MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, Egypt in revolt. Tens of thousands of anti- government protesters defy a military curfew and other attempts to quell the uprising, pouring into the streets, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. President Obama walks a fine line, supporting a vital U.S. ally, but also siding with the Egyptian people who want freedom and their democratic rights.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere.
MR. GREGORY: Can Mubarak, Egypt's ruler for three decades, survive? And if he goes, will an Islamic extremist movement replace him? What are the implications for the rest of the Middle East if this democratic wave keeps building? Relations with Israel, Iran's influence, U.S. oil interests, and stability in a crucial region of the world. Our guest this morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Also part of our special coverage, a report from NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel on the ground in Cairo, analysis from Tom Friedman of The New York Times, and Martin Indyk, former Mideast negotiator and ambassador to Israel for President Bill Clinton. Back home, in his State of the Union address, the president promises to win the future, but what can actually get done this year? With us, the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky.
Finally, our political roundtable: a moment of truth on Egypt for the White House, and how foreign policy will impact the coming debates over government spending and the race for the White House in 2012. With us, Republican strategist Mike Murphy; former congressman and chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, Harold Ford; NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd; and Washington correspondent for the BBC, Katty Kay.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning. Day six of the unrest in Egypt. Protests now giving way to arson and looting. Defiant Egyptians taking over the streets as the military does little to hold back the tens of thousands of demonstrators. Estimates of more than 100 people killed this morning, and President Hosni Mubarak clinging to power after firing his Cabinet and installing the country's intelligence chief as vice president. Here with me now for the very latest on the crisis, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Madam Secretary, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, David.
MR. GREGORY: I know our time with you is limited. Let me get right to it. On Monday you said that the Egyptian government was stable and was looking for ways to respond to the wishes of the people. Have you changed your view?
SEC'Y CLINTON: You know, David, this is a very volatile situation, and I think that, as we monitor it closely, we continue to urge the Egyptian government, as the United States has for 30 years, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and begin to take concrete steps to implement democratic and economic reform. At the same time, we recognize that we have to deal with the situation as it is. And we are heartened by what we hear from our contacts that at least thus far the army has been trying to bring a sense of order without violence. And we have to make a distinction, as they are attempting to do, between peaceful protesters whose aspirations need to be addressed, and then those who take advantage of such a situation for looting or other criminal activity.
MR. GREGORY: But...
SEC'Y CLINTON: And we, we have a very clear message. Long-term stability rests on responding to the legitimate needs of the Egyptian people, and that is what we want to see happen.
MR. GREGORY: Are you calling the regime of Hosni Mubarak stable this morning?
SEC'Y CLINTON: You know, I'm not going to get into, you know, either/or choices. What we're saying is that any efforts by this government to respond to the needs of their people, to take steps that will result in a peaceful, orderly transition to a democratic regime is what is in the best interests of everyone, including the current government.
MR. GREGORY: You've talked about the steps that are necessary for the regime to take in order to really respond to the wishes of the people. Your spokesman, P.J. Crowley, put on Twitter yesterday that "the Egyptian government can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat. President Mubarak's words pledging reform must be followed by action." Are you calling upon Egypt to call for free and fair elections? And would you ask Mubarak to say unequivocally that he will not run?
SEC'Y CLINTON: We have been urging free and fair election for many years. I mean, I do think it's important to recognize that through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, America's message has been consistent. We want to see free and fair elections, and we expect that that will be one of the outcomes of what is going on in Egypt right now. So we have been sending that message over and over again, publicly and privately, and we continue to do so.
MR. GREGORY: But is it -- is the only way that Mubarak stays in power for now is if he calls immediately for free and fair elections and pledges that he will not run?
SEC'Y CLINTON: David, these, these issues are up to the Egyptian people, and they have to make these decisions. But our position is very clear. We have urged for 30 years that there be a vice president, and finally a vice president was announced just a day or two ago. So we have tried to, in our partnership with Egypt, to make the point over and over again about what will create a better pathway for the Egyptian people in terms of greater participation, with political reforms, and greater economic opportunity. You know, I spoke about this very clearly in Doha, it, it seems like a long time ago, but, you know, just about two weeks ago, where I outlined that whatever was possible in the 20th century is no longer possible for regimes in the 21st century. The world is moving too fast. There is too much information. People's aspirations and certainly the rise of middle classes throughout the world demand responsive participatory government. And that is what we expect to see happen.
MR. GREGORY: But I just want to pin you down on this, Secretary Clinton, do you think that the Mubarak regime has taken the necessary steps to retain power?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Oh, I think that there are many, many steps that have to be taken. And it's not a question of who retains power. That should not be the issue. It's how are we going to respond to the legitimate needs and grievances expressed by the Egyptian people and chart a new path? Clearly, the path that has been followed has not been one that has created that democratic future, that economic opportunity that people in the peaceful protests are seeking. So it's our very strong advice, which we have delivered -- President Obama spoke with President Mubarak, I've spoken with my counterpart, Secretary Gates has spoken with his. This is an ongoing conversation that American officials have had for 30 years. Now is the time to move toward a national dialogue, to take concrete steps, to create the political space for peaceful protest and for the creation of peaceful oppositions that want to help work toward a better future. That is what we want to see.
