Der Spiegel pointed out the obvious: “A certain role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the transition process [to ‘democracy’] in Egypt seems acceptable to the Obama White House.” It was early February 2011, the moment when the uprising that would oust Hosni Mubarak was bubbling over in Tahrir Square. The prominent German newsmagazine figured, who better to ask about the Muslim Brotherhood than the American political establishment’s resident foreign-policy genius, John McCain?
So, the reporter asked him, does Obama’s tolerance of the Muslim Brotherhood “concern you”?
Senator Maverick shot back without hesitation: “It concerns me so much that I am unalterably opposed to it. I think it would be a mistake of historic proportions.”
Senator McCain elaborated that he was “deeply, deeply concerned that this whole movement [toward democracy] could be hijacked by radical Islamic extremists.” And what, he was specifically asked, “is your assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood”? McCain pulled no punches:
I think they are a radical group that, first of all, supports sharia law; that in itself is anti-democratic — at least as far as women are concerned. They have been involved with other terrorist organizations and I believe that they should be specifically excluded from any tra nsition government.
In fact, so apprehensive was he over the Brotherhood and its sharia agenda that McCain was quick to brand Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate, as a Brotherhood tool. Many of us watching developments at the time noted the apparent collusion between ElBaradei and the Brothers. McCain went farther: “Oh yeah, I think it’s very clear that the scenario is very likely he could be their front man.”
Senator Straight Talk reasoned that since ElBaradei appeared to be on the same page as the Brotherhood, and was being hailed as a potential Mubarak successor despite having “no following nor political influence in Egypt,” we should assume that he must be in cahoots with the Brotherhood. It did not matter that ElBaradei was a renowned international figure and an important leftist ally of President Obama’s. So pernicious was the threat posed by the Brotherhood that, in McCain’s considered opinion, you just had to assume the worst.
The Spiegel interview was classic McCain; the senator is never at a loss for bloviation. His professed anxiety, only a year ago, over the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as his blithe willingness to assume that ElBaradei must be an Islamist coconspirator, are worth remembering today. For the sage has suddenly decided that the Brothers — unapologetic Islamic supremacists who say outright that they are on a “grand jihad” to destroy America and the West — are a pretty swell lot, after all. Instead, McCain reserves his signature “shoot first, think later” ire for the target he has always preferred: conservatives.
The Arizonan took to the Senate floor this week to lambaste five conservative members of the House who, unlike McCain, are actually serious about addressing threats the Brotherhood poses to American interests. McCain’s bipartisan “Islamic democracy” promoters seem content to keep burning through taxpayer trillions until the Brotherhood is finally running every government in the Middle East. To the contrary, the House conservatives — Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Tom Rooney (Fla.), and Lynn Westmorland (Ga.) — have concluded that the Brotherhood needs to be regarded as the serious anti-American business that it is.
Toward that end, the quintet is justifiably concerned that the Brotherhood’s sharia agenda — the one to which McCain used to be “unalterably opposed” — is being abetted not just by some Nobel-toting Egyptian progressive, but by officials in highly sensitive positions inside the United States government.
One official about whom they raise questions is Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ms. Abedin has been an aide since she interned at the White House in 1996 and was assigned to the then–first lady’s staff. The family tie for which she is best known is her husband, Anthony Weiner, the New York Democrat who resigned from Congress in disgrace last year. But it is Ms. Abedin’s parents and brother who have drawn the attention of the five House GOP members. They all have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood — the organization itself or prominent members thereof.
For pointing this out and merely asking the State Department’s inspector general to look into it and report back to Congress — which is part of the IG’s duties under the statute that created his position — McCain & Co. (i.e., his fans in the left-wing media and his admirers in the Republican establishment) are screaming “smear” and “McCarthyism.” McCain’s antipathy toward conservatives (except during election years) is an old story. And it is no secret that he has long been smitten by Mrs. Clinton, whose transnational-progressive leanings mirror his own.
The Maverick is also a man about town — towns like Tripoli. Back in 2009, you may recall, he was an honored guest in the compound of Libya’s dictator, Moammar Qaddafi — celebrating the former master terrorist as an important American ally against jihadist terror, helping to grease the wheels so the Obama administration could increase American aid that would bolster Qaddafi’s military. Yet in the blink of an eye, it seemed, McCain would later be railing that Qaddafi was a dyed-in-the-wool terrorist monster whose military had to be smashed by the United States — in an undeclared, unauthorized, unprovoked war, if necessary — so Libyans could be “free” to elect the Muslim Brotherhood and other assorted Islamic supremacists to their new Parliament.
