Follow us on social

Screen-shot-2022-03-22-at-3.45.01-pm

WSJ op-ed pushing greater US Middle East role omits author’s Gulf funding

The Journal should have an obligation to inform its readers of any potential conflict of interest, particularly on foreign influence issues.

Reporting | Washington Politics

The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on Monday arguing that the United States needs to “recommit” to the Middle East. However, the paper did not disclose a potential conflict of interest at play in that the author is part of a Washington think tank that has received substantial funding from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and has personal financial interests in the region.

The op-ed, written by Firas Maksad, essentially pins blame on the Biden administration for Saudi and UAE leaders’ recent rejection of U.S. requests to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to help lower oil prices amid the embargo on Russian crude, and for their reported refusal to take President Biden’s phone calls. 

Maksad then goes through a litany of well-worn scare tactics about how if the United States dares to divert any of its resources away from the region, then China and Russia will swoop in and take over. And if the Iran nuclear deal is restored, he says, “American deterrence across the region wanes,” despite the fact that after the JCPOA was agreed to in 2015 up until President Trump withdrew in 2018, Iran and local Iran-backed militias launched zero attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East (and many more since).

The solution to all this purported mayhem, according Maksad, would be for the United States to create a special envoy to the Middle East “to restore trust and elevate the relationship,” while at the same time “meeting requests” from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for anti-missile defense systems.

The Wall Street Journal identified Maksad as “an adjunct professor at George Washington University” and “a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute” but it did not disclose MEI’s strong financial ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In the past five years alone, MEI has received millions from the UAE and at least $1 million from Saudi state-owned oil giant Aramco Services Company. The UAE is MEI’s single biggest funder.

But Maksad is not just a “senior fellow” at the Middle East Institute as the Journal says. He’s also MEI’s “Director of Strategic Outreach,” a position that, according to his MEI bio page, involves working on “strategic fundraising engagements with corporate and individual donors.” Indeed, a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for more defense commitments from the United States to the UAE and Saudi Arabia presumably would help with pitching UAE and Saudi officials for additional donations to the Middle East Institute. 

In addition to having served as CEO of the now-defunct pro-Saudi Washington think tank Arabia Foundation, Maksad is also the founder and managing director of Global Policy Associates — a consulting firm that does research, government affairs, and communications work — which lists MEI as one of its clients. But GPA’s client list also includes Teneo, a global advisory firm that has strong ties to the Gulf region in areas, according to Bloomberg, “such as risk advisory, communications and management consulting.”

Meanwhile, the Harbour Group, a key player in the UAE’s lobbying efforts in Washington, has contacted Maksad “multiple times” according to Foreign Agent Registration Act disclosures from May and November of 2021. Those contacts included topics such as the UAE’s military, its purchase of F-35s, and the normalization agreement between the UAE and Israel.

Unfortunately, this kind of hidden foreign influence has become commonplace in Washington. A foreign government funds a think tank which then goes on to advocate for that government’s interests, sometimes in direct opposition to American interests. While it’s laudable that MEI has made this funding information available to the public, it’s incumbent upon the media, especially major news outlets like the Journal, to inform their readers about any potential for conflict of interest. 

Photos: Casimiro PT via shutterstock.com and US State Department
Reporting | Washington Politics
3216117-scaled
A U.S. Special Forces Soldier demonstrates a kneeling firing position before a live fire range, March 6, 2017 at Camp Zagre, Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso Soldiers also practiced firing in seated position, standing position, and practiced turning and firing. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Britany Slessman 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) Multimedia Illustrator/released)
A U.S. Special Forces Soldier demonstrates a kneeling firing position before a live fire range, March 6, 2017 at Camp Zagre, Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso Soldiers also practiced firing in seated position, standing position, and practiced turning and firing. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Britany Slessman 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) Multimedia Illustrator/released)

Time to terminate US counter-terrorism programs in Africa

Africa

Every so often I am reminded of how counter-productive US engagement in the world has become. Of how, after miserable failure after failure, this country’s foreign policy makers keep trying to run the globe and fail again. From the strategic defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan to the feckless effort to sway the excessive Israeli military operation in Gaza, the US has squandered its power, exceeded its capabilities, and just plain failed.

My reminder was a recent New York Times piece lamenting the failure of US efforts to keep terrorists out of the Islamic areas of West Africa.

keep readingShow less
What South Africa's new unity gov't means for US relations

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and deputy president Paul Mashatile attend a special African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Cape Town, South Africa June 13, 2024. REUTERS/Nic Bothma

What South Africa's new unity gov't means for US relations

Africa

On May 29, South Africans went to the polls in one of this year’s most anticipated elections. In an outcome that shook the country’s political system, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has governed South Africa since Nelson Mandela became the country’s president following the fall of apartheid, lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since taking power in 1994.

As a result, the ANC has been forced to form a coalition with rival parties. It has forged a political alliance with the center-right, pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA) party, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the right-wing Patriotic Alliance (PA), and a small party called GOOD, which holds a single seat in parliament. Collectively, this coalition, which could still grow as the ANC continues to negotiate with other parties to expand its unity government, accounts for 68% of the seats in the country’s national parliament, which convenes in Cape Town. Leaning on its newly formed coalition, the ANC successfully reelected Cyril Ramaphosa as the country’s president on June 14.

keep readingShow less
How the 'war on terror' made the US Institute for Peace a sideshow

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the launch of the U.S.-Afghan Consultative Mechanism with Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, at the U.S. Institute of Peace, in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2022. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

How the 'war on terror' made the US Institute for Peace a sideshow

Global Crises

This year the United States Institute of Peace is 40 years old, and most Americans and U.S. government officials have little to no awareness that Congress funds an institute of peace or understand what it does.

This lack of awareness about USIP and its anniversary this year reflects a larger problem in U.S. foreign policy: the U.S. government’s strained relationship with peacemaking.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest