Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Pro-Saudi Think Tank Arabia Foundation Shuts Down

Here is more from The National:

The board of the Arabia Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, has decided to shut down operations immediately.
The National was first to report the decision on Tuesday, and was told by a source that the think tank’s board members decided to shut down “due to differences of opinion among its donors".
Later on Tuesday, the institute's founder Ali Shihabi confirmed the news.
“It is with regret that I confirm that the board of directors of the Arabia Foundation decided today to close down the foundation," he tweeted.
"This is due to ongoing differences among our donors that made continued operations difficult.”
The Arabia Foundation was founded in 2017, with a goal of covering Middle East politics and socio-economics, with a particular focus on the Arabian Peninsula.

The Washington Times adds more juicy gossip to the news:
Concurrent to Arabia ceasing operations is a lawsuit filed by Ola Salem by her attorneys, Gerstman Schwartz LLP, alleging sexual harassment and other types of abuse while she was employed by Mr. Shihabi.
The lawsuit alleges slander and defamation, invasion of privacy, intentional emotional distress, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and more. Salem even alleges she was prevented from gaining employment after leaving Arabia.

Here is more from the Middle East Eye.
After the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a number of think tanks who had been taking Saudi money were pressured to stop accepting those funds, and those with close ties to Saudi Arabia were scrutinized closely.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#355)

  • 2020 presidential candidate Mike Gravel bashes Brookings.
  • In 2011, Michael Mann took climate change denial think tank to court and now they apologize.
  • Atlantic Council and Wilson Center connected to Brazil's Lava Jato scandal?
  • RAND Corp. researcher Pam Mueller earned more than $215,000 on Jeopardy.
  • Australia Institute shaping Australia. 
  • C4ADS report using Palantir data: How North Korea gets its luxury goods. 
  • Heritage Foundation invited to White House social media summit. 
  • Brookings contacted by lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia (MSL/Qorvis) for meetings.
  • Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appointed by Trump to the board of Wilson Center. 
  • Grattan Institute looking for a new leader.
  • The rise and fall of America's "policy entrepreneurs."

Monday, July 29, 2019

Think Tankers Who Signed "Never Trump" Letters Remain Shut Out of Trump Administration

Here is more from the Washington Post:

Two and a half years into President Trump’s tenure, the Republican national security heavyweights blacklisted from his administration for signing a pair of “never Trump” letters in 2016 face a crossroads — remain opposed or support him in 2020.
While some have become prominent figures of the anti-Trump resistance — denouncing him in op-eds and on cable news — others have offered policy advice from outside perches, and a select few have quietly, though mostly unsuccessfully, angled for administration jobs, hopeful that a mea culpa could end their days in purgatory.
“I’m not comfortable with letters anymore,” said Patrick Cronin, head of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Hudson Institute, who signed the first letter, which called Trump “fundamentally dishonest” and “utterly unfitted to the office.” In March 2017, Cronin was forced to withdraw from a new position overseeing a Pentagon think tank after Trump allies blasted his appointment by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Of the 149 experts who signed at least one of the two letters warning that Trump was unfit for office — the first published on the War on the Rocks website during the 2016 GOP primaries and the second on the New York Times’s site during the general election campaign — just one has been hired by the Trump administration. James Jeffrey, a Middle East expert who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was named the State Department’s special representative for Syria last summer and in January was given the additional role of special envoy to counter the Islamic State.

A number of think tankers recently divided themselves on China policy, with some supporting President Trump's policies and tactics and others calling for a new strategy.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Think Tankers Help Resurrect Group to Warn Against China's Rise

Here is more from the New York Times:

The Committee on the Present Danger, a long-defunct group that campaigned against the dangers of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, has recently been revived with the help of Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, to warn against the dangers of China.
Once dismissed as xenophobes and fringe elements, the group’s members are finding their views increasingly embraced in President Trump’s Washington, where skepticism and mistrust of China have taken hold. Fear of China has spread across the government, from the White House to Congress to federal agencies, where Beijing’s rise is unquestioningly viewed as an economic and national security threat and the defining challenge of the 21st century.
An increasing number of people in Washington now view the decoupling of the two economies as inevitable — including many of the members of the Committee on the Present Danger. At an inaugural meeting in April, Mr. Bannon, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and others issued paeans to Ronald Reagan — a former member of the group — and were met with standing ovations as they called for vigilance against China.
The committee’s two earliest iterations, in the 1950s and again in the 1970s, called for an arms buildup to counter the Soviets. The second iteration, formed over a luncheon table at Washington’s Metropolitan Club in 1976, issued documents warning against Soviet expansionism, with titles like “Is America Becoming Number 2?”
The group was briefly active again starting in 2004, this time to warn against the threat of Islamic extremism. The committee’s vice chair, Frank Gaffney, is the founder of the Center for Security Policy, a think tank that argues that mosques and Muslims across America are engaged in a “stealth jihad” to “Islamize” the country by taking advantage of American pluralism and democracy.
The group’s activity largely died down until concern over China rekindled interest.