MR. GREGORY: Should Mubarak lose power? Would the United States offer him sanctuary?
SEC'Y CLINTON: You know, I, I believe strongly that we are only at the beginning of what is unfolding in Egypt. I'm not going to go into hypotheticals and speculation other than to say that President Mubarak and his government have been an important partner to the United States. I mean, let's not, you know, just focus on today. This is a government that made and kept a peace with Israel that was incredibly important, avoiding violence, turmoil, death in the region. But so much more has to be done, and that is what we are urging.
MR. GREGORY: But you'd like to see him stay in power?
SEC'Y CLINTON: David, you cannot keep trying to put words in my mouth. I've never said that. I don't intend to say that. I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people. We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society. And we believe that President Mubarak, his government, civil society, political activists, need to be part of a national dialogue to bring that about.
MR. GREGORY: Before you go, are Americans in danger in Egypt?
SEC'Y CLINTON: We're working closely with the Egyptian government to ensure the safety of American citizens. We have authorized a voluntary departure. We are reaching out to American citizens. As I'm speaking to you at this point, thankfully, we do not have any reports of any American citizens killed or injured. We want to keep it that way. So we are, are just working triple time here in the State Department to ensure the safety of our Americans.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Clinton, thank you.
SEC'Y CLINTON: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Now let's go live to Cairo where we are joined by NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel who's been reporting on this story throughout. So, Richard, it is now almost Sunday evening. Give our viewers a sense of what's going on right now.
MR. RICHARD ENGEL: The army is trying to make a show of force. More troops have been called in, and I'm sure any second now you're going to hear two Egyptian fighter jets that have been circling low over the city. The army is trying to tell the people the government still exists, the army is still in power, even though we don't see police on the streets and there has been a great deal of looting.
MR. GREGORY: Looting overnight, and we saw some of those pictures. Why was that so important? Who was involved in that, and, and what did they do to crack down?
MR. ENGEL: And here come those jets.... The looting is what is -- I'm not sure if I heard all your question because of the, the jets. The looting is what Egyptians are mostly focused on right now. Many people have set up private vigilante groups in front of their homes. People are gathering together, families are living in the same apartment when they can. People are afraid. This is no longer just a political movement with protesters on the streets, but there is a basic collapse of law and order.
MR. GREGORY: Given that collapse, but given the relative restraint of the military, what does that say to you about Mubarak's future?
MR. ENGEL: The army has been called in, but the, the soldiers have not been firing on demonstrators. There have been tanks in the streets, they have been welcomed by the protesters. That shows that the army clearly has not been given an order to attack the demonstrators. It's unclear if the army would carry that out because we've seen a lot of soldiers who themselves have been standing up, cheering with the demonstrators. There seems to be a solidarity between the soldiers on the ground and the demonstrators themselves. We have also been told that there are discussions and disagreements between the senior leadership of the Egyptian army and President Mubarak himself. There's been talk of a coup. Clearly, we cannot get any confirmation or comment from the army if it is planning a coup or not.
MR. GREGORY: Richard, give me a sense of what it's like on the street, talking to Egyptians who are protesting. What does it feel like for them in the middle of this moment?
MR. ENGEL: Every Egyptian you'll -- that I've spoken to says the government is allowing a degree of chaos to happen in order to punish the people. The government doesn't like these demonstrations. President Mubarak feels personally threatened by them. And most Egyptians believe the police were pulled back. Thousands of inmates were allowed to escape from prison. Some say they broke out, maybe 10,000 prisoners -- rapists, murdered, Islamic militants-- have escaped onto the streets. And Egyptians say this is all allowed to happen in order to show the Egyptian people an alternative to a strict state. Now, the Egyptian government says that is not the case, that it is trying to regain order, but the Egyptian people think that the, the -- President Mubarak wants to show them, "Well, if you protest, the alternative is chaos."
MR. GREGORY: Richard Engel, thank you for all of your reporting. And we'll stay tuned. Thank you very much. Now I want to turn to the Republican Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky. Senator, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): Good morning.
MR. GREGORY: Developing story here, so much to talk about. In terms of Egypt, what is your reaction to hearing Secretary Clinton this morning and the administration's stance?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I don't have much to add to what Secretary Clinton said. We, we all know Egypt has been an extraordinarily important ally of ours. The Suez Canal has been kept open for commerce. They have worked with Israel to prevent, to a large extent, arms from going into Gaza because the Gaza- Egyptian border's been a sensitive subject. And of course, we're grateful for the 30-year peace agreement with Israel. So they are an indispensable ally. And we hope that at the end of the day, when whatever changes are going to occur do occur, that we'll still have an important ally.
MR. GREGORY: But you've been pointed in your comments about Hosni Mubarak in the past. In 2004 you wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, and part of what you said is, "It's past time" for " President Mubarak" that he "demonstrated the courage and commitment to lead Egypt into a new era of freedom and prosperity. To do anything less will only strengthen the hands of extremists." He has failed in that effort, hasn't he, to democratize.
