Monday, October 15, 2018

Think Tanks Continuing to Weigh Whether to Take Saudi Money

A number of US think tanks have been distancing themselves from Saudi Arabia following the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi assassination squad.

The Brookings Institution announced that it would terminate a research grant from Saudi Arabia.  The think tank will also stop taking money from Aramco Services Company "effective immediately."

The Middle East Institute (MEI), which receives money from Aramco, said it will no longer participate in New York museum exhibits and programs funded by Saudi Arabia.  MEI's Board of Governors reportedly will meet next week to make additional decisions about its Saudi funding.

Mr. Alexander Nazaryan of Yahoo News also has some interesting updates about think tank thinking on Saudi money:

The Wilson Center, where Khashoggi has been offered and accepted a position as a fellow, said that in July, it had requested funds from the Saudi government for work on an index of female leaders. “The Saudi Arabian government never confirmed that funds would be forthcoming,” said Wilson spokesman Ryan McKenna in a statement. He added that if it turns out that Khashoggi was indeed murdered by the Saudis, “we will withdraw our pending funding request.”
Not all think tanks are rushing to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia. The Center for Strategic and International Studies told Yahoo News that the think tank “has received funding from the Saudi Arabian government to conduct diplomatic training exercises,” Andrew Schwartz, the organization’s spokesman, said in a statement. “We are following the Jamal Khashoggi story closely and haven’t made any decisions.”
Several think tanks were able to say that they do not accept any Saudi government funding. These included several prominent conservative and libertarian institutions, including the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute. The Council on Foreign Relations also said it did not accept funds tied to the Saudi government. 

The announcements come after a number of people started calling for think tanks to disclose their Saudi funding.

Hudson Institute chief Kenneth Weinstein notes that five years ago, the think tank's board of trustees set a policy to refuse funds from non-democratic governments.  "Yes, the policy undoubtedly cost us tens of millions of dollars but it was and is the right thing to do."

Here is a similar story about Saudi funding of think tanks by Emily Tamkin of BuzzFeed News.

To put things into perspective, Daniel Drezner notes that think tanks get relatively little money from Saudi Arabia compared to big consulting firms like McKinsey & Company.

Updates: Here is a map from the Washington Post showing Saudi Arabia's influence in Washington.

In the UK, a member of parliament is being scrutinized over his links to a Saudi think tanks, the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.

The Washington Institute says it neither solicits nor accepts financial support from any foreign source, relying solely on American donors.