Other think tankers on the committee include Mark Stokes of Project 2049 Institute, Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, and Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute.  Besides Frank Gaffney, others from his think tank on the committee include Clare Lopez, Michael Waller, and Robert McEwen.  A full list of members can be found here.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Think Tankers Divide Themselves on China and Trump

Here is more from Reuters:
Scores of Asia specialists, including former U.S. diplomats and military officers, want President Donald Trump to rethink policies that “treat China as an enemy,” warning the approach could hurt U.S. interests and the global economy, according to a draft open letter reviewed by Reuters on Saturday.
The letter recently appeared in the Washington Post.  Signatories from the think tank world include:

  • James Acton, co-director, Nuclear Policy Program and Jessica T. Mathews Chair, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Andrew Bacevich, co-founder, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
  • Jeffrey A. Bader, former senior director for East Asia on National Security Council 2009-2011 and fellow, Brookings Institution
  • C. Fred Bergsten, senior fellow and director emeritus, Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Richard Bush, Chen-Fu and Cecilia Yen Koo Chair in Taiwan Studies, Brookings Institution
  • Toby Dalton, co-director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Robert Daly, director, Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S., Wilson Center
  • David Dollar, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Robert Einhorn, senior fellow, Brookings Institution; former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, 1999-2001
  • David F. Gordon, senior advisor, International Institute of Strategic Studies; former director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department, 2007-2009
  • Philip H. Gordon, Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations
  • Lee Hamilton, former congressman; former president and director of the Wilson Center
  • Yukon Huang, senior fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Marvin Kalb, nonresident senior fellow, Brookings Institution
  • Charles Kupchan, professor of International Affairs, Georgetown University; senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Nicholas Lardy, Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Chung Min Lee, senior fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Cheng Li, director and senior fellow, John L. Thornton China Center, The Brookings Institution
  • Jessica Mathews, distinguished fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Alice Lyman Miller, research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
  • Moises Naim, distinguished fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Douglas Paal, distinguished fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Jonathan D. Pollack, nonresident senior fellow, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution
  • Richard Sokolsky, nonresident senior fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Graham Webster, coordinating editor, Stanford-New America DigiChina Project

In response, an open letter was written by China scholars who support President Trump's China policy.  Here is more from Free Beacon:

An open letter to President Trump urged the president to stay the course on dealing with the Chinese government, which the letter states is in opposition to the values and strategic interests of the United States.
The letter was written by retired Navy Captain James E. Fanell, a former director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The letter is a response to an open letter published by the Washington Post on July 3 titled "China is not an enemy."
Fanell's letter has 130 signatories, including veterans and former U.S. military officials, scholars and professors, think tank members, and other China watchers.

Think tankers who have signed that letter include Ian Easton and Mark Stokes of Project 2049 Institute, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, and John Tkacik of the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#354)

  • Michael Ledeen: The End of the Think Tank Era.
  • Did Mike Pompeo secretly discuss his presidential ambitions with Sen. Tom Cotton at AEI's annual retreat on Sea Island, Georgia?
  • New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) hires lobbying firm Van Aucker Group. 
  • Director of GWU's Program on Extremism, Lorenzo Vidino, held positions at RAND and USIP; part of "close-knit terrorism research community which includes academic centers and think tanks."
  • NYT talks to Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), a military think tank in Russia. 
  • "Carbon transition" think tank The Shift Project says online video causing climate crisis. 
  • Breitbart: Google-funded Heritage Foundation decries "Heavy-Handed" Tech Regulations. 
  • Bryan MacDonald: Dearth of genuine Russia expertise at DC think tanks. 
  • Think tank finds 100 Huawei employees have education/work experience linked to Chinese military or intelligence agencies? 
  • RAND Corp. announces Korea policy chair.
  • Pic: Flood in front of Brookings Institution.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Think Tank CEI Partying Big With Big Donor Money

