We are only now beginning to understand the true extent of Qatar's long campaign to subvert the American political establishment, to advance its own interests and those of close allies Iran and Turkey. It seems like every passing month reveals more public figures working to advance the Qatari agenda. The latest to be make headlines is former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith, a senior foreign-policy advisor to the Kamala Harris presidential campaign.
Following the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Smith raised eyebrows when she objected on Twitter to President Trump's pitiless description of Baghdadi's death. She wrote: "This gruesome, vivid and probably exaggerated description of dogs chasing down Baghdadi will endanger our personnel in the region.... When bin Laden was killed, we were careful to be clear that he had been given a proper Muslim burial."
To be sure, she added that, "The killing of Baghdadi was unquestionably good and necessary." But her larger objection was met with scorn by many who found it hard to believe that Smith wanted due honors given to a violent murderer and rapist like Baghdadi.
Why, then, does Smith care so much about Baghdadi's dignity?
Possibly it is not she who cares, but her friends in Qatar. Despite their claims of moderation, many Qataris actually support ISIS. A 2014 study found that 47% of Qatari Arabic-language social-media messages discussing ISIS were supportive—the highest percentage in the world. And this is just one instance of Qatar's long history of supporting extremists, including al-Qaida and Hamas.
Normally one wouldn't assume that an ex-diplomat would parrot the opinions of her former host country. But Smith's case is special. She has a long history of advocating for the interests of Qatar. Earlier this year, investigative journalist Daniel Greenfield published a detailed exposé of Smith's long history of advancing Qatari foreign policy—even while serving as U.S. ambassador.
Canadian businessman Alan Bender went further. Bender, who had spoken with high-level Qatari officials, said that Smith was being paid by Qatar through her consulting firm Decibel Strategy LLC—which Bender described as "her fake company in the US." (The company has no public presence and does not describe its clients or services.)
Smith is not the only former diplomat to be working for Qatar's interests. Even if we stick to public data, several former ambassadors have gone so far as to openly take Qatari money.
The list is impressive. Former U.S. ambassador to Qatar (1995-1998) Patrick Theros was the long-serving president of the US-Qatar Business Council, and also was one of the first board members of Qatar Foundation International. Amb. Chase Untermeyer (2004-2007) did business consulting for U.S. firms operating in Qatar, before becoming the founding chairman of the Qatar-America Institute in 2017. And Amb. Joseph LeBaron (2008-2011) is now vice-chair of Daruna, a firm providing housing for migrant workers in Qatar, the chairman of which is Qatari royal family member Shaikh Nasser Al-Thani; LeBaron also became a senior advisor to Squire Patton Boggs, which has lobbied for Qatar since 1994.
Other public figures known to have taken Qatari money include Rudy Giuliani and dozens of lobbying firms in Washington. And Qatar-financed lobbyists Nick Muzin and Joey Allaham were the point-men in a controversial Qatari campaign to target some 250 "influencers" in and around the Trump administration, at least some of whom were handsomely paid themselves as a result. Qatar paid the pair $3 million for that effort, and another $3.9 million for "foster[ing] dialogue" with American business leaders.
It's not illegal to take foreign money, as long as it is properly disclosed. But if Smith or Decibel Strategies is indeed being paid by Qatar, she has not disclosed it in a Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) filing—though she is mentioned in other entity filings, having met with Qatar lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs several times while ambassador.
Whether or not Smith is actually on the Qatari payroll, she appears to be participating in a massive and well-funded effort by Qatar to subvert our foreign policy. This broad-spectrum effort includes hundreds of millions of dollars paid to our universities, for which Qatar has gotten valuable quid pro quos; the extensive propaganda operations of regime-owned Al Jazeera, which have sparked calls from lawmakers to make it disclose its activities under FARA; and the well-publicized corrupting of major think tanks such as the Brookings Institute. And that's merely the legal elements of Qatar's plan.
Qatar has every right to advocate for its interests, and even to hire American figures to make its case. But there is a difference between advocacy and corruption. American foreign policy needs to be built around America's interests, not those of foreign countries with large bankrolls.
Dr. Oren Litwin is a Fellow for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum