Week of August 19th, 2016

Executive Summary

This is a slow week in the Washington Think Tank community as many analysts are going on vacation before the traditional end of summer in about two weeks.  As usual, the presidential election is the focus.

This week the Monitor analysis looks at the Christian vote in 2016.  Since the majority of American voters are Christian, there are obviously many differences like “Evangelical” and “non-evangelical” Christians that impact how they vote.  We look at the differences, what issues impact them, and how they will probably vote in November.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS asks what the end state will be with Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.  They ask, “What will happen to tens of thousands of ISIS fighters if ISIS loses its major population centers in Iraq and Syria like Mosul and Raqqa, as well as control over the coastal strip in Libya around Sirte (Surt). Many will head back to their country of origin, others will go to a new front somewhere in the region or South and Central Asia, and some will stay. The organizations they join may or may not keep the name ISIS, but they are likely to stay violent Islam extremists whose terrorism in the United States and Europe continues to try to divide the true path of Islam from the rest of world, and threaten every moderate regime in the Muslim world.  A terrorist by any other name is not a “rose,” and the threat both ISIS fighters and other such extremists pose will continue to be a threat indefinitely into the future. Moreover, all of the political, economic, social, and demographics forces that triggered the rise of such extremism and the massive upheaval that begin in 2011 have grown worse over the last half-decade – as have the tensions Muslims living in the West face as the result of the terrorism committed by a small minority.”

The CSIS looks at the renewal of Turkish/Russian relations and the revival of the Turkish Stream pipeline.  They note, “So, what are we to make of the new understanding over Turkish Stream reached recently in St. Petersburg? Today it is Turkey that needs to prove it is not internationally isolated…The bargaining leverage in gas negotiation has now shifted to Russia’s favor. It is interesting to note that there was no joint communiqué or statement after the Putin-Erdogan summit as might be expected after a meeting of heads of state, suggesting that this was a hastily arranged affair. In a press conference afterward, the two presidents declared the (equally controversial) Akkuyu nuclear power project a strategic investment. No such designation was granted to Turkish Stream.

Reviving the notion of Turkish Stream certainly helps Russia in its discussions with European authorities over approval for Nord Stream 2 and affords it additional leverage over Ukraine, on which it continues to rely as the route for 40 to 50 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe. In theory, completion of Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream would eliminate the need for gas to transit Ukraine altogether. In reality, there is little chance that either project will be completed and operating at full capacity by the time the Ukraine transit agreement expires in 2019.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the growing American Special Forces operations in Afghanistan.  They note, “The relatively limited core responsibilities of America’s forces in Afghanistan—training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and conducting counterterrorism missions— also play to SOF strengths.”

The Carnegie Endowment says NATO needs to reassure Turkey.  They defend this approach by saying, “The pro-western elements within this nation — one that is ever more essential to the west as a strategic ally — sorely need this reassurance to combat the atmosphere of accusation and disenfranchisement that could harm Turkey’s transatlantic relations. The task for Washington and Brussels, therefore, is to rebuild trust.  For Washington the key to doing that will be formally to initiate, sooner rather than later, the process of extradition for Mr Gulen requested by Ankara. It is clear that a political decision by the White House will not be sufficient to achieve this goal. The administration of President Barack Obama has said it would require credible evidence to comply with any such request, and that such a request should go through a judicial review. Nonetheless the administration can choose to ease the tension in bilateral relations by initiating the judicial process and supporting, as a matter of principle as well as a foreign policy objective, the extradition request.”

The Washington Institute asks if The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) militias are “good” militias.  They conclude, “As the United States continues to form links with various PMUs (Popular Mobilization Units), it should take a nuanced and careful approach, recognizing that neither the militias themselves nor their constituent elements should be viewed as a unitary entity. This means being wary in dealing with ISCI and understanding that there are limits to cooperation. Facing external pressures and unable to fully control its many allies, the umbrella group is in the midst of a complicated situation, attempting to play all sides and address numerous, often-competing interests.  At the same time, this means there are opportunities for the United States to leverage ISCI’s positions vis-a-vis Iran and its Iraqi Shiite clients, so efforts to engage the group should continue. The Obama administration deserves credit for praising Hakim’s reformist moves and his attempts to counter the unchecked growth of Iranian-dominated PMUs. Yet ISCI’s close cooperation with and continued incorporation of rabidly sectarian actors and firmly anti-American groups controlled by Iran should not be overlooked.”

The Washington Institute looks at the new National Unity government in Tunisia.  They conclude, “The incoming government will need to know that the United States remains a committed ally. Economic and security assistance will be critical in this regard, and in today’s Tunisia the two are intertwined.  Earlier this month, Tunisia issued a $500 million bond on the international market guaranteed by Washington — the third such U.S.-backed issuance since the uprising. The conditions for these loan guarantees have tended to focus on Tunisia’s macroeconomic policy, incentivizing measures such as tax reform, customs reform, and streamlined investment regulations, all of which Tunis has identified as worthy goals. Still, in crafting future guarantees and other economic assistance, U.S. policymakers should consider incentivizing reforms that target the country’s underdeveloped regions, where a poor economy and general lack of state support have bred disillusionment with the democratic experiment and left space for jihadist groups to make inroads. Most notably, despite all its progress over the past five years, Tunisia remains the single largest exporter of jihadist fighters to Syria, Iraq, and Libya.  Beyond concrete assistance, Washington should not underestimate the value of symbolic gestures. Last month, a group of 121 American foreign policy professionals sent a letter to President Obama urging him to visit Tunisia before the end of his term, and such a gesture may be necessary to reassure Tunis of America’s enduring commitment.”



The Christian Vote in 2016

The 2016 election has consistently defied conventional wisdom – especially given the Trump nomination.  However, one voting trend that hasn’t been discussed as much has been how Trump, who has talked little about his faith, has managed to win the Christian voters.

At the beginning of the primary campaign, most experts expected Christian voters to back either Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, or Senator Ted Cruz.  And, although their appeal to Christians – especially Evangelical Christians – helped in many primaries, it was Trump, who eventually won over the Christian vote, even when it was a two man race between Trump and Cruz.

Although the US has been called by many a Christian nation, in recent years, the percentage of Christian voters has declined.  However, it is still the dominant block in the US and one that every candidate for president has to consider.

According to a Pew survey in 2014, the majority of voters still consider themselves Christian.  73% consider themselves Christian, with 36% considering themselves “Evangelical Christians,” and 37% referring to themselves as non-evangelical Christians.

Those percentages are much higher amongst Republican voters.  85% of Republican votes consider themselves Christian, with 45% evangelical and 40% non-evangelical.

Even the majority of Democrats (64%) consider themselves Christian.

So, what differentiates Evangelical Christians from non-evangelical Christians?  According to the Pew Survey, Evangelical Christians usually attend church on a weekly basis, say their faith is important in their everyday life, pray daily, and believe the Bible is the literal Word of God.  Protestant Christians are more likely to consider themselves Evangelical than Catholics.

However, since the majority of American voters are Christian, it is obvious that they don’t vote in a block.  One key difference is race: Whereas 87% of Republican evangelicals are white, most Democrats who describe themselves as “evangelical” Christians are not white.

The same is true with non-evangelical Christians.  Hispanic Catholics are typically Democratic, while “White” Catholics are more likely to be Republican.

Although there splits in the Christian voter community, it is clearly one that Republicans count on.  Nearly eight-in-ten white evangelical Christians voted for Romney (79%), compared with 20% who backed Obama. Romney received as much support from evangelical voters as George W. Bush did in 2004 (79%) and more support from evangelicals than McCain did in 2008 (73%).

Non-evangelical Christians were more evenly divided. Among white mainline Protestants in the exit poll, 54% voted for Romney, while 44% supported Obama. This is virtually identical to the 2008 election, when 55% of white mainline Protestants voted for McCain and 44% backed Obama.

Nearly six-in-ten white Catholics (59%) voted for Romney, up from 52% who voted for McCain in 2008. Three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics voted for Obama, and Catholics as a whole were evenly divided in 2012 (50% voted for Obama, while 48% backed Romney).

Although Trump hasn’t made his faith as much an issue as Cruz and Huckabee did in the primaries, it is clear that the Evangelical voters are behind him.  Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, said that this doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump is an ideal candidate for evangelicals or that they think he’s a devout Christian.  Forty-five percent of evangelicals say they’re mainly voting against Clinton, compared to 30 percent who are mainly voting for Trump.

“It’s opposition to the Democratic candidate that drives evangelical thinking about this election as much as it is any kind of support for or confidence in Trump,” Smith said.

This new survey shows strong support for Hillary Clinton among the religiously unaffiliated.

That dislike for Clinton does help Trump.  According to a 2016 Pew Survey, Evangelical Christian voters are more supportive of Donald Trump today than they were of Mitt Romney at a similar point in 2012.   The poll was of 1,655 registered voters, which took place from June 15-26

Nearly 8 in 10 white evangelical voters (78 percent) say they would vote for Trump if the election were held today, compared to 73 percent who said the same about Romney four years ago, the Pew Research Center reported.

White evangelicals “overwhelmingly prefer” Trump over Clinton on a variety of campaign issues, including gun policy, terrorism and the economy, the survey reported.

Nearly 8 in 10 white evangelical voters (77 percent) say that Trump would do a better job of improving economic conditions, compared to 14 percent who think Clinton has the upper hand in this area, a 63 percentage point difference, according to Pew.

Obviously, religious belief may be a core aspect of these voters’ lives, but they’re also strongly influenced by their own view of the world.

The ability of Evangelical Christians to practice their faith is also a driving factor in this election.  “Nearly half of white evangelical Protestants (46 percent) say it has recently become more difficult to be an Evangelical Christian in American society,” compared to 18 percent of Catholics and 7 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” Pew reported.

One way that Trump has solidified his support amongst Evangelical Christians is support for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pastors from preaching politics.  This legislation was introduced by Senator Lyndon Johnson, who wanted to keep Texas pastors from opposing him in the 1950s.

Interestingly enough church attendance also has an impact on how Christian will vote.  White evangelical Protestants who attend church at least weekly are almost as likely to support Trump as evangelicals who attend church less often. More than three quarters of voters who fall into the former group (76 percent) say they would vote or lean toward Trump if the election were held today, compared to 79 percent of less-active evangelicals, Pew reported.

Israel and Evangelical Christians

As we noted in our look at Jewish voters, Evangelical Christians are more interested in suporting Israel than Jewish voters.  Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the Jewish News Service, “Among core evangelical voters, Israel is easily one of the top 10, maybe even the top five issues when considering who to support in a presidential primary.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) asserts that the evangelical Christian community plays a vital role in U.S.-Israel relations, the influential pro-Israel lobby’s core priority. As such, AIPAC enlists Christian clergy to garner nationwide support for Israel, stating on its “Your Church and AIPAC” webpage that polls consistently show how support for the Jewish state “is highly related to adherence to evangelical beliefs and frequency of church attendance.”

According to February 2014 Pew Research Center poll, nearly half of white evangelical Protestants (46%) claim America does not provide enough support for Israel.

Notably, when Pew polled Americans in 2012 about U.S. foreign policy—specifically, what actions America should take if Israel attacks Iran to stop Iran’s nuclear program, 64 percent of white evangelicals answered, “support Israel,” compared to 39 percent of the general public.

In March 2013, LifeWay Research reported that 72 percent of white evangelicals support Israel in its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, compared to 49 percent of Americans overall. Fifty percent of white evangelicals claim Israel cannot peacefully coexist with an independent Palestinian state, compared to 33 percent of American Jews and 41 percent of the general public.

However, that doesn’t mean that all Christians hold the same view.  Just last week, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) voted to urge its church members to “call on their US Representatives, Senators and the Administration to take action requiring that to continue receiving US financial and military aid, Israel must comply with internationally recognized human rights standards as specified in existing US law, stop settlement building and the expansion of existing settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, end its occupation of Palestinian territory and enable an independent Palestinian state.”

This isn’t unexpected.  The ELCA has a network of Lutheran churches in the Palestinian territory and is actively engaged in helping Syrian refugees from the civil war.  Other mainline Christian denominations have made similar stands.

So, will the Christian vote go for Trump?  At this time it looks like it, and he has even changed his stump speech to reflect it.  A few months ago, Trump would end his stump speech with, “I love you (name of the city of state he was in).”

Today, he ends his speeches, “God bless you.”




U.S. Wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen: What Are The Endstates?
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 15, 2016

It is one of the many ironies of the 2016 presidential campaign that the United States is at war in varying degrees in four different countries in the Middle East and North Africa—Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen—as well as continuing its “longest war” in Afghanistan. All five of these wars now involve ISIS to some degree—ISIS is the central focus of the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Libya—and probably to a degree that seriously threatens the future stability of the MENA region and U.S. strategic interests.  Neither Trump nor Clinton have seriously addressed U.S. policy for any of these five wars, and the Obama Administration has not publically stated its grand strategy for any conflict. For the first time in its national history, the United States may get through a Presidential campaign amidst multiple wars without seriously debating or discussing where any of its wars are going, or what their longer-term impact will be.

