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JOHN KING, USA
Egyptian Political Crisis
Aired February 3, 2011 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight more breaking news in the fast moving Egyptian political crisis, a defiant message from President Hosni Mubarak who says he doesn't care what the demonstrators are saying. He needs to stay in power and he tells President Obama he doesn't understand the risks of pushing Mubarak to step down now. In Cairo the regime continues to target journalists and gun fire continues in the streets.
Pro democracy demonstrators stand their ground, promising a big push on what they call farewell Friday to prove President Mubarak has no choice but to go.
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KING: Here in Washington, the administration stands firm and rejects complaints from other Arab allies that it is pushing too hard for Mubarak's ouster.
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HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Egyptian people expect a meaningful process that yields concrete changes.
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KING: Some on the right say the White House is wrong but Republican Senator John McCain not only backs President Obama's approach, he passionately takes issue with those who say the best course is for America to prop up Egypt's dictator.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm not a starry eyed idealist. I know the nature of war and I think I understand these issues. And I understand the criticality, but for us to be on the side of governments that are oppressive and repressive in the long run can never benefit us and help us achieve our goals.
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KING: A packed hour begins on the front lines of Egypt's Revolution; Anderson Cooper is live with us from Cairo. And Anderson, on this night we do not have a live image to show our viewers because of the government crackdown and security concerns. Can we sadly say tonight that in some ways as we speak, the regime is winning, at least the information war?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Certainly the information war, they're winning. I mean this has been without a doubt a deliberate crackdown on eyewitnesses to the horror of what is happening. And the world was watching yesterday and today it is very difficult for the world to watch what is happening right now in Tahrir Square and on the side streets around Tahrir Square because there's been a systematic effort to silence journalists, to turn off cameras, and to intimidate and to threaten.
And you know they -- you know working in Egypt even in the best of times the reporters (INAUDIBLE) controlled process. The state has a heavy hand over reporters here, not just a heavy hand, it's a hand that wields a club or a knife or a gun. And we today have seen the impact of that.
KING: And because of that, because of the repression of the journalists, not only from CNN and not only from Western outlets but Egyptians and from all over the world, because of that, are we losing a bit of a sense of what's happening in that the government did make some concessions today, offering to bring people in for more dialogue.
Making clear President Mubarak's son would not run. Do we have any greater sense of what is happening on the streets and how this is being received or whether people, especially the pro democracy folks are even more defiant.
COOPER: Well I heard the vice president of Egypt say that, but I'll tell what I also heard him say. I also heard him say and this struck, you know a knife in the heart I think of any reporter who is here on the ground now. He said -- he essentially was blaming the satellite news channels somehow for -- part of some sort of foreign conspiracy, part of foreign enemies.
And that sends a message to elements on the street to target foreigners, to target not just westerners but others from other Middle Eastern countries. Not just reporters but foreigners. When I heard him say that, this is a man who chooses his words very, very carefully. This is a man who has run the intelligence services here for a long time. This is a man who is very thoughtful and smart and (INAUDIBLE). I found that to be a chilling message and an ominous one.
KING: I think that's a perfect way to put it, a chilling message and an ominous one. Anderson Cooper live from Cairo -- thank you. Remember Anderson will be with us later tonight, "A.C. 360" 10:00 here in the East. Let's move on to more reporting from the crisis zone.
The Mubarak government did, as we note, make some concessions today. Egypt's new vice president invited the outlaw Muslim Brotherhood into the dialogue about political reforms. He also said flatly, President Mubarak's son, Gamal would not be a candidate in the next election. But so far every concession has been met with the same response.
President Mubarak must go first. Then maybe there can be a dialogue. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Alexandria, Egypt and Nic, it's hard at the moment to see any opening for a breakthrough here. Are you getting the sense is there -- are there open, obvious tensions among the Egyptian population?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. On the street corners here today you see people arguing. Normal people, not people who are out protesting but arguing among themselves about what they've seen happen in Cairo, the violence there, whether they should continue the demonstrations, whether they should stop. People you talk to here, some of them who say they were out in the anti-Mubarak demonstrations say enough is enough.
They should stop. Others, the activists say no, we should continue. I went to talk to the fishermen here today. You would think that the fishermen would be at least maybe a moderate voice in all of this. But they were so angry with the protesters who they say have been destroying the economy, destroying the image of Egypt.
