Friends with money: A new dynamic in foreign affairs

The old saw about money making the world go around has been the mantra of successive U.S. administrations and Congresses, as they have sought to buy the loyalty of other nations by dispensing untold amounts to enemies they hoped would become friends.

It hasn’t worked. In fact, it’s been spectacularly unsuccessful. Instead of liking America for our outrageous gifts, the world took our money then spit on it as they carried it to the bank, funded illicit or even terror operations with it.

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A significant change in world politics that Congress and the administration should pay much more attention to has created a new dynamic for the United States; friends with money…those nations who seek out good relations with the U.S. because it is in their national interests and not because they want or need our money.

One leading proponent of positive dealings with America is the Republic of Azerbaijan, a secular, progressive, majority-Muslim nation and a former Soviet republic. Taking regular hits amongst their detractors, Azerbaijan spends a significant amount of money for outreach to policy makers and leaders in the U.S. So what, you may ask? So what, indeed.

The U.S. doesn’t suffer from having too many friends. Relationships with Europe seem strained at best and allies cast a dubious eye toward our ability to have their back, yet when a moderate Muslim nation like Azerbaijan seeks out friendship without asking for money or favors, they receive criticism and suspicion.

Recent articles criticizing Azerbaijan for their outreach efforts seem almost humorous in the face of the horrific issues the West contends with daily from unstable and out of control governments and leaders. Azerbaijan is chastised for what detractors call, “Caviar Diplomacy” and their wildly popular president, Ilham Aliyev, is called any number of terrible things by US tax payer funded Radio Free Europe.

They are also accused of human rights violations and yet their populace is coexisting in a country where religious, gender and ethnic freedoms are the norm, while Christians are being murdered daily across the globe and Israel is being attacked by terrorist Palestinians. Yet, strangely the U.S. is silent about this chasm.

So what is the problem when Azerbaijan clearly asks for nothing from the U.S. except open and advantageous trade cooperation and good bilateral relations?

Azerbaijan has shown itself to be a willing partner in sane and rational international alliances. It has fought off advances of an Iran determined to radicalize their population, remains cordial, yet firm against Russian neo-Imperialism and maintains close trade, religious, security and diplomatic relations with Israel. This has worked well for Azerbaijan, yet criticism is regularly leveled against them for their leaders’ comfortable lifestyles and outreach efforts.

Have we reached a point in diplomacy where countries that succeed are looked upon with suspicion and distrust?

The Azerbaijanis appear to be doing it right. Americans have always been criticized for our rich lifestyle, successful attitudes and outreach to the world. Is it now the Azerbaijanis turn to elicit criticism because they have achieved wealth and success and want to carve out a secure place for themselves among affluent and influential nations?

Attacks casting dispersions on President Aliyev and his government’s outreach efforts seem more than a bit hypocritical when Azerbaijan seems to be doing nothing more than acting like any country rising in the world.

Will they be perfect and free of mistakes along the way? Absolutely not, not as long as a government is made up of human beings and all men are flawed. But, it is important to note that according to U.S. Department of Justice records, Azerbaijan is doing everything legally.

Yet, should Azerbaijan be judged more harshly because they are friends, when the most egregious offenders of human rights remain so because the world fears them? Why call out leaders that have managed to enable their country to achieve heights of great wealth, education and welfare?

Far too many Americans today wish their government would readjust their attitude toward wealth achievement. The Azerbaijanis have realized goals many governments of the world have sought and failed to accomplish.

They are an ally and trading partner in a world filled with insanity and greed. Governments collect huge sums of money from willing nations like the United States to line their own coffers instead of helping their people. Since the world will never find a perfect government, perhaps Congress and the Administration should appreciate and cultivate those who exist as friends and possess even a few faults, in lieu of corrupt players that will use funding for evil agendas.

In these craziest of times, it remains important to know who to trust and those upon whom to cast a suspicious eye. Wisdom is in knowing which is which.

Zager is a journalist and author and has taught communications at California State University Los Angeles.

Editor’s note on Aug. 18, 2015 —  A firm that is paid to provide strategic advice to Azerbaijan submitted this op-ed. This note was added after information was brought to the attention of The Hill.

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