Week of November 10, 2017

The Saudi Crisis as Seen From America

Although there is a major crisis brewing in Saudi Arabia and the whole region, it is hardly registering in America and amongst its voters. Even “news literate” voters are unaware of the events in Saudi Arabia and the repercussions in Lebanon and elsewhere.

If Americans are focused on anything, they are looking at Trump and his major trip to Asia. They are also focused on North Korea and the three aircraft carrier task forces around that nation.

Domestically, there is the usual fuss about a mass shooting in a church in Texas and gun control.

The Middle East isn’t registering now that ISIS is being defeated on the battlefield. In fact, the major Middle Eastern concern for Americans is if someone inspired by ISIS will carry out a suicide attack.

The average American is unaware and unconcerned so far…

This will impact America’s response to the events as politicians will be unwilling to address the issue. It will be then being left up to the Washington bureaucracy and the Trump Administration to decide policy – something that they will be unable to do as they disagree on what steps to take.

The Trump Administration is focused on the total defeat of ISIS and curtailing Iranian influence in the region and their alleged development of a nuclear bomb. Although the US and Saudis have been on differing sides in the past few years, it appears that Trump and Saudi King Salman (or more accurately Crown Prince MBS) are in agreement now.

Under Crown Prince MBS, Saudi Arabia has become a more active regional power – moving from using its financial power to attempts of employing its military muscle.

Although Trump likes this Saudi policy, it finds little support amongst parts of the Washington bureaucracy. Former Crown Prince Nayef was close to the Washington bureaucracy and extremely popular in the CIA and other counter terrorism agencies due to his anti-terrorism activities. His arrest earlier this year angered the CIA and quite a few factions of the House of Saud – as it was interpreted as Crown Prince MBS forcing his hand in the power struggle.

According to a source speaking to the Asia Times, “he [Crown Prince] might have gotten away with the arrest of CIA favorite Mohammed bin Nayef if he smoothed it over but MBS has now crossed the Rubicon though he is no Caesar. The CIA regards him as totally worthless.”

But, Crown Prince MBS also has other key support in the US. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote, “I spent an evening with Mohammed bin Salman at his office, and he wore me out. With staccato energy bursts, he laid out in detail his plans. His main projects are an online government dashboard that will transparently display the goals of each ministry, with monthly KPIs – key performance indicators – for which each minister will be held accountable. His idea is to get the whole country engaged in government performance. Ministers tell you: Since Mohammed arrived, big decisions that took two years to make now happen in two weeks.”

However, the Washington foreign policy and anti-terrorism bureaucracy will respond by saying that the German intelligence agency, the BND, issued a candid one-and-a-half-page memo in December 2015 portraying the Crown Prince as a reckless gambler with too much power. It stated that financial circles in the European Union are afraid that his geopolitical gambles may end up spending millions of retirement accounts into the dust.

This difference in opinions means that American policy towards Saudi Arabia will be somewhat schizophrenic. President Trump will likely continue his support of the King and Crown Prince, while the bureaucracy in Washington and at the US Embassy in Riyadh, may be reluctant or slow to follow such approach.

 

Is a Coup Possible?

Some observers maintain that a coup was already attempted. Caught up in the purge was Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the last of the late King Abdullah’s sons to hold a position of real power. Until last weekend, he was head of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard, which accounts for about one third of the country’s military manpower (and less than that in terms of equipment). Obviously, a rumored coup attempt would have led to Prince Miteb’s ouster.

But, it’s important to remember that the rest of the military answers directly Crown Prince MBS.

With dozens of influential Saudi princes, ministers and billionaires “imprisoned” in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, a coup staged by dissatisfied factions of the Saudi Royal family is a distinct possibility at some time in the future.

However, successful coups aren’t easy.  A Saudi backed military coup was staged against the regime of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani with no success.

There are two factors standing in the way of a potential coup in Saudi Arabia. The first is King Salman. The second is who controls the military (Saudi Army and the Saudi National Guard).

There are three major royal family groups aligning against the Crown Prince: the family of former King Abdullah, the family of former King Fahd, and the family of former Crown Prince Nayef. However, King Salman is well regarded and is a unifying factor.

If the King were to die, or withdraw his support for his son, or otherwise become incapacitated (by whatever means), Crown Prince MBS might be facing some political isolation, which is why there are rumors that the King will try to avoid this by passing all his powers to the Crown Prince in the near future.

If the Crown Prince is politically isolated in a post-King Salmon period, then there is likely to be an attempt to project some form of power sharing between the Sudairis (without Crown Prince) and the Chamars (the tribe of deceased King Abdullah). Some of the power would probably then be entrusted to the other Prince Mohammed Nayef and Prince Miteb or their supporters.

The result would probably be relatively bloodless.

The problem is if the King remains in power and continues to support his son. Then military action if to take place, a bloodbath may occur.

Rumors have been swirling for months about a coup against Crown Prince in the making and the arrests of major figures in the Saudi military and National Guard is seen as an attempt by the Crown Prince to counter a coup attempt.

However, that hasn’t quieted unrest in the military and National Guard. One unknown person said that Crown Prince would have to arrest the whole Saudi Army to feel secure.

But, for a coup to succeed, it depends not on who doesn’t like the Crown Prince, but where they are located. Riyadh is the key city to control and forces elsewhere, especially near Yemen will not have any impact.

The key unit is The Saudi Arabian Royal Guard Regiment, which is stationed in and around Riyadh. Although part of the Saudi Army, the Royal Guards are tasked with protecting the King and Crown Prince. The Royal Guard Regiment consists of three light infantry battalions. The Royal Guards report directly to the king and maintain a separate communications network from the regular Army in order to prevent their being used against the King in a coup.

The most likely armed forces to oppose Crown Prince are the Saudi National Guard. However, they are half the size of the Saudi regular military and don’t have the same military equipment as the regular army.

Since the National Guard is tasked with stopping a coup, there are some units near Riyadh. They include the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Mechanized Brigade, which controls four battalions as well as the 1st Artillery Battalion and Prince Saad Abdulrahman Mechanized Brigade, which controls four combined-armed battalions, and is based in Riyadh.

One problem is that the National Guard doesn’t have any tanks – just lighter armored fighting vehicles. If this is a case of a coup backed by the National Guard, with the Saudi armed forces backing the King, the better equipped Saudi armed forces should prevail, unless there is active, widespread refusal to obey the King and his commanders.

Another factor could be the UAE and its close relationship with the “Blackwater” mercenaries. Given the UAE’s close relationship with Crown Prince MBS, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that trained mercenaries could be moved into Riyadh to protect the King and Crown Prince.

Even if the coup backers have military forces to support them, the King and Crown Prince hold the key targets in Riyadh with loyal forces. They are also at a heightened state of alert against a coup. They also control the military communications system and have greater firepower to bring to bear if fighting continues around the capital and other loyal army units head to Riyadh.

Coup supporters have no unified command structure and will have to rely upon coup units acting according to a plan. They will also have to rely upon their forces actually carrying out attacks on critical installations like the Royal Palace. However, the history of coups shows that military units are loath to carry out such attacks unless they are assured of eventual victory. Any hitch in the plans usually means some coup commanders will hesitate, refuse to attack, or try to leave the country to save their own skin.

If Crown Prince MBS does become king, he will be a dramatic change from the Saudi kings who have usually been very old and in poor health. He could rule for decades, which means that those who oppose him may have a better opportunity to challenge him or overthrow him at a later date.

Given Crown Prince aggressive foreign policy, military operations, and spending, there may be a better time, when there is greater unrest to challenge him.

In other words, just because MBS gains the crown doesn’t mean that he will continue to keep it easily as it looks currently.

Week of November 3rd, 2017

Executive Summary

The indictments in the investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election were overshadowed by the terrorist attack in New York City.

