Week of May 29th, 2015

Executive Summary

This was a short week as the US celebrated Memorial Day, the traditional beginning of summer.  As a result, there were fewer papers.  There will also be a slower pace in the think tank community for the next three months as more analysts take their summer vacations.

The Monitor analysis looks at Senator John McCain, who lost the presidential election in 2008 against Obama, but remains very powerful in terms of dealing with defense and foreign policy.  We look at how his background determined his outlook and his chances of being reelected in 2016

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at undemocratic regimes in the Middle East.  They note, “Many expected that the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011 would produce democracies, but in many cases the medium-term outcome has been a return to the status quo ante. Tunisia’s vaunted democratic experiment has been more successful than most, but its leadership has strong roots in the Bourguiba and Ben Ali dictatorships. Similarly, Islamists’ leadership of the government of Morocco has done little to weaken the makhzen, the enduring, royal networks that exert economic and political control throughout the country regardless of electoral results.  Nowhere is the paradox clearer than in Egypt, where a broad uprising against a former general set off a chain of events that brought a former field marshal to power. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won his election by a margin so overwhelming that any Egyptian government in the last 20 years would have considered it obscene. And yet, it would be a mistake to underestimate how broad support for Sisi and the region’s other authoritarians truly is.  In part, the authoritarians’ popularity arises from a fear of chaos. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and the Sinai all serve as object lessons for populations who think nothing can be worse than the status quo. Persistent terrorist attacks remind populations of how vulnerable they remain.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the improving Iranian/Russian relations.  They conclude, “The Russian confrontation with the West has made Moscow extremely interested in developing relations with Tehran. Iran has also gradually become disillusioned with the possibility of a quick settlement of the nuclear issue and the complete lifting of the punitive economic measures adopted by the United States, the EU, and their partners. This, in turn, has compelled the authorities of the Islamic Republic to be more active in their dialogue with countries that are ready to cooperate with Iran even under existing sanctions.  Moscow and Tehran need to resolve issues whose natures have little to do with the roles of third parties. Namely, Russia and Iran will need to take a deeper look at their own potential to develop bilateral relations. They have to determine to what extent and in what areas real economic cooperation between them is possible and in what political spheres their collaboration can be effective—in other words, where they can go beyond mere consultations. Without clear answers to these questions, further progress on the dialogue between Moscow and Tehran is hardly possible.”

The Carnegie Endowment argues that sectarianism is not part of the solution for Syria.  They note, “With Syria divided between an oil-rich north east, an urbane south, northern areas with significant presence of Islamist groups, a so-called “Islamic State,” and a Sahel dominated by the Alawite minority, there is a real concern that were the central government to collapse, Syria’s divisions would translate into a crumbling of the state itself. As such, some in the international arena have explored the idea of implementing a political system based on sectarian representation as a way of resolving the Syrian conflict. But as the Lebanese and Iraqi models have vividly shown, this method of short-term conflict resolution leads to long term conflicts in the future.

The Washington Institute looks at ways to defeat both ISIS and Iran.  They conclude, “To restore U.S. credibility and make it possible to build a more cohesive opposition that could change the balance of power on the ground, there needs to be a different kind of safe haven inside Syria — one that would make it possible to house refugees inside the country and to allow a legitimate, credible opposition to become more politically and militarily relevant within the country.  The ultimate aim is to make a political settlement possible by showing that Assad cannot win. Assad’s backers, especially Iran, will surely hate this and could choose to react. But the Iranians need to see that the U.S. will compete and that the costs for them will only go up without a political settlement.  With vanishing borders, a tangled web of transitory alliances and transnational groups — both Sunni and Shiite — operating outside the constraints of state power, the Middle East state system is under relentless pressure. A strategy to preserve it requires a long-term vision for shoring up U.S. allies, rolling back ISIL and countering the Iranians. The United States will not define the future for the region, but it has a distinct national interest in preventing the collapse of its state system.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the many areas of Iranian engagement in the Middle East and its relationship with the US.  They conclude, “Iran still wants a nuclear deal, but the serious threats it faces from ISIS and a more coherent and assertive Arab leadership—and the opportunities this chaos can provide to expand Iran’s influence—are the real drivers of Iranian foreign policy right now. Even if this pushes Iran towards more temporary cooperation with us against ISIS in Iraq, Washington should not underestimate how far Tehran will go to secure its interests in Baghdad, defend Damascus,  press Riyadh…or kick the United States out of the region.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the renewal of the NSA surveillance parts of the Patriot Act.  In arguing for changes, they conclude, “In crafting the best policies with respect to mining telephone metadata, Congress has a solemn duty to abide by the Constitution, particularly our Fourth Amendment right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” At the same time, Congress has to recognize that telephone metadata is not a subscriber’s personal property: It is owned by the telephone companies as part of their business records. Yet the data is sensitive, and American citizens expect that their phone records, even if they do not own them, are private information. Congress must find a way to balance these two interests, because allowing the capacity to query third-party telephone metadata—signals intelligence—to expire is unwise and dangerous, especially during a time of armed conflict.”





The Politics and Mind of Senator John McCain

 Arizona Senator John McCain holds an unusual position in terms of influencing the foreign and defense policy of the United States.  Given his seniority and position as Chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in addition to his vast experience, he is undoubtedly the most influential Republican on American foreign and defense policy.  And, he will continue to be so if and until the Republicans recapture the White House.

The big question is if he will be around if the Republicans win the White House in 2016.  Although the 78 year old senator has announced that he is running for reelection, he is facing opposition within the Republican Party. He has also gotten a serious Democratic opponent in Ann Kirkpatrick, a three-term U.S. representative from Flagstaff.

The influential nonpartisan newsletter Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, which handicaps U.S. House and U.S. Senate races, immediately adjusted its ratings of Arizona’s Senate race from “Republican Favored” to “Lean Republican,” a more competitive designation.

But is it that competitive?  Is McCain vulnerable?

Former Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neill once said, “All politics are local.”  This is equally true in Arizona, which will decide who goes to Washington in 2016.

Arizona Politics, Kirkpatrick, and McCain.

Although Democrats quickly embraced Kirkpatrick’s announcement, there’s more to the story.  Kirkpatrick was likely facing a “up or out,” situation as she was likely to lose her congressional seat in 2016.

The reason is a relatively obscure Supreme Court case that was heard about 3 months ago that looks at the right of state legislatures to decide congressional boundaries in accordance with the US Constitution.  It pits the Republican Arizona legislature against the Redistricting Commission that was approved by Arizona voters.  A Supreme Court ruling is expected within weeks

The question in this case revolves around Article One, Section Four of the Constitution, which provides that the “time, place, and manner” regarding elections to Congress shall be determined by the legislature of each state. The state legislature of Arizona, which has been joined by representatives from state legislatures around the country, contends that this means that any law regarding apportionment of Congressional seats and the drawing of Congressional Districts must be approved by state legislatures and that the Arizona law is unconstitutional because it takes the manner of redistricting completely out of the hands of the legislature.

Although reading the final decision of the SCOTUS (Supreme court Of the US) based on oral comments is dangerous, it seems that the court may decide in favor of the Republican Legislature and give them the opportunity to redraw the map to give Republicans a chance to win more congressional seats.  Although there is no finalized congressional map yet, it is common knowledge that Kirkpatrick’s seat is one that is likely to go Republican in any redistricting.

By announcing her senate campaign now, Kirkpatrick avoids the impression that she is running merely to avoid losing reelection in her own district.  It likely also reflects a serious concern by her and her advisors that the SCOTUS will rule in favor of the Republican legislature.

