Week of June 16th, 2017

Executive Summary

Although Washington is in its summer vacation season, there is a lot going on – congressional testimony on the Trump Administration and an attack on several Republican congressmen.

The monitor looks at the attack on the Republican congressmen and the growth of political and civil unrest.  We note that both sides have become intransigent and unwilling to compromise, which indicates that more political unrest and violence is coming.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Heritage Foundation looks at the Qatar situation.  They note, “Indeed, the reported sending home and/or recalling of ambassadors, the cut-off of land, sea and air travel to Qatar and eviction of Qataris from the six countries that severed relations with it are serious, making this the biggest tiff among these states in years. That said, it’s probably time for a clearing of the air. An unvarnished discussion about Qatar’s role in the troubled region — which led Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and Maldives to cut ties with Doha — is probably due. While some suggest that critical commentary on Qatar’s state-run media outlet, Al Jazeera, helped kick off the crisis, the anti-Qatar coalition’s current concerns about Doha’s international actions run wide and deep. Perhaps most troubling is Iran. In the eyes of this Saudi/Egyptian-led group, Qatar is much too friendly with Iran — with which it shares a large Persian Gulf natural gas field.”

The CSIS looks at the Qatar situation and what it means for Gaza.  They conclude, “It is plausible that the Trump administration, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia have already worked out a plan for how to replace Qatari support for Hamas and secure Gaza in ways that have not been made public. A future Gaza without Hamas in power would certainly be a better outcome for Palestinians and Israelis if a non-violent Palestinian government were in control. It could open up Gaza, increase the free flow of goods and people, and start rebuilding the economy. But that is not the only possible outcome. The loss of Qatari patronage could also spark a major crisis on Israel’s border and leave Israel with quite limited tools to respond. Before upending the status quo, countries with a stake in Gaza’s stability should think carefully about the consequences of pulling the plug on Gaza’s economic lifeline.”

The Washington Institute looks at Hezbollah’s redeployments in Syria.  They conclude, “Last week, a Hezbollah commander in Beirut told the Christian Science Monitor, “Our people are gathering in the Tanf area right now, so a clash is definitely coming.” He may have been referring to a potential ground confrontation between Iranian- and U.S.-backed forces. Yet while the context of his remark was the Iraq-Syria border, the parties seem to be gearing up for more substantial and thorny battles…Whatever the case, the border area captured last week by Shia militias is still exposed and vulnerable, so they will likely have great difficulty maintaining control there. Rebel forces may be able to recapture it with relative ease if they have sustained U.S. airpower on their side…Although Hezbollah seems determined to lead the way toward Iran’s territorial objectives, concerted U.S. diplomatic efforts with Russia…could change the group’s calculations and forestall a larger confrontation. Failing this, the current trajectory suggests that a confrontation between U.S. and Iranian surrogates is coming.

The Washington Institute looks at two princes – Muhammad bin Salman (MBS), the 31-year-old deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and Muhammad bin Zayed (MBZ), the 56-year-old crown prince of Abu Dhabi.  As they look at the future influence of these two, they conclude, “So is the MBS/MBZ campaign against Qatar going to be a quick success or require an embarrassing climbdown? Emir Tamim and his wily father know how to change positions as pressures demand. As this crisis continues, the future potential roles of MBS and MBZ, either individually or together, in the Middle East will become clearer. Success could mean blunted ambitions for Iran and a defeated Islamic State, but overconfidence is not a prescription for victory. Cooler heads, in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Washington should be listened to. Getting it wrong could have dreadful consequences for the region, as well as the wider world.”

The Heritage Foundation says the US should encourage a settlement in Yemen.  They conclude The paramount U.S. national security interest in Yemen is to defeat AQAP (al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula) while backing Arab efforts to support the internationally recognized Yemeni government, which is more focused on battling Iranian-supported Houthi rebels than it is on AQAP. Washington also should work to contain Iranian influence in Yemen, but that is more likely to come through a political settlement that tamps down the fighting than it is through an unlikely military victory by the weak Yemeni government and its Arab allies.

The Hudson Institute looks at the issue of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  They note, “Meanwhile, as far as the embassy move is concerned, Trump isn’t the first candidate to make such a vow. Barack Obama, of course, never mentioned it. But both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush offered similar promises. And they both signed the waiver every six months, leaving the decision for some future president to worry about.  But Trump, who is well known for his self-declared expertise as a dealmaker, seems to have more in mind than the usual procrastinated promise to the Israelis. He has repeatedly spoken of a “deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians that will finally resolve the Middle East “peace process.” Some see the embassy issue as a tactic in Trump’s deal-making scenario.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at Iran, Russia, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  They conclude, “The current support provided to the Taliban is, as in the case in Syria, coordinated with Russia despite overall strategic differences between the two countries’ long-term priorities. These new alignments in Afghanistan have Russia and Iran at the lead with China and Pakistan less vocally involved in pushing for a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. With the exception of China, the other three are lending support to the Taliban, including military support…As the Taliban fosters closer ties with Russia and Iran, ostensibly due to their opposition to ISKP, its submissiveness to Islamabad’s directives should be expected to decrease. The question to consider is whether a united Taliban with more freedom to make political decisions will emerge to engage seriously in peace negotiations with the Afghan government or whether ISKP will morph into a savvier spoiler role and create new alternatives to the Taliban, prolonging the instability in Afghanistan and the region.”


Political Unrest Grows in America

Two years ago the Monitor warned of the growing civil unrest in America.  That unrest was notched up a bit this week as an anti-Trump gunman who was a volunteer for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders started shooting a group of Republican congressman who were at a baseball practice.  One of the victims was Congressman Scalise, who is part of the congressional leadership.

Fortunately, the shooting wasn’t a massacre thanks to Capitol Police who were assigned to protect Scalise, who is the third ranking member of the congressional majority.  Needless to say, security was beefed up on Capitol Hill and the White House.

At least five people including Scalise were hospitalized.  Scalise, the House Republican Whip, appeared to have been shot in the hip.  According to observers, he was the first person shot.

A congressional staffer, Zach Barth, was also injured. Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods who sometimes practices with the team, was the most seriously injured. House Speaker Paul Ryan also identified two members of the Capitol Police who were injured, Krystal Griner and David Bailey.

The gunman who opened fire during a Republican congressional baseball practice session has been identified as sixty-six-year-old James T. Hodgkinson from Belleville, Illinois. He was killed by Capitol Police after firing up to 100 rounds from a semi-automatic AK-47.

Hodgkinson was a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter and campaigned for the senator to get the Democratic nomination for president last year. Hodgkinson wrote just three months ago on his Facebook page about his desire to bring down Trump and the GOP. “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,”

He was also a member of several anti-GOP Facebook groups, including “Terminate the Republican Party” and “The Road to Hell is Paved with Republicans.”  Hodgkinson was a full believer in the “TrumpRussia” conspiracy theory

Hodgkinson was shot by two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were accompanying Scalise to Eugene Simpson Stadium Park for the scheduled baseball practice ahead of Thursday night’s charity match.

It is unsure if Hodgkinson was trying to assassinate Scalise or was more interested in shooting Republican congressmen.  However, Hodgkinson’s Facebook page on January 8, 2015. referred to Scalise, saying “here’s a Republican that should Lose His Job, but they Gave Him a Raise.”

Of course, political violence isn’t unknown in the US – the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations being the two best known.  However, there are many more and they go back much further in American history.

On January 30, 1835, what is believed to be the first attempt to kill a sitting President of the United States occurred just outside the United States’ Capitol.  When President Andrew Jackson was leaving through the East Portico after a funeral, an unemployed house painter from England aimed a pistol at Jackson, which misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol, which also misfired.  Jackson, infuriated, attacked Lawrence with his cane. Others present, including Davy Crockett, restrained and disarmed Lawrence.

An attack on Ronald Reagan in 1981 sent the president to the hospital.

However, the level of rhetoric and potential violence has grown recently.  In 2014, there was an armed standoff between militia supporters and federal agents at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.  A few months later there was a riot in Ferguson, Missouri between Blacks and police over a shooting of a Black man.

Within months, police were becoming targets for supporters of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that grew out of the Ferguson riots,

During the 2016 campaign, there were numerous standoffs between leftists and Trump supporters – many which led to violence.

Unfortunately, the violence has been encouraged by some politicians.  Clinton’s vice presidential candidate Senator Kaine appeared on MSNBC in January urging Democrats to “fight in the streets” in resistance against the Trump agenda.  Senator Kaine’s son, Linwood, would later be arrested while attempting to disrupt a pro-Trump rally in Minnesota, and is now facing criminal charges.

Former Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch also used similarly incendiary language  in which she seemed to call upon fellow ‘progressives’ to march, bleed, and die in the streets – also in resistance to the Trump agenda.

“They’ve marched, they’ve bled and yes, some of them died,” Lynch said. “This is hard. Every good thing is. We have done this before. We can do this again.”

Since the election of Trump, there have been numerous riots over the election.  Some of the most visible were those in Oakland, California.

Shocked and angered at the election results, students marched out of Berkeley and into Oakland in the early morning hours of November 9. The protesters blocked roads and lit several trash cans and newspaper boxes on fire in the middle of the streets.  Protesters vandalized cars and burned American flags for hours in Oakland.

