Analysis 10-04-2019

CENTCOM relocates operations from Qatar fearing a new Pearl Harbor attack
While the people of a nation revel in their country’s military victories, it is the military disasters that impact the country’s military leaders.
This is true for the United States, which remembers its worst military loss – Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  On that day the Japanese killed over 3,000 American sailors, soldiers and Marines, while sinking a major part of the US Pacific Fleet.
The American defeat allowed the Japanese to run rampant over Asia, conquering a large swath of the continent from Burma to the Solomon Islands.  The Dutch, British, Australian, and American ships available couldn’t stop the Imperial Japanese fleet.
It wasn’t until seven months later at the Battle of Midway, that the US regained the initiative.
The specter of that defeat still resonates in the American military and the words “Pearl Harbor” still means a sudden, devastating military attack on the US.
That’s why the US recently temporarily moved operations from the American base in Qatar to a command center in South Carolina, USA.
The alleged Iranian attack on the Saudi oil refinery was an eye opener for the US military.  While the US had made use of low flying cruise missiles, they were unprepared to defend themselves from such an attack.  The Saudis had a sophisticated air defense system that is much like what the US and NATO has – one that can stop high altitude ballistic missiles and aircraft.  It had American Patriot missile defense, German Skyguard air defense cannons, and French Shahine mobile air defense.
While the alleged Iranian-made cruise missile flew under the operational envelope of the Patriot, the French Shahine and German Skyguard radar have a limited detection range for low flying missiles.  There is also a question about the competency of Saudi soldiers manning the air defense systems.  Are they able to react fast enough to defeat low flying missiles?
Ironically, for a country that spends more than all but two nations on defense (China and the US surpass Saudi Arabia), the Saudi air defense system needs a multi-layered air-defense system.
That flaw in its air defense system isn’t limited to Saudi Arabia.  The US is also vulnerable to low flying missiles, which forced the Americans to look at its CENTCOM command in Qatar.
The US Middle Eastern Central Command in Al Udeid Air Base, Doha, Qatar is within range of Iran’s missile inventory.  This operational headquarters is where daily combat operations for Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the entire Gulf region are controlled.  On a regular day, the command is controlling as many as 300 US warplanes.
Suddenly after the alleged Iranian missile strike on the Saudi refinery, US officials realized that CENTCOM’s command facilities in Qatar were vulnerable to a “Pearly Harbor” style attack by Iranian missiles.
Without the Qatar based command center, America’s ability to control operations in the Middle East would fall apart, leaving Iran an opening to carry out attacks across the region without any American intervention.
In response, the US decided to practice switching operational control of US military operations from Qatar to a facility in South Carolina that has never been used before.  Last Saturday, was the first test and the South Carolina command handled American operations for a 24-hour period before handing operations back to the command center in Qatar.
Current plans are for the South Carolina command center to take control for one day a month.  It will then expand control to 8 hours a day.  The alternate command center will always be manned in case of an attack in Qatar by the Iranians.
According to military analysts here in Washington, “with an operational command center in the US, American forces in the Middle East will be prepared for a regional conflict, especially one that involves Iranian attacks on US command and control centers”.
The plan is that any missile strike against the operational command in Qatar would bring the South Carolina command immediately online.  The switch would be seamless and wouldn’t interfere with any combat operations taking place.
This shift shouldn’t be a reduction in the commitment to American allies in the region.  Rather, it’s a recognition that Iran might strike US bases and the US wants to be able to quickly retaliate.
Although Al Udeid Air Base still is home to thousands of Americans, the ability to carry out command and control functions from South Carolina means that the chances of a “Pearl Harbor” type of strike by the Iranians on Al Udeid Air Base is limited but not completely avoidable.  It also perceived that it won’t take the US seven months to regain the initiative as it did in WWII.

Analysis 09-20-2019


Trump Picks Robert O’Brien as New National Security Advisor

Looking into the mind and policies of O’Brian

In an interesting convergence of events, President Trump picked Robert O’Brien as his National Security Advisor at the same time Secretary of State Pompeo called the Iranian missile attack on the Saudi refinery an “Act of War.”

Pompeo said after arriving in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, “We were blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack, but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always risk that that could happen…This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”

Although the military option remains a possibility, it appears that the US will push for additional economic sanctions on Iran – something made easier by the attack as European leaders were loath to sanction Iran before.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he and Trump had talked to each other by phone and discussed the need for a “united diplomatic response from international partners” after the Aramco attacks.

As for the claims that the Houthis had carried out the attack, Pompeo said the US has “high confidence” that they do not have the advanced weapons to carry out the attack.  “These line attack cruise missiles we have never seen there and we think we have seen most everything…We also know that these are systems that the Iranians have not deployed anyplace else, that they have not deployed outside of their country to the best of our knowledge.”

On Wednesday, the Saudis also held a press conference showing the debris gathered from the weapons.  According to them, there were 18 UAVs and 7 cruise missiles.  They included advanced GPS guidance and data indicates they were launched from the North, not the south, where Yemen is.

The Foreign Policy Philosophy of Robert O’Brien

Although this Iranian affair is being handled by Pompeo, the question is how O’Brien will handle similar situations in the future.

The new National Security Advisor is a lawyer who has considerable international expertise.  He has been alternate representative to the UN and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs under President Bush.  He was a legal officer with the United Nations Security Council.  He was Co-Chairman for the State Department’s Public Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan.  Trump also considered him as a possible Secretary of the Navy in 2017.

O’Brien has also been a national security advisor for three presidential candidates – Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, and Ted Cruz.

O’Brien is also the author of the book “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis.  It is a compilation of articles he has written for publications in the past.  Most of the articles were written before Trump even became a candidate, so it reflects his own views.  Although it isn’t a scholarly tome like Kissinger’s “A World Restored,” it is excellent review of his foreign policy views.

In it, O’Brien outlines his belief in American Exceptionalism, peace through strength, being a reliable ally to its friends, a respect for the rule of law, and a belief that there are “bad” nations.

Although not written for the Trump Administration, it clearly hews close to Trump’s foreign policy views.

Those who want to know what O’Brien’s views of Iran and its leadership are don’t have long to wait.  A chapter in section one, is titled, “Obama’s folly: the Iran Deal Disaster.”

O’Brien makes it clear where the US and Iran stand in relation to each other.  The book states, “Iran is a sworn enemy of the United States.  It is a revolutionary regime committed to changing the contours of the entire Middle East and destroying America’s key regional ally, Israel…There is simply no evidence to support the idea that we can trust revolutionary Iran to give up its long term goal of developing a nuclear weapon and a delivery system.”

Although he distrusts Iran, he has made it clear that war with Iran isn’t the only option.  He supports widespread economic sanctions by the US and as many nations as the US can bring into the fold.

As a warning, O’Brien ends his chapter on Iran with a reference to WWII and the Munich Accords that UK Prime Minister Chamberlain made with Hitler.  He wrote of Winston Churchill’s warning that the British people “should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war.”  He ends the chapter saying, “Sadly, his prophetic warning in 1938 appears to be applicable to us today.”

O’Brien sees a dangerous world.  “Vladimir Putin invaded and annexed Crimea – the first territorial conquest by force in Europe since World War II…China claims almost the entire South China Sea and plans to dot the Paracel and Spratly Islands with airstrips, lighthouses, and oil rigs.  In the East Chain Sea, Beijing is in a dangerous standoff with Japan as it seeks to wrest the Senkaku Islands away from Tokyo…Nuclear North Korea lurks in the background and Iran gets closer to breakout each day that it strings the West along in negotiations over its enrichment program.

Continuing on the issue of China, he notes, “China has not undertaken military action as dramatic as the Russian invasion of Crimea, but it has staked a claim to almost the entirety of the South China Sea…In the process, China’s Navy and Coast Guard have expelled the Philippines from the Scarborough Shoal, a reef just under 150 miles from the Philippines but almost 550 miles from Hainan Island, the nearest Chinese port.”

We can expect O’Brien to be an advocate of hard negotiating with China.  In the preface, he notes, “I have negotiated in Beijing with senior Chinese government officials.  They appear entirely confident that America and the West are in decline and that the Twenty-first Century will be theirs.”

Some of the areas of concern with China is its growing influence in Africa (O’Brien has lived in South Africa for a time), Chinese Air Identification Zones over Japanese islands, technological and personal data theft, and its human rights problems

It appears that O’Brien will not be an advocate of quick withdrawals from the Middle East – especially Afghanistan.  In addition to noting the “fiascos in Libya, Egypt, and Syria,” he notes the lack of a “clear exit plan in Afghanistan.”

As can be expected of someone considered for Secretary of the Navy, O’Brien sees the Navy, especially the American carriers, as the key to projecting power and keeping the peace.  He wrote, “Ever since Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” the US Navy has been how the country’s leaders have projected power on the world stage – but it’s clear from years of cutbacks, sequestration, and an aging fleet, that we’re going to be doing less of that power projection in the years ahead.”

He continues, “I can say with certainty that the shortcut to connecting with voters on national security is via a discussion of the strength of the United States navy.  The American voter knows that we cannot protect the seas and our interests overseas unless we have ships that can fight and deliver marines and carrier-based fighter jets to the world’s hot spots.”

O’Brien will not give the State Department a blank check and is suspicious of many in the State Department.  He writes, “Rather than create another bureaucracy in a foreign policy and national security arena, the conservative approach would be to bring strong leadership to bear in refocusing State. Defense, the CIA, and their sister departments on their roles in implementing US smart power initiatives.”

O’Brien appears to be a supporter of the UK as he finds fault with Obama’s treatment of the “special relationship” partner.  He noted, that Obama, “has made the United States an unreliable ally for our closest friends, Britain has been a stalwart ally of the United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan, notwithstanding the tremendous domestic political pressure on Labor and Conservative governments.”

He also points to Poland, the Czech Republic, Gulf States, Taiwan, and the Baltic nations, who deserve better attention than they received from Obama.

So, what will O’Brien recommend to Trump?  He made that clear in his introduction, when he concluded, “In the face of Russian aggression, Chinese expansionism, and Islamic extremism from both ISIS and the Islamic Republic of Iran, this is a lesion that Obama refuses to learn.  His successor will inherit a world in crisis that will require robust and strategic American leadership.  The good news is that while America slept during the Obama years, a new president, willing to lead can usher in another “morning in America.” That is good for our country and for the world.”

Apparently, O’Brien is in tune with Trump’s foreign policy.  While there may be some disagreements with Pompeo, in general, we can expect Trump, Pompeo, and O’Brien to speak with the same voice.



About that Counter-Iran Coalition

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 30, 2019

What if the United States threw a party and no one came? It is finding out in the Persian Gulf, where Trump administration’s calls to unite to counter Iranian aggression are being met with caution, circumspection and shrugs.  The reason is not fear of the Iranians. Instead, it is a calculus by Washington’s allies and partners that they may be safer staying far away from whatever the United States really intends and what they might be drawn into.  The Iranian government seems to be pursuing a policy that keeps tensions in the Gulf simmering but not boiling. The goal is to create a crisis but not a war. Iran is trying to force the world to engage with it and seeking to thumb its nose at the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign that threatens any multinational that does business with the Islamic Republic.

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Can Iran Break Out of Trump’s Box?

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

September 11, 2019

In the Middle East, looking weak is the equivalent of wearing a “kick me” sign. And that’s now a problem for Tehran. Iran has hit a headwind in the person of Donald Trump. The president has basically taken back all the benefits the regime gained from the deal it cut with Barack Obama. Trump has made the mullahs look smaller on the global stage, crimped their economy, and messed with Tehran’s surrogates. Teheran’s top policy option now appears to be praying that Trump loses in 2020 and is replaced by a more pliant president. Still, the last thing they want to do is sit around meekly absorbing insults and injuries until January 2021 rolls around. To shake off the growing signs of weakness, Iran flexed its muscles by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. That hasn’t worked out so well. They almost prompted a retaliatory military strike from Washington. Now, the U.S. and others are committing resources to protect freedom of navigation in the gulf. That issue seems to be fizzling.

