Analysis 01-12-2017

ANALYSIS :

Military Technology Heats up Middle Eastern Conflicts

Swarms of drones attacking Russian bases in Syria, Yemeni rebels shooting down high tech Saudi aircraft, and precision Iranian missiles attacking Riyadh – the Middle East has become a testbed for high tech military weapons systems.

Yemen’s New Military Technology

A new report says that Yemeni air force and air defense units used a new domestically designed and produced missile system to shield the country’s capital and the northwestern provinces against airstrikes by Saudi military aircraft.

Yemen’s Arabic-language al-Masirah television network reported that Yemeni air defense forces, backed by fighters from allied Popular Committees, employed the system to intercept and target a F-15 fighter jet belonging to the Royal Saudi Air Force over Yemen’s capital on January 8.

This report came only hours after Yemeni air defense forces reportedly used the same missile defense system to shoot down a Tornado combat aircraft as it was flying in the skies over Yemen.

The Yemeni rebels showed video of the F-15 shoot-down by using an American FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) from an American made helicopter.  The sensor creates an image from thermal infrared wavelengths.  Apparently, Yemeni rebels, possibly with the help of outside advisors, were able to modify the system and place it on a ground based turret.

According to the internet publication “The Drive,” there is a distinct possibility that the United States might have supplied the FLIR System. In July 2009, the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales approved a deal that included three FLIR Ultra 8500 turrets.  The full package, intended as an upgrade for Yemen’s Huey II helicopters, had an estimated value of more than $3.7 million.

Although there are some reports that the imager was critical in defeating the F-15 that is probably not true.  Helicopter installed FLIR systems are too large to install in ground to air missiles.  There are also considerable technical issues to tying a thermal imaging system to a computer system that can track and predict the movement of a flying high performance aircraft.  There are also technical issues to tying such a system to servos that can maneuver a missile.

However, a FLIR system can be used to detect and warn short range air defense systems since it can see through smoke and haze.

There is the possibility that militants used a Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) as the Yemeni rebels claimed in the case of the MQ-9 drone shoot-down in October 2017.  It is also possible that the Houthis may have modified infrared homing air-to-air missiles they captured from Yemeni government stockpiles, although such missiles wouldn’t have the ability to hit high flying aircraft..

Improvised air defense systems aren’t unusual. Serbian forces employed modified Soviet AA-8 and AA-11 types during the fighting in the Balkans during the 1990s.

The Houthis also claim to have reactivated at least one Russian SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile system, including its Fan Song fire control radar. The group said it used one of these radio command guided weapons to knock down an American drone in January 2016, but this claim remains unsubstantiated.

The use of a radar guided missile like the SA-2 would help explain why the missile was not confused by the release of decoy flares, and the reason that the pilot used the jet’s afterburners, even though doing so created a far larger infrared signature for a heat-seeking missile to home in on.

In other words, the F-15’s crew may have been confused about whether it was a radar or infrared guided missile.

Another piece of military technology being used by the Yemeni rebels is the advanced guidance system that is making Scud missiles more accurate.  This has allowed the rebels to hit Riyadh, which is hundreds of miles from Yemen.

Although many questions remain it appears that the Scuds may have an aftermarket Russian optical seeker installed.  The optical seeker would compare the image it sees with a terrain image inside the onboard computer.

The optical seeker is produced by Russia’s secretive Central Scientific and Research Institute of Automatics and Hydraulics.

Russian arms manufactures have been actively marketing upgraded weapons systems to Middle Eastern clients like Syria and Iran.

Most notably, Moscow has been offering the new optically-guided Scud missile that is ostensibly capable of penetrating US and Israeli-made missile defense systems. According to Victor Solunin, the director general of Russia’s Central Scientific and Research Institute of Automatics and Hydraulics, a Scud missile upgraded with an optically-guided warhead, disengages in the terminal phase of the missile’s flight, allowing it to avoid incoming defensive missiles.

Solunin, whose institute has been building Scud missiles since 1968, also said that the upgraded Scud is much more accurate than its predecessors, “with a miss distance not exceeding 10 to 20 meters, irrespective of the range.” The missile’s optical system has a photo receiver and digital mapping system, enabling it to scan terrain based on pre-programmed target information during its final approach, as well as a mid-course correction device to avoid obstacles. It is supposedly immune to signal jamming and other electronic countermeasures.

Syria Heats up

Last week, the Russian military in Syria thwarted a massive drone attack at the Khmeimim air base and Russian Naval point in the city of Tartus on January 6, intercepting 13 heavily armed UAVs launched by terrorists.  Russia said that it shot down seven of the 13 drones and used electronic countermeasures to safely bring down the other six.

Russian news outlets have also reported two smaller drone attacks against Russian outposts in the provinces of Homs and Latakia.

While the Russian Ministry of Defense consciously didn’t point any fingers when talking about the January 6 attack, it pointed out that the technology used in the attack was telling. Advanced training in engineering in “one of the developed countries” would be necessary to program the principal controllers and bomb-release systems of an aircraft-type combat drone, the Russian statement stressed and added that “not everyone is also able to get exact (attack) coordinates from the space surveillance data.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense also declared that this is the “first time that terrorists massively used unmanned combat aerial vehicles of an aircraft type that were launched from a distance of more than 50 kilometers, and operated using GPS satellite navigation coordinates.”

The statement said the drones “carried explosive devices with foreign detonating fuses,” adding that the “usage of strike aircraft-type drones by terrorists is the evidence that militants have received technologies to carry out terrorist attacks.”

Shortly after, the Russian Ministry of Defense released new information, noting “strange coincidences” surrounding the terrorist attack: these included a US spy plane spotted in the area, namely a US Navy’s Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft on patrol between the Khmeimim airbase and Tartus naval base in Syria during the time of the attack.  Russia also implied that the high technology found in the drone may indicate that America may be involved.

The Pentagon countered that while the US was “concerned” over the incident, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankin-Galloway, however, claimed that “those devices and technologies can easily be obtained in the open market.” He later also told the Russian news agency Sputnik that the US already saw what it called “this type of commercial UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology” being used in ISIS missions.

However, the attacks may also be from Turkey.  According to a report Wednesday in the Russian Defense Ministry’s official Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, the drones were launched from a village controlled by the “moderate opposition” called Muazzara in southern Idlib province. Russia has sent a letter to Turkish authorities urging them to comply with Turkey’s obligations in the area under ceasefire agreements with Russia, the report said.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Trump Just Cut Aid to Pakistan. Why This Long-Overdue Move Could Have a Real Impact.

By Jeff M. Smith
Heritage Foundation
January 5th, 2018

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s a lesson the U.S. government has learned the hard way in Pakistan.  Fortunately, the Trump administration’s recent decision to suspend $255 million in aid to Islamabad serves as a welcome injection of sanity into the deeply dysfunctional U.S.-Pakistan relationship. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” President Donald Trump declared in a Jan. 1 tweet. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/trump-just-cut-aid-pakistan-why-long-overdue-move-could-have-real-impact

 

U.S. Must Condemn Iranian Regime, Back Protesters

By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
January 5, 2018

It’s not its perceived “enemies” in the United States, in Israel or Saudi Arabia that Iran really fears — it’s a liberating counterrevolution to the repressive 1979 Islamic Revolution that Tehran’s thuggish theocrats really dread. And rightfully so. The people of Iran have lots of good reasons to be fed up with the regime’s tyrannical political, economic and social policies that it has meted out on them without their consent for nearly four decades now. Just take a gander at the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report to Congress. It notes that the Iranian regime is responsible for “severe restrictions on civil liberties, including assembly, association, speech, religion and press.”

The State Department’s report also documents politically motivated violence and repression, disappearances, arbitrary arrests — with prisoners being held sometimes incommunicado. Security forces, it charges, continue to act with impunity and invasions of privacy are common. We also know that Iran is no democracy: Iranians don’t get to choose their government through open elections. The regime rules on who can run for political office — and you can bet every candidate is a loyalist.

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/us-must-condemn-iranian-regime-back-protesters

 

Iraq After ISIS: The Other Half of Victory Dealing with the Civil Dimension

By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
January 9, 2018

The United States, its allies, and international organizations are just beginning to come to grips with the civil dimensions of “failed state” wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, the Sudans, Syria, and Yemen. In each case, it is clear that the civil dimension of the war will ultimately be as important as the military one. Any meaningful form of “victory” requires far more than defeating the current extremist threat in military terms, and reaching some temporary compromise between the major factions that divide the country. The current insurgent and other security threats exist largely because of the deep divisions within the state, the past and current failures of the government to deal with such internal divisions, and the chronic failure to meet the economic, security, and social needs of much of the nation’s population.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/iraq-after-isis-other-half-victory/?block4

 

Unconventional Wisdom in the Middle East

By Lawrence J. Haas
American Foreign Policy Council
January 9, 2018

Recent events across the Middle East put the lie to one of the foreign policy establishment’s most enduring tenets of conventional nonsense: that Israeli-Palestinian peace is key to greater regional peace and stability.  Sharing concerns over hegemony-seeking Iran and radical Islamic forces like the Islamic State group and Muslim Brotherhood, the key Arab states of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are drawing ever closer to Israel – with officials appearing together publicly, meeting privately and collaborating to confront their mutual adversaries. That helps explain why, in the face of global opposition, the central committee of Israel’s ruling Likud Party, felt free to unanimously endorse a resolution the other day that called for annexing West Bank settlements, and why some leading Likud members now openly dismiss the viability of a Palestinian state.

Read more at: http://www.afpc.org/publication_listings/viewArticle/3721

 

Iran’s Cyber Threat: Espionage, Sabotage, and Revenge

By COLLIN ANDERSON and  KARIM SADJADPOUR
Carnegie Endowment
January 4, 2018

Incidents involving Iran have been among the most sophisticated, costly, and consequential attacks in the history of the internet. The four-decade-long U.S.-Iran cold war has increasingly moved into cyberspace, and Tehran has been among the leading targets of uniquely invasive and destructive cyber operations by the United States and its allies. At the same time, Tehran has become increasingly adept at conducting cyber espionage and disruptive attacks against opponents at home and abroad, ranging from Iranian civil society organizations to governmental and commercial institutions in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Read more at:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2018/01/04/iran-s-cyber-threat-espionage-sabotage-and-revenge-pub-75134

 

Is Saudi Arabia’s Counterterrorism Approach Shifting?

By Lori Plotkin Boghardt
Washington Institute
January 9, 2018

POLICYWATCH 2913

The history of Saudi efforts to combat terrorism is mixed, but Riyadh has become a close U.S. partner on that front in recent years. A deadly series of al-Qaeda attacks inside the kingdom beginning in 2003 drove the Saudis to pursue more aggressive counterterror policies. Today, Washington and Riyadh see eye to eye on the Islamic State (IS) threat—of which the Saudis have been major victims themselves. The kingdom has also become a cooperative partner on counter-terrorist financing, which is important because of the vast sums of private money that have been funneled to terrorist groups from inside its borders.  Washington has expressed a strong desire to see much more from the Saudis when it comes to groups like al-Qaeda and IS. This includes more vigorous delegitimizing of religious extremist ideology, as well as more candid acknowledgment that the kingdom has been part of the terrorist problem itself. Yet even in the context of U.S. concerns over some Saudi policies, Riyadh may be turning a corner as a result of changing perceptions about its own interests.

Read more at:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/is-saudi-arabias-counterterrorism-approach-shifting

 

Will the Trump Administration Force Oman to Choose Sides?

By Jay Solomon
Washington Institute
January 9, 2018

POLICYWATCH 2914

The sleepy Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman has emerged as a wild card in the Trump administration’s push to roll back Iranian power across the Middle East. The country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, is in many ways a weathervane for gauging the region’s shifting power balance amid Tehran’s worsening feud with Saudi Arabia. He has also served as a crucial U.S. ally in recent years, particularly by helping the Obama administration establish a secret diplomatic backchannel with Iran and pursue a negotiated solution to Yemen’s civil war. Today, however, President Trump’s hardline stance on Iran and his embrace of Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman risk placing Oman in the crosshairs of an escalating proxy feud, according to U.S., Arab, and Israeli officials who work on Gulf affairs.

Read more at:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/will-the-trump-administration-force-oman-to-choose-sides

 

The signal and the noise: Trump’s foreign policy in year two

By Colin Duech
American Enterprise Institute
January 10, 2018

As we enter the second year of US foreign policy under the current administration, sometimes it is hard to separate the signal from the noise. Is there a guide for the perplexed? The new National Security Strategy may be a useful starting point. Many of the administration’s opponents conceded that National Security Adviser HR McMaster and his staff, led in this instance by Nadia Schadlow, did excellent work in crafting a thoughtful and perceptive document. The usual suspects and critics of a Republican presidency denounced the strategy — critics including the People’s Republic of China, Vladimir Putin, prominent liberal Democrats, and strict non-interventionists on the Right. Another common theme emerged among critics that the document could not possibly represent the president’s actual beliefs on foreign policy. Interestingly, this is also the fear of some Trump supporters; they fear there is a “deep state” clique around the president.

Read more at: http://www.aei.org/publication/the-signal-and-the-noise-trumps-foreign-policy-in-year-two/

Analysis 12-15-2017

ANALYSIS:

Trump Administration Crafts its First National Security Strategy

The Trump Administration is scheduled to release its first National Security Strategy on Monday, December 18th. And, although many will take it as the final word in terms of the future of America’s national strategy, it’s important to remember that these documents are designed for public consumption, not to be the key document for the implementation of foreign policy.

The National Security Strategy (NSS) has been a Congressionally-mandated requirement since President Ronald Reagan signed the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. It offers the president’s appraisal of America’s core interests, challenges, and opportunities, and (to a lesser degree) the means by which the administration intends to achieve its foreign policy vision.

It is rare for a new administration to release an NSS document within its first year, however. The move illustrates the desire of Trump and his foreign policy team to change course especially in terms of fighting worldwide terrorism and addressing the Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean threats.

The principal advisers to the president who wrote the document appear to incorporate the president’s campaign promises of putting American interests first.  Reports indicate that the Trump Administration NSS will significantly address the economic threat of Chinese trade practices.

They also realize the world must contend with the former ISIS fighters who are returning “home” to the West – including the United States. What will these fighters do as a means of retaliating against the United States?

According to the snippets of the pending NSS that have been released to the public thus far, another important element is the inclusion of space weaponization and technological threats. This has been something that few NSS memos have ever seriously addressed and this item will likely look North Korea’s missile capabilities and computer hacking infrastructure, and America’s options.

These and other parts of the NSS will be interesting, but should we really pay a lot of attention to them?

Should we Really Believe National Security Strategy Reports?

Like the political platforms written every four years by the Republican and Democratic parties, NSSs can mean little when it comes to actually formulating national security strategy. For instance, the 2016 Democratic platform advocated recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

And, like the political platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties are criticized by the opposition, we can expect the new NSS to be criticized by Trump’s critics, no matter what it says.

Criticism of a NSS is easy; conversely, the president’s supporters will mostly say nice things about it because they trust Trump. Like so much of the debate over foreign and defense policy these days, where you stand depends on where you sit.

However, since the NSS is public, it gives critics a target to aim at and criticize. As Stephen Walt said in Foreign Policy, “If your job involves teaching and writing about U.S. foreign policy, in short, you should be grateful that Goldwater-Nichols forces every administration to produce something new to feed on each year.”

Walt continued, “We scholars also like these documents because they give us a chance to aim our intellectual firepower at a fixed target.”

Consequently, the reports are designed to be as bland as possible. No wonder every president has diverged from his NSS at some point in time.

One can’t assume the NSS will actually tell you what any administration (Republican or Democratic) is going to do. They are often drafted by committee, or by some hired pen, and the president may not play much (any?) role in the process. More importantly, foreign policy always involves adapting to actions or events that one doesn’t anticipate, and no government can ever stick to its strategic vision with complete fidelity. Even so, these statements are usually worth reading, if only to get an idea of an administration’s basic inclination or at least what it thinks it is trying to accomplish.

Another factor to consider is the relationship between the president and the National Security Council (NSC). In the history of the NSC, some presidents have relied heavily on the NSC like Nixon, while others like Truman have ignored it. In the case of Trump, since McMaster was Trump’s second choice and several Obama appointments still remain in the NSC, the NSS may reflect the NSC views instead of the administration. Also remember Trump relies more on the Department of Defense for strategy options.

With these caveats in mind, let’s look at the probable tone of Trump’s first NSS.

NSC Advisor McMaster and the Trump NSS

During a speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum last week, President Trump’s national security advisor, Army Lt. General McMaster, gave hints on what the president’s national security strategy will contain.

