Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Wilson Center hosted an event on “Lessons learned from the Arab Spring and Challenges Ahead.” The event focused that constitutions are most important in making transitions happen because Arab populations are not used to transitioning into a democratic system. Clarity in the constitutions are needed for smooth transition. Religious and secular parties are both amateur in exercising political pluralism. In Jordan, many people are afraid of reform or change. In Tunisia, citizens argue they have more political rights but less jobs. In Libya, over 100 parties are running for positions in government. This is a recipe for disaster; their cannot be so many parties fighting for political positions. The Libyan National Congress is frequently visited by militias if the LNC does anything they disagree with. Up to 300 militias are in Libya today. In conclusion, every state is different, but there are cases are improved political rights but less employment opportunities. Progress will be very slow because the region is not used to political diversity or an electoral system.

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the linkage between political freedom and economic security. They conclude, “Economic reform processes will work in the Middle East, but not if they follow the models of the past two decades. For economic programs to succeed they must also encompass political elements… The Arab Awakening spurred citizens to expect more from their government. Political change will stall without greater prosperity for more people in the region. At the same time, economic change will not succeed without empowering the key institutions necessary to enable and support the development of more efficient and transparent economic processes. Political and economic elements must work hand in hand to move the region forward.

The Heritage Foundation looks at the focus on Syria during Secretary of State Kerry’s trip overseas last week. They note, “Like it or not, arms are the coin of the realm for influencing Syria’s future and halting its slide into an Islamist dictatorship or failed state. Maintaining a failing soft-power strategy against a hardened regime that launches air strikes and Scud missiles against its own people will only prolong the conflict, empower extremists in the opposition at the expense of moderates, and contribute to dangerous spillover effects that threaten Syria’s neighbors. Secretary of State Kerry’s first overseas trip will ultimately be considered a success only if he can convince President Obama to offer stronger support for non-Islamist groups within the Syrian opposition to hasten the fall of Assad and offset the power of Islamist extremists in post-Assad Syria.”

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the evolving war in Syria. “Bashar al-Assad’s reliance on a small core of trusted military units limited his ability to control all of Syria. He hedged against defections by deploying only the most loyal one-third of the Syrian Army, but in so doing he undercut his ability to prosecute a troop-intensive counterinsurgency campaign because he could not use all of his forces. Defections and attrition have exacerbated the regime’s central challenge of generating combat power. These dynamics have weakened the Syrian Army in some ways but also honed it, such that what remains of these armed forces is comprised entirely of committed regime supporters. Fears of retribution have pushed conventional and paramilitary loyalists to converge upon the common goal of survival, resulting in a broadly cohesive, ultra-nationalist, and mostly-Alawite force. The remnants of the Syrian military and the powerful pro-regime militias are likely to wage a fierce insurgency against any opposition-led Sunni government in Syria if the Assad regime collapses. Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah are likely to encourage the militias and regime remnants to converge, supporting this transition to insurgency in order to preserve Iranian interests after Assad.”

JINSA argues that the US could end Hezbollah’s dominance in Lebanon. It notes, “Washington may need to engage in massive diplomatic arm-twisting. Fortunately, it currently has exceptional leverage over Paris, the leading opponent of designation, because France still needs American help (intelligence, transport, midair refueling aircraft, etc.) for its ongoing military operation in Mali. Washington should not hesitate to exploit this leverage. It should also consider assuaging French concerns over its peacekeepers in Lebanon by moving to end UNIFIL’s mandate. The UN peacekeeping force neither prevented Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel nor kept it from rearming afterward; thus if a trade-off is needed, UNIFIL does far less to keep the peace than would an EU designation that could substantially weaken Hezbollah – which, after all, is Lebanon’s main source of both internal instability and tension with Israel. The current confluence of events provides a unique opportunity to finally end Hezbollah’s grip on Lebanon. But Washington must seize the moment. If it misses this opportunity, the next one may be a long time coming.

The Middle East Institute hosted Hon. Filippo Grandi, Commissioner-General of UNRWA to focus on the status of Palestinians in a changing Middle East. Palestinians are facing great trouble in Syria because they generally held a position of neutrality toward the Syrian conflict. Now, we are seeing more Palestinians taking both sides and not being neutral. Backlash against Palestinians is expected if the Syrian government falls. Furthermore, the Palestinians in Syria are limited in mobility because of Jordan’s policy of not allowing anymore Palestinians to take refuge in Jordan. In conclusion, Palestinian limitation of mobility is evident in Syria, Gaza and the West Bank. This limitation of movement puts them in greater danger, whether they are in Gaza, Syria or the West Bank.

The Council on Foreign Relations focused on criticizing Arab boycotts to Israel, arguing that boycotting visiting and trading with the State is works against peace. Moreover, this practice of boycotting Israel by the general Arab hurts Palestinians; Palestinian Imams are welcoming more Arabs to visit Jerusalem. In conclusion, without a shift in attitude in the Arab mind set, Israel’s security concerns will never be allayed. Humanizing Israel to Arabs — by bringing together America’s Muslim allies, by addressing anti-Semitism in school textbooks and in sermons at mosques, by permitting Arab citizens to visit and trade with Israel — are requisite first steps. Arab nations experiencing revolution for freedom cannot be serious about wanting democracy when they are banning their citizens from visiting Muslim (and Jewish and Christian) holy sites.

The Washington Institute focuses on understanding what Israel’s next government coalition will look like. Netanyahu’s Likud Party will form a coalition with the election’s two most significant success stories: the center-left Yesh Atid (“There Is a Future”) Party of journalist Yair Lapid and the far-right Jewish Home Party of Naftali Bennett. The deadline to form a coalition government is days before U.S President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit. In conclusion, “the addition of two neophytes(Bennett and Lapid) could strengthen the military establishment against Iran, which wants to work with the United States as much as possible unless it begins to feel isolated and compelled to attack.”

The US Institute of Peace focused on the how Libya might be a case of success in the Arab Spring. The Institute concluded that progress is evident as communities are establishing community watches to increase stability in neighborhoods. Government officials are acknowledging human rights abuses and difficult conditions for detainees and prisoners and are working hard to resolve them by improving facilities, build new ones, and speed up the trials of those in custody. Libya’s General National Congress, under pressure from constituents and despite the reservations of its own members, voted to have representatives for the constitutional drafting committee elected rather than appointed. In conclusion, there is a great positive effort taking place by the Libyan government and its citizens to improve that status of the country. Examples of Libyans volunteering for stability along with various officials recognizing human rights abuses are all positive steps and must be recognized.

The Wilson Center hosted James Zogby to discuss the results of his recent poll that took place at the end of 2012. The polling included 17 Arab countries and three non-Arab countries on a range of topics including attitudes towards Iran, politics, nuclear program, Iranian culture and people. In conclusion, Zogby shows how Iran was viewed generally favorable among Arab countries for its position against imperialism and Zionism. In 2006, views toward Iran were favorable. After 2006, favorability toward Iran is dropping; Iran’s role in Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, its actions against the green movement and its nuclear ambitions are reasons for this slip in favorability. Also, Turkey’s role in the region is increasing and its image has improved. This could also be a reason for a slipping positive view toward Iran. Lebanon and Iraq viewed Iran most favorably on a consistent basis. Though Lebanese are divided on many issues, they become unified in their support for Iran. This support stems from Iran’s assistance to Lebanon in the 2006 war.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies focused on strategizing against enemies taking control of energy chokepoints in the world. Iran’s threats to close the Hormuz Strait were referenced. However, the Institutes highlights the Gulf of Guinea and how this coastline is a will become an increasing strategic importance and must be protected. “The U.S. is expected to import a quarter of its oil from the Gulf of Guinea nations by 2015.” The problem with this coastline are reports of increased piracy and “terrorist groups like Boko Haram of Nigeria, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Shabab of Somalia, and elements of the Iranian regime have used this area for arms trafficking.” In conclusion, with the presence of these pariah groups, along with the coastline being of strategic value, world powers must do more to protect the Gulf of Guinea.

The Washington Institute highlights the status of Turkey as a regional power and the strengths and challenges the country is facing today. Turkey’s economic growth has elevated it to the ranks of the G-20; it is the largest and wealthiest Muslim country in the World. Stability along with an increase in investments (rising Turkish businesses) followed by exercising soft power in the region all give Turkey a positive image in the world. However, Turkey’s greatest challenges are managing the Syrian conflict. Turkey’s involvement might change its image as a stable country. “But if conflict in Syria aggravates Turkey’s own internal cleavages and presents opportunities for violent groups to wage war against Turkey, its reputation as a bastion of stability may begin to erode.”

The American Enterprise Institute focuses on criticising why Obama’s plan to pull most troops out of Afghanistan is the biggest mistake he will make. The Institute argues that the Afghan National Security Front is not equipped and ready to take responsibility to lead in security. They also referred to Mohammed Najibullah, a Soviet puppet who survived for three years after soviet withdrawal, had even more weapons than the current ANSF. ANSF will be unable to protect American bases if the majority of our troops withdrawal. In conclusion, Obama’s decision to withdrawal is a terrible one.

The Hudson Institute focuses on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Security of Defense and the major challenges that he must deal with. The article outlines America’s greatest challenges; a major challenge being his management of America’s exit strategy in Afghanistan. Regarding China, the Institute argues that the U.S must not directly confront China regarding territorial disputes with Japan. The U.S must support peace settlement of territories between China and its neighbours. The greatest challenge Hagel he faces is the billions in spending cuts facing the Pentagon budget. “The United States is in a long-term defense drawdown complicated by the rising costs of weapons systems and services (healthcare) that is squeezing manpower, operations, and investment.”

The CSIS looks at how CENTCOM must evolve. They stress that, “The US must work with its Gulf Arab allies and other neighboring allies to preserve the security of the Gulf and the world’s flow of oil exports, and deal with the rising threat Iran poses in terms of asymmetric warfare, missiles, and potentially nuclear weapons. The US needs to work with its Arab allies to create a structure of deterrence and defense that will do as much as possible to deter Iran, and push it towards negotiations. It must also, however, engage the GCC states, the UK, and France to be able to defend the Gulf against Iran, rapidly restore the flow of trade and petroleum, and deal with Iranian asymmetric attacks and missile strikes. It must be ready to carry out preventive strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and persist, if necessary, to ensure Iran does not become a nuclear power.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at corruption in Afghanistan and American failure to stop it. They note, “U.S. decision-makers seem paradoxically more apt to take military risks than diplomatic or political risks. Afghan corruption and governance — like the tissue of grievances that might give rise to extremism in the African Sahel or in Yemen, or the stalemate between Israel and Palestine, or the challenges of expanding diplomatic channels with China — are seen as too difficult, too complex, to engage. So, for a decade, the interagency debate on Afghanistan became a logistics problem, obsessing on numbers of troops, and skirted the conflict’s underlying political drivers. Now, once again, the United States is fixated on logistics: How many soldiers will be removed, how fast, and how to ensure the smoothest possible passage for them and their materiel out of Afghanistan. All other considerations are subordinated to this physics problem. Meanwhile, the civilian dimensions and instruments of U.S. power abroad continue to atrophy, and with them, America’s influence.”