Here is more from Politico about a recent Competitive Enterprise Institute's (CEI) party to celebrate its 35 years in existence:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute celebrated its 35th anniversary with a “Game of Thrones”-themed dinner at the Marriott Marquis in downtown D.C. Pool report: “Guests were able to take pictures on the Iron Throne, and ‘Red Wedding’ and ‘Wildfire’ cocktails were served into glasses through an ice luge. Author, lecturer and documentary filmmaker Johan Norberg received CEI’s Julian Simon Award, and Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist and author Dave Barry gave the keynote.”
SPOTTED: Fred and Fran Smith, Kathy Kraninger, Andrew Wheeler, C. Boyden Gray, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Luther Strange, Paul Teller, Jim Neill, Alexa Walker, Dan Huff, Matt Leopold, Mike Rose, Kevin Madden, Gregg Keller, Paul Atkins, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Byron Tau, Mike Bastach, Chris Bedford, Doug Domenech, Lawson Bader, Andrew Grossman, Melissa Holyoak, Syvlie Légère, Emily Domenech and Bridgett Wagner.

After the party, the New York Times wrote a piece about about CEI funders after finding out various donors to the gala.  Here is more:

It’s difficult to figure out who’s funding climate denial, because many of the think tanks that continue to question established climate science are nonprofit groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors. That’s true of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market research organization in Washington that disputes that climate change is a problem.
So, the program for a recent gala organized by the institute, which included a list of corporate donors, offered a rare glimpse into the money that makes the work of these think tanks possible.
Among the sponsors for the Game of Thrones-themed gala were groups that have long been aligned with fossil fuel interests, including the Charles Koch Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. The fuel and petrochemical group, which lobbies for gasoline producers, pushed to weaken car fuel economy standards, one of the Obama administration’s landmark climate policies.
But the program for the event, obtained by The New York Times and verified by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, also included major corporations, like Google and Amazon, that have made their commitment to addressing climate change a key part of their corporate public relations strategies.

Here is a link to a 20-page pamphlet from the gala, listing the dinner menu, drink menu, and various sponsors for the event, including: Marathon Petroleum, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Credit Union National Association, DCI Group, the Heritage Foundation, PhRMA, T-Mobile, Distilled Spirits Council, Amazon, American Beverage Association, Consumer Technology Association, Juul, Syngenta, Verizon, Altria, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Phillip Morris International, Uber, AT&T, BNSF Railway, CSX Corporation, National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific Corporation.

Monday, July 15, 2019

White House Turning to Climate Skeptical Think Tank to Overrule NASA Climate Concerns

Here is more from the Associated Press:

Once a skeptic about climate change, Jim Bridenstine came around to the prevailing view of scientists before he took over as NASA administrator. That evolution did not sit well with a Trump environmental adviser, nor a think-tank analyst he was consulting, according to newly disclosed emails that illustrate how skepticism of global warming has found a beachhead in the Trump White House.
“Puzzling,” says the May 2018 exchange between William Happer, now a member of President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, and Thomas Wysmuller of the Heartland Institute, which disavows manmade climate change. Their exchange calls scientifically established rises in sea levels and temperatures under climate change “part of the nonsense” and urges the NASA head — who was copied in — to “systematically sidestep it.”
It cannot be discerned whether it was Happer or Wysmuller who put that pressure on the new NASA chief. Their exchange is included in emails from 2018 and 2019 that were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Associated Press.

The Trump Hotel recently hosted the Heartland Institute's annual climate conference.

Heartland has been working for years to unravel environmental rules. The think tank has also played a major role in staffing various EPA posts within the Trump Administration.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Russian Think Tank With Links to Infamous Troll Farm Says 2 Employees Detained in Libya

Here is more from the Associated Press:

Two people with links to an infamous Russian troll farm have been arrested in Libya, their employer, who has been put on the U.S. sanctions list, said on Friday.
The Foundation for the Protection of Traditional Values said in a statement that its employees, including well-known spin doctor Maxim Shugaley, have been kept in custody in Libya since May. It said that it has been working behind closed doors to secure the men's release.
The obscure think-tank did not explain the charges the men are facing but insisted that its employees did not interfere in any elections in Libya.
Shugaley and the think-tank are connected to the infamous Russian troll farm that featured prominently in the probe by U.S. special investigator Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The think-tank is chaired by Alexander Malkevich who until earlier this year also edited the English-language website USA Really which is part of a media empire reportedly run by Russian President Vladimir Putin's ally Yevgeny Prigozhin. The magnate reportedly finances the Internet Research Agency, better known as the "troll factory."

