An Ugly Schism in Foreign Relations

By Al Kamen
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Foreign policy bigwigs were surprised when an e-mail recently landed in their inboxes from the Council on Foreign Relations alerting them about "an organization calling itself the 'Manhattan Committee on Foreign Relations.' " It seems the group has deluged council members with letters, speaking invitations and other solicitations, and the esteemed organization is seeking to distance itself.

"This organization has absolutely no relationship whatsoever with the Council on Foreign Relations, and in no way is the Council encouraging you to respond to their communications. . . . We regret these solicitations have been a source of some confusion to many of our members, and we would like to reiterate that this group is not connected to the Council on Foreign Relations," Kay King, vice president of the CFR's Washington Program, wrote in an e-mail to members.

We called the offices of the Manhattan Committee on Foreign Relations -- at a prestigious Rockefeller Center address -- and a man who would identify himself only as a "membership associate" explained the history.

Apparently the group is one of several foreign relations organizations, the first of which was founded in 1938, under the umbrella of the CFR. But in 1995, the groups split off to form the independent American Committees on Foreign Relations.

It seems the Manhattan Committee on Foreign Relations may be in the midst of a membership drive. Asked about his group soliciting CFR members, the "membership associate" said: "We had invited the council fellows to join us as honorary members out of respect for the past affiliation between the committees and the council."

The American Committees on Foreign Relations -- an umbrella group with affiliates in 32 cities, including Casper, Wyo.; Wichita, Kan.; and Naples, Fla. -- meets annually in Washington. The highlight is a members-only dinner in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the State Department.

So Much for Free Markets

Well, so much for the fine speaker's fee that Obama campaign manager David Plouffe was expecting when he took off over the weekend for a speech yesterday in Baku, Azerbaijan, a country whose president has been much criticized for undermining democracy there.

Plouffe decided to turn over his payment for speaking at a university there -- reported to be around $50,000 -- to advocacy groups for democracy in the former Soviet republic, after news reports of the trip and a possible meeting with the country's president. In addition, the speech had been arranged by lobbyists working with a group linked to the government, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Plouffe is not in the administration but remains close to Obama folks and is involved in the president's grass-roots political operation. He recently signed a lucrative book contract about the inner workings of the campaign, has opened a consulting firm and has signed up with a speaker's bureau.

Watch Your Head (of State)

Maybe President Obama is getting too focused on that stimulus package. That could explain why he forgot to duck yesterday when he boarded Marine One, the presidential helicopter, on the South Lawn and bumped his head.

This was his fifth flight on the chopper, the Associated Press reported. It took him to Andrews Air Force Base for the flight to Indiana to promote an economic stimulus package.

Apparently he wasn't injured, but a few more accidents like this and "Saturday Night Live" might bring back Chevy Chase, who delivered devastating parodies of a supposedly clumsy President Gerald R. Ford. Didn't work out well for Ford.

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