White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel with President Obama in the Oval Office (White House photo)
JERUSALEM – A small group of officials working mostly from the White House are tightly controlling U.S. foreign policy, bypassing other government agencies and making decisions without employing the expertise of those agencies, according to diplomatic sources speaking to WND.
The sources said some of the decisions may be jeopardizing U.S. security.
A senior Middle East diplomatic source said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently apologized to a Mideast leader, explaining to him U.S. policy regarding his country is being dictated by the White House and not her agency.
The diplomatic sources all confirmed Clinton has been largely cut out from the decision-making process, as have U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones and other top figures.
The diplomatic sources identified the White House group largely controlling foreign policy as consisting of President Obama; White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel; top Obama adviser David Axelrod; and National Security Council Director Denis McDonough. Also involved are Mark Lippert, chief-of-staff of the National Security Council; U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Jim Messina, White House liaiason to Congress.
The White House did not immediately respond to WND’s request for comment.
A senior U.S. official referred to the group as a “politburo,” using the term for the executive committee of communist political parties.
The source said the so-called politburo is making decisions that bypass other agencies.
‘Sabotaging negotiations with Syria’
A case in point was documented in a Washington Post column last weekend by Jim Hoagland, who quoted diplomatic sources stating the White House decision makers unilaterally announced last month the U.S. would send an ambassador to Syria.
The decision – which provided Damascus a major prize – took State officials by surprise, according to Hoagland. The senior U.S. official who spoke to WND confirmed a working group within the State Department was in the process of negotiating concessions from Syria in exchange for the appointment of a U.S. ambassador.
The U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Syria four years ago in protest of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, an attack widely blamed on Damascus.
The U.S. official told WND the White House hastily leaked the news of an ambassador, ensuring against any possibility of extracting concessions from Syria since there was no need for Damascus to negotiate.
Diplomatic sources now confirm that the “politburo” member who gave out the initial damaging leak of the White House offering Syria an ambassador without concessions is McDonough.
Ben Smith of Politico on Sunday contradicted Hoagland’s report, writing Clinton and Mideast envoy George Mitchell were both in on the decision to send an ambassador to Syria. Smith sited a memo from Mitchell to Clinton and Obama recommending an ambassador to Syria after his mid-June meeting with Syrian President Assad. Also, Smith reported the decision was discussed in a Deputies Committee that included the deputy secretary of state, Jim Steinberg, as well as a Mitchell aide, Fred Hoff.
However, according to the senior U.S. official speaking to WND, Smith failed to differentiate between a recommendation for the U.S. to eventually send an ambassador to Syria and the actual announcement of the decision to send an ambassador that was to follow negotiations.
The recommendation, made in June, was to be followed by State-led negotiations to extract concessions from Syria, such as an end to Damascus support for terrorism or the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘Still in campaign mode’
The diplomatic sources said it was significant Obama has only called one Cabinet meeting thus far – a symbolic confab to mark his 100th day in office.
The sources also said it was telling that Clinton was not granted the right to appoint her own deputies. They said many State deputies were political appointments to return favors from last year’s presidential campaign.
The senior U.S. official said Emanuel is most heavily involved in drafting policy, describing him as a sort of policy CEO, while Axelrod works to brand White House decisions.
The source described the decision-making group as “ignorant” and as “still in campaign mode,” citing as one example the lack of understanding among the group of Syria’s strong ties to Iran.
In another example, a second source said Obama and his team last week made numerous factual errors while negotiating in Russia, completely surprising Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with their lack of knowledge.
The second source said the main goal of the White House “politburo” is creating an image of the U.S. working with the international community and of ensuring Obama’s reelection in 2012.
The diplomatic sources said Obama is involved in the decision-making process but that he is particularly obsessed with the Palestinian issue. The sources declined to describe Obama as anti-Israel, but they painted him as heavily pro-Palestinian.
The sources said a main goal of the Obama administration is to oversee an eventual withdrawal from Iraq, even if that means cutting deals that would undermine U.S. security in other areas. The sources said they are concerned many foreign policy decisions are based on branding and are not taking U.S. security into consideration.