Friday, November 13, 2009

Peter Galbraith: Advocacy for Oil and the Death of the Common Good

As you've probably heard by now, US Ambassador and renowned "liberal hawk", Peter Galbraith has been caught with his fingers, hands, feet, his entire person, in the cookie jar. Galbraith was Clinton's former ambassador to Croatia and was named second-in-command in Afghanistan earlier this year. During the the lead-up to the Iraq war, Galbraith was a noted "liberal hawk" who strongly advocated Sadam's ouster, giving a peculiar "bipartisan" legitimacy to Bush's claims of Hussein's continued danger to our world.

In 2002, he became an advisor to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on Kurdistan and has since been a strident advocate for Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and their retaining control of the oil reserves found in their area of the country. "Ironically" enough, back in June 2004, Galbraith set up a little-known company, Porcupine
, that holds a five percent interest in newly-developed oil fields in--guess where?--yep--Kurdistan.

Of course, Galbraith has provided a very peculiar truth in defense of his actions:

“The business interest, including my investment into Kurdistan, was consistent with my political views. These were all things that I was promoting, and in fact, have brought considerable benefit to the people of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan oil industry, and also to shareholders."

Sorry for my lack of eloquence, but ... Well, duh!

His working diligently for the autonomy of his business partners who, if they were to become freer, would favor him with better business deals, which stand to gain him hundreds of millions is no conflict of interest at all. No conflict of his interest.

However, Peter, that is not the issue at all. As Reider Visser, a historian of southern Iraq, has put it:

“Galbraith has been such a central person to the shaping of the Iraqi Constitution, far more than I think most Americans realize. All those beautiful ideas about principles of federalism and local communities having control are really cast in a different light when the community has an oil field in its midst and Mr. Galbraith has a financial stake."

Galbraith says that the Kurds knew about his business dealings while dealing with them and that he had no obligation to tell US and Iraqi officials about his negotiations.

Perhaps Galbraith is right. Maybe he actually didn't have a legal obligation to tell folks what he was up to. But did he not have a moral obligation to let us know what exactly was motivating his actions?

After all, this man has been a vigorous "liberal hawk." His voice helped add legitimacy to the invasion of Iraq. He has strongly fought for the Kurds. He has written op-ed pieces, he's met with other officials and diplomats, he has been on Fox News and Bill O'Reilly advocating these positions. And people took him for his word, took his words as displays of conviction, because they thought he was a dedicated public official, strongly professing all "those beautiful ideas about principles of federalism and local communities having control." But what he was really doing, we can only assume, was trying to line his own pockets.

Now, it's not as though Galbraith's "Advocacy for Oil" is the only example of this. I've already complained about Rep. Mike Ross's enriching himself in a shady land deal with Drug USA while working his ass off trying to stop the public option. I've gone red in the face, screaming about Billy Tauzin's giving the pharmaceutical companies billions with his Medicaid Prescription Drug Bill only to immediately resign and become Pharma's main lobbyist for millions a year. We all know about Duke Cunningham's taking money for military contracts--possibly putting our troops in danger in order to put more money in his pocket. And the Interior Department was tarred-and-feathered last year for Sex-for-Oil scandal.

Obama, to his credit, has tried to at least address the "revolving door" between government officials and their powerful business cronies: where both parties go back and forth, trying to regulate the industries they once worked for and/or may work for one day while trying to regulate or neglecting to regulate their former/future employers. Apparently, with far too many people, when the common good is measured against their own, private interests, the former inevitably suffers. And their actions simply cannot be trusted. I mean, can we really think that Galbraith's actions were solely enacted out of his principles of federalism and local control? Can we not imagine the dollar signs floating in his eyes every time he acted on behalf of the Kurds? Can we think that former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's only concern for Goldman Sachs (where he used to be CEO) was driven solely by his need to "save the economy"? Might he have had other motives? Did those motives allow him to see Lehman go down in flames? After all, Goldman Sachs is now making record profits! And do we think that current Treasury Secretary Timothy "Eraserhead" Geithner's might--just might--be hesitant to come down hard on all these financial institutions because they are all his cronies?

But Obama has faced immense challenges in closing this revolving door, has left many vital positions vacant because of this policy, and has actually let a few go through despite this policy. And one can't foresee these problems resolving themselves any time soon.

