The Foreign Lobby Industry

Back when the Mearsheimer and Walt paper on AIPAC came out, I expressed my hope that they–or somebody–would catalog the way the foreign influence lobby works.

I’m disappointed, too, because I had hoped Mearsheimer and Walt  wouldprovide a sophisticated review of the way foreign lobbies influence ourgovernment. I made this point recentlyin response to the conflation of Bush’s NSA-related attacks onjournalists and the governments pursuit of leaks to journalists in theFranklin case. Our policy-making is unduly influenced by foreignpowers. In addition to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Malaysia, Dubai,and Iraq (in the form of ex-pats) have recently exerted influence overissues that impact American citizens in ways most American citizenscannot. And I was hoping (in this case, not naively, I think) that Mearsheimer and Walt would catalog how this influence works in enoughdetail so we could begin to do something about it. They do catalog it,but their treatment is uneven and unconvincing.

Ken Silverstein just wrote the article that I had wished Mearsheimer and Walt had written (hat tip Laura Rozen). Silverstein posed as the representative of a business group representing Turkmenistan and got two DC lobbying firms–APCO and Cassidy & Associates, both of which have done similar campaigns for nasty dictators–to propose a campaign to boost Turkmenistan’s image. He describes in detail what the firms proposed to do for their $400,000 to $600,000 annual fee. The proposals included:

  • Meetings with key members of Congress (APCO claimed to be able to get to to Harry Reid through Don Reigle and Tom Lantos through Don Bonker).
  • Development of a coalition–potential business partners, think tank experts and academics–who could speak for Turkmen from an apparently independent perspective.
  • Trips to Turkmenistan for Congressmen or their staffers, laundered through a think tank or university to accommodate post-Abramoff lobbying regulations.
  • Trips to Turkmenistan for academics and journalists, again laundered through an organization to hide the intent to influence. Silverstein names Ariel Cohenof The Heritage Foundation, Marshall Goldman of Harvard, and JimHoagland of the Washington Post as some who have taken similar trips in the past.
  • Op-eds written by friendly authors, perhaps think tank "experts."
  • A forum at a think tank built around a visit by a Turkmen official. Silverstein names The Heritage Foundation,the Center for Strategic & International Studies, and the Councilon Foreign Relations as three think tanks that sponsor such fora. If such a forum produced a paper, the firms could get a friendly Congressman to read it into the Congressional Record.
  • An event hosted by Roll Call or Economist magazine organized around some related theme (in the case of Turkmenistan, for example, energy security). Such an event might be keynoted by an Administration official.
  • Information shared from the State Department, NSC, and intelligence agencies.

Silverstein shows the cynicism of these lobbyists on several other points. He describes the team from Cassidy & Associates making a joke about Turkmenistan "shuffling" ministers–when in fact many of them have been jailed recently. Neither of the firms did any due diligence on Silverstein’s fake Turkmen front group, suggesting these firms will work with anyone. And both promised to sign confidentiality agreements which would effectively hide Silverstein’s ties to Turkmenistan.

  1. Mary says:

    I guess I’ll have to go buy Harpers this month. Sounds like Silverstein did a very interesting piece and investigation. Your last bullet point is the one that kind of jumps out though.

    Information shared from the State Department, NSC, and intelligence agencies.

    Makes those AIPAC allegations that all kinds of people (like Rice) were telling them basically the same things as Franklin – that much more credible.…..3498894351

    I won’t be waiting for the Congressional investigation, what with everyone in the same bed. Makes me that much sadder and more depressed about the choices the media is foisting on us for next year – Hillary v. Fred McRomniani

  2. Anonymous says:


    Yeah, that was one of the things I thought of too. What AIPAC is on trial for is all included in this, and for all its faults, the AIPAC case raises really important questions about where to draw the line on the influence industry.

  3. Mary says:

    EW – yep, AIPAC should be getting all kinds of input and analysis, but it is buried. I think bc what it highlights, no one in the power structure wants to discuss, and the fact that the lobbyist/foreign national agents snagged just so happened to be AIPAC with the situation in Israel makes it that much more of a hot potato.

    A gazillion:

    hugely important, intertwined, grey area, no right answers lots of wrong answers, complex issues, simple issues, complex solutions, simple solutions, dirty laundry, necessary business, first amendment, national security, globalization, propagandizing, international relations, law v. authority, law v. law, authority v. law, authority v. authority –

    issues are wrapped into the AIPAC suits, and there’s barely a whisper to be heard.

  4. masaccio says:

    This is a really interesting article. One of the main reasons lobbyists can be effective the small countries like Turkmenistan, and others cited in the article like Jonas Savimbi in Angola and Equatorial Guinea, is that nobody knows anything about them. So, the first person to talk about them is going to be able to set the frame for future discussions.

    With the better known countries, either discourse is poisoned, or we just adopt a black-white test, for us or against us. These are both childish responses. Other nations have their own interests and their own cultures, sometimes they are with us and sometimes not. Or our interests may be at angles to each other.

    Too bad there aren’t any grownups left.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The best antiseptic is a lot more sunshine. Thanks to Silverstein and EW, a few clouds are shifting slightly.

    I think the trick will be to convince the Democratic majority in ’09 that support for them hinges on their not sitting on the fence or replicating this abomination, but hosing it out with a lot of water and more bleach.

  6. BearCountry says:

    Any time I see a forum on C-SPAN hosted by AEI, CSIS, Heritage, or any other, I know that they are spinning something that I don’t agree with. What they say is not designed to develop real discussion or advance knowledge, but simply to provide cover for their allies in Congress.

  7. P J Evans says:

    More and more I’m having the feeling that the best thing to do with the inside-the-beltway gang is to send them on a permanent cruise in the Bermuda triangle. Or buy them tickets halfway to Tahiti. (I’d been considering diverting the Potomac through the Mall, but that would damage the museums, and far too many of the people who need to be removed aren’t likely to be going down to the Mall.)

    More seriously, I think that there needs to be at least a two year ban on going from governemnt to a lobbying group (of any kind), and former Congresscritters need to have their visitation privileges restricted, if not revoked, when they go to work for a lobbying group. (Restriction, here, should be read as ’no visiting privileges as long as you’re working for the enemy’.)

    And A*P*C and the Aspen Institute need their exemptions from lobbying restrictions removed.

  8. Mimikatz says:

    Over and over again the Right Wing complains that Americans are lazy and lack the moral fibre to sustain a counter-campaign against Islamic terrorism. (Example here.) I don’t share that view; I think it is the leadership that is incompetent in this country, not the people, particularly in realistically articulating what is worth fighting for (in the broadest sense) about the US, and how to actually live our ideals at home and abroad.

    I also think we are in much greater danger from all the capitalists who would sell out their country for a few hundred thousand bucks, including affiliating us with murderous dictators. In this anything-for-profit category I include the folks like Blackwater who are running their own private war in Iraq at our expense and in our name, poisoning our relations with other countries and limiting the choices available to any serious American President.

    And Harpers†is worth it–it has some of the best writing around.

  9. Jukesgrrl says:

    earlofhuntingdon, your suggestion is excellent. Sunlight, water and bleach in ’08. The new red, white and blue.

  10. jerry says:

    Early in 2001, On The Media interviewed an American woman who was in charge of Taliban PR efforts here. She was notable as a western woman doing PR for a government not noted for its liberal policies towards women. As I recall, during the interview she explained how all that was actually an okay thing. And the Taliban weren’t such bad guys.

    I was always disappointed that after 9/11, On The Media didn’t follow up with her and her firm to see if she wanted to talk more about the influence of money.