A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
The focus was on the US budget and debt battles this. However, there were several important pieces put out by Washington think tanks that ranged geographically from Morocco to Afghanistan.
The Monitor Analysis looks at the budget battle in terms of next year’s mid-term elections. Clearly, both the Democrats and Republicans are maneuvering to gain advantage in the elections and control of the US Senate. We show how what happened in the last few weeks was partially a result of this battle to control the Senate and how just a few seats could mean a big difference.
As the US and other nations negotiate with Iran on its nuclear policy, the Carnegie Endowment advocates a more realistic US nuclear policy regarding the use of nuclear technology by other nations. They suggest, “realistic appreciation of the particular circumstances of each country with which it negotiates a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. In some cases, such as with countries in areas of political instability or of high proliferation risk, this may prompt the U.S. to negotiate new agreements containing legal commitments to abstain from enrichment and reprocessing. But in some instances the United States will not be able to persuade countries to forgo or forswear future nuclear fuel cycle options…In other cases, countries may be more willing to abstain from ENR if the United States works with them to lease or take back their spent nuclear fuel, or if the United States effectively promotes the establishment of multilateral fuel cycle enterprises.”
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the quandary of Saudi foreign policy as American foreign policy drifts. The paper suggests, “If history is any guide, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf more generally, will continue to pursue policies that align with the broad contours of U.S. strategy—but with a creeping preference for hedging and unilateralism that will, in some cases, clash with U.S. interests. It is in the Gulf’s domestic landscape that the sharpest breaks between Saudi and U.S. views are emerging: regional tensions have enabled a harsh security campaign against a wide range of dissidents, the rise of sectarianism, and the troubling use of censorship.”
The CSIS looks at the Jihadi-Salafism movement in North Africa that is attracting a younger generation of activists. In warning about this new movement, the CSIS notes, “Al Qaeda attracted young men to take up arms against Western-backed governments and fight an international jihad, but it failed to inspire a large mass of adherents. This new extremism uses social activism and outreach as its primary tactics, and it threatens to undermine fragile governments and radicalize publics in divided societies. While the governmental response to al Qaeda focused on counterterrorism tactics, the antidote to this emerging extremism will have to be more complex and navigate local socioeconomic, religious, and political divisions. Ultimately, this mainstream or popular jihadi-salafism is less dramatic than al Qaeda’s version, but it will have a far greater impact on the region’s future.”
The Washington Institute looks at the cut off of foreign aid to Egypt. They warn in their conclusion, “But if the U.S. proceeds with an inflexible and impractical interpretation of its latest well-intentioned effort to spread the blessings of democracy abroad, the results are likely to be very bad for Egypt, for the region, and especially for American interests therein. Those with memories a bit longer than the current administration have seen this movie before. The starring role was played by Egypt’s military leader of the time, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who famously told President Eisenhower to take any conditional U.S. aid and “go jump in the lake.” It took a generation of wars, Russian dominance in Egypt, desperate poverty, and increasingly repressive rule to get past that disaster. This historical analogy is of course imperfect, as all analogies are by definition. Yet it serves as an important cautionary tale to help guide the next fragile steps in the long, crucial and complex U.S.-Egyptian relationship.”
The Foreign Policy Research Center looks at the new Egyptian leader General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. They note, “A quiet man known for saying little and keeping his own counsel, in his year of study at the U.S. Army War College in 2006, al-Sisi produced a research paper or brief thesis on his views of Islam and the state. In it, al-Sisi declares, “There is hope for democracy in the Middle East over the long term; however, it may not be a model that follows a Western Template” (sic). By that, al-Sisi makes plain, he means that Middle Eastern democracy must be based not on secularism, but on Islam.”
The German Marshall Fund looks at Afghanistan’s presidential elections. They note, “The frantic realignment of political figures over the last few days has in some cases led to the creation of mismatched tickets, where not only old foes joined hands but even decentralization advocates coalesced with backers of a strong central government. It will require a great deal of work for several contenders and their running mates to tie together their visions that are largely incompatible, solidify new alignments, form platforms, and eventually manage a campaign, all in short order.”
