Beware of politicians bearing gifts for the Cold War Hydra

See Part I of this story here:

The connection between former Kyrgyzstan president Askar Akayev and John McCain may seem oblique by the shallow, personality-driven reporting standards that dominate coverage of a presidential election. But dig a bit deeper, and that connection proves far from superficial.

McCain's chief foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann (a registered lobbyist for a number of foreign governments until earlier this year) made headlines recently when one of his former clients, Texas businessman and Bush administration crony Stephen Payne, was caught on video by the Sunday Times of London offering a quid-pro-quo deal to the deposed Akayev.

Narco News published a story earlier this week (link here) that detailed Payne's offer to provide Akayev with access to White House officials in exchange for a large donation to George Bush's presidential library fund. Akayev is apparently seeking to rehabilitate his image for a possible re-emergence on the Kyrgyzstan political scene after being run out of office in 2005 as a result of the Tulip Revolution — an uprising in reaction to Akayev's corrupt and authoritarian rule.

McCain and his advocates, of course, will seek to distance the Senator from that Akayev connection — and to dismiss any messenger who seeks to connect the dots.

But it's worth pointing out that as chair of the "supreme governing body" of the Media Support Center Foundation (MSCF) in Kyrgyzstan, McCain oversaw a nonprofit organized under Kyrgyzstan law that was sponsored (and funded, in part) by the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House.

The MSCF's primary mission is to print propaganda, a useful tool in any effort to affect the course of government in a nation. The fact that MSCF's board initially included members of Akayev's government at the time of his reign only makes sense, since the printing press was a Kyrgyzstan entity. It's all part of that big game — guessing who's on whose side.

But McCain's links to Freedom House really can't be questioned, since he himself admits he served as chair of the MSCF, a Freedom House creation. And one of his top policy advisors, Scheunemann, did lobbying work for a Bush/Cheney insider (Payne), the very person who offered to set up the quid-pro-quo deal for Akayev.

And to drive home McCain's links to Freedom House further, it should be noted that his deputy director of communications is Michael Goldfarb, a former Weekly Standard (spelled neocon) blogger who worked for Freedom House from 2000-2005.

Facts provided by Freedom House itself state that:

The opening of the press on November 14 [2003] marks the culmination of almost two years of work by Freedom House. [The] press ... was funded by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor. The Open Society Institute and the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway provided additional support.

The Media Support Center Foundation, a Kyrgyz non-profit organization, will operate the printing house. A broad-based Board of Directors, chaired by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), directs the foundation. ...

Why would the State Department fund a foreign printing press if there was no U.S. objective involved? Freedom House itself kicked in money for the MSCF effort — at least $39,000, according to its Form 990 filing with the IRS for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2005 (the most recent year for which such figures are available).

Plausible Reality

So it's hard to construct a scenario where it can be credibly argued that McCain wasn't involved in Freedom House's agenda in Kyrgyz. And it's hard to believe that a printing press doesn't play a role in the politics of a country — just like the press does here.

Good or bad is another matter, but remember the MSCF press company was set up under the laws of a foreign nation — and that company had a U.S. Senator at its helm for some five years.

In fact, Freedom House confirms that the MSCF has affected Kyrgyzstan politics in a press release related to an incident that occurred in 2007 (while McCain still chaired the MSCF) under the post-Akayev government — also authoritarian and corrupt in nature:

Under written orders from the Prosecutor General's Office, thirty armed security officers arrived at the [MSCF] Foundation at approximately 5:00 a.m. and confiscated all copies of two Kyrgyz-language papers, Agym and Kyrgyz Rukhu, both of which have been critical of the current government. The Kyrgyz security forces also took the printing plates for the papers and demanded that the newspapers' electronic files be deleted. Security officers on site explained that the confiscation was in response to the demonstrations that had been taking place in Kyrgyzstan since April 11.

Alarmed, Freedom House sent a letter today to Secretary Rice, urging her to contact the Kyrgyz government and convey her concern that this action violates fundamental elements of freedom of expression and democracy.

Now think about it. If the Russian or Chinese governments set up a state-funded printing press in the U.S. and started printing newspapers that stirred up the populace against the existing government, how would that be characterized?

Freedom House is technically a nonprofit, though of a special brand funded almost entirely by government money. And its MSCF project was chaired by a sitting U.S. Senator — the face of the U.S. government.

You can agree or disagree with Freedom House's goals in Kyrgyzstan, and it's not clear what they were — support Akayev or install a new regime, or maybe a shifting foreign policy of uncertainty based on poor judgment (my read by the way) — but it seems inescapable that McCain became intertwined with those goals once he accepted the chairmanship of the MSCF's "supreme governing body."

That is a bog he stepped into (made only more intractable by the Payne quid-pro-quo offer to Akayev and the fact that the regime that replaced Akayev's government is equally oppressive), and that is the point of the prior Narco News story — McCain's poor foreign-policy judgment in that regard.

The Big Dance

And what is the nature of the political climate in Kyrgyzstan, located in the shadow of both Russia and China, from the point of view of someone who has lived and worked in the region?

