Week of December 1st, 2017

Executive Summary

Washington think tanks came back from Thanksgiving vacation to find out that North Korea had tested a ballistic missile that could reach most of America, including Washington DC.

This week’s Monitor analysis looks at potential responses to the latest test. We note the risks of military action and how much more development must take place before North Korea has a credible nuclear threat. We also see another alternative that Trump may be covertly pursuing.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Heritage Foundation argues that in light of Iranian and North Korean ballistic missile developments, the US must invest more in missile defense. They conclude, “Our systems have compiled an impressive test record. Yes, sometimes they have failed a test, but that’s not automatically a bad thing. In testing, we learn more from failures than successes. We stress the system and push it to its limits. Failures allow us to identify weaknesses in the system and fix them. It’s a process that has produced ever more reliable defenses. Is it perfect? No. But certainly the alternative — letting the enemy missile have a free ride into an American city — is unacceptable. Technologies improve every day. What seemed like science fiction even five years ago is a common occurrence now. That is why the government must sustain its investment in missile defense. It must also increase funding for future missile defense technologies so we are not caught by surprise and vulnerable.”

The American Enterprise Institute argues that the US should take out the North Korean mobile missile site. They note, “Here is how Trump should respond: Take out the test site from which the North Koreans launched the missile toward Japan — just like he struck the military base in Syria from which the Assad regime had launched a chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians…Trump should declare North Korea a ballistic missile “no-fly zone” and a nuclear weapons “no-test zone.” He should warn the North Koreans that any further attempts to launch a ballistic missile will be met with a targeted military strike either taking out the missile on the launch pad or blowing it up in the air using missile defense technology. And any further attempt to test a nuclear weapon will be met with a targeted strike taking out the test site and other related nuclear facilities. So long as North Korea does not retaliate, Trump should assure Pyongyang that he will take no further military action against the regime. However, if North Korea does retaliate, then the United States reserves the right to, as Trump put it to the UN General Assembly, “totally destroy North Korea.”

The Washington Institute looks at high-level meetings between North Korean and Iranian officials in recent months – especially in the field of ballistic missile development. They noted, “Last year, U.S. authorities reported that missile technicians from one of Iran’s most important defense companies, the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, had traveled to North Korea to help develop an eighty-ton rocket booster for ballistic missiles. One of the company’s top officials, Sayyed Javad Musavi, has allegedly worked in tandem with the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. (KOMID), which the United States and UN have sanctioned for being a central player in procuring equipment for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. For example, Shahid Hemmat has illegally shipped valves, electronics, and measuring equipment to KOMID for use in ground testing of space-launch vehicles and liquid-propellant ballistic missiles.” 

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the new geopolitics that come out of the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city. They note, “The key to understanding both the strategic dynamics that led to the Moscow-Ankara-Teheran condominium, and to its possible future significance, is the perceived absence and irrelevance of the West in the Middle East. This is due in a large part to its failure, and specifically that of the United States under Presidents Obama and Trump, to effectively address the crisis in Syria. Russia, Iran, and Iran’s ally and creation, Hezbollah (aided by Iraqi Shia militias), stepped in and turned the tide; Turkey decided to go with the devil it knows (Assad) rather than the anarchic and – for it – even more destabilizing alternatives, to block the Kurds, and to join the winning team. The rest of the world (Israel is a clear exception), including the United States – whose President spoke with Putin for over an hour, “mostly about Syria,” according to Administration officials, two days before the Sochi summit, and seems to have promised President Erdogan in a phone call Friday that military aid to the YPG Kurdish militia will cease – and the EU, are apparently just happy someone (else) is doing the work.”

The CSIS argues that the Trump Administration is neglecting the Middle East. They note, “President Trump’s effusive warmth does not indicate a strategic U.S. recalculation. As is becoming increasingly apparent, he returns warmth to all who show it to him. In addition, however, the president’s warmth is not a good predictor of administration policy. For example, President Trump has been outwardly quite warm to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, yet in August the U.S. government quietly cut aid to Egypt by more than $95 million and decided to hold another $195 million in escrow until U.S. human rights and democratization concerns in Egypt were addressed. He has been warm to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, but he has done little to reverse Iran entrenching itself more deeply on Israel’s northern border. Second, the Trump administration has taken itself out of resolving some of the most important conflicts in the Middle East. For example, Americans continue to be marginalized in discussions over the future of Syria, there is little active mediation of the war in Yemen, and U.S. diplomacy over Qatar’s fight with its neighbors has been ineffectual. If the administration argues that it is focused on Iran—which one could argue—one must admit that all of these conflicts advance Iranian interests at the expense of U.S. interests.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at North Korean- Russian relations. They note that since the late 19th century Russia has been a major stakeholder in Korean affairs, at times exercising critical influence on the peninsula. The unfolding crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs may significantly raise Russia’s profile on the peninsula.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Missile Test Really Mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week of November 17th, 2017

Executive Summary

Although Trump’s Asian trip was the focus of the think tank community, they also provided a lot of commentary on the events in Saudi Arabia. We have gathered much of it for you this week.

