KUALA LUMPUR: The International Republican Institute (IRI), a think tank based in Washington and funded by, among others, the State Department, is just one of many foreign organisations that have come under scrutiny for their involvement in Malaysian politics.
IRI recently denied a report by FMT quoting remarks by its president Daniel Twining at a forum last month, where he claimed they had been working with opposition parties in Malaysia since 2002, which played a role in the defeat of Barisan Nasional (BN) in the recent election.
The think tank was quick to deny this, and went on to say that its activities in Malaysia cut across political divides, a claim confirmed by politicians from both BN and Pakatan Harapan.
On its website, it is not clear who the IRI chairman is.
At press time, an FAQ page listed its chairman as Republican senator John McCain, although another page puts his colleague Dan Sullivan at the top of a list of over 30 influential individuals including politicians and top officials, many of whom are Republican supporters who served in senior intelligence and military positions.
In the US, Sullivan is known for his right-wing stance, as well as conservative views on gun laws, abortion and same-sex marriage – issues that have come to define a politician’s commitment to liberty and freedom, the battle cry of outfits such as the IRI and a host of other well-oiled bodies operating around the world.
Sullivan, like a good number of IRI’s board of directors, was elected to senatorship on the back of strong support from conservative groups, including the Club For Growth, a Washington-based pressure group which funds candidates who endorse conservative economic policies, namely those championed by Republican politicians.
Sullivan’s support for the powerful gun lobby is such that he was given an “A” rating by the National Rifle Association, the influential lobby that has opposed all attempts to restrict gun ownership despite hundreds of people killed in gun violence, including in mass shootings of schoolchildren.
In 2014, Sullivan, a former state attorney-general, appeared in a pro-gun commercial aimed at his opponent in Alaska, anti-gun Democrat senator Mark Begich, in the race for senatorship in the state. It ends with a picture of Sullivan helping his daughter as she takes aim with a rifle.
Many of Sullivan’s views do not appear to be in sync with the human rights and democracy agenda promoted by IRI as well as similar outfits seeking to empower democracy activists around the world.
Among others, he has spoken out against granting amnesty for undocumented immigrants in the US, among the policies of the Donald Trump administration that have been condemned by rights groups in the country.
Despite Sullivan’s own reservations on Trump’s presidency – he withdrew support for Trump’s candidacy a month before the 2016 presidential election – he has supported all of Trump’s nominees for senior positions.
A chart prepared by the New York Times in January 2017, detailing senators’ voting patterns, showed Sullivan saying “yes” to all of Trump’s nominees for his new Cabinet.
Sullivan has served in various senior White House positions.
According to his official website, he was recalled to active duty in 2013 to serve with the US army in Afghanistan to dismantle “terrorist networks and criminalise the Taliban insurgency”. He also held the portfolio of economy, energy and business as assistant to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
“He focused on fighting terrorist financing, and implementing policies relating to international energy, economic, trade, finance, transportation, telecommunications, and Arctic issues,” says a short biography on the website.
Sullivan’s past role in US intelligence and security affairs is something he has in common with most members of IRI’s board of directors.
The following are some members of the IRI board of directors who have in some way served in posts related to US military operations, foreign relations and intelligence:
- Randy Scheunemann, former national security adviser to Senate Republican leaders.
- Kelly Ayotte, former member of a committee on “Emerging Threats and Capabilities” under the Congress’ committee on Armed Services.
- Judy A Black, a consultant who, according to her law firm, is “recognised as one of the premier Republican lobbyists in Washington, DC”.
- J Scott Carpenter, former director of governance for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
- Tom Cotton, served five years on active duty including two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Joni Ernst, former lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, and the first female combat veteran to be elected as senator.
- Alison B Fortier, former vice-president for Missile Defense and Strategic Systems in Lockheed Martin.
- Christopher J Fussner, worked with global welfare group Church World Service as a Refugee Resettlement Officer during the Vietnam refugees crisis in Malaysia.
- Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator, former US Air Force colonel who served in Iraq, and part of committee on “Emerging Threats and Capabilities” under the Congress’ committee on Armed Services.
- Kay Granger, part of Congress subcommittee on “State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs” and co-chair of Anti-Terrorism Caucus, one of the “most recognised and influential leaders on defence and foreign policy”, according to the IRI website.
- Janet Mullins Grissom, former political director for George Bush Sr in the 1988 presidential campaign.
- James T Kolbe, former US Navy officer and board member of government-funded think tank Freedom House.
- David Kramer, former president of Freedom House and adviser to the State Department.
- John McCain, former twice presidential candidate and member of Senate Armed Services Committee, “heavily engaged in US foreign policy and defence issues”, according to IRI.
- HR McMaster, US army general, served briefly as national security adviser to President Donald Trump, and was involved in military operations such as the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- Mitt Romney, former governor and Republican presidential candidate who lost to Barack Obama in 2012.
- Kristen Silverberg, former senior adviser to Paul Bremer when he led the US-backed Provisional Authority in Iraq.
- Frances Townsend, former Homeland Security adviser, reporting to president George W Bush on homeland security and counterterrorism. She also headed the Intelligence Policy and Review, whose functions included approving intelligence-gathering activities.
- Olin L Wethington, director of economic policy for US-backed Provisional Authority in Iraq.