They eventually got angry with us because of what they're hearing on the state television about foreign interference in the country, so these fishermen who weren't even out protesting we went to talk to them. They told us they supported President Mubarak. That's the indication of the tensions here. The passions are rising up so much here that it is not just in the demonstrations. It is dividing this city -- John.
KING: Departure Friday or Farewell Friday, what should we be looking for in the next 12 to 24 hours in Egypt, Nic, and could it be the tipping point?
ROBERTSON: It could be. It is very, very difficult to tell because I think it has become, as we've seen, so volatile and so difficult to predict. I think a key thing here is what will the pro Mubarak supporters do? Particularly in Alexandria, will they come out on the streets in bigger numbers and try and get confrontation?
Because there will be on Friday, much bigger anti-Mubarak protests. It will give the pro Mubarak faction much or many more people to go after and get into big violent confrontation. They haven't managed that so far in Alexandria. We've seen what it looks like in Cairo. I don't know if you can see over my shoulder right now, but there were checkpoints on the main Cornish (ph) road behind me there.
They haven't been there over the past few nights. They're there because they are protecting, appear to be protecting the main mosque where the main anti-Mubarak demonstration will begin in about 12-hours time. They are clearly already putting their defenses out to stop those pro Mubarak supporters getting close to where they're going to gather. And that's exactly where the clashes began a week ago on Friday after Friday prayers.
So I think everyone here, certainly the anti-Mubarak supporters know what they potentially face here tomorrow. So it will be -- it will be a big day. Not just here but across the country -- John.
KING: Nic Robertson for us in Alexandria. We'll stay in touch with Nic. Nic thank you very much. And because we don't have those live images today because of the crackdown, we want to give you another sense, better perspective perhaps of Cairo using the "Magic Wall" here.
Here's the Nile River, of course, a wide shot of Cairo. I want to zoom in a little bit closer because it is here in Tahrir or Liberation Square; this is where it all started though a little over a week ago, going on 10 days ago. Now this is where most of the anti- Mubarak demonstrators were gathering. And as you remember, in the early days, this was relatively peaceful.
Let's take a look at one of the early YouTube videos put up from the scene when the demonstrations were still peaceful.
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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)
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KING: You see Mubarak out there. That one of the very peaceful demonstrations, but then as things went on in recent days we know the Army came in. We know some pro Mubarak forces gathered as well. I want to tip this up just a little bit for you to help you get a little bit of perspective from it. Over by the Egyptian Museum a lot of that was playing out and then it was yesterday when we began to see everything turn. The mood tone -- the tone turned and this happened right in the streets of the middle, peaceful demonstrations (INAUDIBLE) we'll get this to work here -- and in it comes -- watch -- people demonstrating peacefully -- boom.
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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)
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KING: Pro Mubarak demonstrators on horses. You see them coming through. People have been standing around peacefully and they just come through. They have whips. They have sticks. They're scattering people. This was part of the stunning images yesterday we had of all the violence. And in addition to all of our correspondents who have been here, one of the things that has helped CNN throughout this crisis is so many people filing iReports, uploading video, uploading pictures, sending in their themes as well.
We want to show you one from a gentleman who was with his friends. He is an Egyptian who came in to visit friends for a holiday. He was over here -- remember Tahrir Square over here -- he was over here gathering with friends, about to come to a pro- demonstration. He was up on the bridge, looked down, sees this van coming. Let me stop that from moving. The green van is a police van from the interior ministry.
Now I'm going to stop this for a second. This could be disturbing. You're about to see this image -- if you haven't seen this before, the green van is a police van. There are a bunch of -- a crowd gathered here about to go to a demonstration.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
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KING: The van speeds up and goes through. So that is a glimpse there of the tensions you see in Cairo. And we'll be watching right here tomorrow. We'll be watching as all this plays out. As they say, tomorrow, Departure Friday, Farewell Friday could be decisive.
Let's get some important perspective from CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Fareed, I want to start with this interview President Mubarak has done with our friend and former colleague Christiane Amanpour in which he says that he's fed up, that he's tired, that he would love to leave, is what he says, but he says he has to stay for the good of his country and he says this to President Obama. You don't understand the Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, it is obviously nonsense in the sense that President Obama is not the only person suggesting that he step down. There are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of Egyptians making that case. So do all those Egyptians not understand Egyptian culture? Look, if Mubarak had said a year ago that he -- that all these things, everyone would have hailed him as a great leader who was willing to bring his country into a different era.
