Week of October 7th, 2017

Executive Summary

The focus this week in Washington was the massacre in Las Vegas and the political repercussions.

The Monitor analysis looks at the Las Vegas killings.  We look at the reason why the numbers of violent incidents are increasing in the US.  We also look at the gun control issue, how the shooter was able to obtain so many firearms and possible impact on gun control legislation.  We finally look at why events like Las Vegas are not considered and called terrorism by US officials and US media.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS says President Trump must prioritize his Middle East policies.  They note, “There is no shortage of things the U.S. government would like to do in the Middle East. From Yemen to Syria, and from Iran to Libya, the list is long. Some involve counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and counter-radicalization. Some involve resolving interstate conflicts, and others resolving intra-state conflicts. There are a host of military basing issues and prepositioning issues. The United States has strong energy interests in the region, and its agricultural trade is robust. The Middle East is also an important locus for many issues the United States cares about globally, including human trafficking, money laundering, and proliferation.  The United States cannot emphasize all of these things simultaneously. It must make tradeoffs, deferring some things it would like to do and doing things it does not want to do in order to pursue the more important things it needs to do.”

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the Syrian theater.  They conclude, “American national security requires that the Trump administration pursue a strategy that helps constrain, contain, and ultimately roll back Russia and Iran; defeat Salafi-jihadists in ways that prevent their reconstitution; defend strategic allies and bolster partners; and facilitate the emergence of independent, representative, and unitary states in Syria and Iraq. The removal of the Assad regime remains a necessary condition to achieve a desirable outcome in Syria. The U.S. must apply meaningful pressure against the Assad-Russia-Iran axis and regain leverage over it rather than accommodate it. The U.S. is now accommodating its adversaries by signing onto various agreements that allow it to consolidate control. This axis not only destabilizes the region and perpetuates conflict, but it also fuels radicalization and strengthens jihadist forces through its policies. It is making it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to protect its own security and interests.”

The Heritage Foundation says it is time to decertify the Iran agreement.  The takeaways from the article are:  1. The Iran nuclear deal is a fundamentally flawed agreement that gave Tehran massive sanctions relief in return for temporary and easily reversible concessions. 2. Contrary to the promises of the Obama Administration, the nuclear deal has not moderated Iran’s foreign policy; Tehran has stepped up its malign activities. 3. Decertification is the necessary first step in holding Iran accountable for its aggressive foreign policy, and permanently blocking its path to a nuclear weapon.

The American Enterprise Institute asks if Trump should recertify the Iran deal.  They conclude, “Should Trump walk away from the deal? Probably not. But he should make its 90-day continuance contingent on implementation of all parts of the deal, no matter what objections the Kremlin may voice, and on the rapid inspection of Iranian military bases where nuclear weapons work might continue. Not only is the deal at stake, but the IAEA’s relevance.  At the same time, he must prepare for the day that Iran either walks away from the deal, or the JCPOA sunsets. Because, far from eliminating Iran’s pathway to a bomb, Obama and Kerry simply kicked the can down the road. Alas, the U.S. and Iran are heading far more quickly to its dead-end than diplomats blinded by projection, wishful thinking, and the temptation of trade realize.”

The Washington Institute asks what the US role is in post referendum Kurdistan.  They suggest, “Going forward, Washington should not play the role of Kurdistan’s lawyer in Baghdad. Instead, the focus of U.S. mediation should be in Ankara, since Turkey’s next steps will be decisive for the KRG’s continuing functionality. Erdogan met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Ankara on September 28 and will visit Tehran on October 4. Following these consultations, he will presumably decide how many of the threatened punitive measures to implement immediately, perhaps by the end of next week. It is decidedly not in America’s interest to allow Russia and Iran to dominate Turkish views on this crisis, especially since neither actor has a stake in the counter-IS campaign succeeding, and both seek to reduce U.S. influence in the region.  The Trump administration’s most urgent step is to dispatch a civilian envoy to resolve the crisis, one who has no negative background with the Turks, Kurds, or Baghdad.”

The CSIS looks at how to reform US security assistance to other countries.  They note, “The U.S. government does not have clear guidelines for how to evaluate its own performance in the security assistance field, and each agency is left to its own methodologies and criteria in doing so. There is a tendency to focus on numbers and inputs or outputs while measuring the success of a program—number of weapons systems sold or number of officers given human rights training, for instance—instead of focusing on the quality of the program or its consequent effects on the desired outcome for the partnership.”

