Week of May 13th, 2016

Executive Summary

The concluding presidential primary season still holds the attention of the Washington community.

The Monitor analysis looks at Trump’s unusual campaign strategy, which has overwhelmed traditional political strategies.  Given the anti-establishment mood in the US and Europe we think the Trump strategy may be used internationally in future campaigns.  We also look at Trump’s attempt to reunite the GOP before the election.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Heritage Foundation looks at the dangerous regional implication of the Iranian nuclear deal.  They say there is a growing danger that this complacent passivity will project weakness that could further encourage Iranian hardliners, undermine long-standing U.S. national interests, and demoralize U.S. allies in the region that are threatened by what they see as an increasingly aggressive regime in Iran. In the process of courting Iran, the White House has been perceived to be abandoning traditional Arab allies, without establishing a credible security architecture in the region to contain and roll back Iran. It will be up to the next Administration to mitigate the dangerous Middle East legacy bequeathed by this Administration. But Congress can play a helpful role in the meantime in convincing Tehran and U.S. allies that Iran does not have a free pass to establish regional hegemony. Washington must impose clear and mounting costs on Iran for its hostile policies.

The Heritage Foundation says the outbreak of fighting between Azerbaijani forces and Armenian military threatens to destabilize an already fragile region even further.  They warn, “Iran is one of the established Eurasian powers and therefore, rightly or wrongly, sees itself as entitled to a special status in the South Caucasus. The deal that was agreed last summer by the international community on Iran’s nuclear weapons program will directly affect Tehran’s policy toward the region in four ways. First, Iran will have more financial resources at its disposal. Thanks to the terms of the Iran deal, Tehran has regained access to $100 billion in unlocked assets. Second, Iran will be less dependent on Russia for diplomatic top cover on the international stage. Now that Tehran is not completely beholden of Moscow for support as it was during the nuclear talks, Iran will have flexibility to compete more aggressively with Russia for influence in the region. Third, Iran now has more confidence on the international stage. In the eyes of the Iranians, the Iran deal was a diplomatic triumph. There is a feeling among those in the government that the experience of the Iran deal can be replicated to advance Iran’s interests in other regions of the world in what Iranian President Hasan Rouhani describes as a “third way” for Iranian foreign policy. Of course, the South Caucasus is included. 

The Washington Institute says Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu’s May 5 resignation at the request of President Erdogan is a further consolidation of power.  They note, “In the coming days, following the AKP convention and the appointment of a new prime minister, he is likely to orchestrate a referendum to alter the Turkish constitution to his liking to introduce an executive-style and omnipotent presidency. Most recently, on January 6, Erdogan called for switching to the presidential system, saying this is system is “rooted in the country’s history.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute also looks at the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.  They note, “Perhaps the worst outcome of this conflict is, as Thomas De Waal  wrote in the New York Times on the onset of the recent escalation, “the bitter truth that leaders in Armenia and Azerbaijan have become trapped by their own rhetoric, promising their publics total victory that can never be achieved. They have employed the status quo as a weapon to shrink hard questions about their own legitimacy or to divert people’s attention from socioeconomic problems.”  Fighting the nationalist propaganda has been almost impossible for peace-seeking civil society organizations. In Azerbaijan, many initiatives, organizations, and individuals advocating for a peaceful settlement have recently been shamed for their reconciliation work. Peace seekers are often portrayed as enemies of the state — traitors who have betrayed their country’s values for the sake of international grants and fallen victim to Armenia’s influence.”

The Washington Institute looks at the Saudi announcements made a week ago.  They note, “The changes are clearly intended to provide a structure for Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman ‘s “Vision 2030,” an economic plan unveiled last month amid great fanfare and heralding a post-oil future for the kingdom. Reports suggest that younger Saudis have welcomed the plan, though skeptics emphasize the challenge of changing a very conservative society and moving away from a dominant role for oil, of which the kingdom has more than sixty years in reserves at current production rates.  In any case, Prince Muhammad’s sway in Saudi decision making is now so great that it begs the question of whether King Salman will appoint him prime minister, a portfolio the monarch currently holds himself. Such a promotion would make it almost inevitable that MbS will be the next king, as it would further sideline the current crown prince, Muhammad bin Nayef (aka MbN), a favorite of Washington who is twenty-six years older than MbS and vastly more experienced in government.”

The CSIS also looks at the recent changes in Saudi Arabia.  They conclude, “The deputy crown prince has garnered some positive attention, especially from young people, as a change agent. That much is new. But in point of fact, he hasn’t been able to accomplish anything visible since his rise that gives him instant credibility. The Yemen war has dragged on longer than anyone anticipated and to less certain results, and it is hard to imagine him getting much credit for diminishing government outlays on the population. Senior royals, perhaps out of jealousy as much as self-interest, may try to undermine his success. While the economic proposals of the deputy crown prince are interesting, managing the politics of their implementation will be a real struggle.”

The CSIS looks at the pace of continuing American military operations and the growing cost of overseas contingency operations.  They see a lack of focus on goals by the US and note, “The Department of Defense has issued reports on the conduct of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, and these have at some point covered the civil side of the conflicts. These reports have, however, always been retrospective, have never provided a clear picture of U.S. strategy, and have often failed to report negative developments in depth. The Iraq reports ended with the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2011, and the Afghan reports have had increasingly limited detail and increasingly ignored negative developments, and failed to provide a clear picture of the overall course of the insurgency.”

The German Marshall Plan reports that NATO members are preparing for the next important summit in Warsaw on July 8-9. In this collection, experts from GMF offices in seven of NATO’s capitals — Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Bucharest, Ankara, and Washington, DC — report on their governments’ agendas — and illustrate that while all members agree that unity and solidarity are critical for the alliance, the agenda is wide and the priorities diverse. The central challenge will be keeping the East and South of NATO on board, and the need to balance the two will affect many individual decisions. EU-NATO cooperation in the light of hybrid threats and nuclear policy is less controversial, but it may also not be easy to put in place.




Is the Trump Campaign Strategy the Wave of the Future?

America may have a lot of bad politicians, but they are recognized for having great political campaign strategies.  Every year dozens of American political strategists travel to the rest of the world to show other politicians how to win.  They show them how to develop grassroots organizations, how to use marketing data on what voters buy to determine who they are likely to vote for, use TV ads, and how to use polls and focus groups to see what voters are concerned about.

It’s a strategy that has proven to be effective, but costly.  Obama used it in 2008 and 2012 to defeat the Republican candidates and push unlikely voters to the polls to vote for him.

This year, the main practitioners are faring poorly.  Cruz and Bush used this strategy in the Republican primaries and both are out after spending hundreds of mission dollars.  Clinton is using it in the Democratic primaries, and is limping to an assumed victory over Sanders.

The one candidate to eschew this strategy has been the most successful one – Trump.  Trump refused to commission polls, ignored traditional voter profiling, and establish large grassroots organization.  The result was a winning campaign that was cheaper than his opponents.

Now the question is if Trump can win a general election by using the same strategy he employed in the primaries?  Instead of shifting from his primary strategy to a conventional presidential campaign model, Trump told the Associated Press that he will mainly use big rallies and media coverage in his fight against Hillary Clinton. “My best investment is my rallies,” Trump declared.

But in a break from recent major party nominees, Trump does not plan to invest heavily in a data-driven effort to target voters in the fall campaign.  “My best investment is my rallies,” Trump said. “The people go home, they tell their friends they loved it. It’s been good.”

Trump said he’ll spend “limited” money on data operations to identify and track potential voters and to model various turnout scenarios that could give him the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. He’s moving away from the model Obama used successfully in his 2008 and 2012 wins, and which Clinton is trying to replicate, including hiring many of the staff that worked for Obama.

That doesn’t mean that there will not be any traditional campaign strategy.  The Great America PAC that has backed Trump has already announced that they will take on the opposition research and data operations.  Plus, the RNC has its own data operations.

