Week of March 06, 2020

Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

The Heritage Foundation looks at the peace deal for Afghanistan.  They note, “most importantly, talks within Afghanistan between the government and the Taliban will take place March 10.  This is the most crucial stage in the peace process. It does not matter what the U.S. agrees to with the Taliban; what matters most is what the Afghan government agrees to with the Taliban.  Many questions remain unanswered. And healthy skepticism is only natural under circumstances like this.  But ultimately it is for all Afghans—those who support the government in Kabul and those who identify as Taliban—to settle their differences. The Afghan government has been fighting a Taliban-led insurgency. History shows that most insurgencies are successfully ended through a political settlement. After all, the most basic goal of any counterinsurgency campaign is to allow those who have political grievances the ability to express these grievances through a political process rather than through violence. This is the goal of the intra-Afghan talks. You no more can kill your way out of an insurgency than you can drink yourself out of alcoholism.” 


The CSIS has a skeptical view of the Afghan agreement.  They note, “As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance… Most of the media’s reaction to the announcement of a peace process agreement ignores a wide range of these issues and has only focused on the immediate military implications of the agreement to enter negotiations. This commentary focuses on the three critical limits in the official reporting and media coverage of these military developments: 1. Underestimating the real size of U.S. forces in (and for) Afghanistan. 2.Ignoring the critical role of forward train and assist forces and airpower. 3.Failing to examine the importance of the role played by our allies.”


The Cato Institute also looks at the Afghan agreement.  They conclude, “If the Trump administration is truly making U.S. withdrawal contingent on the Taliban and Kabul successfully signing a powersharing peace agreement, it could very well be the death knell for the deal. We are already seeing cracks: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that he rejects the idea of a TalibanKabul prisoner swap, which is supposed to be carried out by March 10. He said the United States was in no position to make that promise on his behalf. Even as America announces her impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, she still helplessly clings to the very fantasies that have kept her bogged down in this quagmire for nearly 20 years. We have not remade Afghan politics. We have not established a stable, democratic, independent government in Kabul. We have not defeated the Taliban. But that does not vitiate the wisdom of withdrawal. After nearly 20 years, $2 trillion, and an immense loss of life, it is now a vital national interest to end the war. But if the war doesn’t end within 14 months, exiting the war should be the priority, regardless of conditions on the ground.”


The American Foreign Policy Council says America should declare war on proxies.  They note, “Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences. The most systematic user of this tactic is Russia. Since the early 1990s, it has manipulated ethnic conflicts in three different states and helped set up nominally independent entities over which it exerts control. Moscow’s practice began in Moldova’s Transnistria region and in two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia…Following its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia established permanent military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and formally recognized the independence of the two territories. This allowed Moscow to create a fictive legal basis for its military presence, based on so-called interstate agreements it signed with its proxies.”





Super Tuesday Election Results Shake Up Democratic Nomination Race

There is an old political adage that says, “a week is an eternity in politics.”  That adage was no truer than this week.  A week ago, Vice President Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seemed dead.  His showings in the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa and Nevada caucuses were dismal.  Major Democratic donors were sitting on the sidelines, which left the Biden campaign without the money to contest important states like Texas.  And, his verbal gaffs on the campaign circuit created questions about his ability to mentally handle the office of president.

All that changed in the last few days.

On Saturday, Biden won the South Carolina primary thanks to overwhelming Black support.  Within a day, candidates Buttigieg and Klobuchar had pulled out of the race and had endorsed Biden – followed by several other prominent Democratic politicians like Beto O’Rourke.

The momentum of the weekend led to a surprising win in the Super Tuesday primary elections.  As of this writing, although Biden hasn’t sewn up the nomination, he is leading by a comfortable margin and has over 50% of the delegates pledged.

That win was followed on Wednesday by the withdrawal of candidate Bloomberg, who endorsed Biden.  On Thursday, Warren pulled out.

Although Biden doesn’t have the 1991 delegates to guarantee a first ballot win at the convention, his road to the nomination seems much clearer.  With only Sanders to seriously contest the nomination, the chances of a “brokered” convention are nearly impossible.  And, even if the convention is brokered and Biden doesn’t win on the first ballot, he is nearly assured victory in the second ballot by the super delegates who overwhelmingly support Biden.

The upcoming primaries don’t provide much hope for Sanders to overcome Biden’s lead.  The March 10, primaries are in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Washington.  Of those, only Washington and maybe Michigan appear to be in the Sanders column.  The rest are probably going for Biden.

On the positive side for Sanders, the upcoming states holding primaries has more – White and more Hispanic – groups that did give Sanders more support

If Sanders can stop Biden’s momentum on March 10, the March 17th primaries of Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio may help get him back in the race.  However, with the democratic rules that split up the delegates according to the percentage of support each candidate gets, Sanders must manage to get some major wins in order to overcome Biden’s lead in delegates.

Sander’s problem is that there aren’t any other serious candidates that can siphon off votes from Biden.  And, he needs another viable candidate in the race in order to create a brokered convention.

Although the primary season goes into June, it’s possible that the eventual winner will be clear by the end of March.


Senator Bernie Sanders

Although Biden’s comeback was the big story coming out of Super Tuesday, the Democratic leadership who backed Biden can’t afford to ignore Sanders.  Sanders did win the biggest prize, California.  He also earned enough votes to win delegates in every state that Biden won – even though Senator Warren siphoned votes from him. 

Biden can’t expect a victory like Super Tuesday every week.  Super Tuesday had a preponderance of Southern states (the old Confederacy) that are more conservative and less likely to support Sanders.

There is also the fact that the upcoming primaries have more Whites and Hispanics, which are more likely to vote for Sanders.  The problem is that the demographics of the likely voter in the upcoming primary states probably will not be enough to overcome the current Biden lead.

But it isn’t just the nomination that is on the line.  The race also reflects the great divide in the Democratic Party and its future.  Currently, control of the party is in the hands of more moderate establishment Democrats.  They want Biden to win the nomination at all costs, just as they wanted Hillary Clinton to win the nomination in 2016.

The Democratic leadership is concerned that a more radical presidential candidate like Sanders would hurt the party in local elections as well as the US Senate and US House.  In their mind, it’s better to lose the White House with a moderate candidate yet, retain its majority in the House.

However, there is a sizable minority in the Democratic Party that envisions a more democratic socialist Democratic Party like those in Europe.  They also want to overthrow the establishment Democrats that currently run the party.  And, Biden’s win will not mend that divide.

Therefore, it’s possible that Biden may come to the Democratic convention with enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot, but face an upset minority that supports Sanders and feels that the nomination was taken from their candidate, as it was in 2016.  These Sanders voters may decide to stay home in November and hope that they can take over party leadership with a new generation of politicians like New York Congresswoman Cortez.

In other words, while this is probably Sanders last run for president, it isn’t the last time that democratic socialists will be heard from.


Michael Bloomberg

Although Bloomberg pulled out of the race on Wednesday, he has won one distinction – howbeit a humiliating one.  He has beaten John Connally for the distinction of spending the most money for fewest delegates.  Former Texas governor Connally had spent $11 million for one delegate in the 1980 Republican primary.  As of the time of this writing, Bloomberg had won 50 delegates after spending $700 million (the delegate count should give Bloomberg more delegates in the next few days).

Bloomberg had misread the Trump victory in 2016.  He assumed that a large personal fortune that could be spent on the campaign would insure victory.  As a result, he saturated the airwaves, including the expensive California market, with commercials for the last month. 

But he had little to show for it but the victory in the small American Pacific territory of American Samoa.  He had forgotten that a candidate needs an agenda in addition to media coverage.

It also helps to make a good impression in the debates.  Bloomberg, however made a poor impression on the debate stage as the other candidates ganged up to attack him.

Although Bloomberg is out of the race, he is expected to remain active, using his personal fortune to help defeat Trump. 

Although the Bloomberg money will help the Democrats this year, it is offset by the lack of donations to the Democratic National Committee this year.  There is also the fact that Americans don’t like the idea of anyone “buying” the election.  Consequently, Bloomberg may waste hundreds of millions of dollars more in a vain attempt to defeat Trump in November.


Senator Elizabeth Warren

Warren has pulled out of the race, thanks to a poor performance across the nation, including her home state of Massachusetts, where she lost to Biden.  The reality, however, is that Warren had no path to victory. 

Warren did poorly with demographic groups that she counted upon.  Exit polls showed that only 1 in 10 women in Massachusetts voted for her and only 1 in 5 college educated Whites in the state supported her.

Her future, post campaign, is uncertain.  As a woman, she would be a logical VP choice for Biden and may help bring pro-Sanders democratic socialists back into the Democratic Party camp.


The Future

As we noted at the beginning, a week is an eternity in politics.  That means that any attempt to analyze the future may prove wrong within a week.

Assuming Biden retains his lead in delegates, he will be the nominee – either on the first or second ballot.  However, his victory may not bring about a Democratic victory in November.

There are questions about Biden, his son, and corruption in the Ukraine – an issue that came up in the Trump impeachment proceedings.  In fact, the Ukraine has started a criminal corruption investigation into the circumstances surrounding Biden’s involvement in stopping an investigation into his son’s action.  There is also the possibility of a Senate investigation.

There is also the question of Biden’s suitability as a presidential candidate.  As the former Vice President, Biden should have sewn up the nomination months ago.  However, his missteps on the campaign trail have worried many in the Democratic Party.  During campaign stops he has often forgotten what state he is in and what office he is running for.  As a result, many observers think that he may be showing signs of mental degeneration.

This placed the Democratic leadership on the horns of a dilemma.  Do you support a moderate, establishment candidate like Biden, even though he may lose the election, but will keep the establishment Democratic leadership in power?  Or, do you support someone who will be a better campaigner, but is outside the establishment.

Picking an outsider for the nominee is a threat to the leadership.  Someone like Sanders will oust many current Democratic leaders and install his own supporters if he wins the nomination.

On the other hand, Biden has made it clear that he is sticking with the status quo and political leaders like Speaker of the House Pelosi.

There are also troubling signs that the Democratic majority in the House may be in jeopardy – another reason to back Biden.  The California congressional primaries on Tuesday showed that Republican voters in Republican congressional districts that had flipped Democratic in 2018 outnumbered Democratic voters, even though there was no Republican presidential primary. 

Traditionally, a Democratic presidential primary, with no Republican presidential primary will see Democratic voters outnumber Republican ones.  The fact that Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters, means that nine California congressional seats could flip to the Republican side in November – about half the number needed to turn the House Republican.

While a Biden candidacy may help the Democrats in the House, there is also the issue of Biden’s mental condition.  If he is elected and his mental condition continues to decline, there is a chance that a move to oust him by using the 25th Amendment may take place.  In that case, the choice of a vice presidential nominee at the Democratic Convention may be critical.

Normally, VP choices are made to “balance” the ticket.  Biden may want a more democratic socialist VP – preferably one that is a woman and a minority.  Senator Kamala Harris of California would be a choice that might energize women voters and Blacks, although she is from the strongly Democratic state of California.  Senator Warren of Massachusetts could also be a possibility.  Both would also help pacify the democratic socialist wing of the party too.

Both women, however, would not be the favorite VP candidate for the Democratic Party establishment, which sees both of them as far left outsiders like Sanders.  If one of them succeeds Biden as president, they will likely replace the current Democratic leadership.

A more logical choice for a VP that could take over for Biden and retain the current Democratic leadership might be a Democratic governor from a state that Biden needs to win in November.  He could take a more active role in a Biden Administration and be a good successor if the 25th Amendment is used.

What this means is that the race for the Democratic nomination is hardly over.  Does the party want someone who can win the White House in November?  Does the party want to allow more of a say for democratic socialists in the party, although it may cause the party to lose seats in the House of Representatives?  Or does the party leadership want to retain its power?

All of these are questions that must be answered by the end of the Democratic Convention in July.



U.S., Taliban Sign Peace Deal for Afghanistan

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

Feb 29, 2020

A U.S. special envoy and a senior Taliban representative signed an agreement Saturday in Doha, Qatar, that aims to be the first step to bring peace to Afghanistan and allow U.S. troops to come home. In the seven days leading up to the signing ceremony, violence by all sides in Afghanistan had dropped. While there were some attacks, the overall trajectory and levels of violence were reduced drastically. After concluding that the reduction in violence was satisfactory, President Donald Trump gave the green light for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to accept the deal, which comes more than 18 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Pompeo was present in Doha as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder and chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the agreement that resulted from more than a year of on-and-off formal talks. Among those also present were the foreign ministers of Turkey and Pakistan. This is a first step in what will be a long, drawn-out process. The Afghan people want peace, having known some form of war since 1979. 

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Ending the War in Afghanistan vs Exiting It

By John Glaser

Cato Institute

March 2, 2020

The Trump administration has signed an interim deal with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan. The basic contours of the deal are as follows: the Taliban agree to not allow alQaeda or any other group to use Afghan territory to conduct international terrorism against the United States or its allies, and in return the United States will withdraw its military forces from the country. Within 135 days, the Trump administration will reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from approximately 13,000 today to 8,600. The remainder will be withdrawn within 14 months, contingent on the Taliban’s fulfillment of its side of the bargain, which includes a prisoner exchange, verifying that it is taking measures against foreign terrorist groups on Afghan soil, and starting intraAfghan negotiations with the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul.  The good news is that we have never been this close to ending the war. 

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Afghanistan at Peace or Afghanistan in Pieces – Part One: The First Phase

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 3, 2020 

In fairness, Secretary Pompeo made it clear when he announced the first steps towards a peace agreement that, “the United States has secured separate commitments from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban to hold negotiations for peace.” He made no reference to a full peace plan with any major details. Currently, however, far too much of the coverage given to his announcement has focused on the conditions which allowed the start of such negotiations – as if they provided a coherent plan for the future. As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance. This previous analysis, entitled, Afghanistan: “Peace” as the Vietnamization of a U.S. Withdrawal?

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The United States Needs to Declare War on Proxies

By Svante E. Cornell and Brenda Shaffer

American Foreign Policy Council

February 27, 2020 

There has been no shortage of debate about the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and its effects on U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and the broader Middle East. Not nearly enough has been said about whether it can broadly serve as a model for dealing with the problems posed by proxy forces elsewhere in the world. By killing Suleimani, the United States indicated it would no longer tolerate Iran’s use of proxies to circumvent its responsibility for killing Americans and for other acts of terrorism and mass bloodshed. Washington decided to deal with the source of the terrorism, not its emissaries. The same principle should apply to the many proxy regimes established by various states—Russia most prominently—to circumvent responsibility for illegal military occupations. Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences.

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