Friday, September 27, 2013

McCain Spares the Rod and Spoils the Staff With O’Bagy Hire

[L] Elizabeth O'Bagy [R] Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

Ordinarily in political circles the  hiring a Legislative Assistant in the Senate does not make headlines.  But Senator McCain’s (R-AZ) retention of Elizabeth O’Bagy’s services as a L.A. in his Washington office manages to achieve that dubious distinction.  Foreign Policy "The Cable" website reports through its website that the Senior Senator has hired the 26 year old foreign policy researcher three weeks after she was released from the Institute for the Study of War, a neoconservative think tank.

O’Bagy wrote an op/ed titled “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War” for the Wall Street Journal, which downplayed the reach of Jabhut al Nursa (an Al Qaeda affiliate) fighters  in the Syrian Free Army, and suggested that such  jihadists were concentrating in a couple of northern, rebel held areas of Syria.  Esssentially, O'Bagy was allaying fears that U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict would, in the words of former Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10th), be acting as Al Qaeda's air force.

In the rush to get Congressional blessing for President Obama’s aborted red line attack threat against  Bashar Assad’s government forces in Syria for chemical weapons use, O’Bagy’s analysis was spotlighted.  Both Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Senator John McCain referenced and relied upon O’Bagy’s opinion.

Yet within a week of having her research promoted by Obama’s Secretary of State and the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, O’Bagy was unceremoniously severed from her stint as the ‘Syria Analyst” at the Institute for the Study of War.  Officially, O’Bagy was fired because she falsely had purported to have a combined masters/Ph.D. from Georgetown University, when she had not even defended her thesis.  But O’Bagy’s prominence on the political stage also revealed that O’Bagy served as the political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, which was neither  disclosed in the WSJ op/ed nor mentioned by Kerry or McCain when confirming their bent for war in the Levant.

The mission of the Syrian Emergency Task Force has been characterized by critics as pushing weapons and other military support to the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamist brigades in Syria.  The Syria Emergency task force derives its funding from a State Deparment funded Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.

O’Bagy for her part claims that she was a contractor for the Syrian Emergency Task Force and not an employee.  Of course, that is a distinction without a difference when it comes to conflicts of interest in setting American foreign policy.  When asked about a conflict of interest, O’Bagy told the Daily Caller “I work for the Syrian people.”

 O’Bagy claims that she did not help the Syrian Emergency Task Force lobby. Yet O’Bagy admits to facilitating a meeting between Syrian rebel commanders  and Senator McCain in May. McCain maintains that he met with patriotic rebels and no terrorists.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) meeting with Syrian rebel commanders, May 2013

When questioned about hiring O'Bagy, Senator McCain endorsed the new L.A. by saying: "Elizabeth is a talented researcher, and I have been very impressed by her knowledge and analysis in multiple briefings over the last year. "I look forward to her joining my office."  So the conflict of interest by O'Bagy working for the Syrian people was no problem for the maverick Senator.

This is a serious lapse of judgment by Senator McCain.  As the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, McCain's viewpoints are influential in facilitating American Foreign Policy.  The senior Senator from Arizona should be receiving clear guidance, not having his opinions skewed by an aide who has declared herself allied with Syria, and has ties to groups that are aligned against broader United States interests.  By sparing the rod, McCain has spoiled his staff.

h/t: The Cable

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