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American Foreign Policy Brought to You by China

August 8, 2008

Advisers to Obama, McCain Tied to US Multinationals that Profit from Beijing
Democracy Now
August 5, 2008

President Bush is heading to China this week, where he will attend
the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics on Friday. The
Games' presence in Beijing have helped spotlight opposition to China
on a number of policies, including its repression of the Tibetan
independence movement, its support for the Sudanese government in
Darfur and its crackdown on dissidents and civil liberties at home.
In the latest issue of Harper's Magazine, Ken Silverstein says many
of the bipartisan experts who have advocated so-called "constructive
engagement" with China are tied to major US multinational
corporations that profit heavily from the Chinese market. [includes
rush transcript]

Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper's Magazine. He also
publishes a blog on political corruption in Washington, D.C. called
"Washington Babylon." His latest article in the magazine is called
"The Mandarins: American Foreign Policy Brought to You by China."

Rush Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush arrived in South Korea last night on the
first leg of a trip to Asia that will also take him to Thailand and
to China, where he'll attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing
Summer Olympics on Friday. In China, Bush will meet President Hu
Jintao and other Chinese leaders. His visit to China will be the
fourth of his presidency. No other US president has visited China
more than once.

Bush has been criticized by a number of lawmakers and human rights
groups for his decision to attend the Beijing Games. He has rebuffed
calls to boycott the opening ceremonies over a number of Chinese
policies, such as repression of Tibetan independence movement, its
support for the Sudanese government in Darfur and its crackdown on
dissidents and civil liberties at home.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Bush said, "One of the
reasons I'm going is because I want to show respect to the Chinese
people, and this is a proud moment for China."

Well, in the latest issue of Harper's Magazine, Ken Silverstein says
many of the bipartisan experts who have advocated so-called
"constructive engagement" with China are tied to major US
multinational corporations that profit heavily from the Chinese
market. Ken Silverstein joins me now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ken.


AMY GOODMAN: Lay out your thesis in "The Mandarins," the title of your piece.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, basically I looked at -- I started looking at
the campaign advisers, actually, to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton
-- this was a few months ago when I started, and she was still very
much part of the fight for the Democratic nomination -- and John
McCain. And I didn't have a -- I mean, the story ended up being a
little bit different than what I had initially imagined, but what I
discovered was that many of these advisers, not just advisers on
China policy, in fact, although that's what I focused on, but many of
the presidential advisers to the top candidates worked for some of
these international consulting firms whose whole business model is to
open up doors abroad for US and other Western companies, in fact.

So, for example, in the case of China, you have a guy named Jeffrey
Bader, who is at the Brookings Institution, which I think maybe we
can get back to in a minute, but who also has worked for Stonebridge
International, which is a big consulting firm headed by Sandy Berger,
who used to be with the Clinton administration and in fact who was
primarily responsible for—or one of the people primarily responsible
for the big opening with China under Clinton. Remember, Clinton came
into office promising that he would honor the spirit of Tiananmen
Square and left having put into place permanent normal trade
relations with Beijing.

But you found time and time again that the key advisers to the major
presidential candidates had these economic conflicts that were never
stated when they wrote op-eds or were interviewed on TV or radio. You
know, they were always -- or typically, they'd be identified as
belonging to a think tank or simply as a former government official.
Well, what about their relationship with, say, Stonebridge, where not
only Jeffrey Bader, Obama's—a big adviser for Obama, but Ken
Lieberthal, who was the senior adviser to Clinton on China policy,
both of them hold positions there?

