Analysis 02-21-2020

ANALYSIS

NATO “Defender 20” Exercise
Demonstrates Trump’s Policy Change
Since before Trump was even elected, experts have openly worried that his skepticism of NATO could lead to its dissolution. Russia would take advantage of that weakness, and the security guarantees America has given its European allies for decades would fade away.But Trump in recent days has seemingly become a NATO fan.

Despite President Trump’s threats in the past not to defend NATO countries that don’t “pay their fair share,” the US is spending more on NATO readiness and has more forces in Europe than three years ago.

Another sign of the American commitment to NATO is the current NATO exercise “Defender 20,” the largest NATO exercise, in terms of American manpower, since the Cold War.  It will deploy 20,000 American soldiers to Europe from bases in the US and test America’s ability to move from the US to the European mainland, move across Europe on highways, bridges, and railroads, and carry out military maneuvers close to the Russian border.

When these American based forces are combined with US troops already stationed in Europe and other NATO countries, the total number of forces that will be involved in the exercise will be 37,000.

Britain is the largest non-American force to take part.  Their Royal Engineers are expected to participate in the bridging operation in Poland as well as their Army Air Corps helicopters.

Unlike previous exercises in recent years that were held at brigade level, this one will deploy division level forces, including the American 82 Airborne, the 1st Armored, 1st Infantry, 3 Infantry, and the 1st Cavalry divisions.  It will include 15 NATO nations and two non-NATO nations (Finland and Georgia).  20,000 pieces of equipment will be shipped from the US and 13,000 pieces of pre-positioned NATO equipment will be broken out of storage in Europe.

ndrdThe goal is for an American based armored unit to land in Europe on military aircraft, draw pre-positioned stocks and become an armored brigade combat team in 96 hours.

Ironically, after years of saying the Abrams M-1 Tank was no longer needed, it will be used in the exercise.  These will include the new Abrams active protection system.

The exercise is clearly targeting a potential Russian threat.  One of the exercises taking place under Defender 20 is Allied Spirit.  It will entail a bridging exercise across a major river in Poland.  It will include the US 1 Cavalry Division, Czech forces, British forces, and the Polish 12 and 9 Mechanized.  The goal is to see if an international force can carry out the complex goal of building bridges and moving divisional sized units across it while under fire.

stththUS Ambassador to Poland emphasized Poland’s place in NATO by noting, “In a crisis, NATO must be able to respond as quickly as possible.  Defender Europe 20 simply could not happen without Poland.”

Another aspect that makes it clear that this is an exercise against potential Russian threats is the “Forcible Entry” of Immediate Response Forces into Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.  This will include elements of America’s 82nd Airborne Division, which is part of America’s fast reaction force.  It was this unit that quickly deployed to the Middle East, when the US Embassy in Baghdad was attacked.

The 6 Polish Airborne Brigade, American 173 Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and Spanish and Italian paratroopers will also be part of the paratrooper drops in Latvia, and Lithuania.

thAnother “Forcible Entry” of NATO airborne forces will also take place in the nation of Georgia.

While NATO appears to be operating seamlessly at the military level, there remains dissention at the political level.  Turkey will not be participating, even though one of the exercises is taking place in neighboring Georgia.

There is also the ongoing question of a European Union military force that would take the place of NATO, although an EU without Great Britain makes this force considerably less of a threat.

French President Macron, a major fan of the EU, has been especially critical of NATO.  In December, Macron said that NATO was experiencing “Brain Death.” –  a comment that met with puzzlement and distrust from many NATO nations, including Germany.  While Macron has attacked NATO publicly, France works well with the US military and carried out military strikes in Syria.  Macron has also called for enlarging NATO to include specifically Albania and North Macedonia.  They also rotate troops in the Baltic nations as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.

France will be sending troops to Defender 20 too.

One NATO nation not participating is Turkey.  However, Turkish President Erdogan will be very aware that NATO will be carrying out an airborne operation in Georgia – a Turkish neighbor.  The message will be clear – that NATO can carry out operations in the region without Turkish help.

Germany will be participating in the NATO exercise.  Although much of the equipment will be arriving in Belgium ports, many soldiers will be landing via military transport aircraft in Germany.  In fact, one critical part of the exercise is to make sure that US and British forces moving forward to the front can transverse German roads, bridges, and rail lines.  German rail is also investing more on heavy rail cars that can handle the heavy armored equipment of the US Army.

There will also be a focus on Eastern European nations and their transportation infrastructure.  These nations, who joined NATO after the Cold War, don’t have the extensive infrastructure of Western European nations.  As a result, Lithuania is improving its rail system to better handle the movement of NATO troops in an emergency.

For Western European nations, attention will be paid to the growing Chinese control of some major European ports that will pose a potential threat in a wartime situation.

One difference between the Defender 20 exercise and the annual Reforger NATO exercises of the Cold War era is that they will not focus on Germany, which was the expected route of invasion at that time.  Instead, they will focus on “front line” nations like Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia.

This has engendered some criticism of Poland’s importance by German military leaders.  German General Hartmut Renk criticized Polish forces and their readiness.  He noted that the Polish forces had problems in previous exercises and said, “Lack of professionalism and complete irresponsibility which the command of the Polish Army keeps demonstrating from year to year, may be a reason to cancel the planned actions during the exercise Defender 20.”

Despite this criticism, Poland is one of the NATO countries that is meeting its defense spending goal set by NATO.  It also has one of the largest tank forces of NATO.  It has also made it clear that they are willing to pay for American forces stationed in Poland.

Although much has been made of President Trump’s criticism of NATO and its funding, the US has clearly decided to spend the money for this exercise.  Moving 20,000 soldiers and their tanks and armored equipment will cost the US about $340 million.

The number of troops and units involved demonstrates that America’s and Trump’s commitment to NATO isn’t just lip service.

The Defender 20 exercise demonstrates that what European NATO leaders say at meetings is just rhetoric.  Despite their criticisms of NATO, France and Germany still participate in NATO exercises in a major way.  While an EU military may be the wish of some European leaders like Macron, it isn’t practical.  An EU military without Great Britain becomes a continental military with little ability to project military power.  Meanwhile, NATO is a reality, despite its shortfalls.

NATO has shown its ability to respond to situations around the world.  And, although European leaders may criticize the US, it is America’s ability to move NATO forces with its massive Air Force transport aircraft fleet that allow European nations to deploy its forces.  And, an EU military force couldn’t achieve such capability for over a decade and would require a major expenditure.

Then, there is American airpower that can support other nation’s militaries anywhere in the world.

Like it or not, the EU nations are stuck with NATO.

It is expected that Defender like the Cold War maneuvers called Reforger will become an annual event.  But the focus will not always be on Russia.

Plans are for two Defender exercises every year – one in Europe and one in the Pacific.  Later this year there will be the Pacific Defender exercise – although much smaller than the one in Europe this year.  The two exercises will alternate between being a major or minor exercise.  The Pacific exercise will be lighter in 2020 but will be the major exercise in 2021.  The exercise will alternate with every other year being the “major” exercise.

“Defender 20” will continue until the spring.

Analysis 02-14-2020

ANALYSIS

The Democratic Presidential Race After Iowa and New Hampshire

After the disaster of Iowa, where the results were late and confusing regarding who was the winner, the New Hampshire primary provided some clarity.

As in the past, the New Hampshire “First in the Nation” presidential primary eliminated several “also rans.”  Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, and Deval Patrick pulled out of the race.

The election also sorely weakened some once formidable candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Biden’s results were so bad that he left New Hampshire even before the voting ended.  Warren, who comes from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, finished in fourth place and below the 15% necessary to garner delegates.

In terms of exceeding expectations, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota came in a surprising third place, some attributed that to a good showing in the latest debate.

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg came in a very close second place and may end up gaining more delegates than Sanders, who came in first.

However, before anyone claims that these two states have decided the winner of the Democratic nomination, it’s important to remember that the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination needs 1,991 delegates in order to win on the first round.  Currently Buttigieg has 23, Sanders has 21, Warren 8, Klobuchar has 7 and Biden has 6.  Interestingly, Buttigieg has more delegates, but Sanders has won more votes.

Obviously, there is a long way to go and some of the leaders in the delegate count may have problems in some of the upcoming primaries due to the differing demographics.

Sanders may have the slightest bit of momentum over his opponents, although the results don’t seem to show it.

Senator Klobuchar has gained some momentum, but her third place showing in New Hampshire has usually gone to candidates who pull out of the race.  For instance, in the 2012 race, Jon Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire and ended up pulling out of the race a few days later.

The Klobuchar campaign may eventually help Sanders defeat Buttigieg.  Klobuchar targeted Buttigieg in the last debate and she did very well.  Her New Hampshire showing may keep some Democrats from backing Buttigieg now in order to stop Sanders.

Although Buttigieg has attracted some attention as the “anybody but Sanders” candidate, he has some weaknesses going into the rest of the primaries.  He is openly gay and has a male partner – something that will turn off many Democratic voters in the South and Midwest.  He also appeals to white voters who have degrees – a demographic found on the coasts, but not in heartland America.

This is where the next two upcoming presidential nomination contests will hurt Buttigieg – South Carolina and Nevada.  Neither state has a preponderance of educated whites and the Hispanics of Nevada aren’t likely to favor a gay candidate.  Nevada, which holds its caucus on February 22, is also a strong union state thanks to the SEIU union that represents much of the casino industry.  They are more progressive and likely to side with Sanders or Warren.

Nevada is a caucus state, which means organization is important.  And, it has been over a month since a poll was taken.  In those polls, Biden was ahead, with Sanders in a close second place Warren was in third place.  Depending on Biden and Warren voters, this seems to give Sanders an edge, however slight.

South Carolina’s primary is on February 25th.  This is Biden’s last hope for a clear road to the nomination.  The hope is that more conservative Democrats will prefer the former Vice President to the more progressive candidates.  The last poll was taken two weeks ago, and it shows Biden leads Sanders with a comfortable 18 point lead.  However, much of Biden’s loss in support came after this poll was taken.

However, remember that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are a small percentage of the votes needed for the nomination.  It will be “Super Tuesday” on March 3rd that will have a major impact on the Democratic nomination, especially since two major states, California and Texas, hold their primary elections that day.  On that day, 1,344 delegates, about one third of the delegate total. will be awarded.  If one candidate wins an overwhelming number of the states that day, the presidential nomination race may be over.

That will be difficult to do, however.

Super Tuesday was originally a primary day for southern states in order to have a bigger say in the nomination of the Democratic candidate.  That has changed as states outside of the Old South have moved their elections to that day too.

The varying demographics of the Super Tuesday states make it harder to sweep.  Three states, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have their native presidential candidates, Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar, who have the edge in winning those states.  And, while Sanders is doing well in liberal California with 29%, his chances of winning conservative states like Alabama and Texas are nearly impossible.

However, California has 416 delegates, which is over one fifth of the number needed to win the nomination.

Assuming no Democratic candidate gains the momentum necessary to sweep Super Tuesday in the next two and a half weeks; the situation may be very complicated and may lead to a brokered convention in July.