But the point is that McCain gets around. And when he does, the State Department is often his escort. Between his globetrotting and his case of Hillary hauteur, the senator has gotten friendly over the years with Ms. Abedin, who is said to be smart, able, and quite charming. Ever the Maverick — chivalrous to a fault . . . at least when the damsel in distress is an exotic, progressive sharia-democracy devotee rather than a conservative national-security worrywart from Minnesota. McCain has leapt to Ms. Abedin’s defense against these vicious House troglodytes.
The senator’s tirade featured his trademark indignation, incoherence, and infatuation with immigrant success stories. (Ms. Abedin was born in Michigan, but no reason to let that get in the way of “what is best about America.”) McCain blasted Representative Bachmann and the others, falsely accusing them of doing to his friend Huma what he had actually done to ElBaradei, namely, implicating her as “part of a nefarious conspiracy.”
To the contrary, the House members have drawn no such conclusions. Instead, they have pointed out the State Department’s dramatic, Brotherhood-friendly policy shifts during Ms. Abedin’s tenure as a top adviser to the State Department’s boss. They have asked — completely consistent with national-security guidelines, to which I’ll come shortly — that an investigation into those policy shifts be undertaken.
That investigation would include an inquiry into whether Ms. Abedin’s family ties render her unsuitable for a position that involves access to classified information about the Brotherhood. The shrieks aside, this is not remotely unreasonable, nor is it an inquisition into Ms. Abedin’s decency and rectitude. When I was a prosecutor, the Justice Department would not have let me take a case that involved friends of my family. It’s not that they didn’t trust me; it’s that government is supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety — legitimacy hinges on the public’s belief that actions are taken on merit, not burdened by palpable conflicts of interest.
Regarding Ms. Abedin’s family ties, McCain rebukes his House colleagues for alleging “that three members of Huma’s family are ‘connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.’” “These sinister accusations,” he insisted, “rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of members of Huma’s family.”
Now, I’m perfectly willing to believe that McCain may not know what the words “unspecified” and “unsubstantiated” mean. That, however, would not excuse his use of them in this context. The ties of Ms. Abedine’s father, mother, and brother to the Muslim Brotherhood are both specific and substantiated.
Ms. Abedin’s father, the late Syed Z. Abedin, was an Indian-born Islamic academic who founded the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs in Saudi Arabia. That institute was backed by the Muslim World League. As the Hudson Institute’s Zeyno Baran relates, the MWL was started by the Saudi government in 1962 “with Brotherhood members in key leadership positions.” It has served as the principal vehicle for the propagation of Islamic supremacism by the Saudis and the Brotherhood. That ideology fuels the “Islamic extremism” that, only a year ago, had McCain so worried that he thought allowing the Brotherhood into the Egyptian-government mix “would be a mistake of historic proportions.”
McCain’s frivolous retort is that Professor Abedin died 20 years ago. That would be a great point if someone were accusing Ms. Abedin of being in her father’s institute or the MWL. It is irrelevant when the question is whether it is reasonable to infer Islamist sympathies from her parents’ allegiances — not to make conclusive judgments about her, mind you, but to draw an inference that would merit deeper inquiry. That is standard fare in government background checks. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s emir, has been out of the Brotherhood for more than 30 years. Does that mean the Brotherhood is now irrelevant to his ideological outlook, or to the sympathies of his close associates?
As it happens, the same MWL that supported Abedin père’s institute also helped the Brotherhood establish the Muslim Students Association. The MSA is the foundation of the Brotherhood’s American infrastructure, the gateway through which young Muslims join the Brotherhood after being steeped in the supremacist writings of Brotherhood theorists Hassan al-Banna (who founded the Brotherhood in the 1920s) and Sayyid Qutb (the animating influence of such jihadist eminences as Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, and the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman).