The week, the Monitor analysis looks at the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and the questions within the US about renewing it, eliminating it, or modifying it. Many see it as a way for Congress to ignore its constitutional obligation to declare war, while giving the president dictatorial powers. We look at the debate and the problems the AUMF are causing the US.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS asks, “What does Niger have to do with the AUMF (Authorization for the use of military force).”   They conclude, “Congress could consider whether a threat-based authorization, on a case-by-case basis, may be more appropriate to the nature of extremist violence around the globe today. A new AUMF could require the administration to propose new deployments to confront terrorist groups based on an assessment that those groups pose a direct threat to the United States, its allies, or partners. The new authorization could require that the administration provide updated assessments every six months once combat forces are deployed. These assessments would provide Congress with the opportunity to review counterterrorism-related deployments as well as the justification for combatting a particular group in a particular geographic location. Debate over a new AUMF could also consider whether accompany-type missions should be separated from training authorizations in a manner that requires War Powers or other notification, given the increase in risk to U.S. forces and the proximity to kinetic tactical operations.”

The CSIS says the US must rely on alliances in Syria. They conclude, “If the United States were to lash out against its coalition, as it seems tempted to do, even friends would be torn between bandwagoning with the world’s largest economy, and balancing against the world’s most awesome and unconstrained power. Some would seek to teach the United States a lesson for abandoning multilateralism; others would pursue their own self-interest after judging the United States unable to take on a world that wasn’t following its lead…The United States cannot do everything, nor can its alliances. An alliance is no substitute for will or for strategy. But with a will and a strategy, there are very few things that the United States seeks to do where an alliance isn’t a large force multiplier. As the United States thinks about negotiations over the future of Syria, it needs to summon both a will and a strategy. It needs to have real allies helping as well.”

The Hudson Institute looks at why US forces are in Niger. They conclude, “The mission in Niger is not the result of lofty nation-building or democracy-exporting ambitions, nor does it belong uniquely to the Obama or Trump administration. It has been a reality for years. As the United States finishes this phase of the anti-ISIS campaign, conflicts like the one in Niger may be more frequent. Even an “America First” oriented foreign policy should, and in fact seems to, recognize this. If our troops weren’t there, it is likely a much larger deployment of U.S. forces would be required in the future, at a much higher cost in blood and treasure. The American forces who died fighting ISIS fighters in Niger deserve our gratitude, their families our compassion and help, and their mission in the African theater of operations our support.”

The American Foreign Policy Council says Trump is taking a middle course in terms of the Iranian nuclear deal. They conclude, “the new, more comprehensive Iran policy outlined by Trump last week can also help restart the conversation over Iran’s nuclear capabilities and obligations. The centerpiece of this approach is a blacklisting of Iran’s most important strategic actor: the regime’s clerical army, known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Doing so, the president has made clear, is necessary to roll back Iran’s malign activities in the region. But, given the IRGC’s massive role in Iran’s economy, it can also create valuable political and economic leverage that might help bring the Iranians back to the nuclear negotiating table.  Will all this be enough to fix an agreement than many – including the president himself – consider fatally flawed? It may not be. But the Trump administration should be given credit for trying to more completely address the contemporary threat posed by Iran. That process starts with a sober look at the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, and an exploration of how to fix its flaws and mitigate its consequences.

The Heritage Foundation looks at Trump’s Afghan strategy. They note, “Critically, Trump signaled a transition from the Bush era of nation-building in Afghanistan to one focused on safeguarding U.S. national security considerations in the region. He emphasized that the U.S. does not seek to remake Afghanistan in America’s image and instead focused on the need for Afghanistan to take ownership of its own political and democratic transition. This change in policy should not signal a shift away from a desire to see freedom and prosperity for the Afghan people. It should instead reflect the reality that without security, democratic institutions and political transformation cannot occur. And without the political will of the Afghan people standing behind such a reform process, it won’t happen at all. Third and finally, Trump expressed a desire for a more regionally-based effort to address challenges in Afghanistan. The speech signaled a more broad-sweeping U.S. strategy — not just toward Afghanistan, but toward South Asia.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at Israeli national security since the Yom Kipper War. They note, “change that has occurred over the last 40 years, and which Israelis find hard to swallow, is that the image of Israel has transformed—at least in many circles in the West—from that of David to that of Goliath. This development is an ostensibly negative one, which, in fact, reflects a positive one: Israel has over the years, while dedicating less and less of its GDP to defense, became a military power which is preponderant in the region, as well as a successful, technologically-advanced modern state with a high standard of living.”

The Heritage Foundation says the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t about Iran. The three takeaways from the paper are: 1 – Trump’s 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. 2 – A better policy doesn’t start with sanctions. It starts with rejecting Obama’s core assumption: that Iran is a useful regional partner for the U.S. 3 – Unless the Trump Administration rejects the assumption underlying the deal, decertifying the deal won’t do much more than give the can another kick down the road.

The Washington Institute looks at how to prevent a third Lebanon war. One of the participants notes, “Hezbollah has made significant developments in its strategic concepts and capabilities since the 2006 Lebanon war, and understanding the resultant dangers is vital to assessing the likelihood of attack and the nature of Israel’s inevitable counteroffensive. Regarding ground combat capabilities, Hezbollah has grown well beyond the terrorist or guerrilla category — it is now closer to a standard military force, with a clear chain of command and infrastructure. Its numbers have increased immensely, up to an estimated 25,000 active fighters and 20,000 reserve personnel…Combined with the combat experience Hezbollah forces have gained in Syria, these advances will allow the group to carry out operations at the company or battalion level. In addition, Hezbollah remains the most important piece in Iran’s proxy warfare strategy. Therefore, if another conflict with Israel breaks out, Tehran would likely push its other terrorist proxies around the region to come to the group’s defense.

The Carnegie Endowment looks at corruption in Tunisia and how it is hindering the nation’s transition. They note, “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.”

 

 

ANALYSIS 

Washington Fights Over Authorization to Use Military Force in Middle East

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

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

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

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

The Problems with the Current AUMF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

Read more at

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

 

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

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

Read more at

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

Week of October 27th, 2017

America’s War in Niger and the Continuing War on ISIS

The death of four American Special Forces soldiers in Niger surprised many Americans. Most Americans aren’t aware of international events and few in the US were aware of the extensive military obligations of the US military and the extent of the war on ISIS and other radical Islamic groups outside Syria and Iraq.

Defense Department officials said Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29 and Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, were killed in an attack during an advise-and-assist mission in southwestern Niger.

The armed militants were from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). The attack also left five Nigeriens and an unknown number of militants dead.

The American military operation in Niger is one of about 20 in Africa and part of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The command is aimed at building military relations with African nations and other key players in the region. It began operations in 2007.

Niger is part of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, where ISIS and al Qaeda affiliates flourish. The U.S. State Department in April issued a warning for Americans traveling in Niger to stay away from “locations frequented by Westerners” and to keep to hotels with armed Nigerien security officers because of the risk of terror attacks and kidnapping threats against Westerners.

“Niger’s southeastern border with Nigeria and east of Maradi are poorly controlled,” State Department officials said. “Boko Haram and several factions affiliated with ISIS have conducted cross-border attacks into Niger. The government of Niger has increased its security forces in the border areas, but the situation remains unstable and travel is not advised.”

Officials with the Defense Department said this month that about 1,000 troops in the region (800 of which are in Niger) work with about 4,000 French service members. The U.S. military has had some presence in Niger since 2012, according to CNN.

“We’re providing refueling support, intelligence support, surveillance support,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said. “But also we have troops on the ground. Their job is to help the people in the region learn how to defend themselves. We call it foreign internal defense training, and we actually do these kinds of missions by, with and through our allies.”

In January 2013, United States Ambassador to Niger Bisa Williams requested permission to establish a drone base in a meeting with Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.   In February, Obama sent 150 military personnel to Niger to set up a surveillance drone operation that would aid France in its counterterrorism efforts in the Northern Mali conflict.  In October 2015, Niger and the U.S. signed a military agreement committing the two countries “to work together in the fight against terrorism”. American Special Forces personnel were sent to train the Niger Armed Forces.

Most of the US forces are working to build a second drone base for American and French aircraft in Agadez. Construction is expected to be completed in 2018, and will allow surveillance operations with the MQ-9 Reaper against insurgents.

The Ambush

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said US armed forces have been working for years with West African nations to combat the threat of terrorism. But rarely have US forces been engaged in such a firefight.

The American soldiers killed in the Oct. 4 attack were assisting with Nigerien security force counterterrorism operations about 125 miles north of Niamey, the country’s capitol city, according to the Defense Department.

On 3 October 2017, twelve soldiers from the U.S. 3rd Special Forces Group accompanied thirty Nigerien soldiers on a reconnaissance mission to gather information.  The next day, the soldiers met with local leaders, asking them for information about the whereabouts of insurgents.  However, the meeting would drag on with the local leaders delaying the soldiers’ departure by stalling and keeping them waiting. While the soldiers were returning to base, about fifty armed ISGS militants attacked the convoy.

Although the militants, had been armed with light weapons, vehicle mounted weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars, the American and Nigerien soldiers only had automatic rifles.

An hour into the ambush, the soldiers called in for air support, which led to French fighter jets being scrambled to respond to the ambush.  Even though there was now air support, the French pilots could not engage because they could not readily identify enemy forces in the firefight. However, the presence of the fighter jets brought the engagement to an end.

United States Africa Command spokesperson Robyn Mack said that Berry Aviation, a Defense Department contractor, was “on alert during the incident and conducted casualty evacuation and transport for U.S. and partner forces.”

There are several investigations taking place, including one in France.

On 19 October, NBC News reported that AFRICOM sent a team to Niger to conduct a “review of the facts.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has since joined the investigation.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, said that the ambush was “considered unlikely”. Officials from the Department of Defense said that soldiers had carried out 29 similar operations in the past six months with no problems and were considered routine by the time of the ambush.

There was also considerable political fallout as some Democrats tried to equate the attack with the one that led to the death of the American ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.

Republican Senator John McCain stated that the Trump administration was not being forthcoming about the details of the attack. McCain also said that the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which he is the chairman, would like to get the information “it deserves and needs,” before deciding whether a formal investigation is necessary.

A senior congressional aide told NBC News that the ambush was caused by a “massive intelligence failure with no overhead surveillance of the mission nor a quick reaction force to swiftly respond in the event that the mission went wrong.

Defeating ISIS Outside Iraq and Syria

The ambush highlights one of the problems of the war against ISIS. Although the key ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria have been captured, ISIS claims religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide.

Outside Iraq and Syria, ISIS has an influence in Libya, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Niger, Chad, Bangladesh, Philippines, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and the North Caucasus.

Unfortunately, the conventional military tactics used in Syria and Iraq can’t be exported to these other countries. Terrain, unrest amongst the natives, unpopularity of the central government, guerilla fighting skills of the insurgents, and access to arms make each case different. That’s why US Special Forces, especially the Green Berets are being used extensively in these countries. The Green Berets were originally formed during the Cold War to train insurgents behind the Iron Curtain and are experts on counterinsurgency.

Here’s where the problem lies. Conventional American forces are not trained in counterinsurgency warfare and are, therefore, of little help. Yet, American Special Forces are limited in number and already strained from extensive deployments. As a result, it’s likely that Special Forces currently deployed in Syria and Iraq will be moved to these other trouble spots after some time to rest and reequip.

In the meantime, this forces them to rely upon the forces of the host nation, which may not be up to the job.

As a result, the US has been forced to rely upon NATO forces with experience in the region like the French Special Forces used in Niger. However, the cooperation of these forces depends to great extent on America’s (especially Trump’s) relations with that country.

France may be willing to deploy its special forces to Western Africa, where it has a historical interest, but is probably unwilling to engage in other theaters like Somalia or Yemen.

In the end, the defeat of ISIS in these other countries will require an American commitment of Special Forces for years. It also will require bringing on other Western nations to supplement its military forces. And, it will require the assistance of the host nation and a program that can win the hearts and minds of the local peoples.

Whether the US has the will to stay the course for that period of time remains a question.

Week of October 20th, 2017

Executive Summary

As ISIS faces defeat with the fall of Raqqa, Washington think tanks are looking at the future.

The Monitor Analysis looks at what future American policy will be in the region. We look at what Trump has said in his campaign speeches and try to forecast his new American Middle Eastern policy.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Institute for the Study of War looks at American options in Syria. They conclude, “American national security requires that the Trump administration pursue a strategy that helps constrain, contain, and ultimately roll back Russia and Iran; defeat Salafi-jihadists in ways that prevent their reconstitution; defend strategic allies and bolster partners; and facilitate the emergence of independent, representative, and unitary states in Syria and Iraq. The removal of the Assad regime remains a necessary condition to achieve a desirable outcome in Syria. The U.S. must apply meaningful pressure against the Assad-Russia-Iran axis and regain leverage over it rather than accommodate it. The U.S. is now accommodating its adversaries by signing onto various agreements that allow it to consolidate control. This axis not only destabilizes the region and perpetuates conflict, but it also fuels radicalization and strengthens jihadist forces through its policies. It is making it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to protect its own security and interests.”

The Washington Institute warns that the fall of Raqqa doesn’t mean ISIS is totally defeated. It is still active and governs some towns. They note, “The group continues to conduct military operations. On this count, it is worth recalling that between the tactical defeat of ISI following the sahwa movement and troop surge around 2009, and its reemergence as ISIS around 2012-13, Iraq remained the most violent conflict in the world. This reality illustrates the incredible lethal dangers posed by IS even if it does not control territory. Furthermore, the IS of today is stronger than the group’s previous incarnation in 2009-12, with violence in Iraq currently three times more deadly than during the roughly four-year period following the surge. The bureaucratic apparatus might be dormant, but the insurgent capabilities remain formidable.”

The Washington Institute notes a recent poll shows that Egyptians agree with many Trump policies. Some of the results according to the report, “Asked to pick their top priority for U.S. policy in the Middle East, just 13% of Egyptians select “Reduce its interference in the region.” The plurality choice, at 36%, is another area of agreement with Trump’s policy emphasis: “Expand its active role in fighting the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and similar terrorist groups.” Very close behind, at 33%, is one more signature U.S. declaratory policy: “Push harder to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” In that connection, Egyptians are solidly behind a Trump administration variation on the peacemaking theme: 72% agree that “Arab states should play a new role in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, offering both sides incentives to take more moderate positions.” Egypt’s own diplomatic efforts to broker new Gaza security arrangements, along with possible Palestinian reconciliation on relatively moderate terms, could fit well into this framework…Yet what is truly surprising about the Egyptian data is the relatively large minority who express agreement with a highly controversial proposition about Israel, even without any peace talks: namely, that “despite their differences, Arab states should work with Israel on other issues like technology, counterterrorism, and containing Iran.”

The German Marshall Fund argues that Trump’s Iran policy is alienating America’s allies. They conclude, “The Iran deal does not only bind the United States to Iran, but also to its other signatories. More broadly, it is enshrined in the UN system and multilateralism. By refusing to certify the deal, the American President is confirming his defiance toward global institutions and conventions, regardless of alliances and friendships of convenience. Without much precaution, he is also scrubbing in one wipe years of constructive discussions with Russia and China. While such a decision might provide some short-term political gains for Washington in Tel Aviv or in Riyadh, it will come at huge costs for relations with other allies, especially those across the Atlantic. Yes, more is still to be done to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power, to curb its ballistic missile program, and clarify its role in the region. As such, the question is more whether Iran can be trusted as a credible power that will in the medium to long term contribute to the prosperity and stability of the region. This will take time and, yes, more talks. It will require finesse and patience. It will require the United States to meet Iran in this field that the poet Rumi so dearly spoke of, “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.” And you can’t do this without friends you can trust: allies.”

