Wednesday, February 11, 2009

David Plouffe makes a “surprise visit” to Azerbaijan? Not so fast! Take a closer look (Updated 02/11)‏

A cross post from RBO

azerbaijanAs RBO first reported February 9, 2009, David Plouffe, PSBHO's presidential campaign manager, arrived in Azerbaijan the day before in what was described by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a "surprise visit".

Yesterday, February 10, 2009, we learned from Glenn R. Simpson, who reported at the Wall Street Journal that Plouffe was paid approximately $50,000 for his speech, which he plans to donate to "groups that advocate democratization in the turbulent post-Soviet states of the region around the Caspian and Caucasus mountain range."

Plouffe's meeting with about about 50 people was closed to the media.

    Journalists were told to leave the auditorium at Gerb (Western) University before Plouffe gave a speech on the 2008 U.S. presidential election and "the power of democracy."

Maybe, however, Plouffe's speech was similar to this one (52-second sound byte) from "Leadership Lessons from a Presidential Campaign Manager" he gave February 2, 2009, in the Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture at DePauw University:


You can see a brief film clip of Plouffe being assailed by reporters after his speech at the Baku university here. No embed link is available.

Arastun Orujlu, the head of the local Azeri East-West Research Center, "charged that Plouffe's visit served a specific goal," the Azernews blog reports. "'It is impossible that the former head of Barack Obama's election headquarters has come here all the way from America on a purely personal visit. He has a concrete mission.' Orujlu believes that Plouffe had arrived to evaluate the views of the Azerbaijani government and to convey them to Washington which, in turn, 'will be the factors determining US-Azerbaijan relations.'"

We also learned yesterday that his trip to Azerbaijan was arranged by "lobbyists working with a group that has ties to the Azerbaijan government."

    Mr. Plouffe's appearance in Azerbaijan was arranged by a Washington-based lobbying firm called Bob Lawrence & Associates, according to records and interviews. The company lists Azerbaijan among its clients on its Web site. People with knowledge of the speech said the appearance was arranged by the Lawrence firm through Mr. Plouffe's agent, the Washington Speakers Bureau. A person answering the phone at the Lawrence firm said no one was available for comment. A spokesman for the Washington Speakers Bureau couldn't be reached.

At least one Obama supporter is not happy. The Jemal Public Affairs blog commented February 10:

    Does anyone believe that one of the brightest political and media strategists on earth was not aware that Washington lobbyists representing the authoritarian, oli-rich country of Azerbaijan had a hand in arranging his puff visit to Baku? Plouffe owes the 13 million subscribers of Obama for America, including yours truly, an apology for betraying the values of the Obama campaign and for inserting himself into a geo-political world where such visits do more damage than good.

Today, February 11, 2009, we are told by the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Anne Derse, that Plouffe's visit was not a "secret mission".

    "He was just the head of the electoral staff of President Obama. Naturally his visit was coordinated with the US powers but it contained no factors of secret mission," ...

    According to Derse, while being in Azerbaijan Plouffe appealed to the population with a request to take an active part in the regulatory processes.

    "At the same time, this appeal was aimed at the use of democratic technologies, improvement of the voting process", noted the ambassador.

Returning to our original article, RBO wrote that little alarm bells had gone off at the mention of Azerbaijan and a member of the Obama camp in the same news. The RFE/RL media report states:

    The U.S. Embassy in Baku confirmed Plouffe's trip. Embassy spokesman Terry Davidson told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that "Plouffe is coming as a private citizen. The embassy is not in charge of his schedule." [...]

    Local media says he was invited by the Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan, which is a pro-government NGO and mouthpiece of the president's office.

    The visit comes one month before a controversial referendum in Azerbaijan to lift the ban on presidential terms, making it possible for Aliyev to continue to serve as president.

    Through an aide, Plouffe declined RFE/RL's request for an interview.

The only other details found in the RFE/RL article were these:

aliyev-ilham-pres-of-azerbaijanIn its February 6 report, RFE/RL said that February 9 Plouffe was "scheduled to speak at Baku's Gerb (Western) University", followed by a meeting with "Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (right) and parliament speaker Oktay Asadov."

Now, with the new information in Simpson's WSJ article, some more alarm bells have gone off with the mention of lobbying firm Bob Lawrence & Associates (BL&A).

Let's take a closer look at this firm. Simpson reports that the "company lists Azerbaijan among its clients on its Web site."

Checking the subscription-only database, RBO found that Bob Lawrence & Associates is a registered lobbyist representing Renaissance Associates SA of Baku, Azerbaijan, on matters of defense, foreign relations, fuel/gas/oil, trade (foreign and domestic), and travel/tourism.

The implu Corporation reports that during 2008, BL&A lobbyied on behalf of Renaissance Associates in dealings with Platinum Advisors and Cavarocchi Ruscio Dennis Associates, L.L.C..

That's the official info. Now we turn to Ken Silverstein, who wrote in September 2007 about both the Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan, BL&A and Renaissance Associates, when ACSDA "came on a government propaganda mission to Washington."

    As for the ACDSA, its website reveals that the group's projects include cheerleader-type programs like "Baku is a Hero City" (which reeks of Soviet nostalgia) as well as more explicitly political ones, such as election monitoring and polling. In a poll conducted a few years ago, according to a 2005 New Republic story, the ACDSA found that "only 5.9 percent of those surveyed voted for opposition candidate Isa Gambar" when he ran against Aliyev. Yet, the story said, "official statistics gave Gambar 12 percent of the vote, and some foreign observers said that he garnered as much as 40 percent."

Silverstein wrote that BL&A organized the ACDSA visit:

    In reality, the whole affair appears to be a government propaganda mission and delegation members are hardly as exalted a bunch [of human rights activists and free advocates] claimed [by BL&A senior associate Patriced Courtney]. Let's start with Bob Lawrence, which, it turns out, promotes the interests of President Ilham Aliyev but is paid by a cut-out: Renaissance Associates, a pro-government business group based in Baku, the Azeri capital. In 2006, President Ilham Aliyev–who inherited power from his father when the old man died and then got elected in his own right in a rigged vote four years ago–came to Washington for a White House visit. Renaissance advocated for that visit and Bob Lawrence & Associates handled the logistics.

For the October 15, 2008, Azeri elections, ACSDA contracted BL&A, which "assembled 40 prominent Americans, including Congressmen and Congressional staffers, journalists, lawyers and businessmen to observe local polling stations throughout the country."

It seems that everything old is new again. In 2007 BL&A was paid by Ilham Aliyev via cut-out Renaissance Associates to bring the ACDSA to the US. Then, in October 2008 BL&A was contracted to bring US citizens to Azerbaijan. So, this time, who paid BL&A to bring David Plouffe to Azerbaijan -- and for what purpose?

There is another Azerbaijan-BL&A connection of which the significance will soon become clear.

BL&A is also a "Sustaining Member" of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. According to the CoC website, the BL&A client list reportedly includes:

    Project development activities are undertaken in both the United States and overseas. The firm works regularly with the Departments of Energy, Transportation, State, Labor, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, and Defense; the Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Congress; and various international entities such as the World Bank, OPIC, the Ex-Im Bank, and a number of embassies.

Hold that thought and let's continue with RBO's original article.

Here is what others had to say February 9 about Plouffe and his "surprise visit":

Ben Smith at The Politico wrote:

    David Plouffe, who remains a key, unpaid advisor to Obama for America, is writing a book and hitting the lucrative speaking tour -- which is a way that a lucky few can make money on government or campaign work without engaging in the compromises that come with lobbying.

Ken Silverstein at Harper's Magazine commented:

    Barack Obama took office just a few weeks ago and already David Plouffe, his campaign manager, appears to be doing quite well for himself. He's already signed a lucrative book deal, which seems fair enough, but now he's flying off to oil-rich Azerbaijan at the invitation of a pro-democracy front group that works closely with the ruling despot.

azerbaijan-caspian-sea-oil-derricksSo what's the big deal, you ask? We get it. Azerbaijan is "oil-rich", as Silverstein wrote.

The Azerbaijan government writes regarding its exports:

    The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC): transports crude oil 1,760 km (1,093 miles) from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It passes through Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan; Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia; and Ceyhan, a port on the southeastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey."

Bruce Falconer reported July 15, 2008, at Mother Jones on an interview Blackwater founder and CEO Erick Prince granted to the editors and reporters at Military Times. Falconer quoted from an excerpt printed in Army Times:

    Do you work for other countries, or just for the U.S.?

    We do some training work for other countries, some helicopter support and training and maintenance and that kind of stuff. In Azerbaijan, we were hired by DoD to build for them a naval special warfare capability to defend the oil platforms and interdict weapons and drugs and whatever else in the southern Caspian [Sea]...

