Analysis 12-01-2017



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.




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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Analysis 11-17-2017


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.




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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Analysis 11-03-2017


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.





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.



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.



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.



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.



Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion: A Transition at Risk
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.



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.



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.



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.



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

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.


Analysis 10-20-2017


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.


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.




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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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


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.

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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.

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Analysis 10-07-2017


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.




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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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Analysis 09-22-2017


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.





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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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


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.




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


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?




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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Analysis 08-11-2017


North Korea and the United States
Ramp up Tensions 

In response to the U.N. Security Council’s adoption of another resolution imposing tough new sanctions on North Korea for its recent missile launches, Pyongyang has taken several retaliatory actions. It has threatened a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies; rejected the U.S. call earlier this week for negotiations to “denuclearize” the Korean Peninsula; and vowed to push forward with its nuclear and missile programs, including its ICBM program, which will place American cities within range of its nuclear-tipped missiles.  On Wednesday, they threatened to attack the US territory Guam.

While Pyongyang has responded to previous sanctions resolutions with the same vitriolic threats, the present level of tension is considered by many to be much higher than before, raising the crisis to the brink of conflict.  In fact, the threat against Guam could very well be considered dangerous since any attack on US territory would elicit a massive American response.

While one can see the growing tension between the US and North Korea in the light of current events, it’s important to see it in a historical perspective and its impact on limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  For a quarter century the US and North Korea have held talks to keep North Korea from acquiring a nuclear bomb.  Yet, despite sanctions and deals to provide commercial nuclear power to North Korea, it appears that the small nation has managed to become a nuclear power with the ability to project its weapons halfway around the world.  Clearly, Iran’s leaders are watching what happens because if the US backs down, it means that the US will probably back down to any potential Iranian nuclear ambitions too.

In 1994, North Korea had declared, during “peace” talks, “We are ready to respond with an eye for an eye and a war for a war. If war breaks out, we will turn Seoul into a sea of fire.” The public didn’t know it at the time, but the United States was quite close to a major escalation that week, one that many in the Pentagon expected would lead to a Second Korean War.

According to CNN, on June 15, 1994, SecD Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili were briefing President Clinton and other top officials on three options to substantially reinforce the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

The Pentagon was advocating moving 10,000 more troops, along with F-117s, long-range bombers and an additional carrier battle group to Korea or nearby.

“We were within a day of making major additions to our troop deployments to Korea, and we were about to undertake an evacuation of American civilians from Korea,” Perry recalled.

The US stepped back and by October, Bill Clinton announced the U.S. and North Korea had a deal.

“I am pleased that the United States and North Korea yesterday reached agreement on the text of a framework document on North Korea’s nuclear program. This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula…It reduces the danger of the threat of nuclear spreading in the region.”

As with the Iran deal many years later, the deal with North Korea was not a formal treaty and thus never debated by or ratified by Congress.

Needless to say, the North Koreans continued to work secretly on enhancing its nuclear program while the U.S. provided oil, two light water reactors, and a new electric grid, altogether worth roughly $5 billion, in exchange for promises.

Despite the deal, US intelligence agencies found evidence that North Korea was up to something.  Spy satellites detected massive underground excavations and construction.  In addition, A.Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, secretly traveled to North Korea several times.

The Clinton administration did not let the intelligence get in the way of improving relations with North Korea. By 2000, Secretary of State Madeline Albright was traveling to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Il and declaring the administration no longer labeled them a “rogue state.”

Although the Clinton administration’s approach to North Korea was met by mixed reaction internally (pros and cons), the Bush Administration didn’t do much better.

By 2002, the Bush administration confronted North Korea with evidence that they had an ongoing program to develop nuclear weapons.

The talks broke down after one North Korean official declared that dialogue on the subject was worthless and said, “We will meet sword with sword.”  Ultimatly, the US didn’t do anything to stop the North Korea nuclear weapons program.

The Bush administration did create a “redline” in 2006 when they tested their first nuclear bomb – a threat that proved to be a bluff.

That’s not to say that no one argued for a more vigorous response.  In 1994, National Security expert and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle recommended taking out North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure in a 1994 PBS show (“Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg.” Show title “Defusing the North Korean Bomb”).  In the show, he said, “In 1981, the Israeli air force attacked and destroyed a reactor that was about to come on line near Baghdad. It was a breathtaking display of bombing accuracy. They destroyed the reactor and did no damage beyond the reactor site itself.”

“The North Koreans have a reprocessing plant at Yong Byong. We know exactly where it is.”

He continued, “Only after we make the decision that if the negotiations fail, we will do what the Israelis did and end the program in that way, because if you don’t make that decision first, there is a risk that you go on negotiating past the point at which they take irreversible action and become the nuclear power we’re trying to prevent them from becoming.”

However, he didn’t see this action as unilateral.  He noted, “Make sure that your allies know that you’ve made that decision and that the North Koreans know that you’ve made that decision.”

Although there is no evidence that Perle is advising Trump, he is on record defending Trump on Newsmax TV.  In May, he told Newsmax that the media is “out to destroy this presidency,”

Whether or not Perle is advising Trump, it appears that Trump is following a modified Perle strategy towards North Korea.

Although everyone has focused on Trump’s “Fire and Fury” rhetoric, The US strategy is more complex and has a diplomatic side to it.

The US response has been most clearly conveyed by President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson. The President hailed the latest sanctions resolution as a major foreign-policy success, one that will deprive Kim Jong Un’s regime of perhaps one-third of the hard-currency earnings that have long been considered essential to securing the loyalty of his supporters among the North’s military and party elites.

Secretary of State Tillerson applauded the Security Council for acting unanimously, noting that the sanctions resolution was passed with Chinese and Russian approval. He has publicly emphasized the need for full implementation of the resolution, calling on Beijing to implement all U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea to date, in recognition that China has undermined the effects of previous Security Council resolutions. At the same time, he has renewed the call for a diplomatic solution and the resumption of negotiations once the North acts to indicate a willingness to pull back on its nuclear and missile programs. To encourage the North, and in classic State Department style, he declared that the U.S. does not seek regime change, effectively signaling desire for concession even before the negotiations have begun.

While much of this seems like previous American diplomatic initiatives, there may be a difference this time.

Today, the North is on the verge of deploying nuclear-armed intercontinental missiles, a capability that the Kims have long sought to ensure the survival of the N.K regime. With missiles able to hold American cities hostage to destruction, Pyongyang may feel it can deter the United States not just from attacking the North but from coming to the assistance of its most crucial regional allies, South Korea and Japan, if the North should attack either of them. Threatening American cities could perhaps also be a means to forestall a U.S. nuclear response to the North’s large-scale use of chemical and biological weapons, which North Korean planners may believe are necessary to achieve military victory on the Peninsula.

The diplomatic responses of the Trump administration – sanctions, pressuring China, and calling for negotiations – have failed in every past administration to change Pyongyang’s behavior. And despite the latest Security Council resolution, there is no reason to believe the outcome will be different this time. Given the failures of the past and the nature of the threat now posed by North Korea, it is delusional to think that sanctions will stop Kim Jung Un from continuing to expand his nuclear arsenal and missile force. It is equally delusional to think that President Xi will sever the lifeline China provides to the North. And those who think that North Korea will negotiate away its nuclear and missile capabilities are simply indulging in a fantasy.

Also, anyone who thinks that pure diplomacy will work should remember the multitude of diplomatic talks that took place in the 1930s to stop Germany, Japan, and Italy.

Which brings the US back to the Perle strategy – going to the negotiating table with the clear threat of a preemptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure.

However, a preemptive strike is an option that carries a high risk of escalation and the potential for catastrophic loss of life.

One military option that has a lower risk of North Korean response is to shoot down a North Korean missile test after it leaves North Korean airspace.  Several US warships have the ability to shoot down a missile during flight and such an action would show that the US will act militarily and has the ability to counter North Korean missiles.

Of course, if the US missile fails to intercept the ICBM, the political damage would be great.

But, staying on the current course will, at best, lead only to the next crisis. But, the next crisis may be much different, and even more dangerous.

Despite Trump’s comment that “it won’t happen,” the threat became even more apparent this week with reports that the intelligence community now believes the North has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a ballistic missile. They also said that North Korea may have as many as 60 nuclear weapons.

Once a nuclear warhead is deployed on an ICBM-class missile, Pyongyang may be sufficiently emboldened to resort to the use of armed force, setting the stage for full-scale war – certainly a possibility behind the declared North Korean Guam threat.  However, any nuclear attack on Guam would elicit a massive nuclear response by the US.

Even a conventional attack on Guam would bring about a conventional attack on North Korea against its leadership, command and control, nuclear facilities, and missile facilities.  Massive air strikes against NK artillery forces along the DMZ are also likely.

Although it seems that all the options are equally undesirable, the best choice may be the “Soviet Union Strategy.”   During the Cold War, the central focus was on containment of the Soviet Union until it dissolved from its own internal weaknesses and contradictions.

By any standard, North Korea is not the Soviet Union. It is even more economically vulnerable, poses less of a military threat, and is politically less stable. But until the Kim regime falls, the North will remain a dangerous enemy to US and its ambitions in the region that needs to be treated as such. But according the war camp in US, this will require skilled diplomacy, building a strong anti-North Korea alliance, and highlighting the brutality and gross human-rights violations of the regime.  It also means not bailing out the North Korean regime with food and fuel deals.

The war camp narrative advocating that, the diplomacy must be backed by a strong conventional defense in South Korea. The US must also make it clear that it will take military action if necessary – something that North Korea doesn’t believe now.  The US must also focus on a multi layered missile defense that can protect South Korea, Japan, other Asian nations, and the United States.

In this context, the Trump tough talk towards North Korea is no different than Reagan’s tough talk towards the Soviets in the 1980s.

Or, in the words of Winston Churchill, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

But, no matter what happens in North Korea, it’s also important to remember that how the US reacts to the threat will be closely watched by Iran’s leadership more than any other country.




Recommendations for the Next Ballistic Missile Defense-and-Defeat Review
By Michaela Dodge
Heritage Foundation
August 4, 2017

The Trump Administration must advance U.S. missile defense capabilities, including ballistic missile defense interceptors located in space. It should also acknowledge the unique contributions of missile defense to U.S. and allied security in the face of threats like those posed by the large and growing North Korean and Iranian ballistic missile arsenals. By emphasizing steps ranging from ensuring that our current interceptors are optimized, to positioning the United States to address future threats by funding defense technologies and interceptors in space, the ballistic missile defense-and-defeat review provides a unique opportunity to put the U.S. missile defense policy on a sounder footing than its predecessors have done.

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Withdrawing from Overseas Bases: Why a Forward-Deployed Military Posture Is Unnecessary, Outdated, and Dangerous
By John Glaser
Cato Institute
July 18, 2017

T he United States maintains a veritable empire of military bases throughout the world—about 800 of them in more than 70 countries. This forward-deployed military posture incurs substantial costs and disadvantages, exposing the United States to vulnerabilities and unintended consequences. The strategic justifications for overseas bases—that they deter adversaries, reassure allies, and enable rapid deployment operations—have lost much of their value and relevance in the contemporary security environment.  Deterrence is usually achieved by means other than nearby U.S. military bases, and a forward-deployed presence frequently exacerbates international tensions by causing fear and counterbalancing efforts by adversaries

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Keeping the North Korean Threat in Proportion
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 9, 2017

There is no question that North Korea poses a major threat to its neighbors and can drag the United States and potentially China into a serious regional conflict. There also is no little doubt that it has some current nuclear strike capability with air delivered weapons and may already have a marginal capability to deliver missiles with nuclear warheads against city-sized targets in South Korea and Japan. In a period of months to years, it will be able to conduct enough tests to develop a reasonable probability of delivering a moderate fission-sized weapon against an American city with a high chance of success. No one should downplay the threat from the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or take the proposal that any use of force could escalate to a major war on the Korean peninsula casually.  At the same time, no one should exaggerate the threat to the point of panic, or make North Korea into some kind of towering threat.

