Republicans Mostly Quiet On Egypt At CPAC
The Republican race for the White House in 2012 is anybody's game, and CPAC is a chance for presidential hopefuls to appear together with hopes of finding a candidate to rally around.
A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Feb. 8 shows the Republican Party is sharply divided over their best candidate in 2012.
Though some GOP hopefuls have weighed in on Egypt before, almost all of the conference's major speakers, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump, have avoided mentioning Egypt and the debate.
Former Massachusetts governor and 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may have been making a veiled nod to Egypt when he criticized Obama's foreign policy saying, "[A]n uncertain world has been made more dangerous by the lack of clear direction from a weak president."
Romney has previously played it safe when commenting on Obama's position on Egypt, coming "closest to expressing support for Obama’s approach, a position that put him at risk with a conservative base that is deeply antagonistic toward the president."
On "Good Morning America" on Feb. 1, Romney said, "I don't know that I would say to the president, 'You should call for Mubarak's resignation. That, I think, flies in the face of a long history of friendship between he and our country and our friends, but it is very clear that [Mubarak] needs to move on and transition to the voices of democracy."
But so far only Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has commented on the issue directly in his speech at CPAC.
Paul chided the U.S. government for sending billions of dollars in aid to Egypt to "prop up dictators" like Mubarak, who served as a key ally for the U.S. in Middle East politics.
“All of the Middle East is unstable because of this,” Paul said, criticizing the reported $70 billion the U.S. sent to Egypt during Mubarak's 30-year reign. “The people don’t like us propping up our dictators, no more than we would like it if people came in here and propped up a dictator in our country.”
“We just flat out don’t have the money, so we ought not be doing that,” he said.
The New York Times reports on the near off-limits status of Egypt at CPAC:
"The Egypt vacuum is nearly total — with the exception of the gaggle of national political reporters, who can be seen checking their BlackBerrys and iPhones for updates from Cairo.
The limited commentary on Egypt at the gathering reflects in part the rapid speed with which events on the ground in Egypt have been changing. But it also suggests that Republicans have not found a way to criticize Mr. Obama’s handling of the situation."
Estimates place about 10,000 conservative activists in attendance at the conference, which includes speeches, panels and a straw poll or mock election for the party's 2012 candidate.
Neon Tommy's Tom Dotan reports, "Although it has no bearing on the actual primaries, with the Iowa caucuses about a year away, the results of the straw poll have taken on a heightened importance."
Two big players will be missing this weekend: front-runners Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate Palin, both of whom said they had scheduling conflicts and could not attend.
But both have previously slammed the Obama administration's handling of the situation in Egypt.
"Nobody yet has explained to the American people what [the Obama administration] know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know, who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak and I'm not real enthused about what it is that, that's being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt," Palin told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
"And in these areas that are so volatile right now because obviously it's not just Egypt but the other countries too where we are seeing uprisings, we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House," she said.
Huckabee was open in his criticism of President Obama for not standing behind Mubarak in a more public way.
"This would not have required us to approve everything he did, or deny the rights of the people of Egypt to demand a change of government," Huckabee told the Jerusalem Post. "But I think it would have been an important symbol to send to the rest of the world, that we don't just walk away from long-standing allies."
Huckabee defended Mubarak on Fox News on Feb. 1, as well.
“I don’t think anybody is trying to defend everything that [Mubarak] did as president, but they would have liked to have seen at least an acknowledgment that he’s been a friend for all these years,” he said. “So the concern is that if the U.S. will so quickly turn on that friend, how quickly will it turn on its other friends?"
In a Feb. 1 appearance on Sean Hannity's radio show, Gingrich "said that the administration had not taken the Middle East seriously and suggested that Obama had seriously erred in delivering a 2009 speech from Egypt that was geared toward repairing the American relationship with the Muslim world."
"The president went to Cairo and gave his famous speech in which he explained that we should all be friends together because we're all the same people doing the same things and there are no differences between us," he said. "Well, I think there are a lot of differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of us."
On Fox News with Greta Van Susteren the next day, Gingrich went further.
“I don’t think [members of the Obama administration] have a clue. It’s very frightening to watch this administration,” he said. “We should be very frightened of the Muslim Brotherhood. These may be people you can’t dialogue with.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also criticized the Obama administration for not taking a harder line on whether Mubarak should resign.
"I think his time is going to come to an end. It should come to an end," he said at a book signing in West Des Moines on Monday.
Pawlenty said the statements from top officials like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Obama "seemed inconsistent, bordering on incoherent if you put them all together...I guess I would say their statements taken as a whole look like they were caught off guard and surprised and confused."
After Mubarak's resignation, democrats stood behind Obama and pledged support for Egypt.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.): "I am pleased that President Mubarak has heard and heeded the voice of the Egyptian people, who have called for change. It is crucial that Mubarak's departure be an orderly one and that it leads to true democracy for Egypt, including free, fair and open elections."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D., Mass.): "Egypt's army and transitional leaders must heed the call to lift the emergency law and clarify a timetable to establish a proper foundation for credible elections…We know from recent experience in Gaza that this requires not just elections, but hard work to build a government that is transparent, accountable, and broadly representative."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.): "The army will be decisive [on whether U.S. aid to Egypt will continue]. If it defends the popular will, it will earn its rightful place in history. If the army violates the public's trust, it would also be a blow to our relations with Egypt and would put at risk our longstanding assistance."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.): "[Mubarak] rightly honored the Egyptian people's calls for freedom." He said that "all nations must now support an orderly, peaceful transition to democracy," and added that "we hope the first steps of the new government will be to guarantee free and fair elections as soon as possible, while also keeping the peace with all of Egypt's neighbors including Israel."