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I -- like president -- like Secretary Clinton, a lot of the rest of us, I've said that to President Mubarak over the years, the last time in, in 2009. I was there, and we had a chance to talk about this issue. As Secretary Clinton said, it's been on the agenda for a long time. And a lot of us felt that had he moved on some of these issues, we'd have had a much smoother transition than we're witnessing now.
MR. GREGORY: Can he stay in power?
SEN. McCONNELL: Look, it's not up to us to, you know, to give the Egyptians advice about this. You know, hopefully this transition will occur relatively peacefully. And at the end of it all, I hope we still have an important ally in the Middle East.
MR. GREGORY: And you'd be prepared to recognize -- whether it's Mubarak, whether it's Egyptian Brotherhood, whoever takes control in Egypt, the United States will be an ally of?
SEN. McCONNELL: It's up to the Egyptians to determine what their leadership is, and we'll take a look at it after that.
MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to some of the other big matters in Washington.
SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: And, you know, I guess the, the overarching question in terms of a new foreign policy test for this president, how important -- what's important about how he handles it for you?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I, I think -- I don't have any criticism of the way the president's -- you're talking about the Egyptians.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah, I, I don't have any criticism of President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point. I mean, they know full well that we can't give the Egyptians advice about who their leadership is. That's beyond the reach of the United States. And I think we ought to speak as one voice during this crisis, and so I'm not prepared...
MR. GREGORY: What about, what about U.S. military aid, over a billion dollars, $1.3 billion? Is that on the table? Should that be withheld if things don't go the way we'd like it to go?
SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah, look, answering those kind of hypotheticals is not a good idea. We need to wait and see what emerges in Egypt.
MR. GREGORY: All right, let's turn to some of the other matters. The State of the Union this week...
SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...was what we were all talking about until this really got out of hand. And one of the big issues is, what are Republicans prepared to do as we move forward into this year in terms of working in this era of divided government? Rand Paul, the junior senator from -- excuse me, sorry. Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, the junior senator from Kentucky, talked this week and pointed up some of the divisions within the GOP ranks. This is what he said.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Some said when people who came from the tea party were elected that Washington would co-opt us. The interesting thing is, is I think we're already co-opting Washington.
MR. GREGORY: You talk about earmarks, you talk about some of the sentiment about spending. Is the tea party sentiment driving the GOP now?
SEN. McCONNELL: Look, I, I find great unity among Republicans. Not only the members who are already here, but the new members who came are interested in tackling spending and debt and getting the private sector going again. I think the most interesting unreported divisions in this town are among Democrats. I mean, if you look at the Senate, for example, we have 23 Democrats, a significant majority of those who are running in the next election, looking at the results of the last election, and I think they are -- have a growing awareness that what they did the last two years was rebuffed by the American people. Let's look at what went on the last two years. You know, we added $3 trillion to the deficit and lost three million jobs. We took government spending from 20 percent of gross domestic product, domestic GDP, up to 25 percent of GDP. Look, what we've been doing doesn't work. And I think the message from the American people was clear, "Don't do that anymore." We're going to give the president an opportunity to reduce our annual deficit, which is completely out of control. And I hope, David-- I agree with The Washington Post editorial this morning. I was disappointed in the president's unwillingness to, to address our long-term unfunded liabilities.
MR. GREGORY: Well, that's very interesting because I've also detected a great deal of caution on the part of Republicans who, who campaigned on the idea of spending cuts. And yet, when it comes to a program like Social Security-- it was Speaker Boehner who told a group of us this week, "Well, look, we need to spend more time defining the problem before we get in the boat with the president here and say that we've got to make long-term changes." Is that your view?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, look, we have, we have two problems here. It's our annual deficit, completely out of control. We're going to send the president a lot less -- we're going to allow him to sign onto a lot less spending than he recommended the other night and that he's likely to send us in the budget. Then with, with regard to long-term unfunded liabilities, the entitlements, Speaker Boehner's correct, you cannot do that on a partisan basis. President Bush tried doing that in 2005 with regard to Social Security's problems. And by the way, the announcement this week that Social Security's gone into deficit, it will run a $45 billion deficit this year and for as far as the eye can see. Look, entitlement reform can only be done on a bipartisan basis. It's happened before. Reagan and Tip O'Neill fixed Social Security in '83. Reagan and the Democratic House did tax reform in '86.
MR. GREGORY: So, but if the president were to say, "OK, Leader McConnell, if, if you're prepared to deal with some revenue increases, we can also deal with some benefit cuts. Let's take a balanced approach to Social Security," you could support that?
SEN. McCONNELL: Look, you know, you've tried this before. I, I'm not going to negotiate the deal with David Gregory. I'd be happy to negotiate it...
MR. GREGORY: I keep hoping you'll change your mind.
SEN. McCONNELL: I'd be happy to try to negotiate the deal, and Speaker Boehner would too, with the president and the vice president and others.
MR. GREGORY: But does the president have to go first before you'll take on entitlement reform?
SEN. McCONNELL: We have to go together. We have to go together. The American people are asking us to tackle these problems. I think the president needs to be more bold. We're prepared to meet -- I've got a lot of new members, and Speaker Boehner does as well, who came here to tackle this big problem. We were waiting...
MR. GREGORY: But you're saying, "Be bold on entitlements and Republicans will meet you halfway"?