While Sanders can be expected to do well in California, Colorado, Vermont, and Maine, Biden (if he survives) can take states like Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Buttigieg may have few outright wins but can be expected to pick up delegates in California, Virginia, Maine, and Colorado.  If the Klobuchar surge continues, she may do well in the southern states, where Sanders and Buttigieg are weak.

The candidate who comes out of Super Tuesday with the most delegates should have the momentum for the rest of the month of March.  And, by the end of March, over 50% of the Democratic delegates will have been picked.

However, the March primary states have different demographics.  Rust Belt Ohio and Sunshine state Florida have different demographics, but both have their primaries on March 17th.  These states are both swing states in the general election in November and how they vote may indicate who has the best chance of taking these states (who both voted for Trump in 2016) from Trump.  If Klobuchar survives, several Midwest states like Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota, and Michigan may give her several delegates.

If there is no clear winner by the end of March, the chance of a brokered convention is much greater.  However, there is another factor to consider – the late entry of billionaire Michael Bloomberg. He is self-funding his campaign and has reportedly spent $100 million to$ 200 million in advertising.  Polls show him in third place in national polls, behind Sanders (1st place) and the rapidly plummeting Biden (2nd place).

Depending on the poll, either Buttigieg or Warren is in 4th place.

Given the number of candidates still in the race and the very good chance that they will split the delegates still to be awarded, there is a chance that the candidates will go into the Democratic National convention without a clear winner – what is called a “brokered convention.”  The last brokered convention was in 1952.

If the Democratic convention is brokered, the two most important factors will be the super delegates, who are uncommitted by the primary and the candidates, who don’t have any chance of winning the nomination, but have a significant number of votes.

The super delegates are usually politicians who are considered Democratic Party leaders and elected Democrats.  Unless there is a clear majority for a candidate, they can’t vote until the second ballot.

Most of the super delegates oppose Sanders, so unless Sanders comes into the convention with most delegates, he will have a hard time winning the nomination.  If Biden has survived the primary season and has enough delegates, the super delegates are likely to vote for him in the second ballot to give him the nomination.

If Sanders has the plurality of the delegates from the primaries, he may work a deal with some of the other candidates like naming one of them as vice presidential nominee in return for their delegates.

If no one has enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot and Biden has faded as a potential candidate, the super delegates may decide to pick someone who has a better chance to beat Trump in November and even from outside the names of the candidates.

Here is where Bloomberg comes in.  Although he is missing from many primary ballots, which means he has less chance of acquiring delegates, he is hoping for a brokered convention.  As someone more mainstream than Sanders, can put a lot of money into his presidential campaign, and who can donate lots of money to other Democrats, he is an attractive second ballot choice for establishment Democrats.  In fact, there are news reports that Bloomberg is preparing for a brokered convention by meeting regularly with Democratic congressmen, who are usually super delegates.

Of course, if Bloomberg takes the nomination from Sanders after Sanders has campaigned nationally, he will face considerable backlash.  Undoubtedly, there will be accusations that Bloomberg “bought” the nomination and some Democratic voters will sit out the election.

However, it’s important to remember that while the super delegates can vote in the second ballot, the regular delegates are also released from supporting the candidate who won their vote in the primaries.  In fact, some delegates may be committed to voting for one candidate on the first ballot but may really favor one of the other candidates.

As exciting as a brokered convention is, the leaders of the Democratic Party don’t want one.  Conventions are geared to be a week-long advertisement of the presidential nominee.  Speakers and votes are scheduled for prime time, so they get the largest number of TV viewers.  Controversy is the last thing they want because too many remember the 1968 Democratic Convention that spiraled out of control and let Republican nominee Richard Nixon win the election.

Consequently, if it looks like a brokered convention, expect the Democratic leadership to meet ahead of the convention and try to negotiate a solution.  However, will the candidates be willing to negotiate?

Although he did well in the primaries in 2016, Sanders lost the nomination to Clinton.  Consequently, he is unlikely to negotiate his delegates away if he has the plurality of the delegates.  But, if the party takes the nomination away from him again, his supporters may sit out the election, which will guarantee a Trump win.

The next 20 days will be critical for the Democratic Party.  They want a candidate that will unify the party and win the White House in November.  Whether they get that will be seen by midnight on Super Tuesday.

However, remember that old political adage – two weeks is an eternity in politics.  And, there are a lot of eternities between now and the general election in November.

Analysis 02-07-2020

ANALYSIS

America Fields New
Low-Yield Nuclear Weapon

It was announced this week that the US has fielded a new nuclear weapon on its ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBM).  The warhead, model W76-2, is a low yield weapon that has been wedded to the Trident missile and according to reports is currently on the USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), which is on patrol in the Atlantic.

According to the Federation of Atomic Scientists, only one or two of the 20 missiles on the submarine are tipped with the new weapon.  They reportedly have a yield of about five kilotons – about one third of the yield of the Hiroshima bomb.  The other missiles onboard either have the 90 kiloton W76-1 or 455 kiloton W88.  Each missile can carry up to 8 warheads.

The more powerful W88 is designed to target hardened underground command facilities, while the W76-1 is the nuclear weapon for other targets.

Despite the controversy of building the new warhead, the Rational presented by proponents is that America’s nuclear arsenal was due for a modernization.  Nuclear weapons contain radioactive elements, and these degrade over the years – especially the tritium, which has a half-life of about 11 years.  That meant the nuclear weapons were aging and had to be modernized if they were expected to be reliable.

This was what happened with the W76 class of warheads, which received congressional approval for modernization late in the Clinton Administration.  The production of the W76-1 started in 2008 and extended the life of the warheads by 20 years.

The W76-2 warhead design was added to the W76-1 production, since the design was similar.  Some speculate that the only major difference is that the new design doesn’t have the secondary fusion package that provides much of the yield.

Many critics claim the new low yield weapon increases the chances of a nuclear exchange.  They also claim that there is already an assortment of low yield nuclear weapons that are already fielded on cruise missiles, air launched missiles and gravity bombs.

Critics also note that the Russian detection of a submarine launched ballistic missile could cause a catastrophic misunderstanding.  The Russian high command wouldn’t know if the missile contained a low yield warhead, or one of the larger, more destructive warheads.  As a result, Russia might very well launch a major counterattack.

Despite the criticism of the low yield weapon, the history of nuclear weapon development over the past 60 years is the development of smaller, more accurate weapons.  Since the 1950s, the nuclear powers have gone from the development of 100 megaton bombs to neutron bombs that have the explosive yield of as little as one kiloton.

As missiles became more accurate, it made sense to develop smaller, lighter warheads that destroyed the target, without damaging and contaminating the surrounding area.  Arguably, it made the idea of a nuclear exchange more likely because the potential damage was less.

On the other hand, a nuclear exchange that caused less damage to civilian areas is not a bad idea.

What worried American strategists was that the physics of small yield nuclear weapons was known to the Russians and Chinese and it was quite likely that they had already fielded them.  This left the US in a quandary.  If Russia used a low yield nuclear weapon in a conflict, what would be the US response if they didn’t have a low yield option?  Either the US escalated the war by using its more powerful ballistic missiles, tried to penetrate Russian airspace with the more vulnerable nuclear tipped cruise missiles or air launched missile, or responded with less powerful conventional weapons.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review saw a need for a capability to “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable gap in US regional deterrence capabilities.”

Nuclear strategists argued that Russia had developed a “escalate to deescalate” or “escalate to win” strategy, where they could use tactical nuclear weapons if a conventional attack stalled.  The thinking was that the US wouldn’t respond to a tactical nuclear attack with the more devastating strategic nuclear weapons.

In fact, this was a strategy that had been “war gamed” by the Russians when looking at conflict scenarios in Europe.

What was needed was a “prompt” and usable nuclear capability that could counter and deter Russian use of tactical nuclear capabilities.

Unlike gravity bombs, air launched missiles or cruise missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles were harder to intercept and could be launched at Russian targets in minutes, which was a faster response than what it would take for cruise missiles, air launched missiles, or gravity bombs to hit their target.  Ballistic missiles would also be more likely to penetrate Russia’s new air defense systems.

Although much of the strategy rests on retaliating against Russia, these weapons also have a use against other nuclear powers like China, North Korea, and potentially nuclear Iran.

It is perceived that American war planners have explored options against Iranian and North Korean missile sites, these are known to the US and they aren’t as “hardened” against attack as Russian missiles are.   Advocates of these weapons asserts that it could be used without the collateral damage that larger nuclear weapons would cause.  And, since they have a lower yield, they are more likely to be used and sometimes as a preemptive strike.

Another concern is the Israeli nuclear strategy.  Since the science of low yield nuclear weapons is well known, it is very likely that Israel has developed them too.  And, since the Middle East is a relatively smaller theater of war than Europe, the idea of low yield nuclear weapons is much more attractive.

What’s important to remember is that the evolution of smaller yield nuclear weapons has been going on for over 60 years.  And, there is little likelihood that it will stop soon.  The nuclear powers are already working on 4th generation nuclear weapons that are smaller, lighter, and less powerful than anything that has been fielded yet.  Scientists are already designing thermonuclear devices the size of an egg, with the explosive yield of a few tons of high explosives.

Given these advances, one must assume that there will come a time when nuclear explosives become a likely choice for war.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

What you need to know about Trump’s policy proposals

Heritage Foundation

February 5, 2020

The president declared that “our military is completely rebuilt.”  The last three years have indeed been good for the U.S. military, and much of the lost readiness that had dwindled over the years has been restored. Army readiness, for example, is up 55%.  But despite favorable budgets, the military is not yet fully rebuilt. Years of budget cuts and years of over-use have strained the military, postponed necessary equipment refresh, and caused the military to shrink in size. While there are unmistakable signs of progress, there is still work to be done to fully restore the military. Additional investment and attention will still be needed. As noted by the president, the creation of the Space Force is a true step forward for the United States. It will allow our country to better focus its efforts in this critical domain.

