Week of January 25th, 2019

Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)



Washington has been focused on the back and forth between President Trump and Speaker of the House Pelosi.

This week’s analysis looks at what appears to be a dysfunctional US government.  We also look at the polling of American voters and how they view the government closing and how they view the US government in general.  We also compare what is happening in the US with problems with European governments. 


The Carnegie Endowment looks at the problems of democracy in the US.  They conclude, “Given the dispiriting state of U.S. democracy, it is hard not to give in to the temptation to blame the democratic model itself and start to imagine that non-democratic alternatives might do better in delivering basic governance. But this is misguided thinking. Chronic short-termism, an unwillingness to accept short-term pain for long-term gain, undue policy influence of the wealthy, a startlingly high level of division and conflict within the society, and voter ignorance and irrationality all do appear in many democracies. They are not, however, inevitable characteristics of democratic governance.  They can be limited, sometimes greatly, through smart policies and good leadership…In short, Americans concerned about the state of U.S. democracy need to focus less on what they might believe to be shortcomings of democracy itself, and more on what specific and often distinctive elements of the U.S. political system are exacerbating these issues. Blame for our current political predicament belongs much less with the idea or model of democracy than with ourselves.

The Heritage Foundation says Iran is testing Trump more than Obama.  They say the Iranian regime did not see the changed policies of President Trump coming. Times were good for Tehran during the Obama years as it pursued its goal of expanding influence by destabilizing the rest of its region. But, the U.S. withdrawal from Obama’s nuclear deal has dealt a series of hammer blows to Iran’s economy. Even Tehran admits the new U.S. sanctions are hitting hard.

The American Foreign Policy Council says the Trump administration is concerned about the commercial relationship between Israel and China – and the strategic vulnerabilities those ties have created.  They note, “Israel’s emerging China problem is bigger than Haifa. U.S. officials are also carefully watching China’s increasing penetration of Israel’s vibrant high-tech sector. After years of systematic investments, the Chinese may now directly control or have influence over as much as 25% of Israel’s tech industry. The U.S. wants to strengthen Israeli control of China’s growing economic sway in the country. When a foreign nation wants to make a substantial investment in a sensitive sector of the American economy, it is reviewed by an interagency body known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. Cfius has the authority to nix deals that could have an adverse impact on national security. But Cfius has no Israeli analogue; the Israeli government’s decisions about foreign investment are too often driven more by economic than security considerations.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute asks if Iran’s space launch is ICBM development or a Space Program.  They conclude, “If Iran truly is developing ICBMs, then it isn’t building them off of the space launcher. As previously stated, the Iranian space launch fleet is built on much older technology, which is suboptimal for use as an ICBM. Presently, Iran has demonstrated access to the technology that would allow the country to follow in North Korea’s path to an ICBM, but this technological transfer hasn’t been fully observed in the Iranian space program either. We have not seen a Khorramshahr-based SLV, or an SLV with more powerful engines than the current cluster of old Shahab-3 engines on the Simorgh.”

The CSIS looks at Pompeo’s speech in Cairo.  They note, “In his speech last week in Cairo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abandoned that useful tension. He criticized the human rights performance of hostile governments (Syria and Iran) and voiced full-throated support of all the rest, which he termed partners and allies. He criticized the Obama administration for its “eagerness to embrace only Muslims and not nations,” but his concept of “nations,” consistently expressed throughout the speech, was not the broader understanding of nations that the United States has long maintained, of people and their rulers. In his construction, it was limited to governments. There is an irony underlying all of this. A U.S. administration with an unprecedented amount of distrust for the workings of the U.S. government is seeking to double down on its ties to Middle Eastern governments, which, in almost all cases, lack the honesty, efficiency, and efficacy of their U.S. counterparts.”

The Cato Institute warns about the dangers of using cyber warfare.  They conclude, “For a variety of reasons, including the ineffectiveness of cyber operations and the fear of weapons proliferation, a normative system of restraint has gradually emerged in cyberspace. A policy of restraint that maintains control over the weapons of cyber war is therefore appropriate and strategically wise. Loosening the rules of engagement in pursuit of a more offensive posture, as the Trump administration advocates, violates norms and can lead to disastrous consequences for the entire system. Given the ambiguous nature of signals in cyberspace, it is difficult to be sure that an offensive operation will be correctly interpreted as a warning shot designed to get adversaries to back down. Platitudes like “the best defense is a good offense” are best left for sports, not international politics. The evidence suggests that in cyberspace, the best defense is actually a good defense.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the INF Treaty.  The takeaways are: There seems to be little disagreement in the United States and NATO about Russian non-compliance with the INF Treaty. China is unconstrained by any of the INF Treaty’s missile restrictions—while the U.S. and, nominally, Russia, face a complete ban on INF-class missiles. The U.S. has good reason to consider leaving the INF Treaty—and may have to do so to protect its interests and those of its allies and partners.