SEN. McCONNELL: We're happy to sit down and talk about entitlement reform with the president. We know Social Security is in trouble. It was just announced by CBO this week. We know Medicare is on an unsustained path. They took a half a trillion dollars out of it to fund this healthcare program that they enacted. Look, we need to get serious about this.
MR. GREGORY: Is the prospect of a government shutdown over any potential fight over spending, is that an option in your mind? Is it a viable alternative?
SEN. McCONNELL: We, we have two opportunities coming up. We have the continuing resolution on March 4th, and then the president has asked us to raise the debt ceiling. So we have two opportunities here to do something important for this country on the issue of spending and debt. We ought not to lose that opportunity. The president ought to work with us on both those occasions to address this important issue.
MR. GREGORY: Is a government shutdown a viable alternative in your mind?
SEN. McCONNELL: As I said, we have two opportunities, opportunities...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. McCONNELL: ...both the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling, to try to accomplish something on a bipartisan basis on both our short term debt and our long-term unfunded liability.
MR. GREGORY: But you won't take shutdown off the table if it comes to that?
SEN. McCONNELL: We have two opportunities to do something important for the country on spending and debt. We ought not to miss this opportunity. The president ought to step up to the plate with us and tackle it together.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Wish we had more time. Senator McConnell, Leader McConnell, thank you very much, as always.
SEN. McCONNELL: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Up next, what does the revolt in Egypt mean for U.S. foreign policy and what will it mean for the rest of the region? We will talk to former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Plus, what is the political fallout of all of this? And the other big political news, the president's State of the Union and the debates ahead with Republicans over spending. Our roundtable weighs in: Mike Murphy, Harold Ford, Chuck Todd, and Katty Kay.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, more of our special report on Egypt in revolt, with analysis from former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Plus, our roundtable on some of the other big political news from this week. It's up next, right after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We are back, and we're going to get to our political roundtable in just a minute, but first some additional perspective and analysis on the situation in Egypt. I'm going to talk to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman in just a moment, but with me here now Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Clinton, also Mideast negotiator, and currently the foreign policy director at the Brookings Institution. Martin, good to have you here.
MR. MARTIN INDYK: Thank you, David.
MR. GREGORY: Here is the map of the flash points here. It beings with Tunisia, January 14th, in Lebanon, but Egypt on Tuesday. Why is this so important? Why is this such a big story?
MR. INDYK: Well, you can see on the map, David, that, that Egypt is at, at the epicenter. But it's not just geostrategically central, it's the largest militarily most powerful, by far the most influential Arab country. And where Egypt goes will have a tsunami effect on the rest of the region. So it may start in Tunisia and Lebanon, Yemen.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. INDYK: But if it ends up in Egypt, this is very profound. And because American interests are, are so tied up with Egypt, what happens there will have a profound effect on our interests.
MR. GREGORY: We were talking about Secretary Clinton. You heard her remarks. History matters here. You go back to 1979 and what was happening on the streets of Tehran, but the protests, the Khomeini-led revolution, and at the same time the support of the shah of Iran. You remember these scenes. Why is that an example that the administration is thinking a lot about today?
MR. INDYK: Well, because Iran was our strategic pillar in the Persian Gulf, oil rich. Egypt is our strategic pillar in the heartland of the Middle East, in the Arab-Israeli arena. And so demonstrations there that overthrew the shah and demonstrations here that are in the process of overthrowing Hosni Mubarak have a resonance. We do not want to be on the wrong side of history like we were with the shah. And yet we have to walk a very fine line because so many of our interests are tied up with this leadership in Egypt.
MR. GREGORY: We talk about how viral this has been, how quickly this is moving. This is TweetDeck. This is real-time view of all of the Egypt related tweets. If we're searching for Cairo or Mubarak or protests or Egypt, this is a conversation that's going on in real time. The administration has to catch up. In, in the foreign policy circles you talk about contagion. Why is this aspect of it so important for the region?
MR. INDYK: You are witnessing here a 21st century revolution. Mubarak was focused on suppressing the moderate secular center in Egypt because that's what he feared most, and the Muslim brotherhood was able to organize and have an infrastructure. These guys didn't have anything until Twitter and Facebook came along. And this has changed the whole nature of communication and organization and made it now impossible for autocratic authoritarian leaders in the Arab world to suppress the views of their people.
MR. GREGORY: We talk about Hosni Mubarak as we look at the region. But you look at kind of the biography of Hosni Mubarak, he comes in in '81 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, fifth consecutive term. He's survived at least six assassination attempts. He's a survivor. Are his days running out?
MR. INDYK: Look, he's, he's 80 years old. He's, he's a sick and old man. The compact with his people has been broken. It cannot be put together again. Unfortunately, because he's been a good friend of the United States. But he did not open his political space. He did not allow for the people to express themselves, and now he's reaping the consequences. And there's basically nothing that he or we can do about it.
MR. GREGORY: Does this put the pause button on Arab-Israeli peace for now?