Read more at:

https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/02/04/live-reaction-to-trumps-state-of-the-union-address/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=live-reaction-to-trumps-state-of-the-union-address#headline2

 

Palestinians Miss Opportunity by Rejecting Trump Peace

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

Jan 31, 2020

 

President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday at a White House ceremony attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump declared that the plan “presents a ‘win-win’ opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security.” Netanyahu enthusiastically embraced Trump’s vision, proclaiming, “It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace.” He then lauded Trump as “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”  Indeed, Trump’s vision for peace is the most pro-Israeli peace initiative ever promoted by the United States. It accords a high priority to Israeli security needs, recognizes Israel’s vital interest in retaining control of the border with Jordan, and clears the way for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over many settlements and Jewish holy sites in the disputed territory of the West Bank. Trump’s vision also includes important benefits for Palestinians, who were offered the opportunity to build a state of their own, supported by a $50 billion regional development plan for the Palestinian territories and nearby Arab states.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/palestinians-miss-opportunity-rejecting-trump-peace-plan

 

The Spectacular & Public Collapse of Navy Force Planning

By Mark F. Cancian and Adam Saxton

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 30, 2020

 

Planning for a 21st century Navy of unmanned vessels, distributed operations, and great power competition has collapsed. Trapped by a 355-ship force goal, a reduced budget, and a fixed counting methodology, the Navy can’t find a feasible solution to the difficult question of how its forces should be structured. As a result, the Navy postponed announcement of its new force structure assessment (FSA) from January to “the spring.” That means the navy will not be able to influence the 2021 budget year much, forfeiting a major opportunity to reshape the fleet and bring it in line with the national defense strategy.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/spectacular-public-collapse-navy-force-planning

 

Erdogan’s Libyan Gambit

By Bulent Aliriza

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 24, 2020

 

After having focused for most of the last quarter of 2019 on northeastern Syria and his declared security imperative of pushing the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from the Turkish border, a goal he partially achieved through a military operation launched on October 9, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned his attention to Libya. Accordingly, parallel to the worsening of the long-running Libyan civil war, Erdogan has raised the level of Turkish diplomatic and military involvement on the side of the embattled Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli headed by Fayez Sarraj against the growing challenge of the Libyan National Army (LNA) under Khalifa Haftar. Erdogan’s decision to insert Turkey more forcefully into the complex Libyan crisis is the product of a number of factors, each of them important from his perspective. To begin with, it fits into Erdogan’s proactive foreign policy, which seeks to establish and expand Turkey’s role in its region, especially in countries with which Turkey enjoys historical, cultural, or religious links, while raising Turkey’s overall international profile.

Read more at: https://www.csis.org/analysis/erdogans-libyan-gambit

 

Washington needs to anticipate Iran’s next provocation

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council

January 30, 2020

 

Signs are mounting that in Tehran, which faces rising pressures at home and abroad, the country’s powerful hardline conservatives are circling the wagons, raising the odds of still more Iranian global provocations. The question is whether Washington — which continues to tighten the economic screws on Tehran — is ready for what might come next. In the latest conservative effort to solidify power, the country’s Guardian Council recently barred 9,500 prospective candidates (almost two-thirds of the 14,500 prospective candidates) in next month’s parliamentary elections, from running. The 12-member Guardian Council — an unelected body that includes six designees of the nation’s ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — routinely bars hundreds if not thousands of would-be candidates from elections because they’re not conservative enough or committed enough to the regime’s revolutionary goals. This time, however, the barred candidates include nearly a third of the current parliament. The signal was clear. The Council not only wants to prevent new reformist candidates from winning office; it also wants to purge the parliament of members it considers too moderate.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/publications/articles/washington-needs-to-anticipate-irans-next-provocation

 

Continuity vs. Overreach in the Trump Peace Plan (Part 1): Borders and Jerusalem

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

February 4, 2020

POLICYWATCH 3255

 

The newly released U.S. peace plan marks a very significant shift in favor of the current Israeli government’s view, especially when compared to three past U.S. initiatives: (1) the Clinton Parameters of December 2000, (2) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “Annapolis Process” of 2007-2008, and (3) Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2013-2014 initiative. The message is clear: the Trump administration will no longer keep sweetening the deal with every Palestinian refusal, a criticism some have aimed at previous U.S. efforts. Yet the new plan raises worrisome questions of its own. Will its provisions prove so disadvantageous to the proposed Palestinian state that they cannot serve as the basis for further negotiations? And would such overreach enable Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to sway Arab states who have signaled that they want to give the proposal a chance, convincing them to oppose it instead? If so, the plan may wind up perpetuating the current diplomatic impasse and setting the stage for a one-state reality that runs counter to Israel’s identity as a Jewish, democratic state. This two-part PolicyWatch will address these questions by examining how the Trump plan compares to past U.S. initiatives when it comes to the conflict’s five core final-status issues. Part 1 focuses on two of these issues: borders and Jerusalem.

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/continuity-vs.-overreach-in-the-trump-peace-plan-part-1-borders-and-jerusal

Analysis 01-24-2020

ANALYSIS

The Politics of Lies and Body Counts

Before leaving the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the injuries sustained by the American service members in the attack on a base in Iraq were “not very serious.”

“I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things,” the president told reporters. “I don’t consider them very serious injuries, relative to the other injuries that I’ve seen.”

Trump’s comments drew criticism from veterans advocates who noted that since the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military and the Department of Veterans Affairs have put in place procedures to treat and lessen the impact of traumatic brain injuries suffered from the blasts from roadside bombs and injuries considered to be the signature wounds of those conflicts.

On Tuesday, the U.S. military acknowledged an additional number of service members had been flown from Iraq to Germany for observation nearly two weeks after the missile attack on the Al Asad airbase. Last week 11 service members were flown out of Iraq for further observation after presenting concussion-like symptoms.

When pressed by reporters, Trump continued his claim that the injuries weren’t very serious relative “to other injuries I have seen.”

President Donald Trump holds a news conference at the 50th World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2020.Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

. “No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries. No.”

Trump’s remarks also drew swift criticism from veterans’ groups that have advocated for the victims from violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted: “The @DeptVetAffairs and hundreds of thousands of post-9/11 veterans disagree: research.va.gov/topics/tbi.cfm Don’t just be outraged by #PresidentMayhem’s latest asinine comments. Take action to help vets facing TBIs: uclahealth.org/operationmend/

 

The DeptVetAffairs and hundreds of thousands of post-9/11 veterans disagree: https://www.research.va.gov/topics/tbi.cfm  Don’t just be outraged by #PresidentMayhem’s latest asinine comments. Take action to help vets facingTBIs: https://www.uclahealth.org/operationmend/  https://twitter.com/AndrewFeinberg/status/1219952656971653121 …

✔@AndrewFeinberg

Wow. @realDonaldTrump just told (I think) @weijia that he doesn’t think US service members who suffer Traumatic Brain Injuries had anything very serious happen to them.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as “a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.”

In addition, service members and veterans potentially have added exposure to blasts, from combat and from training.

TBI injuries have been treated as the “signature wound” and “silent epidemic” of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where insurgents used roadside bombs to significant effect. While the blasts from those bombs caused serious physical injuries to U.S. service members, they also caused a much larger number of TBI injuries that were not immediately visible.

This Jan. 8, 2020, satellite image released by Planet Labs Inc., reportedly shows damage to the Ain al-Asad US airbase in western Iraq, after being hit by rockets from Iran.Ho/Planet Labs Inc. /AFP via Getty

According to the VA, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) “reported more than 408,000 TBIs among U.S. service members worldwide between 2000 and early 2019.”

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut accused the president of misleading the American public for weeks by denying any U.S. personnel were injured in an Iranian missile strike earlier this month and downplaying the severity of their injuries once they became public.

“You don’t get sent to Germany for headaches,” Murphy, a Democrat who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CBS News in an interview. “You get airlifted to Germany when you’re in seriously bad shape.”

The controversial issue of body counts and casualties raised its head this week as it was learned that dozens of Americans were sent to hospitals in Germany and Kuwait in the wake of the Iranian missile attack on Al-Asad air base.

Right after the attack, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had said, “Most importantly, no casualties, no friendly causalities, whether they are US, coalition, contractor, etc.”

Now it has been learned that 11 US soldiers were injured in the attack and were flown out of Iraq several days later to be treated for head injuries after they showed signs of concussion, additional soldiers sent later to Germany for evaluation and treatment.

The Pentagon justified their original assessment by saying, “That was the commander’s assessment at the time.  Symptoms emerged days after the fact and they were treated out of an abundance of caution.”

Whatever the reason, the history of battle casualty reports is one of lying and misrepresenting the facts.

Obviously, insisting one’s side has suffered few casualties has been common over the years.  It helps improve the moral of one’s army and civilian populations by making it seem that victory is within sight.  This was the German tactic in WWI, when the Germans insisted that killing more French at Verdun meant it was a German victory.  Of course, the Germans never captured Verdun and France eventually defeated the Germans.

In the case of the Iranian missile attack, by claiming no American casualties, Trump was able to calm down a situation that could have led to a war with Iran.  It also supplied political ammunition by showing that Iran’s missile threat was overblown.

The great Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz warned nearly 200 years ago, “Casualty reports…are never accurate.”  He continued by writing that figures are “no accurate measure of the loss of morale; hence…the abandonment of the fight remains the only authentic proof of victory.”

Not everyone thought that way.  Post Napoleonic strategist Baron Antoine Jomini said that war could best be understood in terms of mathematics – things that could be counted.

America and its Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara took this theory to the extreme in the Vietnam War.  McNamara, the former head of Ford Motor Company, thought that counting dead North Vietnamese could prove the US was winning the war, just like counting the number of Fords sold could prove that Ford Motor Company was making money.

This led to the notorious body count syndrome that was used to prove the US was winning the Vietnam War.  Soldiers counting bodies were encouraged to inflate the number of enemy dead found on a battlefield.  They were also indiscriminate in counting dead civilians as enemy soldiers.

In later years, General Giap admitted that he had lost 500,000 soldiers from 1964 to 1969, but they meant nothing.  North Vietnam won the war despite horrendous body counts.

The result was that, after Vietnam, American officers moved away from the body count philosophy.  During the war to retake Kuwait, General Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander stated that as a Vietnam veteran, he abhorred body counts as a measure of success.

General Tommy Franks was to comment, “We don’t do body counts.”

However, after the first Gulf War, the US has drifted back into the old mindset as the never-ending War on Terror has continued for nearly a generation.  Without clear victories in places like Afghanistan, it is much easier to count bodies in order to claim victory.

The art of body counts has evolved as technology has evolved.  Today, the deaths and injuries caused by drone strikes is a subject of controversy.  Naureen Shah, Director of the Human Rights Clinic as Columbia University says, “That it is the US government that owes the public an accounting of who is being killed.”

A report by Columbia University warns that low civilian casualty estimates may provide false assurance to the public and policy makers that drone strikes do not harm civilians.  Many of the “militants” who are victims of drone attacks are very likely to be civilians who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Admittedly, body and casualty counts are vague and the definition of injured and can change.  In the case of the soldiers injured in the Iranian missile retaliation, they weren’t originally counted as they had no visible signs of injury after the attack.  It was only when they showed signs of concussion that they were sent to medial facilities.

Brain trauma like concussion is a relatively new injury as researchers have discovered that concussions are much more dangerous than previously thought.  In Vietnam, soldiers who suffered concussions were told to either “walk it off” or to go to the barracks to rest for a few hours.  They weren’t considered injured when making reports.

In other words, the Iranian missile attack victims would have not been considered casualties by medical standards of the Vietnam War.

Then there is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), which may not show up until the soldier returns home or occurs years later.

Reporting body and causality counts of the enemy is still subjective, especially if there are no friendly troops in the area.  Drone and air strikes rely upon overhead imagery for damage assessment.  If the imagery is captured after a few hours, bodies may have already been removed.  There is also the question of victims in the wreckage of buildings.

In this case, the count may be very subjective, especially if the senior officers want to prove a strike is successful.  In that case, the junior officers will gladly make up casualty numbers that will make their bosses happy – even if that includes dead civilians or imaginary enemy caught under wreckage.