The CSIS looks back at the Arab Oil Embargo of 40 years ago, its roots, and its impact. In measuring its long term impact, they conclude, “Yet, even as we remember the embargo and the turbulent times of the 1970s, we would do well to take note of the significant changes that both domestic and global energy markets have undergone. At this writing, the United States is poised to become the world’s number one producer of oil and gas, and we are on our way to achieving more than 90 percent energy self-sufficiency. We have enormous coal resources and have made remarkable strides in promoting efficiency and renewables growth. The technological advances that helped promote the “unconventional” oil and gas revolution we are currently experiencing and our ability to explore and develop frontier resources are nothing short of astounding. Additionally, our energy usage per unit of GDP is less than half what it was back in the 1970s—all great advances.”
The Washington Institute looks at Morocco’s newest cabinet. They conclude, “The Islamists are ever weakened. While on the one hand one could argue that these latest developments seriously undermine prospects for Moroccan democratization, there is little consensus on what could serve as a viable alternative to the status quo. Morocco’s ability to remain stable, relatively secure, and a major non-NATO U.S. ally can be attributed, at least in part, to what many critics perceive as the monarch’s chess game. Beyond old guard incentives to weaken the Islamists, two more observations are worth mentioning. The first is that given the backlash against Islamists in the other parts of North Africa, PJD’s position as a minority participant may allow the party the silent exit it needs. Second, as Mezouar was an important figure in brokering the 2004 U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, he is likely to be seen as bolstering the ever-important U.S.-Morocco bilateral relationship.”
The (Domestic) Political Consequences of the Government Shutdown and Debt Crisis
A temporary deal has been reached to keep the US federal government working and paying its bills. The agreement would fund the government until January 15, extend the debt ceiling until February 7, and initiate a budget conference for fiscal negotiations later this year. The agreement would also keep sequestration intact.
As for Obamacare, which was a major sticking point in the continuing resolution, there was only one minor change. It requires individuals and families seeking subsidies to purchase coverage to verify their incomes before qualifying.
But, this doesn’t permanently solve the budget problem. Consider it a time-out in the political game. We will hear more about this in the upcoming months, especially as Republicans think that Obamacare will become more unpopular in the coming months, which will give them more political leverage. And, Americans still think the federal government is spending too much.
Despite the rhetoric, the big goal behind the intransigence by both the Democrats and Republicans in the current debt and continuing resolution fight is the outcome of the election in 2014. The election results hold the political leanings of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the balance and may herald a new beginning for the Obama Administration as he regains political clout in the Congress. Or, it may hasten his “lame duck” status as a Republican Senate and House ignore his initiatives.
Or, it could lead to a split decision and more gridlock.
This has been why the battle has been so fierce and both sides have not backed down much. Traditionally, the mid-term elections for the party holding the White House during the second four year term are disastrous. President Bush lost both the House and Senate in a landslide in 2006. And, Obama’s poll ratings are nearing those experienced by Bush before that disastrous election.
By holding the line against the Republicans, Obama hopes to energize his political base and improve the anemic fund-raising of the Democratic Party. By standing tough and blaming the Republicans, he hopes to convince the key independent voters that Republican politicians are the problem and that a smoother running federal government requires giving the House of Representatives back to the Democrats.
The Republicans are also trying to rally their grassroots, who are more conservative. They are also hoping to win the Senate in 2014, which would make it that much harder for Obama to push his agenda in the last two years of his administration.
While current polling shows that the public holds the Republicans more at fault for the government shutdown, it’s important to remember that these polls are of adults – not likely voters, who will actually decide the political balance of power in 2014.
So, when it comes to who is looking better at winning in 2014, who has the edge? The smart money is on the Republicans, who have election history and trends on their side. This is backed up by polling in critical races.
No wonder why the Republicans are standing fast.
The big battles will be in the Senate, where a shift of three seats would give the Republicans control of the Senate. And, recent polling shows that the Republicans may have those three seats in play already.
This is why the Senate did not vote on the measures passed by the House that would have kept some parts of the government fully funded. Senate Majority Leader Senator Reid ironically agrees with his Republican opposition that these measures are political dynamite and risk the Democrats control of the Senate as well as Obama’s policies. If he allows the bills to come to the Senate floor and he holds the Democrats together to defeat them, he may very well lose control of the Senate next year. If he allows the bills to come to the floor and the Republicans win with the critical votes of a few Democratic senators, he may keep control of the Senate, but Obama loses his key legislative victory – Obamacare.
That’s why the Senate refused to pass the House legislation. Reid must protect his very thin majority in the Senate, which relies on the fate of four senate seats that the Republicans think they can win in 2014. If three of these four go Republican, the Republicans gain control. All four of those seats are in states that voted for Romney in 2012 and dislike Obama.
First, let’s look at the seats with an incumbent Democratic senator.
The three top incumbent Democratic Senate seats being targeted by Republicans are in Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. All three went for Romney in 2012 and the incumbent Democratic Senators are polling at below 50% – a danger point at this time of the election cycle.
First, Alaska, which is deeply Republican and elected Sarah Palin as governor. In Alaska, where Democrat Mark Begich is up for reelection in 2014, Republican candidate Mead Treadwell trails by one point, 43 percent to 42 percent, while likely GOP candidate Dan Sullivan trails Begich by two points, 43 percent to 41 percent. In the generic race, a Republican candidate leads the Democratic candidate by 45% to 35%. Senator Begichhas 39 percent job approval and 42 percent disapproval.
Another target state is Arkansas, home of President Clinton, but which has become more Republican since sending Clinton to the White House. There, the race between Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton, remains close. The Harper poll only found Pryor with a three-point lead over Cotton, 45 percent to 42 percent (in a Hendrix College poll, Pryor led Cotton 42 percent to 41 percent). In the generic ballot, Arkansas voters say they would prefer to vote for the generic Republican over the generic Democrat for Senate 40 percent to 37 percent. The reason why Pryor remains ahead is that he is more popular in Arkansas than Obama.
Louisiana is another state with Democratic traditions that is leaning more Republican and threatening an incumbent Democratic Senator. Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu favorability rating is 47 percent, with 44 percent having an unfavorable opinion. That thin margin means leading Republican candidate, Congressman Bill Cassidy is only 2 points behind Landrieu, 44 percent to her 46 percent, in the Harper poll. However, the generic ballot shows the Republican ahead 40% to 37%.
There is also an open senate seat in West Virginia that is being vacated by Democratic Senator Rockefeller that could be a pick up for the Republicans. Obama’s approval rating is dramatically low in West Virginia, with just 25 percent of likely voters approving, and 65 percent disapproving. That, in turn benefits the Republicans as the generic ballot shows the Republicans with a sizable lead – 48% to 36%. Head to head, Representative Shelley Moore Capito, Republican, leads Natalie Tennant, Democrat, 51 percent to 34 percent.
The rule of thumb in politics is that a politician with less than 50% approval or less than 50% when paired up against a challenger is in trouble because undecideds tend to break for the challenger. Thus, a win in three of these four races could mean that the Republicans could take the Senate next year.
Meanwhile, the House remains relatively safe for the Republicans despite the recent news. Many of the House Republican seats are in safe districts and the Democrats are having problems recruiting top contenders who can raise the money and run the type of campaign that threatens an incumbent. And, although voters are upset with Congress as a whole, they are more satisfied with their specific congressman.
There are also several Democrats who are vulnerable in the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee has compiled a list of what they believe are the seven most vulnerable Democratic House members, who are in Republican districts. And in five of those seven races this past quarter, GOP challengers out-raised their opponents. This means that the Democrats have to protect some of their own members, rather than merely focus on beating Republican incumbents.
Remember also that mid-term elections are also used by voters to voice their opinion of the president. In this case, Obama is very unpopular and his favorable rating amongst likely voters is in the high 30’s – a rating Bush had before the disastrous 2006 elections that eviscerated the Republican Party nationally. This was evident in the special New Jersey senate election this week where Democrat Booker won by only half the margin Obama had won by in New Jersey last year. In fact, the vote tied the best performance for a GOP Senate candidate in the strongly Democratic state since 2000.
This is why the Republicans are standing up to Obama despite the recent compromise on the government shutdown – they are reading the polls that are showing them in a commanding position next year. It also explains why the Senate majority leader, Democratic Senator Reid did not allow Senate votes on the House bills. These measures are popular with the voters and would force his vulnerable Democratic Senators from Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana to either vote along with their constituent’s wishes, which would give the Republicans a victory in budget fight, but help their reelection next year, or vote in accordance with Obama’s wishes and risk losing next year and giving the Republicans control of the Senate.
As we said earlier, this is about much more than the budget or debt – it’s about who will win next year.
Changes at NSA
The Snowden leaks have finally taken their toll. NSA director Keith Alexander and his top deputy will depart soon, according to reports. John Inglis will retire at the end of the year, and Alexander will follow his deputy out the door by spring 2014. Although the reports say that the moves have nothing to do with the embarrassing situation the NSA has gotten itself into, the fact that both of the top NSA people are leaving within months of each other indicate some pressure for them to go. The NSA Director destroyed his own credibility and that of the agency after the leaks exposed his previous Congressional testimony as misleading.
Iranian Nuclear Talks
Iran, the permanent five members of the UN Security Council (the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France), and Germany finished talks in Geneva on the Iranian nuclear program. Although the tone of talk has improved, observers warned that the road to any agreement is down the road. They will meet again in November.
Iran laid out a new roadmap of what it was willing to do to permanently allay fears that its nuclear program is for more than peaceful purposes. The country also laid out what relief it expects in return from a US-engineered array of global sanctions.
The stated goal for the Iranians is to be able to enrich uranium for themselves for peaceful purposes, while removing fears of a bomb effort and lifting sanctions.
The Arab Oil Embargo—40 Years Later
By Frank A. Verrastro and Guy Caruso
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 16, 2013
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Arab Oil Embargo. And while certain (and selective) aspects of the event will undoubtedly be commemorated with policy fora and written reflections, it is useful to recall the contributory causes, significant impacts, and resultant policy- and market-induced outcomes in order to view the event in proper perspective. In truth, the seeds of the embargo were being put in place long before October 1973. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed in 1960, in no small part to allow producer nations greater control of the pricing and production of their indigenous oil resources. In 1968, several of the Arab members of OPEC formed the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), essentially putting in place the organizational vehicle for executing the 1973 supply disruption. But it was a combination of economic and military/political actions and circumstances that teed the action up.
Jihadi-Salafism’s Next Generation
By Haim Malka andWilliam Lawrence
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 11, 2013
Popular uprisings across North Africa unleashed a new wave of jihadi-salafism that is increasingly mainstream and appeals to a younger generation of activists. Al Qaeda attracted young men to take up arms against Western-backed governments and fight an international jihad, but it failed to inspire a large mass of adherents. This new extremism uses social activism and outreach as its primary tactics, and it threatens to undermine fragile governments and radicalize publics in divided societies. While the governmental response to al Qaeda focused on counterterrorism tactics, the antidote to this emerging extremism will have to be more complex and navigate local socioeconomic, religious, and political divisions. Ultimately, this mainstream or popular jihadi-salafism is less dramatic than al Qaeda’s version, but it will have a far greater impact on the region’s future.
What to Make of Saudi Hand-Wringing
By Frederic Wehrey
October 15, 2013
These are troubling and uncertain times for Saudi diplomacy. A string of regional upsets and friction with the United States has cast the kingdom into rocky, uncharted waters. Washington’s support of the Islamist government in Egypt and its response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria elicited outrage and accusations of U.S. unreliability and even betrayal from Riyadh. Then came the slight warming in U.S.-Iranian relations—highlighted by the unprecedented phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That mild rapprochement brought to the fore an old specter: an U.S.-Iranian breakthrough that marginalizes the Gulf states and erodes their long-standing position as beneficiaries of U.S.-Iranian hostility.
A Realistic and Effective Policy on Sensitive Nuclear Activities
By Mark Hibbs and Fred McGoldrick
October 15, 2013
The U.S. government will very soon set a new policy course on the nonproliferation terms it wants to incorporate into new bilateral peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements with foreign countries. It is likely that the administration will instruct diplomats to persuade the foreign countries with which it intends to cooperate in the future to refrain from engaging in enrichment of uranium or the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (ENR) on their territories if they do not already possess such capabilities. Enrichment and reprocessing are sensitive nuclear activities because they can produce nuclear materials directly usable in nuclear weapons.
Islamist or Nationalist: Who is Egypt’s Mysterious New Pharaoh?
By Raymond Stock
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Egypt’s new de facto pharaoh, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, is a man of mystery. Is he an Islamist, or a nationalist? Is he a person of high principle, or a lowly opportunist? And in a land which has known five thousand years of mainly centralized, one-man rule, with limited experience of democracy, when have we seen his type before, and where will he lead the troubled, ancient nation now? These questions are crucial to knowing how the U.S. should react to al-Sisi’s removal of Egypt’s first “freely elected” president, Mohamed Morsi on July 3 in answer to overwhelmingly massive street protests demanding that he do so, and to the ongoing bloody crackdown on Morsi’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), that began on August 14.
Afghanistan’s crowded electoral roster
By Javid Ahmad
German Marshall Fund
October 11, 2013
The frenzied phase of registration for the 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan ended Sunday with more names on the roster than expected, more last-minute horse-trading than anticipated, and more questions than answers about what is already shaping up to be a hectic but vibrant process leading up to the critical ballot next April. Nominee registration began as a trickle and ended as a deluge of presidential hopefuls submitting their paperwork. Finally, 26 men and one woman — some known political figures, others untested — presented their running mates (consisting of 45 men and 9 women), and took advantage of the media glare to present their core campaign slogans to millions of enthused, but bewildered Afghans on live television.
Assessing Morocco’s New Cabinet
By Vish Sakthivel
October 16, 2013
Last Thursday, October 10, King Muhammad VI of Morocco signed off on the country’s new cabinet after months of protracted negotiations. In the new cabinet, known as “Benkirane II,” the secretary-general of the governing Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), Abdelilah Benkirane, for whom the coalition is named, retains the post of prime minister. The head of the centrist, pro-palace National Rally of Independents (RNI), Salah Eddine Mezouar, has secured the coveted foreign ministry portfolio from the PJD’s own Saad Eddine al-Othmani. The RNI ruled in several coalitions before the PJD joined in the wake of February 20 Movement (M20F) protests (a pro-democracy effort that burgeoned following the 2011 Arab uprisings). A former RNI member turned independent, Mohamed Boussaid, has assumed the finance minister post, which was originally intended for Mezouar until public protests over his ongoing corruption case threatened his candidacy. Other unaffiliated technocrats have assumed the Interior and Education Ministry portfolios.
Next Steps with Egypt
By Adel El-Adawy and David Pollock
October 15, 2013
The decision by the Obama administration to suspend a large portion of U.S. military aid to Egypt is not productive, either for Egyptian democracy or for relations between the two countries. But since what’s done is done, the question today is how Cairo and the rest of the region will react to this decision, and how both Egypt and the U.S. can best recover from this self-inflicted wound. First, regarding Egypt, the Obama administration is either underestimating or miscalculating the response of its government, even more important, of the Egyptian people. Background briefings described General Sisi’s reaction as “friendly,” and the Egyptian foreign ministry’s reaction as “nonchalant.” Such self-serving comments not only obscure the deep disappointment of Egyptian officials, but also entirely ignore the Egyptian public — ironic for a U.S. administration that prides itself on promoting that public’s interest.