When General James Mattis was named by President-elect Donald Trump as his Secretary of Defense, it was widely reported that the incoming Commander-in-Chief promised Mattis wide discretion in staffing the Pentagon. But it appears that there are limits on how far the Secretary of Defense is being allowed to stray, in making staff appointments of people whose track records clearly are at odds with the policies of the new President and his inner circle of White House aides.
Case in point: former US Ambassador to Colombia, El Salvador, Pakistan and Egypt, Anne Patterson. It was reported last week that Mattis had passed Patterson’s name on to the White House for appointment as his Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the number three post in the Department. While no final decision has been made yet, there is considerable push-back from senior White House staff to the proposed Patterson appointment.
The harshest criticisms of Patterson center on her close relationship with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and their former President, Mohammed Morsi, when she was Ambassador in Cairo from 2011-2013.
When protests erupted over the Morsi government’s crackdown on protesters and his refusal to broaden the governing coalition by bringing non-Muslim Brotherhood figures in, Ambassador Patterson accepted a June 18, 2013 invitation to publicly present her views on the situation. She told a Cairo audience “I don’t think the elected nature of this government is seriously in doubt,” and she added she was “deeply skeptical street actions will produce better results than elections.” Weeks later, an estimated 20 million Egyptians turned out on the street to demand Morsi’s ouster.
It came after the Muslim Brotherhood had launched a violent crack-down against regime critics, deploying MB paramilitary gangs, setting up private prisons to torture opposition leaders, and ignoring pleas from allies to broaden the governing coalition, to respond to the larger demands of the Tahrir Square revolution of early 2011.
Patterson arrived as Ambassador to Egypt four months after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, and she immediately established strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, while also keeping lines of communication open to the ruling armed forces. She became the emblem of the Obama Administration’s policy of courting the Muslim Brotherhood as a “moderate” force within “political Islam,” which had been enshrined in President Obama’s Presidential Study Directive-11 (PSD-11) of August 2010, and the later Presidential Decision Directive-13 (PDD-13) of February 2011, which set forth a policy of opening to Muslim Brotherhood organizations in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria. In the spring of 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had announced a public opening to the Muslim Brotherhood, and she later approved a visit to Washington by a delegation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders from all over the Middle East and North Africa.
At Ambassador Patterson’s urging, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a two-day visit to Egypt in July 2012, soon after the presidential elections that saw Morsi elected against a candidate backed by the interim Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Patterson, again, had been the public face of the Obama Administration, warning the military of harsh consequences if there was any evidence of vote fraud, resulting in Morsi’s defeat. The MB warned SCAF then that if Morsi lost the elections, “Egypt will be turned into a big war zone and blood will be spelled in rivers”, as a leader of the group bluntly told the military.
Hillary Clinton made clear in her Cairo meeting with Morsi that she had gotten the message from the Obama White House. She gave full support to Morsi and made clear that Washington saw the Muslim Brotherhood as promoters of democracy in the Muslim world: “We want to be a good partner and we want to support the democracy that has been achieved by the courage and sacrifice of the Egyptian people,” she was quoted.
“Democracy is hard… It requires dialogue and compromise and real politics. We are encouraged and we want to be helpful. But we know it is not for the United States, it is for the Egyptian people to decide.”
Within six months, the Muslim Brotherhood was moving to consolidate dictatorial powers through the suppression of all opposition. It was that crackdown and the failure of the MB-dominated government of Morsi to make any headway in improving the Egyptian economy that led, a year after Morsi’s victory, to an unprecedented outpouring of Egyptians on to the streets to demand the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power.
Rather than suffer the consequences of the fundamental misjudgment of the capacity of the Muslim Brotherhood to govern in partnership with other forces that led the 2011 Tahrir protests, Anne Patterson was promoted to Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, a post she held until she retired from the State Department days before Barack Obama left office in January 2017.
General Mattis’ choice of Patterson for the top policy post at the Pentagon is the result of their close working relationship when Patterson was serving as Ambassador to Pakistan from 2007-2010, and later during her posting in Cairo. General John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, who headed the U.S. Southern Command before taking the Trump cabinet post, and is a close collaborator of Defense Secretary Mattis, also knew of Patterson’s earlier career as Ambassador to El Salvador (1997-2000) and Colombia (2000-2003). She served, briefly, in Colombia during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, who took a hard-line stance against the FARC (Armed Forces for the Liberation of Colombia). As head of Southcom, General Kelly had been a strong promoter of aggressive action against the Colombian drug cartels, including the leftist FARC.
Whatever the Mattis motives for promoting Ambassador Patterson, she is facing strong opposition from a core grouping at the Trump White House, centered in the Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG), a powerful, but informal group of Presidential advisers led by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and including counter-terrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka, special assistant to the President Steve Miller and Chris Liddell, a former corporate executive.
In February, news media reported that President Trump was considering a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Brigade. On February 8, 2017, Voice of America cited Bannon as a leading advocate for the ban, quoting him as describing the Muslim Brotherhood as the “foundation of modern terrorism.” Sebastian Gorka has also strongly advocated the same action, and during his confirmation hearing as Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the final defeat of the Islamic State would “allow us to increase our attention on other agents of radical Islam, like al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and certain elements in Iran.”
When Anne Patterson was President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs in November 2015, she opposed legislation, introduced by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Michael McCaul, to have the IRGC listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), arguing that such a designation was a stretch of the State Department guidelines.
9 March, 2017