Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy and national security adviser for John McCain, has lobbying ties with the nation of Georgia. (Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP)
Is it possible that this time the October surprise was tried in August, and
that the garbage issue of brave little Georgia struggling for its survival from
the grasp of the Russian bear was stoked to influence the U.S. presidential
Before you dismiss that possibility, consider the role of one Randy Scheunemann, for four years a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government who ended his official lobbying connection only in March, months after he became Republican presidential candidate John McCain's senior foreign policy adviser.
Previously, Scheunemann was best known as one of the neoconservatives who engineered the war in Iraq when he was a director of the Project for a New American Century. It was Scheunemann who, after working on the McCain 2000 presidential campaign, headed the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which championed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Also see below:
While Aide Advised McCain, His Firm Lobbied for Georgia â€¢
There are telltale signs that he played a similar role in the recent Georgia flare-up. How else to explain the folly of his close friend and former employer, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in ordering an invasion of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, an invasion that clearly was expected to produce a Russian counterreaction? It is inconceivable that Saakashvili would have triggered this dangerous escalation without some assurance from influential Americans he trusted, like Scheunemann, that the United States would have his back. Scheunemann long guided McCain in these matters, even before he was officially running foreign policy for McCain's presidential campaign.
In 2005, while registered as a paid lobbyist for Georgia, Scheunemann worked with McCain to draft a congressional resolution pushing for Georgia's membership in NATO. A year later, while still on the Georgian payroll, Scheunemann accompanied McCain on a trip to that country, where they met with Saakashvili and supported his bellicose views toward Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Scheunemann is at the center of the neoconservative cabal that has come to dominate the Republican candidate's foreign policy stance in a replay of the run-up to the war against Iraq. These folks are always looking for a foreign enemy on which to base a new Cold War, and with the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime it was Putin's Russia that came increasingly to fit the bill.
Yes, it sounds diabolical, but that may be the most accurate way to assess the designs of the McCain campaign in matters of war and peace. There is every indication that the candidate's demonization of Russian leader Putin is an even grander plan than the previous use of Saddam to fuel American militarism with the fearsome enemy that it desperately needs.
McCain gets to look tough with a new Cold War to fight while Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, scrambling to make sense of a more measured foreign policy posture, will seem weak in comparison. Meanwhile, the dire consequences of the Bush legacy that McCain has inherited, from the disaster of Iraq to the economic meltdown, conveniently will be ignored. But the military-industrial complex, which has helped bankroll the neoconservatives, will be provided with an excuse for ramping up a military budget that is already bigger than that of the rest of the world combined.
What is at work here is a neoconservative, self-fulfilling prophecy in which Russia is turned into an enemy that expands its largely reduced military, and Putin is cast as the new Josef Stalin bogeyman, evoking images of the old Soviet Union. McCain has condemned a "revanchist Russia" that should once again be contained. Although Putin has been the enormously popular elected leader of post-Communist Russia, it is assumed that imperialism is always lurking, not only in his DNA but in that of the Russian people.
How convenient to forget that Stalin was a Georgian, and indeed if Russian troops had occupied the threatened Georgian town of Gori they would have found a museum still honoring the local boy, who made good by seizing control of the Russian revolution. Indeed five Russian bombs were allegedly dropped on Gori's Stalin Square on Tuesday.
It should also be mentioned that the post-Communist Georgians have imperial designs on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. What a stark contradiction that the United States, which championed Kosovo's independence from Serbia, now is ignoring Georgia's invasion of its ethnically rebellious provinces.
For McCain to so fervently embrace Scheunemann's neoconservative line of demonizing Russia in the interest of appearing tough during an election campaign is a reminder that a senator can be old and yet wildly irresponsible.
While Aide Advised McCain, His Firm Lobbied for Georgia
Matthe Mosk and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
The Washington Post
Wednesday 13 August 2008
Campaign dismisses timing of phone call, contract.
Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser prepped his boss for an April 17 phone call with the president of Georgia and then helped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepare a strong statement of support for the fledgling republic.
The day of the call, a lobbying firm partly owned by the adviser, Randy Scheunemann, signed a $200,000 contract to continue providing strategic advice to the Georgian government in Washington.
The McCain campaign said Georgia's lobbying contract with Orion Strategies had no bearing on the candidate's decision to speak with President Mikheil Saakashvili and did not influence his statement. "The Embassy of Georgia requested the call," said campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.
But ethics experts have raised concerns about former lobbyists for foreign governments providing advice to presidential candidates about those same countries. "The question is, who is the client? Is the adviser loyal to income from a foreign client, or is he loyal to the candidate he is working for now?" said James Thurber, a lobbying expert at American University. "It's dangerous if you're getting advice from people who are very close to countries on one side or another of a conflict."
At the time of McCain's call, Scheunemann had formally ceased his own lobbying work for Georgia, according to federal disclosure reports. But he was still part of Orion Strategies, which had only two lobbyists, himself and Mike Mitchell.
Scheunemann remained with the firm for another month, until May 15, when the McCain campaign imposed a tough new anti-lobbyist policy and he was required to separate himself from the company.
Rogers said Scheunemann "receives no compensation of any type from Orion Strategies and has not since May 15, 2008." Scheunemann declined to be interviewed for this story.
As a private lobbyist trying to influence lawmakers and Bush administration staffers, Scheunemann at times relied on his access to McCain in his work for foreign clients on Capitol Hill. He and his partner reported 71 phone conversations and meetings with McCain and his top advisers since 2004 on behalf of foreign clients, including Georgia, according to forms they filed with the Justice Department.
The contacts often focused on Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and on legislative proposals, including a measure co-sponsored by McCain that supported Georgia's position on South Ossetia, one of the Georgian regions taken over by Russia this weekend.
Another measure lobbied by Orion and co-sponsored by McCain, the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2006, would have authorized a $10 million grant for Georgia.
For months while McCain's presidential campaign was gearing up, Scheunemann held dual roles, advising the candidate on foreign policy while working as Georgia's lobbyist. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 to provide foreign policy advice. During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees.
Since 2004, Orion has collected $800,000 from the government of Georgia.
Rogers said Orion's representation of Georgia had no bearing on McCain's decision to speak with Saakashvili in April. "The Embassy of Georgia requested the call because of Georgian concerns over recent Russian actions dealing with South Ossetia and Abkhazia," he said.
McCain has said that he has worked closely with Georgia and its top officials since the mid-1990s. On the campaign trail yesterday, McCain referred to Saakashvili as a close friend.
But Rogers acknowledged that "Scheunemann and others on the foreign policy staff are involved in call requests and statements on foreign policy issues."
After the April call, McCain issued a statement that day voicing support for Georgia's position.
"We must not allow Russia to believe it has a free hand to engage in policies that undermine Georgian sovereignty," McCain said in the statement. "Georgia has acted with restraint in its response and should continue to do so."
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it may be impossible to know whether Scheunemann's advice to McCain was truly unvarnished.
"The question is, whose views are you really espousing?" Sloan said. "Are they really your own views, or are they the views that are bought and paid for by the clients of your top aides? McCain probably would be sympathetic to Georgia regardless, but having a guy like Scheunemann as a top aide raises questions."
Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, said Scheunemann's business ties to Georgia raise questions about how much he influenced McCain's position on the Georgia conflict.
"It's these sorts of appearances of a conflict of interest that are a natural consequence of having a campaign run by lobbyists, staffed by lobbyists and being ensconced in a lobbyist culture for over a quarter of a century," Sevugan said.
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.