The Decline and Fall of Matthew Bryza

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by Joshua Foust on 6/13/2012 · 4 comments

While he was the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder advocated constantly for the construction of Nord Stream, an undersea natural gas pipeline that will travel from Russia, along the floor of the Baltic Sea, and end in Germany. It seemed like a great deal for Germany, to get a direct line to Russia’s vast energy wealth, even if Russia was fond of using gas price hikes to force unwanted policies out of consumer countries.

Of course, less than a month after retiring as Chancellor, Schroeder was hired onto the Board of Directors of the Gazprom subsidiary in charge of building the pipeline. He negotiated the deal, then retired and took a corporate position with the firm building it. It stank to high heaven, ethically: when American government officials played with conflicts of interest that large, they get sent to prison. And while Schroeder’s move has been roundly criticized as obviously unethical, he hasn’t suffered any consequences for it.

Now, enter Matt Bryza. He’s long been a figure in Caspian circles, going back at least a decade to President Bush’s National Security Council then as Condoleeza Rice’s pointman on the Caucasus. However, like many in the Bush administration, Bryza was close to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili — and rumors are rampant that he helped nudge the tiny country into war with Russia by hinting the U.S. would support them. In fact, Moscow has been so open about those rumors that they have made it very plain that Bryza would get a cool reception by Russian diplomats. (Bryza has always denied the assertion.)

Still, he was a decent enough choice to be the ambassador to Azerbaijan — even if his appointment was opposed by Armenians angry over his stance on Nagorno-Karabakh and his wife’s Turkish heritage. President Obama was never able to get him confirmed by the Senate, so he eventually appointed Bryza as an interim. His appointment ran out in January.

Yet now, according to Joshua Hersh, Bryza has found new work:

Matthew Bryza, who until last December was President Barack Obama’s appointed ambassador to Azerbaijan, took the job on the board of Turcas Petrol company, which is partly controlled by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, according to reports in regional newspapers.

So Bryza served as ambassador, then retired to run an oil company partly controlled by the country he served in. Much like Schroeder’s move to Gazprom after retiring, it reeks of a conflict of interest. Hersh mostly quotes Azeri opposition activists who are angry at the move, but it goes deeper than that: Bryza is not the only ambassador to leave his post for lucrative business dealings in the country where he’s served.

Even so, Bryza’s move doesn’t look good. It doesn’t break any laws, but it sure as hell seems fishy.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Ali June 14, 2012 at 8:25 am

Why is it fishy for an ex-government official to take a job that is closely related to his field of expertise? Does it mean he could not take jobs related to all of Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Western part of ex-USSR – because that’s what he covered in NSC and State Department for two decades?

Also, comparing a member of the board of a company, who gets a few thousand dollars of compensation per month to Schroeder, a chairman of a huge company, who gets millions, is a bit of a stretch. Especially since Bryza did not change his position on Azerbaijani and Turkish energy, whilst Schroeder did shift his position once he got his job. So this is apples and oranges comparison.

Meanwhile, what about ex-Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, who unlike Bryza, was confirmed by Senate, served more time, and then became an unregistered lobbyist for the Armenian lobby in Washington DC? Why are there no comments on his “decline and fall”?

Xenophon June 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm

“Why is it fishy for an ex-government official to take a job that is closely related to his field of expertise?”

That’s quite a disingenuous question, Ali. The issue is quite obviously not his taking a job in his field of expertise. Can you really not understand why it’s not a good thing (from a US perspective) for a former US Ambassador to take a job with a company controlled in whole or in part by the government to whom he was supposedly representing the US? I congratulate you on your ethical broad-mindedness.

What’s even more repulsive is this claim by the source:

“Stanley Escudero, who was U.S. ambassador to the nation in the 1990s, remained in the country after leaving his post to run businesses there, Gassanly said. He now maintains Azeri citizenship.”

A former US Ambassador taking citizenship in the country to which he was accredited on behalf of the US? We become more corrupt by the day. And now Morningstar gets his turn at the trough. How inspiring.

Forget Schroeder–that’s Germany’s problem if they consider it one. The issue here is Bryza.

And BTW, what is your evidence that John Evans was a lobbyist for Armenia? He was fired from his ambassadorship for reasons that are, as far as I know, still unclear. But bottom line, he was terminated. If he was engaged in improper activities, he was clearly punished, unlike Bryza who appears to have successfully played all sides. Absolutely disgusting.

Jeff July 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm

To enrich the discussion it should be noted that Turcas is a publicly traded Oil Company from Turkey and is not owned by SOCAR, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic. It is a matter of course, however, that Turkey and Azerbaijan are deeply involved culturally, diplomatically, and commercially.

Gordon Duff July 14, 2012 at 10:33 pm

In 2002 Barza was accused of spying for Turkey by the FBI.

His security clearance was ended, he was fired but later it was covered up by Condi Rice.

The FBI has evidene to jail him as a spy for life.

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