The Washington Institute looks at keeping the armed clashes in and around Kirkuk from escalating. They note, “For instance, Kirkuk city has long been treated as a partially demilitarized area — the police had primacy in urban security, while federal army troops and Kurdish Peshmerga were not allowed to deploy inside the city proper. The entrance of federal Special Forces there has now upended that status quo. Moreover, Kirkuk security was at its best when handled by a joint security headquarters that included Kurdish and federal forces; as of today, however, only the latter are manning the K1 headquarters. Similarly, the ideal model for oil field security was never military garrisons, but a dedicated oil field police force; the same is true for other energy infrastructure and government buildings. In other words, if the pendulum swings too far in the direction of totally excluding Kurdish forces, then security over northern Iraq’s citizens, state institutions, and oil facilities will surely suffer.”

The American Enterprise Institute argues that Trump is making a mistake concerning Iran. They note, “Mr. Trump has done little to push back on Iranian expansionism. The United States provides cursory support for operations by the Saudis and United Arab Emirates against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen. And for most of this year, the administration has been funneling financial aid to the Lebanese armed forces, which in turn have been working hand in hand with Iran’s most powerful proxy, Hezbollah, on the Lebanon-Syria border. While the administration has offered inconsistent and lackluster support for the Arab nations challenging Qatar’s support for extremists, it has largely ignored Iran’s growing influence in both Qatar and Oman.”

The American Enterprise Institute argues that Kirkuk was a defeat for Iran. They note, “First, it’s not always about us. Iran opposed the Kurdish referendum not because the Kurds are pro-American, but rather because Iran fears the precedent Kurdish independence might have on their own restive Kurds. Those who have embraced the Iraqi Kurdish leaders’ public relations campaign should take care: it’s Middle East 101 to recognize that just because someone feeds you well and whispers sweet nothings into your ear, they’re not automatically your friend. Yes, Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government representative in Washington (and sister to one of the region’s most “controversial” businessmen) tells American congressmen the correct things, but did they ever wonder what her counterpart in Tehran actually says?”

The CSIS looks at the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gulf Nations. The fault line dividing Gulf Arab states’ views of the Muslim Brotherhood has much more to do with the group’s political rather than its theological content, Sir John Jenkins argued at a recent CSIS Middle East Program roundtable. Jenkins, a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia with long service in the Middle East, spoke at the CSIS roundtable on “Egos and Ideologies: Islamism in the Gulf” on October 6, 2017.

 

 

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where will the White House turn next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

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

Read more at:

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

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

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

Read more at:

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

 

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

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

Read more at:

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

 

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

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

Read more at:

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

 

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

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

Read more at:

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

 

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

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

Read more at:

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

 

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

POLICYWATCH 2871

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

Read more at:

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

 

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

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

Read more at:

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

Week of October 13th, 2017

Trump Versus Washington – Again

Another week and another set of conflicts between Trump and the Washington establishment. Yet, it appears that the GOP voter base, which is upset with the Washington GOP establishment, is ready to revolt under the leadership of former White House advisor Steve Bannon.

The most visible kerfuffle was with Republican Tennessee Senator Corker.   In a tweet earlier this week, Trump dismissed him as “liddle’” (little) Corker. Trump tweeted: “The Failing @nytimes set Liddle’ Bob Corker up by recording his conversation. Was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!”

Corker responded by tweeting that, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” He also said Trump could lead the U.S. on the path to World War III.

The media and GOP base latched onto this disagreement. Bannon called on Sen. Bob Corker to “resign immediately” on Monday evening after Corker revealed on Sunday that Bannon was right when Bannon said the Republican establishment wants to “nullify the 2016 election” in which Donald Trump won the White House by aggressively running on an economic nationalist agenda.

Corker told the New York Times that “except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders criticized Sen. Bob Corker during the White House press briefing on Tuesday, accusing him of helping the Obama administration pass the Iran deal.

“Senator Corker worked with Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration to pave the way for that legislation and basically rolled out the red carpet for the Iran deal,” Sanders said in response to questions about Corker. “Those are pretty factual.”

But, Corker isn’t the only Republican who appears to be at odds with Trump. Another apparent conflict was a report by NBC News that Secretary of State had called Trump a “moron” for recommending a boost in America’s nuclear weapons arsenal at a meeting a few weeks ago.

When the report came out, Trump offered to compare IQ tests with Tillerson. “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests,” Trump told Forbes in an interview published Tuesday. “And I can tell you who is going to win.”

The supposed insult by Tillerson came when Trump reportedly demanded a tenfold increase in the size of the American nuclear arsenal.

During a meeting with several high-ranking national security advisers in July, the president responded to the reduction in the overall size of the nuclear arsenal since the late 1960s by demanding a dramatic increase in America’s nuclear weapons stockpile, reported NBC Wednesday, citing three officials present at the time.

Officials explained to Trump that the U.S. military posture is stronger today than it was when the U.S. was building up its nuclear arsenal, but Trump was said to be adamant that the U.S. should obtain more nuclear weapons, as well as troops and military equipment.

After the meeting, during which the president was briefed on global force operations, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron.”

However, NBC has come under heavy fire as both Trump and Tillerson denied the report.

Some officials at the meeting reportedly did not take Trump’s interest in more nuclear weapons as a direct order to the military to actually increase the numbers. However, Trump has repeatedly signaled that he wants to enhance America’s nuclear capabilities. He emphasized the need for a modernized nuclear arsenal on Twitter in August, arguing the need to make it “far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

“Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!” he explained in a follow-up tweet.

But, Trump isn’t just facing a political threat from the more moderate Republican establishment. Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon is threatening to challenge nearly every Republican senator standing for reelection in 2018.

Bannon told Sean Hannity on Fox News that he is declaring war against the “establishment, globalist clique” on Capitol Hill that opposes Trump’s agenda. He added that “nobody’s safe” in 2018.

Bannon’s first battle outside of the White House against the establishment was in the Alabama GOP Senate runoff last month. Voters in Alabama voted for conservative grassroots candidate Roy Moore over establishment Senator Luther Strange even though Trump had endorsed Strange. According to the Washington Post, Senator Corker begged Trump “to visit Alabama and campaign alongside Strange in the closing days of the runoff campaign,” which may partially explain why Trump has little use for Corker.

Although Trump campaigned for Strange, other pro-Trump conservatives like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin said that a vote for Moore would be a vote for the agenda that got Trump elected. This appeal apparently resonated across the state.

“A vote for Judge Moore isn’t a vote against the president,” Palin said while campaigning for Moore. “It’s a vote for the people’s agenda that elected the president.”

Trump Versus Washington – the Future

There is little likelihood that these fights between Trump and the GOP establishment will end soon. In fact, they will probably ramp up.

Although Corker has taken a stand against Trump, he is a lame duck as he has announced that he will not seek reelection in 2018. It is likely that he will be replaced on the Republican ticket by a conservative, pro-Trump candidate. And, since Tennessee is a generally reliable Republican state, the GOP candidate is likely to win the general election.

But, Senators Corker and Strange aren’t the only Republican senators on Bannon’s hit list. He is now seeking to find more candidates who will support Trump’s agenda instead of the GOP establishment’s.

Axios national political reporter Jonathan Swan reported that “Bannon and his allies are planning a hostile takeover of the Republican Party” and only Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will get a free pass.

According to Bloomberg News, Bannon will “support only candidates who agree to two conditions: They will vote against McConnell as majority leader and they will vote to end senators’ ability to block legislation by filibustering.”

The Bloomberg report noted that “Bannon plans to support as many as 15 Republican Senate candidates in 2018, including several challengers” to incumbents who are “some of McConnell’s most reliable supporters in the Senate” like Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), John Barrasso (R-WY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Deb Fischer (R-NE).

