Former Obama State Department officials critical of Egypt policy

Rick Moran
Former officials in the Obama State Department have turned on their former boss and are heavily criticizing his policy toward Egypt since the military ousted President Morsi.

Foreign Policy:

"The situation in Egypt keeps getting worse, and Egyptian government actions keep running contrary to what the U.S. is calling for publicly and privately," said Amy Hawthorne, who left the State Department in December as Foggy Bottom's Egypt country coordinator. Hawthorne said the administration has waited too long to suspend military aid to the government. "Continuing this kind of business-as-usual approach implicates the U.S., in a way, in whatever is going on in Egypt, and could put us in a position pretty soon where we might be contorting ourselves to accept whatever repressive new political reality the Egyptian leadership is trying to create," she said.

Hawthorne is by no means alone. Tamara Wittes, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs during Obama's first term, says Obama's refusal to call the military's actions a coup has become indefensible. "I think it's time for the United States to recognize that what we have here is the restoration of a military dictatorship in Cairo," said Wittes, now at the Brookings Institution. "That means that the United States needs to call these events what they are - under American law it needs to suspend assistance to the Egyptian government because this was a military coup and it is a military regime."

Piling on, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley addressed the administration's coup policy in a radio interview on Friday. "Obviously, I think it was a military coup. I think the United States should call it that," he told Democracy Now.

Inside the State Department, former officials tell The Cable the anxiety over the absence of a coherent policy is well known. "The worker bees are frustrated," said a former State Department official, referring to employees at the bureaus of Near Eastern Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Counterterrorism. "Everyone knows it's a coup. They recognize the reasons why we wouldn't call it a coup, but they also see the hypocrisy."

Another former department official recalled a contingency planning meeting in the Spring of 2012 in which officials discussed a number of hypothetical U.S. responses to troubling actions by Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. "Somebody raised the idea of cutting off military aid and it was roundly rejected," said the source. "The thinking was that we need to reserve such a step for something really huge, like a military coup. And everyone was like, 'yeah, it would take a coup.'"

The Egyptian government isn't listening to President Obama's pious improtunings to stop the crackdown. They're in a fight for survival and while their methods should be roundly criticized, the president and his foreign policy team have done little since the overthrow of Mubarak to convince the army that they weren't favoring the Muslim Brotherhood.

This horrible miscalculation has lost us whatever influence we had in Egypt. Why listen to us when we openly favored their enemies? Cutting off military aid would probably do little but drive the government into the waiting arms of Russia and China, who would gladly pick up the slack in supplying modern weapons to the Egyptian army. And you can be assured Moscow won't be quite as careful in weighing what weapons to give them - whether it would give the Egyptians an advantage over the Israelis.

We will be paying for Obama's reckless - and feckless - policy in Egypt for many years.

Former officials in the Obama State Department have turned on their former boss and are heavily criticizing his policy toward Egypt since the military ousted President Morsi.

Foreign Policy:

"The situation in Egypt keeps getting worse, and Egyptian government actions keep running contrary to what the U.S. is calling for publicly and privately," said Amy Hawthorne, who left the State Department in December as Foggy Bottom's Egypt country coordinator. Hawthorne said the administration has waited too long to suspend military aid to the government. "Continuing this kind of business-as-usual approach implicates the U.S., in a way, in whatever is going on in Egypt, and could put us in a position pretty soon where we might be contorting ourselves to accept whatever repressive new political reality the Egyptian leadership is trying to create," she said.

Hawthorne is by no means alone. Tamara Wittes, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs during Obama's first term, says Obama's refusal to call the military's actions a coup has become indefensible. "I think it's time for the United States to recognize that what we have here is the restoration of a military dictatorship in Cairo," said Wittes, now at the Brookings Institution. "That means that the United States needs to call these events what they are - under American law it needs to suspend assistance to the Egyptian government because this was a military coup and it is a military regime."

Piling on, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley addressed the administration's coup policy in a radio interview on Friday. "Obviously, I think it was a military coup. I think the United States should call it that," he told Democracy Now.

Inside the State Department, former officials tell The Cable the anxiety over the absence of a coherent policy is well known. "The worker bees are frustrated," said a former State Department official, referring to employees at the bureaus of Near Eastern Affairs, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Counterterrorism. "Everyone knows it's a coup. They recognize the reasons why we wouldn't call it a coup, but they also see the hypocrisy."

Another former department official recalled a contingency planning meeting in the Spring of 2012 in which officials discussed a number of hypothetical U.S. responses to troubling actions by Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. "Somebody raised the idea of cutting off military aid and it was roundly rejected," said the source. "The thinking was that we need to reserve such a step for something really huge, like a military coup. And everyone was like, 'yeah, it would take a coup.'"

The Egyptian government isn't listening to President Obama's pious improtunings to stop the crackdown. They're in a fight for survival and while their methods should be roundly criticized, the president and his foreign policy team have done little since the overthrow of Mubarak to convince the army that they weren't favoring the Muslim Brotherhood.

This horrible miscalculation has lost us whatever influence we had in Egypt. Why listen to us when we openly favored their enemies? Cutting off military aid would probably do little but drive the government into the waiting arms of Russia and China, who would gladly pick up the slack in supplying modern weapons to the Egyptian army. And you can be assured Moscow won't be quite as careful in weighing what weapons to give them - whether it would give the Egyptians an advantage over the Israelis.

We will be paying for Obama's reckless - and feckless - policy in Egypt for many years.