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Candidate Briefing: What an Elizabeth Warren Presidency Could Mean for the Gulf

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) surprised almost no one when she filed precursory legal paperwork to make a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.[1] While known primarily for her anti-Wall Street bona fides among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Warren signaled that she was looking to boost her foreign policy portfolio in 2016 when she opted to join the Armed Services Committee for the 115th Congress. However, even when it comes to Foreign Policy, in true Warren-fashion the Senator has redirected her ire toward large American companies who she deems as seemingly reaping the benefit of a Trump foreign policy that leaves the majority disadvantaged.

With the murder of Jamal Khashoggi being the current moment’s most prominent Gulf foreign-policy flashpoint, Senator Warren has carved out a niche within the anti-Saudi sentiment by going after prominent consulting and lobbying firms with Saudi business ties. In late November Senator Warren sent a letter to 18 firms asking them to outline their current and past work for Saudi Arabia, and how the intelligence about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder would affect their business going forward. Notably included amongst this group was Boston Consulting Group, a world-renowned firm headquartered in the Senator’s home-state. Of the handful of firms that terminated Saudi-contracts due to the Khashoggi-murder, Warren commented “The decision to terminate lobbying services for the Saudi government is a positive step forward  toward reducing the corrosive influence of foreign governments and other special interests in our democracy.[2] In this statement, one can see Warren’s penchant for refashioning foreign policy issues in order to fit her domestic anti-corruption agenda.

In what could only be described as perfect timing for the Senator, her criticisms of lobbying and consulting firms came only three months after the Senator introduced a bill that would reshape Washington’s lobbying landscape.[3] Included in the bill were stark new rules that would put a lifetime ban on Members of Congress from joining lobbying firms and prevent Americans from retaining foreign governments as clients. While in Congress the bill did not gain much traction, a Warren Presidency would give her a higher perch to institute foreign-lobbying reforms, a loss for the GCC states, which to varying degrees have used American lobbyists as a linchpin of their US relations strategy.[4] The regulations proposed by Warren would fundamentally change how the Arab Gulf states (and the entire world) push their priorities in Washington.

 Like most of her fellow-Democrats Senator Warren criticized President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Also, in line with the rest of her caucus, Senator Warren has criticized America’s ongoing presence in Middle East conflicts, including Iraq and Yemen.[5]  As it relates to the Gulf Crisis, Senator Warren had a notable exchange with Defense Secretary Mattis in which she probed as to Russia’s motivations for spreading disinformation within the Arab Gulf states. After evidence emerged that Russia could have been behind false reports that the Qatari Emir praised Iran and Israel, Mattis responded to Warren, “I think a disruption of the international order is something that Russia in a short-sighted way thinks works to their benefit.”[6] Senator Warren’s line-of-questioning evidences the ways in which she has used her time on the Armed Services Committee to understand Gulf-related issues.

Unlike many of the other candidates in the race likely to only be remembered as “also-rans,” many pundits regularly list Warren as one of the most formidable challenges to President Trump. As such, Senator Warren’s Gulf-related policy perspectives cannot easily be dismissed, and there is a strong possibility a hypothetical Warren Administration would bring impactful changes to the US-Gulf relationship.



[1] Annie Linskey and Matt Viser, “Sen. Elizabeth Warren Says She Will Seek the Presidency in 2020,” The Washington Post, December 31, 2018.

[2] Marianne Levine, “Warren Demands Lobbying Firms Come Clean on Saudi Ties” Politico, November 29, 2018.

[3] Zachary Warmbrodt, “Warren Proposes Sweeping Crackdown on Lobbying,” Politico, August 21, 2018.

[4] Akbar Shahid Ahmed, “How Wealthy Arab Gulf States Shape the Washington Influence Game,” Huffington Post, September 9, 2015.

[5] Elizabeth Warren, “A Foreign Policy for All: Strengthening Democracy – At Home and Abroad,” Foreign Policy, January/February 2019 issues.

[6] Travis J. Tritten, “Mattis: Russia May Have Meddled in Qatar to Sow Disorder,” Washington Examiner, June 13, 2017.

Issue: U.S. – Gulf Policy

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