Week of April 28th, 2017

Executive Summary

The focus this week in Washington is the end of the first 100 days of the Trump Administration.

The Monitor analysis looks at the first 100 days and what Trump has accomplished and failed to do.   While Trump’ promises during campaign almost faltered in its entirety, the record is mixed and is subject to subjective analysis by most writers.  We have tried to look at the record in terms of long term impact.

Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The CSIS looks at Iranian power projection.  They note in their conclusion, “Iran is already a significant regional actor endowed with highly complex and contentious domestic dynamics. These characteristics make it a country that will not allow itself to be either ignored or coerced into changing its ways along the lines prescribed by other countries. The more Iran’s legitimate fears about sovereignty and security are ignored, the more likely it will be to resist coercion. The history of the nuclear conflict, in fact, suggests that the perception of an enhanced threat against its security and sovereignty moved Iran’s entire political spectrum toward counterreaction, including the expansion and quickening of its uranium enrichment program and explicit formulation of a security doctrine that sees threats as the answer to threats.”

The Carnegie Endowment argues that Russia needs the US to help it with Syria.  They note, “if Washington were now to decide to enter the diplomatic game over Syria, chances for a deal would improve significantly. Moscow has always known that without some sort of political settlement in Syria — impossible without US participation — its achievements there would not be secured. The Obama administration, despite former secretary of state John Kerry’s best efforts, showed no interest in a serious partnership with Moscow. Mr Trump, in sharp contrast, may be indeed interested in a deal. The Russians will be right to explore this when Mr Tillerson goes to Moscow.  Mr Trump prides himself on being a dealmaker. He now has a chance to secure that reputation.

The Center for Security Policy argues that Iran is continuing to violate the nuclear deal.  They conclude, “The Trump administration must make good on its campaign promises with regard to Iran, its nuclear weapons program, and the JCPOA. The U.S. with its international partners and the IAEA must demand that Iran fully implement all UN Security Council Resolutions (including the one prohibiting Iran from any nuclear enrichment activities); accept the Additional Protocol; and allow unhindered access for IAEA inspectors to all suspected centers and facilities. Beginning to fill relevant USG positions with officers untainted by association with the failed JCPOA or Iran Lobby affiliates like NIAC (National Iranian American Council) is an imperative and urgent first step. Announcing U.S. intent to end all activities associated with the JCPOA, hold Iran to account for its human rights abuses, involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and continuing support for terrorism would be natural subsequent policy positions.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the State Department’s confirmation that Iran is complying with the Iran nuclear deal.  They conclude, “The bottom line is that the Trump administration has approved 90 days more of sanctions relief for Iran. But the pending policy review may lead the president to withdraw this concession in the future.”

The Cato Institute argues against more military action in Syria.  They note, “The track record from U.S. military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq is grim. Not only did the U.S. fail to enable stable and peaceful solutions there, but those invasions and occupations fueled more conflict and more terrorism, eventually helping give rise to the Islamic State and spreading trouble throughout the Middle East. The case for intervention is weakened further since the U.S. has no real national security rationale for intervening in the Syrian civil war. As brutal as Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been, the security of the U.S. does not depend on whether he or one of his opponents governs Syria. And regardless of who eventually wins the civil war, a severely weakened Syria will be in no position to threaten the U.S. Nor does the rapidly weakening Islamic State provide sufficient justification for a major increase in U.S. efforts in Syria. The U.S. coalition has already made significant advances on Islamic State’s position in Raqqa. It is only a matter of time before the last holdouts flee and Raqqa is liberated. At that point, the conventional battle against ISIS will end and the military will no longer be the right tool for hunting down individual terrorists.” 

The American Foreign Policy Council argues for sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  They note, “A ban on the IRGC would prevent a further normalization of international trade with Iran. As a result of its 2015 nuclear deal with the West, the Islamic Republic has reaped enormous economic dividends, with transformative effects on its economy and on the strategic aspirations of its leadership. But blacklisting the IRGC could change all that. The Guards, after all, are nothing short of an economic powerhouse, in control of a sprawling empire of companies and corporate entities within the Islamic Republic. All told, the IRGC is believed to command as much as one-third of Iran’s total economy. And because it does, a designation would send a major warning signal to those international firms and foreign nations beginning to dip their toes back into various sectors of the Iranian market that, by doing so, they could run afoul of U.S. counterterrorism laws, with potentially disastrous monetary and political consequences.”

The Washington Institute looks at the factors impacting Yemen now.  They note, “The Yemen peace process has been on life support since late December, even though the nation is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. G-7 foreign ministers all but threw up their hands at their meeting last week in Lucca, Italy, with a nearly rote statement calling for a renewed ceasefire and peace talks. With the war in Yemen entering its third year, there is ample blame for the impasse to go around. The Hadi government and others believe the stalemate can be broken by an amphibious assault against Hudaydah, a critical Red Sea port providing food and medicine to millions of Yemeni civilians caught in a brutal civil war. It won’t, though, and risks tipping Yemen into a terrible famine.”

The Washington Institute looks at Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, an ambitious economic plan.  They note, “Vision 2030 is widely seen as a vehicle for the personal ambition of MbS [Muhammad bin Salman (MbS), the thirty-one-year-old deputy crown prince who is widely regarded as the king’s favorite son and true heir apparent], whose elevation to the throne seems increasingly likely. Yet the exact means by which he would leapfrog the current crown prince — his older cousin Muhammad bin Nayef (MbN), the kingdom’s interior minister and key counterterrorism interlocutor with Washington — perplexes students of Saudi succession. As the system currently operates, MbN is supposed to become monarch when King Salman dies. Whether he would then elevate MbS to crown prince is an open question. At the moment, a significant portion of the royal family is upset with the younger prince’s indifference toward the tradition of respecting seniority, and their desire for at least the appearance of consensus could spur them to back MbN come succession time. If so, that could spell trouble for Vision 2030 — MbN seems standoffish toward the plan and might alter it significantly if he becomes king.



Trump’s First 100 Days
Success, Failure, or a Mix?

The talk in Washington this week is the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office.  How has he preformed?  Has he done what he promised?  How much of what he has done will have a long term impact on the nation?

Needless to say, much of what will be written is very subjective.  Those who have opposed Trump will find ways to say his first 100 days were an abject failure.  Those who supported him will point to his successes.

The truth, however, lies in between.

It’s important to remember that the first 100 days don’t indicate the success of an administration.  Lincoln, who was one of America’s greatest presidents, had a disastrous first 100 days as states seceded from the Union and the nation headed into a bloody Civil War.  Obama, on the other hand was judged as successful because he helped pass a massive bipartisan economic stimulus plan that promised “shovel ready jobs.”  Only later did the nation learn that there were few shovel ready jobs and much of the money was wasted.

In looking at Trump’s record, we will look at how he has done in fulfilling his major campaign promises (we will not look at all his promises as politicians always promise more than they can deliver), his ability to make a long term impact on the nation, his legislative record, and how his supporters and the electorate as a whole think about him.

It’s also important to separate the noise of the political news coming out of Washington from the actual impact that is being made.

His major campaign promises were economic growth, a tightening of the border to cut down on illegal immigration, repeal of Obamacare, and tax reform.

The record has been spotty.  Although the stock market is headed higher and consumer confidence is the highest in 16 years, the economic health of the country is still fragile.  However, his legislative effort to reduce government regulation might help spur a degree of economic growth.

And, although the promised border wall legislation is stuck in Congress, illegal immigration is down 90% since Trump became president, thanks to stricter enforcement.

Although Trump has signed some executive orders weakening Obamacare, legislation significantly eliminating it is stuck in Congress as well as his proposed tax reform.

However, these failures haven’t hurt Trump’s popularity with his base too much.  An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed 96% of voters who supported Trump still will vote for him.  In addition, the poll shows that more people would vote for Trump today than Clinton.  That’s somewhat unexpected considering the political schism in the nation today.

The biggest political damage has been to congressional Republicans like the Speaker of the House, who have hurt Trump’s legislative agenda.  Speaker Ryan is unpopular with Republicans across the nation because he isn’t seen as supporting Trump.

However, that doesn’t mean that Trump has failed in terms of working with Congress.  Those parts of his agenda that will have the longest term impact were accomplished with the help of congressional Republicans.  In fact in the first 100 days, Trump enacted 28 pieces of legislation, more than any other president since Truman.

Nearly half of that legislation targeted economic regulation instituted by the Obama Administration.

Under the Congressional Review Act, Trump and Republicans wiped out 13 last-minute regulations pushed through before Trump took office.

The Congressional Review Act was first passed in 1996 as part of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” The CRA now gives Congress 60 legislative days to review new regulations.

Prior to the Trump White House, the CRA had been used only once to overturn a rule. In that case, President George W. Bush overturned an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule that addressed ergonomic injuries in the workplace.

The CRA so far has been used to nix everything from a rule that would have required oil and gas companies to report payments to foreign governments to gun control regulations.  Others reduced regulations on coal mining, which a promise was made by Trump.

These pieces of legislation will have a long term impact because they make it illegal for a future president to enact similar regulations without congressional approval.

The other legislative victory for Trump was the Senate confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court.  Although many Republicans had not supported Trump to begin with, his promise to pick a conservative Supreme Court justice had convinced many of them to vote for Trump.  His pick and confirmation of Gorsuch not only impacts the court for decades, it will solidify his support amongst Republicans for his reelection.

Trump has also been active in terms of issuing executive orders.  However, as Obama discovered since he left the White House, these executive orders only remain in force until a new president takes over.

However, there have been several executive actions that will have an impact.  Trump approved the building of the Keystone pipeline, which Obama deliberated on for years.   He has also moved aggressively in increasing the detention and deportation of more illegal immigrants.

Some Trump opponents have said that some of his executive actions are illegal and have been overturned by judges.  However, as was seen in a Tuesday ruling on funding of sanctuary cities, the ruling actually supports the majority of Trump’s executive actions.  Judge Orrick did uphold the government’s ability to enforce conditions of existing grants and 8 U.S.C. 1373, the federal statute which pertains to sanctuary cities.

Ian Prior, a Department of Justice spokesman, said in a statement that the “department will continue to enforce existing grant conditions and will continue to enforce 8 U.S.C. 1373.”

“Further, the order does not purport to enjoin the Department’s independent legal authority to enforce the requirements of federal law applicable to communities that violate federal immigration law or federal grant conditions,” Prior added.

Foreign Affairs

Constitutionally, foreign affairs are the purview of the President.  And, with the rest of his record, he has had some success and failures.

Trump campaigned on a platform of isolationism.  He said NATO was obsolete and criticized Obama’s meddling in the Middle East.

On the other hand, he promised to make America more respected and feared internationally.

He has succeeded more in the second promise than the first one.

Trump has always been a pragmatic businessman and his foreign policy shows that.  He has changed his opinion as circumstances changed, which means he isn’t an ideologue.

He moved from a pro-Russia attitude to one where he is more willing to confront them and support NATO.  He has refused to lift the sanctions on Russia

Although he has opposed military action, he quickly decided to attack Syria after the alleged chemical weapons incident.

During the campaign he condemned China’s economic policies and promised to take action.  However, he has shown flexibility in terms of economic policy in exchange for Chinese willingness to put pressure on North Korea.  The promise is that he will remain flexible as long as China helps the US.


Trump’s first 100 days have been mixed.  His promises to repeal Obamacare and build a border wall are still in limbo because of opposition in Congress.  However, his supporters blame Congress more than him.

His war on regulation has been a major success thanks to the Congressional Review Act and strong support in Congress.  Since this is legislation and can’t be overturned by a future administration, this promises to be the keynote success of his first 100 days.

The nomination and confirmation of Associate Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch was a major success with his base and concerned Republicans.  This will have benefits when he runs for reelection.

Trump has proven to be pragmatic in foreign relations, but has displayed a willingness to utilize military power to impress the world.  That is different from the isolationism that Trump promised.

It has been said that the American presidency changes the men who have held the office.  They learn to recognize the difference between the possible and politics.





State Department Confirms Iran Compliant With Nuclear Deal
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
April 20, 2017

With a new White House, many have wondered about the fate of the 2015 nuclear agreement made between the Obama administration and Iran. The Trump administration’s stance on the agreement became a little clearer on Tuesday when the administration notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement, and that the United States would therefore extend the sanctions relief granted to Iran as part of that agreement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, wrote that Iran remained compliant with the agreement, but that the administration was concerned about Tehran’s support for terrorism and is reviewing whether to continue suspending sanctions, as required under the deal.

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Why More Military Action in Syria Is (Still) a Bad Idea
By A. Trevor Thrall
Cato Institute
April 21, 2017

B uoyed by President Trump’s airstrike on the Assad regime, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have called on Trump to ramp up military action in Syria. Nor are they alone in calling for more aggressive action. From Hillary Clinton and Tom Friedman to a host of former Obama officials, a large bipartisan swath of the foreign policy community favors more assertive U.S. action in Syria. But no matter how frustrated Washington is about the mess in Syria, and no matter how satisfying it may have been to see the U.S. finally land a blow against Assad, more military action in Syria is still a bad idea. Most fundamentally, the U.S. would be signing up for yet another long, costly, and dangerous failure in a Muslim-majority nation. We only need to look at Afghanistan and Iraq to understand how things would go in Syria. In fact, the situation in Syria is even riskier and less inviting than Afghanistan or Iraq. The U.S. would be wading into a mess that involves not just a civil war, not just the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, but also the active military efforts of both Russia and Iran. A unilateral U.S. military campaign of any kind would be costly and run the risk of creating new conflicts with Russia and Iran.

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Iranian Power Projection Strategy and Goals
By Farideh Farhi
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 21, 2017

The Iranian leadership has not reevaluated its regional posture after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The reasons are many, Farideh Farhi argues in this report. Beyond the government’s ideological frame, dramatic volatility in the region, uncertainty about the direction of U.S. policy, and domestic political and power dynamics all play a role in Iran’s unchanging defense posture. Seen broadly, the Iranian leadership feels it must continue aggressively to counter efforts to destabilize Iran and to ensure security at home by projecting power and (increasingly) fighting the enemy abroad.  In the post-JCPOA environment, the United States has two options. It can treat the JCPOA and the channels of communication that it has opened as a one-time effort that failed to transform the Islamic Republic’s behavior, externally or internally. Or it can treat the JCPOA as a successful transaction with a significant, if difficult, regional player, and seek to draw useful lessons from it for the future.

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Russia Needs American Help to Seal the Deal in Syria
By Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Endowment
April 10, 2017

Last Friday’s US air strikes against Syria have dispelled any remaining illusions in Moscow about Donald Trump’s foreign policy. The Russian reaction to the use of force by the US president was strong but measured. Moscow condemned it as an “act of aggression”, but gave no order to Russian air defence units in Syria to intercept American missiles. Nor did the Kremlin cancel the forthcoming visit by secretary of state Rex Tillerson. Russian interpretations of Mr Trump’s volte face on Syria mostly focus on the domestic travails of the American president, who faces steadily ratcheting pressure over his associates’ dealings with Moscow. This is seen, in turn, as evidence of the influence of America’s “deep state”, which is inherently hostile to Russia. By reasserting US power on the global stage, the argument goes; Mr Trump has won a reprieve from his political opponents — but at the price of submitting to their foreign policy agenda.

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Blacklist The IRGC
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
April 25, 2017

What should President Trump do about Iran? Campaign rhetoric about a rapid dismantlement of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers has given way of late to policy inertia, as the new White House focuses on domestic challenges (like health care) and foreign irritants, such as Syria and North Korea. But there are now fresh signs that the White House could soon seriously rethink its Iran strategy. As it does, it would be wise to revisit one of its earliest foreign policy concepts, and one with the potential to dramatically alter the strategic equation vis-a-vis Iran: a comprehensive blacklisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: On Course, Underground, Uninspected
By Clare M. Lopez
Center for Security Policy
April 24, 2017

The Iranian regime’s nuclear weapons program, born in secrecy and kept hidden for years, has never skipped a beat and today continues on course in underground and military facilities to which inspectors have no access. On 21 April 2017, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the oldest, largest, and best organized democratic Iranian opposition group presented startling new evidence that the jihadist regime in Tehran is violating the terms of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) agreement reached in July 2015 among the P-5 +1 (Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), and Iran. As will be recalled, it was the NCRI that first blew the lid off Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2002, at a time when it had been in progress for at least fourteen years (since 1988), unbeknownst to most of the world, including the IAEA.

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Famine, Houthis, and Peace Talks Confront Yemen
By Eric Pelofsky
Washington Institute
April 23, 2017

The Yemen peace process has been on life support since late December, even though the nation is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. G-7 foreign ministers all but threw up their hands at their meeting last week in Lucca, Italy, with a nearly rote statement calling for a renewed ceasefire and peace talks. With the war in Yemen entering its third year, there is ample blame for the impasse to go around. The Hadi government and others believe the stalemate can be broken by an amphibious assault against Hudaydah, a critical Red Sea port providing food and medicine to millions of Yemeni civilians caught in a brutal civil war. It won’t, though, and risks tipping Yemen into a terrible famine…

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Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, One Year On
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
April 24, 2017
PolicyWatch 2790

On April 25, 2016, Saudi Arabia announced Vision 2030, an ambitious economic plan intended to confirm the kingdom’s status as “the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment power house, and the hub connecting three continents.” The accompanying vision statement was long on rhetoric and short on detail, making it difficult to judge the progress achieved one year later. But its grand goals have captured the imagination of international business figures seeking deals and investments, especially the proposed initial public offering (IPO) for part of the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, expected in 2018. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the program is popular with Saudi youths, who are tantalized by the prospect of a more liberal society. Yet several obstacles loom.

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