Much of the focus in Washington this week was the British vote to leave the European Union.
This week’s Monitor Analysis looks at the continuing presidential election activity. Both Clinton and Trump made speeches this week that looked at the economy – while attacking their opponent’s character and policies. We also look at current polling, and many of the problems that face the two campaigns.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Washington Institute says Washington needs to destroy the ISIL’s image and achievements, and give Sunnis reason to help in that effort. They note, “Ultimately, ISIL must be discredited. While we can debunk its claims by inflicting military defeats and exposing the group’s actual behaviors, the United States and its non-Muslim partners in the coalition cannot discredit ISIL. Only Sunni Muslims can do that. ISIL claims it is the protector of Sunni Muslims against the non-believers and “the rejectors” — the Shiite Muslims. If nothing else, this tells us that Iran cannot be a partner in discrediting ISIL. On the contrary, its role in the mass killing of Sunnis in Syria has contributed to the rise of ISIL. We need the Sunnis — clerics, tribes and governments — to discredit and replace ISIL on the ground.”
The American Enterprise Institute argues that the State Department’s optimism on Libya and ISIS is misplaced. They conclude, “The Libyan civil war, like the Syrian civil war, needs a real resolution, not a back-room deal worked out in European hotels. In some ways, Secretary Kerry is also right—the U.S. needs a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS, and Al Qaeda, throughout the region. However, a comprehensive strategy is exactly what we don’t have. We are whacking various moles and negotiating “settlements” that settle nothing while ISIS adapts and Al Qaeda grows.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the ideological roots of ISIS. They conclude, “Regardless of how the Islamic State fares militarily in the coming months and years, its ideology remains a long-term challenge. It is a symptom of a broader issue that has been largely overlooked: an unchecked shake-up in Salafism that allows new movements to derive from both Salafism and Islamism. Until the interplay of Salafi and Islamist ideas is recognized, the Islamic State’s ideology will continue to be misdiagnosed. The group’s emphasis on Islamic theology in its public discourse clouds its revolutionary nature and creates the illusion that its ideology is traceable to Salafism rather than to the confluence of fundamentalist and revolutionary strands.”
The German Marshall Fund looks at terrorism and Mediterranean security. They note, “Beyond violent Islamists, the Mediterranean remains a reservoir of terrorism and political violence based on secular ideologies of the left and the right, nationalism and ethnic grievances. The sharp rise in PKK terrorism in Turkey (and terrorism by spin-off groups based in urban areas) is a leading example. Greece continues to confront steady, low-intensity terrorism from left-wing and anarchist cells, alongside right-wing extremism. Southern Europe as a whole has a long history in confronting separatist and ideological terrorism, and our debate pointed to the potential for its revival under conditions of protracted economic stress and political instability. The general rise of populist movements could also encourage the emergence of xenophobic, anti-globalization or simply nihilistic terrorism on the fringes of radical politics.”
The Cato Institute says terrorism has hijacked American foreign policy. They note, “the deafening roar of ISIS-flavored news is creating incentives for political leaders to keep doing stupid things in the name of the war on terrorism. To be clear, the news media did not create the ISIS problem. That blame falls at the feet of the bipartisan Washington foreign policy consensus that has dictated endless intervention since 9/11. Once in motion, however, the news media have dutifully amplified the rhetoric of our political leaders, and by now it is almost impossible for anyone to change the conversation or reframe the foreign policy debate. This reinforcing spiral of government overreaction and media hype have helped pave the way for a series of failed, unnecessary, and/or counterproductive policies from the 2003 invasion of Iraq through the American support of the current efforts in Yemen and Libya.”
The German Marshall Fund looks at both new and old types of terrorism in the Mediterranean region. They note, “Whereas older forms of terrorism provided asymmetric violent responses to conflicts in society that authorities did not address (for lack of will or ability), new terrorism aspires to fill the void left by the retreat or collapse of order. In this respect, IS may lose the battle of governance even before it is defeated militarily on the battleground. Its inhumane acts and incompetence are rapidly alienating the communities it has subjected. The current scenario is further complicated by the fact that the new terrorism has not supplanted the old. In fact, IS has stolen the leadership from, yet not replaced nor absorbed Islamist terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda that had risen to notoriety in the 1990s and 2000s. Moreover, almost all forms of even older terrorism persist in the Mediterranean, Islamic terrorism being just the most prominent and deadly. It is estimated, for instance, that left-wing and right-wing groups currently implicated in lower-profile acts of violence can be counted in the hundreds in Greece alone.”
The Washington Institute looks at recent activity to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. They conclude, “Is the recent burst of peace activism much ado about nothing? The answer lies primarily in the Middle East and Washington. If circumstances ripen for a regional initiative, it would likely marginalize all other efforts, creating significant reason for Washington and others to invest in it. On another level, the U.S. decision on whether to sponsor or veto a UNSCR [UN Security Council Resolution] will have a decisive impact on which initiative moves forward. Thus, it would be wise to carefully consider whether the initiatives in question can produce a balanced and broadly supported outcome that would be of future benefit to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
American Presidential Politics – June 17th to June 23rd
The traditionally quiet time of presidential politics wasn’t, as both Trump and Clinton faced serious challenges and made accusations against the other candidate.
He Said, She Said
Both candidates made speeches this week that were focused on the economy – although there were a lot of attacks against the other candidate.
Trump focused on his experience as a successful businessman in his speech. He said, “I started off in Brooklyn New York, not so long ago, with a small loan and built a business worth over 10 billion dollars. I have always had a talent for building businesses and, importantly, creating jobs. That is a talent our country desperately needs.”
However, he also outlined many things he hoped to accomplish early in his presidency. They included, “Appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution. Hillary Clinton’s radical judges will virtually abolish the 2nd amendment [the right to own firearms]. Change immigration rules to give unemployed Americans an opportunity to fill good-paying jobs. Stand up to countries that cheat on trade, of which there are many. Cancel rules and regulations that send jobs overseas. Lift restrictions on energy production. Repeal and replace job-killing Obamacare — it is a disaster. Pass massive tax reform to create millions of new jobs. Impose tough new ethics rules to restore dignity to the Office of Secretary of State.”
However, much of the speech was targeting Clinton and the state of American politics. Much as we are seeing in Europe, there is considerable distrust of American politics and Trump has capitalized on it. He said, “Everywhere I look, I see the possibilities of what our country could be. But we can’t solve any of these problems by relying on the politicians who created them. We will never be able to fix a rigged system by counting on the same people who rigged it in the first place. The insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money.”
He also made a strong appeal to Sanders supporters who are upset that Clinton won the Democratic nomination. Trump said, “That’s why we’re asking Bernie Sanders’ voters to join our movement: so together we can fix the system for all Americans. Importantly, this includes fixing all of our many disastrous trade deals. Because it’s not just the political system that’s rigged. It’s the whole economy.”
However, much of the speech was targeting Clinton and her scandals. Trump said, “The other candidate in this race has spent her entire life making money for special interests – and taking money from special interests. Hillary Clinton has perfected the politics of personal profit and theft. She ran the State Department like her own personal hedge fund – doing favors for oppressive regimes, and many others, in exchange for cash. Then, when she left, she made $21.6 million giving speeches to Wall Street banks and other special interests – in less than 2 years – secret speeches that she does not want to reveal to the public. Together, she and Bill made $153 million giving speeches to lobbyists, CEOs, and foreign governments in the years since 2001. They totally own her, and that will never change. The choice in this election is a choice between taking our government back from the special interests, or surrendering our last scrap of independence to their total and complete control.”
After a Gallup poll was released earlier this month showing that 53% of Americans prefer Donald Trump for handling the economy compared to 43% who prefer Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee felt the need to address the issue during a speech on Tuesday.
She blasted Trump’s business record, ethics, and policy positions. “It takes more than stern words or a flashy slogan. It takes a plan, and it takes experience.”
Clinton said, “Liberals and conservatives say Trump’s ideas would be disastrous. The Chamber of Commerce and labor unions. Mitt Romney and Elizabeth Warren, economists on the right, the left and the center all agree: Trump would throw us back into recession.” Clinton said in Columbus, Ohio, adding that “Trump would take us back to where we were before the crisis. He’d rig the economy for Wall Street again. That will not happen on my watch, I guarantee you.”
Clinton also took the time to criticize Trump on his comments about debt: “The United States of America doesn’t do business Trump’s way, and it matters when a presidential candidate talks like this, because the world hangs on every word our president says. The full faith and credit of the United States is not something we just gamble away. That could cause an economic catastrophe, and it would break 225 years of ironclad trust that the American economy has with Americans and the rest of the world.”
Clinton Servers Hacked
Both candidates had problems this week. For Clinton, it was the revelation that the Democratic National Committee, Clinton’s campaign, and the Clinton Foundation servers were hacked, resulting in the release of embarrassing information. It also focuses more attention on the email scandal that the FBI is currently investigating.
The recent spate of hacking is said to involve as many as 4,000 individuals and entities connected to the election. Bloomberg reports that the FBI and the NSA are now involved in identifying the scope of the attack and trying to identify who is responsible. The Russian government has denied any responsibility.
Hackers released some information taken from the Democratic National Committee last week, specifically an oppo-research book on Donald Trump. This week the hacker (or collective) known as Guccifer 2.0 released another set of documents from the DNC hack. It seems the Democratic Party is somewhat nervous that there is much more, and worse, yet to come. From Bloomberg:
If the Democrats can show the hidden hand of Russian intelligence agencies, they believe that voter outrage will probably outweigh any embarrassing revelations, a person familiar with the party’s thinking said.
So far the released documents have revealed little that is new or explosive, but that could change. Guccifer 2.0 has threatened to eventually release thousands of internal memos and other documents.
However, there were more files released from this series of hacks. Most notable among these files is the file called “Clinton Foundation Vulnerabilities Master Doc FINAL” which, as the title implies, is an extensive 42-page summary of how the Clinton Foundation views its biggest vulnerabilities based on mentions, references and attacks from the press.
Here are some of the section titles that pertain to the Middle East:
“THE CLINTON FOUNDATION RECEIVED DONATIONS FROM INDIVIDUALS TIED TO SAUDI ARABIA WHILE CLINTON SERVED AS SECRETARY OF STATE
AN EMBATTLED BUSINESSMAN WITH “TIES TO BAHRAIN’S STATE-OWNED ALUMINUM COMPANY” GAVE BETWEEN $1 MILLION AND $5 MILLION TO THE CLINTON FOUNDATION
AMONG THE CLINTON FOUNDATION DONORS REVEALED IN 2009 WERE SEVERAL FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS WHO HAD GIVEN MILLIONS OF DOLLARS”
Trump Troubles at GOP Convention
Republicans who don’t want Trump as the nominee are still trying to stop him at the convention. However, that is still a long shot at best.
Here’s the current strategy. Curly Haugland, a Republican National Committee member from North Dakota since 2004, and Sean Parnell, former vice president of the Heartland Institute, contend that the delegates are free to oppose or support any candidate they choose, unless the convention’s Rules Committee explicitly decides otherwise.
They write,” Delegates to the Republican National Convention have had, at every convention from 1856 through 2012, the full freedom to vote their consciences on all matters recognized and protected in the convention rules — with the single notable exception of 1976, when the campaign of incumbent President Gerald Ford pushed through a change in the rules as part of a strategy to deny the nomination to former California Gov. Ronald Reagan.”
Of course, there are state rules that bind delegates to the candidate. So, the question is if national rules override state rules?
The task before the rebellious anti-Trump delegates is considerable. They first need to get 57 members of the 112-member Rules Committee to affirm that they may vote their consciences and reject the candidate they have pledged to support. The Rules Committee consists of 112 Republican delegates — one man and one woman from every U.S. state and territory, plus Washington, D.C. It is chaired by former Utah congresswoman Enid Mickelsen and co-chaired by longtime RNC member and GOP lawyer Ron Kaufman. Neither figure is seen as a Trump loyalist; both are thought to be allies of the previous nominee, Mitt Romney, who remains intensely critical of the real-estate mogul. It is, thus, conceivable that the Rules Committee might side with insurgent anti-Trump delegates.
However, the anti-Trump forces still have to get the rules passed. The rules decided upon by the Rules Committee must then be ratified by 1,237 of the 2,472 delegates. Right now, Trump is estimated to have about 1,542 delegates committed to him, at least on paper, in Cleveland. More than 300 would have to abandon him on a rule-change vote and a subsequent nomination vote for an insurrection to succeed. It could happen, especially if Trump continues to seem headed for electoral disaster in November, but it’s unlikely.
Trump Far Behind in Raising Money
Trump has also failed to raise as much money as Clinton – just a little over a million dollars. Clinton will raise about one billion dollars, but Trump hasn’t even begun to call big money GOP donors. Needless to say, many Republicans are nervous about the lack of money.
Trump may decide to self fund and he indicated that in an interview with ABC News.
Trump said, “As far as I’m concerned I’d be very happy to continue to self fund,”
“I’ll be honest, I think I could spend $50, $60, $70 million of my own money and run a wonderful campaign,” Trump told Muir. “Now, would I have as many ads as her? No.”…
“I don’t think that kind of money is necessary,” Trump said, using his spending during the primary season as an example. “Remember this: I spent $50 million, and I won. Other people that were running against me spent many times that amount, and they lost – not even close.”
Trump can also accept public financing, which would be about $100 million, but would then be barred from accepting donations. However, this would allow him to continue to attack Clinton as the rich people’s candidate. Since many Sanders supporters don’t like Clinton’s connections to Wall Street, this would give them a reason to defect from Clinton and vote for Trump.
Clinton still leads Trump in the national polls by 1% to 5%. But they are bouncing about quite a bit, which usually indicates that voters haven’t totally made their minds up. However, it appears that he may be closing a bit after the Orlando shootings. Recent polls show voters trust Trump when it comes to protecting the nation from terrorists.
While Clinton is leading the national polls, it seems that some key battleground states that usually decide the election are much tighter.
A Quinnipiac poll this week looked at three key battleground states over the course of 11 days this month, at a moment when Trump was being battered by the media over the Trump University judge comments, his fundraising, and his lack of discipline on the stump. The poll showed him being dead even in Ohio and a point back in reliably Democratic Pennsylvania after a month of terrible coverage and having spent next to nothing on the campaign. The bad news was that he is several points behind Clinton in the critical state of Florida.
However, it’s important to remember that it is still early in the campaign and many presidential candidates that eventually won were behind at this point.
However, for a candidate that is spending only a small fraction of what Clinton is, Trump’s closeness in the polls is very respectable.
The only question is if he can continue to do that for five more months?
How Terrorism Has Hijacked American Foreign Policy
By A. Trevor Thrall
June 20, 2016
Terrorism has hijacked American foreign policy. First Al Qaeda and now the Islamic State have come to dominate thinking about international affairs so completely that there is hardly any issue that has not been “terrorized.” Issues that once had significance because they were important in their own right now only matter insofar as they affect the fight against terrorism. Russia? Now discussed primarily with respect to whether their air campaign affects ISIS in Syria. Syria? Important only because of ISIS and other jihadists who want to rule. Iraq? The birthplace of ISIS. Iran? A regional power broker who supports terrorism as whose support for Assad in Syria matters because of…ISIS. Libya, the latest concern du jour? You guessed it: concern for Libya is in fact concern for the growth of ISIS in the country.
In Libya, the US is playing whack-a-mole with terror
By Emily Estelle
American Enterprise Institute
June 21, 2016
No less an authority than CIA Director John Brennan last Thursday called the ISIS group in Libya its “most developed and most dangerous” affiliate and noted that this group seeks to expand in Africa and attack in Europe. So, why should we care?
For one thing, Brennan’s warning contrasts sharply with the optimism of the State Department. Only a day earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Libya’s United Nations-backed government is “[coming] together,” and praised efforts to “minimize the implantation of [ISIS]” in Libya. Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk also praised forces “loyal” to the U.N.-backed government for making “real progress” against ISIS. Which is it? Unfortunately, Brennan is right, and Kerry is wrong. The progress being touted by the Obama Administration against ISIS in Libya is ephemeral, while the real danger from that group is growing.
The Sectarianism of the Islamic State: Ideological Roots and Political Context
By Hassan Hassan
June 13, 2016
Forces throughout the Middle East are attempting to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which seized territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. But regardless of how the jihadi group fares militarily, its ideology remains a long-term challenge. The Islamic State’s ideology is multifaceted and cannot be traced to one individual, movement, or period. Understanding it is crucial to defeating the group. The Islamic State presents itself as the representative of authentic Islam as practiced by the early generations of Muslims—Salafism—and it draws on an especially strict brand of Salafism in particular, Wahhabism. It is overly simplistic, however, to blame any one ideology for the Islamic State’s extremism. Its extremism is the product of a hybridization of doctrinaire Salafism and other Islamist currents.
Terrorism and Mediterranean Security: A Net Assesment
By Ian Lesser
German Marshall Fund
June 21, 2016
According to the latest figures from the Global Terrorism Database, the incidence and lethality of worldwide terrorism declined in 2015. This is good news, and helps to put the global terrorism challenge in context. Yet, the Mediterranean region has little to celebrate when it comes to terrorism trends and consequences. Both Turkey and Egypt have experienced a sharp rise in terrorism over the past year, and the European security environment as a whole is being shaped, in large part, by terrorism and the threat of terrorism emanating from Europe’s southern periphery. These risks are hardly new, but they have acquired new meaning in light of the sustained conflict and chaos around the southern and eastern Mediterranean, and the persistent economic and social pressures across southern Europe. Above all, terrorism concerns and counter-terrorism partnerships will underscore the strategic importance of the region on both sides of the Atlantic at a time of flux in national, NATO and EU strategies. Four points stand out from our debate in Naples.
Old and New Terrorism Meet in the Mediterranean
By Emiliano Alessandri
German Marshall Fund
June 20, 2016
The recent focus on the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (IS) should not lead us to neglect the diversity of the contemporary terrorist threat and to overlook the connections between older and newer forms of terrorist violence rooted near the Mediterranean. In fact, terrorism is intertwined with the history of the modern Mediterranean and several lessons can be drawn in comparative perspective. One such lesson is that terrorism is as strong as the environment allows. What makes Mediterranean-based terrorism such a significant global phenomenon is not just the existence of deep and long-standing cleavages in the region, but the fact that structures that could otherwise defuse, mediate, or channel conflict – starting with state institutions – are often weak or discredited. Against such backdrop, existing socio-economic, cultural, and religious differences can be powerfully exploited to propagate violence.
Prove Islamic State a False Prophet
By Dennis Ross
June 21, 2016
Fifteen years after 9/11, it might seem strange that terror and securing the American homeland are central to the presidential campaign. After all, combating terror was a priority of the Bush and Obama administrations. Both presidents invested a great deal in preventing external terrorist groups from being able to carry out terror attacks here and were successful in doing so. Yet the San Bernardino and Orlando attacks, demonstrating the threat of homegrown terrorists and their shockingly easy access to automatic weapons, make the choices even starker, the stakes even higher. Slogans won’t prevent such attacks but intelligence (particularly on email and social media posts), early detection of possible radicalization, and active cooperation with Muslim communities will all be part of the answer. Obviously, alienating Muslim communities is not a smart way to make them active partners in the effort. Nor is it effective in countering the Islamic State terrorist group, which portrays a world against Muslims as a recruiting tool.
Activism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Clouds and Wind, but No Rain?
By Michael Herzog
June 21, 2016
Within days, the principals of the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the United States, the EU, and Russia) are expected to release a report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that includes recommendations on “the best way to advance the two-state solution.” Together with the June 3 Paris peace conference, this effort shows that while the conflict has been marginalized amid dramatic regional upheaval, it is not off the international agenda. Recent months have seen a surge in the number of actual and contemplated initiatives relating to the conflict, and this burst could ultimately dictate the peacemaking agenda for the next U.S. administration. In addition to the French effort and the Quartet report, there has been talk of a potential Arab initiative under Egypt’s sponsorship. Moreover, the Palestinians, the United States, or other actors may push later this year for a UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) on issues such as settlements, parameters for resolving the core issues, or recognition of Palestinian statehood.