Of all the sentiments President Obama hoped Frank Wisner, the man he sent to help prod Hosni Mubarak out of office, would leave unsaid, "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical: It's his opportunity to write his own legacy" was probably pretty high on the list. Also near the top: "What a nice old man!" and "Thirty years. Big whoop." After Wisner made the remarks this weekend, the State Department scrambled to distance itself, with both sides saying the comments were made in a "personal capacity." But as the Independent points out, the fact that Wisner's law firm represents the Egyptian government makes the White House's already shaky position in Cairo look even worse:
There is nothing "personal" about Mr Wisner's connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises "the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government's behalf in Europe and the US". Oddly, not a single journalist raised this extraordinary connection with US government officials - nor the blatant conflict of interest it appears to represent.
Wisner, a retired State Department official who held four ambassadorships, was not a political appointee. But he has worked for Patton Boggs for two years, ample time for the White House to, you know, take a glance at his business card. At the time that Hillary Clinton asked him to intercede, Leslie H. Gelb, the longtime diplomat and journalist who co-founded the diplomat lunch club with Wisner, told the Times, "He wasn’t sent there to flatter [Mubarak] and hold his hand. He was sent there because he has a very close relationship with Mubarak, and because that’s the kind of person who can best deliver some hard messages.” After their talk, however, Mubarak appeared to "dig in his heels."
The Independent talks to Nicholas Noe, an American political researcher and former researcher for Clinton, who spent weeks looking into Wisner's connection to Patton Boggs.
"The key problem with Wisner being sent to Cairo at the behest of Hillary," he says, "is the conflict-of-interest aspect... More than this, the idea that the US is now subcontracting or 'privatising' crisis management is another problem. Do the US lack diplomats?
"Even in past examples where presidents have sent someone 'respected' or 'close' to a foreign leader in order to lubricate an exit," Mr Noe adds, "the envoys in question were not actually paid by the leader they were supposed to squeeze out!"
Not the best way to tell pro-democracy protesters, "Sorry we helped prop up your dictator."
US envoy's business link to Egypt [Independent UK]