 America’s Dysfunctional Government

Watching the news coming out of Washington DC reminds one of a comedy about some small country.  President Donald Trump and House speaker Nancy Pelosi traded jabs at each other — she cancels the State of the Union Address, he cancels her trip overseas — rather than come together to restart the government. The largely symbolic battle between the two sides has now grown so vindictive that it has shuttered 20 percent of the government and furloughed 800,000 federal workers. And neither side seems to care, except insofar as they can gain leverage over the opposition.

While Trump and Pelosi are in the center ring, the media obsessed over a report from BuzzFeed that claimed Special Independent Counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that the president instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Huge, if true. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t true. Indeed, the BuzzFeed story wa off the mark, that Mueller’s office publicly disputed the report, an unprecedented move.

Next, the Right to Life March produced a bit of drama, as Catholic-school students from Kentucky seemed to get into a nonphysical conflict with a Native American activist at the National Mall. In a normal era, an otherwise unknown teenager would not make national news for being a teenager. But this is not a normal era. The critics from left and right, gathered in full force on social media, and they drove news coverage into the weekend, denouncing the teen, even calling for his expulsion from school.

Behind the scenes, a high-profile Republican donor quite possibly managed to rewrite the law governing his business.  The Justice Department reversed course this week with an opinion that paved the way for online gambling.  The rational closely followed arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor and Israel’s supporter Sheldon Adelson.

Clearly, America’s government isn’t working like it’s supposed to.  While big donors from both parties’ craft regulations that suit themselves, America’s political leadership is fighting over when and where a speech is to be made – a minor Constitutional issue that doesn’t require a speech, just a written report.  And, the media is focused on shaping events to fit their narrative.

This doesn’t include the fact that about 20% of the federal government is closed over the issue of building a wall between Mexico and the US aiming to prevent illegal immigration.

Surprisingly, the while American electorate isn’t up in arms about these events.  That’s because the electorate is so deeply divided over the value of the US government.

Part of the government has been closed for over a month, but polls show that the number hurt by the closing is small.  Only 10% say that they have been personally affected by the shutdown in a major way.  54% say they that it hasn’t impacted them at all. Of course, this situation will change leading to protests in the streets if closing continue.

Of course, it doesn’t help the government’s case when 75% of voters think that the government doesn’t do the right thing some or all of the time.  A December poll showed that 56% of likely voters agree with President Reagan’s statement that government is the problem.  An August 2018 poll showed 53% of voters think the US government doesn’t have the consent of the governed. (latest polls about who’s responsible for closing is needed here).

Despite reports, Trump retains the support of his core voters.  And, for them, shutting down the government in order to get a border wall is okay.  They have little faith in the government, think it’s too large, and see the shutdown as an effective way to get the funding to build the wall.

Pelosi, on the other hand has strong support for her position and sees little downside risk in pushing Trump.  She understands if she can prevent the wall from being built, she will cripple Trump’s reelection chances in 2020.

For Trump, proof that his position has the backing of grassroots Republicans came this week at the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) winter meeting.

 “Among the grassroots Republicans that I know, they’re right behind the president. They don’t want him to give in at all. The money he’s asking for, for the wall, is pocket change. It’s lunch money,” Peter Goldberg, the RNC committeeman from Alaska, told the Washington Examiner.

 “The Democrats are not willing to negotiate,” added Glenn McCall, the RNC committeeman from South Carolina. “Everyone I talk to — they hate to see the workers impacted. But this could have been solved weeks ago if the Democrats would have come to the table in earnest and negotiated with the president.”

That’s why Republican and Democratic politicians in Washington are standing behind their leaders and their radical positions instead of pushing for compromise.  They are giving their core voters what they want.  That’s why legislation in the Senate that could break the impasse is likely to fail (has failed), even though it gives both Democrats and Trump what they want (the wall for Trump and a path to citizenship for young illegals).

But, is the American government any more dysfunctional than most other Western governments?

Maybe not.

In France, President Macron is hanging onto power despite a favorability rating of about 20% and 10 weeks of increasingly violent “Yellow Jacket” riots against him.

Sweden finally formed a government after 133 days without one.  However, it’s a minority government.  The major reason for the minority government was the insistence of some of the parties that the Sweden Democrat Party be excluded from the government because they support restrictions on immigration.  This even though the Sweden Democrat party is a major party that showed impressive strength in the last election.

Most observers don’t think the government will be able to last the four years to the next election.

Political analysts said the election and governing agreement show that Sweden’s politics are becoming more like those across Europe, with greater fragmentation, and fights over issues like migration and cultural identity that cut across old ideological lines.

The Belgium government collapsed in December over immigration policy and there is concern if the current minority government can last until the May 2019 elections.  This is the third political crisis in the last year.

Of course, Belgium is not a stranger to political crises.  In fact, Belgium went without a government for 589 days in 2010 – 2011.

A few months ago, Germany faced a political crisis over immigration policy.  The result is also a minority government for Chancellor Merkel.

There is also the Brexit in Great Britain.  Prime Minister May is finding it impossible to get any majority in Parliament to support a plan to leave the EU – even though the British voters voted to leave.

There are other dysfunctional governments in the West like Italy and Spain.

Which brings us back to the question – Is America’s government dysfunctional?  Maybe not any more than other Western governments.

Whether it is the wall between the US and Mexico, the resistance to immigration in Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, and other European countries, migration issues are threatening governments around the world.  Large factions in governments are pushing for lenient immigration, while the voters are rebelling.

What we are seeing between Trump and Pelosi is only the American version of an issue that is shaking the while Western world.  Don’t be surprised to see the issue to grow larger and cause more dysfunction in the US and Europe.



The INF Treaty—What It Means for the U.S., Russia, and China Today

By Peter Brookes

Heritage Foundation

January 15, 2019

First, a little background about the INF Treaty. As you’re aware, the bilateral INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at the White House. It entered into force in mid-1988. The treaty prohibits the production, testing, and deployment of all ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 kilometers to 1,000 kilometers (shorter-range), and 1,000 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers (medium-range and intermediate-range). It also eliminated all missile launchers for this category of missiles. It is worthwhile to note that the treaty addressed both conventional and nuclear weapons, but only restricted ground-based missile systems. It did not apply to sea-based or air-launched weapon systems.

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Iran Keeps Testing Trump Because It Knows He’s Much Tougher Than Obama Ever Was

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

January 18, 2019

N one of the world’s truly bad guys stays out the headlines for long. After keeping a relatively low profile for several months, Iran earlier this week found itself back in the news twice. First came reports that U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon last year for military options to respond to two Iranian-sponsored terrorist acts in Iraq. Then came news of a failed Iranian missile launch. Iran claimed it was merely sending up a satellite, but U.S. officials said the failed launch was part of Iran’s effort to test and expand its ballistic missile weapons capability. While Iran is back in the headlines now, it’s the months when it was out of the news that may tell us more about what the regime is up to. Clearly, the Iranian regime did not see the changed policies of President Trump coming. Iran got a sweetheart deal from the Obama administration to temporarily put its nuclear weapons program on hold. In addition, the Iranian regime watched President Obama draw and then ignore red lines in Syria and pursue ambivalent policies in Syria and Iraq until ISIS erupted and could no longer be ignored. And Iran saw President Obama soft-peddle the U.S. alliance with Israel, so that America might appear more even-handed in dealing the Palestinians.

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The Myth of the Cyber Offense: The Case for Restraint

By Brandon Valeriano and Benjamin Jensen

Cato Institute

January 15, 2019

Great-power competition in the 21st century increasingly involves the use of cyber operations between rival states. But do cyber operations achieve their stated objectives? What are the escalation risks? Under what conditions could increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyber operations result in inadvertent escalation and the use of military force? The answers to these questions should inform U.S. cyber­security policy and strategy. In the context of recent shifts in cybersecurity policy in the United States, this paper examines the character of cyber conflict through time. Data on cyber actions from 2000 to 2016 demonstrate evidence of a restrained domain with few aggressive attacks that seek a dramatic, decisive impact. Attacks do not beget attacks, nor do they deter them. But if few operations are effective in compelling the enemy and fewer still lead to responses in the domain, why would a policy of offensive operations to deter rival states be useful in cyberspace? We demonstrate that, while cyber operations to date have not been escalatory or particularly effective in achieving decisive outcomes, recent policy changes and strategy pronouncements by the Trump administration increase the risk of escalation while doing nothing to make cyber operations more effective.

