Week of July 8th, 2016

Executive Summary

This week was truncated due to the American Independence Day holiday. While there were some papers on the Middle East, there was also some interest in the upcoming NATO conference in Warsaw.

The Monitor analysis looks at who Trump may pick as a vice president before the Republican National Convention in less than two weeks. We look at the likely candidates and how they may impact the campaign. We also look at the Clinton email controversy, the FBI recommendation not to prosecute her and how that may impact the election.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the challenges facing NATO at its annual meeting in Warsaw this week. They note, “Complicating matters further is that our allies in Europe are divided between those who see Russia as the security problem versus those, principally the member states of the south and west of Europe, who believe instability in the Middle East and North Africa is the most cause for concern. With economies that putter along at best, combined with much reduced military capacities after two decades of declining interest in sustaining their militaries, it will be interesting to see how, if at all, this circle is squared in Warsaw. Undoubtedly, our European allies have taken note of the sour mood in the US when it comes to the view that its allies are “free riding” on American security guarantees. In the past, experienced diplomats and elected officials from both sides of the Atlantic were adept at keeping that distemper from turning into counterproductive policies. However, that generation has by and large retired from the scene.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the NATO meeting in light of the Brexit. They suggest, “Britain can demonstrate that it will continue to play a critical role on the global stage. Rather than turning its gaze squarely inward, as it negotiates what is sure to be a messy exit from the EU, Prime Minister Cameron can demonstrate through energetic engagement in Warsaw that the U.K. is committed to remaining a player in standing up to an aggressive Russia and meeting the set of difficult security challenges emanating from Europe’s southern border. Robust British engagement at the NATO Summit will reassure Britain’s own citizens and its allies.” 

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the warming Russian/Israeli relationship. They warn, “At first blush, Russia seems like a viable alternative. In recent years, under the direction of its strongman president, Vladimir Putin, Moscow has moved back into the Middle East with a vengeance. It has deftly exploited the vacuum left by the Obama administration’s disengagement from the region, expanding its political and economic ties throughout the Middle East and North Africa… But while the Israeli government may not see its relationship with Russia as a zero-sum game, the Kremlin clearly does. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that Moscow’s outreach will be accompanied by initiatives intended to drive a wedge between Jerusalem and Washington. The likely price of Russia’s friendship, in other words, will be a worsening of the US-Israeli partnership.  All of which should serve to remind of us of the old adage that countries do not have eternal allies, only eternal interests. Just because Russia’s temporarily coincide with those of Israel doesn’t mean that Moscow represents a dependable ally for Jerusalem.”

The Cato Institute says the ISIS threat is greater for governments and leaders in the Middle East because they are ignoring the threat. They note, “In part, this ambivalence toward the campaign against ISIS reflects rational fears that an increased profile could increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Yet many regional states also continue to view ISIS as a less pressing threat than other concerns. Turkish leaders—who only agreed to allow the anti-ISIS coalition to use Incirlik airbase in July 2015—have focused their attention (and bombing) on their long-running conflict with Kurdish factions, a counterintuitive approach to the conflict given that Kurdish forces are among the most effective anti-ISIS fighters. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, on the other hand, have chosen to focus their efforts not on ISIS, but on their unsuccessful war in Yemen and regional contestation with Iran.”

The CSIS looks at US/Turkish relations after the terrorist attack in Turkey. They note, “Despite the optimism of some in Washington since the attack relating to the possibility of growing convergence between the two countries in the fight against ISIS, it seems likely that closer cooperation will be hampered by their continuing differences on Syria… To Turkey’s chagrin, the United States is now cooperating not only with the Syrian Kurds but also indirectly with Russia, the most important outside actor in insuring Assad’s survival. For its part, Ankara has chosen to stick to its policy of stressing the priority of regime change in Syria, despite the considerable costs it has been incurring in addition to maintaining support for numerous groups in the opposition in conjunction with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It has also continued to criticize Western inaction in Syria while identifying it as a major factor in the emergence of radical jihadism exemplified by ISIS.”

