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Foreign Lobbying is an Abomination and Should Be Eradicated Now – Part 2

"There’s simply too much money being thrown around the D.C. swamp by foreign governments to buy influence. Understanding this helps explain why U.S. foreign policy is so consistently wasteful, insane and suicidal."

The sensitivities are especially important when it comes to the Qatari government — the single biggest foreign donor to Brookings.

Brookings executives cited strict internal policies that they said ensure their scholars’ work is “not influenced by the views of our funders,” in Qatar or in Washington. They also pointed to several reports published at the Brookings Doha Center in recent years that, for example, questioned the Qatari government’s efforts to revamp its education system or criticized the role it has played in supporting militants in Syria.

But in 2012, when a revised agreement was signed between Brookings and the Qatari government, the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself praised the agreement on its website, announcing that “the center will assume its role in reflecting the bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American ones.” Brookings officials also acknowledged that they have regular meetings with Qatari government officials about the center’s activities and budget, and that the former Qatar prime minister sits on the center’s advisory board.

Mr. Ali, who served as one of the first visiting fellows at the Brookings Doha Center after it opened in 2009, said such a policy, though unwritten, was clear.

“There was a no-go zone when it came to criticizing the Qatari government,” said Mr. Ali, who is now a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia. “It was unsettling for the academics there. But it was the price we had to pay.”

– From the 2014 New York Times article: Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks

The purpose of this short series is to give readers a small glimpse of how foreign governments spray around enormous sums of money throughout the Washington D.C. swamp to influence U.S. foreign policy.

Part 1 discussed the role of lobbyists in this grotesque and dangerous scheme. Specifically, lobbyists who work on behalf of a foreign government are supposed to register as foreign agents under the 1938 Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), but the law has no teeth in practice and is riddled with gigantic loopholes that ensure the sums of foreign lobbying happening is far beyond numbers reported under FARA.

As despicable as lobbyists running around D.C. as hired guns for foreign interests are, think tanks doing essentially the same thing are even more pernicious. At least lobbyists who register under FARA aren’t hiding what they do under an aura of respectability and academic rigor. Think tanks, on the other hand, act like prestigious paragons of policy formation and analysis, while taking enormous sums of money from foreign governments.

In some cases what’s expected from these think tanks is explicitly stated and documented, while other times the expectations, while implicit, clearly exist. It’s the arrogance and dishonesty of many of these major think tanks that really gets under my skin.

Bottom line.

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One of the more comprehensive articles on how foreign governments essentially pay for policy, access and research via think tanks was published back in 2014 in the New York Times titled, Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.

Let’s take a look at some excerpts from that piece for some background on what’s going on:

More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

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The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research.

The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign governments. And they have not registered with the United States government as representatives of the donor countries, an omission that appears, in some cases, to be a violation of federal law, according to several legal specialists who examined the agreements at the request of The Times.

As a result, policy makers who rely on think tanks are often unaware of the role of foreign governments in funding the research.

The arrangements involve Washington’s most influential think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council. Each is a major recipient of overseas funds, producing policy papers, hosting forums and organizing private briefings for senior United States government officials that typically align with the foreign governments’ agendas.

Most of the money comes from countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, particularly the oil-producing nations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Norway, and takes many forms. The United Arab Emirates, a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House. Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.

Some scholars say the donations have led to implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments…

The scope of foreign financing for American think tanks is difficult to determine. But since 2011, at least 64 foreign governments, state-controlled entities or government officials have contributed to a group of 28 major United States-based research organizations, according to disclosures by the institutions and government documents. What little information the organizations volunteer about their donors, along with public records and lobbying reports filed with American officials by foreign representatives, indicates a minimum of $92 million in contributions or commitments from overseas government interests over the last four years. The total is certainly more.

As noted above, the think tanks apparently do not disclose the terms of the agreements they’ve reached with foreign governments, which seems problematic since it provides a ripe environment for corruption and intellectual dishonesty. This also seems to be why Norway is so central to the NYT exposé — its relatively transparent open records laws provide much needed detail about how these relationships are structured.

For example:

The agreement signed last year by the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs was explicit: For $5 million, Norway’s partner in Washington would push top officials at the White House, at the Treasury Department and in Congress to double spending on a United States foreign aid program.

But the recipient of the cash was not one of the many Beltway lobbying firms that work every year on behalf of foreign governments.

It was the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research organization, or think tank, one of many such groups in Washington that lawmakers, government officials and the news media have long relied on to provide independent policy analysis and scholarship…

“In Washington, it is difficult for a small country to gain access to powerful politicians, bureaucrats and experts,” states an internal report commissioned by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry assessing its grant making. “Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access, and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only those foreign governments that provide funding.”…

The country has committed at least $24 million to an array of Washington think tanks over the past four years, according to a tally by The Times, transforming these nonprofits into a powerful but largely hidden arm of the Norway Foreign Affairs Ministry. Documents obtained under that country’s unusually broad open records laws reveal that American research groups, after receiving money from Norway, have advocated in Washington for enhancing Norway’s role in NATO, promoted its plans to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and pushed its climate change agenda…

But Norway’s agreement imposed very specific demands on the Center for Global Development. The research organization, in return for Norway’s money, was not simply asked to publish reports on combating climate change. The project documents ask the think tank to persuade Washington officials to double United States spending on global forest protection efforts to $500 million a year.

Don’t let the fact that it’s Norway and the issues involved are deforestation and Arctic drilling let you take your eye off the ball. The reason Norway is central to the exposé is because its open laws offer transparency into the details of these partnerships. If Norway’s doing it, you can be sure viciously brutal and autocratic regimes are doing the same.

Moreover, the money being thrown around has real world consequences. Take, for example, what happened to Michelle Dunn:

Michele Dunne served for nearly two decades as a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the State Department, including stints in Cairo and Jerusalem, and on the White House National Security Council. In 2011, she was a natural choice to become the founding director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, named after the former prime minister of Lebanon, who was assassinated in 2005.

The center was created with a generous donation from Bahaa Hariri, his eldest son, and with the support of the rest of the Hariri family, which has remained active in politics and business in the Middle East. Another son of the former prime minister served as Lebanon’s prime minister from 2009 to 2011.

But by the summer of 2013, when Egypt’s military forcibly removed the country’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, Ms. Dunne soon realized there were limits to her independence. After she signed a petition and testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging the United States to suspend military aid to Egypt, calling Mr. Morsi’s ouster a “military coup,” Bahaa Hariri called the Atlantic Council to complain, executives with direct knowledge of the events said.

Ms. Dunne declined to comment on the matter. But four months after the call, Ms. Dunne left the Atlantic Council…

Ms. Dunne was replaced by Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., who served as United States ambassador to Egypt during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the longtime Egyptian military and political leader forced out of power at the beginning of the Arab Spring. Mr. Ricciardone, a career foreign service officer, had earlier been criticized by conservatives and human rights activists for being too deferential to the Mubarak government.

Surely just a coincidence.

Let’s now fast forward to 2018. As the mass media bombards the U.S. public with Russia conspiracy theories nonstop, foreign interests have become more aggressive when it comes to influencing U.S. policy and personnel. Take for instance what we just learned regarding the UAE’s apparent attempt to get Rex Tillerson fired for his skepticism regarding the idiotic Saudi-UAE blockade against Qatar.

The BBC reported:

The BBC has obtained leaked emails that show a lobbying effort to get US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sacked for failing to support the United Arab Emirates against regional rival Qatar.

Major Trump fundraiser and UAE-linked businessman Elliott Broidy met US President Donald Trump in October 2017 and urged him to sack Mr Tillerson, the emails reveal.

In other emails, he calls the top US diplomat “a tower of Jello”, “weak” and says he “needs to be slammed”…

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Mr Broidy’s defence company Circinus has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts with the UAE, according to the New York Times newspaper.

He had recently returned from the UAE when he met Mr Trump at the White House in October.

According to a memorandum he prepared of the meeting, Mr Broidy urged continued support of US allies the UAE and Saudi Arabia and advised Mr Trump against getting involved in last year’s row with Qatar…

He also said he advised the president on Mr Tillerson – who was “performing poorly and should be fired at a politically convenient time”.

What have we learned? There’s simply too much money being thrown around the D.C. swamp by foreign governments to buy influence. Understanding this helps explain why U.S. foreign policy is so consistently wasteful, insane and suicidal.

Unfortunately,  you won’t hear much about this from the mass media. Pointing it out isn’t particularly profitable.

Part 1 if you missed it: Foreign Government Lobbying is an Abomination and Should Be Eradicated Immediately – Part 1

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In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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