05/10/2007 02:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cheney & the Sheiks: The Ties That Blind

The corrosive effect of the 'gov-biz-gov-biz' revolving-door on U.S. democratic institutions is most apparent in the blurring of distinctions, such as business partner/strategic partner, client-state/arms purchaser or ally/customer. Cheney was Secretary of Defense when Saudi Arabia was among the top three buyers of U.S. advanced weaponry (he's a salesman and keeper of "the good stuff"). Later, he was Halliburton's CEO making big energy deals with the House of Saud - two projects alone were worth $180 million - the epitome of oligarchic capitalism (salesman and looking for a personal favor). Now, he's V.P. and ready to "pay back" or set the stage for future aggrandizement. We may never know who gave the word to get planeloads of Saudis out of the U.S. in the hours after 9/11, but there can be little doubt about what the veep would've said.

Not that this is only a GOP problem. This was The New York Times' headline during Clinton's visit to Jakarta in 1993: "Clinton Is Stern With Indonesia On Rights but Gleeful on Trade." Courageous East Timorese smelled the sell-out and scaled the U.S. Embassy fence during his visit, but the $3 billion power plant deal was dispositive; Suharto was later welcomed to the Clinton White House as "our kind of guy." (the Times, 10/31/95)

Saudi Arabia is especially vexing, however, because of what the gutless royal family started to do almost as soon as the "petro-dollars" started to flow (late-'70s). Immediately, big money went to the hate-mongering imams to fund madrassas throughout the Moslem world. Why would they do this? To "buy peace" from the intolerant Wahhabists who objected to the all-too-apparent decadence around Riyadh. Friends shouldn't let friends sow hatred. Shouldn't someone from the United States of America have leaned on the Saudis to stop this? In fact, U.S. corporations helped to cover up this abomination!

In the early 1980, PBS broadcast a three-part series on Saudi Arabia that was funded entirely by three corporations that had substantial business ties with the Kingdom. In addition to paying for the production costs, Ford Motor Company, the Harris Corporation and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company paid a Madison Avenue advertising company to promote the series and to send a thick, glossy "study guide" to over 16,000 social studies teachers in the U.S. This effort is noteworthy not so much for the potential impact on U.S. voters but for the increased comfort level it afforded the Saudi royal family; they could see that a mostly-positive portrayal of their society was on a national broadcast (it meant a lot more in those days) in the U.S. Addressing the content issue directly, PBS head of programming Barry Chase, said that "I was sympathetic to it having to be sympathetic - you don't get access [to some of these countries] unless you're perceived to be sympathetic".

In the program, fundamentalist leaders were referred to as "neo-conservatives" and there was no mention of the madrassas. When a reporter asked Ford's spokesman about his company's sponsorship, he admitted that part of the reasoning was to improve ties with Middle East governments. At the time, Ford was on the Arab boycott list because of its dealings with Israel, according to Bob Brewin of the Soho News.

One interesting side note to this story is related to a call which Chase made to a Steven Emerson, a critic of the Saudi series' producer. When asked about any problems he might have with the sources of funding, Emerson replied "I don't have anything on this lady." In context, this meant that there were no ties to Arab-American groups; corporate support, it appears, was unproblematic. Grassroots pressure forced several PBS stations to run a "disclaimer" at the start of each of the series' programs, that described the special Saudi series as "first person journalism." It is unclear what the everyday viewer is supposed to make of this explanation of the program's provenance. The key issues of what role the U.S. plays in the world (protecting friendly autocrats from their own populations) and how transnationals influence this process was never addressed in this extremely small-scale "controversy."

See here: The End of Politics: Corporate Power and the Decline of the Public Sphere by Carl Boggs:

What does not get discussed in society can create a culture of anti politics...That there is so little public discourse on the main problems of social conflict constitutes a prime defining feature of contemporary American political culture. They rarely enter the exchanges that occur during presidential campaigns and debates, much less in the format of the (increasingly shrill) talk shows.