Sending troops to make an actual body count in unsecured territory is risky.

Another factor of false casualty count is the moral factor.  Wars, especially those that last a long time, require some proof that they are being won.  Otherwise, they tend to lose the support of the voters (Vietnam is an excellent example) and the troops.  This is especially true in Afghanistan, where the US has been at war for 19 years – with no end in sight.

American voters have shown that they want to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, while still winning – one reason Trump won in 2016.  If body and causality counts can be used to prove the US is winning, it is easier to withdraw.

Another use of false casualty count is diplomatic.  In the case of the Iranian missile attack, the immediate announcement of American casualties would have engendered calls by Americans for retaliation against Iran – which would have led to more Iranian attacks that could have led to a general war.

By announcing no American casualties, it gave Trump a chance to lower tensions by not retaliating against Iran.  It can be said that the relative peace in the region is due to the “fudging” of American casualty figures.

Despite all the controversy, in the end, the practice of faking or fudging body and casualty figures will continue.

Clausewitz once said, “In war everything is uncertain.”

He was wrong.  In war, false body counts will always be certain.

Analysis 01-17-2020

ANALYSIS

 

A Look at the Democratic Presidential Candidates and the Upcoming Primaries

It’s just a couple of weeks until the official start of the 2020 presidential election season.  The first event is the February 3rd Iowa caucuses, which will help determine the Iowa delegation to the Democratic National Convention this summer.

Now that the field of presidential hopefuls has narrowed itself down from over 30 to a handful of legitimate possibilities, it’s time to look at them and judge their potential to win the nominations.

Basically, there are three strong candidates with the organization and money to compete,  two billionaires with the money to remain in the campaign despite poor poll numbers, and some “also rans” who have little chance, but are potential vice president choices or likely 2024 candidates.

The three most likely candidates are within a few points of each other in national polls.  They are Biden, Sanders, and Warren.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden was Vice President for Obama and had a long career in the US Senate before that.  He is the most experienced candidate and the favorite of the Democratic establishment.

Biden’s experience, name recognition, and more moderate stand on the issues should make him the most electable.

However, experience cuts both ways.  He has a voting record as a moderate Democrat that leaves himself open to attacks by more liberal Democratic candidates.  For instance, he voted to invade Iraq.  However, that record may help the Democrats to win over the white, blue collar voters who have deserted the Democrats for Trump.

At 76, Biden is one of several old candidates.  That means he has health and cognitive issues.  He is very prone to say embarrassing things and has a habit of touching women.

Despite this, many Democrats think he is the most electable candidate and he has the backing of the Democratic establishment.  Should the Democratic convention become deadlocked, he becomes the favorite to win on a second ballot.

Another potential problem is his (and his son’s) relationship with the Ukraine.  He might be called as a witness in the Trump impeachment trial and this could open questions about corruption.

Interestingly, three of Biden’s opponents in the campaign will be sitting in the US Senate during the impeachment trial – Sanders, Klobuchar and Warren.  They could if they choose to open up issues concerning Biden corruption that would embarrass Biden and permanently damage his campaign.

Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders is back in 2020 after a nearly successful campaign for president against Hillary Clinton in 2016.  In fact, without the strong support of the Democratic establishment, Sanders may very well have won the nomination in 2016.  And, Trump has even confessed that Sanders might very well have beaten him in the general election.

Sanders is 77 and a year older than Biden.  He is an avowed socialist but has represented Vermont for 30 years as either a congressman or senator.

His major issues are free college tuition, a higher minimum wage, and universal healthcare.  He has an excellent grassroots organization, enthusiastic supporters, and a strong base of small donors.

Sanders has the enthusiastic support of many of the progressive Democrats and young voters, which is a surprise given his age.  However, his socialist programs scare establishment Democrats who think he will drive voters into Trump’s camp.

Sanders recently had a heart attack, which has raised questions about his ability to campaign and serve as president.  If he is nominated by the Democrats, his choice of a vice presidential candidate will be scrutinized.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren has been the US senator from Massachusetts since 2013, which gives her less experience than her two major competitors, Biden and Sanders.  She is 69, so she doesn’t have the health issues that Sanders and Biden have.

Warren has made an issue of consumer protection and the power of big banks.  Consequently, she isn’t the favorite of the rich and influential, although she has a good donor base.

She has promised to fight the “rigged economic system” and wants to forgive college debt for college students.  She is progressive like Sanders and many of her proposals are similar to Sanders like free college tuition.

Warren has also said she will use presidential executive action to further climate change policy.

A controversy erupted Tuesday when she refused to shake hands with Sanders after the Iowa debate.  The issue was whether Sanders had made a comment that a woman couldn’t become president.

The conversation, which was caught on a hot mike, went this way:

Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV.

Sanders: What?

Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV!

Sanders: You know…let’s not do this now.  If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.

Warren:  Anytime.

Sanders: You called me a liar.  You told me…all right, let’s not do it now.

Steyer:  I don’t want to get in the middle.  I just want to say hi Bernie.

Sanders: Yeah good okay.

We don’t know if this will cause a split between the two.

Since both Sanders and Warren are fighting for the same progressive vote, they have an interest in damaging each other rather than Biden.  However, such fights may make it harder for them to join forces later in the campaign.

The Billionaires

Since Trump proved that being rich has its advantages in a presidential campaign, two Democratic candidates, with money to burn, have joined the presidential race – Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.

Tom Steyer has already spent money to push for Trump’s impeachment.  He has also gone so far as to say the problem goes beyond Trump thanks to corporate money used in campaigns.

Major issues are climate change and the opioid crisis.

Michael Bloomberg is another billionaire and another old guy at 77.  He was mayor of New York for 10 years.  During his term as mayor of New York, he continued a controversial “stop and frisk” policy that lowered crime, but outraged minorities – a major problem for any Democratic candidate.

Bloomberg has been an advocate for gun control and has spent millions in getting gun control candidates elected.  That may help in the Democratic primaries but will cost him votes in the general election.

The Other Candidates

Although many candidates have pulled out of the race, some remain in hopes of being picked for the vice-presidential nomination or to establish themselves for a 2024 run, when Trump can’t run for reelection.

Since both Sanders and Biden are old, there will be a push to nominate a younger, vigorous person for vice president if either of them are nominated.

Pete Buttigieg is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which means he may help Democrats win the Midwest.  Democratic strategists are well aware that the heartland of America has become more Republican in recent years.

Buttigieg is the first openly gay Democratic candidate, which has energized the LGBT community, which are enthusiastic donors.  However, there is the question about how effective a gay candidate will be in the more conservative Midwest.

Although he had generated excitement several months ago, his poll numbers have dropped recently.  He may very well be staying in the race in order to be picked for vice president on the ticket.

Amy Klobuchar is a US senator from Minnesota, who is also a long shot looking to fill the vice president part of the ticket.  As a woman, she can balance out a ticket and as a Midwesterner, she can help a Democrat to win Minnesota, which is traditionally Democratic, but is starting to trend towards Trump in the polls.

In the end, Klobuchar is a more promising VP choice, since as a woman she can balance the ticket if Sanders or Biden win the nomination.  She is also more likely to deliver Minnesota to the Democrats than Buttigieg delivering Indiana.

Who will Win the Nomination?

Biden, Sanders and Warren are the most likely nominees, since they all poll nationally in the 20% to 30% range.  However, much depends on the early primaries and who, if any, can build momentum from early primary wins.

Biden has the first shot at building momentum as it appears that he leads in the Iowa caucus poll.  He is also currently leading in New Hampshire, the first primary.

However, if Biden can’t cement his lead and build momentum, Sanders can come back in early March as California holds its primary and Sanders has gained 10 points there in the last month.

If Warren fades, Sanders also can take voters away from her since she is ideologically closer to Sanders than Biden – providing they can patch up their differences from Tuesday’s debate, where the two of them attacked each other.

However, there is still the possibility of a brokered convention.

The Democratic rules make the possibility of a brokered convention more likely than the Republican convention.  Democratic rules call for the delegates to be split according to their candidates’ vote total in the primary, providing they receive at least 15% of the vote.  That gives all three of the top Democratic candidates a good chance of getting delegates in every primary.

Republicans have a “winner take all” primary system that gives the winning candidate all the state’s delegates, which lessens the possibility of a brokered convention where no candidate goes to the convention with more than half the delegates pledged to him.

For example, if California, the biggest Democratic primary prize, had a primary result of 37% for Sanders, 32% for Warren, and 31% for Biden, it’s likely Sanders would get 111 delegates, Warren would get 97, and Biden would get 93 (actual results would also depend on vote totals in specific districts).

Results like that seem to guarantee a brokered convention.

If there is a brokered convention (there hasn’t been one since World War II), Biden is more likely to get the nomination as the Super Delegates, who are part of the Democratic establishment but can’t vote in the first round, are more likely to go for Biden in the second round.  However, don’t count out Sanders and Warren joining forces if they control most delegates.  In that case, one would be the presidential nominee and the other one the vice-presidential nominee.

The General Election

Winning the Democratic nomination for president may end up becoming the poisoned chalice.  Trump’s poll ratings are strong and statewide polls of some states that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 are moving towards Trump.

Historically, presidents win when they run for reelection.  The only exceptions since World War II are Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.

Trump has avoided the critical mistakes of these two presidents by making sure an American embassy isn’t captured by protestors and by not raising taxes.

The top three Democratic presidential candidates all have serious weaknesses that could torpedo their campaigns.  Biden is gaff prone and may face Ukrainian corruption issues.  Warren has a minor problem with the perception among some voters of not telling the truth like when she said she was part Native American.  Sanders is old and has health issues.  He, along with Warren are also more liberal than the American electorate.

At this point, it looks like it’s Trump’s election to lose.  The Democrats did not offer a strong set of candidates and none of them stand out as a likely winner against Trump.

That’s why the Democratic candidates are generally so old.  The younger, more promising candidates may figure Trump will win in 2020 and they stand a better chance waiting until 2024.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

 

The U.S. Must Reinforce Its Important Relationship with Oman in 2020

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

Jan 14, 2020

 

The United States and Oman share many geopolitical challenges, and have had good relations dating back two centuries. Under the leadership of new Sultan Haitham, U.S.–Omani relations will be entering a new chapter. The Trump Administration should take this new opportunity to build on existing relations by sending a senior delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Muscat in the coming days, inviting Sultan Haitham to the White House as soon as mutually convenient, sending a message to Oman’s neighbors that the U.S. does not want any instability during the transition period, and reaffirming Oman as a trustworthy partner in meeting many of the challenges facing the region.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/report/the-us-must-reinforce-its-important-relationship-oman-2020

 

 

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The Failure of RegimeChange Operations

By Benjamin Denison

Cato Institute

January 6, 2020

Policy Analysis No. 883

 

The United States has, at various times in its history, used military force to promote regime change around the world in pursuit of its interests. In recent years, however, there has been a growing scholarly consensus that these foreign regime-change operations are often ineffective and produce deleterious side effects. Whether trying to achieve political, security, economic, or humanitarian goals, scholars have found that regime-change missions do not succeed as envisioned. Instead, they are likely to spark civil wars, lead to lower levels of democracy, increase repression, and in the end, draw the foreign intervener into lengthy nation-building projects.