Now, it's fine if they want to, you know, acknowledge where they work
and let the listener or the viewer decide if this might influence
their point of view, but to put people on TV or on the radio and to
simply let them appear to be an independent observer, when in fact
they have a direct stake, really, and a close relationship between
Washington and Beijing, and when their business model actually
requires them being on reasonably good terms with Chinese government
officials, and in fact, you know, generally much better than
reasonably good terms, generally very warm, positive terms with
Chinese officials, because they're door openers—you cannot open doors
with Chinese government officials on behalf of Western companies
unless you are on good terms. I mean, if they don't like you, if you
say a lot of nasty things about Tibet or human rights or anything
else, then the Chinese government officials that you need to help you
in your business are not going to be there for you. So it's an
inherent conflict that's just very, very rarely discussed.

AMY GOODMAN: The company that's -- Sandy Berger, chief adviser to
President Clinton, also perhaps the foremost architect of the
administration's dramatic shift in China policy, you point out that
he, before he came into the Clinton administration, was with the law
firm of Hogan & Hartson, and he coordinated business lobbying for
China at that law firm.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Yeah, I mean, most of the people I'm talking about,
most of these advisers, previously worked in government. Now they may
be off in the business -- the private sector. Some of them are going
to end up going back into government, I'm quite sure of that, in
either a Obama or McCain administration.

But yeah, Berger is a classic example. I mean, he started off in the
private sector lobbying for permanent normal trade relations for
China. This is back in the '90s. And this -- you know, I think
probably many of your listeners may have forgotten, but ten years
ago, fifteen years ago, the US relationship with Beijing was
extremely heated. I mean, the debate about permanent normal trade
relations with China was almost as heated as the debate over NAFTA.
Millions and millions and millions of dollars were spent by the
business community to lobby for this policy. And the Clinton
administration reversed itself, completely reversed itself, and
decided that it would prioritize -- over human rights policy, it
would prioritize commercial relationships. And that was what—that's
what happened. And Berger was one of the architects of this policy.
After he left Hogan & Hartson, he joined the Clinton administration.
So he basically lobbies for China in the private sector, joins the
Clinton administration, where he lobbies for China, then goes to
Stonebridge International, where he's basically lobbying for China still.

And you find this pattern time and time again. There are senior
government officials who, you know, had previously worked on behalf
of China in one form or another, they go into government, then they
retire, and they still have very, very important ties to China that
benefit them financially in a very direct personal manner.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Ken Silverstein, about Alexander Haig and
about Brent Scowcroft? Talk about, first, Haig.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, Haig is -- you know, the Chinese love Haig. I
mean, there's probably no American who they are more fond of than Al
Haig. He worked with President Nixon and helped arrange the historic
visit that Nixon made to China, which marked the opening. He worked
with—you know, he was Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, and he,
you know, very actively promoted Chinese interest against Taiwan,
which also had a very powerful lobby.

And I should say here that, you know, Haig and many of the generation
of foreign policy advisers from those years, the Reagan years and the
Nixon years, the Republican presidents pre-George Bush, looked upon
simply—or the Cold War Republican presidents—looked upon China simply
as a buffer against the Soviet Union or as an ally against the Soviet
Union. They didn't really look at China in any way other than as a
geopolitical, geo-strategic vehicle for the United States. And, you
know, our primary enemy was the Soviet Union, and even though China
was communist, it was not close at all to the Soviet Union, and so we
made an alliance with China, you know, in this grand strategic game.

So, Haig develops very close relationships with China then. Then he
retires, after becoming somewhat controversial, some of your
listeners may recall, when he tried to take over the US government
after Ronald Reagan was shot, claiming that he was next in line for
power. He made a number of blunders. Yet he then goes into the
private sector, opens up a firm called Worldwide Consulting, and,
from there, becomes a door opener, and he does a lot of business in
China, very close to the Chinese government.

He actually went to Tiananmen on -- a year after Tiananmen Square, he
went to Beijing and stood in Tiananmen Square during the fortieth
anniversary of the Communist Party's rise to power in China. He was
the only prominent Westerner who attended. Most of the Western
ambassadors boycott. But Haig, in a show of solidarity, turns up at
Tiananmen. And so, of course, the Chinese government loves Al Haig.
So if you're a company, an American company, and you want to
establish a business in China or expand your business in China, of
course you're going to go to a guy like Al Haig. He can help you. So
you pay Haig, and he opens the doors for you in China.