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A Way Forward in Yemen

By James Phillips and Nicole Robinson

Heritage Foundation

August 27, 2019

Yemen, a failed state destabilized by multiple civil wars, has become the world’s foremost humanitarian disaster, an arena for a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia and a hotbed for clashing Sunni and Shiite Islamist extremists. Yemen’s brutal civil war has reached a stalemate. The unwieldy anti-Houthi coalition, which in recent years clawed back considerable territory seized by the Houthis, is disintegrating. Southern secessionists have ejected Yemeni government forces from some parts of the south, and the United Arab Emirates, a key contributor to the Arab coalition that intervened to fight the Houthis, has pulled back many of its forces. The U.S. has a supporting role to play in encouraging peace in the region.

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Trump Deserves a National Security Adviser Who Agrees with Him and Can Translate His ‘America First’ Vision into Concrete Action

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

September 11, 2019

For those who argued that Donald Trump’s foreign policy views were dramatically different from those of his predecessors, the skeptics always had a ready answer: John Bolton. Now that Trump has unceremoniously dismissed his hawkish national security adviser, that could pave the way for the change that Trump had promised and that the public anxiously wants. Over the course of his presidential campaign, Trump was rewarded for his willingness to challenge the policy elite. He even railed against the Iraq War, initiated by a Republican president, in a Republican debate in South Carolina — and won the primary there. Unlike nearly all of his rivals, Trump correctly sensed that Americans were disinclined to spend vast sums, and risk the lives of American troops, on regime-change wars and costly, open-ended nation-building projects abroad. In a major foreign policy speech delivered as he was closing in on the GOP nomination, Trump explained that “foolishness and arrogance [had] led to one foreign-policy disaster after another.” And he pledged “to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy” and “invite new voices and new visions into the fold.” But, once elected, he did nothing of the sort.

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Empire America: Why Washington Can’t Reduce Its Military Footprint

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Cato Institute

September 3, 2019

As negotiations between the United States and the Taliban continue, it is increasingly clear that even if an agreement emerges, any U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will be partial, not total. President Donald Trump recently confirmed that point. “Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News radio. “We’re going to keep a presence there.” He did indicate that the current troop level of more than 14,000 was being reduced to 8,600. Further reductions might take place if a final accord could be reached, but a sizable contingent of Special Forces personnel, intelligence operatives, and military contractors would remain indefinitely. Disappointed advocates of a complete withdrawal from America’s longest war believed that, once again, the president listened to military leaders and congenital hawks such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and backed away from his intention to extricate the United States from the seemingly interminable conflict. A similar pattern had emerged in the summer of 2017, when National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and other advisers successfully prevailed on Trump to abandon the pledge he made during the 2016 presidential campaign to terminate the Afghanistan mission.

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Saudi Strikes Are A Critical Test For Trump

By Ilan I. Berman

American Foreign Policy Council

September 18, 2019

On Saturday, two of Saudi Arabia’s most important oil facilities became the targets of the most significant attack on world energy infrastructure in more than a quarter-century. The coordinated strikes on Abqaiq and Khurais in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province — which appear to have been carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels as well as by Iran directly — were devastating, taking roughly 60 percent of total Saudi daily oil production — an estimated 5.7 million barrels from the 9.8 million total — offline and at least temporarily jeopardizing the country’s position as a global energy power. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Trump administration has pinned the blame squarely on Tehran. But it has also made clear that it isn’t eager for a military confrontation with the Iranian regime (though the Pentagon is still actively planning for some sort of response). Yet how Washington responds to the incident will have profound implications, both for its continued credibility in the region and for the future of its relations with Iran.

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Attack on Saudi Oil Infrastructure: We May Have Dodged a Bullet, at Least for Now . . .

By Frank A. Verrastro and Andrew J. Stanley

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 18, 2019

This weekend’s attack on Saudi oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq represents the single largest daily oil supply disruption in history—larger than the maximum daily output loss resulting from the Iranian Revolution, the invasion of Iraq, the Venezuelan oil strike of 2002-2003, or any of the Gulf coast hurricanes and almost twice as large as the combined outages produced by U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. The attacks targeted two critical Saudi facilities: one of the nation’s largest producing fields, Khurais, and the crown jewel of the Saudi oil system, the massive stabilization and processing facility at Abqaiq. The total supply loss from taking these facilities offline amounted to some 5.7 million barrels per day (b/d) in oil output—more than half of Saudi Arabia’s recent output and about 6 percent of global supply—as well as 2 billion cubic feet per day of associated gas.

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Iran, Yemen, and the Strikes on Saudi Arabia: The Changing Nature of Warfare

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 18, 2019

The history of warfare has never been filled with good predictions of how warfare would evolve in the future. Aside from the odd science fiction writer, no one predicted the technical, tactical, and strategic nature of World War I. World War II began with gross exaggerations of the threat posed by poison gas and the air forces of the day. Navies that still emphasized battleships in a war that became dominated by submarines and carriers. The uncertain efforts to reshape land forces evolved into blitzkrieg, after armored offensives that initially involved German field commanders that disobeyed order from their high command. After World War II, massive efforts to restructure land, air, and sea forces for nuclear warfighting ended in the fear of mutual assured destruction and the practice of small conventional wars and insurgencies outside the key areas of NATO and Warsaw Pact confrontation. The first Gulf War in 1990 saw major advances in precision strike air power, but it also saw armored exchanges that were far more favorable to the U.S.-led coalition than most military planners and analysts predicted before the actual battles.

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A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence

By Michael Knights

Washington Institute

September 16, 2019


The September 14 attack on Saudi targets in Abqaiq and Khurais—one of the world’s largest oil refinery complexes and the kingdom’s third-largest oil field, respectively—could take up to 5.7 million barrels per day off the global market for the next several months. This makes it the most comprehensive blow against the global energy sector since Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent destruction of both countries’ energy infrastructures. Now, as then, U.S. and international commitment to the security of global energy supplies is being tested. The strike was highly effective from a military perspective. The weapons hit at around 4 a.m. local time and appear to have struck from a northerly or northwesterly direction. This fits with a string of reporting that suggests related air defense alerts and engine sounds were concentrated in areas of the northern Persian Gulf, as opposed to an ingress route from Yemen. Strong U.S. government statements have ruled out Yemen (on September 14) and Iraq (on September 16), so the focus is narrowing to a direct strike originating from Iran.

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Analysis 09-13-2019


Bolton Out at National Security Council

On Tuesday, National Security Advisor John Bolton was fired by President Trump – or he resigned, depending on who one believes.

It became a media event, with both sides defending their point of view.  Trump supporters said that Bolton disagreed with Trump’s ideas.  Bolton supporters said that Trump doesn’t take criticism well.

This is a far cry from the days when National Security Advisors were unknown academic types like Henry Kissinger, Brezenski who were only known for writing scholarly papers.

Clearly, Trump and Bolton had differing world views.  Bolton, a neocon was a supporter of taking a hard line against Iran and North Korea.  He also opposed pulling out of Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

Bolton wasn’t the easiest person to work for either.  Several NSC people quit after he was named National Security Advisor.

Trump, a businessman preferred to find a peaceful solution to Afghanistan, while trying to find some common ground with North Korea and Iran.   In fact, one area of disagreement with Bolton was Trump’s idea of easing sanctions on Iran in order to restart negotiations.

It was the attempt to find a solution to Afghanistan that led Trump to invite the Taliban to Camp David for negotiations.  He cancelled after learning the Taliban was behind an attack that killed an American.  Evidently, Bolton was opposed to negotiation with the Taliban and has been accused of leaking the information to the media.

Although Trump was criticized for wanting to deal with an enemy like the Taliban, even during World War Two, American officials, with the direct blessing of President Roosevelt, dealt with Nazi officials in Switzerland throughout the war.

Fact is that Bolton and Trump are two different personalities.  Bolton a policy person who worked in the government and Trump is a businessman, very entrepreneurial in temperament and very open to trying new things.  This would explain the flap over the Taliban meeting and the controversy over the Venezuela meetings with the likes of Diosdado Cabello, who helped bring Chavez to power.

As a policy person, Bolton may not have been the right person for the job while Trump was president.  One can’t always be disagreeing with the boss and expect to have a smooth road.  Plus, Trump probably isn’t all that easy to work for, given that he can shift focus and change his mind quickly, and obsessed now by how can be reelected.

Who is next at the National Security Council?

Now that Bolton is out at the NSC, the next question is who will replace him?

This is more than a policy issue.  Other factors are their background (military, academic, business, etc.), how they relate to the Secretary of State (Pompeo and Bolton rarely talked even though they were the key foreign policy people for Trump), their worldview and how it relates to Trump’s, and how they handle the media.  In the past, presidents have picked NSC advisors that reflected their views and how much influence the Department of State should have.  For instance, President Nixon picked Henry Kissinger for NSC Advisor because he wanted to keep foreign policy out of the State Department’s hands.

Although the State Department as a whole doesn’t approve of Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, like Trump, has run a business from the top and, again like Trump, has a good head for seeing the big picture, as well as operating very directly, is unlikely to be pushed out of the picture by the new NSC Advisor.

Trump may look at former NSC people that were pushed put by Bolton.  In that case one potential choice is Major General Ricky Waddell.  Waddell was Deputy National Security Advisor for Trump under NSC advisor McMaster.  He was opposed by White House Chief of Stall Priebus and was one of those who left after Bolton was appointed to the National Security Advisor post.  He is currently the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He has served in the Middle East, but much of his experience is in South America.

If Waddell is picked, expect closer relations with the new Bolsonaro Administration in Brazil.  He speaks Portuguese, lived in San Palo, Brazil for 12 years, and was Deputy Commander of US Southern Command, which is responsible for South America.

Another possible choice is former Colonel Douglas McGregor, who has gone on news shows often to criticize Bolton and his policies.  He recently accused Bolton of trying to create a “Gulf of Tonkin” event to push the US into war with Iran.

McGregor agrees with Trump’s America First policy.  He would also clean out the NSC because he has frequently said that many in the US foreign policy establishment dislike Trump policies and are active in undermining them.

McGregor recently spoke at a Ron Paul Institute conference.  His speech was titled “National Security without Constant Conflict.”  In it, he focused on developing a policy that focused on decreasing US intervention abroad.

If Trump wants to move more aggressively on North Korea, he may pick Stephen Biegun.  Biegun is the US Special Representative for North Korea.  He served as Sarah Palin’s foreign policy advisor during 2008.  He was considered as a potential replacement for NSC advisor McMaster.  He was also executive secretary for the NSC while Condoleeza Rice headed the NSC.

Biegun is also a Russia expert, which can help in moving North Korea out of the Chinese sphere of influence.  He received his BA in Russian at the University of Michigan and was the director of the International Republican Institute in Moscow and a member of the US-Russia Business Council.  He also headed Ford Motor Company’s joint venture in Russia.

If Trump wants someone close to Secretary of State Pompeo and who knows how the Department of State works, he might choose Brian Hook, who currently serves as Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State.  He also served as Director of Policy Planning under Secretary of State Tillerson and Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs under President George W. Bush.

Hook was a foreign policy advisor for Romney when he was running for president in 2012.

The downside to a Hook selection is his close relationship with moderate Republicans.  In addition to working with President Bush and Mitt Romney, he is also a co-founder of the John Hay Initiative, which opposes the America First policy.

Picking Hook may help placate Senator Mitt Romney, who seems destined to be a thorn in Trump’s side in the US Senate.  However, there is more potential for conflict between Hook and Trump than there was with Bolton.

Another pick that has political implications would be the choice of Ambassador Richard Grenell.  Grenell is ambassador to Germany and the highest ranking openly gay American official ever.