He has been dragged here kicking and screaming. He did not want to leave. He made signal to everybody including his inner circle that he intended to run again at 82 and in poor health for his sixth term in office. Now he has reluctantly realized that he can't do that. So, but it's very important to remember, it is not President Obama who is alone in suggesting he step down. It is millions of Egyptian who presumably understand Egyptian culture just as well as Mubarak does.
KING: And it's an interesting point you just made because I don't know whether to call this denial, delusional or what, but he had not told -- if he was not going to run he certainly had not conveyed that to the Egyptian people. And as you note, most around him believed fully that he was preparing to run again. But he told Christiane in this interview (A), that he was not going to run. And (B), I never intended to run again. I never intended Gamal, his son, to be president after me. It sounds like a man who is now twisting the facts in his retreat. ZAKARIA: Well and if that was the case then he certainly had the most bizarrely planned secession in the history of the world because the election is six months from now. He says he wasn't going to run. He says his son wasn't going to run. He doesn't have -- he did not appoint a vice president until seven or eight days ago. Who was going to run? Who was going to succeed him? You know the whole thing sounds very weird and it allows us for the first time on CNN to use a horrible pun. Denial is not a river in Egypt.
KING: It is a horrible pun but perhaps an appropriate pun at this moment. But more seriously, what does it tell us about him and about this international stand-off? His own people want him to go, as you rightly note, and that is most important. But President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and other voices from around the world have said Mr. President we've reached a point where you need to go.
What does it tell us that he is retreating? He is at the palace. He is surrounded by tanks and his own people and he is saying no, you don't understand. I can't go.
ZAKARIA: I think that he and the army are making a calculation that they can outlast the protesters. You've got to remember Egypt is a military dictatorship. There are -- you know it's in civilian clothes, Mubarak wears civilian clothes. Omar Suleiman, the vice president, wears civilian clothes. The prime minister wears civilian clothes.
They're all former generals. Mubarak was the -- former head of the Air Force. So the military is deeply invested in this regime. They get enormous benefits and perks from it and they don't want to see some kind of rapid transformation that might threaten their -- all their -- the goodies that they get from this regime. So they are trying to manage a kind of process in which, fine, Mubarak leaves.
They have some kind of controlled elections, but not an actual change of regime if you see what I mean, a change of some personalities, an opening up of the system, but within the same framework. I think their bet is they can outlast the protesters. After a while people have to get back to work. They have to put food on the table. And we'll see.
I mean it may be in some senses, an accurate calculation. Friday, tomorrow will be the D-Day in that sense. If the protesters can really come out in force on Friday, that will be an extraordinary sign in the face of this violence. The face of the fact this has been nine days. The economy is at a standstill. That will be an extraordinary show of strength. And by the way, don't forget there are going to be protests in Jordan and Yemen, perhaps in Syria. So this is taking on a larger life than just what is happening in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
KING: Fareed Zakaria, as always, thanks.
KING: And as Fareed just noted that this has spread throughout the region. So what should President Obama do now and where will this spread? When we come back, the president's leverage and we'll go live to Yemen.
KING: It started in Tunisia and now the ripple of the people's uprising in Egypt being felt across the Middle East. We've seen anti- government demonstrations in Algeria, Jordan and Yemen. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is the only U.S. television correspondent on the ground in Yemen today. He joins now on the telephone from the capital city of Sana'a. And Mohammed, you were out there with demonstrators today and what a remarkable scene in another country with normally a rather autocratic regime.
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. It was an extraordinary scene that we saw when we were out on the streets early Thursday in Sana'a. At least 15,000 anti-government demonstrators next to Sana'a University, out there clearly emboldened to be out there by the events they're seeing going on in Egypt and what they saw go on in Tunisia.
They were expressing solidarity to the Tunisian and Egyptian people. They were also calling for the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, even though the Yemeni president yesterday made concessions to the opposition said that he would not seek re-election in 2013 or seek to install his son as the next president of Yemen.
These people were tired of the regime. They want more economic opportunity. They want to see change right now and better rights and jobs for the Yemeni people. To that end there was also another demonstration just a few miles down the road, pro-government demonstrators. They were rallying around the president. They were saying that they loved the president. They were happy with the president and there really has been a concerted effort by the government of Yemen when there have been anti-government demonstrations in the past couple of weeks to make sure that there were pro-government demonstrators in the streets as well -- John.
