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Time for a New Director of National Intelligence

As I write, the world waits and watches for the astonishing moment when Hosni Mubarak announces he will step down from the presidency of Egypt. Now begins the critical time of testing for Egypt, for democracy, for reason, for Israel, and for the United States. We all know that what is happening here can and might end in disaster, and so this is the point at which the Obama administration is going to have to handle itself with far more care, assurance, and focus than it has thus far.

It is therefore horrifying to discover that hauntingly familiar happy talk is beginning to emanate from the administration’s highest reaches — talk suggesting that the possible disaster might not be a disaster, that the bad guys aren’t really the bad guys, that those who might lead the region into war are actually far more complex and reasonable than is commonly thought. This is the kind of thing that was said by Carter-administration officials in the months before the takeover of Iran by the Ayatollah. And it was said, this morning, by Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper. As Politico’s splendid reporter Josh Gerstein explains:

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Egypt’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement “largely secular”. …

“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said. “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera. … In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally”…

Clapper said later in the hearing that the Brotherhood in Egypt runs 29 hospitals “not under the guise of an extremist agenda.” He said the group fills a vacuum cause by the absence of government services, but added, “It is not necessarily with a view to promoting violence or overthrow of the state.

This is one of the most reckless and irresponsible statements ever made publicly by an American official at a critical and delicate moment. If one of the key figures in the making of the administration’s foreign policy is already making excuses for the Muslim Brotherhood, the president needs to signal immediately that the United States does not view this evil and destructive force with rose-colored glasses. Hard to say how Obama can do that in a way that will be meaningful and still allow Clapper to remain in his office.



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