Thankfully the Los Angeles Times doesn’t mince words when writing about Washington’s response to the Egyptian uprising:
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.”
Suleiman’s behavior reinforced the arguments of another camp inside the Obama administration, including National Security Council members Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power, which contends that if President Obama appears to side with the remnants of Mubarak’s discredited regime, he risks being seen as complicit in stifling a pro-democracy movement.