Same thing with Scowcroft. Scowcroft also worked for the Bush
administration at the time of Tiananmen and, very soon after the
crackdown there, traveled to Beijing and met secretly with Chinese
leaders to try to make sure that there would be no serious fallout in
the US-China relationship. So he is also well loved by the Chinese
government. And these are the sorts of people who American companies
now can turn to and say, "Look, we need your help." And they get it,
because the Chinese government is very fond of these former officials.

AMY GOODMAN: You give the example of Brent Scowcroft taking the
former CEO of Qualcomm, Irwin Jacobs, for a meeting with China's
prime minister.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Yeah, he traveled over to China with several
prominent Fortune 500 CEOs, including the CEO of Qualcomm and also of
Chubb Corporation, as I recall. And, you know, this is what we know,
because the fact is that these companies do not disclose their
clients. It's very difficult to find out who they're actually working
for. They're under no—it's actually, in some ways, more nefarious
than lobbying, I think, because if you're a registered lobbyist, then
at least the American public knows who you represent, and if you go
on TV, people can at least say, "Oh, he's a former—he was a lobbyist
for such-and-such government or such-and-such corporation." But the
people at these big economic consulting firms, like Stonebridge—or
Scowcroft has his own firm, and Haig has his own firm—I mean, there
are dozens and dozens of these consulting firms across Washington --
and they don't disclose who they work for, they don't have to
disclose their clients, and so, you know, the public has really no
way of knowing who they represent when they make their media appearances.

AMY GOODMAN: Scowcroft's relation with McCain?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: McCain said there's no one in the world he respects
more than Brent Scowcroft. I mean, Haig and Scowcroft are informal
advisers to John McCain. They are not formally listed, but they are
both close to McCain, and as I said, McCain said that there's no one
he respects more than Scowcroft. So he has very—you know, I can
assure you that if McCain is elected president, he will be getting
advice on China from Scowcroft.

AMY GOODMAN: Scowcroft's firm, the Scowcroft Group, does employ a few
Democrats, you mention, including Kevin Nealer, a former State
Department official and trade adviser to Senate Democrats. What is
his significance in the relationship with China?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, first, let me just quickly say that all of
these firms tend to be bipartisan. They may—you know, Stonebridge has
a preponderance of Democrats. But they always want people from the
other side, because that way they can reach out to companies that may
feel more comfortable with—you know, politically with a Republican,
as opposed to a Democrat. So they are all bipartisan.

Nealer was a State Department official who had worked on China, who,
at the Scowcroft Group, is the primary contact, I guess, for a major
investment fund that has extensive holdings in China. And he also,
like many of these guys, served on—he produced a Council on Foreign
Relations study that proposed closer relationships with China. This
is another thing that's very interesting. If you look at the authors
of virtually any major think tank report on foreign policy and you
look down the list of who put it together, you're almost always going
to find people from these consulting firms. And again, at least let's
identify these people. I mean, you'll see them identified as
belonging to a think tank, say, but what you won't see is, you know,
a guy like Nealer identified as working for the Scowcroft Group. I
mean, let's get these conflicts out in the open, at least, so the
public knows who's putting together our foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, both Obama adviser, Bader, and McCain's most
respected, Scowcroft, both of them deny that the advisory class has
in any way compromised by its business relationships with China.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, I mean, you would expect them to deny it. I
mean, but really, frankly, it defies all logic. I mean, let me be
honest with you. I work for Harper's Magazine. If you were to put me
on a—I mean, that's where I get my paycheck. I'm the Washington
editor of the magazine. If you put me on a panel about the greatest
magazines in America, it's very likely that I might point to Harper's
or at least put us in the top two or three. It's hard, when you're
getting paid by an institution or where you have financial ties,
direct financial ties, to, in this case, a country, not to have your
judgment and your point of view at least somewhat clouded.

