Syria continues to grab the attention of Washington, although they did take time to assess the results of the off-year elections in U.S. and what they mean to the presidential elections next year.
The Monitor analysis looks at the results of the election and sees problems for the Democrats as they faced defeat across the nation, including in some strong Democratic strongholds. The voters are questioning the cultural standards of the Democratic Party (transgender issues and immigration especially) and are showing fatigue with 7 years of Democratic control of the White House. We also look at the GOP race for the presidential nomination and see it quickly narrowing down to four candidates – Trump, Carson, Cruz, and Rubio. We also look at recent polling that shows Clinton running behind most Republican candidates.
However, as most political observers note, a year is an eternity in politics and anything can happen.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Cato Institute says the latest Obama strategy to insert 50 Special Forces into Syria is doomed to fail. They note, “Though the campaign has been unsuccessful in rolling back ISIS, it has been more successful at containing it. Airstrikes have been effective in halting ISIS’s momentum in Iraq and Syria, preventing them from seizing new territory. This de facto containment can be augmented by non-military means, in particular, pushing coalition allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Qatar to target ISIS funding sources — including foreign financing and the smuggling of oil and antiquities — and the ongoing flow of foreign fighters. Containment keeps ISIS small, weak and insignificant. While further large-scale military intervention has the potential to increase the turmoil in the region, providing ISIS with openings to expand, containment lowers the potential for regional spillover of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. The U.S. should also do more to ameliorate the burgeoning refugee crisis in the region, the brunt of which is being borne not by Europe, but by Syria’s neighbors, including states like Jordan.”
The Foreign Policy Research Institute assesses the Obama strategy to defeat ISIS. They conclude, “In the U.S., critics have pounded the Obama administration’s weakness in Syria and Iraq. The administration deserves some of this. At times, the U.S. has wanted to lead the charge against IS and then at other times been completely reticent to get involved. The Obama administration’s delay to act in many ways may be justified. No one in the U.S. political system, either Republican or Democrat, has clearly identified U.S. interests in Syria or with regards to IS over the longer term. The central goal for any IS strategy should be to end the Syrian conflict, but doing so requires bartering with two other adversaries – Russia and Iran. Simultaneously countering IS and the Assad Regime without deploying overwhelming military force has put the U.S. at odds with all of its allies. For the U.S. in Syria, there are no good options, and any chosen ‘bad option’ will either anger an ally or enrage an adversary. Thus the U.S. by default may end up pursuing a strategy I’ve endorsed from the start: “Let Them Rot”. When you are unsure what to do, it’s often better to do nothing at all or pursue only a limited set of actions. The U.S. may appear weak from inaction in Syria, but at least we haven’t plunged calamitously into unending conflicts like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan last decade. General Colin Powell once applied the Pottery Barn rule to Iraq noting, “You break it, you own it.” The U.S. has been negligent in Syria, but not entirely responsible for the conflict. We didn’t break it, and we don’t own it.”
The Institute for the Study of War looks at options for no fly zones in Syria. The report details three separate Courses of Action to establish a No-Fly Zone, as well as two additional courses of action for potential action other than a No-Fly Zone. The suggested No-Fly Zones are limited in geographic scope, covering only a relatively small portion of Syrian air space, and are examined to minimize resource requirements and risk to U.S. equipment and personnel while still presenting a viable and enforceable No-Fly Zone. These are technical studies that explain in practical terms how the U.S. could establish No-Fly-Zones. The options presented here assume the support of Jordan and Turkey in order to put forth a set of options that minimize both cost and risk.
The CSIS looks at the problems of “negotiating” a peace in Syria. They note, “ISIS is the symptom, and not the disease. Syria exploded into civil war because the Assad regime failed to meet the needs of its people over a period of decades, was intensely corrupt and brought a form of stability and acceptance of Alawite rule through crony capitalism with a small Sunni business elite, and suppressed any sectarian and ethnic opposition ranging from the Arab Shi’ite majority to a Kurdish minority that it came close to treating as non-citizens. The negotiators need to remember why Syria exploded into violence. It was not because of outside interference, extremist voices and actors, or the actions of some minority. It exploded because – as World Bank ranking from 1996 to the present show, Assad not only fell back upon repression every time he was challenged, he provided some of the worst and most corrupt governance in the world – impoverishing much of Syria’s population in the process.”
