Exclusive: John Kerry Defies the White House on Egypt Policy
The secretary doesn’t agree with Obama’s team, especially Susan Rice, on how to deal with Egypt. Unfortunately for Rice, Kerry is the one on the ground—and he’s doing things his way.
Before Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Cairo, 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.
The tension between the national security adviser and the secretary of state spilled over into public view in the past week, when Rice laid out her critical appraisal of the Egyptian government, which contradicted Kerry’s assessment that Egypt was “on the path to democracy.” The now public rift has been simmering behind the scenes for months and illustrates the strikingly divergent Egypt policies the White House and the State Department are pursuing.
The turf battles and internal confusion are hampering the administration’s approach to Egypt, say lawmakers, experts, and officials inside both governments.
“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,” an administration official told The Daily Beast. “Susan Rice wasn’t happy about it.”
“There are real differences in the fundamental approach to Egypt between Susan Rice and John Kerry.”
Two other administration officials confirmed the Kerry-Rice rift over Egypt. The secretary and national security adviser’s disagreement about how to handle the tumultuous and troubled U.S.-Egypt relationship is only the latest example of how the White House has steered America’s approach to Egypt in a way that conflicts with the views and desires of the State Department and the Pentagon, said the two officials.
“The roadmap [to democracy] is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry said November 3 at a press conference during his surprise stop in Cairo, standing alongside the Egyptian foreign minister. “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,” he said.
Rice delivered less praise and more admonishment for the Egyptian government in remarks at The Aspen Institute’s Washington Ideas Forum on November 13.
“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,” she said. “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.’”
Well before Kerry and Rice disagreed publicly on Egypt, the White House and the State Department clashed privately over the administration’s Egypt policy. During amonths-long administration review of U.S. military aid to Egypt, the State Department and Defense Department pushed internally to preserve most of the assistance, while the White House insisted most military aid be suspended, pending more progress by the Egyptian government.
“There are real differences in the fundamental approach to Egypt between Susan Rice and John Kerry,” said one 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.”
Rice, who has spent the bulk of her career dealing with Africa, has a long record of emphasizing human rights and democracy concerns. Kerry leans more toward economic diplomacy and engagement with regimes who may not be on their best behavior. Hagel has close relationships with Egypt’s military leaders and has spoken toGen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi more than 20 times since the overthrow of the Morsi government.
But several officials also said the rift stems from the State Department’s institutional bias toward working with governments in power and maintaining important relationships. In Cairo, Kerry followed the recommendation of his own bureaucracy, which was not to mention Morsi’s name. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo, concerned about its own security since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, also is wary of making strong statements about the Morsi trial.
The White House maintains that all parts of the Obama administration share the same overall goal: to help Egypt get back on track toward being a functional democracy operating under the rule of law.
“The entire national security team—including Ambassador Rice, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Hagel—is working in lock step to implement the president’s policy on Egypt: namely, to encourage Egypt’s transition to an inclusive, democratically elected, civilian-led government that respects the rights and freedoms of all Egyptians,” Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for Rice, told The Daily Beast. “The current interim government has laid out a clear roadmap for Egypt’s return to democratic rule, and across the administration we are working with Egypt’s leaders to strongly encourage them to meet their commitments.”
A senior State Department official told The Daily Beast that Kerry often raised the issue of the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood during his trip, even if he didn’t utter Morsi’s name.
“[Kerry] repeatedly pressed the interim government on politically motivated and arbitrary detentions, arrests, and trials in every meeting he had,” the official said. “He also used the word ‘inclusive’ about a dozen times per meeting, stressing that the Muslim Brotherhood needed to be a part of the process.”
Nevertheless, officials and experts said the administration’s Egypt policy is hampered not only by internal tensions but also by being ad hoc and reactive, without a long-term strategy dictated by President Obama.
“What’s missing from any of the administration’s statements or actions is a clear vision of how they will preserve American interests in Egypt over the long term,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center and a former State Department official. “The president clearly made an analytical judgment that authoritarianism in the Middle East was not stable in the long term. If he still believes that, then he has to have some concerns about Egypt’s trajectory and American interests, and how to address those concerns is missing from American policy today.”
In Egypt, officials are receiving diverging messages from the U.S. government’s various parts, causing confusion as they try to decide how to react to recent U.S. actions. For example, the administration has not told the government of Egypt what exactly it must do to get the partial aid suspension lifted, said a source close to the Egyptian government.
