Week of September 9th, 2016

Executive Summary

This was a short week thanks to the Labor Day holiday, which is the traditional end of summer vacation in the US.  Expect a heavier pace of publication as we enter the fall.

The Monitor analysis continues looking at voter demographics for the American presidential election.  This week, we look at Asian-Americans, who represent about 4% of the electorate, but are frequently forgotten.  Although they vote Democratic, questions about how many will vote and the number that will support Trump may have an impact in Nevada and Virginia.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Heritage Foundation says the US must plan for the recapture of Mosul.  They note, “There is also enormous potential for a humanitarian disaster as a result of the operation. In order to ensure that the liberation of Mosul translates into long-term stability in the region, the U.S. should: Insist that Baghdad restricts the role of Shiite militias in the Mosul operation. Baghdad may be tempted to accommodate Iranian pressure to use Shiite militias as part of the liberation force for Mosul. Shiite militias should be excluded from the liberation force unless used in predominantly Shia-populated areas. Many militias linked closely to Iran have been accused of gross human rights abuses against Sunnis in previous offensives in Fallujah and Ramadi. [Also] Ensure Peshmerga receive needed equipment. Earlier this year the U.S. sent two brigades worth of equipment and weapons to the central government in Baghdad for use by the Peshmerga. Baghdad has played politics with the KRG in the past. The U.S. now must ensure that Baghdad continues to deliver this material to the KRG in a timely manner. The defeat of ISIS in Iraq is too important to U.S. national interests to allow Iraqi infighting to get in the way.”

The CSIS asks what happens after the capture of Mosul or Raqqa.  They bemoan the lack of plans and note, “The Administration also has never to come to grips with what will happen when ISIS no longer controls any population centers, but the Hezbollah, Iranian forces, Russians, and now Turks will still be present. It has never addressed the high probability of fighting between the Syrian Kurds, Turks, and Syrian Arabs once ISIS is gone; and it still has not set any clear policy for dealing with the fact that some of this fighting has actually begun. It has never advanced proposals to resolve either the Kurdish issue—or find someway to protect other minorities in a post-ISIS Syria where the fate of Christians, Shi’ites, and Alawites may be a critical issue. It has never openly faced the fact that almost all of these issues have a mirror image in Iraq, and even U.S. military spokespersons often seem to act as if they were totally unaware that Syria shares 599-kilometer border with Iraq, and ISIS has to be defeated in both countries or else it will become an open-ended threat that can operate across a broader with no real physical barriers to irregular warfare operations.”

The Institute for the Study of War says al Qaeda is gaining in Syria.  They warn, “Because al Qaeda has filled the breach left by the absence of the United States. Al Qaeda is resurgent globally, exploiting American blind spots, and building a popular local vanguard to oversee the transformation of local populations in countries where the state has collapsed. Syria is its current focus. The United States now has little choice but to reorient its strategy in Syria to focus on the threat posed by al Qaeda…For the time being, U.S. policy makers must resist the temptation to drift into an alliance with Russia and Assad to accomplish this goal. Any such partnership would ensure remaining “mainstream” opposition groups will turn away from the United States and toward hard-line elements of the Syrian opposition, effectively removing any potential Sunni partners against the Islamic State and al Qaeda from the battlefield. An alliance with Russia or Assad would only accelerate al Qaeda’s victory.”

The Washington Institute looks at the annual Hajj pilgrimage and the growing tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  They note, “The situation is arguably as bad as it was in 1987, when Iranian pilgrims in Mecca shouted political slogans that prompted trigger-happy Saudi National Guard forces to open fire, killing scores. Even without Iranians in Mecca this year, the risk of further escalation between the two countries is high… At the very least, the tension represents a setback for U.S. policy, since the Obama administration had hoped that such animosity would be reduced at least somewhat by last year’s nuclear agreement with Iran. In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker, the president stated, “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other.”…Part of the challenge of quieting the situation is coping with the apparent belief in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that the Obama administration favors Iran…Given recent reports of aggressive maneuvering by Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval units in the Gulf, a confrontation with U.S. forces is also possible.”

The CSIS looks at the G20 meeting between Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Although both leaders were positive on the bilateral relations, the CSIS warns, “In view of the strong likelihood that the extradition process will take much longer than Ankara would like, the two countries will have to try to find a way to maximize their cooperation in spite of this cloud hanging over their important relationship. However, this is likely to be difficult if the two countries continue to differ fundamentally on the issue of U.S. involvement with the PYD/YPG in the effort against ISIS, as Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin pointedly noted on September 6.

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the GCC nations, their weakening economies, and how they are handling sectarian divides.  They conclude, “For most of the past half century, the states of the Arab Gulf have been defined by their unique combination of economic generosity and political parsimony—a system preserved by vast resource wealth and traditional institutions of governance that have managed to retain a preponderance of legitimacy. Yet, fifty years on from the establishment of the rentier system, one is tempted to say of the Gulf monarchies that it is their adept management of social group cleavages and identities, rather than economic distribution per se, that has powered their continued longevity. The GCC may be rich, but one does not remain rich by spending all of one’s money. Instead, both out of fiscal necessity and a desire to maximize private consumption, Gulf rulers seek to buy popular loyalty as cheaply as possible, deploying resources strategically while also cultivating intangible sources of legitimacy so as to lessen the need for financial patronage.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at American policy towards Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.  They conclude, “We should be wary of casting Maghreb countries’ attempts to act in their own best interests as “pivots” from the U.S. A Russian arms purchase or a handshake with China is not a shirking of U.S. ties. Given that the relationships offer a specific exchange of spoils, there is no need to expect an all-or-nothing alliance. Moreover, this logic assumes that we are the only two axes through which the Maghreb engages globally, while the giant in Maghrebi foreign policy is the EU, owing to deep economic ties, migration policy, and the Maghrebi diaspora. Finally, while the major U.S. interests may be similar in the region—counterterrorism, trade, and democracy/human rights— this uniformity has not allowed us to treat the region as a bloc. Because of the key differences outlined in this essay, the U.S. is right to take a careful country-by-country approach and begin raising the profile of the region in our strategic planning.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the Obama Administration and Egyptian democracy.  They note, “There has been a growing view as Obama’s presidency unfolded that he is a realist. This image is also reinforced by the fact that he is less given than his predecessors to wrap his talk of democracy in the banner of America’s special mission as champion of freedom. This impression can be overdone, however. Obama’s analysis of international issues and of what the United States can and cannot do in the world is fairly realist, but he also expresses liberal understandings and prescriptions, including concerning the importance of democracy and human rights. Obama shows a mix of realism and liberalism in his worldview – and this is how he sees himself – while in his actions (and inaction) he has been above all pragmatic and cautious. This makes him more a temperamentally realistic president than a purely intellectually realist one. There does appear, though, to have been a shift to greater realism, or maybe pessimism, in Obama’s views with regard to democracy promotion.”




The Enigma of the Asian-American Voter in 2016

Despite all the talk about Hispanic voters, the fastest growing immigrant group in America is Asian.  There are over 10 million Asian-American voters, making up about 4% of the American electorate – twice the numbers of Jewish-American voters.

However, their voting patterns are still hard to tie down.  Although studies show that this group favors Democrats by a 2-1 margin that is not a hard and fast rule.  In the 2014 mid term election, the GOP took 50 percent of Asian-American voters, according to exit polling, versus 49 percent of Democrats.

The result came as a surprise to political observers. Obama once dominated among Asian-American voters, getting 62 percent of the vote in 2008 and 73 percent in 2012. Even in another recent Republican wave year, 2010, the GOP earned only 40 percent of the Asian vote.

Actually, Asian-American voters come from a variety of cultures.  The six largest groups by country of origin are Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Indian Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans and Japanese Americans.  And, the country of origin has a big impact on how they vote.

Vietnamese Americans traditionally exhibit the strongest support for Republican candidates (generally, it is believed, because of their anti-Communist leanings). Many of these voters are clustered in communities along the Gulf of Mexico and have helped Republicans maintain their recent dominance in several southern states.  And polling shows that Trump’s biggest Asian-American support comes from Vietnamese Americans.

In Texas, Republican senator John Cornyn launched a media and field campaign targeting Vietnamese-American voters during his reelection bid in 2014, in which he sailed to victory.  Republican Greg Abbott took 52 percent of the Asian-American vote in his successful race for governor.

But, was 2014 an aberration?  Will Asian-Americans vote Democratic this year?

What Asian-American voters are Thinking

Good evidence is hard to find.  A survey of Asian-American voters taken earlier this year by the Asian Pacific Island Association focused primarily on their opinions of Clinton and Trump, which gave an overwhelming anti-Trump result.  Given the sea change in opinions of Clinton and Trump in the last few months, much of that data may be obsolete and misleading.

However, by looking at data not directly related to Clinton or Trump, we still see a strong Democratic edge.  When asked about Obama’s job approval, Asian-American voters gave him a 67% approval, while all registered voters only give him an approval rating in the high 40% range.

