Cassandra Stimpson is a Research Associate at the Arms and Security Project and the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy.
Nia Harris is a Research Associate with the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy.
If you’re brave enough to tune into the news these days, it won’t take long until you’re forced to watch a tough-talking, cherry-faced expert or politician lamenting that however much we desire peace, the United States is left with little choice but to demonstrate the strength of the US military to the Iranian regime. The calls for the US to start another Middle East war are echoing across the halls of Congress and in think tanks all over Washington.
“Iran is a cancer… We have Iran down, and now we need to choke ‘em,” according to Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).
“Unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” declared Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Face the Nation regarding recent tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
After the disastrous results in Iraq and Afghanistan the obvious question is, who would pursue another Middle East entanglement? As is often the case in DC, if seeking answers, just follow the money.
What you haven’t heard from these, and many other Iran-hawks is how the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are underwriting much of this bellicose rhetoric, with a clear intent in mind: to embed the United States into another endless war in the Middle East. The Saudis and Emiratis spent more than $30 million in 2018 on lobbying and public relations firms registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). These foreign agents reported making over $3 million in campaign contributions in 2018 and had literally thousands of meetings with politicians, think tank experts, and media outlets to influence the narrative in Washington. And, they have been doing this for years.
For many Iran hawks, there’s a very clear money trail directly from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Center for International Policy’s (CIP) Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI), where we both work, has repeatedly documented Saudi and Emirati foreign agents giving millions to Members of Congress, many of which have been the most outspoken supporters of conflict with Iran. Former House Majority leader and current Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was the top recipient of firms representing Saudi Arabia in 2018 at $50,000, also receiving smaller donations from the UAE. Rep. McCarthy absurdly claimed in response to recent tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman that “Iran is the individuals [sic] that fund the terrorism around the world, the attacks going into Israel, the attacks going into Saudi Arabia, the problems anywhere else around the world, nine times out of ten it’s Iran that’s using it and a part of it” and that Iranians “only understand strength.” Nevermind that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the horrific 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia.
Sen. Cotton, demonstrated calling for war above, received $7,250 from lobbying firms representing the United Arab Emirates, and was contacted three separate times on regional developments, specifically regarding Iran and “potential ballistic missile sanctions against” Tehran. In 2018, Sen. Kennedy, whose advice for Iran is to “choke ‘em,” received at least $5,000 from Akin Gump, a firm representing the UAE, and his office was contacted multiple times by lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia.
Another particularly egregious example of Saudi influence comes from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). Specifically, the McKeon Group contacted Inhofe’s staff the same day they reported making a $1,000 contribution to Inhofe’s campaign. Within two weeks, Inhofe voted against a resolution to end US involvement with the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. More recently, in June 2019, Sen. Inhofe blocked a proposed provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would disallow funding offensive military operations in Iran. Sen. Inhofe received over $7,550 from Saudi registered firms in 2018.
In addition to Members of Congress, the Saudis and Emiratis have given lavishly to many of the think tanks whose experts are clamoring for war with Iran. For instance, the Middle East Institute, who houses a dedicated “IranObserved” program, received $20 million dollars from the UAE from 2016-2017 and has also received millions from Saudi Arabia. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) was the most contacted think tank by the UAE last year, and the most contacted individual by UAE foreign agents, Michael Knights, produces articles like this, that may as well be titled “The Key to Peace in Yemen: More War,” calling for further arms to the Saudis and Emiratis.
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