Falconer adds:

    Let's dig into this a little... The U.S. government has a cozy relationship with Azerbaijan because the central Asian nation borders on the Caspian Sea, which is thought to hold more than 100 billion barrels of oil. Russia and Iran would love to have a piece of it, so the U.S. (joined by every major oil company you can think of) has bolstered ties with an unsavory regime to suit its energy interests. A Blackwater team deployed there in 2004, and like Mr. Prince described, helped train an Azerbaijani martime strike force to protect oil platforms.

Returning to Ben Smith's post we find:

    According to federal records, the Azerbijani government and government-controlled entities, which have major interests in federal energy policy, employ four lobbying firms in Washington, including the high-powered Livingston Group, which is on a $300,000 annual retainer to "maintain contact...with Members of Congress and their staff, Executive branch officians, and non-governmental organizations."

Anupama Narayanswamy reported October 2, 2008, for the Sunlight Foundation:

    With influential lobbyists such as Bob Livingston (right) heading their team, Azerbaijan's government had access to some of the most powerful people in Washington. For instance, at a meeting with Vice President Richard Cheney, Livingston petitioned to add an attaché from the Department of Commerce to the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan. They have also enlisted Livingston's aid in organizing the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, working with the United States on building an oil pipeline, and getting oil companies including BP to invest in the region. And they've paid well for the service: In the past two years alone the country has spent more than $680,000 in fees and expenses to the Livingston Group.

This brings us to precise the point where those little alarm bells went off when RBO first glimpsed RFE/RL's article on Plouffe's "surprise visit" to Azerbaijan.

The mention of Azerbaijan in any political context immediately brings to mind the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. No, this is not your typical tourist-oriented CoC.

As the Sunlight Foundation points out, Robert (Bob) Livingston of The Livingston Group is indeed well-connected with the CoC. In fact, The Livingston Group is listed as a Benefactor and Livingston himself is listed as both an associate member and a member of the board of directors.

Next, checking the members of the CoC's Honorary Council of Advisors, something -- or someone -- should jump right out at you. Go ahead. Look below. We'll wait.

  • James Addison Baker III
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Brent Scowcroft
  • John Sununu

brzezinski_zbigniewYuppers! It's Zbigniew Brzezinski (right), former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and former U.S. Presidential emissary to Azerbaijan to help promote the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

ZBig has backed PSBHO since August 2007 and serves as one of his foreign policy advisers.

Now you can see why the Bob Lawrence & Associates connection with the US-Azerbaihan Chamber of Commerce made that second set of alarm bells go off. It adds another layer to the story.

Zbig and the Government-Industry Revolving Door

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair wrote circa 1999 of ZBig and Azerbaijani oil:

    U.S. oil companies are slavering over vast oil and gas reserves. A whole host of former government officials are helping the oil companies get a foot in the door in Azerbaijan, including former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Zbig is on the payroll of Amoco, the largest US investor in Azerbaijan's oil fields, which could produce 3 million barrels per day by 2010.

    One of Brzezinski's tasks for Amoco is to improve the image of Azerbaijan and its president, Geidar Aliyev. This is no easy feat as Aliyev's regime is guilty of terrible human rights violations. Furthermore, Congress has been much more sympathetic to Armenia, with which Azerbaijan fought a bloody war a few years back.

    But Brzezinski has fallen to his task with relish. The New York Times interviewed him last year when it was preparing a major story on Azerbaijan and he told the newspaper that Aliyev is "a real cool cat". Last July, Brzezinski testified before Congress that Azerbaijan and other former Soviet republics had lived under communist rule for seven decades and should not be expected to establish democracies in a short period of time. (Brzezinski expressed far less understanding about the need to transition to democracy after the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza regime in Nicaragua.)

Arthur Lepic, a French journalist and member of the French section of Voltaire Network who specializes in energy and military affairs, concluded his October 22, 2004, article "Zbigniew Brzezinski: the Empire's Adviser. The outrageous strategy to destroy Russia" with (reposted September 9, 2008, at Dangerous Travels):

    In 1989, Brzezinski quit his job at Columbia University where he taught since 1960 to work on Ukraine's independent status plan. This marks the beginning of his compromise to prevent the resurgence of Russia as a superpower.

Did you catch that? ZBig taught 1960 to 1989 at Columbia University. Barack Hussein Obama graduated from Columbia in 1983 with a degree in political science. Hold that thought.

