2009 11 12
For several years now I’ve been reading articles by Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere, and scratching my head at the mini-bio that accompanies the pieces. I knew that he had a consulting gig, and that that consulting gig took him to Northern Iraq, and that he was an advisor to the Kurds, and pretty damn tight with them. And it struck me as odd that the mini-bios didn’t really tip you off much about possible conflicts of interest. Here’s an example, from the NYRB:
Peter W. Galbraith, a former US Ambassador to Croatia, is Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and a principal at the Windham Resources Group, which has worked in Iraq. His new book, Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies, has just been released. (October 2008)
Doesn’t tell you much, does it?
Anyway, this irritated me just enough that I almost wrote a post about it a while back, going so far as to actually research the issue extensively (googled for 20 seconds). But I couldn’t figure out what his consulting group did, actually, and I thought it would be irresponsible to insinuate anything on a blog as widely read and respected as Explananda. (So much for citizen journalism.)
So it was with considerable interest that I just noticed this piece in the NYT about Galbraith. The NYT seems to be following the lead here of some Norwegian journalists (so much for NYT journalism). Anyway, here’s the lede:
Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.
Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.
In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.
Dude, that is one seriously sweet consulting gig. I was so distracted by the minor concern that Galbraith’s writing might be influenced by his consulting work for the Kurds, and was at least worth noting so that readers could make up their own minds, that I never even imagined a multi-multi-million dollar Norwegian oil angle.
Wowsers. Anyway, the article raises a whole bunch of ethical issues. I’m curious to see how the NYRB and other publications deal with this. Galbraith had an enormous financial interest in Northern Iraq as early as 2004. His readers should have been told this. The publications who published his writing should explicitly address this issue, and update their online archives to reflect those interests clearly.
UPDATE: The NYRB has this displayed prominently on their website now. Which is as it should be, I think.
A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)