The Washington Institute looks at the multilateral meeting in Vienna to end the violence in Syria. They warn, “The international community also needs to sober up about what kind of election is really possible in Syria, and under what kind of supervision. The current regime is one of the world’s biggest electoral manipulators, with Assad winning a laughable 94.6 percent of the vote in 2000, 97.6 percent in 2007, and 88.7 percent last year. Parliamentary votes in favor of his Baath Party supporters are a certainty as well. This means that any plan based on the argument “Assad stays until new elections” is really a formula for his continued rule. Only a new government that creates a safe environment for public debate and mobilization can lay the groundwork for new elections at the local, provincial, and national level. As in Bosnia and Kosovo years ago, the UN should seek a more serious and sustained formula than the awkward wording in point seven of the Vienna Declaration.”
The American Enterprise Institute provides figures to show that Erdogan cheated in order to win Turkey’s November 1 elections. They conclude, “So what happened? It appears that AKP supporters were registered at multiple sites and so, in effect, voted two or more times. Turkey’s High Election Council (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu, YSK) handles all complaints. Once they issue a decision, by law it cannot be litigated. They are no longer independent, however, but under the thumb of Erdoğan. Numbers don’t lie. Erdoğan stole this election, plain and simple.”
Do the Off year Elections Presage America’s Presidential Elections in 2016?
Several states held off year elections on Tuesday and the tenor of the results may indicate the results of next year’s elections – something that may be worrying some Democratic leaders. Although there were some Democratic wins, the fact is that Republicans won more elections than it lost – even in solidly Democratic parts of the nation.
The two states that gave the biggest worry to Democrats were Kentucky and Virginia. Although Kentucky votes Republican in national elections, the state is controlled by conservative Democrats that manage to separate themselves from national Democratic policies.
The other state that is worrying the Democrats is Virginia, a once reliable Republican state that has drifted into the Democratic fold in recent years.
In Kentucky, Republican Matt Bevin became only the second Republican governor since 1971 and Republican Lt. Gov.-elect Jenean Hampton became the first African-American to win statewide office in Kentucky – leading a near-Republican rout of state wide constitutional offices. Republicans also won the races for treasurer, agriculture commissioner and auditor.
Ironically, polls showed the Democrat Jack Conway leading as late as last weekend.
Lt. Gov.-elect Jenean Hampton, who was elected in this southern state, is not only African American, but a woman. Don’t be surprised to hear her name mentioned nationally in the future.
The Kentucky gubernatorial race also had some national implications. Bevin, a tea-party activist had incurred the wrath of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell by challenging him in a primary last year. Since he was running behind in the polls, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) pulled out of running ads in the race for several weeks, but came roaring back in the final two weeks with a $2.5 million investment in digital media, direct mail and television. He and McConnell also reconciled, and the Senate Majority Leader did a fly-around the state with Bevin on Monday.
The Republican chances of retaining the US Senate next year also got a boost as incumbent Democratic state auditor, Adam Edelen, who national Democrats had hoped would challenge Senator Rand Paul in next year’s Senate race lost his bid for reelection. This gives Rand Paul a good chance to retain his Senate seat when (as is likely) he withdraws from his campaign to seek the Republican presidential nomination.
Meanwhile, in Virginia: Republicans held onto the Virginia Senate in fiercely contested elections Tuesday, leaving Gov. Terry McAuliffe without legislative leverage or political momentum as he works to deliver Virginia to his ally Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The outcome was a blunt rebuke to Democrat McAuliffe, who had travelled across the state with 24 events over the past four days and who portrayed the elections as a make-or-break moment for his Democratic agenda. All 140 seats in the General Assembly were on the ballot. But all eyes were on a handful of Senate seats that would decide whether Republicans held their 21-19 majority in Richmond’s upper chamber. Because the GOP dominates the House, flipping the Senate was the term-limited governor’s only hope for building a legislative legacy.