Here's what U.S. attorney Nick Milam, an expat and former in-house counsel for a subsidiary of the Yukos Oil Co. in Kazakhstan, has to say:

... These countries [the Stans, such as Krygyz] have largely undeveloped legal systems, which means corruption is often the only way things get done. There are tons of nonprofits in all of the Stans, European and American mostly, which are basically seeking to influence the development of civil society and the rule of law. No doubt some are affiliated with the CIA.

Russia and China have responded to this with the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which coordinates military and antiterrorism policy as well as economic integration. The Stans are pretty smart and are playing both sides for their own benefit.

That should tell us that any effort to impose an American imprint on Kyrgyzstan is likely doomed to failure, as is any foreign policy based on installing a proxy regime friendly to U.S. interests.

The dynamics seem to call for a new way of thinking if the U.S. hopes to have any positive influence in this region — one not premised on antiquated Cold War thinking. What that new foreign policy should be is open to debate, but it certainly is not represented in the Akayev quid-pro-quo albatross now hanging around McCain's neck.

Tangled Web

To further illustrate the interconnections between Freedom House and McCain, it should be noted that Freedom House provides funding to the International Republican Institute (IRI) — some $400,000-plus in fiscal 2005 alone — the most recent figure available via Freedom House's Form 990 filing with the IRS.

McCain has served as chairman of the IRI board of directors since 1993. In addition, his top foreign policy advisor, Scheunemann, serves on the IRI board along with McCain.

Freedom House's most recently available 990 filing shows that the nonprofit's revenue for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2006, exceeded $24 million — $21 million of which came from "government contributions."

And what are the sources of that government funding?

From the Freedom House Web site:

In recent years, Freedom House has received grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department for various projects, usually as a result of public competition. Freedom House has also applied for and received funds from other democratic governments and international bodies that promote democracy, including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway and the European Union.

And where does IRI get its funding — some $79.2 million in fiscal 2006 (with $77.8 million of that coming from "government contributions"), according to its most recent Form 990 filing?

From IRI's Web site:

IRI is funded by U.S. tax dollars. The funding comes primarily from the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID], the U.S. State Department, and the National Endowment for Democracy [or NED, another State Department-funded "nonprofit"]. IRI also receives grants and donations from individuals, corporations and foundations.

So that means Freedom House and the IRI (an NED sister organization) both receive funding from the State Department and USAID, and on top of that, Freedom House provides funding to the IRI. And all of them funnel millions of dollars to hundreds of other nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] operating in dozens of nations across the globe and to an assortment of private contractors. (The IRI, for example, paid Blackwater Security a total of $35.7 million in fiscal years 2005 and 2006 for "security services", its Form 990 filings show.) Try following the money in that game.

To be fair, Freedom House also provides funding to the National Democratic Institute (an NED sister organization controlled primarily by Democrats) and Freedom House's board includes some representation from the Democrat side of the fence as well. That is not to be ignored in this picture.

However, in the case of Kyrgyzstan, it is McCain — through the IRI, Freedom House and the MSCF —who is front and center in terms of foreign policy judgment. With the millions of dollars at the disposal of those groups, McCain, a sitting U.S. Senator, essentially sits atop an extension of the Executive Branch's State Department — so he can't so easily dismiss questions about his foreign policy judgment in the Akayev affair.

Berlin Wall Mentality

As the prior Narco News story on this matter asked:

Did McCain support, or even help, to orchestrate Akayev's overthrow in 2005 as part of some Freedom House agenda ... or did he support the dictator and his oppressive rule?

If it is the former, why was Akayev replaced with leaders of seemingly equal authoritarian leanings and why are people now connected to McCain's campaign involved in a quid-pro-quo deal that would only serve to rehabilitate Akayev's image?

If it is the latter, that certainly does not demonstrate consistent foreign policy judgment, either —given that one of the reasons for McCain's support of the Iraq war was to topple a dictator and to help spread democracy.

In the context of the presidential campaign, those questions should matter.

McCain is a product of Cold War thinking, and it can be argued that mentality is reflected in his alignment with Freedom House — founded in the 1940s and overseen by leadership that is likewise rooted in Soviet-era thinking. As we should have learned from Iraq (and what seems to also be the lesson of Kyrgyzstan), neocon policies, or neo-Cold War thinking, that foster the creation of proxy regimes (via soft or overt power) are inherently undemocratic and almost always lead to long-term negative consequences for U.S. interests.

Barack Obama, a fresh face on the political scene who is not anchored to that Berlin Wall mentality, has promised to break from the old politics of the past. His ability to contend with this hydra of the Cold War — represented by the many heads of the IRI, NED, NDI and Freedom House — though, will be a real test.

Still, that doesn't divorce McCain from his lack of sound foreign policy judgment in this case — even if this hydra is deemed too complicated for the media to convey clearly to the "informed electorate."

And maybe it is too much to expect media clarity on this issue, given the disinformation (and outright lies) that accompany a multi-million dollar presidential campaign and the propaganda in play to perpetuate a Cold War hegemony.

Still, I hold out hope that, despite the distortions, people see the truth of it all — because most of us still recognize failed policies when we see them, even absent an Ivy League education.




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