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Friends Like These: Pompeo recasts ties in Cairo

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 18, 2019

For the last century, a duality has lain at the foundation of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. government maintained robust relations with other governments, but it was helped by a not-so-secret weapon. The image of the United States as a cultural icon, an economic model, and a political beacon stood alongside the government as a force-multiplier of U.S. influence around the world, reaching deeply into public perceptions. The U.S. government did its part with traditional diplomacy and institutional support, but the government’s effectiveness was due in part to the fact the United States as a nation has long been a force on the world stage independent of the government. The U.S. government has capitalized on this uniquely powerful duality by maintaining ties with governments while always keeping an eye on foreign publics as well. It was the U.S. government working with governments and the people that facilitated the peaceful end of the Cold War in Europe. It was working with governments and the people that helped spread prosperity and democracy in East Asia. From the days of decolonization after World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government has been conscious of the power that the idea of the United States has around the world.

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Israel’s Dangerous Dalliance With China

By Ilan I. Berman

American foreign Policy Council

January 14, 2019

National security adviser John Bolton traveled to Israel this month to reassure jittery officials in Jerusalem that the Trump administration isn’t planning a precipitous exit from Syria, notwithstanding the president’s surprise December announcement to the contrary. But Mr. Bolton’s most important message might have had nothing to do with America’s commitment to fighting Islamic State or its efforts to roll back Iran’s strategic influence in Syria and Iraq. The Trump administration, Mr. Bolton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is concerned about the commercial relationship between Israel and China—and the strategic vulnerabilities those ties have created. The most immediate worry is China’s impending access to Israel’s strategic northern port of Haifa. In 2015 China’s Shanghai International Port Group signed a multibillion-dollar deal with the Israeli Transportation Ministry for the future rights to operate the Haifa port. Under the terms of the agreement, the Chinese company will take control of day-to-day operations at the port for 25 years beginning in 2021.

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Is Democracy the Problem?


Carnegie Endowment

JANUARY 16, 2019

Certainly, these are all serious issues in the United States. Successive U.S. Administrations have proven woefully unable to focus sustained attention on a raft of major long-term challenges—whether it is infrastructure decay, the role of entitlement spending in the U.S. budget, or climate change—and unwilling to craft reforms that inflict short-term pain for the sake of long-term gain. The disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and corporations in the U.S. legislative process is a well-known reality. With respect to political competition producing divisions and conflict, the U.S. political system is indeed beset by a high degree of polarization and a correspondingly low sense of common purpose. And looking at the state of U.S. political leadership today, it would be hard not to see voter ignorance and irrationality as major concerns. But should we blame democracy itself, or should we blame ourselves for the pathologies of our own politics? In other words, are these problems in fact endemic to democracies? And are authoritarian governments largely able to avoid them, as some enthusiasts of authoritarianism claim?

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Iran’s Space Launch: ICBM or Space Program

By David Schmerler

Foreign Policy Research Institute

January 22, 2019

On January 3, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Iran was preparing to launch multiple Space Launch Vehicles (SLV), which he claimed had “virtually (the) same technology as ICBMs,” before issuing a threat, “We won’t stand by while the regime threatens international security.” Almost a week prior to that announcement, our team at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies was alerted to the same event by open-source researcher Fabian Hinz, who was seeing an uptick in prelaunch indicators leading up to the January 14 launch. Starting in late December, we began monitoring the site with the help of San Francisco-based satellite imaging company Planet Labs. With daily images of the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center (IKSLC), we were able to identify a variety of prelaunch signatures and activity at the launch vehicle checkout building, and at both launch pads prior to the launch of the Payam satellite aboard its Simorgh launcher. While the launch ultimately failed to insert the Payam satellite into orbit, questions as to the nature of this launch, the connection to Iran’s alleged secret desire to build an intercontinental range ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking targets in the United States, and a country’s ambition to utilize space for advancing domestic scientific capabilities needs to be discussed as to prevent this most recent launch from being misconstrued and used to support false assertions about the linkage between a space launcher and an ICBM, which could then influence policymaking.

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