Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Diplomats and the Journalists (2/2): John Kerry Speaks

With a chiseled, 19th-century profile, Kerry projected a casual informality, making up for the Northeastern stuffiness that lost him points in the 2004 election. As he entered, he knew that American journalists in the room remembered him as a presidential candidate as much as a Senator. Noting my accent, he grabbed my arm and chummily asked "They treatin' you well here?"

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Kerry takes a complimentary position to the State department's more reactionary policies, acting as a safety valve that allows the U.S. to both be reactionary and project poise at the same time. “Kerry doesn't have the burden of the Obama team's ‘policy’ on his back, although he can act as a surrogate for the White House when the President needs him to,” writes John Kiriakou in the Huffington Post. “Obama wants to talk to the Brotherhood, but he doesn't want to anger US voters who may oppose such an overture.”

On January 28th of this year, several days before the Obama administration would side with the Tahrir protesters, Kerry published an op-ed in the New York Times that in retrospect looks expected, but at the time seemed daring. "Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation," he wrote, adding that "the Egyptian people are demanding wholesale transformation, not window dressing."

At this conference, he stuck to an economic line. The Americans generally wanted him to cast doubt on either the military or the Muslim Brotherhood. “We don't always get to choose who we are dealing with in a complicated and dangerous world,” he told the reporters, “but we will deal with those governments that are chosen by their people in order to advance a global set of principles.”
Some of the Egyptians wanted him to say something broad about Israel-Palestine and the Muslim world. The Reuters reporter asked him about Newt Gingrich’s line about the Palestinians being an “invented people,” but he wouldn’t say anything about it. 

He described meeting expatriate Egyptians around the world who “are not investing as much as they would like to be,” adding that “sending a clear, and constant message with respect to the IMF, movement towards fiscal reform, and the kind of business climate that is going to exist here is critical."
The message was clear only to those with a background in the messy details of the Egyptian economy. Following the downturn after the revolution, then-Finance Minister Samir Radwan negotiated a loan with the IMF for 3 billion dollars, but turned it down in June. Reuters reported that the about-face was “widely believed to be due to opposition from the army.”
Then in November, a new finance minister, Hazem al Beblawi announced Egypt would again seek the loan, but the deal was later suspended. This week, Mumtaz Said replaced al Beblawi, making him the third finance minister since the revolution. The state of the IMF loan is unclear, and Kerry was suggesting that the U.S. wants Egypt to take it. It might help the business environment, but it would also tie the Egyptian government to international obligations before another upheaval changes the decision-makers.
Nevertheless, he threw his lot in with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), holding back from agreeing with the protesters like he did on January 28th. "Have mistakes been made? Yes. But Egypt has had its sovereignty and its identity protected by the efforts of SCAF,” he told us. “There are many countries where a military would never have moved to provide the kind of protection that this military has provided…You can see what’s happening in Syria today.” “Fundamentally,” he said, “they [SCAF] have been safeguarding the revolution.”

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