The Constitution provides for three branches of government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary – but there have been a few additions lately. With the rise of mass communications, common parlance has designated the media as the “Fourth Estate,” because – in theory – it is supposed to act as a “watchdog” on the activities of the other three. (Although in practice, as we have seen, it often doesn’t work out that way.) And as America entered the age of empire, stepping out on the world stage and exerting its power, a development the Founders foresaw – and greatly feared – became a reality: the rise of foreign lobbyists, i.e. the Fifth Estate, as a power in our domestic politics.
This was inevitable as we took the road to empire. Our foreign clients, protectorates, and sock puppets have a material interest in maintaining the status quo: their life blood depends on the smooth workings of the political machinery that keeps the gravy train flowing from Washington to every point on the globe. “Foreign aid,” arms deals, overseas bases that boost their economies, the deployment of “soft power,” and the architecture of entangling alliances that have enmeshed us all over the world – all of this is defended and relentlessly extended by foreign lobbyists who work day and night to protect and expand their very profitable turf.
The latest newsworthy example is the Saudi lobby, which is working overtime these days to burnish the Kingdom’s badly tarnished image. The recent agitation for the release of the censored 28 pages of the joint congressional report on the 9/11 terrorist attacks – and news reports of their horrific war crimes in Yemen – has them on the defensive.
The American people are waking up to the fact that the 9/11 hijackers – who came to this country with little knowledge of English, and few resources – had some significant assistance from at least one foreign intelligence agency, and the Saudi connection, which is the subject of the redacted 28 pages, is now in the spotlight. In response, the Saudi lobby is manning the barricades, with articles like “Saudi Arabia Is a Great American Ally” in Foreign Policy magazine, which basically argues that we need these head-chopping barbarians because Iran is worse. On the legislative front, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Perpetual War) is blocking a Senate bill that would give the green light to a lawsuit by the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudis. Graham and Senator John McCain have long worked hand-in-hand with the Saudis to garner US support for “moderate” Islamist rebels fighting to overthrow the government of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. And when the Saudis launched their terror-bombing of Yemen, Graham was right there cheering them on – and lamenting that “they no longer trust us” because they didn’t give us a heads up.
The Saudis have threatened to sell $750 billion in US assets if the Senate bill passes. In the meantime, President Barack Obama is in Riyadh, on a trip to repair frayed relations, where he is receiving a “chilly reception,” according to news accounts.
That’s the problem with being the world’s biggest superpower – you have to do a lot of kowtowing.
The Saudi lobby is a vast public relations machine, well-oiled with money and top-heavy with Washington insiders. Former Senator Norm Coleman, who headed up the American Action Fund – a major “dark money”conduit to GOP campaigns – and is now backing Ted Cruz is on the Saudi payroll.
On the other side of the partisan divide, the Clinton Foundation is the recipient of Saudi money and the Podesta Group, a major Democratic party public relations firm, is on retainer to the Kingdom. Tony Podesta, founder of the firm, is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton.
The nonprofit thinktanks are rolling in Saudi dough, including the influential Atlantic Council, and the powerful Middle East Institute (WINEP) a spin-off of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee..
Speaking of AIPAC, the Saudis are launching their own version, the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee (SAPRAC) hoping to duplicate the Israel lobby’s well-known success.
The Saudis are just the most brazen and newsworthy of the foreign lobbyists who are swarming over Washington like bedbugs in a cheap hotel. Intent on extracting everything they can from Uncle Sam, they pay their public relations hacks well, employing former members of Congress (like Coleman), wining and dining Beltway insiders, and sidling up to gullible journalists (I may be repeating myself there).
They have become so brazen that they don’t bother to hide their efforts to interfere in American politics, with Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for Mitt Romney in the last presidential election pretty much out in the open. And the current race for the White House hasn’t escaped their attention: a recent Politico piece is headlined “Trump Terrifies World Leaders,” and features choice quotes from fear-stricken free riders, such as this from a Finnish official: “In Europe, we are concerned about the U.S. possibly turning toward a more isolationist orientation. That would not be good for United States, good for Europe, good for the world.” The Finns are far from alone:
“According to more than two dozen US and foreign-government officials, Trump has become the starting point for what feels like every government-to-government interaction. In meetings, private dinners and phone calls, world leaders are urgently seeking explanations from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Trade Representative Michael Froman on down. American ambassadors are asking for guidance from Washington about what they’re supposed to say.”
Drinkers at the American trough “are worried about what it means for them: for their arms deals, for their trade deals, for international funding and alliances that they depend on.” They are, in short, worried about the possible loss of all that free stuff they’re getting – and so they’re leaking mostly anonymous quotes to reporters.
Given the GOP frontrunner’s railing against all the “bad deals” our leaders are making, not to mention his campaign slogan of “America First,” it’s no wonder the “Never Trump” campaign has a substantial foreign contingent.
This is the price we pay for empire: interventionism is a two-way street. We send the Marines to foreign lands – and they send their lobbyists to Washington. Our overseas client-states have every interest in maintaining the level of financial and military support that flows out to them, and it’s no surprise that they’re fighting to retain it. The question is: are the American people finally beginning to realize that their overseas empire is a burden rather than a boon?
The Fifth Estate is looking out for Number One – but who is looking out for the American people?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN