Senator John McCain said the U.S. should have foreseen the unrest in Egypt after years of failed efforts to push the Arab world’s most populous nation toward democratic reform.
Acknowledging the benefit of hindsight, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Egyptian public anger toward ousted President Hosni Mubarak had been evident since a widely contested 2005 election.
“We should have seen this coming when the Egyptian government failed to move forward with a process of democratization,” McCain, of Arizona, said on the CBS “Face the Nation’ program. “The last election was particularly flawed.”
House Speaker John Boehner said the failure of U.S. intelligence officials to anticipate the Egyptian crisis requires a “reassessment” to evaluate what might be done differently.
“I think what happened in Egypt, what happened in Tunisia, has surprised everyone including our intelligence officials,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “And so I think there’s going to be a reassessment of why, why didn’t we have a better feel for this.”
Both Republican leaders generally endorsed President Barack Obama’s handling of the Egyptian crisis. McCain, who lost the campaign for the White House to Obama in 2008, said the president “has handled this situation well” since the crisis erupted more than two weeks ago.
‘Very Bad Signal’
Even so, he criticized Obama for not speaking out more forcefully when Iranians protested against their government’s elections in 2009.
“That sent a very bad signal to all of these dictatorships,” McCain said. “We should have spoken up for them, just as Ronald Reagan spoke up for the people behind the Iron Curtain.”
McCain joined other Republican lawmakers on the Sunday talk shows in urging Egyptian leaders to take their time building democratic institutions before holding elections that risk the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood -- a group that has historically opposed U.S. interests.
“We don’t want this revolution hijacked by an extremist organization,” McCain said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN’s “State of the Union” program, “I worry that we’ll rush to an election where the Muslim Brotherhood, who is the most organized but doesn’t represent the true will of the Egyptian people, will have a disproportionate effect.”
Former Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is considering a presidential run next year, criticized Obama for not explicitly declaring his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood during an interview with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly a week ago.
“They asked him two or three times and the president of the United States ducked the question whether he thought it was a good or a bad idea whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be running Egypt,” Pawlenty said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “I’m telling you: It’s a bad idea.”
Obama, during the Super Bowl Sunday interview on Fox, said the Muslim Brotherhood has “strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S.” He declined to take a firm stance on the group’s potential role in a future Egyptian government, saying, “It’s important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people.”
Not Dictating Direction
While McCain said he is “concerned” about the Muslim Brotherhood, he said, “for us to dictate what the role is they should play may be harmful to us.” Egyptians, he said, “want us to assist. They don’t want us to dictate.”
Graham said he is worried about whether the Egyptian army will cede power to a new civilian-led government, particularly if there are calls to hold Mubarak and other ex-leaders accountable for past abuses.
“That will create friction among the army because a lot of the generals in this army have lived pretty well during the Mubarak era,” Graham said.
“I worry about the army,” he said later. “Will the army hold together? Will the young officers accept the rule of the senior people? Will the army really subordinate itself to civilian control as this new democracy unfolds?”
John Negroponte, a former United Nations ambassador who was the first U.S. director of national intelligence, said the Egyptian military needs to show progress in moving the country toward democracy, though it doesn’t need to hold elections by September, as originally planned.
“I don’t think they have to feel bound by a strict deadline,” Negroponte said on CNN. “I think the important thing is that they engender enough confidence with the Egyptian people that the Egyptian people think that the military wants the same outcome as they do, and that the military just isn’t acting according to some hidden agenda of its own.”
© Copyright 2016 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.