Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Heritage Foundation looks at the issue of US/Saudi cooperation on nuclear power. They recommend a formal agreement and note, “By all appearances, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a legitimate, robust, and peaceful nuclear power industry that is matched by its continued participation in international non-proliferation treaties. Saudi Arabia signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1988 and concluded a comprehensive safeguards agreement in 2009, giving the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its nuclear program and facilities. The agency is further involved in Saudi Arabia’s nuclear energy program through a country program framework spanning from 2017 to 2021, which provides technical guidance as the Saudis develop their nuclear energy program. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is party to the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Proliferation Security Initiative, agreements focused on monitoring the transportation of radioactive material, information sharing between countries, and detection and prevention of trafficking nuclear weapons.”
The Carnegie Endowment notes The European Commission is due to publish its next progress report on Turkey in April 2018. This standard procedure is meant to outline how candidate countries have advanced in aligning with the EU’s political and technical criteria for accession and to chart their paths forward. Yet, in Turkey’s case, a massive deterioration of the rule of law makes it impossible to acknowledge any progress.
The American Enterprise Institute says Turkey has become a rogue regime. They conclude, “Proponents of engaging Turkey say that Erdogan is transactional and, if offered enough, will reverse course. Nonsense. NATO membership is meant to defend against crises, not to enable individual states to provoke them or initiate bidding wars to profit off them. Congress should go further. It should stop delivery of F-35s to Turkey or any other military or security assistance. So long as Erdogan remains in power, Turkey will remain a rogue regime deserving isolation and sanctioning, not partnership.”
The Heritage Foundation argues that the US shouldn’t leave Yemen. They conclude, “Rather than pull out, the U.S. should continue to use its presence and influence to establish the conditions that will allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the start of real peace negotiations that put the people of Yemen first. U.S. military activities contribute to both those goals, particularly by supporting counterterrorism operations against ISIS and a-Qaida. In addition to continuing that support, the U.S. should work to diminish Iranian meddling – not just by disrupting its aid to the Houthis, but by broadly attacking Tehran’s foreign escapades throughout the region. Pressing the regime overall will strain its capacity to support the rebels in Yemen – and that may lead to all sides in the conflict coming to the peace table sooner rather than later. If Congress wants to see an end to the humanitarian suffering in Yemen, then writing off the current U.S. role there ought to be the last thing lawmakers think about.”
The CSIS looks at the institution of conscription in the UAE in order to build a cohesive nation. Right now, though, the program stands as the clearest sign yet of the UAE leadership’s vision: how it diagnoses the strengths and weaknesses of its society, what it sees as the strongest path forward, and where it is trying to go. It is far more than a program to build the military. It is a program to build the society from the military. The goals it has set and the path it has chosen to accomplish them will have a profound effect not only on the Emirates, but also on neighboring countries that will draw lessons from the Emirates’ example.
The Heritage Foundation looks at the growing use of drones in the region. They conclude, “In September 2017, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that terrorists overseas now use drones and characterized a threat to the U.S. homeland via drones as “imminent.” Wray’s testimony was followed by a November 2017 bulletin released by the Department of Homeland Security that warned that terrorist groups were applying “overseas battlefield experience to pursue new technologies and tactics, such as unmanned aerial systems.” Drones, which are becoming cheaper and more versatile, are likely to play an expanding role in future regional conflicts and terrorist attacks. Drones also pose a rising threat to homeland security. The regulation of drones is still murky territory, and Congress needs to debate how to properly balance freedom with security in the face of the growing drone threat. Given the surging commercial availability of drones and the track record of terrorist groups that have acquired drones, a drone attack on a major population center, either in the Middle East or at home, seems inevitable unless the threat is given due attention and effective countermeasures are implemented.”
The Cato Institute looks at the role of arms sales in US foreign policy. They note, “Arms sales create a host of negative, unintended consequences that warrant a much more cautious and limited approach, even in support of an expansive grand strategy like primacy or liberal hegemony. From the perspective of those who would prefer a more restrained American foreign policy, the prospective benefits of engaging in the arms trade are even smaller. Even in cases where the United States wants a nation to arm itself, there is rarely a need for the weapons to come from the United States. Moreover, the United States would generate significant diplomatic flexibility and moral authority by refraining from selling arms. Given these outsized risks and nebulous rewards, the United States should greatly reduce international arms sales.”
The CSIS says we should look beyond North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM threat. They note, “As long as North Korea has such systems [precision guided missiles] in development and deployment, South Korea (and Japan) will need theater missile and air defenses that can counter them. Missile defenses cannot be casually traded away for North Korean concession on nuclear weapons. Similarly, the progress that South Korea is making in developing and deploying its own ballistic and cruise missiles must continue. It must be clear to North Korea that South Korea can cripple its military forces and a far smaller and more vulnerable critical infrastructure if it should attempt such attacks or try to use the possession of such systems as a threat to South Korea and a counter to its air superiority.”
1 – Bolton Picked as New National Security Advisor
2 – Cambridge Analytica and the Art of Political Analysis
1 – Bolton Picked as New National Security Advisor
Washington was surprised a bit as President Trump announced the departure of National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster in April. He will be replaced by former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton on April 9th.
“H.R. McMaster has served his country with distinction for more than 30 years. He has won many battles and his bravery and toughness are legendary,” Trump said in a statement. “General McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council staff has helped my administration accomplish great things to bolster America’s national security.”
McMaster is expected to retire from the Army.
There have been questions about McMaster’s future for months and he had discussed his retirement for weeks with President Trump. McMaster disagreed with Trump’s desire to abolish the Iran nuclear agreement and disapproved of his strategy in Afghanistan.
Trump publicly chastised McMaster in February after the three-star general stated that Russia had undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 presidential election. However, a leak coming out of the NSC warning Trump not to congratulate Putin on his reelection may have been the final straw.
The timing of the change may also have something to do with the upcoming trip to see North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. The Bolton move strengthens the NSC team and helps bring it in line with Trump’s outlook.
Bolton shouldn’t be a surprise. He was considered for the post of Secretary of State at the beginning of the Trump Administration. In addition, Bolton has advised Trump informally since the beginning of his tenure.
Bolton is a strong conservative, who has won plaudits as an aggressive defender of the Second Amendment (right to keep and bear arms). He also has a strong foreign policy background in Republican administrations.
Bolton worked as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security under George W. Bush. During the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, he worked in several positions within the State Department, the Justice Department (as Assistant Attorney General), and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Bolton has strong conservative, intellectual credentials. Bolton is involved with a number of politically conservative think tanks and policy institutes, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Institute of East-West Dynamics, the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Council for National Policy (CNP) and the Gatestone Institute, where he served as the organization Chairman
Bolton has established a reputation as a hawk on Middle East and Asian foreign policy. China will be confronted on its policy to take control of the South China Sea.
Needless to say, the choice of Bolton sends a strong message to North Korea. Any talks will not be “business as usual.”
Bolton made the case for launching a pre-emptive strike against North Korea in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal last month. He argued, “Necessity in the nuclear and ballistic-missile age is simply different than in the age of steam. What was once remote is now, as a practical matter, near; what was previously time-consuming to deliver can now arrive in minutes; and the level of destructiveness of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is infinitely greater.”
Bolton also justified a pre-emptive strike as being no different than what President Franklin Roosevelt did in the early days of the war.
Bolton has been a strong critic of the United Nations for much of his career. In a 1994 Global Structures Convocation hosted by the World Federalist Association (now Citizens for Global Solutions), he stated, “There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.”
Bolton is a strong critic of the Iranian nuclear deal and will push to end it. He will advocate greater economic sanctions against Iran.
Bottom line, Bolton is a foreign policy hawk. But, that doesn’t mean increased military involvement in Syria or drastic change in the current approach to negotiations on the Palestinian issue. But, he will stand firm against Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China.
Although Bolton will advocate negotiation, he will not be willing to back down. In that regard, he will fit the Trump foreign policy team. He knows his way through the foreign policy halls of the American bureaucracy. But, in the end, he will allow the president’s view to prevail, unlike McMaster.
But Bolton may offer the ability to sell politically unpopular foreign policy to a conservative base.
Not only is Bolton popular with conservatives (there was even talk of him running for president), he is a regular speaker at numerous conservative events like CPAC and the National Rifle Association. He can secure the conservative base if Trump needs to negotiate a deal with a country like Iran or North Korea that may be unpopular with conservatives.
2 – Cambridge Analytica and the Art of Political Analysis
This week saw a story about a political consulting company called Cambridge Analytica helping the Trump campaign in 2016. Cambridge Analytica is accused of harvesting data to build profiles on 50 million Facebook users, some, who agreed to fill out a survey, in an attempt to help Team Trump target specific voters with ads and stories. Most, however, had no idea their data was being used.
But, the biggest problem for Cambridge Analytica is its CEO who bragged on an undercover video that his company could provide covert assistance to politicians in nearly any country to win an election – including bribes and sex workers.
Much of the bragging that they helped Trump win was more likely to be hyperbole as the Trump campaign dropped the company months before the election. The Ted Cruz presidential campaign also fired them because they were unable to identify likely Cruz voters.
The story highlighted two issues; the use of data mining to identify votes preferences and how Facebook had allowed the Obama campaign to use the technique in 2012.
A New York Times piece in 2013 by writer Rutenberg said, “The Obama campaign started with a list that grew to a million people who had signed into the campaign Web site through Facebook. When people opted to do so, they were met with a prompt asking to grant the campaign permission to scan their Facebook friends lists, their photos and other personal information. In another prompt, the campaign asked for access to the users’ Facebook news feeds.
Note that after receiving permission from the original Facebook user, they didn’t get permission from the friends to search and use the friends lists.
“Once permission was granted, the campaign had access to millions of names and faces they could match against their lists of persuadable voters,” that Carol Davidsen (director, Integration and Media Analytics for Obama for America) was assembling. Then they could find potential donors, and they were also able to find unregistered voters.
Davidsen continued, “So the Democrats have this information. So when they look at a voter file and someone comes to them, they can immediately be like, “Oh. Here are all the other people that they know, and here are people that they can help us persuade because they’re really good friends with this person.” The Republicans do not have that information and will not get that information.”
“But we were actually able to ingest the entire social network, social network of the U.S. that’s on Facebook, which is most… That’s most people.”
A glowing 2012 Time article about the data mining was used by Obama staffers was headlined, “Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected with Young Voters,” and went on to explain how social networks are changing the way modern, sophisticated politicians campaign. “By 2016, this sort of campaign-driven sharing over social networks is almost certain to be the norm,” the article stated.
Since this story broke, Facebook stock has declined in value.
This scandal could have a major impact, not only on Facebook, but the US financial system as Facebook is a major company and a key indicator for the tech stock sector.
On Tuesday, a group of Facebook investors filed a lawsuit against the company in a San Francisco federal court. The class action claims investors had suffered losses after the company disclosed that it had severed ties with Cambridge Analytica after blaming the company for “misleading” Facebook.
The suit says, “Defendants made false or misleading statements and failed to disclose that Facebook violated its own data privacy policies by allowing third parties access to personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent.”
Facebook has issued an apology; however, it will continue to sell user data, which in terms of profits, takes precedence over user privacy.
Privacy and the World of Political Data Mining
Although one could focus on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the bigger story is the growth of data mining to identify voters and their likelihood to vote for certain candidates.
Most people don’t realize it, but every time they buy something with a credit or debit card, fill out a rebate form, subscribe to a magazine, or use an affinity card (a card that gives the customer discounts when presented), they are providing information that is collated and then made available to companies for a price. While some of this information may be the basis for deciding which type of fast food establishment should be built in the neighborhood, it is also used by political consultants to help find voters.
Obviously some of the information seems self evident. For instance, someone who buys a rifle or ammunition is more likely to be a Republican and very concerned about Second Amendment issues.
However, analysts have delved much deeper into buying habits and political preference. People who drink Pepsi are more likely to be Republicans than Coke drinkers. Not only that, those who drink Diet Dr Pepper are Republicans who are more likely to vote in mid term elections. Those who drive Jaguar cars are likely Republicans while those who drive Volvos are likely Democrats.
This extends to TV viewing habits. Democrats are more likely to like professional football, while Republicans prefer college football.
By collecting information from a variety of sources, political analysts can identify the likely political preference of a person, their likelihood to vote, and the issues that will drive their vote.
This allows a politician to send out different voter information to different votes, with differing issues. While the rifle buyer gets pro Second Amendment voter literature, someone who bought a baby crib recently may receive pro-family voter literature.
Social media is critical because people usually associate with others with the same views. Consequently, gun owners usually associate with gun owners. Therefore, a gun owner with a Facebook page probably has gun owning friends. This gives the political analyst links to dozens of other potential voters.
Despite the claims that this type of data mining is the key to winning elections, the reality is not as clear. Hillary Clinton invested tens of millions of dollars in identifying potential Clinton voters – only to lose. Obama built a sophisticated database based on data mining that helped him win in 2012, but couldn’t help Clinton win in 2016 or help keep the Senate Democratic in 2014.
What won the election for Trump wasn’t data mining or Russians. It was voter unrest and a combination of issues that connected with these voters. It was campaigning in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where Democratic voters defected from their party.
In other words, it is the candidate and the message that win an election, not a computer database.
U.S. Shouldn’t Hold to Strict “Gold Standard” on Saudi Nuclear Deal
By Katie Tubb
March 20, 2018
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is visiting the U.S. this week, and one issue on his agenda will be to continue discussing collaboration with the U.S. to develop a nuclear power sector. Likely timed to send a message during his visit to America, a House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee will hold a hearing this week on the “Implications of a U.S.-Saudi Arabia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement for the Middle East.” In order for U.S. companies to fully participate in Saudi Arabia’s nascent nuclear power sector, a nuclear trade agreement (known as a “123 agreement”) must be signed. Such an agreement establishes non-proliferation conditions for any country using U.S.-based technology and fuel, and sets up a potential trade relationship in alignment with those conditions. The U.S. has entered into this kind of agreement with 48 countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Once an agreement is finalized, trade by U.S. nuclear companies is regulated by the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and State.
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Middle East Drone Wars Heat Up
By James Phillips
March 12, 2018
Feb. 10 military fracas that involved Syria, Iran, and Israel yielded an impressive amount of destruction: An Iranian drone and command center, Syrian anti-aircraft batteries, and even an Israeli F-16 fighter jet were lost in the escalating clashes. The implications of these hostilities are expansive, but it’s worth narrowing in on the impetus for the entire sequence of events: the Iranian drone. Drones have become commonplace in modern warfare, with more than a dozen countries employing armed drones to date. Proliferation of armed drones throughout the world is a growing concern, but what’s more worrisome is the rapidly evolving drone threat in the Middle East, where drones were first used in military operations, and evidence that several Middle Eastern terrorist groups are building up their own drone capabilities.
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Chaos Will Erupt in the Middle East If U.S. Leaves Yemen
By James Jay Carafano
March 7, 2018
Three years ago this month, a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf nations waded into Yemen’s civil war. The U.S. is aiding the coalition, supplying special forces and sharing intelligence with our Saudi and UAE allies. For some Americans, that’s too much. On Feb. 28, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a joint resolution invoking the War Powers Act. The goal: to yank all U.S. military support from the conflict. Legal scholars debate the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. Still, even if the Hill could tell the president to pull out of Yemen, it should not. If America walks away, it will only bring more war, not peace. America is there for a reason: to keep the region from falling apart. The collapse of any friendly regime there is bad for us. The greatest threats to Middle East stability and security are Iran and transnational Islamist terrorists groups, principally ISIS and al-Qaida. And it is precisely these forces that are fueling the Yemen war.
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Risky Business: The Role of Arms Sales in U.S. Foreign Policy
By A. Trevor Thrall and Caroline Dorminey
March 13, 2018
POLICY ANALYSIS NO. 836
U.S. arms sales policy is out of control. Since 2002, the United States has sold more than $197 billion worth of major conventional weapons and related military support to 167 countries. In just his first year in office, President Donald Trump inked arms deals at a record pace, generating hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of potential sales. Though the president trumpets each deal as a victory for the United States, an analysis of American arms sales since 2002 reveals that the arms trade is a risky business. The United States has repeatedly sold weapons to nations engaged in deadly conflicts, and to those with horrendous human rights records, under conditions in which it has been impossible to predict where the weapons would end up or how they would be used. On repeated occasions, American troops have fought opponents armed with American weapons.
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The Other Side of the North Korean Threat: Looking Beyond Its Nuclear Weapons and ICBMs
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
March 19, 2018
The United States, South Korea, Japan—and every other state affected by the stability and security of Northeast Asia—has a strong incentive to find a way to end North Korea’s nuclear threat and its development and deployment of ICBMs. At the same time, no one can afford to forget that North Korea poses a much wider range of threats from its conventional forces and shorter-range missiles—particularly as it develops ballistic and cruise missiles with precision strike capabilities. U.S. diplomacy and strategy cannot afford to focus solely on nuclear weapons, particularly when North Korea has the option of developing biological weapons with the same lethality as nuclear weapons. The U.S. cannot afford to ignore the conventional threat that North Korea poses to South Korea—a threat that could inflict massive casualties on South Korean civilians as well as create a level of conventional war that could devastate the South Korean economy.
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Citizens in Training: Conscription and Nation-building in the United Arab Emirates
By Jon B. Alterman and Margo Balboni
Center for Strategic and International Studies
March 12, 2018
In 2014, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embarked on a bold experiment: It began drafting young men into the military. This move was not only a departure for the Emirates, it was a departure from world trends. Governments have been moving away from national service requirements for decades as military missions have changed and governments have sought to create highly skilled all-volunteer armies. But the UAE move to press young men into military service was meant to build the country, not just the army. Several factors contributed to the decision to adopt conscription. One was a deeply unsettled regional environment. Another was a drive to promote a stronger sense of shared Emirati identity. A third was a growing fear that young Emirati men were becoming lazy and “soft” just as the government eyed an increasing imperative to shape its workforce for a world less centered on oil. A fourth consideration was the UAE’s resolve to blunt the forces that contributed to the Arab uprisings in 2011. Staring down all of these factors, the UAE leadership decided a bold intervention was needed.
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The 2018 Turkey Regress Report
By MARC PIERINI
March 14, 2018
The European Commission is due to publish its next progress report on Turkey in April 2018. This standard procedure is meant to outline how candidate countries have advanced in aligning with the EU’s political and technical criteria for accession and to chart their paths forward. Yet, in Turkey’s case, a massive deterioration of the rule of law makes it impossible to acknowledge any progress. Instead, the commission’s forthcoming report is bound to illustrate a substantial regression.
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Yes, Turkey has definitely become a rogue regime
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
March 21, 2018
When the Clinton administration formulated the notion of rogue regime, they defined it as a country that embraced terrorism, was governed by an undemocratic cabal, and did not abide by the norms of diplomacy. Just how much of a rogue regime has Turkey become? Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s turn toward terrorism is well-established. Turkey supports Hamas unabashedly, the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, and perhaps even the Islamic State. Ahmet Kavas, an Erdogan appointee, defended al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb while serving as ambassador to Chad. Recorded phone calls leaked to the press also suggest that Turkey may have armed Boko Haram in Nigeria.
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