Still, the Republican National Committee has invested heavily in data operations, eager to avoid another defeat to a more technologically savvy Democrat. Trump could make use of that RNC data if he wished.  The Republican Leadership Initiative (RLI) network is designed to provide connections to battleground communities, right down to the neighborhood level.  These are considered critical in swing states.

However, it appears that Trump’s strategy may work.  Three respected pollsters released polling results this week showing Clinton and Trump running neck-and-neck nationally.

A Quinnipiac poll taken in the critical swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida shows Clinton and Trump within a couple of points in all three states.  The key demographics Clinton needs to do well in (youth and independents) are areas in which she struggles.

This is not promising for someone who uses the traditional campaign strategy.

This may also have implications internationally since American campaign tactics usually migrate into other countries.

Obviously, one attractive factor is cost.  Each side of an American presidential campaign usually spends over one billion dollars in order to run a traditional, data dependent, campaign.  If a candidate can still win and spend considerable less money, it makes sense to use it.

The second factor is the mood of the electorate, which is similar to the electorate in many other nations.  Trump has capitalized on the voters’ rejection of traditional politics.  Instead of using focus groups and polls to carefully craft a message that offends few voters, Trump speaks without a teleprompter and says what is on his mind – which usually creates a media firestorm.  The result is that he is saying what many voters are thinking, but are too afraid to say.

Voters are also rejecting pollsters, when they call.  Polling companies are discovering voters do not want to participate in the percentages that they did in the past.  This anti-political attitude also makes traditional campaigning strategy harder to carry out.

This same mood exists elsewhere.  There are signs that aspects of the Trump phenomenon have parallels in currents of public opinion in other advanced democracies. In France, the National Front, now leads the polls for next year’s elections.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has commended Trump as follows: “Anyone who makes it through that extraordinary contest to lead their party into a general election certainly deserves our respect.”  He may have said that because he may detect “Trumpish” sentiment in his own ranks and especially in the UK Independence party.

The just-retired mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the unofficial leader of the campaign to vote for British exit from the European Union, while he publicly disapproves of Trump’s comments on Muslims, is tapping some of the same sentiments as the Republican nominee.  Like Trump, those favoring British rejection of the EU are opposed to the overwhelming bureaucracy making rules in Brussels – much like Trump supporters’ dislike for Washington.   There are very Trump-like concerns in Britain about immigration, the decline of patriotism, national defeatism and irresolution, and the political class as a whole.

Ironically, the Trump strategy may already be working in the UK.  Although those who favor remaining in the EU are spending more money than the opposition in the upcoming referendum, the polls show Britons closely divided and leaning marginally in favor of leaving the EU.

Trump’s issues are also resonating in Italy.  The leader of Italy’s Northern League, Matteo Salvini, attacks the EU, the Euro, and most immigration. He and Trump met in April in Philadelphia and broadly agree on many points. The Northern League seems to be polling from 15 to 30 percent in the contest of a multitude of parties in the northern provinces of Italy, including the country’s largest and richest city, Milan.

These are only a few of the countries that are experiencing an anti-establishment voter mood.  There are many other nations that could see the Trump strategy bring in new leaders.

Mediocre politicians beware.

Reuniting the Republican Party

The major question after Trump became the presumed GOP candidate for president, was whether or not he could reunite the party.

There were several Republican leaders who refused to endorse Trump, including Jeb Bush, who had earlier said he would support the eventual nominee.  Another center of anti-Trump feeling is the respected conservative magazine, National Review.

However, it appears, outside of a few defectors, the GOP is rapidly coalescing around Trump.  An NBC poll out this week shows that 85% of all Republicans and those leaning Republican will vote for Trump – an amazing result just a week after basically winning the nomination and months before the GOP convention.

Compare that to Romney, who only won 93% of Republican votes in November 2012.  Given that there are 6 months to the general election, Trump appears poised to exceed Romney in garnering GOP votes.

Given that several polls of likely voters show Clinton and Trump virtually tied (and the most recent likely voter poll showing Trump ahead by 2), politicians who were afraid that they might lose with Trump at the top of the ticket will likely come around.  Politicians like to win and they were originally reluctant to support Trump because they thought they would lose.  If the momentum is on Trump’s side (as it appears right now), expect more and more GOP politicians to endorse Trump.

But, even more interesting is the chance of major Democratic crossovers in November.  In the West Virginia primary this week, a third of Democrats indicated they would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the General Election. (this is a state where Clinton beat Obama during the state’s 2008 primary race).

That is the kind of crossover voter appeal that more than rivals that of Ronald Reagan, whose two General Election victories were of historic landslide proportions unmatched by any other modern era candidate. The polling data also indicates that women are not flocking to Hillary as the Hillary campaign had hoped they would. In fact, despite months of negative media portrayals regarding Trump’s alleged lack of popularity among female voters, actual election results show women voting for Trump at a ratio comparable to other past GOP candidates.

Clinton’s loss in the West Virginia primary to Sanders highlights the problems for the Democratic Party in the November general election.  The Clinton campaign is dealing with an increasingly unpopular candidate with a very weak base of support upon which to build a national campaign and despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent to make her more appealing, voters so far appear reluctant to give her much attention and even less respect.  Many are comparing her to Jeb Bush, who spent hundreds of millions only to lose in dramatic fashion.

Of course, there is that American political saying, “A week is a lifetime in politics.”  Six months is a long time and many things can happen.



The Dangerous Regional Implications of the Iran Nuclear Agreement
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
May 9, 2016

Iran is consolidating its gains on multiple fronts under the July 2015 nuclear agreement reached with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of U.N. Security Council plus Germany). The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that addressed the nuclear issue has also bolstered Iran’s theocratic dictatorship in the economic, trade, political, diplomatic, military, and geopolitical spheres. It has facilitated Iran’s efforts to tilt the regional balance of power in its own favor. Rather than moderating Iranian behavior, as the Obama Administration claimed it would, the JCPOA has energized and emboldened regime hardliners, who have mounted a series of provocative acts that threaten the United States and its allies.  The Obama White House, fearful of jeopardizing what it considers to be a legacy achievement, has treated Iran’s hostile regime with kid gloves. It has reacted hesitantly and reluctantly to numerous Iranian provocations, threats, and challenges. There is a growing danger that this complacent passivity will project weakness that could further encourage Iranian hardliners, undermine long-standing U.S. national interests, and demoralize U.S. allies in the region that are threatened by what they see as an increasingly aggressive regime in Iran.

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Four New Reasons Why the U.S. Must Stay Engaged in the South Caucasus
By Luke Coffey
Heritage Foundation
May 5, 2016

The outbreak of fighting between Azerbaijani forces and Armenian military and Armenian-backed militia forces in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno–Karabakh region last month threatens to destabilize an already fragile region even further. Dozens of soldiers from both sides have been killed, and Azerbaijani forces have recaptured some of the territory lost to Armenia in the early 1990s. A cease-fire is in place, but it remains fragile.  The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan started in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims on Azerbaijan’s Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. This action resulted in a bloody war that left 30,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands internally displaced. Since 1992, Armenian forces and Armenian-backed militias have occupied almost 20 percent of the territory that the international community recognizes as part of Azerbaijan.  Today, Armenia’s occupation of parts of Azerbaijan is no different from Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea in Ukraine or its occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia.

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Saudi Change is Slow
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
May 9, 2016

While Saudi Arabia is not always the easiest place to understand, Western misunderstandings of last weekend’s cabinet reshuffle are especially notable. The story that many newspapers issued was that the long-standing oil minister was sacked by an ambitious deputy crown prince who is wresting control of national oil policy on the way to implementing his ambitious national reform project.  The first misunderstanding is assuming there was something malicious about the replacement of the oil minister, an 80-year old who had served for two decades and was clearly looking for an opportunity to step down. Officials do not submit letters of resignation in Saudi Arabia; they serve at the pleasure of the king. While some officials—especially royals—are removed from positions “at their own request,” it is hard to find a pattern that suggests it has much meaning.

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Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and the Uncertain Cost of U.S. Wars
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
May 10, 2016

The United States has been involved in some form of warfare or conflict for most of the period since 1941, and has been continuously at war since September 11, 2001—nearly a decade and a half. The United States has never, however, come to grips with the reality of its involvement in such conflicts. Its official reporting on each conflict has been erratic at best, and has never really addressed the details of the cost of its wars, nor has it ever really addressed its strategies or how they were intended to be implemented. Furthermore, official U.S. reporting has not provided net assessments of the forces involved, nor has it provided a clear picture of the effectiveness of its military and civil efforts.

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Nagorno-Karabakh: A Conflict Entrenched in Nationalistic Propaganda
By Christine Philippe-Blumauer
Foreign Policy Research Institute
May 5, 2016

Armenia-Azerbaijan relations are all but stellar.  In fact, for those familiar with the region, this is a relationship known for its enmity, aggression, and hostility via a dangerous game of propaganda and nationalistic rhetoric. The two became enemies shortly after 1988, when the region of Nagorno-Karabakh – inhabited by a majority of ethnic Armenians – voted to secede from then Soviet Azerbaijan and unite with Armenia.  What are the implications of the tragic drifting apart of the Armenian and Azerbaijani societies caused by years of relentless nationalistic propaganda carried out by both governments? Could the arms race the countries have embarked on destabilize the entire Eurasian region if it transforms into a full-scale war? Is there a path towards reconciliation?

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National Priorities for the NATO Warsaw Summit
By Bruno Lete, Martin Michelot, Christian Mölling, etc.
German Marshall Fund
May 9, 2016

NATO members are preparing for the next important summit in Warsaw on July 8-9. In this collection, experts from GMF offices in seven of NATO’s capitals — Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Bucharest, Ankara, and Washington, DC — report on their governments’ agendas — and illustrate that while all members agree that unity and solidarity are critical for the alliance, the agenda is wide and the priorities diverse. The central challenge will be keeping the East and South of NATO on board, and the need to balance the two will affect many individual decisions. EU-NATO cooperation in the light of hybrid threats and nuclear policy is less controversial, but it may also not be easy to put in place.

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Saudi King’s Son Drastically Reshapes Government
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
May 9, 2016

On May 7, Saudi Arabia announced a raft of changes encapsulated in no less than fifty-one “royal orders.” Notionally emanating from King Salman himself, the plans were almost certainly presented to the ailing monarch for mere sign-off by his thirty-year-old son Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (known as MbS), who has emerged as the most powerful man in the kingdom.  So far, observers worldwide have focused on the abrupt though not unexpected sacking of eighty-year-old oil minister Ali al-Naimi, who has been given a meaningless sinecure as an advisor to the royal court. He has been replaced by another oil veteran, Khalid al-Falih, who spent the past year trying to bring order to the chaotic Ministry of Health.

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Turkey’s King: Erdogan After Davutoglu
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
May 8, 2016

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s May 5 resignation at the request of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a further consolidation of power in the hands of a man who is already the most powerful politician in Turkey since the country became a multiparty democracy in 1950. Erdogan has ruled since 2003, first as prime minister and head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and then as president, a constitutionally non-partisan office in Turkey’s parliamentary system. When Erdogan became president in 2014, Davutoglu took over as AKP chair and became the country’s new prime minister. Davutoglu had risen in politics as Erdogan’s chief adviser, finally becoming Erdogan’s foreign minister in 2009. The two men were colleagues in conceiving and executing Turkey’s foreign policy pivot to the Middle East. Accordingly, when Erdogan offered Davutoglu the prime minister position that was sure to be somewhat neutered, Davutoglu happily obliged.

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