Jay B Gaskill

Attorney at Law

Reading and sending tweets and texts doesn’t generate enough information (and – dare I say – wisdom) to save Western civilization in a time of crisis.

Our Twitterpated Administration may be nuancing itself into an epic disaster in the Middle East.

Let’s start with our peripatetic secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, a formidable personality whose Sisyphean assignments for this administration have stretched her to the limits of human capacity. Our SecState confessed in an interview yesterday that she just tumbled to the Egyptian constitutional problem last week.

See today’s New York Times, Warning Against Hasty Exit for Mubarak, where we learn that —

“Mr. Mubarak’s resignation now would set off a chain of events, Mrs. Clinton said. Under the Constitution — a document she conceded not having thought about before this week — the speaker of Parliament would step in as a caretaker president, followed by quick elections.” [!!!}

This is no small matter. If President Mubarak is abruptly swept away without a stable successor, then power passes, under the Egyptian Constitution (the law of the land), to a parliamentary functionary from the president’s party, and new elections are required within 60 days. This is a recipe for disaster. The disingenuous-or-naïve (take your pick) opposition, led by the not-very-trustworthy figurehead, Mohamed ElBaradei[1], are pushing for an alternative that would have the entire country floating without a constitution for a year while the various forces in play sort things out, possibly generating a new constitution, possibly electing strong, rational new leaders, committed to all in the context of a simmering caldron of Islamic unrest. This is another recipe for disaster, potentially an epic one if the ensuing controlled chaos slips its bounds and we are forced to witness a rerun of Iran’s transition to a the playground of lunatic mullahs.

We will have traded a brutal, autocratic ally that exercised a minimal, but admirable attention to women’s rights and religious freedom, to a brutal theocracy willing to upend the balance of peace in the entire region.

A fracture has appeared in the administration, one in which some voices can be heard over the president’s fogball ambiguities to sound the caution: Hold on to Mr. Mubarak for the time being in order to assure constitutional continuity and the rule of law.

Mr. Obama’s special envoy to Egypt, Frank G Weisner, who recently met with Mr. Mubarak, essentially said the same publicly on Sunday (evidently without mentioning the constitutional continuity rationale), only to have his comments disavowed by the administration.

“The US state department has distanced itself from comments by a US special envoy, to the effect that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should stay in office during a power transition.” Spokesman Philip Crowley said Frank Wisner’s views were “his own, and not co-ordinated with the US government.” 2-4-2011

This remarkable outbreak of public incoherence was followed by some backpedaling damage control from Secretary Clinton who was finding the president’s – “We’re having it both ways” – stance hard to maintain, and even harder to explain. As the NYT reports today, “While Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Wisner ‘does not speak for the administration or the government, she did not contradict much of his message.” She might have added, but dared not, that Mrs. Clinton does not speak for the administration either.

In the fragile days after the adoption of the US constitution, Ben Franklin famously remarked that “This is a republic if we can keep it.” We did. The continuity of the rule of law is as important to Egypt in the 21st century as it was to America in the 17th century.

These days, our republic is reasonably secure, but our constitution is less so. I am an admirer of Senator McCain’s grasp of national security imperatives but not of his grasp of the American constitution. His co-sponsorship of the Senate resolution last Thursday calling for Mubarak to hand over power to a transitional government was an irresponsible exercise in symbolism. It was of a piece with his constitutional malpractice in the McCain Feingold Campaign Reform act in 2002. When Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority that struck down its unconstitutional provisions, “Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity. No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations,” he was restating mainstream first amendment law. Justice Kennedy was articulating a First Amendment doctrine that the old liberals on the High Court, the First Amendment hawks like Justice William O Douglas, would have readily affirmed. I fear that the McCain constitutional blind spot is a general condition – it has infected Foggy Bottom and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

If Ben Franklin were alive today, I can imagine him reminding us, “We have a constitution, if we can keep it.” Ultimately if the world’s first constitutional revolutionary republic cannot keep to the rule of law founded in a robust constitution, the moral authority of its principles and example on the world stage will dissipate into irrelevance.

We can’t twitter our way back into the position of “Leader of the Free World”.


In February 1951, Ernest Hemingway finished his draft of The Old Man and the Sea. In today’s politically correct environment would Hemingway be recognized or reviled? See Jay Gaskill’s “Celebrating Ernest” at http://www.jaygaskill.com/CelebratingEarnest.pdf .

Readers might also want to visit, Creativity and Survival, an important essay for our time, at http://jaygaskill.com/CreativityAndSurvival.pdf

And Thugology 101, at http://jaygaskill.com/THUGOLOGY101.pdf

[1] Aside from this former UN official’s reluctance (some say willful reluctance) to acknowledge the existence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, another caution has to be noted: There are credible reports that agents of the Iranian regime are actively supporting him as Egypt’s next leader.

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