Lepic continues:

    He also developed a "plan for Europe" that included NATO's expansion to the Baltic republics, a dream that came true when three of them joined NATO in 2002. During the 90s he was the special envoy of the American President to promote the most important oil infrastructure project of the world: the Baku-Tbilissi-Ceyhan pipeline which was his best opportunity to prevent the resurgence of Russia. He has also been, since 1999, the president of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, whose headquarters are located at the Freedom House facility. This position allows him to intervene in peace negotiations between the Russian government and independence fighters led by Mashkadov. However, the truth behind these good will "democratic" activities is to assist independence followers to maintain a war in the area, like the Afghan one, to weaken Russian and to keep it away from the gains of the Caspian Sea.


    Nowadays, Brzezinski is very active in CSIS but he [is] still the brain of the Democrats foreign policy program, something that is quite evident in candidate Kerry and his partner John Edwards's obsession with Russia. Following Mark Brzezinski's advises they chose as their main priority Russia's nuclear disarmament in a moment in which it has recovered the same oil production it had before its demise and is benefiting widely of the current oil prices which has allowed it to double its defense budget. Therefore, Russia's nuclear arsenal is not, as John Kerry says, a present-day threat.

    Kerry's real objective is related to Zbigniew Brzezinski's strategy of Russia's subordination but, from now on, it will be much more difficult to convince the world public opinion of Russia's evil and totalitarianism.Source Therefore, it is necessary to provoke its reaction as was done with the Afghan case in 1979, because Russia will have no problems with its energy supply in the next decades, a real concern the U.S. has. This is why in some recent Wall Street Journal and Novaya Gazetta interviews, Brzezinski characterized Vladimir Putin as "Russian Benito Mussolini".

Where have we heard this US-Russia nuclear disarmament meme before?

Dan Riehl wrote October 15, 2008, on his Riehl World View blog:

    This seems a might strange. Obama has sounded mostly silly for trying to use his student travels to Pakistan to speak to his alleged knowledge of foreign affairs. Yet he is said to have penned his senior thesis on Soviet Nuclear disarmament just a few years before the end of the Cold War thanks to Reagan. Why wouldn't he want to share his great insights with the world?

    Anyone want to guess just how far on the wrong side of History Obama was on that one? I'm thinking pretty far if he's afraid of having it read.

      He barely mentions Columbia, training ground for the elite, where he transferred in his junior year, majoring in political science and international relations and writing his thesis on Soviet nuclear disarmament.

MSNBHO reported July 24, 2008:

    His former professor, Michael Baron, recalled in an interview with NBC News that Obama easily aced the year-long class. Baron described the paper as a "thesis" or "senior thesis" in several interviews, and said that Obama spent a year working on it. Baron recalls that the topic was nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union.

    "My recollection is that the paper was an analysis of the evolution of the arms reduction negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States," Baron said in an e-mail. "At that time, a hot topic in foreign policy circles was finding a way in which each country could safely reduce the large arsenal of nuclear weapons pointed at the other … For U.S. policy makers in both political parties, the aim was not disarmament, but achieving deep reductions in the Soviet nuclear arsenal and keeping a substantial and permanent American advantage. As I remember it, the paper was about those negotiations, their tactics and chances for success. Barack got an A."

Where have we heard this US-Russia nuclear disarmament meme recently?

Now we remember: See RBO's Nuclear disarmament — Obama "yes", Pentagon "not so fast", Congress "skeptical" and John Batchelor's The Bomb Now, both posted February 2, 2009.

Guess we can connect some of the dots as to the why of it all now, can we not?

Then, in early in 2008, we have ZBig quoted in an article by Anar Veliev, an employee of the TURAN Analytical Information Agency (Azerbaijan):

    Azerbaijan occupies a particular place in the U.S.'s plans in this region. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Azerbaijan can be described as the vitally important 'cork' controlling access to the 'bottle' that contains the riches of the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia. An independent, Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, with pipelines running from it to the ethnically related and politically supportive Turkey, would prevent Russia from exercising a monopoly on access to the region and would thus also deprive Russia of decisive political leverage over the policies of the new Central Asian states."

So, now we have Plouffe -- a key member of the Obama team -- making that "surprise visit" to ZBig's "cork" in the "bottle" Azerbaijan. No apologies for being suspicious. We must all be -- all the time -- and remain constantly vigilant.