McMaster started by reflecting on the challenges President Reagan faced and comparing it to the national security challenges faced by Trump today.

“Today as we approach the unveiling of the Trump administration’s national security strategy, we are at a similar crossroads,” McMaster said.

Russia and China are subverting the post-World War II political, economic and security orders to advance their own interests at the expense of the United States and its allies, the national security advisor said.

Iran and North Korea are violating the sovereignty of their neighbors, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terror to other nations. “Jihadist terror organizations such as [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] threaten all civilized people in every corner of the world,” he said.

“These national security challenges also require a dramatic rethinking of American foreign policy from previous decades,” McMaster said.

The national security strategy “will focus on protecting our homeland, advancing American prosperity, preserving peace through strength … and finally enhancing American influence,” he said.

The approach adopts a realistic view of our security environment, the general said. “For this reason, we do not base national security decisions on rigid ideology, but instead on our core national interests and clearly defined objectives derived from those interests,” McMaster said.

Much of what we can expect from Trump is already obvious and it’s quite a change from his predecessor. Trump has empowered his top military commanders to act as they see fit on the battlefield, and he feels free to reverse his positions.

Under Obama, commanders in the field had to work their way up the chain of command. Plans would go off into the White House to the National Security Council, there would be meetings, then work its way back down. This is very different under Trump, he’s authorized his generals. He’s literally given them the authority to take aggressive action.

Trump and his supporters likes to present this measure as proof the defeat of ISIS on the battlefield in the last year compared to “Obama’s national security failures against ISIS in the past 8 years”.

Trump’s real national security strategy will also be based on his outlook, which he outlined during his campaign. In another speech, McMaster said the new strategy would rely on “peace through strength” to advance U.S. interests abroad. And he promised that alliances with traditional U.S. allies would play a prominent role in Washington’s approach. Despite concerns that President Donald Trump’s “America First” campaign might lead to a retreat from the world stage, McMaster said the new strategy would do the opposite, and instead mark the return of a more confident, more determined United States.

McMaster said the finished document is centered on four main principles: protecting the U.S. homeland; advancing American prosperity and economic security; a stronger, more capable military; and advancing U.S. influence.

The strategy also highlights several different threats: those from powers like Russia and China, as well as from so-called rogue regimes, such as Iran and North Korea.

McMaster specifically called out Russia for threatening the U.S. with “so-called new generation warfare,” an apparent reference to the U.S. intelligence community assessment that Moscow tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“These are very sophisticated campaigns of subversion and disinformation and propaganda using sovereign tools, operating across global domains that attempt to divide our communities within our nations and pit them against each other,” McMaster said.

The NSS will also address the American retreat in world affairs in the last 8 years. “In many ways, we vacated a lot of competitive space in recent years and created opportunities for these revisionist powers,” he said, referring to Moscow and Beijing. “You’ll see a big emphasis on competitive engagement — competitive engagement across what we’re calling arenas of competition.”

The U.S. national security adviser also criticized China for what he termed “economic aggression.”

“[China] is challenging the rules-based economic order that helped lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty,” McMaster said.

At the same time, McMaster called on Beijing to do more to corral North Korea, calling China’s economic power over Pyongyang “considerable,” while warning this might be the world’s “last, best chance to avoid military conflict.”

“The president is not asking [Chinese] President Xi for a favor,” McMaster warned. “It is in both our interests to resolve this problem.”

On Iran, McMaster promised the new U.S. strategy would seek to counter Tehran’s destabilizing activities in Syria and across the Middle East, while continuing to block all paths to a nuclear weapon.

The new U.S. national security strategy will also address the persistent threat from terror groups and what McMaster called “radical Islamist ideology,” describing previous U.S. approaches to the problem as “too myopic.”

Speaking before McMaster on Tuesday, British National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill said the U.S. “remains the indispensable global leader.”

“We have had a global order that has been underwritten by the United States,” Sedwill said. “That will continue to be the case, I’m sure, in the 21st century.” It may be wishful thinking but time will tell…….

 

PUBLICATIONS

Taking a Better Shot at Missile Defense
By Edwin J. Feulner
Heritage Foundation
December 13, 2017

Thirty-three minutes. That’s all the time we’d have to respond to an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile from anywhere in the world. Roughly half an hour to avert disaster — if we’re lucky. Sure, that isn’t the most cheerful thought to entertain, especially at Christmas time. But with all the saber-rattling coming from North Korea these days, not to mention other global hot spots, we don’t have the luxury to pretend this threat doesn’t exist. A successful nuclear strike would carry an unthinkable toll. The bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons of TNT. North Korea’s nuclear test in October was 250 kilotons.

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/missile-defense/commentary/taking-better-shot-missile-defense

 

Jerusalem Move Just a Capital Idea
By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
December 11, 2017

F ace it: No matter what anyone says, President Trump’s move to finally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv is a totally defensible diplomatic decision. You wouldn’t know that listening to some folks. First, the change rights a glaring anomaly in U.S. diplomatic practice in which Washington, D.C., doesn’t officially recognize the chosen capital of another sovereign state. Where else is that the case for us? Uh, nowhere. Good grief, we recognize the chosen capital of communist Cuba, nuclear North Korea and terrorist Iran, but not that of democratic Israel, our closest ally and friend in the messy Middle East? Come on. Next, the decision — which Congress approved for the first time in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act but which has been waived by presidents ever since — doesn’t prejudice any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/jerusalem-move-just-capital-idea

 

What Trump’s Decision on Jerusalem Means for Israel and the Middle East
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
December 7, 2017

President Donald Trump on Wednesday kept his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the State Department to make plans to eventually move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. The long-delayed, symbolic move addressed a historic injustice: Israel is the only country in the world not allowed to choose its own capital. Trump also exercised America’s sovereign right to recognize the capital of a close ally and choose the location of its own embassy. In recent years, the refusal of many nations to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has become an integral part of the international campaign to de-legitimize Israel.

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/what-trumps-decision-jerusalem-means-israel-and-the-middle-east

 

The Pundits Were Wrong about Assad and the Islamic State. As Usual, They’re Not Willing to Admit It
By Max Abrahms and John Glaser
Cato Institute
December 10, 2017

The Islamic State is a shadow of its former self. In 2014, the extremist group seemed to make substantial inroads in achieving its stated goal of a caliphate. It boasted tens of thousands of fighters and territorial control over an area roughly the size of South Korea. By almost every metric, Islamic State has collapsed in its Syria stronghold, as well as in Iraq. As a former foreign fighter recently admitted, “It’s over: there is no more Daesh left,” using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. The rollback of Islamic State must come as a shock to the chorus of journalists and analysts who spent years insisting that such progress would never happen without toppling the regime of Bashar Assad — which is, of course, still standing. A cavalcade of opinion makers long averred that Islamic State would thrive in Syria so long as Assad ruled because the Syrian Arab Army was part of the same disease. John Bolton, former United Nations ambassador under George W. Bush, insisted in the New York Times that “defeating the Islamic State” is “neither feasible nor desirable” if Assad remains in power. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham asserted that “defeating Islamic State also requires defeating Bashar Assad.” Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution prescribed a policy of “building a new Syrian opposition army capable of defeating both President Bashar al-Assad and the more militant Islamists.”

Read more at: https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/pundits-were-wrong-about-assad-islamic-state-usual-theyre-not-willing-admit

 

The Strategic Impact of Making Jerusalem the Capital of Israel
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 7, 2017

President Trump’s announcement on December 6th that, “It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” and that he is “directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” will hurt both Israeli and U.S. strategic interests. Two critical problems: It damages Israel and U.S. interests by seriously irritating the Arab world, and it gives Iran, the Hezbollah, and Russia the opportunity to exploit this anger and the divisions. There was no earthly reason to provoke the Arab world. All President Trump had to do to help Israel was to ignore his campaign rhetoric and Israel’s political hardliners, and do nothing. Every year since 1967, Israel has slowly created new facts on the ground in Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Jerusalem has become steadily more Jewish, and the Jewish areas in greater Jerusalem have expanded eastward to the point where they have virtually reached the edge of the slopes down to the Jordon River Valley.

Read more at: https://www.csis.org/analysis/strategic-impact-making-jerusalem-capital-israel

 

U.S. Troop Deployment in Syria: Potential Pitfalls
By James F. Jeffrey
Washington Institute
December 12, 2017
POLICYWATCH 2900

The U.S. military recently announced that it has 2,000 troops in Syria, most of them working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-dominated umbrella group that has liberated a large swath of the country’s eastern provinces from the Islamic State. Now that conventional military operations against IS are essentially finished and international concerns about Iran are mounting, more attention is being paid to the future of the U.S. contingent and the estimated 40,000-50,000 SDF fighters associated with it. American forces could play an important role in reaching a Syria solution that curbs Iran’s Russian-enabled power projection against Arab states, Israel, Turkey, and U.S. regional interests. Yet doing so requires that Washington deal with assorted challenges, from articulating the deployment’s mission to clarifying its legal basis and mapping the diplomatic geography required to physically sustain it.

Read more at: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/u.s.-troop-deployment-in-syria-potential-pitfalls

 

Analysis 12-01-2017

ANALYSIS:

 

Sabotage might be the US Response to North Korea’s Missile and Nuclear Programs

North Korea said on Wednesday it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) called the Hwasong-15 that could reach the entire U.S. mainland. They reported that the new powerful missile reached an altitude of around 4,475 km (2,780 miles) – more than 10 times the height of the international space station – and flew 950 km (600 miles) during its 53-minute flight.  Based on its trajectory and distance, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 km (8,100 miles) – more than enough to reach Washington D.C. and the rest of the United States, albeit with a reduced payload according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. In addition, the range covers all of Earth’s continents, except South America and Antarctica.

The missile test wasn’t a complete surprise as the US had publicly warned that North Korea was preparing for a new launch.

Within minutes of North Korea’s ICBM launch, South Korea had fired its own missile to show that it was able to quickly respond.

The missile landed about 210km west of Japan’s Kyurokujima Island, Tokyo said.

The North Korean missile was fired eastwards, which kept the boost phase over North Korean territory. The boost phase was over 50 minutes, which indicates that it has the power to reach American cities like Washington DC.

The new Hwasong-15 missile, named after the planet Mars, was a more advanced version of an ICBM tested twice in July, North Korea said, adding “it was designed to carry a “super-large heavy warhead.” That was a clear threat that it was designed to carry a hydrogen bomb.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the White House, “It went higher frankly than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically,”

Washington has said repeatedly said that all options, including military ones, are on the table in dealing with North Korea while stressing its desire for a peaceful solution.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added: “Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now.”

Trump’s response was measured. He spoke by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-In, with all three leaders reaffirming their commitment to combat the North Korean threat.

Trump said: “It is a situation we will handle.”

He said the launch did not change his administration’s approach to North Korea, which has included new curbs to hurt trade between China and North Korea, which it sees as important to deterring Pyongyang from its ambition to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.

What does Missile Test Really Mean?

Although it is quite apparent that North Korea has solved one of the major problems of producing an ICBM that can reach the US, it does not necessarily mean that they have solved all the problems of mating a thermonuclear weapon to an ICBM.

Although North Korea has tested a hydrogen bomb, we do not know if it is small enough to mate to an ICBM. In fact, many scientists question if the Hwasong-15 missile had a payload that was equivalent in weight and dimensions to a nuclear payload.

First generation hydrogen bombs can be quite large. The first hydrogen bomb (Ivy Mike Test), tested by the US, was massive, and too large to place on a bomber. It took years before the device was miniaturized enough to fit onto an ICBM.

At this time, there is no publicly available information to indicate the size of the NK nuclear device, although there are pictures of the NK leadership viewing a purported nuclear device capable of fitting onto a missile.

There is also the issue of ruggedization of the weapon so it can withstand the dynamic forces and the heat it will experience during reentry.

Although thermonuclear devices are powerful, they still need a sophisticated guidance system to ensure that they can hit a target thousands of miles away. Since the North Korean tests have terminated in the ocean, there is no indication as to how accurate they are and if they have the accuracy to actually hit a city like Washington DC, even if they have the range.

There is also the question of reentry. The missile or reentry vehicle must be strong and heat resistant enough to withstand the heat and dynamic forces of reentry. Traditionally, North Korean missiles have a tendency to break apart during reentry, which would probably destroy the hydrogen bomb before detonation.

In addition to building a rugged reentry vehicle, the North Koreans must develop a refractory material that will cover the reentry vehicle and absorb the incredible heat of reentry. The refractory material must burn evenly so that there is no asymmetrical erosion, which would cause the vehicle to tumble and tear apart in the atmosphere.

Of course, North Korea could solve some of these problems by designing a blunt nosecone that would travel at a slower speed through the reentry phase. However, the slower the reentry vehicle, the greater the chance that American, South Korean, or Japanese anti-missile systems can intercept it.

However, these problems are all solvable and the only question is if they have already been solved, or how long it will take to solve them.

It’s also important to remember that this is a liquid fueled missile that must be moved from a bunker and fueled on the launch pad. Needless to say, this gives America and its allies some warning and the opportunity to attempt to destroy the missile before launching. This means that North Korea’s nuclear option is limited and very vulnerable until they develop a solid fueled ICBM as the other nuclear powers have.

Response Options

Although North Korea has a nuclear option, it is so limited that the US, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia still have some time with which to operate.

This lack of excitement was seen by the response by Yang Xiyu, a Korean affairs expert and senior fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, a Chinese Foreign Ministry-affiliated think tank.

“North Korea’s missile launches enjoy diminishing marginal utility in terms of political impact and shock value,” Mr. Yang said. “The latest test doesn’t really affect the options that China and the U.S. have in dealing with North Korea.”

Many obvious military options have downsides. North Korea’s nuclear and missile infrastructure is large and dispersed enough that a tactical strike against it would provoke North Korea without dramatically impacting its program.

There is the option of taking out North Korea’s leadership, specifically Kim Jong Un. However, the North Korean leader moves around so as to make such a strike difficult.

The other option is to create dissent within the armed forces so they will stage a coup. This is clearly a concern for Kim as he has frequently arrested and killed leading North Korean generals.

However, it does appear that there is some dissatisfaction with the military as seen with the recent defection of a North Korean solder along the demilitarized zone. Medical tests of the soldier show he was malnourished and riddled with parasites. This indicates that the military, which keeps Kim in power, may not be as well treated as thought, which may mean they may be more prone to back a coup.

Another option is to take direct action towards a North Korean ICBM test like shooting it down. However, North Korea was careful to prevent such a provocation. The ICBM was launched from NK’s western coast and remained over NK territory during its vulnerable boost phase. Consequently launching an anti-ICBM missile that invades North Korean airspace would be a clear provocation and could be construed as an act of war, which would likely bring retribution against South Korea.

The missile trajectory also made it immediately clear to the US that it wasn’t directed towards US territory, which reduced the chances of a military response by America.

South Korea did respond to the NK launch by firing its own missile within minutes. This indicated that the South’s military was capable of retaliating quickly if required.

North Korea also made it difficult to shoot down the missile in its reentry phase as they targeted the sea. Anti-missile systems have limited range in the terminal phase and it would have been difficult to hit the missile as it headed for splashdown in the sea.

Another reason for holding back on shooting the North Korean missile down is the political risk of a failure. A miss, would signal to the North Koreans that the US anti-ballistic missile system may not be as invincible as thought. It would also cause concern in South Korea and Japan, who have purchased US anti-missile systems.

One option available to the Japanese would be to develop and field a nuclear device. Japan is technologically advanced in nuclear science to probably build a nuclear weapon within months. However, this is unlikely as long as they are sure that the US will protect them.

However, if Japan goes nuclear, it won’t be long before South Korea takes the same route.

In the end, the most obvious response is for the US, China, and Russia to tighten economic sanctions against North Korea by preventing NK sales internationally and limiting imports.

Economic sanctions would limit the ability of North Korea to continue moving as quickly towards a credible nuclear deterrent. However, it will not stop it.

This makes the covert option of subversion and destabilization more attractive. In fact, this could very well be the response that President Trump has alluded to.

The defection of the North Korean soldier a couple of weeks ago shows that some sort of destabilization may already be taking place. Defections like that along the DMZ rarely take place because the units that guard the border are considered elite and receive more privileges.

According to some US analysts, the defection of a soldier from that sort of unit shows dissatisfaction within elite units of the North Korean military – dissent possibly spread as a result of American and South Korean activities.

Same analysts are speculating on the scenario of a potential large scale dissention in the military ranks, which may indicates that conditions within the security apparatus are deteriorating, and therefore the chances of a military coup must be seriously considered.

If a coup takes place, it’s likely according to advocate of such measure that the new leadership may quickly make some arrangement with the US and its allies to eliminate, freeze, or restrict its nuclear program in return for a quick removal of economic sanctions and a large shipment of food for its citizens.

If that is the case, it makes the Trump and Trump administration subversion action likely. Subversion doesn’t pose the political or military risk of direct action. Subversion offers a way to possibly roll back North Korea’s nuclear program. Subversion allows the US more time to strengthen its anti-missile system. And, subversion is a logical long-term strategy in a situation where North Korea still hasn’t developed a missile that can reliably deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental US.

That being the case, it is a more logical strategy that many of the more “energetic” military options being recommended.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Keeping Up With North Korea’s and Iran’s Bad Ballistic Missiles
By Michaela Dodge
Heritage Foundation
November 27, 2017

This year, North Korea celebrated the Fourth of July by testing long-range missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Four months later, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Pyongyang is now able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead.

North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Un, has made no secret of his desire to nuke the U.S. In 2013, he threatened to nuke Austin, Texas. He also has cited Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as preferred targets. Small wonder, then, that the Trump administration last week requested an additional $4 billion to beef up U.S. missile defenses. Currently, our very limited missile defense systems are concentrated in the West. Cities on the East Coast are far less protected. And the missile threat for both coasts is growing.

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/missile-defense/commentary/keeping-north-koreas-and-irans-bad-ballistic-missiles

 

Trump should take out the site where North Korea just launched a missile
By Marc A. Thiessen
American Enterprise Institute
November 28, 2017

The Washington Post reports that North Korea has carried out its first ballistic missile test in more than two months: North Korea launched a missile early Wednesday morning, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. . . . Wednesday’s missile was launched from Pyongan province and fired to the east, South Korea’s joint chiefs said, according to the Yonhap News Agency. The military was still working to ascertain what kind of missile it was. North Korea last fired a missile on Sept. 15, sending it over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It was the second launch over Japan in less than three weeks and came less than two weeks after North Korea exploded what was widely believed to be a hydrogen bomb. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations at the end of last month, Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, said that if North Korea went 60 days without testing a missile or a nuclear weapon, it could be a sign that Pyongyang was open to dialogue. Apparently they are not so open to dialogue after all. Indeed, the North Korean launch is a finger in the eye to China, which had just sent a high level envoy to Pyongyang at President Trump’s request. Trump tweeted hopefully about the Chinese visit: “China is sending an Envoy and Delegation to North Korea – A big move, we’ll see what happens!” What happened was a big middle finger to Beijing and Washington from “Little Rocket Man.”

Read more at:

http://www.aei.org/publication/trump-should-take-out-the-site-where-north-korea-just-launched-a-missile/

 

Benign Neglect in the Middle East
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 27, 2017

In March 1, 1970, the front page of the New York Times reported that then-Nixon administration adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan had advised that the issue of race in the United States “could benefit from a period of ‘benign neglect.’” Years of racially inspired violence and polemics had “created opportunities for martyrdom, heroics, histrionics, or whatever,” and Moynihan advised that the U.S. government’s focus on racial problems actually helped stoke them. While Gulf Arab governments seem deeply relieved that they enjoy the support of the Trump administration after eight years of coolness under President Obama, the Trump strategy toward the Gulf is less different from Obama’s than they would like. In fact, it’s not so different from Moynihan’s approach to race. Despite the perception that President Trump is doubling down on relationships in the Gulf, it is more accurate to see his strategy as disentangling the United States from intimate relationships that he believes have outlived their utility. While the tenor of conversations has changed, the Trump administration represents a continuation of a growing U.S. distance from the Gulf and not a reversal of it. In the view of many Americans, diminishing U.S. ties to the Middle East are part of an “America First” strategy and are long overdue.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/benign-neglect

 

Nuclear Weapons And Russian-North Korean Relations
By Artyom Lukin
Foreign Policy Research Institute
November 29, 2017

Apart from its UN Security Council veto, what makes Russia a consequential player in the North Korea drama? The Soviet Union helped create the DPRK. Common genesis and long-standing political ties explain some of the affinity that still exists between the two countries. While Russia’s economic leverage with the North is not as substantial as China’s, it still can make a difference, especially as the sanctions noose on the DPRK tightens. Of special note are Russian energy exports to the North, Russia’s importation of North Korean labor, and Russia’s use of the North Korean port of Rajin. Russia remains the only country besides China that provides the DPRK with permanent transport and telecommunications links—via rail, air, sea, and the internet—connecting the isolated nation to the outside world. Taken together, such commercial exchanges and infrastructure links constitute significant leverage that Moscow could exercise over North Korea. Among the major players on the peninsula, Russia currently enjoys the best relations with the North, even as the DPRK’s ties with its only formal ally, China, have deteriorated in recent years. Finally, Russia is a military force in Northeast Asia, which means that, in case of a North Korea contingency, Moscow has the capacity to intervene militarily, aiding or derailing moves by other players.

Read more at:

https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/11/nuclear-weapons-russian-north-korean-relations/

 

New Geopolitics in the Middle East?
By Joshua Krasna
Foreign Policy Research Institute
November 27, 2017

The possible creation of a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East may have snuck under the radar this holiday weekend. The continuing spectacle of the investigations into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 Election and the continued naming and shaming of corporate leaders and politicians involved in sexual harassment (as well as Thanksgiving), may have overshadowed the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city (and thanked him for “saving Syria”). The three presidents announced the winding down of the radical Islamist threat in Syria and the continued cooperation of their three states until “the final defeat” of the Islamic State and the al-Nusra front. More significantly, they announced the convening of a Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in the near future, aimed at a “political solution to the crisis through a comprehensive, free, fair and transparent Syrian-Syrian process, that leads to a draft constitution with the support of Syrians and free and fair elections with participation of all people in Syria, under the proper supervision of the United Nations” (not a little ironic, considering the questionable democratic bona fides of the three regimes) and stressed their continued joint involvement in rebuilding Syria. According to the Russian press, Putin called President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, President Abd el-Fatah a-Sisi of Egypt, and Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and informed them of the details of the summit.

Read more at:

https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/11/new-geopolitics-middle-east/

 

High-Level Contacts Between North Korea and Iran Hint at Deeper Military Cooperation
By Jay Solomon
Washington Institute
November 27, 2017

High-level meetings between North Korean and Iranian officials in recent months are stoking concerns inside the U.S. government about the depth of military ties between the two American adversaries. In September, President Trump ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct a fresh review of any potential bilateral nuclear collaboration. Yet officials in Washington, Asia, and the Middle East who track the relationship indicate that Pyongyang and Tehran have already signaled a commitment to jointly develop their ballistic missile systems and other military/scientific programs. North Korea has vastly expanded its nuclear and long-range missile capabilities over the past year, developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially target the western United States with nuclear warheads. Over the same period, U.S. intelligence agencies have spotted Iranian defense officials in Pyongyang, raising the specter that they might share dangerous technological advances with each other. “All of these contacts need to be better understood,” said one senior U.S. official working on the Middle East. “This will be one of our top priorities.”

Read more at:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/high-level-contacts-between-north-korea-and-iran-hint-at-deeper-military-co

Analysis 11-17-2017

ANALYSIS:

Trump’s First Year

It’s been a year since Donald Trump surprised the pundits and was elected President of the United States. Although these same analysts quickly predicted how he would govern, they have proved to be wrong. Rather than governing as a bombastic nationalist, his actions have been more like a conservative Republican president, although he continues with the “off the cuff” remarks that annoy friends and enemies alike.

He is definitely more eccentric than most American presidents. Trump has struggled to translate the experiences he gained over 40 years in real estate, in entertainment, and in campaigns into governing the complex and recalcitrant executive bureaucracy, negotiating with Congress, and leading a divided nation. Always improvisational, blunt, controversial, fast-moving, personal, creative, unconventional, and sometimes comedic, Trump is no different than his celebrity real estate magnate image of the past few decades.

That “Trump” style has gotten him into major trouble several times over the last year. First when, barely a week into office, he signed a rushed executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority nations. Although it was popular with the majority of American voters, it set the tone for his future battles with the Washington Bureaucracy and the judicial branch.

Second, Trump decided in May to fire FBI director James Comey, leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election has proven a long-lasting headache for the president, among others. He might have avoided much of the problem if he had fired him hours after taking office.

Finally, Trump has discovered that picking successful businessmen to head government departments doesn’t always mean that they will be successful in the bureaucratic quagmire of Washington. As Trump’s second echelon of political appointees has been stalled by the Senate, conservative cabinet secretaries have discovered that they have been frequently outmaneuvered by Obama under secretaries and deputies still in office.

The year since Donald Trump was elected president has not been without accomplishment. He has restored a conservative Supreme Court (which he promised during the campaign) with the appointment and confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. And, he is now doing the same to the whole judicial system with several lower-court appointments.

He can claim that he carried out more successful campaign against ISIS than Obama, although the future of Syria, Iraq, and the Kurds remains a mystery.

As a businessman, Trump advocated the rollback of what perceived by conservatives as intrusive government regulations. He pushed for the approval of the Keystone and Dakota XL pipelines. And, for the first time in a few years, the coal mining industry is expanding. The ongoing boom of record employment and stock-market prices cannot be denied.

Trump is also responsible for the reduction in illegal border crossings – a policy popular with voters, if not with Washington and businessmen needing cheap labor.

Other campaign promises made and kept are the decertification of Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the withdrawal from UNESCO, and the withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

One of the differences the bureaucracy must understand is that he isn’t a politician or military man, which means he doesn’t have the government mindset. That, in turn has helped cement his relationship in Middle America. When he denounced professional football players for not standing for the National Anthem, Washington and the media condemned him. However, voters supported him and boycotted professional football for the first time in history.

Although Trump isn’t a professional politician, he realizes that the GOP is increasingly a working-class party of the forgotten Middle American men and women of the 21st-century global economy. There is a divergence of interests between lower-middle-class and middle-class Trump voters, traditional upper-middle-class Republicans, and corporations. This explains Trump’s legislative problems repealing Obamacare and passing tax reform.

It also explains Trump’s legislative successes, which have received broad support amongst corporations and upper-middle class Republicans.

But, Trump understands electoral politics. He understands that corporations do not vote. He has been forced (like Obama) to rely on executive orders, high-profile announcements, and public confrontations to fulfill some campaign promises. Trump is also careful to win over important special interests on the right, such as the National Rifle Association and social conservatives.

However, the irony is that he will work within the parameters set by a Republican establishment. Trump has sided with the legislative calendar of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, allowing Obamacare repeal and tax cuts to take precedence over funding for the border wall and infrastructure bill. He even supported the establishment Republican Alabama senate candidate, even though the challenger, Moore, was a pro-Trump candidate.

Trump’s administration is much more “establishment” than many think. Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, and Powell are certified members of the national security establishment. Vice President Pence, Attorney General Sessions, CIA Director Pompeo, and UN Ambassador Haley are Republican stars, who were frequently mentioned as presidential possibilities by the same politicians who now condemn Trump.

However, like a businessman, Trump will not tolerate problems with subordinates. When subordinates run into controversy, they are dropped, from Michael Flynn on down the line through Scaramucci, Bannon, and Price. When his original pick for secretary of labor, CEO Andy Puzder, ran into trouble, Trump replaced him with Alexander Acosta, a noncontroversial attorney. Pleased with Janet Yellen’s performance as Federal Reserve chair but wanting also to make himself distinct from Obama, Trump nominated Yellen ally Jay Powell to replace her.

And, the firings are probably not over. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has risen to the top of Trump’s list of candidates to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose position with the administration has been tenuous for some time, according to a report from Politico. Tillerson has continued disputes with Trump over North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal, and immigration.

“Pompeo is a skeptic toward the traditional thinking in Washington about Iran and North Korea,” said Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, a former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush. “Tillerson pushed back on policy things and at times he reflected that there’s always a diplomatic solution.”

Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas, a former Army office, and graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, has assumed a prominent role in the administration by giving Trump his daily intelligence briefing, where the president levels him with questions about everything from national security threats to the internal dynamics of Congress.

This shows the evolution from “Trump the businessman” into “Trump the Republican politician.”

Trump has also proven he is a traditional Republican president by spending more on defense, striking Syrian military target with missiles, reassuring traditional allies in the Pacific and Middle East, and above all speaking harshly of America’s enemies. The continuation of the American presence in Afghanistan, the pursuit of an elusive Palestinian -Israeli peace deal, the war on ISIS, even the desire for improved relations with Russia are shared characteristics of the last three presidential administrations.

Trump’s Visit to Asia

The president’s recent trip to China shows a conventional president following conventional American foreign policy.

Candidate Trump blamed the People’s Republic for devaluing its currency, dumping commodities into American markets, and stealing U.S. production through mercantilist policies. If China did not change its predatory economic behavior, Trump said, he would label it a currency manipulator and slap tariffs on Chinese imports.

President Trump was quite different. Once in office, Trump decided personal diplomacy with Chinese President Xi Jinping was the way to improve relations between the two powers and to counter North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. When he spoke at the Great Hall of the People last Thursday, Trump said he did not blame China for the gargantuan trade surplus it enjoys with the United States. It was his predecessors who were responsible.

But, Trump showed he was willing to show what President Teddy Roosevelt called “The Big Stick.”   The US Navy has conducted at least three freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea during his presidency. Currently three carrier battle groups are within striking distance of North Korea.

Trump also acted like the president of the world’s superpower while in Asia.   He scored some points domestically and internationally by simply behaving like a President expected to behave.

The last time an American president visited China, the Chinese government literally didn’t roll out the red carpet. When Obama landed in Beijing in September 2016, no ramp was provided for him and he had to descend via Air Force One’s own stairs. Though both sides were quick to assert that this wasn’t an intentional slight, the contrast between the cold shoulder given Obama and Donald Trump’s warm welcome in Beijing this week could not be greater.

Upon arrival, President Trump got the ramp, complete with a crowd of flag-wavers, and was soon whisked away for a tour and state dinner at Beijing’s Forbidden City, making him the first foreign leader ever to receive what China called a “state visit-plus.”

This was ironic showing at least in one part of the World, that Trump Doctrine is more popular overseas that the Obama Doctrine. Critics of Obama asserts that he was never comfortable overseas as the American president. He often acted like he was ashamed of the United States and gave speeches that blurred the distinction between friend and foe. Other nations couldn’t understand why the head of the world’s only superpower would deliberately project weakness rather than strength. They also wondered if the US would support them in a crisis.

Trump was much clearer than Obama. He was open and forthright about his aims: he was in Asia to address North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, help right America’s trade imbalance with China, and reassure allies about American staying power.

As far as commercial policy, he wants to see additional Chinese investment in the American market, and has threatened to invoke Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act to punish China for its forced technology transfer of U.S. intellectual property.

However, Trump’s China policy remains muddled and could change course. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was bellicose about China during his confirmation hearing, could be getting his walking papers soon.

Of course, muddled American policy towards China has been a hallmark for the last couple of administrations. While George W. Bush entered the White House intent on containing China, the events of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan left Washington distracted and gave China room to expand its power. When Obama took office, he, too, remained preoccupied by the War on Terror and disengaged from East Asia. The administration eventually attempted a “pivot to Asia” that failed completely. In the meantime, China continued its aggressive moves in the region by building islands in the South China Sea and launching its first aircraft carrier.

In the end, the test will be Trump’s willingness to show stability and not be distracted by other international issues like Bush and Obama.

How Trump Has Evolved

Trump is neither the first nor the last president to change his approach once confronted with the realities of presiding over the government of the richest and most powerful country in the world. He has compromised with establishment Republicans and Washington, but has made it clear that he will go with his own instincts if necessary – which was seen in his attack on professional football, which proved to reflect the majority of Americans.

Trump’s actions suggest an attempt to take power away from unelected establishment “elites” who previously had been given carte blanc to implement policies as they saw fit rather than carrying out the plan of the elected president. It’s possible that a Trump foreign policy doctrine is already taking shape, characterized by a shift from political engagement to economic engagement, and a reduction in the unelected Washington establishment’s influence – especially that of the State Department.

But, this is about more than Trump and the Washington establishment. The divides in America remain and have possible grown in the past year. Polls show his supporters continue to back him, while his opponents are even more opposed to him, which means that the fractures in American society are unlikely to be healed.

The problem is that if the divides between Americans aren’t healing, that means they will only get worse.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Is Mohammed bin Salman Getting Ready to Lead a Revolution from Above?
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
November 15, 2017

Change usually comes slowly, if at all, in Saudi Arabia. But its ruling elite have been wracked by a sudden, stunning shakeup in recent days. Two weeks ago, King Salman announced the formation of an anti-corruption commission. By Monday, 11 Saudi princes, several business tycoons and at least 38 former or current government officials were reportedly under house arrest. The driving force behind the surprise purge is King Salman’s favorite son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. An ambitious young man in a hurry, Crown Prince Mohammed has spearheaded rapid changes in the political, economic and social spheres.

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/saudi-arabias-mohammed-bin-salman-getting-ready-lead-revolution-above

 

Agreement with Russia in Syria Undermines U.S. Interests in the Region
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
November 3, 2017

Long before he became president, Trump saw the pitfalls of U.S. policy toward Syria that entrapped the Obama administration. But now, even under the Trump administration, Moscow continues to “outsmart” Washington by ignoring the deconfliction arrangement when it suits its interests. “Deconfliction” is an informal agreement reached in 2015 between U.S.-led coalition forces and Russian military forces in Syria to avoid clashes.

But as the ISIS “caliphate” has been whittled away, Russian, Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces have begun operating in closer proximity to U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups on the ground, and have frequently attacked them.

Read more at:

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/deconfliction-agreement-russia-syria-undermines-us-interests-the-region

 

Arrests in Saudi Arabia: Causes and Implications
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 6, 2017

What caused the sudden arrest of dozens of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful individuals? These individuals were swept up by an anticorruption commission that King Salman had created merely hours before the arrests. Reports claim that the arrested include some of the most important economic actors in Saudi Arabia. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the world’s most prominent Saudi investor, has gotten a great deal of attention, but the sweep included other billionaires, senior royals from other branches of the family, and technocrats who began guiding Saudi Arabia’s economic reform program under King Abdullah. These include Adel Fakieh, who served as minister of labor before becoming minister of economy and planning, and Ibrahim al-Assaf, who was minister of finance. While businesspeople in Saudi Arabia complain about the problems of corruption, and some of it involves granting special favors to the royal family, the pattern of these arrests suggest that they were intended to consolidate power and loyalty behind Crown Prince Mohammed and his ambitious plans to move the kingdom forward economically and socially. The arrests of two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, Prince Miteb and Prince Turki, suggest a strategic political calculus. Miteb commanded the National Guard, which was an armed force separate from the army to protect the royal family and could have blocked some of Mohammed’s moves against the family; Turki was governor of Riyadh, which gave him a political role building support among royals, a job King Salman himself used to great effect for decades.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/arrests-saudi-arabia-causes-and-implications

 

The Remaking of the Saudi State
By Nathan Brown
Carnegie Endowment
November 9, 2017

The arrests of leading Saudi princes and other prominent political figures in early November 2017 indicate that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is consolidating his influence. King Salman and his chosen heir are strengthening their position vis-à-vis the rest of the ruling family, seeking to centralize elements of the Saudi governing structure, and reining in the autonomy of the religious and judicial apparatuses. Saudi Arabia has long followed a distinctive, dilatory path in building its modern state. Riyadh features a political system that has evolved in insulated ways, with fiscal needs oversupplied by oil and a Wahhabi religious establishment that has dominated the religious and legal systems from the country’s founding to the present. Recent political changes may be led by a brash and ambitious crown prince, imposed by unsustainable welfare commitments, and rendered more urgent by apparent Saudi foreign policy overreach. They still seem to be products of a different country.

Read more at:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/11/09/remaking-of-saudi-state-pub-74681

 

The 1002nd Arabian Night?
By Adam Garfinkle
Foreign Policy Research Institute
November 8, 2017

It was on the fourth night, very early in the great Arabic tale that Shahrazade, in telling the story of King Yunan and his evil vizier, says as follows: “Oppression hideth in every heart; power revealeth it and weakness concealeth it.” It’s hard to say from Washington, D.C. how oppressive it really is for a passel of princes (eleven at last count) and assorted retainers (as many as 500, according to some reports) to be held under “hotel arrest” at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, but it’s easy to suppose that Mohammad  bin Salman, the 32-year old Saudi Crown Prince—and King for practical purposes in all but formal title—senses that his burgeoning power gives him license for a bit of what he no doubt considers necessary oppression. It no longer hideth entirely in his heart. We’ll see how all this ends in due course: whether MbS remains the banquet hall’s premier diner long into the future, or rather sooner than that becomes the entrée. Both outcomes are possible. What is not possible the longer his coup from above lasts is putting Saudi political arrangements back the way they were pretty much since the end of 1953. He has destroyed the status quo, presumably with his feeble 81-year old father’s blessing—or maybe not. He did so possibly because he thinks the future of the Kingdom depends on it, possibly because his will to power and personal ambition far outrun his wisdom and experience, and likely because he shrouds, even to himself, the latter truth with the former conviction.

Read more at:

https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/11/1002nd-arabian-night/

Analysis 11-03-2017

ANALYSIS:

Washington Fights Over Authorization to Use Military Force in Middle East

On Tuesday the West celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, an event that dramatically changed religion, politics, and civilization in Europe. The movement led to the Thirty Years War, one of the longest wars in Western history.

The US is well on its way to beating this record. America is already 16 years into the “War on Terror” and there is no end in sight.

The keystone to this war is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was passed after the 9-11 attack. It gave the president wide latitude to send military assets anywhere where there are terrorists.

Here is what, the relevant part says: “The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

The Problems with the Current AUMF

The problem is that the US Congress has refused to fulfill its constitutional role of declaring war. Instead, they have given the president nearly unlimited authority to send military assets into any country without congressional review.

There have been some in Congress who have questioned this unlimited presidential authority. But, there is more than the constitutional issue. It is also a political issue that has led to political theater.

In September, Senator Rand Paul submitted an amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force. It was killed with a 61–36 vote. Senators Paul, Mike Lee, and Dean Heller were the only Republicans to vote against the motion to kill the amendment. Senator Marco Rubio did not vote.

Senator Paul said, “My vote is on whether or not we should vote on whether we should be at war. So for those who oppose my vote, they oppose the Constitution. They oppose obeying the Constitution, which says we are supposed to vote.”

Although the Senate Republicans stood fast against eliminating AUMF, political issues have caused two GOP senators to join the anti-AUMF bandwagon, even though they voted to keep it just a few weeks ago – Senators Flake and Corker.

Both Flake and Corker have announced that they are leaving the Senate next year. Although they have cited different reasons for their decision, both Senators were opposed to Trump, were lagging behind pro-Trump challengers in the polls and were very likely to lose in their primaries. Now that they don’t have to reflect their pro-Trump voters, they have opted for some political theater.

“Congress needs to weigh in, we need to make sure our adversaries and our allies and our troops know we speak with one voice,” said Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. “We haven’t weighed in; we haven’t said our peace on this. We ought to aspire to be more than a feedback loop.”

Senator Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Corker said his panel would mark up new legislation, possibly modeled on a proposal Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Flake introduced in May. Their version would require Congress to reauthorize the bill every five years, and require the administration to notify Congress if it sends troops to new countries not specifically named in the AUMF.

However, much of the Washington establishment – including Trump people – support keeping AUMF as is, even though Trump campaigned against the expansive use of AUMF under Obama. President Trump’s secretaries of state and defense told lawmakers this week that the US military doesn’t need any new authorization to fight dozens of groups in at least 19 countries — and “any attempt to place time limits or geographical constraints in a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force could cripple efforts to fight terrorists.”

The hearing was called in the wake of the Oct. 4 attack in Niger that left four American troops dead in an apparent ambush near the border with Mali.  The Military Times reports that operation “brought new focus on the need to update the military force authorizations governing those missions.” And yet Monday’s debate stayed largely to the scripts of previous war authorization debates on Capitol Hill: “The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators.

When might these wars wrap up?  Mattis said, essentially, that it’s impossible to know: “We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict against an adaptive enemy who could hope that we haven’t the will to fight as long as necessary…We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner if we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting.”

Despite Mattis’ comments and vast military experience, there are many problems with the current AUMF. The AUMF broadly permits a president to use military force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” But it does not grant him the power to use military action for another reason, such as fighting the ISIS or intervening in Libya or Syria for reasons unrelated to the 9/11 terror attacks.

The problem is that presidents of both parties find it easier to take the maximum use of the AUMF than go to Congress and convince them of the need to use the military. As Congress fails to hold the executive branch accountable, the president will continue to usurp Congress’s power and perpetuate wars that have not been authorized.

From the view of Americans, the problem is a long term one and extends beyond the Middle East. America’s constitutional checks and balances exist to ensure that one branch does not have too much authority, which encourages robust debate over serious issues, such as war. When Congress stands by as the president usurps congressional power and grants dictatorial authority to a president, who can make vital decisions without the consent of the legislative branch, it sets precedent for future presidents to interpret legislation broadly in order to claim excess power.

This can be seen in the current over application of the AUMF. Much of the recent intervention in the Middle East and Northern Africa does not even seem to have much national-security benefit. For example, the United States assisted the overthrow of leaders, such in Egypt and in Libya, even when they posed no immediate threat to American national security.

The United States has also aided multiple rebel groups against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, even though some rebels are affiliated with ISIS. With danger rising up in unstable areas, the Senate never seriously discussed these dangers nor voted on intervention before simply barging into Syria.

The impact on the US military’s readiness is serious. Special Forces soldiers, who cost about $2 million and a couple of years per soldier to train, are overextended. Consequently, their deployments are longer, and their retention rate is dropping dramatically. Even moving these forces out of places like Syria only mean that they are going to another country like Niger.

The cost of these deployments is also taking money from needed modernization and reequipping of the military services. War powers also impact domestic policy. After entering into World War I, for example, economist Robert Higgs writes, the federal government nationalized “the railroad, telephone, domestic telegraph, and international telegraphic cable industries.”

It manipulated, Higgs adds, “labor-management relations, securities sales, agricultural production and marketing, the distribution of coal and oil, international commerce, and markets for raw materials and manufactured products” — all while using the Federal Reserve to inflate the dollar. Taxes increased drastically, and the national debt skyrocketed up to $25.5 billion in 1919, when it was just $1.2 billion two years before.”

During the Bush years, the war on terror helped establish the PATRIOT Act and the Transportation Security Administration. During the Obama years, war helped establish a more intrusive National Security Agency. Trump is already mimicking his predecessors by advocating increased steel tariffs in the name of national security.

Despite the problems with the AUMF – both foreign and domestic – Congress is loath to modify it, even though it is reducing Congress’ constitutional power to govern the US.   In the light of constant ISIS attacks in the US as on Tuesday in New York City, no politician wants to go home and tell voters that he doesn’t want to hamstring the fight against terrorism.

However, unless there is a change, more Americans and other will die. And, the US will be in the running for being at war longer than 30 years.

One then wonders if the US may try to outlast the 100 Years War between England and France.

 

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Iran Deal Was Not About Iran
By Theodore R. Bromund
Heritage Foundation
October 24, 2017

President Donald Trump’s announcement of a new strategy for confronting Iran offers a modicum of hope that the United States will stop kicking the can down the road in the Persian Gulf. But to do that, we have to recognize the point of the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t to restrain Iran. It was to restrain the United States. The Iran nuclear deal may be the most poorly designed agreement the U.S. has ever signed. It gave Iran immediate relief from Western sanctions in return for Iranian pledges of good behavior in the future. Iran knew that once sanctions were lifted, it would be hard for us to re-impose them. To do that, we need European cooperation, and with Iranian dollars flowing to Europe’s industries, we’re unlikely to get it.

Read more at

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/iran-deal-was-not-about-iran

 

Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy a Breath of Fresh Air
By Olivia Enos
Heritage Foundation
October 23rd, 2017

President Trump introduced a long-awaited new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan that differs substantively and positively from the Obama administration policy. The change in policy is a welcome and necessary transition that reflects the reality that conditions in Afghanistan are not the same as they were in 2001, or even 2009 when Obama approved a surge in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. New conditions necessitate a new strategy.

First, and arguably most importantly, Trump signaled a transition from a timeline-based strategy to a conditions-based plan of action. This represents a sharp departure from the Obama administration’s policy which set timelines for troop withdrawal starting in 2011. President Obama also announced in advance the handover from U.S. troops to Afghan security forces in 2014, and the anticipated full withdrawal at the end of 2016.

Trump did not set a timeline for complete withdrawal, stating that the U.S. needs to focus on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary dates to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Read more at

http://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/trumps-afghanistan-strategy-breath-fresh-air

 

What Does Niger Have to Do with the AUMF?
By Alice Hunt Friend
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 26, 2017

Recent events in Niger have called attention to the role of Congress in overseeing military deployments outside areas of active hostilities. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepares to consider the value of updating or even replacing the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al Qaeda and associated groups, it is worth considering how global extremism has evolved over the past 16 years and the types of congressional authorities the Department of Defense (DoD) relies on to today.

Read more at

https://www.csis.org/analysis/what-does-niger-have-do-aumf

 

Allies and Influence in Syria
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 27, 2017

There isn’t a number system in the world in which three is greater than 73. And yet, in Syria, an alliance of three governments has run circles around an alliance of 73, imposing its order on a violent and chaotic situation. It is tempting to see the whole episode as a sign that alliances are overrated, and that going forward, the United States should worry less about having the world on its side. But if the conflict in Syria teaches us anything, it is that the United States needs to put more energy into building its alliances, since the world we will face after Syria will require them even more. While the avowed U.S. goal in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State group (ISG) and not fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the two were always related. Assad nurtured the rise of the ISG and harshly repressed peaceful elements of the Syrian opposition. He believed, apparently, that his best hope for survival lay in fighting a foe even more unpalatable to the world than he was. The United States hoped to find a way to dispense with both, believing that Assad’s brutality would only nurture more Islamist extremism. It built a mighty coalition—first 60, then 65, and now 73—to fight the ISG, and it covertly supported a collection of forces intended to create a non-radical Syrian opposition.

Read more at

https://www.csis.org/analysis/allies-and-influence

 

Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion: A Transition at Risk
By SARAH YERKES and  MARWAN MUASHER
Carnegie Endowment
October 25, 2017

Corruption is a destabilizing force in Tunisia, infecting all levels of its economy, security, and political system. Once tightly controlled under former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, corruption has now become endemic, with everyday citizens engaging in and benefitting from corrupt practices. Numerous legal measures and civil society initiatives have been working to fight corruption, but it is perceived to be even more pervasive today than it was under Ben Ali. For the democratic transition to survive, Tunisia must fight a two-front war to simultaneously address the former kleptocracy and the emergence of widespread petty corruption. And to be successful, government and civil society must first agree on a framework for understanding and implementing the war. The international community should then support this framework with targeted funding and assistance.

Read more at

https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/10/25/tunisia-s-corruption-contagion-transition-at-risk-pub-73522

 

President Trump Takes A Wise Middle Course On The Iran Nuclear Deal
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
October 20, 2017

In his policy speech last Friday, President Trump did not scrap the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as some prominent conservative thinkers had suggested he should. Nor did he simply leave the deal intact, as proponents of the agreement had previously counseled. Instead, the president charted a middle way intended to give America greater leverage over Iran’s nuclear program and processes. To start, it’s necessary to understand that formally “certifying” the agreement – which the president has now declined to do – isn’t actually part of the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Rather, it is a separate condition imposed by the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a piece of legislation cobbled together by Congress in an effort to gain oversight over the Obama administration’s maddeningly opaque negotiating process with the Iranians.

Read more at

http://www.afpc.org/publication_listings/viewArticle/3640

 

Israel’s National Security since the Yom Kippur War
By Joshua Krasna
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 25, 2017

For the Jewish people, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (which fell this year on September 30), is the holiest day of the year. It is a day for solemn retrospection and repentance. In Israel, Yom Kippur is a phenomenon: it is the one day of the year when Israel’s borders and airspace are closed; while no law forbids it, only emergency vehicles are on the road in Jewish cities and neighborhoods; all shops are closed. Sixty percent of Jewish Israelis report that they fast on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur has another, more secular significance for Israelis. It marks the lowest point in Israel’s 70-year history—the Yom Kippur War, which began on October 6, 1973. Only six years after Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War, Egypt and Syria carried out a surprise attack on thinly spread Israeli forces in the Sinai and the Golan Heights, destroying or capturing many of them, under the umbrella of mobile surface to air missiles which nearly neutralized the Israeli Air Force. The IDF, over several desperate days, recovered its balance and mobilized reserves, then halted the opposing armies’ advances, rolled them back, inflicted a crushing defeat on the opposing armies, and occupied large tracts of their territories.

Read more at

https://www.fpri.org/article/2017/10/israels-national-security-since-yom-kippur-war/

 

Why are American Forces in Niger?
By Rebeccah L. Heinrichs
Hudson Institute
October 30, 2017

United States forces are sweating, bleeding, craving sleep, missing their wives, their children, and their friends while serving in Niger. And, in the case of Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, they are sacrificing their lives. The tragic deaths of these four special operators occurred when Islamist militants ambushed their 12-man Green Beret-led team on October 4th, 2017. The conflict has brought our operations in Niger under a national spotlight. Members of Congress who claim they did not know we had troops in Niger are either stunningly forgetful or are being insincere. There have been hearings on our operations in Africa, and the Commander of Africa Command, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, discussed Niger. If Congressmen truly didn’t know we had troops in Niger, this was not due to a lack of transparency on the part of the Pentagon. All of this is available information for those whose responsibility it is to authorize and appropriate the funds necessary to equip U.S. forces we send into harm’s way.

Read more at

https://www.hudson.org/research/13972-why-are-american-forces-in-niger

 

Hezbollah’s Terror Army: How to Prevent a Third Lebanon War
By Richard Kemp, Lord Richard Dannatt, and Klaus Naumann
Washington Institute
October 27, 2017
Video

On October 25, Col. Richard Kemp, Gen. Lord Richard Dannatt, and Gen. Klaus Naumann addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute as part of the long-running Stein Counterterrorism Lecture Series. Kemp is former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and led the international terrorism team at Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee. Dannatt is former chief of the general staff of the British Army. Naumann has served as chief of staff of the German Bundeswehr and chairman of the NATO Military Committee. All three participated in a High Level Military Group project that led to the publication of the recent report Hezbollah’s Terror Army: How to Prevent a Third Lebanon War. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.

Read more at

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/hezbollahs-terror-army-how-to-prevent-a-third-lebanon-war

Analysis 10-20-2017

ANALYSIS:

What Next After the Conquest of Raqqa?
ISIS defeat will require reset of White House strategy

Just nine months after taking office, President Trump might attempt to claim that has done something that Obama couldn’t do in years – defeat ISIS by assisting in the conquest of their capital Raqqa. However, before anyone breaks out the Champaign that doesn’t mean the end of this group. There are still small ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, in addition to cells in Europe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and throughout the region.

The defeat of ISIS also doesn’t mean the terrorist threat in the West is ended. Although ISIS is no longer as attractive to potential recruits in the West, there remains a strong chance that a suicide terrorist may carry out an attack in order to reenergize ISIS.

The defeat of ISIS also means the end of the fragile coalition that battled ISIS; the US, NATO, the Syrian government, Syrian opposition groups, Russia, Iraq, and Iran and its local allies. Now that the defeat of ISIS doesn’t bind them together, new alliances are expected to form, with new strategic goals.

We can also expect age old rivalries to reappear – the Kurdish independence issue, the Sunni-Shiite feud, Iranian extended influence and the Israel-Palestine issue, amongst others.

In addition to international policy differences, the Trump White House must face disagreements inside the US. The ailing Senator McCain (R-AZ) is committed to the downfall of Syrian President Assad and his statements have become more strident as his brain cancer advances.

So, where will the White House turn next?

During the presidential campaign, Trump made it clear that he had few problems with Syrian President Assad, but he wanted to curb Iranian expansionism.   Yet, Trump asserts that Iran and President Assad are allied and Iran, of all the countries in the region have benefitted from the war on ISIS as it has extended its influence across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Given Trump’s statements in the past (including last week’s move to gut the Iranian nuclear deal), it would appear that he will want American attention to focus on Iran. This means shifting attention to Yemen and assisting the GCC in countering Iranian moves. He will also continue to push for an international set of sanctions.

One way to counter Iran is to try to drive a wedge between Assad and Iran. The US could agree with Russia that Assad has a future in a post civil war Syria. He could also agree not to oppose Russia’s naval base in Tartus, Syria. This would effectively focus on attempt to divorce Syria and Russia from Iran and its allies and dramatically restrict Iranian influence in both Syria and Lebanon.

However, it is expected that president Assad will require more of Trump and the US than a mere recognition of his place in Syria’s future. He will call for the withdrawal of US Special Forces from Syria, which Trump will likely agree to as the situation calms down.

One reason Trump will agree eventually to pulling US forces out of Syria is the fact that US Special Forces are over stretched.   As the recent Special Forces deaths in Niger show, American Special Forces are deployed and fighting in dozens of countries. Since it takes a couple of years to train a Special Forces soldier, the special operations forces of the US military can’t be quickly increased.

The biggest problem with this move will not be international, but domestic. Senator McCain has fought for the downfall of Assad for years and the support of opposition forces.

However, this is more than a mere policy difference. Senator McCain and President Trump have taken verbal shots at each other and appear to dislike each other. Then there is the brain cancer and its treatment that McCain is undergoing.

Doctors know that chemotherapy seriously impacts the mental functions of the patient, including temperament, emotions, mood changes and “mental fogginess.” As McCain is undergoing aggressive chemotherapy, his statements and actions must be suspect. There is also the fact that McCain may be forced to resign or may die in office, which could change the debate in the US.

Eventually Trump’s policy is expected to prevail and Iran will become the major focus for US foreign policy.

The next major concern will be the issue of Kurdish independence. And, again, there will be a difference of opinion within the US as the State Department will oppose an independent Kurdistan, while Trump will likely favor it.

The Kurdish issue will evolve depending on the elimination of ISIS. The Kurds have been America’s most reliable ally in the war against ISIS and their continued help would be appreciated. Yet, their desire for independence is opposed by the other major local players in the war, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.

The Kurdish issue will have an impact on negotiations for the end of the civil war in Syria. President Assad has promised more autonomy to Syrian Kurds, but is leery of an independent Kurdistan that may inspire Syrian Kurds to secession.

Iraq clearly wants to conquer the territory controlled by Iraqi Kurds. However, they can’t expect the air support and American advisors that they have now. This means Iraqi gains in Kurdistan may be limited.

Of course, Iraq has its problems as it sits on a knife edge between the US and Iran. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been stronger than expected, but he isn’t strong enough to eschew US help. He’d like a residual US presence to counterbalance Iran’s influence. But if he opposes Tehran too resolutely, Iran’s supporters and allies will try to defeat him and push him out of power.

Of course, Iran could decide to help crush the Iraqi Kurds, but the Trump policy of limiting Iranian influence would likely push the White House into providing more covert aid to Kurdistan.

Another American policy push will likely be attempting to find some sort of rapprochement between Syria and Israel. Relations between Israel and several Arab countries have warmed in the last few years, and Syria remains the last “front line” Arab country to not have come to an agreement with the Zionist state.

Although President Assad had been very patient and avoiding direct confrontation with Israel during his presidency, relations between the two countries have gone downhill during the last few months as Israeli aircraft have bombed parts of Syria. This includes attacks this week, where there have been reports that a Syrian anti-aircraft missile damaged an Israeli F-35 fighter aircraft.

The major issues separating the two countries are the Golan Heights and Syrian support of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Although they have proven intractable in the past, the end of the Syrian civil war might force Israel to curb its attacks on Syria, and Trump may find this option is one way to try seeking the isolation of Iran. .

The push back of Iran will not be limited to Syria and Kurdistan. The GCC nations can expect more American support in regards to stopping Iranian influence in the Gulf and in Yemen. We can expect Trump to take a look at supporting opposition groups in Iran.

Conclusion

The end of the war on ISIS is fraught with problems and possibilities. The current ISIS coalition will fracture in the next few months as nations and groups look to new alliances that will advance their own agenda. For the US, it means pivoting towards a more aggressive stance against Iran.

Expect the US to realign its Middle Eastern policy to reflect this new reality. With ISIS defeated, president Assad growing power will be a minor issue for Trump and he can be expected to be forced to withdraw US forces over the next year. As a result both Presidents Assad and Putin can solidify their gains in the region.

The Kurdish issue is more complicated and the US has relations with both the Kurds and Iraqis. However, past experience shows that the Iraqi military is less likely to beat the Kurds without serious US assistance and Iran is ready ti fill any US void.

There is also the issue of rebuilding both Iraq and Syria – something that will require US money. And, there is the refugee problem. Can President Assad navigate Syria back with the promise of peace? If not, rebuilding Syria and its economy will be difficult. And, we can expect instability in the refugee laden countries of Jordan and Lebanon.

The end of the Syrian conflict will help the US renew its alliances with nations like the GCC and Egypt that frequently supported other sides in the Syrian conflict. The goal of this rapprochement will be a stronger bulwark against Iranian expansionism.

Of course, America isn’t the only player in the game. Other countries will have differing goals. Iran will fight to prevent its influence from being diminished by the US and Iraq will not easily give up Kurdistan. How they will execute their foreign policy will have as much impact on the region as Trump’s policies.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Egos and Ideologies: Islamism in the Gulf
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 6, 2015

Gulf leaders engaged with the Brotherhood soon after its founding in Egypt in 1928. By the mid-twentieth century, they came to see Islamic revivalists as allies in countering Arab Nationalism, which Gulf rulers viewed as a threatening secular modernist movement. Thousands of Brotherhood members fled political repression in Egypt and the Levant to settle in the Gulf in the early years of statehood. With almost no college graduates among the native population, these immigrants filled educational and other professional roles, and even some high-ranking government positions. Over time, some Gulf leaders grew suspicious that the Brotherhood’s pan-Islamist ambitions might represent a threat to Gulf regimes. The “first hint of trouble” according to Jenkins came with the Muslim Brotherhood’s embrace of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Brotherhood members welcomed the revolution as a harbinger of Islamist power, even if the Brotherhood is avowedly Sunni and Iran is a largely Shi`ite state; Gulf governments loathed it as a harbinger of revolution. Concerns spiked again in 1990 when some Muslim Brotherhood leaders expressed support for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Following the invasion, Saudi Arabia lashed out at members of the Sahwa, or “Awakening movement,” which was an admixture of Saudi theology and Brotherhood political activism.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/events/gulf-roundtable-egos-and-ideologies-islamism-gulf

President Trump’s Failing Leadership on Iran
By Danielle Pletka
American Enterprise Institute
October 6, 2017

President Trump has made clear his hostility toward the Iran nuclear deal, labeling it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has entered into.” He is right: The ill-constructed deal left Iran with an industrial-scale nuclear program which, when the pact’s terms begin to expire, will provide Iran with a clear pathway to nuclear weapons. But true leadership requires Mr. Trump to do more than focus solely on Iran’s nuclear program; he must also address the broader threats that Iran poses to the region. Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the bipartisan Senate compromise used by the Obama administration to get Congress to buy into the nuclear deal, the president must certify every 90 days that, among other things, Iran is fully implementing the nuclear pact and has not committed a material breach. The president must also attest that the agreement is vital to the security interests of the United States.

Read more at:

http://www.aei.org/publication/president-trumps-failing-leadership-on-iran/

 

Take it from me: Kirkuk was not an Iranian defeat of America
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
October 18, 2017

Look, I think my credentials as an Iran hawk are pretty strong. When, during the Clinton administration, many American policymakers and academics were enthralled with newly-elected President Mohammad Khatami’s rhetoric of “dialogue of civilizations,” I warned that it was a public relations distraction and that the Iranian behaviors that most concerned the United States remained unchanged. My first monograph, Radical Vigilantes in Khatami’s Iran, focused on how hardline, extra-legal forces moved to constrain meaningful reform of the system. Prior to public revelations about Iran’s covert enrichment program, I called out the Islamic Republic on its secret nuclear, ballistic missile, and biological weapons programs. I advocated for Iranian labor and, while I have consistently opposed military strikes on Iran (because they can never substitute for a more substantive long-term policy), I have not been shy about arguing that the U.S. goal should be regime change. The insincerity of Iranian diplomacy has also been a constant theme and, using Persian sources, I highlighted Iran’s deceitful approach to nuclear negotiations.

Read more at:

http://www.aei.org/publication/take-it-from-me-kirkuk-was-not-an-iranian-defeat-of-america/

 

INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE AND FORECAST: THE SYRIAN THEATER
Institute for the Study of War
September 23, 2017

The United States will continue to risk its vital strategic interests in the Middle East unless it changes its policies in Syria and Iraq. President Donald Trump and his administration inherited a weakened U.S. position, with Russia imposing constraints on American freedom of action and options. The Trump administration has taken initial steps to advance U.S. prestige in the region by reassuring America’s traditional allies and acting more firmly against its enemies and adversaries. The tactical tasks of recapturing Mosul and liberating Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) are complete and nearly complete, respectively. Nevertheless, its efforts to define and execute policies that secure America’s vital interests are moving more slowly than those of America’s enemies, adversaries, and spoilers who are more agile than the U.S. These actors include Russia, Iran and its proxies, Turkey, ISIS, al Qaeda, and some Kurdish elements, which are pursuing goals that threaten American objectives and are exploiting the current situation to make strategic gains as the U.S. champions short-term gains and tactical success.

Read more at:

http://www.understandingwar.org/article/intelligence-estimate-and-forecast-syrian-theater

 

How to Lose Friends and Alienate Allies: Trump’s New Strategy on Iran
By Guillaume Xavier-Bender
German Marshall Fund
October 19, 2017

There is a thorn in the Rose Garden. When in 2015, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, joined by Germany, reached an agreement with Iran on the future of its nuclear weapon, diplomacy had demonstrated yet again that compromise and trust are the building blocks of peace. Then President Obama, speaking from the White House gardens, underscored that “the issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” and that if Congress killed the deal “it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy. International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.” President Trump brought many reasons forward on October 13 to refuse to certify that Iran is complying with the agreement, despite repeated assurances from the International Atomic Energy Agency — guardian of the deal — and Washington’s partners that it is. The flurries of comments and statements following the announcement of this New Strategy on Iran have shown that if those reasons are hardly justified, they are simply not true. “Inexplicable.” “Irrational.” “Dangerous.” But let’s leave those at that, and the disheartening contemplation of a strategy that is not one.

Read more at:

http://www.gmfus.org/blog/2017/10/19/how-lose-friends-and-alienate-allies-trump%E2%80%99s-new-strategy-iran

 

How to Keep Armed Clashes in Kirkuk from Escalating
By Michael Knights
Washington Institute
October 16, 2017

In the early hours of October 16, the federal Iraqi military forced its way into many parts of Kirkuk city and adjacent military and energy facilities. The Counter-Terrorism Service, supported by army tanks, the Federal Police, and special forces (though not by Popular Mobilization Forces), took over the K1 military base, the governor’s palace, the Kirkuk Provincial Council headquarters, the North Oil Company and North Gas Company headquarters, the Kirkuk Regional Air Base, and key road junctions. Local Kurdish forces offered only token resistance, seemingly because the political faction in charge of them — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — was not fully resolved to resist the move. Thus far, no international body or state has opposed the move either, with President Trump noting today that the United States would not be “taking sides” in the dispute.

Read more at:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/how-to-keep-armed-clashes-in-kirkuk-from-escalating

 

Interpreting the Fall of Islamic State Governance
By Aaron Y. Zelin
Washington Institute
October 16, 2017

POLICYWATCH 2871

According to a field commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the last Islamic State (IS) holdouts will lose control of Raqqa, the group’s self-proclaimed capital, by sometime in the third week of October. Alongside the fall of Mosul, the IS stronghold in Iraq, this development marks a second collapse of governance for the jihadists. Reflecting this failure, for the first time since IS began systematizing its governance capabilities in late 2013 and early 2014, the group’s media apparatus has not, for roughly a month, released any material related to governing, social services, or dawa (proselytizing and outreach activities). The most sophisticated system of jihadist governance ever established thus appears to be dwindling to nothing. All the same, it is worth noting that the media silence may not indicate the absolute cessation of IS governance — indeed, the group is likely engaging in basic governance in certain areas along the Iraq-Syria border — but instead the further erosion of its media apparatus.

Read more at:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/interpreting-the-fall-of-islamic-state-governance

 

Egyptians Surprisingly Open to Key Trump Policies, New Poll Shows
By David Pollock
Washington Institute
October 12, 2017

As President Trump rolls out his plan for confronting Iran, a credible new poll in Egypt reveals that this posture enjoys a remarkable degree of public support in the most populous Arab country. A mere 1% of Egyptians rate Iran’s regional policies favorably, and in the ongoing intra-Arab dispute with Qatar, two-thirds agree that “the most important issue” is “to find the maximum degree of Arab cooperation against Iran.” Tehran’s regional allies, likewise the target of new U.S. sanctions, receive overwhelmingly bad reviews as well, with 91% of Egyptians voicing disapproval of Hezbollah — a stunning reversal of the group’s glorious image right after its 2006 war with Israel. The same high proportion express a negative view of the Houthis, Iran’s favored party in the continuing Yemeni civil war. Moreover, a mere 14% say that it is even “somewhat important” for Egypt to have good relations with Iran, while 56% call good ties with the United States “important.” This stark contrast helps put Egypt’s fabled anti-American sentiment in proper perspective. While the public mostly disapproves of U.S. policy overall, they also clearly value satisfactory official ties with Washington.

