Who exactly are the allies of the US? Apparently, the President of the United States is not sure. Responding to the situation in Egypt, Obama said “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy…” Really? You don’t know? Congress designated Egypt as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 1989, and they are (so far) still allies despite the change in government, (a change we assisted and supported). That our embassy in an allied country was attacked, and that the current president of that country says nothing (President Obama had to call Egyptian president Morsi to get a response), does suggest that perhaps Egypt’s status will change. But as of Tuesday, Egypt was considered an ally which is why the attack on the embassy in Cairo and the subsequent non-reaction of Egyptian security forces was so disturbing.
This misstatement by Obama has received little to no coverage in the mainstream press (e.g. Washington Post, NY Times), and is now being rapidly walked back by the White House. However it speaks volumes about his lack of understanding regarding the situation in the Middle East and the position of the United States. Much is being made of Obama’s failure to attend security briefings, or ask for them from CIA officials. It is being suggested that he could have seen this coming had he been paying attention. Apparently, though, President Obama does not feel that he needs to actually talk to the people whose job it is to understand these situations in depth and with excruciating detail. I have to agree with Thiessen, it is not a sign of weakness to ask an expert for clarification or further explanation. Does our president consider himself so well versed in international actions that he does not need expert help? I think most of us who study international relations for a living would love to have access to those who have the inside information that is really only available to the president.
On the bright side of things, it does appear that we have a potential new friend in Libya. The interim president of Libya, Mohammed el-Megarif, has formally apologized for the attack that left U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens dead. In addition, the people of Libya are rallying against terrorism and in support of the U.S.
It is the job of the President of the United States to know who our allies are when speaking about them directly. It is especially important that he know this during a time of crisis such as we are currently experiencing. Our embassies and embassy personnel are being attacked; this is a crisis, regardless of what caused it. I expect our president to, as Hillary Clinton said, answer that 3 a.m. call.