“I think Mitch McConnell, and to a degree, Paul Ryan. They do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented,” Bannon told NBC News. “It’s very obvious.”

Bannon also said that Ryan and McConnell will not help Trump implement the agenda that got him elected “unless they’re put on notice. They’re gonna be held accountable if they do not support the President of the United States. Right now there’s no accountability. They do not support the president’s program. It’s an open secret on Capitol Hill. Everybody in this city knows it.”

Not all Republican conservatives are onboard with this. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity, “Creating a civil war inside the Republican Party may feel good, but I think as a strategy it is stunningly stupid.”

Gingrich also noted that 2018 was an opportunity for the GOP to pick up more Senate seats if they avoid an internecine war – the result being that legislation might be easier to pass.

Of course, Bannon’s idea of Trump-McConnell conflict is exaggerated. McConnell is contemplating the elimination the “blue slip” procedure that allowed Democratic senators to stop Trump’s judicial nominations. It’s also important to remember that all the Republican senators have stood with Trump to pass his judicial nominations. They have also voted with Trump to cut back on Obama era regulations.

But, that will not stop Bannon. “McConnell himself won’t be up for re-election until 2020, but by targeting his supporters, Bannon might be able to force him from leadership in the Senate,” Bloomberg News pointed out.

At this time, it appears that McConnell isn’t afraid of the Bannon challenge. According to the Huffington Post, “A Republican super PAC backed by McConnell has no plans thus far to support Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election. “First of all, we hope those who helped Moore in the primary will stay focused on keeping this seat in Republican hands,” Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack told HuffPost. “In terms of spending, we’re monitoring the race closely to see if Democrats demonstrate this is a competitive race.”

Breitbart’s Matt Boyle wrote that “movement leaders view establishment Republicans and Democrats alike as a force blocking, slow-walking, or stonewalling the agenda that President Donald J. Trump campaigned on, and aim to elect new voices by riding a new economic nationalist electoral wave in 2018 meant to mirror and surpass what happened in previous wave elections like 2010—which saw the rise of the Tea Party.” He noted that some are referring to this “distinct slate of U.S. Senate and House candidates” as the “The League of Extraordinary Candidates”

“We’re planning on building a broad anti-establishment coalition to replace the Republican Party of old with fresh new blood and fresh new ideas,” Andy Surabian, a senior adviser to the Great America Alliance organization and ex-White House aide, told Boyle.

While this Bannon revolt may give Trump more amenable senators in 2018, he must still deal with the establishment.   And, the establishment still controls much of the Washington power structure.

This is one of the problems facing Trump’s relationship with Secretary of State Tillerson. Tillerson has experience in dealing with foreign governments, but as a corporate head, not as a foreign policy maker. Unlike previous Secretaries of State who either had solid academic credentials (Kissinger) or a long term relationship with Washington (and the foreign policy establishment (Kerry and Clinton), Tillerson is a novice with no one in the establishment to provide him with support.

Another failing is that he has no clear foreign policy of his own, that he can advocate to Trump as Kissinger did for Nixon and Ford.

That means he neither represents the foreign policy establishment or a cognitive foreign policy strategy. He is a cabinet head that is politically adrift in Washington. This partially explains the frequent leaks highlighting his disagreements with Trump.

This leaves Trump in a quandary. If he dumps Tillerson, he will merely create more headlines about his inability to build and keep a solid cabinet team. However, if he leaves Tillerson in, he is left with no overriding foreign policy strategy and will be forced to rely upon others in the White House – probably his generals, McMaster, Kelly, and Mattis.

Since Trump will soon be heading to Asia, we don’t expect Tillerson to be ousted in the near future. However, if the Asia trip is a failure – especially as it concerns China or the Korean Peninsula – Tillerson may be quickly heading towards retirement.

Week of October 7th, 2017

Executive Summary

The focus this week in Washington was the massacre in Las Vegas and the political repercussions.

The Monitor analysis looks at the Las Vegas killings.  We look at the reason why the numbers of violent incidents are increasing in the US.  We also look at the gun control issue, how the shooter was able to obtain so many firearms and possible impact on gun control legislation.  We finally look at why events like Las Vegas are not considered and called terrorism by US officials and US media.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS says President Trump must prioritize his Middle East policies.  They note, “There is no shortage of things the U.S. government would like to do in the Middle East. From Yemen to Syria, and from Iran to Libya, the list is long. Some involve counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and counter-radicalization. Some involve resolving interstate conflicts, and others resolving intra-state conflicts. There are a host of military basing issues and prepositioning issues. The United States has strong energy interests in the region, and its agricultural trade is robust. The Middle East is also an important locus for many issues the United States cares about globally, including human trafficking, money laundering, and proliferation.  The United States cannot emphasize all of these things simultaneously. It must make tradeoffs, deferring some things it would like to do and doing things it does not want to do in order to pursue the more important things it needs to do.”

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the Syrian theater.  They conclude, “American national security requires that the Trump administration pursue a strategy that helps constrain, contain, and ultimately roll back Russia and Iran; defeat Salafi-jihadists in ways that prevent their reconstitution; defend strategic allies and bolster partners; and facilitate the emergence of independent, representative, and unitary states in Syria and Iraq. The removal of the Assad regime remains a necessary condition to achieve a desirable outcome in Syria. The U.S. must apply meaningful pressure against the Assad-Russia-Iran axis and regain leverage over it rather than accommodate it. The U.S. is now accommodating its adversaries by signing onto various agreements that allow it to consolidate control. This axis not only destabilizes the region and perpetuates conflict, but it also fuels radicalization and strengthens jihadist forces through its policies. It is making it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to protect its own security and interests.”

The Heritage Foundation says it is time to decertify the Iran agreement.  The takeaways from the article are:  1. The Iran nuclear deal is a fundamentally flawed agreement that gave Tehran massive sanctions relief in return for temporary and easily reversible concessions. 2. Contrary to the promises of the Obama Administration, the nuclear deal has not moderated Iran’s foreign policy; Tehran has stepped up its malign activities. 3. Decertification is the necessary first step in holding Iran accountable for its aggressive foreign policy, and permanently blocking its path to a nuclear weapon.

The American Enterprise Institute asks if Trump should recertify the Iran deal.  They conclude, “Should Trump walk away from the deal? Probably not. But he should make its 90-day continuance contingent on implementation of all parts of the deal, no matter what objections the Kremlin may voice, and on the rapid inspection of Iranian military bases where nuclear weapons work might continue. Not only is the deal at stake, but the IAEA’s relevance.  At the same time, he must prepare for the day that Iran either walks away from the deal, or the JCPOA sunsets. Because, far from eliminating Iran’s pathway to a bomb, Obama and Kerry simply kicked the can down the road. Alas, the U.S. and Iran are heading far more quickly to its dead-end than diplomats blinded by projection, wishful thinking, and the temptation of trade realize.”

The Washington Institute asks what the US role is in post referendum Kurdistan.  They suggest, “Going forward, Washington should not play the role of Kurdistan’s lawyer in Baghdad. Instead, the focus of U.S. mediation should be in Ankara, since Turkey’s next steps will be decisive for the KRG’s continuing functionality. Erdogan met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Ankara on September 28 and will visit Tehran on October 4. Following these consultations, he will presumably decide how many of the threatened punitive measures to implement immediately, perhaps by the end of next week. It is decidedly not in America’s interest to allow Russia and Iran to dominate Turkish views on this crisis, especially since neither actor has a stake in the counter-IS campaign succeeding, and both seek to reduce U.S. influence in the region.  The Trump administration’s most urgent step is to dispatch a civilian envoy to resolve the crisis, one who has no negative background with the Turks, Kurds, or Baghdad.”

