Hitchens’ Article Criticizes “Influence Peddling” by Ex Administration Officials

Editor’s Note: Below is the reprinted text of Christopher Hitchens’ article–"In the Pipeline" (The Nation–October 13–1997)–which examines the lobbying of former Secretary of State James Baker–Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen–national security advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski and others to sway US policy in support of Azeri oil interests. Hitchens calls into question their efforts to forge close US ties with Azeri President Gaidar Aliyev–who was "dismissed from the old Soviet Politburo for corruption and [the] creator of a new authoritarian regime in the post-cold war epoch."

In the Pipeline BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

The moral and political atmosphere of Clinton’s Washington becomes every day more like Teapot Dome. The stench of a common bribery mingles pungently with the reek of crude oil. "Oleaginous," indeed–might be just the right word for the manners and priorities of this degraded Administration and prostituted Congress.

Not since the fragrant Leona Helmsley said that taxes were for the pathetic "little people" has anybody been as blunt as Roger Tamraz on the stand in September. He’s an American citizen–but he doesn’t even bother registering to vote because–as he told the Thompson hearings on campaign finance reform–elections are not decided by voters. This was going a bit further–in exposing the world of the shady contributor–than any member of the "bipartisan" circus wanted. But there was no gainsaying the Tamraz logic. You can be wanted by Interpol on an outstanding warrant of fraud–but William Jefferson Clinton will see or at any rate glimpse you and will tell some of his "people" to get on the stick–and the Democratic National Committee will turn itself inside out–if you produce $300,000 or even less.

Tamraz also made use of two other standard excuses – that all this is legal and that everybody does it. It is indeed legal. And everybody does indeed do it. As he put it–Felix Rohatyn and Robert Rubin didn’t get where they are today by being cheap; And as he also put it–if he had kept his checkbook in his pocket he would have been rewarded by watching his rivals in the oil biz go waltzing through the doors of the Oval Office. Because the salient fact about the flamboyant Tamraz is that he was lobbying for the wrong pipeline–and that those who took this money were probably taking him for a ride.

Tamraz wants a pipeline to connect the Caspian oil fields with the Mediterranean. This pipeline would have to run beneath Azerbaijan and Armenia. But the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC)–an $8 billion consortium comprising BP–Amoco–Conoco–Pennzoil and Exxon–among others–has a different idea. At present–it would rather ship the stuff through Georgia to the Black Sea–or possibly through Chechnya to Russia. Since the proven reserves around the Azerbaijani capital of Baku are the largest on earth–there are plenty of forces in Washington eager to start financing reciprocal agreemen’s. But there are two obstacles to be overcome. The first is the gruesome past of Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev–dismissed from the old Soviet Politburo for corruption and creator of a new authoritarian regime in the post-cold war epoch. The second is the 1992 Freedom Support Act–Section 907–which currently bars the United States from giving government-to-government aid to Azerbaijan. The reason for the ban is the blockade imposed by Azerbaijan on Armenia and on the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Well! If you want to see real lobbying and influence peddling–of the sort to make Tamraz look like a small-time Levatine grocer–you must follow the money trail laid by the AIOC and the Azerbaijan lobby. The hiring hall opened early and never turned anyone away. At least one former Republican Secretary of State (James Baker) and at least one former Democratic Secretary of the Treasury (Lloyd Bentsen)–to give a blue-chip and bipartisan "feel" to the thing. Then of course some national security advisers (Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski–again one elephant and one donkey–interchangeable). Throw in a former Secretary of Defense (Dick Cheney) and a former Chief of Staff (John Sununu). Then get to work on the Hill–on the bureaucracy and the press. The press has been especially easy so far. James Baker was allowed to write an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times last July–hymning the ethereal qualities of Georgian statesman Eduard Shevardnadze–that Transcaucasian Pericles–without troubling to disclose that the Baker law partnership represents the AIOC.

It’s quite an old pals reunion. Lloyd Bentsen is a large shareholder in a concern based in Azerbaijan–whose chairman is William White–formerly Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of Energy. Someone’s going to have to guard these interests–and so up pops Richard Secord–formerly Oliver North’s boss in the Iran/contra "enterprise," to help train the Azerbaijani army. The onetime major general and foreign- policy freelancer is one of those people who posses the great merit of knowing what to do without being told.

It didn’t take long for the lobby to start posting some impressive results. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is the point man on these matters–and in late July he presented the Administration’s considered view. The tome was high-flown. Speaking loftily about history–Talbott recalled the "Great Game" of imperial manipulation that–"fueled and lubricated by oil," had torn and disfigured the Transcaucasus in the nineteenth century. No more–he said–would this be the dynamic. And then–almost quickly enough to escape notice–he called for the immediate repeal of the relevant section of the 1992 Freedom Support Act. This abrupt switch could only have been "fueled and lubricated" by oil. Within three weeks and without waiting for Congress to change course– President Clinton was greeting President Aliyev at the White House and Al Gore was witnessing a Roosevelt Room signing session between Aliyev and the assembled representatives of Mobil–Chevron–Exxon and Amoco. Forgotten were the State Department reports on human rights in Azerbaijan–and the record of Aliyev personally in the ethnic cleansing of Armenia’s. As David Remnick put it in his book "Lenin’s Tomb": "Once installed as republican party chief–Aliyev ruled Azerbaijan as surely as the Gambino family ran the port of New York. The Caspian Sea caviar mafia–the Sumgait oil mafia–the fruits and vegetables mafia–the cotton mafia–the customs and transport mafias – they all reported to him–enriched him–worshipped him."

As with Tamraz–the appeal of this man to Bill Clinton is obvious. Not only does he work extremely hard. He plays by the rules.

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