Read more at:

https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/more-things-change-more-they-stay-same

 

 

Iran’s Power and Exploiting Its Vulnerabilities

By Seth G. Jones

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 6, 2020

 

Following the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), the United States and Iran are involved in an escalating conflict. What is badly needed now is a coherent long-term U.S. strategy to deal with Iran in ways that protect U.S. national security and leverage U.S. partners. The United States’ “maximum pressure” campaign has not led to a change in Iran’s behavior—at least not yet—though U.S. sanctions have severely damaged Iran’s economy. As this report highlights with new data and analysis, the IRGC-QF has supported a growing number of non-state fighters in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—including nearly a 50 percent increase since 2016. Thanks to Iran, these forces are better equipped with more sophisticated weapons and systems. This report also uses satellite imagery to identify an expansion of IRGC-QF-linked bases in countries like Iran and Lebanon to train non-state fighters. Iran has constructed more sophisticated and longer-range ballistic and cruise missiles and conducted missile attacks against countries like Saudi Arabia. In addition, Iran has developed offensive cyber capabilities and used them against the United States and its partners. In the nuclear arena, Iran has ended commitments it made to limit uranium enrichment, production, research, and expansion—raising the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons.

To read more:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/containing-tehran-understanding-irans-power-and-exploiting-its-vulnerabilities

 

 

Oman After Qaboos: A National and Regional Void

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

December 2019

POLICY NOTES 74

 

This essay, tenth in the series, covers Oman, a Gulf nation ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said since 1970, when he overthrew his own father. Qaboos has enjoyed wide popularity over his five decades in power, helping to build national cohesion and guiding his country into the modern era. But the sultan is seventy-nine years old and has a history of illness. To ensure national stability and continued progress, his successor will have to enact far-reaching economic reforms, aimed especially at broadening the economy beyond its current oil dependence. At the same time, a new sultan will need to navigate challenges posed by powerful neighbors such as Iran, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/oman-after-qaboos-a-national-and-regional-void

Analysis 01-10-2020

ANALYSIS

Iran and the United States: Mutual Options

This week, the US killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force, at Baghdad’s Airport.The Pentagon said it was a defensive action taken with the approval of President Trump because further attacks were planned against American targets soon.  The US also said that Soleimani also had approved the attacks on the US Embassy.

The reactions were predictable.  Iran threatened “severe retaliation” against the “criminals” responsible for killing Soleimani.  The Democrats said the killing only heightened tensions in the Middle East.  Meanwhile, President Trump said that Soleimani “should have been taken out years ago.”

Trump decided to escalate rather than matching Iran tit-for-tat. Trump crossed a red line by killing General Soleimani.  American responses in the past have been against “Iranian proxies” or have been economic in general.

The potential for future violence was made clear as oil prices shot up as investors were worried that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

So, is the Middle East on the verge of plunging into a major conflict?

 

 

In many ways, to Trump and hardliners in this administration (like Pompeo and Esper) the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad made sense to Iran.  Two of America’s most humiliating defeats in the Middle East have involved American embassies – the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the storming of the American diplomatic bases in Benghazi in 2012.  Taking over the Baghdad site would have humiliated the US and likely brought about the defeat of Trump in the upcoming elections, just as the 1979 capture of the US embassy in Tehran led to the defeat of President Carter in 1980.

US Reaction and OptionsPresident Trump isn’t like Presidents Carter or Obama.  Within minutes he had ordered 100 US Marines in Kuwait to Baghdad and put US forces around Baghdad on alert.

In this case, however, the US has made it clear that retaliation will not be limited to economic sanctions or attacks on what being labeled “Iranian proxies”.  The US has shown it is willing to carry out strikes on Iranian officials.  Secretary of Defense Esper has also said additional attacks are in the offing.

“If we get word of attacks,” Esper said, “We will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives.  The game has changed.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Esper responded, “Do I think they might do something? Yes, and they will likely regret it…Our aim is to deter further Iranian bad behavior that has been going on now for over 40 years.”

Although most Democrats have condemned the attack, this attack by the US will only improve Trump’s popularity amongst his supporters primely, Trump after seeing scenes of Iraqis attacking the US Embassy,  he thinks Americans favor any action that prevents such attacks in the future – especially in light of the Benghazi attacks that led to the death of the American Ambassador to Libya.

 

 

The first action was the ordering one brigade (750 soldiers) from the 82nd Airborne to the Middle East.  Unlike previous deployments in the past, which were generally technicians who supported missile systems and such, the 82 Airborne is a combat unit that is structured to deploy within hours into a hostile environment.  These are troops trained to fight, not repair and operate radar and missiles.

So, what will America’s response be?These forces have already arrived in the Middle East.

ndAdditional soldiers from the Immediate Response Force will be deployed soon.  Reports are that an additional 3,500 troops from the 82 Airborne will be sent and deployed across the region.  Again, they will be combat forces, not support personnel or technicians.

Other official actions are warning Americans (including American oil workers in Iraq) in the region to leave, hardening American targets, and evacuating non-essential Americans from embassies and consulates.

ndThere is also additional security in American cities like New York.

The US Navy in the area of the Strait of Hormuz will also be repositioning itself.  The aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman (CVN 75) will likely move east of the Strait of Hormuz in order to carry out strikes outside the range of Iranian boats or aircraft.

Smaller ships like destroyers or frigates may be readied to carry out convoy escort duties if Iran tries to harass commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

A Marine Expeditionary Unit backed up with the USS Bataan (LHD 5) is currently crossing the Atlantic for a deployment in the region.  Once in place, their Marine contingent can deploy across the region within hours.  And, like the troops of the 82 Airborne, Marines are combat soldiers, not support personnel or technicians.

US Air Force units in the region will be on heightened alert in case they will be needed to support ground forces or shipping the Gulf being attacked.  Air defense systems will also be on the alert for Iranian aircraft of missiles.

ndAlthough future American responses are unknown, we can be sure that they may not limit themselves to strikes against “Iranian proxies”.  The US has made it clear that the Iranian command structure is now fair game.

 

 

It seems clear that Iran was taken aback by the ferocity of America’s response to the embassy attack. If it anticipated this sort of attack, Soleimani never would have appeared in person at the Baghdad Airport.

Iranian OptionsIran now must devise a response whose outcome is extremely difficult to calculate. There is a significant probability of a major escalation.

Iran well may decide on a limited, symbolic action. However, if it chooses restraint, its prestige in the region will diminish.

Iran has decades of experience in using asymmetrical warfare to fight the US and its allies.  This makes it the most likely option.

However, Iran has already made it clear that it has increased its readiness for conventional warfare.  American made F-14 fighters are patrolling its airspace and its missile command is ready to attack if ordered.

To American war planners, the F-14 is considered no match to advanced US fighters and they haven’t been able to receive F-14 spare parts from America since 1979.  And, the Iranian missile force is extensive, but not all have arsenal has the precision accuracy guidance.

The biggest threat is an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz – an economic weapon that threatens the energy independent US less that it does Europe and China.

Undoubtedly the US has more forces in the area of the Strait than Iran does, so an overt closure of the Strait would be unlikely.  However, the use of mines (as they did in the 1980s) and covert attacks like those of a few months ago would raise the risk to commercial shipping and create a jump in energy prices that would slow the world economy.

Iran’s regional strategy rests on a combination of irregular warfare based on allies’ fighters in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and strategic deterrence including intermediate-range missiles and cruise missiles.

One option is to carry out missile attacks via their Yemeni allies.  This has been successful in damaging sites on the Saudi peninsula but has had limited impact on American forces.

The most aggressive course of action is to attack an American asset. In the extreme case, Iran could use a combination of intermediate-range missiles, cruise missiles and drones to attack major American bases like the one in Doha.

The September attack on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia exposed the weakness of US air defenses. The Patriot anti-missile system can’t shoot anything flying lower than 60 meters, and Iran has low-flying cruise missiles. A successful strike against Doha certainly figures in American calculations. In late September, US Central Command temporarily moved command and control of the Doha base to a remote facility in Tampa, Florida, because the base is a “sitting duck” for Iranian missiles.

If Iran were to attack Doha, America’s response likely would be extensive. To American military planners, two dozen missiles or bombing sorties could severely damage out Iran’s economy in a matter of hours (a threat implied by Trump statement and Senator Lindsey Gramm). Fewer than a dozen power plants generate 60% of Iran’s electricity, and eight refineries produce 80% of its distillates. A single missile strike could disable each of these facilities, and bunker-buster bombs would destroy them. Without much effort, the US could destroy the Port of Kharg from which Iran exports 90% of its hydrocarbons.

More likely is a limited attack, perhaps on a smaller US naval vessel in the Gulf, or on a smaller US base somewhere in the region. The problem is that Iran would have to inflict enough damage to restore its credibility without inviting massive US retaliation.

Undoubtedly, Iran will respond.  However, their likely response will play to their strengths.  The source of the attacks will be vague enough to cause the US to hesitate about using a military response against Iranian targets.

Of course, not all US and Iranian options are military or economic.  One only must remember the US-Israeli computer viruses used against Iranian nuclear computers to realize that the US can make its response damaging, but hard to respond to.

It seems that US might be miscalculating, they are basing their position on the assumption that when Trump ordered the firing of 50 cruise missiles into Syria, critics said this was a major escalation in the region and threatened the peace.  But nothing serious happened.

Iran enjoys “twisting the Eagle’s tail feathers.” But it doesn’t want events to spiral out of control.  On the other side, President Trump is anxious to pull troops out of the region and isn’t eager to mire the US in another conflict in the region.

Both sides have solid reasons to avoid major escalations to a full-scale war, but no one can guarantee it can be avoided when the missiles start flying.

 

 

So far what looked like the beginning of a full-scale war in the Middle East has suddenly calmed down – except for a few rockets.  A dramatic missile attack by Iran on American bases in Iraq came off according to President Trump without causing a single American casualty, although 22 Iranian missiles were fired.  Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif seemed to signal the end of the current hostilities by calling the attack “proportionate measures in self-defense,” and adding “we do not seek escalation or war but will defend ourselves.”

American Options in the Middle EastPresident Trump also seemed to signal a return to a calmer atmosphere by nearly repeating what Zarif said.  In remarks made at the White House, Trump said, “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

Although the return to calm is hopeful, both sides signaled that other hostilities might occur in the future.  In his speech, Trump declared, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”  That implies that sometime in the future Trump will carry out some operation against Iran.

Trump did offer an olive branch by saying “we should work together on this (ISIS) and other shared priorities…We want you to have a future and a great future.”

In the vein of Trump’s comment on Iranian nuclear weapons, Ayatollah Khamenei also intimated this wasn’t the end by saying, “An important incident has happened.  The question of revenge is another issue…Military actions in this form [referring to the missile attack] are not sufficient for that issue.”

In other words, both sides have kept their options open.

