The Cable

GOP Hammers Obama for 'Supporting the Wrong People' in Egypt

As Egypt's top brass flirts with a military coup, the Obama administration's reluctant support of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood is exposing it to attacks from the right.

For months, liberal Egyptians have complained that the United States treated President Mohamed Morsy's government with kid gloves as it implemented increasingly authoritarian reforms, from delaying parliamentary elections to forcing through a new constitution. Now, as the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to back down, Republicans are hammering the Obama administration for its Egypt policy. But they're hitting from different angles: some don't like what they see as administration support of an increasingly-authoritarian government in Cairo; others want to increase the amount of military aid to Egypt; while a third, fringe faction is sure that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the White House.

For a number of top Republicans in the House, it's the White House's tacit support of Morsy. "The Egyptian turmoil stems from the Morsy government's predictable power grab, which the Obama Administration has been far too accepting of," Rep, Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tells The Cable. "U.S. aid has failed to compel the Morsy government to undertake the political and economic reforms needed to avert this crisis."

Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, offered a similar condemnation. "Unfortunately, the Obama administration thinks it can woo Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood just as it thinks it can negotiate with Iran's Ayatollah," he told The Cable. "The United States must stand firm on its values and make clear our objectives in the region."

An early target in this week's turmoil is U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, who was denounced by anti-government activists last month after criticizing street protests and defending U.S. relations with Morsy.

"Some say that street action will produce better results than elections. To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical," Patterson said at a seminar in Cairo. "Egypt needs stability to get its economic house in order, and more violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs."

On Sunday, demonstrators held signs of Patterson's face crossed out with red lines with the word "Hayzaboon," an insult akin to the word "crone." Now miffed Egyptian protesters aren't the only ones Patterson will have to contend with. Republicans are sounding off too.

"The Ambassador's remarks [were] a reflection of President Obama's complete disregard for political reality and his administration's failure to leverage our contacts within Egypt's military and support efforts to steer Egypt away from Islamist radicalism," McCaul told The Cable.

Patterson, who is reportedly in line for a promotion as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, also came under criticism from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), who said she appeared to "offer support for a regime with a rather checkered record of support for democratic processes and institutions."

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment, but at Monday's daily briefing, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell acknowledged the anti-Patterson protest signs. "We find it abhorrent and reprehensible," Ventrell said. "The ambassador has very much stated U.S. policies." He added that "we don't take sides," and that U.S. policy is "focused on the broader goal of reconciliation between the two groups."

Since Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the U.S. has committed to a $1.3 billion annual package of military assistance to Egypt.  Increasingly, this long-standing relationship has divided the neoconservative and anti-interventionist wings of the Republican foreign policy establishment. On the one side is Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who just months ago lobbied for an additional $480 million in budget assistance to Egypt. On the other side, is Sen. Rand Paul and a growing cadre of Republicans advocating for deeper cuts to foreign aid, with Egypt at top of the list.

"How can we have influence in troubled parts of the world when we cuddle up to regimes responsible for much of the trouble?" Paul said in a statement Monday. "The Obama administration announced in March that we no longer had enough money to continue giving White House tours due to the sequester. That same month, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Morsy and pledged $250 million in additional aid to Egypt." 

Lastly, a fringe element of the Republican Party is opposed to Obama's Egypt policy for a third reason: The insidious influence of Muslim Brotherhood "advisors" inside the White House. "Since this administration is advised by Muslim Brothers then of course they're going to promote those in the Muslim Brotherhood," Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert told The Cable. Gohmert did not recycle his discredited allegation that former Clinton Aide Huma Abedin is in cahoots with the Brotherhood, but he did mention others who allegedly explain why the "government is supporting the wrong people." Some conspiracy theories die hard.

 

The Cable

State Department Swears: We Did Not Kowtow to Ted Cruz

Two days after Senator Ted Cruz vowed to grind all nominations at the State Department to a halt unless it picked an Inspector General, Foggy Bottom did just that. But it's not letting the fiery Texan take credit for streamlining the appointment process. Sure, the IG's position had been empty for more than five years. But the announcement of a new IG candidate 48 hours after Cruz's threat was a total coincidence, a senior State Department official maintains.

"[It's] not fair to say at all that it was spurred by the Cruz threat," the official tells The Cable. "This was in the works going back quite some time -- back in April the Secretary said on the Hill we had a candidate. Of course the person had to go through standard vetting. The announcement was imminent."

At State, the Inspector General is tasked with preventing and exposing fraud, waste and abuse within the department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. On Thursday, President Obama appointed Steve Linick, the Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Without taking credit for spurring on the appointment, Cruz press secretary Catherine Frazier told The Cable "it is a fortuitous coincidence that after almost 2,000 days of having no oversight at the State Department, the President nominated an Inspector General" following Cruz's threat.

She added, "Regardless of what brought this about, the entire federal government and all who value proper oversight and accountability of our federal agencies should be encouraged by this concrete step in the right direction. The senator looks forward to discussing his concerns about the Department with Mr. Linick in the near future."

While the State Department insists paperwork and vetting attributed to some of the delay, Kerry and the White House had come under increasing pressure from Congress in recent days to hurry up and make the appointment. On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a resolution urging the president to nominate an IG. "We've written to President Obama, we've written to Secretary Kerry; stressing the importance of appointing a permanent Inspector General," read a Thursday statement from Rep. Ed Royce, the committee chairman. "The resolution is non-partisan for the simple reason that the concept of a Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed permanent IG is fundamental to the very notion of good government."

Cruz's intervention went beyond those of other lawmakers in his vow to take all other State Department nominations hostage in the process of getting an IG. That threatened to delay the potential confirmation of high profile candidates including Samantha Power, appointed to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Victoria Nuland, appointed as assistant secretary of state for Europe, and Danny Russel, appointed assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  "Until the President acts, I have notified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that I will place a hold on all State Department nominations," Cruz said Wednesday, a day after writing to the president.

Other Republicans offered somewhat backhanded compliments to the White House and State Department. "While this nomination is long overdue, I appreciate the president responding to the concerns that I've expressed to him and Secretary Kerry regarding this vacancy," Sen. Bob Corker, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. "I look forward to getting to know the nominee as our committee considers his fitness for this important position."

Cruz and other Republicans have criticized the State Department for recent controversies including last year's attack on Benghazi and the alleged mismanagement of security contractors at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Cruz, in particular, has been working with Aurelia Fedenisn, a self-proclaimed State Department whistleblower whose lawyers, like Cruz, hail from Texas.