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Turkish Stream Redux
By Edward C. Chow
Center for Strategic and International Studies
August 11, 2016

On December 1, 2014, during a visit to the Turkish capital Ankara, President Vladimir Putin of Russia surprised the energy world by announcing the cancellation of the South Stream project, a pipeline system under the Black Sea, proposing to carry 63 billion cubic meters per annum (bcma) of natural gas from Russia to Bulgaria and replacing it with a similar pipeline system from Russia to Thrace in western Turkey, soon to be dubbed Turkish Stream. No real progress has been made on this project in the last 20 months for reasons that will be explained later. On August 9, 2016, President Recep Erdogan of Turkey went to Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg in his first overseas trip after the mid-July failed coup d’état in Turkey. Among other understandings reached, the two men announced the revival of the Turkish Stream pipeline.

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In Afghanistan, special operators continue to burn both ends of the candle
By Phillip Lohaus
American Enterprise Institute
August 18, 2016

Things aren’t going so well in Afghanistan these days. The Obama administration plans to reduce America’s presence there by only about half as much as it originally intended, from the current level of 9,800 to 8,400 instead of 5,500 by the end of 2016. The administration also expanded the rules of engagement governing the armed forces’ ability to involve themselves in conflict and will allow U.S. forces to accompany the regular Afghan military into combat situations. These expanding mission sets come at a time when the U.S. military continues to be underfunded, faces a troubling readiness crisis, and must contend with an increasingly dangerous and demanding global operating environment.  Special operations forces (SOF) have avoided much of the recent belt-tightening faced elsewhere in the Pentagon. As the most well-resourced, but also most flexible and innovative element of the military, we shouldn’t be surprised that SOF will continue to play a large role in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Resolute Support. The relatively limited core responsibilities of America’s forces in Afghanistan—training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and conducting counterterrorism missions— also play to SOF strengths.”

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Turkey Needs Reassurance of the West’s Friendship
By Sinan Ülgen
Carnegie Endowment
August 15, 2016
Financial Times

Next week Joe Biden, US vice-president, visits Turkey, a Nato country whose relations with the west are in deep crisis following July’s botched coup. A vast majority of Turkish people believe, rightly or wrongly but nonetheless firmly, that Washington was complicit with the plotters. If it was not involved, the argument goes, the reclusive Islamic cult leader Fethullah Gulen — accused of masterminding the coup — could not continue to live peacefully, undisturbed by the US justice system in rural Pennsylvania. The EU is likewise criticised for failing to show solidarity in the wake of the military’s attempt to depose the democratically elected government.  The community of western nations needs to reassure Turks of its enduring friendship, and of its commitment to Turkey’s future within that community. That is the only way to counter swelling anti-Americanism and alienation from the west.

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Should Iraq’s ISCI Forces Really Be Considered ‘Good Militias’?
By Phillip Smyth
Washington Institute
August 17, 2016
PolicyWatch 2674

Among the many Shiite militias that compose al-Hashd al-Shabi — the umbrella network of Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) officially recognized by the Iraqi government — some can be considered “good” in the sense that they are more nationalistic forces who do not engage in jihadist activities and whose ties with Iran are strained or otherwise limited. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and its allied groups have often been categorized as “good Hashd” on the argument that they are better than the multitude of openly Iranian-controlled radical Shiite jihadist units operating within Iraq. Yet for a number of militias falling under the ISCI umbrella, closer analysis indicates that this assumption needs to be reassessed.

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A National Unity Government for Tunisia
By Sarah Feuer
Washington Institute
August 12, 2016
PolicyWatch 2672

In the coming days, Tunisian lawmakers are expected to announce the formation of a national unity government. If approved by the parliament, the new cabinet will replace the government of former prime minister Habib Essid, who stepped down after receiving a no-confidence vote on July 30. Advocates of the shift contend that a broad-based government would inject much-needed momentum into a stalled reform process. Whether that comes to pass will depend on the incoming cabinet’s composition and the political will of Tunisia’s leaders to make difficult policy choices in the months ahead. Amid reports of an impending visit by Russian president Vladimir Putin, observers inside and outside the embattled democracy will be watching how the birthplace of the Arab Spring manages the turnover.

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