The Cable

Knives Come Out for U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson

As the violent standoff over the future of Egypt continues, U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has become a lightning rod for critics of U.S. policy in the country.

The tip of the spear for U.S.-Egypt diplomacy, Patterson's June 18 speech discouraging street protests has come to symbolize the administration's inability to recognize the potency of Egypt's liberal opposition. "Some say that street action will produce better results than elections," Patterson said. "To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical."

Now, with the Egyptian military's take over of the country, observers fear the outbreak of widespread violence between Morsy's Islamist supporters and moderate critics, and many wonder if the U.S. could've taken a harder line on the Brotherhood during its 10-month rule.

Patterson in particular resisted opportunities to criticize the Morsy government as it implemented increasingly authoritarian policies. In a memorable May interview with the Egyptian English-language news sit Ahram Online, she repeatedly dodged pointed questions about Morsy's leadership. "The fact is they ran in a legitimate election and won," she said. "Of course it is challenging to be dealing with any new government. However, at the state institutional level, we are for instance still liaising with the same military and civil service personnel, and thus have retained the same long-established relations."

Republicans from Texas Senator Ted Cruz to House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce have pounced on statements like these, increasingly seeing Patterson as the key implementer for a policy that at least offers tacit support to the Muslim Brotherhood.

"As opposition to Morsy coalesced around the Tamarod movement, the Obama administration missed the opportunity to support its efforts and further the vital interests of the United States without firing a shot," Cruz wrote in a Wednesday article for FP. "Instead, the sole priority seems to be to defuse the situation and preserve the status quo. Ambassador Patterson has assumed the leading role in implementing this policy, meeting with members of the opposition not to encourage them to pursue a true secular democracy in Egypt but to try to persuade them to tone things down." 

The State Department, meanwhile, is fending off criticisms of Patterson, who is reportedly in line for a promotion as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. "The ambassador has very much stated U.S. policies," spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at a Monday press briefing.

It didn't help Patterson's standing when she met with senior Brotherhood officials, the Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat Al-Shater. For some liberal Egyptians, this was seens as nothing less than conspiring with the enemy. Now Egyptian protesters are carrying signs with the ambassador's face crossed out.

That's something "we find it abhorrent and reprehensible," Ventrell added. Between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition, "we don't take sides."

Of course, it's an incredibly difficult needle Patterson is forced to thread. Washington needs to maintain constructive relations with Egypt given U.S. interests in the region, no matter who is in charge in Egypt. And others in Egypt will quickly defend her, such as Mohamed El-Menshawy, who took to the pages of Ahram Online to support her last week.

"In general, an ambassador's job includes representing their country, presenting its view on critical issues in the host country, as well as participating in decision making back home by giving their opinion, sending reports and making suggestions," he wrote. "The US ambassador's predictions about the difficulties of democratic transition were correct, but she could never imagine that she herself would become a target for many in both Islamic and non-Islamic political forces."

The Cable

OMG! State Department Dropped $630,000 on Facebook “Likes”

Ostensibly web-savvy State Department employees spent $630,000 to earn more Facebook "likes," in an effort that struggled to reach its target audience, according to a searing Inspector General's report from May. 

Between 2011 and March 2013, the department's Bureau of the International Information Programs, tried to boost the seeming popularity of the department's Facebook properties by advertising and page improvements. But the results weren't so good, leaving the Inspector General with no choice but to send a frank message to the bureau's Facebook gurus: You're doing it wrong.

"Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans' who may have once clicked on an ad or ‘liked' a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further," reads the Inspector General report.

Ultimately, the spending was successful in artificially increasing apparent popularity of the bureau's English-language Facebook page from 100,000 likes to 2 million. But the IG said the bureau's target audience is older, more influential individuals; not the kind of people who spend hours online liking government Facebook pages, in other words. "What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders?" asks the IG report. It also didn't help that in 2012 Facebook tweaked the mechanics of its News Feed, making static fan pages less prominent in users' feeds. (Last year, a number of news organizations also suffered similar engagement issues from such tweaks)

The IG report stings -- especially because the Bureau of International Information and Programs is supposed to be Foggy Bottom's epicenter of online savvy. The bureau includes groovy-sounding divisions such as the Office of Innovative Engagement, which evangelizes on the "importance of using online engagement to drive offline, person-to-person activities and events." The bureau's stated mission is to be Foggy Bottom's "foreign-facing public diplomacy communications bureau" and supports its "growing social media community that numbers over 22 million followers."

Easier said than done. According to the report, first flagged by the Diplopundit, overlap and coordination issues trouble the various bureau's 150 social media accounts. The report also mentions a "pervasive perception of cronyism" exacerbating its already "serious morale problem."

Some of the issues are rather tedious, like whether embassy staffers should go to the Office of Web Engagement or the Office of Innovative Engagement for advice on social media. A section of the report is devoted to telling employees, hey, the "Office of Innovative Engagement is the proper place for this function."

Then there's the issue of "overlapping" Farsi outreach efforts. Apparently, both IIP and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affiars have Persian-language Facebook and Twitter accounts. "It is not efficient for the Department to have competing Persian-language Facebook and Twitter sites," reads the report. It suggests NEA take the lead given its closeness to actual "policymakers."

Other recommendations include boilerplate McKinsey-esque recommendations like consolidating weekly staff meetings and formalizing a process for "sharing research results." Total IIP funding since fiscal year 2011 is more than $71 million with almost $55 million spent on contracting. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment. Perhaps we'll post one to their Facebook page.