Analysis 02-06-2015


The CIA- Mossad Joint Assassination

Why Now, What Does it Mean and Is it a Smart Tactic?

The Washington Post reported this week that in 2008, the CIA worked with the Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, to kill Imad Mughniyah, an important Hezbollah military leader. According to the Post, Mossad placed the bomb and made sure it was on target, but the CIA built the bomb, testing it 25 times to make sure the blast wouldn’t damage a large area thereby causing collateral damage.

The story is interesting in and of itself – more like a Hollywood action movie than a real life operation. However, the big question is: why is it coming out now, when American-Israeli relations are so strained and Israel and Hezbollah may be on the verge of war?

If one believes that the Obama administration is behind the leak, then the leak is probably intended to send a message to Israelis and/or their Prime Minister Netanyahu.  In that case, the message is that Israel and the United States can accomplish worthwhile things when they cooperate. Conversely, it means that Israelis need a Prime Minister with whom the American president will cooperate.

Alternatively, the message might be that the U.S. knows Israel’s secrets and that if Prime Minister Netanyahu embarrasses President Obama, the administration’s next leaks will be highly damaging to Israel.

The leak about Mughniyah, while perhaps not highly damaging to Israel, probably isn’t welcome. As noted, tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are running high in the aftermath of deadly attacks by both sides against the other.  In that light, does the Obama want to exacerbate the tensions by inflaming Hezbollah? If he intends to hurt Netanyahu politically, it was a bad move as Netanyahu’s chances for reelection or popularity internally are not affected by such leaks, although it may complicate matters to him.

Of course, it may have been the work of several in the intelligence community who want to heighten tensions in the region.  However, since the Obama Administration has been brutal in prosecuting people in the government who leak embarrassing information, it’s highly unlikely – especially since it appears that up to 5 people provided information and collaboration.

It is important to note that the killing of Mughniyah occurred during the Bush administration. Thus, the leaked information does not implicate the Obama administration – which raises a question about the level of Obama CIA? Mossad cooperation there is now?.

There was a clear reason for the CIA’s role in the assassination of Mughniyah. According to the Post, Mughniyah had been implicated in the killing of hundreds of Americans, dating back to the embassy bombing in Beirut in 1982 that killed 63 people, including eight CIA officers. He was also believed to have been involved in the 1984 kidnapping and torture of the CIA’s station chief in Lebanon, William Francis Buckley. Few politicians would have problems with this assassination.

Are Assassinations Helping or Hurting?

Assassination has always been a questionable tool, either through direct action as that against Mughniyah, or with drones as is the favorite method preferred by Obama.

This was a question being raised at the same time that the CIA was assisting the Mossad.  In a CIA report made public by Wikileaks, it appears that serious questions were being raised about the advisability of targeted assassinations and whether they help or hurt insurgencies.

A few weeks ago, WikiLeaks has released a copy of a secret CIA analysis, which reviewed the success of “High Value Target” (HVT) assassination programs used by governments to combat insurgencies. The review shows the CIA is trying to evaluate assassination attempts by colonial powers and unpopular governments that have failed to suppress revolutions.  Their study demonstrates that relying on lethal strikes to combat insurgencies has often failed to succeed.

The report was drafted by the Office of Transnational Issues (OTI), which is the agency tasked with providing senior United States policymakers, military planners and law enforcement with “analysis, warning and crisis support.”  It is dated July 7, 2009, which means it was probably drafted before Obama came to power and before he escalated use of drones to kill leaders of insurgent groups in the Middle East.

OTI studied: Afghanistan (2001- June 2009), Algeria (1954-1962), Colombia (2002-June 2009), Iraq (2004- June 2009), Israel (1972 to mid-1990s, mid-1990s to June 2009), Peru (1980-1999), Northern Ireland (1969-1998) and Sri Lanka (1983 – May 2009). Examples from Chechnya, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand were also considered as well.

The analysis was very cautionary about the value of assassinations.  The report stated strikes, “may increase support for the insurgents, particularly if these strikes enhance insurgent leaders’ lore, if noncombatants are killed in the attacks, if legitimate or semi legitimate politicians aligned with the insurgents are targeted, or if the government is already seen as overly repressive or violent. Because of the psychological nature of insurgency, either side’s actions are less important than how events are perceived by key audiences inside and outside the country, according to an academic expert on counterinsurgency.”

The report looked at Israeli assassinations and their degree of success.  They noted from 2000 to 2002, in Israel, these efforts “strengthened solidarity between terrorist groups and bolstered popular support for hardline militant leaders, according to US Embassy officials in Jerusalem and clandestine reporting.”  These are words that hardly advocate an expanded assassination program.

The report also looked at programs outside the current situation.  They noted, since 2004, the Thai Government’s fixation on targeting southern insurgent leaders—which in the late 1990s proved effective against an earlier generation of insurgents—has caused Bangkok to misperceive the decentralized nature of the movement and miss opportunities to counter it, according to reporting from the US Embassy in Bangkok.

The report also looked back at Algeria’s fight for independence and France’s brutal attempt to crush it.  “The National Liberation Front (FLN) began a revolt in 1954 against French rule in Algeria with the goal of establishing an independent state. The group’s campaign of urban terrorism, intended to provoke a French overreaction that targeted the general Algerian population, succeeded, and the resulting loss of civilians increased the FLN’s popularity, according to an academic study. French efforts to target FLN leaders included intelligence-driven commando raids on insurgent hideouts, according to a former insurgent, and culminated in the 1956 capture of FLN chief Ahmad Ben Bella and four other top leaders during a flight from Rabat to Tunis. Ben Bella was a relative moderate among the FLN leadership, and his capture enhanced the influence of radical Algeria-based leaders, according to academic studies. French military gains from 1956 to 1958 shifted the conflict sharply against the insurgents, according to a RAND study. However, the draconian measures taken to quell the insurgency eroded French domestic and international support for the effort, resulting in Algeria achieving independence in 1962, according to the RAND study.”

Warnings Ignored

While such assassination attempts seem like quick expedients to fight terrorists or insurgents, the report warned of several problems.  And, although some in Obama’s national security team have surely read the report, it appears that they have failed to take some of the warnings to heart.

One warning is that HVT projects can become a focus of a nation and its security community.  They note, “HVT operations can capture the attention of policymakers and military planners to the extent that a government loses its strategic perspective on the conflict or neglects other key aspects of counterinsurgency.”

This can be seen here in the US as Obama focuses on okaying each drone strike and many parts of the intelligence and defense community are solely focused on the drone program.

The report also warns that aggressive targeting can force groups to fragment and sometimes rely upon more radical elements for leadership.  They note, “aggressive HVT strategy risks fragmenting an insurgency or causing it to devolve into terrorist or criminal activity.”

The emergence of more aggressive groups of Al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, northwest Africa and Somalia is exactly what has happened in the past years as the CIA (and US military) has escalated its use of HVT operations.

Ironically, the State Department’s own report on terrorism last year admitted the same trouble.  They note, “Leadership losses (of AQ) in Pakistan, coupled with weak governance and instability in the Middle East and Northwest Africa, have accelerated the decentralization of the movement and led to the affiliates in the AQ network becoming more operationally autonomous from core AQ and increasingly focused on local and regional objectives.”

Although the report looked at assassination in terms of fighting al Qaeda, the same analysis also applies to ISIS and the Obama drone assassination policy can be seen as helping ISIS rather than destroying it.

During the Bush Administration, the reliance on drone strikes was perceived as having a moderate impact on al Qaeda in Iraq. However, as evidenced by Obama’s decision to escalate more attacks in Iraq to go after ISIS, those “successes” did not rid the country of the threat. It is also very debatable whether the CIA’s own operations were helping to stabilize the region, given the fact that it is teaming up with the Mossad to assassinate high value targets.


Obama’s 2016 Budget

This week Obama submitted his 2016 to Congress.   And, as always happens when the Congress and White House are controlled by different parties, Congress quickly declared it, “Dead on arrival.”

Of course, that was okay with Obama as the budget was less a spending plan than a political document for the 2016 presidential election.  The plan is to set up “income inequality,” as a campaign theme for the Democrats.  The budget also plays to the Democratic base with proposals to increase spending for domestic programs such as education and child care and expanding Social Security benefits for same-sex couples.

The budget also is designed to force a confrontation between national security Republicans and the wing of the party that wants to cuts spending.  He is offering a $38 billion increase for national security programs over current budget caps and $37 billion more in discretionary spending for domestic programs. His proposal to relax those spending limits, known as sequestration, would put discretionary spending for fiscal 2016 at $1.091 trillion, which is $74 billion above the limits.

There is also a focus on is cybersecurity.  After the hacks against banks, Sony and the U.S. Postal Service, the White House and lawmakers in both parties have been searching for ways to deter attacks, respond to them when they happen, and, in some cases, retaliate.  Obama’s budget would spend $14 billion, spread across government agencies, to bolster cybersecurity.

In addition to new taxes and greatly increased spending, the budget is designed to force a confrontation with congressional Republicans.  Obama coupled his budget proposal with a threat. “I’m not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward. It would be bad for our security, and bad for our growth,”

The White House strategy is simple.  Either Obama well get what he wants in the budget – and many new programs for his Democratic base – or the media will give him cover by blaming a shutdown based on a budget impasse on John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.  He also knows that Republican failure to cut spending would mean punishment by Republican voters come 2016.

However, Republican lawmakers do have public opinion on their side.  Voters clearly have told pollsters that they want less spending and do not trust the government to spend their money wisely.

Be prepared for another game of budget brinkmanship this fall.



A Proposal for the FY 2016 Defense Budget

By Diem Nguyen Salmon

Heritage Foundation

January 30, 2015

Backgrounder #2989

U.S. foreign and defense policy has reached a critical juncture. In an astonishingly brief period of time, the world—and America’s place in it—has changed dramatically. During this period, presidential elections, the financial crisis, and government shutdown politics largely supplanted overseas engagements and foreign affairs in the minds of the White House and Congress. The swearing-in of a new Congress and a new majority party in the Senate provides an important opportunity to reassess the objectives of U.S. foreign policy and to align other policy priorities accordingly. The U.S. defense budget is the first among the items to reconsider in the context of a changing international landscape. While foreign policy matters cannot simply be solved with more money for defense, little can be expected to change without it.  Consecutive years of across-the-board budget cuts have significantly weakened the U.S. military. The military will likely need several years of reinvestment to return to a sound footing, and a higher defense budget for fiscal year (FY) 2016 would be an encouraging start.

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Iran Negotiations: The Policy Consequences of Time

By Simond de Galbert

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 4, 2015

Absent an agreement in July, the temptation to preserve and continue the P5+1 negotiating framework in place will be great. But there will be policy costs and consequences to maintain the status quo that may not be in the West’s interests, specifically if the impact of sanctions decreases over time or alternatively if Iran does not continue to restrain its nuclear development throughout the negotiating period.  Negotiations surrounding Iran’s nuclear program have been substantive over the past year, and some progress has been achieved. It logically justified two negotiating extensions. Whether Iran will be willing to make the necessary choices to bring its positions closer to those of the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, plus Germany) to reach an acceptable outcome remains uncertain, 15 months after the Joint Plan of Action (JPoA) was agreed in Geneva in November 2013. But, should Tehran choose to maintain its negotiating posture that it will retain a dual-capable nuclear program, the P5+1 will be unable to accommodate Iran’s position.

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Transition in Afghanistan: Losing the Forgotten War?

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 4, 2015

The report focuses on the lessons that need to be learned from of the US experience in Afghanistan to date, and the problems Afghanistan faces now that most US and allied combat forces have left. It builds on more than a decade’s worth of reporting and analysis of the Afghan war. It examines the recent trends and problems in Afghan governance, the trends in the fighting, progress in the Afghan security forces, and what may be a growing crisis in the Afghan economy.

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Simmering Unrest and Succession Challenges in Oman

By Marc Valeri

Carnegie Endowment

January 28, 2015

The uncertain health of the sultan of Oman has heightened concern about the future of the country, the most personalized of all Gulf monarchies. Many Omanis have long equated the country with its ruler, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who won their loyalty by building up a state and a national identity centered on himself. However, amid mounting popular frustration, criticism of Qaboos has emerged, as has anxiety about what will follow his reign. There are several measures the regime can undertake to avoid further unrest.
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Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy

By Michael Doran

Hudson Institute

February 2, 2015

President Barack Obama wishes the Islamic Republic of Iran every success. Its leaders, he explained in a recent interview, stand at a crossroads. They can choose to press ahead with their nuclear program, thereby continuing to flout the will of the international community and further isolate their country; or they can accept limitations on their nuclear ambitions and enter an era of harmonious relations with the rest of the world. “They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it,” the president urged—because “if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication . . . inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power.”  How eager is the president to see Iran break through its isolation and become a very successful regional power? Very eager.

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The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects 

By Phillip Smyth

Washington Institute

February 2015

Policy Focus 138

In 2012 and early 2013, media sources were widely reporting the imminent fall of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime to Sunni rebel groups. But not long thereafter, it began to show resilience, holding off further rebel advances and even retaking lost ground.  This turnabout was fueled largely by Iran-backed Shiite proxy groups fighting on Assad’s behalf. While these groups often invoked the defense of the Sayyeda Zainab shrine as their rallying cry, their influx into Syria was far from a spontaneous expression of Shiite unity. Indeed, it reflected instead a highly organized geostrategic and ideological effort by Iran to protect its Syrian ally and project power across the Middle East. When fighting spread to neighboring Iraq, many of the Iraq-based proxies regrouped across the border to defend their homeland against advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

Analysis 01-31-2015


America’s Two Biggest Middle Eastern Allies Roil Domestic Politics

Relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia spilled out of the foreign policy arena and into domestic affairs this week.

The first was Congress’s invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress – an invitation that wasn’t first approved by the White House.  Relations between Obama and Netanyahu haven’t been cordial and the invitation by Congress was clearly meant to be a slap in the face of the president.

The issue also raised constitutional questions about the conduct for foreign policy, which is a power reserved for the president.  The criticism originated with Law Professor Michael Ramsey who maintained Congress cannot host foreign leaders, because none of the powers granted to Congress by the Constitution expressly covers such events. Second, the Constitution does expressly empower the president to “receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers,” and Congress’s invitation to Netanyahu undermines the president’s constitutional authority in this sphere.

Far from being an argument just between Republicans and Democrats, many conservative Republicans have joined in the condemnation.  In fact, the flagship of the Conservative Republican media, National Review, noted that a foreign leader may only appear before Congress at the invitation of the president.

Defenders have replied that congressmen have traditionally met with foreign leaders.  In fact, they noted that Senator Obama even travelled to Israel and met with then Prime Minister Olmert.  Supporters of the joint session of Congress also correctly noted that the Administration has approved Netanyahu’s visit to the US and therefore he has the right to speak to anyone he wants to.

The invitation and acceptance didn’t sit well with the White House.  A State Department official told Haaretz, “We thought we’d seen everything…. But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

Constitutional issues aside, the invitation clearly shows the radical divide in American/Israeli relations.  While White House relations with the current Israeli administration are cool, Netanyahu enjoys warm and widespread support in Congress on both sides of the aisle.

A sign of the difference in policy between Congress and the White House is clearly seen with the state of US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.  While the Secretary of State seems frantic to achieve any agreement with Tehran, Congress is wary of the current state of negotiations and warning Obama that any agreement with Iran must be approved by the US Senate.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering legislation proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D., NJ) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) that would impose stiff sanctions on Iran if an agreement is not reached by the deadline of June 30.  Netanyahu’s speech before Congress will surely give the legislation a boost, even though it will probably be vetoed by Obama.

The speech before Congress will also boost the chances for other pro-Israeli legislation like additional foreign aid and military support.  In fact, the speech will probably be a platform for asking for more ballistic missile defense money.

But, more than anything, the speech before the joint session of Congress signals that as far as Netanyahu is concerned, Obama is no longer a factor in American foreign policy.  Netanyahu sees little benefit in working with Obama in these next two years and has decided that he has more to gain by working directly with Congress and speaking directly to the American voter.  Kerry and Obama may threaten Netanyahu and Israel, but Netanyahu’s acceptance of the Congressional invitation to speak shows that the administration has little leverage to influence Israeli policy during the next two years.

This attitude will also likely be seen in Israel’s response to the operation in Shaba’a farm by Hezbollah.  Although an all-out war is unlikely with Israeli elections just a month away, a reelected Netanyahu may be more likely to aggressively respond to both Hezbollah and Syria, while trying to ignor any attempts by Obama and Kerry to reduce tensions.

Saudi Arabia – The Future of Relations with America will not be decided in Washington

The death of the Saudi king last week has many Americans looking at the future of Saudi/American relations.

The fact is that the relationship is older than the American/Israeli one.  The alliance dates to the end of the Second World War, when an ailing Franklin Roosevelt met Saudi Arabia’s founding king, Abdul Aziz, aboard the cruiser Quincy in the Suez Canal. Then, and for decades after, the relationship was simple: America would provide security, the Saudis oil.  They also have found themselves on the same side in terms of opposing Communism in the Cold War era, Iran’s growing influence, and al-Qaeda terrorists in the War on Terror.

However, the close relationship has been tense in the past six years as Obama has tried to extract American forces from the region, has supported the Arab Spring movement, has tried to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, and has failed to respond forcibly against extremist groups like ISIS.  And, it hasn’t helped that America is now the largest oil producer and is no longer as dependent on Saudi oil.

Despite this, the two countries need each other.  America retains a strong military presence in the Gulf, and cannot be replaced as the ultimate guarantor of Saudi security in the foreseeable future.  In the midst of turmoil across the region, and with the threat of terrorism ever-present, America still relies heavily on the Saudis for regional stability.

In many ways, both Saudi Arabia and America are suffering from a lack of clear leadership.  Saudi Arabia’s new king and crown prince are old and the inevitable fight for control of the kingdom is still to be settled.  Meanwhile, Obama has less than two years left and is increasingly being seen as ineffectual and unable to lead.  Relations are basically on autopilot and will depend to a great degree on the bureaucracies in Riyadh and Washington.

The future of US/Saudi relations does not lie either at the White House or Congress.  Rather, it probably lies in unlikely places like Madison, Wisconsin, home to likely presidential candidate Governor Scott Walker.  If not Wisconsin, look towards Florida, Texas, Kentucky, or Arkansas.

With the exception of Senator Rand Paul, who is considered an isolationist, most of the potential Republican candidates for president will likely pursue a Middle Eastern policy that more closely mirrors that of Saudi Arabia.  There will very likely be a more coherent policy of fighting ISIS and al Qaeda that will meet with agreement in Riyadh.  They will also advocate closer relations with the Sisi government in Egypt.

That’s not to say that the US and Saudi Arabia will not have disagreements under a Republican president.  Several of the potential candidates have commented on internal repression in the kingdom and that is expected to continue.  They will also side with Israel in any future talks with the Palestinians.  However, despite these differences, they will work more closely with Saudi Arabia seeking stability in the region.



Congress Should Refocus DHS on Crucial Cybersecurity Reforms

By David Inserra

Heritage Foundation

January 26, 2015

Issue Brief #4335

Several weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would provide work authorization and protection from deportation to as many as 5 million unlawful immigrants. While Heritage has written on the harm done by the President’s executive actions to the U.S. immigration system and the rule of law, another serious side effect is the harmful redirection of attention and resources away from pressing homeland security issues ranging from terrorism to emergency preparedness to institutional reform at DHS. In order to implement the President’s sweeping order, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and other leaders at DHS will simply not have the time, money, manpower, or trust of Congress to make important reforms to these other areas of critical importance. It falls to Congress to correct these misplaced priorities. One important area where DHS needs to do more is cybersecurity. DHS is directly or indirectly responsible for large segments of federal cybersecurity as well for supporting private-sector cybersecurity measures. With cyber attacks and threats on the rise, Congress should call on DHS to focus more on making the U.S. more secure in cyberspace.

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Saudi Arabia: New Leader, Same Medieval State

By Emma Ashford

Cato Institute

January 23, 2015

The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, though not unexpected, caused a spike in oil prices, and a frenzied interest in the succession process and the future rulers of Saudi Arabia, owing much to the state’s outsized role in global markets and Middle Eastern affairs. The succession was in fact painless. But the process highlights the archaic nature of the Saudi regime, and should prompt us to think more closely about why the United States still regards Saudi Arabia as one of its closest allies, despite the nation’s objectionable domestic politics and its foreign meddling.  The succession itself was smooth, elevating Crown Prince Salman to King, and Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin to replace him. Though Salman’s health has been regularly questioned by western commentators – it has even been suggested that he has Alzheimer’s or dementia — he seemed relatively healthy in his first broadcast to the nation. Regardless, he is 79, and the appointment of his half-brother Muqrin, who is ten years younger, as Crown Prince, was key for longer term stability.

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Saudi Arabia’s Smooth Succession: The King is Dead, Long Live the King

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 23, 2015

Once again, Saudi Arabia has managed its succession without problems, delay, or any signs of serious divisions within the royal family. One of its most competent and impressive kings has died, but the Crown Prince – Prince Salman – officially became king virtually at the time King Abdullah’s death was announced. Moreover, Prince Muqrin immediately became the full Crown Prince, ensuring that one of the youngest sons of Ibn Saud would become king or de facto ruler if Prince Salman became incapacitated or died.  Within less than 24 hours, the new King also announced a whole list of new appointments that gave the next generation of princes more power and helped prepare for the succession after Prince Muqrin.

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What would a Jordan-ISIS prisoner swap mean for anti-ISIS campaign?

By Tara Beeny

American Enterprise Institute

January 29, 2015

On December 24, the Islamic State (ISIS) captured Jordanian pilot Muath al Kasasbeh when his F-16 fighter jet crashed near Raqqa, Syria. After failed efforts by the United States and Turkey to secure Kasasbeh’s release, Jordan proposed a prisoner swap: one convicted al Qaeda terrorist in exchange for a captive Jordanian pilot.  Jordanian support for the anti-ISIS campaign has been tentative. Many Jordanians feel the campaign risks Jordanian lives and suggest the anti-ISIS fight serves US and Israeli goals rather than Jordanian ones. When ISIS published an interview with the captured pilot in its English-language Dabiq magazine, Jordanian officials began to walk back their commitment to the coalition. Jordanian MP Rula Al Hroob announced Jordan’s participation in the campaign against the Islamic State was “temporarily frozen.”

