Week of July 14th, 2017

Executive Summary

While the Washington elites keep focusing on the Trump/Russia story, most of America, including the think tanks, is enjoying their summer vacation.

Although Trump has been hit on a weekly basis with new allegations concerning Russia, he has not lost any significant public support.  The reason is that Americans pay little attention to the news sources that many outside the US read or listen to.  The Monitor analysis looks at the conservative media, which has a bigger impact on the views of the American voter.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at creating stability in Iraq, now that ISIS is suffering major defeats.  They note, “Iraq cannot succeed on its own. It will need outside technical and financial aid for years until its progress reaches a self-sustaining level. Outside states and institutions also have a potential common interest in helping Iraq, and some moral responsibility to do so, but only if Iraq’s leaders can come together and show that such help will serve a clear purpose. It is critical, that Iraq’s leaders understand that they—and they alone—must assume responsibility for creating the necessary politics, leadership, and institutions that can ensure Iraq’s success. Iraq’s past tendency to try to export blame and responsibility will only end in another exercise in self-destructive behavior, regardless of the faults of outside states and institutions.”

The Washington Institute looks at the worse case scenario for the US in Qatar.  They note that the agreement that Qatar has with the US to station troops in Qatar probably has a clause that allows Qatar to call upon the US in case of a security threat.  Since the US would likely be unwilling to help Qatar against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Qatar would probably restrict US operations against ISIS.

The Heritage Foundation says crushing extremism is the key to peace in the Middle East.  The three take-aways are: 1. We have to clarify our objectives, the foremost of which should be crushing extremists like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. 2. The U.S. needs to contain the growing negative influence of Iran. 3. The Trump administration ensures the Islamic State’s defeat and wisely plans, with an eye to the broader region, for what comes next.

The CSIS warns the United States needs to be far more careful in dealing with the current crisis over the embargo and deadlines that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have imposed on Qatar.  They conclude, “Compromises are now extraordinarily difficult to make. Ultimatums rarely work out well as negotiating tools. The United States, however, can seek to find some face-saving way to help its allies begin such negotiations. It can show it is seeking to serve the interests of all its partners, it can offer aid where such aid is critical and security guarantees where this will help. This seems to be the Tillerson-Mattis approach and it is clearly the right one. A narrow focus on one aspect of U.S. strategic interest and one narrow element of the fight against Islamist extremism can only end in damaging U.S. interests and dividing the Arab Gulf states in ways that ultimately will serve the interest of movements like ISIS and Al Qaida. It will end up providing aid and comfort to the enemy.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the Orwellian nature of Turkey.  They conclude, “The scariest part of Turkey’s descent into Orwellianism is how many people outside Turkey have been willing to play along. Some American institutions seem to find little wrong in Erdogan’s theories, or they self-censor because they seek donations from firms Erdogan or his family members control… What has happened in Turkey is tragic. The issue is no longer simply freedom of speech but rather freedom of thought. As tens of thousands are jailed and more than 100,000 fired, even more have become non-persons, no longer entitled to jobs, school, legal representation, or government benefits — all because of suspicions about what they think. Meanwhile, those who want to get ahead or even merely survive must parrot Erdogan’s lines, no matter how contradictory they might have been to those the president muttered only weeks or months before. Time in Turkey is running backwards, and the country increasingly seems mired in 1984.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at sectarian and ethnic power-sharing in Lebanon and Iraq.  They note, “Both countries face pressing developmental challenges, as well as a need to address institutional shortcomings and promote growth, but they have been constrained in large part by the difficulties of reaching consensus. Moreover, the interplay between political institutions and sects has frequently introduced a zero-sum game into the competition over power and resources. While technical solutions to most of these challenges are available, the missed opportunities for reform have resulted in deteriorating infrastructure and the inability of public institutions to provide adequate services.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the expanding military capability of Iran.  They conclude, “Along with manufacturing weapons for its own use, Tehran is also building facilities in Lebanon to make weapons in conjunction with Hezbollah…From one factory in northern Lebanon, Iran is manufacturing the Fateh 110 missile that, with a range of about 190 miles, can threaten most of Israel. From another factory in southern Lebanon, it’s making smaller weapons. Hezbollah, which had about 15,000 fairly unsophisticated rockets when it went to war with Israel in 2006, now has an estimated 150,000 rockets of increasing range and accuracy. All told, Tehran’s expanding military capabilities present a growing threat to Washington’s allies in Jerusalem, Riyadh and elsewhere, raising the prospect that, at some point, an emboldened Iran or Hezbollah will launch a war or a defensive Israel will take pre-emptive military action to reduce the threats. Either way, an administration that never shared Obama’s naive notion of bribing Tehran into moderation with some $100 billion or more of sanctions relief under the nuclear agreement now needs to take the next step – to fashion a comprehensive strategy that confronts the odious regime while putting its moral authority behind the millions of Iranians who would like nothing more than to topple it.”

The Washington Institute maintains Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are probably trying to groom an alternative and more pliable al-Thani for a leadership role in Qatar.  They note, “Who is the real leader of Qatar? On paper, it is Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the 37-year-old son of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who abdicated in Tamim’s favor in 2013. But the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have become involved in a messy diplomatic squabble with Qatar, think it is actually Sheikh Hamad, now known as the “father-emir,” who is still pulling the strings. The truth could dictate the outcome of the Gulf crisis.”




What News Outlets Is America Watching?
Why Trump “Scandals” aren’t Impacting Trump

Nearly everyday, a new report comes out from one of America’s traditional news sources (mainstream media) on the Trump/Russia story.  However, Trump’s popularity in the polls remains about the same as it was when he was elected president last year.

How can that be?  Are American voters ignoring the news?

No.  It’s important to remember that the news the American voter pays attention to is quite different than what the rest of the world bases its opinion of America on.  That’s why Trump beat Clinton in 2016, even though major news sources like CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times regularly produced anti-Trump pieces that received world wide coverage.

A good example of America’s faith in the news sources that much of the world relies upon could be seen in the recent release of television network ratings (June 26 – July 2).  While Fox News ranked at the most watched TV network in America, CNN News, which is a major source for American news worldwide, ranked 13th.

That’s behind the Nick-at-Nite Network, which shows 60 year old children’s cartoons like Yogi Bear.

So, why is CNN drawing 6% fewer viewers than a network that shows decades old reruns?  It’s not that Americans don’t like news.  They just prefer Fox News.

One problem is that CNN has lost some of its appeal (as a pioneer cable TV) Sand credibility.  Numerous negative reports on Trump and happenings in the White House have been proven to be false and recently an undercover video showed CNN producers admitting that their coverage of Trump was false.

CNN isn’t the only news source facing this problem.  The New York Times and the Washington Post – who are both major sources for international reports on American politics – have faced the same problems.

That’s why when a Marist poll asked Americans before the latest charges, if they thought Trump had done something illegal with the Russians, only 25% thought so.

So, if the average American voter isn’t paying attention to CNN, the New York Times, and The Washington Post, where are they getting their information?  They are getting it from a vast network of conservative news sources that have more readers and viewers than the traditional news sources combined.  It is these news sources that countered the negative news about Trump during the election and helped him win the presidency.

So, who are they?

Obviously the most noticeable is the Fox News Channel, which is the most watched television network in America.  From July 3 – July 9, Fox News averaged 2 million viewers.  The second most watched network was HGTV, which focuses on improving one’s home.

Fox News is owned by 21st Century Fox and was created by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.  Its former CEO was Republican media consultant Roger Ailes, which gave it a more conservative slant than other media outlets.  Although it has an older viewership, Fox News viewers are more likely to vote than consumers of other news networks.

The heart of Fox News’ evening lineup are the Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson shows, which are conservative and frequently counter reporting from CNN and other news networks.  Since it reaches a larger audience, it is very successful in changing the tenor of the news.

Despite its ratings, Fox News isn’t the biggest conservative media outlet.  The most listened to radio show is the Rush Limbaugh Show, which reaches 26 million listeners every week.

Rush Limbaugh, who has been on the radio for 30 years in August, is the “Father of political talk radio.”  The show is broadcast on about 600 radio stations mid-day, for three hours Monday through Friday.

Limbaugh does monologues and focuses on the news of the day.  His conservative spin on the news is – thanks to the size of his audience – the most critical source of non-mainstream media news.

Limbaugh sets the tone for the conservative media.  In 2016, he refused to criticize Trump, unlike many other radio hosts.  The result was a Republican and conservative voter base that was much more willing to vote for Trump in the primaries and the general election.

Limbaugh isn’t the only conservative radio host.  There is also Sean Hannity, who hosts a radio show in addition to his show on Fox News (12.5 million listeners). In the top ten radio shows, there is also Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and Michael Savage.  All three of these conservative hosts have between 5 to 7 million listeners.

The closest liberal radio show ranks at 18th with only 2 million listeners.

Radio and TV aren’t the only sources of conservative news.  The internet has grown more important for conservative voters.

Undoubtedly the biggest conservative source for news on the internet is the Drudge Report.   It regularly ranks as the 2nd largest website in terms of visits and regularly has over 1 billion views every month.

The site consists mainly of links to news stories from other outlets about politics, entertainment, and current events.  It also has links to many columnists.

The Drudge Report originated in 1996 as a weekly subscriber-based email dispatch.  It was the first news source to break the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal to the public, after Newsweek decided to hold its story.

Needless to say, the Drudge Report is tracked by most media sources, even though they publically deride it.  Saul Hansell of the New York Times called it “the conservative muckraker.”

The Drudge Report’s favorable view of Trump was another asset during the election season.

The Drudge Report isn’t the only conservative internet source of news.  Most talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh have internet sites that provide show transcripts for those who were unable to catch the original broadcast.

There are other internet sites that have been valuable for the conservative cause.  The website Free Republic is a community of conservatives who were critical in discrediting the 2004 CBS report on President Bush’s Air National Guard evaluations.  They were able to prove the papers were fake because the type font used in the CBS papers wasn’t used by the Air Force at that time.

While some conservative sources like Fox News cater to older demographics, there are some sources that appear to be attracting younger people, who will be the voters of the future.

The site, Infowars, is more strident than other conservative sources, but it has young correspondents in their 20s and 30s, who attract a younger audience.  Infowars viewership grew by 33% in 2016.  It attracts about 5.5 million unique visitors a month.  It also attracts more women than average – a weakness for most conservative news sources.  The website is more likely to be read at school, which indicates the youth demographic of the site and its news.

And, although the mainstream media calls Infowars “conspiracy oriented,” President elect Trump placed one of his first phone calls to Infowars head Alex Jones on election night.

“I just talked to kings and queens of the world, world leaders, you name it,” Trump said according to Jones. “It doesn’t matter. I wanted to talk to you to thank your audience.”

Unlike talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Infowars also has reporters that it dispatches to report on news.  This gives it more depth and breath than the more traditional conservative talk show format.

Another powerful conservative news source is Breitbart.  In fact, its former head, Steve Bannon was named Trump’s Chief Council (NEED TO GET HIS TITLE CORRECTLY) and is now a major policy maker in the White House.

Breitbart was founded in 2007 by Andrew Breitbart.  It is headquartered in Los Angeles and has bureaus in Texas, London, and Jerusalem.

The growth of some of these internet sites indicates an evolution in the American conservative movement.  While sites like Breitbart and Infowars grow, established conservative sites like National Review are having problems keeping their viewers.

National Review Online, once the flagship of the conservative movement only gets 2.7 million unique visitors a month – half that of the upstart Infowars.  It is also poor in attracting women, a necessity for expanding the conservative base.  It is also more likely to be viewed by people who have attended graduate school, which means it is unable to attract many middle class Americans, who voted for Trump.  No doubt, the National Review’s dislike of Trump during and after the campaign is partially responsible for its decline.

Although many of these conservative news sources are relatively unknown outside the US, the number of viewers, listeners and internet hits indicates that they are much more influential than conventional wisdom indicates.

While CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other traditional mainstream media news sources still dominate the news coming out of America, they are becoming less important to the average American voter.  That voter is more likely to watch Fox News on television, listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio, and go to the Drudge Report on the internet.

What does this all mean?  For the student of American politics, it is important to remember that what you may hear overseas may not be the same story that American voters are paying attention to in the US.




Crushing Extremism is First Step Toward Middle East Peace
By James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation
July 7th, 2017

Anyone who thinks the United States should get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war ought to have his head examined.  But there are no easy answers for this quagmire. If there were, the strongmen in Tehran and Moscow wouldn’t stand by and let responsible nations implement them.  That is not say the U.S. should sheepishly acknowledge the dictatorial, genocidal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. We have to do something. But what?  For starters, we have to clarify our objectives, the foremost of which should be crushing extremists like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. Further, in addition to keeping the war from destabilizing Iraq and Jordan, we must remain mindful of refugee populations and the possibility of conflict rippling over into Israel, Lebanon and Turkey. Finally, the U.S. needs to contain the growing negative influence of Iran.