Here is another recent story about think tanks connected to the Mueller probe.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Papadopoulos Met Mysterious Professor Through Think Tank

Here is more from the Washington Post about George Papadopoulos, a former member of the foreign policy advisory panel to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign:

At the time, Papadopoulos, a young energy consultant from Chicago, was working for a startup think tank called the London Center for International Law Practice and had just been drafted to be an unpaid foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign.
On the day after he agreed to join the campaign, Papadopoulos said his boss at the London think tank offered to introduce him to “a very important person” who would be “very useful” in his new position.
This VIP, Papadopoulos wrote in his book “Deep State Target,” was [Josef] Mifsud.
Papadopoulos said he was told by Nagi Idris, the director of the London Center for International Law Practice, that a London attorney affiliated with the think tank named Arvinder Sambei would be setting up a meeting for Papadopoulos and Mifsud at an upcoming conference to be held at Link Campus University in Rome, a private university that was formerly affiliated with the University of Malta.
Sambei is a former government prosecutor in the United Kingdom who had for a time served as a liaison with the U.S. Justice Department on American extradition requests.
Trump allies have seized on her connection to the think tank where Papadopoulos worked as evidence that Mifsud was working with the British government.

The article also notes that Mifsud, who has been affiliated with various think tanks, connected Papadopoulos to a Russian think tank director with ties to the Russian Foreign Ministry and promised to help set up a meeting with the Russian ambassador.

The article also mentions another think tank, noting that CIA's Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis organized a conference with the Gino Germani Institute, an Italian social sciences and strategic studies think tank which was affiliated at the time with Link Campus University.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Papadopoulos's connection to the Hudson Institute.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Elizabeth Warren's Campaign Relying on More Non-Think Tankers

Here is more from Politico:

The 2020 hopeful has tapped deep into her former world of academia, going well beyond Beltway think tanks.
Behind Elizabeth Warren’s trust-busting, Wall Street-bashing, tax-the-wealthy platform is a brain trust that extends well beyond the Beltway thinkers who often rubber stamp campaign proposals.
Instead, the former Harvard professor and her tight team of policy advisers have waded deeper into the world of academia than is usual in presidential campaigns, according to interviews with more than a dozen people her campaign has consulted and a review of the scholarship underlying her plans.
Leafing through Warren's plans posted on Medium, voters will find links to obscure academic literature from places like the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics, the Upjohn Institute, the Journal of Applied Business and Economics, and the American Journal of Sociology. 

Sen. Warren has not been hesitant to spar with Washington's think tank establishment, including ones from the liberal side of the aisle.  For example, she has been at war with the Brookings Institution for years, and in 2015 she sent a letter to the president of the think tank regarding its numerous financial conflicts of interest.

She has also criticized New America for the firing of one of its employees. The think tank Third Way has bashed Warren over the years but has now started to embrace here.

She has said that think tanks play a "critical role" in shaping policy, but their "credibility is jeopardized when decisions are based on funder preferences."

Before running for the Senate, Warren had considered launching what she called a Center for Middle Class Policy at the liberal think tank Roosevelt Institute, a policy shop that has been giving her lots of love recently.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Meet the World's First Fully Cloud-Operated Policy Think Tank

The think tank world in changing rapidly, with a number of new think tank concepts that are changing the way ideas and policies are shaped and distributed.

The latest example is the Gagra Institute (website here), the world's first digital and fully cloud-operated independent policy think tank.  Gagra says it is based on the concept of an "officeless office."

Gagra was founded in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2018 and focuses largely on European and transatlantic security issues.

Its website lists five experts at the think tank, including Beka Kiria, the founder and former official at Georgia's Ministry of Defense.

