Week of January 12th, 2018

Executive Summary

Now that the New Year has arrived, we can expect to see the pace of papers coming out of Washington’s think tanks to increase.

This week’s analysis looks at several military technology issues in the Middle East, including the drone attacks on Russian bases in Syria and the use of technology by the Yemeni rebels against Saudi Arabia.


Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The American Enterprise Institute looks forward to Trump’s foreign policy in Year Two.  They conclude, “An underlying foreign policy direction thus far emphasizing freedom of action, rebalanced and reciprocal alliance relationships, a blunt emphasis on US national interests, attention to the domestic economic sources of power, continuing forward military presence, counter-pressure against numerous foreign adversaries, and a new American nationalism — that is the signal. In this year and beyond when it comes to US foreign policy, consider focusing on the signal, not the noise.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the protests in Iran and what the US should do.  They conclude, “But the big question, of course, is what should the U.S. do about it? That could mean doing nothing, standing aside, remaining silent and letting Iranians sort things out — similar to the Obama administration’s approach during the 2009 protests.

While doing nothing is, in actuality, doing something, it shouldn’t be the course our nation takes — considering the threat the Iranian regime poses to not only human values, but to our security and that of our allies, friends and partners. Instead, the U.S. should speak out forcefully on human rights in Iran — whether the protests continue or not. Our government should push other states to express their support for the Iranian people’s aspirations, too, especially from the major, democratic capitals of Europe. We shouldn’t expect that the regime will relinquish its death grip on Iran, but it’s important that the Iranian people — and the world — understand that the United States backs their desire for political, social and economic rights and liberties. There’s no question about it: It’s just the right thing to do.”

The Washington Institute looks at Saudi Arabia’s evolving approach to counterterrorism and America’s response.  They conclude, “Apparent shifts in the way Riyadh is approaching the terrorism challenge present opportunities for the United States to encourage broader and deeper changes that address longstanding American interests. One area to support is continued tightening of Saudi supervision over religious figures traveling internationally for work, over religious and educational materials sent abroad by Saudi institutions, and over religious figures doing media work—all toward the goal of restricting the export of extremist ideology. A related interest is accelerated removal of extremist content that remains in Saudi schoolbooks. Another area to support is added transparency and measurable advancement in new training, supervision, and reeducation of religious figures and teachers (or, if necessary, dismissal). The kingdom has already registered successes in these areas and is now building on them; further progress could be discussed during the first annual meeting of the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Joint Consultative Group expected later this year. Finally, given the divergence between U.S. and Saudi views on the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, Washington should work closely with its Saudi partners in Etidal to track the quantity, quality, and reach of content against top U.S.-designated groups such as IS and al-Qaeda.”

The CSIS says that true victory in Iraq after defeating ISIS must consider “economic, security, and social needs of much of the nation’s population.”  They note, “Iraq provides a critical test case. Defeating ISIS in Iraq will not—by itself—deal with any of Iraq’s broader problems in politics, governance, and economics, and may well be the prelude to new forms of conflict between (and within) the Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds, various extremist groups, and the remnants of ISIS. Iraq also offers unique opportunities relative to other conflict states. It does not face the same level of post-conflict challenges as Syria, Libya, Somalia, the Sudans, Yemen, or Afghanistan. It did achieve substantial levels of development relative to other “failed states” in spite of nearly a half century of revolution, turmoil, and war—and it has substantial petroleum income. This does not mean, however, that there is any guarantee that the defeat of ISIS will bring stability, recovery, or successful national development unless Iraq has substantial outside help. Iraq was a “failed state” in virtually every respect before ISIS invaded and is still largely a failed state.

The Washington Institute warns that Trump’s hardline attitude towards Iran could cause problems with Oman, which has been America’s backdoor to Iranian negotiations.  They conclude, “Oman is being pulled in multiple directions at once, and it is unclear how these oft-competing priorities will affect its posture in the coming months. To the north, Saudi Arabia has tried to woo the resource-poor country into its camp despite their mutual distrust. This month, for example, Riyadh announced it would contribute $210 million to finance an industrial zone in Oman’s southern port of Duqm. At the same time, Oman has continued to coordinate its diplomatic, economic, and military activities with Iran in recent months, building on close bilateral ties that stretch back to the 1970s, when the shah sent thousands of troops and attack helicopters into Dhofar to help put down a tribal uprising…As for the West, official signals seem mixed at the moment…Yet ongoing developments in Yemen may soon spur Washington and its partners in Riyadh to increase their pressure on Oman. In recent weeks, Houthi militias have shot ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, including against Riyadh’s international airport. The Trump administration believes that Iran smuggled these missiles to the Houthis, and while it has not openly accused Oman of involvement in the transfer, clouds are beginning to form over the relationship.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the cut off of aid to Pakistan by the US.  They conclude, “The status quo, long viewed by Washington as lamentable but tolerable, will no longer be a costless affair for Pakistan. Whether this leads our two countries toward a vicious cycle of hostility and recrimination is entirely dependent on Pakistan’s behavior. As always, the path to stability, prosperity, and a true strategic partnership with America is clear: Abandon your support for Islamist extremists, end your paranoid infatuation with India, make peace with your Afghan neighbors, and respect freedom and religious liberty at home.”