The next night, protesters returned to downtown Oakland. While the protest began peacefully, it descended into violence later that night. Protesters smashed the windows of several stores and police cruisers and lit a large fire in the Oakland Chamber of Commerce ground floor.  Protesters lit bonfires in the street, set dumpsters and garbage cans on fire and clashed with riot police throughout the night.  A police cruiser was also set ablaze by angry demonstrators in downtown.

Since the election of 2016, the left has created a group called “Resistance” and the spearhead of that is a loosely formed terrorist group called “Antifa.” Antifa is short for Anti-Fascist.

In the last few months, these groups have repeatedly disrupted peaceful pro-Trump rallies. They have called for and used violence against people who support the president, disagree with them and even against members of the media who will report things Antifa doesn’t want reported.

The weapons used by protestors have ranged from glitter filled gel to urine bombs, to chains, bicycle locks and baseball bats. As their violence becomes more intense, it is now only a question of when and not if, someone will be killed.

The level of violence in political discourse has also grown and it has become normal to see people talk of executing Trump.

Two weeks ago comedian Kathy Griffen was photographed with the bloody, decapitated head of Trump.

New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park,” shows the killing of a Trump-like character in its rendition of Julius Caesar.  The play has been praised by many liberals.

On Sunday, liberal publication Huffington Post posted an article titled,”Impeachment Is No Longer Enough; Donald Trump Must Face Justice.”  The article, which has now been removed from its website noted, “Impeachment and removal from office are only the first steps; for America to be redeemed, Donald Trump must be prosecuted for treason and — if convicted in a court of law — executed.”

Given that background, it’s not surprising that an anti-Trump person would try to kill Republicans.

The Future?  Better or Worse?

Although attacks like this can shock people into sanity, the aftermath of the shooting showed some troubling comments on social media that justified the shooting on the ground that Scalise is a “racist” and a conservative.

The office of Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) received a threatening email with the subject line “One down, 216 to go…,” shortly after the Scalise shooting.

The person who sent the email then wrote in the body of the email, “Did you NOT expect this? When you take away ordinary peoples very lives in order to pay off the wealthiest among us, your own lives are forfeit. Certainly, your souls and morality were lost long before. Good riddance,” the email said.

Others on the left ignored the background of the shooter and focused on Trump or gun control.

On the right, there are some that say the US is now heading towards a civil war.  Former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan wrote just hours before the shooting that America was heading towards a civil war.

“We are approaching something of a civil war where the capital city seeks the overthrow of the sovereign and its own restoration,” he writes.  “Thus far, it is a nonviolent struggle, though street clashes between pro- and anti-Trump forces are increasingly marked by fistfights and brawls. Police are having difficulty keeping people apart. A few have been arrested carrying concealed weapons.”

“What he and his White House need to understand is that this is not going to end, that this is a fight to the finish, which his enemies will not relent until they see him impeached or resigning in disgrace.”

“To prevail, Trump will have to campaign across this country and wage guerrilla war in this capital, using the legal and political weapons at his disposal to ferret out the enemies within his own government.”

“He should campaign against the real enemies of America First by promising to purge the deep state and flog its media collaborators.”

“Time to burn down the Bastille,” Buchanan concludes.

Buchanan isn’t the only one to say this.  The Washington Times wrote right after the attack, “The first skirmishes of a second American civil war have begun.  No, this is not a metaphorical analogy to that bloody conflict that killed approximately 620,000 Americans. It is an objective statement of the reality in America.”

Meantime, an Atlanta Journal Constitution article on Monday noted that the Georgia militia was still expanding despite the Trump presidency.  According to the article, “The leader of the Georgia Security Force, Chris Hill, remains deeply skeptical of Congress and worries the lawmakers will undermine Trump’s agenda: preventing him from building a wall on the Mexico border, repealing “Obamacare” and fulfilling his promise to “Make American Great Again.”

“Even if President Trump is able to do the things that he wants to do, he’s still got Congress to contend with. Congress is the same old dog-and-pony show. All they do is fight. They’re never going to grant us more freedom,” said Hill.”

Georgia militia members “have vowed to resist any government that infringes on the U.S. Constitution.”

The only way to lower the risk of civil and political unrest is to lower the level of the rhetoric.  Unfortunately, that isn’t happening on either the left or right.




Qatar Conflict Imperils U.S. Interests
By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
June 8, 2017

Despite President Trump’s successful jaunt to the Middle East last month, advancing U.S. interests in that part of the world got tougher this week with the breakdown in relations between Qatar and several key regional states, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Indeed, the last thing the United States needs in the Middle East is the fracturing of relations among its potential allies and partners in the face of violent Islamist extremism (such as ISIS and al-Qaeda), the ongoing bloodshed in Syria and Iran’s push for power. Nor does Washington want to jeopardize its key military bases in Qatar — which is currently home to its biggest defense facilities in the region, following President Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq.

