[Washington Babylon ]Lobbyists and Fred Starr Team Up to Promote Kazakhstan | Harper's Magazine

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Kazakhstan has been heavily criticized by international observers for its human rights violations, descriptions of which run to the horrifying and lurid, for its rigged elections, and for the fact that its president apparently accepted tens of millions of dollars in payments (in a Swiss account, naturally) from an American oilman. But there’s also good news, according to three reports published this year by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University that herald important economic and political developments in Kazakhstan.

But CACI, as the institute is known, forgot to mention one thing when it published the reports: as revealed by ABC, the government of Kazakhstan paid them, as arranged for by one of the country’s Washington lobbying firms, APCO Worldwide. And CACI, as I’ve noted on several prior occasions, is headed up by S. Frederick Starr, who’s clearly in the tank for Kazakhstan and other Central Asian governments. Starr’s past activities include putting a positive spin on the Uzbek government’s 2005 massacre at Andijan massacre, and seeking to whitewash Kazakhstan’s 2004 parliamentary vote while serving as an allegedly independent “election observer.”

Of course, Starr and APCO can’t imagine why there’s a problem with this arrangement. “They wanted greater attention to Kazakhstan and we said you could do that but you cannot have any control and they agreed,” said Elizabeth Jones, a former ambassador to Kazakhstan and now a lobbyist with APCO, to ABC. (More later on APCO, which, as chance would have it, is featured prominently in my new book, Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists fought to flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship).

“The choice of topics, the choice of authors and the entire editorial process was 100 percent in our hands,” Starr told the network. “The arrangements that they entered into with us didn’t touch anything that would have to do with image building or creating a favorable impression.”

Surely the fact that the Kazakh government paid CACI about $26,000 per study had nothing to do with the positive conclusions in the report, which were trotted out at events in Washington (as called for by the contract with APCO). John C. K. Daly, author of the first report, espied the emergence of a broad, progressive-minded middle class in Kazakhstan. His findings were subsequently touted by Richard Weitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, in an article at Eurasianet.org.

Weitz himself wrote the third report a few months later. It lauded the Kazakh government’s regional efforts, which resulted from “vast energy wealth, relative political and ethnic stability, and skillful diplomacy.” Daly will no doubt soon be favorably reviewing Weitz’s scholarship in a newspaper or website near you.

The middle report, by Anthony Clive Bowyer, concedes that just about all members of the Kazakh parliament “represent or are favorably inclined towards” the ruling party. Nonetheless, it “functions much as a parliament in any country does” and there “is genuine debate and discussion.”

This is all reminiscent of the game plan APCO laid out when I approached the firm last year, posing as an international businessman, and inquired about its availability to promote the Stalinist regime in Turkmenistan. (It was very available, at a rate of $40,000 per month). The APCO lobbyists I met with said they had excellent contacts at a variety of local think-tanks, and could set up public events that might attract congressional staff and journalists.

The lobbyists said they could also arrange for academics and think tankers to write positive op-eds and research papers. “If we can get a paper published or a speech at a conference, we can get a friendly member of Congress to insert that in the Congressional Record and get that printed and send it out,” one of APCO’s lobbyists told me. “So you take one event and get it multiplied.”

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