Obama holdovers retain key State Department jobs

President Trump fancies himself the new Andrew Jackson. But did Jackson allow holdovers from John Quincy Adams’ administration to guide his foreign policy?

I raise the question because of reports that architects of some of President Obama’s worst foreign policies are making policy at Trump’s State Department.

Let’s first consider the case of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, the Iran director for former President Obama’s National Security Council. According to Jordan Schachtel of Conservative Review, Ms. Nowrouzzadeh “has burrowed into the government under President Trump” and “is now in charge of Iran and the Persian Gulf region on the policy planning staff at the State Department.”

Schachtel tells us that Nowrouzzadeh is a former employee of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), a non-profit that is accused of being a lobbying group for the Iranian regime. NIAC’s current president, the odious Trita Parsi, has long held close relationships with top officials in the Tehran dictatorship. In February, a group of over 100 prominent Iranian dissidents called for Congress to investigate NIAC’s ties to the Iranian regime.

According to Schachtel, Nowrouzzadeh had a big hand in the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump repeatedly has called “a disaster.” Indeed, says Schachtel, “one of Nowrouzzadeh’s primary duties under President Obama was to promote initiatives that pushed the Iran deal.”

She fulfilled this duty with aplomb. According to the head of a state-run Iranian newspaper, Nowrouzzadeh was an essential element to pushing through the Iran deal. Editor-in-Chief Emad Abshenass said that she opened up a direct line of communication with the Iranian president’s brother. “She helped clear a number of contradictions and allowed the entire endeavor to succeed,” Abshenass said of her efforts.

Asked by Schachtel why Secretary Tillerson was retaining Nowrouzzadeh, the State Department did not respond.

Next, consider the case of Brett McGurk. He held various high level positions in the Obama administration (as well as Bush administration), most recently the job of Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (known outside of the Obama bubble as ISIS).

McGurk was an odd choice to lead a global coalition against ISIS. Lee Smith writes:

One of the main reasons Obama’s ISIS policy failed was because Sunni actors refused to engage in an intramural civil war whose spoils would go to the Iranians and their Shia allies. McGurk was the point man on this pro-Iran policy, famously arranging for Iran to get $400 million in cash delivered on wooden pallets to the IRGC in exchange for American hostages.

(Emphasis added)

It gets worse:

Remember when the Trump administration promised to make public the secret agreements that Obama made with Iran? McGurk signed some of the secret documents, relieving sanctions on a key financial hub of Iran’s ballistic-missile program, and dropping charges against 21 Iranian operatives linked to terrorism. Notably, none of those documents has actually been made public.

Maybe that’s because McGurk’s name is on them, or maybe it’s because former National Iranian American Council staffer Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, Obama’s NSC director for Iran, is now on the policy-planning staff in Trump’s State Department. The Iran Deal seems like even more of a done deal with every new ballistic-missile test.

(Emphasis added)

Smith identifies more Obama administration stalwarts with key policy-making roles under Trump/Tillerson:

Syria is another area where the Trump White House is now appointing the same people to carry out the same policies that made America great under Obama. The Obama State Department’s special envoy to Syria, Michael Ratney, threatened the Syrian rebels on behalf of Vladimir Putin—if you do not adhere to the phony Cessation of Hostilities agreement that neither Bashar al-Assad, Tehran, nor Moscow will obey, you will legitimize Russian air strikes against you, with American diplomatic support.

Under Trump, Ratney’s role has expanded; in addition to Syria, he is also handling Israel and Palestine issues.

Other notable figures the Trump team kept on include the State Department’s Tom Shannon, whom Kerry dispatched to do damage control once it got out that the Obama administration was trying to give Iran access to the dollar.

Chris Backemeyer, the State Department’s principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy, is still there, too. His job under Obama was to persuade companies around the world to invest in Iran, despite their wariness of the next administration reimposing sanctions or tearing up the deal.

(Emphasis added)

President Trump may eventually get around to replacing some of these holdovers. As we have observed, however, he seems to be proceeding at a snail’s pace. Smith attributes the delay to conflicts within Trump-world among factions “more devoted to destroying each other than to achieving anything concrete with the power of the office they swore to serve.”

Whatever its cause, the presence of the Obama holdovers portends trouble. Says Smith:

While the Trump cabinet is at daggers drawn, while it can’t hire the staff to implement the policies the president campaigned on—to destroy ISIS, to reign in Iran and crash the nuclear deal, to protect American citizens and interests, and to realign with allies like Israel that Obama made vulnerable—there are much more decisive and deadly conflicts going on almost everywhere around the world. The people who are handling key elements of those conflicts now are the same people who handled those areas under Obama, despite the results of the last election.

Andrew Jackson wouldn’t have tolerated this mess.

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