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May 3, 2005
Farewell To A Collaborator

The Washington Post publishes an odd obituary today on the suicide death of Edward von Kloberg III, a lobbyist who relished working for some of the twentieth century's worst leaders and most bloodthirsty tyrants. Kloberg jumped to his death two days ago in Rome, leaving behind a lengthy suicide note and apparently a town fascinated by his appalling line of work:

As part of Washington's image machinery for more than two decades, Edward von Kloberg III did his best to sanitize some of the late 20th century's most notorious dictators as they sought favors and approval from U.S. officials.

A legend of sorts in public relations circles, he counted as clients Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Samuel K. Doe of Liberia; Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania; the military regime in Burma; Guatemalan businessmen who supported the country's murderous, military-backed government; Mobutu Sese Seko of the former Zaire; and, in a figurative coup of his own, the man who overthrew Mobutu and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ...

Washington is a city of advocates and image enhancers, but only a few have staked their reputations as representatives of despots, dictators and human rights violators. For von Kloberg, the job was a social exercise as well as an all-consuming effort. As he wooed potential clients, he often highlighted his own bad press. There was a lot.

Epithets abounded. The authors of "Washington Babylon," a muckraking book about powerbrokers, wrote: "Even within the amoral world of Washington lobbying, [he] stands out for handling clients that no one else will touch." Washingtonian magazine once named him one of the city's top 50 "hired guns."

By far the most outrageous and lasting public impression of von Kloberg came from a notorious "sting" operation by Spy magazine. For a story the satirical journal titled "Washington's Most Shameless Lobbyist," a staff writer posed as a Nazi sympathizer whose causes included halting immigration to the "fatherland" and calling for the German annexation of Poland.

According to the magazine, von Kloberg expressed sympathy for the fake client -- and her $1 million offer. And then he was drubbed in print. Shortly afterward, he showed up at the opening of Spy's Washington office with a first-aid kit and sported a trench helmet, "so I can take the flak," he announced.

Friends of von Kloberg saw the article as a revolting caricature of a man whose grace and charm were displayed at intimate dinner parties he threw to unite disparate voices -- 3,500 dinners, each with 12 guests, he estimated.

Perhaps his friends have an appreciation for the morbid and the cynical that inspired Spy's criticism, but Von Kloberg's work should have inspired nothing but disgust. While lawyers must often defend people they know to be guilty of terrible crimes in order to ensure that the justice system works, nothing says lobbyists must represent all clients. It isn't as if Von Kloberg took on a couple of clients that later turned out to be embarassments. He went out of his way to represent mass murderers, brutal tyrants, and genocidal madmen. In fact, he delighted in it, if Adam Bernstein is to be believed.

Of course, those who collaborate with such monsters always have their rationalizations. Von Kloberg insisted that his work helped to spread democracy, although trying to take on a client that wanted to "annex Poland" to the Fatherland in the 1980s stretches that explanation far past the breaking point. Ceausescu allowed Bibles to be printed in Romania for the first time in decades after Von Kloberg got him a few trade concessions, but the dictator never modified his Stalinist mode of rule and wound up dying like Mussolini after his country overthrew his despotic government. Most egregiously, he publicly backed Saddam Hussein's gassing of Kurds as part of an effort to stem the spread of Arab fundamentalism, even though Kurds are not Arabs and the Iraqis are, even acknowledging himself the travesty of his work.

All that it takes to allow evil to flourish, a proverb teaches, is for good men to do nothing. However, before it reaches that stage, evil requires the efforts of little functionaries like Von Kloberg rationalizing and packaging evil as anything else but what it is, so that good men do not recognize it until it is too late. Adam Bernstein shouldn't be writing paeans to a man like Von Kloberg; the Post should be writing exposs to shame them back into the shadows, where they belong with the other roaches and rats.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 3, 2005 6:13 AM

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Shameless, flamboyant, and eccentric are some of the things Edward von Kloberg III has been called. [Read More]

Tracked on May 5, 2005 4:26 PM

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