This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
According to Professor Beder, USA Engage is "a corporate frontgroup that was formed in 1997 by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) to promote the business case against sanctions. The NFTC continues to play a leading role in its activities and maintains its website. As a front group, USA Engage enables corporations to push for trade with dictators and regimes who abuse human rights without fronting up themselves and suffering a loss of corporate reputation. According to Frank Kittredge, president of NFTC and vice chairman of USA Engage, 'USA Engage was formed because a lot of companies are not anxious to be spotlighted as supporters of countries like Iran or Burma... The way to avoid that is to act in a coalition.'" (Beder, 2006: 203)
- "Engineered by The Wexler Group, USA*Engage was officially unveiled at an April 1997 press conference, during which it portrayed itself as a dynamic "broad-based coalition representing Americans from all regions, sectors, and segments of our society." The address on USA*Engage's letterhead belongs to the Wexler Group, which is also where the number listed for USA*Engage rings (though callers are routed around the Wexler Group's main switchboard). ...
- "So who is behind USA*Engage? The oil industry, for one. Unocal's chief Washington lobbyist, Jack Rafuse, chairs USA*Engage's State and Local Sanctions Committee. Unocal co-owns a billion-dollar natural gas pipeline in Burma, and one of its partners is Burma's State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), the military dictatorship that the State Department says used slave labor to help build the pipeline. Jefferson Waterman International, a Beltway firm that lobbies for Burma, is also a member.
- "USA*Engage members also include Mobil and Texaco—both of which have major investments in Nigeria and have lobbied to prevent strong sanctions against Gen. Sani Abacha's regime, despite its having imprisoned 7,000 people without charge and, among other atrocities, having executed protester and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.
- "USA*Engage's chairman, William Lane, is the Washington director for Caterpillar, a company that has obvious reasons for belonging to the coalition. It has its own Burmese dealership, and has business in other nations threatened with or currently under U.S. sanctions, including Sudan, Indonesia, Colombia, and Nigeria. Other USA*Engage members have just as much incentive for wanting to trade with dictators. Boeing, for instance, has long battled the government's threatened sanctions against China, where it sold one-tenth of its airplanes between 1992 and 1994. Another group of coalition members—including Westinghouse and ABB—has been pressing the Clinton administration to lift a ban on nuclear power exports to Beijing.
- Call in the Rent-a-Scholars
- "Once USA*Engage was formed, coalition leaders quickly turned to a web of Beltway think tanks and scholars to provide the sanctions drive with badly needed intellectual ammunition.
- "The Institute for International Economics (IIE) prepared a study in 1997, released at USA*Engage's debut press conference, which states that sanctions cost the U.S. economy $15-$20 billion, and caused the loss of 250,000 jobs in 1995 alone. The study, confirms an IIE sanctions specialist, Kimberly Elliott, was funded "in part" by the NFTC.
- "Georgetown University law school professor Barry Carter authored another study, paid for by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a USA*Engage member. When it came out, NAM trumpeted the findings, saying the study showed that sanctions come "with a steep price tag for U.S. commercial interests." The coalition also uses reports from prominent think tanks such as the Cato Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Center for the Study of American Business to arm itself with intellectual firepower. All have received funding from companies that belong to USA*Engage." For further useful information see full report
- William C. Lane is a founder and former chair of USA Engage.
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- Ken Silverstein, "So You Want To Trade With a Dictator", Mother Jones, May/June 1998.
- Kenny Bruno and Jim Vallette, "Halliburton's Destructive Engagement: How Dick Cheney and USA-Engage Subvert Democracy At Home And Abroad," EarthRights International, October 2000. (See Chapter 2)
- Sharon Beder, "Suiting themselves: how corporations drive the global agenda", Earthscan, 2006.