MR. INDYK: I think so. I think that this is such a big deal that it could have profound consequences...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. INDYK: ...for the peace treaty and the whole process of reconciliation between Israel and the Arabs if this results in a radical regime taking over in Egypt. The military is critically important now in Egypt. You can see them in the streets now maintaining order but embracing the demonstrations. Now there's a head of the military who's, who's been put in place as vice president. They're the ones who have to hold the ring now, tell Mubarak to go, and announce that there will be presidential elections within, I think, six months, that Suleiman, the vice president now, will not stand, but that the military will oversee a, a process of democratic evolution.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Martin, thank you so much. You can also visit our Web site for an exclusive op-ed by Martin about the way forward in Egypt. It's on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com, as well as of our coverage. Martin, thank you. I also had the opportunity to speak to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman last night before he left the World Economic Forum in Davos. I began by asking him how we got to this moment.
MR. TOM FRIEDMAN: Well, we got to this moment, basically, because our concern about having a stable Egypt, first and foremost, to preserve the peace treaty with Israel, and later after 9/11, to be a partner in the war on terrorism, basically let us give Mubarak a pass on democratization. For the first 15 years or so of his rule, Egypt really did stagnate. I visited, gosh, back 12 years ago. I remember writing that Mubarak had more mummies in his Cabinet than King Tut, OK. Then he slowly, under our pressure, and under the pressure, really, of globalization, started to open up. And in the last few years, actually appointed a lot of reformers to his Cabinet who produced a real opening, a 6 percent growth, I believe, last year. But Egypt is in such a hole economically, David, that it needs to grow at China, India rates if it's going to even remotely have a chance to keep up with its population.
MR. GREGORY: Is there any way that Mubarak can stay?
MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, I don't want to make any predictions. You know, it's going to be determined by the Egyptian people. To me, I think what the United States should be focusing on are three things. One, emphasizing that we hope whatever transition there is peaceful. Two, that we hope that it will be built around consensual politics, not another dictatorship. And three, that whatever regime, whatever government emerges, whether it has the Muslim Brotherhood or not, it's a government that is dedicated to ushering Egypt into the 21st century. Egypt, and really most of the Arab world, has been on vacation from history for the last 50 years, thanks largely to oil. Egypt didn't have oil, it had the peace treaty with Israel. What peace with Israel was to Egypt, oil is to Saudi Arabia. It got Egypt all of this aid, it allowed the regime to move very slowly on democratization, and now it's got to pay -- play rapid catch-up. The really sad thing is, David, is that, you know, the first rule of politics is make big decisions when you have strength and leverage on your side. Mubarak has had three decades, basically, to make the big decision of making Egypt-- of promoting Egypt in a transition to democratization. He did not use this opportunity all these years, and now he's got to make a big decision. Egypt's got to make a big decision, not from a position of strength, but at least from the government's point of view, from a real position of weakness. You never make good decisions, you never make farsighted decisions from a position of weakness. So it's hard to see something positive ever coming out of the Mubarak- Egyptian relationship again. I would add that Israel today, though, I think Israel should really reflect on what's going on in Egypt. It does not want to be the Hosni Mubarak of the peace process. Israel has never been stronger, militarily or economically. This is exactly the time it should be looking to forge and close a peace deal with the Palestinians, not because it's going to change the Arab world, but because it'll be a huge opportunity and stabilizer for that relationship.
MR. GREGORY: Tom, there's everything from the peace process, concerns the U.S. has about, obviously, our oil interests there, the influence of Iran, and, of course, Islamic extremism, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. What are the ripple effects? What comes next here in terms of all of those problems?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, David, I think for all of us analysts inside, outside, the most dangerous thing you can do in a situation like this is confuse your hopes with your analysis. I know what my hopes are. My hopes are we'll see a transition in Egypt that will allow the emergence of a Muslim moderate progressive center there, precisely what Mubarak never built. But my analysis and my fear is, especially looking at the news, the looting today and whatnot, is that when you open the lid on a society like this, where the government has done nothing, basically, to build civil society for the last 20 years, what comes out is anger, rage, and makes the building of a modern, progressive center that much more difficult. Now, the implications are enormous. One of the big questions is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a huge, powerful movement. Will they go for one of three strategies? One is to emulate Iran, which is to hijack the Islamic revolution, or hijack what was a popular revolution into an Islamic revolution. The other is the Hamas, which was a coup d'etat, basically, in Gaza. Or, ideally, the option we hope they'll choose, is the Turkey model, be a partner in a consensual rebuilding of Egypt and basically try to build their strength on a democratic foundation.
MR. GREGORY: How does President Obama walk this line, supporting a vital U.S. ally in Mubarak, siding with the Egyptian people?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Three principles. We, we support nonviolence, we support consensual politics, and we support any Egyptian government and outcome that will be on the side of ushering Egyptians into the 21st century, enabling and empowering them to do so. Ultimately, that's what they've been so frustrated about, and that's what we have to be on the side of.
MR. GREGORY: You've often said, Tom, you're not often surprised. You haven't been surprised by the Middle East in some time. Did this surprise you?
MR. FRIEDMAN: It surprises me in the immediate, but, but not in the abstract. You know, David, there, there is a joke that went around Egypt for many years about Mubarak that he was on his death bed and an Egyptian delegation came to see him of the people. The nurse came in, said, "Mr. President, the people are here to say goodbye." And Mubarak said, "Oh, really? Where are they going?" So, you know, Egyptians have been telling this joke for a long time. It isn't funny anymore.
