The Iranian deal was the key focus for Washington think tanks. We look at the wide spectrum of think tank opinions that range from approval to condemnation.
The Monitor analysis looks at the 2016 presidential race, recent controversies (especially those concerning Donald Trump), the latest entries into the race, Hillary Clinton’s weakening poll numbers, and the rest of the Democratic field.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Heritage Foundation looks at the continuing fallout from the Iran deal; specifically the State Department’s refusal to reveal some of the more disturbing aspects of the deal. They note, “When the foreign relations, armed services, or other committees of jurisdiction in Congress summon “senior officials of the U.S. Administration” and ask for information or opinions regarding the Iran deal, the officials must tell the truth, without regard to the promise Secretary Kerry made to the Iranians that the officials would make every effort to support the deal. Indeed, federal law explicitly empowers a federal employee in an agency primarily concerned with matters relating to foreign countries to “express his views and opinions, and make recommendations he considers appropriate” when requested by a congressional committee of jurisdiction. Also, a number of senior officials of the U.S. Administration have statutory duties with respect to advising Congress.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the verification aspects of the Iranian deal. They note that hiding nuclear activity is very difficult. As proof, they say, “When IAEA inspectors search for undeclared nuclear activities they look for tiny traces of nuclear material on surfaces. Fortunately for them, nuclear material lingers. And, modern detection technology is so amazingly effective that miniscule traces of nuclear material can be detected years after nuclear activities took place. Countries have tried to sanitize facilities completely to remove every last trace of nuclear material. Iran did so at the Kalaye Electric Factory after its secret nuclear program was revealed in 2002. Syria tried the same thing in 2007 after Israel bombed its plutonium production reactor at Al Kibar. In both cases, the IAEA still managed to detect nuclear material. Those findings were critical to persuading the organization’s governing body to make a formal finding of non-compliance against both Iran and Syria.”
The Foreign Policy Research Institute says that the Iranian deal should have addressed radiological weapons too. Although noting the threat of radiological weapons throughout the Middle East, they note, “Iran, however, possesses a sophisticated nuclear material infrastructure and so presents a first-tier radiological threat, since it could weaponize, at its option, spent nuclear fuel assemblies as well as industrial and medical radioisotopes. One might reasonably add to that Iran’s growing stockpile of uranium dioxide (LEUO2). Some resist characterizing Iran as a prima facie radiological threat. That position is more difficult to sustain when one takes into account that Iran has neither signed nor ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Terrorism or the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. Nor has Iran so far expressed support for major International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines like the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radiological Sources.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the good and bad aspects of the Iranian deal. They note, “On the good tally are the restrictions Iran has agreed to adhere to. For a period of no less than 15 years Iran has undertaken not to enrich uranium beyond a low level, to eliminate or convert its significant stockpile of higher enriched uranium and to refrain from setting up any new enrichment facility, nor produce new centrifuges. Iran will also go down to a sole active uranium enrichment facility. Iran has also undertaken to redesign the Arak reactor so that it can no longer produce significant quantity of plutonium, and for the same duration refrain from setting up additional heavy water reactors and separating irradiated fuel. No less positive and significant is the surprising addition to the agreement of a sweeping ban on Iran’s engagement in activities, including at the research and development level, that could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device. This commitment will remain in force in perpetuity.”
The Washington Institute looks at the negatives of the Iranian deal. They conclude, “In the end, the only guarantee that Iran will not, like North Korea, develop nuclear weapons is the threat of military force. The administration has emphasized readiness to strike Iran if on the verge of a nuclear weapons capability, but whether the US would make good on this pledge is also another question.”
The Brookings Institution is optimistic about the Iranian deal. They note, “With respect to uranium, the deal restricts Iran’s installed centrifuges to just over 6,000 IR-1 type machines for 10 years. Iran will be able to do some small-scale enrichment using advanced machines during this time, but in numbers far too modest to contribute to breakout. Iran will also be limited to solely 300 kilograms of 3.67 percent U-235 in any form. This restriction alone would hold Iran back from quick breakout because 60-70 percent of the work required for a bomb is in the initial period of enrichment from natural levels to approximately 4 percent. But, combined with the centrifuge limits, Iran will be a year away for at least 10 years: until 2025. After that, Iran will be progressively permitted to install and operate advanced machines, but the uranium stockpile will be restricted for 15 years: until 2030.”
