Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lobbyists: Doing Good Things For Bad People

From Harpers, July, '07 (via TruthOut.Org, which I support with a small monthly donation):
In March, when the U.S. State Department announced its new global survey of human rights, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that the report demonstrated America's commitment to civil liberties, the rule of law, and a free press. "We are recommitting ourselves to stand with those courageous men and women who struggle for their freedom and their rights," she said. "And we are recommitting ourselves to call every government to account that still treats the basic rights of its citizens as options rather than, in President Bush's words, the non-negotiable demands of human dignity."

Flipping through the report, however, one cannot help but notice how many of the countries that flout "the non-negotiable demands of human dignity" seem to have negotiated themselves significant support from the U.S. government, whether military assistance (Egypt, Colombia), development aid (Azerbaijan, Nigeria), expanded trade opportunities (Angola, Cameroon), or official Washington visits for their leaders (Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan). The granting of favorable concessions to dictatorial regimes is a practice hardly limited to the current administration: Bill Clinton came into office having said that China's access to American markets should be tied to improved human rights - specifically its willingness to "recognize the legitimacy of those kids that were carrying the Statue of Liberty" at Tiananmen Square - but left having helped Beijing attain its long-cherished goal of Permanent Most Favored Nation trade status. Jimmy Carter put the promotion of human rights at the heart of his foreign policy, yet he cut deals for South American generals and Persian Gulf monarchs in much the same fashion as his successor, Ronald Reagan.

How is it that regimes widely acknowledged to be the world's most oppressive nevertheless continually win favors in Washington? In part, it is because they often have something highly desired by the United States that can be leveraged to their advantage, be it natural resources, vast markets for trade and investment, or general geostrategic importance. But even the best-endowed regimes need help navigating the shoals of Washington, and it is their great fortune that, for the right price, countless lobbyists are willing to steer even the foulest of ships.

American lobbyists have worked for dictators since at least the 1930s, when the Nazi government used a proxy firm called the German Dye Trust to retain the public-relations specialist Ivy Lee. Exposure of Lee's deal led Congress to pass the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA), which required foreign lobbyists to register their contracts with the Justice Department. The idea seemed to be that with disclosure, lobbyists would be too embarrassed to take on immoral or corrupt clients, but this assumption predictably proved to be naive. Edward J. von Kloberg III, now deceased, for years made quite a comfortable living by representing men such as Saddam Hussein of Iraq (whose government's gassing of its Kurdish population he sought to justify) and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (for whose notoriously crooked regime he helped win American foreign aid). Two other von Kloberg contracts - for Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania and Samuel Doe of Liberia - were terminated, quite literally, when each was murdered by his own citizens. In the 1990s, after Burma's military government arrested the future Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and cracked down on the pro-democracy movement she led, the firm of Jefferson Waterman International signed on to freshen up the Burmese image.

Although there are distinct limits to what they can achieve, lobbyists are the crucial conduit through which pariah regimes advance their interests in Washington. "It's like the secret handshake that gets you into the lodge," as one former lobbyist told me. Occasionally, firms will achieve spectacular successes for a client: one particularly remarkable piece of lobbyist image management, for example, occurred in the mid-1980s, when the firm of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly helped refashion Jonas Savimbi, a murderous, demented Angolan rebel leader backed by the apartheid regime in South Africa, as a valiant anti-communist "freedom fighter." Savimbi visited Washington on numerous occasions, where the lobby shop had him ferried about by limousine to meetings with top political leaders, conservative groups, and TV networks. Black, Manafort checked repeated threats by members of Congress to cut off aid to Savimbi's rebel group, which was burning and raping its way through Angola with the help of American taxpayers.

Read more. Before we kill all the lawyers, I would happily advocate the disposal, into a deep pit filled with lye, of all the lobbyists (many of whom, unsurprisingly, ARE lawyers). They're the political equivalent of 'mercs'--who have sold their claims to humanity by the contract they have made to kill for cash--and sell their souls (NOT cheaply) to the most reprehensible autocrats, thugs and assassins and grease the skids for pariah states.
The REALLY GOOD NEWS is that Harpers' Archives are on-line in an easily reached and easily researched format.

1 comment:

Rodrigo said...

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