Think Tanks

Among the articles digested below, please note especially
A Modest Proposal” by Stephen M. Walt.

Recipient Grants:
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

“Washington Institute for Near East Policy: An AIPAC ‘Image Problem’ ”
by Mark H. Milstein
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1991
[cited in endnotes to Chapter 6 of ILUSFP]

US thinktanks give lessons in foreign policy
by Brian Whitaker
The Guardian, 2002-08-19

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

“I see a parade of people from these institutes
coming through as talking heads [on cable TV].
I very seldom see a professor from a university on those shows,”
says Juan Cole, professor of history at Michigan University,
who is a critic of the private institutes.
“Academics [at universities]
are involved in analysing what’s going on
but they’re not advocates,
so they don’t have the same impetus,”
he said.
“The expertise on the Middle East that exists in the universities
is not being utilised, even for basic information.”

Of course, very few academics
have agents like Eleana Benador to promote their work
and very few are based in Washington -
which can make arranging TV appearances,
or rubbing shoulders with state department officials a bit difficult.

Those who work for US thinktanks
are often given university-style titles
such as “senior fellow”, or “adjunct scholar”,
but their research is very different from that of universities -
it is entirely directed towards shaping government policy.

What nobody outside the thinktanks knows, however, is
who pays for this policy-shaping research.

Under US law, large donations
given to non-profit, “non-partisan” organisations such as thinktanks
must be itemised in their annual “form 990” returns to the tax authorities.
But the identity of donors does not need to be made public.

The AEI, which deals with many other issues besides the Middle East,
had assets of $35.8m (£23.2m) and an income of $24.5m in 2000,
according to its most recent tax return.
It received seven donations of $1m or above in cash or shares,
the highest being $3.35m.

The Washington Institute [for Near East Policy],
which deals only with Middle East policy,
had assets of $11.2m and an income of $4.1m in 2000.
The institute says its donors are identifiable because they are also its trustees, but the list of trustees contains 239 names
which makes it impossible to distinguish large benefactors from small ones.


The Washington Institute is considered
the most influential of the Middle East thinktanks,
and the one that the state department takes most seriously.
Its director is the former US diplomat, Dennis Ross {who is Jewish].

Besides publishing books and placing newspaper articles,
the institute has a number of other activities
that for legal purposes do not constitute lobbying,
since this would change its tax status.

It holds lunches and seminars, typically about three times a week,
where ideas are exchanged and political networking takes place.
It has also given testimony to congressional committees
nine times in the last five years.

Every four years, it convenes a “bipartisan blue-ribbon commission”
known as the Presidential study group,
which presents a blueprint for Middle East policy to the newly-elected president.

The institute makes no secret of its extensive links with Israel,
which currently include the presence of two scholars from the Israeli armed forces.

Israel is an ally and the connection is so well known that
officials and politicians take it into account when dealing with the institute.
But it would surely be a different matter
if the ally concerned were a country such as Egypt, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

Apart from occasional lapses ...
the Washington Institute typically represents
the considered, sober voice of American-Israeli conservatism.

The Middle East Forum is its strident voice -
two different tones, but mostly the same people.

Three prominent figures from the Washington Institute -
Robert Satloff (director of policy),
Patrick Clawson (director of research) and
[Michael] Rubin (prolific writer, currently at AEI) -
also belong to the forum.

Daniel Pipes, the bearded $100,000-a-year head of the forum
is listed as an “associate” at the institute,
while Mr Kramer, editor of the forum's journal, is a “visiting fellow”.

AIPAC's Overt and Covert Ops
by Juan Cole
Antiwar.com, 2004-08-30

[An excerpt (emphasis is added).]

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is a lobbying group
that used to support whatever government was in power in Israel,
and used to give money evenhandedly inside the U.S.
My perception [and that of many other observers]
is that during the past decade
AIPAC has increasingly tilted to the Likud in Israel,
and to the political Right in the United States.
In the 1980s,
AIPAC set up the Washington Institute for Near East Policy as
a pro-Israeli alternative to the Brookings Institution,
which it perceived to be insufficiently supportive of Israel.

WINEP has largely followed AIPAC into pro-Likud positions,
even though its director, Dennis Ross, is more moderate.
He is a figurehead, however, serving to disguise
the far right character of most of the position papers
produced by long-term WINEP staff and by extremist visitors and “associates”
(Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer are among the latter).

WINEP, being a wing of AIPAC, is enormously influential in Washington.
State Department and military personnel are actually detailed there to
“learn” about “the Middle East”!
They would get a far more balanced “education” about the region
in any Israeli university,
since most Israeli academics are professionals,
whereas WINEP is a “think tank” that hires by ideology.

I did some consulting with one U.S. company that had a government contract,
and they asked me about WINEP position papers
(many of them are just propaganda).
When I said I would take them with a grain of salt, the guy said
his company had “received direction”
to pay a lot of attention to the WINEP material!

So discipline is being imposed even on the private sector.


WINEP supplies right-wing intellectuals to Republican administrations,
who employ their positions to
support Likud policies from within the U.S. government.
They have the advantage over longtime civil servants
in units like the State Department's Intelligence and Research division,
insofar as they are politically connected and so
have the ear of the top officials.

