disputes in military-sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act. Washington gives around $1.3bn (£800m) a year to the Egyptian military.

Mr Wisner joined Patton Boggs almost two years ago – more than enough time for both the White House and the State Department to learn of his company’s intimate connections with the Mubarak regime. The New York Times ran a glowing profile of Mr Wisner in its pages two weeks ago – but mysteriously did not mention his ties to Egypt.

“The key problem with Wisner being sent to Cairo at the behest of Hillary,” [Nicholas Noe, an American political researcher now based in Beirut] says, “is the conflict-of-interest aspect… More than this, the idea that the US is now subcontracting or ‘privatising’ crisis management is another problem. Do the US lack diplomats?”

Given the quality of what the US calls ‘diplomats’, I’d have to say yes, the US does indeed lack diplomats. The people they call diplomats are wonks with delusions of Empire. Perhaps US special envoy Frank Wisner was an improvement over the usual US diplomat, which is why he was sent to Egypt by President Obama as a special envoy.

This revelation adds another “WTF?” atop the previous “WTF?” with the US State Department saying that Wisner was speaking in a “personal capacity” when he suggested that Mubarak has to stay in power. Presumably, the US government has hired Wisner via Patton Boggs, sent him as a special envoy to talk to Mubarak, and then disowned him when he made his professional ‘recommendation’.

How crazy does a government have to be, to pay a high-powered consultant to fly across the world and enter a revolution-zone (“please excuse the mess, democracy in progress”) to talk to a wildly unpopular dictator, recommend that selfsame dictator to stay in power, and then say that the consultant was speaking from a “personal capacity”? Very crazy, methinks. This story just keeps getting better!

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Posted in: Analysis