Reports in Aljazeera and a Turkish news weekly that the government of Syria has contracted for pubic relations and lobbying services with a firm headed by a long-time aide to George W. Bush are untrue, according to both the firm, New Bridge Strategies, and the Syrian Embassy in the US.
Liz Lara, a spokesperson for New Bridge, says that the firm “has not entered into any contract with the government of Syria,” and that the company does not do business in that country. The Syrian embassy issued a press release saying that the “Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. wishes to inform you that the Embassy has not entered or signed any agreement for any US company to represent Syria in the United States including New Bridge Strategies.”
The Syrian press release doesn’t exclude the possibility that some Syrian agency other than its US embassy might have made some agreement for representation with a US company, but the New Bridge statement seems to definitively exclude that company from consideration.
A relationship between Syria and New Bridge would be an odd fit. The company describe themselves as “a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq;” Syria is not a likely client for a firm seeking to steer business opportunities primarily to US firms, and the country has its own channels for doing business in Iraq.
There is, however, a company with close ties to New Bridge that would be a good fit for a Syrian PR campaign, and for many of the same reasons New Bridge wouldn’t be. That company is the lobbying and public relations firm of Barbour Griffith & Rogers.
New Bridge was established in 2003 by Joe Albaugh, former Bush administration Federal Emergency Management Agency director, chief of staff to then-Governor Bush and manager of the Bush presidential campaign in 2000; Ed Rogers, who established Barbour Griffith & Rogers with former Republican National Committee chairman and current Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, and was an assistant to the late, legendary GOP hit man, Lee Atwater; Lanny Griffith, the CEO of Barbour Griffith & Rogers and an official in the George H.W. Bush administration; and John Howland of Crest Investment Corporation, a Houston firm perhaps best known publicly for its association with Neil Bush, a director in the company.
Obviously, New Bridge Strategies is thoroughly cross-pollinated with the older, more prominent Barbour Griffith & Rogers, with which it once shared office space. Along with Griffith and Rogers, BG&R boasts as its president former US Ambassador Robert Blackwill, who served as a National Security Council deputy and special assistant to George W. Bush, and as the special envoy to Iraq.
And while New Bridge’s primary business is helping US firms cash in on Iraq, BG&R’s international division “helps clients, including foreign governments, to navigate between the U.S. Congress, the White House, the Departments of State, Commerce and Treasury as well as the United States Trade Representative and other executive agencies.”
Listed clients of BG&R include Qatar and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by Massoud Barzani, a member of the now defunct Iraqi Governing Council established by the US after the Iraq invasion.
Although, then, the story about Syria and New Bridge appears to be untrue, it does help point up the extraordinary web of relationships between Washington insiders who sometimes hold dual, superficially conflicting roles. And given the specificity of the Syrian embassy’s denial, it remains possible that Syria has approached Barbour Griffith & Rogers.