Grenell was a national security spokesman for Romney during the 2012 campaign and was nominated to be ambassador to Germany by Trump in 2017.  He was Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy for the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations under President George W Bush.  He has been a Fox News contributor and has written articles for several news publications.

As ambassador to Germany, Grenell has made statements that have upset the German ruling party.  He has called upon German companies to stop doing business with Iran and criticized Merkel’s immigration policies.  He is also on record complaining about German newspaper Der Spiegal’s “anti-American institutional bias.”

Grenell stirred controversy in June 2018 by telling Breitbart News, “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe.”

Unlike Biegun, who has close relations in Russia, Grenell has warned Europe about Russia and its growing reliance on Russian natural gas for energy.  This year he told Handelsblatt that the with the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Europe will “always be in danger, because sanctions are always possible.”

As a strong conservative gay Republican, who supports Trump’s policies, picking Grenell for NSC advisor could be a political choice designed to garner gay support in the 2020 presidential election.

In the end, Trump will have to make a choice based on several factors.  Those who are closest to his style like Grenell don’t have the deep foreign policy experience.  Those with the experience in the State Department like Hook are too closely tied to Republicans who oppose his foreign policy and may pose a “leak” threat.

If he picks Biegun, he will be criticized for picking someone who has worked with Russia and Sarah Palin.  If he picks McGregor and McGregor cleans out the NSC, he will be accused of “destroying” the foreign policy establishment to eliminate the views of others.  A Waddell choice will find critics complaining that Waddell has too much experience in South America and not in the “hot spots’ like the Middle East.

However, the best thing for Trump to do is look at the various backgrounds of the candidates to see how their experience will dovetail with his views and what direction his foreign policy will take in the future.But his reelection campaign priorities may lead him to a surprise pick to someone serving this goal not necessarily American National Security.

Analysis 09-07-2019


Is the 21st Century the Chinese Century –
or not?

It has become common for people to refer to the 21st Century as the Chinese Century, much as many called the 20th Century as the American Century.  But, is it?  With the 21st Century nearly one fifth over, maybe we should compare the two countries and where they stand.

True, both countries are economic powerhouses now (US – 1920, China – 2020).  Chinese goods flood the world and control major sectors of critical industries like electronics just as the US controlled industries like the automobile industry.

However, outside of economic power, there are a lot of critical differences.  The US had finished its territorial growth in the late 1800s and the map of the continental US in 1920 looks much like it does today.  China still has territorial ambitions that concern other nations.  There is the South China Sea and Taiwan claims that concern its neighbors.

The US had also solidified its national sovereignty during the Civil War a half century before.  Going into World War One, everyone, including those who fought the North in the Civil War considered themselves Americans.  However, today, in Hong Kong, only 10% of its residents consider themselves Chinese. There are also strong independence movements in far western region of Xinjang and Tibet.

So, is China poised to make this century a Chinese Century?


Economics and Trade

There have always been trade disputes, but the one between the US and China is a trade war with a “take no prisoners” attitude.  And, the US has a history of winning these – witness the Japanese/American trade war of the 1980s that the US won, and Japan has yet to recover from.

While China first sought to prevent a trade war and tried to reach a trade deal with the US, it appears that the current Chinese strategy is “endurance” – preserving the Chinese economy and advantages, while accepting the higher US tariffs as a fact.

The two factors in this strategy are that the US presidential election is coming up in a year and the possibility that a new president may dramatically change the trade situation.  The second factor is that the conflict between China and the US has gone far beyond trade and is impacting other issues like Chinese sovereignty, geopolitical issues, security, the proposed “Silk Trade Route,” and Chinese relations with “rogue” nations.

The result is that China is refusing to meet US demands and is responding to US tariffs with smaller, targeted tariffs on specific products like agricultural products.  Although it is expanding its customer base beyond the US, however, it is being careful not to cut off economic ties with the US.

In the future, one can expect a series of “ups and downs” as we have seen in the past.  Just a couple of months ago, President Trump and Xi reached an agreement at the G20 summit to put a halt to the trade war.  This was followed by progress on the Huawei ban and increasing US agricultural exports to China.  However, in August, Trump announced that the US would put a 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese goods.  China then put a hold on additional agricultural purchases.

Events seemed to cool down as trade talks took place and the US delayed some of the tariffs to December.  But that good will only lasted days as China published a list of new tariffs – to be followed by more talks.  Over last weekend, both China and the US announced tariffs that by December will account for over 20% of the cost of Chinese goods in the US and US goods in China.

Yet, it appears that China will send top negotiators to Washington in early October for talks with US counterparts.  What can we expect?

Given the behavior of the past year and a half, we can expect to see a series of talks and threats for the foreseeable future.  The Chinese strategy of endurance seems to be the sensible one, especially since 80% of Chinese exports are to nations other than the US.



China’s economic strength would be more impressive if they weren’t facing a major challenge to their sovereignty in Hong Kong.  Although they have withdrawn the extradition proposal that caused the demonstrations in Hong Kong, protestors still have grievances.

Opposition lawmaker Alvin Young said, “Hong Kong people will not be satisfied, which is absolutely reasonable after three months of blood, sweat, and tears.”

Asia Pacific Strategist noted, “It’s positive, but may only prove a temporary solution…[we] can’t see Hong Kong going merrily along…the divide runs deeper.”

This divide is more apparent as rumors abound that there are demonstrations in other parts of China too.

The biggest, and most controversial demand in the Chinese government’s eyes, is the demand for universal suffrage.  “Genuine democracy in Hong Kong is not on the agenda and will not be on the agenda,” said Steve Tsang of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and Africa Studies.  “They are not just going to get softer and softer and softer.  Xi Jinping cannot afford to allow the Hong Kong protestors to win against the Communist Party.”

This is one of China’s biggest weaknesses – the illegitimate sovereignty in the eyes of many of its citizens.  While only 10% of those in Hong Kong see themselves as Chinese, 53% see themselves as citizens of Hong Kong.

Without a national unity, it will be difficult to become the major world power that China desires.

But building national unity is something that can’t be forced.  Currently, the Chinese government is trying to threaten the protestors into ending the protests.  Beijing issued a warning that said it wouldn’t tolerate any attempt to undermine Chinese sovereignty.  “The end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonize China,” a statement from the Xinhua News Agency said.

But China knows that military intervention would exact a huge international price and do more damage economically than the Trump tariffs as Western nations impose economic sanctions.  The Chinese government has spent years building up a good international reputation and they don’t want to squander it by putting Chinese troops on Hong Kong’s streets in a violent crackdown.

Hong Kong is also a major economic and financial engine of the Chinese economy.  However, according to the Hong Kong Purchasing Manager’s Index, Hong Kong’s economy is shrinking by about 4.5%, while purchasing is collapsing because of the protests.

Hong Kong has also seen a collapse in tourist trade due to its ongoing civil unrest.

This doesn’t include the movement of investment capital out of China and Hong Kong due to the political unrest.

Another issue is the final legal absorption of Hong Kong into China in 2047 according to the treaty between the United Kingdom and China.  At that time, the legal protections currently in place will disappear.  This will happen in just 28 years and many of the young people protesting in Hong Kong today are concerned about their loss of the liberties that they currently enjoy.

Not only is China having problems absorbing Hong Kong, its other territorial ambitions like the South China Sea and Taiwan are facing international pressure.  There is also pro-independence unrest in the far western region of Xinjang and Tibet.

In Taiwan, which has seen how China treats newly absorbed territories like Hong Kong, the threat of Chinese invasion is lessened by the US sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to the island nation.   Trump has made it clear that more arms will go to Taiwan in the future.

The US has also made its intention to protect Taiwan clear by regularly moving US warships through the Taiwan Strait that separates mainland China and Taiwan.  A spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet said the transit through the strait, “Demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.” In order to make it clear that this would be a long-term practice, they said, “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

And, although China still has several military bases on manmade islands in the South China Sea, all the other nations surrounding the sea are opposed to Chinese expansionism.  As a result, many nations have given the US critical military bases that allow the US to more effectively project power in the region.

Despite the size of the Chinese military, their navy and air force have not been challenged by a major power and their ability to project power into the South China Sea is questionable.  For instance, while they have some aircraft carriers, it is well known that developing a credible naval aviation wing takes decades to develop (an example is the difficulties of the Russian naval aviation support of its forces in Syria).  China would be hard pressed to maintain these bases in the face of local and American military moves to evict China.

Another area of concern to China’s neighbors is the new “Silk Belt and Road” initiative.  Many countries see it as more than a regional economic agreement.

The Center for a New American Security sees a threat to other countries sovereignty.  “Under the umbrella of the Belt and Road, Beijing seeks to promote a more connected world brought together by a web of Chinese-funded physical and digital infrastructure…but the Belt and Road is more than just an economic initiative; it is a central tool for advancing China’s geopolitical ambitions.”

Much of the erosion of national sovereignty comes from Chinese loans for developing countries, which give China long term control over critical infrastructure.  Because of the size of the loans, they also pose an unsustainable financial burden that threatens a default and the surrendering of more sovereignty to the Chinese.

So, is China posed to be the superpower of the 21st Century?

Not necessarily.

Although China is a major economic power, it is currently engaged in a trade war with another major economic power, America.  As stated earlier in the analysis, China’s strategy is survival – an indication that China knows that it doesn’t have the resources to take on America, the world’s biggest economic power.

Much of China’s economic strength is based on international trade, which can be seriously curtailed if it tries to use military force on Hong Kong, Taiwan, or the South China Sea.  In addition, many of its potential partners in the Silk Belt and Road are having second thoughts about this Chinese led initiative.

In other words, China is an economic dragon chained by the government’s geopolitical ambitions and desire to expand geographically.  That takes a military (which costs money) and a willingness to use force.

America, on the other hand was quite different one hundred years ago.  Although it helped win WWI, it wasn’t because they had a large military.  The victory was because the US offered the only source of fresh troops after four years of bloody war in Europe.  When the war was over, the army was downsized, and the economy focused on commercial growth.

The peaceful intentions of 1920 America were expressed in the issuance of a new silver dollar called the Peace Silver Dollar.  On the reverse side was an eagle holding an olive branch, looking at a new sunrise, with the caption “Peace.”  America truly believed that WWI was the “war to end all wars.”

Although the US of 1920 was much more peaceful than the US of 1999, the desire for peace in 1920 allowed the US to spend on industrial infrastructure, not growing its military.

At the same time, America was a nation with a unified national identity.  The sectarian divisions that caused the Civil War 60 years before were gone and the nation reveled in its national unity.  Unrest like we see in Hong Kong, Xinjang, and Tibet weren’t seen in 1920s America.

The US did military intervene in Central America in the 1920s, but its ambitions and military operations were minor compared to China’s current appetites.

The Chinese government may hope that the 21st Century is the Chinese Century, but it will have to make some drastic changes to make that happen.

The biggest needed change (and the one that the Chinese government is least likely to grant) is individual freedom.  Note that America’s rise to international prominence came after the abolition of slavery.

Great powers also have better relations with their geographic neighbors.  Except for North Korea, China has had less than cordial relations with its neighbors.  In the last 50 years, there have been Chinese border wars with the Soviet Union and Vietnam.

There have also been recent hostilities between China and Vietnam.  A Vietnamese fishing boat was reportedly sunk by the Chinese in March.  Recently, Chinese coast guard vessels approached a Vietnamese undersea energy exploration site.

In order to help curb Chinese ambitions, Vietnam recently received six patrol boats from America in order to patrol its internationally recognized part of the South China Sea.  And, last year, the US Navy sent aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson to Vietnam for a port visit – the first visit of an American carrier to Vietnam since the Vietnam War.

These hostile relations that China has with it neighbors is in contrast to those of America and its allies.  Although the US has had its problems with Mexico and Canada, the three countries are close trading partners and Canada is one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

The bottom line is that despite China’s strengths, it remains a major power with serious faults.  They may think the 21st century is their century, but the facts seem to say it might not be easy.





About that Counter-Iran Coalition

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 30, 2019

What if the United States threw a party and no one came? It is finding out in the Persian Gulf, where Trump administration’s calls to unite to counter Iranian aggression are being met with caution, circumspection and shrugs.  The reason is not fear of the Iranians. Instead, it is a calculus by Washington’s allies and partners that they may be safer staying far away from whatever the United States really intends and what they might be drawn into.  The Iranian government seems to be pursuing a policy that keeps tensions in the Gulf simmering but not boiling. The goal is to create a crisis but not a war. Iran is trying to force the world to engage with it and seeking to thumb its nose at the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign that threatens any multinational that does business with the Islamic Republic.

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Trump’s Trade Policy So Far: Too Many Trade Wars, Very Little Trade Liberalization


Cato Institute

AUGUST 27, 2019

This past week was an eventful one for trade policy, and not in a good way. In the trade world these days, no news is good news, and any tweets are probably bad news. President Trump’s trade policy has been stridently protectionist, abusive of the constitutional separation of powers, destructive to U.S. alliances, and fundamentally flawed as a strategy to achieve its stated goals. Last week, President Trump was agitated by China’s retaliatory tariffs (which were in response to tariffs previously imposed by the Trump administration), and in reaction to the Chinese retaliation, Trump announced on Twitter some retaliation for the retaliation, this time bumping up the various existing and promised tariffs by 5 percentage points. In doing so, he escalated a trade war that has been quickly spiraling out of control. By the end of 2019, if all tariff threats are implemented as planned, most Chinese imports to the United States and U.S. exports to China will be subject to tariffs. And not just the low tariffs which had become the norm in recent years: the Chinese imports in question will be subject to tariffs of either 15% or 30%, which is a significant tax. American importers, retailers, producers, and consumers will feel the effects.

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China’s Brutality Can’t Destroy Uighur Culture

By S. Frederick Starr

American Foreign Policy Council

July 26, 2019

Daily headlines tell the story of China’s mass internment of Uighurs in its Xinjiang province, along with the closing and destruction of Uighur mosques and the demolition of their neighborhoods. But the press largely ignores other aspects of their identity, notably their significant cultural and intellectual achievements. These details matter, because Uighurs’ resilient culture may ultimately frustrate China’s efforts to stamp them out.

Uighurs are one of the oldest Turkic peoples and were the first to become urbanized. When the ancestors of modern Turks were still nomadic, Uighurs were settling into sophisticated cities. One of their branches, known today as the Karakhanids, had a capital at Kashgar, near China’s modern border with Kyrgyzstan. When Karakhanids conquered the great Silk Road city of Samarkand, they established a major hospital and endowed not only the doctors’ salaries but the cost of heating, lighting and food. That was 1,000 years ago, before the Normans conquered England. Uighurs were active experimenters in religion. Besides their traditional animism, they embraced Buddhism, Manichaeism, Christianity and finally Islam. They were also among the first Turkic peoples to develop a written language. And with writing came literature and science.

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We Need to Take the Best Deal We Can Get in Afghanistan


Carnegie Endowment

AUGUST 26, 2019

The United States has spent years slowly losing the war in Afghanistan. We have recently been losing with about 14,000 troops, but we were slowly losing in 2010 with 100,000 troops as well. We are not losing because of tactics or troop numbers but because of a catastrophic failure to define realistic war goals. After a messy but basically successful counterterrorism effort, we expanded our objectives in ways that were bound to fail. We mortgaged our counterterrorism objectives to more maximalist aims, making our original ambition harder to secure. U.S. security requirements and national interests cannot begin to justify the human, strategic and financial costs of a continued, large-scale U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. It is long past time to accept the risks and difficult compromises of a negotiated settlement; they only become more severe the longer we delay.

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Analysis 07-30-2019


The Evolution of Space War

Although generations have been raised on movies like Star Wars (and before that Flash Gordon), few appreciate the complexities of a war in space. And, although things like Death Stars and Tie Fighters may seem realistic, it is the dead hand of Sir Isaac Newton and his laws of gravity, that really control war in space.

A recent example was an article in the blog Defense One that saw the development of robotic repair satellites as a threat to America’s galaxy of defense and communication satellites.

The article said, “in the next few years, China and Russia will begin to launch a new kind of spacecraft; robotic mechanics that can repair or upgrade friendly satellites in orbit. Inevitably, these will also be able to use the very same rendezvous and robotic capabilities as killer spacecraft to get close to and disable American satellites.”

Admittedly, these satellites could incapacitate American satellites. However, why should the Russians or Chinese waste such expensive technology to kill an American satellite, when simpler and less obvious methods are available?”

However, the fact is that the next generation of space war has started. Last September, the French government accused Russia of an “act of space espionage,” when Moscow’s signals intelligence satellite Luch-Olymp was steered close to a French military communications satellite Athena-Fidus. The French accused Russia of trying to intercept the satellite’s communications.

Another Russian satellite, Olymp-K, also recently maneuvered close to two Intelsat commercial satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

The French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said, “Trying to listen to your neighbors is not only unfriendly, it’s an act of espionage.”

A couple of weeks ago, Parly announced details of a new “defense space strategy. It includes cameras, machineguns, and lasers on “sensitive satellites” so they can watch for threats and defend themselves. They also see defensive satellites that will surround important satellites like bodyguards and a fleet of satellites that can be quickly launched to replace satellites destroyed by an enemy.

France is also creating a Space Command that mirrors President Trump’s space force – a recognition that the rules of war have changed in space. The directive signed by Trump states, “Potential adversaries are now advancing their space capabilities and actively developing ways to deny our use of space in a crisis or conflict.”

The Chinese have become very active in pushing the border of what is acceptable behavior in space. In 2016, it launched a satellite designed (according to the Chinese) to test high performance solar cells and new propellants. However, once in orbit, it started maneuvering around other Chinese satellites. Experts wonder if it is designed to destroy another satellite, intercept the satellite communications, or position it in order to jam its communications in case of a war.

However, space war is more complicated than that. The first complication is the laws of gravity and space mechanics, which make destroying an enemy satellite complicated. The second problem is that space launches and orbiting objects are so closely monitored, that a “killer satellite” that destroys a military satellite will be as obvious as a Russian bomber flying over Fort Knox and dropping 500-pound bombs on it.

It is an unwritten rule that not only is an attack on another nation’s satellites a violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, it is considered an act of war. Consequently, the traditional ‘killer satellites” that maneuver close to a satellite and explode, and the ground launched anti-satellite missiles that intercept a satellite are so obvious as to the country of origin that they are impracticable for the opening act of a war.

The other problem is space mechanics. Satellites don’t flit back and forth like the spacecraft seen in a Star Wars movie. Orbiting a satellite requires a lot of kinetic energy and changing their course mid orbit requires a lot of energy. Consequently a “killer satellite” in space needs a large amount of fuel in order to change orbit and chase down an enemy satellite. That’s one reason why ground based anti-satellite missiles are so attractive.

However, ground based missiles have their problems too. Solid fuel, the preferred fuel for quick response missiles, don’t contain enough energy to reach the highest orbiting satellites like those in geosynchronous orbit. That preempts a quick hit on the critical communications and warning satellites.

This means the only way to hit a geosynchronous orbit satellite is to use liquid fuel rockets that take time to launch and are easier to destroy before launch. And, even if the launch is successful, it takes time for the killer satellite to enter a geosynchronous orbit, which allows the target satellites to take evasive action.

So, how does one attack and destroy an enemy’s satellites without being discovered?

The answer isn’t blowing up the satellite but using less aggressive methods like cyberattacks that interfere with the data flows between satellites and the ground stations. These attacks are opaque enough to keep the nation under attack from being sure who the attacker is.

The problem for America is that these sorts of attacks are already underway.

In 2008, a cyberattack on a ground station in Norway let someone cause 12 minutes of interference with NASA’s Landsat satellites – satellites that can monitor activities in Russia and China. Later that year, hackers gained access to NASA’s Terra Earth observation satellite and did everything but issue commands. It’s not clear if they could issue commands but chose not to.

The problem with these cyberattacks is that there is no proof about who initiated the attacks, although many think it was the Chinese. Imagine what could happen in the opening minutes of a war if this occurred. What would the nation under attack do?

Experts warn that cyberattacks could shut off a satellite’s communications, which would make it useless. Other options include ordering the satellite to use its remaining fuel to go into a useless orbit or ordering the satellite to point its sensors at the sun, so as to destroy the sensors.

Another method to attack a satellite in a less obvious manner would be to jam or spoof the satellite signals. The gear is commercially available and could be mounted on a vehicle. A vehicle with jamming equipment could be placed near a base station, which would prevent the satellite from communicating with it.

There are some that think that Russia has already executed this type of jamming of GPS signals during NATO exercises in Norway and Finland. Jamming is hard to distinguish from unintentional interference and the US military regularly accidently jams its own communications satellites.

Since these jamming systems are so easy to build, experts think that they aren’t limited to Russia and China. The US Defense Intelligence Agency says North Korea has purchased some jamming equipment from Russia. The report also says that insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Iraq have been known to use jamming equipment.

There are also reports that Russia uses spoofing of GPS signals to protect Russian President Putin as he moves around.

But the technology is not limited to Russian security agencies. In 2013, students at the University of Texas used a briefcase sized device to spoof a GPS signal, which caused a multi-million-dollar yacht to veer off course in the Mediterranean. The spoof wasn’t detected, and the students later announced what they did.

The US is responding to the threat by hardening satellites and making them tougher to spoof or jam. For instance, the NTS-3 GPS satellite scheduled for launch in 2022 will have steerable antennas and more usable frequencies that will allow it to counter jamming. It can continue operate even if it isn’t in communications with a ground station and it can detect efforts to jam it.

DARPA is also trying to make it harder for Russia or China to attack a few satellites and cripple the whole US military communications system. A DARPA project called Blackjack is designed to create a constellation of inexpensive military satellites in low earth orbit that can continue to operate even if several of the satellites are destroyed or made inoperable.

According to General John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command, the US must learn to not rely solely on hardened communications links for nuclear command and control.

Hyten said the US needs, “A near infinite number of pathways that go through every element of space: hardened military space, commercial space, different kinds of links…so that the adversary can never figure out how the message is getting though.

The Russians have headed in this direction already. Instead of relying totally on satellite communications, they have gone back to older methods like shortwave radio for backup. They have a station called UVB-76 (called the “Buzzer” by shortwave fans) which broadcasts on 4.625 megahertz and can be heard around the globe thanks to shortwave’s ability to bounce radio signals off the ionosphere. The frequency is used by the Russian armed forces and sends out a buzzing sound that lasts about one second. There are occasional verbal codes sent over the frequency.

It is assumed that this is a backup communications band in case other communications methods are unavailable.

There are two other Russian military stations that follow the same format, called “The Pip” and “The Squeaky Wheel.”

Shortwave communications were a major method of military communications before satellites. Shortwave stations could be moved and could change frequencies in order to avoid jamming.

It is obvious that the Russians have decided that while space communications offer many benefits, traditional methods like shortwave radio are less susceptible to hacking, spoofing, and jamming.

While the US appears to be focused on space based, space war solutions, it seems that some of the solutions to a war in space may be found back on earth.


Analysis 07-19-2019


   Cyber Warfare Comes to the United States

The problem of cyber security of America’s computer systems is a growing threat.

A week ago, a black-out in New York left the entire Manhattan area without electricity.  The incident occurred on the anniversary of the massive blackout that happened in 1977.  Although the electric power company, Con Edison, said it was a transformer failure compounded by the failure of several backups, it will take time until the investigation if finished.