The Virginia elections were also a victory for pro-gun forces. Anti-gun billionaire Michael Bloomberg and other outside gun control advocates attempted to influence local Senate elections. This may also be a warning to Democrats that an anti-gun agenda next year will be a loser – especially since nationally gun sales are at a record high for the sixth month in a row.
The controversial immigration issue also took out a pro-immigration sheriff in one of the most liberal, pro-immigration cities in America. The San Francisco sheriff who championed the city’s controversial sanctuary policy was trounced by a challenger in his re-election bid Tuesday night.
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who was elected in 2011, was thrown out of office by Vicki Hennessy, a retired sheriff’s official who carried the endorsement of Mayor Ed Lee and the local sheriff’s association.
Sheriff Mirkarimi had faced an uphill battle for re-election because of his controversial stance on immigration. He was heavily criticized earlier this year for releasing an illegal immigrant from jail, despite a request from federal law enforcement asking him to hold the individual. That illegal immigrant later went on to allegedly kill 32-year-old Kate Steinle, triggering a national debate on the city’s sanctuary status. Mirkarimi, nonetheless, repeatedly defended his decision.
Hennessy criticized Mirkarimi’s behavior and refusal to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration during the election. “I would have never written that policy,” she said.
The election of Hennessy may indicate that Americans, even more pro-immigratino voters, may be tiring of the level of illegal immigration in the US. This may bode poorly for candidates like Clinton next year.
Elsewhere, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant won reelection easily, as expected. Bryant and fellow Republicans — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Auditor Stacey Pickering, Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith — all easily won another term. Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat in a top statewide elective office, also won re-election to a fourth term in the only reasonably close contest, holding off a challenge from Republican Mike Hurst.
Not all was good news for Republicans. In Pennsylvania, Democrats won all three open seats on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, a stunning result in a historic race that could dramatically reshape the court for years to come.
Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey governor Christie also was hit by a Democratic wave that reduced his Republican support in the New Jersey legislature.
Republicans did win a 31-19 majority in the Pennsylvania State Senate. Iraq veteran Guy Reschenthaler defeated Democrat Heather Arnet for the state Senate’s open 37th District seat after an expensive race. Because this was a special election, Mr. Reschenthaler will be sworn in not in January but as soon as election results are certified, perhaps by mid November.
There were also some referendums held on Tuesday that indicated a more conservative tone by voters. In a major blow to marijuana legalization nationwide, Ohio voters Tuesday rejected a sweeping initiative that would have ended marijuana prohibition. In Houston, 61 percent of voters rejected a proposed law for “gender identity protection”: The hotly contested election has spurred national attention, drawing comment from the White House and the state’s top officials. Largely conservative opponents of the law allege that it would allow men dressed as women, including sexual predators, to enter women’s restrooms.
In the Democratic stronghold of Pima County, Arizona, voters soundly rejected several bond issues that would have increased takes and government spending.
If these elections are an indication of what may happen next year, Democrats are in trouble.
This concern was echoed by the liberal magazine the Atlantic, who saw the Democratic losses in terms of cultural differences between the Democratic Party and the American voter. They noted, “But Tuesday’s results—and the broader trend of recent elections that have been generally disastrous for Democrats not named Barack Obama—call that view into question. Indeed, they suggest that the left has misread the electorate’s enthusiasm for social change, inviting a backlash from mainstream voters invested in the status quo.”
They continued, “To be sure, Tuesday was an off-off-year election with dismally low voter turnout, waged in just a handful of locales. But liberals who cite this as an explanation often fail to take the next step and ask why the most consistent voters are consistently hostile to their views, or why liberal social positions don’t mobilize infrequent voters. Low turnout alone can’t explain the extent of Democratic failures in non-presidential elections in the Obama era, which have decimated the party in state legislatures, governorships, and the House and Senate.”
