William Daley On Egypt: 'This Is Out Of Our Control'

White House Chief of Staff William Daley. i i

White House Chief of Staff William Daley. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Win McNamee/Getty Images
White House Chief of Staff William Daley.

White House Chief of Staff William Daley.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

In case you haven't noticed, the White House has much less control over events in Egypt than some people give it credit for.

That was one of White House Chief of Staff William Daley's main messages in talking with journalists Wednesday at a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg News.

Daley gave the impression of a White House trying to carefully navigate the crisis so as not to create any unintended consequences.

Daley told the journalists:

... I mean, this is out of our control. We don't control this. And even though we like to think at times that we can control everything in the world - and there are some people who think, you know, simplistically that, oh, we could just tell them to do this or we could tell the - it's not - it truly is not up to us. And it has never been - or it's been a very, very, very long time since other governments can come in and control this sort of thing.

And with the technology of today, you know, it's pretty difficult to convince yourself that somehow these things are manageable by some outside force. Governments themselves have - in the country have a difficult time managing it...

... We can manage our relationship with them, and we can manage what our reaction to the circumstances that are happening, and we can give our opinion both as a friend and to those that we are engaging, again, through all of society, not just the - through official channels of the government, to government things, but in discussions with others, and also to get a sense, you know, how real some of these rumors or statements are.

He also noted how President Obama seemed to be in a damned-if-he-does, damned-if-he-doesn't position on Egypt. It came in an exchange with Al Hunt, Bloomberg's executive editor for Washington.

HUNT: ... There is a sense even among some Democrats that this White House was very slow in the beginning, behind the curve, that until they got Frank Wisner involved, they didn't really have anybody with a lot of knowledge, and that the president's profile was unnecessarily elevated by his speech last night. It became - it became his issue. Now, I'm sure you don't agree, but tell me what's wrong with that analysis.

DALEY: Well, listening to that analysis, on the one hand I understand what you just said. He was slow to get involved, and now his profile's too high.

This all moved at an extremely rapid pace, really starting like last Tuesday or so. And on Friday evening, if you remember, the president went out with a statement, a strong statement.

He has been in constant communications not only with - and meetings with not only his senior policy people, intelligence people, constant briefings going on. As you know, he does a daily PDB, so that has been a major part of each of those briefings.

So the White House and the president has been on top of this. It is a very, very difficult and challenging situation for not only the U.S., the rest of the world.

At a few points during the conversation as he discussed protesters clashing with police on the streets of Cairo, Daley seemed genuinely struck by the irony that he of all people should be discussing those scenes with a bunch of reporters.

After all, it was his father, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, who famously presided over that city's police clashes with demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Speaking of the elections in Egyptian elections in September, Daley alluded to the phrase that was chanted by Chicago protesters in 1968 as police manhandled fellow demonstrators:

"I think there's a - you know, the world will be watching, which is a little phrase that someone once used -"

At another point, he paused a bit to take in the strangeness of it all when reporters began laughing as he talked about Egyptian police going after demonstrators with fire hoses and tear gas. "It is ironic, isn't it?" he said.

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