KING: Mohammed Jamjoom for us live in Yemen. Mohammed, we'll keep in touch in the days ahead. We'll watch how the demonstrations go as they continue. And this one is a huge concern to the president of the United States who worries most of all in the region about Yemen because of the weak government, the poverty and a very active al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula affiliate there.
So as the president worries about that, what are the Obama administration's options? Well good questions for veteran U.S. diplomat Nick Burns, a former under secretary of state, and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen who has advised four U.S. presidents.
Nick Burns, I want to start with you. President Mubarak told Christiane Amanpour today that President Obama just doesn't get it. That he doesn't understand Egyptian culture and that he can't step down quickly. So now what is the next move for the United States?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Oh I think things have just gotten a lot more complicated for President Obama and the U.S., last night given the violence, today because of the government pushback, President Mubarak's interview. And what the government has been doing on the streets to go after journalists, to shut down information, to separate these two warring groups in Tahrir Square and to get people off the streets.
It looks to me, John, like a government that intends on staying for quite a while and that's not good news in my judgment for the rest of the world or for the Egyptian people because I still don't believe the Egyptian government really has control of the streets. It may not even have -- Mubarak may not have control of his own government. It seems to me that the security forces are acting in a very different way than the military. And that could be very dangerous for them down the line.
KING: Secretary of State Clinton came out today, and to Nick's point, Mubarak seem to be using the dictator's play book, first attack your own people when they rise up against you, then attack the journalists, try to stifle the information flow. Secretary Clinton using pretty forceful words saying it has to stop. Let's listen.
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HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We also condemn in the strongest terms attacks on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners, and diplomats. Freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press are pillars of an open and inclusive society.
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KING: But those are great words, David. But Egypt is not an open and inclusive society at the moment. And it begs the question beyond those words, what leverage does the administration have?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it has certainly the leverage of the international community. And I think what has been surprising, John, is that Mubarak has already de- legitimized. He's lost his legitimacy among millions of people at home. And his best hope for staying in power is to have the international community rally around and say he ought to be left to stay in power until he has an orderly transition.
And now he is angering people in the international community. He is losing his legitimacy. So I think that you know he is becoming increasingly isolated. It does seem to me -- Nick Burns who is right as all so often -- wrote in a blog today the president's handled this -- President Obama has handled this pretty well.
But I do think now is a time for a lot of quiet diplomacy behind the scenes to get a coalition of nations, to put pressure on President Mubarak and his security forces and others, call off the thugs and get the negotiations going right away. So that the violence can be calmed down and there can be some assurance of an orderly transition.
KING: And Nick diplomacy is your business, has been your career. How do they do that? They're obviously working with the U.K. They're working with Germany. But how do they deal with this? We are told that from the region, from Arab nations in the region they are getting complaints at the State Department, stop being so publicly critical of President Mubarak, stop demanding that he go.
BURNS: Well you know I think this crisis is very fast-moving. It is into a new phase just this afternoon and evening because suddenly the Obama administration is faced with a very complex challenge. It continues to have to identify, in my judgment, with the people, the peaceful protesters in the streets, to affirm freedom and affirm a future of reform. But it has to retain, as David Gergen said, on a quiet diplomacy basis enough influence with the Mubarak government to be able to motivate them, influence them, push them behind the scenes.
And I think President Obama has been very skillful over the last 10 days in doing that. It is much more difficult now because President Mubarak has come out and said some very tough things about President Obama.
KING: Nick says quite diplomacy, David Gergen. Should it be public diplomacy? Should the president join a relative few so far, members of Congress, who are saying you need to change, you need to change this now, Mr. President. Mubarak, you need to go or else or else being you lose the military assistance and you lose other economic aid.
GERGEN: I -- it is a very hard call, John. I'm not sure I know the answer. Nick is the professional diplomat here, but my sense tells me from working with various presidents that as long as the administration makes it very clear that they're on the side of democracy and freedom for the people, then he ought to work quietly on the modalities of how you actually do it.
