John Kerry, defender of freedom? What is this world coming to? My latest in FrontPage:
Josh Rogin reported in the Daily Beast Monday that there is a rift in Barack Obama’s foreign policy team over Egypt. “Before Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Cairo,” Rogin wrote, “National Security Adviser Susan Rice told him to make strong statements in public and private about the trial of deposed President Mohamed Morsi. On his own, Kerry decided to disregard the White House’s instructions.”John Kerry, defender of freedom? Rice certainly made it seem that way when she publicly contradicted Kerry’s statement that Egypt, having rid itself of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, was “on the path to democracy.” How one answers the question of whether Egypt has experienced a military coup or a popular uprising that has placed it on the path to democracy depends on one’s opinion of the Brotherhood and willingness to ignore the tens of millions of anti-Brotherhood protesters who took to the streets in uprisings that ultimately brought down the Morsi regime.
Kerry seems unwilling to ignore them, and at a November 3 press conference in Cairo, said in effect that post-Brotherhood Egypt was on the right track: “The roadmap [to democracy] is being carried out to the best of our perception. There are questions we have here and there about one thing or another, but Foreign Minister Fahmy has reemphasized to me again and again that they have every intent and they are determined to fulfill that particular decision and that track.”
An unnamed Obama official observed: “John Kerry doesn’t agree with Susan Rice on big portions of our Egypt policy, and he made a deliberate and conscious decision not to mention Morsi in his Cairo meetings. Susan Rice wasn’t happy about it.”
Indeed not, for on November 13, Rice said in a speech:
We have tried to indicate to the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government that we support them in their transition back to an elected democratic government. But that government needs to be inclusive. It needs to be brought about through a process in which all Egyptians can participate, and without violence. So when, in August, in the process of trying to clear the protesters from some of the squares in Cairo, over 1,000 people were killed, the United States, I think quite rightly, said, you know, “We have a problem with that. And we can’t pretend to conduct business as usual on the context of a government, however friendly, taking that kind of action against its people.”
Business as usual was indeed scuttled in early October, when the State Department announced that it was cutting hundreds of millions in military and other aid to Egypt, casting a large vote for the restoration of the Muslim Brotherhood to power and sending the Egyptian military regime into a new friendship with the Russians. Yet according to a person whom Rogin identifies as a “Washington Egypt expert with close ties to the administration,” “We wouldn’t have had any aid suspension at all if it had been up to John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.”
Obama has not publicly rebuked Kerry, but it is clear where his sympathies lie. He has supported the Brotherhood from the earliest days of the “Arab Spring.” On January 31, 2011, when the Mubarak regime was on the verge of falling in the Arab Spring uprising, a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, met secretly in Cairo with Issam El-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader. That meeting came a week after a Mubarak government official announced the regime’s suspicions that Brotherhood and other opposition leaders were coordinating the Egyptian uprising with the Obama State Department.
Then in June 2011, the Administration announced that it was going to establish formal ties with the Brotherhood. The U.S.’s special coordinator for transitions in the Middle East, William Taylor, announced in November 2011 that the U.S. would be “satisfied” with a Muslim Brotherhood victory in the Egyptian elections. In January 2012, Obama announced that he was speeding up the delivery of aid to Egypt, just as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns held talks with Brotherhood leaders – a move apparently calculated to demoralize the Brotherhood’s opposition in the Egyptian elections.Kerry’s predecessor as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, hurried to Cairo to meet with the new Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in July 2012, as anti-Brotherhood protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy complex there. The Obama administration’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had been so glaringly obvious that foes of the Brotherhood regime pelted her motorcade with tomatoes and shoes for delivering that country up to the rule of the Brotherhood. Protestors held signs reading “Message to Hillary: Egypt will never be Pakistan”; “To Hillary: Hamas will never rule Egypt” and “If you like the Ikhwan [Brotherhood], take them with you!”
Likewise, when millions of Egyptians took to the streets last summer to protest against the Brotherhood regime and it was suddenly and unexpectedly toppled from power, numerous anti-Brotherhood protesters held signs accusing Obama of supporting terrorists. One foe of the Brotherhood made a music video including the lyrics: “Hey Obama, support the terrorism/Traitor like the Brotherhood members/Obama say it’s a coup/That’s not your business dirty man.” A protestor in Tahrir Square held up a sign saying, “Obama you jerk, Muslim Brotherhoods are killing the Egyptians.” Signs like that one became commonplace at anti-Morsi protests; another read, “Hey Obama, your bitch is our dictator.”
Yet despite the abundant evidence that the removal of the Brotherhood regime was the result of a popular uprising against an oppressive regime, Obama has remained chilly toward the military regime. So will John Kerry be replaced as Secretary of State? Or at least told privately to support the Brotherhood more energetically, and do what Susan Rice tells him in that regard? In such an event, Kerry, a canny and ambitious political animal, will doubtless fall into line, and not repeat his mistake. But for one moment, in any case, he was the unlikeliest advocate for the free people of Egypt.