The Monitor analysis this week looks at the Trump presidency one year after the election. We find that despite the drama of the Trump Administration, he is following conventional Republican policies, especially in terms of foreign policy. We look at the differences and how he has evolved in the White House.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Heritage Foundation asks if Saudi Crown Prince Salman is leading a revolution from above. They conclude, “These reform efforts have appealed to young Saudis, particularly the 70 percent of the population that is under the age of 30.  They also are likely to support the anti-corruption campaign. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be positioning himself to lead a revolution from above. If he succeeds, it will be a welcome alternative to the disastrous revolutions from below that destabilized many countries in the region during the “Arab Spring” uprisings. But, in pushing for rapid political, economic and social change, MBS risks provoking a backlash from Wahhabi religious leaders, as well as from disgruntled branches of the royal family who have been squeezed out of power or sidelined.  It remains to be seen how enduring his reforms and anti-corruption campaign will be. But the Crown Prince deserves credit for seeing that Saudi Arabia’s status quo was unsustainable.”

The CSIS looks at the implications of the events in Saudi Arabia. When looking at Crown Prince Salman’s chance of success, they say, “There is a 75 percent chance that this will consolidate power behind the crown prince. After all, when he moved against his cousin, the previous crown prince, he won a pledge of allegiance relatively quietly and smoothly. Crown Prince Mohammed has substantial public support, and many Saudis feel that change is necessary and that he is the leading change agent. We should expect to see a broadly popular effort to root out corruption and confiscate wealth. Much as President Xi Jinping has done in China, the effort can build legitimacy and undermine opponents. Fines and confiscated wealth could also be steered toward state projects. Politically, however, the crown prince’s changes will undermine many of the established power centers in the kingdom, and many billionaires inside and outside of the family will find their business models shredded. They will look for ways to protect themselves, and some may not choose to curry favor. Simultaneous to these moves, the crown prince is taking on the religious establishment and social conservatives. It is not unthinkable that a coalition against him will consolidate, but the window of opportunity to blunt the crown prince is closing. If this settles in his favor, there is not likely to be another chance.”

The Heritage Foundation says the agreement with Russia on Syria undermines US interests in the region. They conclude, “While the defeat of the terrorist threat in Syria should be the highest immediate priority, the administration needs to keep in mind that ISIS terrorism is only a piece of the Syrian and Middle Eastern puzzle. Iran is a bigger long-term threat than ISIS and the U.S. will need reliable allies on the ground to roll back Iranian influence in Syria and prevent Tehran from consolidating a land bridge across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. To shore up regional stability and protect U.S. interests and allies, Washington must remain engaged in Syria. If the U.S. merely walks away from Syria after the defeat of ISIS, it will enable Russia and Iran to consolidate their dominance in that key country and further undermine the U.S. and its allies in the region. The administration needs to look at the region as a whole rather than solely focusing on the defeat of ISIS. While Russia and Iran may also seek to destroy ISIS, both nations are part of the larger problem that threatens U.S. interests in the Middle East.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Prince Salman’s attempt to remake Saudi Arabia. They conclude, “The centralization of royal authority, the consolidation of the bureaucracy, the diminution of the influence of religious scholars, and the stronger role of law originating from official (rather than religious) texts are creating a state that purports not to obstruct but instead furiously encourage such change. The crown prince is both a product of and an agent of the emerging system. Yet in one important way, the current restiveness is contradictory. It is based on, and fosters, attempts to meet the needs of a growing (and younger) country, whose citizens are more engaged with public affairs—and with each other. But the unmistakably authoritarian top leadership pursuing these efforts seeks to tightly grasp the reins of power to guide Saudi society according to its vision of social and economic transformation. How Saudi Arabia emerges from this experience—and the current leadership’s success, in part—may hinge on whether this odd mix of politicization and repression can continue to coexist.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the events in Saudi Arabia. They conclude, “Be that as it may, the Trump White House has given MbS a green light to drive Saudi Arabia 90 miles an hour over a cliff. Consider the components of likely disaster. The Yemen war will not be won, and Saudis—soldiers and civilians—may die in politically significant numbers. Missiles may fly into Saudi cities now from many directions, and not all of them will be intercepted. Most Saudis have gotten used to almost perfect material and physical security in recent years; this is a pampered and brittle society not used to pulling together or suffering hardship. The touted MbS-signed economic reforms, though indeed necessary, may not work; or, maybe worse, they will work and catalyze the usual social instability that comes from rapid change—except it could be much worse than the historical norm given the rigidity of Saudi Arabia’s frozen neo-fundamentalist social mindset. At some point, too, those now designated as the family “delinquents,” with much of the clergy in support, might use failure at home and abroad to try to get rid of MbS; after all, not only was one Saudi king deposed after 11 years on the throne, another, Faisal, was assassinated by a relative. What might that look like? For now, it’s safe to assume that the eleven arrested princes are in effect hostages and hence useful for deterrence: If their near kin try to discomfit MbS, the detainees might lose their heads. But that tactic has a half-life. And if foreign and domestic threats combine at a sour moment to threaten the Saudi regime itself, will the Trump administration send U.S. forces to save it? What would that look like?




Trump’s First Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Visit to Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Trump Has Evolved

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

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

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

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




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

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

Read more at:



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

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

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

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

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

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

Read more at:


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.”




Washington Fights Over Authorization to Use Military Force in Middle East

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

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

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

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

The Problems with the Current AUMF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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




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

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




Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion: A Transition at Risk
Carnegie Endowment
October 25, 2017

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




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

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




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

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




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

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




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

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



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.




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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where will the White House turn next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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Institute for the Study of War
September 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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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.”




Las Vegas Shooting:
Many Questions Remain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gun Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it Terrorism?

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

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

However, under Nevada law, it is considered terrorism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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.”




Trump Makes His First Speech to the United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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