The fix is in
May 2, 2004 7:58 PM   Subscribe

My advice is unbiased. Pay no attention to that cash sticking out of my pocket. A little MetaFollowup. You'll recall the 52 British diplomats who sent that letter to Prime Minister Blair saying his policies sucked? It turns out that a number of them are getting paid off - directly and indirectly - by pro-Arab organizations. [more inside]
posted by mojohand (34 comments total)
Notably Oliver Miles, the former British ambassador to Libya who instigated the letter, will receive £10,000 this year in consultancy fees from MEC International and has a 10% (!!) holding in the company.

" MEC has been commissioned to produce reports for the Saudi Arabian Export Promotions Board and the Gulf Co-operation Council. An offshoot of the firm, called AIM, has carried out work for the government of Bahrain. The website also lists the Arab Gulf Co-operation Council, the Arab League and the National Bank of Egypt as among MEC's clients."
posted by mojohand at 8:00 PM on May 2, 2004

There's also this from the Independent--they're part of the camel corps It is known as the "school for spies". Britain's foremost Arabists have passed through the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies (Mecas) since the British Government opened the language school in Shemlan, outside Beirut, in 1947.
So have some of Britain's best-known spies, among them Sir David Spedding, a former head of MI6, and the traitors Kim Philby and George Blake.
It emerged yesterday that many of the 52 signatories of the searing letter criticising Tony Blair's Middle East policies are also alumni of the centre, who have become known as the "camel corps" because of their pro-Arab views.

This sounds like a smear campaign against them, instead of what they actually said (is Blair learning from the Bushies?)
I don't know if they're any different from our retired government officials, who go into lobbying or business with companies after their service. Didn't Blair also throw out the Brit's decades-long relationships with various Arab countries to stand with Bush?
posted by amberglow at 8:12 PM on May 2, 2004

Is pro-arab meant to mean 'evil' in this case? It isn't made clear. I should know how mad I should be at this.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:21 PM on May 2, 2004

It IS a smear campaign and rightly so. As the article says "If an MP had made statements like these without declaring an interest in the subject they would have been before the standards and privileges committee we would have had their guts for garters."
posted by stbalbach at 8:23 PM on May 2, 2004

Shocking. I'm certainly glad that Ahmad Chalabai's advice wasn't tainted like that.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:25 PM on May 2, 2004

So this is a smear campaign but linking Bushies with oil companies and saying that the administration's motivations are based on those links is just good solid journalism?

Not that I'm saying that I agree with the post's premise, but how can you dismiss it so easily?
posted by loquax at 8:38 PM on May 2, 2004

Who's dismissing? Britain has had long-standing relations with most if not all Arab countries--far more than us.
It's normal that many former diplomats have connections, just like Bush/Cheney have oil connections. I don't think that's enough to just dismiss what they said in their letter--they have decades of experience in the region. You can question their motives, but it's not like they make millions or anything from those connections (unlike our retired senators and state dept. people, and these connections are not at all like Bush and Saud).

One mentioned was Ambassador to Egypt--our and Britain's continuing ally--he made only 50,000 in a year and a half from those connections.
posted by amberglow at 8:55 PM on May 2, 2004

My advice is unbiased. Pay no attention to that cash sticking out of my pocket.

perhaps no one ever taught mojohand or conrad black the old saying about glass houses?
posted by specialk420 at 8:57 PM on May 2, 2004

Yup. If these guys were making serious cash, then it'd be more of an issue. This looks like grasping at straws. Their former positions are no secret.
posted by amberglow at 9:00 PM on May 2, 2004

This looks like grasping at straws

I tend to agree with you at first glance, amberglow, in this case, but I wish that many of the claims of conspiracy regarding those on the opposite side were treated with the same scrutiny.

At the same time, it is nice to know where people are getting their money from. And not all the sums were declared here, the full financial picture is certainly not just a few thousand pounds. At the very least, it certainly would have framed the previous discussion here differently.
posted by loquax at 9:08 PM on May 2, 2004

I think if it was really was big money, we'd have seen it mentioned in the article--it would have served as proof of conflicts of interest.
posted by amberglow at 9:20 PM on May 2, 2004

Some of the others hold positions in companies seeking lucrative Middle East contracts

Mr Miles is the chairman and a director of the London-based MEC International, which promotes business opportunities in the Middle East. He has a 10 per cent holding in the company

Sir Archie Lamb, who was ambassador to Kuwait between 1974 and 1977, is a paid non-executive director of the international section of the Bank of Kuwait. He has been with the bank for 14 years, but declined to say how much he was paid for his work...

Sir Graham Boyce, who was ambassador to Kuwait between 1996 and 1999, is vice-chairman of VT International Services....Only last year, the parent company won a lucrative contract to supply coastguard vessels to Oman. Sir Graham was unavailable for comment.

The most recent set of accounts for the company, which has Sir Alan Munro on its board of directors, says the situation in Iraq has depressed trade, which in turn has contributed to its own continued loss-making.