See updates on next page.


plouffe-david-at-qerb-universitetinde-muhazire-090209Update 02/09/09 11:25 a.m. ET: First, we have two news reports from Azerbaijan's APA. The first, released at 12:19 Azeri time, reports:

    David Plouffe, Chief Campaign Manager for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign has visited Azerbaijan, APA reports.

    He will have several meetings organized by Association for Civil Society Development in Azerbaijan during one-day visit. Mr. Plouffe is expected to have a meeting in the President's Office as well.

    Mr. Plouffe is not a member of Obama administration and the Baku visit is of personal character.

The second, released at 15:37 Azeri time, includes a photo slideshow:

    David Plouffe, who served as campaign manager for Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, delivered a lecture at Baku's Western University on the theme "Election in America – formation and management of campaign". APA reports that teachers and students of the university attended the lecture.

    David Plouffe told journalists after the lecture that they had interesting discussions on elections and democracy. Plouffe refused to answer political questions and said it was a personal visit.

    David Plouffe is scheduled to have meetings in the President's Office.

    David Plouffe served as campaign manager for Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Barack Obama called him "the unsung hero of this campaign".

Next, Pundita reminds us in the comments section that in 2005 the Unprez traveled to Russia.

Steve Clemons reported December 20, 2007, that, according to the Obama Campaign, the Unprez traveled August-September 2005 to Moscow and Kiev -- and to Baku in Azerbaijan, which RBO reported in our July 23, 2008, "Obama's Afghanistan 'fairy tale'."

But. Wait. There's more.

On November 7, 2008, Mithridates of the Page F30 blog posted a translated article from the Turkish-language

    Barack Obama, elected as the leader of the United States, is the first American president to have visited Azerbaijan before. Obama came to the capital Baku in 2005 with an American Senate delegation, where he met with the leader of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in the Presidential Palace. Senator Richard Lugar presided over the American delegation in this meeting.

    President-elect Obama carried out the second meeting with Aliyev in Washington in September 2006 as a senator, with the head of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar. Aliyev later participated in a closed meeting in the United States Congress.

But. Wait. There's more.

Ken Silverstein wrote April 25, 2008, at Harper's Magazine about PSBHO's visit to Azerbaijan:

    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.

But. Wait. There's more.

All has not always gone along smoothly with Obama-Azeri relations. On January 25, 2008, US Azerias Network (USAN) reported (emphasis added):

    Today, the U.S. Azeris Network has made available a second letter, provided below (and both made available in the Action letters section of the, related to the outrage surrounding Sen. Obama's statement [on his website], which insult all Azerbaijani-Americans and Turkish-Americans, as well as the U.S. allies of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Sen. Obama's comments reveal his inexperience and poor judgement, along with unprofessionalism of his foreign and domestic ethnic policy campaign advisors. The inadequate advice under which Sen. Obama made his ill-conceived statement cannot yield positive results as it benefits a relatively small ethnic special interest group at the expense of tens of millions of people worldwide as well as domestically, and two strategic U.S. allies. All Azerbaijani-Americans, Turkish-Americans and their friends can voice their dissatisfaction to Sen. Obama and their local media.

What a difference an election makes:

On November 7, 2008, after the presidential election, Adil Baghirov, USAN co-founder and general director, wrote "President Obama visited Azerbaijan, which promotes his deeper understanding of the geopolitical and geostrategic importance of our country."

    He explained this by the fact that almost all friends of Azerbaijanis in the Congress (both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives), such as co-chairs of Azerbaijani Cocus Congressmen Solomon Ortiz and Bill Schuster, as well as governors and local delegates were re-elected.

    "We also found new friends in the US senate, such as senator [John] Warner. We are glad to the victory of our friends. At the same time, several pro-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Turkish congressmen and senators lost their seats," said Baghirov.

    He especially stressed that for the first time in the US history, Azerbaijani American and USAN member G. Vafai became an official delegate from New York in one of two biggest parties of the country (Republican), which is a great achievement for our network.

Update 02/09/09 11:45 a.m. ET:

Well folks, RBO can tell you that the Unprez met with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev on August 31, 2005, at which time he was presented with the gift of a "Rug, 47'' wide" valued at $100. He accepted it because "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government."