The GOP Presidential Race
Meanwhile, the GOP race for the presidential nomination seems to be sorting itself out. Although there were 18 potential candidates in the running a few months ago, the polls are showing that only four remain in serious contention – Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, although Jeb Bush is still insisting he is a serious contender and time will tell…..
Meanwhile, the other candidates are seeing their poll numbers falling far below 5% .
Although the polls show differing results – common when the electorate is still undecided, it seems that Carson and Trump are battling for first place, while Rubio and Cruz are fighting for Third place.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday showed 24% of responders said they’d vote for Trump, compared to 23% who said they’d vote for Carson. However, one should be careful in putting too much into the results as a separate national poll from NBC/WSJ out Tuesday put Carson in the lead, polling at 29% to Trump’s 23%.
Trailing Trump and Carson, the Quinnipiac University National Poll puts Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 14%, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 13% and Jeb Bush at 4%. The remaining Republican candidates all polled below 3%. However, the majority of Republican voters indicated that their support might still change.
The news for Hillary Clinton was mixed. Clinton is pulling ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Of Democratic voters who responded to the survey, 53% said they’d vote for Clinton versus 35% who said they’d vote for Sanders.
One major problem for Clinton is trust. From Quinnipiac, “Clinton has the lowest rating for honesty as American voters say 60 – 36 percent she is not honest and trustworthy.”
Meantime, Carson gets the best honesty grades among top candidates, a positive 62 – 24 percent.
But there are also some demographic gaps in Clinton’s support. She’s struggling to connect with younger Democratic voters. An NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released last Friday had her earning the support of just 33 percent of likely voters aged 18 to 29 across the country, while Sanders received 48 percent support. Even in early caucus state Iowa, Clinton edges out Sanders in the 18 to 29 demographic by just three percentage points.
The Hill reports that the Clinton campaign aims to make up the deficit by reaching out to young women, who they worry are attracted to Sanders’s attacks on “millionaires and billionaires.” Clinton has packed her schedule with events calibrated to appeal to young “Millennial” women.
However, Clinton may find that she wins the Democratic nomination, only to lose the election next year. Per the Quinnipiac University National poll, 50% of responders would vote for Carson over Clinton, who got 40%.
Quinnipiac noted, “Clinton’s traditional lead among women evaporates as American voters pick Carson over the Democrat 50 – 40 percent. Women go 45 percent for Carson and 44 percent for Clinton, while men back the Republican 55 – 35 percent.”
“Is there a doctor in the house? There certainly is and at the moment Dr. Ben Carson is delivering a troubling diagnosis to Secretary Hillary Clinton,” said the Quinnipiac University Poll’s assistant director, Tim Malloy, per the release. “With the election one year away, Ben Carson has surgically cut away all but one GOP opponent and taken a scalpel to Hillary Clinton’s lead.”
But, Carson isn’t the only worry for Clinton. She also loses to Cruz and Rubio. She narrowly defeats Trump, but the results are within the margin of error.
Malloy notes, “Clinton gets crushed on character issues, pounded by Carson and closely challenged by Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio.”
However, he warns, “A year is an eternity in presidential campaigns and this race already has left some former front-runners on life support.”
Obama’s Syria Strategy Is Doomed to Fail
By Emma Ashford
October 30, 2015
The U.S. will send about 50 U.S. special forces troops to Syria, the White House announced Friday. The Pentagon has billed “direct action on the ground” as a remedy to the current stalemate between U.S.-backed ground forces and ISIS. Yet this approach is not likely to solve the underlying problems of the Syrian conflict. Instead of this consistent mission creep — committing ever more U.S. troops and equipment to the conflict — U.S. leaders should focus less on military solutions. They should accept the de facto containment of ISIS, and instead prioritize non-military approaches, humanitarian support for the refugee crisis and aggressive pursuit of diplomatic options. Defense Secretary Ashton Carton outlined the Pentagon strategy on Tuesday in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He described weapons shipments and air support for Syrian rebel groups, additional support and advisors for Iraqi army units, and raids by U.S. special operations forces.