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What North Korea’s Statement against Trump Really Means
By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein
Foreign Policy Research Institute
August 9, 2017

It would be hard to deny that rhetoric on and around the Korean peninsula is at a high mark. United States President Donald Trump’s words about “fire and fury” aimed at North Korea sounded almost like the typical rhetoric coming from North Korea. North Korea’s response, seemingly implying a threat of bombing Guam, was unusually direct and concrete. Still, it is important to remember one key fact that has gotten lost in the bluster and chatter: Neither Trump’s statement, nor North Korea’s response, imply any change of the status quo. Trump’s words were dangerously crude, and struck a tone that previous American presidents have not taken toward North Korea. At the end of the day, however, striking North Korea has never not been an option for the Unites States. Within the strategic confines of the North Korean nuclear issue, it has always been implied that the U.S. would consider striking North Korea should it sense serious, imminent and tangible threats against itself or its allies. That is what overflights of bombers over the Korean peninsula—which the U.S. has often conducted after North Korean provocations and did only a few days ago—intends to signal. Trump’s statement was reportedly spontaneous, rather than a result of newly calculated U.S. language or new red lines. In other words, it was not intended to signal a change of policy.

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Trump Is Right On North Korea
By Rebeccah L. Heinrichs
Hudson Institute
August 3, 2017

Usually the most convincing way to look willing is to be willing,” so said the nuclear theorist Herman Kahn. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has tested the threats from U.S. presidents, and is unconvinced the United States is willing to stop him, because, well, they haven’t. With the pair of July successful flight tests of intercontinental-ballistic-missiles (ICBMs) Kim is now calling “bluff” on the U.S. bi-partisan, long-standing promise not to allow North Korea to hold the U.S. homeland hostage to nuclear attack. It’s now up to President Trump to prove him wrong.  The alternative is to allow North Korea, a nation ruled by a cruel, inhumane, and morally repulsive regime to assert a significant degree of control over the United States, and with a penchant for the worst kinds of weapons proliferation.

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A Blueprint for New Sanctions on North Korea
By Edward Fishman, Peter Harrell, and Elizabeth Rosenberg
Center for a New American Security
July 27, 2017

North Korea has emerged as one of the most significant national security threats facing the United States and its allies today. Since leader Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011, North Korea has accelerated the pace of its nuclear tests, and appears to have made substantial progress in developing operational medium-, long-range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Many experts assess that if left unchecked, Pyongyang could develop the capability to strike the contiguous United States with a nuclear warhead within 5–10 years. Because of that, in June 2017 U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis characterized North Korea as “the most urgent and dangerous threat” to U.S. peace and security.  Sanctions have been a long-standing element of U.S. policy toward North Korea. However, prior to 2016, U.S. and international sanctions against North Korea were primarily designed to target specific entities involved in its nuclear and missile programs and its international support networks – rather than creating broader pressure on the country’s economy.

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Analysis 07-29-2017


Will Trump Last Four Years?
Ways he can be removed

Calls for Trump’s impeachment came as soon as he won the election last November.  However, the calls from Democrats (and some Republicans) have grown since he came to power in January.  Several liberal publications like The Atlantic have called for his removal and this week even President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer called for Trump’s impeachment for calling for an investigation of Hillary Clinton.

However, it is much harder to remove a president than many imagine.  In fact, Democrat plots to remove Trump fall into the same realm of fancy as the plans to prevent him from winning the Republican nomination or taking office by preventing his election by the Electoral College.  They are possible, but the reality of the situation makes it much harder.

Before considering removal scenarios, remember that Trump still has a solid voter base that is just around 40%.  Even the latest polls show that most voters prefer he not be impeached.  That means unless something dramatic happens, any attempt to remove him would be politically dangerous for the opposition.