There's more in the article, but the quotes above seem to indicate there's some big money in this.
posted by loquax at 9:26 PM on May 2, 2004

i'm sure tomorrow we'll hear a more complete rundown...till then! : >
posted by amberglow at 9:33 PM on May 2, 2004

Ambassadors are looking after Britain's interests overseas, no?

In this case, "overseas" happens to be "arab countries".

One might expect, therefore, that they have a right to be concerned about decisions made back home that might effect Britain's prospects in arab countries.

The fact that they have "connections" in these self-same arab countries seems to be an emergent property of this whole thing. I think it's as easy to argue that they expressed the concerns they did because of their experience in the countries in which they are stationed, as it is to argue that they expressed these concerns because of impacts on their own business dealings. What's good for Britain's interests in Kuwait would likely also benefit their own interests, so how can you possibly speak out for your country without making it look like you're trying to benefit yourself?

So sure, there is the potential for a conflict of interest, but what's the solution? Prevent diplomats from being involved in any enterprise in the country in which they are stationed? I'd like to see that!
posted by Jimbob at 9:58 PM on May 2, 2004

I think it would be surprising if none of the 52 had ongoing interests (financial or otherwise) in the middle east, after working there for so long. There's a 'rational self interest' spin available on this, as well; it isn't in their interst to see the whole middle east plunged into unremitting violence. Even if they were acting primarily on financial motives, this is perhaps a case when such motives might have silver lining of concern for the well-being of their sources.

But, on the other hand, it would have been nice to know up front.

I think it's different though, to try to stop mass-murder on financial grounds than to try to instigate it.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:07 PM on May 2, 2004

Prevent diplomats from being involved in any enterprise in the country in which they are stationed?

18 U.S.C. § 208
, participating personally and substantially as a Government employee in a particular matter in which, to her knowledge, an organization in which she is serving as an officer, director, or trustee has a financial interest

I know they're British, and former diplomats, but the spirit of the rule still seems to apply to me. At the very least, it would seem to be that you forfeit some of the right to speak as a "former diplomat" if you are now in a conflict situation, no matter how big or small, especially without an ethics board overseeing you. At the very least, what you say should be taken with a grain of salt or two.
posted by loquax at 10:07 PM on May 2, 2004

I think it's different though, to try to stop mass-murder on financial grounds than to try to instigate it.

That all depends on your perspective, doesn't it? I didn't get the impression that anyone was trying to instigate mass murder.
posted by loquax at 10:10 PM on May 2, 2004

War is bad for business. Who would have thought it?

Surely it's good to encourage peace even if it is just to greese the wheels of business? OK, it's not so good for Haliburton, Lockheed-Martin and Blackwater but those guys are big enough and ugly enough to look after themselves.

Or am I missing the point? Is the argument here that these guys are pro-arab, so must be anti Israeli? And even worse, they are anti-Israeli not because of what their head tells them, but because of what their wallet tells them (because how could they possibly have come to these conclusions unless they were paid to).

The simple fact is that many sensible, intelligent people who aren't on the payroll of arabs agree with much of that letter and these accusations don't change that.
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:22 AM on May 3, 2004

Really, I don't think that 'Foreign Office tends to have lots of Arabists' is a headline. (Though the number of fanatical writeups on the evil anti-Semites at the FCO is perhaps a little more newsworthy.) No more so than 'Telegraph newsroom receives copy faxed directly from Likud party headquarters'. (As specialk420 noted succinctly.) Or 'Andrew Dismore MP provides anti-Arab quote in the belief that this is the only way to keep his Hendon constituents happy.'

There's been a long-standing notion that the UK can be a decent bridge between the US and the Middle East because it has a permanent Diplomatic Service that contains a proportionately greater number of people who, say, make the effort to learn Arabic. Or spend time in the region.

And there's the small matter that, as the historical authors of the long-standing UN Security Council resolutions on the region, those with a past in the FCO feel a sense of grievance at Blair's decision to abandon decades of British policy on an apparent whim -- or rather, on an impulsive desire to avoid making Bush look more of an isolated fool.

I know they're British, and former diplomats, but the spirit of the rule still seems to apply to me.

You'd better get onto the State Department first.
posted by riviera at 3:11 AM on May 3, 2004

it's interesting to see how many actually react to "pro-Arab" as if it were equal to "pro-terrorist".
posted by matteo at 3:35 AM on May 3, 2004

it's interesting to see how many actually react to "pro-Arab" as if it were equal to "pro-terrorist".

Where do you see that in this thread?
posted by loquax at 5:37 AM on May 3, 2004

Textbook smear campaign.