So, what are America’s military options in the Middle East?  A lot depends on what American military presence is in the region and what they can do.

 

 

The American military presence in the Middle East may seem large, but it’s important to see what types of forces are in the region.  In fact, only a small number are considered combat troops.

The American Military Presence in the Middle EastTo better understand this, the American forces can be broken down into three groups.

Combat Troops.  These are combat trained forces that specialize in small unit tactics and can be used to carry out ground attacks on enemy forces or hold American positions that are under heavy attack (like the American embassy).  Only a small number of combat forces were in the region until about two weeks ago.  And, most of them were in Afghanistan.

Technicians.  These are soldiers that maintain weapons systems like air defense, radar, and aircraft.  They can be called upon to defend a base, but aren’t trained for offensive operations.

Support Troops.  These range from medical personnel to supply and transportation.  They are not trained for combat operation.

While all Army and Marine forces are trained for combat, Air Force technicians aren’t.  Naval personnel are trained in carrying out their mission on board ship.

What this means is that the American presence in the region is primarily designed for maintaining weapons systems; aircraft, missile defense systems, cruise missiles, and drones.  There was a small Marine reaction force in Kuwait, until it was dispatched to Baghdad to protect the US Embassy.

The attack on the embassy changed everything.  A brigade of the 82 Airborne was immediately dispatched to the region and other units of the 82 are expected to arrive soon.  These are stationed in Kuwait.

About 2,200 Marines of the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit were sent to the Middle East from a training exercise in Morocco.  They will remain stationed onboard ships.

ndndIn addition, US Rangers from the 75 Ranger Regiment were sent.  Rangers are considered an elite unit.

thThe 173 Airborne Brigade Combat Team has been earmarked for the region, probably to protect the Embassy in Beirut.

thBy the time all the units reach the Middle East, the American presence will be about 80,000.  And, a greater percentage will be combat troops.  This gives the US more options in terms of response.

rdAs it stands now, the largest US force is in Afghanistan (14,000 troops). This is followed by Kuwait and Qatar, which has about 13,000 troops each.  There are 7,000 in Bahrain, 6,000 in Iraq, 3,000 in Saudi Arabia, 3,000 in Jordan, and 5,000 in the UAE.

US forces at sea total about 5,000.

Syria, which is seeing a drawdown in US forces likely has about 800 American troops.

This doesn’t mean that the US can’t deploy more forces if necessary.  The 101 Airborne Division is also an airmobile rapid reaction force.  There is also heavy equipment like tanks that are prepositioned in the region if necessary.

 

st 

Until a week ago, the major American military response option was the use of air power, combat aircraft, drones, or cruise missiles.  The US Air Force could rely upon locally based combat aircraft or bombers stationed in the US.  The Navy would be responsible for any cruise missile attacks as well as aircraft sorties from aircraft carriers in the region.

American OptionsThese attacks would have generally targeted Iranian backed militias in Iraq or Syria.  The US Navy cruise missiles would have targeted areas with more effective air defense systems like Iranian territory.  It would have been cruise missiles that would have probably been used if President Trump had decided to carry out his threat against the Iranian leadership.

Cyber-attacks against the Iranian infrastructure are possible.  However, an American cyber-attack would probably result in an Iranian retaliation on America’s computers.

The other option would have been more aggressive patrolling of the Strait of Hormuz.  This would have used destroyers, frigates, and helicopters to stop and board Iranian shipping.  Small numbers of Marines would have been used for the boarding.

These options were available before the recent deployments to the region.  So, why is the US sending combat troops to the region?

It appears that the US had intelligence that Iranian backed militias would carry out offensive operations against American facilities besides the US Embassy.

The forces sent to the region are combat trained forces that are specialized in inserting into hostile environments.  They would be ideal for landing into an American military base, which is under attack by Iranian backed militias.  Combined with air support, they could hold off any attack.  At the same time, they can bolster security at American facilities not under threat.

This, in part, explains why the Iranian government limited their response.  Although they could have escalated the attacks, they realized that, in the end, they were more vulnerable to American attack than the US was vulnerable to Iranian attack.

Although the US couldn’t have carried out any invasion of Iran, they can carry out major attacks on the Iranian leadership and its nuclear infrastructure.  Sea launched cruise missiles could have punched holes in the Iranian air defense, while American stealth aircraft could have opened a path through Iranian airspace for bombers to attack Iranian nuclear sites.

Meantime, other cruise missiles or drones would have targeted Iran’s command and control.

This is what the Iranian leadership would have feared the most.  They will tolerate attacks on their militias.  They don’t want America to target Iranian leaders.

Although it seems that calm has been restored in the region, it’s important to remember the first words that came out of Trumps mouth when he addressed the nation on Wednesday.  He said, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”

Unless the US has a method for sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program that implies more military action is to be expected – at some time.

Analysis 12-20-2019

ANALYSIS

Impeaching Trump Threatens Widespread Civil Unrest

The battle for the impeachment, conviction, and removal of Trump from office isn’t only in the Congress.  As the House votes for impeachment, the battle lines are being drawn across the US and the potential for violence is growing.

On Tuesday night, tens of thousands of anti-Trump protestors came together across the nation to push for Trump’s impeachment in the House of Representatives.

Groups opposing to Trump had organized more than 600 events ranging from Florida to Alaska.  However, for all the passion, the gatherings were smaller than other mass protests, possibly due to the last-minute nature of the events.

But this isn’t the only side preparing for mass demonstrations in the streets of the nation.

300,000 motorcycle enthusiasts called “Rolling Thunder” have made it clear that they will roll into Washington DC to save Trump if the Senate trial looks bad for the president.

Dale Herndon, National Director of Bikers for Trump said, “We will ride, if and when the president looks as if he is in danger with some senators flipping,” specifically centrist Republicans, which he calls RINOs (Republicans in Name only).

The group has a sign-up page on Facebook, which has 300,000 members.

The threat of civil unrest isn’t limited to pro-Trump bikers.  In an interview with Fox News, Pastor Robert Jeffress said removing Trump from office would cause a civil war fracture in the US that would never heal.

Oath Keepers, considered a militia group by some was also using the words “civil war.”  Stewart Rhodes, head of Oath Keepers tweeted, “we are on the verge of a hot civil war.”  The twitter account also noted, “the militia (that’s us) can be called forth to execute the laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions.”

Representative Louie Gohmert (R. Texas) said a few weeks ago that the Democratic push for impeachment is “about to push this country to a civil war.”  Gohmert spoke right after the vote on the impeachment rules.

“And, if there is one thing I don’t want to see in my lifetime, Gohmert said, “I don’t want to ever have participation in a civil war.  Some historian, I don’t remember who, said guns are only involved in the last phase of a civil war.”

Firearms are a key issue in this debate.  One pro-Trump supporter at a Trump rally in Hersey, PA told CBS News “my .357 Magnum (a heavy caliber revolver) is comfortable with that.  End of story.”

Another person at the same rally said,” There’ll be a lot of mad Americans, possibly 70 to 80 million Americans on the loose – not very happy.”

Since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported last week that Americans own 423 million firearms (about 1.2 per American) and billions of rounds of ammunition, this is a serious threat.  17.7 million of them are modern “assault rifles” like the AR-15 and AK-47 (half of all guns produced in 2017 where these type of firearms).

Given the large number of gun owners in the US and the possibility of civil unrest, any attempt to curb gun ownership is seen as a threat.

In the state of Kentucky, which has a Democratic governor who wants to restrict gun ownership, Harlan County leaders voted to protect gun owners from any attempt by the state or federal government to confiscate firearms.  The measure passed unanimously this week.

Other Kentucky counties are also looking at passing similar laws.

There are also similar anti-gun laws in place in the states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico.  In the State of Washington, there is a petition being circulated that calls for the impeachment of the Governor and Attorney General of the state due to their efforts to restrict firearms.

However, if there is an epicenter for this firearm “pushback,” it is Virginia, which elected a pro-gun control governor and legislature.  They are looking at passing laws restricting the training of people in firearms usage, gun registration, and making many semi-automatic firearms illegal.  This has outraged the majority of the state.

As of this week, 95 counties, cities, or municipalities have passed resolutions to protect what they believe to be Americans constitutional right to own firearms.  90% of the Virginia counties have joined in.  Other locations are still debating their stances.

This isn’t limited to words.  Tazwell County in Southwest Virginia passed a Second Amendment resolution, but they have also officially begun to form a militia.  The vote was unanimous and received a cheer from the crowd.

County Administrator Eric Young explained that the Virginia Constitution reserves the right to “order” militias to the localities.  Therefore, counties, not the state determine the type of arms that may be carried and by whom.  “So we are ordering the militia by making sure everyone can own a weapon.”

He continued, “Thus, if anyone from the state tries to remove the Sheriff from their elected office because they refuse to enforce unjust laws, those state officials will be faced with a lawful militia composed of citizens of the state.”

There will be training in the county for citizens to make sure everyone is acting safely and responsibility.  However, some of the proposed state legislation will prohibit any paramilitary training.

Of course, pro-firearm laws by localities have upset many at the state and federal level.  State Representative Donald MacEachin said that the governor could call up the National Guard to squelch the rebellion.

MacEachin said, “The governor may have to nationalize the National Guard to enforce the law…That’s his call because I don’t know how serious these counties are and how severe the violations of the law will be.  But that’s obviously an option he has.”

When questioned, the Adjutant of the Virginia National Guard, Major General Timothy Williams, responded vaguely in Twitter, “We will not speculate about the possible use of the Virginia National Guard.”

The events in Virginia aren’t isolated.  Social media and many on the internet have called for support of Virginia gun owners, including travelling to Virginia to help protest.  Undoubtedly some private militias from neighboring states have plans if the situation becomes more serious.

A possible flashpoint is January 20th, which the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s Lobby Day, where gun owners will descend on the capital Richmond to lobby against the proposed legislation.  The league, however, has asked militias to stay away and for anyone attending to follow all laws pertaining to carrying a firearm.

What’s Next?

Although it is impossible to predict a flashpoint, the circumstances are creating several possibilities for a civil war.  Not only have many, including national political leaders, predicted it, several states like Virginia, have pushed confrontation to the limit.

A good example is the unplanned flashpoint for the American Revolutionary War.  Although British troops and American militias had had standoffs that ended peacefully before April 19, 1775, it was the event at Lexington Massachusetts that started the war.  It was a British officer, who had orders to go to Concord to capture a militia arsenal, who left the road to challenge an American militia unit on the Lexington Commons.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The state of Virginia and most Virginia localities are headed for a confrontation.  This confrontation, although about firearm ownership, is also made more volatile by the Trump Impeachment.  No one will admit it, but the fact that there is talk about a civil war means that both sides see firearm ownership as critical in any conflict.

Trump supporters see the threat of a coup to remove a duly elected president and the abrogation of the Second Amendment, which guarantees the ownership of guns.  Democrats see a well-armed America upset with the outcome of the Trump impeachment taking up arms.