Donations to the think tank can be made in cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and ZCash.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Think Tank Quickies (#353)

  • Australian think tank: Climate change could pose existential threat by 2050.
  • Economist: Can think tanks survive a post-fact world? 
  • Fed Chair Jerome Powell speaks at Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
  • Iran's Foreign Minister Zavad Zarif to miss his access to think tanks in New York?
  • Mexico's foreign minister calls think tanks "think thanks," and Spanish translation follows.
  • Dr. Lyall Swim: Can think tanks create the inevitable?
  • Hal Brands: America needs to reboot the university programs and think tanks that helped win the Cold War.
  • CAP has proposed the creation of an independent agency at the Dept. of Agriculture dedicated to maintaining competitive markets and protecting farmers from the effects of consolidation and will shop the idea on Capitol Hill.
  • New IRI report: China increasing efforts to shape perceptions through ties with and funding for think tanks. 
  • Cory Booker aide heads to Economic Innovation Group (EIG), a think tank started by early Facebook investor Sean Parker.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Think Tank CAP Selling Its News Site

Here is more from Daily Beast:

ThinkProgress, the flagship news site of the Democratic think tank Center for American Progress, is up for sale. 
Staff were informed on Monday afternoon that the site would be sold off and a CAP official told The Daily Beast that the organization would begin looking for prospective buyers for the website, which has come under severe financial strains during the Trump era.
“Unfortunately, like so many other news outlets that have relied on advertising to fund its work, ThinkProgress has seen a significant drop in revenue in recent years, along with other financial strains. In addition, events over the last few years have underscored the divergent missions of American Progress and ThinkProgress,” said Navin Nayak, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Launched 14 years ago during the height of the Bush administration, ThinkProgress made a name for itself over time as an unapologetically progressive source of news and a launching pad for several major progressive luminaries. But the site, which is editorially independent from CAP, has struggled in recent years as advertising revenues have dried up and traffic has dipped.
 ThinkProgress has never been profitable. In the past, it has made up its shortfalls with contributions from CAP and CAP donors. Several ThinkProgress alums told The Daily Beast that they believed that CAP could continue covering the deficit but had concluded that the site was too much of an editorial headache and too big a financial drain for them to rationalize doing so. 
 Despite its troubles, ThinkProgress continues to be a strong draw for progressive readers, with more than 12 million pageviews and 7.5 million unique visitors in June 2019 alone, a CAP official said. 

Last month, it was reported that ThinkProgress had been bleeding money and staff.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Koch and Soros Join Forces in New Think Tank

An unlikely pair of billionaires are joining forces to start a new anti-war think tank called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.  Here is more from The Boston Globe, which broke the news:

In one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history, [George] Soros and Charles Koch, the more active of the two [Koch] brothers, are joining to finance a new foreign policy think tank in Washington.  It will promote an approach to the world based on diplomacy and restraint rather than threats, sanctions, and bombings.  This is a radical notion in Washington, where every major think tank promotes some variant of neocon militarism or liberal interventionism.
Since peaceful foreign policy was a founding principle of the United States, it's appropriate that the name of the think tank harken back to history.  It will be called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a homage to John Quincy Adams, who in a seminal speech on Independence Day in 1821 declared that the United States "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."
The institute plans to open its doors in September and hold an official inauguration later in the autumn.  Its founding donors - Soros's Open Society Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation - have each contributed half a million dollars to fund its takeoff.  A handful of individual donors have joined to add another $800,000.  By next year the institute hopes to have a $3.5 million budget and a staff of policy experts who will churn out material for use in Congress and in public debates.  Hiring is underway.
It aims to issue four reports before the end of 2019: two offering alternative approaches to the Middle East and East Asia, one on "ending endless war," and one called "democratizing foreign policy."

The piece notes that Trita Parsi, former President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), is a co-founder of the think tank, along with Suzanne DiMaggio (at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Stephen Wertheim (Columbia University), and Andrew Bacevich (Boston University).  The National Interest also notes that journalist Eli Clifton is a co-founder.

Here is what Vox had to say about Washington, DC's newest think tank.  Here is Reason's reaction.  Bill Kristol does not seem to be a big fan.  The Washington Times likens the new think tank to "bringing another U.N. in America's gates."

The think tank's new website can be found here.  It is currently seeking a director of media relations.

Update I: "Can this new think tank clean up America's flabby foreign policy?"

Update II: Politico notes that donors now include Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Arca Foundation, and Ploughshares Found.

Update III: The Hill says that Quincy Institute (QI), which held its opening reception on Dec. 4, is now made up of 14 founding staff and 40 non-resident fellow.  It adds that an online publishing forum named Responsible Statecraft will display US foreign policy news and opinions.