As either a congressional or senatorial candidate, Kirkpatrick is not a political juggernaut in Arizona.  Kirkpatrick, who represents a sprawling “toss-up” district that has sent Democrats and Republicans to Washington in recent years, was first elected to Congress in the Democratic landslide of 2008. She served one term before she was ousted by U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican, in 2010. She ran again and won in 2012 after the independent redistricting commission redrew a more Democratically favorable congressional district for her.  Meantime, Gosar won reelection in a different district.

She will also be handicapped by a pro-Obama voting record in a state that voted against Obama twice.

As it stands, McCain holds the edge in polling.  A recent poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling indicated McCain leading Kirkpatrick 42 percent to 36 percent, and 23 percent not sure whom to support. The automated phone and Internet poll of 600 Arizona voters was conducted May 1-3. The margin of error was 4 percentage points. McCain was similarly close with other potential Democratic rivals.

“Those numbers may be misleadingly close, though — the undecideds in each of those (McCain vs. Democrats) match-ups are strongly Republican-leaning,” PPP said in its analysis of the poll.

Kirkpatrick also has to contend with Senator McCain’s vaunted fund raising machine.  As of March 31, Kirkpatrick’s campaign had $296,806 on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records. McCain reported having $3.7 million.

Kirkpatrick also faces a strong Republican map.  Despite Democratic hopes of turning Arizona Democratic, every Arizona state officer is Republican.  The Senate and Legislature are Republican and the only reason that there are more Democratic congressmen representing the state is a congressional map designed by a clearly Democratic redistricting committee.  She will also be running in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in 28 years.

McCain’s reelection challenge is more likely in the primary.  Arizona Republicans, especially more conservative ones are dissatisfied with McCain and in 2014, overwhelmingly censured him for his stands on immigration.  At the grassroots level, McCain has lost a lot of support, even from previous key supporters, who helped him fight the conservative Republican challenge within the state in 2008 and 2010.

However, in order for conservative anti-McCain Republicans to beat McCain, they need a strong candidate with statewide appeal.  In 2010 McCain demolished former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth in the primary.

State Senator Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City has formed an exploratory committee to test the waters.  State and national Tea Party conservatives have been trying to persuade U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon to take on McCain.  Others with statewide name recognition have been strangely silent when queried about their interest in running.

McCain’s money has a decided influence in the primary as few Republican leaders wish to deny themselves the largess of McCain money.  For instance, Maricopa County, home of Phoenix has not been a beneficiary of McCain’s PAC money for awhile because it is home of many anti-McCain Republican.

In 2008, the McCain PAC money was given to the Pima Country GOP Party to dole out.  However, when in 2010, the Pima GOP leadership remained neutral in the primary; the control of that money went to Yuma County.  As a result, Arizona GOP chairman Robert Graham is taking a more McCain friendly approach, knowing that McCain PAC money could mean more Republicans winning in 2016.

As it stands, McCain is vulnerable in the primary if a major opponent like a sitting representative comes forward.  However, given Arizona’s open primary that allows independent voters (who are more likely to prefer McCain) to vote in the Republican primary and the McCain money advantage, McCain is likely win otherwise.

If McCain survives the primary, he will be a strong contender in the general election.  Arizona is Republican and in a presidential election, the Republicans can be expected to come out in force.  They can be expected to vote for McCain –howbeit reluctantly – especially if the control of the US Senate is in question.

The Foreign and Defense Policy of Senator McCain

Probably no one in the Senate or House has more impact on foreign or defense policy than Senator McCain.  And, although Obama has final say in what happens in these areas, what McCain thinks and says will shape the debate.

McCain has an overwhelming influence in foreign and defense policy because of his background.  Few congressmen today have military experience and fewer have extensive combat experience like McCain.  That makes him the “go to man,” when it comes to explaining frequently confusing defense policy.

Clearly McCain is one of the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party.  He is an advocate of aggressive intervention in the Middle East and even in Eastern Europe.

But, why does McCain think that way?

