THE BLOG
02/04/2011 07:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Inside the White House

The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is late January/early February 2011. President Obama is holding a briefing with his National Security Team.

The President: OK, what's the situation?

The Secretary of State: Well, the peaceful citizens of Egypt are gathered in Tahrir Square, singing songs and chanting slogans for democracy.

The President: What do they want?

The Secretary of State: President Mubarak to resign. Economic opportunity. An end to state torture. They also want an interim unity government and amendments to the Egyptian Constitution to allow free and fair elections.

The President: OK. We really need to say something about this. This situation cries out for a forceful declaration from the leader of the free world.

The Secretary of State: Absolutely.

The Secretary of Defense: I couldn't agree more.

The President: What should we say?

The Secretary of State:

The Secretary of Defense:

The President: Well, I mean. Let's not all talk at once.

(Laughter)

The Secretary of State:

The Secretary of Defense:

The President: No, really. I'm pretty sure we need to say something.

The Secretary of State: Let's start with what we can agree on. The people of Egypt must chart their own destiny. It's not our role to choose their leaders.

The President: Right. We would never play a role in selecting the leader of a Middle East state. That's good. What else?

The Secretary of Defense: We don't want to see violence.

The President: Yes. Whatever happens, we'll caution against violence.

The Secretary of State: Who are we cautioning?

The President: Anyone who might seek to use violence.

The Secretary of Defense: I'm writing these down. So far I have not our place to choose their leaders, no violence.

The President: We're walking a line here. It sounds like we're supporting democracy, but nothing we say is inconsistent with a continuing dictatorship.

The National Security Advisor: It's like an improv game.

The President: A what?

The National Security Advisor: It's not important.

The Secretary of State: Don't we want an orderly transition?

The Secretary of Defense: To what?

The Secretary of State: Does it matter?

The President: Orderly transition is perfect. What about the timing?

The Secretary of State: It happens at some point in the future. In other words, it continues for some length of time.

The President (to the Secretary of Defense): Write that down.

The Secretary of Defense scribbles in his notebook.

The Secretary of Defense: So far I have: Not our role to choose their leaders, no violence, orderly transition.

The President: Good. Let's go with that.

Several days later

The Secretary of State: So the situation is, Mubarak sent in armed thugs to attack the peaceful citizens of Egypt singing songs and chanting slogans for justice and freedom from tyranny.

The President: I thought we said no violence.

The Secretary of Defense: Right. But remember, it's not our place...

The President: I know, but I'm saying...

The Secretary of Defense: Events on the ground are moving in real time. The question is: How do we stay exactly one step behind them?

The Secretary of State: I think we need to be stronger on the orderly transition. Like when it starts.

The President: I think it starts now. Same earlier points, but the orderly transition starts now.

The Secretary of State: Sounds good to me.

The next day

The Secretary of State: It was a bloody day and night on Tahrir Square, Mr. President. The peaceful citizens of Egypt protesting for democracy protected themselves by tearing up the streets and sidewalks and pelting Mubarak's thugs with rubble. It's a miracle only three people were killed.

The President: Damnit. I really wish we had more to say about this. What's going on now?

The Secretary of Defense: Mubarak's thugs are arresting and beating up journalists. We fear it could be the precursor to a massacre.

The President: We really need a stronger message here.

The Secretary of Defense: I think we deplore the violence.

The President: Yes, we definitely have to deplore the violence. It was the very thing we cautioned people against.

The Secretary of Defense: Exactly.

The President: Do we think Mubarak can survive this?

The Secretary of State: His thugs have been beaten back two days in a row. If they don't come back for a third day, Mubarak is finished.

The President: OK, then: If Mubarak's thugs don't come back on the third day, we'll negotiate with the army and Mubarak's aids to arrange an interim unity government and amendments to the Egyptian Constitution to allow free and fair elections.

The Secretary of State: We've played this perfectly, Mr. President.

The Secretary of Defense: One step behind, all the way.

The President: Great. We'll stick to daily briefings. What's next?

The Secretary of Defense: Your approval of renewed military aid and security commitments to the government of Saudi Arabia, Mr. President.

The President: Yes, let's see what we have here . . .

The president begins reviewing a briefing book. The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense leave him to his studies.

THE END.