The number of papers on the Middle East dropped in the wake of Obama’s trip to the region.
Much of the focus in Washington was the virtual end of the Republican presidential primary race as Trump won Indiana’s primary, leading to the withdrawal of Cruz and Kasich. The Monitor analysis looks at the race, why Trump won, why Cruz lost and the hunt for a suitable vice presidential choice for Trump. Although there is much talk that some Republicans will refuse to vote for Trump, we think that schism is overrated.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the presidential candidates and their stands on democracy in the Middle East. They conclude, “When the Middle East is discussed, the candidates on both sides focus primarily on defeating ISIS, evaluating the intervention in Libya, and debating what to do about Assad’s regime in Syria. All of the candidates agree that defeating ISIS should be a foremost priority, and most, excluding Sanders, have stated that they favor creating safe zones for refugees and imposing a no-fly zone in Syria. While Clinton has defended her involvement in the intervention in Libya, the rest of the presidential field has highlighted it as an example of failed U.S. efforts in democracy promotion. Although some candidates have discussed their views on foreign aid in general, there has been little substantive discourse on the subject of soft-power means of promoting democratization and human rights. The candidates also spend little time discussing the current democratization efforts in several countries of interest to the United States, including Tunisia, Egypt, and Iraq. As the field narrows to selection of two party nominees, the candidates should be pressed to articulate how they will or will not follow the democracy promotion legacy of Presidents Obama and Bush.”
The Hudson Institute looks at the growing influence of ISIS in Pakistan. They conclude, “ISIS also has some openings in Pakistan that it can exploit. The focus now is on tribal areas as a likely theater for ISIS expansion, but the real threat may come from ISIS luring individuals to its ideology in urban areas. The group’s penetration among educated individuals in urban areas around the globe cannot be denied. In addition, ISIS’s anti-Shia ideology and tactics could be a powerful lure for jihadis in Pakistan. Recruiting among the anti-Shia LeJ and Ahl-e-Hadith LeT may be the best opportunities for ISIS to widen its Pakistani network, particularly in Punjab. In the end, while ISIS may find it hard to extend its control to Pakistan, it may be able to cobble together enough adherents—fighters and polemicists—to cause turmoil in Pakistan for years to come.”
The Washington Institute says ISIS can be destroyed without focusing on core problems. They note, “Defeating ISIS-as-state is not dependent upon solving Syria as a social, historical, cultural, religious, and governance project, let alone doing the same with Iraq. ISIS feeds on the conflicts in both countries and makes the situation in both worse. But it is possible to defeat ISIS as a “state” and as a military-economic “power” — that is, deal with the truly threatening part — without having to solve the Syrian and Iraqi crises or eliminate ISIS as a set of terrorist cells or source of ideological inspiration. Of course, even if ISIS is destroyed as a state, we would still have the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi disunity, but we have all that now, along with ISIS, which presents its own challenges to the region and the West.”
The Cato Institute looks at the economic costs of the Syrian refugee problem in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Europe. They note, “Lebanon’s real GDP grew 2.5 percent in 2015, the best growth rate since the turn of the decade, despite losses of investment and tourism due to the Syrian civil war. Furthermore, a World Bank report noted that a 1 percent increase in the population of Syrian refugees increases Lebanese service exports by 1.5 percent, due in part to the so-called market size effect. In the Bekaa Valley and North Lebanon, the influx of Syrians has led to 60 percent reduction in wages because low-skilled Syrian and Lebanese workers are substitutes. Lebanese entrepreneurs are not hiring many Syrian refugees and prefer to blame Syrian-operated businesses for regional economic problems and sluggish growth. The Lebanese government responded in the Bekaa region by closing down Syrian businesses, worsening the employment situation.”
The CSIS looks at Iran’s relationship with Eurasia. Iran in a Reconnecting Eurasia examines the full scope of Iranian national interests in the South Caucasus and Central Asia and analyzes the broad outlines of Iranian engagement over the coming years. It sees its economy and its oil and natural gas reserves as major factors in establishing hegemony in the region.
The AEI looks at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s second round of parliamentary elections on April 29. They note, “The elections appear to have given the Rouhani-aligned moderates and reformists a plurality in the new parliament, though they will likely be shy of an actual majority. This is still something of a victory for the president and his allies, such as former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, considering how few actual reformist candidates were allowed to run in the first place. The results mean, though, that Rouhani will still be restrained as he attempts to get the Islamic Republic’s financial house in order.”
Carnegie Endowment fellow Marc Lynch has published a book titled “New Arab Wars.” “It details the costs of the poor choices made by regional actors, delivers a scathing analysis of Western misreading of the conflict, and condemns international interference that has stoked the violence. Informed by commentators and analysts from the Arab world, Marc Lynch’s narrative of a vital region’s collapse is both wildly dramatic and likely to prove definitive. Most important, he shows that the region’s upheavals have only just begun—and that the hopes of Arab regimes and Western policy makers to retreat to old habits of authoritarian stability are doomed to fail.”
The Trump Phenomena
There is a growing unrest spreading throughout the West and the political leadership is looking fragile.
Recently Austria’s right wing Freedom Party’s presidential candidate came in first place with 36.4% of the vote. The campaign focused on the impact of the migrant crisis, which has seen around 100,000 asylum seekers arrive in Austria since last summer. Norbert Hofer, who will face Alexander van der Bellen, a former Green Party figurehead, focused on immigration and anti-European sentiments.
The two Austrian parties that have held the presidency for over 65 years failed to place.
Opposition to the European establishment isn’t limited to Austria. There is political unrest in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and other nations.
The European Union is also looking fragile. Britain will vote on leaving the EU in June and polls show a slim majority of voters preferring to leave. Should they vote to leave, expect other nations like Greece, Spain, and Portugal to look for an exit. And, should Spain leave, expect the Spanish province of Catalonia to push for independence.
In the US, this displeasure with the political leadership was displayed as voters gave non-politician Donald Trump the Republican Party nomination. This was an outcome that wasn’t expected by most political experts a few months ago.
It appears that 2016 will be the West’s summer of discontent.
The Factors that led to a Trump Win
Trump was underestimated by most analysts because they saw his campaign in terms of the traditional presidential campaign. Needless to say, his style was unconventional and this accounted for much of his success.
We see three major factors that contributed to his success:
Growing distrust of government. A Pew poll taken a few months ago showed a growing distrust of government. Republicans and those who lean Republican are three times as likely as Democrats to say they are “angry” with government — 32% to 12%. Among Republicans and Democrats who vote often and follow politics closely, the gap is even wider: 42% to 11%.
89% of Republicans said they can seldom, if ever, trust the federal government. Among Democrats, that number is 72%, demonstrating that widespread cynicism about politicians is not a partisan issue.
The findings confirm that the surge of distrust in Washington is aimed at both Obama and GOP leaders as well. Only 19% of Americans said they could trust government always or most of the time, close to the lowest level in the past 60 years, according to Pew.
Overall, 74% of Americans said that most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s. Fifty-five percent, meanwhile, believed that ordinary Americans would do a better job of solving problems than politicians.
As an outsider and non-politician, Trump tapped into this unrest better than his opponents. Trump was viewed more favorably by the nearly one-third of Republicans and GOP leaners who are “angry” at the government (64% favorable rating) than by those who are “content” or merely “frustrated” with government (48 percent favorable rating).
Trump was well known before running for office. Most American voters know little about the politicians who represent them. Even the most prominent of senators and governors typically have to spend enormous sums of money introducing themselves to the American people. Political races tend to involve favorably defining the politician, and then preserving and defending that impression throughout the campaign.
Since most politicians are “blank slates,” this means a mistake may become the defining moment for them, leaving their image negatively stained.
On the other hand, Trump was known to tens of millions of Americans for decades. We tend to forget how long Trump has been famous. His book, “The Art of the Deal” came out in 1987, during the Reagan administration, and he was already prominent then. At that time, Hillary Clinton was an unknown wife of an unknown governor from a medium sized state.
Since Americans already knew him, attacks against him were discounted. Call Trump racist and fans of the TV show “Apprentice” immediately compared the accusation with the man they watched for 14 seasons. Call Trump stupid, and they remember his decades-long reign as one of America’s most famous billionaires.
Trump’s command of a large part of the GOP base. While the “establishment” Republican Party didn’t like Trump, there were segments of the party that were naturally attracted to him.
There is a large “insurgent” segment in the GOP that has chafed at the policies of the Republican Party – especially immigration policy and free trade policies that sent jobs overseas. They are also critical of Republican politicians in Washington who didn’t forcibly oppose Obama’s policies.
Although not “mainstream,” these Republicans are well coordinated thanks to such personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, the Drudge Report, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. They managed to get Trump’s message out in a way that negated the missions of dollars in anti-Trump advertising.
The result was that Trump was able to out maneuver the traditional campaigns, while spending less money and not relying upon campaign consultants.
At this point in time, there are several prominent GOP figures that are insisting that they will not vote for Trump. Such hard feelings are not unheard of after a hard fought primary season and many said the same thing when Reagan won the GOP nomination in 1980. In fact, remember that a Republican congressman, John Anderson even ran a third party presidential campaign that year. However, such talk usually calms down after a while and the desire to beat the Democrats takes precedence.
Another factor that will bring the GOP together are some polls showing Trump beating Clinton. One such poll – the Rasmussen Poll – showed Trump leading by 2 points this week. Invariability, the potential of victory is the greatest political glue.
Why Cruz Lost
Given the anti-establishment sentiment in the Republican Party this year, Senator Cruz seemed to be the candidate to benefit the most, given his record in the US Senate. And, although he ran a strong campaign, he lost out to Trump.
Cruz, who burst onto the national scene in 2012 by harnessing the energy of the Tea Party movement, was the first to grasp that the simmering anger that propelled him into the Senate could also fuel a presidential campaign.
Cruz’s failure is the story of a disciplined candidate and a well-run campaign that couldn’t overcome its limitations. Since well before he officially launched his campaign, Cruz had worked to carve out a niche as the most conservative candidate in the race. He’d been eyeing a presidential bid from the time he was elected to the Senate, and he carefully crafted an anti-establishment brand by attacking his colleagues in the Senate.
Cruz came into the race with strong advantages – a superior grassroots operation and a high-tech campaign that could target voters and volunteers. He also had two critical demographics working for him – evangelical Christians and more conservative Republican voters.
Unfortunately, as the field of candidates shrunk, Cruz was unable to expand his support base beyond these two demographics. As Walker, Carson, Perry, and others dropped out, their voters seemed to migrate towards Trump, who was seen as the true outsider. The end of his campaign was assured when Trump began to eat into Cruz’s evangelical and conservative base – something that was obvious in the Indiana results this week.
The question is where does Cruz go from here? He obviously has a long career in the US Senate as a senator from conservative Texas. However, there may be a different future if Trump is elected as President.
If the Republican Senate can keep the open seat in the US Supreme Court open until Trump becomes president, it is very likely that Cruz may be considered for the spot. He worked as a clerk in the Supreme Court, has argued before the court, and has a strong conservative ideological bent. Given his youth, he could make a major impact on the SCOTUS for several decades.
Trump’s VP Pick
Now that Trump is the presumed nominee, the race for the vice presidential slot is beginning. There are several possibilities that fit Trump’s preference for a skilled politician to fill the spot.
Two that have been mentioned are former House speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Both have advantages. Christie is the governor of New Jersey and could help Trump win that state. However, Christie wouldn’t be a good choice for GOP conservatives who are suspicious of Trump
A choice that would be a better fit as far as the conservative wing of the party goes is Newt Gingrich. He also fits Trump’s requirements for a VP – “a strong political background, who was well respected on the Hill, who can help me with legislation, and who could be a great president.”
As a former Speaker of the House, Gingrich bring a wealth of Washington D.C. knowledge and experience that could be helpful. Gingrich is media savvy and a fundraising asset. He is good on the campaign trail and could solidify support among conservatives.
Another possibility is Florida governor Rick Scott. Scott has been consistently supportive of Trump for months now, endorsing him as soon as Trump won the Florida in early March. Scott’s profile is also likely appealing to Trump – a wealthy businessman who ran and beat the Republican establishment to get elected governor. Needless to say, he’s from a critical swing state that could decide the election.
If winning Florida is important to Trump, he might opt for Rubio. Rubio leaves the Senate this year and has no future plans yet. Rubio could help Trump in Florida. As a Cuban American, he also might be able to reach out to the Hispanic community.
Other Republicans who have said they would consider being Trump’s running mate include Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. However, Carson doesn’t fit Trump’s criteria of a skilled politician and it appears that he will be asked to sit on the group that will assist Trump in his VP selection.
Trump could very well decide to go for a woman or a Hispanic – or both. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News suggested Donald Trump should pick New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez as his vice presidential running mate “if he wants to win.”
Martinez, who is America’s only Latina governor, was a Marco Rubio supporter when he was in the race, and spoke harshly about Trump earlier in the campaign. However, being offered the vice presidential slot does frequently change politicians’ minds.
However, don’t expect a quick decision. He has until the Republican convention in July and he is likely to take his time to find the best match.
Economics of the Syrian Refugee Crisis
By Alex Nowrasteh
May 2, 2016
The Syrian Civil War has produced about 5.8 million Syrians seeking refuge or asylum elsewhere–a scale of population displacement unseen since World War II. Although the flow into Europe dominates the news, most of the registered Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East. Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are the main recipients of the immigration wave, receiving roughly 1.1 million, 2.7 million, and 640,000 Syrians, respectively. The Gulf States are hosting about 1.2 million Syrians on work visas but they are not legally considered refugees or asylum seekers because those nations are not signatories to the UNHCR commission that created the modern refugee system. Regardless, the humanitarian benefit of Syrians working and residing there is tremendous. The movement of so many Syrians over such a short period of time should result in significant economic and fiscal effects in their destination countries. Below is a summary of recent economic research on how the Syrians have affected the economies and budgets for Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Europe.
Iran in a Reconnecting Eurasia
By Mohsen Milani
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 30, 2016
Iran in a Reconnecting Eurasia examines the full scope of Iranian national interests in the South Caucasus and Central Asia and analyzes the broad outlines of Iranian engagement over the coming years. It is part of a six-part CSIS series, “Eurasia from the Outside In,” which includes studies focusing on Turkey, the European Union, Iran, India, Russia, and China.
Will Iran’s new parliament be any better for Rouhani?
By J. Matthew McInnis
American Enterprise Institute
May 3, 2016
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is hoping results from Iran’s second round of parliamentary elections on April 29 produce a better political landscape as he looks toward his re-election campaign a year from now. He needs the good news. The more conservative outgoing parliament pointedly made his life more difficult in this month’s battles over the current budget. That was on top of managing the expectations of the slow-motion impact of sanctions relief from the JCPOA, as well as pressure from reformers who think he is not going far enough. Will the results, as Rouhani claims, enable his administration “to act on the promises it has made to the people?”
The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East
By Marc Lynch
April 26, 2016
Published by Public Affairs
Less than twenty-four months after the hope-filled Arab uprising, the popular movement had morphed into a dystopia of resurgent dictators, failed states, and civil wars. Egypt’s epochal transition to democracy ended in a violent military coup. Yemen and Libya collapsed into civil war, while Bahrain erupted in smothering sectarian repression. Syria proved the greatest victim of all, ripped apart by internationally fueled insurgencies and an externally supported, bloody-minded regime. Amidst the chaos, a virulently militant group declared an Islamic State, seizing vast territories and inspiring terrorism across the globe. What happened?
The Presidential Candidates on Democracy Promotion in the Middle East
By Caroline Wallace
Foreign Policy Research Institute
The past two presidents have been deeply engaged in promoting democracy in the Middle East. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Middle East emerged as a key region of strategic interest for the United States, and both Bush and Obama sought to build a strong base of allies among its nations. Efforts have ranged from military strategies to topple nondemocratic regimes, such as the Iraq War begun under Bush and the intervention in Libya overseen by Obama, to soft diplomatic and foreign aid programs to build civil society, facilitate free and fair elections, and promote the rights of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups. These efforts have sparked a range of successes and failures throughout the region, and a charged policy debate over the proper role of the United States in promoting democracy and the most effective way of doing it. It is no surprise that presidential candidates on both the Republican and Democratic sides have weighed in.”
Prospects of the Islamic State in Pakistan
By Farhan Zahid & Muhammad Ismail Khan
May 3, 2016
The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham’s (ISIS) brutal rule and terrorist atrocities have understandably attracted the world’s attention to its actions in the core Middle East states, Libya and the Maghreb, and in Europe. But ISIS is not only moving westward. What has not received adequate attention is its push eastward, particularly into pivotal Pakistan. The goal of pushing tentacles in multiple directions is to establish ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s vision of a global caliphate, with him as caliph. In 2014, al-Baghdadi proclaimed that “once the caliph and his fighters arrive in a particular area, the legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations” is nullified. In contrast to ISIS, other jihadist groups largely focus on local, more parochial conflicts with their immediate rulers.
Leave Root Causes Aside — Destroy the ISIS ‘State’
By James F. Jeffrey
April 29, 2016
Stephen Biddle and Jacob Shapiro’s recent Atlantic article, “America Can’t Do Much About ISIS,” advocated containing the Islamic State and questioned America’s ability to destroy the group. The first problem with this analysis is how the authors define “destroy ISIS.” They compare the amorphous fight against al-Qaeda with the one against ISIS, discussing how to get at the roots of its terrorist ideology and fix the ungoverned space that provides its sanctuary. This leads them repeatedly to conflate destroying ISIS in its current form as a quasi-state with the monumental task of resolving the Syrian Civil War and the Sunni-Shia split in Iraq. To the contrary, if the mission is properly defined, America can destroy ISIS, and must.