The CSIS looks at how to reform US security assistance to other countries.  They note, “The U.S. government does not have clear guidelines for how to evaluate its own performance in the security assistance field, and each agency is left to its own methodologies and criteria in doing so. There is a tendency to focus on numbers and inputs or outputs while measuring the success of a program—number of weapons systems sold or number of officers given human rights training, for instance—instead of focusing on the quality of the program or its consequent effects on the desired outcome for the partnership.”

The Heritage Foundation says Trump is stockpiling reasons to end the Iran nuclear deal.  They conclude, “With or without outside help, Iran could easily be as threatening in 12 years in atomic affairs as North Korea is today. More troubling: Trump tweeted last weekend that North Korea is already “working with” Iran. Talk about an Axis of Evil. The lifting of economic sanctions also fills the mullahs’ pockets with funds that support its mischief-making, including supporting the Syrian regime, Yemeni Houthi rebels and the terror groups, Hezbollah and Hamas. Is any of that in America’s interest? Even if Tehran is currently in technical compliance, the pact leaves Iran as a “threshold” nuclear state and won’t stop it from becoming a de facto nuclear power in the not-too-distant future. It’s no wonder that Team Trump may soon call for a deal do-over.”

The Washington Institute looks at Iran’s and Hezbollah’s increasingly overt dominance in Beirut.  They conclude, “The trajectory in Lebanon is not isolated from regional developments; it is inextricably tied to Iran’s increasing influence, which has for decades been ascendant in Lebanon, but more recently dominant in Syria and Iraq as well. To prevent a deterioration in Lebanon, too, it will ultimately be incumbent on Washington to roll back Iran. Fighting Sunni militants without countering what is perhaps the primary driver of their radicalization is not a winning strategy.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

Las Vegas Shooting:
Many Questions Remain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gun Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it Terrorism?

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

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

However, under Nevada law, it is considered terrorism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

Week of September 29th, 2017

Kurdistan Secession and the United States

Will the US back Kurdistan or its other regional allies?

 

This week is the week of separation referendums – both in Kurdistan and Spain’s Catalonia.

This week, to the consternation of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for separation. While these nations immediately took action to counter any separate Kurdish nation, the Kurds made it clear that the time for an independent Kurdistan has come.

However, the history of the world is replete with failed secession movements. America’s Confederacy, Nigeria’s Biafra, and Britain’s Scotland are good examples.

The key to a successful secession movement is recognition from other nations who give them access to weapons for the inevitable war of independence.

Does an independent Kurdistan have this? Maybe.

In this analysis, we will look at two factors: why the US may choose to support an independent Kurdistan and what military actions it could take.

Why the US may support an Independent Kurdistan

Kurdistan’s biggest hope is the United States. However, the US State Department has indicated that it favors an autonomous Kurdish region within Iraq, but favors a unified Iraq.

Of course, national unity is the favored position for the State Department, no matter the situation. When the Soviet Union was breaking up, the State Department said they favored a unified Soviet Union until the end. This despite the fact that the US celebrated “Captive Nations Day” which called for the independence of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

Of course, Trump delights in defying the international consensus and State Department on a variety of issues. Backing the Kurds is exactly the sort of outside-the-box thinking that Trump promised when he was elected president.

But, Trump seems to be adhering to the conventional wisdom on Kurdistan. He has been clear that his administration opposes the referendum held there Monday.

But, does he really oppose an independent Kurdistan? Maybe not. This may be a case where the US says one thing and does another. The Kurds have been a reliable ally against ISIS, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Iran.   The Kurdish Peshmerga, the military force raised by Iraqi Kurdistan, has been to US the only reliable land force in the campaign against ISIS. Without the Kurds, U.S. efforts to rout ISIS would have continued to fail. Supporting the Kurds would support America’s sole reliable ally in the fight against ISIS. It would also provide Trump with leverage against Iran.

Support for the Kurds will roil US/Turkish relations, but it would send the Erdogan regime a message that he cannot dictate U.S. policy, and that the U.S. will not ignore his ill treatment of Turkish political opposition or the Kurds.

However, giving the Kurds their independence would be a distraction from the war on ISIS and a threat to the fragile Iraqi government in Baghdad.

But, the main target of a US recognition of the Kurds, would be Iran. Trump put the world on notice last week, in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations that he was not prepared to follow the lead of America’s European allies on Iran. He made a strong case that the nuclear deal his predecessor struck with Tehran had been ineffective in achieving its goal of ending the threat of an Iranian weapon. Just as important, he pointed out that the pact had both enriched and emboldened Iran.

Trump has struggled to balance the campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq with his recognition of the danger that a triumphant, nuclear Iran poses to the West and to Sunni Arab states eager to cooperate with the U.S. This question has exposed a terrible contradiction in his foreign policy: His desire to restrain Iran has collided with his hopes for better relations with Russia, which is Syria’s most important ally.

Though an independent Kurdistan in what is now northern Iraq won’t block Iran’s land bridge to Lebanon and its ally Hezbollah, the presence of a strong armed force on Iran’s flank would provide the US with the strategic leverage against Iran which Trump has been looking for. Moreover, given the strength of the Peshmerga, the Kurds can defend themselves so long as the US is prepared to arm them.

Kurdistan will also act as a bridgehead for the West in an area where anti-American forces have seized the initiative in Syria.

But, supporting the Kurds will ruin relations with Turkey and Iraq. This leaves the US seeking a compromise between the Kurds and Iraq, with promises of more autonomy and a promise to revisit the issue of Kurdish independence later.

However, the West has had a habit of ignoring the Kurds when it is politically convenient. Though the US regarded the Kurds as a friendly force throughout the war in Iraq, America was also heavily invested in maintaining some degree of Iraq unity, even if that concept was more of a legal fiction than a reality. Just as important, giving independence to Iraq’s Kurds scares both Turkey and Iran, who both have substantial Kurdish minorities that have been subject to repression.

But, Trump is well aware that Iraqi unity and a democratic federal system in Iraq are likely an unobtainable goal. The Kurds also know that if their push for independence is put on hold until after they’ve finished fighting ISIS, the US won’t ensure that any promises made to them will be kept. That’s why, in spite of condemnations from those neighboring governments and even discouragement from the United Nations the Kurds have gone ahead and held their referendum.

Given these circumstances, we can expect the US not to recognize any Kurdish state. However, what is “official” and what is the reality will likely be quite different.

The US has sent arms and Special Forces advisors into Kurdish territory in the past and they could do the same, even though Iraq and other countries will try to close Kurdish airports and borders.

US Special Forces have a long history of working with the Kurds and there are many active and retired SF operators who know the Kurds and have been responsible for their training – training that has made them the reliable military force that they are.

Also, it is a fact that US special operations forces are already on the ground in Syria assisting Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. This provides the US some deniability if they choose to support the Kurds.

In the end, we should remember that as long as ISIS and Iran are perceived as a threat by Washington, the US will work to keep the Kurds an effective fighting force. And, that means helping them achieve independence if necessary.

 

US military options

The most logical step would be to send “deniable” weapons into Kurdistan – arms captured from ISIS by US backed forces. The US could even send in some US manufactured weapons and claim that they were US arms given to the Iraqis and captured by ISIS.

Another source of weapons would be Israel. It is assumed that Israel has a stockpile of arms, American and Israeli made. Consequently, their background would be suitably vague.

There are also several sources of manpower to assist an independent Kurdistan. There are many Iraqi Kurds being trained in the United States as part of US assistance to Iraq. Many of these Kurds could be expected to defect in the next few weeks and take their skills to Kurdistan. Some of these Kurds include pilots who know how to provide close air support.

The US isn’t expected to use visible American support to help the Kurds. That might eliminate American airpower providing close air support.