Speaking of which, it was through the MSA that Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi, joined the Muslim Brotherhood. He was studying engineering in California at the time, the early Eighties. By her own account, Morsi’s wife, Nagla Ali Mahmoud, also joined. She became a leading member of a cognate outfit known as “the Muslim Sisterhood.” And it is here that we get to Huma Abedin’s mother, the Pakistani-born academic Dr. Saleha Abedin.
Dr. Abedin, too, has been a member of the Muslim Sisterhood, “which is essentially nothing more than the female version of the Brotherhood,” according to Walid Shoebat, a former Brotherhood member who has renounced the organization. The Brotherhood is not only the font of Sunni supremacist ideology, it spearheads the international support network for Hamas, the terrorist organization that openly proclaims itself as the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch.
According to one report, Dr. Abedin has on occasion represented herself as a delegate of the MWL. Moreover, as William Jacobson documents at Legal Insurrection, Dr. Abedin has led the International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child (IICWC), an Islamist organization that hews to the positions of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s leading sharia jurist. Like Brotherhood entities, the IICWC defends such practices as female genital mutilation and child marriage, which find support in Islamic law and scripture.
Sheikh Qaradawi, of course, is the Brotherhood eminence who promises that Islam “will conquer Europe, we will conquer America.” He is a vigorous supporter of Hamas, and his fatwas lionize suicide terrorism — including the killing of Americans in Iraq. It is Qaradawi who brings us to Huma Abedin’s brother, Dr. Hassan Abedin. He has been a fellow at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies in Great Britain. Contemporaneously, Sheikh Qaradawi was a member of the Oxford Center’s board of trustees. So was Omar Naseef, onetime secretary-general of the MWL as well as the founder of the Rabita Trust — an Islamic “charity” notorious for funding jihadists and for having an al-Qaeda founder (Wael Hamza Julaidan) as one of its chief executives.
These connections are not contrived or weightless — like when the Left wanted to keep Samuel Alito off the Supreme Court because, 40 years ago, he was a member of “Concerned Alumni of Princeton.” Of course, knowing members of an organization whose goals include conquest of the West and destruction of Israel is not a crime. Nor is it a crime to have close relatives who are either members of, or associated with members of, such an organization. Again, however, no one is accusing Huma Abedin of a crime.
The five House conservatives, instead, are asking questions that adults responsible for national security should feel obliged to ask: In light of Ms. Abedin’s family history, is she someone who ought to have a security clearance, particularly one that would give her access to top-secret information about the Brotherhood? Is she, furthermore, someone who may be sympathetic to aspects of the Brotherhood’s agenda, such that Americans ought to be concerned that she is helping shape American foreign policy?
Now, Senator McCain is no stranger to smear. No need to confirm that with Mr. ElBaradei; we’ve watched for years as he has slandered, for example, critics of his advocacy for illegal aliens as “nativists” seeking to reprise Jim Crow laws. Nevertheless, since McCain purports to be a tireless guardian of our security, one would think he’d appreciate the distinction between a smear, on the one hand, and a routine application of security-clearance standards, on the other.
The State Department is particularly wary when it comes to the category of “foreign influence” — yes, it is a significant enough concern to warrant its own extensive category in background investigations. No criminal behavior need be shown to deny a security clearance; access to classified information is not a right, and reasonable fear of “divided loyalties” is more than sufficient for a clearance to be denied.
The guidelines probe ties to foreign countries and organizations because hostile elements could “target United States citizens to obtain protected information” or could be “associated with a risk of terrorism” — note: The Brotherhood checks both these boxes. Thus, when someone is proposed for a sensitive position, it is necessary to consider “conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying.” These, the State Department tells us, include “contact with a foreign family member, business or professional associate, friend or other person who is a citizen or resident in a foreign country if that contact creates a heightened risk of foreign exploitation, inducement, pressure, or coercion.”
Furthermore, in light of the Brotherhood’s well-known abhorrence of the United States, it is also pertinent that State’s guidelines raise alarms if a person seeking access to classified information has an “association or sympathy” with people who seek to overthrow our government, or even with people who just seek to prevent Americans from exercising their constitutional rights. The Brotherhood does not just aim to upend our system; it would restrict our rights, such as free expression, to the extent they contradict sharia.