The Heritage Foundation says Trump is stockpiling reasons to end the Iran nuclear deal.  They conclude, “With or without outside help, Iran could easily be as threatening in 12 years in atomic affairs as North Korea is today. More troubling: Trump tweeted last weekend that North Korea is already “working with” Iran. Talk about an Axis of Evil. The lifting of economic sanctions also fills the mullahs’ pockets with funds that support its mischief-making, including supporting the Syrian regime, Yemeni Houthi rebels and the terror groups, Hezbollah and Hamas. Is any of that in America’s interest? Even if Tehran is currently in technical compliance, the pact leaves Iran as a “threshold” nuclear state and won’t stop it from becoming a de facto nuclear power in the not-too-distant future. It’s no wonder that Team Trump may soon call for a deal do-over.”

The Washington Institute looks at Iran’s and Hezbollah’s increasingly overt dominance in Beirut.  They conclude, “The trajectory in Lebanon is not isolated from regional developments; it is inextricably tied to Iran’s increasing influence, which has for decades been ascendant in Lebanon, but more recently dominant in Syria and Iraq as well. To prevent a deterioration in Lebanon, too, it will ultimately be incumbent on Washington to roll back Iran. Fighting Sunni militants without countering what is perhaps the primary driver of their radicalization is not a winning strategy.”




Las Vegas Shooting:
Many Questions Remain

Even days after the biggest mass shooting in recent American history, there are many questions.  Why did the shooter do what he did?  How did he manage to buy over 40 guns, of which 23 were in the room with him?  And, why have American officials refused to call it terrorism?

On Monday, a 64-year-old man named Stephen Paddock, who had no criminal record, opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 58 people and injuring some 515 more.  However, the rational for the shooting remains a mystery.  As a result, various reasons have been given, depending on the political leanings of the person providing the answer.  Some claim ISIS did it, even though there is little solid evidence to prove that. There is also evidence that he was taking a medication that could cause violence.  Others have used it as an excuse to push for more anti-gun legislation.

No matter the reason Paddock had for this attack, it is obvious that there is more violence occurring in the US on all sides of the political spectrum.  The question is why?

The answer may be found in the writings of the German-American political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975).  She wrote extensively on totalitarianism and predicted that modern society would see a surge of domestic violence and social unrest.

Widely considered one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers, she escaped Germany after Hitler took power and found refuge in America, where she became a visiting scholar at some of America’s finest academic institutions, and was Princeton’s first female lecturer.

In her classic work On Violence, Arendt discussed the ideas of power and violence at length.  But Arendt qualified that power and violence are two very different things. In fact, she said they are diametrically opposed:

She wrote, “Violence appears where power is in jeopardy.”

True power, Arendt says, doesn’t require violence. It belongs to a group and it remains so long as the group stays together and can exert its will.

Violence, on the other hand, is an instrument.  It is most often employed by those who lack power or by a group that feels power slipping away.

If Arendt is correct, violence is an instrument most likely to be used by those who lack power and feel powerless. And this is where she analyzed modern society.

Arendt believed that modern states had become bogged down under the monstrous weight of their own bureaucracy.  She saw that the bigger a state grew, the more need there was for an administrative apparatus to allow it to function. The bureaucratization of society is an insidious and smothering force that resulted in a sort of faceless tyranny.

She wrote, “Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done.  It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest.”

“The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on which the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.”

Or, in non-philosophical words, faceless bureaucracies are tyrannical because no one is in charge or responsible to the people.  And, people across the political spectrum feel helpless in face of the bureaucracy and then rebel with violence.

This explains the wide spectrum of civil unrest seen in the US in the past few years – from the riots in Ferguson to the Bundy Ranch face off to Black Lives Matter.  They all express the outrage against government bureaucracies who aren’t held responsible, but are capable of ruining people’s lives.

It may also help to explain events like Catalonian independence and England’s Brexit.  Has the faceless bureaucracy of the EU pushed some people too far?  Could other regions also begin to think about independence?

If Arendt’s political theory is true, we can only expect unrest to grow as the American bureaucracy grows and remains in power.

Gun Control

Another issue raised by the Las Vegas shooting is the issue of American gun ownership.  While some are pushing for greater control on the purchase and ownership of guns, others point out the mass shootings in places like France and Great Britain, who both have restrictive firearm ownership laws.