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

The American Foreign Policy Council argues for “Unconventional wisdom” in the Middle East.  They note, “For decades, foreign policy elites across the West have argued that Israeli-Palestinian peace will pave the way for broader Arab-Israeli peace, less terrorism, less anti-American animus, and solutions to such seemingly separate challenges as Iran’s regional expansionism and nuclear pursuits.” However, noting a New York Times article in December they note, “”[T]he Saudi Prince has made clear that his top priority in the region is not the Palestinian-Israeli issue, the fulcrum of Arab politics for generations, but confronting Iran,” the Times reported. “Regional officials and analysts say they believe he might be willing to try to force a settlement on Palestinians in order to cement Israeli cooperation against Iran.  That is, rather than accede to longstanding Palestinian demands – whether reasonable ones like a contiguous state or unreasonable ones like a multi-generational right of return – Saudi officials would impose their own solution on the Palestinians to secure greater collaboration between Jerusalem and Riyadh.”




Military Technology Heats up Middle Eastern Conflicts

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

Yemen’s New Military Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria Heats up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Read more at:



U.S. Must Condemn Iranian Regime, Back Protesters

By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
January 5, 2018

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

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

Read more at:



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

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

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

Read more at:



Unconventional Wisdom in the Middle East

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

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

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


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

Carnegie Endowment
January 4, 2018

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

Read more at:



Is Saudi Arabia’s Counterterrorism Approach Shifting?

By Lori Plotkin Boghardt
Washington Institute
January 9, 2018


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

Read more at:



Will the Trump Administration Force Oman to Choose Sides?

By Jay Solomon
Washington Institute
January 9, 2018


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

Read more at:



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

By Colin Duech
American Enterprise Institute
January 10, 2018

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

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

Week of January 5th, 2018

Iranian Riots and the U.S. Policy

In the past few days, thousands of Iranians have marched against the government in Tehran. Trump has tweeted his support for the protesters, spoken out in their favor, and made clear that he’d love to see them topple the regime itself.

But, will the American response, be limited to the president’s tweets? Or, is this the beginning of a movement to destabilize Iran?

The first question to ask is if these demonstrations are different from ones that occurred in the past?

It’s obvious that these riots are quite different from the ones in 2009.

The first difference is geographic. Whereas the 2009 protests were mainly limited to Tehran, today’s phenomenon covers the whole country, from major cities to smaller towns and even rural villages. That’s significant, because many argue that opposition to the regime is restricted to the elites of the big cities, and that rural populations are pro-regime. It’s difficult to judge how many rural residents are protesting. That’s new, and it probably surprised both the government and the leaders of the 2009 protests.

Of concern for the regime is the fact that the Kurds are supporting the protests. The region’s Kurds are experienced fighters and have weapons.

The second difference is demographic. The 2009 demonstrators were Tehran’s upper middle class. Today’s masses are proletarians: workers, unemployed, failing farmers and the like. Notice that trade unionists are being arrested in Tehran, because the leadership fears they are the real organizers of the uprising, and because workers and the unemployed are not as easy to intimidate as professors and businessmen.

Then there is ideology. Most accounts insist that this whole thing started because people weren’t being paid enough and food prices were too high in addition of failed banks that usurps thousands from their savings. Obviously, protests of this sort are commonplace in many nations, but they do not normally set off a nation-wide conflagration. It takes a common interest like aiming at overthrowing the regime, to create nationwide protests.

Interestingly, it appears that the riot participants are from the same sectors of society that brought down the Shah nearly 40 years ago. The Washington Times said, “While the abortive Green Revolution eight years ago was driven mainly by the children of wealthy political elites in Tehran in the wake of a questionable election, the spontaneous protests this time around are unfolding across the country and driven by what analysts describe as “the working poor” — a segment of the population that has little to lose in the face of a crackdown by the regime.”

“The segment of the population that’s out protesting right now is much the same segment that carried out the revolution against the U.S.-backed Shah nearly 40 years ago,” said one of the sources, who spoke Tuesday on the condition of anonymity. “We’re talking about people who weathered the bullets of the Shah. We don’t know how these people are going to react if there’s a violent crackdown.”

According to reports, fires are being set by people who want an end to the Islamic Republic. Videos show them burning posters of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, religious centers, schools, and living quarters of the clergy.

There is also a concern about Iran’s foreign involvements. Rioters are begin heard to yell “Don’t talk to us about Gaza, talk about us.” Some of the protestors have lost relatives on foreign battlefields, and they don’t approve of the human and monetary costs of Iran’s interventions in places like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen.

One of the problems with protests that are widespread, is that the elements that Iran’s leadership draws its security forces are involved in the protests. The security forces’ most loyal component is the Basij, whose ranks are largely drawn from the same neighborhoods as many of the protestors.

So, what we are seeing is a nation with widespread protests that are involving most of the demographic elements of Iran. In that case, even Iran’s security forces, which are large and powerful, may not be able to stem the unrest. Twitter on Tuesday night carried an alleged text message said to have been sent to retired security people, urging them to come fight for the regime. If that is true, it indicates a real concern in the corridors of power that they need more fighters – that this thing is too big for them as presently constituted.


Outside Forces

The Iranian leadership must also be concerned that this domestic unrest is happening as the opposition to the Iranian regime is coalescing outside their borders.

The biggest change is American President Trump. While Obama took a low profile approach during the 2009 unrest in Iran, Trump has made it clear that he considers the Iranian regime to be a danger – a danger that must be countered.

For the US, a regime change in Iran could solve many problems. A more moderate regime could curtail its missile and nuclear programs. It would also likely pull its forces from Syria and Iraq.

Another country hoping for a regime change in Iran is Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Salman. While there has been a long term rivalry between the two nations for influence in the Middle East, the war in Yemen has made that less a rivalry and more an outright war.

For Saudi Arabia, a regime change would likely mean an end to the costly and indecisive war in Yemen. A more moderate Iran would also mean that Saudi Arabia would have more influence within the region.

The final important player in the anti-Iranian regime alliance is Israel. Israel and Iran have been enemies since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. A regime change would lessen the nuclear and missile threat. A more moderate Iranian leadership wouldn’t have the same influence in Lebanon and Syria.

It now appears that these three countries are prepared to be more aggressive towards Iran.   A report in a Kuwaiti newspaper says U.S. intelligence has given a green light to Israel to assassinate a top Iranian Revolutionary Guards general.

Qassem Soleimani has commanded the Revolutionary Guards unit known as the Quds Force for 20 years.  Soleimani has been in command of Iranian units in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Israel wanted to kill Soleimani three years ago, but the Obama administration tipped off the Iranians, and the effort failed. But that is unlikely under Trump.

With Iran facing widespread unrest, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US will probably ramp up their destabilization activities.

In addition to providing moral support via Twitter, Trump can tighten economic sanctions against Iran, if the protests lead to widespread suppression by Iranian security forces. The US can also counter the Iranian government’s tightening of internet access with more radio broadcasts directed towards Iran.

Trump can also cut international support for Iran by working with Russia for a Syrian peace that includes president Assad.

Russia and Iran are traditional rivals as they have both vied for influence in the Central Asia area. That rivalry has been set aside recently as both nations have supported Syria and president Assad.

The report that Israel wants to assassinate one of the heads of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard indicates that Israel is probably already involved in destabilizing Iran. It seems the 3 countries think they need to weaken Revolutionary Guards using assassination of prominent leaders like Sulaimani , the calculation is that such action will render the Guards unable to quickly or effectively respond to protestors. And, since the Revolutionary Guards are the backbone of the Iranian regime’s power, their nullification would seriously cripple the regime.

The final key player in bringing about a regime change in Iran is Saudi Arabia. Although the war in Yemen is draining Saudi Arabia.

Before the unrest, it was clear that Iran was committed to Yemen for the long term. In March Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri said that Tehran was willing to help Houthi rebels “in any way it can, and to any level necessary” against the Saudis.

These three nations (and others like the UAE) have a desire to overthrowing the current Iranian regime, if they want to commit the resources to it. Aside from the public face of opposition like economic sanctions and public statements, there are many things that Israel the US, and Saudi Arabia could do.

According to some American analysts who are in close contacts with US undercover operations, the first move is to strengthen the unrest inside Iran. This means money and arms. Obviously, America and Saudi Arabia have the money and there is a surplus of arms in the Middle East, thanks to the ongoing wars in Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

The next move is to coordinate the protests, so they become more effective. This includes targeting centers of power like police stations and government buildings.

As the unrest grows, the hope is that parts of the Iranian security forces defect to the protesters or just desert grows. This, in turn, puts more pressure on the regime.

If these actions are widespread enough, it will force the Iranian regime to pull forces out of countries like Syria and Iraq in order to contain the unrest.

At this point, the Iranian military becomes important. Since the Revolutionary Guards are expected to remain loyal to the current government (minus some defections), it will be up to the military leadership to step in to “protect the nation and its citizens.”

Although the regime of Iran seems secure now, the hope is a concerted push by the protesters, backed by several outside forces could create a continuous crisis that lead to crippling the regime and open the door for drastic changes.

Week of December 22nd, 2017

Examining Yemen Carries Out Missile Strikes Against Saudi Arabia

The aggressive war waged by Saudi Arabia against Yemen took a new turn this week, when Yemenis launched a Burkan H-2 missile at the royal palace in Riyadh. According to reports, a Saudi Patriot Missile battery shot it down before it hit the palace.

This was not the first attack. Nor was it the first that came close to hitting its target – something very worrying to nations in the region since the typical Scud missile used in the region is notoriously inaccurate. On November 4, it was reported by Saudis that a Patriot missile intercepted an Iranian-manufactured Burkan H-2 missile as its reentry vehicle plunged toward the international airport outside Riyadh.

International reaction was varying. Though the missile was launched from Yemen, Saudi leaders called the attack an act of “aggression” by Iran. The US (who is militarily involved in Yemen) joined the Saudis by denouncing it. A human rights organization said the “indiscriminate” missile attack was “an apparent war crime.” But Iran denied that it was involved.

The missile attack signals that war of words between Saudi Arabia and Iran is escalating and more western observers are sounding alarms of what they are labeling a proxy war in Yemen that will become more intense.

But, the problem isn’t just limited to potential escalation. American foreign policy over the past 6 years encouraged what was to happen according to Saudi apologists who concluded that the Iranian leaders are benefitting since 2011 “Arab Spring revolts “and the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011 that created a regional power vacuum. To them, this encouraged Iranian involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

They are claiming that “Arab Spring” chaos in Yemen presented Iran with a target of opportunity. In 2011 a revolt forced Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in early 2012. Vice-president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi replaced him. In 2014, Houthi fighters seized the capital, Sanaa. In 2015, they took over Yemen’s government. Hadi then went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

When Hadi went into exile, Saudi Arabia began its aggression and airstrikes on Yemen. In the meantime, the Houthi rebels have accused Hadi of treason and sentenced him to death in absentia.

Although the Houthi aren’t totally in line with the Iranian leadership, it is perceived by Saudi and their allies that Iran is providing the rebels with arms, intelligence, and expertise.

From the Saudi point of view, if the Houthis dominate Yemen, Iran will have a generally unpopulated and unguarded land frontier with Saudi Arabia that they can infiltrate to destabilize the House of Saud. With the aid of the U.S., the Saudis formed a coalition to support Hadi government under their control.

So far this criminal war on Yemen of more than 1000 days has killed some 9,000 Yemenis and injured 60,000. 18 million displaced people need food and medical assistance. This is an international catastrophe since Yemen’s total population is only 28.5 million.

Since the Saudis conduct indiscriminate air strikes on Yemenis inflicting enormous loss of innocent lives and destruction, the Houthis portray the missile attacks as legitimate retaliatory measures. The Saudis, however, are certain that the November 4th and December 19th missiles were fired with the help of Iran.

Iran denies the charge and others disagree with the Saudi analysis. Some say Hezbollah is responsible since they have considerable missile experience. There are also claims that the missiles came from North Korea, which has shipped Scud type missiles to Yemen in the past.

In order to determine the source of the missiles that struck Saudi Arabia, we need to look at what is known about Hezbollah, Iran, and North Korea’s missile technology. Then we need to look at the wreckage, which has been photographed by private citizens in Riyadh and official presentations by both the Saudis and Americans.

Yemen’s Missile Origins

It appears that the missiles are Burkan H-2 missiles, which are a variation of the Scud liquid fueled missile originally designed by the Soviets in the 1950s.

Of the three accused groups – Hezbollah, Iran, and North Korea – only two – North Korea and Iran – have the capability to build a Scud type missile. Hezbollah has built smaller solid fuel missiles and reportedly have received Scud variant missiles from Syria. However, the ability to master the variety of skills and technology to build a liquid fueled missile with a range of hundreds of miles is not known or yet reported capabilities of Hezbollah.

This leaves Iran and North Korea as possible sources of the Burkan H-2. Both have the industrial capability and expertise. In addition, they have collaborated with each other in order to improve their missile capability.

This week, the US made it clear that they considered the missiles that hit Saudi Arabia came from Iran. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the attack on the Riyadh bore “all the hallmarks of previous attacks using Iranian-provided weapons.”

The most critical piece of evidence was that the missile didn’t have external fins. Fins give the missile stability, but add weight and increase drag. Removing the fins, however, does increase the range. However, there is only one short range, liquid fueled ballistic missile that doesn’t have external fins, that relies totally on graphite vanes located in the exhaust plume, and that is the Iranian Qiam missile (which is the basis of the Burkan missile).

Removing the external fins isn’t easy because it requires a more sophisticated guidance technology. Consequently, it isn’t something that either the North Koreans or the Yemenis are perceived to do at this point.

Additional proof was claims that the Iranian markings found on structural components and engine parts. In addition, the circuit boards in the guidance system were also claimed to be of Iranian origin.

Although an analysis of the wreckage showed that it is closely related to the Scud missile type, Iran has made some changes in order to increase range. The missile has more aluminum, which makes it lighter. Close-ups of the engine wreckage show that the engine itself is a Scud variant, but of lower quality.

Another quality issue was some of the welding. While some of the welding was professional and probably done at the plant manufacturing the missile, other weld seams were very amateurish. These poor welds are more likely to fail in flight.

Experts think the reason for the amateurish welds was to reassemble the missile after being smuggled through the Saudi blockade. Since the missile is less than a meter in diameter, disassembling the missile would make it easy to hide in other shipments.

There were other differences in addition to the lack of external fins. There is a reentry vehicle that can detach from the missile during reentry. There is also a more sophisticated guidance system than that found in the original Scud Missile.

The original Scud guidance system was an analog device based on gyros and clockwork that determined the engine burn time and angle of flight. The gyros would detect any deviation and send electrical signals to the graphite vanes to correct the course. This system would also be immune to damage from a nearby nuclear blast, which would damage electronic systems.

The Burkan missile’s guidance system is electronic and more accurate. And, since there appear to be antennae attached on the outside of the missile, it appears to have a manual override. This is why the missile has a more accurate CEP (circle error probability) of half a kilometer.

The other notable modification is a reentry vehicle with a blunt nose that slows the speed of reentry. It shifts the missile balance backwards, which improves flight stability and lessens the need for external fins. However, by slowing the reentry vehicle it makes interception easier and makes the vehicle more susceptible to wind drift.

Are Burkan Missiles Invulnerable to Patriot Missiles?

Based on a report by the New York Times, there has been some question if the Saudi Patriot missile battery actually intercepted and destroyed the Yemeni missile.

A forensic analysis of photos and video of the Burkan missile wreckage displayed by the US indicates that it was probably hit by a Patriot missile. The wreckage showed considerable scorching and damage just above the engine, which may be the damage from the Patriot missile.

Whether the Patriot hit the missile before the reentry vehicle separated is classified.   However, forensic evidence from the wreckage indicates that the reentry vehicle broke up – either from the Patriot missile hit or dynamic forces of reentry.

There were three types of damage to the reentry vehicle that indicates it broke up into two or three parts before hitting the ground.

The rear part of the re-entry vehicle, where the explosives were placed, show scorching and fragmentation indicative of an explosion. This tends to confirm reports of an explosion in Riyadh. However, it doesn’t indicate if the warhead properly exploded in or around the airport, or the amount of damage it caused.

The middle part of the reentry vehicle has broken up, but shows no sign of scorching. Some parts show bending, which indicates that it may have been ripped apart by dynamic forces during reentry. Since there is no scorching, this part of the reentry vehicle probably was torn away from the lower part of the reentry vehicle before the explosion took place.

Fragments from the tip of the reentry vehicle show signs of melting. This indicates that the reentry vehicle hit the atmosphere at a higher speed than it was designed for. The melting would have weakened the vehicle structure and radically changed the aerodynamics. This, in turn, would have caused the vehicle to start to tumble and tear apart.

Given the wreckage, it is not conclusive that a Patriot missile did hit the Burkan missile. Without the confidential radar data, we don’t know if the hit was before or after the reentry vehicle had separated.   However, the reentry vehicle did separate from the rest of the missile and then broke apart from poor design, dynamic forces, or a patriot missile hit. No matter what, it was enough to prevent a completely successful hit. It is highly possible that Yemenis were able to locally master manufacturing and modifying Scud missiles to be able to lunch such missiles.

Needless to say, much that is written about the missile attack depends on the preconceived notions of the writers. Those who insist that anti-missile systems are relatively worthless like those who wrote the New York Times piece will insist that these attacks prove that anti-missile systems are incapable of reliably hitting missiles.

On the other hand, advocates of anti-missile systems like the Patriot will look at the interception rate and insist that they are worthwhile.

But, missiles and anti-missile systems aside, how will they impact this war that doesn’t seem to have any chance of ending?

What Next?

Does Saudi Arabia have the power to continue this war on Yemen? Not by itself. It has the assets as long as the US continues to sell weapons to it. Its anti-Iran coalition could extend the war beyond Yemen, but it would be an indecisive war. Without the participation of U.S. forces, or toppling the Iranian regime by military means which is an adventure no one dares to pursue and a mission impossible.

This raises the possibility that Trump may authorize a secret campaign aiming to destabilize the Iranian regime and likely will be doomed to fail.

Of course, the US is already involved in Yemen. The Defense Department on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time “multiple ground operations” in Yemen, while noting that ISIS has doubled in size in the war-torn country.

“U.S. forces have conducted multiple ground operations and more than 120 strikes in 2017,” said a statement from the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

The goal is to “disrupt the ability of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to use ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for terrorist recruiting, training and base of operations to export terror worldwide.”

But, there is another problem in the strategy to pushback against Iran. Iran remains capable to obtaining nuclear weapons if it wishes or pushed in that direction, and the timing isn’t if, but when.

The Saudis have ballistic missiles and the cash to buy or build nukes. Moreover, they now have the support of a new American administration that says it won’t permit a nuclear armed Iran.

But, the current Saudi air war against Yemen, or the Houthi missile attacks against the Saudis will not win this war. As we have mentioned in the past, history shows that air wars without ground soldiers – from the Battle of Britain to the American air war against ISIS – will not succeed.

With the naval blockade, the Houthi will not be able to bring in whole Burkan missiles from Iran if they wish, which means the possibility of resorting to smuggling in the parts and welding them together.

Saudi Arabia and its allies can’t win the war with air strikes and a limited military presence in Yemen. They have to commit to a ground war and the military forces necessary to wage such an operation.

In the end, the decision will be made in Riyadh. Crown Prince Salman will have to decide how long he can continue tis risky adventure to challenge Iran instead of seeking mutual respect and understanding. If it is the prime foreign policy objective of Saudi Arabia, we can expect the conflict to continue and escalate.

Week of December 15th, 2017

Executive Summary

As America heads into the holiday season, the number of publications is going down. It will pick up after the New Year.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the upcoming Trump National Security Strategy report. Although the document is primarily a political document, not a tool of national policy, we look at the major themes we can expect to see when it comes out next week.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Washington Institute looks at the pitfalls of keeping American troops in Syria. They note, “First, any such endeavor will necessarily be long term, messy, and uncertain, with no clear end state beyond containing Iran…As seen with Benghazi and Niger, however, public and congressional outcry can become deafening when these kinds of operations go awry, so the White House should be prepared to weather the storm.  A second pitfall is the issue of legal authority. Washington’s deployment of forces in Syria and its support to the SDF rest on several mechanisms: the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda (given the Islamic State’s genealogy as an al-Qaeda offshoot)…Yet Congress has already questioned the 2001 AUMF’s role in perpetuating “endless war,” so it could oppose using that authorization to justify an open-ended military presence in Syria or specific operations targeting the Assad regime and Iran (e.g., the low-intensity clashes seen in May and June)…Third, any U.S. contingent would face numerous logistical pitfalls. While American forces have established a handful of small Syrian enclaves abutting Jordan, the main U.S. presence is in the northeast, where access can only be obtained through Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), or Turkey.”

Given the recent advances in North Korean missile technology, the Heritage Foundation looks at America’s missile defense. They note, “The bad news is that the missile-defense system we have isn’t as comprehensive and well-developed as it could and should be at this stage. We have a revolver, when we could have an automatic rifle. Nearly 35 years ago, President Reagan first called for a way to render the threat of ballistic missiles “impotent and obsolete.” Yet today, thanks in part to opposition from those who consider missile defense both unworkable and destabilizing, we have only one system capable of shooting down long-range ballistic missiles headed for the U.S. homeland: the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. We can do better, though. The GMD system is the only system we have capable of intercepting an ICBM in the mid-course phase of its flight. With a system that includes sea- and space-based interceptors, we could target ICBMs earlier in their flight — during the boost or ascent phase, when they’re traveling more slowly and are easier to hit.”

The CSIS looks at Trumps move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They note, “Doing nothing would have allowed this real-world expansion of facts on the ground to continue indefinitely. Greater Jerusalem would have continued to grow with minimal and largely pro forma Arab objections. The Israeli Jewish population would have continued to increase, and the Palestinian population of Jerusalem would have continued to come under pressure. Outside objections would have remained equally ineffective, and the threat of real peace negotiations that actually affect the facts on the ground would have been negligible. Jerusalem might have lacked the formal title of capital and the “thrill” of housing more embassies, but each passing month and year would have made Jerusalem more Israeli without creating any new political opposition or rise in the threat to Israel. Doing nothing would also have avoided giving Iran, the Hezbollah, and potentially Russia and Syria the political ammunition to use against Israel, or against America’s Arab strategic partners and the U.S.”

The Heritage Foundation praises Trump for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. They note, “Among other issues, these parties are free to decide the fate of Jerusalem as they wish, including single sovereignty, dividing the city between East and West or making it an open city as an important place of worship for the three Abrahamic religions. Plus, this decision could vivify moribund peace talks. The Palestinians — deeply divided between Fatah in the West Bank and (terrorist) Hamas in the Gaza Strip — have a real incentive to move on the reconciliation plan they hatched in Cairo in October.”

The Cato Institute looks at the failures of the pundits, who said that Assad must be removed in order to defeat ISIS. In noting that such a move only creates more unrest, they note, “As in Iraq a decade earlier, regime change in Syria would have created the ultimate power vacuum for Islamic State to flourish. Moreover, the notion that pumping arms and fighters into Syria would mitigate the unrest is actually the opposite of what study after study has established. The conflict literature makes clear that external support for the opposition tends to exacerbate and extend civil wars, which usually peter out not through power-sharing agreements among fighting equals, but when one side — typically, the incumbent — achieves dominance. The Realist paradigm reminds us that the U.S. need not share the same ideology of a nasty international actor to countenance working with him against a mutual foe. With its sensitivity to overspending and blowback, Realism also emphasizes the dangers of militarily picking foreign governments around the world.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at Trumps decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. They conclude, “The bottom line is that Trump has acted to implement a policy long mandated by law and supported by a bipartisan majority in Congress. While his Jerusalem statement may complicate peace negotiations and undermine cooperation with Arab allies in the short run, it reflects a realism that could benefit U.S. policy and Arab thinking in the long run.”




Trump Administration Crafts its First National Security Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should we Really Believe National Security Strategy Reports?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSC Advisor McMaster and the Trump NSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Week of December 8th, 2017

Trump Recognizes Jerusalem

as Capital of Israel

Why? Why Now? What Does it Mean?

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel and that the US embassy would be moving to Jerusalem.

The timing of Trump’s statement is curious given the fact that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to revive peace negotiations with Saudi help.

Speaking from the Diplomatic Reception room at the White House, Trump officially made the announcement.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said.

The President repeatedly addressed concerns about a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians being hindered as a result of the recognition. He argued failing to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as verified by law and Congress through the Jerusalem Embassy Act, has done nothing to move the region closer to a peace deal.

“We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches,” Trump said. “The record is in, after two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a peace agreement.” The President said he is committed to the peace process and will support a two-state solution so long as both the Israelis and Palestinians agree to it.

“We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians,” Trump said. “I’ve judged this course action to be in the best interest of the United States of America,” he continued. “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
This recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was not a total surprise. During the presidential campaign, Trump had made it clear that he intended to recognize Jerusalem as the capital. Of course, other presidents and presidential candidates had promised the same thing – Clinton, Bush, Obama, McCain, and Romney – but none had ever kept their campaign promise.

It all started with the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.  The law required the U.S. to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999, but conceded that the move could be put off for six months at a time as long as the President “determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”

The law had nothing to do with foreign policy, but had everything to do with domestic politics. Senator Dole opposed such a move until he decided to run for president in 1996. His change was based on his hope to raise money from Jewish groups.

Not to be outdone, President Bill Clinton called for the embassy to eventually be moved to Jerusalem, even as he actively worked to kill Dole’s bill. The Clinton administration did argue that a ‘premature focus on Jerusalem’ could ‘undermine negotiations and complicate the chances for peace” – which set the stage for the president to stall the move for up to six months at a time.

Politics still define the move to Jerusalem amongst both Republicans and Democrats. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote to President Trump this week, urging him not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or to announce he is moving the U.S. Embassy to the city.

However, exactly six months ago Tuesday, Senator Feinstein voted in favor of a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem, and calling on the president to “abide by” the provisions of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. Feinstein also voted for the original bill on Oct. 24, 1995.

In addition, the last four Democratic Party platforms have recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Consequently, there was no surprise that in 2016 Trump, along with all of the other GOP candidates, made it clear that he intended to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The difference, however, was that Trump, unlike the, other presidential candidates, actually intended to make the move.

The Washington Response

While Washington has repeatedly told voters that it supports the move to Jerusalem, the reality is that the foreign policy establishment strongly opposes it.

Foreign policy focuses on stability, not political promises. And, it is clear that recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is destabilizing a traditionally unstable part of the world. While the move would please Israel, it will cause problems in an area that stretches from the Indian subcontinent to where the Atlantic Ocean meets North Africa.

For the State Department, there is a heightened risk to American employees in the region, in addition to American tourists. The move will also make it harder to get foreign support for American policy initiatives in the region. That’s why the State Department pushed Trump to avoid making such a move this week.

Needless to say, it poses a major roadblock to any movement in solving the Palestinian-Israeli peace problem. It also helps Russia expand its influence in the region.

