SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)
The Heritage Foundation looks at the reasons for Trump sending a carrier task group to the Gulf region. They conclude, “The U.S. is a global power, with interests and responsibilities around the world. If it can’t demonstrate it can defend all those interests, it stops being a global power. In particular, the U.S. must be concerned about stability on Europe, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific – regions where our economic and political interests are the greatest. Demonstrating, that the U.S. can act in the Persian Gulf – even as it ramps up commitments to NATO, deals with North Korea, and tussles with Chinese and Russian meddling in the Western Hemisphere – is crucial. The U.S. is not the world’s policeman or its babysitter, but it doesn’t want to be blindsided by bad actors who think Washington is so preoccupied elsewhere that they can take advantage of the situation. Thus, the U.S. must demonstrate it is present and capable of acting where it needs to. The deployment to the Gulf will be a deterrent to conflict because it shows the world that the U.S. will act wherever necessary to protect its vital interests. Testing the U.S. is the last step any adversary should want to take, Tehran included.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at why it would be a mistake to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. They note, “The few offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood that have become violent—Hamas, Hassm, Liwa al-Thawra—have already been designated as terrorist organizations. Designating the Muslim Brotherhood more broadly would not give the United States added tools to go after these groups. Sweepingly targeting the Muslim Brotherhood would create a cascade of diplomatic problems because political parties with Brotherhood roots serve in parliaments and even governments in many countries.”
The CSIS looks at the stability in the Middle East. The report provides a series of metrics that measure the extent of civil unrest and instability by region and by country. The break-outs by country are critical to understanding the forces at work. The MENA region is often described as Arab – despite the existence of Israel – and as Muslim despite the presence of large Christian and other minorities in many states and the diverse nature of sects within Islam. As the maps in this section show, however, it consists of highly a diverse mix of nations with different neighbors, populations, political and economic conditions, and often major ethnic, regional, tribal, and sectarian differences. In practice, this makes national vulnerability to extremism and terrorism highly case specific, and involves intangibles that cannot be easily quantified, if at all. At the same time, there are many problems and issues in the civil structure of MENA states and other heavily Islamic states that can lead to political upheavals, extremism and terrorism, and civil conflict. The UN’s Arab Development Reports have long warned about these problems, and so have a wide variety of outside intelligence reports, and academic and think tanks studies.
The Washington Institute looks at obtaining a real peace in Yemen. They note, “Getting the Saudis to pull out will no more end the bloodshed in Yemen than getting the United States to abstain from the civil war in Syria halted the violence there. Nor will a Saudi withdrawal lead to a negotiated settlement. Instead, the fighting will go on, and innocent Yemenis will continue to die until one side—most likely the Houthis—have won. True peace in Yemen will remain elusive unless both sides accept that they have nothing to gain from more fighting. We are not there yet. To get there will require not cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia but threatening to double down on it unless the Houthis honor their commitments to the UN and are ready to disgorge most of their initial conquests. If Washington is serious about ending the war, it must come to terms with this uncomfortable fact.”
The Heritage Foundation looks at how the administration is increasing pressure on Iran by declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. They note, “More than 600 American servicemen in Iraq have died at the hands of proxy forces enabled by the Revolutionary Guard, which also controls Iran’s ballistic missile program. In short, the Guard is a dangerous and destabilizing organization that specializes in murder and mayhem. Designating it a terrorist group is more than just a fitting moniker, though: It gives the U.S. government additional tools for applying sanctions against the Guard and all foreign entities that do business with them, their subsidiaries and their front companies. “These added sanctions will drain away resources that could be used to export terrorism, thus helping bolster the security of the U.S. and its allies,” writes Mr. Phillips. “This will also benefit the Iranian people, who are the chief victims of the Revolutionary Guard.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at China’s risky Middle East bet. They note, “Over the past three years, China has charted an ambitious future in the Middle East by forging “comprehensive strategic partnerships” with Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. This is the highest level of diplomatic relations China can provide, and Beijing believes these four countries anchor a neutral position that will prove more stable over the long term than that of the United States. China has also made massive investments in infrastructure throughout the region, including in Israel, where China is now the second-largest trading partner behind the United States… China is making a risky bet in the Middle East. By focusing on economic development and adhering to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs, Beijing believes it can deepen relations with countries that are otherwise nearly at war with one another—all the while avoiding any significant role in the political affairs of the region. This is likely to prove naive, particularly if U.S. allies begin to stand up for their interests.”
The Washington Institute looks at the local Turkish elections, which handed Erdogan a defeat. They see Erdogan winning the next time. They note, “For one thing, Erdogan is a populist nativist leader who has won successive national and local elections by demonizing demographics unlikely to vote for him; in response, most of his opponents have tried to be even more nativist and populist than him, with poor results… Erdogan simply cannot afford to lose Istanbul. His long ascent from the city’s mayoral office to the presidency shows the degree to which Istanbul is Turkey’s political brand-making machine. In other words, if Imamoglu’s victory stands, the CHP leader could eventually pose a challenge to Erdogan in the 2023 presidential election. Moreover, Istanbul accounted for nearly a third of Turkey’s $2.3 trillion economy as of 2018, so it plays a major role in oiling the wheels of Erdogan’s political machine, creating loyal support networks in the business community. Erdogan will therefore play a smarter game in the run-up to June 23. In light of the voided March election results, he has apparently decided that the financial and political cost of losing Istanbul far outweighs the loss of legitimacy.”
US Makes Military Moves Against Iran
On Sunday night National Security Advisor John Bolton issued a statement announcing that orders were given to deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group and four B-52 bombers to the Middle East “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on the United States interests or those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
Secretary of State Pompeo, who had cancelled a meeting with Merkel in Germany in order to go to Iraq, said, We’ve seen escalatory actions from the Iranians and…we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests…(if) these actions take place…We will hold the …Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.”
According to some reports, the warning came from Israeli intelligence and may have involved Iranian civilian ships carrying missiles. CNN reported, “Intelligence showing that Iran is likely moving short range ballistic missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf was one of the critical reasons.”
The Iranians called the deployment a “bluff.” Iran’s top security body called it “psychological warfare meant to scare and intimidate Tehran.” They said the carrier deployment was using a routine deployment as a pretext for heightened pressure.
Iran also announced that it would start retaining its enriched uranium and heavy water stocks instead of selling them. Iranian President Rouhani also threatened to increase enriched uranium production unless other treaty partners met their commitments in terms of oil purchases – something that they are unlikely to do as US pressure is forcing them to join the US in imposing sanctions.
However, Iran is hoping to break the sanctions by offering tempting oil exploration contracts and possibly offering to pay fines imposed by the US for sanction busting. It is also holding out the bait of lucrative defense contracts for Russia and China.
The Meaning of American Military Deployments
The IRGC doesn’t think the US will launch military action against Iran unless it closes the Strait of Hormuz. They have also downplayed the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group to the region and insisted it is only a scheduled move.
The aircraft carrier deployment was also questioned by the Washington media, who said the announcement was meaningless since the USS Abraham Lincoln was going to the Middle East anyway. However, the Washington media has no military experience as previous generations of reporters did.
Since the Lincoln was scheduled to move to the Middle East in two weeks, no one in the Washington media saw the significance in the early move.
Aircraft carriers have well planned and tight schedules. The USS Abraham Lincoln is shifting its homeport from the Atlantic to the Pacific and circumnavigating the globe on its trip. During the trip, it will be visiting several “hot spots.”
The Lincoln has a multitude of operational commitments during its trip. After entering the Mediterranean and before transiting the Suez Canal, it had several tasks. While in the Western Mediterranean, it would carry out exercises with other NATO nations and its Marine detachment would probably carryout maneuvers in one or more NATO countries. The Lincoln air group would also operate with NATO air forces and carry out simulated missions – likely against “hypothetical” enemies like the Russians.
In addition to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the carrier task force would also have commitments in the Far East with Asian allies like Australia. It would also likely have some operations in the South China Sea and the strait between Taiwan and China.
While in the Eastern Mediterranean, the carrier task force was to observe the increased Russian naval presence. They would try to learn Russian naval tactics and the proficiency of their ships’ crews.
The electronic surveillance aircraft onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln would monitor Russian airstrikes around Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo. They would also be available for operations if a serious American military presence was needed in the eastern Mediterranean. This would include cruise missile attacks on Syria if Trump find it necessary.
By moving the USS Abraham Lincoln to the east and away from the Mediterranean, the US Navy had to cancel several NATO exercises and its monitoring of Russian activity in Syria – hardly inconsequential.
Since the battle group would have resupplied before transiting the Suez Canal, Underway Replenishment and Vertical Replenishment would have to be pushed forward because Europe is a better supply source. If it is delayed until the ships reached the Gulf region, the battle group faces a longer logistics tail and slower delivery of supplies.
The movement of the four B-52s was also interesting even though bombers are frequently moved to the region. B-52s can carry out bombing missions from the US, so deploying them to the Middle East, along with their support teams, means they are scheduled to stay for a while. It also means that the US wants a fast reaction force that can carry out bombing missions within hours and is flexible in its response. The B-52, which has the largest practical payload in the US Air Force, can either hit targets with precise cruise missile, carry out massive airstrikes, with each bomber carrying about 35 tons of explosives, deploy bunker buster bombs that could penetrate deep underground facilities, or carry out maritime reconnaissance.
Along with the wide assortment of aircraft on the Lincoln, this gives the White House a wide spectrum of military actions.
Obviously, the most likely response is purely as a show of force – one that aimed to convince the Iranians to limit any potential actions.
However, according to military experts close to the administration thinking, the White House can use aggressive force in many ways.
The least confrontational action would be a cruise missile attack on Iranian targets outside Iran like perceived military presence in Iraq or Syria. In order to limit political fallout, the US forces could limit their role to neutralizing air defenses while IAF aircraft carryout the actual attack.
Same experts asserted that if Iran decides to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers, the carrier battle group, which would remain outside the Gulf, could provide air cover for navies of the GCC nations carrying out convoy duties. Since the B-52 can loiter, they could remain aloft and carry out strikes as necessary. While the boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard can harass ships, they are easy targets against the high-flying B-52 and its guided weapons.
Even of Iran doesn’t carry out any actions, the B-52 and its maritime role would be an asset to intervene in stopping armed shipments from reaching Yemen.
While aircraft from the USS Abraham Lincoln, cruise missiles from other US warships, and even B-2s from the US attack air defense systems along Iran’s border, the B-52s could penetrate Iranian airspace and attack critical Iranian targets.
Whether the US would carry out such an attack is unknown, but the threat is serious and Trump has shown that he is willing to make such a move for his own political considerations.
In conclusion, the US military deployment shouldn’t be underestimated. The US deployment meant the cancellation of several NATO exercises in the Mediterranean. It meant cancelling important surveillance of Russian ships in the Eastern Mediterranean. Most important, it meant it couldn’t observe Russian aircraft carrying out combat operations against Syrian rebels.
Finally, it limited the American response if there is a crisis in Syria.
The deployment also meant moving several air crews and support personnel to the Middle East, along with the B-52 bombers. This is not a minor issue, which is why bombers normally carry out their sorties from US bases in America.
In other words, this was more than a domestic political move, although Trump always aiming in his foreign policy approach to serve his political and electoral agenda.
Trump Tries Gunboat Diplomacy with Iran – Here’s Why He’s Doing It
By James Jay Carafano
May 8, 2019
The United States is sending a Navy carrier group to the Middle East. Why? Because it can. It’s a continuation of the tit-for-tat struggle between the White House and the regime in Tehran that’s been going on for over a year – ever since the U.S. withdrew from the Obama-era Iran Deal. Washington has no confidence in that deal, which gave Tehran hard cash and sanctions relief up front in exchange for weak restrictions, with sunset clauses, on its nuclear weapons program. Moreover, Iran’s conduct since signing the deal – its support for surrogate forces terrorizing the region and its attempt to use Syria as a strategic corridor for threatening the survival of Israel – has further dismayed the U.S. Tehran wasn’t happy when Trump pulled out of the deal. The regime faces troubles from within: protests, a tanking economy and botched responses a natural disaster. And it is now more isolated from the international community, due to Washington’s leadership.
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Maximizing Pressure on a Terrorism Importer
By Edwin J. Feulner
May 1, 2019
Maximum pressure.” That’s how the Trump administration describes its approach toward Iran—and lately, it’s really been living up to that billing. Early in April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard was being designated a foreign terrorist organization. And now administration officials have ratcheted up the pressure even more: Eight countries that import Iranian oil won’t continue getting waivers from U.S. sanctions. Turning the screws tends to get people’s attention, so it wasn’t surprising to hear Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif decry this latest move. To hear him tell it, it’s either a clumsy attempt at regime change, or outright war-mongering by the U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
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After the Caliphate: Factors Shaping Continuing Violent Extremism and Conflicts in the MENA Region
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
May 6, 2019
The report provides a series of metrics that measure the extent of civil unrest and instability by region and by country. The break-outs by country are critical to understanding the forces at work. The MENA region is often described as Arab – despite the existence of Israel – and as Muslim despite the presence of large Christian and other minorities in many states and the diverse nature of sects within Islam. As the maps in this section show, however, it consists of highly a diverse mix of nations with different neighbors, populations, political and economic conditions, and often major ethnic, regional, tribal, and sectarian differences. In practice, this makes national vulnerability to extremism and terrorism highly case specific, and involves intangibles that cannot be easily quantified, if at all. At the same time, there are many problems and issues in the civil structure of MENA states and other heavily Islamic states that can lead to political upheavals, extremism and terrorism, and civil conflict. The UN’s Arab Development Reports have long warned about these problems, and so have a wide variety of outside intelligence reports, and academic and think tanks studies. As has been noted in Part One of this survey, these problems have been so serous in countries like Syria and Iraq that they qualify as “failed states.” Few analysts would argue that Libya and Yemen do not qualify as further examples – along with other largely Islamic states outside the MENA region like Afghanistan and Somalia.
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Nine Reasons Why Declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a Terrorist Organization Would Be a Mistake
By MICHELE DUNNE and ANDREW MILLER
MAY 3, 2019
There are legal, diplomatic, pragmatic, and civil rights reasons why such a designation would undermine efforts to keep Americans safe from terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) does not fit the legal definition of a foreign terrorist organization. There is no credible evidence that, as an organization, it is using violence to pursue political aims, and it has not deliberately targeted Americans. The few offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood that have become violent—Hamas, Hassm, Liwa al-Thawra—have already been designated as terrorist organizations. Designating the Muslim Brotherhood more broadly would not give the United States added tools to go after these groups. Sweepingly targeting the Muslim Brotherhood would create a cascade of diplomatic problems because political parties with Brotherhood roots serve in parliaments and even governments in many countries. But even a narrower designation of a single Muslim Brotherhood chapter, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, would still do just as much damage to U.S. interests for all the reasons that follow.
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China’s Risky Middle East Bet
By BRETT MCGURK
APRIL 29, 2019
China is making a risky bet in the Middle East. By focusing on economic development and adhering to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs, Beijing believes it can deepen relations with countries that are otherwise nearly at war with one another—all the while avoiding any significant role in the political affairs of the region. This is likely to prove naive, particularly if U.S. allies begin to stand up for their interests. In meetings I attended earlier this month in Beijing on China’s position in the Middle East, sponsored by the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, Chinese officials, academics, and business leaders expressed a common view that China can avoid political entanglement by promoting development from Tehran to Tel Aviv. China may soon find, however, that its purely transactional approach is unsustainable in this intractable region—placing its own investments at risk and opening new opportunities for the United States.
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Why Erdogan Will Win in Istanbul, and What This Means for Turkish Democracy
By Soner Cagaptay
May 7, 2019
On May 6, Turkey’s election board canceled the outcome of Istanbul’s March 31 mayoral race, in which opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu defeated Binali Yildirim of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by less than 1 percent of the vote. The ruling came shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged that the race was “stained” and demanded that it be re-run. Signaling the strength of his hold on the country’s institutions, Turkey’s election monitoring body has announced that a new Istanbul election will in fact be held on June 23. Imamoglu faces a seemingly unwinnable battle in his quest to win again, since Erdogan will pull out all the legal, political, and diplomatic stops to bring his candidate (perhaps Yildirim again) to victory.
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A Real Plan to End the War in Yemen
By Michael Knights, Kenneth Pollack, and Barbara Walter
May 2, 2019
The Saudi-led intervention may have exacerbated the situation in Yemen, but it did not start the war. Getting the Saudis to pull out will no more end the bloodshed in Yemen than getting the United States to abstain from the civil war in Syria halted the violence there. Nor will a Saudi withdrawal lead to a negotiated settlement. Instead, the fighting will go on, and innocent Yemenis will continue to die until one side—most likely the Houthis—has won…
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