While it is easy to see any conflict as being short due to the presence of large, well-armed American military, there are two facts to remember.  First, Americans own over 400 million firearms and billions of rounds of ammunition.  There is no way that all of them can be found and confiscated.

Second, a large military doesn’t always guarantee success.  Just ask the Russians and Americans about Afghanistan.

Analysis 11-15-2019

ANALYSIS

Erdogan Visits the White House

Erdogan’s Turkey could best be described as America’s worst friend or best enemy.  Even though they are allies by treaty, the US and Turkey have tended to go separate ways over the last few years.  While the US has sanctioned Iran, Turkey has abetted the sanctions.  Although a NATO partner, Turkey has purchased the Russian air defense system.  And, Turkey and the US stand on different sides when it comes to Syria.

Despite this, on Wednesday, Erdogan made a trip to the White House and spoke with President Trump – a visit that many believed would never take place.  Although a “Frank” discussion, the focus by both presidents afterwards was mostly on positives.

But not all of Washington welcomed Erdogan’s visit.  Congress and a bipartisan majority of lawmakers opposed the trip due to Turkey’s foreign policy and its treatment of minorities, especially the Kurds.  Earlier this week, Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representative sent a letter to Trump asking him to cancel Erdogan’s trip to the White House.

“President Erdogan’s decision to invade northern Syria on October 9 has had disastrous consequences on US national security,” the letter said.  “Turkish forces have killed civilians and members of the Syrian Democratic forces, a critical partner in the US fight against ISIS.”

Despite the criticism from lawmakers and some in his administration, polls show that most American voters support Trump’s attempt to lower the military presence in Syria and the whole region.  However, there were demonstrations by Kurds, dissident Turks, Armenians, and Syrians during the Erdogan visit.  And, there are the attacks by Erdogan’s guards during the last visit that hangs over the whole visit.

According to Senator Rubio, Erdogan has four goals during the visit: Reduce the sanctions that Trump has threatened on Turkey for buying the Russian S-400 air defense system, extradite Gulen back to Turkey, pressure the US to stop patrolling with the Kurds, and make the US aware that Turkey would take action to eliminate General Abdi of the Syrian Democratic forces.

Trump, who honed his negotiation skills in the New York real estate market is more than willing to deal but will expect a tangible concession from Erdogan – something more than the ceasefire (something that wasn’t forthcoming).

The Kissinger Model

So, what is driving the Trump policy that seems in direct conflict with the experts?

One needs to look at Dr. Henry Kissinger, who as we mentioned in the past, has regular visits with Trump and his administration.  Kissinger was frequently criticized for his moves in opening China, negotiating arms treaties with the Soviet Union, and removing US forces from Vietnam.

What Trump is doing appears to be right out of the Kissinger playbook.

In the book, Kissinger laments the foreign policy decisions made by 20th century diplomatic “experts,” which led to two damaging world wars.

Today, Kissinger sees a rising China, a weaker Russia and a US that is powerful, but not supreme.  What is needed is a balance of power.

In the case of the Middle East, Turkey is a key player – not because of its adherence to the concepts of democracy or human rights (remember Kissinger dealt with the USSR and China despite being labeled as totalitarian by American leaders).

Although Erdogan has pushed the limit in terms of its relationships with the US and its European allies, Turkey remains an important nation in the Middle East.  And, despite Erdogan’s dalliances with Iran and Russia, these two nations have been traditional opponents of Turkey in the diplomatic tug of war in the Middle East.

In other words, although Turkey may be working with Russia and Iran now, they will try to prevent either Iran or Russia from becoming the major power in the Middle East.

This points to the most important criteria in balance of power politics.  The national leadership must be flexible enough to shift alliances (despite ethical issues) to maintain the balance of power, and thus, a relative peace in the region.

Supporters of Trump are claiming that the US isn’t giving up its own influence.  By occupying the Syrian oil fields, which aren’t large (but are going to critical for any final peace settlement), to them the US will have an important role in creating the eventual balance of power.

This is where President Trump differs with the Washington establishment.  As a commercial negotiator he is more than willing to make a deal with anyone.

What is Important in a “Balance of Power” meeting?

If Trump is more interested in creating a balance of power in the Middle East, the rules for a successful meeting with Erdogan are different.  Issues like trade agreements are unimportant.  Nor is an agreement locking out Russia or Iran critical.

What is important is that lines of communications are kept open and issues that separate the two nations don’t preclude keeping a balance in the region.  The focus is on common areas of agreement.

This is what happened with the Trump-Erdogan meeting this week.

Although Trump highlighted the Russian sale of the S-400 to Turkey and how that hinders closer relations, Trump made it clear that it wasn’t going to cause a breach in relations.  Trump also focused on positive US-Turkish relations like economic relations and the NATO alliance.

Erdogan also focused on areas of agreement like the possibility that Turkey could purchase some American Patriot missile systems and Christian minorities in Turkey and Syria.  He also asserted that Turkey was the ideal ally to help defeat ISIS.

In the end, what happened was that both nations agreed to keep communication open and to cooperate on policies of mutual interest.

Some experts in Washington are observing that this was not what Iran, America’s opponent in the region, wanted.  They would prefer a hostile relationship between Turkey and America.  They didn’t get that with the Erdogan-Trump meeting.  In fact, the Erdogan-Trump meeting was the last thing Iran or Russia wanted.

In understanding the Trump foreign policy, one must understand the Kissinger approach to diplomacy.  It is not a policy of spreading American values through the occupation of American soldiers – which has been American policy for decades.  The Trump-Kissinger policy is to avoid wars that destabilize regions.

The war on Syria has been a destabilizing factor in the region for the last few years.  By holding on to the Syrian oil fields and allowing Turkey, Russia, and Iran to create a political balance in the area, Trump has prevented a grand alliance of Russia, Turkey, and Iran to oppose America.  This, in turn, allows the US to cut back on its military presence.

Although many in Washington don’t like this policy, it’s important to remember that Kissinger and Nixon faced the same opposition from politicians and experts in the 1960s and 1970s.  Although Trump and Erdogan met this week in Washington, the outrage was nothing compared to when Nixon went to China and toasted Chairman Mao.

Nixon’s move to establish relations with China was critical to minimizing Soviet power and encouraging them to seek friendlier relations with the US.

And, as with the Nixon-Kissinger policy, what happens with the Trump policy will not be known for years.

Analysis 11-08-2019

ANALYSIS

Looking at the Last American Elections until 2020

This week several states held off year elections.  And, though it is easy to try to extrapolate these results into a national trend, it’s important to remember that all these elections revolved around candidates and local issues.

In this case, both Republicans and Democrats have something to be happy about.

Virginia

Virginia was once a Republican state with a balance of mostly liberal suburbs in the north around Washington DC, Conservative military families around Norfolk, and conservative voters in the rural areas in the southwest.  That has changed.

As the suburbs around Washington DC grew with an influx of government workers and government contractors, the state grew increasingly liberal and friendlier towards the Democratic Party.  In fact, the state has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate for the last three presidential elections.

Now the state has turned fully Democratic as the state now has both a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature, thanks to an election that gave a majority of legislature seats to the Democrats.

Part of the problem was due to a state Republican Party that didn’t even run candidates in about a quarter of the seats in the election – some of which were Republican districts.  Democrats didn’t face a Republican opponent in 10 of the 40 state senate seats and 23 of the 100 House of Delegates seats.  That makes it nearly impossible to stay in control of the legislature.

Kentucky

Kentucky is a conservative Republican state.  That’s why the victory of Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear by a few thousand votes seems to be a dramatic shift in voter sentiment.  But there is more to it.

Beshear is the son of a two-term governor, so he had name recognition.  Meanwhile, Republican incumbent Bevin was unpopular due to cuts in Medicare and pensions.  Bevin also barely won the Republican primary earlier this year.  However, Bevin nearly came back from a 15% deficit thanks to a Trump visit in the last days of the campaign.

However, it appears that the problem was Bevin, not the Republican message.  All the other statewide offices were won by Republicans and the two Kentucky chambers of the legislature have Republican super majorities.

Mississippi

Mississippi wasn’t a surprise as Republican Tate Reeves was elected governor in a generally Republican state.  This was another state, where a Trump campaign visit helped boost the Republican voter turnout.

Other Elections

Democratic Arizona city Tucson overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to become a sanctuary city, where police couldn’t inquire about the immigration status of people they encounter.  The referendum was opposed by both Democrats and Republicans and went down to defeat by over 70%.

Seattle, Washington is a very liberal city that had a socialist on the City Council.  However, the socialist, Kshama Sawant, lost her bid for reelection.  Internet company Amazon, which is based in Seattle, spent millions to defeat anti-business liberals in the last weeks of the campaign.

In liberal Texas city, Houston, the Democratic mayor failed to win a majority of the votes and must go to a runoff against Republican Tony Buzbee.  There will be a runoff election in December.

New Jersey Republicans won key battleground districts for the New Jersey state legislature, although the Democrats still control the state legislature.  These wins were in south New Jersey, which is more conservative.

So, what do these elections mean?  Both sides have something to brag about, but there is no clear trend.  In many cases like New Jersey and Virginia, it was the efforts by the local political parties that were responsible for the results.  In cases like Kentucky, it was the candidate himself that was responsible for the loss.

Impeachment

So, if the election results don’t give us any clear indication of what will happen in 2020, what about the polls?

They will not help either.  There are a lot of polling services today in the US and competing for business has less to do with reliability than the polling company’s willingness to skew the poll results to fit the customer’s wishes.

One good example in the last week was Fox News’s poll on Trump impeachment.  The results showed that 51% of those polled wanted Trump to be impeached – not an overwhelming majority, but a majority, nevertheless.

However, a look at the poll internals showed that the results were seriously skewed.  The internals of the poll showed that 49% of those polled identified themselves as Democrats, when the actual number of self-identified Democrats in the nation is somewhere between 30% to 35 %.  Given the fact that a large majority of Democrats favor a Trump impeachment, no wonder the poll was so skewed, even though the majority of independents and Republicans don’t want Trump impeached.

A Monmouth poll released this week showed that 73% of respondents have little or no trust in the impeachment process.  60% say Democrats are more interested in bringing down Trump than in learning the facts.

Which brings us to the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.  If most people don’t favor impeachment, why is the Democratic majority still holding hearings, especially since the presidential elections are in a year?  It would make more sense to focus on beating Trump at the ballot box than through an impeachment process that will divide the nation and probably stall when it reaches the Senate.  In fact, the Monmouth poll said a majority of respondents say people who want Trump out of office should just vote him out of office next year instead of going through the impeachment process.

Although there are a lot of theories, the most logical is that Democrats hope the investigation will turn up some evidence of Trump wrongdoing.  That will weaken Trump enough that the Democratic candidate can win next November.

But, will that strategy work?  Democrats have been trying to find Trump wrongdoing for three years, without any success.  And, the Monmouth poll indicates voters won’t believe the House Democrats anyway.

Then there is a realization amongst Democrats that their slate of presidential candidates is weak.  Biden was the strongest candidate, but his numbers are falling as corruption issues and campaign missteps dog him.  Senator Sanders has lost some of his excitement from 2016 and now appears to be an old candidate with heart problems.