Blair and his boys have a very ugly predisposition towards playing the man rather than the ball...
posted by dmt at 5:47 AM on May 3, 2004

Where do you see that in this thread?

the thread itself.
"cash in pockets"? since when being "pro-Arab" is worthy of a thread? is that news in a man-bites-dog kind of way?
maybe in the States. but in the rest of world, being pro-Arab is a perfectly legitimate position. like being pro-Israeli (unless one, of course, is supporting precise crimes committed by, say, Arabs, or Israelis)
"pro-Arab" like it's a cloud of suspicion. damn.
funny how the people whining about this are the ones who don't see anything bad in, say, Poppy Bush Middle East or Korea work for the Carlyle Group or Neil Bush shilling for the Saudis.
or Richard Perle illegally feeding raw NSC material to Israel back in his Scoop Jackson days.

up is down, really
posted by matteo at 5:51 AM on May 3, 2004

the thread itself.

The point I was trying to make, at least, was that there was a whiff of conflict around their statements regarding the middle East due to the financial interest they had in the region. Nothing about anyone being pro- or anti-Arab. I agree that many Americans, Republican and Democrat are also in conflict positions due to their financial interests all over the world, in all kinds of industry.

So if I say that Neil Bush shilling for the Saudis is bad, can I say that this doesn't exactly look good either? Just admitting that this looks a little suspicious doesn't make you a neo-con.
posted by loquax at 6:11 AM on May 3, 2004

strange that the Telegraph fails to mention another of the 52 - Francis Cornish, ambassador to Israel 1998-2001
posted by niceness at 7:52 AM on May 3, 2004

What can I say except for "well, that doesn't quite surprise me" etc etc?
Excellent post, mojohand.
posted by 111 at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2004

Bad post, mojohand, and utter dreck from the Telegraph. You can't have men who are experts and former diplomats in the Middle East who don't have ties there. It's like accusing Michael Schumaker of driving too fast on the track: it's what they do, it's where they acquired their insider knowledge, and why they should be listened to.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:14 AM on May 3, 2004

I speak often with one of the 52 signatories to the letter, a former British ambassador in the Middle East (not named in the Telegraph article), for reasons connected to the fact that I live with his daughter. This makes me potentially biased. Take that into consideration.

The point he's made to me, more than once, is that in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq the UK Government was using many of these former diplomats as consultants and advisors on the situation in the Middle East and how it was likely to develop. (It then ignored much of their advice, made the mistakes they had told it were mistakes, and is suffering the consequences they predicted.)

So they're advisors and senior Foreign Office civil servants one month, the next they're dismissed as the 'camel corps' and smeared with vague allegations of impropriety based on the same kind of business links that pretty much everyone in UK government has.

One fact remains unquestioned: any one of these people knows more about Middle Eastern politics than anyone in the Cabinet on either side of the Atlantic. Claiming they're all biased because you don't like what they're saying is an ugly form of stupidity.
posted by Hogshead at 8:20 AM on May 3, 2004

This reminds me of when Alexander Cockburn was fired from the Village Voice in '82 because he had been paid for lectures by the Institute of Arab Studies—as if that somehow compromised his reporting, when he had been a strong critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestine from the beginning of his career as a columnist. Some people will stoop at nothing to discredit voices they don't like.

The idea that if you accept money at any point from any source with a political position, all of your own political positions are henceforth tainted and can be ignored is so stupid that it's not even worth refuting.

On preview, what Hogshead said.
posted by languagehat at 8:25 AM on May 3, 2004

My gas tank has a relationship with the middle east, a very needful one.
posted by clavdivs at 8:45 AM on May 3, 2004

Hogshead, languagehat, I agree, I don't think that's the right argument though. No one's saying that you can't have financial relationships in and have an opinion about the Middle East. No one's saying their opinions are invalid. But given this new information, whether it's true or not, I question the purely altruistic motives of the signatories. It's one thing when the good people of MetaFilter argue against the war, it's another if I were to find out that y2karl or matteo happened to own companies in the area that were losing money as a result of it, no matter how smart they are. (See that backhanded compliment?)

This isn't to say that the signatories are corrupt or evil, or that they should be ignored, just that some may be influenced by factors beyond their own logical and impartial reasoning. I really don't think that's a stretch, especially given some of the other very tenuous and flimsy links draw here in the past.
posted by loquax at 9:06 AM on May 3, 2004

Loquax -- possibly. But in this case it appears that the UK Government is attempting to smear a group of people whose advice it was seeking only a few months ago... not because their advice has changed, but because they've started saying it in public instead of behind closed doors.
posted by Hogshead at 9:34 AM on May 3, 2004

Hogshead, I agree, it looks that way, but even if you disagree with the UK government's tactics and/or hypocrisy, it doesn't mean they don't have a point.
posted by loquax at 9:39 AM on May 3, 2004

So, anyone taking bets on how long it takes for these 53 US diplomats to get the same treatment? (Oh, I see that the WRMEA has already been accused of anti-semitism by the usual sources.)

(It's interesting that this hasn't yet been covered in much detail by the US media: perhaps because the diplomats' press conference isn't scheduled for later today, US time, but foreign press are running with it right now.)
posted by riviera at 12:02 AM on May 4, 2004

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