Read more at:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/egyptians-surprisingly-open-to-key-trump-policies-new-poll-shows

Analysis 10-07-2017

ANALYSIS:

Las Vegas Shooting:
Many Questions Remain

Even days after the biggest mass shooting in recent American history, there are many questions.  Why did the shooter do what he did?  How did he manage to buy over 40 guns, of which 23 were in the room with him?  And, why have American officials refused to call it terrorism?

On Monday, a 64-year-old man named Stephen Paddock, who had no criminal record, opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 58 people and injuring some 515 more.  However, the rational for the shooting remains a mystery.  As a result, various reasons have been given, depending on the political leanings of the person providing the answer.  Some claim ISIS did it, even though there is little solid evidence to prove that. There is also evidence that he was taking a medication that could cause violence.  Others have used it as an excuse to push for more anti-gun legislation.

No matter the reason Paddock had for this attack, it is obvious that there is more violence occurring in the US on all sides of the political spectrum.  The question is why?

The answer may be found in the writings of the German-American political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975).  She wrote extensively on totalitarianism and predicted that modern society would see a surge of domestic violence and social unrest.

Widely considered one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers, she escaped Germany after Hitler took power and found refuge in America, where she became a visiting scholar at some of America’s finest academic institutions, and was Princeton’s first female lecturer.

In her classic work On Violence, Arendt discussed the ideas of power and violence at length.  But Arendt qualified that power and violence are two very different things. In fact, she said they are diametrically opposed:

She wrote, “Violence appears where power is in jeopardy.”

True power, Arendt says, doesn’t require violence. It belongs to a group and it remains so long as the group stays together and can exert its will.

Violence, on the other hand, is an instrument.  It is most often employed by those who lack power or by a group that feels power slipping away.

If Arendt is correct, violence is an instrument most likely to be used by those who lack power and feel powerless. And this is where she analyzed modern society.

Arendt believed that modern states had become bogged down under the monstrous weight of their own bureaucracy.  She saw that the bigger a state grew, the more need there was for an administrative apparatus to allow it to function. The bureaucratization of society is an insidious and smothering force that resulted in a sort of faceless tyranny.

She wrote, “Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done.  It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest.”

“The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on which the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.”

Or, in non-philosophical words, faceless bureaucracies are tyrannical because no one is in charge or responsible to the people.  And, people across the political spectrum feel helpless in face of the bureaucracy and then rebel with violence.

This explains the wide spectrum of civil unrest seen in the US in the past few years – from the riots in Ferguson to the Bundy Ranch face off to Black Lives Matter.  They all express the outrage against government bureaucracies who aren’t held responsible, but are capable of ruining people’s lives.

It may also help to explain events like Catalonian independence and England’s Brexit.  Has the faceless bureaucracy of the EU pushed some people too far?  Could other regions also begin to think about independence?

If Arendt’s political theory is true, we can only expect unrest to grow as the American bureaucracy grows and remains in power.

Gun Control

Another issue raised by the Las Vegas shooting is the issue of American gun ownership.  While some are pushing for greater control on the purchase and ownership of guns, others point out the mass shootings in places like France and Great Britain, who both have restrictive firearm ownership laws.

Some wonder how someone can own over 40 firearms, of which over 20 were found in the room, where he carried out his massacre.

Firearm ownership regulations at the federal level are usually limited to a check by the owner of a gun store to make sure the purchaser has no criminal record.  There is no limit on the number of guns one can own, providing one can afford them.

There is a federal regulation that requires reporting if a person buys three guns or more at a time.  There are some states that limit the amount of guns bought in a given amount of time like a month.  However, if the person has no criminal record, has the money, and buys them over a period of time, there are no limitations.

The fact that Paddock had 23 guns with him at the hotel room is mysterious.  Many familiar with firearms would say that fewer firearms and more ammunition would have made more sense if one wished to kill a lot of people.

So, the question is if this massacre will have an impact on American gun laws?  Probably not.

America has a high gun ownership rate, a history of private firearm ownership going back to the American Revolution, and probably more firearms than people in the country.  There is no way to change that unless one declares martial law and starts house-to-house searches – a move that would guarantee a civil war.

One legislative change is that a congressional bill that would have made the ownership of silencers easier has been shelved.  There has also been some talk about restricting “bump fire” stocks, which allow a faster rate of fire.

However, regulation of “bump fire” would be nearly impossible.  Bump fire requires no special equipment and a gun owner can bump fire nearly any semi-automatic firearm with a little practice.

The fact is that the pro-firearm bloc of voters is large and was critical for Trump’s victory and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.  Gun control legislation backed by the GOP would be political suicide by Republican politicians.

Is it Terrorism?

Many have also questioned if it was a terrorist act.  However, that depends on who you are and what the people think.  As the old saying goes, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

According to federal law, it isn’t terrorism because there was no political component to it.  However, that may change as more information about the shooter comes out.

However, under Nevada law, it is considered terrorism.

But, in the end, it is the people on a jury deciding a case that will inevitably decide if any shooting is really terrorism.

An excellent example happened last year when armed anti-government protesters took over a building at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.  Although the protesters were armed, no one was injured and there were no shots fired by them.  However, the federal government charged the protestors with terrorism because the act had a political component to it.

The jury saw it differently a few months ago.  Those who went to trial were acquitted because the jury didn’t see it as terrorism.  However, the jurors did say that if the government had charged them with mere trespassing, they would have voted to convict them.

As a result of the acquittals, federal prosecutors withdrew the terrorism charges from the Bundy Ranch protestors they had arrested.  But, it didn’t help.  So far, no one has been convicted and several have been acquitted by juries.

Evidently, the government’s idea of terrorism is quite different than the average person’s.

Which ties in with Arendt’s theories.  Has public frustration with government and its mechanisms made the average person more willing to acquit people who stand up to the government?  Is the person who is a terrorist in the US government’s eyes, merely a legitimate protestor in the public’s eyes?

If that is the case, we can expect to see more shootings and civil unrest in America.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Time to Decertify the Iran Nuclear Agreement
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
October 2, 2017

The Trump Administration faces an October 15 deadline under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 to certify Iranian compliance and several other aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After the State Department twice certified the agreement, President Donald Trump indicated that he was reluctant to do so again—and it is almost impossible to see how he could do so. Iran has proclaimed it will not permit inspections of its military bases, which are permitted—indeed necessary—under the nuclear deal. The Trump Administration should decertify and adopt a strategy to either fix or abrogate the nuclear deal.

Read more

 

Trump Stockpiles Reasons to Blow Up Iran Nuke Pact
By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
September 29, 2017

The Iran nuclear deal is a ticking time bomb.  That’s because Team Trump has to (re)certify to Congress that Iran is in technical compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal — aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — by Oct. 15.  It may not happen based on President Trump’s unvarnished feelings about the deal, calling it an “embarrassment” and the “worst deal ever” last week while at the United Nations.  The pact could explode any time.  Trump also said he’d made up his mind about what to do about it — though he didn’t tip his hand as to what exactly that was. If I had to bet, it isn’t a continuation of the status quo.  Considering the deal’s shortcomings, that’s understandable.  Of course, some defenders of the Obama-era atomic agreement will argue that it paused — or at least significantly slowed — Iran’s progress toward nukes for a decade or so.  Indeed, that’s one of the big problems with the pact: It expires. The deal has a “sunset provision,” which is when key restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment program are phased out, leaving Tehran footloose and fissile free to build a bomb

Read more

 

Framing Next Steps for Security Sector Assistance Reform
By Melissa Dalton and Hijab Shah
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 26, 2017

The U.S. policy community lacks consensus about what truly defines security sector assistance. Ranging from military training, advising, and sales to community justice and reconciliation programs, security assistance spans a wide spectrum of activities. Cataloguing authorities and funding by assistance type can help sort the myriad of tools in the security sector assistance kit, but fundamental questions remain about the purpose of security sector assistance and its connection to foreign policy objectives. Some members of the U.S. policy community believe that foreign military sales should be considered defense trade, distinct from other forms of security sector assistance. Other members recognize that any assistance or equipment provided to a foreign partner is an act of foreign policy.

Read more

 

Power and Strategy: The President Needs to Order His Priorities in the Middle East
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 20, 2017

To many leaders in the Middle East, the Trump administration is a breath of fresh air. The president’s statements about battling extremism and reinforcing the status quo, and his general disinterest in the region’s domestic conditions, are a huge relief after President Bush and President Obama pursued regional strategies that tied domestic repression to fomenting radicalization.  To others in the region, the Trump administration is a menace. They not only see it pursuing anti-Muslim (and pro-Israel) policies, but they also see it tipping the region toward greater militarism and conflict.  The two sides agree on one point, though: The Trump administration has many Middle East policies but no visible strategy, and that makes it harder for any of them to cooperate with the United States.

Read more

 

Should Trump re-certify the Iran Deal?
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
October 4, 2017

Oct. 15 will be decision day for President Donald Trump. That is the next deadline, under terms of the Corker-Cardin Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, for Trump to certify both that Iran is compliant with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and that the Iran deal remains vital to the national security interests of the U.S. Trump has pilloried the Iran nuclear deal he inherited as “the worst deal ever,” but Defense Secretary James Mattis testified in Congress Tuesday that the JCPOA is working, and press reports suggest that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to amend the Corker-Cardin legislation to relieve the pressure upon the president and to avoid battles about recertification every three months.

Read more

 

Intelligence Estimate and Forecast: The Syrian Theater
Institute for the Study of War
September 23, 2017

The United States will continue to risk its vital strategic interests in the Middle East unless it changes its policies in Syria and Iraq. President Donald Trump and his administration inherited a weakened U.S. position, with Russia imposing constraints on American freedom of action and options. The Trump administration has taken initial steps to advance U.S. prestige in the region by reassuring America’s traditional allies and acting more firmly against its enemies and adversaries. The tactical tasks of recapturing Mosul and liberating Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) are complete and nearly complete, respectively. Nevertheless, its efforts to define and execute policies that secure America’s vital interests are moving more slowly than those of America’s enemies, adversaries, and spoilers who are more agile than the U.S. These actors include Russia, Iran and its proxies, Turkey, ISIS, al Qaeda, and some Kurdish elements, who are pursuing goals that threaten American objectives and are exploiting the current situation to make strategic gains as the U.S. champions short-term gains and tactical success.

Read more

 

The Urgent U.S. Role in Post-Referendum Kurdistan
By Michael Knights
Washington Institute
September 29, 2017
PolicyWatch 2863

The September 25 statehood referendum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq passed overwhelmingly, with 92.7 percent of voters choosing “yes.” Although the outcome does not trigger any administrative changes and is explicitly not a declaration of independence, the central government and parliament in Baghdad have reacted fiercely, while neighboring states such as Turkey and Iran are coordinating punitive measures with Iraqi officials. Some of the suggested punishments could damage U.S. interests and hand more influence to Iran, where Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit on October 4. Before that trip, the United States needs to act quickly to shape Turkish and Iraqi calculations on post-referendum policy, preferably with backing from the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq and the coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS)

Read more

 

Iran’s Shadow over Lebanon
By David Schenker
Washington Institute
October 4, 2017

Last week, a Lebanese military court sentenced local Sunni jihadi leader Sheikh Ahmed Assir to death. Assir has been in prison since 2015 for directing clashes between his supporters and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in Sidon two years earlier in which 17 soldiers were killed. While few Lebanese will shed a tear for Assir, the announcement of his impending execution nonetheless sparked Sunni protests across the state. For many Sunnis, the harsh treatment of Assir is emblematic of the Shi’a militia Hezbollah’s increasingly overt dominance in Beirut.

Read more

Analysis 09-22-2017

ANALYSIS:

Trump Makes His First Speech to the United Nations

This speech will undoubtedly be remembered as the “Rocket Man” speech since he referred to the leader of North Korea as a “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” during the speech.

The speech can be seen in three ways; first, how it was seen domestically, second how it was viewed by foreign leaders, and third, how it delineated the “Trump Doctrine.”

The Trump Doctrine also had another audience – citizens of other countries.  He told them that is was okay to be proud of their own nation and its accomplishments – a theme not popular with world leaders looking towards a more global approach to problems – but likely to resonate with people in many regions of the world.

In his first address to the United Nations, President Trump spoke to Americans and delineated the Trump Doctrine by delivering a defense of the importance of national sovereignty, while defending an American-centered world order.  He addressed foreign nations when he spoke forthrightly about threats to international peace and security emanating from North Korea and other “rogue states”.

Trump laid out the essentials of the Trump doctrine. The foundation of a healthy international order is a “coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.” Trump specifically rejected the notion that nations must conform to the same political or cultural ideals, but he did not simply fall back on an international relativism. Trump declared, “We do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

Trump underlined his doctrine when blasting what he labeled the world’s rouge nations.  A good example was directed at Venezuela.   Trump said, “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”

The stony silence that followed that statement showed the differing ideology of the US and the rest of the world.  The same comment made at his rallies or even before Congress would be met with a standing ovation.

Regarding North Korea, Trump was his usual bellicose self — even working in his new pet insult for Kim Jong-un, calling him “Rocket Man” “on a suicide mission.”  However, remember that a nickname doesn’t constitute a policy. Yes, the president memorably pledged to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. “is forced to defend itself or its allies.” Yet massive retaliation and regime change in the event of a renewed Korean War has been American policy for decades.

Many of these lines were for domestic consumption because it’s still not clear what Trump’s North Korean strategy is.  Nor, is it clear if Trump will meaningfully shift American policies regarding Iran. He declared the nuclear deal an “embarrassment.” It’s clear that he wants to opt out of the deal, but he hasn’t thus far, and it’s far from certain that he will in the future. Clearly Trump is frustrated with both regimes and the diplomatic status quo. But forging something different is much easier said than done; both nations have consistently and successfully defied his predecessors.

Trump ended his address with an ode to patriotism, noting that a desire for a free nation has inspired some of history’s most admirable fights: “Patriotism led the Poles to die to save Poland, the French to fight for a free France, and the Brits to stand strong for Britain.” In a rebuke to those who imagine a body like the U.N. eventually growing into a global government, Trump argued that the world is best served when nations “defend their interests, preserve their cultures, and ensure a peaceful world for their citizens.”

Indeed, earlier in the speech, he referred to the post–World War II Marshall Plan as being “built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free.”

Trump still sees the nation state as a critical factor in peace, international politics, and improving the lives of people.  He called patriotism — love of one’s own country, and what he called the necessary basis for sacrifice and “all that is best in the human spirit” — into the basis for international cooperation to solve problems that nations must face together.  “The true question,” he said, is “are we still patriots?”

This is sort of a global version of Objectivism – a libertarian philosophy that the world works better when individuals seek out their own best interest.  In this case, the world works best when nations serve their citizen’s best interests and seek out the nation’s best interests when dealing with other nations.  This reinforces the belief that Trump isn’t a traditional conservative, but a philosophical libertarian.

Trump also used patriotism as a way to differentiate between rogue governments and the citizens of that nation.  Trump carefully distinguished between the regime in Iran, “whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” and “the good people of Iran,” adding that “Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most” after only “the vast military power of the United States.”

This implies a different reaction to a popular uprising in Iran than was seen while Obama was in power.  Trump may very well covertly conspire and support any popular uprising against the Iranian leadership.

This doctrine of nationalism and patriotism should not be ignored elsewhere.  When he said a core sovereign duty was “to respect the interests of their own people,” one wonders how these words played in Catalonia and Scotland, where regional nationalism is growing.  No doubt these words also boosted the national aspirations of the Kurds.

Although it’s too early to tell, the theme of nationalism may have a major impact.  Thanks to immigration, nationalism is a growing undercurrent in Europe.  And, there are several regions in the world that seek independence.

Despite the rhetoric, Trump’s speech was not a political stump speech before supporters.  It showed much traditional Republican foreign policy strains – with Trump accepting America’s international role, despite his complaints about the costs.   He, however, did add a few of his signature nationalist themes.

The conventional Republican foreign policy was evident in the response to it.  While Democrats like Hillary Clinton panned it, many experienced Republican foreign policy experts saw it as a success.

Elliott Abrams a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Deputy National Security Advisor wrote in National Review, “Fair judges will call this speech a real success. Trump rose to the occasion and offered a speech that had both striking rhetoric and a sound argument that the success of individual states, each looking out for its own interests, is the basic building block of a successful U.N. and international system. This was a rare speech in that chamber, which has been filled with decades of lies, hypocrisy, and globaloney. Trump paid the organization and the delegates the courtesy of telling them squarely how his administration sees the world.”