It seems to me, with the demise of LBJ's War on Poverty and, subsequently, liberalism and the rise of conservatism, that slowly "Greed is Good" has overwhelmed the concept of the "Common Good." When you look at FDR's New Dealers and the children of the New Deal in the JFK and LBJ administrations, you see a full embrace that government can indeed solve systemic problems, that our government, a liberal democracy, is here to solve those problems, to provide the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Classic liberals (including our forefathers, for that is what they were) believed that democracy was placed here to free the people--from the tyranny of the monarchy, from the excesses of government from itself, and, with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, the tyranny of the majority. These core beliefs, in the middle of the last century, gave us the strengthening of unions, the successes of the Civil Rights movement, social security, Medicare and Medicaid, the national highway system, along with many other "rights" and services that we still take for granted.

With these victories did come some overreaching. LBJ and Sarge Shriver's belief that they could actually end poverty did create a culture of dependence among welfare recipients. And it was a vital critique conservatives provided (if they only would've canned the racial shit) when addressing that fact. However, as conservatives often do, they threw out the baby with the bath water. And when Reagan declared, "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem," he provided a fundamental shift within the workings of our own government.

People started entering government because they wanted to dismantle government, and they wanted to illustrate, with as many examples as possible, that government indeed does not work. However, if government were actually the problem and if it actually did not work, what was the solution to this problem?

The only answer available, of course, was business. So, for the past 30 years, we have seen our government moving more and more towards to making more money-making opportunities for the money-makers in the name of the "Common Good" but oftentimes running counter to that good. We have seen waves of deregulation. We have seen the privatization of public utilities. You see city after city using tax dollars that they'll never recoup to pay for stadiums for billionaires. You see multi-billion-dollar, multinational corporations like Wal-Mart receive debilitating tax breaks to build stores in their towns, though they consistently lose money in the deal. You see politicians trading favors with their corporate contributors, driving up our national debt in order to give them government contracts the government doesn't need while levees rot in disrepair in Louisiana. And we see these politicians, their staffers, and government bureaucrats trading in their public paychecks for much bigger, private ones, cashing in on their access to government for their own wealth.

And the rest of us suffer for their newfound wealth. After all, despite all its flaws, liberal democracy's overall concern is the "Common Good." And, while prosperity is the concern of almost any government, Business's overriding concern is making money. And more times than not, that concern runs completely counter to the Common Good. When we have government officials whose interests run in both camps, can we really expect the Common Good to truly be served? After all, at any time, they can cash in for some real money, discretely sliding their resumes to the very people they are supposed to be regulating.

It's a critical question we need to be asking ourselves right now. We are now being poisoned by the fruits of the "Greed is Good" credo that our own politicians seem to still be obeying. The deregulation of the S&Ls led to our bailing them out in '89. Our privatization of public utilities led to Enron. Glass-Steagall's repeal led us to our current financial crisis.

Can we expect our astronomic national debt to be reduced when politicians don't want to raise taxes for fear of being booted out of office but they still want to dole out public largess to their corporate contributors? Can we really expect Barney Frank to re-regulate these financial institutions when they give him so much money? We are witnessing first-hand the power that the health care industry's contributions, how that power will almost definitely succeed in thwarting real health care reform. Won't the same thing happen with any kind of environmental legislation Congress may dream up? Is there any issue, any area of concern, any arena in which we can trust any of our politicians will act in the interests of the Common Good?

Galbraith has proved yet another example (let's not forget Halliburton) that we can't trust them when it comes to our own foreign policy. Geithner, Paulson, et. al, have proved it in this latest financial crisis.

Everywhere we turn, we are looking at really tough decisions that our leaders have to make. And they have to make it for the Common Good. Our health care crisis was largely caused by our health insurers; the financial crisis, by our financial institutions; it shouldn't matter what is best for them. What does matter is what is best for all of us. The same goes for Iraq and Afghanistan. And too many other things to list in this already overly long blog post. What we need are the public servants of old, the LBJs and the Sarge Shrivers of the world, the people who wanted to do what was best for this country. Instead, we're saddled with the Geithners and Tauzins of the world, who are only concerned with lining their own pockets.

Lord help us all.

1 comment:

nunya said...

My neighbors are Kurds. A fine, proud people that have been screwed over by map makers with an agenda for at least a hundred years.