The Oil and the Glory

An anti-corruption crusader’s $55 million haul

As the saying goes, people gravitate to public service to do good, and stay on to do well. In any case, that apparently is Peter Galbraith’s motto. In the 1980s, this foreign policy maven (and son of economist John Kenneth Galbraith) became known for his part in exposing Saddam Hussain’s gassing of the Kurds, and ...

JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images

As the saying goes, people gravitate to public service to do good, and stay on to do well. In any case, that apparently is Peter Galbraith’s motto. In the 1980s, this foreign policy maven (and son of economist John Kenneth Galbraith) became known for his part in exposing Saddam Hussain’s gassing of the Kurds, and for being one of Benazir Bhutto’s best allies in America; in the 1990s, he was a key diplomat in the Balkans; and most recently, he was fired as deputy United Nations envoy in Afghanistan, then accused the Kabul government of massive fraud in the 2009 presidential election. 

Late last year, we learned from the work of journalists at the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (Galbraith’s wife is from Norway) and the New York Times that Galbraith also has cashed in on his long work in Kurdistan. After the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Galbraith was instrumental in Kurdistan gaining as much independence from the central government in Baghdad as it did. Now we know fairly well how much Galbraith’s work was worth — between $55 million and $75 million, as established yesterday by a British court presiding over a commercial lawsuit.

Galbraith perceives no ethical issue, he told the Boston Globe’s Farah Stockman while on the campaign trail in Vermont, where he is a candidate for state Senate. He told Stockman that he plans to “reinvest the proceeds in alternate energy development both here in Vermont and in Kurdistan.”

The story reminds me of Stanley Escudero, the former U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. When I first heard of Escudero in the early 1990s in Tajikistan, I was amused to learn that he fashioned himself as a macho Stallone type, because during the first shots of the civil war, in 1992, Escudero wouldn’t set foot in the country; he let his deputy chief of mission, Ed McWilliams, handle the show. Whatever the case, Escudero took his tough-talking act on to Tashkent, then Baku. And then it was time to retire. Escudero moved back home to Florida.

It wasn’t long, however, before Escudero turned up again back in Baku — this time as a private “consultant.” You see, Escudero had become mighty close to Ilham Aliyev, who had recently taken over as president after the death of his father, Heydar; Escudero in fact was a hunting buddy of Ilham’s. Now, Escudero became an insider. Bluntly speaking, he sold access to Ilham, the customs ministry and so on — all those fellows he had come to know as ambassador. Escudero was open about his motives: He wanted to get rich. He is still there.

Escudero isn’t breaking any U.S. law, I have been told by U.S. officials. But his behavior is important knowledge for local officials — the ambassador you meet today, suggesting that the fair and market-based thing to do would be to close a contract with this or that American oil or telecoms company, could be returning a year hence as the representative of that same company. That same ambassador who, while he was working for the U.S. State Department, railed against local officials enriching themselves on the job.

This former ambassador — and Peter Galbraith — makes it difficult for current diplomats working to make good policy with a straight face.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola