Think Tanks Activity Summary

The American Enterprise Institute focuses on the outcome of President Obama’s trip to the Middle East. In summary, President Obama proved he will take the peace process more serious by announcing Secretary of State John Kerry will play a role in starting up negotiations. However, AEI criticized Obama for telling Mahmoud Abbas to eliminate any preconditions to begin negotiating. Abbas’s consent will give Obama more opportunity to pressure Israel is stop expanding. Regarding Iran, Obama unfortunately does not take a stronger approach toward Iran and will not use force and will pressure Israel not do also. In conclusion, the region is a mess, with Syrian instability posing a threat to America and Israel along with the “Lebanese government resigning due to Hezbollah threats, Obama’s Middle East trip changes nothing.”

The Washington Institute looks at the Obama trip. Washington Institute Executive Director Dr. Robert Satloff and David Makovsky, the Institute’s Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of its Project on the Middle East Peace Process say that during his recent Middle East visit, President Obama forged an emotional connection with the people of Israel, earned credibility to deal with Iran’s nuclear research, and put the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on the regional agenda.

The Brookings Institution also looks at the Obama trip. They note, “Over the past year, Turkey and Israel have also come to realize that repairing their relationship and re-establishing a dialogue is at their best interest, as they face great challenges in their immediate vicinity (first and foremost, the Syrian civil war). United States officials emphasized that this is the first step in a long process. Nevertheless, the parties will have to make a great effort to overcome years of distrust and suspicion if they want the relationship to work. No one is under the allusion that relations will go back to what they were in the “honeymoon” period of the 1990s but modest improvement can be made. It will not be an easy task, and for that to happen it is essential that the parties not only talk to each other, but also listen to one another and begin to respect each other’s sensitivities. In order for this rapprochement to be successful, United States will have to continue to oversee discussions between Turkey and Israel, and remain heavily engaged in this process.”

The Center for Security Policy looks at the apology by Israel to Turkey and disagrees with it. This pro-Israel think tank recommends, “Israel should scale back the level of military assistance it receives from the US. While Obama was in Israel, he pledged to expand US military assistance to Israel in the coming years. By unilaterally scaling back US assistance and developing its domestic military industries, Israel would send a strong signal to its neighbors that it is not completely dependent on the US and as a consequence, the level of US support for Israel does not determine Israel’s capacity to continue to defend itself. On a wider level, it is important for Israel to develop the means to end its dependency on the US. Under Obama, despite the support of the great majority of the public, the US has become an undependable ally to Israel and indeed to the rest of the US’s allies as well. The more quickly Israel can minimize its dependence, the better it will be for Israel, for the US and for the stability of the region. The apology to Turkey was a strategic error.”

The Brookings Institution analyzes why the Russian government feels obligated to stand behind Bashar Al-Assad, a leader who has been unsuccessful in defeating opposition groups fighting in the Republic. In summary, “Putin is really motivated to support the Assad regime by his fear of state collapse — a fear he confronted most directly during the secession of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, which he brutally suppressed in a bloody civil war and counterinsurgency operation fought between 1999 and 2009.” Putin views Syria as the latest battleground in a global, multi-decade struggle between secular states and Sunni Islamism, which first began in Afghanistan with the Taliban, then moved to Chechnya, and has torn a number of Arab countries apart. In conclusion, The Russian president will remain opposed to intervention and insist negotiations with Assad take place. If, by some miracle, Syria does not turn into a full-scale regional disaster, Putin will take credit for this because he prevented an intervention. If Syria collapses, Putin will blame Washington. He will hold the United States responsible for destroying Syria and empowering Sunni Islamist extremists by championing democracy and the Arab revolutions.

The Cato Institute focuses on America’s foreign policy to Syria and how the US current policy is a failure. Cato gives 9 points arguing against current US policy. In summary, the US support for rebel fighters will only drag the US further into Syria. If lethal support for the rebels does not overthrow Assad, more pressure will be on President Obama to take an even further step. Second, if America is worried about chemical weapons getting into the wrong hands, supporting the overthrow of Assad and empowering the rebels does not make much sense. One reason the US is taking its position against Assad is to weaken Iran. If we overthrow Iran’s only Arab ally, it can create trouble for us in Bahrain and it will be more inclined to get a nuke for self-defense. In conclusion, US policy in Syria is a failure.

The Brookings Institution analyzes the Syrian humanitarian situation to understand strategies the international community can adopt to prevent more human loss. In summary, the UN cannot operate in rebel held territory according to General Assembly Resolution 46/182. Brookings argues against this Resolution since Assad’s power is waning and his tyrannical behavior does not deserve sovereignty recognition. In conclusion, BRICS nations like Brazil, South Africa and India should pressure and support a more aggressive UN role to begin to operate within rebel held territory to provide aid. “Such an opportunity presents itself at the forthcoming 2013 BRICS summit in Durban next week. These countries should use their influence to secure a Security Council endorsement of this approach, principally by applying pressure on Russia and China.” It is evident the BRICS are important with Syrian Government officials recently traveling to South Africa and India to support the opening of a dialogue and to help stop the violence.

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the Free Syrian Army. They note, “The Supreme Military Command (SMC) has the potential to serve as a check on radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority in Syria. If the SMC can create enough incentives for moderation it will likely be able to marginalize the most radical elements within its structure. To this end, the SMC has recognized the importance of the inclusion of some of the more radical forces, while still drawing a red line at the inclusion of forces that seek the destruction of a Syrian state, such as jihadist groups like Jabhat Nusra. Ultimately, even if the SMC only serves as a mechanism for greater cooperation and coordination, it is a significant development in that it has united the efforts of rebel commanders across Syria. It is the first attempt at unity that incorporates important commanders from all Syrian provinces and has enough legitimacy on the ground to even begin the process of building a structure capable of providing a national-level chain of command.”

The Washington Institute focused on how military assistance in Syria can shape the outcome of this conflict in a way that will result in a favorable outcome. In conclusion, Western military assistance possesses three objectives; military assistance give rebels the capability to fight Assad and better defend civilians which will give them more legitimacy. Second, lethal aid will help shape Syria’s outcome, positioning those receiving aid to play key roles in a post Assad period. Finally, the US and the West increases their involvement and level of involvement and influence during and after the regime collapses.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies shows the strength and presence of foreign fighters in Syria and how they are advancing their positions in the country. FDD focuses on Jaish al-Muhajireen wa Ansar and its leader who is a commander from the Russian Caucasus known as Abu Omar al Chechen. The group has more than 1000 volunteers who most come from abroad. They are stationed in Aleppo and one of the more affective groups in this conflict. It has participated in assaulting key military bases that belong to the State. Their military advancements in Syria are worth monitoring as they continue to work in Aleppo.

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Syria’s provisional government. It warns, “The lack of real substance behind the façade of the provisional government raises doubts about the National Coalition’s strategy of gaining more recognition. Winning Syria’s seat in the Arab League was important, but will remain a symbolic gain unless the coalition can demonstrate the ability to govern liberated areas. To keep trying to gain Syria’s seat at the UN, as al-Khatib mentioned at the Arab summit, is futile as both Russia and China can block the effort and merely diverts the coalition’s energies. The National Coalition is betraying a dangerous lack of political acumen. It sought—and won—recognition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people from the Friends of Syria, but this did not lead to a transformation of its political, military, or financial capabilities. There is no reason to expect a provisional government to be any more successful. The Friends of Syria cannot guarantee success by awarding it further diplomatic recognition or by declaring it the official channel for assistance.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Najib Mikati. They caution, “The risk of a serious political and security downward spiral is real. Lebanon’s leaders as well as the international backers of the two main factions—Iran and Russia on one side, and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Europe, and the United States on the other—must recognize that as they prosecute a proxy war in Syria, its neighbor, Lebanon, is at risk of spiraling out of control. All parties should move quickly to find common ground on a parliamentary election law, encourage the formation of a new power-sharing government that can appoint a head of the internal security forces, and hold fresh parliamentary elections. Only then can Lebanon’s precarious stability be restored, giving it the chance to survive the Syrian civil war raging next door.”

The Washington Institute looks at the youth movement in the small Gulf States and its political implications. They warn, “Demographic and economic factors could further widen the call for structural reform in these countries, particularly the “youth bulge” (i.e., the large working-age population) and high unemployment rates. Approximately one-third of the citizenry in Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar, and one-quarter in Kuwait and the UAE, are between the ages of 15 and 29. Unemployment among 15-to-24-year-olds hovers between 17 and 24 percent in most of these countries (except the UAE, where the rate is slightly lower). Sustained joblessness on that scale could turn up the heat politically by contributing to the loss of dignity so often cited as a key factor in other Arab uprisings. Although Gulf rulers will no doubt dole out national largesse to muffle discontent, many youths will continue to search for dignified work and independent income, with time on their hands to press for it via activism.”

The Washington Institute focused on The National Dialogue Conference in Yemen and how the U.S can use this conference in limiting Al-Qaeda’s presence in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In conclusion, “To defeat AQAP, Washington must help Yemenis identify common interests between the reforming state and the tribes that have supported al-Qaeda.” Incorporating each tribe interested while reform is taking place will be welcomed by tribal leaders. The US must encourage participants in the ND Conference to discuss greater local political freedoms and authority within a democratic structure. Moreover, curtailing AQAP will require support from the tribal “Popular Committees”. This committee includes tribal groups who are willing to assist in working with Yemeni security forces to fight AQAP. The US should encourage Sana to legitimize these tribal units because it will “provide security, employment, and a means of checking any abuses of power by expanding government forces.”

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies delves deep into the outcome of revolution in Tunisia and is the country heading toward the direction of tolerance, freedom of expression, freedom of religion exc. In conclusion, FDD shows how Tunisia’s Salafi movement has grown popular and bringing Tunisia more backward than before the revolution. They are aggressively attacking people who do not dress modest, attacking other Islamic sects, attacking the Christian community exc. Salafi intolerance is spreading rapidly in the country and is affecting minorities, citizens, police and anyone with a difference in opinion.

The Foreign Policy Research Institute presents a case study on Iraq and its current relationship with its Arab neighbors. In summary, the article argues that Arab States are working to build relationships with the government in Iraq to reduce Iranian influence. In the past, Iraq was viewed as an imminent Iranian ally in the eyes of Arab States. As a result, States have been passive in building relations with Baghdad. However, today Arab States have changed their policies and realized stronger economic and political cooperation with Iraq might weaken Iranian influence. In 2012, transferring the Arab League Presidency to Iraq is a symbol showing that Iraq has found its way back in the Arab’s sphere. In conclusion, the article highlights the pros and cons if Iraq were to divide into 3 States (Sunnis,Shias, Kurds). The pros according to Arab States are that we would be able to almost guarantee Kurdish and Sunni sects would be dependent on Arab States. The problem is the Iranians and Iraqi Shias could consolidate stronger relations. Whatever happens, we will continue to see Arab States fighting to limit Iranian influence.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies focuses on Turkish-Iranian relations and how the government of Turkey is guilty in not doing enough to isolate Iran and other pariah non-state actors like Hamas. Erdoğan reportedly “instructed the Ministry of Finance to allocate $300 million to be sent to Hamas’ government in Gaza.” This money is sent to build schools, mosques and infrastructure especially after the Israel-Gaza war in 2012. Turkey’s State owned Halkbank is guilty of processing payments to Iran in exchange for its oil. “Nearly $2 billion worth of gold was sent to Dubai on behalf of Iranian buyers.” Moreover, it is reported that over 2000 Iranian companies exist in Turkey and could provide financial support to Iran. In conclusion, Turkey could do much more in cooperating with the West to isolate Iran. The article details these strategies.

The CSIS looks at the transition in Afghanistan. They warn, “Generating the forces that will be required for Transition will be dependent on both outside funding and on providing the proper mix of outside trainers, mentors, and partners. Given the current state of the ANA, it is far from clear that the US, other donors, and the Afghan government can create the kind of army that has been called for in current plans while simultaneously withdrawing most US and other ISAF forces by the end of 2014. It is still unclear that enough outside trainers and partners will be available, and that the Afghan government can deal with the economic impact of funding such a force and its civil and police needs.”

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies questions if it is in the strategic interests of the US to withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. The premise for this article is based on multiple cases of increased activity by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant Islamic group linked to Al-Qaeda. In the first three month of 2013, there have been 12 raids against IMU, double of raids compared to 2012. In summary, the numbers show there is an increase of raids against the group, showing their presence in Afghanistan is evident. In light of IMU’s activity, is it wise that the US withdrawals our troops in 2014? Moreover, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has announced 1000 of his troops will withdrawal by the end of 2013. “If the rate of operations against al Qaeda remains about the same and operations against the IMU are at a high, can the US and its allies have any confidence that Afghan forces will be able to defeat, or at least contain, these terrorist groups on their own?”

The National Iranian American Council argues reasons why sanctions on Iran’s economy has and will continue to be a policy failure. NIAC shows how key stakeholders in the Iranian government still have not lobbied to pressure a change in its nuclear policy. “Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s narrative which portrays the West as a brutal group out to get Iran and keep it dependent on foreign powers – continues to dominate the discourse within Iran’s political elite and guide its decision-making. In turn, private lobbying campaigns have tended to focus on securing domestic economic concessions rather pushing for nuclear concessions to the West.” In conclusion, “submission to Western pressure is viewed by the Iranian regime as a greater threat to its survival than even a military confrontation with the United States.”