Senator John McCain comes from a renown military family that has fought in America’s wars ever since the Revolutionary War 240 years ago.  The US Naval Academy has graduated 4 John McCains in about the last century (Admiral John McCain, who commanded most of the American aircraft carrier fleet in the Pacific in WW II and was an official witness to the signing of the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, Admiral John McCain, who commanded a submarine in WW II and was commander of the Pacific fleet during the Vietnam War, Senator John McCain, and Lieutenant John McCain).  As a result, the McCains have stood at the crossroads of foreign policy and defense since before the US became a major military power.

Senator McCain was a naval aviator and flew A-4 fighter bombers in Vietnam.  He grew up during an era when it was thought that air power could win wars.  And, his career flying close air support aircraft only reinforced that.

This background is clearly seen in his attitude towards American intervention in the Middle East.  He frequently advocates using air power to solve problems ranging from ISIS to Syria to Iran.  It is an example of the old American saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”  Clearly, McCain the former naval aviator sees the solution to every problem in military terms – especially through the use of American air power.

Another important factor in McCain’s background is the tradition of the US Navy, where naval officers are expected to also act as diplomats.

Since American ships are frequently seen around the world and in ports, where there is no other American diplomatic representation, US naval officers – who must also be confirmed by the US Senate – are relied upon to act as American diplomats and are required to know and appreciate foreign policy.  This gives McCain a unique blend of military expertise and an understanding of American foreign policy.

The other factor in McCain’s power is his relationship with many Senate Democrats.  Former Senator Jon Kyle (R-AZ) said Senate Republicans needed McCain in order to go to Democrats to negotiate bipartisan agreements.

Given McCain’s military background, foreign policy experience, bipartisan political skills, and willingness to speak on news shows, he has considerable power in directing Republican and – to an extent – Democratic foreign and military policy.  As such, he will have an impact on American policy through 2016.

His future, however, is still uncertain beyond 2016.  He will be 80 if reelected and many in the party think it is time a younger person fill the Senate seat.  The question is if anyone in the Arizona Republican Party has the will and stature to challenge him.

However, if he survives the primary, McCain will likely remain in the Senate until 2022.  Although many Arizona Republicans are wary of his politics, his national stature is unquestioned.  And American political history says that politicians with national stature are reelected even if the grassroots have problems with him.




Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Metadata Collection: Responsible Options for the Way Forward

By James Jay Carafano, Charles “Cully” Stimson, Steven P. Bucci, John Malcolm and Paul Rosenzweig

Heritage Foundation

May 21, 2015

Backgrounder #3018

Any debate about America’s counterterrorism capabilities must be conducted in the context of the actual terrorist threat the U.S. faces. Since 9/11, The Heritage Foundation has tracked Islamist terrorist plots and attacks, which now, after the recent shooting in Garland, Texas, total 68.  This figure, however, does not consider foiled plots of which the public is unaware.  Recently, there has been a dramatic uptick in terrorism: The shooting in Garland is the sixth Islamist terrorist plot or attack in the past five months. Add to that number the surge of Americans seeking to support or join ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates, and one fact becomes clear: The U.S. is facing the most concentrated period of terrorist activity in the homeland since 9/11.  Of course, it is no coincidence that this spike in terrorism parallels the spread of the Islamic State and other radical groups across Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East. More than 150 American passport holders have traveled to Syria, or attempted to travel there, to join the fighting, along with more than 20,000 fighters from more than 90 countries. Many of these individuals with American passports are believed to have joined ISIS or the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria.

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Middle East Notes and Comment: Popular Authoritarians

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 26, 2015

Dictators often go to extraordinary means to project an image of popularity. Bussed-in mobs wave flags and sing songs praising the leadership, and when sham elections are held, something like 98.7 percent of voters dutifully vote for the president. No one doubts the consequences of genuine opposition—imprisonment, assault, or worse.  Underlying these displays of popularity is a broad understanding that it is all a cynical performance, perpetuated by fear. While actual opposition is unthinkable to many, the number of “true believers” in the regime may be vanishingly small. As the world saw in the Arab uprisings of 2011, once an opportunity for change arises, consent for the leadership often collapses. Democracies are stable, the thinking goes, because the democratic process ensures that governments enjoy popular support. Dictatorships are unstable because their consent arises merely out of fear.  What are we to make, then, of the rise of genuinely popular undemocratic regimes?

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Iran doubles down in the fight for the Middle East

By J. Matthew McInnis

American Enterprise Institute

May 28, 2015


The Deputy Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Ghani, finally admitted on May 23 that Tehran has been training the Houthi rebels in Yemen. For those watching the situation closely, the Quds Force’s (and certainly Lebanese Hezbollah’s as well) direct role in the Yemeni conflict was expected, but Ghani’s public confirmation was not. We are unlikely to see another heroic publicity campaign with Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani rallying and guiding Houthi forces—as we did with Iran’s Shia proxies in Iraq after the fall of Mosul to ISIS last year. Ghani’s announcement signals, though, a new willingness for Iran to deepen its military involvement in Yemen, even as Tehran voices support for negotiations. Nor was this Iran’s only move in the past two weeks to show how far it will—or must—go in its multi-front regional contest with ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.

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Erdoğan deserves our respect!

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

May 28, 2015


President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan renewed focus on his treatment of the press by cancelling an award of honorary citizenship for former New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer. The honor was based on Kinzer’s lifetime work with regard to Turkey and his specific efforts to save mosaics threatened by flooding, thus preserving Turkey’s ancient heritage. The reason for the direct presidential intervention to cancel the honor is that, last January, Kinzer wrote a column in which he stated:  Once seen as a skilled modernizer, [Erdoğan] now sits in a 1,000-room palace denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control. Strong leaders can descend into this kind of political madness.

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Understanding the Revitalization of Russian-Iranian Relations

By Nikolay Kozhanov

Carnegie Endowment

May 5, 2015

The intensity of Moscow’s current contact with Tehran is unprecedented in Russia’s post-Soviet history. Both the Russian and Iranian authorities are determined to create a solid foundation for bilateral dialogue, and their dedication to deepening ties is largely determined by their geopolitical interests. Yet despite the potential for improvement, there are serious obstacles that may hamper or even halt cooperation.
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Sectarianism Is Not Part of the Solution for Syria

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

May 13, 2015

There are some indicators in the context of the Syrian conflict that we may be entering a new phase in which the Bashar al-Assad regime is weaker than ever before. Claims about the possible arrest of Ali Mamlouk over an alleged coup plot and the death of Rustum al-Ghazali in dubious circumstances indicate that there are core members of the regime that have been exploring alternatives to Assad’s rule. The areas under regime control are also shrinking, and the capacity of the Syrian army is also lesser than ever before. This hastens the need to think about what governing model would work for Syria were the regime to collapse in the foreseeable future. Because even though the Assad regime has been catastrophic for Syria, its end would also bring further disasters if the political transition is not handled conscientiously by both Syrian opposition groups and the international community.
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A Policy to Defeat Both ISIL and Iran 

By Samuel R. Berger, Stephen Hadley, James F. Jeffrey, Dennis Ross, and Robert Satloff

Washington Institute

May 26, 2015

The Middle East today is consumed by conflict, driven primarily by struggles over identity and interest. Individually, these struggles threaten the survival of states across the region, including Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Collectively, they risk the collapse of the entire Middle East state system.  This distant phenomenon has a direct impact on U.S. interests. The weaker the states in the Middle East become, the easier it is for terrorist groups and terrorist-supporting states to plan, recruit and operate against the U.S. and its partners. Should this loss of control continue, the U.S. more and more will be forced to contend with plots against not just its friends but also against the American homeland.  There are two main external threats to the Middle East state system. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS or the Islamic State, embodies the most direct threat, particularly with its declaration of a caliphate designed to replace existing states. The Islamic Republic of Iran also constitutes a threat, perhaps not as blatant in its assault but no less real. It uses its militia proxies to undermine states and deny them authority throughout their territory, a process that has already given Tehran leverage over four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa.

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