Meantime, according to network security specialists at the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS), some believe there could be a link between this incident and the cyberwar that has started between the US and Iran.  It is known that hacker groups sponsored by governments on previous occasions have targeted power grids with malware that could disrupt electricity.  In fact, the New York Times reported that the US government had implanted malware that could cripple the Russian power grid.

While the investigation continues, experts aren’t ruling out any reason for the NYC blackout.  The CSIS reports that the US is a cyberattack victim more than any other country in the past 13 years.  Meanwhile, China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia are the biggest offenders.

Hackers behind at least two potentially fatal intrusions on industrial facilities have expanded their activities to probing dozens of power grids in the US and elsewhere, researchers with security firm Dragos reported last month.

The Politics of Cyberwarfare

Meanwhile, the issue of cyberwarfare has become a political football.  The issue concerns a secret Trump memo that lifted restrictions on US Cyber Command’s operations against adversaries.  The previous memorandum, signed by Obama, restricted offensive cyber operations against adversaries.  The Obama memo called for coordination between agencies before offensive cyber operations could take place.

The Obama Administration was afraid that a cyberattack on an adversary’s computer system might inadvertently impact computer networks in neighboring countries.

The Trump Administration wants to have a more aggressive response.  National Security Advisor John Bolton said, “Our presidential policy directive effectively reverses these restraints…Any  nation that’s taking cyber activity against the United States, they should expect, and it is part of creating structures of deterrence so it’ll be known publicly as well, we’ll respond offensively as well as defensively.”

The Democratic controlled House of Representatives has asked the White House to share the document, which they have refused to do.  Meanwhile, the Republican controlled Senate seems satisfied with the Trump memo.

Most hacking attacks are kept secret.  However, one hack that took place a few years ago showed how they can impact national security.

In 2015, an American company called Tracking point manufactured a sophisticated sniper rifle that offered first shot accuracy.  The rifle cost about $12,000 and the company was targeting the US military for sales.

Not only did the rifle’s computer calculate where the bullet would hit based on distance, temperature, wind, etc., it could share the image the shooter was seeing though the telescopic sights with commanders back at headquarters.

It could also prevent the shooter from firing the weapon if the commanders decided to override the men in the field.

However, some American security researchers were able to hack the rifle through the communications link that allowed commanders to monitor the operation.  They showed how they could guarantee a miss by the shooter by subtly changing bullet weight or temperature. And, they could prevent the rifle from shooting if they wished.

The same type of hacking could be employed against drones or even manned aircraft.  This has led some national security experts to say the US is losing the defensive segment of cyberwarfare.

While the US is skilled in mounting cyberattacks on Russia and Iran, there aren’t as many protections in place in the US.  Part of that is because much of the American cyber grid is privately owned and many companies see cyber defenses as a drain on profits.

“I believe we are in a declared cyberwar,” said Michael Bayer, a Pentagon advisor who recently reviewed Navy cybersecurity.  “It is aimed at the whole of society and the state.  I believe we are losing that war.”

 American cybersecurity has many facets – private businesses, national defense and intelligence contractors, and government computer networks.  And America’s opponents have discovered that going after private companies and defense contractors is easier.

In 2018, China gained access to a Navy contractor’s computers that provided them with intelligence on anti-ship missiles and what the Navy knew about China’s maritime activities.

China has also reportedly stolen data on the F-35 fighter, littoral combat ships, anti-missile systems, and American drones.

A Navy cybersecurity review made public in March said defenses were lacking and Defense contractors were, “hemorrhaging critical data.”

This is one reason that Trump signed the new cyberwarfare memo.  Cyber defenses take time to put in place and the administration was making it clear that they wouldn’t hesitate in retaliating for a cyber-attack.  In fact, last month Bolton stated, “You will pay a price,” if a country carries out a cyber offensive on the US.

But, would a cyberattack leave the US unable to respond.  As we saw in the crippling of the sniper rifle, a hacker could stop US guns, missiles, and bombs from being used.

Pentagon auditors have found major weapons systems have been exposed to cyber attacks because of simple mistakes like a failure to use encryption, improper authentication protocols, proper passwords, or leaving servers unlocked.

Another problem is that skilled cybersecurity experts are more likely to work for private companies that pay more.

There is also the massive logistics tail of the US military that could be interfered with.  Food, water, ammunition, and fuel could be delayed or even diverted with the right malware.

Another concern is the US military’s reliance on satellite-based navigation like GPS.  Only recently has the military realized that a failure of the GPS system could cripple operations.  For the first time in a generation, Naval Officers who will be responsible for shipboard navigation will be forced to study celestial navigation – something that every Naval Officer was forced to master before receiving his commission thirty years ago.

Despite the problem, Congress and the Administration prefer to spend their money on tangible defense assets like aircraft and ships.  That’s why unclassified cyber spending in the federal government only accounts for 2% of the budget.

“We need to have the bombers and planes and missiles to make sure we can defend the country in a conventional conflict, but we also need to face the reality, and gray zone conflict is happening now and will continue to go forward, said Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

This is a bipartisan concern.  South Dakota Republican Senator Mike Rounds, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Cybersecurity Subcommittee states, “While we have made progress, it would be fair to say we have a long way to go.”

As the Monitor analysis mentioned a few weeks ago in the analysis on American-Russian nuclear arms treaties, the new first strike weapon of the 21st Century is a cyberattack, not nuclear weapons.

The last thing an American president wants is a cyberattack on the US and no viable response but nuclear weapons.  That could be a major reason for the new Trump memo authorizing a more aggressive cyber response against countries like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

Analysis 07-05-2019


Is a Nuclear Arms Race Picking Up Steam?

Several events this week highlighted the weakening nuclear balance.  Iran announced that it was exceeding its previously agreed upon limit on enriched uranium stockpiles.  There was a report that the Trump Administration was considering a deal with North Korea that would allow that nation to retain some nuclear weapons.  And, Russian President Putin signed legislation that suspended Russia’s participation in the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

The INF had been signed in 1987.  It limited intermediate range nuclear weapons that were designed for targeting European targets in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.  It was the first treaty to eliminate an entire class of missiles – those with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The US administration pulled out of the treaty in February, accusing the Russians of violating the pact.  Specifically, they have identified the development of the 9M729 cruise missile, which has been deployed by the Russians

Of course, the Russians also accused the US of violating the treaty too by deploying anti-missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.  The Russians said the interceptor missiles could have an offensive role.

As if to highlight the withdrawal from the INF treaty, Russia publicized the test of a new missile – the A-235 Nudul, an anti-satellite missile.  The Russian Defense Ministry said, “The new missile, after several trials, has reliably confirmed its characteristics and successfully fulfilled the tasks by striking an assigned target with precision.”

But the US hasn’t been idle.  At the direction of Congress, the Defense Department began research and development on concepts and options for conventional intermediate range missile systems in 2017.

This isn’t the only nuclear treaty that is threatened.  The New START Treaty, which was signed in 2010 and is due to expire in 2021, probably will not be renewed.  Putin has accused the US of showing no interest in extending the treaty.

“If no one feels like extending the agreement – New Start – well, we won’t do it then,” Putin said.  “No one is holding any talks with us.  The negotiations process hasn’t been arranged at all.”

The New Start Treaty limits the number of strategic missile launchers, but not the number of inactive, stockpiled nuclear weapons. Nor does it limit tactical systems like fighter bombers like the F-35, the F-16, and the F-15.

The US has also accused Russia of conducting low-yield nuclear tests, which violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Although critics say the abrogation of these treaties risks a new arms race, others say it only recognizes the new reality of a multi-polar nuclear world.

When the Russian/US nuclear treaties were negotiated and signed in the late 20th Century, the US and Russia were the only nations with significant nuclear arsenals.  France, China, Britain, Israel, India, and Pakistan had nuclear weapons, but their arsenals were only a fraction of the superpower’s arsenals.  They also lacked the ability to deliver them with Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

Today, several nations have large nuclear weapons arsenals and the means to deliver them.  Consequently, limitations on Russian and American nuclear weapons have no impact on the development of these nation’s nuclear weapons.

This was recognized when President Trump noted that he was willing to renegotiate the INF treaty, if China was a signatory.

But there is the question of new technology and the effectiveness of the nuclear treaties.  Many think the old treaties negotiated as much as a half century ago are as obsolete as the Washington Naval Treaty limiting the size and number of battleships after World War One.

The suite of nuclear agreements was negotiated in an era when large yield nuclear weapons were loaded on long range weapons and designed for the destruction of major centers of the opposing nation and its allies.  One reason for that was that early generation ICBMs were inaccurate and large yield nuclear weapons were required to ensure the destruction of the target.

However, the race for larger nuclear weapons that envisioned total destruction is over.  Nuclear countries are focused on developing smaller yield weapons, that when married with high precision weapons need only destroy a smaller area.  Today’s nuclear weapons have yields that are no larger than explosive charges used today in open pit mining operations.

This also means large, slow ICBMs aren’t needed.  Smaller, hypersonic missiles can avoid conventional anti-ballistic missile systems, still carry a nuclear payload, and hit a target.

There are also new generation nuclear weapons that offer special effects.  Neutron bombs can kill soldiers in tanks without damaging as many structures.  In addition, they don’t produce as much radiation as other nuclear weapons.  Others nuclear warheads are designed to disable an incoming nuclear missile by irradiating it with neutrons, which disrupts the chain reaction and knocks out the electronics.  Other weapons designs can drastically limit the damage caused by the nuclear blast.

Then there are new technologies that were only on the drawing board when the treaties were signed.  Lasers can now destroy an incoming ballistic missile.  Satellites can monitor the movement of nuclear missiles as they travel across the country.

And, conventional explosives, with modern targeting can carry out surgical strikes around the world.

Then there is the new age of computers, where the computing power of a Minuteman missile of the 1960s is less than that found in a modern watch.

As a result of these technological developments, Russian and American strategists are rethinking nuclear strategy.  Rather than depending on large, intercontinental weapons, the focus is on small precise nuclear weapons.

This means that landmark treaties like SALT and START have large technological loopholes in them.  They focus on the launch systems and the nuclear warheads, while the key to modern warfare is in the computers, communications, and satellites.  That’s why Putin announced the suspension of the INF Treaty the same week as Russia launched a modern anti-satellite missile.

The meaning was clear – an anti-satellite missile can do more damage to a nation’s ability to defend itself than intermediate range nuclear missile.

Putin is right.  Today the destruction of an early warning or communications satellite can cripple a nation’s war making ability more than a 20-megaton bomb dropped on a major population center.

And, while the Russian/American treaties restricted large bombers like the B-52, they are inadequate when it comes to controlling nuclear capable stealth fighters or cruise missiles.

In order to be effective and not just publicity stunts, new nuclear agreements must face reality.  They must engage more nuclear nations, especially China.  And, they must reflect the reality of modern nuclear warfare.

One problem is that a treaty that limits tactical nuclear weapons and precision targeting may encourage nations to develop larger yield nuclear warheads.  And, while the thought of a war with tactical nuclear weapons seems unthinkable, they are at least cleaner and less destructive.

Nor is a treaty limiting nuclear materials necessarily effective.  While some nuclear materials like plutonium and uranium 235 are limited under several treaties, isotopes like tritium, which are critical for the nuclear detonator and fusion devices like the neutron bomb, are commercially available in watches.

Meantime, nuclear strategists are developing new tactics for World War Three.  Today, the nuclear bomb is less likely to be a first strike weapon.  Instead strategists see computer attacks on the enemy’s infrastructure – especially communications and the power grid.

These “hack” attacks will be married to anti-satellite missile launches against the enemy military satellite system.  This will not only cut off critical command and control communications, it will blind the enemy by eliminating reconnaissance satellites, early warning satellites, and signal interception satellites.

Meanwhile, conventional warhead hypersonic missiles can destroy critical military facilities like air defense, which will allow stealth cruise missiles and aircraft to hit other strategic targets.

