The United Arab Emirates may be just another small yet extremely affluent regime in the Middle East, but it seems to hold more power in Washington, D.C., than one would probably imagine.
The UN World Happiness Report 2017 ranked the Gulf kingdom the happiest country in the Arab world for three consecutive years, even though the country has earned a reputation for punishing those who exercise their right to free expression, abusing migrant workers and forcing them into labor, running “torture prisons” and sanctioning violence against women.
The UAE is also assisting Saudi Arabia in its military campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen — a war that killed more than 10,000 civilians and injured 40,000 in a country also facing the world's worst cholera outbreak, according to the United Nations.
However, despite its alleged brutalities and religious dictatorship, the monarchy maintains an excellent relationship with the United States — and as The Intercept revealed in its latest investigative piece, both countries have UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al-Otaiba to thank for that.
Otaiba, who previously served as a non-resident ambassador to Mexico, allegedly uses D.C.-based think tanks, the ones with influence over foreign policy making, to push his country’s agenda.
Earlier this month, hackers leaked a bunch of emails from Otaiba’s official Hotmail account to several publications. Most of those emails comprised correspondence between the ambassador and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who also happens to be President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
The screenshots of the email revealed Otaiba wanted the U.S. to close down its famous military base in Qatar.
While the previous cache was just as significant, contents of the latest hack are the ones raising eyebrows.
“The latest batch of hacked emails … provides insight into how Otaiba manages to find — or buy — so many friends in D.C. think tanks,” The Intercept reported.
Think tanks are supposed to be autonomous, yet most of their funding comes from sources like Wall Street, corporate-giants, political parties and even foreign governments.
Apparently, Michèle Flournoy, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and the co-founder of the Center for New American Security (CNAS), billed the UAE embassy $250,000 for a private study analyzing “potential benefits and costs of the UAE joining the MTCR.”
The MTCR, or Missile Technology Control Regime, is an organization of 35 countries that voluntarily “aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.” Only the member countries are eligible to buy certain military-grade weapons, including American attack drones, under the program. However, the UAE is not a part of it and the study was apparently an attempt to rectify that.
Ilan Goldenberg, the director of CNAS’ Middle East Security Program, reportedly sent the study to Otaiba in February 2017, who then distributed it to UAE leadership including Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed, according to the Middle East Monitor.
“We’d initially agreed that you would provide the second tranche of your financial support for the project when we are at the midpoint, which I think is about now,” Goldenberg had written in a previous email. “So I will have someone from our development team send you bank details/invoice over the next few days.”
Months later in June, CNAS published a similar paper claiming the country’s “reluctance to transfer U.S. drones harms U.S. interests in tangible ways.”
Officials from CNAS, including Goldenberg, along with some senior fellows from the public policy research and advocacy organization Center for American Progress and the D.C.-based of public relations firm Harbor Group, also made a fully funded trip to the UAE. The group also met with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince.
It is also important to note that Goldenberg recently testified before the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee during the hearing “assessing U.S.-Qatar relations.”
Given UAE’s stance against Qatar, another oil-rich and significantly rich Gulf country, and Otaiba’s monetary influence on CNAS, some might say Goldenberg’s testimony might not that be credible at all.
The leaked emails also cast a disturbing light on the key players behind the foreign policy making, showing in the end it all comes down to one thing: money.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Karim Sahib