Thoughts of an American Centrist

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Laura 2008? What is the First Lady doing in Egypt?

No, I don't really think so. That being said, the American Centrist notes that Laura Bush is following more closely in the footsteps of her predecessor than her mother-in-law as of late. In a somewhat bizarre move, the first lady publicly endorsed the controversial Egyptian election plan the other day.

GIZA, Egypt, May 23 -- First lady Laura Bush on Monday praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's controversial plan for elections this year, which some opposition groups say would prevent them from participating.

"I would say that President Mubarak has taken a very bold step," the first lady told reporters after touring the pyramids here. "You know that each step is a small step, that you can't be quick."

Bush's comments amounted to an endorsement of Mubarak's plan to hold Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential election this year. A referendum vote is expected Wednesday on the proposal, which would require challengers to secure the backing of members of Mubarak's ruling party to participate.

Can anyone tell me if such involvement in foreign politics is common for a first lady? I would not suspect so. If you look at the Great First Ladies of the past century, most of them have been involved with domestic issues. Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Hillary Clinton all left their mark on the domestic front. The only first lady who comes to mind who was truly involved in foreign policy was the greatest of all of them: Abigail Adams.

So what's the deal? Why has the previously reclusive Laura Bush inserted herself into the middle of an Arab election debate? Is this something that she really believes in, a cause that could coax her out of her shell into daylight? Perhaps. However, I'd suggest a slightly more Machiavellian motivation.

President Bush has invested a lot of his legacy into building democracy in the Middle East. One more long-time virtual dictatorship such as Egypt making the transition to democracy on Bush’s watch would look great on his resume. (Not as great as Saudi Arabia would look, but that’s a topic for another discussion….) Unfortunately for Mr. Legacy, the current Egyptian election system presents somewhat of a problem due to the fact that the proposed election rules do not entirely live up to the “free and fair” catchphrase that always prefaces the word “elections” in the President’s speeches. Still, the administration is well aware that in a country like Egypt, this is as good as it’s going to get this time around. Progress is progress; a point on which I agree 100% with the administration and their spokeswoman Laura.

Such logical reasoning would not satisfy the Bush Bashers Club (BBC. Coincidental acronym? You decide.) Therefore, to avoid the inevitable cries of hypocrisy and corruption that otherwise would have rained down if either the President himself or other members of his administration came right out and endorsed the somewhat sketchy election system, George Bush sent his wife to Egypt to tour pyramids, do Arab Sesame Street, and transmit his tacit, yet public, blessing to President Mubarak’s election plans for all Egyptians to hear.