Corruption Is the Price of Empire: How Beltway "Think Tanks" Get Greased

A New York Times investigation into the influence of foreign money on American thinktanks is causing a Twitter-storm as I write this, and with good reason. In one particularly egregious example, the report details an explicit agreement, signed by the principals, between the Center for Global Development (CGD) and the government of Norway for the […]

A New York Times investigation into the influence of foreign money on American thinktanks is causing a Twitter-storm as I write this, and with good reason. In one particularly egregious example, the report details an explicit agreement, signed by the principals, between the Center for Global Development (CGD) and the government of Norway for the former to propagandize on behalf of doubling a foreign aid program to Norway in exchange for a $5 million donation. Aside from the brazen corruption of the CGD/Norway relationship, the report focuses on three other Washington DC biggies: the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, all of which receive substantial chunks of cash from rich overseas donors, primarily from the Middle East, Europe, and the Far East. For example, the Times notes:

"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."

CSIS was a major supporter of the Iraq war (both of them), as were the Gulf sheikdoms that have been funneling money into it: CSIS has also been a major bulwark of the War Party when it comes to Iran.

Brookings, the grand old man of Washington thinktanks, denies all that cash has any meaning as far as its "product" is concerned, but it’s hard to take this seriously when it publishes papers like this and sponsors events like this one, where Qatar’s funding of jihadist groups like ISIS and other radical Syrian rebel factions is downplayed in favor of putting the onus on Kuwait. Qatar has been a major backer of the decidedly non-"moderate" wing of the Syrian rebel movement, and while Brookings has published writers skeptical of the idea of arming and/or funding them, a bit of research shows that their overwhelming bias has been pro-rebel, e.g. "Arm the Syrian Rebels. Now."

Brookings has also been a major source of pro-Israel propaganda in the United States via their Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Funded by Haim Saban, an Israeli-American television and film producer – originator of the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" – whose wealth is estimated at $3 billion, the Saban Center has consistently supported the Israeli party line and acted as a "nonpartisan" complement to AIPAC’s Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Quite naturally, the Saban Center’s Kenneth Pollack was a major supporter of the Iraq war amongst the policy wonk crowd.

Dual Israeli-American citizen Saban makes no bones about the goal of his giving: he has said that his number one priority in giving money to thinktanks like Brookings is to "strengthen the US-Israeli relationship." As a New Yorker profile of Saban put it, he counts "three ways to be influential in American politics": "make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets." Saban owns Univision and has repeatedly tried to buy the Los Angeles Times. He is also one of the top donors to the Democratic party, and will no doubt be a major contributor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

At a recent Brookings Institution dinner, Saban engaged in a "two-cheeked kiss" with Qatari Prime Minister Jaber Al Thani. What unites these two somewhat disparate figures is their fulsome financial support for Brookings, which – like any whore – sells its services to the highest bidder.

While Brookings, one of Washington’s most established courtesans, charges higher prices, and thus relies on high-rollers like Qatar and Saban, the relatively new Atlantic Council takes the quantitative approach: the Times reports the Council has accepted donations from at least 25 countries since 2008." Among the donors: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Hungary, the Czechs, the Slovaks, Sweden, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom. This donor list isn’t surprising: the Atlantic Council, as befits its name, is NATO’s unofficial lobbyist in Washington. It has been particularly militant around the Ukraine issue, pushing the NATO-crat party line that the fascist coup leaders in Kiev are really Jeffersonian democrats and stoking the embers of the cold war.

CSIS, long a mainstay of interventionist policymaking, actually posted a list of the governments that have filled its coffers, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, NATO – and the United States of America! Yes, your tax dollars are going to fund the efforts of CSIS co-director and senior fellow Thomas Sanderson and CSIS "Transnational Threats" head honcho Arnaud de Borchgrave in their efforts to torpedo a possible peace agreement with Iran. We don’t know how much Uncle Sam doles out to CSIS because they refuse to divulge specific amounts – and of course we peons have no right to know.

The extent of the problem of foreign governments buying up American thinktanks like house flippers buy up foreclosures is bigger than even I imagined. As the Times puts it:

"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 Todd Moss, COO of CGD, said "after being shown dozens of pages of emails between his organization and the government of Norway": "Yikes"!

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires foreign lobbyists to register and report their activities to the federal government, has never been enforced except selectively: US allies are given a free pass, and the "foreign aid" gravy train flows freely and fast. This makes perfect sense, given our status as a global empire on which the sun never sets: our foreign clients and protectorates are constantly begging for handouts, intervention against their enemies, and special economic privileges of one sort or another, and the government would no more shut down this profitable industry than it would voluntarily dismantle the Empire itself.

NATO’s eastern European members want US troops and bases on their soil, ostensibly to "protect" against the nonexistent threat of a Russian invasion – and it’s only natural for them to go running to the Atlantic Council to lobby on their behalf. Qatar wants US aid to Syria’s jihadist rebels – and off they go to their bought-and-paid-for "scholars" at Brookings to write policy papers and sponsor events pushing US intervention in the Syrian snake-pit.

Corruption – there is no other word for the buying of America’s thinktanks by rich foreigners – is part of the price we pay for our empire. It won’t stop until we return to our roots as a republic that "seeks honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none."

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