Week of September 22nd, 2017

Executive Summary

The focus this week was on Trump’s United Nations Speech, which was either condemned or praised based on ones political inclinations.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the speech and tries to define what the “Trump Doctrine” will be – the defining issues that will drive Trump’s foreign policy.  That appears to be a focus on nationalism and patriotism rather than globalism.  In other words, it is okay for the British to say “Britain first” or the Japanese to say Japan first.”  Then countries can work together, seeking out the best deals for their citizens.  We look at how that may impact world affairs.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Cato Institute warns Trump not to cancel the Iran nuclear deal.  They conclude, “If President Trump chooses not to certify Iranian compliance in mid-October, he will be kicking off a process likely to end U.S. participation in the nuclear deal, split us from our European allies, weaken moderate reformers in Iran and set the United States down a far more dangerous and confrontational path. Trump inherited an Iran that forfeited 98% of its enriched uranium, dismantled two-thirds of its operating centrifuges and opened itself up to the most intrusive inspections regime ever voluntarily agreed to by any state. Undermining the JCPOA could undo all of that. Trump’s decision will shape the U.S.-Iran relationship for decades to come, and may ultimately mean the difference between war and peace.”

The CSIS says Trump must prioritize his Middle East policies.  They note, “There is no shortage of things the U.S. government would like to do in the Middle East. From Yemen to Syria, and from Iran to Libya, the list is long. Some involve counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and counter-radicalization. Some involve resolving interstate conflicts, and others resolving intra-state conflicts. There are a host of military basing issues and prepositioning issues. The United States has strong energy interests in the region, and its agricultural trade is robust…The United States cannot emphasize all of these things simultaneously. It must make tradeoffs, deferring some things it would like to do and doing things it does not want to do in order to pursue the more important things it needs to do. Nine months in, the Trump administration does not have a similarly robust strategy. It is alarmed by Iranian behavior, but it neither seems to have a theory for what causes it nor a plan to change it. The administration is fighting the Islamic State group (ISG), which Iran and Russia are also fighting, without an end game. It wants to stabilize Iraq, find a solution in Yemen, and end the chaos in Libya. Meanwhile, envoys talk about the importance of Arab-Israeli peace with not much to show for their efforts.

The CSIS looks at the “pointless” conflict between Qatar and several other Arab nations.  In looking at the US role in the issue, they note, “There are serious limits, however, to what the U.S. can do. The U.S. faces the same lack of magic wands that it faces in most crises involving its allies and strategic partners: the limit to its ability to exercise influence does not mean intervention is a better alternative. There may, however, be one step the U.S. can take that will have an impact. This crisis makes it even more important to eliminate the uncertainties in the U.S. strategic posture in the Gulf and the Middle East. This lack of clear, decisive commitment adds to the legacy of U.S. mistake in Iraq, the uncertainties as to what will happen in Syria and Iraq, and the impact of Russian and Iranian intervention. This may well be the time for President Trump to clearly articulate that the U.S. will not leave the Middle East and the Gulf, and will provide lasting security guarantees to its Arab partners and Israel. It may be premature to talk about extended deterrence in any formal way, but it may well be time to lay the groundwork for a future guarantee if the JCPOA fails. Guaranteeing aid against Iran and to all of the regional efforts to fight extremism and terrorism—and promising to provide a continuing train and advisory, naval, and air presence are all important reassurances after the uncertainties of the Obama Administration and the previous Presidential Campaign.

The American Enterprise Institute looks at Trump’s UN speech.  They take issue with the patriotism and nationalism aspects of the speech and conclude, “Americans were Americans not because they occupied some particular place along the Eastern Atlantic seaboard or mostly spoke one language. They were Americans because of their attachment to a certain universal idea that some forms of rule were just, others not. It’s that idea that truly makes “America First.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Trump’s movement away for expanding democracy across the globe – a foreign policy goal of US presidents for several decades.  They note, “Trump’s lack of interest in international democracy support is not merely a narrow blind spot. It is an integral part of his larger discomfort with the long-standing U.S. commitment to an international liberal order. It fits with his questioning of an international system of free trade, core alliance relationships, and major multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, and his broader belief that the very idea of a positive-sum approach to international order is basically a sucker’s game.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at some unwelcome facts about North Korea, its nuclear program and the possibility of a diplomatic solution.  They pessimistically note, “Don’t get me wrong: I like the idea of a diplomatic solution. I’d be thrilled if North Korea would come to the table to talk denuclearization, where we’d quibble over quid pro quos such as diplomatic recognition, economic modernization and a peace treaty to (finally) end the Korean conflict. But, I don’t think there are any quids we can give for their nuclear/missile quos — short of vacating the Korean Peninsula and handing South Korea over to North Korea, which probably still isn’t enough to get the North to give up the bomb. While always being open to talks and committed to the North’s denuclearization, from this unhappy conclusion about its plans, we must pragmatically build our North Korea policy.”

The Carnegie Endowment says the time to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program is long past and it’s time to look at containment.  They note, “Instead, policymakers should aim to develop a less urgent, long-term strategy designed to minimize North Korea’s capacity and willingness to utilize those weapons and related technologies in threatening ways, while also continuing to work toward eventual denuclearization. In particular, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia must focus not only on deterring and containing Pyongyang through clear, strong, consistent, and common diplomatic and military signals. They must also aim to minimize the chances of destabilizing military escalation by building effective crisis management mechanisms (CMMs) and channels of communication, while also implementing some confidence-building measures (CBMs) toward Pyongyang to reduce its insecurity.

The Hudson Institute argues prospects for a general Middle East war, while still not imminent, may now once more be on the rise.  The paper looks back at the 1967 war and notes similarities.  They write, “Today, once again, Russia seeks to save a client government in Syria, the government of Bashir al Assad.   While serving Russian interests, this has also inescapably encouraged the designs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with its own vast imperial ambitions, and its sights set on Israel.  Iran trumpets its intention to destroy Israel and, like Nasser in 1967, declares itself the leader of the Muslim world…As the successful American-led campaign against the Islamic State in Syria drives jihadists out; Syrian/Iranian forces are rushing to seize the abandoned territory.  As a result, Iran, Israel’s implacable enemy since 1979, is now poised to place forces in striking distance of Israel’s borders.  And Israel has noticed.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently told UN Secretary General Gutierres that “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts in its declared goal to eradicate Israel.” Israel has not had to face such a situation since its decisive victories in 1967 and 1973.   Netanyahu went on to say, “This is something Israel cannot accept.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

Trump Makes His First Speech to the United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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

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

Read more

 

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.

Read more

 

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.

Read more

Week of September 15th, 2017

Trump Looks at Iran

While the world and the Trump administration seem to be focused on North Korea and its new thermonuclear weapon, the Trump Administration is also looking at reining in Tehran.

This is not merely a diversion from North Korea. In many ways, they are part of the same problem. Part of the thinking is that strong moves against Iran also are also warnings against North Korea.

This is leading to a draft proposal prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting last Friday.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs, discourage any moves to break out as a nuclear power, and make Tehran rethink its support for regional allies in Syria’s Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” a senior administration official told Reuters.

Much of the plan allows the US military more latitude in countering Iranian moves in the region. This includes more aggressive US Navy interception of Iranian arms shipments to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza.

Yemen is a country that has slowly drawn in US forces. While the US is selling munitions to the Saudis and the UAE, US Special Forces are also on the ground in Yemen working alongside UAE forces, handling logistics, analyzing intelligence, and helping to direct the fight, much like they have been doing in Syria for friendly forces.

Clearly, the US needs a new strategy if they do not want to be drawn deeper into the conflict. This draft proposal offers a way out (at least as seen by Trump’s top generals).

The draft proposal will also allow US naval forces to react more forcefully when approached closely by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and surveillance contingent, some Reuter’s sources said. Iranian ships and boats have become more aggressive in the Gulf region in the past few years and US naval ship commanders need clearer direction to counter these maneuvers – without getting into trouble with the White House (a serious threat under Obama).

