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No tough questions for Galbraith on Capitol Hill

When Peter Galbraith testified on Capitol Hill Monday, the former U.S. ambassador and U.N. envoy answered questions on the credibility of Hamid Karzai, the elections in Afghanistan, the U.S. mission there, troop levels, and a host of other issues. What lawmakers failed to bring up were the allegations that Galbraith, an advisor to Kurdish Regional ...


When Peter Galbraith testified on Capitol Hill Monday, the former U.S. ambassador and U.N. envoy answered questions on the credibility of Hamid Karzai, the elections in Afghanistan, the U.S. mission there, troop levels, and a host of other issues.

What lawmakers failed to bring up were the allegations that Galbraith, an advisor to Kurdish Regional Government in the aftermath of the invasion, abused his position to advocate for policies that would benefit companies in which he had a huge financial interest.

Perhaps the cozy atmosphere was to be expected, for the globe-trotting diplomat was returning to friendly territory: Galbraith is a consummate Capitol Hill veteran and insider. He was a professional staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1979 to 1993.

Galbraith reportedly stands to make upwards of $100 million from stakes in Kurdish oil fields he secured while he was an advisor to the Kurdish regional government. Galbraith has admitted he helped secure contracts for the Norwegian company DNO at the same time he was advising the Kurds on the formation of the Iraqi constitution, which granted significant control of new oil fields to the Kurdish government.

When one of those fields, named Tawke, struck riches in 2005, Galbraith’s stake became hugely valuable. His push for more Kurdish autonomy had contributed to a massive personal financial windfall. During the same time period, Galbraith was also an advisor senior U.S. lawmakers such as then-Sen. Joseph Biden, D-DE, who also advocated for increased federalism and regional autonomy in Iraq.

“What is true is that I undertook business activities that were entirely consistent with my long-held policy views,” Galbraith told The New York Times. “I believe my work with DNO (and other companies) helped create the Kurdistan oil industry which helps provide Kurdistan an economic base for the autonomy its people almost unanimously desire.”

“So, while I may have had interests, I see no conflict.”

But none of that came up in Galbraith’s testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, chaired by John Tierney, D-MA. That subcommittee has a reputation for taking on thorny oversight issues the House Armed Services Committee shies away from, and Tierney is not known to pull his punches.

But Tierney stuck to the hearing’s title, which focused on the Afghan elections, and Galbraith wasted no time in repeating his harsh criticisms of Karzai, the Afghan government, the U.N. mission in Kabul, and his former boss at the U.N. mission, Kai Eide.

Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon fired Galbraith from his post as the number two U.N. official in Afghanistan after he had a falling out with Eide, formerly a close personal friend, over the U.N.’s role in the disputed August presidential election.

The blame for the current situation in Afghanistan falls to both Karzai and Eide, Galbraith explained. He warned against sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as Obama is expected to announce next week.

“It’s clear that a fraud-tainted Karzai government, considered illegitimate by a large part of the country, cannot fulfill the role of a reliable partner. And thus, we’re in the situation that although the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in 2009, as it has every year since 2004, in my view sending additional troops is no answer,” Galbraith testified. “Without a credible Afghan partner, they cannot accomplish their mission and sending them is, therefore, a poor use of a valuable resource.”

Galbraith also called Eide “a terrible manager” and said that Western staff is now fleeing the office of the U.N. mission in Kabul after being demoralized by the U.N.’s lack of action related to monitoring and dealing with the election fraud.

“Kai Eide, the head of the mission, knew [the Independent Electoral Commission] wasn’t independent; nonetheless, he chose not to act and as a result, more than 200 million of American taxpayer dollars were wasted, and of course, it has cost lives because the military mission has become much more complicated,” Galbraith said.


UPDATE: Galbraith disputed the reporting in the New York Times article in a letter to the editors of Vermont’s Rutland Herald, which in part reads:

At the time the Iraqi Constitution was negotiated in 2005, I was a private citizen with no connection whatsoever with the U.S. government. In short, I was in no position to push through anything. At the request of Kurdistan’s leaders, I did offer them advice on how to negotiate best to achieve their goals. But I never participated in any negotiations and was never in the room when they took place.

The Kurds put forward their proposals for the Iraqi Constitution on Feb. 11, 2004, proposals that included Kurdistan control over oil on its own territory. At that time, I had no relationship with DNO, and DNO had no involvement in Iraq. When Kurdistan’s leaders asked for my advice 18 months later (which I provided informally and on an unpaid basis), they knew I was being paid by DNO. They saw no conflict of interest for obvious reason that Kurdistan’s goal of controlling its own oil was completely congruent with the economic interests of companies that the Kurds brought into the region.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin