Obama’s Reagan Moment – In Egypt, Ambassador Frank Wisner as Paul Laxalt??

The news that retired Ambassador Frank Wisner was on his way to Egypt could not have been good news for those at the presidential palace in Cairo.


The New York Times reported that former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner arrived in Cairo and delivered Obama’s message. The Times said Wisner told Mubarak that Obama was not sending a blunt demand to step aside now, but offering firm counsel that he should make way for a reform process that would culminate in free and fair elections in September for a new Egyptian leader.

The back channel message, authorized directly by Obama, appeared to tip the administration beyond the delicate balancing act it has performed in the last week — resisting calls for Mubarak to step down even as it has called for an “orderly transition” to a more politically open Egypt, the Times said.

Via NYT:

Mr. Wisner, who had been expected to leave Egypt on Tuesday but decided to extend his stay, is among the United States’s most experienced diplomats, and a friend of Mr. Mubarak. His mission was to “keep a conversation going,” according to a close friend of Mr. Wisner.

As a result, this person said, the administration’s first message to the Egyptian leader was not that he had to leave office, but rather that his time in office was quickly coming to a close. Mr. Wisner, who consulted closely with the White House, is expected to be the point person dealing with Mr. Mubarak as the situation evolves, and perhaps as the administration’s message hardens.

In 1986, it took all of 20 days for the Reagan Administration to defriend Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.

Quick recap:

  • On 11 February in 1986, four days after a fraudulent Philippine election, then President Reagan blamed both sides causing a huge public outcry.
  • By 14 February, Reagan’s special ambassador, Philip Habib arrived and met with Filipino leaders in Manila.
  • On 15 February, as the Philippine National Assembly was about to declare Marcos the winner, Reagan questioned the credibility of the election.
  • On February 22, the country’s Defense Secretary and Armed Forces Chief of Staff withdrew their support for the Marcos Government
  • On 24 February, at 5 a.m. Monday, the White House issued a statement saying: “A solution to this crisis can only be achieved through a peaceful transition to a new government.”
  • On 25 February, there were two presidential inaugurations – one for Corazon Aquino and another for Ferdinand Marcos
  • At 9 o’clock the evening of 25 February, the Marcos family and tag-alongs were on their way to Clark Air Force Base.
  • 26 February 1986, Marcos and his party arrived in Hawaii.

More of the blow by blow account of those 20 days in February here.

On February 26, 1986, David Hess reported on Sen. Paul Laxalt‘s (R., Nev.) chore for then President Reagan at the very end of the Marcos regime in the Philippines: 

About 4:30 p.m. Monday, Sen. Paul Laxalt (R., Nev.) bluntly told Ferdinand E. Marcos by telephone: “I think you should cut and cut cleanly. I think the time has come.”

Laxalt, in advising Marcos to surrender the Philippine presidency to his rival, Corazon C. Aquino, insisted later that his remarks – unbound by diplomatic niceties – were his own and not those of President Reagan. But at a briefing yesterday, White House spokesman Larry Speakes acknowledged that Laxalt’s counsel reflected the President’s sentiments.

Time.com has more in The Philippines Anatomy of a Revolution:

Was it true, as U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth had told him, that President Reagan was calling for a “peaceful transition to a new government” in the Philippines? While the two men talked, Laxalt said later, it became apparent that Marcos was “hanging on, looking for a life preserver. He was a desperate man clutching at straws.” He asked whether the reference to a “peaceful transition” meant he should stay on until 1987, when his current term was originally supposed to end, and he wondered whether some sort of power-sharing arrangement with the Philippine opposition could be worked out.

Marcos spoke of his fear that his palace was about to be attacked, but seemed determined to stay on as President. At Marcos’ request, Laxalt then went to the White House, where he discussed the conversation with Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz. The President repeated his desire for a peaceful, negotiated settlement in the Philippines and said once more that Marcos would be welcome if he decided to seek sanctuary in the U.S. But Reagan said he thought the idea of power sharing was impractical and that it would be undignified for Marcos to stay on as a “consultant.”

At 4:15 p.m. Laxalt called Marcos, who immediately asked whether Reagan wanted him to step down. Laxalt said the President was not in a position to make that kind of demand. Then Marcos put the question directly to Laxalt: What should he do? Replied the Senator: “Mr. President, I’m not bound by diplomatic restraint. I’m talking only for myself. I think you should cut and cut cleanly. The time has come.” There was a long pause that to Laxalt seemed interminable. Finally he asked, “Mr. President, are you still there?” Marcos replied, in a subdued voice, “Yes, I’m still here. I am so very, very disappointed.”

In Manila it was after 5 o’clock in the morning of the longest day of Ferdinand Marcos’ life. Before it was over, he would attend his final inauguration ceremony, a foolish charade carried out in the sanctuary of his Malacanang Palace. That evening, a ruler no more, he would flee with his family and retainers aboard four American helicopters to Clark Air Base on the first leg of a flight that would take him to Guam, Hawaii and exile.

Read more here.

Five years later, the Philippine Senate refused to ratify the treaty on one of the largest US defense facility in the world.

We don’t know what will happen to Egypt tomorrow, but it’s not totally unfamiliar. 

At 6:45 EST, President Obama had this remarks on the situation in Egypt.  Video here.