Feb. 2, 2011— -- Several top likely contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination have emerged as leading critics of President Obama's handling of the Egyptian crisis, breaking with party leaders who have largely been supportive of the administration's approach.
But their critiques are far from uniform, reflecting both the political and diplomatic complexity of the situation and each hopefuls' attempt to stake out ground on a foreign policy debate that could get some play in the 2012 campaign.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the front-runner among likely candidates in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, was the latest to weigh in, criticizing Obama today for not more publicly supporting Mubarak, who has been a longtime U.S. ally.
"This would not have required us to approve everything he did, or deny the rights of the people of Egypt to demand a change of government," Huckabee said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. "But I think it would have been an important symbol to send to the rest of the world, that we don't just walk away from long-standing allies."
Some of Huckabee's potential rivals have made clear they disagree, themselves casting Mubarak aside and suggesting the Obama administration do the same.
"I think his time is going to come to an end. It should come to an end," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told reporters in Iowa Monday, according to the Des Moines Register. Pawlenty chided the administration for cautious early statements supportive of Mubarak.
"The early statements by Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, Vice President [Joe] Biden and the president seemed inconsistent, bordering on incoherent if you put them all together," Pawlenty said, referring comments by Clinton, who said the Mubarak government was stable, and Biden, who said Mubarak was not a dictator and should not resign.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared to stake out a middle ground this week, saying the administration got off to a "rocky start" and that their early statements were "misguided," but that the administration has been correct in not outright calling for Mubarak's departure.
"I don't know that I would say to the president, 'You should call for Mubarak's resignation,'" Romney said on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "That, I think, flies in the face of a long history of friendship between he and our country and our friends, but it is very clear that [Mubarak] needs to move on and transition to the voices of democracy."
Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has launched criticism of the administration's Middle East policy more broadly, airing concerns that the White House seems ill-prepared for who might fill the leadership vacuum left by a Mubarak departure.
"The president went to Cairo and gave his famous speech [in 2009] in which he explained that we should all be friends together because we're all the same people doing the same things and there are no differences between us," Gingrich told Sean Hannity on his radio show Monday.
"Well, I think there are a lot of differences between the Muslim Brotherhood [one of the Mubarak opposition groups] and the rest of us."
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been uncharacteristically quiet on Egypt and Obama's handling of the situation, posting no Facebook or Twitter messages on the crisis.
Boehner, McConnell Back Obama on Egypt
In remarks Tuesday night, Obama continued to distance himself from Mubarak, expressing support for the protestors but stopping short of calling for Mubarak's immediate resignation.
"It is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt's leaders; only the Egyptian people can do that," Obama said.
The president also said he had spoken with Mubarak, who had announced he would not seek reelection in September, and urged that "an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now."
The fine line being tread by the administration on Egypt has heretofore largely been backed by congressional Republican leadership.
House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday he believed the Obama administration has handled the situation "pretty well."
"Reforms need to occur in Egypt. And, frankly, any place around the world where people are calling out for freedom [and] democracy, I think we have a responsibility to respond," he said on Fox News Sunday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has echoed Boehner, saying Sunday on NBC, "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."