Thursday, November 12, 2009

Maybe They Aren't All Crazy, After All

Peter Galbraith, a US advisor to the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars from an oilfield in the Kurdish region.

OSLO — Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.

These talks were very contentious, to say the least. The Kurds have never gotten along with the rest of Iraq, and were demanding that they had rights to the oil in their region, and that those rights superseded any claim the Iraqi government had.

Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.

In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.

Mr. Galbraith, widely viewed in Washington as a smart and bold foreign policy expert, has always described himself as an unpaid adviser to the Kurds, although he has spoken in general terms about having business interests in Kurdistan, as the north of Iraq is known.

So it came as a shock to many last month when a group of Norwegian investigative journalists at the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv began publishing documents linking Mr. Galbraith to a specific Norwegian oil company with major contracts in Iraq.

Here is one thing you can be sure of. Galbraith knew precisely what he was doing, and he knew it at every step of the way. You do not "accidentally" earn a hundred million dollars just for standing around. And if it's all above board, why didn't he say anything about it? Why did he claim to be an unpaid advisor? Even if it's technically true, in the sense that he wasn't on salary, his denial makes it pretty apparent that he did not want anyone knowing that he had interests in Iraqi oil.

When drillers struck oil in a rich new field called Tawke in December 2005, no one but a handful of government and business officials and members of Mr. Galbraith’s inner circle knew that the constitutional provisions he had pushed through only months earlier could enrich him so handsomely.

So he helped design the Iraqi constitution, and then, shockingly, it turns out that that same constitution is going to make him very rich. Somehow I don't think the Muslim world will find that to be coincidental.

As the scope of Mr. Galbraith’s financial interests in Kurdistan become clear, they have the potential to inflame some of Iraqis’ deepest fears, including conspiracy theories that the true reason for the American invasion of their country was to take its oil.

Of course, these conspiracy theories don't sound so far-fetched now, do they, as a former US Ambassador and the Kurds have conspired to help themselves to Iraqi oil, oil which Iraq desperately needs as it tries to rebuild. Oil which it will need to sell if the US taxpayer has any hope of ever freeing itself from the burden of supporting Iraq.

Some officials say that his financial ties could raise serious questions about the integrity of the constitutional negotiations themselves. “The idea that an oil company was participating in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution leaves me speechless,” said Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, a principal drafter of the law that governed Iraq after the United States ceded control to an Iraqi government on June 28, 2004.

In effect, he said, the company “has a representative in the room, drafting.”

DNO’s chief executive, Helge Eide, confirmed that Mr. Galbraith helped negotiate the Tawke deal and advised the company during 2005. But Mr. Eide said that Mr. Galbraith acted solely as a political adviser and that the company never discussed the Constitution negotiations with him. “We certainly never did give any input, language or suggestions on the Constitution,” Mr. Eide said.

Sure. They had a man in the room, helping to write a constitution which would have a major financial impact on the company, but they didn't really pay any attention to him, or give him any suggestions. If there was even the slightest possibility of this statement being true, then you would also be reading about the massive stock sell-off as investors realized the company was being run by morons.

Kurdish officials said that they were informed of Mr. Galbraith’s work for DNO and that they still considered him a friend and advocate. Mr. Galbraith said that during his work on the Constitution negotiations, the Kurds “did not pay me and they knew I was being paid by DNO.”

Yes, of course the Kurds knew. Galbraith was helping them get a bigger piece of the action, at the expense of the Iraqi people, and he got a cut of it in return. The real question is did the Iraqis know that he was working for an oil company when he was pretending to be a mediator as he worked on their constitution. And they clearly did not.

The reasons why the Muslim world hates the US are getting clearer and clearer every day. They aren't crazy at all.

And there can hardly be any doubt that actions of Peter Galbraith will cost American lives and money, and will go a long way towards making Americans less secure.

I hope it was worth it.

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