It is a Monday, and like any day ending in "y" we get another Obama administration foreign relations screw up. Today's edition comes from President Obama's special envoy to Cairo, Frank Wisner, who over the weekend made waves with his call urging for Hosni Mubarak to remain president. The glitch, however, is that supposedly unbeknownst to the administration and to the journalist cadre, Mr. Wisner works for litigation firm Patton Boggs, which according to the Independent: "openly boasts that it advises "the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government's behalf in Europe and the US". Wisner's words, now making the rounds, and which appear to have infuriated Egypt's opposition just as things were going back to normal: "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical: it's his opportunity to write his own legacy." In other words, yet another huge conflict of interest by a man paid by none other than the president of Egypt, which has "called into question Mr Obama's judgement, as well as that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton", and puts Obama's (in)ability to handle foreign conflicts, in an even more questionable light.
From The Independent:
Mr Wisner is a retired State Department 36-year career diplomat – he served as US ambassador to Egypt, Zambia, the Philippines and India under eight American presidents. In other words, he was not a political appointee. But it is inconceivable Hillary Clinton did not know of his employment by a company that works for the very dictator which Mr Wisner now defends in the face of a massive democratic opposition in Egypt.
So why on earth was he sent to talk to Mubarak, who is in effect a client of Mr Wisner's current employers?
Patton Boggs states that its attorneys "represent some of the leading Egyptian commercial families and their companies" and "have been involved in oil and gas and telecommunications infrastructure projects on their behalf". One of its partners served as chairman of the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce promoting foreign investment in the Egyptian economy. The company has also managed contractor disputes in military-sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act. Washington gives around $1.3bn (£800m) a year to the Egyptian military.
Mr Wisner joined Patton Boggs almost two years ago – more than enough time for both the White House and the State Department to learn of his company's intimate connections with the Mubarak regime. The New York Times ran a glowing profile of Mr Wisner in its pages two weeks ago – but mysteriously did not mention his ties to Egypt.
Nicholas Noe, an American political researcher now based in Beirut, has spent weeks investigating Mr Wisner's links to Patton Boggs. Mr Noe is also a former researcher for Hillary Clinton and questions the implications of his discoveries.
"The key problem with Wisner being sent to Cairo at the behest of Hillary," he says, "is the conflict-of-interest aspect... More than this, the idea that the US is now subcontracting or 'privatising' crisis management is another problem. Do the US lack diplomats?
"Even in past examples where presidents have sent someone 'respected' or 'close' to a foreign leader in order to lubricate an exit," Mr Noe adds, "the envoys in question were not actually paid by the leader they were supposed to squeeze out!"
Patton Boggs maintains an "affiliate relationship" with Zaki Hashem, one of Egypt's most prominent legal firms. It was founded in 1953 and Zaki Hashem himself was a cabinet minister under Mubarak's predecessor, President Anwar Sadat, and later became head of the Egyptian Society for International Law.
The Independent is understandably scratching its head over this most recent diplomatic faux pas:
We still do not know exactly what kind of "expertise" he has bestowed upon the dictator of Egypt. But his remarks at the weekend leave no room to doubt he advised the old man to cling on to power for a few more months. The vast network of companies with family connections to Mubarak's regime is, of course, one of the targets of the pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt.
A spokesman for the State Department said he "presumed" Mrs Clinton knew of Mr Wisner's employment by Patton Boggs and the firm's links with the Mubarak government, but refused to comment on any conflict of interest for the envoy. A spokesman for Patton Boggs could not be reached yesterday.
On the other hand, if Egyptian protesters managed to forgive the "Made in America" signs on teargas canisters used against demonstrators in recent riots, they surely will find nothing wrong with this foreign relations snafu from an administration which is becoming known for nothing but.