MR. GREGORY: Tom Friedman, thank you very much.
MR. FRIEDMAN: A pleasure.
MR. GREGORY: And now the rest of our roundtable here with us this morning: Washington correspondent for the BBC, Katty Kay; NBC News political director, chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd; Republican strategist Mike Murphy; and former congressman from Tennessee, Democrat Harold Ford. Welcome to all of you. Wow, what a story. Chuck Todd, you have been reporting from the White House on all of this. And I want to go back to this visual. This is TweetDeck, again, on our big monitor here, and what does it show? It shows in real time the activity, what Martin Indyk called the 21st century revolution, under way. Look how fast that screen is moving. That's real time. It shows you how hard it's been for the president himself to keep up.
MR. CHUCK TODD: That's what was fascinating to watch them just on Friday. They were doing what we were doing. They were monitoring feeds. They got Egyptian television into the White House. They're just sitting there watching al-Jazeera. They, they didn't have a lot of inside information really until midday on Friday and that's when they made this decision that the president was going to have to say something publicly, that he was going to tell Mubarak exactly what he was going to say. It was a much longer conversation, that 30-minute conversation.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. TODD: It seems to me that it only takes three minutes to tell him,
turn......the Internet. The other 27 minutes is probably something we will learn later of what was said.
MR. GREGORY: Can, can I interrupt there? Katty Kay, do you sense, from hearing Secretary Clinton this morning, that the administration is or is not satisfied that Mubarak is doing what he has to do to stay in power?
MS. KATTY KAY: I think they're absolutely not satisfied. The conversation that President Obama had with President Mubarak on Friday has been described as a tough conversation. It seems that the Americans have made it clear to the Egyptian government that the Tiananmen Square option, taking the military out and effectively shooting these protesters in order to stop the demonstrations, is not an option that's acceptable to America. That leaves President Mubarak with trying to set up a government that is acceptable to the protesters. So far the people that he's chosen have not satisfied the people on the streets. There's no indication that what Mubarak has done up until now constitutes anything like enough reform for the Egyptians.
MR. GREGORY: Gentlemen -- Michael, you first -- what, what's the strategy here?
MR. MIKE MURPHY: Well, it's very difficult. The strategy is the plan for the future because we have much less influence on this present situation than we want to. And even if Mubarak survives, which I think is unlikely, most of the Arab autocrats that we've been in business with for our interests, are going to have to move towards the street for political reasons, which means more anti-American and more anti- Israel.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MURPHY: So this is the beginning of a process that could spread through the region. And it's the culmination of the tension we've had between American values, "We want democracy"; and American interests, "We want stability in the Middle East." We don't want 1972 again where Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab nations.
MR. GREGORY: You know, it's so important, Congressman Ford, because Martin Indyk made the point about a pause in the peace process here. Is the future of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in doubt? And all the ramifications, as well as the potential Islamist flavor of any new government in Egypt? These are the huge factors here.
FMR. REP. HAROLD FORD JR. (D-TN): As Martin said well, it all depends on the next era, next generation of leadership there. There's a risk -- and Martin made the point that we have to be on the right side here -- but there's a risk in moving too fast. I thought Hillary Clinton handled it about as well as she could this morning. One of the fascinating things about this, these movements and this protest, is that in the past in the Middle East, we've seen protests. But most of the protests have been organized and fueled and fomented by resentment to the United States, to the West, to Israel. If you look at this protest, in many ways -- and the Muslim Brotherhood has come on here at the end to try to take advantage of some of this. But this is really -- these are really local conditions driving this, as we saw even in Tunisia. You have poverty, you have issues of access, you have young professionals, middle class, educated people complaining bitterly about a lack of opportunity. So as you, as you look at the, the -- not just the content of the protest, but the character of the protest, it's different, it's new. And, frankly, I think it's confusing the White House even more in terms of the kind of response that they should put forward.
MR. GREGORY: Well, Chuck, pick up on this point, but also address this. This is a brand-new foreign policy crisis for this administration. There's no aspect of this that was inherited here.
MR. TODD: Right.
MR. GREGORY: This is a big test for President Obama.
MR. TODD: Well, it is. I mean, it's, it's amazing that the State of the Union was five days ago.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Right.
MR. TODD: I mean, and it just feels like two months ago at this point. But I want to pick up on a quick point there. I was talking to some folks close to the Israeli government, and they, in one hand, are relieved that these protests are not Western focused, right, that it isn't about the United States, it isn't about that. It's the only sense of relief in this. But, boy, they are panicked. Because, let's remember, the Egyptian army has done a pretty good job of keeping arms out of Gaza. And what happens now? And so that is the immediate fear of how are the Israelis going to react and how are they going to handle this?
MR. MURPHY: It's all balance.
MS. KAY: Well, one thing I would say is that what's happening and what we're seeing in the nature of the people who are on the streets has kind of given the lie to the myth that the Egyptians have sold and that the Americans have bought for the last 30 years, that the choice in the Middle East and the choice in Egypt is between authoritarianism and Islamism. And at the moment there is a chance that more democracy in Egypt does not necessarily mean a greater terror threat to the United States, that you could have the Muslim Brotherhood brought into a government where there is a transfer of power actually built into the system.