The CSIS looks at how the Iranian deal curbs Iranian missile development. They note, “It should be stressed that there are no reliable ways to predict Iran’s future missile developments, but several points need to be kept in mind in assessing how the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran does or does not affect its future missile capabilities: Iran is already a serious and growing missile power, has a steadily more sophisticated technology and production base, and has access to North Korean missile developments. It is far from clear that Iran will seek to buy entire missile systems from other countries eight years from the time the agreement goes into force. But it will be a steadily growing missile threat regardless of the nuclear arms agreement.”
American Presidential Election Race Heats Up
Although it is still 18 months until the next president is sworn in, American presidential politics is heating up. There are now 16 Republican candidates running for president – a historical high. Hillary Clinton, once considered a near certainty to win the Democratic nomination and general election, is limping along. And Jeb Bush, once considered the likely Republican nominee is falling behind an unknown governor from Wisconsin and a real estate billionaire, who is more likely be reported on in the society pages or on reality television.
Ohio Governor John Kasich announced on Tuesday that he too is running for the nomination as Republican candidate for president. Kasich is running as a non-ideological candidate with a record for implementing sound economic policies.
“Policy is far more important than politics or ideology,” Kasich declared. His policy prescriptions were wrapped in the rhetoric of morality. “Economic growth is not an end to itself,” he said. “Creating jobs,” he later added, “is our highest moral purpose.”
Kasich is a sound, if not well known governor. He has a 60 percent approval rating as the governor of perhaps the most crucial swing-state in American presidential politics, and he has a record and a message that would resonate in a general election. But as the 16th entrant into the GOP presidential primary field, Kasich will need to break out of the crowd if he wants to have a chance of winning the nomination.
Why are so many Republicans running for President? Obviously, it’s not because each of them rates their chances of winning the nomination as great. Rather, it’s a way to position themselves for a job in a future Republican administration.
The top job for someone not getting the nomination is as Vice President. A good showing on the campaign trail or being a candidate from a specific demographic or critical state could influence the choice of Vice President. Kasich, for instance, is a popular governor for Ohio, which is a key swing state.
There are also advantages for other candidates, who may not get the vice presidential nod, but by pulling out of the race and endorsing the eventual nominee, may be in line for a cabinet position in a future administration.
Clearly there are advantages for running for president, even if one doesn’t get the nomination.
Much of the presidential talk in the last few weeks centered around Donald Trump, A New York real estate tycoon, who has a reputation for making outrageous statements. In this case, he has accused the Obama Administration of allowing criminal illegal immigrants to cross the border. He also questioned the reputation of Senator McCain, when he served in the US Navy.
McCain called the approximately 5,000 people who showed up to hear Donald Trump speak about illegal immigration and border security “crazies.” It’s that comment from McCain that prompted Donald Trump to suggest, at last weekend’s Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, that the Vietnam POW-turned–Arizona senator is considered a war hero “because he was captured.” “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump responded.
That comment elicited negative comments from both supporters and opponents of McCain.
However, Trump’s comments on illegal immigration did tap into grassroots Republican angst against establishment Republicans who aren’t offering any solutions to a porous border. As a result, he is polling well, although most analysts feel that he will inevitably falter when he makes a more controversial comment that will alienate many conservative Republican voters.
There have been other surprises within the Republican race that have confounded many political analysts. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of presidents has limped along as few grassroots Republicans have come out to support him. Currently, his support lies amongst more moderate Republicans and less informed voters, who support him due to his name recognition.
At this time, the biggest threat to Bush is Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Walker is a governor – something many voters like because it shows that the candidate has executive experience. However, unlike Bush, he has a more “common man” profile and has a reputation that he is willing and able to stand up to political pressure.
One advantage is that Walker is in front in polling in Iowa, the first state in the nation to vote for a presidential candidate. And, although he doesn’t have the money of Bush, he has quickly raised money since he announced – much from smaller donors, which indicates voter enthusiasm.
Hillary Clinton and the Democrats
Hillary Clinton is in trouble. Although she has raised a serious amount of money, very little of it is from small donors, which indicates that she is having problems energizing the Democratic base.
Clinton is also having problems in three key swing states – the ones necessary to win if she intends to win in November 2016.
According to new Quinnipiac University poll released this week, Clinton trails former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in hypothetical general election matchups in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia.
Against Bush, Clinton trails 36 percent to 41 percent in Colorado, 36 percent to 42 percent in Iowa and 39 percent to 42 percent in Virginia.
Clinton trails Rubio in Colorado, 38 percent to 46 percent; in Iowa, 36 percent to 44 percent; and in Virginia, 41 percent to 43 percent.
Finally, Clinton is also behind Walker in Colorado, 38 percent to 47 percent; in Iowa, 37 percent to 45 percent; and in Virginia, 40 percent to 43 percent.
Voters in all three states said they were more likely to view Clinton as not honest or trustworthy: 62 percent of Colorado voters said she is not honest or trustworthy, compared to only 34 percent who think she is. She had similar low numbers in Iowa (59 percent to 33 percent) and Virginia (55 percent to 39 percent).
She had led all three of the candidates in all three states in April.
If Clinton is faltering, who is the best chance for the Democrats to retain the White House?
At this point, there is no one that the Democrats can look to with a great expectation that they can win. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders matches Clinton’s results against the three Republican candidates in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia — trailing Bush, Rubio and Walker in all three hypothetical general election matchups.
Although Sanders is energizing the liberal wing of the Democratic base more than Clinton, he hasn’t the power to win over independents that are critical for winning the general election next year.
Nor, does Sanders promise to win more Democrats than his base of voters. As of mid-July, Sanders was sitting at 12 percent in the Iowa polls, while Clinton was at 54 percent. Sanders’s best showing is in New Hampshire, immediately adjacent to the state he represents. However, Clinton still leads him by a large margin there.
Sanders relies largely upon rhetoric that will not work well in the general election. reliance on xenophobic statements holding that the current economic woes of the United States are the result of scheming foreigners, especially the wicked Chinese, “stealing our jobs” and victimizing the lower class.
Probably Sanders biggest contribution to the campaign season is his questions about inequality and economics that have forced Clinton to the left.
Sanders is also 72, which makes him older than most presidential candidates.
So, if Sanders isn’t a likely winner against Clinton, who can the Democrats hope to nominate that can win the primaries and the general election?
One possible choice is Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore. He is the youngest of the current Democratic candidates. He has some of the appeal to the left wing of the Democratic Party of Sanders, but without the same grassroots excitement.
Can he win the nomination though? Probably not. At the moment, O’Malley is politically stuck between Sanders, who has the progressive excitement, and Clinton, who dominates the Democratic race. It’s hard to see where O’Malley would get an opening unless Clinton’s campaign fell apart and Sanders fails to expand his base.
O’Malley also has the political fallout of the Baltimore riots to contend with. As a former Baltimore mayor, who didn’t help the city much economically and the fact that he embraced the protests as a motivation for his run, he will be hard pressed to win the critical independent vote.
Then, there is Lincoln Chafee, the son of Rhode Island politician John Chafee. Lincoln Chafee took his late father’s seat in the U.S. Senate, serving as a Republican. He was governor, first as an independent and then as a Democrat.
Chafee doesn’t have support or issues. He opted not to seek reelection as governor in 2014, in part because his approval rating had reached a dismal 26 percent.
James Webb has also announced that he is running for president. As wen noted in last week’s Monitor analysis, Webb is to the right of the other Democratic candidates and has called for a return to the political and ideals of the old Democratic Party. And, although this may help him win an general election, it will not energize the progressive Democratic base that votes in primaries.
If Clinton keeps falling in the polls, there will be a demand for Vice President Joe Biden to step into the race. He’s made no serious steps toward a run, but whispers have grown since the death of his son Beau Biden in May. The Biden family hadn’t publicly noted that Beau Biden was ill, but his father’s time seems to have been absorbed with caring for him. Both Beau Biden and his brother Hunter encouraged their father to run.
Biden may very well be the default candidate if Clinton either pulls out or falters. Although he would probably be acceptable to the Democratic party, he is also a senor candidate at 72.
The biggest problem for Democrats is that due to severe losses at the gubernatorial level, there are few eligible candidates beyond those already in the race. Many Democratic candidates like California governor Brown are too old, or like Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, are not very popular.
One person who is not in the race, but may be convinced to run, if Clinton falters is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. She is a politically acceptable progressive and she a women, which gives her a demographic advantage. And, unlike Clinton, she doesn’t have the political baggage of several scandals that surround Clinton.
However, Warren has made it clear that she isn’t interested in running – something that could change if the rest of the field looks too weak. On the other hand, she may figure that 2016 is a Republican year and she stands a better chance of winning if she waits until 2020.
The fact is that the Republicans hold a good edge in the 2016 race for White House. They have many well qualified candidates, who are polling well amongst independent voters, who decide elections. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates have serious problems in terms of ideology (that is geared towards the Democratic base, not independents) and age (most of the serious candidates are in their late 60s or 70s).
The main hope for the Democrats lies in Hillary Clinton, who is probably too well known to the electorate and has serious trust issues. Behind her is a thin bench that offers little hope for winning next year.
Truth as the Victim of Kerry’s Promise to Iran
By David S. Addington
July 22, 2015
Issue Brief #4439
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an unusual promise to the Islamic Republic of Iran: All senior Obama Administration officials will make every effort to support the Iran deal in their public statements. For any Obama Administration officials who have doubts about all or any part of the Iran deal, or about the likelihood that Iran will actually honor the deal, Kerry’s formal promise to Iran amounts to a gag order. When Congress summons Administration foreign policy and defense experts and other senior officials to testify on the Iran deal, Congress is entitled to the unvarnished, ungagged truth.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement and Iranian Missile Developments
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 22, 2016
The proposed nuclear agreement with Iran calls for an eight-year ban on the sale of new conventionally armed missiles. Like the fact the agreement permits conventional arms sales after five years, this has led to concerns that it might allow Iran to carry out a major military buildup in the future, aided by the fact that Iran could receive a major increase in its ability to fund such imports once sanctions are lifted. One needs to be very careful about making such assumptions. Unlike its conventional weapons, Iran has already made major progress in producing its own ballistic and cruise missiles. It seems to have deliberately delayed some tests to give its missile efforts a lower political profile during the nuclear negotiations, but it already has a major missile force, is working on larger boosters and solid fuel systems, and seems to be seeking to develop a precision strike capability for its conventionally armed missiles
Iran Ain’t Gonna Sneak Out Under This Deal
By James M. Acton
July 16, 2015
About a decade ago, I started my nuclear policy career at a small British NGO that focuses on verification. My career choice turned out to be a mixed blessing for my social life. Saying that I worked on nuclear weapons was a great icebreaker at parties, but the ensuing conversations would go downhill rapidly after I mentioned the “V” word. For reasons inexplicable to me back then, my fellow party goers just weren’t that interested in finding out how to determine whether states are abiding by their nuclear treaty commitments.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Nuclear Agreement
By Ariel (Eli) Levite
July 17, 2015
One must admit that the nuclear deal finally thrashed out in Vienna between Iran and the powers earlier this week is fundamentally different from the package we were led to expect by all the parties’ public statements, as well as their interim agreements. It is even utterly different from the parameters for the agreement, which were laid out both in the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) (the interim agreement made in Geneva on November 2013) and in the Parameters for the deal (concluded in Lausanne, March 2015). The outcome is an agreement that is simultaneously good, bad and ugly. Its bottom line is a strategic gamble, which to Barack Obama’s United States seems calculated. Israel is justifiably far from persuaded that this indeed is the case.
Iran, DAESH & the Rising Specter of Radiological Warfare in the Middle East
By John R. Haines
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Among the several argued deficiencies of the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, the most abject is perhaps also the least discussed—the consummate failure to address radiological weapons. The use of radiological weapons has been called the “poor man’s nuclear warfare.” So it may come as a surprise that the international community has never negotiated a treaty prohibiting radiological weapons, this despite their definition as a “weapon of mass destruction” (WMD) by the United Nations and the United States, among others. This essay takes on the grim subject of radiological weapons, perhaps the most vilified of an already-vilified class of weapons. That term—WMD—is a misnomer when applied to radiological weapons, however, as their effect is more likely localized, ephemeral and disruptive rather than destructive on a mass scale.
Iran Nuclear Deal Offers Shaky Compromise
By James F. Jeffrey
July 16, 2015
The P5+1 agreement with Iran just announced is not a “good” agreement. Its problems start with the administration claiming that it blocks the path to nuclear weapons. In fact, this agreement, unlike outcomes with the Libyan, Iraqi, and Syrian (and, temporarily, North Korean) nuclear programs, does not eliminate the ability of the target state to produce sufficient fissile material for nuclear weapons. Rather, it gives Iran incentives not to undertake such an effort, as well as time for the international community to spot and react to a nuclear weapons breakout effort by imposing new sanctions or a military strike. And that makes it by definition a “bad” agreement.
Based on breakout timelines, the world is better off with the Iran nuclear deal than without it
By Richard Nephew
Brooking s Institution
July 17, 2015
Maximizing Iran’s time to “breakout”— defined as the amount of time that it would take Iran to produce sufficient weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for one nuclear weapon— was one of the most important criteria for the nuclear deal. Reasonable people could disagree about whether this is a realistic risk upon which to balance a policy, but nonetheless, this became a measure of merit. Insofar as the final text is concerned, it is now one of the most compelling arguments in support ofthe Iran nuclear deal. The deal negotiated by the P5+1 will create a one year or longer breakout timeline for Iran’s declared nuclear program for the first ten years of the implementation phase of the deal. And, that’s just for uranium; for plutonium, the breakout timeline is far longer, potentially measurable in decades. Why?