All of this can be done without using one nuclear device.  And, if a nuclear device is needed, it will be a 4th generation device so small that it won’t break windows a mile away.

This is the new reality.  And, both Russia and America know it.  While they may complain about the other side violating nuclear treaties, they are both aware that these treaties are much like the ones written before WWII that limited battleships – obsolete.

After half a century of nuclear treaties between Russia and America, it’s time to face the realities of a new nuclear age.

Analysis 06-29-2019


Iran and the United States Military Options

With all the talk coming out of Tehran and Washington, one would think that the two nations are on the brink of war.

But, are they?  How would they benefit? And, what are the military options?  Some options like an Iranian missile attack on Israel or US forces in the region would be suicidal according to some US military analysts and despite the Iranian threats are not to be taken seriously.

Nor is the US or Trump willing to start a war with Iran that America could inflict serious militarily damage but lose politically and will be drawn to a long and open conflict.

Despite all the talk, the “fighting” between the two is non-human.  Iran has shot down a drone and the US has launched cyberattacks – hardly the reason for a bloody conflict. Both Trump and Iran’s talk seems more for public consumption and bluffing.

Trump is hardly eager to go to war.  Long before he became president, Trump made it quite clear that he opposed intervention in the Middle East.  And, these opinions still govern his actions.  On Sunday during a Meet the Press interview, Trump was asked if he felt that he was being pushed into a war with Iran.  Trump responded, “John Bolton [National Security Advisor] is absolutely a hawk.  If it was up to him, he’d take on the whole world at one time, okay?”

Trump went on to say that he preferred to hear from both sides before making up his mind.  He also praised Bolton by saying that ultimately, “he’s done a very good job.”

So, it appears that neither side wants to find itself in a conflict.  However, as the events surrounding World War One show, it is easy to back into a war for the wrong reasons.  For the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was a desire to establish hegemony over the Balkans.

Which raises the question: Is Trump or Iran willing to risk a war to establish more influence in the Middle East?  In many ways, they are like the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914 – militarily a paper tiger and economically weak.  Iran has no neighbor like Germany to assist it any conflict.  Russia will not risk its own policies for the Strait of Hormuz like Kaiser Wilhelm did for the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

US pundits claimed that although Iran has a population of about 80 million and some impressive weapons like ballistic missiles, WMD, and Russian air defense systems, the nation is economically strapped by sanctions and much of their military is suffering from lack of logistical support.  Availability of aircraft, ships, and other military equipment is low.  And, any prolonged conflict would wear them out.

Also, they contend that Iran has specialized in asymmetrical warfare – mainly by the IRGC, not the military.  The military is lacking in training and the IRGC is limited to its experience in Yemen, Syria, etc.  Going up against a major power is a totally different scenario.

They assert that even the Iranian air defense systems, which are celebrating the downing of the American drone are less powerful than they might imagine.  The US knows that it was flying in Iranian airspace, which is considered acceptable in peacetime – especially beyond the three-mile limit but didn’t expect the Iranians to attack them. According to some Washington analysts the Iranian success was due more to surprise than technological superiority.

Iranian air defense forces aren’t as good as the Russian forces, yet Israeli aircraft regularly penetrated them in Syria.  No doubt they are claiming, if American wants to enter Iranian airspace for military operations, the Iranian air defense system will not be able to stop them.

On the other hand, the US isn’t invincible.  It has a large military that is currently spread thin cross the world.  Assets like aircraft carriers are potent but can’t be sent to the Middle East quickly.  A build up of forces can take months as it did in both invasions of Iraq.

The current American fleet can carry out operations in the region but will quickly “wear out” if they don’t get reinforcements.

Military Options

So, if neither Iran nor the US is prepared for a major conflict, what realistic options are available for both sides?

For the US, the obvious choice is the typical American response – a massive cruise missile attack.  This was pretty much implied recently when President Trump said any military option wouldn’t mean “boots on the ground.”

However, if the United States launches air strikes on Iranian targets or leadership, Iranian cyber action is likely.  Iran has probed U.S. critical infrastructure for targeting purposes. How successful an attack would be is another matter. The kind of massive denial of service attacks Iran used against major banks in 2011-2013 would be less effective today given improved defenses. The most sophisticated kinds of cyberattack (such as Stuxnet or the Russian actions in the Ukraine) are still possible based on some Iranian capabilities, but poorly defended targets in the United States (of which there are many) are vulnerable—smaller banks or local power companies, for example, or poorly secured pipeline control systems.

Are there military options that don’t include a cruise missile or cyberattack attack?

The obvious location for any military action is the Strait of Hormuz.  It sees 21 million barrels of oil going through its narrow passage each day.  That is about 25% of the world’s oil consumption.  Although the UAE and Saudi Arabia have oil pipelines that bypass the Strait of Hormuz, the unused capacity can only accommodate about 19% of the oil that passes through the strait.

Most of the oil going through the Strait of Hormuz is destined for China, India, Japan, and South Korea.  That means that any attempt by Iran to cut off the oil shipments will probably lead to these nations helping the US break any embargo.  And, this doesn’t include likely help from NATO (Britain has already pledged to help).

The most logical Iranian move would be to block the Strait of Hormuz with its navy, IRGC boats, and mines.  However, the tanker war of the 1980s showed that in the long term, it was unsuccessful.  In fact, it encouraged the US Navy to expand its anti-mine warfare capability.

During the “tanker wars” of the 1980s, the U.S. allowed foreign-oil tankers to reflag as American ships. In addition, the U.S. adapted oil-platforms in the Gulf to use as surveillance posts, monitoring and responding to shipping threats.

The US Navy, along with other nations could break any blockade of the Strait.  GCC nations, NATO navies, and other involved Asian nations could escort oil tankers through the Omani side of the Strait.  Land based aircraft and aircraft from any carriers could provide air support against any attempt to “swarm” the convoys by IRGC boats.  The American amphibious forces currently in the region could board any Iranian ships.

Iran would find itself limited in response.  Although they can harass shipping in their own territorial waters, which cover half of the Strait, they would risk a major conflict if they try to harass any shipping in Omani waters.

This leaves Iran with only one option that avoids a direct conflict – mine warfare.  As they appear to have done with some of the tankers in the last month, Iran can seed part of the narrow waterway with mines.  This gives them plausible deniability for any tanker damage caused by them.

This explains the drone incident.  Half of the waters of the Strait of Hormuz belong to Iran.  However, the US doesn’t want Iranian submarines or ships to transport mines through the Iranian part of the Strait and into the open sea east of the Strait.  It was the drone’s job to remotely inspect Iranian traffic for any potential mines.

The Iranians didn’t want any American surveillance of traffic in their part of the Strait.  And, one way to “push back” the American Navy without causing casualties was to shoot down the drone in Iranian airspace.  However, that will only hamper surveillance a bit.  American aircraft can still monitor ships from Omani and UAE airspace.

Also expect American destroyers and frigates to patrol close to Iranian waters in order to carry out anti-submarine patrols.  As we noted in an earlier analysis, the Iranian Navy has focused on sonar warfare in the Gulf region and they are very likely to use that knowledge to sneak out of the Gulf and into open water.

There are few viable military options for either side.  Most center around the Strait of Hormuz, but in the end, the West can keep control of the Strait, although it will see some casualties – especially amongst oil tankers.

Are there other options?  Iran could encourage their allies in Yemen to make more trouble for the UAE and Saudi Arabia.  Additionally, they could directly or indirectly target American installations and bases in the region.

The Iranians could launch missiles from their islands in the Gulf like Abu Musa,, but that would only encourage the US and UAE to attempt to target missile batteries there and wage a campaign to regain control of the Island and that would lead to open conflict to target UAE cities.

The US could carry out air strikes on Iran, but as Trump discovered last week, they come with a political cost – both internationally and domestically.  The war between Iran and the US has been waged by artificial proxies.  Drones and computers are easy to replace, and the citizens of both America and Iran aren’t too bothered with those type of losses.

Although the rhetoric can get hot between Iran and the US, both sides realize the reality of conflict is much more dangerous.  Neither side wants to antagonize the other side with human casualties.  That’s why the tanker war of the last few weeks has been murky enough to tie it to Iran.  And, that’s why both sides seem committed to letting technology and artificial intelligence fight this conflict instead of humans for now.



Iran and Trump – Here’s What’s Really Going On

By James Carafano

Heritage Foundation

June 20, 2019

There are wars and rumors of war. And then there is Trump’s policy toward Iran, which fuels endless speculation. Despite much public handwringing over the announcement that the Pentagon is sending an additional 1,000 troops to the Gulf region, there are no signs the U.S. plans to escalate the stand-off with Tehran. I spent 25 years in the Army, but it doesn’t take a military career and a war college diploma to deconstruct what is going on. Let’s start with numbers. A thousand troops do not an invasion force make. Even counting the additional troops deployed last month on the strength of intelligence concerning an Iranian threat to shipping and (potentially) U.S. forces and assets in the Middle East, the number of U.S. boots on the ground are far too small to suggest a build-up for any major offensive action. Now, let’s look at the kind and scale of troops being sent. They are completely consistent with what is required for “force protection”—defending U.S. forces in the region, as well as policing the Hormuz against malicious attacks on shipping.

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U.S. Should Lead Patient But Firm International Response to Iran’s Provocations

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

June 21, 2019

The slow-motion confrontation between Iran and the United States has accelerated in recent weeks. Iran’s June 19 shoot-down of a U.S. Navy surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz, and a series of attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman off Iran’s coast, have ratcheted up tensions on many fronts. The U.S. and its allies need to respond effectively to Iran’s covert maritime threats, and as they do so, they should bear in mind that Iran’s most potent threat is on the nuclear front. Tehran has threatened to exceed the limits established by the nuclear agreement if the European Union fails to protect Iran from U.S. sanctions by July 7. Washington must calibrate its response to the drone and tanker attacks with an eye to mobilizing international support in the approaching crisis over Iran’s surging uranium-enrichment operations, a much more important issue, which has triggered Iran’s bellicose maritime threats.

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Erdogan Loses Istanbul: Reasons and Implications

By Bulent Aliriza

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 25, 2019

Ekrem Imamoglu, the candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who was backed by most of the other political parties opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), won the Istanbul mayoral repeat election on June 23, forced by the AKP’s challenge to the original result on March 31, with 54.2 percent of the vote against the AKP candidate Binali Yildirim’s 45 percent. The difference of over 800,000 votes between the candidates served to underline the severity of the electoral setback for Erdogan and the AKP, as the gap announced by the YSK after a recount of the first vote was only 13,000. The AKP lost votes in all 39 of Istanbul’s districts, while the CHP exceeded the AKP vote in 11 districts that the latter had won on March 31. With an insurmountable gap impervious to another challenge, there was also no repeat of the controversy provoked by the official Anadolu Agency’s inexplicable delay in providing results in the last election. Yildirim conceded early into the count and Erdogan followed up with a brief congratulatory tweet.

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Iran and Cyber Power

By James Andrew Lewis

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 25, 2019

Iran has rapidly improved its cyber capabilities. It is still not in the top rank of cyber powers, but it is ahead of most nations in strategy and organization for cyber warfare. Iran has a good appreciation for the utility of cyber as an instrument of national power. Its extensive experience in covert activities help guide its strategy and operations using cyber as a tool for coercion and force, and it has created a sophisticated organizational structure to manage cyber conflict. This means any attack on the United States will not be accidental but part of a larger strategy of confrontation.  Iran sees cyberattacks as part of the asymmetric military capabilities it needs to confront the United States. Iran’s development of cyber power is a reaction to its vulnerabilities. Iran is the regular target of foreign cyber espionage. Iran and Israel are engaged in a not-always covert cyber conflict. Stuxnet, a cyberattack on Iranian nuclear weapons facilities, accelerated Iran’s own cyber efforts. What Iran’s leaders fear most, however, is their own population and the risk that the internet will unleash something like the Arab Spring. Iranian security forces began to develop their hacking abilities during the 2009 “Green Revolution” to extend domestic surveillance and control. These domestic efforts are the roots of Iran’s cyber capabilities.