MR. GREGORY: And I, I...
MR. MURPHY: You could, but it's...
MR. GREGORY: ...I spoke to a top former diplomat who said that it is not this person's view that Islamic beliefs in terms of government will take hold in Egypt like they might have, you know, 30 years ago or more than that in Iran or elsewhere.
MR. MURPHY: There's secular energy there, and Turkey's kind of a model. On the other hand, as Tom Friedman pointed out, there's not a big civil society tradition. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a force for good. What's going to be interesting is tonight when the army is going to have to step up to be a force for security, stop that looting, that disintegration of law and order, but not a force for repression. I think we will go into kind of a -- I believe Mubarak will fall and the army will take control for a while. But then we're either going to go into a Kerensky model, like after the Russian revolution, where it's going to look good for a while and the rougher forces are going to prevail in a rough situation. That is the disaster for American foreign policy we could have.
REP. FORD: The, the median age in Egypt is 24. This is a group of global citizens who understand that board better than some sitting around this table, and even some who fashioned foreign policy for America in the '70s and '80s and '90s. In many ways, as, as Martin said, this is a, this is a 21st century revolution that a lot of the old paradigms and old rules we apply, and all the analysis-- not that it's bad analysis, it's just maybe dated...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
REP. FORD: ...may not neatly apply. That doesn't mean that everything that, that, that...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. KAY: And this...
REP. FORD: ...that Tom has said and what Mike is commenting on is not true. But this thing is moving so quickly...
MR. GREGORY: All right, let me, let me get a break in here. We're going to take a break, we'll come back with our roundtable. And I want to talk about some of the other political news here in Washington that will dominate the debates ahead with Republicans, the State of the Union. More with our roundtable right after this.
MR. GREGORY: We're back with our roundtable. Before we were talking about the Middle East 2.0, we were talking about Obama 2.0 and the State of the Union this week. Chuck Todd, this is how The New York Times described it on Wednesday, the
president's State of the Union: "The president's speech, lasting slightly more than an hour, lacked the loft of the inspirational address he delivered in Tucson days after the shooting. But it seemed intended to elevate his presidency above the bare-knuckled legislative gamesmanship that has defined the first two years of his term." Explain that turn we're seeing.
MR. TODD: Well, it obviously -- this is the beginning of the re-elect. Let's not pretend that it's anything but. And the, and the staff changes indicate that. Everybody in senior positions, from Gene Sperling now replacing Larry Summers, to David Plouffe to Bill Daley, all of these people are much more campaign experienced. But I -- let's see-- we'll find out if this State of the Union was effective in about three weeks when the budget is rolled out, because that's where we're going to see the real fights. They do want to do some things that are -- you know, maybe break up a Cabinet agency or two, merge some things -- that will look big to the American public, and that will be at the point where we'll see if this was an effective State of the Union.
MR. GREGORY: Mike Murphy...
MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...I spent time with, with President Obama this week, among other journalists, and a small group with Speaker Boehner. And what I detect out of both sessions is that there is a high level of caution...
MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...about getting into the boat of taking on the big entitlements alone.
MR. MURPHY: Right. Right.
MR. GREGORY: You saw what happened with health care, the Republicans used it against him.
MR. MURPHY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Are we really going to see Washington get serious?
MR. MURPHY: I hope we do because the stakes are higher than ever with the entitlement crisis we face. And I don't want to have to learn Chinese in 10 years. But here's the problem. The Republicans, I think, are ready to jump, a lot of them, into the very risky and very politically dangerous world of taking on entitlements. The question is, will the White House jump in with them? And I'm sure there's a debate. I think some would say for the good of the country we ought to. The big deal, Mitch McConnell today, very clear there, Republicans are open for business. But the people plan on the re-elect. And I agree, the State of the Union was a brilliant political re-elect speech to reposition them. They want to go run against the parties -- the Republican Party as the scissorhands party...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. MURPHY: ...and bring out all the scary tactics which will be effective. So we got a window here for Washington to jump off the cliff together politically for the right thing for the country. I hope the president takes up the Republican offer. If not, it's going to be the same old deal.
MR. GREGORY: Harold Ford, look at the president's job approval among independents. And this is something we look at a lot because it'll be a big driver in 2012. And, you know, an 11-point switch, if I've got my math right on that, Chuck. You can do that faster than me.
MR. TODD: But he's got an -- his approval is now over his disapproval. The question is, the State of the Union, the emphasis on investment, on additional spending to get that balance right to innovate the economy, can he retain independent support if that's the direction he goes?
MR. GREGORY: He can. I think a big part of that number has to do with the president forging -- or creating an environment for Democrats, Republicans to work together, and in a lot of ways alienating the far right and the far left. Not that they should be or want to be, but if you can achieve things you have to. I agree with Mike, I hope there's courage around entitlements. I think there's some encouragement from what Mitch McConnell said this morning that this has to be bipartisan. If he's willing to deliver some of his members, or many of his members, the president ought to be willing to walk to the, walk to the middle and get something done with them. Again, the number one issue for voters, though, will be jobs. If that number comes down, there will be, there would be a greater likelihood and a greater comfort level with Democrats and Republicans working to reform entitlements in a way that may cause some wealthy Americans to receive fewer benefits, and even Americans like me who are 40 and under to say we may not see our benefits till we're in our late 60s or early 70s.