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After ISIS: Creating Strategic Stability in Iraq
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 11, 2017

The United States, its allies, and international organizations are just beginning to come to grips with the civil dimensions of “failed state” wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. In each case, any meaningful form of “victory” requires far more than defeating the current extremist threat in military terms. The insurgent threat exists largely because of the deep divisions within the state, and the past and current failures of the government to deal with such internal divisions, and the chronic failure to meet the economic, security, and social needs of much of the nation’s population.  In practical terms, these failures make the host government as much of a threat to each nation’s stability and future as are Islamic extremists. Regardless of the scale of any defeat of such extremists, the other internal tensions and divisions with each country also threaten to make any such “victory” a prelude to new forms of civil war, and/or an enduring failure to cope with security, stability, recovery, and development. They also require a different approach to stability operations and civil-military affairs.

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American Strategic Interests in the Gulf States
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 3, 2017

The United States needs to be far more careful in dealing with the current crisis over the embargo and deadlines that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have imposed on Qatar. The current split within the Trump Administration—in which two critical cabinet members, Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, are calling for compromise and mediation, while the members of the President’s staff have pushed him into siding with the Saudis and UAE—poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. strategic interests.  The President’s erratic statements that have taken the side of Saudi Arabia and the UAE risk dividing the southern Arab Gulf states, pushing Qatar towards Iran and Turkey, and losing focus on deterring Iran and on dealing with the real-world threat of Islamic extremism. They also undermine U.S. influence and credibility in the region, and tie the United States to the long-standing rivalries and bickering between the southern Gulf States at a time when America has far higher strategic priorities to deal with.

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Is Turkey the most Orwellian country?
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
July 12, 2017

It’s been almost 70 years since English novelist Eric Arthur Blair, writing under the pseudonym George Orwell, penned “1984,” his famous dystopian novel which depicted life in Oceania, a state in perpetual war with omnipresent government surveillance, strict state control of the media, and cynical government manipulation of the populace. The state prosecutes “thought crime” and independent thinking. The “Inner Party” strictly controls policy, even as members of the “Outer Party” fill other bureaucratic slots in order to keep the state functioning. Historical revisionism is rife and alliances shift rapidly. After years of war against Eurasia, Oceania’s policy suddenly switches, hence the declarative statement, “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia,” no matter the reality of previous years.

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The Summer of Our Discontent: Sects and Citizens in Lebanon and Iraq
By Maha Yahya
Carnegie Endowment
June 30, 2017

Lebanon’s and Iraq’s political systems are based on sectarian and ethnic power-sharing. In summer 2015, both countries faced popular protests demanding better governance. These protests began over poor service provision but escalated into opposition to the countries’ overarching power-sharing systems. These demonstrations were framed as nonsectarian, civic responses to deteriorating conditions and corrupt leadership. While protestors raised hopes that change was possible, their curtailment by the sectarian leadership underlined the challenges of political transformation in divided societies.

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Iran Raises the Stakes
By Lawrence J. Haas
American Foreign Policy Council
July 11, 2017

With America’s global attention largely focused elsewhere, Iran continues to expand its military capabilities – legally and otherwise – forcing the question of what Washington and its regional allies plan to do about it.  Iran’s military expansionism of late encompasses a host of activities: pursuing illegal means to expand its nuclear and ballistic missile technology and expertise; continuing to test its longer range and increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile; and building underground facilities in Lebanon to manufacture missiles and other weapons for its most powerful terrorist client Hezbollah.  This expansionism is boosting the capacity of Iran, a Shiite nation, to threaten Israel and the region’s U.S.-backed Sunni states – most notably Saudi Arabia – raising the stakes for a U.S. administration that has wisely discarded President Barack Obama’s efforts at U.S.-Iranian rapprochement but not yet enunciated a comprehensive alternative.

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Qatar Crisis: Worst Case Scenarios
By James F. Jeffrey and Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
July 6, 2017

The crisis between an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side, and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar on the other, shows no signs of abating. Qatar has responded to the list of 13 demands presented to Doha last month. At a meeting in Cairo on July 5, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE said they regretted Qatar’s “negative” response to their list of demands, and restrictions they had imposed would continue.

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The Palace Intrigue at the Heart of the Qatar Crisis
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
June 30, 2017
Foreign Policy

Who is the real leader of Qatar? On paper, it is Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the 37-year-old son of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who abdicated in Tamim’s favor in 2013. But the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have become involved in a messy diplomatic squabble with Qatar, think it is actually Sheikh Hamad, now known as the “father-emir,” who is still pulling the strings. The truth could dictate the outcome of the Gulf crisis, for which the United States is trying to broker an early settlement while Iran watches mischievously from the sidelines. There are a variety of judgments of who is really in control in Doha, none of which are particularly complimentary to the Al Thanis, the onetime desert tribe that number a mere few thousand but effectively own the world’s third-largest reserves of natural gas.

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