Washington Babylon — April 25, 2008, 8:58 am

Obama to Azeri Dictator: Set Our Big Macs Free

A reader recently called to my attention to a 2005 Chicago Tribune story detailing a trip to Eastern Europe that Obama took early in his Senate career. At the time, Obama was seeking to establish his foreign policy gravitas and hence joined then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana on a trip to inspect weapons sites across the former Soviet Union. “I very much feel like the novice and pupil,” Obama was quoted as saying of his relationship with Lugar (a man who gets uniformly positive press, though he easily makes the list of Top Five Overrated Members of Congress).

One of the stops on the trip included Azerbaijan, where Obama and Lugar met with President Ilham Aliyev. The latter had inherited power from his father two years earlier, won a rigged election, and then crushed protests that erupted in response.

So what topics did Obama raise with Aliyev? Human rights? Political reform? His government’s flagrant corruption and theft of energy revenues? Well, actually the topics he called to Aliyev’s attention were “slightly more parochial,” the Tribune reported:

Why is McDonald’s having difficulty opening restaurants in Baku [the Azeri capital]? And why is Boeing shut out of selling planes to the state-owned airline? “They are two Illinois companies who want to do business and expand,” Obama explained, “but they are having roadblocks.” He didn’t walk away with a concrete answer. He could, however, report back to constituents that he voiced concern at the highest levels of government.

Well, I guess this isn’t as bad as Hillary Clinton threatening to “totally obliterate” Iran, but it’s not exactly inspired foreign policy either. What’s perhaps more troubling is that Obama still seems to look to Lugar, who’s always been overwhelmingly sympathetic towards the Azeri and other crummy Central Asian regimes, as a sort of foreign policy guru.

Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today