Now is a particularly bad time for on-the-job training in the White House.
Certainly we don't blame the administration for being fooled by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's bait-and-switch this week in which he seemed to be ready to resign and merely delegated more power to his vice president. Lying is a way of life in some quarters.
But it does appear as if the White House has been caught flat-footed throughout much of the Egyptian crisis. CIA Director Leon Panetta, his agency says, was relying largely on press reports in telling Congress Mubarak would likely step down.
"I got the same information you did," he told Congress. Isn't his job to get more information than the rest of us?
"A costly mistake by the CIA chief caused more embarrassment to the U.S. foreign policy establishment," wrote the International Business Times . "Obviously, the CIA looked ridiculous ..."
More ominous is the administration's soft-pedaling of the Muslim Brotherhood's widely known fanaticism and anti-Western mission. It exists, across continents, to wipe out all other religions and create a worldwide Islamic caliphate; Israel and the United States are merely its most obvious targets.
Yet, Mr. Obama's director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told Congress Thursday that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is "a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaida as a perversion of Islam."
The claim was so utterly absurd and naive that his office later issued a clarification saying, "in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak's rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation -- he is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization."
Well, thank goodness for that -- since the organization's name does say "Muslim"! And anytime an outfit's name includes the term "brotherhood," it's not exactly inclusive of others.
But the department's clarification is hardly comforting -- intimating that the "brotherhood" is less of a concern because it has so far operated under a secular political system -- as if it had any choice under Mubarak's dictatorial rule.
Islamic radicals were muted under Saddam Hussein as well, but are still trying to fill the vacuum of his departure.
Either the Obama administration doesn't have a handle on what's going on, or it has been completely inept at communicating it.
As learning curves go, that's pretty steep.