The Washington Institute also looks at the ISIS attack on Turkey. They note, “Turkey will have to act harsh for a couple of reasons. Number one, ISIS hit the Turkish economic capital, it hit Turkey’s reputation, and it wants to damage the Turkish tourism industry and the Turkish economy. So the government has to react. But there’s another issue here: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is basically running a political campaign as a strong-man right-wing president, cannot let ISIS get away with this. Erdogan’s AKP party has maxed out twice at 49.5 percent in the most recent elections of 2011 and 2015. Erdogan wants to become an executive-style president and he wants to change the constitution. He wants to change Turkey’s system from parliamentary democracy to a presidential system, and he has over 50 percent of the vote for that. Erdogan has been running a national campaign as a strong man to build his popularity. He will therefore have to react with an iron fist to show that he’s a tough guy, and he won’t let ISIS get away with it. That’s why you will likely see a massive crackdown, stronger border controls and Turkish airstrikes.”


Trump Looks at Vice Presidential Choices

In two weeks Donald Trump will be the GOP nominee if the movement to derail it by defiant delegates succeded . The biggest question remaining is who he will pick as a vice presidential candidate.

Vice presidential choices are usually based on several factors. They can balance out a ticket both politically and geographically. They can add a bit of spark to a drab presidential nominee. And, they can fill in some weaknesses that the presidential nominee has.

We don’t know the criteria that Trump will use. Over the last year he has said many complementary things about many of his primary opponents – even indicating that they were suitable VP choices. However, as the time comes to actually pick one, many of those possibilities have been removed.

Trump has indicated frequently that he doesn’t want another business person, but someone with political experience that can help him move his agenda through Washington.

Trump has said he wants someone who has been publically vetted, which also indicates his preference for a politician – or a military person.

With that in mind, here are the top choices:

Newt Gingrich. According to numerous reports, Donald Trump is considering Newt Gingrich as his running mate. Gingrich is a respected conservative and an early supporter of Trump.

Gingrich, as former Speaker of the House in the 1990s, has considerable political experience and would know how to move legislation through Congress. And, as second in line to the presidency, when Speaker, would be aware of many of the responsibilities of the office.

The former House speaker — and architect of the “Republican Revolution” in 1994 — is a brilliant man with almost encyclopedic knowledge of political history and a grab bag of other topics as well.

When he ran for president in 2012, in many ways Gingrich foreshadowed “Trumpism.” In the 1990s, he used talk radio much the way Trump has exploited social media to get his message past the traditional media. In 2012, Gingrich leveraged the debates to dominate the news cycle, frequently attacking — often with devastating efficacy — the presumptions and arrogance of the media.

Gingrich also fits into Trump’s political strategy. Trump has made it clear that he’s more interested in winning over disaffected Democrats than reluctant conservatives. Gingrich used that strategy in the 1990s. Gingrich masterminded much of the GOP’s attempt to push white working-class Democrats into the Republican column.

Gingrich is also a political “attack dog,” which would also fit the traditional VP nominee job of attacking the opposition candidate.

A Gingrich choice would also help Trump with the GOP establishment that still distrusts him. Although conservative, Gingrich was part of the Washington GOP establishment and knows how to work the “levers of power.”

On the other hand, the anti-establishment Trump supporters would not be pleased with such an establishment figure. He is also 73, which would make the GOP seem old.

However, in the long run, Trump would gain with a Gingrich choice.

Chris Christie. Mr. Christie was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest endorsers – the sort of loyalty that goes far with Trump. Christie has since emerged as a key figure behind the scenes, including running Trump’s transition team.

Trump has said he would like to choose someone with government experience, and Christie’s leadership of a traditionally Democratic state, where he has pushed legislation through the New Jersey State House, could help in working with a deeply divided Congress.

Christie is also brash enough to handle the attack dog job.

There, however, are some critical weaknesses.   Christie is still dealing with fallout from the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. In addition, he isn’t popular with New Jersey voters, which means he probably couldn’t deliver New Jersey – a critical factor in picking a VP.

Christie also has a serious anti-gun record that will not sit well with the average Republican gun owner.

Joni Ernest. This could be the “Sarah Palin” pick for Trump. A Harley motorcycle riding mom from the socially conservative (but Democratic) state of Iowa, Ernst electrified the Republican establishment with her election to the Senate in 2014, and quickly emerged as one of the party’s rising stars and fresh faces. During her Senate bid, she ran as an outsider, much as Trump does.

She is an Iraq war veteran and retired National Guard lieutenant colonel, which could bring military and foreign policy experience – two areas in which Trump is lacking. And as a woman, she could help him shore up his standing with female voters among whom Trump trails Clinton in polls.

One problem is that she was elected to the Senate just two years ago and lacks a deep breadth of national governing experience. However, she is a disciplined candidate, which means she will not likely make the type of verbal mistakes that Trump does.

Mike Pence. Pence is the popular governor of Indiana. He is socially conservative and he backed Cruz in the primaries. This would solidify Trump’s support amongst conservatives.

As a governor, Pence offers the political and executive experience that is a positive on a national ticket.

Pence doesn’t bring any electoral advantage to Trump. Although Obama narrowly won Indiana in 2008, the state is reliably Republican.

Pence is currently running for reelection as governor against John Gregg, a Democrat and former speaker of Indiana’s House of Representatives. By picking Pence, it will make it harder to keep control of the Indiana governor’s mansion.

Jeff Sessions. Senator Jeff Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest supporters and is also under consideration. Sessions’ views on immigration match Trump’s. He is a close Trump confidante, especially when it comes to shaping his policy positions. He also has experience as US Attorney in Alabama, which makes him qualified to attack Clinton on the email scandal.

Sessions is not as well-known as some of Trump’s other choices, and although very conservative, wouldn‘t create much excitement amongst voters. He also comes from reliably Republican Alabama.

Michael Flynn. A surprise name on the list is retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a national security adviser to Trump who has emerged as one of the most buzzed-about VP possibilities.

Flynn retired in 2014 after a 33-year career in military intelligence that included hunting down terrorists as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Flynn is a long shot because Trump has strongly suggested he would likely select someone connected to Congress or with elective experience to be his vice president.

Of course, there are other long shots like one of Trump’s primary opponents. However, there seems to be little likelihood of that occurring.

There are also other dark horses that offer some possibilities. One is former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. She was an early Trump supporter, and a strong advocate of border control. She has a reputation for being combative, if needed, and has weathered political storms in Arizona and nationally.

However, as a politician in her early 70s, she wouldn’t project the youth that Trump is probably seeking.

Hillary Clinton not to be Indicted

The Director of the FBI announced on Tuesday that they are recommending that Clinton not be indicted for her actions in keeping a private Email server. Director Comey justified his decision on the grounds that the FBI found no “clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws.”

The announcement had something for everyone. Clinton supporters were happy that there are no criminal charges that could derail Clinton campaign. On the other hand, the report detailed the type of behavior that could make voters question her suitability for being president.

According to Comey, “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case on the basis of the evidence. However, “reasonable prosecutors” have brought charges against persons accused of much less. U.S. Navy officer Kristian Saucier faces ten years in prison for taking pictures of the engine room of his submarine with his cell phone. Bryan Nishimura, a naval reservist who served in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008, was fined and given two years of probation for downloading classified military information to his personal device and taking it back to his California home. And General David Petraeus received a $100,000 fine after he admitted sharing classified information with his mistress.

This announcement may reinforce the Trump claim that there are two forms of justice in America – one for the elite and one for the common man. This could play well to the Sanders’ supporters.

In the end, the announcement was a political compromise. The report outlines the case against her, but by not pressing criminal charges, the FBI is clearly allowing the voters to judge her in the court of public opinion. If she wins in November, it is clear that voters think she was innocent. However, if she loses, they will have voiced their opinion that she violated the law.

This may end up being the largest jury in the history of jurisprudence.





ISIS Attacks Should Be Wake-Up Call for Middle Eastern Leaders
By Emma Ashford
Cato Institute
July 6, 2016

This weekend saw a series of ISIS attacks across the Muslim world, punctuating the end of Ramadan with bloodshed, and creating speculation about what these attacks mean for the campaign against ISIS. Perhaps more importantly, the attacks also highlighted a key discrepancy: even a weakened ISIS poses a far larger threat to Middle Eastern states than it does to the United States or to Europe, yet these states have been at best marginal contributors to the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS, while their policies inside Syria have fostered the group’s growth. These attacks should serve as a wake-up call for Middle Eastern leaders who have repeatedly prioritized other concerns.

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Turkey and the United States after the Istanbul Airport Attack: Still Divided by Syria?
By Bulent Aliriza
Center for Strategic and International Studies
July 1, 2016

The horrific terrorist assault on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on June 28, which killed 44 people, prompted Turkish officials to blame the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as after a number of similar deadly attacks in Turkey during the past year. Although ISIS has not claimed any of these attacks, it is clear that Turkey’s vulnerability to the scourge of terrorism has increased dramatically with the spread northwards of radical jihadist violence from Syria. President Barack Obama called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan within hours of the outrage, “offered any and all assistance,” and “pledged to continue working with Turkey to fight terrorism.” However, despite the optimism of some in Washington since the attack relating to the possibility of growing convergence between the two countries in the fight against ISIS, it seems likely that closer cooperation will be hampered by their continuing differences on Syria.

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NATO’s High Noon?
By Gary J. Schmitt
American Enterprise Institute
July 1, 2016

It was just four and half years ago that the Obama administration’s Pentagon issued its strategic guidance white paper, “Sustaining Global Leadership”, which formally announced the military’s rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific Theater, justified in part because “most European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it.” With Europe no longer a contested arena, “our posture in Europe must also evolve.” Put more bluntly: the US was cutting what little remained of its forces in Europe in half. It didn’t take Russian President Vladimir Putin long to smell a vacuum. With the invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and the militarization of Russian policies toward the West, Europe has once again become a contested space. Washington and NATO are now playing catch up. Just how well the alliance is catching up will largely be the standard for determining whether the NATO Summit taking place in Warsaw on July 8-9 has been a success — or not.

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Beware Russians Bearing Gifts
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
June 28, 2016

Slowly but surely, a strategic reorientation is underway in Israel. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a high-profile state visit to Russia. The trip, Netanyahu’s fourth in the past year, was a public sign of the rapidly expanding ties between Jerusalem and Moscow.  For Israel, the unfolding strategic alignment with Moscow is driven by both domestic and international considerations. At home, ethnic Russians have become an increasingly potent – and vocal – force. Now approaching a quarter of the country’s total population of eight million, this constituency (and its most prominent political party, Yisrael Beytenu) has emerged as something of a kingmaker in national politics. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent decision to elevate Yisrael Beytenu’s leader, Avigdor Liberman, to the post of defense minister in a bid to strengthen his fragile political coalition was simply a sober recognition of this fact.

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NATO Summit an Opportunity for Unity and Leadership after Brexit
By Karen Donfried
German Marshall Fund
June 29, 2016

The implications of the Brexit vote are stark, not only for the United Kingdom and for the European Union, but also for the United States. Since the end of World War II, successive U.S. administrations have strongly supported the project of European economic and political integration – initially, to ensure peace among the continent’s great powers; more recently, to enlarge the area of democratic stability and economic prosperity across the continent. For seven decades, the U.S. security umbrella, represented by the NATO Alliance, helped defend our European allies and gave them the opportunity to concentrate on building the European Community and later the European Union (EU). With the U.K. poised to leave the EU, leadership from the United States is needed to keep the U.K. and its continental partners working closely together in NATO and beyond in the aftermath of last week’s referendum.

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Tuesday Changed Everything
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
June 30, 2016

This is a serious escalation by ISIS, which has thus far engaged in what I call limited warfare against Turkey. ISIS has targeted Turkey in the past but has shied away from major strikes. For instance, ISIS hit the old city in Istanbul and afterward Istiklal Street. These attacks pale when compared to the scope, the damage, and the impact of the airport attack. The Ataturk airport attack is not only significant because it killed dozens of people and injured more than 100, but also because it will have a negative effect on Turkey’s economy and tourism industry. This could cost Turkey billions of dollars. The country’s image of being a place that’s safe for business and safe for tourists to visit is also going to be tarnished.

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