PREPARING FOR REGIME CHANGE?…. Commenting on today’s White House press briefing with Robert Gibbs, Ben Smith noted, “Robert Gibbs, like all White House press secretaries, takes great care with his words, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him taking quite this much care, referring to notes from phrase to phrase, as he is in this afternoon’s briefing on Egypt.”*
The words Gibbs chose to use, however, very likely sent international ripples.
The Obama administration threatened on Friday to reduce a $1.5 billion program of foreign aid to Egypt based on President Hosni Mubarak’s response to swelling street protests in Cairo and other cities.
“Violence is not the response” to the demands for greater freedoms, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Gibbs said President Barack Obama had been briefed extensively about the fast-unfolding events but had not tried to speak with Mubarak by phone. Asked why not, Gibbs said that “we’re monitoring a very fluid situation.”
I suppose there’s more than one way to read that, but to my ear, it was language suggesting the Obama administration doesn’t expect the Mubarak government to survive the popular revolt.
Asked whether U.S. officials have a preference about the makeup of the Egyptian government, Gibbs said, “I don’t want to project into the future. I don’t think that would be a wise use of my time. The government of Egypt is an issue for the people of Egypt.”
The White House spokesperson had plenty of opportunities to express support for Mubarak and the current Egyptian government. He did not.
The briefing came just hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton read a carefully-worded statement that publicly called for the Egyptian government to allow peaceful protests to continue without a violent response — a call Mubarak did not honor.
It’s no secret that the U.S. has long seen Mubarak as a key regional ally in one of largest and most important countries in the Arab world, though that alliance has been tempered by the realization that the Egyptian regime is authoritarian and undemocratic.
As of this afternoon, the evidence suggests the Obama administration is prepared to see a new day in Egypt, which is no small shift.