Monday, August 18, 2014


Lobbying and PR Spending
2013 Spending: $2 million

Obama visits King Abdullah
White House abandons Syria strikes
US approves arms sales
Senate tables Iran sanctions legislation
Congress preserves training subsidies
Lawmakers criticize human-rights record

Proposed US Arms Sales
(since 2010)

6 MONTHS TO SEPT. 30, 2013

6 MONTHS TO JUNE 30, 2014

12 MONTHS TO FEB. 28, 2014


Saudis Count on US Network to Get Obama on War Footing
Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 | Julian Pecquet, Congressional Correspondent

Saudi Arabia is counting on its extensive contacts in US military circles and its $2 million-a-year PR operation to weather the worst crisis in relations with Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
President Barack Obama’s dual decisions to forgo airstrikes on Syria and commit to nuclear negotiations with Tehran have infuriated Saudi leaders eager to curtail Iranian influence in the region. Over the past year, they’ve been arguing in both public and private that the White House must be more assertive.
“We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white,” former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said at a forum last year. “When that kind of assurance comes from the leader of a country like the United States, we expect him to stand by it.”
The Saudis can count on powerful friends in Washington to help them make their case.
The oil-rich kingdom is in the midst of the largest arms deal in US history, a $60 billion aircraft and helicopter sale announced in 2010. Its initiation despite concerns from US ally Israel points to high-level support from US military brass and defense contractors who have long played key roles in relations with Saudi Arabia.
That influence is clearly evident in the choice of diplomats the United States sends to Saudi Arabia. The current ambassador, Joseph Westphal, served as undersecretary and chief management office of the army from 2009 to 2014; his predecessor, James Smith, was an executive for missile maker Raytheon before Obama tapped him as his first envoy to Riyadh in 2009.
The wealthy oil state also has a high-priced lobbying and public relations team to deliver its message to Capitol Hill, think tanks and journalists.
Its $1 million-a-year relationship with Qorvis dates back to 2001, when then-Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan inked a $3.2 million deal for an image makeover after “favorability toward Saudi Arabia … declined significantly” among “Washington insiders” in the wake of the terror attacks. The campaign eventually prompted the FBI to raid Qorvis' offices as part of a probe into potential lobbying law violations; no charges were ever filed.
The Saudis also employ two other well-connected lobbying firms, Hogan Lovells and Patton Boggs, bringing their total spending on efforts to influence US policy to $2 million for 2013. And the country can count on a friendly ear at some Washington think tanks, where Riyadh’s $1 million donation in 2007 to the Middle East Policy Council may have cost its former head, Chas Freeman, a shot at chairing the National Intelligence Council following an outburst of criticism from pro-Israel groups.
Saudi critics say the kingdom’s pocketbook diplomacy is a sign of weakness, not of strength.
“In America's relations with Europe, with Israel, with Japan, with Australia, with South Korea, we've got common values. And those are extremely helpful for reinforcing the relationship. With the Saudis we don't,” said David Andrew Weinberg, a senior fellow on Saudi Arabia and Gulf Affairs at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “And they also don't have a domestic constituency among American voters, and as a result they need to find other ways to cushion the relationship when it gets frayed."
Saudi Arabia’s lobbying has produced some recent successes, albeit modest.
Obama paid King Abdullah a visit in March in what was widely described as a fence-mending trip that the United States takes Saudi concerns seriously, even if it produced little substantive change. Since then, the administration has asked Congress to ramp up aid to Syrian rebels and the Pentagon on Aug. 12 announced its desire to move ahead with a $2 billion modernization program for Riyadh’s AWACS radar picket fleet “to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for political stability in the Middle East.”
The military sale is subject to approval by Congress, where bipartisan concerns for the conservative kingdom’s poor human rights record are voiced regularly. Ahead of Obama’s trip, 70 House members of both parties wrote to Obama urging him to denounce the “systematic human rights violations targeting women, religious minorities and peaceful political reformers” during his trip.
Lawmakers’ influence is limited, however, because of Saudi Arabia’s deep pockets enable it to pay for US weapons and training. That suits Riyadh and Washington just fine, according to the Congressional Research Service, because “U.S.-funded programs would be more vulnerable to potential congressional scrutiny and pressure.”
“Saudi officials,” the CRS says in its latest analysis, “appear to prefer to avoid contentious public debate over U.S. foreign assistance, arms sales, and security cooperation.”