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing Shiite majority, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

The administration is also looking at a new stance on the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA), signed by Obama, to curb any potential development of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

However, there are those in the State Department who wish to keep the Iranian nuclear deal intact. They know President Trump is on the brink of refusing to certify the agreement to Congress next month and withdrawing from it. To stop this from happening, they have come up with a series of arguments to convince the president to stick with the deal.

The major argument is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Iran is in compliance with the agreement. Although it is true that a September 1, 2017, IAEA report did not cite any Iranian violations of the deal, and IAEA director general Yukiya Amano has said Iran is meeting its JCPOA commitments, there are many who disagree.   According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, “the [IAEA] report is so sparse in details that one cannot conclude that Iran is fully complying with the JCPOA.” The Institute also notes that, “nowhere in the report does the IAEA state that Iran is fully compliant.

In addition, Iran refuses to allow IAEA inspectors access to what it deems to be military sites, stating they are not nuclear related and not covered by agreement.

Others will say Iranian violations of the treaty are minor and “not material.” Iran-deal supporters have tried to downplay Iranian violations, including those spelled out in a July 11 letter from five Republican Senators to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as minor and “not material breaches.”

They maintain that despite the violations, the treaty provides the IAEA with important inspection opportunities that will be lost if the agreement is terminated. But critics of the deal are asserting that although it is true that the IAEA has conducted more inspections of Iran since the deal came into force, the agency is not permitted to inspect the locations where nuclear-weapons work is thought to actually be occurring: military sites. They claimed that without the “any time, any place” inspections that the Obama administration originally promised, the deal allows Iran to easily conceal covert nuclear-weapons activities from IAEA inspectors.

The push to keep the Iranian nuclear deal in place caused some in the White House National Security Council to sidetrack a letter for former UN Ambassador John Bolton to Trump. Bolton’s plan is a multilateral approach to the threats posed by Iran. It includes strict new sanctions to bar permanently the transfer of nuclear technology to the Islamic Republic and new sanctions in response to what been perceived as Tehran’s sponsorship of destabilizing activities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and other Middle East countries.

Some of these suggestions are probably found in the draft proposal.

 

US Response to Iran

In order to negate any criticism, expect the Trump response to involve working with America’s allies first. This consultation will also include a well-developed case showing violations.

Some of the steps to be taken are likely: Ending all landing and docking rights for all Iranian aircraft and ships at key allied ports; Ending all visas for Iranians, including “scholarly,” student, sports, or other exchanges; demanding payment with a set deadline on outstanding U.S. federal-court judgments against Iran for “terrorism”, including 9/11; announcing U.S. support for the Iranian opposition; and announcing U.S. support for Kurdish national aspirations, including Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Given Trump’s past history, don’t expect the proposal to have much in terms of military options. Trump has made it clear in the past that he will not give the enemy any advance notice of what he is planning militarily. However, we know that he will give his “in the field” commanders more latitude to pursue Iranian backed forces.

We can also expect Trump to expedite delivery of bunker-buster bombs to Israel. This puts Iran on notice that the US may unleash Israel if Iran continues to move towards a nuclear weapon. Needless to say, Iran is also well aware that any Israeli attack may include the passive assistance of some GCC nations too.

Given how thinly stretched US military forces are today, Trump and his generals will be unwilling to make any more military commitments to curb Iran. Expect economic sanctions – coupled with America’s allies (as much as possible).

Week of September 8th, 2017

Executive Summary

With the end of Labor Day Weekend, the traditional end of summer comes, which means that the pace of papers should pick up in the next month or so.

The big issue in Washington is North Korea’s nuclear weapons test.  It appears from the measured yield, it is a thermonuclear device (also called a hydrogen bomb or a fusion weapon).  The Monitor analysis looks at the type of weapon it is, and how it fits into North Korea’s nuclear strategy.  We see cruder fission bombs possibly being better its strategy of using electromagnetic pulse (EMP) as a weapon.

We also look at possible non-military responses by the US.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Heritage Foundation looks at North Korea’s nuclear test.  They conclude, “A premature return to negotiations would be ineffectual as long as Pyongyang continues to reject the possibility of it abandoning its nuclear arsenal and production capabilities. Numerous attempts at dialogue, negotiations, and agreements have all failed.  The most prudent policy remains augmenting pressure on North Korea via a comprehensive, integrated strategy utilizing all instruments of national power. This would include greater enforcement of UN resolutions and U.S. law through sanctions and targeted financial measures as well as enhanced information operations against the regime, greater advocacy for human rights, and ensuring sufficient defenses for the United States and its allies, particularly ballistic missile defense.”

The CSIS looks at options now that North Korea has tested a thermonuclear weapon.  They conclude, “It already is not enough for the United States to imply extended deterrence. The U.S. must—at a minimum—pledge nuclear guarantees in explicit terms. It may well have to release South Korea from its agreement not to go nuclear, and/or redeploy U.S. nuclear weapons on South Korean soil. Both actions present the risk that they could sharply increase the cost of any nuclear exchange, even if they sharply raise the level of nuclear deterrence. Both present problems for China and possibly increase the risk of a “trigger force” exchange. The challenge to Japan of being tied to a U.S. tied to South Korea — and the interactions with the other tensions between China and Japan/South Korea/US in Northeast Asia—will all increase. Almost inevitably, this nuclear arms race will have some—now totally unpredictable—impact on the U.S.-Russian nuclear balance, and the actions of other proliferators—as well as competition in asymmetric, cyber, chemical and biological warfare. Today’s nascent North Korean threat may seem minor compared to the things to come.”

The CSIS says that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey poses a long term economic benefit.  They note, “However, the key opportunity for harmonizing Syrians into Turkish society and, better still, leveraging their presence into economic growth that also benefits Turks, deals with entrepreneurship and investment. A 2017 study by SEF and Building Markets found that the total number of Syrian-owned companies in Turkey is estimated to be over 10,000, a figure that combines formal and informal businesses. On average, they employ 9.4 people (including Turks) and over half of those sampled expressed plans to hire additional employees over the coming year. Importantly, the study found that 76 percent of Syrian business owners plan to keep their businesses in Turkey even after the war ends and they expand back into Syria.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at Iran’s concern about Kurdish insurgency.  They conclude, “The Iranian government remains fiercely opposed to the forthcoming referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence. Iranian officials fear that the IKR could create a precedent which could inspire Iranian Kurds to demand autonomy or even independence. The Iranian government—and many Iranian intellectuals outside of government—believe that Kurdish moves toward autonomy or independence could reverberate far beyond Iran’s Kurdish population: Iran, after all, is a multi-ethnic country with a history of separatist movements among not only Kurds but also Azeris, Baluch, Arabs, and Gilakis. Nor is the Iranian government being blindly paranoid. The Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has engaged in an insurgency inside Iran. The interception of weaponry along Iran’s mountainous border—reported in Tasnim, an outlet close to the security services and the IRGC and excerpted here, likely raises concern in Tehran about the possibility that the Kurds’ long low-grade insurgency might increase in intensity…If that is the case, Iran may be looking at additional terrorist attacks inside the country. Either way, it seems that the border region between Iran and the IKR may soon grow hotter.” 

The German Marshall Fund looks at Europe’s option concerning North Korea.  They note, “President Trump’s rhetoric has affected the political debate, especially in Germany, which is headed for a national election in September. Despite transatlantic dissonance on other issues, the imminence of the North Korean threat to global security calls for a proactive and unified response. While a U.S. military strike remains very unlikely, Europe has serious contributions to make and levers to use to support a diplomatic solution. Transatlantic interest on a peaceful transformation of the crisis is closely aligned. The seriousness of the conflict warrants level-headed diplomacy — on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The Hudson Institute asks if Trump wants a nuclear Japan.  They note, “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.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

Thermonuclear North Korea –
The Threat and Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategies – North Korea and America and its Allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

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

Read more

 

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.

Read more

 

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.

Read more