Very odd, even more so than Mattis reportedly asking Michele Fluornoy to be his undersecretary at the Pentagon. (She turned him down, allegedly because implementing some of Trump’s policies would conflict with her “values.”) Fluornoy’s also an Obama alum but she’s a respected defense expert and was considered for Mattis’s position under Obama. Had Hillary won in November, Fluornoy would almost certainly be SecDef right now, the first woman ever to lead the department. Mattis might have reasonably concluded that the value of her expertise outweighed her political liabilities.
But what’s the argument for appointing Anne Patterson? She’s a lifelong diplomat, not a defense specialist. And her diplomatic career is checkered in the eyes of Republicans who loathe how conciliatory the Obama White House was to the Muslim Brotherhood when Egyptians briefly handed power to the group. Patterson wasn’t just on duty during the Brotherhood’s rule; she was a de facto spin doctor for the regime during Egypt’s counterrevolution.
The tip of the spear for U.S.-Egypt diplomacy, Patterson’s June 18 speech discouraging street protests has come to symbolize the administration’s inability to recognize the potency of Egypt’s liberal opposition. “Some say that street action will produce better results than elections,” Patterson said. “To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical.”…
Patterson in particular resisted opportunities to criticize the Morsy government as it implemented increasingly authoritarian policies. In a memorable May interview with the Egyptian English-language news sit Ahram Online, she repeatedly dodged pointed questions about Morsy’s leadership. “The fact is they ran in a legitimate election and won,” she said…
It didn’t help Patterson’s standing when she met with senior Brotherhood officials, the Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat Al-Shater. For some liberal Egyptians, this was seen as nothing less than conspiring with the enemy. Now Egyptian protesters are carrying signs with the ambassador’s face crossed out.
Mohammed Morsi, who became president when the Brotherhood won the 2011 elections, was deposed in July 2013; Patterson, who’d literally become the face of western support for the Islamists, was removed as ambassador less than two months later and moved into a new role as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. She’d been appointed to ambassadorships by three different presidents before taking the Egypt job, proof that she’s no amateur, but diplomacy is her field, not defense — and even if Mattis was set on naming a diplomat to head the policy shop in the Pentagon, why would he choose someone with as much baggage as Patterson when he has various Republicans to choose from? (Various, but not unlimited. Remember, the Trump White House frowns on hiring people who were critical of him during the campaign.) The state of play from Politico:
If nominated and confirmed [as undersecretary of defense for policy], Patterson would hold the fourth most powerful position at the Pentagon – and would effectively be the top civilian in the Defense Department, since both Mattis and his deputy, Robert Work, were military officers…
“The biggest pushback [from the White House] is that she was ambassador to Egypt immediately before and after the Morsi presidency,” said a person familiar with the conversations. For Mattis’s part, he has “put her name forward and he doesn’t quite understand why people have an objection,” the person said…
“General Mattis has made it known that Mad Dog’s personnel choices are his and not what we are told are in his opinion political hacks from the Trump team—even though they’re great people,” said a former Trump campaign aide. “It’s the world view of a four-star general.”
Most D.C. Republicans will (privately) side with Mattis in a conflict with Trump on the theory that a four-star Marine who’s spent decades interacting with international players probably knows defense policy better than the newbie president. But not this time:
Worth noting, GOPers on Hill are negative on this nomination, too, & confused by Mattis's staffing preferences (Flournoy, this). Want Repubs https://t.co/ndXcpNvHNW
— Eliana Johnson (@elianayjohnson) March 3, 2017
Politico doesn’t say why Mattis is willing to do battle with the White House over Patterson. My best guess is that they’ve worked together in the past, probably when Patterson in Egypt, and Mattis understandably might want people around him with whom he’s familiar. Patterson was ambassador from 2011 to 2013; Mattis became head of CENTCOM, whose “area of responsibility” includes Egypt, in 2010 and continued there until 2013. They overlapped, and Mattis may have come to appreciate her work for Obama — although why he feels that way, given how she went the extra yard to ingratiate herself to the Brotherhood, is unclear. Maybe he sees Patterson as having been a good soldier for her boss in a bad cause. It wasn’t Patterson setting Egypt policy, after all, it was O. Obama gave her a task and she did it zealously. Although, even if you buy that, why put her at Defense instead of at State, where Rex Tillerson also needs deputies and where Patterson would be a more natural fit?
Doesn’t make much sense. But then, it also doesn’t make much sense that our Putin-friendly commander-in-chief would choose as his top White House deputy on Russian affairs an expert who’s famously anti-Putin. And yet here we are.