Ex-White House Staffer Who Invoked Genocide to Sell a War Is Now Helping Cover One Up

The plight of Myanmar's Rohingya, a largely Muslim population in that Buddhist-majority country, has lit up the headlines as thousands of them have fled what some are describing ​as genocide by fleeing on rafts out to sea to try to find safe shelter.


Myanmar's humanitarian crisis has until now been largely ignored by American politicians, as the re-opening of relations with the country was a considered a major accomplishment of the Hillary Clinton State Department and wider Obama administration. Yet signs of outright genocide are starting to raise eyebrows in the West, and the boat people phenomenon is likely to increase the chances that Myanmar's neighbors and the wider global community come under pressure to force an end to the abuses there.

Which may be why this spring Myanmar for the first time in many years hired a lobbying team to make its case to the U.S. government and media outlets. In April, Myanmar hired the D.C.-based Podesta group to take charge of its lobbying affairs. The Podesta Group was founded in the 1990s by John and Tony Podesta, Democratic Party power players who recruited a bipartisan stable of former government bigwigs to elevate their lobbying firm into the ranks of the power elite. John Podesta went on to be Bill Clinton's chief of staff, later transitioning into leading the Center for American Progress, then being a key adviser to President Obama, and now a chair of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Tony and wife Heather have stayed out of government, choosing instead to rake in lucrative lobbying contracts. Heather Podesta in particular scorned Obama's modest attempts to rein in lobbyist influence, once donning a scarlet letter “L” to compare herself to the oppressed literary protagonist Hester Prynne.

This lobbying firm assigned two staffers to head the Myanmar lobbying effort. First, there's John Anderson. Anderson was a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post and a contributing editor at Politico. This sort of work experience would give him a wide array of media contacts from which to push the line of Myanmar's government.

The second was a former staffer at Bill Clinton's National Security Council, Mark Tavlarides. While legislative director at the NSC under Clinton, one of the issues he worked on was Kosovo and the Balkans, where the NSC was a part of a campaign that used the threat of genocide to justify an intervention (after the fact). Talvarides was at an epicenter of an effort to find moral grounds for intervention in the Balkans that largely occurred as part of a Great Powers struggle in the region by the US, NATO and EU against Russia.

A 2012 article in the New York Times shines some light on ulterior motives that may have been behind Tavlarides' work. It noted that he and other Western officials who were part of the Kosovo campaign had returned there as part of business ventures. In the case of Tavlarides, this involved first lobbying for the firm Bechtel in Kosovo to get a government contract; later, he was hired under a $50,000 monthly contract from the government of Kosovo.

While Talvarides was involved in selling potential genocide to justify intervention at the NSC, he now is showing how little he cares about the topic by working for a regime that is a severe human rights abuser. 

His disclosure to the Department of Justice says he will be tasked with research and analysis while serving as a contact with “members of Congress and their staff, executive branch officials, and NGOs.” A separate document filed on behalf of the Podesta Group shows that Myanmar's government plans to give $210,000 every three months to the firm, as well as provide “business-class travel and deluxe accommodations”:

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The revolving door is a prominent feature of American politics. Government official frequently go from regulating an industry to advocating on behalf of it (and vice versa). To go from anti-genocide advocate to shielding those who are committing it, however, is a new twist.

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