Other candidates like Warren may not escape problems too, the media and other candidates are critical of her Medicare for all plan.  Then there is the number of Democratic candidate debates, which have provided “some radical sound bites” that will be ideal for Trump campaign advertisements.

With such a not too strong candidate list, Democrats hope that they can use the impeachment to weaken Trump’s support.

The problem is that the Trump voters, who helped him win in 2016, are still solidly behind him – a real frustration for the Democrats.  The daily attacks against him are now ignored by his voters as more examples of “fake news.”  They see the impeachment as a political game rather than a real investigation into corruption.

This was seen in this week’s New York Times/Siena College poll that showed Trump doing well in battleground states that will decide the 2020 campaign.   These included Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.  Although former vice President Biden has a narrow lead (2% or less) in these states, the other Democratic candidates are behind Trump.  Trump is also making inroads in traditional Democratic demographics like blue collar white voters and minorities.

Given what the Democrats are facing – weak presidential candidates and firm support for Trump – they can’t rely only upon traditional campaign strategy.  Impeachment appears to be the best course to a 2020 Democratic presidential victory.

There are, however, problems with this strategy.  First, they must find something that will weaken Trump’s support – something they have failed to find in 3 years.

Second, they are failing to use their congressional majority to pass popular legislation that may help win votes.  History shows that elections are won on positive action like legislation, not negative action like impeachment.  That’s one reason why the Republicans lost congressional seats after impeaching Clinton.

Finally, the current congressional impeachment process is far removed from previous impeachment hearings against Nixon and Clinton.  Trump supporters claiming that Americans are accustomed to legal process that gives the defendant certain rights but have been denied to Trump and his lawyers.  This gives the whole process a more political taint that will have an impact next year.

In the end, the 2020 election is still up for grabs.  Trump will have the advantage of incumbency which has given the president in office a reelection victory in every election since World War Two, except for two (Carter and the first Bush).  On the other hand, there is a large “Never Trump” voter bloc that will be energized to vote next November.

We will just have to wait and see.

PUBLICATIONS

Syria and Chemical Weapons: The Horror Continues

By Peter Brookes

Heritage Foundation

November 6, 2019

From the demise of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces, Syria has been in the news recently and often. What hasn’t made headlines much is Damascus‘ continuing possession and use of chemical weapons. And that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten. The regime of Bashar Assad has a long history of using chemical weapons — one that started even before the Aug. 21, 2013, attack on Syrians living in the Ghouta district just outside Damascus. The regime’s release of sarin gas — a highly toxic nerve agent — reportedly killed more than 1,400 people and injured thousands more. Mr. Assad still has the capability — and, apparently, the willingness — to use chemical weapons against his fellow Syrians. The U.S. State Department reports that he used another deadly chemical weapon — chlorine gas — this May in an assault on insurgents in Idlib province.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/syria-and-chemical-weapons-the-horror-continues

Beyond Baghdadi: The Next Wave of Jihadist Violence

By Seth G. Jones

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 4, 2019

The death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—and his replacement by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi—is another setback for the jihadist movement that captured the world’s attention beginning in 2014. Following its military defeat along the Hajin-Baghuz corridor in Syria earlier this year, the Islamic State lost its last major area of control in Syria and Iraq, which at its largest point approached the size of Belgium. U.S. military and intelligence units had also decimated the Islamic State’s external operations capability, killing leaders like Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the chief spokesman and head of Islamic State external operations. Yet the death of al-Baghdadi is not the first time the demise of a jihadist leader has led to hope—even expectation—that the movement was on a trajectory to defeat. Nor will it be the last. In March 2003, shortly after the United States captured al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a Washington Post headline trumpeted: “Al Qaeda’s Top Primed to Collapse, U.S. Says.” After the 2006 death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq and a predecessor of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, President George W. Bush remarked that his killing was a “severe blow” to jihadist networks in Iraq.3 Not to be outdone, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked in May 2011 that “the death of Osama bin Laden has put al-Qaeda on the path to defeat.”

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/beyond-baghdadi-next-wave-jihadist-violence

Military Officers in the Gulf: Career Trajectories and Determinants

By Zoltan Barany

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 5, 2019

Relatively little is known about officer corps of the six GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – even though thousands of Western military advisors and instructors have worked with them since they gained independence. The aim of this Burke Chair Report is to analyze the officer corps of the armies of Arabia with special attention to socio-cultural factors. The report demonstrates that the disparities between wealthy – as measured by per capita GDP – Gulf states (Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE) and less affluent ones (Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia) manifest themselves in the divergent socio-economic background and career prospects of their professional military personnel. In the wealthier states individuals from (comparatively) lower income and social-status backgrounds tend to find the military career appealing while their colleagues in the more modestly endowed GCC countries usually come from more prominent socioeconomic environments. Shia Muslim communities are essentially banished from the Bahraini and Saudi armed forces while in Kuwait they suffer no such discrimination.

Analysis 10-28-2019

ANALASYS

American Military’s Shifting Doctrine

While the world is focused on President Trump’s shifting of military assets out of Syria, the US military is shifting its thinking from a Middle Eastern war to one where they confront “major military powers.”  This new national defense strategy is one reason why there is a sudden focus on countering new military technology like hypersonic missiles from Russia and China.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, US military thought has focused on small scale conflicts, not the major wars.  As a result, the US military evolved away from a major land army and into one that could deploy quickly to small theaters of operations.  The focus moved away from the weapons of conventional war like tanks and towards lighter vehicles like Strykers that could be quickly deployed on transport aircraft, and highly trained Special Forces that could carry out low profile operations in places like Syria.

Suddenly parts of the military like main battle tanks, which were forgotten in the post 9-11 era, are back in vogue.  Amphibious vehicles for “island hopping” operations like those carried out in WWII are being used in training.  Other battlefield weapons like long range rocket assisted artillery are being pushed.  And, with the INF treaty constraints out of the way, the US Army is testing a new medium-range conventional missile with a range of from 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

While both Russia and China are mentioned, much of the thinking is directed towards China and the South China Sea.  The US military is working more closely with allies in the region and US tactical doctrine is gearing up for conflict in that theater of operations.

Last month, the US Marine Corps held exercises on the Japanese islet of Tore Shima to practice landings on “hostile” shores and carry out the seizure of landing strips – a military exercise designed to show the ability of the US military to invade a disputed island like those in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon said, “This type of raid gives the commanders in the Indo-Pacific region the ability to project power and conduct expeditionary operations in a potentially contested littoral environment.”  The impetus came directly from the Secretary of Defense according to Military.com.

Although the US Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force are the usual forces for projecting power, this new doctrine applies to all the services.  The Secretary of the Army speaks about changing the “geometry within Southeast Asia.”

“If we can get the appropriate partnerships, expeditionary basing rights with partners in the region, we can change the geometry,” he said.

As proof of the new focus, the major Army exercise in the Indo-Pacific Theater in 2020 will focus on the South China Sea scenario.  It will focus on rapid deployment from the continental United States to the Pacific.  The plan is to bring over a division headquarters and several brigades.

In order to make the objective clear, General Robert Brown said, “We won’t go to Korea.  We will go to a South China Sea scenario where we will be around the South China Sea.  Brown said forces will be in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.

This week US forces held joint training with one of those allies that it is relying upon for bases in case of a conflict; Brunei.  The exercises simulated the securing of a beachhead and conducting jungle warfare.  The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) participated along with ships of the US and Brunei navies.

The US Air Force, which has been carrying over flights of the South China Sea, is tailoring its training for a potential outbreak of hostilities with China.  American F-35s are being transferred to a Nevada flight training facility to mimic Chinese J-20 fighter aircraft.  Like the legendary “Top Gun” School, this will give US pilots practice in combating Chinese aircraft and countering Chinese combat tactics.

However, if conflict breaks out in the South China Sea, it will be the US Navy and Marines that will have the hardest task – invading and holding Chinese islands in the area.

Although the US Navy and Marines have a joint history – carrying out amphibious operations like those in WWII – their doctrine has drifted apart in the last few decades as Marines have been deployed on land much like the US Army.  Even when they operate with the Navy, it is frequently for tasks such as intercepting ships in the Arabian Gulf and inspecting them.

That is okay in environments like the Middle East, but it will not work with a major power like Russia or China.  Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger outlined a new Marine doctrine, where the USMC will be able to operate against major powers in conjunction with the US Navy.

Captain Lance Lesher, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 8 told the US Naval Institute last week, “We’ve been anchored kind of to the Arabian Gulf for quite some time.  Now, and with great power competition, the emphasis is that we are not limited to one specific area…What I’m getting from my bosses consistently is, we are worldwide deployable, and we need to do all those missions.”

This new type of doctrine was seen in an exercise of the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit last week.  It integrates the sailors and marines more like they were in previous decades like the Cold War era.  Although they didn’t go into the specifics of the exercise, they touched on fighting in the Pacific in WWII, specifically Guadalcanal – a strong implication that the US is developing plans and capabilities to be able to invade and take the artificial islands China has built in the South China Sea.

One of the problems with this new doctrine is that conventional war with a major power like China requires larger numbers of soldiers, sailors, and marines.

The US military is much smaller than it was just a few years ago.  The American Army, which was once easy to enlist in during the Cold War, has become one of the most selective employers.  Today, it is a highly professional force with a large Special Forces contingent and technical specialty.

About 75% of American youth are unqualified to be in the US military due to weight, health, educational deficiencies, or drug usage.

Unfortunately, major wars with major powers require larger militaries.  Once the US military could rely upon a small professional military with the skills to operate high tech equipment.  However, the once vaunted technological edge that the American military had over its opponents has been squandered.  Russia and China have caught up with US technology and even surpassed it in some fields.

This manpower shortage has shown up in the new push to have sailors and marines work more closely together.  The 26th MEU is training as firefighters in order to support Navy damage control teams onboard ships.  In the past, naval personnel were able to fill all the damage control teams.  However, as enlistments fail to meet quotas, the marines onboard are being used to fill the manpower holes.

Of course, keeping a ship afloat is also in the marines’ interest too.

The new national defense directive must be more than new tactical doctrine.  It will require new and refurbished equipment and more manpower.  During the Obama years, the focus was on increased numbers of highly trained Special Forces and light, inexpensive equipment.

But a few thousand Special Forces can’t compete with hundreds of thousands of Russian or Chinese troops.  And, the mine resistant vehicles and Strykers in Afghanistan and Iran can’t even stop the bullets of Russian and Chinese heavy machine guns, much less their tanks.

The military will use “patches” in the short term.  Expect “legacy” forces like the American main battle tank, the M-1 Abrams, to be refurbished and redeployed.  Long range artillery and missiles will help keep enemy units at “arm’s length.”

Trump’s decision to redeploy US forces reflects a change in American defense strategy.  Although some forces are being deployed to places like Saudi Arabia, these forces are not designed for combat in a South China Sea scenario.

The new focus is the South China Sea.  While the Middle East is still in the minds of the American military, those forces that can make a difference will be looking to East Asia in the future.