He ought to be working behind the scenes. If he loses leverage by conducting a public crusade against Mubarak, the thing that will get totally out of control, he is much better off to retain some leverage and work other nations to bring an international coalition to bear on getting this thing into a good channel so we have a good outcome. The last thing -- Mubarak is warning about chaos. There is a risk of chaos here and we have to be very, very careful how we do this.
KING: David Gergen, Nick Burns, appreciate your insights, gentlemen.
BURNS: Thank you, John.
GERGEN: Thank you.
KING: Thank you. So if the administration can't convince President Mubarak to go, can it convince the Egyptian army to push him out -- when we come back a conversation about that and more with Joe Klein of "TIME" magazine and CNN's Fran Townsend.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: In this week's "TIME" magazine, Joe Klein sees an important lesson as the traditional U.S. policy of allowing concerns over security and oil trump worries about democracy and human rights. Klein writes, "A smarter foreign policy would quietly promote a careful transition from autocracy to something more benign. The best way to do this is to latch on to institutions, not individual leaders in the developing countries we seek as allies. Sadly, the most reliable institution to latch on to train, equip and support is often the army."
Joe Klein joins us now, along with CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. And Joe there is a hostile lesson there, but there's also an urgency of the moment in that the administration's --
JOE KLEIN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE: Right.
KING: -- hope is they can convince the Egyptian Army to go to the boss, the president, and say go, but we don't see any evidence of that in the immediate term, do we?
KLEIN: Well we really don't know. I mean tonight, it's a pretty haunting night, isn't it? I keep on remembering you know images of tanks in the streets and other places. You know just before Tiananmen, we saw the image of the tank that wouldn't run over the Chinese protester and yet when they kicked out the journalists, as the Egyptians are doing today, the tanks went into Tiananmen Square and we still don't know how many people were killed that night.
On the other hand, in Moscow, in 1991, the tanks wouldn't fight. Boris Yeltsin declared his independence from the Soviet Union on top of an old red army tank. So we really don't know yet what the Egyptian Army is going to do tomorrow. You know they're -- obviously it is a military dictatorship as Fareed Zakaria said before, but they're very, very closely aligned with our military as well.
KING: And so, Fran Townsend, as someone who has had that top security clearance and knows how these conversations go in private, what is Secretary Gates, what is Admiral Mullen, what are they saying right now to their military counterparts to say, at least stay out of this. We would prefer you nudge your president out. How exactly blunt are those conversations?
TOWNSEND: Well, Admiral Mullen has indicated, that he is not-it is not his role to tell President Hosni Mubarak or those around him that Mubarak has got to go.
You know the interesting thing here is although the Egyptian army up to now has said they won't act against the protesters, they may find themselves in a very uncomfortable position come tomorrow. Because not being aggressive against the protesters may not be enough. Because if the ministry of interior, and other thugs, pro-Mubarak thugs, attack the protesters, the army will be put in the position, are they willing to protect them? That's a step much further down the path to forcing Mubarak from powerful. I think they'll confront that issue tomorrow. KING: And, Joe, as we confront tomorrow, people are thinking what did we do or did we do anything that complicated this mess. You cannot say it got us into this mess. You make the point, don't attach yourself to leaders, attach yourself to institutions. But will we learn the lesson this time. George W. Bush said that back in his freedom march, saying his own father had made the mistake of putting oil and security above human rights. Will we learn it or will we forget it once this passes?
KLEIN: Yes, but then George W. Bush put oil and security above human rights. There was a period where Bush, Condoleezza Rice made a famous speech in 2005, in Cairo, calling on the government to reform. Then we didn't do anything about it. I think the Obama administration has been a little more discreet about this, but now it is pretty far in the field. And you just have to wonder what will happen if Mubarak manages to see this through? How will our relations with Egypt going to exist until the election? And even then, if chaos is a problem now, Mubarak could say next September. Well, chaos is a real problem, I have to stick around a little while longer.
KING: So, Fran, as Joe lays out the pretty stark and not terribly optimistic choices, is the administration, in private, do you think they are being clear or vague about the aid lever? Telling the military, look, you don't do what we need here, then you don't get your $1.3, $1.4 billion.
TOWNSEND: Well, John, you'd better be careful about how you play that card. Which is part of the reason Republican and Democratic administrations have had this alliance with Hosni Mubarak. If you play lever, and you threaten the military now with removing aid, they may design to throw their lot in with Hosni Mubarak, and be more aggressive. It is not clear if you played that card, the impact it has on the morale and the actions of the Egyptian military.