There was, however, a big difference between the Asian background of the voters.  While Indian-Americans gave Obama an 84% approval, Chinese Americans only gave him 56%.  His greatest strength amongst age groups was in the 18 – 34 year group (85%).  The strongest disapproval was found in the 35 – 64 age group (29%).

The strength of support for Obama among Indian Americans is reflected in the fact that their support for Clinton is higher than with other Asian-American communities.  Foreign born Asian-Americans were also more likely to prefer Clinton (43%).  She also leads amongst 65 and older voters (44%)

Meanwhile, a majority of American born Asian-American voters preferred Sanders (54%).  This is also reflected in his 61% support amongst 18 – 34 voters.

Asian-American voter views of the issues also show their support for Democrats.  “I’m pretty convinced from looking at different sources of mass-survey data on Asian Americans’ political attitudes that Asian Americans favor a bigger government with more services,” Janelle Wong, the director of the Asian-American Studies Program at the University of Maryland told the National Review. “The role of government is really a critical point of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. The GOP will have a hard time winning a majority of Asian Americans if this issue continues to be a core one for Asian Americans.”

The top 5 issues that Asian American registered voters ranked as extremely important were education, health care, terrorism, jobs, and retirement.

This deviates somewhat from priorities among the general electorate, where the major concerns are the economy, terrorism, health care, immigration, and education.

An interesting demographic difference was in the issue of gun control.  While 50% of 65 and older voters think gun control is an important issue, only 25% of the 18 – 34 age voters think it is important.  American born Asian-American voters think gun control is a less important issue.  This could reflect that the American gun culture is gaining ground amongst the younger, more American, voters.

The Clout of the Asian-American Voter

So, why hasn’t the Asian-American voter received more attention?  It is clearly a Democratic voter base.  And, given the 2014 election results that gave the GOP half of their votes, it could be the margin of victory in a close election.

There are three major problems with the Asian-American voter: low turnout, where they live, and communications.

Asian-American voters are more likely to live in urban, safely Democratic areas, where their vote will have less impact.  However, they are found in Nevada and Virginia, which will be key battleground states this year.

Asian-American voters also have very low turnout.  Their turnout is less than Whites or Blacks and about the same as Hispanics.  While some say that this is because many Asian-American immigrants are unused to voting, the turnout rate is virtually the same with native born and immigrant Asian-American voters.

Another problem is communications with the Asian-American voter.  Asian Americans have among the highest rates of limited English proficiency (35%) and languages other than English spoken at home (77%).

43% of Asian-American voters rely upon foreign language, ethnic newspapers for information.  These numbers are higher within the Chinese (60%), Korean (58%), and Vietnamese (72%) communities.  Only 3% of Indians rely upon ethnic newspapers.

Needless to say, the younger Asian-American is more likely to rely upon the internet and social media.

How Will Asian-American Vote This Year?

It is unlikely that the GOP can replicate its 2014 success in the Asian-American community.  Since this group is the fastest growing immigrant group and Trump has made immigration control one of his signature issues, it’s logical to see Clinton winning this group.

However, the Asian-American vote could be critical in two swing states – Virginia and Nevada.  Asian-American voters in these two states are more likely to call themselves conservative than liberal.  If this means that a larger percentage of them may vote for Trump in these two states, it could mean these two states – and the nation – could go for Trump.




U.S. Must Plan Now for the Day Mosul Is Liberated
By Luke Coffey and James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
September 7, 2016
Issue Brief #4607

The long-delayed military campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIS occupation is in its early stages. However, as the central government in Baghdad and policymakers in the U.S. will soon find out, the military operation will be the easy part. Washington must encourage Baghdad to prepare a post-liberation political framework for Mosul now in order to cement a lasting political defeat for ISIS and prevent its return to the city. This encouragement should include the following steps:

Read more


Syria and Iraq: What Comes After Mosul and Raqqa?
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 6, 2016

It should scarcely have come as a surprise to President Obama that he could not reach an agreement with Vladimir Putin on Syria at the G20 meeting. The President and Secretary Kerry have now been strung along for nearly a year over discussions of some kind of ceasefire, meaningful relief effort, coordinated approach to operations against ISIS, and form of government for Syria. The first Russian air strikes occurred on October 1, 2015, and Russia has steadily used its military intervention to promote its own interest in Syria and the Middle East, attack the Arab rebels, and support the Assad regime. Russia has also built new ties to Iran, shipped Iran advanced S300 surface-to-air missiles, and managed to reach out Saudi Arabia in spite of this—seriously discussing agreed limits on their petroleum production and exports. The United States, in contrast, has focused on defeating ISIS as a Caliphate—and its ability to control key population centers in eastern Syria and Western Iraq—without declaring any clear strategy for what happens afterwards. It has never clearly defined its objectives or what such a “victory” would mean.