The Torturous Servility of Washington Think Tanks
by Jim Bovard

Pro-Israel Hawks and the Second Gulf War
by Joel Beinin
Middle East Report, 2003-04-06

[An excerpt:]

The establishment
of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in 1985
greatly expanded the [Israel] lobby’s influence over policy as well.
WINEP’s founding director, Martin Indyk,
had previously been research director of AIPAC
which, then as now, focuses much of its efforts on Congress.
Indyk developed WINEP into
a highly effective think tank devoted to
maintaining and strengthening the US-Israel alliance
through advocacy in the media and lobbying the executive branch.

On the eve of the 1988 presidential elections [Bush/Dukakis],
with the first Palestinian intifada underway,
WINEP made its bid
to become a major player in US Middle East policy discussions
by issuing a report entitled
“Building for Peace: An American Strategy for the Middle East.”
The report urged the incoming administration to
“resist pressures for a procedural breakthrough
[on Palestinian-Israeli peace issues]
until conditions have ripened.”

Six members of the study group responsible for the report
joined the first Bush administration,
which adopted this stalemate recipe
not to change until change was unavoidable.
the US acceded to
Israel’s refusal to negotiate
with the Palestine Liberation Organization

despite the PLO’s recognition of Israel

at the November 1988 session of the Palestine National Council.

After the 1991 Gulf War, the first Bush administration
felt obliged to offer a reward to its Arab wartime allies
by making an effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It convened a one-day international conference at Madrid in October
followed by eleven sessions of bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations
in Washington.
These talks were fruitless, in part because
Israel still refused to negotiate
with Palestinians who were official representatives of the PLO.

Then, as now,
Israel preferred to choose the Palestinians with whom it would negotiate.
[Such arrogance!
And they get away with it, without the slightest criticism from Washington.]

When Israel became serious
about attempting to reach an agreement with the Palestinians,
it circumvented the US-sponsored negotiations in Washington
(and the pro-Israel lobby)
and spoke directly to representatives of the PLO in Oslo.
The result was the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles.
Thus, the adoption of WINEP’s policy recommendation to
“resist pressures for a procedural breakthrough”
by both the Bush and Clinton administrations
delayed the start of meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,
contributed to the demonization of the PLO and
multiplied the casualty rate of the first Palestinian intifada.


The Clinton administration was
even more thoroughly colonized by WINEP associates
than its predecessor [Bush-41].


Where WINEP and AIPAC tend to hew to the line of
whichever Israeli government is in power,
JINSA associates align themselves with
the territorial ambitions of the Israeli right.

AEI: Caught Between Its Likudist Heart and Its Corporate Head
by Jim Lobe
LobeLog.com, 2007-08-03

[This raises a point that has long been of interest:
If the AEI is really funded by corporations,
why does it take positions so associated with Israel’s hard-line extremists?]


A Modest Proposal
by Stephen M. Walt
walt.foreignpolicy.com, 2009-11-20


[I]s there any way to clean up
the marketplace of ideas here in the United States?

We are drowning in information and opinion,
much of it claiming to be objective and authoritative
when it may in fact be inspired and funded by moneyed special interests
eager to sell the public a story that advances their particular objectives.
Most “think tanks” in Washington portray themselves as
objective, quasi-scholarly institutions
(indeed, they increasingly give researchers
endowed chairs and other quasi-academic titles),
but unlike most universities,
most think tanks remain heavily dependent on “soft money”
and are bound to be
especially sensitive to what potential donors might be thinking.
And some of them aren’t really scholarly at all;
they are just public relations operations or “letterhead organizations”
seeking to mold public opinion
and push the policy process in a particular direction.
unless you know who’s paying for it,
it’s hard to decide who’s giving you an honest opinion
and who is just shilling for some powerful interest group.

Can we tame this beast without infringing on free speech?

Here’s a suggestion:
let’s start by asking participants in the war of ideas
to provide a lot more information about their financial dealings.

The SEC requires companies
to make relevant financial information available
to investors;
why shouldn’t those who provide information in the public arena
provide a similar level of disclosure
to those who “invest” in their alleged expertise?

We don’t have to pass a law requiring think tanks or pundits
to disclose the details of their funding arrangements to the public;
as a first step,
we could simply rank different organizations and individuals
on the level of disclosure they provide,
much as other groups help potential donors rate charitable organizations
on their administrative efficiency.

For example, think tanks could be ranked
according to their willingness to provide lists of their funding sources,
specifying both the sources of the funding
and the specific projects that the donors paid for.
Wouldn’t you like to know who is bankrolling the
American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation,
Center for American Progress, Washington Institute for Near East Policy,
Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations,
Hudson Institute, Middle East Institute, Foreign Policy Initiative,
Institute for the Study of War, the Federation of American Scientists,
or the New America Foundation?


Transparency International?
by Stephen M. Walt
walt.foreignpolicy.com, 2009-12-04


‘The Surge of Ideas’
by Michael Flynn
Antiwar.com, 2010-06-17

Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command,
spoke at a public event in Washington, D.C.,
about the situation in Iraq and
the priorities of the U.S. military in the greater Middle East.[1]
The event was hosted by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW),
a think tank led by Kimberly Kagan —
spouse of the neoconservative writer Frederick Kagan

[This article is cited and commented on at length
here at Patrick Lang’s blog.]


Civilian analysts gained Petraeus’s ear while he was commander in Afghanistan
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post, 2012-12-19

[A look at how Frederick and Kimberly Kagan,
both affiliated to think tanks,
gained the ear of the American Afghan-war commanders]


Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks
New York Times, 2014-09-07

Hacks and Hired Guns
Are America’s think tanks in hock to the highest bidder?
by Stephen M. Walt
foreignpolicy.com, 2014-09-19

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