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Inside the Oval Office: The Middle East

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Deciphering the Obama administration's foreign policy thinking is akin to deciphering the Rosetta Stone -- after the pictograms have been disordered by a game of speed-scrabble. Fortuitously, the following arrived from an anonymous White House source. It purports to be an unofficial summary account of an ultra secret meeting held in the Oval Office. Attending were the inner circle of the inner sanctum: Mr. President, William Daley, David Plouffe and Thomas Donilon. Here are the notes.

1. Mr. President voiced optimism that the Middle East crisis seems to be turning in 'our' favor. Key American interests are protected and the voters will see that America is on the right side of history. ('Voters' was verbally underscored).

2. The White House's stirring declarations that democracy and freedom are on the march in the region have confirmed our credentials as the supporter of the right and virtuous. The president thanked Plouffe for providing that moving line about how "we hear you" to the crowds in Cairo. Reports from the Embassy say that it really made an impression and will never be forgotten as youthful Egyptians enter a turbulent period of transition.

3. We are speaking with one voice: mine, Hillary's speech last month, and Bob Gates' reminder of the need for more than 'baby steps' while calling on everyone to behave in a non-provocative manner -- all reinforce each other and strike the right note. Even Joe is on cue -- I think.

4. Our prudent approach towards the situation in Egypt allows us to maintain our close ties with the military there who we count on to keep the country aligned with American strategic objectives.. There's no love lost between the senior military people and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is all to the good. Mike Mullen told me yesterday that they're committed to strangling Gaza, bolstering Abbas by any means possible, and keeping Iran in its box.

Let's not forget that they're Sunnis through and through -- and the moderate kind who see where their interests lie.

5. In Libya things became a bit sticky after I declared that "Gaddafi must go," and he didn't. I really thought that I was ahead of the curve on that one. Still, we're in a win-win situation. Hillary's now out in front on the no-fly-zone + so no one can accuse us of abandoning the freedom-loving Libyan people. It looked impossible to do anything practical to help them what with the UNSC vetoes and the unacceptable risks of military action. Now we got 10-0 UNSC Resolution. I'm looking like a hero. We needed to compensate for our sidelining ourselves on Bahrain and Yemen. It's all in the footwork. A coup against Gaddafi would be best. Everyone would think that the CIA was behind it and I'd get the credit. No need to broadcast the fact that those guys in Langley could never pull off something like that. And if he stays in power, we reap the benefits of continued deep cooperation with their security services in the Sahel. Man -- can you imagine what it would do to our reelection chances if a couple of those Mali guys managed to get their hands on fire retardant underwear!

6. Same in Yemen. Saleh is a lizard, but he's our lizard. We don't have a clue as to what's going on with all those tribes, sects and whatnot. All we know is that al Qaeda is there, and if al Qaeda is there I worry. I can't take a chance that they'll exploit those naïve democracy demonstrators. In Egypt, we have the army as our guarantor; so too in Tunisia. In Yemen, there is no equivalent. Sure, it wasn't cool for Saleh to talk about a Washington-Jerusalem axis as the cause of all his troubles. We're lucky that almost no one over here picked up on it or took offense. There is something to be said for ignorance and a lazy press. Actually, a lot to be said for it. Let's hope that Saleh gets control of things quickly. Panetta tells me that his people are still enjoying a puff or two with their security people. So all's calm on the terrorism front.

7. Bahrain was the big one. It is imperative that we shore up our friends in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. That's our oil lifeline. That's the front line in holding the Mullahs in check. Now that a line of blood has been drawn between the monarchies and the Shi'ites there is no way that they'll lose their nerve and back away from confronting the Persians. You got to know who your enemies are and who your friends are -- no equivocating. It was unacceptable to put our naval bases at risk. They're critical for any action that we might stake against the Persians. They ensure us a stable strike force to handle any new trouble in Iraq. (By the way, let's check with Hillary whether there's still some way to inveigle Alawi into the top slot. The guy hasn't been inside a Shi'ite mosque in 40 years; hell, he's an atheist for sure.) Bahrain is also the pearl in the crown of our archipelago of bases all the way into Afghanistan and Central Asia. Of course, it cost us something with the democracy purists, but let's not inflate it. They're like the progressives over here: never satisfied, ungrateful, picking on small flaws in the fabric and not realizing that I'm the only thing that stands between them and Sarah Palin.

8. So everything looks to be under control. I'm flying down to Tuscaloosa tomorrow with Michelle to continue my tour of middle schools. I'll be at the Robert E. Lee school talking to the kids about the dangers of second hand chalk dust. The nation has to brace up to the challenge of making the transition to Smartboards. This is national problem that demands a national solution; chalk dust free classrooms is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. We have to find ways to work together -- going forward.