However, Abrams did note, “What did Trump not talk about?  The Israeli–Palestinian conflict. At times that problem was the central item in President Obama’s speeches to the U.N., so its absence in Trump’s first address to the General Assembly was very striking. He wants to get a deal done, as he reiterated when meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he realizes that the conflict is not central to world politics or even to stability and peace in the Middle East. So it had no place in this text.”

So, what can we take out of the speech?  The most important part is the Trump doctrine.  He will not be ashamed of “America First” or “Make America Great Again.”  However, he indicated he will tolerate the nationalistic tendencies of other nations.  That implies that he will understand nationalistic tendencies when dealing with other nations – something he would understand as a businessman who knew every negotiator he faced was looking out for his own business’s best interest.

Trump also made it clear that he doesn’t see the United Nations as the lynchpin of international peace of cooperation.  He reminded the delegates that the United Nations was never meant to be a gigantic bureaucracy that would steadily become a world government.  And, reiterating his nationalism theme, he said, it is an association of sovereign states whose strength depends “on the independent strength of its members.” Its success, he argued, depends on their success at governing well as “strong, sovereign, and independent nations.”

In other words, he will not go out of his way to get a UN Security Council resolution before taking action against a perceived “rouge nation”.

We also know that Trump will not tone down his language at international forums.  While others may be vague, Trump made it clear that if Kim attacks the United States, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Trump has only been in office for nine months and his foreign policy is a work in progress.  So far he has steered clear of the mistakes that seemed possible during the campaign – turning his back on NATO, for instance – and, in fact, hasn’t plowed much new ground. With the exception of the pullout from the Paris accords and his threat to pull out of NAFTA, the president has accepted the status quo.  But his critics tend to consider that the status quo in North Korea and Iran means failure.

 

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

U.S. Facing Unwelcome Facts About North Korea Nukes
By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
September 7, 2017

Here’s a dose of unpleasant reality about North Korea: It’s extremely unlikely that it’s ever going to agree to get rid of its increasingly threatening nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs. Yes, I mean, ever. While I’d be happy to be proven wrong about diplomatic possibilities, I’m not optimistic about North Korea coming to a negotiating table to freeze or end its nuclear and ballistic missile projects. Despite the prospects of pariah status, further diplomatic isolation and more painful economic sanctions, Pyongyang has plenty of good reasons — in its thinking — to hold onto its weapons of mass destruction, or WMD. For instance, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sees his advancing nuclear and missile capabilities as a life insurance policy for the Kim dynasty, the regime and North Korea — protecting him from his perceived enemies (including South Korea and the United States).

Read more

 

Alternatives to the Iran Deal Carry Too Much Risk
By John Glaser and Emma Ashford
Cato Institute
September 19, 2017

President Donald Trump is poised to make one of the most fateful decisions of his White House tenure. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he lambasted the regime in Iran and, in a deeply misleading reference to the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, he said this of the United States: “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.” The President added:

“Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.” That threat is an apparent reference to Trump’s stated intention to begin to deliberately unravel the nuclear deal next month. Yet his Administration has offered no good alternative, and every policy option outside the deal will push Iran towards the bomb.

Read more

 

Power and Strategy: The President Needs to Order His Priorities in the Middle East
By Jon Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 20, 2017

To many leaders in the Middle East, the Trump administration is a breath of fresh air. The president’s statements about battling extremism and reinforcing the status quo, and his general disinterest in the region’s domestic conditions, are a huge relief after President Bush and President Obama pursued regional strategies that tied domestic repression to fomenting radicalization. To others in the region, the Trump administration is a menace. They not only see it pursuing anti-Muslim (and pro-Israel) policies, but they also see it tipping the region toward greater militarism and conflict. The two sides agree on one point, though: The Trump administration has many Middle East policies but no visible strategy, and that makes it harder for any of them to cooperate with the United States.

Read more

 

100 Days of Pointless Arab Self-Destructiveness and Counting
By Anthony H. Corpsman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 19, 2017

No American can criticize Arab states without first acknowledging that the United States has made a host of mistakes of its own in dealing with nations like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The fact remains, however, that the word “Arab” has come to be a synonym for disunity, dysfunctional, and self-destructive. Regardless of issuing of one ambitious “Arab” plan for new coalitions after another, the reality is failed internal leadership and development, pointless feuding between Arab states, and an inability to cooperate and coordinate when common action is most needed. The most immediate example is the series of efforts by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to isolate, embargo, and boycott Qatar. Some 100 days have passed since they issued some 13 broad, categorical, and poorly defined demands that Qatar change its behavior. These demands may or may not have been reduced to six equally badly phrased and vague statements, but this is unclear. There have been some faltering steps towards negotiation, and President Trump (after helping to trigger the embargo) has made a serious effort at mediation. So far, however, the crisis continues, along with references to “mad dogs” in the Arab League, and new sets of mutual accusations.

Read more

 

Trump’s UN speech: What makes America first
By Gary J. Schmitt
American Enterprise Institute
September 20, 2017

As Trump speeches go, his address before the UN General Assembly was one of his better efforts. Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations has done a good job of pointing out the strengths of the speech. But, as Elliott also notes, there is a striking absence in the President’s remarks regarding basic rights and democracy — staples of American presidential foreign policy rhetoric in the past. Instead, the president prioritized the concepts of national sovereignty and the nation-state. Presumably, the president sought to contrast his vision of an international order held together by national sovereignty to the dangers arising from globalization: the blurring of state boundaries, the dissolution of national cultures, and the collapse of civic attachments. One struggles to imagine being a citizen, let alone a patriot, the president implies, if there is no “civitas,” no distinct community to have an attachment to. Trump’s argument on sovereignty holds some merit. Indeed, the president would have done well to remind his listeners that the founders of the UN designed the body so as to avert those flaws that plagued the League of Nations — chief among them, undue faith in the organizing potential of the altruism of individual nations.

Read more

 

Time to Accept Reality and Manage a Nuclear-Armed North Korea
By Michael D. Swaine
Carnegie Endowment
September 11, 2017

Anyone following the growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks has been treated to an endless parade of op-eds on what to do about it, written from almost every conceivable angle. Despite the variation among these perspectives, most such proposals remain focused on how to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this objective appears less and less viable with every new North Korean (DPRK) missile and nuclear test. This suggests the need for policymakers in the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan to adopt a more realistic approach focused on deterrence, containment, and an array of crisis management measures. While some nongovernmental observers are beginning to call for this approach, few if any present a clear explanation of either the reasons why such a refocus is needed, what specific key features it should include, or how to carry it out. This is a first step in that direction.

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Democracy Promotion Under Trump: What Has Been Lost? What Remains?
By Thomas Carothers
Carnegie Endowment
September 06, 2017

Eight months into his presidency, Donald Trump is still only starting to elaborate his foreign policy. Some crucial areas, such as Russia policy, remain largely undeveloped. With regard to U.S. support for democracy abroad, however, his intentions and actions are clear: he seeks to shift the United States away from the broad commitment to actively supporting democracy’s global advance that former president Ronald Reagan established in the early 1980s and that all U.S. presidents since, Republican and Democratic alike, have pursued in at least some substantial ways. Compounding this shift is the damage the new president has inflicted on U.S. democracy as a model for others. Yet despite all this, important elements of U.S. democracy support—pro-democratic diplomacy in countries under stress, democracy assistance, and engagement with democracy-related multilateral institutions—remain at least partially intact. And Congress maintains strong bipartisan backing for democracy and rights support. U.S. democracy policy is under severe strain, but writing off the United States as a key supporter of global democracy, as some observers in the United States and abroad are already doing, is premature.

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Regional War and the Middle East
By Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby
Hudson Institute
August 2017

Optimism is hazardous in the Middle East.  Still, some take solace that we have passed the days of general regional war of the kind that we saw in the Johnson and Nixon administrations, when major Middle Eastern armies squared off, Israel tottered, and radical leaders threatened to unite Islam against the West.  Instead, the region has dissolved into a series of border clashes and ugly civil wars.  But beneath today’s mayhem the balance of power has been shifting; and in time, left undisturbed, current trends may lead to where general war looms once again, only now in a nuclear context.  The prospect of just such dangers motivated Israel to send delegations to Moscow and Washington in recent weeks.  In today’s 24-hour news cycle world, one marked by casualty counts and the rubble of obscure Syrian villages, governments often find it hard to look out a few months, let alone a few years.  But if leaders, such as Netanyahu, do so, the long-term prospects are daunting.

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Analysis 09-08-2017

ANALYSIS:

Thermonuclear North Korea –
The Threat and Response

On September 3, at exactly noon local time, North Korea detonated its sixth nuclear device purportedly releasing 140 kilotons of TNT equivalent, according to a recent US intelligence estimate, and almost ten times greater than the U.S. nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 and larger than the warheads found on the US Trident ICBMs.

Shortly after the detonation, which triggered an artificial magnitude 6.3 earthquake, North Korea claimed that it successfully tested a thermonuclear bomb design that can be fitted on the Hwasong-14/KN20 intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM), which was first tested on July 4 and is likely capable of reaching the continental United States.

The test of a hydrogen bomb has been expected by North Korean analysts for some time and it has nonetheless triggered a nuclear war-scare in the United States and fueled repeated threats by President Trump to preemptively strike North Korean missile sites.

However, there is some question if North Korea is really the possessor of a real thermonuclear weapon.

U.S. government sources with access to the latest intelligence regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have told The Diplomat that its sixth nuclear test also involved an “advanced nuclear device.”  That’s a vague statement that clearly avoids the issue of a North Korean thermonuclear device.

Per the early assessment shared with The Diplomat, the device was either a boosted fission device or, as North Korea claimed in its state media, a two-stage thermonuclear bomb.

There is a big difference.  A boosted fission device will have a limited yield.  A true thermonuclear bomb can be easily enlarged to the multi-megaton range.  The type of weapon design will also show how North Korea is focusing its nuclear R&D.

Booster fission devices – where one places fusion material in the middle of the fission warhead can produce these types of yield. The fusion that occurs releases more neutrons resulting in more “burning” of the fission fuel boosting the power. Another option is the Layered Cake design developed by the Russians. This design employs alternating layers of fission/fusion materials.

Or the North Koreans tested a true thermonuclear device; the two stage Teller-Ulam design that was designed by the US. That type of weapon can be scaled to whatever yield you want.

A true hydrogen bomb has traditionally meant a two-stage weapon – where a fission bomb is used as an X-ray source to compress and cause fusion in the “secondary.”  This was the route the US took to a thermonuclear device.

A boosted fission device is basically one that has Hydrogen isotopes – Tritium and Deuterium – present in the pit/core. Under compression and nuclear bombardment as the fission reaction gets under way the isotopes fuse into Helium and free neutrons. These neutrons help “boost” the initial fission chain reaction resulting in a much more energetic fission reaction.

Or, the North Koreans could be taking a “Russian” approach with a layer cake fusion design.  The Layered Cake design employs alternating layers of fission/fusion materials.  It does get some of its yield from fusion and has a higher yield, but can’t be scaled up like the Teller-Ulam design.

However, does a thermonuclear device fit into North Korea’s nuclear strategy?  Maybe not.

It seems that electromagnetic pulse (EMP) has a critical part in the NK nuclear strategy.  The official communist party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published a report Monday on “the EMP might of nuclear weapons,” outlining an EMP attack produced by detonating a nuclear warhead in space.

“In general, the strong electromagnetic pulse generated from nuclear bomb explosions between 30 kilometers and 100 kilometers [18.6 miles and 62 miles] above the ground can severely impair electronic devices, electric machines, and electromagnetic grids, or destroy electric cables and safety devices,” said the article authored by Kim Songwon, dean of Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang.

“The discovery of the electromagnetic pulse as a source of high yield in the high-altitude nuclear explosion test process has given it recognition as an important strike method,” he stated.

Although it may seem that North Korea may want a thermonuclear device, if their goal is to produce a weapon that produces a large EMP (electromagnetic Pulse) they would not want to focus all their energy on hydrogen bombs because cruder fission bombs are more effective for producing EMP.

EMP is caused by gamma radiation hitting the upper atmosphere, which causes Compton currents, which cause EMP.  Thermonuclear weapons, however, are less efficient at producing EMP because the first stage can pre-ionize the air which becomes conductive and hence rapidly shorts out the Compton currents generated by the fusion stage. Hence, small pure fission weapons with thin cases are far more efficient at causing EMP than most massive thermonuclear bombs.

Consequently, if the North Korea strategy is to cripple the US with an EMP, large yield thermonuclear weapons aren’t necessary.  In addition, an EMP explosion in space would preclude further development of reentry vehicles.

Strategies – North Korea and America and its Allies

Kim Jung-un latest move has imparted a greater sense of urgency to the ongoing crisis. But, like the launch of a ballistic missile over Japan last week and constant threats of an EMP attack on the United States, this latest move is consistent with the North Korean cycle of defiant measures, crisis, and temporary resolution. While each successive crisis has brought the world closer to the brink of armed conflict, neither side has sought to cross the line into war. The costs and risks have been considered too high.

The current Korean crisis could lead to large-scale conflict, especially if Pyongyang carries out its threat to launch missiles close to Guam. Such an aggressive move would go beyond brinkmanship. It would probably force the Trump administration to shoot down the incoming missiles, leading to further escalation. If the North then responded with an armed strike against the U.S. and its allies, the president would have few options other than the employment of overwhelming military force. While there are no good military options, war could result from North Korea’s and U.S. miscalculation.

A more likely outcome is that the crisis will end in the same fashion that others have. The U.S. would once again call for more sanctions and more pressure on China, with the goal of persuading Kim to return to the negotiating table and accept the “denuclearization” of the Peninsula. North Korea would once again declare victory while continuing to expand its nuclear arsenal and developing ever more capable ballistic missiles.

The problem is that this solution is becoming less and less effective as North Korea becomes a more realistic nuclear threat.  In July, North Korea conducted two successful tests of ICBM-class missiles. That same month, the Defense Intelligence Agency reportedly assessed that the North has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead that can fit in the front end of a ballistic missile. The latest nuclear test moves North Korea ever closer to what it has long sought — the ability to hold American cities hostage to Pyongyang’s blackmail demands. When the North does possess nuclear-armed ICBMs able to hold even a small number of American cities at risk, the rules of the game will change. The next crisis will be different.

Possessing the capability to target and strike U.S. cities with nuclear weapons could fundamentally alter Pyongyang’s calculations. Advocates of tough U.S. policy are asserting that, the stated policy of the Kim regime is the unification of the Peninsula, by force if necessary and that the North appears to understand the notion that, under present circumstances, it would lose an all-out war with the U.S. and its allies. They believe North Korea’s conventional forces are outmatched by the American and South Korean forces arrayed against them, which include massive forces that would flow into the theater during a conflict. They are hinting that even if Pyongyang employed large-scale chemical and biological warfare, which it is almost certainly prepared to do, the overwhelming response by the U.S., perhaps not limited to conventional retaliation, could well mean the elimination of the Kim regime.

The key for North Korea is to change what it calls the “correlation of forces” by deterring the U.S. and others from coming to the assistance of the South, especially by blocking reinforcements based in Japan, Guam, and the U.S. homeland. The means to do this is to threaten American and Japanese cities with nuclear destruction. This is the reason the North devotes enormous resources to its nuclear and missile programs — not to deter an attack by the U.S. but to deter the US from coming to the assistance of Seoul when the North moves south.

Common wisdom holds that, if North Korea launches even one nuclear weapon against the US, the result will be the complete destruction of the entire country. But from the North’s perspective – which is the one that matters most – they may believe that it is a gamble worth taking.

So how can the US manage a Korean crisis? One way would be for the U.S. to use military force to destroy North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities now.

But picking the military option has three problems. First, while the U.S. must be prepared to respond with overwhelming force to the use of force by the North, a preemptive attack by the U.S. on a scale necessary to destroy the North’s missile and nuclear programs could result in large-scale conflict on the Korean Peninsula, with hundreds of thousands of casualties. Would U.S. allies, particularly South Korea, be willing to go along?

Second, it will be difficult to determine when to strike. The best time is only after the North Korean development and fielding of a nuclear tipped ICBM.  However, intelligence assessments are usually vague and probably will never say that they are 100% sure the North Koreans have a nuclear ICBM. Internal arguments will most certainly favor delay based on the assessment that the North is not yet at the point of deploying an ICBM.   But if the delay is too long, what the US is trying to prevent will occur.

And finally, there will be those who say that the US can effectively deter North Korea even if it possesses an ICBM capability, just as it deterred the Soviet Union.  The problem is that we can’t assume the North Korean leadership will act as the Soviets did.

So, is there a peaceful option that the Trump administration can take that might be more effective than the strategies taken in the past?