We will look at four scenarios.  The first is impeachment.  The second is a peaceful transition via resignation.  The third is by using the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution.  The final one is a “quasi” or “extralegal” method.


The most frequently mentioned method for removing Trump is impeachment.  However, in the 240 years of the United States, it has never been successful.  Two presidents have been impeached, but neither of them were convicted and removed from office.  The first was Andrew Johnson 150 years ago (Johnson was the vice president for Lincoln and took office when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865).  The second impeachment was of Bill Clinton 20 years ago.

The standard for impeachment is politically high.  The Constitution calls for impeachment for, “Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The problem is that at this time, there is no evidence Trump committing treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Some have argued that impeachment is okay in order to remove a president that is a threat to the current government of the US or is doing something that they feel is immoral.  These include investigating Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, firing the Attorney General or Special Prosecutor.

The problem with this rational is that these actions are legal and constitutional for the president to do.  And, any attempt to “criminalize” such actions would set a dangerous precedent for the future.  Even liberal law professors agree that this is a dangerous route to take.

If clear documentary evidence of Trump committing crimes came forth or the Democrats took over the House of Representatives in 2018, they could pass articles of impeachment because it only requires a simple majority.

The problem is the US Senate, where the trial takes place, and which requires 67 votes to convict.  That is a high hurdle given the fact that Trump remains very popular in many parts of the country, as was seen this week in the reception he got at the Boy Scout jamboree and the rally in Youngstown, Ohio.  Baring clear criminal behavior, Trump would have enough support to survive such a challenge.

There is also the political cost of an impeachment, as was seen by Republicans in the mid term elections in 1998.  Voters were unhappy with a Congress involved in impeachment rather than solving the problems of the country.  And, they punished the GOP for its action.

Consequently, don’t expect the Congress to opt for impeachment unless they have a clear case to prosecute.

Peaceful transition through resignation

This could be called the “Nixon Option.”  Once clear evidence come out that Nixon had tried to obstruct the investigation into Watergate, Nixon’s support collapsed and senior GOP congressmen and senators went to the White House and asked Nixon to resign.  They argued that staying in office would damage the Republican Party in the upcoming elections.

Nixon did resign.  However, the GOP suffered one of its worst election cycles in 1974 anyway.

This, however, is the most peaceful type of transition and would do the least damage to the US.

Unless Trump gets tired of the opposition and just resigns, the chances that he resigns in the next 3 ½ years is low.  As we noted before, his current support is unlikely to collapse unless clear evidence of a major crime comes out.

Although there are Republican leaders who would prefer Trump to be out of office, Trump’s voter base is still strong and anyone in the GOP trying to force Trump out of office now would most likely damage their own chances in the next election.

25th Amendment of the Constitution

Some prefer this option as it can be done quickly and avoids the months of rancor of an impeachment and trial.

The 25th Amendment, proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, provides the procedures for replacing the president or vice president in the event of death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation.  The Watergate scandal of the 1970s saw the application of these procedures, first when Gerald Ford replaced Spiro Agnew as vice president, then when he replaced Richard Nixon as president, and then when Nelson Rockefeller filled the resulting vacancy to become the vice president.

Section 4 is the section that is applicable for the current situation.  It states, “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

In other words, if Vice President Pence and the majority of the president’s cabinet decide that Trump is unable to discharge the position of president, the Vice President becomes acting president.

Of course, in this case, Vice President Pence is the key player.  If Pence doesn’t feel the Trump is incapacitated, this option will not work.  If he does, the transfer of power could just take hours.

While the 25th Amendment allows for a quick transfer of power, the aftershocks could rip the nation apart because it also allows the president to challenge any charges of incapacity.  It says, “Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”

In other words, if Pence says Trump is unable to be president, Trump can challenge it.  If the Vice President and majority of the cabinet continue to say the President is unable to carry out the office of president, it goes to Congress to determine the fitness of Trump.  It would take a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate to remove Trump – which would be harder than impeaching Trump.

