Reporter's Note: The President, like much of the country, is watching Egypt. I mean, when he’s not reading my letters of course.Demonstrations in Egypt

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Letters to the President # 745 'The Egypt of Egyptians'
Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The President, like much of the country, is watching Egypt. I mean, when he’s not reading my letters of course.

Dear Mr. President,

Well, it has been another unseasonably cold day out here in Nevada, but nothing like the ice and snow pounding much of the rest of the country. I don’t mind cold, but I do find that it makes me unusually tired by the end of the day. Probably all that shivering.

You must still be pretty deeply buried in all the Egypt mess. (Speaking of tiring.) I’ve covered plenty of stories in which we just could not tell when the next big move would be made, and just a few days of that can be difficult. I can imagine what it is like when you are, you know, “Leader of the Free World,” and what you say or do can make a profound difference.

I understand you are spending a lot of time talking with various advisors and I think that is good. When facing a situation like this, I think there is really no substitute for the insights of people with extensive, firsthand experience. There are, for example, foreign correspondents whom I will listen to intently when something like this comes up. And there are others whom I hardly notice at all. The difference lies entirely in their experience; in the years they have spent living there, working there, and learning not only the language, but also the language behind the language.

So I think that is all the more important for people in your position to listen to the right sources. I once talked at some length with the great historian Stephen Ambrose about how hard it can be for people of differing countries to understand each other on even the most basic level, let alone over the span of history.

My point is, in dealing with Egypt right now, understanding the politics is important; but only if at every corner you place it in a cultural, and historic context. And make sure when you are talking to those advisors that they know you want to hear about those things. History is filled with outsiders who have become embroiled in the affairs of a foreign country with the best intentions, and yet have produced the worst results; because they saw the problems from their own vantage point; and not from the other country’s. Simply put, seeing Egypt from the Egyptians point of view, is likely the first step toward positive, effective engagement.

Just a few thoughts from the chilly Nevada countryside. (Ha! I wrote that as if I’m sitting in a windswept field at the moment.) Call if you can.