In his diatribe, McCain speciously asserted that the GOP conservatives had failed to cite “an action, a decision, or a public position that Huma has taken while at the State Department” that showed she was either “promoting anti-American activities within our government” or having a “direct impact” on harmful policies. Of course, to assess a person’s fitness for a sensitive position, background investigators are not restricted to asking whether someone has committed some transgression. Their main job is to find out whether there are circumstances and competing allegiances that could tempt someone to take positions or actions that could harm the United States. That is why, for example, we have hearings before we confirm federal judges — we don’t just hand them a gavel and hope for the best.
In addition, as McCain knows, Ms. Abedin is an adviser, not a policymaker. She gives advice to the secretary of state. Unless you were in the room with the two of them, you’d never be able to demonstrate what “direct impact” the adviser was having. Again, that’s why people are supposed to be vetted before they get these sensitive positions and before they get access to the nation’s secrets.
Since Mrs. Clinton has been secretary of state, with Ms. Abedin as one of her top advisers, the State Department has strongly supported abandoning the federal government’s prior policy against dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood. State, furthermore, has embraced a number of Muslim Brotherhood positions that undermine both American constitutional rights and our alliance with Israel. To name just a few manifestations of this policy sea change:
The State Department has an emissary in Egypt who trains operatives of the Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations in democracy procedures.
The State Department announced that the Obama administration would be “satisfied” with the election of a Muslim Brotherhood–dominated government in Egypt.
Secretary Clinton personally intervened to reverse a Bush-administration ruling that barred Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the Brotherhood’s founder and son of one of its most influential early leaders, from entering the United States.
The State Department has collaborated with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of governments heavily influenced by the Brotherhood, in seeking to restrict American free-speech rights in deference to sharia proscriptions against negative criticism of Islam.
The State Department has excluded Israel, the world’s leading target of terrorism, from its “Global Counterterrorism Forum,” a group that brings the United States together with several Islamist governments, prominently including its co-chair, Turkey — which now finances Hamas and avidly supports the flotillas that seek to break Israel’s blockade of Hamas. At the forum’s kickoff, Secretary Clinton decried various terrorist attacks and groups; but she did not mention Hamas or attacks against Israel — in transparent deference to the Islamist governments, which echo the Brotherhood’s position that Hamas is not a terrorist organization and that attacks against Israel are not terrorism.
The State Department and the Obama administration waived congressional restrictions in order to transfer $1.5 billion dollars in aid to Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in the parliamentary elections.
The State Department and the Obama administration waived congressional restrictions in order to transfer millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian territories notwithstanding that Gaza is ruled by the terrorist organization Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch.
The State Department and the administration recently hosted a contingent from Egypt’s newly elected parliament that included not only Muslim Brotherhood members but a member of the Islamic Group (Gama’at al Islamia), which is formally designated as a foreign terrorist organization — so that providing it with material support is a serious federal crime. The State Department has refused to provide Americans with information about the process by which it issued a visa to a member of a designated terrorist organization, about how the members of the Egyptian delegation were selected, or about what security procedures were followed before the delegation was allowed to enter our country.
On a just-completed trip to Egypt, Secretary Clinton pressured General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military junta currently governing the country, to surrender power to the newly elected parliament, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, who is a top Brotherhood official. She also visited with Morsi; immediately after his victory, Morsi proclaimed that his top priorities included pressuring the United States to release the Blind Sheikh. Quite apart from the Brotherhood’s self-proclaimed “grand jihad” to destroy the United States, which the Justice Department proved in federal court during the 2007–8 Holy Land Foundation prosecution, the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, publicly called for jihad against the United States in an October 2010 speech. After it became clear the Brotherhood would win the parliamentary election, Badie said the victory was a stepping stone to “the establishment of a just Islamic caliphate.”
This is not an exhaustive account of Obama-administration coziness with the Muslim Brotherhood. It is just some of the lowlights.
Senator McCain is an incorrigible vacillator. It is to be expected that he has “evolved” from last year’s claimed opposition to the Brotherhood to a new position, more aligned with that of his friend Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration. Some of us, however, really are “unalterably opposed” to the Muslim Brotherhood. The five House conservatives are asking questions to which the State Department’s own guidelines, to say nothing of common sense, demand answers. Answers not just about Huma Abedin but, far more significantly, about the government’s policy toward virulently anti-American Islamists. Americans deserve nothing less — even if the usual GOP spaghetti spines would prefer to give them nothing, period.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.