The answer lies with THE Russians and Chinese if they could bring a proposal to resume direct U.S. and N.K negotiation.

Although Trump has made the military option a likely option, he is currently ramping up his rhetoric in order to persuade the North Koreans to take a different path.  We will only know if this is successful in the long run.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

North Korea Responds to Trump’s “Fire and Fury” Threat
By Bruce Klingner
Heritage Foundation
September 5, 2017

Pyongyang last night conducted its first test of a hydrogen (thermonuclear) bomb. The device was ten times more powerful than any of those detonated in North Korea’s five earlier atomic (fission) nuclear tests, signifying yet another surprise breakthrough in the regime’s nuclear program.  This is the first nuclear test during President Trump’s tenure, and the world will be watching to see how he responds. One thing is certain: this test will further roil the already unsettled dynamics in northeast Asia.  Seismic readings showed a magnitude 6.3 man-made explosion near North Korea’s known nuclear test site. According to preliminary expert analysis, that indicates an explosive yield of up to hundred kilotons. The previous high test yield was approximately sixteen to twenty kilotons—the approximate size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

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Destabilizing Northeast Asia: The Real Impact of North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Programs
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 5, 2017

It is all too natural for Americans to view North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in terms of what seems to be an irrational threat to the United States: From a narrow U.S. perspective, North Korea’s action seem almost suicidal. North Korea is creating a threat to the United States that could lead the U.S. into preventive strikes against North Korea and either force it back down or trigger a conventional war that it would lose catastrophically—albeit at immense cost to South Korea. Or, if the United States does not respond with effective preventive strikes or diplomacy, actually North Korea will acquire a nuclear capability to strike at the United States which—if ever exercised—would trigger a level of massive U.S. nuclear retaliation that much—or most—of North Korea would not survive.  There is, however, a different side to North Korea’s actions. The key aspects of the military balance involve South Korea, Japan, and China far more directly than the United States. North Korea is the most militarized nation in the world, and any all-out conventional war on the Korean peninsula would do immense damage to South Korea and produce massive civilian casualties.

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Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Beyond Burden
By Erol Yaboke
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 31, 2017

Dilapidated refugee camps, destroyed cities, and over-crowded inflatable boats battling the Mediterranean; these are the images that dominate coverage of displaced Syrians. After seven years of war and destruction that has caused Syria to become the largest origin of forced migrants in the world, these images of protracted dependence are sadly accurate. At the same time, they are only part of the story. Turkey, where the greatest number of displaced Syrians currently reside, has done surprisingly well creating a socially and economically cohesive society. As conversations in Turkey start to shift from short-term humanitarian support to long-term harmonization efforts, thousands of Syrian-owned businesses have already infused hundreds of millions of dollars into the Turkish economy and created tens of thousands of jobs for Syrians and Turks alike; and there’s much more from where that came.

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Iran’s Concern About Kurdish Insurgency
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
September 6, 2017
Foreign Military Studies Office

Kurds living in Iran have long been restive. Kurdish resistance to Tehran’s centralized control dates back almost a century. In the 1920s and 1930s, Reza Shah—the father of the Iranian monarch ousted in 1979—brutally crushed tribal resistance to the central government. In 1946, Kurds (including the father of Masoud Barzani, the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, or IKR) briefly claimed an independent state in and around Mahabad, in northwestern Iran, but the Iranian army pacified it within a year. The 1979 Islamic Revolution compounded the disenfranchisement many Iranian Kurds felt: Not only were they ethnically different from many Persians but because Kurds are predominantly Sunni, they found themselves discriminated against twice over—ethnically and religiously—by a government which based itself on Ayatollah Khomeini’s exegesis of Shi’ite theology and political philosophy. Against this backdrop, violence in Iranian Kurdistan has never been far below the surface. The Iranian military and security forces deploy a disproportionate number of troops to keep order in the mountainous region, and the Iranian judiciary imprisons and often executes Iranian Kurds it suspects of joining Kurdish cultural or nationalist groups.

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Europe’s Options on the Sidelines of the North Korea Crisis
By Janka Oertel
German Marshall Fund
August 28, 2017

For a moment, we seemed to be at the brink of nuclear escalation of the long simmering North Korea conflict. It is hard to say whether the “fire and fury” rhetoric from U.S. President Trump impressed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It did, however, terrify Europeans. For decades, as Henry Kissinger put it in the Wall Street Journal, “the international community has combined condemnation with procrastination” when it comes to North Korea.  The conflict is named among the top threats to international security, at least since the regime had conducted the first nuclear test in 2006. But from a European point of view, the conflict has always been far away, and many other crises have seemed much more imminent and daunting. This has changed. The last few weeks have demonstrated how immediate the risk of a military escalation with North Korea could become and how unpredictable the U.S. government currently is to European allies. But rather than allowing the conflict to drive a wedge in the transatlantic alliance, the recent developments call for more, not less transatlantic cooperation. Europe can make a meaningful contribution in various areas to support a peaceful transformation of the North Korea crisis.

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Does Trump Want a Nuclear Japan?
By Walter Russell Mead
Hudson Institute
September 4, 2017

As the North Korean nuclear crisis continues to deepen, the stakes are slowly becoming clearer. This isn’t only about the threat Pyongyang poses to its neighbors or even to the U.S. mainland. Kim Jong Un is challenging the foundations of the American position in East Asia. In the process he has exposed a deep divide in American thinking, laying bare the hard choices Washington may soon be forced to make.  Close observers have long understood that North Korea’s belligerence and nuclear buildup are pushing Japan toward fielding its own nuclear weapons. No nonnuclear power in the world is nearer to a nuclear capacity than Japan. Many analysts believe it would take Tokyo only months to go from deciding to nuclearize to having the weapons. In the ensuing chaos, it’s likely that South Korea and Taiwan would follow suit, with at least Taiwan receiving quiet help from Japan.

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Analysis 08-25-2017

ANALYSIS:

President Trump Shifts on Afghanistan

While running for president, Donald Trump made it clear that it was time to leave Afghanistan.

On Monday night, he shifted course.  In his speech to the nation, he said, “Shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia.”

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts, but all of my life I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.  So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every angle.  After many meetings, over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David, with my Cabinet and Generals, to complete our strategy.”

Trump’s strategy includes holding Afghanistan accountable for maintaining “their share of the military, political, and economic burden” in exchange for continued U.S. support. The president also issued a sharp rejection of “nation-building.”

“We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live or how to govern their own complex society,” he said.

The only tangible part of the policy is sending about 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan – hardly enough to make a big difference.  Trump also put pressure on Pakistan in his speech, calling out the country for serving as a “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,” including the Taliban.

The response from Congressional Republicans, who have regularly castigated Trump recently, was positive.

Arizona senator John McCain, chairman of the armed services committee, commended the president’s strategy as “long overdue.” He had previously slammed the administration for delaying in setting out a strategy for Afghanistan.

“The President is now moving us well beyond the prior administration’s failed strategy of merely postponing defeat,” McCain said in a statement. “It is especially important that the newly announced strategy gives no timeline for withdrawal, rather ensures that any decision to reduce our commitment in the future will be based on conditions on the ground.”

South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham applauded the president’s strategy.  “President Trump has the smarts and the moral courage to listen to his generals and take their advice, rather than going the political way, and I’m so proud he did.”

So, why did Trump change his strategy?

By all measures, Afghanistan has become a failure.  The Afghan government is unable to pay for basic services, curtail opium production and the drug trade, or utilize the country’s natural resources.  American taxpayer money has been spent on soybeans that won’t grow, weapons that Afghan military forces lost, a $2.9 million farming-storage facility that was never used, and a $456,000 training center that “disintegrated” within four months.

Afghanistan has had the lead responsibility for its own security for more than a year now, and is struggling with a year around insurgency. Heavy losses in the poppy-growing province of Helmand have required rebuilding an Afghan army corps and replacing its commander and some other officers as a result, a U.S. general said, of ‘a combination of incompetence, corruption, and ineffectiveness.’”

From 2002 to 2016, Congress appropriated more than $113 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, paying for roads, clinics, schools, civil-servant salaries, and Afghan military and police forces. Adjusted for inflation, the amount the US spent to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total amount spent on the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Western Europe after WWII.

In light of all this, and sixteen years of war, it is completely understandable that Americans want to throw up their hands and withdraw all U.S. military forces.  If 9/11 had never occurred, the United States never would have invaded Afghanistan. For most of their history, Americans have paid little or no attention to that country, and would be content to let them set their own course.

The problem is Americans know what happens if they do ignorer Afghanistan now. The Obama administration withdrew from Iraq and assured the public that the departure of coalition troops would not lead to an increased threat to Americans. Then ISIS gradually grew in the US military absence.  Obama was so wedded to the idea that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was the right move and did not exacerbate threats to Americans that he insisted the Islamists taking over Fallujuah were merely the “JV team.”

If American forces leave Afghanistan, it is likely that the Taliban will take over eventually. When they do, it is likely that they will host other terrorists like al Qaeda or ISIS.

That left Trump with several bad options – remain in the quagmire or let Afghanistan remain a haven for terrorists.

Trump has chosen an option that he thinks has a low military profile, yet has some chance of working.

The first change is to put more pressure on Pakistan.  Trump said, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.  Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan.  It has much to lose by continuing to harbor terrorists.”

He added, “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror.  The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict.”

Trump hopes that pressure from India can help move Pakistan – a questionable assumption.

However, Islamabad may take this rhetoric seriously, since it receives about $1 billion a year from the US.

Trump also made it clear that he seeks to prevent a takeover by Taliban, leaving room for a negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban.  He reiterated his support for the Afghan government by saying, “America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress.  However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.  The American people expect to see real reforms and real results.”

Probably the biggest difference isn’t the number of troops or the commitment to bring Pakistan into the mix.  It appears that Trump has given the American Army the go ahead to prosecute the war in order to win.

Trump said, “I have already lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters that prevented the Secretary of Defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy.  Micromanagement from Washington, DC does not win battles.  They are won in the field drawing upon the judgment and expertise of wartime commanders and front line soldiers acting in real time – with real authority – and with a clear mission to defeat the enemy.”

“That’s why we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.  These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide – that no place is beyond the reach of American arms…Our troops will fight to win.  From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”

During the campaign, Trump reiterated the fact that Obama wasn’t allowing the US military to prosecute the wars in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan.  When he became president, Trump gave the US permission to aggressively fight and defeat ISIS without sending significant numbers of troops to Syria.   Trump supporters are claiming that this strategy has pushed ISIS back in Iraq and Syria.

It appears that Trump’s strategy is going to focus on giving his generals the go ahead to press the Taliban hoping to achieve some success to force Taliban to come to the negotiation table.  Then, we can expect Trump to move to quickly pull out Afghanistan.  As he noted in his speech, the days of nation building are over.  “But we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image – those days are now over.”

So, what is the new strategy?  It’s a more aggressive US military – with a few more soldiers added to the mix.  It’s putting pressure on Pakistan to stop giving havens to terrorists.  It’s forgoing nation building (and the additional financial costs).  And, it’s telling Afghanistan that the final responsibility for peace and stability is in their own hands.

It is worth noting here that if 100 thousand American troops could not succeed in the past, why a 4 or 5 thousand additional troops to the existing 10 thousand can change the situation?

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Trump Lays Out a Winning Strategy for Afghanistan
By Luke Coffey
Heritage Foundation
August 22, 2017

After months of speculation and delay, President Donald Trump has sided with the expert advice of his military and national security team on the way forward to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.  In what was by far his best and most statesmanlike speech since taking office, Trump outlined a new approach Monday night to the ongoing war in Afghanistan: a laser-like focus on counterterrorism, jettisoning the quixotic nation-building rhetoric of the past, helping the Afghans defeat the Taliban insurgency (not doing it for them), lifting onerous restrictions placed by the Obama administration on the way the military conducts warfighting, and pressuring Pakistan and its support for certain elements of the Taliban.

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Preserving the Iran Nuclear Deal: Perils and Prospects
By Ariane Tabatabai
Cato Institute
August 15, 2017

Controversy has surrounded the Iran nuclear deal since it was signed two years ago. Although the main stipulations of the agreement have been successfully implemented—Iran has so far complied with the restrictions on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions—the agreement continues to generate harsh criticism in both Iran and the United States. The promise of the deal includes not only rolling back Iran’s nuclear capabilities for the foreseeable future but also paving the way toward a more constructive diplomatic relationship between Washington and Tehran. Its survival, however, depends on complex and turbulent domestic politics in both countries. Since he started his bid for office, President Donald Trump has been a forceful detractor of the agreement, repeatedly vowing to dismantle it. Today, his administration is conducting a review of its Iran policy, of which the nuclear deal is a critical component. He has already indicated that he wants to increase pressure on Iran, and his administration has upped the ante with the Islamic Republic, including by suggesting that America is looking to support elements pursuing a transition of power in that country.

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How the Trump Administration is Losing Afghanistan
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 2, 2017

There is a case for a deliberate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Afghan government remains divided and weak, its security forces will take years of expensive U.S. and allied support to become fully effective, and they may still lose even with such support. Afghanistan is no more likely to become a future center of terrorist attacks outside its borders than many other weak and unstable countries. Both Afghanistan and a troublesome Pakistan have only marginal strategic interest to the U.S. relative to many other areas where the U.S. can use its resources. Moreover, leaving the region places the security and aid burden on Russia, China, and local states—forcing the countries that do have major strategic interests in the region to take on the burden or live with the consequences. The U.S. should not stay in Afghanistan without considering these risks and liabilities, or out of sheer strategic momentum.

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How Saudi Arabia is stepping up in Iraq
By Kenneth Pollack and Firas Maksad
American Enterprise Institute
August 23, 2017

Some of the best news to come from the Middle East in a long time is the recent and long-overdue improvement in relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It started in February, when Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad—the first such visit since 1990—and continued with a number of subsequent contacts, including a meeting between Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on July 19. Most striking of all was when Iraq’s Shiite firebrand cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, traveled to Riyadh for high level talks on improving bilateral ties with the Saudis on July 31.

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Trump’s National Security Strategy: A New Brand of Mercantilism?
By Salman Ahmed and Alexander Bick
Carnegie Endowment
August 17, 2017

The sixteen national security strategies issued by presidents Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama reaffirmed U.S. leadership of a liberal international order, even as they acknowledged it enabled the rise of others and eroded U.S. economic dominance. President Donald Trump may decide that is no longer tenable. His forthcoming national security strategy will be closely scrutinized to understand what “America First” means for the U.S. role in the world and whether it represents a shift toward a narrower, neo-mercantile approach.

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Beware Iran’s Jihadi Legion
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
August 14, 2017

Today, the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group has become a top strategic priority of the United States and its allies in the region. In turn, the efforts of Washington and Middle Eastern partners have begun to pay real dividends, with recent months seeing a significant rollback the group’s self-declared “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. But lurking in the background of the current counterterrorism fight is another, and potentially even more significant, long-term threat. Since its rise to prominence in 2014, one of the Islamic State’s most striking – and formidable – features has been its ability to inspire and attract disaffected extremists to its cause. Experts estimate that, to date, the group has drawn some 32,000 radicals from the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and beyond to its nascent state.

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Trump’s Afghanistan Policy and the Gulf
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
August 23, 2017
PolicyWatch 2851

The Middle East was not mentioned in President Donald Trump’s major policy speech on August 20 — not even Iran, which has a common border with Afghanistan. The omission was curious given that the New York Times reported earlier this month that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was allying, perversely, given the Shia-Sunni divide, with Taliban fighters to keep the central government in Kabul destabilized. Instead, the focus of the new strategy, as laid out in the speech and the official talking points, was “South Asia,” with Pakistan, described as an “important partner,” being warned to change its behavior, while India is characterized as a “valued partner.” But though unmentioned, Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, longtime allies of Pakistan, are likely to have to choose where they stand. And Iran’s predilection for mischief will have to be thwarted.

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Washington’s Unfocused Decision on Aid to Egypt
By Eric Trager
Washington Institute
August 23, 2017

Washington’s decision on August 22 to delay or cancel nearly $300 million in aid to Egypt caught Cairo by surprise. For many months, the Egyptian government had assumed that the warm rapport between U.S. president Donald Trump and his Egyptian counterpart, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, was sufficient to ensure strong bilateral relations, including the continuation of U.S. military aid after years of uncertainty under the previous administration. The changes in aid, however, illustrate the complex bureaucratic and domestic politics underlying U.S. policy toward Egypt, which the Trump administration failed to manage in this case, producing a confusing outcome that immediately conflicts with the administration’s other priorities.  The decision reflects institutional fights over three separate packages of aid to Egypt, two of which are being canceled.

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