Update 02/09/09 12:20 p.m. ET: Blogger Marianna reported August 25, 2005, on the Azeri website of

    On August 31, Baku plans to host two of the US republican senators, Richard Lugar and Barack Obama. Azerbaijan will be the last stop in the senators' tour of former Soviet republics: by the end of the month, Lugar and Obama will have completed their trips to Russia and Ukraine. Senators are expected to meet with President Ilham Aliyev and, separately, with opposition leaders. According to "Echo", they will also schedule a trip to observe the recently launched Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in action. In addition, senators plan to attend the drills of Azeri coast guards simulating an operation to prevent the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction. Sounds like an interesting agenda, in light of the latest talks about establishing a US military base in Azerbaijan and following Uzbekistan's decision in July to terminate the use of its airspace by the US military planes en route to Afghanistan.

The "drills of Azeri coast guards simulating an operation to prevent the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction" were most likely a demonstration of Blackwater's training handiwork. Keep in mind that Blackwater has an Illinois operation.

Returning to the subject of nuclear nonproliferation, the Council on Foreign Relations has the transcript, as well as an audio recording, of Challenges Ahead For Cooperative Threat Reduction, presented November 1, 2005, by Sens. Richard Lugar and Barack Obama. Here is what PSBHO had to say about Azerbaijan:

    * * Crickets * *

Did you get that?

Also, on Sen. Richard Lugar's official webpage is posted the June 28, 2007, press release entitled "Obama, Lugar Secure Funding for Implementation of Nonproliferation Law. $48 million funding increase to be used to destroy conventional weapons stockpiles, intercept weapons of mass destruction and respond to proliferation emergencies."

    First introduced in November 2005 and enacted in 2007, the Lugar-Obama initiative enhances U.S. efforts to destroy conventional weapons stockpiles and to detect and interdict weapons and materials of mass destruction throughout the world. [...]

    The Lugar-Obama initiative is modeled after the Nunn-Lugar program that focuses on weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) authored the program in 1991. It has provided U.S. funding and expertise to help the former Soviet Union safeguard and dismantle its enormous stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, related materials, and delivery systems. Among many accomplishments, the program has deactivated 7,000 nuclear warheads and reemployed 58,000 scientists in peaceful research. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan are nuclear weapons free as a result of cooperative efforts under the Nunn-Lugar program. They otherwise would be the world's the third, fourth and eighth largest nuclear weapons powers, respectively.

    The Senate Appropriations Committee report language on the Lugar-Obama initiative is as follows: "Materials of Mass Destruction.---The Committee supports sections 10-12 of Public Law 109-472 which strengthens U.S. efforts to interdict illicit shipments of weapons or materials of mass destruction and secure vulnerable stockpiles of conventional weapons. The Committee provides $48,059,000 to implement these programs, of which $10,000,000 is under Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance, $36,059,000 is under the Small Arms and Light Weapons Destruction program, and $2,000,000 is under the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund."

    Lugar and Obama traveled together to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan in August 2005 to oversee a number of Nunn-Lugar projects. Obama and Lugar introduced the legislation in November 2005.

    Operative sections of Lugar-Obama became law in January 2007. Later in 2007, Lugar and Obama pressed the Appropriations Committee to provide funding for its implementation.

Update 02/09/09 13:00 p.m. ET: In a follow-up to his earlier post on PSBHO's visit to Azerbaijan, Ken Silverstein wrote that he had received some info about the trip:

    The writer included articles that showed Obama had discussed topics with Aliyev ranging from biological weapons to elections (and, of course, "the exploitation of energy resources.") He also met, according to the articles, with other Azerbaijani officials and opposition leaders.

    Which is a fair point and gives a fuller account of Obama's agenda during the trip. On the other hand, Obama as far as I can tell made few public comments in Azerbaijan that were critical of the government. And it's discouraging that he used his personal time with the dictator to lobby for McDonald's and Boeing.

b-azer-090105-former-pres-geidar-aliev-in-background-chitribThe Chicago Tribune photo gallery archive includes a September 1, 2005, photograph of PSBHO ("He stands here with a picture of former President Geidar Aliev in the background.") taken by the Tribune's Pete Souza.

Here's a picture of Sens. Lugar and Obama at the Baku airport, August 30, 2005, taken by Pete Souza.

More updates on next page.

Updates Cont'd

Update 02/09/09 13:40 p.m. ET: So, no sooner than does RBO connect the dots from ZBig and Lugar, nuclear non-proliferation, etc., than do we have an article by Ed Lasky in today's American Thinker -- The Bureaucratic Coup Targeting Hillary and Israel.

