U.S. justice is targeting the wrong foreign meddlers

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — In the latest chapter of its ongoing crusade against foreign influence, the U.S. Department of Justice has just unsealed an indictment against an Israeli-American director of a “global energy security” think-tank near Washington, leveling accusations of attempting to influence the Trump administration on behalf of Chinese, African, and Middle Eastern interests. His big mistake? Not registering as a lobbyist acting as the agent for a foreign actor. His bigger mistake? Not holding a neon sign while he allegedly did it all.

If Washington was serious about eliminating foreign meddling, then it would first put an end to its own foreign meddling — outside of the U.S. diplomatic corps, whose job is to do so and who are directly accountable to the U.S. government for their actions — at least in theory. But anyone who has spent any amount of time overseas can attest to the fact that the global landscape is littered with former Washington officials, staffers, and assorted Beltway flatulence-catchers on a crusade to orient the world to U.S. interests.

This phenomenon serves to explain, for example, how the European Commission’s competition official ended up just this week appointing as its newest competition adviser a Yale professor and American citizen who had previously served in the Obama administration as deputy assistant attorney general for Economic Analysis and at the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. While the nominee clearly doesn’t lack qualifications, the move reportedly stunned even other European Commission officials and drew criticism from the French governments at a time when arguably the biggest threat to European industry comes from Washington. There’s no shortage of examples of French companies in particular where top French executives have been threatened with the long arm of U.S. law — only to settle for a sale to a U.S. competitor as the problem magically disappears.

The top bureaucrats in Brussels have been keen to indulge U.S. interests, most flagrantly over Ukraine, to the complete and total detriment of Europe’s own ability to compete on the global playing field. They’ve cut themselves off from their own cheap Russian energy supply that has since sent the economy and inflation spiraling. They then allowed themselves to become overly dependent on U.S. liquified natural gas. Then when the Biden administration slapped a layer of protectionism on the U.S. economy with the Inflation Reduction Act that favors American-made “green” components over European ones, Europe ultimately seemed obliged to just suck it up.

The French have a saying — “the bigger it is, the easier it passes.” The EU is reportedly refusing to reconsider the U.S. official’s appointment. Apparently it’s not foreign influence if it’s on display for everyone to see.

There was also the case a few years ago of a parade of Republican national security officials, including former Ambassador and National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking publicly at a massive rally for the Iranian opposition in the Parisian suburbs. Conveniently, the Iranian was removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist groups in 2012, with Bolton calling their inclusion a “political act.”

Did these prominent U.S. officials need to register with Washington as lobbyists for this group so that the rest of us could figure out who was paying them to be there and how much? In any case, it doesn’t seem like anyone in Washington really cared that they were there. And certainly not the U.S. Justice Department. In fact, this case of influence is so flagrant that Foreign Policy magazine wrote upon Bolton’s appointment to the Trump administration that “an Iranian dissident group dedicated to regime change will now have someone sympathetic to its cause whom it can turn to in the White House.”

With examples of foreign meddling like this, is it any wonder that other countries are seeking to influence the meddlers?

Washington could implement a zero tolerance policy for any lobbying whatsoever — registered or otherwise. Some Americans might be asking themselves how, for example, they ended up getting dragged into a conflict on the other side of the planet between Ukraine and Russia. A big part of the answer — aside from the fact that it serves as a convenient pretext to transfer billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers to the military industrial complex — is that lobbyists for Ukraine reported 13,000 contacts with Washington officials compared to Russia’s 21, according to research by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. And while the nature of the cash flow into Washington pockets is murky — another big problem — the Institute also cited pro-Ukraine lobbyists in Washington working “pro bono” while racking up a small fortune from defense clients with Pentagon contracts and interests in the Ukraine conflict.

The fact that this is all totally above-board for U.S. law but escapes the attention of the average American so they can’t properly assess the legitimacy of their government’s actions is the problem — not some guy accused of lobbying for China who allegedly failed to fill out a form and clearly failed to even make a dent in U.S. policy.