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US finds itself isolated in Iran conflict

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council

June 22, 2019

President Trump’s opportunity at next week’s G-20 summit to reset U.S. relations with close allies is a particularly timely one, for it comes as Washington suffers the downsides of its frayed relations in connection with one of its biggest global challenges of the moment — its rising tensions with Iran. After launching a pressure campaign against Iran by withdrawing from the 2015 global nuclear deal and re-imposing economic sanctions that are squeezing Iran’s economy and causing serious hardship among its people, Washington is now blaming Tehran for recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman and sending another 1,000 troops to the region to monitor Iranian activities and protect the troops already there. And yet, in its efforts to force Tehran to negotiate new limits on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and to abandon its wicked ways in the region and beyond, it is Washington that finds itself largely alone. Particularly telling are the suspicions in European capitals and elsewhere that Trump’s fingering of Tehran for the tanker attacks looks eerily like the events of 1964 that prompted the Gulf of Tonkin resolution — which gave President Lyndon Johnson broad authority to wage the Vietnam War.

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Iran-Backed Militias Test the Credibility of Iraq’s Prime Minister

By Michael Knights

Washington Institute

June 19, 2019

On June 19, an unidentified militia fired a rocket toward the heart of Iraq’s oil sector in Basra province, with the munition landing just one hundred yards away from accommodation facilities used by U.S. and international engineers working on the country’s largest oil fields. It was the eighth rocket attack on U.S.-linked facilities in Iraq this year, directly following strikes on coalition training facilities in Taji and Mosul on June 17-18. Although no foreign nationals were killed in this week’s strikes, two Iraqis were injured, and the incidents have disrupted Washington’s local diplomatic presence. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil are on half-manning after all nonessential staff were withdrawn in early May due to security fears. Previously, the Basra consulate was shuttered last September after receiving rocket fire. The Mosul and Basra strikes are particularly troubling because they follow a stern warning from Prime Minister Adil Abdulmahdi that all Iraqi militias should cease independent military operations, not just at home but across the Middle East.

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Analysis 06-15-2019



America, Russia, and the Tussle for Turkey

Turkey, which has been westward looking since the days of Ataturk, has become NATO’s fickle partner since Erdogan has come to power.  That is best seen in the fight over the Russian S-400 air defense system and the American F-35 fighter aircraft.

Although Turkey had ordered F-35 aircraft from America years ago, a snag has occurred with Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russia and his order of the Russian S-400 air defense system.  Many in America fear that some of the secrets of the F-35 will end up in Moscow, negating much of the technological advantage of America’s (and NATO’s) next generation aircraft.

There is also considerable concern about Turkey’s foreign policy, which has moved from a closer relationship with Europe towards a more active role in the Middle East and closer relations with both Russia and China.  The result is that many are concerned about Turkey’s continued role in NATO as the southern anchor of that alliance.  There is also concern about how Turkey’s Syrian policy will impact both Russia and America.

There is also growing political polarization in Turkey, which can impact national leadership.  The local elections in March saw 6 dead and 115 people injured.  The death toll increased a few days later when an opposition politician of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was nearly lynched by pro-Erdogan crowds.

Violence is expected later this month in the mayoral election rerun – especially if anti-Erdogan candidates win.

But, the biggest impact at this time is that Turkish pilots training on the F-35 in Arizona have been grounded.  American Wing Commander Brigadier General Todd Canterbury not only grounded the six Turkish pilots, but he restricted their access to secret and classified materials on the F-35.

The US has given Turkey until July 31 to change their policy and cancel the S-400 air defense system, which may be delivered to Turkey as soon as this month.  There could also be additional sanctions which would further damage Turkey’s fragile economy.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Andrews said, “Without a change in Turkish policy, we will continue to work closely with our Turkish ally on winding down their participation in the F-35 program.”

This move was prompted when America discovered that Turkish military personnel had gone to Russia to begin training on the S-400.

Does this mean that Turkey will find itself pushed out of NATO?

Not likely.

Turkey is more likely to become a “non-participating” member until a more favorable government comes to power or the Turkish/Russian love affair falters.

For instance, French President De Gaulle withdrew France’s troops from NATO on June 21, 1966.  This decision complicated relations between the U.S. and Europe during the height of the Cold War.  Though France remained politically in NATO, its actions cast doubt onto the organization’s future as a counter to Soviet military power and influence.

This move by France was a major military problem for NATO.  EUCOM, the European command was in France and had to be moved to Germany.  Communications lines from military commands to EUCOM had to be replaced.  In addition, all communication lines from the NATO units on the front lines had to be rerouted through Belgium.

Interestingly, despite the political disputes between the leadership, the NATO bureaucracy continued to work.  According to Ambassador to NATO Robert Ellsworth,

“The departure of France was designed by de Gaulle to destroy NATO, but it didn’t destroy NATO.  And it wasn’t long – in fact by the time I got there in 1969, there was already extensive collaboration and cooperation between the French military forces and the forces of NATO. And that has, of course, continued and even deepened to this very day.”

France would only rejoin NATO as a full-fledged member in 2009 – nearly a generation after the Cold War ended.

So, will Turkey eventually reconcile with NATO and the US?  Or, is the Turkish/Russian relationship expected to strengthen and become long term?

Odds are that Turkey will find itself back in the NATO fold eventually – just as France found itself.

Russia and Turkey have been traditional enemies for hundreds of years.  Parts of what is now southern Russia and southern Ukraine were part of the Ottoman Empire.  It wasn’t until Peter the Great in the late 1700s, that Russia gained access to the Black Sea.  There were several Russo-Turkish wars between the 17th and 20th centuries and these military conflicts are the longest in European History.

Russia and Turkey remain on different sides when it comes to several foreign policy issues.  These include Syria, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and Armenia.  The interpretation of the Montreux Convention on the movement of warships through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits also remains a sore point with the two nations.

Relations under Erdogan and Putin have also been tumultuous.  In November 2015, Turkish fighter aircraft shot down a Russian military aircraft – leading to Russia imposing sanctions on Turkey and restricting travel.

Relations were normalized in June 2016, only to suffer another rift when the Russian ambassador to Turkey (Andrei Karlov) was assassinated in Ankara in December 2016 by an off-duty policeman over the Syrian issue.

Putin and Russia glossed over the assassination by calling it an attempt to damage Turkish-Russian ties.

From Russia’s point of view, Turkey offers several geopolitical advantages.  It makes it easier for the Russian Navy to move in the Eastern Mediterranean and gives Russia a say in Middle Eastern affairs.

Just as important, it gives Russia an opportunity to weaken NATO.  Not only is Turkey the southern anchor of NATO, it has NATO’s second largest military (after the US).  And, as America fears, Russia’s access to Turkish military officers gives it a chance to learn NATO secrets.

Weakening NATO’s southern flank becomes even more important as President Trump is moving to strengthen NATO in Central Europe.

On Wednesday, President Trump met with Polish President Andrzej Duda and they signed an agreement that will send an additional 1,000 troops to Poland on a rotational basis (there are currently 4,000 US troops there).  Poland is also purchasing up to 35, F-35 fighter aircraft from the US.

Consequently, it looks like Russia is gaining strength on its southern flank, while facing a new threat in its center.  While Turkey has a large military, so does Poland.  Poland also has the second largest armored force in Europe (Russia has the largest), which would be critical if Russia tries any aggressive moves in Central Europe.  Poland’s army is more professional, and its soldiers have a higher educational level than Turkish soldiers.  The new agreement with the US makes it more likely that Poland will be the keystone of NATO defense in Eastern Europe.

So, has a new set of long-term alliances been formed?  Has the US traded a Turkish alliance for Poland, while Russia has picked up Turkey?

If history is any indication, the answer is no.  Russia and Turkey have centuries of conflict behind them – most on regional issues that remain current today.  There is also the fact that much of the current friendship is based on Turkish President Erdogan – who appears to be facing eroding popularity, if recent elections are any indication.  If Erdogan leaves the Turkish political scene, it is easy to see a new Turkish government renewing its relationships with the US, Europe, and NATO.

Meanwhile, Polish/Russian relations have been equally tense for centuries and many Poles remember that Russia has controlled much of Poland during that time.  However, it was the US and NATO that stood up to the Soviet Union and supported Polish resistance towards the USSR.  The end of the Soviet Empire is only 30 years ago, and many remember the Soviet occupation and are eager to have American forces in Poland in order to prevent any Russian aggression in the future.

Sidelining Turkey will not damage US relations with other NATO nations or even the EU.   In fact, the EU has indefinitely postponed Turkey’s request to join the European Union due to Turkey’s political situation and the human rights issues.

Although Turkey appears to have lost the F-35 in return for the Russian S-400, this is likely a temporary situation.  National leaders are destined to lose power or die.  The same is true with Erdogan – especially if he allows for free elections soon.

In that case, Turkey may still get its F-35s – just a few years later.



Is There a Thing as a Trump Doctrine in Foreign Policy?
By Kim Holmes
Heritage Foundation
June 12, 2019
Interview by German Marshall Fund

To begin with, would you say there is such a thing as a Trump doctrine in foreign policy?

A Trump doctrine is probably not something as sophisticated or intellectual as the word “doctrine” might imply. But there are themes that those who wish to create a doctrine might use, as a way of intellectualizing what is already there. First is an emphasis on national sovereignty, which in the U.S. political and historical context is not a dirty word. It is so in Europe due to historical factors – the success of the European Union, and in overcoming nationalism’s role in creating wars and dividing the continent. But in the U.S. context, in the Trump context, the term “national sovereignty” is often used as a way of emphasizing the right of the United States to make its own decisions in its own national interest, and according to its own values. This rubs a lot of people in Europe the wrong way.  The liberal international order as defined here in Europe is based upon consensus, on multilateralism. When we come together on climate change or the Iran nuclear accord or other issues, in Europe it’s pretty much assumed that is a litmus test for whether you’re adhering to the order or not. And Donald Trump came in and said: “You know, no, that’s not the way we’re going to do business.” That’s the second part: challenging multilateralism as it has been practiced in the past between the United States and Europe.

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Turkey’s Arms Deal with Russia Is an Affront to NATO
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
June 6, 2019

The Turkish government Tuesday reaffirmed its intention to complete the controversial purchase of a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, a move appropriately drawing the ire of both parties in Washington. Both Congress and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have warned of punitive action should Turkey follow through on the purchase, which Turkey says could be completed as soon as next month. “Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 would be incompatible with its commitments to NATO,” Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., Jack Reed, D-R.I., James Risch, R-Idaho, and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., wrote in a New York Times op-ed in early April. Yet, despite this widespread U.S. criticism and the Trump administration’s promise of a punitive response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the purchase “a done deal” and has already begun preparing his nation for retaliatory U.S. sanctions once the Russian missile-defense system is delivered. Congress is right to oppose the deal. As was noted last year in the National Interest, the S-400 is a “real game changer” with exceptional anti-aircraft capabilities and a wide range of other advantages, from the ability to detect stealth aircraft to the ability to detect, target, and engage non-stealth aircraft at a greater range than that of its American competitor, the Patriot system.

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Syrian WMD Proliferation Could Set the Middle East on Fire
By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
June 11, 2019

It’s hard to conceive that the situation in Syria could get any worse—but it might.

Besides the tremendous bloodshed during the eight-year-old civil war—that included the rise and fall of the Islamic State—the world witnessed the Syrian regime’s almost unbridled use of chemical weapons to savagely work to break its opponents’ will. Indeed, the regime’s use of chemical weapons such as chlorine, mustard gas, and sarin nerve agent may not be over. Just last week there were reports that the regime used chemical weapons again, this time in the northwest part of the country. The regime’s fondness for chemical weapons has long been known. Besides previous allegations of chemical weapons use in the civil war, Syrian government forces infamously struck with sarin at Ghouta in 2013. That brought pressure from the United States, which led Syria to agree to declare its holdings, make them available for destruction and accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It turned out to be a ruse.

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The Strategic Threat from Iranian Hybrid Warfare in the Gulf
Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
June 13, 2019

The threat of war with Iran may seem distant to many in American and Europe, but its strategic implications became all too clear only hours after two freshly loaded tankers – the Frontline and the Kokuka Courageous – were attacked in the Gulf of Oman on June 12, 2019 – just outside the “Persian” or “Arab” Gulf. These attacks came less than a month after four previous attacks on tankers near a port in the UAE, and after months of rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear programs, the war in Yemen, and the growing arms race in the region. The fear of further attacks, and interruption in the continued export of petroleum sudden raised the global price of crude oil by 4% – a global price rise that everyone in the world must pay – including Americans – regardless of the fact the U.S. is no longer a major petroleum importer. The reasons why such incidents can lead to immediate price rises, as well as growing concerns over far more serious patterns of conflict are simple. First, the military confrontation between Iran, the U.S., and the Arab Gulf states over everything from the JCPOA to Yemen can easily escalate to hybrid warfare that has far more serious forms of attack. And second, such attacks can impact critical aspects of the flow of energy to key industrial states and exporters that shape the success of the global economy as well as the economy of the U.S.

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The Real Iran Threat to the Strait of Hormuz (Causing Oil Prices to Skyrocket)
By Ilan I. Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
April 30, 2019

Late last month, the Trump administration kicked its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran into high gear when it announced that it would no longer provide waivers to countries like China, India and Japan to continue buying Iranian oil without facing sanctions. These countries and their respective companies now face the prospect of being excluded from the American market if they don’t immediately stop buying Iranian crude. The push is part of the White House’s effort “to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero” as a way of ratcheting up economic pressure on Iran’s ayatollahs, National Security Adviser John Bolton has explained. Iran, meanwhile, has responded to the Trump administration’s recent decision by reviving an old threat. “If we are prevented from using it, we will close it,” Alireza Tangsiri, head of the IRGC’s navy, told Iranian media. Tangsiri was referring to the Strait of Hormuz, a key strategic waterway through which roughly one-fifth of the world’s oil passes.

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The Face-Off Over Gulf Arms Sales: ‘Emergency’ or False Alarm?
By Dana Stroul
Washington Institute
June 10, 2019

On June 5, a bipartisan group of senators announced twenty-two separate joint resolutions of disapproval aimed at blocking various U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This unusual move came in response to the Trump administration’s May 24 use of the emergency exception granted under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which governs how the United States sells weapons to foreign governments. By declaring this “emergency” and forgoing the required fifteen- or thirty-day congressional review period, the administration created a path to move forward with an estimated $8.1 billion in arms sales. To justify the move, officials emphasized the need to bolster regional allies against the increased threat from Iran.

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The Race for Istanbul: Erdogan’s Plan A and B
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
June 10, 2019

In Istanbul’s mayoral race redo, polls indicate that opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu is pulling ahead of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim. Although Imamoglu won the first race on March 31, the country’s electoral board voided the election, alleging irregularities regarding the formation of ballot commissions in some Istanbul districts, and called for a revote on June 23. Considering that Istanbul accounts for a third of Turkey’s economy and that Erdogan was Istanbul’s mayor before he became prime minister in 2003, this election could serve as a platform for Imamoglu to challenge the president nationally. Yet Erdogan—who controls many of Turkey’s institutions, including much of the media, courts, police, and election boards—has two plans to win Istanbul, one formulated before March 31 and one after.

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Analysis 06-07-2019


China Threatens American Defense
with Rare Earth Embargo

Throughout history certain metals have been critical for defense.  During the Greek era, it was bronze.  During the Roman Empire, it was iron.  In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, it was copper.

In fact, copper was so critical during the American Civil War that the Confederates sent agents to the Carolinas to confiscate copper turpentine and alcohol stills.  It was critical for everything from cannon production to parts for the first operational submarine – the CSS Hunley.

Today, it is rare earths that are considered strategic minerals.  This is a dramatic change for a group of elements that were once considered merely chemical curiosities.  China is threatening to use rare earths as a “nuclear” option in their growing trade riff with the US.  China accounts for more than 70% of global output of rare earths and it has prepared a plan to restrict exports of rare earths to the US if the trade war continues.

This week, the Commerce Department released a report requested by President Trump to investigate US access to rare earths in an emergency.

The report said, “The United States is heavily dependent on critical mineral imports…If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period – similar to China’s rare earth embargo in 2010 – an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks.”

Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are relatively unknown to the average person.  Names like europium, praseodymium, neodymium, lanthanum, samarium, cerium and gadolinium rarely get mentioned in chemistry classes, much less normal conversation.  Although called “Rare Earths,” they are abundant in the Earth’s crust.  It was the fact that they were hard to extract and purify that led early scientists to think they were rare.  Before World War Two, the world’s supply of many of these elements was measured in grams and merely laboratory curiosities.  And, the lack of samples guaranteed that scientists didn’t spend much time studying their properties.

The growth in electronics in the post WW II age changed all that.  Today REEs are critical for optics and electronics.  Europium, for instance provides the red phosphor in color cathode-ray tubes and liquid crystal displays used in computers and televisions.  There is no known substitute.

Rare earths aren’t just important for our cell phones, computers, and DVD players.  They are increasingly important in America’s national defense, which leaves the Department of Defense concerned that the United States may not have enough rare earths to wage a war, especially if China cuts off our supplies.

U.S. military technologies such as anti-submarine warfare, smart bombs, and night vision rely heavily upon rare earth elements.  But rebuilding an independent U.S. supply chain to protect the country from foreign dependency could take up to 10 years, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).  The GAO report was commissioned to look at national security risks that could arise from our dependency upon rare earth elements.

These are some of the military technologies that could be hurt with a rare earth embargo.

Rare earth elements are a critical part of devices such as lasers, radar, missile-guidance systems, satellites and aircraft electronics. And many military systems also rely upon commercial computer hard drives that use rare earth magnets.  Specific examples of rare earth-driven technologies include the navigation system for the M-1 Abrams battle tank, and the electric drive for the Navy’s DDG-51 destroyers.   The GAO report states, “Defense systems will likely continue to depend on rare earth materials, based on their life cycles and lack of effective substitutes.”  The rare earth element neodymium, for instance, is very magnetic and is used in everything from computer hard drives to wind turbines and hybrid cars.

The U.S. once supplied most of the global supply of rare earth elements and manufactured rare earth products such as the neodymium magnets.  But rare earth processing has largely shifted to China since the 1990s.

Fortunately for US, Mountain Pass, California is perhaps the largest non-Chinese rare earth deposit in the world.  For years, the United States was self-sufficient in the mining of REE thanks to the Mountain Pass deposits which were discovered in the 1949.  Two prospectors were looking for uranium deposits, when their Geiger counter detected high radioactivity in a rock outcropping.  The prospectors staked a claim and sent off ore samples.  When the assay results came back, they discovered that they had discovered a rare earth mineral called bastnaesite, which was worthless at the time.

Mountain Pass was developed at a critical time.  By the 1960s color televisions were finding their way into every American household and europium was critical for their television tubes.  As the mine developed more efficient solvent extraction processes to extract europium, they produced in turn more REEs, which allowed scientists to find new uses for them.  Many of these new applications were in defense industries.

For the next generation, Mountain Pass was the major source for rare earths for the world.  However, the increased demand for them caused geologists to find new deposits for them, especially in China, which soon became the major rare earth producer.

Today, Mountain Pass is the only rare earth mining and processing facility in the US.  The mine is currently operating, but its output must be shipped to China for refining.  However, the owner, MP Materials has said it will start its own refining operation in 2020.

 Mountain Pass doesn’t supply all the rare earths that the Department of Defense needs.  It doesn’t produce “heavy” rare earths like terbium and dysprosium. Dysprosium is used in the production of lasers, nuclear control rods, and hard discs.   Terbium is used in solid state devices and as a stabilizer in fuel cells.  Just as important for national security, it is also a component of Terfenol-D, which, expands or contracts in the presence of a magnetic field.  This makes it critical for naval sonar systems.

Another rare earth deposit in Idaho – Diamond Creek – may solve some of the heavy rare earth shortage.  Approximately 13 million metric tons of rare earth elements (REE) exist within known deposits in the United States, according to the first-ever nationwide estimate of these elements by the U.S. Geological Survey.  The report describes significant deposits of REE in 14 states, with the largest known REE deposits at Mountain Pass, Calif.; Bokan Mountain, Alaska; and the Bear Lodge Mountains, Wyo. Additional states with known REE deposits include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina

China is also investing in rare earth mining around the world (it also is a minority shareholder in MP Materials and at one time, it even tried to buy the Mountain Pass mine).

China Minmetals Group of China has financed Upland Wings, Inc. and Wings Enterprises, Inc., which owns rare earth deposits at Pea Ridge, Missouri.  In 2009, the China Investment Corp bought a 17 percent stake in Teck Resources Ltd., which owns rare earth deposits in Iron Hills, Colorado.

Although other countries like France, Estonia, and Japan have REE deposits, much of their production is also sent to China as concentrates for refining.

One reason some consumer electronic production like cell phones is centered in China is because it makes it easier for the manufacturers to access the REEs they need.

But it isn’t just China’s attempt to corner the REE mining sector that is worrying the US.  It has also focused on finding new applications for REEs and is now a rare earth technology leader.  REEs are critical to several defense technologies and American military leaders are uncomfortable with China’s lead in this critical technology.  Karl A. Gschneidner Jr., a senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, recently cautioned members of a Congressional panel that “rare-earth research in the USA on mineral extraction, rare-earth separation, processing of the oxides into metallic alloys and other useful forms, substitution, and recycling is virtually zero.”

The REE Embargo Threat

So, what would happen if China restricted REE exports to the US?  The first impact would be in consumer electronics, which would become more expensive or even difficult to acquire.

The US government has modest strategic reserves, which have been built up recently.  The reserves include Dysprosium, Europium, and Yttrium Oxide.  The FY 2019 budget provides for additional acquisitions, but the amount that will be purchased is currently unknown.

Although the US and other Western nations don’t have large official REE stockpiles, it is awash in out-of-date consumer products that can be recycled if the price is right.  This occurred several years ago, when China raised prices on its REEs.  Discounts on new cell phones for turning in old cell phones, would bring in the stock of obsolete or broken cell phones squirreled away in American consumer’s drawers.  Those discounts would help offset the increased prices of new consumer electronics.

The American defense industry would be better protected against a REE embargo.  Not only is there the US stockpile, the pipeline from REE mine to final defense product is long.  The defense contractors could also outbid consumer producers for old consumer electronics.  With the inevitable prioritizing of REE mining and refining by the government, by the time the US stockpiles start running out; domestic production would be ramping up.

In the end, since the US has large Rare Earth reserves in the ground, it would suffer less than many other nations.

Since the Chinese raised REE prices in 2010, the US has focused on boosting REE production and, on streamlining the permitting process for rare earth miners.

Since the US has vast rare earth mineral reserves, the only issue is building refining plants, which could be completed in a short time, because the US has rare earth refining technology (although it may be older than Chinese technology).

There is also the issue of sanction busting.  Rare earths are easier to move around the world than products like petroleum, which Iran has little problem smuggling.  The US could easily find sources of Chinese rare earths if necessary.

The Chinese threat to cut back on its exports is a two-edged weapon.  China can temporarily cut its REE exports, which would raise prices and impact American consumer electronics production.  It, however, will put a major pressure on American defense establishment to come up with alternative solutions to its military needs.