Thursday,24 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Thursday,24 August, 2017
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Inside Washington: Acts and scenes

Followed by Thomas Gorguissian

Inside Washington
Inside Washington

President Trump is out of Washington DC and on vacation for 17 days — until 20 August. Meanwhile, the White House is in the process of renovation, or, as some people like to describe it, is getting some TLC (Tender Loving Care). Congress is in recess and coming back after the Labour Day holiday (4 September). Last week, Washington politicians and journalists tried to understand exactly what White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller meant when he used the term “cosmopolitan bias” in bashing and criticising CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s questions and comments about immigration policies. And yes, 12 September is the release date for Hillary Clinton’s next book, titled What Happened. The 512-page book, published by Simon & Schuster, will focus on the former secretary of state’s loss to Donald Trump last November.

During Trump’s “working vacation” (as the president likes to call it), he will be based at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ. And as was recently announced, the major West Wing renovation will take about two weeks, and will cost some $3.4 million. The renovation includes replacing the air-conditioning and heating systems, installing new cables and wires, having fresh paint and installing new carpets. The West Wing is about 30,000 square feet and was built during the Theodore Roosevelt administration in 1902. It houses the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, the Situation Room and the Roosevelt Room, as well as the White House press office and briefing room.

Clashes of visions

The National Security Council’s top official for the Middle East is out. Retired army colonel Derek Harvey has been removed from his job. “Another Flynn (former National Adviser) holdover was removed,” Foreign Policy magazine wrote. Harvey had a hawkish approach and was an influential voice on Iran, Syria and terrorism. He has been replaced by Colonel Michael Bell, who served in the first Iraq war and was the NSC’s director for Gulf affairs. Better and more cooperative relations are expected between Bell and National Security Adviser H R McMaster, as well as with the military leadership in general. The “alt-right” nationalists attacked McMaster and asked President Trump to fire him. Beside Derek Harvey, McMaster also fired in recent weeks Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the NSC’s senior director for intelligence programmes, and Rich Higgins, the NSC’s director for strategic planning.

Zinni to peace process

In his first press briefing at the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t mention Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Not a single word. When Tillerson talked about the recent Gulf crisis, he said: “We are quite concerned about this dispute, because we think it is destabilising to the Gulf itself and undermines unity in the GCC, the Gulf Cooperative Council, which we believe is an important organisation to maintain stability in the region.” He announced dispatching Assistant Secretary Tim Linderking back to the area. And retired General Anthony Zinni will join Linderking, “so that we can maintain a constant pressure on the ground, because I think that’s what it’s going to take.” He added: “...we are committed to see this disagreement resolved, restore Gulf unity, because we think it’s important to the long-term effort to defeat terrorism in the region.”

General Zinni is a retired US Marine Corps general and a former commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1997 to 2000. In 2002, Zinni was selected to be a special envoy for the United States to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Early birds

Early birds are everywhere in Washington. One of them these days is Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who is at the Justice Department by 6:15am daily, according to The New York Times’ reporting. Once there, “he exercises on a treadmill near his fifth-floor office, showers in an adjoining bathroom, microwaves instant oatmeal and hand-washes the bowl, then prepares for a daily 8:20am meeting with his deputy, Rod J Rosenstein.”

In the White House, the new chief of staff, General John Kelly, has quickly moved “to impose military discipline”. In describing this discipline, The Wall Street Journal wrote: “Staffers no longer loiter outside an open Oval Office door. That door is closed.” The Journal also mentioned that Kelly moved senior staff meetings to an earlier time, starting at 8:00am instead of 8:45am. He holds the meetings around the long mahogany table in the Roosevelt Room, not in the chief of staff’s office as his predecessor, Reince Priebus, did over previous weeks and months. Yet the only question that has been raised and repeated in all talks about General Kelly is: will he be able to control, or to tame, or otherwise to manage President Trump’s tweeting manners and messages?

We shall see. On 1 August, Trump tweeted the following: “Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!”

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