The Cable

Santorum fundraising off of Middle East unrest

Former Senator Rick Santorum used the rising violence in the Middle East as the basis for a fundraising e-mail sent out by his political advocacy organization today.

"The news coming out of the Middle East is deeply saddening and concerning. Karen and I first want to express our condolences to the families of Ambassador Stevens and the three other American officials who were killed in the recent terrorist attacks. Their service to our country was heroic and this senseless act of violence is horrifying," begins the e-mail signed by Santorum and sent out by Patriot Voices, the nonprofit 501(c)4 advocacy group he co-founded after he lost his primary bid.

"The incidents in Cairo and Benghazi are tragic. As we continue to learn more details, we must look to the immediate future and ask ourselves what does America stand for, and how will we stand for it?" Santorum wrote.

The organization has two missions: to help Mitt Romney defeat Barack Obama and to promote conservative policies and values, according to Santorum's statements in June when it launched.

Like Romney, Santorum linked the recent violence to Obama's overall approach to the region and Santorum's e-mail tracks the Romney campaign's argument that the Obama administration has been too conciliatory to adversaries, too cold to allies such as Israel, and has "led from behind" in foreign policy.

"Please continue to stand with me as we advocate for policies that properly defend Americans and their principles abroad. President Obama's approach of apologizing to our enemies, turning our backs on our allies, and leading from behind weakens America and empowers our enemies. If American ideals are to remain prosperous here and abroad, the appeasement policies of this president must stop," Santorum wrote.

The end of the e-mail contains the pitch with a link to the Patriot Voices donation page.

"Here at Patriot Voices, we are committed to ensuring that President Obama is not reelected and that commitment is even stronger following his reaction to these attacks," it reads. "We will not back down in this effort. Please join with us today. Sincerely, Rick Santorum."

Santorum posted a longer critique of the Obama administration's handling of the Middle East today on the conservative website earlier today.

"Radical Islam stands against this and remains our number one national security challenge. Pretending otherwise does not change that," he wrote. "I'm not convinced that the President understands or believes this reality -- not because of his heart but because of his policies and priorities."

The Cable

White House clarifies Obama's statement that Egypt is not an 'ally'

President Barack Obama didn't intend to signal any change in the U.S.-Egypt relationship last night when he said Egypt is not an "ally," the White House told The Cable today.

In an interview with Telemundo Wednesday night, Obama said that the U.S. relationship with the new Egyptian government was a "work in progress," and emphasized that the United States is counting on the government of Egypt to better protect the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, which was attacked by protesters on Sept. 11.

"I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy," Obama said. "They're a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident."

That comment had Egypt watchers scratching their heads, especially since technically, Egypt was designated as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 1989 when Congress first passed the law creating that status, which gives them special privileges in cooperating with the United States, especially in the security and technology arenas.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable Thursday that the administration is not signaling a change in that status.

"I think folks are reading way too much into this," Vietor said. "‘Ally' is a legal term of art. We don't have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt's transition to democracy and working with the new government."

Vietor referred to Obama's Wednesday phone call with Mohamed Morsy, during which Obama pressed the Egyptian president to ensure the safety and protection of U.S. personnel and facilities in Egypt. Morsy agreed to do so, according to a White House statement on the phone call.

"The President said that he rejects efforts to denigrate Islam, but underscored that there is never any justification for violence against innocents and acts that endanger American personnel and facilities," the statement said. "President Morsi expressed his condolences for the tragic loss of American life in Libya and emphasized that Egypt would honor its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel."

Administration sources told The Cable that Obama's "ally" comment was not pre-arranged or prepared by staff and that the question was not anticipated. Nevertheless, Middle East experts said Obama's word choice and tone is likely a reflection of the administration's feeling that Morsy's reaction to the attacks has not been forceful enough.

"I think it's a message from Obama that taking a less than assertive position on this is going to cost the [Egyptian] leadership at least rhetorically in the short term," said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "We heard that the Muslim Brotherhood was going to be a cooperative partner and their actions and statements yesterday were not a good example of that."

Pre-planned or not, the comments carry weight, Tabler said. He also noted that Obama was surely crafting his message not only for the Egyptians, but also for his American audience as well. The White House has come under fire for a press release from the Cairo embassy issued before the protest started that Republican challenger Mitt Romney slammed as an "apology for our values."

As The Cable reported Wednesday, State Department officials in Washington objected to that statement before it was issued -- and the White House later disavowed it -- but it has nevertheless become an issue in the presidential campaign.

"It's important to remember, Obama's comment happened in both a security and political context," Tabler said.

UPDATE: At Thursday's State Department press briefing, Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that Egypt remains a Major Non-NATO Ally. Asked if the president misspoke, she said, "I am not going to parse the president's words."