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After King Abdullah, Continuity

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

January 23, 2015

A king has passed in Saudi Arabia. And yet, despite the breathless speculation over the seismic effects of succession, the kingdom’s foreign policies are likely to remain unchanged. What is often overlooked is that Saudi foreign policy has been remarkably consistent since the reign of King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz. The Al Saud family is a tightly knit, conservative coterie that shares a similar vision of the world and Saudi Arabia’s place in it.  There are several indications to suggest that the Saudi succession is unlikely to lead to major changes in policies over the short term. King Abdullah had been largely incapacitated before his death, functioning for, at most, a couple hours a day. The new king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, and Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz had represented King Abdullah at various functions in the past few years.

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The Regional Impact of Saudi Succession

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

January 23, 2015

The naming of Mohammed bin Nayef as deputy crown prince in Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud signals an important milestone in the kingdom’s domestic and foreign policies. With the ascension of Abdullah’s half brother Salman to the throne, while having Abdullah’s half brother Muqrin as crown prince, bin Nayef’s new position means that he is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.  Since assuming his role in 2005, King Abdullah led an activist foreign policy for the kingdom, resurrecting Saudi engagement in the affairs of other Arab states and standing up to an increasingly influential Iran. The new Saudi King Salman, who is much more conservative than his late sibling, is one of the “Sudairi seven”—half brothers of Abdullah whom he had sought to weaken politically in his bid to consolidate power within his own descendants.

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What’s Behind the Kurdish-Arab Clashes in East Syria?

By Aron Lund

Carnegie Endowment

January 23, 2015

Major clashes broke out on January 16 in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakah between fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The fighting shatters a long-standing local truce between the Assad regime and the YPG, who had teamed up to confront the Sunni extremist group known as the Islamic State, which controls much of the countryside around Hasakah.  By Hasakah standards, the past week’s fighting has been severe. The YPG has accused the government of using cluster bombs and claims to have killed dozens of soldiers. The violence is also, unsurprisingly, taking on the contours of an ethnic dispute, with pro-YPG Kurds fighting against pro-regime Arabs. The Syriac Christian minority and its so-called Sutoro forces have tried to stay neutral, but their areas have been hit by grenades and attacks on Hasakah’s Assyrian Cathedral.

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Time for Realism: The Need to Refocus Turkish-Western Cooperation 

By Emiliano Alessandri

The German Marshall Fund

January 28, 2015

While failures in areas ranging from democratization to foreign policy have taken place in Turkey, over the same period the European Union nearly collapsed and the Middle East plunged into chaos. In this context, Turkey’s shortcomings are not greater, nor more worrisome, than those of its neighbors. For Turkey, the absolute priority is to decisively address the Kurdish issue. Because of the crisis of the Middle East state system, this long-standing question again threatens the Turkish state, despite the progress made internally. Though this is mainly a domestic undertaking, the EU and the United States could play an important supporting regional role.

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‘Uncoordinated Deconfliction’ in Syria: A Recipe to Contain, Not Defeat, ISIS 

By Andrew J. Tabler

Washington Institute

January 26, 2015

PolicyWatch 2361

Washington’s nascent policy of “uncoordinated deconfliction” with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the fight against the “Islamic State”/ISIS may not be a formal alliance, but it does have the potential to foster serious problems. The regime’s tacit agreement to avoid firing on coalition strike aircraft — juxtaposed with long delays in the Obama administration’s train-and-equip program for the Syrian opposition and the president’s October 2014 letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader on cooperation against ISIS — is creating widespread perceptions that the United States is heading into a de facto alliance with Assad and Tehran regarding the jihadists. If Washington continues this policy as is, it will merely contain ISIS, not “defeat” or “destroy” the group as called for by President Obama. Worse, it could lead to a deadly extremist stalemate in Syria between Iranian-backed/Hezbollah forces and jihadists, amplifying threats to U.S. national security interests.

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Slow Thaw: Testing Possibilities for Cooperation with Iran After a Nuclear Deal 

By Ilan Goldenberg, Jacob Stokes, Nicholas Heras

Center for a New American Security

January 15, 2015

The prospect of a nuclear deal between the West and Iran has generated a robust debate about whether such an agreement might generate opportunities for U.S.-Iranian cooperation on a broader set of issues. Any deal will address only the Iranian nuclear proliferation threat; even if successful, it will leave on the table many other unresolved sources of tension that have hobbled U.S.-Iranian relations since the Islamic Revolution. The Obama administration has stressed that any deal regarding the “nuclear file” remains separate and distinct from the overall question of U.S. policy toward Iran. The lead U.S. nuclear negotiator, Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, stated this clearly: “engagement on one issue does not require and will not lead to silence on others.”1 Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been equally insistent upon compartmentalizing and isolating the nuclear question from the broader U.S.-Iranian relationship.2 But these negative statements do not determine what may happen in the days and years after an agreement.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

Analysis 01-23-2015


Obama’s State of the Union Speech

Not Based in Reality?

The annual State of the Union speech (SOTU) by the president is a constitutionally mandated report that has grown from the traditional written report to Congress to a televised spectacle that says less about the state of the nation and more about political goals.  In that regard, the Obama SOTU speech follows the current trend of painting a rosy picture of what is happening, while outlining Obama’s goals for his remaining two years.

Obama failed to recognize contemporary political realities.  In fact, many felt Obama was more defiant, rather than bipartisan.  Two months after receiving a historical electoral drubbing for his policies, he didn’t address the concerns of the Congress or the electorate that sent it. He avoided any mention of the recent congressional election and offered no change in his approach as he threatened to veto several popular pieces of legislation in the next few months.

The most striking thing about Obama’s State of the Union address was how thoroughly and consciously it was disconnected from reality.   He said, “In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance…Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.  We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.  This effort will take time.  It will require focus.  But we will succeed.”

Normally friendly NBC News’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, sharply criticized President Obama’s assessment of his foreign policy in his State of the Union, questioning how the president could think his strategy for stopping ISIS is working despite the militants’ resilience.

“It seems that the rose-colored glasses through which [Obama] was viewing the foreign policy were so rose-colored that they don’t even reflect the world that we’re living in,” Engel said during MSNBC’s post-speech coverage. He pointed to recent events in Paris, Iraq, and Syria as signs of the Islamic State and other terror groups’ growing presence worldwide.  “ISIS is doing very well, and the strategy is completely disjointed,” he continued. “To sell that as a success, I think was missing the point, maybe even disingenuous.”

Another normally pro-Obama reporter Andrea Mitchell commented, “I think that on foreign policy, his projection of success against terrorism and against ISIS, in particular, as I said, is not close to reality. They have not come up with a strategy, and they’ve built a global coalition…” Despite the fact that Iran is not an official member of the global coalition, mutual political interests dictate the necessity of informal collaboration between the United States and Iran. Putting their hostilities aside, they found themselves on the same side of war against ISIS. Obama recognized the potential negative consequences of sanctions, such as: weaken the coalition (create division among them) and Iran might walk out of NPT agreement.  

Other claims of foreign policy success were also questionable.  He claimed he had stopped Iran’s nuclear program and said, “For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.”  But, while acknowledging the difficulties of getting an agreement with Iran, he refused to consider congressional sanctions.  He told Congress, “But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”

However, Obama’s claims aren’t even close to being true. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has surged since 2009 according to the Center for Security Policy and has continued to increase since an interim nuclear agreement with Iran was agreed to in November 2013.  They say number of nuclear weapons Iran could make from its enriched uranium has steadily risen throughout Obama’s tenure, rising from seven to at least eight over the last year.


Obama’s Iran policy left a bad taste in the mouths of politicians on both sides of the aisle.  The next morning, Democratic Senator Menendez of New Jersey blasted Obama by saying, “I have to be honest with you, the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.  And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization when they are the ones with original sin–an illicit nuclear weapons program, going back over the course of 20 years, that they are unwilling to come clean on.”

The reaction to Obama’s Iran policy wasn’t any better on the Republican side.  House speaker John Boehner invited Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on February 11. The invitation was specifically meant to be a repudiation of Obama’s Iran policy.  White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reacted to the news by calling it a “departure from protocol.”

However, there is some indication that this move also shows some fractures within the Israeli government as Israeli intelligence warns that the Senate Iranian sanctions bill might “throw a grenade into the negotiations.”  Israel is also concerned about Iranian movements in Syria after Israeli air strikes killed several top ranking Iranian generals on the Golan Heights.

Obama also mentioned terrorism in the SOTU speech, although he didn’t mention al Qaeda.  He said, “First, we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists — from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris. We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.”

ISIS wasn’t the only foreign policy disconnect.  While fighting in the Ukraine is heating up, Obama took credit for isolating Russia and Putin.  Andrea Mitchell: “…but again, he’s talked about Ukraine, he’s talked about Putin being isolated. Yes, Putin is isolated economically and the falling oil prices have hammered his economy. But at the same time, there’s renewed fighting in Donetsk, and we haven’t figured out Ukraine, we haven’t figured out how the NATO alliance can push back. Sanctions have not really worked, and Ukraine is going to need more weaponry, and they have not reached that point.” Obama’s claims of success in Ukraine do not coincide with reality since the violence escalates in the region and the local government is not in control of the situation.  

Notably, he didn’t mention Yemen or the current crisis there, even though he had declared Yemen to be proof that his anti-terrorism policy was working in previous speeches.

Overall, the reaction by the Congress, Supreme Court (of which 3 didn’t attend and one attending justice fell asleep during the speech), and the diplomatic corps was modest.  SOTU speeches are known for applause lines, and this produced few.  His call for a “Use of Force” resolution to attack ISIS got little applause along with his threat to veto any new sanctions bill against Iran.  Embarrassingly, when Obama said he is not running for anything again, it drew derisive applause from Republicans.

The one positive for Obama was domestic – dramatically lower gasoline process.  He noted, “Our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”

His optimism is not reflected by the public though.  In a new Washington Post/ABC News poll roughly six in 10 said the economy was “not so good” or “poor.”  Six years into this recovery, jobs are hard to come by in many parts of the country and wages remain flat.  Hourly earnings actually fell last month, the U.S. Labor Department reported last week.  It’s gotten so bad that Obama’s own secretary of labor, Thomas Perez, publicly complained that the administration needed to get busy to “address the business of stubbornly low real wage growth.”

And, as was expected, he focused on several domestic spending projects – all revolving around the vague phrase of “Middle Class Economics.”  These proposals included increased spending on education and infrastructure.

Although Obama promised many spending plans, it is clear that Americans aren’t anxious for increased government spending.  A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 68% believe the president should focus instead on programs that can be accomplished within current spending levels.  Just 17% of Likely U.S. Voters think the president should focus on new spending programs in his latest State of the Union speech.

Not only are Americans not interested in new spending, they are growing less interested in the annual SOTU speeches.   64% of voters say they are at least somewhat likely to watch or follow news reports about the president’s latest State of the Union speech. That’s down from 72% last year and a high of 79% in January 2011.

So, if Americans aren’t interested in new spending programs, observers don’t believe Obama’s claims of foreign policy successes are true, and are less interested in watching the televised speech, what was the goal of the speech.

Politics – specifically the 2016 presidential election.

The substantive core of the speech involved president laying out Party policy goals for the next two years. It involved a politician looking to reframe some key debates to better prepare his party for the next election cycle. What he offered was not an agenda he can work on with this Congress but an agenda that a future Democrat could plausibly attempt to offer the public — an agenda at least superficially focused on opportunity and middle-class aspirations rather than inequality and middle-class resentments.

In fact, there is some validity in the idea.  Enhanced child-care tax credits, paid sick leave, and free community college enjoy majority support in polls — although that support tends to fall after people weigh the price tag.  Even Massachusetts, a solidly Democratic state barely passed a paid sick leave bill in November as voters worried about the cost and how it would impact inflation.  The idea that these proposals would help a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 is problematic at best.  Republican presidential candidates will make a formable argument that paid sick leave is yet another mandate on small- and medium-sized businesses that they can ill afford just as they are being saddled  by the regulations of Obamacare.

There is also history to consider.  Not only do polls show that Americans have little interest in a larger government, post WWII history shows that voters prefer a change in the party that controls the White House every 8 years.  Only once – Reagan/Bush – has one party controlled the presidency for more than 8 years.  And, given that Obama’s approval ratings are still lower than his negatives, it seems likely that the historical pattern will continue.



Terrorist Plot 63: Attempt to Bomb the U.S. Capitol Shows the U.S. Cannot Ignore the Threat of Terrorism

By David Inserra

Heritage Foundation

January 16, 2015

Issue Brief #4333

On January 14, the FBI arrested Christopher Cornell for plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and then fire upon those who fled from the buildings. According to the complaint filed against him, Cornell, who was using the alias Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, supported the Islamic State and sought to wage jihad against the U.S. This is the 63rd successful or foiled Islamist terrorist plot against the United States since 9/11 and continues the trend of homegrown terrorism.   In light of this plot and the recent Islamist terrorist attack in Paris, it is clear that the U.S. cannot simply wish away the threat of terrorism at home and abroad. Despite rhetoric about the defeat of al-Qaeda, the insignificance of ISIS, and the end of the war on terror, the reality is that the threat of terrorism remains. The U.S. cannot merely be content with its existing counterterrorism efforts, but must look to improve and build on these efforts to keep the U.S. safe.

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All Spin and No Substance: The Need for a Meaningful Obama Strategy

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 21, 2015

It may be unfair to expect any meaningful discussion of strategy and America’s security position in a State of the Union address. But, it is all too clear that President Obama failed to go beyond a few sentences of vacuous spin in dealing with the world outside the United States. The most he did was to claim that the United States has fewer troops at war. He provided no insights at all as to the security of the United States, his future defense policies, and his ability to translate strategic concepts into action.  Unfortunately, he has done little better in the past. President Obama has often been strong on concepts, but short on actual plans and progress. He has often talked about the importance of transparency, but has then provided little more than rhetoric and spin. Some six years after taking office, he still seems to find it extraordinarily difficult to get down to actual substance and to provide the kind of supporting data that gives him real credibility.

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AEI Scholars react to the State of the Union

By AEI Scholars

American Enterprise Institute

January 21, 2015

During last night’s address, President Obama declared that the state of the union is strong. His speech focused primarily on the economy and middle class workers, and also covered his agenda for free community college, his diplomatic plans for the next two years, and a space mission. While “the shadow of crisis” may have passed, many Americans are still curious what “turning the page” will mean for their daily lives. AEI scholars offer thoughtful commentary on the president’s remarks:

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Obama Straight Up Lied about Iran’s Nukes Tonight: Their Progress Hasn’t Been ‘Halted’

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy

January 21, 2015

National Review Online

By claiming in his State of the Union address Tuesday night that “for the first time in a decade” progress in the Iranian nuclear program has been halted and Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile has been reduced, President Obama continued an unfortunate pattern of behavior by his administration on this issue: He outright lied.  President Obama’s claims aren’t even close to being true. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has surged since 2009 and has continued to increase since an interim nuclear agreement with Iran was agreed to in November 2013.  The number of nuclear weapons Iran could make from its enriched uranium has steadily risen throughout Mr. Obama’s presidency, rising from seven to at least eight over the last year.

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Six Months Away Yet So Near: The Forthcoming Elections in Turkey

By Ilter Turan

German Marshall Fund

January 21, 2015

Turkey’s upcoming elections promise to be critical on several counts, among which three stand out. First is the Kurdish problem. Second are the corruption charges leveled against the government. Third is what elections mean when the president, elected for the first time by popular vote, is trying to transform that position into a policymaker rather than a figurehead. These three issues may be critically important in determining the election outcome.

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AQAP’s Ideological Battles at Home and Abroad

By Robin Simcox

Hudson Institute

January 20, 2015

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a grave security threat to both Yemen and the West. This was most devastatingly proved on January 7, 2015, when the group carried out a bombing attack against police cadets in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, killing dozens. Shortly thereafter, they likely perpetrated their first attack on Western soil.  Said and Cherif Kouachi, who had both travelled to Yemen in 2011 and are thought to have received training and financing from AQAP, murdered twelve staff members at the Parisian offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. In the days after the Charlie Hebdo attack, AQAP claimed credit for the operation.  In fact, the group had already identified Charlie Hebdo’s editor as a target for assassination in the spring 2013 edition of Inspire, AQAP’s propaganda magazine.

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Coup in Yemen: Saudi Arabia’s Nightmare 

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

January 20, 2015

Confusion reigns in Sana today after Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace and laid siege to the residences of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah. A U.S. embassy vehicle was also shot at, and CNN reported that two U.S. Navy ships had taken position in the Red Sea to evacuate Americans from the embassy if needed. All this happened just a few hours before President Obama’s State of the Union address, less than two weeks after Yemen-linked terrorist attacks in Paris, and four months after the president credited Yemen as a successful example of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.  But the regional consequences are arguably greater than any embarrassment to Washington.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

Analysis 01-17-2015


America Tightens Security in Wake of Paris Terrorist Attacks

The terrorist attacks in Paris last week and the cyber attacks on Centcom’s social media sites have forced the United States to tighten its security arrangements.

House Homeland Security Committee chair Representative Mike McCaul (R – Texas) said on CBS that he expects to “see more and more” of the Paris style attacks take place around the world.  “I believe… larger scale, 9/11-style [attacks] are more difficult to pull off – a bigger cell we can detect, a small cell like this one, very difficult to detect, deter and disrupt which is really our goal. I think we’ll see more and more of these taking place, whether it be foreign fighters going to the warfare in return or whether it be someone getting on the internet as John Miller talked about, very sophisticated social media program then radicalizing over the internet,” McCaul said.  McCaul called the Paris attack, “the most successful foreign fighter terrorist attack that we have seen to date.”

The terrorism threat is clearly a bipartisan concern.  Democratic Senator Feinstein said, “I think there are sleeper cells, not only in France, but certainly in other countries, and, yes, even in our own.”  She went on to say, “So I think this calls for vigilance. It calls for seeing that the national security organizations of our country — the intelligence community — is funded fully, is directed ably, is cooperating with … British intelligence, French intelligence, German intelligence, as we do.”

There is already evidence that the Paris attack may be spurring attacks in America.  The FBI arrested a 20-year-old Ohio man for allegedly plotting to carry out a terrorist attack on the US Capitol. Government documents filed in the case indicate that the 20-year-old Christopher Lee Cornell, who also goes by the name Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, allegedly planned to detonate pipe bombs in the Capitol and then open fire on people fleeing the building.  He had posted statements on social media sites stating that he supported the acts of ISIS, and that he believed Muslims should wage Jihad by setting up attacks in America.

But, physical attacks aren’t the only threat to the US.  Centcom was forced to shut down its Twitter and YouTube accounts this week after they were hacked into by a group calling itself the Cyber Caliphate. There were tweets praising ISIS and threatening American soldiers such as “AMERICAN SOLDIERS. WE ARE COMING. WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS.” The hackers also published the phone numbers and e-mail accounts of high ranking Army officers while videos glorifying ISIS found their way onto the YouTube account.

Obama’s critics assert that tightening security in the US involves more than additional security at airports and such, to them, the issue is more a political problem than one of reallocating resources to vulnerable targets in the US.

The first problem is that in many ways, the Obama Administration has encouraged and assisted radical forces like ISIS and al Qaeda with its surrogate war in Syria.  Obama’s Syrian policy was unfocused and had no clear cut objective, aside from removing Assad from power.  It was also suffered from fits and starts as the administration vacillated from a “hands off” policy, to remote drone attacks, to arming and training various militias in Syria.  In the meantime, the war in Syria has become a training ground for potential terrorists, who eventually return home to Europe and North America.

Additional security measures will also fall afoul of the immigration debate.  Last month, Congress only funded the Department of Homeland Security for two months so it could address Obama’s controversial immigration amnesty.  By withholding funding for DHS, Congress could limit any immigration action that DHS could take.  However, with the Paris attack, the administration is arguing that failure to quickly fund DHS could hurt the agency’s war on terrorism.  But, despite this concern, Obama has threatened to veto any funding that doesn’t allow him to continue his immigration policy.

Another problem is that admitting that the Paris attacks pose a real threat also means that Obama has to admit that much of his anti-terrorism policy has failed.  Just recently, Obama noted that al Qaeda in Yemen – the same group that took credit for the Paris attack – had been successfully defeated by America.  Therefore, any push to tighten security is to admit that his highly touted anti-terrorism policy has failed.

Tightening Security

Despite the political issues, the US is trying to address the threat.  The White House announced that President Obama will host an anti-extremism summit February 18 to discuss ways to stop the radicalization and recruitment of Americans by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.  However, critics say there is some question about the seriousness of the White House in calling this meeting and insist that it was done in order to seem more concerned about terrorism.

No doubt, there is a greater interest in increasing security at other levels of the government.  The Department of Homeland Security announced that its increased measures include increasing random screenings of passengers at airports as well as ordering the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a short-term review as to whether more is needed.

DHS secretary Jeh Johnson has also ordered heightened security around government buildings, adding to the previous tightening of security procedures that began in October after a shooter attacked Canada’s Parliament. “The precise locations at which we are enhancing security is law-enforcement sensitive, will vary and shift from location to location, and will be continually re-evaluated,” he said.

Johnson said the US would continue to share information with the French and other allies about terrorist threats, suspicious individuals, and foreign fighters.  Johnson added that the DHS is providing state and local law enforcement with FBI training in incident response.  He said he personally met with community leaders in Columbus, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, and Los Angeles to engage them in countering violent extremism and he is looking forward to a White House summit on countering violent extremism on February 18.

But, this additional security is being met by more sophisticated terrorist methods by ISIS and al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda recently posted detailed airplane bombing instructions in its online magazine, including how to build the devices, get them past security, and where to sit on the plane to cause maximum damage. Homeland Security secretary Johnson says there is no specific threat at this time, but explosives expert Kevin Barry said it appeared to be one of the most “sophisticated” non-metallic explosives devices he’s seen, which could especially be a problem for smaller airports that don’t employ high-tech body imaging security devices.

Al Qaeda in Yemen, previously attempted to bring down an American airliner on Christmas Day 2009, but the would-be bomber couldn’t get the device to detonate. That bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, reportedly crossed paths in Yemen with one of the men who executed the Paris terror attack last week.  In response to the accelerated threat, airport security has reportedly been directed to conduct more random searches of both passengers and luggage. The device that al Qaeda described is designed to go undetected by airport metal detectors, but will probably be detectable by the newer full body scanners found at larger airports.

There is also additional concern being shown about America’s rail system, which is a critical people mover in the Eastern US.  Smoke and fire plagued two of the nation’s major metro rail stations this week, raising justified questions about safety and preparedness.  On Monday, one person died and 84 fell ill after heavy smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza Metro in Washington, D.C.  Officials believe an “electrical arcing event” caused the lethal Beltway incident. A probe into the cause of the arcing — as well as an investigation into evacuation delays that trapped hundreds of passengers — is underway.

On Tuesday, an estimated 150 New York Fire Department personnel responded to a three-alarm fire at Penn Station that started before 2:30 a.m. Two firefighters suffered injuries battling the Big Apple blaze, which was initially deemed “suspicious” and then “accidental.”  There is some concern about the reason for the fire as a militant ISIS sympathizer published multiple threats on Twitter a few hours before the fire, warning that “tomorrow New York will burn” and predicting a “3:00 a.m. bomb.”

There is good reason for America’s Homeland Security to be worried.  Rail attacks have been a domestic and worldwide threat for more than 15 years, from the 1997 NYC subway-bombing plot to New Delhi, Mumbai, Chechnya, Madrid and London. Since 9/11, there have been 1,800 worldwide terrorist attacks on surface transport systems, which have claimed 4,000 innocent lives.  Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, told interrogators in 2003 of al Qaeda’s plot to target the D.C. metro rail system.

This is clearly a security problem as three years ago the Government Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) was failing to collect and analyze rail security threat data. The audit found that oversight and enforcement of transit security measures were “inconsistent” and inspections so spotty that “three of 19 rail agencies GAO contacted were not inspected from January 2011 through June 2012, including a large (unnamed) metropolitan rail agency.”  The Department of Homeland Security “accepted” the recommendations, but issued no timeframe to address the deficiencies.

There are also concerns about specific probes around government installations.  For instance, the military has tightened security at New Castle Air National Guard Base in Delaware after unknown suspects apparently tried to probe the base for security weaknesses.  The FBI, the Air Force, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and Delaware police are investigating at least five attempted probes of the base perimeter this week.  Vice President Biden has frequently landed and taken off from the base.

The recent cyber attacks on Sony and Centcom have also added cyber security to the more traditional role of physical security.  This week Obama unveiled legislation that would fight cyber terrorism by allowing companies and the government to share information about potential cyber threats and security vulnerabilities.

The proposal, officially announced in a speech at the National Cyber security and Communications Integration Center, hopes to provide incentives to the private sector for participating in information-sharing with the federal government by offering them liability protection. The plan seeks to address privacy concerns by requiring participating companies to comply with a set of restrictions, such as removing “unnecessary personal information,” though the White House fact didn’t specify what those restrictions would entail.

However, the proposal is already facing opposition from privacy advocates, who warn that information-sharing legislation could bolster the government’s surveillance powers. Several groups have insisted that no information sharing bill should be considered before substantial National Security Agency reform.

According to the National Journal, “The Sony hacks demonstrates a failure of corporate digital security, and not a need for greater government information-sharing,” said Amie Stepanovich, senior policy counsel with Access, a digital-freedom group. “The administration’s attempt to use Sony to justify increased transfer of information to the government is difficult to understand, particularly in the absence of substantive NSA reform, a subject the administration has yet to comment on in the new year.”

Although Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – are interested in improving cyber security, the troubling issue of personal privacy is the stumbling block.  Revelations about the extent of the NSA’s spying on Americans have only made any bill that doesn’t provide considerable protection from government spying nearly impossible.

One legislative solution that will receive serious consideration is the current visa program.  Congressman McCaul, said that his House Homeland Security Committee plans to launch an investigation to identify potential security loopholes in the visa waiver program.  “I think we need to take a look at the visa waiver program again, and see what we can do to prevent this kind of thing from happening, because I believe it will happen, if it hasn’t already,” McCaul said.

There is also support for this on the other side of the political spectrum.  Democratic Senator Feinstein pointed out that had the two terrorists who had attacked the newspaper wanted to enter the US, they could have done so using a fake passport.  “They can come back from training, they go through a visa waiver country, and they come into this country,” Feinstein said. “We have a big problem here.”

Although the events in Paris have definitely heightened security in the US, there is no guarantee that it will stop any attack.  As has been mentioned before, lone wolf attacks are very difficult to detect and stop.  While DHS may be able to stop larger, more coordinated attacks, they can’t be everywhere.

Ironically, Gun lobby in U.S. and its advocates are claiming that it may be the American right to own firearms that may protect much of the country from such an attack.  While cities like Washington and New York City have restrictive gun laws, most Americans can own firearms and several million Americans are legally allowed to carry a firearm in public.  As one American noted after the Paris attacks, “This would have never happened in Van Horn, Texas.”



Provocative Palestinian U.N. Actions Require Strong U.S. Response

By Brett D. Schaefer and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

January 12, 2015

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in assistance to facilitate peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Despite America’s financial support and its repeated diplomatic efforts, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has demonstrated little serious interest in negotiating a peace agreement that recognizes Israel’s right to exist, commits the Palestinians to preventing terrorist activity against Israel, and resolves disagreements over borders, security arrangements, Israeli settlements, and Palestinian refugees.  Instead, the PA has sought to use the United Nations and other international organizations to achieve its objectives absent negotiations. Most recently, the Palestinians proffered a Security Council resolution setting a deadline for withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 borders. When the resolution did not pass, the Palestinians applied for accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is a continuation of Palestinian tactics over the past few years to exploit the U.N. and other international organizations to bolster its unilateral statehood claims in a deliberate attempt to isolate and delegitimize Israel and avoid concessions that would be necessary in negotiating a peace agreement.

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Top Five Policy Priorities for Europe in 2015

By Luke Coffey, Theodore R. Bromund, and Nile Gardiner

Heritage Foundation

January 14, 2015

Issue Brief #4331

The United States faces mounting challenges in Europe in 2015. Russia is on the march in Ukraine, many of America’s oldest allies question its commitment to transatlantic security, and the economies of Europe have still not fully recovered from the Euro crisis. In addition, the specter of Islamist terrorism has raised its ugly head again in Europe, with the brutal slaying of 17 people in France, including eight journalists at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It is time for the U.S. to renew its commitment to European security, to make NATO relevant again, and to promote economic freedom across the continent. Here are the top five foreign policy priorities in the European region for the Administration and Congress in 2015.

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Transition in Afghanistan: Losing the Forgotten War?

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 12, 2015

The US role in Afghanistan formally transitioned from a combat role to one of supporting the Afghan government at the end of 2014.  It is far from clear, however, that Afghanistan can develop the level of effective political unity, governance and security forces, or viable economy for this transition to work. Moreover, the US faces significant challenges in dealing with Pakistan, and developing a new strategic posture in Central Asia.

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The True Nature of the Saudi Succession “Crisis”

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 9, 2015

Every time a Saudi king gets seriously ill or dies, this triggers yet another media frenzy over a Saudi succession crisis. There is yet another round of speculation about major conflicts within the royal family, the destabilization of Saudi Arabia, and how the various tensions within the Kingdom could somehow trigger a civil crisis or conflict. King Abdullah’s illness is no exception. Anyone who has written on Saudi Arabia already has a flood of calls about what will happen if he dies, whether Saudi Arabia will have a massive political crisis, the royal family will self-destruct, or it will somehow be taken over by jihadist extremists.  Some of this concern is natural. King Abdullah has been an exceptional ruler, and one who has led Saudi Arabia through a remarkably turbulent period in the Middle East.

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Special Report: Possible changes in Iranian foreign policy

By J. Matthew McInnis

American Enterprise Institute

January 14, 2015

President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s recent rhetoric portrays an Iranian regime weighing significant shifts in its foreign and economic policies, including its negotiating position at the nuclear talks. Rouhani has fought since his 2013 election to correct serious flaws he sees in Iranian policy: an excessively confrontational relationship with the United States, unnecessary and damaging isolation from the international community, pervasive public corruption, and an IRGC overly dominant in the economy. Rouhani argues that these problems threaten the economic and political viability of the Islamic Republic. The recent collapse of oil prices has given his warnings new urgency.

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ISIS and Oil: Iraq’s Perfect Storm

By Frank R. Gunter

Foreign Policy Research Institute

January 2015

The combination of the ISIS insurgency and low oil prices are producing an economic shock unprecedented in Iraq’s troubled history. The ongoing conflict will require a sharp rise in security expenditures at the same time that government oil export revenues are collapsing, forcing the government into deficit spending. This deficit spending, combined with a loss in reserves from the Central Bank of Iraq, calls into question the much-vaunted stability of the Iraqi dinar.  In the eleven years since the U.S.-led invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein, Iraq has faced brutal conflict and sharp drops in oil prices but – until mid-2014 – never both at the same time. Following the destruction of the Golden Mosque, Iraq descended into what many analysts saw as a full-fledged civil war in 2006-7. However, not only was a large proportion of Iraqi security expenses paid for by the United States but also world oil prices rose sharply. Combined with a gradual increase in oil export volume, this resulted in a substantial growth in government revenues. And when oil prices collapsed in 2009, the level of violence and associated expenses was the lowest since before the 2003 invasion. The recent combination of an acceleration in violence and an oil price collapse is unprecedented.

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France’s March to Unity — or Further Fragmentation?

By Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer and Martin Quencez

German Marshall Fund

January 13, 2015

On Sunday, around 4 million people marched in France to show national unity against the terrorist attacks that killed 17 in Paris last week. These attacks came in the context of increased terrorist threats and communal tensions in France. The estimated 2,000 French citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq constitute the largest group of Europeans there; about 200 have now returned home. Both al Qaeda and the Islamic State group have called for more terrorist acts in France in response to the interventions in Libya and Mali. Three years after Mohamed Merah’s gun attacks in Toulouse killed seven, and ten months after the murder of four people at the Brussels’ Jewish Museum, which may have involved a French jihadist, the events at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the kosher grocery reinforce the fear that France will be repeatedly targeted by Islamist terrorist attacks in the coming years. In response, the French government is likely to redefine its homeland and foreign security policies, with repercussions for the transatlantic community.

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A Moment of Decision on Egypt 

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

January 14, 2015

PolicyWatch 2355

Although Egypt is an important strategic asset for the United States — granting priority Suez Canal access to American warships and unrestricted overflights to American military aircraft — the new government led by former military commander Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is increasingly repressive. Accordingly, the Obama administration has been reluctant to resume full military and economic assistance to the longtime U.S. aid recipient. If Washington does not deliver in the coming weeks, U.S. foreign military financing (FMF) to Egypt — a constant since Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel — will run out, damaging the already tenuous bilateral relationship.

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Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq 

By: Daniel L. Byman and Jeremy Shapiro

Brookings Institution

January 2015

Many U.S. and European intelligence officials fear that a wave of terrorism will sweep over Europe, driven by the civil war in Syria and continuing instability in Iraq. Many of the concerns stem from the large number of foreign fighters involved.  Despite these fears and the real danger that motivates them, the Syrian and Iraqi foreign fighter threat can easily be exaggerated. Previous cases and information emerging from Syria suggest several mitigating effects that may reduce—but hardly eliminate—the potential terrorist threat from foreign fighters who have gone to Syria.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor 

C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 01-10-2015



America in 2015

A new year has dawned and there are many questions about how America will react to events in the next 12 months. There are serious questions about the economy, Republican control of the Congress, civil disturbance; Obama’s growing use of executive action to bypass the Congress, and Obama’s weakened foreign policy.

The Economy

Traditionally, Americans view their circumstances in terms of their economic situation – something that destroyed the Democrats in the mid term elections in November. Unfortunately for them, the economy remains in a state of flux. The good news is that gasoline prices have dropped by nearly 50% in the last few months, which gives the average American consumer more money to spend. And, since energy costs are a major driver in economic growth and the price of consumer goods like food, the economy will get a definite boost, which will help Obama’s currently dismal approval ratings.

However, what makes the future economic situation uncertain is the rest of the economy. Although unemployment figures are down, the percentage of people not working is unusually high. And, although the stock market is still moving up, it has been driven by abnormally low interest rates from the Federal Reserve. And, while the stock market still goes up, investors are growing more worried about a major crash.

However, if the stock market doesn’t crash and fuel prices remain low, Obama will have an opportunity to regains some of the popularity he has lost in the past two years.


Obama has made it clear that he will compromise with the Republican Congress only up to a certain point. He has said that he is willing to veto some legislation that will come to his desk, even legislation that is supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

With only two more years remaining in his presidency and no more elections to worry about, Obama is expected to issue more executive orders in order to bypass Congress. These include more environmental regulation, more gun control, more business regulation, and more control of communications.

However, the path isn’t clear for unilateral executive action. Congress still controls the budget process and he will face some opposition. Homeland Security is funded only into February, there needs to be congressional approval of a debt limit in the next few months, and a government budget must be approved by the end of September.

Obama also desperately wants a legacy – something positive that will define his administration. Obamacare was supposed to be that legacy, but it is increasingly likely that it will be gutted by the Congress or the US Supreme Court.

The problem for Obama is that long term legacy legislation requires working with Congress – something he has been unable to do, even when the Congress was controlled by the Democrats. Executive action may make a change, but it can be just as quickly modified or eliminated by the next president.

The one area where Obama can make a long term difference is in foreign policy, since that is his Constitutional prerogative. However, most of his foreign policy initiatives like Iran, ISIS, Cuba, and Russia have come in for heavy criticism.

If Obama wants a foreign policy legacy, he will have to change course enough that some Republicans will support his initiatives.

The Republican Congress

Control of both the Senate and House represents both advantages and disadvantages for the Republicans. Obviously, the GOP can force Obama to accept some Republican legislation, as they did with the omnibus bill passed in December. And, even with the veto threat, they can pass popular legislation and force Democratic congressmen to either uphold the presidential veto or vote to override the veto and remain popular with their constituents.

However, the downside for the GOP is that control of the Congress also means they have a responsibility to keep the government running. That means that they are responsible for unpopular votes like raising the debt limit and continued funding of the government – even unpopular parts of it.

This leaves the Republican leadership walking a find tightrope. They will have to find a fine line between closing down the government and forcing Obama to sign legislation that contains unpopular items.

Ironically, a Republican Congress may be able to do more than the Democratic Congress. As was seen in the omnibus bill passed in December, a Republican House was able to work a compromise with Obama that neither party totally liked, but were willing to accept.

The problem with this compromise legislation is that the left wing of the Democratic Party and the right wing of the Republican Party will not accept such compromise willingly. As the 2016 election gets closer, politicians from both sides will be forced to listen to these voices and the compromise that is possible in early 2015 may be impossible by December 2015.

The Presidential Election

2015 will be the year when politicians will announce that they are running for president.

Currently, the Democratic Party is in a state of suspended animation as they await a decision by Hillary Clinton as to her intentions. This is likely to be a mistake as Clinton has high negatives, although she has name recognition. Should she run, she is not guaranteed to win. On the other hand, she is forcing other potential Democratic candidates to stay out of the race and not begin the critical fund raising necessary for a viable campaign.

The Republicans have a wide field of candidates and several have made it clear that they intend to run. This list includes Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Rand Paul. There are also several others that may throw their hat into the ring.

Although Bush may have the advantage since he comes from the Bush Family, has name recognition, the support of the Bush fund raising machine, and a record as Florida’s governor, a substantial number of Republicans are uneasy with the creation of a Bush presidential dynasty. But, Republicans will likely back him if he is seen as the best candidate to win the White House.

Opposition to Bush may coalesce around Huckabee or Walker – both governors with good records. Huckabee has better name recognition as a former candidate for president in 2008 and the host of his own national TV show. He also has a strong base of conservative Christians. He also has a technical advantage since many southern states, where he is strongest, will have primaries early in the election cycle.

Although not as well known nationally, Walker has a reputation of toughness that will appeal to many in the GOP. Eventually, his success will depend on his ability to raise money in 2015.

The Middle East

American policy towards the Middle East has been fragmented. Obama ran in 2008 on the promise to pull the US military out of Iraq and Afghanistan and mend relations with many of the nations of the region. Instead, the US military is still active in the region and air activity is so extensive that the American drone force is stretched to breaking.

With a Republican Congress and hawks like Senator John McCain having a major impact on foreign policy, expect the US to become more aggressive in fighting ISIS. Syrian rebels and Kurds can expect to see more aid in the next year.

A Republican Congress will also make a nuclear agreement with Iran more difficult. Although Obama can make some economic sanction concessions to the Iranians, Congress may make it harder to reopen full relations with Iran as that would require Congressional funding for opening the embassy and approving a new ambassador to Iran.

One area where little or no movement will be seen is in an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Israel is currently headed towards elections, which makes any agreement in the near future impossible. In addition, both Obama and Kerry have little credibility with either the Israelis or PA to act as a good faith negotiator.

The growing reach of ISIS and al Qaeda, as seen in the Paris attacks, will also become an issue. While Obama has been reticent to take action or even admit to such a terrorist threat, a Republican Congress may force the issue in coming months, especially if more attacks take place in Europe or in North America.


The new Republican Congress may help Obama in facing down Russia. Russia recently named NATO’s buildup on its border as its top threat. For the first time, the new doctrine says that Russia could use precision weapons “as part of strategic deterrent measures,” without spelling out when and how Moscow could resort to them.

This is one foreign policy arena that Obama could come out looking good. With Senator McCain in charge of the Senate Armed Service Committee, Obama will have more flexibility in terms of responding militarily to Russia. Not only could he ask for, and receive, more money for stationing more US forces in Eastern Europe, he could ask for additional money to build up conventional military units that have been degraded in the past few years.

Obama also has two other levers to use against Putin and Russia. The lower oil prices are seriously impacting Russia and its ability to act militarily. Russia is already facing financial difficulties in supporting its defense modernization and expansion – not to mention the additional military operations in the Ukraine. The drop in oil revenue not only lowers his desired influence, it makes Eastern European countries that rely on Russian energy less financially dependent on them.

The other lever Obama has is improving relations with Cuba. As oil revenue drops, Russia will be less able to assist the Cuban regime and the more attractive Cuban/American relations will become.

Dropping oil prices, NATO resolve, and the movement of NATO forces into Eastern Europe are forcing Putin’s hand. If there is one area where Obama may pull of a foreign policy achievement based on mutual compromise, this is it.

Civil Unrest

One situation that has grown worse this last year is the level of civil unrest in the United States. At the beginning of 2014, there were no ongoing demonstrations, clashes with police, or riots.

That has changed dramatically. While Ferguson grabbed most of the headlines, there were major disturbances this year in scores of cities, including New York, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Chicago. And, even though the winter weather has cut back the level of violence, there are weekly disturbances throughout the country like those in restaurants in New York on Sunday.

Although much of the violence can be blamed on a small number of extremists, it appears that these groups – both on the right and left – are preparing for major violence in 2015. The New Black Panthers – a major player in the Ferguson riots – have rented apartments in the St. Louis area so a core of extremists is on-site if more trouble occurs. The New Black Panthers have also started encouraging blacks to start buying firearms and practicing with them in preparation of civil unrest. There is also some indication that ISIS is attempting to recruit some individuals to join future unrest by these groups.

The New Black Panthers aren’t the only ones promising further activities. In Baltimore, a member of the Black Guerilla Family, the same ones blamed for the execution of two New York City policemen, have been testing the security at police stations. Baltimore police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the 29-year-old man walked into the Northeastern District station “fully armed and loaded with drugs on him.”

“An organized gang in the city of Baltimore sent an armed suspect into our building to see our security, to test our security. That is alarming to us, to me. I am going to send a message that we are not going to cower, we’re not going to back down,” Mr. Batts said.

It’s not just black militants promising trouble. A member of the right wing Michigan Militia warned that 2015 was the year when violence would explode and warned militia members to buy more guns and ammunition.

There is also unrest elsewhere. The police, who are increasingly becoming targets of extremists are at odds with political leaders. In New York City, they are ignoring the mayor, who is in charge of the police department – a situation that concerns politicians of all parties. In America, the police are under the control of the elected officials and any indication that they will not obey those officials is a concern.

Although the cold winter discourages violence, the chance of widespread civil unrest will increase as the summer approaches and temperatures increase.

2015 – Better or Worse?

Predictions are always hazardous and where the US will stand on December 31, 2015 is impossible to accurately predict.

No matter what, the presidential election cycle will be in full swing as the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses will be just weeks away. The only big questions will be if Hillary Clinton is in the race and how effective Jeb Bush will be in corralling Republican votes.

Economically, it will be a mixed bag as the stock market remains volatile and the US work force remains at high unemployment levels. That, however, will be offset by low energy prices that will boost consumer spending and lower the cost of production.

Meanwhile, Obama and the congressional Republicans will be forced to work together. Compromises that will anger the extreme wings of both will be necessary to pass the necessary legislation to fund the government. Meanwhile, it’s quite possible that Obama and the GOP may find that they have more in common than they thought.

The biggest wildcard is the threat of civil unrest, which has grown in 2014. Extremists at both ends of the political spectrum are preparing for violence and it will become more likely as the weather warms up in the spring. How extensive the unrest will be will depend on the incident that sparks the confrontations and the police responses to them.

Although the last two years of an eight year presidency are usually bad, Obama has some unique advantages. Energy prices are dropping and at this point in time, it appears that the Republican Congress and Obama can work together. If he ignores ideology and focuses on the practical and encourage republican leadership to do the same, he may be able to create the legacy that every American president desires.



Foreign Policy Lessons for 2015 and Beyond

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

January 5, 2015

A new year offers a fresh start, an opportunity to reminisce about the year past, and to set goals for the future. 2014 was a busy year. Vladimir Putin hosted the world at Sochi, then reacted to a popular revolt in Ukraine by supporting a counter-revolution and annexing Crimea. Other civil wars raged in Libya and Syria, while Egypt’s military quashed any remaining semblance of democracy that had survived from the 2011 protests. The not-destroyed insurgency returned to Iraq with gusto, fueled by American weapons left behind by an Iraqi army unwilling to fight. And the United States continued its habit of conducting numerous tactical operations abroad without any overarching strategy. The news wasn’t all bad: Germany and the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; President Obama proposed normalizing relations with Cuba; and NATO operations in Afghanistan have (kind of) ended.

The lessons from these episodes suggest some useful resolutions for U.S. policymakers:

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Iran, Evolving Threats, and Strategic Partnerships in the Gulf

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 22, 2014

The U.S. and its Arab partners in the Gulf face a wide range of threats. These include the Islamic State and other Jihadist elements, civil war, instability, and divisions in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. It is Iran, however, which poses the most severe military challenge, and one that goes far beyond its search for nuclear capability. Iran has been able to greatly increase its military influence in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria – as well as in some southern Gulf states. Iran has built up a major sea-air-missile force that can conduct asymmetric warfare throughout the Gulf, at the Strait of Hormuz, and in the Gulf of Oman.

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Islamist terror attack in Paris

By Gary Schmitt

American Enterprise Institute

January 7, 2015

The Islamist terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which, so far, has resulted in 12 deaths and many more wounded, should come as no surprise. The satirical weekly has been the target before, having been fire-bombed back in late 2011 after running a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed and its editor has been under police protection for some time. Even though a target of Islamist ire, the magazine has not shied away from running other stories and cartoons offensive to Muslim sensibilities. Just this week it ran a cover story on a new book that imagines a future France in which the country is led by an Islamic party and has a Muslim president who, among other things, bans women from the workplace. Nor is the attack a surprise in the sense that the Islamist threat in France has been reaching crisis proportions in recent months. According to French president Francois Hollande, this attack follows on several more terrorist plots that French security forces had thwarted over the recent holiday season.

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New Leaders for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

By Raphaël Lefèvre

Carnegie Endowment

December 11, 2014


After three decades in exile, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has been working in recent years to rebuild its influence within Syria. The Islamist group’s 2014 leadership elections have been seen as a key test of whether the Brotherhood can make the changes needed to strengthen the organization and boost its role in the country. While the Brotherhood is often described as one of the most effective forces in Syria’s exiled opposition, it has faced divisions within its ranks. The group’s previous leader, Mohammad Riad al-Shaqfa, completed his four-year term in the summer of 2014 amid low levels of popularity with the base, which blamed him for failing to transform the Brotherhood into a coherent political and military player, among other things.

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Congress Should Act Against The Islamic State Group
By James S. Robbins
American Foreign Policy Council
January 6, 2015
U.S. News & World Report

One of the first orders of business for the new Congress may be to consider a resolution authorizing the use of force resolution in Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led combined joint mission against the Islamic State group. Such a move would be long overdue. Operations against these militants began in June 2014, and are currently being conducted under the authority of a resolution passed three days after the September 11th attacks. That 2001 bill authorized the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the [9/11] terrorist attacks… or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

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Congress’ Missile Defense Opportunity

By Richard Weitz

Hudson Institute

January 6, 2015

One of the first tasks the new Congress will need to consider is how to strengthen the U.S. National Missile Defense program. No congressional responsibility is more important than protecting the American people against nuclear threats from North Korea and other U.S. adversaries. Congress can have an early impact by highlighting the issue during the Senate confirmation hearings for Former Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter. He is a renowned ballistic missile defense expert who, in his response to Senate questions, can help dispel some misconceptions about how next to proceed on this critical issue. The House can augment this process thorough its joint work with the Senate on the Fiscal Year 2016 defense authorization and appropriations bills.

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The Palestinians Go to the ICC: Policy Implications

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

January 6, 2015

PolicyWatch 2353

On December 30, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas signed twenty different international conventions, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The name of the statute refers to the 1998 conference that established the treaty-based court, which began operations in 2002. In principle, the PA’s move enables the ICC to assert jurisdiction over future developments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and empowers any signatory to the Rome Statute — currently including 160 countries — to claim that Israel should be brought to the court on charges of war crimes. Palestinian officials have said that they want the ICC to investigate Israel’s settlement policies. Once any such inquiries were concluded, it would be up to the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda, whether to move forward with actual cases against Israeli officials. Abbas’s move comes on the heels of his failure last week to garner the votes needed for the UN Security Council to approve Palestinian statehood. Although that failure averted a potentially controversial U.S. veto, the ICC move raises other thorny problems.

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Coping With Success Against ISIS

By James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

December 29, 2014

PolicyWatch 2351

The battle against the “Islamic State”/ISIS has just begun, and officials in Washington are reiterating that it will be a long-term fight even in the Obama administration’s priority front, Iraq. Nevertheless, recent successes by Kurdish peshmerga and federal forces controlled by Baghdad point to a reversal of the jihadist group’s offensive in Iraq, likely leading to its containment and eventual eviction from Mosul, Falluja, and Tikrit. As in any military campaign, once the United States and its allies gain the upper hand, their momentum will fuel even more success, as ISIS itself experienced in June when it overran most of Sunni Arab-majority Iraq. Within a year, coalition successes could destroy the group as a major conventional force in Iraq, assuming the administration can answer the “who provides the ground component?” question for offensive action. (One answer to that question could be a mix of twelve Iraqi army and peshmerga brigades reequipped and retrained as planned by the United States, along with Sunni Arab national guard elements and a more aggressive U.S. forward ground presence involving Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and unit advisors; limited American ground troops might be needed to augment such a local force, however.)

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

C: 202 536 8984                 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 12-20-2014


America Normalizing Relations with Cuba

On Wednesday, Obama announced a prisoner exchange with Cuba and normalization of relations after over half a century of hostility between the two countries.  The deal includes the exchange of several American and Cuban spies, and over 50 political prisoners.  The deal also includes reopening embassies in both Washington and Havana and to take concrete steps toward ending of the sanctions against Cuba.

Needless to say, the reaction from the Cuban-American community was negative.  Most of the Cuban-Americans fled Cuba when Castro took power.

But, there is much more to this move by Obama than merely normalizing relations with Cuba.  It signals another battle with Congress, opens more questions about presidential overreach, and may even impact the presidential election in 2016.

In fact, the frequent appearance by Senator Rubio of Florida on TV shows since the Cuba announcement is being seen as an attempt to counter the recent publicity from Jeb Bush announcing that he is also exploring the possibility of running for president.  Since Rubio and Bush are both from Florida, a Bush candidacy threatens Rubio’s presidential aspirations the most.

Traditionally sanctions have been a political football and opponents to sanctioning a country would invariably claim they did not pressure the government to change its behavior.  For instance, during the Cold War, conservatives favored sanctions against the Communist Bloc, but opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, saying that sanctions didn’t work.  Liberals would conversely argue leniency towards the Communists, but stricter economic sanctions towards South Africa and Rhodesia.  Undoubtedly, these same arguments will be brought out again.

The collapse of oil prices may be one of the biggest arguments against lifting sanctions.  Venezuela and Russia have been supporting Cuba economically and they have been seriously hurt by the fall of oil prices.  Many will insist that continuing the sanctions will force Cuba to institute more liberal policies.

However, liberals will argue that this is the perfect time to erase Russia and Venezuela’s influence.  If Cuba begins to turn toward the US, that does give Americans some influence on the Cuban policy for the first time in 50 years. The Castros won’t live forever, and this does give the US an opportunity to influence the next generation.

However, there is more to this change in relations than a simple change of course by Obama.  Cuban sanctions have a legislative foundation that Obama can’t ignore.  Congressional opponents to this move maintain that normalizing relations with Cuba, without congressional approval violates the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, Helms-Burton, and the Trading with the Enemy Act.  Helms-Burton specifically states that diplomatic relations with Havana require the release of all political prisoners and free elections.

It’s possible that Obama may ignore these laws through the same principle used in his new immigration policy – lax enforcement.  He can choose to ignore American firms breaking the law and doing business with Havana.  The problem, however, is that on Tuesday a federal judge ruled that the way Obama is applying prosecutorial discretion is violating the US Constitution by undermining Congress’s sole authority to make laws.

The opinion filed Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab, in Pennsylvania, said Obama’s immigration actions are invalid and effectively count as “legislation” from the Executive Branch.

If Obama chooses to ignore these, Congress still has the power of the purse.  Opening an embassy requires congressional funding and that is hardly likely with a Republican Congress.  Nor, is an ambassador to Cuba likely to be confirmed by the Senate.  In the end, this means that Congress may have a significant say in how this relationship evolves.

So, with all of the opposition and likely resistance to the move in Congress, why is Obama doing this?

Admittedly, the Obama Policy has been a major failure internationally.  And, Obama, who is looking at the last two years of his presidency, is looking for some international success that he can claim.  A normalization of relations with Cuba would offer him an easy victory.

The deal also helps improve relations with the Vatican, which have been strained in the past few years.  Pope Francis had asked the two nations to meet to discuss Americans and Cubans being held in jail.  The Vatican had also hosted meetings between the US and Cuban delegations.

The deal may allow some of the Pope’s popularity to rub off on Obama.  Among US Catholics, the Pope has a 68% favorability rating.

The deal may also indicate a shift in Vatican diplomacy.  For the pontiff, this deal will testify to his influence and that of the Catholic Church.  It’s also a signal that Francis will not hesitate to intervene in politics in the Americas.  The first Pope from the Americas has resolved a half-century dispute, and done so with what will be seen abroad as a relatively even-handed approach. Francis’ reputation and significance as a diplomat will grow with this episode.

Political Fallout

If this move was designed to boost Democratic chances with Cuban-Americans, Obama miscalculated.  The Cuban-American community is powerful and the move was blasted by politicians of both parties.  “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement.

“Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.”

“This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.”

“It’s absurd, and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants by the Obama administration,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), also a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, told Fox News on Wednesday.

“These Cuban spies were involved in providing information to the Cuban government that [cost] the lives of Americans,” Rubio added. “Barack Obama is the worst negotiator as president since at least Jimmy Carter.”

Rubio said that there is no support in Congress for the lifting of the Cuban embargo. “I think they’re going to struggle to get the votes to fund an embassy or to get an ambassador appointed” he later told CNBC.

“The way that his release was achieved is outrageous and proves that once again, Pres. Obama is the Appeaser-in-Chief,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). “[Obama’s] decision to allow the Castro regime to blackmail the US and abandon our pro-democracy principles is an outrage.”

But, this move goes beyond the politics of the moment.  It will also have an impact on the presidential race in 2016.  Cuban-Americans are a politically strong group in Florida, which is considered a toss-up state and nearly a necessity for any presidential candidate.  Will an energized Cuban-American voter base provide the winning edge to a Republican presidential candidate, especially since Hillary Clinton has advocated better relations with Cuba?

Interestingly enough, there are two Republican presidential possibilities with Cuban roots.  Senator Rubio of Florida is of Cuban extraction and his parents immigrated to the US in the 1950s before Castro took over.  Rubio has already blasted Obama’s action and said, “It’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants by the Obama Administration.”

Another Republican presidential hopeful with Cuban ties is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.  He is also a Cuban-American and his father Raphael Cruz was imprisoned and tortured by Cuban President Batista for his opposition to the oppressive Cuban government.  He fought with Castro in the 1950s, but left in 1957.

Senator Cruz has also criticized Obama on Cuba.   On Wednesday he said, “We have seen how previous Obama administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened.  Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros, blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power.  And if history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to undermine America and oppress the Cuban people. First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba – this is one more very, very bad deal brokered by the Obama Administration.”

Should Cruz or Rubio decide to run for president in 2016, their Cuban heritage (and obviously Hispanic heritage) will be used to attract the votes of the Cuban-American voters in the Florida presidential primary.

This may set up some interesting strategies for presidential candidates seeking to win Florida.  Since Florida usually is one of the first primary states and offers one of the biggest delegate prizes, it frequently creates the momentum for the winner of that primary to win later primaries.

However, instead of a “winner take all” election that gives the whole delegation to the winner, in 2016 Florida will probably parcel out the delegation by the percentage the candidates take in the primary.  This means many candidates may not invest the money in running a major campaign in Florida and spend their money elsewhere, since Rubio and Bush may take the bulk of the delegates.

However, if Rubio decides not to run and Bush has problems gaining traction with the Republican base, Cruz may put more effort into Florida in order to peel Cuban-American and conservative voters from Bush.  That might make a Bush nomination less likely.

No matter who runs the presence of both Cruz and Rubio in the US Senate means that the Obama decision to normalize relations with Havana will be undergoing some severe battering in the next few months.  Rubio is the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee and any embassy funding or ambassadorial nomination will have to go through his committee.