Negotiating a “Peace” in Syria: Between Whom and for What?
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 30, 2015
Most of the discussion of the Vienna talks on the war in Syria so far has focused on ISIS and its role in terrorism, on the relative roles of the United States and Russia, on bringing Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table, and/or on whether Assad stays. What is far from clear, however, is that any negotiations that focus on ISIS can address the key issues involved, that outside voices can bring any real order within Syria, and that Assad or any elements claiming to represent the various rebel movements can speak for Syrians. What is even more unclear, is what the future shape of Syria will be, and how it can recover from the present conflict, and more towards any stable process of development.
The numbers prove the AKP cheated in Turkey’s elections
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
November 4, 2015
On Sunday, November 1, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed that it had won a majority of seats in parliament. Voting registration and voter turnout numbers prove—beyond any doubt—that Erdoğan cheated.
U.S. Troops in Syria: A Quick Assessment Of The U.S. Strategy To Combat The Islamic State – One Year On
By Clint Watts
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Last week, the White House announced the deployment of a few dozen Special Forces soldiers to Syria. After more than a year of operations and a promise not to put soldiers in harm’s way, the U.S. would seemingly be pushing troops directly into Islamic State (IS) territory. The announcement comes just days after the U.S. saw its first foreign advisor perish during a raid on an IS prison in Northern Iraq. It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. convened its “Counter ISIL Coalition” and in short, when all was said and done, more has been said than done. The U.S. State Department and the President’s Special Envoy retired General John Allen have spent more than a year reciting five “lines of effort” for countering the Islamic State, which they continue to refer to as Daesh–a name that hasn’t really caught on the way they hoped it would. Last year, I identified seven obvious flaws that would plague this strategy. A couple of these flaws have been remedied, but the toughest challenges still remain.
U.S. Options For A Syrian No-Fly Zone
By Christopher Harmer
Institute for the Study of War
November 3, 2015
The U.S. can and should act decisively in Syria in order to protect its national security interests and those of its allies. The current exodus of refugees from Syria presents significant economic and security challenges to America’s allies in Europe and the Middle East, and directly benefits the Syrian Assad regime, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). Continued U.S. inaction in the face of these strategic challenges will only exacerbate the security situation and empower America’s enemies and strategic competitors. The White House announced on October 30 small adjustments to U.S. implementation, such as adding less than fifty special operations forces to train and assist the Kurdish-Arab Force in northern Syria. These changes are insufficient to meet the strategic challenges. Continued U.S. inaction and half-measures will only exacerbate the security situation and empower America’s enemies and strategic competitors.
The Vienna Declaration: Precision Is Key to Avoiding a Slippery Slope
By Andrew J. Tabler and Olivier Decottignies
November 5, 2015
An October 30 multilateral meeting in Vienna has produced a nine-point statement of “mutual understanding” on how to end the violence in Syria “as soon as possible.” The Vienna Declaration, which complements and refers to the 2012 Geneva Communique, seeks to provide a more inclusive mechanism to “narrow remaining areas of disagreement and build on areas of agreement,” and thus could be a starting point for involving supporters of the opposition and the regime (including, for the first time, Iran). Yet while inclusiveness in Syria necessarily implies a certain degree of ambiguity — as reflected in the declaration’s wording — finding a workable way out of the crisis will require much more precision on the issue of transition, particularly in terms of establishing a timeline to test Russia and the Assad regime. For example, the current declaration omits the word “transition” in favor of “governance,” and it fails to acknowledge that a sustainable settlement is a prerequisite for defeating ISIS and other terrorist groups. Such imprecision could allow Russia and Iran to argue that the Vienna Declaration gives them a diplomatic imprimatur to pursue a military solution, one based solely on keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power. This scenario would only perpetuate the war, fuel terrorism, create more refugees, and likely lead to Syria’s long-term partition.