KLEIN: John, there is one other point, if I could. That I think the important conversations here are not happening at the Mullen level. They're happening at the level of the generals and colonels who spend time together in places like the Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the Combined Arms College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Those are personal relationships that exist and are very strong. It may well be the Egyptian military and those American generals are having conversations now about what the best course of action would be, in an informal, personal way.
KING: Excellent insights from Joe Klein. We'll watch as that plays out. Fran Townsend, thank you all for coming in tonight. Appreciate both of you .
Still to come, some on the right warn the fall of Mubarak could usher in a radical Islamic caliphate with a global reach. A legitimate fear, or fear mongering?
But next, back to Egypt for the very latest. And former Obama rival John McCain rates the president's handling of his biggest international crisis.
KING: If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know right now about the crisis in Egypt. The United States and other nations today condemned the increasing attacks on journalists and diplomats in Egypt; live pictures from Cairo impossible tonight because of that crackdown.
On Capitol Hill tonight, the Senate is expected to pass a resolution sponsored by Senators John McCain and John Kerry calling on President Mubarak to immediately begin an orderly transition to a democratic political system. I spoke to Senator McCain earlier today, asking him about the Mubarak regime saying there would be chaos if he left now.
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JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: I think that either rightly or wrongly, President Mubarak has become a symbol of the repressive government he has not allowed the people of Egypt to express their democratic yearnings, and give them the rights that they, as human beings, deserve. And so if we could get a transition government in place that is representative, not only of the army, but also other democratic elements within Egyptian society. Then I think there is a good opportunity to have this violence subside. The longer that this transition is delayed, I think that the likelihood of furthest escalation in violence is increased.
KING: Should the United States be saying, we will cut off aid if you don't do this now? Should the United States be saying we will suspend the planned arms sale if you don't do this now?
MCCAIN: I think we should wait on all of that. There is always time for that. I think that one of our strongest influences here is the Egyptian military. We have very close military-to-military relationship with the Egyptians. They've been to our war colleges, our command and staff colleges. And they understand, I think, the situation rather well. I would rather not issue threats at this time until we have exhausted all other methods of persuasion. I'm not sure that wouldn't back fire, to tell you the truth, John.
KING: President Mubarak's team is saying the United States is meddling here. Stepping in where it shouldn't be. They are saying that publicly. We also know some of the other governments of the region, who are watching this quite nervously are a bit nervous themselves. That perhaps the United States at least publicly is playing too much of a role here. How is the president handling this so far in your view?
MCCAIN: I have to say, the president, I think, is handling this situation well under the most difficult kind of circumstances. We are paying a price for historic neglect of human rights, which we have traditionally stood for throughout our history. Our advocacy of it in the name of realpolitik. I think over time that doesn't work.
And I am keenly aware of the dangers of radical Islamic influence in every one of these countries. It is a huge danger. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in my view is a great threat to democracy. Anybody who advocates Sharia law, certainly isn't our kind of democrat. So this is probably the most dangerous time that in recent memory, in the Middle East due to the implications throughout the region, not to mention the implications as far as Israel is concerned.
KING: As you know, there are some who have a different view. I want you to listen to the former Speaker of the House New Gingrich, who says, A, the United States is losing the war on terror. And, B, he thinks the president could make it worse right here.
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NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: We're losing the war because there are madrassas around the planet teaching hatred. We are losing the war because the network of terrorists is bigger, not smaller. There is a real possibility that in a few weeks, if we're unfortunate, Egypt will join Iran and join Lebanon and join Gaza, and join the things that are happening, that are extraordinarily dangerous to us.
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KING: Do you see it as negatively as that? A, are we losing? And B, do you see Egypt as part of a growing Islamic caliphate in the Middle East?
MCCAIN: The former speaker drew a scenario which is entirely possible. Our job is to act that it doesn't unfold that way. And I don't see how it hurts us to stand up for the things that are the very principles of our existence. We believe it applies to everyone in the world. Not just those of us in the United States. I'm not a starry- eyed idealist. I know the nature of war and I think I understand these issues. And I understand the criticality. But for us to be on the side of governments that are oppressive and repressive in the long run can never benefit us and help us achieve our goals.