    During the campaign against John McCain, Barack Obama tipped his hand when he stated that Jim Jones would be among the three people (Joe Biden and Senator Dick Lugar being the other two) who "have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House".

Lasky continues:

    Pundits speculated about how Obama would deal with a very powerful Hillary Clinton; would she eclipse him, or try to aggrandize her own power and prestige? Her wings seemed to have been clipped somewhat with this evolution. Her prospects of regaining power have diminished.

    One other reason this should surprise no one: during the campaign, Barack Obama relied on advice from Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, two of the more powerful National Security Advisers in history, and has been placing his protégés in positions of power in the Obama administration.

    Clearly, they counseled him to centralize power at the White House.

Lasky then addresses Samantha Power -- and the George Soros' connection:

    Also, Samantha Power has been appointed to an important post at the NSC; she will be in charge of working with multilateral organizations. Power is an advocate of working through multilateral organizations, and seems almost never to have come across one that she finds unworthy of praise and support. Power also has a very close relationship Obama, going back years. They are Blackberry and Basketball Friends Forever.

    We can expect more "cooperation" with a wide range of multilateral organizations and non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations and any number of groups sponsored if not controlled by George Soros (who has connections to both President Obama and Samantha Power).

    The increased role of the National Security Council will only serve to enhance Power's influence. Her recent marriage to Cass Sunstein, Barack Obama's close friend from his University of Chicago days and now our nation's regulatory czar, will yield ancillary benefits when it comes to the power-mapping in Washington.

Welcome, Comrades and Comradesses, to George Soros' Open Society Institute website, Azerbaijan. Don't tell us that you're the least bit surprised.

Two commenters on Ed Lasky's posts provide some very interesting insight as to how we got here from there:

Gazinya, Feb 09, 08:37 AM writes:

    It is fascinating to watch all of this. It is like looking at a puzzle with all the pieces face up. First the edges are defined. These are the easiest to find and to place together. Then, with contined glancing at the box picture, one begins to place colors and bits of likness together. Not shapes so much as likenesses. Slowly the puzzle begins to look like the picture on the box.

    The Obama and his co-horts have been campaining with their puzzle pieces face down and are now turning up their faces for all to see. But how is this puzzle to fit into the picture on the box?

Raf from Florida, Feb 09, 06:59 AM writes:

    It's like we've shifted into a parallel universe where evil will now wear the white hat and good and moral people will become pariahs. It's also not surprising to see Soros surface in all this; I, and many others, am convinced that he has been the mastermind and driving force from the get-go. It is truly remarkable how well thought out and ruthless the master plan for total world domination has been crafted. The warning signs were always obvious but the "magnificent" media was able to obfuscate the truth and tout the connived misinformation. It would not have been possible without them and as is said in many old westerns, "they will get what's coming to them". Soros will either totally destroy the public media or absorb it; now that the sniveling media has fulfilled its role he can't have them turning on him.

    We can only sit back and marvel at the destruction of America that is happening before our eyes; political power has shifted so dramatically in favor of evil that there can be no workable short term solution. Isolate yourself with economic and moral shock-absorbers, when the whole thing collapses the unwary will free-fall into oblivion. Hopefully we can sort through the rubble and salvage our lives. (The bitter clingers may be the "last men standing").

VHG, Feb 09, 06:28 AM writes:

    But I also think this betrays Obama's plan to relegate the Clintons to the bottom of the dem heap. I think Obama will fire Hillary within the year and she will go. Since Obama has all the donor lists for Clinton now, he doesn't need either of them, and the dems would love to be rid of the two. There's more going on here than you think. It's not just centralized, but it's getting Hitlerized and Stalinized under our noses! This is all happening while the focus is on that ridiculous "stimulus package". This is NOT America any more.

Dave St John, Feb 09, 04:22 AM writes:

    What a succinct recap of a very involved subject! Obama has intertwined several very strong players in Jones and Clinton et al with the possibility of a real internal clash not too far down the road. He is very clever at this. The centralization of this kind of power in the White House may make the president feel empowered for now, but when these folks start going head to head with one another, its going to call for a strong leader to step in and calm the waters. Not an Obama strong suit.

    You can't hire race horses and have them just graze in the pasture all day.

Also see Global Voice's Online's post Obama Campaign Manager in Baku for more current coverage links.

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