Week of March 5th, 2016

Executive Summary

The focus for Washington this week was the Super Tuesday primaries that nearly guaranteed that Clinton and Trump would be the presidential nominees.

The Monitor analysis looks at the results of the Super Tuesday primaries. We look at the Republican race, the chances of a brokered convention, the Trump phenomenon, and what a Trump presidency might look like.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Cato Institute says US intervention can’t save Syria. They conclude, “The risks associated with further US intervention in Syria are significant, including the potential for a direct conflict with Russia, or for broader regional war. Yet in focusing on the large potential costs, debates on US-Syria policy too often overlook the fact that further intervention will provide few if any benefits. It is easy to critique the Obama administration’s inaction on Syria and the pursuit of diplomacy over intervention that has allowed Russia to occupy a dominant role in Syria’s future. Given a choice between pursuing a flawed diplomatic settlement now on Russia’s terms, or the potential for a marginally better settlement following several more years of intervention and bloody conflict, the administration has consistently chosen to accept the lesser of two evils. This focus on diplomacy backed by humanitarian efforts may also have a low probability of ending the Syrian civil war, at least in the near term. But unlike most of the alternatives, the White House’s current strategy can help lay the groundwork for a future diplomatic settlement. And unlike the alternatives, it will do so without ratcheting up the conflict inside Syria.”


The Washington Institute looks at Russia’s reinvigorated Middle Eastern policy. They conclude, “A LOOK AT Vladimir Putin’s policy toward the Middle East reveals less of a pure interest in the region itself than in what it represents: economic and political gain, opportunities to reduce Western influence and advance a perception of Russia as a Great Power, and obstruction of efforts toward genuine peace with the aim of profiting from conflict, in what policy expert Stephen Blank has described as a “classic a manifestation of the protection racket familiar to us from the Mafia.”262. Another reason can be found in the Kremlin’s most recent Syria buildup: diversion from domestic problems to ensure Putin’s maintenance of power and the end of international isolation that resulted from his March 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.”


The Carnegie Endowment says there needs to be a smarter way to deal with the Refugee problem. They say, “Instead, a new framework for international assistance that focuses on achieving sustainable development and changing incentive structures for both refugees and hosts is needed. This requires three elements to be effective. First, frank acknowledgement that the Syria’s neighbours will continue to host large numbers of Syrian refugees for years to come – even if peace were to break out tomorrow – and that a different approach is therefore needed…Second, an increased financial commitment is essential. The London donor conference on February 4 set itself the objective of transforming the lives of refugees and host communities through a focus on education and economic opportunities. Recognising that this requires significantly higher levels of initial spending, But for such assistance to be most effective, donors must end the tendency to rely on a few standard forms and channels for designing, financing, and delivering assistance. No matter how generously funded any individual programme is, it will not work on its own. So, the third element of a more effective, long-term response is to develop a “smart” package of schemes and initiatives tailored to the institutional, socioeconomic, and market dynamics of specific host governments and communities.”


The CSIS looks at the metrics and scope of the wars in the Middle East. They note, “These are also conflicts whose scale literally involves the future of entire population of Syria (where more than half of its citizens are now refugees or independently displaced persons), and Iraq (where some four million citizens are now refugees or internally displaced persons.) They have crippled Iraq’s development and reduced the size of the Syrian economy to some 20-35% of its pre-conflict level, and done so at time when there is a crucial drop in petroleum export revenues. The flood of refugees threatens the stability and economies of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and – along with a rise in Daesh attacks outside the region – has created a crisis in European and United States over terrorism and the acceptance of refugees.”


The CSIS looks at the continuing relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US. They note, “Saudi Arabia depends on the United States for both most of its arms and for training and support. The Kingdom now has U.S. military advisory missions for its regular forces, its National Guard, and the counterterrorism and internal security forces in the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. U.S. government estimates indicate that Saudi Arabia placed $86 billion worth of new arms orders during 2007-2014, and $60.2 billion came from the United States. There have, however, always been tensions as well. U.S. ties to Israel, and Saudi ties to the Palestinians, divided the two states during each of the Arab-Israel conflicts and the oil embargo in 1973. Energy has both united and divided the two countries – uniting them the moment the flow of energy exports out of the Gulf are threatened and dividing them, to some degree, when oil prices are high. Their level of cooperation has also varied with time. For example, the United States declared “twin pillars” in the Gulf when Britain left the region in the early 1970s, but gave its ties to Iran priority until the fall of the Shah in 1979.”


The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the recent Iranian elections. They note, “All of that, in turn, presages no new day in U.S.-Iranian relations, as Obama and his top advisers hoped to create in inking the nuclear deal. Instead, it sets the stage for a still-larger challenge for the next president, with Tehran deploying the financial windfall from that deal to expand its military, advance its weaponry and strengthen its terrorist proxies.  Iran’s ruling class has long played a cat-and-mouse game with the nation’s limited democratic processes – promoting Iran’s democratic trappings to a naive Western audience that seeks its global integration while, behind the scenes, ensuring that no real democracy will unseat the clerics who run things.”


The Washington Institute looks at the Iranian reintegration into the world financial system. They warn, “For foreign financial institutions considering renewed ties with Iranian banks, the FATF’s [Financial Action Task Force] continuing designation of Iran as a high-risk jurisdiction and repeated call for countermeasures have real implications in terms of both illicit finance and regulatory risk. Relevant FATF standards, now being followed by member states in their fourth round of mutual evaluations, call on regulators to require banks to engage in enhanced due diligence when dealing with high-risk jurisdictions…Although designed to mitigate the risk to financial institutions of unwittingly processing illicit transactions, even such measures may not be sufficient for financial institutions when it comes to Iranian banks, which, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury, “willingly engage in deceptive practices to disguise illicit conduct.”





Super Tuesday Primaries Begin to Clear Up Road to Nominations

The Super Tuesday primaries – which although heavily representing southern states, covered states from Massachusetts to Alaska and Texas to Minnesota – have cleared up much of the mystery of who will be the Republican and Democratic nominees for president.

The clear winners were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who started to break away from their competitors and now must be considered the overwhelming favorites for the nomination. The rest, although they each have some claim to a tactical victory, are clearly looking at narrowing chances of becoming nominees. The only exception was Republican Ben Carson, who suspended his campaign on Wednesday.

The Democratic race isn’t technically over, but it might as well be. Hillary Clinton won seven states to Bernie Sanders’ four, but her delegate lead keeps expanding, thanks in part to powerful, unelected superdelegates. Between her victories and her party’s establishment circling the wagons around her, she will likely achieve her goal of putting Sanders away in the coming weeks.  Perhaps her most symbolic victory last night was pulling out a win in Massachusetts, into which her campaign poured resources and effort in a successful bid to make a statement in Sanders’ backyard.  She also crushed Sanders in the South, beating him badly among minority voters.  Sanders’ campaign may be vowing to fight to the Philadelphia convention, but Hillary more or less ignored him in her victory remarks and attacked Donald Trump and Republicans instead.  It was a “presumptive nominee” speech.

Sanders may win more states as he did last night (Oklahoma, Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont), but he doesn’t have a clear road to the nomination unless Clinton is indicted for her email scandal, or a sudden medical emergency.

The Republican Race

Although Trump still has stiff competition, he showed broad based support within the Republican Party by winning both liberal states like Massachusetts and conservative ones like Alabama. In many states, he pulled over 40%, which means that more Republican voters are seeing the Trump candidacy in a positive vein.

Nor was this a victory of less educated white voters overwhelming other GOP voters. Massachusetts voters are considered educated, high information voters, who have voted for moderate Republicans like Romney, Dole, and McCain in past primaries. Yet, he won with nearly 50% of the vote (49.3%).

Although Trump was discounted as a serious candidate last year, everyone is learning that Trump is shrewd, flexible, and quick. He’s already made inroads into demographic areas of the electorate that no one expected, and there is no certainty that he cannot make further such gains. And, like Clinton, he is already switching into a presumptive nominee mode as his victory speech was considerably less incendiary. His victory speech was uncharacteristically gentle and effectively conversational.

Trump still faces considerable opposition from the Republican establishment. However, he has managed to counter that with a stable of endorsements from every wing of the GOP including conservative Sarah Palin and moderate Chris Christie. Endorsements from conservatives like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Senator Sessions, and Former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer have blunted the accusations that he isn’t conservative.

For all of the attacks on him, Trump is in a solid position for the Republican nomination with over 25% of the number needed to win the nomination outright. Given his lead in some “winner take all” states later this month, he may be safely cruising to victory by the end of this month.

Senator Cruz came in better than feared, but not as well as hoped. As a conservative Texas Senator, he hoped to do better as the anti-establishment candidate in the race – a good strategy until Trump entered the race. He won Texas, Oklahoma, and Alaska and is in second place in the delegate count. He also increased his delegate lead over Rubio.

Given that Bush had left the race, many establishment Republicans had hoped that Senator Rubio would have done better on Tuesday. However, he won only one state – liberal Minnesota, the only state not to vote for Reagan in 1984. Even at that, he barely beat out Cruz and Trump.

Rubio came in a close second in Virginia thanks to his overwhelming support in more liberal Northern Virginia. However, the rest of the state was Trump country.

Rubio is “on the bubble” as far as establishment Republicans are concerned. Although they consider him an acceptable choice, he is performing badly in the polls – even in his home state of Florida, where he is 20 points behind Trump. If he can’t win there, expect some movement towards Ohio Governor Kasich.

Kasich didn’t win any states, but he showed surprising strength in some states – especially against Rubio. He came in second in Vermont and Massachusetts. As a governor, he has the type of experience that many Republican like. However, Ohio has its primary in a couple of weeks and Trump is leading the governor by a slim margin and if he can’t beat Trump in his own state, he has little chance of gaining momentum.

What this means is that those who don’t want Trump as the Republican nominee have few options. Cruz has the best chance against Trump, but he is also disliked by the establishment. There is also the fact that if Cruz fails, most of his support will go to Trump, nearly guaranteeing Trump’s nomination.

Which leaves the only other option – a floor fight at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The Brokered Convention Option

The fact is that there is a group of Republican that have sworn not to vote for Trump if he wins the nomination. Neocon Bill Kristol (who was an advocate for the invasion of Iraq) has indicated that he would prefer Clinton winning the presidency than Trump.

Obviously, if Trump comes to the convention with 50% of the delegates, there is little that the establishment can do. So the strategy is to deny Trump 50% and go into a brokered convention and cut a deal that awards enough delegates to an acceptable candidate, who will have won far fewer votes, states, and delegates than Trump.

The problem is that this is political suicide for establishment Republicans and could spell the end of the Republican Party as we know it.

The problem with the Establishment brokering a behind-closed-door deal that hands the nomination to an establishment candidate, is that the backlash against the Republican Party is almost certain to hand Clinton the presidency. As NBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out Tuesday night, at this point the delegate math is such that the only way to stop Trump is through this scheme at the convention.

Nor, does this take into account the number of Democrats that might come over to vote for Trump in November. Already, many Union leaders, who have already endorsed Clinton, are admitting that most of their members will vote for Trump in November. There is also polling that shows that Trump will cut more deeply into the minority vote that Romney or McCain did. The result is that polls show that Trump has a very good chance to win the presidency.

There are also a growing number of Democrats warning the party about Trump. “It’s fair to say there’s been a graveyard already out there of people underestimating him,” Doug Sosnik, a former Bill Clinton White House adviser told the Politico. “And I am old enough to remember the sort of Democratic intelligentsia that was hoping Ronald Reagan would be nominated by Republicans in 1980 because everyone knew he was a doddering old right winger who could never get elected president.”

Given that, why would the Republican establishment want to surrender a good chance at the White House?

Chances are that eventually they will fall behind Trump.

Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

As we have noted before, there is a growing divide between Washington and the rest of the country. The Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump successes are evidence of it, although the intensity of feeling is greater in the Republican Party.

In 2010, the Republican Party recaptured the House of Representatives thanks to the Tea Party movement and promises by Republican candidates that they would use their power to neutralize many Obama programs like Obamacare. They didn’t, and said that it was the Democratic control of the Senate that stopped them.

In 2014, the voters gave the Republican the Senate in hopes of stopping Obama programs. However, Senate Republicans didn’t and even passed several controversial programs supported by Obama. The result was an upset Republican electorate that felt that Republicans in Washington were promising one thing when running for office, but doing the exact opposite when they went to Washington.

Interestingly enough, Senator Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, came in for much of that criticism as he changed policies (especially on immigration) when he went to Washington. This is one reason why he is failing to gain any traction in the Republican primaries.

Former GOP candidate Mike Huckabee addressed the Trump movement the morning after Super Tuesday to praise Trump’s “peaceful revolution,” and to encourage the Republican party to begin lining up behind their likely nominee.

Huckabee argued that the anti-Trump Republican establishment needed to wise up to the fact that his likely nomination reflected the will of an angry electorate. “They don’t seem to understand that we have an election. I just believe that at some point we need to recognize that if you want to oppose Donald Trump, do it, but don’t pretend that somehow all these voters who have gone out and voted for him are stupid. They’re not stupid. I’ll tell you what they are — they’re angry at the very establishment that is going nuts because Donald Trump is doing so well.”

That establishment, he added emphatically, was the problem.

Although Trump has a spotted record as a Republican, he has developed a reputation for speaking out on issues he disagrees with, even if he will be criticized by the media. He has also made it clear that he will eliminate many of Obama’s executive actions.

Given his blunt words and a business background, many Republicans (and many disaffected Democrats) feel that it’s time to take a dramatically different tact on voting. Consequently, if Trump is elected and he is successful, we can expect a major shift in American politics.

What Would a Trump Presidency Look Like?

If Trump does become the next US president, what sort of leader will the businessman and former reality television star be? Trump is popular because he has a rare ability to channel the deep-seated frustrations that much of the American public harbors toward its political and cultural elites.

Trump’s presidential bid isn’t based on specific, defined economic or foreign policy platforms or plans. Indeed, it isn’t clear that he even has any.

Trump’s campaign is based on his capacity to resonate two deeply felt frustrations harbored by a large cross-section of American citizens. As The Wall Street Journal explained recently, a very large group of Americans is frustrated – or enraged – “by the intellectual and social terror exercised upon them by the commissars of political correctness.”

Trump’s support levels rise each time he says something “politically incorrect.” His candidacy took off last summer when he promised to build a wall along the Mexican border. It rose again last November when, following the massacre in Paris, he said that if elected he will ban Muslim immigration to the US.

Trump’s ability to viscerally connect to the deep-seated concerns of American voters and assuage them frees him from the normal campaign requirement of developing plans to accomplish his campaign promises.

Trump’s supporters don’t care that his economic policies contradict one another. They don’t care that his foreign policy declarations are a muddle of contradictions.

They hate the establishment and they want to believe him.

This then brings us to the question of how a president Donald Trump would govern.

Basically, Trump is a businessman and deal maker. His interest will be in making deals, not obstruction. He will be willing to work with Republicans or Democrats. And, he will be willing to work with Democrats if the GOP stands in his way.

In this, a Trump presidency will be a stark contrast towhat being perceived as Obama’s ideological temperament that refused to compromise with either Republican or Democrats. He will be pragmatic, not ideological.

So, too, his presidency will be a marked contrast to a similarly ideologically driven Clinton or Sanders administration, since both will more or less continue to enact Obama’s domestic and foreign policies.

However, Trump’s business temperament also means that he will not tolerate endless negotiations with politicians. He will not be afraid to use his executive powers to move in one direction.

Expect Trump to move aggressively on eliminating anti-business regulation. He may also try to cut the Washington bureaucracy – although previous presidents have tried that unsuccessfully.

And, although Trump is seen as acting on his own counsel, as a businessman, he has a reputation for calling in experts to advise him – even if he finally decides not to follow their advice. Expect to see him rely heavily on advisors on foreign policy, an area he is weak on. Therefore, expect his Middle Eastern policy to “evolve” over the next few months as he assembles a foreign policy team.

Since Trump will have won, despite the Washington establishment, we can expect him to “go over the heads of the politicians” and directly address the nation if he faces too much obstruction in Washington. This was a favorite tactic of Reagan and helped get spending cuts and tax reform passed.

In the end, keep in mind that the heated rhetoric of the campaign doesn’t reflect the reality of a Trump candidacy or presidency. Many of the charges against Trump are mere echoes of those made against Reagan. And, remember that in 1980, some establishment Republicans supported the third party candidacy of Republican Congressman John Anderson rather than support Reagan in the general election.

Remember that Reagan won, and won decisively. He also helped the GOP win the Senate for the first time in 30 years.

GOP establishment members will remember that.




It’s Time to Admit That American Intervention Can’t Fix Syria
By Emma Ashford
Cato Institute
February 25, 2016

As the Syrian civil war moves inexorably toward a sixth year of conflict, calls for US intervention are once again on the upswing. Advocates of increased intervention in the conflict focus on Syria’s humanitarian tragedies, or on the need to oppose Russia. Underlying most of their arguments is the simple assumption that American intervention could improve the lives of Syria’s citizens and bring a swift end to the conflict, if we only had the political and moral will to do so. Yet that assumption is fundamentally mistaken. Further US intervention has little chance of succeeding, and in fact is far more likely to worsen the conflict. The desire to lower the horrifying humanitarian costs of Syria’s bloody civil war is laudable. More than a quarter million Syrians have died in the past five years, and more than 6.6 million have been internally displaced. The United Nations estimates that at least 18 towns or cities are effectively besieged, preventing their civilians from receiving supplies of life’s basic necessities.

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The Comparative Metrics of ISIS and “Failed State Wars” in Syria and Iraq
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
March 2, 2016

The fighting against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh has become at least three different and interrelated conflicts: a fight against Daesh, a low-level sectarian and ethnic civil conflict in Iraq, and an intense civil war in Syria. It also, however, is part of a far broader regional and global conflict against terrorism and extremism, part of the competition between the United States and Russia, part of the competition between the majority of the Arab world and Iran, and part of an emerging struggle for a Kurdish identify and some form of “federalism” and/or independence that involves a range of separate Kurdish identities, Turkey, and the Arab world.

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Saudi Arabia and the United States: Common Interests and Continuing Sources of Tension
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
February 29, 2016

The United States and Saudi Arabia have been strategic partners during most of the postwar era. In broad terms, the United States and Saudi Arabia have cooperated closely in shaping Gulf and regional security during most of the more than 70 years since President Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz aboard the USS Quincy on February 20, 1945. This partnership is even more important today than in the past, given the complex mix of threats posed by Iran, ISIS, civil war, and political upheavals. At the same time, it faces significant issues, and both sides need to make significant adjustments to make it more effective.

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Smarter Assistance for Syrian Refugees
By Yezid Sayigh
Carnegie Endowment
February 23, 2016

An extraordinary summit of the European Union and Turkey is scheduled to take place in early March, to coordinate responses to the continuing flow of refugees and migrants into Europe. This follows the international donor conference in London four weeks earlier that pledged more than $11bn to assist Syrian refugees and internally displaced people in 2016-2020, the bulk of which came from the US and EU member-states.

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Iran’s Hard-Line Elections
By Lawrence J. Haas
American Foreign Policy Council
February 23, 2016

Henry Kissinger famously remarked some time ago that Iran must decide whether it wants to be “a nation or a cause.” For decades, U.S. presidents of both parties have been trying to coax Tehran toward the former and away from the latter.  Most recently, the U.S.-led global nuclear agreement with Iran – with its scores of billions in sanctions relief that President Obama hoped Iran would invest to improve the living standards of its people – was designed to convince Tehran to abandon its revolutionary ways and become a nation in good standing.

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Iran’s Long Road to Reintegrating With the World Financial System
By Katherine Bauer
Washington Institute
February 29, 2016
PolicyWatch 2575

In its first public statement on Iran since sanctions relief went into effect following implementation of the nuclear deal last month, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), whose thirty-seven members include Russia and China, in mid-February urged member states to warn their banks about the risks of doing business with Iran. Coming only a month after Iran received nuclear-related sanctions relief from the United Nations, United States, and European Union, the statement underscores the risks for European and Asian banks in renewing financial ties with Iran.

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Russia in the Middle East Motives, Consequences, Prospects
By Anna Borshchevskaya
Washington Institute
February 2016
Policy Focus 142

Since becoming president in 2000, Vladimir Putin has reinvigorated Russia’s Middle East ties, a trend underscored by his bold military intervention in the Syria crisis. Through these and other regional moves, he has sought to gain ground at the West’s expense while bolstering the Kremlin’s legitimacy against domestic pressures — an approach echoing the Soviet-era strategy of developing relations with U.S. foes and friends alike, including Iran, Israel, and Jordan. In this new Policy Focus, Anna Borshchevskaya guides readers through Moscow’s recent engagement with the Middle East, discussing the Syria deployment, the Turkey shootdown crisis, and other key developments. An assertive U.S. response to Putin’s provocations, she concludes, is essential not only to promoting regional stability, but also to empowering moderate forces on the Russian home front.

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