GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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The Gulf states and D.C. think tanks: The effects of funding on the results of Middle East policy analysis
Paper Proposal Text :
In an Atlantic article on “The Obama Doctrine,” Jeffrey Goldberg described the former president’s dismissive attitude towards think-tanks in Washington, D.C. stressing that Obama “resented the foreign-policy think-tank complex.” Goldberg quoted one official describing Massachusetts Avenue as “Arab Occupied-Territory”, in reference to the sizable amounts of funding that think tanks there receive from Arab Gulf states. Those statements convey a belief among policymakers, the media, and ordinary people in the United States that government funding from Gulf states to think tanks in Washington has compromised the views coming out of those institutions, particularly on issues that pertain to the interests of those governments.

However, in a more general sense, studies about the link between the sources of funding and the results of research have yielded mixed results. While some recent analysis of the pharmaceutical, nutrition, and tobacco industries have found that industrial support for research may bias scientific conclusions, those findings don’t necessarily apply to other industries given the different dynamics that exist within each. Specifically, this issue has not been examined systematically in the field of Middle East policy analysis, where many unique factors may influence the degree to which research fellows are influenced by funding from Gulf states (such as their presence in Washington, their nationality, their professional network, the stereotypes prevalent among D.C. policymakers… etc.).

The aim of this study is to examine the association between Gulf funding to Washington think-tanks and the conclusions of policy-analysis published by those think-tanks. The study will do so through classifying the findings and recommendations of policy papers from think tanks that receive generous Gulf donations and comparing them with the recommendations of similarly-minded think tanks that do not receive Gulf-funding. Policy papers will be systematically categorized into two groups: pro-Gulf and anti-Gulf, to reflect whether the recommendations are in line with Gulf interests or not. The study will only examine policy papers that pertain to key topics on which Gulf states have a clearly defined position (i.e. the Iran Deal, the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain, the war in Syria, the war in Yemen…etc.). The classifications will be conducted by a randomized group of readers that are familiar with Middle East policy. The results will then be analyzed through exact tests and regression analysis, controlling for covariates where possible.

Separately, the study will compare the number of Gulf-related papers published by each of these think tanks (both Gulf-funded and not) to test whether Gulf-funding is associated with more or less coverage on Gulf-related topics. Here, the aim is to answer the following questions: Are these institutions inadvertently engaging in self-censorship in fear of losing funds? Are Gulf-states funding these institutions in an attempt to silence them? The idea here is to explore how the funding has impacted the quantity of research produced on Gulf states.

This study is relevant for two reasons. It will inform the conversation in the United States on the bias of Washington’s think tanks, providing evidence to support or deny those allegations. Furthermore, the study will inform Gulf policymakers on the kind of impact that their investment in think tanks has on the conversation in Washington.