GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
Des Roches
First Name:
Title of Paper:
It Didn’t JASTA Be This Way: The Passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act as a Failure of Arab Lobbying
Paper Proposal Text :
The passage by Congress of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) over President Obama’s veto is the greatest failure of Saudi diplomacy in Washington in a generation. It stands together with the Dubai Ports World fiasco as perhaps the single greatest failures of Arab states with well-funded lobbying movements since the turn of the century.

The Saudi effort to prevent the passage of JASTA was a well-funded conventional lobbying effort which nonetheless failed comprehensively. Indeed, the retention of high powered lobbyists charging millions of dollars may have actually been counterproductive, as it played into a narrative of elites working against common citizens.

JASTA is even more remarkable as it happened over the opposition of US military services and veterans, normally one of the most powerful political groups in Washington. Concerned by the consequences of waiving sovereign immunity, most military figures in America joined with diplomats and Saudi lobbyists in this remarkably futile effort.

This paper will look at the JASTA effort in the context of American lobbying and domestic politics. It will propose that there is a hierarchy of virtue which can confound even the most organized and wellfunded lobbying effort. Using interviews with current lobbyists and registered foreign agents in DC, I shall examine the events that led to the passage of the act; the effort to overturn it, and the various strategies that have been employed and could have been employed.

An examination of the literature of perceptions between the US and Arab states in general (and Saudi Arabia in particular) will inform this discussion. I will also draw upon the rich body of literature dealing with special interest politics in America, and the strategies used to advance and oppose controversial legislation, such as the Ryan White Aids Care Act and the Affordable Care Act.

American domestic political science and the factors which affect the passage of laws in America are among the most studied phenomenon in modern political science. They are rarely addressed in a Gulf context however. I will draw upon this literature to place JASTA in context and identify key errors which allowed this act to go through.

Finally, I will draw on personal and professional connections made over the course of a career in government service in Washington DC to present an assessment of the current effort to overturn JASTA.