I also talked to Perry Link, a Princeton professor, who said that,
you know, there's no doubt that these people who work for these
consulting firms in -- you know, he says, within the academy, within
the think tank world, it's very well known that people who have such
ties are in some ways biased, at minimum. And Link has said that—he
told me that, you know, he's actually banned from entering China,
because he had written some very critical pieces and done some
critical work, and the Chinese actually banned him from going over
there. And he said to me, "Look, I"—he founded Princeton's summer
program in China some years ago, and then he was barred from going
over there. And he said, "Look, it, you know, was painful. You know,
I'd love to go over to visit my friends in China, and it's a great
position to head the summer program. You get paid very well. It's a
terrific position." He said, "You know, I have to admit, if I hadn't
been barred from entering the country, I might find myself hedging my
own opinions about China, just so as not to anger the Chinese government."

And he said he constantly came across graduate students who were
shying away from topics, such as human rights or forced abortion or
issues that might anger the Chinese government, because they knew it
would make it more difficult for them to further their academic
research in China, and it also might have some career implications.

So I think it's illogical. You know, I would expect the advisers to
say, "No, of course it doesn't influence us." And I would also say
that I don't believe it's as simple as, well, they open doors in
China, and hence every word they say has no value, because some of
these people are extremely smart and insightful. And yet, there's no
question that their point of view has been—is not impartial. I mean,
at a minimum, if they're not in any way influenced by this, then why
is it that so few of them identify these ties? I mean, you never see
Jeffrey Bader, when he goes—writes an op-ed or when he's on the
radio—why don't they volunteer, "Oh, and, by the way, it's irrelevant
that I work for Stonebridge. People ought to know that." And I found,
time and time again, that these advisers -- it seems to me that they
actively try not to disclose a relationship that might be somewhat
embarrassing. And there's a good reason: it is embarrassing.

AMY GOODMAN: How do they actively try to disclose --prevent the disclosure?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, I know that when I first talked to Brookings,
I contacted Bader through the Brookings Institute, which receives an
enormous amount of money from John Thornton, who is a former CEO of
Goldman Sachs and himself has a lot of direct financial stakes in
China—he's the primary funder of the China program at Brookings,
which is named after him, so that's another story. But I contacted
Brookings, and I contacted the Obama campaign, and when I talked to
Brookings, I mentioned—you know, I was told by someone at Brookings
that "We prefer not to have the Stonebridge label disclosed." Now,
they might say, "Well, it's because, you know, we're Brookings, and
we want more credit for Brookings," but it seemed to me that it was
quite clear that they preferred not to mention Stonebridge in talking
about Bader.

And if you just -- if you simply look"I mean, look, look at how these
people are identified. I looked at dozens and dozens and dozens of
media appearances for people like Bader and Scowcroft and Ken
Lieberthal. You almost never come across an instance where they list
their affiliation with—you know, if they're talking about China,
don't you think that working for Stonebridge, which has offices in
China—and, in fact, Lieberthal and Bader are both listed as being key
officials at Stonebridge China. That would be a little bit relevant,
I would think, to their identity when they appear in the press. But
it never comes out, and I can't help but believe, from what I heard
and from what I see, in terms of how they're identified in their
media appearances, that that's not deliberate. It raises questions
about the independence of their point of view, and I'm sure that they
wouldn't want that done.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken, you close with a telling quote from the Princeton
University professor now banned from China, Perry Link, who said,
"I'm for engagement. When people like Henry Kissinger talk about
engagement, they mean black tie affairs with top government and
business leaders. But those leaders are not the same as the Chinese
people." Ken Silverstein, thanks so much for joining us, Washington—


AMY GOODMAN: Washington editor of Harper's Magazine. We'll link to
Harper's on our website. He also publishes a blog on political
corruption in Washington, D.C. called "Washington Babylon."
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