Originally Published 2010-12-29 00:00:00 Published on Dec 29, 2010
While the lobbying business in the US has continued to grow and starting salaries have risen to about $300,000 for the well-connected lobbyist, the enforcement of lobbying regulations has been lax. This has led to unethical practices, flouting of lobbying laws.
WikiLeaks puts US on backfoot
The US administration has been quick to get into damage control mode in the wake of the latest WikiLeaks scandal. There is a concern that the release of top secret US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks - a website that seems to thrive on leaking state's secrets - could have a severely damaging effect on the making of US foreign policy with the potential to pose a serious and harmful threat to American diplomats and their sources of information in various foreign countries. The leaked cables cover a wide array of issues ranging from the deployment of US military forces in foreign lands, the conduct of overseas military operations, to all kinds of delicate issues that come up in the conduct of relations with foreign nations and their leaders, especially what the US considers to be potentially dangerous regimes. All of these are issues of critical concern to US' national security strategy.

According to Elison Elliott, a professional investment advisor for Global Wealth and Investment Management division of Global Economy, "WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables under-mines the US' position on sensitive nuclear weapons negotiations with unstable regimes in Pakistan and North Korea; it reveals our economic foreign policy end-game with China and Russia on issues like currency devaluation, the role of the Greenback as the global currency standard, and the accumulation of US Treasury debt by foreign nations; and most important, it undermines our status and trustworthiness in foreign capitals from this day forward. From my view, the release of these cables - even in the name of constitutionally protected free speech - is, in the least, professionally profligate and downright irresponsible. At worst, it can only be seen as a broad based attack on US Foreign Policy operations."

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's response to this scandal was that "this disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests, but also an attack on the international community." She further added that these leaks would put lives at risk and would "sabotage the peaceful relations between nations."

While the scandal will no doubt die down, but the long-term damaging effects to the conduct of US foreign policy cannot be underscored considering that the conduct of foreign policy, not only in the US, but the world over, depends upon a wide range of factors. As still the world's most powerful nation, its stakes are naturally high. Although the US President is the public face and principal initiator of American foreign policy, there are other players, issues, and pressures that have to be factored in while embarking upon any course in US foreign policy.

According to a US Department of State study, "Foreign policy has become more of a people's business, debated and conducted for the most part by more people with substantive training and experience in foreign affairs from both the public and private sectors. Nor does politics stop at the water's edge as it used to. Today, partisan and institutional politics pervade practically all aspects of foreign policy-making. This decentralisation of foreign policy-making in the United States reflects the growth of the US government and its increasing accessibility to outside interests. It also testifies to America's expanding international concerns, to the interdependency of world economies, the growth of political and cultural internationalism, and the overlapping of social interests from human rights to the environment, from nutrition and health to child labour, from the internet to genetic engineering and hormonal research...."

Various groups and corporate leaders in the US have emerged as keen observers and movers of foreign affairs in the United States and have been debating on such foreign policy issues of the government that could affect its interests within the country, i.e. the issue of IT jobs being outsourced to India. Similarly, US corporate houses and business associations have exerted particular influence on American foreign policy because of their effects on the economy and their capacity to prompt voters to punish the incumbent political party. This trend has been more visible in the last thirty years due to globalisation and the emergence of an open interdependent economic world order that has led to large-scale movement of capital and greater economic competition amongst nations.

Prominent Washington-based thinks tanks, lobbying firms representing various political and strategic interests and independent interest groups like the several Congressional caucuses, have all played an active role in influencing the course of US foreign policy over the past hundred years. An interest group, also called an advocacy group, is a "political organisation established to influence governmental action in a specific area of policy... by persuading legislators, working through a regulatory bureaucracy, engaging in legal proceedings or other means. It is accepted amongst political observers, politicians and academicians that the very nature of a democratic government creates condition for interest groups and pressure groups representing various special interests to arise and flourish.

In the US, lobbying firms play a leading role in pushing the interests of their clients amongst policy makers. Lobbying emerged as the fastest growing industry in the United States and the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to over 34, 750 in 2005. According to experts, the lobbying boom in the United States has been fuelled by a "wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits."

A study by the non-partisan Washington-based Center for Public Integrity says that lobbying expenditures have more than doubled between 1998 and 2004. In 2004, corporations and interest groups spent more than $3 billion trying to influence federal government, up from $1.6 billion in 1998. While business has continued to grow and starting salaries have risen to about $300,000 for the well-connected lobbyist, the enforcement of lobbying regulations has been lax. This has led to unethical practices, flouting of lobbying laws and scandals like the famous Enron and Jack Abramoff cases that have rocked the US in the past.

An examination of the patterns of US Defense Department contracting throws up equally startling facts. For example, the lobbying expenditures to get rebuilding contracts in Iraq are a telling example of the nexus between politics in high places, contractors and financial interests. One of the biggest contracts in Iraq has been awarded to Kellogg Brown and Root; a key subsidiary of Halliburton Co, the firm former US Vice President Dick Cheney ran as CEO before moving to the White House. Most of the contracts that were awarded to Halliburton were not based on competitive bidding but awarded on the basis of "urgency" due to war-time exigencies.

The increasing movement of senior officials from corporate boardrooms to positions of power in government has led to the emergence of a number of 'revolving door connections' in the US. Corporate houses often hire former officials as 'consultants,' a more distinguished term than 'lobbyists.' This has created a boom in the field of lobbying, affording lobbyists the chance to operate, often with impunity. In fact, 'lobbying the White House' seems to have become a preferred course of action to get a particular job done. WikiLeaks, therefore, seems to be just one more in a long list of scandals and hopefully will soon be forgotten. However, that said, the fact that the US uses its diplomats and US foreign service personnel to spy and to collect intelligence rep-resents a serious breach of trust with potential long- term ramifications.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation. Views expressed here are personal)
Courtesy: Sahara Times  

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