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U.S. Should Encourage a Settlement in Yemen to Defeat Al-Qaeda and Contain Iran
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
June 5, 2017

Yemen, a failed state embroiled in a bitter civil war, has become infested with terrorist groups and multiple overlapping insurgencies. The chaos has allowed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to flourish and develop into one of the most potent terrorist threats to the United States. The paramount U.S. national security interest in Yemen is to defeat AQAP while backing Arab efforts to support the internationally recognized Yemeni government, which is more focused on battling Iranian-supported Houthi rebels than it is on AQAP. Washington also should work to contain Iranian influence in Yemen, but that is more likely to come through a political settlement that tamps down the fighting than it is through an unlikely military victory by the weak Yemeni government and its Arab allies.

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Far from Doha: What Qatar’s Isolation Means for Gaza
By Haim Malka
Center for Strategic and International Studies
June 9, 2017

Hamas’s security forces have arrested hundreds of jihadists in the Gaza Strip in the last six months. Among them are militants firing rockets into Israel and scores of suspected Islamic State group (ISG) sympathizers. It seems to be a peculiar move for a group that calls for Israel’s destruction. And it all might come to an end if Qatar’s row with its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbors gets out of hand. Despite its hostility toward Israel, Hamas maintains order in the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli government relies on it to do so. Without an enforcer in Gaza, Israel fears that the area would be overrun by warring factions posing an even deadlier threat. As a result, Israel facilitates Hamas’s rule by supplying its enemy with electricity and ensuring the steady flow of medicine, food, and consumer goods. In practice, Israel seeks to ensure that Hamas is strong enough to dominate more radical groups in Gaza like the ISG, but not strong enough to feel emboldened to attack Israel.

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Iran, Russia, and the Taliban: Reassessing the Future of the Afghan State
By Amin Tarzi
Foreign Policy Research Institute
June 14, 2017

The first combat zone utilization of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) device by the U.S. forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A) on 13 April 2017 brought the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (ISKP) to the headlines. ISKP emerged in Afghanistan and Pakistan in early 2015 after individuals and groups of militants pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. This ISIS affiliate became operational after only a few months. While the ISKP represents a danger to the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan and to the wider region including India and Central Asia, the outfit has become a vehicle to legitimization of the growing internationalization of the wider Afghan conflict, particularly in changing the calculus of Iran and Russia vis-à-vis the Taliban, and it has the potential of becoming a tool for proxy warfare in Afghanistan evocative of the mid-1990s.

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Jerusalem Notebook: The U.S. Embassy – to Move or Not to Move?
By Lela Gilbert
Hudson Institute
June 13, 2017

The United States Embassy to Israel has been located in Tel Aviv since the 1940s. But now, in 2017, the address of the embassy has become the center of a contentious political discussion, both in and around Israel. Why? Well, as the saying goes, it’s complicated. But the shortest possible version of the ongoing debate goes like this: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As president, he has decided to at least delay the move, and has signed a waiver stating that the embassy will not be moved from Tel Aviv for six months.

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Hezbollah’s Redeployment in Syria: Potential Confrontations
By Hanin Ghaddar
Washington Institute
June 13, 2017
PolicyWatch 2820

Since the fall of Aleppo, Hezbollah has strategically moved most of its forces in Syria to other parts of the country, in large part to legitimize its local presence, bolster its power there, and better secure the southern borders. In tandem with the movements of Shia militias from Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the Lebanese group’s most recent operations have focused on three main areas: al-Tanf, Palmyra, and Deraa. Although these locations are geographically distant from each other, they are strategically essential to the Assad regime’s apparent vision for Syria’s future. Hezbollah’s redeployment also represents a tactical shift to the Badia region and southern Syria in general — almost certainly an attempt to disrupt U.S. de-escalation plans in the area and force Washington to accept an Iranian presence along the Syria-Iraq border.

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Meet the Two Princes Reshaping the Middle East
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
June 13, 2017

The dramatic and sudden effort to isolate Qatar, like the fateful intervention before it in Yemen, sprang from the shared vision of two princes. Depending on your point of view, they may be the harbingers of a new and better Middle East — or reckless architects of disaster. Indeed, the region’s most important relationship may be the dynamic duo of Muhammad bin Salman, the 31-year-old deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and Muhammad bin Zayed, the 56-year-old crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the lead sheikhdom of the United Arab Emirates. They share not only a desire to wage twin battles against Iran and Islamic radicalism, but also a deep appreciation for their conservative Gulf countries’ reliance on the United States. Together, they have shrewdly cultivated President Donald Trump, who is eager to show that he has a new strategy for defeating terrorism and confronting Tehran.

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