Some wonder how someone can own over 40 firearms, of which over 20 were found in the room, where he carried out his massacre.

Firearm ownership regulations at the federal level are usually limited to a check by the owner of a gun store to make sure the purchaser has no criminal record.  There is no limit on the number of guns one can own, providing one can afford them.

There is a federal regulation that requires reporting if a person buys three guns or more at a time.  There are some states that limit the amount of guns bought in a given amount of time like a month.  However, if the person has no criminal record, has the money, and buys them over a period of time, there are no limitations.

The fact that Paddock had 23 guns with him at the hotel room is mysterious.  Many familiar with firearms would say that fewer firearms and more ammunition would have made more sense if one wished to kill a lot of people.

So, the question is if this massacre will have an impact on American gun laws?  Probably not.

America has a high gun ownership rate, a history of private firearm ownership going back to the American Revolution, and probably more firearms than people in the country.  There is no way to change that unless one declares martial law and starts house-to-house searches – a move that would guarantee a civil war.

One legislative change is that a congressional bill that would have made the ownership of silencers easier has been shelved.  There has also been some talk about restricting “bump fire” stocks, which allow a faster rate of fire.

However, regulation of “bump fire” would be nearly impossible.  Bump fire requires no special equipment and a gun owner can bump fire nearly any semi-automatic firearm with a little practice.

The fact is that the pro-firearm bloc of voters is large and was critical for Trump’s victory and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.  Gun control legislation backed by the GOP would be political suicide by Republican politicians.

Is it Terrorism?

Many have also questioned if it was a terrorist act.  However, that depends on who you are and what the people think.  As the old saying goes, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

According to federal law, it isn’t terrorism because there was no political component to it.  However, that may change as more information about the shooter comes out.

However, under Nevada law, it is considered terrorism.

But, in the end, it is the people on a jury deciding a case that will inevitably decide if any shooting is really terrorism.

An excellent example happened last year when armed anti-government protesters took over a building at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.  Although the protesters were armed, no one was injured and there were no shots fired by them.  However, the federal government charged the protestors with terrorism because the act had a political component to it.

The jury saw it differently a few months ago.  Those who went to trial were acquitted because the jury didn’t see it as terrorism.  However, the jurors did say that if the government had charged them with mere trespassing, they would have voted to convict them.

As a result of the acquittals, federal prosecutors withdrew the terrorism charges from the Bundy Ranch protestors they had arrested.  But, it didn’t help.  So far, no one has been convicted and several have been acquitted by juries.

Evidently, the government’s idea of terrorism is quite different than the average person’s.

Which ties in with Arendt’s theories.  Has public frustration with government and its mechanisms made the average person more willing to acquit people who stand up to the government?  Is the person who is a terrorist in the US government’s eyes, merely a legitimate protestor in the public’s eyes?

If that is the case, we can expect to see more shootings and civil unrest in America.




Time to Decertify the Iran Nuclear Agreement
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
October 2, 2017

The Trump Administration faces an October 15 deadline under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 to certify Iranian compliance and several other aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After the State Department twice certified the agreement, President Donald Trump indicated that he was reluctant to do so again—and it is almost impossible to see how he could do so. Iran has proclaimed it will not permit inspections of its military bases, which are permitted—indeed necessary—under the nuclear deal. The Trump Administration should decertify and adopt a strategy to either fix or abrogate the nuclear deal.

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Trump Stockpiles Reasons to Blow Up Iran Nuke Pact
By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
September 29, 2017

The Iran nuclear deal is a ticking time bomb.  That’s because Team Trump has to (re)certify to Congress that Iran is in technical compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal — aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — by Oct. 15.  It may not happen based on President Trump’s unvarnished feelings about the deal, calling it an “embarrassment” and the “worst deal ever” last week while at the United Nations.  The pact could explode any time.  Trump also said he’d made up his mind about what to do about it — though he didn’t tip his hand as to what exactly that was. If I had to bet, it isn’t a continuation of the status quo.  Considering the deal’s shortcomings, that’s understandable.  Of course, some defenders of the Obama-era atomic agreement will argue that it paused — or at least significantly slowed — Iran’s progress toward nukes for a decade or so.  Indeed, that’s one of the big problems with the pact: It expires. The deal has a “sunset provision,” which is when key restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment program are phased out, leaving Tehran footloose and fissile free to build a bomb