REP. FORD: You know what? It's, it's interesting. We looked at these numbers, Katty, this week, and since the unemployment rate information began to be culled together back in 1948, no president has won re- election with an unemployment rate that was higher than 7.4 percent on Election Day. So you look at where that -- where the number is, where it's got to be as we get farther into the election season.
MR. GREGORY: And the chances of that number being 7.8 percent in 2012, I don't think any Democrat in town would tell you that there's any chance that it's going to be down that low by the time we're -- the president is up for re- election. And the advantage that the president has in that respect is that the Republican Party still doesn't have a viable leader to oppose him. So he's up against a Republican Party that is weak, and, I think, he has framed, in this State of the Union address, the need for America to invest in things like innovation and education. because we are at this critical moment vis-a-vis China. If he can do something on entitlements alongside the Republicans, he can probably get away amongst independent voters with continuing to talk about education investment. The thing he did in that State of the Union address, I think, was almost set up tent in the Republicans backyard with the kind of language he used. And...
MS. KAY: Well, also...
MR. GREGORY: ...using words like free enterprise for a Democratic president.
MS. KAY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: That is the kind of music to independent ears that he needs.
MS. KAY: But, Chuck, be, be practical here. What gets done this year?
MR. GREGORY: Oh, I think a little bit of this reinventing government. I do think you'll see...
MR. TODD: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...a couple of Cabinet agencies merged, a couple of other agencies. It'll be symbolic whether it actually is a big change. But this idea of entitlement thing, I want to say one thing, Republicans have lost -- somehow have let the White House own the jobs message in this last month. And I don't understand how they let that happen. They focused on health care. They're talking about spending cuts. They're talking about the debt. Things that do matter to their base, but they've got to be careful here. They're not, they're not, there's not an obvious jobs plan coming out.
MR. TODD: That's true. But, you know, he has the big microphone of the State of the Union.
MR. MURPHY: And he used it.
MR. TODD: So his jobs rhetoric is great. The reason he's still in political jeopardy is his jobs results are not great. He is not perceived yet as a great economic manager, and that's going to be the battle for the presidency.
MR. MURPHY: And I still think this debate over what role the government plays in, in winning that and turning that around. We're going to take another quick break here. We'll come back with some final thoughts, check in with Mr. Murphy here on how the GOP field is taking shape for 2012. More with our roundtable in just a minute.
MR. GREGORY: I just got less than a couple of minutes. Mike Murphy, the Republican field. A lot of talk about Mitt Romney holding back, not announcing yet.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. MURPHY: And some talk that he might skip Iowa.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MURPHY: Is this about what could happen to him with a more conservative candidate?
MR. GREGORY: Well, you've got a big field because the nomination's worth having, and it, and everybody is starting to scuttle around a little bit. But it's, it's big here. Even in the early states it doesn't start till more like Thanksgiving of this year. And I think the guys who have something to lose, like Romney, or are farther ahead...
MR. MURPHY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...want to not wade in yet. But it's a big, crazy field. Kind of a different primary calendar, so I guess we'll see.
MR. MURPHY: Well also, Chuck Todd, if Romney is on the kind of manager track...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. TODD: ...who's on that other more conservative track in the primary?
MR. GREGORY: Well, that's what's a little unclear. Who actually is going to take that mantle. You still seem to see people fighting like Jim DeMint is still floating himself, or things like that. So that's not obvious. Sarah Palin hanging around. But all this chatter about Romney skipping Iowa, it's a swing state. You can't -- and if you're the national front-runner, you can't skip states. Now, he could figure out how to tie, tie down expectations.
MR. TODD: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: But this idea of skipping states, I think is political...
MR. TODD: He might play passively. Will use his name, idea to come in third with no work.
MR. MURPHY: He can't come...
REP. FORD: Harold, how do you look to Republicans in Congress to try to set up their nominee?
MR. GREGORY: They'll try, but I think the real action is going to be in the state level. These governors, these Republican governors who are tackling pension, pension liability, these Republican governors who are attacking big budget deficits are going to advantage themselves. And in the last few days, who would have thought a week ago that a Republican would really have to have shown a kind of knowledge about the Middle East beyond Afghanistan and Iraq than they do today. So mature, adult-like candidates who are focused on real issues in their states and can show some agility and smarts, and smart toughness around foreign policy issues have, have moved to the, to the front. Romney is stronger today than and he was a week ago because he's more of an adult.
REP. FORD: All right. We're going to leave it there. Thanks to all of you. A lot of ground covered. That is all for today. We'll be back next week live from the Reagan Library in California for a special edition, marking the 100th anniversary of President Reagan's birth. What does the Reagan legacy mean today politically? Among our guests former Reagan chief of staff James Baker and Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan. Stay with NBC News and MSNBC all day for continuing coverage of the crisis in Egypt. That is all for us today. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.