Republicans Keeping Politics Out Of Egypt Debate, Divided On Posture


WASHINGTON -- The uprising in the streets of Cairo presents tricky domestic politics for the Obama administration, as each diplomatic move is judged through multiple lenses, including promoting democracy abroad, Israeli security, and U.S. aid and military contracts.

So far, Republicans lawmakers have showed restraint. On Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) applauded President Obama for his handling of the demonstrations against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, going so far as to proclaim himself (in spirit) part of the administration.

"I think the administration, our administration, so far has handled this tense situation pretty well," the Ohio Republican told Fox News Sunday. "Clearly reforms need to occur in Egypt and frankly any place around the world where people are calling out for freedom or democracy, I think we have a responsibility to respond. And I think listening to the Egyptian people, working with the government to bring more democratic reforms is all in the right direction."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered much the same during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press.

"Well, I don't have any criticism with President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point," he said. "They know full well that we can't give the Egyptians advice about who their leadership is. That's beyond the reach of the United States. And I think we ought to speak as one voice during this crisis."

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. And elsewhere, the president has been urged to get a "little bit more out ahead" of the Egypt uprisings, as he was on Sunday morning by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), during an appearance on CNN. But even usually quick-to-pounce pundits have begrudgingly bit their tongues.

"This administration has been... a little slow in reacting to events and said a couple foolish things," said the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, on Fox News Sunday. "But they are moving."

The overall posture holds true to the axiom that politics does end at the water's edge. But while there may be general agreement to keep partisanship out of the Egypt conversation, at least so far, on the more substantive foreign policy debates there is a divide within the GOP.

On one side of the party is the George W. Bush wing, which has viewed the protests as a product of democratic seeds planted in the Middle East during the last administration.

"Now is the time to say that the peoples of the Middle East are not 'beyond the reach of liberty' and that we will assist any peaceful effort to achieve it -- and oppose and condemn efforts to suppress it," Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, wrote in Sunday's Washington Post.

On the other side of the GOP divide stand self-proclaimed foreign policy realists who see little virtue or long-term benefits in Egypt's instability.

"The Egyptian demonstrations are not the equivalent of Iran's 2009 Green Revolution. The Egyptian demonstrations are the reprise of Iran's 1979 radical revolution," said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI). "Thus, America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform; and prevent a tyrannical government capable of harm."

McCotter's reading of history is a bit dubious. Whereas the Iranian riots were driven by Islamic clerics, the foundation for the Egypt uprisings is broad-based outrage driven by a struggling economy, unemployment, and educational problems. On his broader political point -- that the U.S. would be better off working with Mubarak rather than discarding the longtime leader -- Boehner was in agreement.

"I believe Mr. McCotter said it exactly right," he said. "What we don't want are radical ideologies to take control of a very large and important country in the Middle East."

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