President Trump’s defense secretary wants the Pentagon’s top civilian job to go to a onetime prominent supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Trump may designate as a terrorist organization.
Not surprisingly, the White House is resisting the choice by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, of Anne Patterson to be undersecretary of defense for policy -- the Pentagon’s fourth most powerful position.
While Patterson’s bona fides are not in question – she has served as an ambassador to Egypt, Pakistan, Colombia, El Salvador and the United Nations, along with being President Obama’s assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs – there is widespread concern, both at home and abroad, about her close ties to ousted Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Patterson’s support of Morsi and his Islamist government – and her denunciation of the 2013 protests against the Egyptian leader as mere “street protests” – saw herself become the target of widespread criticism. Demonstrators plastered her face on signs and banners and made her the public face of the Obama administration’s policies in the North African nation.
“President Trump must go ahead with his listing of the Brotherhood.”
“The biggest pushback [from the White House] is that she was ambassador to Egypt immediately before and after the Morsi presidency,” a person familiar with the conversations told Politico. For Mattis’ part, he has “put her name forward and he doesn’t quite understand why people have an objection,” the person said.
Her poor standing among the Egyptian public seems to have rubbed off on President Trump and others within the White House at a time when the president is considering declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Trump himself was often critical of President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has proposed a bill to call for declaring the Brotherhood a terror organization. In the past, it has been accused of supporting terrorist groups around the world, and several countries, including Muslim nations, have banned them.
The Brotherhood’s critics include prominent Muslim leaders in the U.S. and around the world, with prominent sheikhs of both Shia and Sunni Muslim groups accusing it of engaging in terrorism.
“President Trump must go ahead with his listing of the Brotherhood,” Sheikh Mohammed el Hajj Hassan, founder of the American-Muslim Alliance, told Fox News. “This group since its inception practiced killing, crimes and terror attacks in the Arab world. In Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and other countries their clerics call for violence.”
The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in Egypt in the 1920s with the stated goal of establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate, or empire, ruled under Sharia law. Egypt declared it a terror group in 2013 after the government blamed it for a bombing of a police headquarters that killed 16, even though the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood denied involvement and condemned the attack.
The Defense Department isn’t the only government agency that has been battling with the White House over its picks – last month Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saw his top choice for deputy secretary of state denied by Trump – but Mattis appears to be the most adamant about staffing his department and has the least amount of qualms with battling it out with the White House.
The tug-of-war between Mattis and the White House has meant that not a single undersecretary or deputy secretary to the Defense Department has been nominated to a post. For his part Mattis’ deputy, Robert Work, is a holdover from the Obama administration and is only staying on until the secretary can get his own deputy nominated.
“Mattis is a guy who cares very much about personnel,” a friend close to Mattis said. “He doesn’t want people off the tracks that he has laid down and that he’s running his train on.”