Crossposted at DailyKos
I diaried and commented in several places yesterday about a group called the International Republican Institute (IRI) and McCain’s involvement as chairman of their board. A days worth of research has provided me with further compelling clarity that contrary to his public image as an outsider, McCain has for years been the ultimate Washington insider, directly linked through his involvement in the IRI with possible election fraud and several possible coups including the most recent installation of President Shaakasvili in Georgia. If you were wondering where his claim of foreign policy experience comes from besides his stint as a prisoner of war, look no further. Unfortunately for him (and for us), he can’t claim this experience without igniting a huge controversy. The man’s hands are dirty and this latest situation with Georgia raises many questions.
Founded in 1983, the International Republican Institute (IRI) is an organization, funded by United States government, that conducts international political programs, sometimes labeled ‘democratization programs’.
Initially known as the National Republican Institute for International Affairs, the IRI’s stated mission is to expand what it interprets as freedom throughout the world. Its activities include teaching and assisting with political party and candidate development, good governance practices, civil society development, civic education, women’s and youth leadership development, electoral reform and election monitoring, and political expression in closed societies.
The IRI operates as a political organization abroad, providing training and assistance to political parties. As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, it plays no part in domestic U.S. politics. However, the majority of its board, staff and consultants are drawn from the Republican Party. According to the National Relations Center website, the IRI’s leadership “spans the center right, far right, and neoconservative factions of the Republican Party. Most of its staff and board have links to right-wing think tanks, foundations, and policy institutes, while many also represent major financial, oil, and defense corporations.”
The IRI is accused of training some of the leaders of the 2004 coup d’etat in Haiti, as well as funding opposition groups in the country in a destabilization campaign in the months leading up the removal of democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide by a coalition of Canada, the US and France. Aristide was replaced with an unelected government which has been in power since that time.
Basically the IRI functions as a covert arm of the US State Dept, taking on missions that would probably otherwise have been performed by the CIA. It receives all of its funding from the US. They are self described “shadow advisors”:
IRI are shadow advisors: The International Republican Institute’s (IRI) efforts have led many political parties to establish their own strategic party plans, party activities, and party ideologies as well as independently run training centers and campaign academies for regional party members. Some of them also developed local chapters and held party elections to outline the specific roles and responsibilities of its leaders.
Public Opinion Polling
A critical component of developing a party plan is the ability to accurately gauge the political sentiment within the electorate. Political parties may themselves conduct many forms of research needed to formulate a party plan, such as demographic research and opposition research. However, in order to accurately assess opinions of the electorate, it is necessary to incorporate the use of public opinion polls into the party plan and message development process.
IRI is conducting a series of public opinion surveys to track the opinions of the electorate. When each poll is completed, IRI meets with the political party leaders to share the results. IRI’s goal is that through consultations on polling data and analyses, Georgian political parties will learn how to use the information from such a poll to conduct more effective political campaigns. In addition, IRI shares its polling analyses with the government of Georgia to assist it in managing expectations and identifying important areas of policy reform.
(from http://www.iri.org/eurasia/geo… )
Not just policy advisors, they are also set up as election watchdogs, covering many countries including Afghanistan and Georgia. In their function as election overseers they have been involved in both push pulling and what may be election fraud:
IRI has actively supported administration objectives in the war on terror, with programs in 10 countries in the Greater Middle East region. In particular, the institute has been accused repeatedly of using potentially misleading polling data to push the Bush agenda, both at home and abroad. Reported Raw Story (June 9, 2006): “During the Afghan presidential election of October 2004, IRI’s pre-election poll showed Hamid Karzai with a strong lead, and its exit poll, released immediately after the vote and well before the ballots were counted, also gave him over 50% of the vote. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group subsequently suggested that these polls might have helped head off scrutiny of an election that had initially been met with well-founded suspicions of fraud. IRI’s polls also serve to influence public opinion in the United States. A year ago, MediaMatters pointed out that the Washington Post had cited an IRI poll showing that ‘60% of Iraqis believed the country is headed in the right direction’ without indicating the partisan nature of its source. In September 2004, President Bush had cited a similar IRI poll at a press conference, saying, ‘I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America. It’s pretty darn strong. I mean, the people see a better future.
In addition, using YOUR money, they act as a lobbyist and fundraising group for McCain:
… an examination of his leadership of the Republican institute – one of the least-chronicled aspects of his political life – reveals an organization in many ways at odds with the political outsider image that has become a touchstone of the McCain campaign for president.
Certainly the institute’s mission is in keeping with Mr. McCain’s full-throated support for exporting American democratic values. Yet the institute is also something of a revolving door for lobbyists and out-of-power Republicans that offers big donors a way of helping both the party and the institute’s chairman, who is the second sitting member of Congress – and now candidate for president – ever to head one of the democracy groups.
Operating without the sort of limits placed on campaign fund-raising, the institute under Mr. McCain has solicited millions of dollars for its operations from some 560 defense contractors, lobbying firms, oil companies and other corporations, many with issues before Senate committees Mr. McCain was on.
(from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07… )
As chair of the board, one can assume that McCain has either overseen or been directly involved with all of the IRI’s activities. Other people on the board include Randy Scheunemann, one of McCain’s campaign advisors (who not coincidentally has well-known lobbyist ties to Georgia) and Alison B. Fortier, VP for Lockheed Martin Missile Defense Programs. And, sending up a red flag for Chuck Hagel, he is also on the board of IRI. (Cross your fingers that Obama decides not to choose him as VP. That would be a very BAD sign.)
One board member in particular deserves a closer look: Lorne Craner. This is a man so well-connected with Georgian politics that he actually spoke at a former Georgian PM’s funeral. In addition to functioning as president of the IRI, he also sits on the board of directors of the Millineum Challenge Corporation, which recently supplied Georgia with $295 million in funding.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent agency in the Executive branch organized as a government corporation. MCC’s mission is to provide foreign development assistance to low income countries that qualify for grants designed to reduce poverty and improve economic growth. MCC’s authorizing legislation is codified at 22 U.S.C. §§ 7701, et seq.
The grant for Georgia has the stated purpose of strengthening their infrastructure, with funds earmarked specifically for “rehabilitating the North-South Gas pipeline” and providing “long-term risk capital and technical assistance to SMEs, primarily in the regions outside of Tbilisi, and will identify legal and policy reforms needed to improve the investment environment.” (from http://www.mca.gov/countries/g… )
This last revelation re the oilpipeline coupled with possible election fraud in Georgia leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. I will leave it up to you to speculate what McCain’s ultimate involvement may be. Frankly the whole thing stinks.