American politics are still taking most of the attention in Washington. Of note is the fact that this week had two national polls showing that Trump is leading Clinton in the race for the White House. As a result, Trump is consolidating his hold on the GOP, while Clinton is still being seriously challenged by Sanders, who won another primary this week.
A Democratic state convention in Nevada this weekend showed that there is considerable dissension within the Democratic Party. The Monitor analysis looks at the divides in both the Republican and Democratic parties and what this means. We also look at potential third party challenges to the two major parties in November.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The CSIS looks at US strategy in Syria and Iraq. They note, “The United States now faces least bad options that are almost certainly far worse than when the Obama Administration began its military interventions in Syria and Iraq. Acting incrementally and indecisively has its costs—just as acting too quickly and decisively, and without proper analysis and planning, did in the case of the previous administration. The question remains, however, does the Obama Administration have any real strategy to deal with the least bad options it still has, the challenges raised by DNI Clapper, and the issues outlined in this analysis? Or, is it still largely reacting to events and riding out its time in the office? It is not enough to focus on ISIS or even to defeat it. It is not enough to buy time by negotiating a limited ceasefire or cessation of hostilities in Syria. A functional strategy must also look beyond the military dimension and recognize the equal importance of the civil dimension in Syria and Iraq—and must deal with the interests and role of key outside actors like Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Arab states.”
The American Enterprise Institute asks if Iran’s Iraq strategy is falling apart. They note, “Perceptions of Iranian dominance and interference also stoke Iraqi nationalism and resentment across the ethnic and sectarian spectrum. Tehran certainly did not create Iraq’s current staggering levels of ministerial corruption, but its explicit backing of former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki (the deeply sectarian and corrupt father of the current crisis) and support of multiple political figures has fueled a perception in the population that an Iranian hand has been puppeting Baghdad’s bureaucratic failures. The Iraqi people’s anger at both Baghdad and Tehran has driven several months of protests outside the walls of the Green Zone and demands for a new technocratic cabinet that current Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi is trying to form over the resistance of the entrenched political parties. The ever-opportunistic Sadr is exploiting that anger.”
The Washington Institute looks at Egypt’s economic condition, especially in light of the Saudi $20 billion economic package given to Egypt. They conclude, “Regrettably, it’s unclear that Egypt will capitalize on this opportunity…The last time when Sisi was flush with cash — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait gave Egypt $20 billion in 2013 — instead of making difficult decisions, Cairo muddled through, squandering the windfall and the chance for real and enduring change. Washington and the International Monetary Fund, which in the coming weeks is poised to loan billions to Egypt, shouldn’t let Sisi miss yet another opportunity. Cairo has a history of deferring economic reforms, but the window may be closing. At a minimum, Saudi Arabia’s increasingly precarious economic situation means that two years from now, Egypt cannot count on another megagrant.”
The American Foreign Policy Council notes that al Qaeda is growing again. They conclude, “Al-Qaeda still has mass appeal… Nusra’s successes in Syria have been made possible in large part by an influx of new recruits. That suggests our understanding of the “foreign fighter” phenomenon is woefully inadequate. U.S. and allied intelligence agencies now estimate that upwards of 27,000 foreign fighters have joined the jihad in Iraq and Syria. But their analysis tends to focus on tracking these foreign fighters and identifying their countries of origin. Far less attention is paid to with whom, exactly, these militants affiliate once they arrive on the battlefield. Nusra’s expanding reach indicates that while ISIL is a major beneficiary of this influx, it is hardly the only one.
All of which, in turn, implies that al-Qaeda is finding opportunity within adversity. There can be no question that the group has been hurt by the rise of ISIL. But its most recent moves in Syria suggest strongly that having had both the time and the opportunity to regroup and restructure, the bin Laden network is positioning itself for a comeback.”
The Heritage Foundation looks at America’s foreign intelligence collection and its surveillance on Americans. As Congress debates reauthorizing it (Section 702), this paper notes, “Over the past several years, this surveillance of the online activities of foreigners has been an invaluable source of information for American intelligence professionals and officials. Some say that more than 25 percent of all current U.S. intelligence is based on information collected under Section 702. Still, critics believe that the program infringes on Americans’ rights. Their concern hinges on the inevitable reality that in the course of collecting information about foreign actors, the Section 702 program will also collect information about American citizens. As a result, some opponents liken the Section 702 program to the government telephone metadata program disclosed by Edward Snowden, and characterize Section 702 as an instance of government overreach. Such comparisons are misguided. The program is so vital to America’s national security that Congress should reauthorize Section 702 in its current form.”
The Cato Institute thinks that as president, Clinton will be more willing to use military force. In terms of ISIS, they warn, “A determined President Clinton who sends enough troops, planes, and tanks can certainly win the military campaign against ISIS. Even so, ISIS has had years to dig in. Given this and the dangers of urban warfare, the cost in American casualties will likely be significant. Further, ISIS could disperse its fighters among the general population, returning to either guerrilla or terrorist strategy. The United States was not able to prevent terrorist attacks in Iraq or the rise of ISIS after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is little reason to imagine it could do so under President Clinton in 2017 when conditions in Iraq are even worse. Moreover, this time the fight is not limited to Iraq. ISIS presents an even greater challenge in many ways in Syria, where an expanded U.S. campaign will clash with Russian interests, which include supporting Assad against American-support rebel groups.”
The Washington Institute looks at the death of Hezbollah’s most prominent military figure, Mustafa Badreddine in Syria last week. They conclude, “Regardless of who is behind the killing, the bottom line is that Badreddine’s death is a significant blow to Hezbollah, operationally and mentally. The group will now need to send another high-level official to oversee operations in Syria — someone with vast military experience and deep knowledge of the Syrian theatre. Two possible replacements are Ibrahim Aqil and Fuad Shukr, both of whom serve on Hezbollah’s highest military body (the Jihadi Council) and are already involved in the Syrian theatre. The incident is also a big blow to the group’s image as undefeatable and untouchable. If Badreddine can be killed in Syria, no Hezbollah commander is safe there.”
Division also roils Democratic Party
While the media has focused on the divisions within the Republican Party this year, there are major divisions within the Democratic Party that promise as much, if not more problems for the Democrats.
These divisions were clearly out in the open last weekend at the Nevada state Democratic presidential convention, where the delegates were picked to go to the national Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
The Nevada State Democratic Convention on Saturday devolved into an “unruly and unpredictable” environment following several disputes over rules governing delegates for Clinton and Sanders, leading to law enforcement officials being called to keep the peace.
Two issues in particular stung Sanders supporters gathered at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel: (1) the approval of a set of temporary rules seen as less favorable to the Vermont senator by his backers and (2) the allocation of the 12 delegates up for grabs. In the final tally, Clinton took seven delegates and Sanders five.
Sanders supporters, were also upset by the news that nearly five dozen people were not given delegate status and said the results were skewed. Convention Credential Committee Co-Chair Leslie Sexton said 64 Sanders delegates were disqualified for various reasons and not given the opportunity to appeal, The Hill reported.
Upset Bernie Sanders supporters booed California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Hillary Clinton supporter, during the contentious convention Saturday.
“We need civility in the Democratic Party, civility,” Boxer said as Sanders supporters booed her. Bernie supporters who were upset with the convention results started chants of “recount.”
Law enforcement officers and hotel security quickly formed a line in front of the stage as an unidentified individual pleaded with the crowd to exit. At one point several lights in the hall were reportedly turned off to try to get attendees to leave. Eventually, the attendees in the room peacefully dispersed. No arrests were reported.
Meanwhile, the Republican delegate selection meeting Saturday occurred without incident. A crowd of just more than 1,000 people selected 27 delegates to the Republican National Convention, Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump won the state with 46 percent of the vote in that contest, securing 14 delegates.
The reality is that there are more divisions right now amongst the Democratic Party than the GOP.
Clinton’s narrow victory in Kentucky and Bernie Sanders’ win in Oregon illustrated a deepening rift among Democrats with the potential to hobble the party heading into the general election. Contrary to the expected easy nomination win, Clinton has won only 8 of the last 20 primaries.
The split outcome in Tuesday’s primaries gives Clinton little leverage to push Sanders out of the race in order to unify his supporters behind her in preparation for an expected campaign against Trump, who is using the extended primary contest to attack Clinton’s standing with her own party.
Sanders showed no intention of backing down on his fight against Clinton or urging his supporters to fall in line. His spokesman said Sanders is considering seeking a recount in Kentucky, where Clinton was clinging to a lead of a half percentage point.
“We are in until the last ballot is cast,” Sanders told supporters at a rally in Carson, California, saying he believes he can win the June 7 primary in the nation’s most populous state. “We have the possibility — it will be a steep climb, I recognize that — but we have the possibility of going to Philadelphia with the majority of the pledged delegates,” Sanders said of the July nominating convention. He said in early general election poll match-ups he does “much better against Trump” than Clinton.
However, reality is on Clinton’s side. Clinton has 96 percent of the delegates and super-delegates needed to clinch the nomination, according to an Associated Press estimate Wednesday. Sanders has 64 percent. He’d need to win about two-thirds of the rest of the pledged delegates to pull even with Clinton by the end of the nominating race, according to AP.
With Sanders continuing to hammer Hillary within his own party for being just another status-quo figure, it is only helping Donald Trump, running largely as the candidate who is a true outsider and won’t play Washington’s typical political games.
“Every week, every news cycle, every tweet that goes by where the focus is not on the GOP presumptive nominee is a day lost in this race to seize the most advantageous ground to wage the general election.” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane
In many ways, the Democratic Party’s problems mirror those of the GOP. There is an establishment Democratic Party that backs Clinton and a more ideological progressive party that backs Sanders. While the establishment party holds the power in Washington, the progressive wing feels that it is being ignored. There is also a growing battle between two core Democratic constituencies – labor unions and environmentalists. The result is the public bickering seen in Nevada.
Many Democrats are worried that this dissention may spread to the national convention and want Sanders to tone down the rhetoric. However, Sanders remains clearly combative. On Tuesday he said, that the Democratic Party “has a choice: It can open its doors and welcome into the party” his backers or “maintain its status quo.”
He added that that the party either needs to embrace “people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change, or choose to remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions.”
“At (the Nevada) convention, the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place,” said Sanders, adding that there have been “zero reports” of violence during his massive rallies across the country.
Older Democrats remember 1968 and the riots that accompanied the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Like 2016, the party was split between ideological supporters of Eugene McCarthy (who won most of the primaries) and establishment Democratic candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
While rioters were disrupting Chicago outside the convention hall, establishment Democrats inside (led by Chicago Mayor Daley) were using their rules and power to push back the McCarthy forces. The result was a win for Humphrey at the cost of a deeply divided party. Although many Democrats returned to the fold by November, the division led to the election of Richard Nixon.
California Senator Diane Feinstein has already warned that this “could be 1968 all over again.”
Although Sanders has been very successful in the primary races, Clinton has maintained her advantage thanks to super-delegates – delegates that aren’t bound to vote for the state’s primary winners. The super-delegate concept was placed in Democratic convention rules after the 1972 presidential election in order to prevent “outsider” candidates like McCarthy and McGovern from winning the nomination.
The question at this time is, what will Sanders’ voters do? Many will eventually vote for Clinton – although not with any degree of enthusiasm. However, there appear to be a significant minority of Sanders voters who may defect to Trump, who echoes Sanders anti-establishment attitudes and holds some more liberal views that aren’t in line with traditional Republican views.
What worries the Clinton campaign is that many of these traditional Democratic voters are found primarily in a belt of states that frequently vote Democratic – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Trump will also force Clinton to expend money and effort in the Northeast – a traditional Democratic stronghold that Trump has shown strength in. And, if Trump can win these states, he will win the election.
As Trump continues to gain ground on Hillary, there are two keys to the Trump campaign’s continued success. First, can Trump convince even more independents to come to his side by the fall, and secondly, and more importantly, can Trump convince those unhappy Sanders supporters that Clinton is nothing but the status quo figure that they don’t want to see in office, and that a vote for Trump would at least be a vote for an outsider who will not be afraid to shake things up. The first seem doable as an NBC poll shows Trump leading independents by 8 points. The second will not be answered as quickly.
The Viability of a Third Party
With so many disaffected voters in both parties, the threat of a third party drawing off sizable voters from the Democratic or Republican parties is a concern for both Trump and Clinton.
The fact is American voters dislike Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
A record 61 percent have a negative view of the likely Democratic nominee, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday. That’s up from 58 percent in March.
Fifty-six percent have an unfavorable view of Trump – though that’s actually good news for Trump, because it was 65 percent two months ago.
Thirty-seven percent have a favorable opinion of Clinton, down two points from 39 percent in March, establishing a new low. The likely Republican nominee’s favorable jumped over the same time period: 41 percent view Trump positively, up from 31 percent in March.
There’s obviously some potential for the right third party candidate.
Traditionally, third party candidates are not a major issue in presidential elections – unless they have some name recognition. Ralph Nader won enough votes in Florida in 2000 to give Bush the election. In 1996 and 1992, H. Ross Perot allowed Bill Clinton to win the election with a minority of the votes. In 1968, George Wallace won five states and received 46 electoral votes – the last third party candidate to win any states.
Although a viable third party campaign is quite difficult, a new poll out this week by Data Targeting shows a possible path for a third-party candidate. The survey of 997 likely voters shows an independent candidate garnering 21 percent of the vote.
Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed — a relatively balanced group of Republicans, Democrats, and those who identified as “other” — said they were dissatisfied with the current crop of candidates; 55 percent said they want another candidate on the ballot, though that says nothing about the ideological coloration they’d like that candidate to have. And finally, 65 percent said they were at least somewhat willing to support a candidate who is not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
A coterie of conservatives led publicly by Bill Kristol have for a couple of months now been working to field a third-party candidate who could motivate conservatives to get out to the polls. The names still being bandied about include Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who seems dead set against a run; Mitt Romney, who is only a bit likelier than Sasse to say yes (some recent reports say he has abandoned his search for a potential candidate); and former Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn. Searby’s poll will certainly be used to convince one of them to jump in the race.
However, it will be hard to convince anyone to make a serious third party run. First, it is quite late in the cycle to get on enough state ballots.
Second, any Republican who would run would ruin their career in the party. One only needs to look at Ralph Nader, who was once popular amongst Democrats and is now unpopular after his Green Party kept Gore from winning in 2000. The same can be said for Republican Congressman John Anderson who ran third party against Reagan and Carter in 1980.
That means any current Republican office holder who runs in a third party is guaranteed a primary challenge in the next election – a challenge that he is nearly guaranteed to lose, especially if he wins enough votes to guarantee that Trump loses.
There’s also the fact that the momentum is on Trump’s side. His favorable ratings are climbing, while Clinton’s are falling. There was also a Fox News poll released on Wednesday that showed Trump leading Clinton 45% to 42% among registered voters. And, on Thursday, a Rasmussen poll showed Trump leading by 5% amongst likely voters (42% – 37%). He is also keeping Clinton’s lead amongst Hispanics and Blacks below Obama’s, while holding large margins with White voters. The Fox poll also shows 11% of Sanders voters preferring Trump over Clinton.
If that continues for much longer, Trump will be the overwhelming favorite in November. And, Republicans, even the ones who don’t like Trump, will support a winner.
In the end, third party challenges are very difficult. Although many voters may express a desire for another candidate, history usually shows that as the election nears, voters prefer to choose one of the two major candidates, who have a realistic chance of winning.
The reality is that as much as voters would prefer another choice, in the end, they will pick either Clinton or Trump.
Maintaining America’s Ability to Collect Foreign Intelligence: The Section 702 Program
By David Shedd, Paul Rosenzweig and Charles “Cully” Stimson
May 13, 2016
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will, in its current form, come up for reauthorization in 2017. Broadly speaking, the Section 702 program targets non-U.S. persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States, in order to acquire foreign intelligence. Over the past several years, this surveillance of the online activities of foreigners has been a critical and invaluable tool for American intelligence professionals and officials. Knowledgeable officials note that more than 25 percent of all current U.S. intelligence is based on information collected under Section 702. Still, there are those who have concerns about the program. These critics believe that the program, as currently implemented, infringes on Americans’ rights. Their concern hinges on the inevitable reality that in the course of collecting information about foreign actors, the Section 702 program will also collect information about American citizens.
Why Hillary Clinton Will Be a Foreign-Policy Nightmare
By A. Trevor Thrall
May 17, 2016
Imagine it is the morning of January 21st, 2017: President Hillary Clinton enters the Oval Office for her first daily briefing from the CIA. Without having to do much guessing we know that this briefing will be replete with terrible news about all the many fires burning around the world. The first priority, of course, will be the Islamic State (ISIS). Unlike her predecessor, who appeared to have mixed feelings about the use of military force throughout his presidency, Clinton appears to have no such misgivings. Hillary Clinton was a dogged champion for military intervention as Secretary of State. As a candidate, she has been among the most hawkish Democrats in living memory, outdoing most of this year’s Republicans. She has repeatedly called for “an intensification and acceleration” of President Obama’s ISIS strategy. As president, Clinton will face few obstacles in her desire to exert decisive leadership on the global stage. In the worst-case scenario, President Clinton, in pursuit of a muscular approach to confronting ISIS, will make three related decisions that doom American foreign policy to another decade of turmoil, casualties, and terrorism.
U.S. Strategy and the War in Iraq and Syria
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
May 13, 2016
Iraq has just seen one of its most horrifying days of terrorism in what is now some thirteen years of war. ISIS has struck at Iraq’s civilian population with the clear goal of dividing the country between Sunni and Shi’ite—although one of its three bombs did kill Sunnis as well. The end result is at least 93 dead and hundreds of wounded—all innocent civilians. To some extent, this reflects progress in the fighting. ISIS has lost a substantial amount of the territory it once controlled. While Iraq is anything but unified, it also has not seen the kind of divisions between Arab Sunni and Arab Shi’ite, or Arab and Kurd, that keep Iraqi forces from advancing in the west and gradually moving towards the liberation of Mosul. Using mass terrorist attacks against civilians to inflame the sectarian and ethnic fault lines in Iraq makes all too much sense from the perspective of ISIS—as do any such attacks that can provoke a response from Shi’ite militias against Iraq’s Sunnis, or divide its Arab and Kurds.
Is Iran’s Iraq policy coming apart?
By J. Matthew McInnis
American Enterprise Institute
May 17, 2016
The Iraqi political crisis, triggered by public anger over monumental levels of government corruption, only continues to worsen after the storming of the parliament in Baghdad on April 30 by supporters of Shia Cleric Moqtada al Sadr. His militia reportedly may be mobilizing in response to the government’s inability to maintain security following a series of suicide bombings by the Islamic State that killed more than 100 people in Baghdad over the past week. Sadr himself has apparently gone into seclusion again in Iran, raising many questions: Who is guiding his forces? How worried is the leadership in Tehran about these recent events? More importantly, is Iran’s 13-year project to shape the Iraqi state into a reliable partner seriously at risk?
Al-Qaeda Resurrects Under ISIL Shadow
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
May 13, 2016
Whatever happened to al-Qaeda? A decade-and-a-half ago, it perpetrated the single largest act of international terrorism to ever take place on American soil. Yet, these days, Osama bin Laden’s terror network barely warrants a mention in the mainstream news media. Instead, it is al-Qaeda’s onetime Iraqi franchise, now known as the Islamic State, or ISIL, which commands near total attention in both politics and the press. That has never been more true than on Iraq’s bloodiest day of 2016 when bombs swept through Baghdad killing at least 93. Perhaps that’s understandable. Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. special operations raid in Pakistan in 2011. And over the past two years, ISIL’s explosive growth in Iraq and Syria, its unparalleled brutality and its ability to mobilize disaffected Muslims have helped catapult the terrorist group to the status of global public enemy No. 1.
Will Sisi Squander His Chance to Fix Egypt’s Economy?
By David Schenker
May 17, 2016
Ever since Saudi King Salman’s early April visit to Cairo, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been in damage control mode, trying to contain a crisis sparked by two nearly simultaneous announcements: that Egypt would be transferring sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, and that Riyadh would be providing an enormous economic aid package to Cairo. This news — coupled with reports that King Salman had showered senior Egyptian officials and parliamentarians with Rolexes — led many to conclude that Sisi had “sold” the islands. The optics were awful, and catalyzed Cairo’s largest demonstrations in years, with thousands once again calling to topple the regime. Amidst the intense focus on the islands, however, the significance of the Saudi grant has largely been overlooked. Absent the $22 billion in Saudi aid, Egypt was seemingly on a glide path to economic collapse.
Hezbollah’s Biggest Loss to Date in Syria
By Nadav Pollak and Matthew Levitt
May 13, 2016
On May 13, Hezbollah confirmed the death of its most prominent military figure, Mustafa Badreddine, reportedly killed in an explosion in Damascus on Tuesday night. Given Badreddine’s role as head of the group’s External Security Organization and its forces in Syria, his death represents Hezbollah’s biggest loss since the 2008 assassination of former “chief of staff” Imad Mughniyah. The two men knew each other very well — they were cousins and brothers-in-law, and they led Hezbollah’s military activities for years.