The biggest immediate impact will be military. Although the war on ISIS is clearly in the final stages, this move will only upset many American allies inside and outside the Middle East and make it harder to earn their support. Even politicians, who personally don’t care one way or another about the move, will have to reconcile any pro-American policies with their citizens, who do care. How can an Iraqi politician advocate more cooperation with America, when the US makes such a pro-Israeli move?

There is also the fact that Trump’s move could encourage ISIS recruitment or renewed terrorist attacks.

The military problems go beyond the Middle East. Turkey is the anchor of NATO’s southern flank. And, though Erdogan has made it hard for America and Turkey to work together recently, this move will only further alienate Turkey and its military, which is second to the US in military manpower in NATO.

Domestic Considerations

Despite the foreign policy costs, there is a strong political aspect to the move. In 2016, The Gallup organization conducted a poll, asking voters if they supported moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They discovered that over half had no opinion or didn’t know enough about the issue. 24% supported the move, while 20% opposed the move.

However, for Republican politicians, Republican voters preferred the move.

Democrats, as a whole, were not in favor of the move. However, since Jews are more likely to vote Democratic, supporting the move is one way for Democratic politicians to secure their vote.

Clearly, Trump’s move has solidified his support amongst Republican voters. At the same time, since only 20% of voters oppose the move and they are more likely to be Democrats, he is not sacrificing any critical part of the American electorate that will be important for his reelection. There is also a benefit in that news about the move to Jerusalem will drown out the media focus on Trump’s legal problems.

Much of the political focus has been on evangelical Christian voters, who are more likely to be Republican and more likely to enthusiastically support the state of Israel. Unfortunately, most of the analysis on this group comes from the East Coast, where evangelical Christians are a small minority of the population. For instance, only 8% of residents of the nation’s capital, Washington DC, consider themselves evangelical Christians, while 52% of people from Tennessee consider themselves evangelical Christians. Other East Coast states also have few evangelical Christians, while most are found in the American interior and the South.

Yet, the Pew Research Centre report found that evangelical Christians are the largest single religious group in the United States — more than 25 per cent of the population.

This means that analysts based in the East Coast misunderstand how evangelicals think and vote – even though the Vice President is one.

This was seen in the comments of a MSNBC reporter Chris Matthews on Wednesday about Evangelicals. Matthews said support for Israel among Evangelicals comes from their “crazy ideas about Israel…it’s the Christian Evangelicals down there with their crazy ideas about Israel which is, I don’t know, mythical.”

“They don’t understand the situation over there, how tricky it is ethnically and tribally,” he added. “They don’t care because it’s a religious belief.”

Contrary to the stereotype that evangelical Christians are “stupid and poor,” they are better educated than many groups and are generally Middle Class wage earners. They generally have the same percentage of college degrees as the Christian faith as a whole. They also tend to mirror the earnings of other Christian groups. They are also more likely to vote, which is correlated with being better informed on current events than the average American.

Evangelical Christians, however, have an overriding sympathy for the State of Israel. Most of that comes from the fact that the historical roots of Christianity are found in the region and with the ancient Jews. It also helps that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu focuses on garnering evangelical Christian support every time he visits the US. This is clearly reflected in their voting patterns and support for Israel.

Meantime, some mainline Christian groups have denounced the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. The Catholic Pope Francis said he had “deep worry” about recent developments, and declared Jerusalem a unique and sacred place for Christians, Jews and Muslims that has a “special vocation for peace.”

“I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days,” he said.

He appealed “that everyone respects the status quo of the city” according to U.N. resolutions.

However, Pope Francis is unpopular in the US, even amongst American Catholics. As a result, he has little political power to influence American Catholic voters.

Just as important, this was the type of Trump move that has endeared him to supporters and helped him win critical states in 2016.

Trump’s move shows that he is not an ordinary politician, which was one of the reasons he won. Every recent president has promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a candidate, only to fail to deliver.  But not Trump.

Although many Washington observers thought this move was done to target the votes of Jewish and evangelical Christians, this point matters to many American voters who are tired of Washington, DC politics as usual and voted for Trump because he railed about the “Washington Swamp.”

Of course, a speech does not an embassy make. A site has to be obtained, security issues carefully examined, and a new building designed and built. Even after construction, large numbers of diplomats and local staff must be prepared to handle the extended protests that will happen and move to the new embassy. In the end, the move may very well take much longer than Trump promised.

In the end, it’s important to remember that this move is a political move – a dramatic political move by a president who is becoming well known for dramatic political moves.

While world leaders may decry the announcement, Trump is well aware that they do not vote. However, Republicans, who vote, will praise the move.

Just as important, it helps further define himself as the non-politician – the candidate who keeps his promises. For the 56% of Americans who have no opinion on the embassy move to Jerusalem, they will take note of the fact that it was a campaign promise that was kept.


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.

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:



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

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

Read more at:


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.

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

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

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

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

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.