Former U.S. ambassador Peter Galbraith, the son of legendary economist John Kenneth Galbraith, could not have picked a worse time to give a lecture on foreign policy -- even in front of an audience of friends and neighbors.
Last Thursday morning, the news was full of stories implying that Galbraith was an oil profiteer due to the fact that he had signed a lucrative deal with the Kurdish government that could earn him more than $100 million. And that evening, he gave a speech to a large crowd at a church near his longtime home in the small town of Townsend, Vermont.
Galbraith, who was recently let go as a top American diplomat at the UN mission in Afghanistan due to a dispute over the validity of that country's disputed presidential election, defended his business dealings and slammed a front-page New York Times report as "offensive" and full of "innuendo."
Galbraith reportedly received a large stake in the oil fields of the Dohuk region of Kurdistan after advising that region's government on contract negotiations with oil companies.
The longtime diplomat, in his remarks at Centre Congregational Church in Brattleboro, VT, denied that there was a conflict of interest or that there was anything improper about his business dealings overlapping with his diplomatic duties.
"The article argues, or suggests, that somehow I had a conflict, hmm, it doesn't say it, but there's innuendo there, that there's a conflict of interest because I advised the Kurds on the constitution at the same times I had business interests, including a contract with a Norwegian oil company DNO, in which I assisted them to make investments in the oil industry in Kurdistan," he said.
Galbraith claimed that Kurdish officials were aware of his business interests and asked him to advise them on a permanent constitution even after they learned about his contract with DNO: "The advice I was giving and the economic interest were exactly, exactly congruent."
He added: "I make no apologies for my role here ... at that time, I was a private citizen. Private citizens engage in business, that's what I did."
Galbraith has been outspoken in his accusations of fraud in the recent Afghan presidential election, which he noted cost the American taxpayers at least $200 million. He expressed his concern about election results in some districts that reported more than 100 percent turnout. And he criticized the Independent Election Commission since it was run by president Hamid Karzai - "The only thing independent about it was its name."
Galbraith also expressed his opposition to a troop increase in the country, adding that the addition of 40,000 American troops would be a mistake.