Needless to say, the 21 days that Congress has to determine the fitness of Trump would be a politically unstable time that could see civil unrest as pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces take to the streets in order to influence their congressmen and senators.  And, no doubt, the losers of the vote would probably remain in the streets rioting.

This is not an option that would do the government or nation any good.

Quasi or extralegal methods

This is the most unlikely scenario.  It assumes massive demonstrations against Trump similar to the so-called Arab Spring or the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.

The protests would have to be widespread, large, and receiving the tacit support of military and law enforcement.  This would place the president in a position to either resign or flee the country.

Although there are segments of the population that are upset with Trump, given the protests held in the last few months (when the weather has been the most favorable for protesting), there is not the level of opposition to Trump that would engender widespread protests.

In addition, there is no evidence that either the military or law enforcement are upset with Trump enough to tacitly support his illegal ouster.

While this may be the dream scenario of some revolutionaries, it is very unlikely.


Despite what the betting houses in England say, the chances that Trump will leave office before 2020 are remote at this point in time.

First, Trump has a sizable degree of support and polls show that those people who voted for Trump are standing by him.  Trumps’ two rallies this week prove it.  Politicians who ignore this are making a big mistake.

Second, unless solid documentary evidence comes out (not leaks to newspapers), that support will remain behind him.  And, few Republicans will vote to get rid of Trump without such evidence.

Third, the US Constitution does allow for removal of the president, but both methods are quite difficult unless the president’s support has collapsed as Nixon’s did in 1974.

Resignation and a peaceful transition are likely only if solid evidence Trump exists and his political support has collapsed.  Then he may resign to avoid impeachment as Nixon did.

Finally, the relative failure of anti-Trump demonstration in the last few months indicates that there isn’t the fervor in the US to illegally oust Trump.

In looking at the dynamics behind any ouster of Trump, one must look at where Trump’s support lies and where the opposition comes from.  Trump is an outsider and his support comes from outside the Northeast and Pacific Coast.  Polls show he remains strong there and voters still like his promise to fight Washington.

Meanwhile, it is Washington that is trying to oust Trump.

As long as voters in Middle America don’t like Washington and Washington doesn’t like Trump, he will keep the support to not only stay in office, but likely win reelection in 2020.




America’s Future Is with India and Israel
By James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation
July 24, 2017

From the Indo-Pacific to the Mediterranean, a diplomatic transformation is underway. The winds of change are blowing not from Beijing, but from Delhi. President Donald Trump has an opportunity to harness some of that power to help fill the sails of America’s global leadership.  The White House is expected to unveil its national security strategy some time later this year. There is no question that it will differ from George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s strategies. Bush leaned well into the headwind with a muscular strategy that tried to fix big problems. Obama tried the opposite, disengaging from global conflicts and competition. Trump looks to land somewhere in the middle—disinterested in regime change and nation building, but willing to push U.S. influence forward to safeguard vital national interests.

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Senate’s Israel Anti-Boycott Act Has Good Intentions, but Bad Results
By Walter Olson
Cato Institute
July 22, 2017

A bill sponsored by roughly half the members of Congress would — so we are warned by New York Magazine, at least — “make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel” and “make avoiding the purchase of Israeli goods for political reasons a federal crime.”  Would the bill really do that? No, not as sweepingly as those passages suggest. But even shorn of the exaggeration, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720), sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), is plenty bad enough. By punishing boycott participation grounded in political belief, it would infringe on individual liberty. I don’t like the BDS (“Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions”) movement one bit, but sponsors of this bill — who include conservatives like Sens. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Mario Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), as well as progressives like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) — need to face some tough questions about how it squares with the First Amendment.

