The State Department admitted Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry was lounging on his private yacht off Cape Cod during the military coup in Egypt.
The admission reverses earlier claims by a State representative that Kerry was hard at work on the Egypt portfolio throughout the crisis that led to the ouster of democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi. It also raises uncomfortable comparisons with the Obama administration’s less-than-forthcoming response to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya last fall.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki issued a statement Friday acknowledging that Kerry was “briefly on his boat on Wednesday” but claiming that the Kennedyesque pleasure outing in Nantucket Boat Basin was merely a respite from the secretary’s response to the Egypt crisis.
“Secretary Kerry worked around the clock all day,” Psaki wrote, “including participating in the President’s meeting with his national security council, and calls with Norwegian Foreign Minister Eade, Qatari Foreign Minister al-Attiyah, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, Egyptian Constitution Party President ElBaradei and five calls Ambassador Patterson on that day alone and since then he continued to make calls to leaders including Emirati Foreign Minister bin Zayed, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr.”
But all that verbiage stands in stark contrast to Psaki’s earlier claim about Kerry’s activities over the extended Fourth of July holiday.
“Since his plane touched down in Washington at 4 am, Secretary Kerry was working all day and on the phone dealing with the crisis in Egypt,” Psaki said in a statement Wednesday. That comment was in response to questions about why Kerry was absent from a White House photo that showed President Obama meeting with members of his national security team during an emergency meeting about the coup in Egypt.
According to Psaki, Kerry dialed in on a secure phone line for that meeting. “He participated in the White House meeting with the President by secure phone and was and is in non-stop contact with foreign leaders, and his senior team in Washington and Cairo,” she said.
At the time of that statement, CBS This Morning senior producer Mosheh Oinounou had tweeted a photo of the “Isabel” and reported that a producer had spotted Kerry on board. The State Department denied those claims.
Kerry recently returned from a Middle East trip during which he confounded area experts by ignoring the violent crises in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Turkey in order to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian troubles, a longstanding but at the moment relatively inactive problem. (Related: Middle East experts find Kerry focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace ‘baffling’)
The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood leader Morsi is a serious setback for the Obama administration, which had expended considerable political capital trying to build warmer relations with Morsi’s anti-American, anti-Israeli extremist government, even as it suspended human rights norms, rewrote Egypt’s constitution, expanded sharia rule and drove the country’s already weak economy into the ground.
Obama’s murky response to the Egyptian revolution has been called a “stunning diplomatic failure” by Republicans and “muted” by the president’s own media allies. In a 450-word statement Wednesday, the president avoided specifics about Egypt’s increasingly violent and volatile situation, saying only that the United States is “committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law” and calling on “all parties” to cooperate.
“The United States is monitoring the very fluid situation in Egypt, and we believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people,” Obama said. “Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsy and his supporters.”
Egypt’s military rulers flouted that appeal, temporarily placing Morsi under house arrest and hauling in many of his followers. Although it is not clear whether the former president is still in custody, Egyptian military forces continued to crack down on his supporters during Kerry’s Bay State idyll, and reportedly opened fire on Morsi followers Friday.
The State Department’s feckless response to questions about Kerry’s whereabouts during the Egypt crisis recall the Benghazi attack, for which then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received harsh criticism over her failure to provide adequate security and President Obama was questioned about his decision to attend a Las Vegas fundraiser during the crisis.
The State Department was also lambasted for its disingenuous explanation that the well-planned terrorist attack had been a spontaneous popular reaction to an obscure trailer for an unseen internet film. The filmmaker was subsequently imprisoned on an unrelated charge. Four Americans died in the Benghazi attack, including the United States ambassador to Libya. The Obama administration eventually retreated from its claim that the film had provoked the Benghazi attack.