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UAE influence in Washington is under scrutiny 

Thomas Barrack (R), a close adviser to former President Donald Trump and chair of his inaugural committee, leaves after attending a hearing at the US District Court of Eastern District of New York on July 26, 2021 in New York City [KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images]
Thomas Barrack (R), a close adviser to former President Donald Trump and chair of his inaugural committee, leaves after attending a hearing at the US District Court of Eastern District of New York on July 26, 2021 in New York City [KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images]

The influence of the United Arab Emirates in Washington has sparked concerns that the Gulf state is "buying the silence" of major US think tanks and policy groups. This follows the recent indictment of Tom Barrack for allegedly working as an unregistered foreign agent for Abu Dhabi. Despite the indictment of the 74-year-old billionaire, some of the biggest names linked to US foreign policy have been conspicuously silent over the nefarious role played by the UAE in pushing through its hawkish political agenda in Washington.

"Is the UAE buying silence at US think tanks?" asks Responsible Statecraft, an American publication providing analysis, opinion and news that promotes a less militaristic US foreign policy. It compares the response of think tanks to Chinese and Russian interference in Washington with that of the UAE. While Moscow and Beijing's influence has been written about extensively across the ideological spectrum, little has been said about the UAE's influential operations.

READ: UAE's desperate lobbying campaign unravels in US 'foreign agent' case

The authors of the article, Aditi Bawa and Ben Freeman, say that the privileged status of the UAE, with no questions asked about its behaviour, has become a trend. They point to what they call a "deafening silence" from think tanks when Abu Dhabi was caught conspiring to make more than $3.5 million in illegal political campaign contributions from 2016 to 2018, and when the UAE spent $2.5 million on a 2017 covert campaign to turn the US Congress against the Emirates' regional rival Qatar.

"Why is meddling in US politics by one authoritarian regime, the UAE, treated differently from meddling by authoritarian regimes like Russia and China?" ask Bawa and Freeman. They say that money is a factor before revealing the huge sums paid by Abu Dhabi to some of Washington's most well-known think tanks.

READ: UAE lobbying 'subverted democracy' and fuelled Islamophobia

The UAE Embassy in Washington, for example, is said to have donated at least $1,000,000 to the Atlantic Council between 2019 and 2020. Shortly afterward, the think tank held its fourth annual Global Energy Forum in partnership with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and other nuclear energy and petroleum companies. The council also received at least $4 million from the UAE between 2014 and 2018.

"Staying silent on national security issues where the UAE is the culprit is a pattern across think tanks that pontificate foreign policy expertise and receive UAE funding," explain the authors.

A spokesperson for the Atlantic Council is quoted as insisting that the group has "complete intellectual independence" and that any suggestion otherwise would be false. "Staff across the Atlantic Council's programmes have written critically about the UAE's policies and have exposed influence efforts — all of which is publicly available."

A survey of the Atlantic Council website carried out by the authors indicated that there is no critical coverage of the UAE generally, and absolutely nothing addressing the UAE's illicit influence operations in the US that took place while the council received millions of dollars from the Emirates. The council's spokesperson failed to respond to a request for evidence of the allegedly "publicly available" criticism of the UAE.

OPINION: Did UAE lobbying instigate Tillerson's sacking?

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