The PJ Tatler

Obama Administration's Internal War Over Egypt Isn't Really About Egypt

The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin details an ongoing policy battle between Secretary of State John Kerry and US National Security Adviser Susan Rice over US policy toward Egypt. Rogin depicts Kerry as “defying the White House” in how he is handling the pivotal Middle Eastern state.

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.

“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 a couple of points worth making about this. The first is that the public nature of the rift may reflect President Obama’s indecisiveness and drift. Rice is a long-time Obama hand, trusted to be loyal enough to repeatedly blame Benghazi on a movie and promoted afterward. Kerry is a big name within the Democratic Party, but not an Obama hand or loyalist. A stronger president not let this rift get out in public — he would shut one or the other down. In this case, Kerry is the Secretary of State and should probably be the only officer making what amounts to official statements on behalf of the administration, other than Obama himself, and their statements should align to present the US as unified in its approach. But Obama has never been particularly strong on foreign policy. Now he is mired in the Obamacare disaster. Rice et al may be using the president’s distraction to reassert themselves, even against the State Department.

The second thing to take into account is that while Egypt is at the center of this policy difference, it’s not really about Egypt. It’s about the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama’s inner circle — Rice, Susan Power, Valerie Jarrett — have been consistently pro-Muslim Brotherhood. His national security cadre therefore tilts toward the Muslim Brotherhood, most conspicuously when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described the Muslim Brotherhood as “largely secular” in 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood is far from secular. It’s the fountainhead of most if not all radical Islamist terrorist groups, from Hamas to al Qaeda to Fatah and to offshoots including the Muslim Student Association.

The Muslim Brotherhood is to “secularism” what the Ku Klux Klan is to “racial tolerance.” Only, the Muslim Brotherhood is far more influential and powerful, and has the ear of President Obama’s inner circle of advisers.

John Kerry is likely to lose this fight, even though he is right in wanting to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood.