The Gulf rift already has seen slogan-plastered taxicabs in London, television ads in the US and competing messages flooding the internet and state-linked media on both sides since the crisis began on June 5. Hiring a firm associated with former Trump aide shows that Qatar wants access to White House that already has close ties to Saudi Arabia.
But matching Saudi Arabia, which scored a diplomatic coup by hosting Trump’s first overseas trip, could be a tough battle for Qatar even if it does boast the world’s highest per-capita income due to its natural gas deposits.
“The Qataris are belatedly working up to the scale of the challenge they face,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University who lives in Seattle.
“This whole crisis, now that it’s kind of settled down into a prolonged confrontation or standoff, it’s become almost a struggle to win the hearts and minds in DC,” he added.
Qatar, in the midst of building stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, isn’t afraid to spend its money. Since the crisis began, Qatar has paid $2.5 million to the law firm of former US Attorney General John Ashcroft to audit its efforts at stopping terrorism funding, among the allegations levied by the Saudi-led nations.
According to documents newly filed to the US Justice Department, Qatar has hired Avenue Strategies Global to “provide research, government relations and strategic consulting services.” The contract also says that the firm’s activities “may include communications with members of Congress and Congressional staff, executive branch officials, the media and other individuals.”
Lewandowski founded Avenue Strategies just after the November election that put Trump in the White House.
He resigned from the firm in May, saying he was troubled by a firm-related project he hadn’t sanctioned. Others tied to Avenue Strategies had started a firm of their own, pitching Eastern European clients with promises of access to Trump and high-ranking White House officials.
The firm, which includes a former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press (AP).
Qatar also signed a three-month, $1.1 million renewable contract with the opposition research firm Information Management Services, according to a Justice Department filing.
The firm, run by Jeff Klueter, a former researcher for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, did not respond to requests for comment. It advertises itself as doing so-called “oppo,” which includes digging into political opponents’ past and comments for incriminating or simply embarrassing material.
Qatar did not respond to a request for comment about the lobbying contracts. But it may serve as recognition that while Qatar has had success in speaking with the State Department and the Pentagon, it needs to make inroads to the Trump White House, Ulrichsen said.
Despite hosting a major US military base, Qatar has been a target of Trump over its alleged funding of extremists, something Doha denies. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia enjoys close relations to Trump, as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
In Washington, Saudi Arabia spends millions of dollars on lobbying, including a recent push to oppose a law allowing September 11 victims’ families to sue the ultra-conservative Muslim nation in US courts. Its lobbying firms have also been putting out memos on Qatar.
Meanwhile, an organisation called the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC) launched an online campaign called the Qatar Insider highlighting material critical of Doha. The committee also paid $138,000 to air an anti-Qatar attack ad on a local Washington television station, according to the Qatar-funded satellite news network Al-Jazeera.
“Our aim is to show the American people that Qatar has been employing a foreign policy that harms its neighbours and contributes to regional instability,” said Reem Daffa, the executive director of the committee, known by the acronym SAPRAC.
While Daffa claimed SAPRAC does no lobbying, it has registered as a lobbying firm with Congress and tweeted a Qatar attack ad at Trump. It also has not filed paperwork with the Justice Department despite the committee being listed as entirely owned by a Saudi national.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act, first put in place over concerns about Nazi propagandists operating in the US ahead of World War II, requires those working on behalf of other countries or their citizens to file regular reports to the Justice Department.
There aren’t similar rules in Britain, though the crisis recently could be seen on the streets of London. Pro-Qatar ads appeared on the city’s famous black taxis, bearing the message: “Lift the Blockade Against the People of Qatar.” Al-Jazeera Arabic even did a story about them.
But whether any of it will sway policy makers remains unclear.
“The prevailing view is that there are no perfect allies,” recently wrote Steven A Cook, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. “So whatever money the Gulf countries are spending in Washington, they should know it is not very well spent.”