Read more


After the Obama-Erdogan Meeting at the G20
By Bulent Aliriza
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 6, 2016

The meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 4 at the G20 provided the two leaders with their first face-to-face opportunity to discuss the aggravated tensions in the U.S.-Turkish relationship since the July 15 coup attempt.  Obama’s comments at their joint appearance after the meeting made it clear that he wanted to build on the fence-mending efforts of Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to Ankara on August 24. According to the White House transcript, Obama strongly condemned the coup and promised “to cooperate with Turkish authorities to determine how we can make sure that those who carried out these activities are brought to justice,” an obvious reference to the ongoing Turkish extradition request for Fethullah Gulen as the alleged mastermind of the coup attempt.

Read more


The Political Economy of Sectarianism in the Gulf
By Justin Gengler
Carnegie Endowment
August 29, 2016

Arab Gulf rulers face incentives to develop non-economic sources of legitimacy to maintain popular support while maximizing scarce resource revenues. By sowing communal distrust, highlighting threats, and emphasizing their ability to guarantee security, regimes can reinforce domestic backing and dampen pressure for reform more cheaply than by distributing welfare benefits. Survey data from four Gulf states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar) demonstrate that governments can effectively cow populations into political inaction even as the economic benefits citizens receive are dwindling.

Read more


Taking Stock of U.S. Policy Options in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia
By Vish Sakthivel
Foreign Policy Research Iinstitute
September 2, 2016

The three countries that comprise the Maghreb region — Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia — are bound by important cultural, linguistic, and economic ties, and by a shared history of French occupation. Even after Africa’s official decolonization, the Maghreb has remained a close and intense sphere of European, and especially French, influence (and the Maghreb in turn exerts a measure of influence over France). As for the United States, engagement since decolonization has focused on building new economic, inter-cultural, military, and political ties, and collaborating on international diplomatic efforts of mutual interest.  Whatever the ties among the three countries of the Maghreb, what is needed is a sensitive appraisal of each country’s own unique trajectory. Algeria, for its part, has remained a behemoth in regional mediation while its changing internal politics has received minimal attention. Morocco has remained a steadfast ally and has ramped up its counterterror cooperation while presenting some human rights conundrums to U.S. engagement.

Read more


Al-Qaeda is Gaining Strength in Syria
By Jennifer Cafarella
Institute for the Study of War
Sept. 2, 2016

The struggle for Aleppo poses an awful threat for the United States. The ongoing battle for what was once Syria’s second-largest city has united two of the most prominent opposition coalitions. Their goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But there’s one more thing they have in common — neither has ever received significant help from Washington in their joint effort to break a nearly month-long siege of opposition-controlled areas of the city and conquer the rest of it.

Read more


Long Game, Hard Choices: The Obama Administration and Democracy in Egypt
By Nicolas Bouchet
German Marshall Fund
Sept. 6, 2016

Three years ago, a military coup ended Egypt’s shaky attempt at transition from decades of dictatorship to democracy. The coup has been followed by a sharp deterioration in human and civil rights in the country. Even before this, though, Egypt was the most important test for US democracy promotion under President Barack Obama as a result of the events since the 2011 revolution. How his administration handled this also illuminates broader points regarding this dimension of US foreign policy. Obama’s initial policy was much in continuity with previous US experience when it comes to democracy promotion and Egypt. Then, as a result of the revolution, there was a genuine but short-lived break from tradition in trying to support the transition. In Obama’s final year in office, however, the United States has returned to the historically mainstream approach of mostly ignoring democracy in Egypt – and in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Read more


Holy War of Words: Growing Saudi-Iranian Tensions
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
September 7, 2016

In the coming days, hundreds of thousands of Muslims will visit the Saudi city of Mecca to partake in the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Unlike last year, there will be no Iranians there. Tehran and Riyadh were unable to agree on visa allocations and security arrangements intended to avoid the type of tragic stampede that killed hundreds of pilgrims last time around — an incident in which Iran suffered more victims than any other country. Two days ago, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that Iranians who were injured last year and subsequently died were “murdered” by the kingdom’s inadequate emergency response. He went on to suggest that Saudi Arabia was not a proper custodian of the holy places — effectively a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the kingdom’s Sunni royal family, since the monarch has been styled “Custodian of the Two Holy Places of Mecca and Medina” since the 1980s.

Read more