For Bill Clinton, venality trumps revenge

In 2010, Bill Clinton and Eric Holder went to Zurich hoping to bring the 2022 World Cup to the United States. However, FIFA awarded the Cup to Qatar.

Nearly everyone who followed the process suspected that Qatar got the Cup thanks to bribery. For one thing, there was evidence of attempted bribery. For another, why else would FIFA decide to hold world soccer’s signature event in the desert, during the summer, in a country that is barely a pimple on the face of international soccer?

Holder certainly sensed corruption. His Justice Department began investigating FIFA, probably in part as an act of revenge. Now, the investigation has produced indictments that have shaken FIFA to its core.

Clinton no doubt perceived the corruption too. And he too was angry about it. Reportedly, he broke a mirror in his plush Zurich hotel room in reaction to FIFA’s decision.

For Bill Clinton, though, “getting even” has a different meaning than it does for Eric Holder (and for most of us). For Clinton, getting even with corrupt entities means getting a piece of the pie.

Clinton proceeded to get his piece. Today’s Washington Post describes the relationship between the Clinton Foundation and Qatar that grew out of the former president’s foray into World Cup politics.

During the closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative’s 2013 annual meeting, Bill Clinton called to the stage a former rival named Hassan Abdullah Al-Thawadi.

Three years earlier, Al-Thawadi, a young Qatari businessman, had led his country’s successful effort to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, beating out, among others, a U.S. bid led by Clinton. Al-Thawadi and his countrymen had rejoiced after they were awarded the tournament in an auditorium in Zurich, while elsewhere in the room Clinton and his team stewed.

Allegations that Qatar had bribed its way to the victory soon emerged, prompting an internal investigation by soccer’s governing body that had been going on for more than a year by the time of the CGI event.

To appear on the stage with Bill Clinton on an occasion like this costs a minimum of $250,000. Typically it costs considerably more, according to the Post’s sources.

What did Qatar get for its money? According to the Post, “for the Qataris, the moment offered a touch of Clinton-blessed legitimacy amid a brewing controversy.”

What was the nature of the controversy? Bribery, for one thing:

In May 2011, five months after Qatar won the right to host the cup, members of the British parliament alleged that some on FIFA’s executive committee had been paid millions to award the bid to Qatar, and British media had aggressively investigated the issue.

And in July 2012, FIFA appointed former U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia to probe the bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, an investigation that was underway at the time of Qatar’s sponsorship of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Bill Clinton knew all about this. Yet, he gave legitimacy to Qatar, and the award to it of the World Cup, by sharing the stage and providing photo ops to the man behind the the desert nation’s corrupt bid.

There’s more. By the time of the Clinton Foundation’s 2013 gala, there was substantial evidence that labor conditions at World Cup construction sites in Qatar were terribly unsafe, including the fact that dozens of migrant Nepalese workers had died that summer alone.

Stephen Russell, the coordinator of a U.K.-based labor group urging the Gulf state to improve working conditions, says that Qatar uses charitable donations such as the one to the Clinton Foundation to try to skate past criticism of its labor practices.

And why not? Bill Clinton has enriched himself by blessing nations facing human-rights and labor abuse allegations around the world.

Russell says he has called on the Clintons and the foundation to speak out about workers’ rights in Qatar. Apparently, they haven’t done so. (The Hillary Clinton state department criticized Qatar labor law policies, but that was before Qatar paid the Foundation to have its chief World Cup organizer appear at the gala 2013 event, according to the Post’s report).

The contrast between the approaches of the Obama administration and the Clintons to the failed U.S. bid for World Cup 2022 is striking. Obama’s smacks of vengeance. Clinton’s smacks of venality.

In a roundabout way, the difference may help explain why, ultimately, the Obama presidency is likely to be more consequential than Bill Clintons.