KING: I know you think we over dwell on this, but you ran against President Obama in 2008. You had finally a sit-down with him in the White House. Can you sure a little bit of personal reflection on what that moment was like and the evolution of a relationship that, I think it is quite fair to say, turned frosty after the election, especially in the early days of the administration. And perhaps seems to be warming at least a bit now.
MCCAIN: Well, it is not an issue of warmth or lack of warmth. I strongly disagreed with the health care reform, the stimulus package, the spending. Those were-I felt passionately about. I don't think it ever interfered with my personal relationship with President Obama, which frankly developed here while he was here in the United States Senate.
Now I think that, and I say this with respect, the president has shifted in a number of ways as a result of the November election, which I think is appropriate. And we have a common interest, common values. And I hope, and I believe there are areas where we can work together for the good of the country. KING: Was this a perfunctory, professional, president meets leading Republican senator meeting, or was it more of a personal, let's have a new chapter. Let's try to have a very productive personal dialogue as well as professional dialogue?
MCCAIN: The president of the United States doesn't have a lot of time for socializing. And I think it was along the line of going through some issues that there are every prospect that we could work together on under the right circumstances. And I look forward to that opportunity.
KING: We'll go back through some of the Iraq war debate the release of Secretary Rumsfeld's book. And you and Secretary Rumsfeld- you might have a better relationship with President Obama than you do with secretary Rumsfeld. He talks in the book, known and unknown, that you have a, quote, "hair-trigger temper". And what Secretary Rumsfeld said, "a propensity to shift his positions to appeal to the media."
MCCAIN: My only response is that I was over in Iraq enough to know that we were losing. And American lives were being lost. There is nothing more important than. And I came back and we had literally pitched battles on the issue of a surge. And he steadfastly opposed it. He did not support such a thing. He didn't believe we needed additional troops. That was a huge bone of contention between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld. And fortunately, after the election of 2006, the president decided to replace him. We had the surge and we've achieved a significant degree of success in Iraq which we wouldn't have under Secretary Rumsfeld. I respect Secretary Rumsfeld and his service to the country. It was nothing personal.
KING: But you make the position today that history proved John McCain right.
MCCAIN: I think so. I think it proved David Petraeus right.
KING: Senator John McCain, we appreciate your time today, sir.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
KING: Next, some on the right warn the fall of Mubarak will usher in a radical Islamic caliphate with a global reach. Legitimate fear, or fear mongering?
KING: We at CNN could not be more proud of our global reach and of our remarkable journalists. I make that observation because where you get your news sadly can impact what news you get, especially how that news is analyzed.
In a conversation with Bob Kagan of the Brookings Institution, and Michele Dunn of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, I wanted to get their take on how we got here and where we're heading. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KING: People have watched this play out in recent days. It is a minority. But there have been some critics of the Obama administration, who were critical before this happened, who were saying that somehow what is happening in the streets of Egypt has a seed in what the president said back in 2009 when he went to Cairo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion. You must respect the rights of minorities and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise. You must place the interests of your people, and the legitimate workings of the political process, above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There is no question you could listen to that part of the speech and take that as a direct rebuke to President Mubarak and to others in the Middle East. And the Obama administration says absolutely. That's what we meant by that speech. We stand by that speech and when criticize them they also say but it's not all that much different from what President George W. Bush said when he started to push his freedom agenda. Let's listen to President Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is there an honest debate about what our presidents, presidents, plural, have said, did they follow up? How hard did they push? Or is that just instant retreat into politics like we have in many crisis, whether they be foreign or domestic?
ROBERT KAGAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: To my mind both President Bush and President Obama are absolutely right. And if this had some effect on -- in the Middle East and the Arab world and Tunisia and Egypt, in encouraging people to demand the kinds of freedoms that we enjoy the United States and Europe and Asia and elsewhere, then that's great.
The problem I would say in both cases, and both President Bush and President Obama was there was not follow-up in terms of policy. And in Egypt, where both Michele and I have been looking at administration policy very closely over the past year, after that rhetoric, there was not enough pressure on the Mubarak regime to take the necessary steps; for instance, in the most recent parliamentary elections to open up to the kind of political space that might have prevented this current crisis from erupting. If Mubarak had been more willing to make some concessions then we wouldn't be necessarily in this crisis right now.
