Washington is looking forward to the national conventions. Next week is the Republican National convention, which will nominate Trump. The following week is the Democratic National Convention.
In our Monitor analysis, we look at a dramatic shift in the polls this week, which show Trump gaining. It seems that the FBI report last week has raised considerable concern about Clinton’s honesty.
In the next couple of days, we expect Trump to announce a vice presidential pick. We will provide an analysis when that happens.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The CSIS says the United States needs a far more serious review of its strategy in Afghanistan. They recommend, “The United States should tie future military and economic aid, and any expansion in military aid, to very specific conditions. It should not repeat the long series of efforts to get Afghanistan to pledge actions and reforms, and should tie U.S. aid to clearly defined conditions and timelines for compliance and enforce them by delaying aid when they are not met.”
The American Enterprise Institute looks at Iran’s air bridge to Syria. If the US wants to reduce Iran’s impact in the Syrian civil war, they warn, “The removal of sanctions from Iran Air also merits serious reevaluation, as do the impending Airbus and Boeing sales to the airline. Iran’s air route to Syria is a significant vulnerability in Iran’s support to the Assad regime and its other proxies in the Levant. If the US is serious about pressing Iran to curtail its backing of Assad and other terrorist proxies in the region, then preventing Tehran from increasing its ability to maintain its airbridge should be a priority.”
The Washington Institute looks at the Iran nuclear deal at its first anniversary. They note, “As the Obama administration works to cement its seminal foreign policy achievement, the pace of sanctions against Iran under remaining authorities has slowed. Despite assurances that the United States will “vigorously press sanctions against Iranian activities outside of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action including those related to Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile program,” Washington has acted only three times since Implementation Day, on January 16, and a total of six times over the last year. Although Iran has not moderated its provocative behavior in the last year, there have been only roughly twenty new designations of Iran-affiliated individuals, compared to “more than a hundred” designations during the eighteen-month period of the interim agreement.
The American Enterprise Institute asks if Iran is violating the nuclear deal. In noting a Wall Street Journal article, they say, “Stephens notes that German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the Bundestag last week that Iran “continued to develop its rocket program in conflict with relevant provisions of the U.N. Security Council.” But, he says, the Obama administration is refusing to acknowledge such wrongdoing, and is looking at supporting Iran’s efforts to join the WTO (which would make it harder to impose those “snapback” sanctions Obama promised if Iran was caught cheating). At the same time, the administration is supporting Iran’s “access to US dollars, Boeing jets, US purchases of Iranian heavy water (thereby subsidizing its nuclear program), and other concessions the administration last year promised Congress it would never grant.” In other words, the Obama administration appears to be more concerned with trying to tie the hands of the next president than those of the Supreme Leader of Iran.”
The Carnegie Endowment says Libya is winning the war against ISIS. In a first hand report on the fighting, the writer says, “In recent weeks, the operation pushed back Islamic State fighters in Sirte from the west, south, and east. It seized strategic sites on the city’s outskirts, like a power plant and an airfield, and rolled through residential and business districts. Off the coast, meanwhile, a small flotilla of tugboats and fishing craft equipped with Grad rockets and anti-aircraft guns fires on the Islamic State’s positions and cuts off any escape.”
The Cato Institute looks at the challenges for NATO as the alliance held its annual meeting in Warsaw. Some of the concerns are Brexit and Russia. However, they conclude, “Potentially the darkest cloud on the horizon for NATO, though, is the US presidential election. Although Hillary Clinton is reliably committed to the status quo regarding NATO (as she is on nearly every other major foreign policy topic), Donald Trump is not. As noted, he has raised the burden-sharing issue in rather blunt and caustic terms. But Trump has sometimes gone beyond that question to express doubts about the wisdom of America’s alliance commitments generally, especially NATO. On more than one occasion, he has scorned NATO as “obsolete.” A Trump administration would be almost certain to demand major reforms in NATO, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that he would even seek a US withdrawal. Those dignitaries gathered for the Warsaw summit show few indications of even being aware of the proliferating warning signs. Nevertheless, the fissures in the Alliance are growing more pronounced and more serious. NATO could well be on the brink of an internal crisis.”
The Foreign Policy Research Institute says radical jihadists can be fought in the same was that law enforcement fights urban gangs. They note, “There is meaningful overlap between the two forms of organized criminal activity. With respect to jihadist groups — particularly those aspiring to establish self-governing enclaves — some have used conventional gang tactics to establish economic self-sufficiency. With respect to urban gangs, violence is not purely an extension of the logic of criminal activity, but may actually serve as an end goal rooted in identity, gang culture, or a form of ideology. To varying degrees, both forms of criminal organization draw recruits from among the socially disaffected. As to social media, both use it as a means to express bravado, define gang authority, harass opposition, and engage in material transactions. These areas of overlap suffice to indicate that the professional study of gangs and the means to counter them would offer insights with bearing on counter-jihadism.”
American Presidential Election Update
Up until this week, the polls showed that Clinton held a lead over Trump. That, however, is no longer true, as several polls show a tightening of the race.
The biggest concern for the Clinton campaign comes from the Quinnipiac poll, which is independent and respected for its accuracy.
Thanks to a drop in grades on honesty and moral standards, Clinton lost an 8-point lead over Trump in Florida, and finds herself in too-close-to-call races in the three critical swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released Wednesday. Trump now leads in Florida and Pennsylvania and a tie in Ohio.
These are critical polling numbers as they are leading into the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Clinton was hoping for a post convention bounce that would put her clearly in the lead against Trump.
Clinton loses ground on almost every measure from a June 21 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University. The Swing State Poll focuses on Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania because since 1960 no candidate has won the presidential race without taking at least two of these three states.
Clinton’s biggest drop was in Florida, where last month she led Trump by 8 points. In Wednesday’s poll of the state, Trump garnered 42% support to Clinton’s 39% — within the poll’s 3.1-point margin of error. With third-party candidates included, Trump’s edge extends to five points, 41% to 36%.
Another measure of Clinton’s problems was a second ballot-test question – this time adding two third-party candidates to the mix. When voters are asked to consider the general election again, this time given the option of choosing Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Trump’s advantage over Clinton grows in each state. Trump leads on the four-way ballot by five points in Florida, one point in Ohio and six points in Pennsylvania.
This has become a major worry for Democrats because Quinnipiac has been the “Gold Standard” for political pollsters. Unlike other polls, which are commissioned by newspapers, Quinnipiac is an independent polling operation.
Quinnipiac isn’t the only polling firm to show this erosion in Clinton’s position. Monmouth University finds Trump narrowly ahead in Iowa, 44 percent to 42 percent. JMC Analytics finds Trump ahead by 5 in Florida.
The latest Rasmussen survey of likely US voters finds Trump with 44% support to Clinton’s 37% nationwide. The CBS /New York Times poll, which has shown Clinton ahead by wide margins, now shows a tie at 40%,
If this is a genuine shift in the opinions of the American voter, it might be a case where events are overwhelming the electorate’s disapproval and distrust of Trump. The resolution of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server proved she was not honest with the American voters, and Washington’s institutions are apparently incapable of holding her accountable. There are also voter concerns with the Obama Administration’s domestic problems – crime rising, multiple copycat ambushes of police, and jihadists attacking Americans in America. Key sections of the electorate may now be thinking that Obama/Clinton don’t have a credible solution.
Quinnipiac says it’s possible the results of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s private email server has impacted how Americans view her and her competence to be president. FBI Director James Comey called Clinton and her staff “extremely careless,” even though he said the government shouldn’t press charges because there wasn’t evidence of criminal intent. In the poll release, the school suggested the investigation could have played a role, pointing to other lingering questions about Clinton’s honesty and trustworthiness. “While there is no definite link between Clinton’s drop in Florida and the U.S. Justice Department decision not to prosecute her for her handling of emails,” Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown said, “she has lost ground to Trump on questions which measure moral standards and honesty.”
According to the poll, Clinton’s unfavorable ratings (59 percent in Florida, 60 percent in Ohio, 65 percent in Pennsylvania) are higher than Trump’s (54 percent in Florida, 59 percent in Ohio, 57 percent in Pennsylvania) in all three battleground states. And majorities in all three states — which together account for 67 electoral votes, or nearly a quarter of the 270 necessary to win the presidency — have a “very unfavorable” view of Clinton.
Quinnipiac wasn’t the only poll to note this. This week, a Washington Post/ABC News polls said a majority of Americans reject the FBI’s recommendation against charging Hillary Clinton with a crime for her State Department email practices and say the issue raises concern about how she might perform as president.
The Post-ABC poll found 56 percent disapprove of Comey’s recommendation against charging Clinton while 35 percent approve.
If this opinion of Clinton’s honesty continues, the election may be much closer than originally thought.
NATO’s Mounting Internal Challenges
By Ted Galen Carpenter
July 11, 2016
The Warsaw summit, which took place on July 8 and 9, occurred at a time when the challenges facing the venerable North Atlantic Treaty Organization have never been more serious. Despite the usual expressions of alliance solidarity, there are numerous troubling developments that are likely to plague NATO in the coming months and years. How Western leaders handle those challenges will determine what kind of future the Alliance has – or whether it will have any future at all. The long-standing controversy about burden-sharing has acquired greater salience than at any time since the 1950s when US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles threatened to conduct “an agonizing reappraisal” of Washington’s defense commitment to Europe unless the European allies did more for the collective defense effort. There has been only tepid progress toward meeting the commitment NATO members made a decade ago at the 2006 summit to devote at least 2% of their gross domestic product to defense. Five members now reach that very modest target, and there are indications that one or two more may do so soon. A large majority of members, though, still fall short of the benchmark, including some of the largest and most crucial members, such as Italy and Germany.
The Obama Strategy in Afghanistan: Finding a Way to Win
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 7, 2016
When President Obama issued yet another statement on Afghanistan on July 6th, and once again delayed his plans to cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he took actions that had already become almost inevitable. Even though he had announced his plan to cut U.S. troop levels to 5,500 by the end of 2016 less than a month earlier, a level of only 5,500 troops risked critically weakening Afghan forces and possibly losing the war. Keeping the level at 8,400, however, was at best a half measure in meeting Afghanistan’s real needs and probably not even that. The United States needs a far more serious review of its strategy in Afghanistan. It needs one that stops focusing on deadlines and total troop levels, and one that focuses on what it takes to deal with the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and actually win. It needs a strategy that can build sustained public and Congressional support, and provide a proper legacy for the next president. It needs a strategy that can at least try to avoid making Afghanistan an unnecessary pawn in the bitter presidential campaign to come and to give the Afghans a clear incentive to make critical reforms.
Iran’s Airbridge to Syria
By Paul Bucala and Ken Hawrey
American Enterprise Institute
July 13, 2016
Boeing and Airbus are set to sell nearly 200 aircraft to Iran’s state airline, Iran Air, despite indicators that Tehran is already using the airline’s aircraft to support its efforts in Syria. Since June 2015, 31 airplanes belonging to Iran Air and the private airline Mahan Air have departed from airports in Iran and landed in Syria, according to public flight-tracking data from Flightrader24.com. Tehran appears to have developed an expansive network of repurposed commercial aircraft to supply its expanding war effort in Syria. This airlift to Syria is crucial for Iran’s operations in Syria and the rest of the Levant. Supply by sea is slow and vulnerable to interdiction by Western militaries. ISIS forces continue to control overland routes from Iraq into Assad-controlled Syria. Tehran would be unable to conduct this resupply effort without the use of commercial aircraft due to the Iranian Air Force’s limited airlift capabilities.
Is Iran already attempting to violate its nuclear deal?
By Marc A. Thiessen
American Enterprise Institute
July 12, 2016
The Associated Press reports that Iran is warning the next president against pulling out of the nuclear deal it reached with the Obama administration: Iran’s top leader said Tuesday that if the next US president tears up the nuclear deal, Iran will “light it on fire” …“We do not violate the deal, but if the other party violates it, if they tear the agreement up, we will light it on fire,” [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei said in remarks published on his official website. Khamenei has the final say on all major issues in Iran.
Libyans Are Winning the Battle Against the Islamic State
By Frederic Wehrey
June 30, 2016
On a windswept dune east of this city’s port, a young Libyan fighter with binoculars crouches between clumps of reeds, calling out corrections for mortar fire against an Islamic State sniper ensconced in a hotel 2,000 feet away. A booming retort is followed seconds later by a thud. “No, more to the left!” he shouts to his comrades, who relay this back to the mortar crew. A faint whirring fills the air overhead. A pair of fighters in a nearby truck pilot a drone — a four-rotor, off-the-shelf contraption. They study the camera image on an iPad screen, trying and failing to discern the outline of a gunman. This is an imprecise and improvised war, waged mostly by young men with no military training, but plenty of combat experience. It is also an increasingly deadly one against a determined and wily foe. Just two days before my visit, the Islamic State tried to punch through the Libyan lines here, failing but killing two.
Al-Shabaab Attempts Siege of Somali Military Base
By Daniel Brennan
Center for Security Policy
July 12, 2016
On Monday, July 11th, a car packed with explosives rammed into a Somali army base located slightly southwest of the country’s capital. Following the explosion, al-Shabaab fighters stormed inside the Lanta-Buro military base. A statement from Major Ahmed Farah illustrated the scene as rampant with gunfire exchanges and lasting several hours. According to the terrorist group as well as a statement from a Somali military officer, the assault took place in the Lower Shabelle region of the country, roughly 30 miles from Mogadishu, and managed to kill 10 soldiers and 12 jihadist fighters. Spokesman for the terrorist organization Abdiasis Abu Musab said that 30 soldiers had been killed in the raid that lasted several hours before the group withdrew from the site.
Expertise in Countering Urban Street Gangs can be used to Fight Jihadists
By Joseph Braude and Tyler Jiang
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Word is out that Washington’s traditional Arab allies, alarmed at rising terror threats, have been trying to counter jihadist groups on their own. In addition to aggressive military action, homegrown Arab “soft power” efforts have emerged — from media activity to new schools curricula — aiming to undermine extremist ideologies and preempt terrorist recruitment. Some seek to inculcate a positive reading of Islam in hopes that it will inoculate believing Muslims from jihadists’ overtures. Others appeal to young people to personally uphold the integrity of their nation-state by transcending sectarian differences. Numerous Arab states, however, have yet to confront hardline teachings and preachings within their borders that remain frightfully mainstream. It is essential to purge Arab seminaries and mosques of extremism. At the same time, a recent study by two Gulf research institutions suggests that jihadist groups increasingly attract followers by other means besides doctrine. The study, based on the most comprehensive survey of jihadist social media in Arabic to date, found that arguments for mass killing based on Islamic proof texts appear less often in terrorists’ discourse than lay, purely emotional appeals that play off socioeconomic disaffection.
One Year Post-JCPOA, Not Post-Sanctions
By Katherine Bauer
July 13, 2016
July 14 will mark one year since the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement with Iran. On Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Department officials were scheduled to meet with the Central Bank of Iran and global banks based in London to discuss how to navigate the ongoing restrictions on business with Iran. Within weeks of implementation of the nuclear agreement in January 2016, Iranian officials called on Washington to reassure European banks that they could reengage with Iran. On February 4, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted as follows to a Chatham House audience in London: “We need clear, precise assurances that banks can do business with Iran,” he said. “I hope that is fast coming because if not it would be a problem of implementation.”