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Russia, the United States, and the Middle East
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 21, 2017

We don’t know much about what was said when U.S. President Donald Trump sat across from Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit on July 7, but we do know they talked a lot about the Middle East. By his own account, Trump told Putin, “There’s so much killing in Syria. We got to solve Syria.”  Russia has been playing a more active role in the Middle East in the last five years, and before committing to strategic cooperation with Russia, it is helpful to judge Russia’s objectives and strategies in the region. It is easier to grasp Russian strategy by contrasting it with Chinese strategy. China has a large stake in the region’s trajectory, relying on the Middle East for more than 60 percent of its imported energy. China has an expanding economic footprint, as trade and investment increase and Chinese contractors grab a multi-billion dollar share of infrastructure projects. Despite its rising interests, China’s quite evident ambition is to expand its economic footprint without taking the expensive step of expanding its security footprint. China seeks to complement the U.S. security presence with its own economic presence, not diminish it.

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The Real Lessons of Mosul (and Sixteen Years of War in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria)
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 19, 2017

Driving most ISIS forces out of Mosul is an important victory at the tactical level. The fight in Mosul is still a work in progress, but Iraq is close enough to driving ISIS fully out of the city to show Iraqi forces have steadily improved over time, and the combination of Iraqi forces, U.S. airpower, and a carefully tailored U.S. train and assist mission has had important successes. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that there is a rush to declare the “lessons” the U.S. should learn from the initial phases of this Iraqi victory in Mosul, and to treat that battle as the culmination of a new and more successful approach to fighting extremism and asymmetric wars. If there is any lesson of war that the United States should learn from the more than a decade and a half of previous fighting, however, it is not to declare “mission accomplished” on the basis of even the greatest tactical victory.

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Qatar’s other covert media arm
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
July 25, 2017

As the current crisis between Qatar and many moderate Arab states approaches its second month, one of the key complaints which the anti-Qatar coalition has voiced is about Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel which was once the most watched Arabic station. Al Jazeera and its supporters argue that the station’s hard-hitting reporting is simply the manifestation of press freedom in a region sorely lacking it. Al Jazeera’s detractors, however, say it is an engine of extremism which fans the flames of terrorism and actively seeks to destabilize regional states. Al Jazeera runs several different channels. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain object to Al Jazeera in Arabic which promotes the Muslim Brotherhood line and often seems to cross the line between news reporting and incitement. According to a State Department cable describing conversations between Qatari authorities and US diplomats, Qatar acknowledged that policy role and “leverage” which Al Jazeera represented for the Qatari state.

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The Geographic Trajectory of Conflict and Militancy in Tunisia
By Anouar Boukhars
Carnegie Endowment
July 20, 2017

More than six years after the revolution that ousted former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s border regions remain hotbeds of social discontent and agitation. Aggrieved youth increasingly express their anger through fiery protests, street violence, and in some cases violent extremism. In response to this ongoing social unrest and terrorism, the Tunisian government has developed hardline security policies, whose effects often exacerbate social tensions, political violence, and militancy. Breaking this vicious cycle requires Tunisia’s government to rethink its approach to the border regions.

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Still A Bad Deal
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
July 18, 2017

Last Friday marked the two-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy achievement: the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that agreement was intended as a solution to Iran’s persistent nuclear ambitions, and as a vehicle to reboot the Iranian regime’s relationship with the world. Two years on, it’s clear that the deal has indeed been transformative – for the Iranian regime, at least. For America and its allies, however, it has expanded the gravity of the contemporary threat posed by the Islamic Republic.

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Turkey Can Ally with Syria’s Kurds Someday
By David Pollock
Washington Institute
July 2017

The July 5 headline in Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, quoting Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus reads as follows: “Turkey Says It’s Not Declaring War on YPG [Yekineyen Parastina Gel‎ or People’s Protection Units],” the main Syrian Kurdish militia just across the border. But, Kurtulmus added, “if Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it, it will retaliate in kind.” That typically tough yet carefully conditional quote raises a crucial, if often overlooked, factual point. The YPG has in fact not threatened Turkey, nor even Turkish forces inside Syria, ever since 2012. It was in July of that year, exactly five years ago, when the Syrian Kurdish militia took over much of the border area. And it was then that it promised, in an agreement brokered by Turkey’s ally President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, to focus on Syria exclusively and refrain from attacking Turkey — or even from supporting attacks against it by the YPG’s parent movement, the PKK (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistane or Kurdistan Workers’ Party)…

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