MICHELE DUNNE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INT'L. PEACE: I think they were articulating the right principles. The Bush administration tried with Egypt, specifically, for a few years. I would say from 2002 to 2005, they pressed them a bit and they got a few things out of it. The elections Egypt held in 2005 were probably the freest Egypt has ever held. But then the Bush administration began to back off. And I think the Obama administration was quite late in pursuing this agenda and fairly timid in pursuing it.
KING: The question is, what's next? If you watch some of the news coverage and some of the analysis there are some who say their biggest fear if this happens fast that you could have a radical Islamist government seize power in Egypt and then have a ripple effect.
KAGAN: A risk of a radical government taking over in Egypt? No. I don't think that's a very high risk. The risk that the Muslim Brotherhood will get a reasonably large share of the next government, that is a risk. And one of the reasons that I think it's important actually to move quickly is to try to prevent that from happening to some extent. Because if the secular force, the liberal forces, in Egypt feel that they have the opportunity to move toward a free and fair democratic election, in which they'll have a chance, they're more likely to go in a peaceful direction and a non-radical direction. But the longer this drags out, the greater the possibility that that -- even that the more moderate segment of the population will become radicalized.
KING: This is from a rival news network. It is something that I would describe, this is my opinion, as out there a little bit. It's Glenn Beck yesterday. He's standing in front of a map and he is essentially saying Egypt will fall, the Islamists will seize power and there will be a domino effect not only across the Middle East, but Glenn Beck's conjecture is that it could go further. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Now what is happens? You move over to Asia and you grab the ones, once this domino starts to fall, and the Muslims start to see, oh, my gosh, we might from a caliphate. We might be able to have Islam imposed and Sharia law all over the globe. You start to lose all of Asia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Michele, to you first, any scenario in which you see anything like that possibly coming out of this?
DUNNE: I think the Muslim Brothers are going to play a role in the political future of Egypt and I -- but I don't see any kind of a radical Islamist takeover. Let's not forget. The Egyptian army are there and the Egyptian judiciary is there. There are some pillars of the system that have not fallen and will no necessarily fall with Mubarak. They show no signs of falling. So there are institutions, and so forth in Egypt to prevent a radical takeover. But, you know, I would also say this, I mean, what's the alternative scenario? You know, what should the United States be doing? Are we supposed to -- you know, this train is moving down the track, change is happening in Egypt. Should we throw ourselves in front of it just to try to stop the Muslim Brothers from getting into parliament? I mean it's just a totally unrealistic scenario. The idea that somehow the United States should stop political change, and should do what it can to deny political rights and human rights to 85 million Egyptians, you know, because we're concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood.
KING: Is what you just saw, is that alarmist? Is it extreme?
KAGAN: Of course, it's panic mongering of the worst kind. It's not the first time in American history that kind of panic mongering has played well on TV or in the press. But I hope that people who have some sobriety and some good sense won't look at a map like that and think that India, which I noticed was colored in, was about to become part of an Islamic caliphate. That shows a profound ignorance of India, as well as the rest of the world.
I think we need to be intelligent about how we move forward. Not be guided by panic about some global Islamic takeover. And, in fact, that kind of panic leads to the worst kind of policies.
KING: Bob Kagan, Michele Dunne, appreciate your insights.
KING: Up next, we'll go to the magic wall to see what the world is saying about the crisis in Egypt.
KING: Let's take a look at some of today's global headlines about the Egypt political crisis. This is a state-run newspaper, in Egypt, pro-Mubarak. "Millions Go Out Supporting the Mubarak Regime", "Demonstrations and Marches in Cairo".
This, another Arabic newspaper, this one in Saudi Arabia: "Washington Criticizes Mubarak, Asks for Immediate Change".
Over here, in London, "Mubarak Inflames Street War, Pressure on the Military To Be Decisive". And in Israel, obviously, leading the demonstrations here, "Vowing To Step Down Egyptian President Takes Battle to the Street".
Those are the scenes from yesterday. When we ended our program last night we did so with a live picture after a day of violence, or demonstrators still gathering. This was the picture live last night we ended on. We can't end with a live picture tonight because of a government crackdown and security. We don't have a live picture, but we can show you this. Tomorrow in "Farewell Friday", the demonstrators say, will take place right here. A huge rally, they hope, topples the regime. We have a lot of brave people in Egypt. We'll try to bring you coverage. We'll see you tomorrow. PARKER SPITZER starts right now.