IRI ’interference’ poses no clear and present danger to M'sia - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, August 08, 2018
Malaysiakini : “Here is my first principle of foreign policy: good government at home.” ― William Ewart Gladstone
COMMENT | Some folks have been
emailing me asking me what I think of all this International Republican
Institute (IRI) “collusion” with Pakatan Harapan. I get that
“collusion” with foreign powers is a big thing at the moment, but
honestly I do not really see the issue here. Some people have said that
the IRI is a cut-out for the American intelligence apparatus or
something like that.
Really? Look, I think the American intelligence apparatus is a
cut-out, or has become a cut-out, for big business - Big Pharma, Big
Agro, et cetera - and all the other corporate interests that influence
American foreign and domestic policy.
Besides, the fact that a representative from the organisation goes around blabbering about the “long game”
with the opposition demonstrates that whatever nefarious intentions
attributed to the IRI aid is misplaced because it sounds like amateur
hour when you boast about a victory which you acknowledged that you had
no hand in. This looks like spin to counter all the negative spin that
the IRI faces all over the world. A good news story about a democracy
that works in an Islamic country and how the IRI played its small part.
Granted, I would like to know what kind of “training” they
provided to our local politicians. I am most curious if this involved
the use of social messaging and propaganda, but ultimately this kind of
interference happens all the time.
Foreign groups wishing to cultivate a specific kind of government or
promote specific agendas operate in countries through ways benign and
toxic. Opposition parties facing hostile establishments have very little
choice but to get support where they can find it, more so if such
support is sexed up with democratic ideas. Furthermore, since its
inception, our opposition has been made up of former establishment
figures, so there of course would be foreign power brokers invested in
how the country chooses to vote.
Claiming, as the IRI did, to have access to the prime minster, his
office or to political operatives, is admittedly worrying. However, I
consider most of these types of engagements as falling under the
“lobbying culture” which Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad should be
familiar with, considering he had paid a lobbyist back in the day to
meet a US president. So, it is not that unusual.
Which is not to say that the IRI is a benign outfit. Just two years ago, US media outlet Politicoreported
that Russia concluded that the organisation posed “a threat to Russia’s
security and political system.” I mean, Russia should know a thing or
two about interfering in the political process of foreign countries.
IRI’s response was: “For 33 years, IRI has worked around the world
with citizens, civil society groups and political leaders to advance
democracy and human dignity. We’ve helped women and members of
marginalised communities take their rightful place in the
decision-making process of their societies. We simply believe, as Ronald
Reagan said three decades ago, that ‘all people should have the freedom
to determine their own destiny’."
On the other hand, US magazine Mother Jones in 2004 detailed the fallout from the organization’s activities in Haiti and Venezuela and of its penchant to choose sides:
1. “At the time, all the major US democracy-promotion groups were
active in Venezuela, including both IRI and NDI (the National Democratic
Institute). But documents obtained through the Freedom of Information
Act show that while NDI worked with parties across the political
spectrum, IRI staffers spent much of their time cultivating the
2. “And despite a warning from the National Endowment for Democracy
not to take sides in Venezuela, IRI also used its own money to bring
opposition figures to Washington, where they met with top US officials.”
So there’s that. Of course, now everyone from Gerakan to
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) is claiming that they had no involvement
with IRI and their ilk. PSM is the most believable because of their track record and the fact
that their ideology is anathema to mainstream US groupthink.
Gerakan, meanwhile, is correct to call out PKR
vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar over her claim that Gerakan received
training from IRI. If she makes such a claim, she should back it up with
evidence and not attempt to smear everyone with the mulch Harapan finds
Now the IRI has claimed it worked with the BN regime too, but it does
sound like an afterthought considering their man had said that they
played the long game with the opposition and that Harapan political
operatives had allegedly thanked the IRI for standing with them all
Maybe it’s just that in the rush of things, people say stupid
things, especially when the assets you have cultivated produce political
fruit, waiting to be plucked. Ok, that was mean. Do I think that there
are compromised political operatives in Harapan and BN? It would not
surprise me, but I just think this whole thing with the IRI is
overblown. But it does provide some comic relief though, courtesy of the
Lim Guan Eng’s denial
of any involvement with the IRI was funny. Pro tip. If this is the
first time you are hearing about this, should not the logical answer be
to discover more about the subject instead of merely denying any
involvement because your coalition partners admitted involvement?
Here’s the thing. If the influence of IRI through Harapan is
detrimental to the sovereignty of the country, then DAP is involved by
virtue of being part of the coalition. And really, DAP has
been “critical” of the US Republican Party? Has DAP been critical of
the US Democratic Party too? Or is this a cheap shot at US President
Donald Trump to score points with the domestic audience?
Of course then there was the predictable backpedalling, when Guan Eng (photo)
admitted that DAP had contact with the IRI but did not hear the
reporter’s question properly. Yeah, right. The first flight response
from DAP when it comes to anything it perceives could tarnish its image
is getting tiresome. Nothing to rock the boat, eh, Guan Eng, even when
it means waiting to craft a response which does not throw your coalition
partners under the bus.
And of course, the stupidest thing was said about having contacts
with the US political parties. Lim said that DAP had no contacts with
the US Republican Party or the US president, but training with
thinktanks was okay because it was not like having contacts with the US
Central Intelligence Agency. How stupid is this?
Look, a political party having contact with another democratically
elected political party is good, even if the political party is in the
opposition and share the same ideologies. It is the way that democracies
work and democratic ideas flourish.
However, far more dangerous, are members of a political party
attending training and workshops by so-called thinktanks which promote
agendas public and sub-rosa. Indeed, it would have been better if DAP maintained ties with the US
Republican and Democratic parties because that is what functional
political parties do. Maintaining lines of communication with other
democratically elected political parties is a good thing, and not
mucking about with foreign NGOs, some of whom are funded by political
parties which could have been infiltrated by intelligence operators
beholden to higher undemocratic powers.
It is good that DAP finally cleared this up. Guan Eng’s bad hearing
saved the day because at best DAP was ignorant of what their partners
were up to – which does not inspire much confidence –
or at worst, DAP is a useful idiot. Look up the term. When it comes to help and funding from foreign NGOs you have to take
the good with the bad. It is unfortunately as simple as that, especially
considering that we have done our fair share of regional interference.
Look that up too.
All of this nonsense, of course, is a smokescreen for the real
threats to our democracy which are the moves by the Harapan regime to
backtrack on their campaign promises and start a new, more virulent
Islamic discourse, which is for part two.