“They are getting different messages from different people in Washington. There is confusion in Egypt as to what is actually U.S. policy,” the source said. “There is a vagueness and an unclear policy.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the administration is lobbying Congress to pass legislation that would allow for some military aid to Egypt to continue, but the effort is faltering. Lawmakers in both parties are still upset the administration refuses to make a determination that the Morsi overthrow was a coup.
The administration is following a law that would restrict military aid for any country that has a coup, despite its reluctance to use that word. A bill to give the administration specific authorities to continue some aid was pulled from the agenda of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting last week because various senators could not agree on what restrictions they should put on the administration’s ability to disperse the aid.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, told The Daily Beast in an interview that he is opposed to giving the government of Egypt any more aid until it takes major steps toward restoring the rule of law.
“I’m not going to authorize more assistance to Egypt until they march toward a transition to a civilian-controlled government,” he said. “My goal is to not reinforce the coup but to reinforce the transition.”
Asked about the Kerry-Rice split on Egypt policy, Graham said, “I’m in the Susan Rice camp.”
The White House is denying an Israeli news network’s report that Valerie Jarrett, one of President Barack Obama’s top advisors, has been secretly conducting negotiations with Iran for more than a year, attempting to stifle rumors that have been granted new life after circulating since last fall.
Israel’s Channel 10′s report aired Sunday, which cites several unnamed “senior Israeli officials,” claiming that Jarrett has been holding talks with Iran over its nuclear program in backrooms for the last year, and keeping Israel in the dark. These talks, which allegedly took place around the Gulf region, were supposedly between Jarrett and the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi.
The television station’s report also claimed that even the State Department was kept out of the loop, and highlighted the differences between France and the United States as evidence that a tentative deal had been completed between Washington and Tehran before members of the international community met in Geneva last month:
According to Channel 10, the secret channel marginalized Kerry, and was overseen by the president. The idea had been for Kerry merely to fly to Geneva, as he did last Friday, to sign a deal in which he had been a bit player. In the event, factors such as the French stance, and Israel’s very public objections, derailed this plan, and the talks broke up last Saturday without an agreement.
White House spokesperson Bernadette Meehan when asked about the claims about Jarrett told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “those rumors are absolutely 100% false.” Amazingly enough, this is the second time in the last year that the Obama administration has had to tamp down on rumors that Jarrett is conducting secret talks with Iran. The first report ran in Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot on Nov. 5, 2012 — the day before the 2012 presidential election — and has been circulating the Internet ever since. In that article, it was alleged that Jarrett “served as the personal and direct emissary of the president to secret meetings with the Iranians,” offering scant details of those meetings’ content.
That didn’t stop commentators on the right-wing from immediately denouncing Jarrett’s alleged involvement. “If Ms. Jarrett emerges with a deal sometime after the election, the suspicion is that her goal is more to get the president off the hook for his promises than to actually stop the Iranians,” Jonathan Tobin wrote at Commentary. Glenn Beck’s The Blazewrote, “Jarrett’s status as a White House confidante and major figure has been well-known for some time, but this bit of news marks her first foray into being an official foreign policy surrogate. If Obama is reelected tomorrow, however, it certainly might not be the last.”
Fox News in the days after the Israeli report seized upon the idea that Jarrett could be facilitating foreign policy maneuvers, relying on unsourced Iranian blogs to back their assertions. Fox News’ Lisa Daftari — who once warned about the danger of Al-Jazeera America activating al Qaeda sleeper cells in Detroit — wrote that “Jarrett’s foreign policy record offers insight into why her name would come up in rumors of such talks.” The foreign policy record in question? An allegation that Jarrett convinced Obama not to launch an earlier strike against Osama bin Laden, a claim the White House has also refuted.
“As my colleague Tommy Vietor has already confirmed, these reports are ridiculous,” then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was forced to say in a briefing days after the initial report. “There are no Valerie Jarrett talks.” Part of the reason that Jarrett has been singled out as a likely interlocutor is her place of birth: Shiraz, Iran, where her American father and mother lived at the time.
That process seems to be repeating itself with the latest report, as conservatives begin to slam the latest Channel 10 allegation. “If this report is found to be accurate despite the administration’s fast denial, the fact that Jarrett is leading the U.S. negotiating team on Iran’s nuclear weapons program is very troubling,” wrote Breitbart News. “She does not appear to have any foreign policy experience or history of being involved in such high level negotiations of this nature.”
Last year’s reports stemmed from a New York Times article in which Iran and the U.S. reportedly laid the groundwork for one-on-one negotiations over its nuclear program. In the months since, the inauguration of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani this year, the U.S. and Iran have had the highest levels of interaction since the Iranian revolution, including an historic phone call between Rouhani and Obama. World powers including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia — the so-called P5+1 — are due to meet with Iran in Geneva again beginning on Wednesday, with both sides saying that an first phase deal could be on the horizon.
In the home stretch of the 2012 presidential campaign, from August to September, the unemployment rate fell sharply — raising eyebrows from Wall Street to Washington.
The decline — from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September — might not have been all it seemed. The numbers, according to a reliable source, were manipulated.
And the Census Bureau, which does the unemployment survey, knew it.
Just two years before the presidential election, the Census Bureau had caught an employee fabricating data that went into the unemployment report, which is one of the most closely watched measures of the economy.
And a knowledgeable source says the deception went beyond that one employee — that it escalated at the time President Obama was seeking reelection in 2012 and continues today.
“He’s not the only one,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous for now but is willing to talk with the Labor Department and Congress if asked.
The Census employee caught faking the results is Julius Buckmon, according to confidential Census documents obtained by The Post. Buckmon told me in an interview this past weekend that he was told to make up information by higher-ups at Census.
Ironically, it was Labor’s demanding standards that left the door open to manipulation.
Labor requires Census to achieve a 90 percent success rate on its interviews — meaning it needed to reach 9 out of 10 households targeted and report back on their jobs status.
Census currently has six regions from which surveys are conducted. The New York and Philadelphia regions, I’m told, had been coming up short of the 90 percent.
Philadelphia filled the gap with fake interviews.
“It was a phone conversation — I forget the exact words — but it was, ‘Go ahead and fabricate it’ to make it what it was,” Buckmon told me.
Census, under contract from the Labor Department, conducts the household survey used to tabulate the unemployment rate.
Interviews with some 60,000 household go into each month’s jobless number, which currently stands at 7.3 percent. Since this is considered a scientific poll, each one of the households interviewed represents 5,000 homes in the US.
Buckmon, it turns out, was a very ambitious employee. He conducted three times as many household interviews as his peers, my source said.
By making up survey results — and, essentially, creating people out of thin air and giving them jobs — Buckmon’s actions could have lowered the jobless rate.
Buckmon said he filled out surveys for people he couldn’t reach by phone or who didn’t answer their doors.
But, Buckmon says, he was never told how to answer the questions about whether these nonexistent people were employed or not, looking for work, or have given up.
But people who know how the survey works say that simply by creating people and filling out surveys in their name would boost the number of folks reported as employed.
Census never publicly disclosed the falsification. Nor did it inform Labor that its data was tainted.
“Yes, absolutely they should have told us,” said a Labor spokesman. “It would be normal procedure to notify us if there is a problem with data collection.”
Census appears to have looked into only a handful of instances of falsification by Buckmon, although more than a dozen instances were reported, according to internal documents.
In one document from the probe, Program Coordinator Joal Crosby was ask in 2010, “Why was the suspected … possible data falsification on all (underscored) other survey work for which data falsification was suspected not investigated by the region?”
On one document seen by The Post, Crosby hand-wrote the answer: “Unable to determine why an investigation was not done for CPS,” or the Current Population Survey — the official name for the unemployment report.
With regard to the Consumer Expenditure survey, only four instances of falsification were looked into, while 14 were reported.
I’ve been suspicious of the Census Bureau for a long time.
During the 2010 Census report — an enormous and costly survey of the entire country that goes on for a full year — I suspected (and wrote in a number of columns) that Census was inexplicably hiring and firing temporary workers.
I suspected that this turnover of employees was being done purposely to boost the number of new jobs being report each month. (The Labor Department does not use the Census Bureau for its other monthly survey of new jobs — commonly referred to as the Establishment Survey.)
Last week I offered to give all the information I have, including names, dates and charges to Labor’s inspector general.
I’m waiting to hear back from Labor.
I hope the next stop will be Congress, since manipulation of data like this not only gives voters the wrong impression of the economy but also leads lawmakers, the Federal Reserve and companies to make uninformed decisions.
To cite just one instance, the Fed is targeting the curtailment of its so-called quantitative easing money-printing/bond-buying fiasco to the unemployment rate for which Census provided the false information.
So falsifying this would, in essence, have dire consequences for the country.