The Orlando shooting consumed the think tank community this week.
The Monitor analysis looks at the shooting and other events this week, and how they impact the November election. We also look at the hacking of DNC computers.
In terms of campaign issues, we see intractable divides between Americans on issues like Muslim immigration and gun control that will only grow as we get closer to the election. One issue that could decide the presidential election is another terrorist attack. Otherwise, the economy will be the deciding issue as it has in past elections.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The CSIS looks at stability and instability issues in the Gulf. They note, “The Southern Gulf States—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia—are all Arab states that have low to medium risk states in terms of governance and economics. In broad terms, however, petroleum wealth has been a key factor in providing this level of stability, and the 40-60% drop in petroleum export revenues that has occurred since 2014 is having a major impact. Much also depends on their ability to deal with the threat of terrorism and extremism, and to deter and contain the threats posed by Iran.”
The Brookings Institution says the refugee crisis will not stop until the civil wars do. They say that the international community can end the civil wars and note, “We have done it before—in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and (unfortunately only temporarily) in Iraq. Others have done it in East Timor, Cambodia, Lebanon, and elsewhere. As I have written with the great scholar of civil wars, Barbara Walter, it is entirely possible to lay out a strategy that would allow the United States and its allies to bring a negotiated end to the civil war in Syria (and Iraq, Libya, and possibly Yemen as well). Of course, doing so will not be quick, easy, or cheap but it does not have to be as ruinously expensive as our Iraq fiasco or as endless as our Afghan fiasco. Indeed, both of those conflicts have gone as badly as they have because the United States has steadfastly refused to apply the lessons of prior civil wars to these conflicts. Unfortunately, we are determinedly repeating the same mistake in Syria, refusing to adopt the one course of action that history has demonstrated can work.”
The Brookings Institution looks at the young men of Tunisia and asks why they are drawn to jihad. They note, “The hope has always been that democratization and political participation would offer disaffected citizens peaceful outlets to express economic and political grievances. This notion—that the only way to effectively undermine Middle East terrorism is to promote democratic openings—was the animating premise behind President George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda in the 2000s. A growing body of evidence suggests that this is at least partly true in the long run. But Tunisia hasn’t, and won’t, reach the long run anytime soon. Democracy is no easy fix, and there tends to be a short-term trade-off. The fall of a dictator—and the euphoria of long-awaited regime change—raises expectations, yet institutions are too weak to meet rising popular demands.”
The Carnegie Endowment says there is a possibility that the nuclear agreement with Iran could provide opportunities to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime. They note, “Importantly, the agreement provides a model for making a state’s fuel-cycle activities commensurate with demonstrable civilian requirements. It limits the level of enrichment to 3.67 percent, which is the typical requirement for nuclear power reactors. (For nuclear weapons, uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent.)…The agreement constrains the volume of enriched uranium that the state may accumulate before it demonstrably needs large quantities of nuclear-reactor fuel. In the case of Iran, this limit is 300 kilograms for a period of fifteen years, with an understanding that after that period Iran’s enrichment capability would expand according to a plan to be shared in advance with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There is little reason why states wishing to begin peaceful enrichment programs in the future should not accept similar constraints.”
The German Marshall Fund looks at political stability in Turkey. They conclude, “Turkey’s politics are in flux. The unstable parliamentary system for which the presidential system is offered as a cure refers to pre-2002 period of unstable coalition governments. During that time, politics was perhaps characterized by a persistent and therefore stable instability. Contemporary Turkish politics, though stable, is becoming destabilized by the drive to replace the current parliamentary with a presidential system at whatever the cost, resulting in an unstable stability. The outcome is difficult to predict.”
The Brookings Institution says that Syrian-Americans can help solve the Syrian refugee problem. They note, “These organizations have more to offer than merely filling gaps in implementation capacity. They have cultural and linguistic expertise, technical capacity, longstanding personal and professional networks on-the-ground, and the ability to raise and deploy substantial amounts of funding to bring relief to those who sorely need it. In short, these organizations have specialized understanding of Syrian refugees and they are uniquely positioned to offer insights that are rare to find in the halls of government or international institutions.”
Presidential Campaign Heats Up Rather Than Cools Down
Traditionally, the period between the end of the primaries and the national political conventions is a quiet time when the presumed nominees take a break while gearing up for a national campaign.
That isn’t happening this year. This last week has seen a very active political landscape, with wildly vacillating polls.
A week ago, with Clinton winning enough delegates to receive the Democratic nomination, she saw a bump in the polls as Democrats began to coalesce behind her. She picked up more voters as Trump made derogatory comments about a Hispanic judge.
However, there is a saying that a week is an eternity in politics. And that proved itself this week when Omar Mateen, who pledged his allegiance to ISIS, attacked a gay night club in Orlando early Sunday morning.
Polls taken in the aftermath of the attack (Reuters and Bloomberg) show a boost in Trump’s numbers, although it appears that Clinton is still in the lead. A Bloomberg poll taken on Monday, after the attack showed that Americans saw Trump as better equipped to deal with this type of domestic terrorism by 4%. The poll also showed that 50% of Americans still opposed any additional regulation on semi-automatic firearms.
Trump, who spoke about attack on Monday said, “A nightclub full of innocent American people were slaughtered. These people happened to be gay. The Islamic terrorist had also set his sights on Disney World. These people happen to be every kind of American. See the pattern? Americans. Freedom-loving Americans mowed down in glee by a radical, hate-filled devoted Islamic terrorist.” Trump advocated a temporary ban on Muslim immigration.
Obama and Clinton took a different tack and focused their attention on gun control and preventing extremists from acquiring guns. On Monday, Clinton said, “Inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric and threatening to ban the families and friends of Muslim Americans as well as millions of Muslim business people and tourists from entering our country hurts the vast majority of Muslims who love freedom and hate terror. So does saying that we have to start special surveillance on our fellow Americans because of their religion. It’s no coincidence that hate crimes against American Muslims and mosques have tripled after Paris and San Bernardino. That’s wrong. And it’s also dangerous. It plays right into the terrorists’ hands.”
She also said, “I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets and we may have our disagreements about gun safety regulations, but we should all be able to agree on a few essential things. If the FBI is watching you for a suspected terrorist link, you shouldn’t be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked.”
Obama has constantly underplayed the threat of terrorism. According to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who spent hours interviewing Obama about his foreign policy doctrine, the president “has never believed that terrorism poses a threat to America commensurate with the fear it generates” and “frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than handguns, car accidents, and falls in bathtubs do.”
As a result, Obama conceded only that the Orlando shooter was an example of “homegrown extremism” inspired by “propaganda and perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet,” which “seep into the minds of troubled individuals.” He did not directly link the Orlando shooting to the rise of ISIS, to its fundamentalist version of Islam, or to ISIS’s success in carrying out a series of terrorist attacks from California to Paris to Brussels.
There has been some bipartisan comment from some politicians. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan agreed with Obama and said that Trump was too hard on Muslims.
However, some Democrats have sided with Trump. Barney Frank, a long serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, voiced concerns regarding the safety of gay Americans, an “Islamic element” in terrorism and an increased need for surveillance and gun control… “It’s an attack against gay people but it does not reflect a general deterioration of our standing in America,” he said. “It reflects the virulence of the hatred in this sector of Islam… There is an Islamic element here,” he told the Times. “Yes, the overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t do this, but there is clearly, sadly, an element in the interpretation of Islam that has some currency, some interpretation in the Middle East that encourages killing people,” and L.G.B.T. people are on that list. And I think it is fair to ask leaders of the Islamic community, religious and otherwise, to spend some time combating this.”
As it stands, it appears that in addition to the economy, this election may revolve around the issues of terrorism, gun control, and immigration – issues that deeply divide the country.
Unfortunately, this reflects a growing cultural divide in America. Americans vote straight partisan tickets more than they used to, they are less likely to like people on the other political side, and American politicians reflect (and shape) those same attitudes.
But the polarization runs deeper than mere politics. The cultural differences between, say, Manhattan and Abilene Texas, are vast and growing. One can live their entire life in Manhattan without knowing people who own a gun or attend an Evangelical church. But, one can’t spend a day in Abilene without meeting a gun carrying Evangelical Christian. Americans watch different things. Americans read different things. Americans believe different things.
This can be seen in how Americans responded to the Orlando shooting. Millions of Americans looked at the event and thought that this was what happens in a country filled with homophobia and guns. Other Americans saw it as an outcome of increasing immigration of Muslims from the Middle East and a failure to address the problems of “radical Islamic terrorism”.
The differences between these two groups are wide and obviously hard to bridge. And, it’s hard to see how Trump, Clinton, or Obama will be able to bring these two groups together.
This means there will be very little change due to this incident. The White House will make no significant changes in its approach to counterterrorism. Obama finds it convenient to describe the attacks as a combination of a warped ideology and mental illness. Indeed, Obama’s typical response has usually been to urge Americans not to overreact and then to demand more gun control.
Conversely, although there is talk about more gun control, little will change there. As we have mentioned earlier, Americans have a close attachment with firearms that has withstood other mass shootings like Sandy Point four years ago. Since this is a terrorist attack, it will only make many Americans more firmly in favor of the private ownership of such weapons.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post shows that most Americans oppose assault weapon bans. Currently only 45 percent in this survey favor an assault weapons ban, down 11 percentage points from an ABC/Post poll in 2013 and down from a peak of 80 percent in 1994. Fifty-three percent oppose such a ban, the most on record. This closely tracks a post Orlando shooting poll by Bloomberg that showed 50% opposing a ban.
As a result of these firmly held beliefs, issues like Muslim immigration and gun control will not move many voters to either Trump or Clinton. Economics will probably be the winning issue, as it has been for most presidential elections.
However, it is important to remember that terrorism remains the wild card of the election. Trump has managed to gain some ground on this issue – as seen by post-Orlando polls. A new Rasmussen survey released Thursday finds that 51% of likely U.S. Voters consider radical Muslims to be the bigger threat to the United States today. This means that further similar terrorist attacks will move undecided voters to Trump and cause a stagnation of Clinton support.
Russians Hack Democratic National Committee Computers
Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on Donald Trump, according to committee officials. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, but as The Washington Post reports, the intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system they also were able to read all e-mail and chat traffic.
As The Washington Post reports, some of the hackers had access to the DNC network for about a year, but all were expelled over the past weekend in a major computer clean-up campaign, the committee officials and experts said.
The DNC said that no financial, donor or personal information appears to have been accessed or taken, suggesting that the breach was traditional espionage, not the work of criminal hackers.
In May, U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper warned that cyber hackers were targeting presidential candidates for reasons including espionage. The attacks could intensify, he said.
Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear are among the best hacking groups in the world, according to Crowdstrike. In addition to the U.S., the groups have targeted victims in Europe, China, Japan and attacked a variety of sectors including defense, aerospace, and energy.
“Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none,” Crowdstrike said.
Why the Russian focus on Trump Op research? Unlike Clinton, who has been studied since at least 1992, Trump has not been a politician for very long, so foreign agencies are playing catch-up, analysts say.
“The purpose of such intelligence gathering is to understand the target’s proclivities,” said Robert Deitz, former senior advisor to the CIA director and a former general counsel at the National Security Agency told the Washington Post. “Trump’s foreign investments, for example, would be relevant to understanding how he would deal with countries where he has those investments” should he be elected, Deitz said. “They may provide tips for understanding his style of negotiating. In short, this sort of intelligence could be used by Russia, for example, to indicate where it can get away with foreign adventurism.”
DNC leaders were tipped to the hack in late April. Chief executive officer Amy Dacey got a call from her operations chief saying that their information technology team had noticed some unusual network activity. They then immediately brought computer security company CrowdStrike onboard to deny access to the intruders and secure the network.”
The firm identified two separate hacker groups, both working for the Russian government, that had infiltrated the network, said Dmitri Alperovitch, CrowdStrike co-founder and chief technology officer.
However, on Wednesday, another person claimed responsibility. An online vandal using the name “Guccifer 2.0” has claimed credit and has provided the website “The Smoking Gun” with documents, including a 237-page opposition research report on Donald Trump.
In an e-mail, the hacker wrote, “Hi. This is Guccifer 2.0 and this is me who hacked Democratic National Committee.” Claiming that the incursion was “easy, very easy,”
Attached to the e-mail were an assortment of DNC documents stolen by “Guccifer 2.0,” including donor lists, internal memos, and the Trump report. Claiming to have been inside the DNC networks for more than a year, the hacker took credit for lifting “thousands of files and mails,” which he recently “gave to Wikileaks.”
In response to e-mailed questions, the hacker told TSG, “First I breached into mail boxes of a number of Democrats. And then using the info collected I got into Committee servers.” Included in the pilfered material sent to Wikileaks, the hacker wrote, are “election programs, strategies, plans against Reps, financial reports, etc.”
The Trump report, dated December 19, 2015, is a comprehensive review of the presumptive Republican nominee’s business career, finances, and personal life.
The document opens with the assertion that, “One thing is clear about Donald Trump, there is only one person he has ever looked out for and that’s himself. Whether it’s American workers, the Republican Party, or his wives, Trump’s only fidelity has been to himself and with that he has shown that he has no problem lying to the American people. Trump will say anything and do anything to get what he wants without regard for those he harms.”
The report contained research going back years on Trump. “It’s a huge job” to dig into the dealings of somebody who has never run for office before, Dacey said.
Although the focus has been on the Trump opposition research, the fact that one group focused on DNC email and chat should also be a concern.
If Clinton wins in November, many people who are part of the DNC email and chat networks will likely be top Clinton Administration officials. This email and chat information could provide important intelligence on the thinking and attitudes of these officials. It could also expose personal vulnerabilities that Russian intelligence, or others, could exploit to gain greater access into a Clinton White House.
Stability and Instability in the Gulf Region in 2016
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
June 15, 2016
The Gulf has long been an unstable and constantly changing region—but the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; the region-wide upheavals that began in 2011; the rise of ISIS in late 2013; the Yemeni civil war that began in 2013; and the massive drop in petroleum prices and revenues that accelerated in 2015—have combined to increase risk at every level. The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a new analysis that addresses all of these variables in ways that cover key trends and risks for the entire Gulf region—and separately for each Gulf country.
The Iran Deal’s Building Blocks of a Better Nuclear Order
By George Perkovich
June 9, 2016
The U.S. debate over the Iran nuclear deal focused primarily on whether the agreement’s terms were sufficient to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, whether Iran would cheat, and whether Iran would use gains from sanctions relief to fund aggression against its neighbors and Israel. Practically no attention was paid in the media or in Congress to the possibility that the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), could provide opportunities to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime. Of course, the potential to build on the agreement depends on its being successfully implemented; the deal’s collapse would create an international crisis that would subsume efforts to adopt its salutary provisions elsewhere. Assuming implementation, the JCPOA contains a number of innovations that could in future years be applied in other countries to bolster confidence that their nuclear programs will be exclusively peaceful.
From Unstable Stability to Stable Instability: Turkey’s Travails
By Ilter Turan
German Marshall Fund
June 15, 2016
Turkey’s governing Recep T
Turkey’s governing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, AKParty under the guidance of its previous leader and now the president, wants to change the regime to a presidential system (regime stability). He has recently forced a change of government (governmental stability) whose performance he had constrained (performance stability) and sometimes forced to change by asking that his policy choices rather than those of the prime minister be implemented (policy stability). The active policy role the president follows deviates from what is outlined in the constitution (stability of the rule of law). To persuade the public that regime change is necessary, he has targeted the Peoples’ Democracy Party, which he argues is the agent of the PKK, a terrorist organization pursuing ethnic Kurdish separatism (stability of political geography). It appears that in the pursuit of some dimensions of stability that the president and the government argue are not well achieved under the current system, other dimensions of stability are not now being served.
The refugee crisis won’t end until the civil wars do
By Kenneth M. Pollack
June 14, 2016
There is no question that the United States and countless other governments in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East can be doing much more to manage the refugee crisis stemming from the Syrian civil war. Building more and better camps. Providing more and better food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. Establishing more and better security for camps and other refugee communities. Simply admitting more refugees, in both the border states and those far away. These and other steps would do much to alleviate the plight of so many fleeing the horrors of civil war in Syria. They are all things that we can and should undertake. But, there are some important “buts” to consider as well. First, while Syria is the worst part by far, it is still only part of the regional refugee crisis. Almost 12 million Syrians have been displaced internally or externally, but so too have 4.2 million Iraqis, 2.2 million Yemenis, and at least 1 million Libyans by their own civil wars. And they join roughly 5 million Palestinians and 4 million Sudanese displaced by earlier conflicts.
Want new ideas for managing the Syrian refugee crisis? Engage Syrian Americans
By Robert L. McKenzie
June 13, 2016
Some of the best sources for new and creative ideas to help mitigate the baneful effects of the Syrian refugee crisis can be found among their fellow citizens who settled in America years or decades before. Since the Syrian uprising, Syrian-Americans—doctors, lawyers, engineers, and entrepreneurs from all over the United States—have come together and established a multitude of humanitarian organizations. They have collaborated and distributed hundreds of millions of dollars for aid and civil society projects in Syria and its neighbors. One example of this collaboration has been the recent establishment of the American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS), a conglomeration of 13 Syrian-American humanitarian organizations.