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Framing Next Steps for Security Sector Assistance Reform
By Melissa Dalton and Hijab Shah
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 26, 2017

The U.S. policy community lacks consensus about what truly defines security sector assistance. Ranging from military training, advising, and sales to community justice and reconciliation programs, security assistance spans a wide spectrum of activities. Cataloguing authorities and funding by assistance type can help sort the myriad of tools in the security sector assistance kit, but fundamental questions remain about the purpose of security sector assistance and its connection to foreign policy objectives. Some members of the U.S. policy community believe that foreign military sales should be considered defense trade, distinct from other forms of security sector assistance. Other members recognize that any assistance or equipment provided to a foreign partner is an act of foreign policy.

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Power and Strategy: The President Needs to Order His Priorities in the Middle East
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 20, 2017

To many leaders in the Middle East, the Trump administration is a breath of fresh air. The president’s statements about battling extremism and reinforcing the status quo, and his general disinterest in the region’s domestic conditions, are a huge relief after President Bush and President Obama pursued regional strategies that tied domestic repression to fomenting radicalization.  To others in the region, the Trump administration is a menace. They not only see it pursuing anti-Muslim (and pro-Israel) policies, but they also see it tipping the region toward greater militarism and conflict.  The two sides agree on one point, though: The Trump administration has many Middle East policies but no visible strategy, and that makes it harder for any of them to cooperate with the United States.

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Should Trump re-certify the Iran Deal?
By Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute
October 4, 2017

Oct. 15 will be decision day for President Donald Trump. That is the next deadline, under terms of the Corker-Cardin Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, for Trump to certify both that Iran is compliant with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and that the Iran deal remains vital to the national security interests of the U.S. Trump has pilloried the Iran nuclear deal he inherited as “the worst deal ever,” but Defense Secretary James Mattis testified in Congress Tuesday that the JCPOA is working, and press reports suggest that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to amend the Corker-Cardin legislation to relieve the pressure upon the president and to avoid battles about recertification every three months.

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Intelligence Estimate and Forecast: The Syrian Theater
Institute for the Study of War
September 23, 2017

The United States will continue to risk its vital strategic interests in the Middle East unless it changes its policies in Syria and Iraq. President Donald Trump and his administration inherited a weakened U.S. position, with Russia imposing constraints on American freedom of action and options. The Trump administration has taken initial steps to advance U.S. prestige in the region by reassuring America’s traditional allies and acting more firmly against its enemies and adversaries. The tactical tasks of recapturing Mosul and liberating Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) are complete and nearly complete, respectively. Nevertheless, its efforts to define and execute policies that secure America’s vital interests are moving more slowly than those of America’s enemies, adversaries, and spoilers who are more agile than the U.S. These actors include Russia, Iran and its proxies, Turkey, ISIS, al Qaeda, and some Kurdish elements, who are pursuing goals that threaten American objectives and are exploiting the current situation to make strategic gains as the U.S. champions short-term gains and tactical success.

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The Urgent U.S. Role in Post-Referendum Kurdistan
By Michael Knights
Washington Institute
September 29, 2017
PolicyWatch 2863

The September 25 statehood referendum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq passed overwhelmingly, with 92.7 percent of voters choosing “yes.” Although the outcome does not trigger any administrative changes and is explicitly not a declaration of independence, the central government and parliament in Baghdad have reacted fiercely, while neighboring states such as Turkey and Iran are coordinating punitive measures with Iraqi officials. Some of the suggested punishments could damage U.S. interests and hand more influence to Iran, where Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit on October 4. Before that trip, the United States needs to act quickly to shape Turkish and Iraqi calculations on post-referendum policy, preferably with backing from the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq and the coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS)

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Iran’s Shadow over Lebanon
By David Schenker
Washington Institute
October 4, 2017

Last week, a Lebanese military court sentenced local Sunni jihadi leader Sheikh Ahmed Assir to death. Assir has been in prison since 2015 for directing clashes between his supporters and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in Sidon two years earlier in which 17 soldiers were killed. While few Lebanese will shed a tear for Assir, the announcement of his impending execution nonetheless sparked Sunni protests across the state. For many Sunnis, the harsh treatment of Assir is emblematic of the Shi’a militia Hezbollah’s increasingly overt dominance in Beirut.

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