Egypt protests: Did Jimmy Carter just throw Obama under the bus?

Former President Jimmy Carter said Sunday what many experts are thinking: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak must go. But President Obama has shied away from making such a statement, even as the Egypt protests escalate, leading to some criticism.

Ric Dugan/The Herald-Mail/AP
Former President Jimmy Carter speaks at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W.V., on Jan. 18. On Sunday, he spoke about the Egypt protests at his church in Georgia.

Middle East peacemaker Jimmy Carter came out and said Sunday what many experts in the region believe is now inevitable: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will have to go.

Commenting on the week’s tumultuous events in Egypt from the Maranatha Baptist Church near his home in Plains, Ga., the former president who brokered the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel gave a candid personal assessment of Egypt’s embattled leader and said his “guess is Mubarak will have to go.”

President Mubarak has “become more politically corrupt” in recent years and has “perpetuated himself in office,” he told a Sunday school class of 300, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Assessing the popular uprisings sweeping across the region, he said: “This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office” more than 30 years ago.

Mr. Carter’s remarks put him out ahead of the Obama administration, which has inched carefully forward as it has responded to the massive demonstrations engulfing the regime of a longtime US ally.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took the step of calling for an “orderly transition” in Egypt. That seemed to be a few degrees closer to abandoning Mubarak than President Obama’s comments of Friday, which had focused on the urgency of meaningful reforms and the need for the regime to avoid repressive violence.

None of that had apparently impressed Carter, who endorsed Mr. Obama in 2008 but has not shied away from openly criticizing US foreign policy when the spirit has moved him. “The United States wants Mubarak to stay in power,” Carter told his Sunday school class, “but the people have decided.”

Carter’s comments were seized upon by conservative critics of Obama’s foreign policy, though hardly in a uniform manner. Indeed, reactions reflected a split in Republican and right-wing foreign-policy visions between a neoconservative pro-freedom camp, and advocates first and foremost of a firm, even hawkish foreign policy based more on military might than on diplomatic engagement.

Some conservative commentators said that even Carter was shaming Obama by sounding more supportive of Egyptians’ freedoms than his fellow Democratic president.

But more common was an equating of Obama’s foreign policy with that of Carter – who, after all, is generally considered in Republican circles to be the country’s weakest recent president, and the man who lost Iran. A sampling of editorial and commentary headlines: Obama Channeling Jimmy Carter (Washington Times); Carter Redux? (American Thinker), and More Carter Redux in the Middle East (the Heritage Foundation).

A common theme in these writings: Carter favored “soft power” and talking with enemies over confronting them, and so does Obama. Less universal but still a strong vein of opinion: Carter abandoned the Shah of Iran and gave us the Ayatollah Khomeini, Obama is pulling the plug on Mubarak and could be ushering in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite the cacophony of reactions to the man from Plains, one conclusion seemed to apply across the board: Jimmy Carter can still cause an uproar, even from a Sunday school in Georgia.

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