Nor can we expect any major trade improvements with Cuba, despite Obama’s declarations.  The laws that are sanctioning Cuba remain on the books and any company that decides to trade with Cuba remains a legal target.  No lawyer would advise his client to ignore the law, even if the current occupant of the White House is promising not to take them to court.  Most companies will likely wait it out to see if Obama or the Congress prevails.

North Korean Cyberwarfare Capabilities Cripple Sony


Hours after an announcement that U.S. authorities determined North Korea was behind the recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures, the company announced it was pulling the release of the film The Interview.  North Korea had made it clear for months that they opposed release of the movie and when Sony refused to relent, decided to carry out a cyberattack.

What happened to Sony should serve as a warning to governments and corporations about North Korea’s cyber capabilities and their willingness to use it.

Although many are surprised about North Korea’s cyberwarfare capability, a Hewlett-Packard report released earlier this year warned that NK is probably third behind the US and Russia in cyberwarfare capability.  North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) is in charge of both traditional and cyber operations, and is known for sending agents abroad for training in cyber warfare. The RGB reportedly oversees six bureaus that specialize in operations, reconnaissance, technology and cyber matters — and two of which have been identified as the No. 91 Office and Unit 121. The two bureaus in question comprise of intelligence operations and are based in China.

Since North Korea strictly controls the internet inside its borders, the NK attacks are launched outside of the country – frequently from computer cafes.  The NK cyberwarfare team consists of about 6,000 members.

According to the report, the regime regularly exploits computer games in order to gain financially and orchestrate cyberattacks. In 2011, South Korean law enforcement arrested five men for allegedly collaborating with North Korea to steal money via online games, specifically the massive multiplayer online role-playing game “Lineage.” The games were believed to act as conduits for North Korea to infect PCs and launch distributed denial of service attacks against its South Korea.

North Korea also tested a logic bomb in 2007 — malicious code programmed to execute based on a pre-defined triggering event — which led to a UN sanction banning the sale of particular hardware to the country.

South Korea views North Korea’s cyber capabilities as a terroristic threat, and has prepared for a multifaceted attack in the future. According to a report written by Captain Duk-Ki Kim, a Republic of Korea Navy officer, “the North Korean regime will first conduct a simultaneous and multifarious cyber offensive on the Republic of Korea’s society and basic infrastructure, government agencies, and major military command centers while at the same time suppressing the ROK government and its domestic allies and supporters with nuclear weapons.”

The cyber attack on Sony isn’t the first time NK has used its cyber capability.  North Korea reportedly was able to gain access to 33 of 80 South Korean military wireless communication networks in 2004, and an attack on the US State Department believed to be approved by North Korean officials, coincided with US-North Korea talks over nuclear missile testing in the same time period. In addition, a month later, South Korea claimed that Unit 121 was responsible for hacking into South Korean and US defense department networks.

In 2009, a virus launched through a series of “zombie” computers sent waves of Internet traffic to a number of websites in South Korea and the US. The U.S. Treasury and Federal Trade Commission sites were shut down for a weekend.   The attack also crippled a number of government sites and media outlets in South Korea.  There were also massive cyber attacks against South Korea in March 2011 (which left 30 million people without ATM access for days) and March 2013 (which deleted the critical master boot records of 48,000 computers and servers associated with South Korean banks and media outlets).

Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for McAfee Labs, said the attacks had the mark of a North Korean “cyberwar drill” and theorized that Pyongyang had built an army of zombie computers, or “botnets,” to unleash malicious software.



Washington Refuses to Face Contradictions in ISIS Fight

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Cato Institute

December 12, 2014

Obama administration officials clearly regard ISIS as a serious, perhaps even existential, security threat both to the Middle East and the democratic West. Accordingly, Washington has assembled a numerically impressive international coalition and assigned a high priority to defeating that extremist organization. But there is a disturbing, somewhat mystifying, aspect to the administration’s strategy. U.S. leaders steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that there are major contradictions in Washington’s various goals regarding the fight against ISIS.  Nowhere is that more evident than with respect to the ongoing civil war in Syria. The United States simultaneously seeks to defeat ISIS while continuing to undermine the government of Bashar al-Assad. Both goals might be achievable if there were legions of political moderates in Syria that had a reasonable chance of coming to power. But moderates—especially those committed to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity—are relatively few in number.

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The Civil Transition in Afghanistan: The Metrics of Crisis? 

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 16, 2014

It is natural to focus on the security problems of Transition in Afghanistan, and the challenges of forming an effective government with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. As the combined reporting of the World Bank, IMF, and SIGAR indicate, however, Afghanistan may face equally serious challenges in coping with cuts in military spending, aid, capital flight, and the inability of its government to be effective in raising revenues and controlling expenditures.

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Religious Radicalism after the Arab Uprisings

By Jon Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 15, 2014

The Arab uprisings of 2011 created unexpected opportunities for religious radicals. Although many inside and outside the region initially saw the uprisings as liberal triumphs, illiberal forces have benefited disproportionately.  In Tunisia, formally marginalized jihadi-salafi groups appealed for mainstream support, and in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood triumphed in elections. Even in Saudi Arabia, not known for either lively politics or for political entrepreneurship, a surprising array of forces praised the rise of “Islamic democracy” under a Muslim Brotherhood banner.

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Everyday Sectarianism: The Paradox of an Anti-Islamic State Ally

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

December 3, 2014

Since 2011 (and even before), al-Awamiya has been ground zero in a largely forgotten corner of the Arab Spring: the struggle of Saudi Arabia’s Shiites — who comprise about 15 percent of the country’s population — for greater political and economic rights, and especially equal treatment by the country’s dominant Salafi establishment, which regards them as deviants from Sunni orthodoxy. Since the first wave of protests in 2011, approximately 20 young men from al-Awamiya and other Shiite towns have died at the hands of government forces, sometimes during peaceful demonstrations and occasionally in violent exchanges with police. Many of their demands extended far beyond Shiite-specific reforms, encompassing changes to the very structure of power in Saudi Arabia: reform of the judiciary, the release of political prisoners, a constitution, and greater power for elected bodies. This is precisely what made them so threatening.

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The GCC in 2015: Domestic Security Trumps Regional Integration 

By Karen E. Young

Washington Institute

December 15, 2014

PolicyWatch 2346

The thirty-fifth annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit, held December 10 in Qatar, was probably the most efficient meeting the group has ever held. With the diplomatic schism between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain papered over three weeks earlier, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani hosted the rulers of Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as senior substitutes for the ailing leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman.  The meeting was purposefully brief, with delegations in and out of Doha in a day. The unity message of fighting terrorism — via support for military rule in Egypt — served to cement Qatar’s reentry into the brotherhood of Gulf monarchies, while leaving the more pressing matters of economic integration, labor market reform, and political reform off the agenda.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor 

C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 12-12-2014


Growing Civil Unrest Raises Troubling Questions in US

2014 has seen a growing number of confrontations between Americans and law enforcement.  The first major event was the standoff between ranchers and federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch in April.  Further confrontations occurred in the spring and summer as Americans confronted Border Patrol officials who were moving illegal immigrants.

However, these events have been overshadowed by recent police violence against Black Americans.  Rioting broke out for several days in Ferguson, Missouri over the killing of an unarmed black youth by a white police officer.  The subsequent riots brought police out in military gear and armored vehicles.  It took over a week for the violence to subside.

However, America has been the scene of nearly constant rioting since November 22, when the Ferguson police officer was cleared by a grand jury.  And, it has been further fueled by a New York grand jury that refused to indict a white police officer who was videoed by bystanders chocking an unarmed black man.  Since then, riots and demonstrations have occurred in about two dozen major cities.  And, while some have been relatively peaceful, there has been escalating violence in many of them.

In the city of Berkeley, California, the protest began peacefully Sunday night at the University of California, but grew violent and spilled into nearby Oakland.  Police said they fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters after some threw rocks and bottles at them, while others set trash cans on fire, smashed store windows and looted businesses.


Tear Gas Grenades Smother Berkeley

The violence grew on Monday.  More than 1,000 protesters marched through Berkeley on Monday night, confronting police outside their headquarters before heading west and blocking Interstate 80 off and on throughout the evening before being herded off by police.  They also blocked a passenger train.

The demonstrations aren’t over.  Civil rights activist Al Sharpton has announced plans for a demonstration in Washington Saturday called the National March Against Police Violence to protest the killings of Garner, Brown and others.  Several prominent Black athletes have taken to the field wearing jerseys protesting the police violence.

Now the issue is going international.  The U.N. special representative on minority issues, Rita Izsak, has called for a review of policing in the United States. Izsak said the two grand jury decisions “leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”

Why the Growing Unrest?

The growing confrontation between the police and Americans in the last nine months isn’t a coincidence.  As we noted last April when we documented the Bundy Ranch standoff, there is a growing unrest across America.  And, it isn’t racial alone as the Bundy Ranch and Murrieta, CA confrontations were with predominantly White protestors.

For Black Americans, there is disappointment with Obama and his failure to help out the plight of Blacks.  There is also the distrust of the police, who are seen frequently as the enemy.  A Gallup poll released this week shows only 1 in 4 urban Blacks have confidence in the police – nearly half the percentage of confidence expressed by Whites or Hispanics.

For younger whites, who were out in mass at many of the demonstrations, the disappointment is with Obama and the failing economy.  Another Gallup poll released this week showed Obama’s job approval rating in 2014 among white 18- to 29-year-olds is 34%, three points higher than among whites aged 30 and older.  Obama’s approval rating was 58% among younger whites in 2009. This data underscores the gradual erosion of the disproportionately strong support Obama received from young white voters and explains why many are joining blacks in the demonstrations.

Combined with polling that shows 2 out of every 3 American voters thinking America is headed in the wrong direction, and 7 in 10 American voters thinking the economy is in poor or not good shape, there is considerable reason to think that the current violence could grow worse in the near future.

It is a concern that is being voiced more frequently.  Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, appeared on CNN this week to warn there are more protests coming if “demands” are not met.  “And America has not seen protests like those that are coming if justice doesn’t start to come down,” warned Simmons.

Although the issue of police brutality has proven a flashpoint for civil unrest in recent weeks, other experts have pointed to a possible economic collapse like those seen in Greece, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries as the most likely trigger for a more widespread revolt.

The US government is prepared for such an eventuality.  A report produced in 2008 by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Institute warned that the United States may experience massive civil unrest in the wake of a series of crises which it termed “strategic shock.”

“Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security,” stated the report, authored by [Ret.] Lt. Col. Nathan Freir, adding that the military may be needed to quell “purposeful domestic resistance”.

The Militant Fringe

While many Americans want peaceful protests, there are several militant groups that are carrying out violent actions in hopes of precipitating some sort of revolution.

One group that is active in the civil unrest is Anonymous, a computer savvy group of computer hackers, who frequently target law enforcement, government and corporate websites.  They have no definite political philosophy, but tend to be anarchist in nature.  On Sunday night, they took down the Oakland Police website in a denial of service attack.

Other groups engage in property destruction.  A recent fire in Los Angeles, a city that has seen considerable anti-police activity, is suspected of being set, possibly in conjunction with the civil unrest.  More than 250 firefighters were battling the blaze near downtown Los Angles Monday. Fire officials also said that two other buildings nearby suffered damage. One building suffered “radiant heat damage” on three floors, while the second suffered fire damage on three floors and water damage on the remaining 14 floors.  Major highways in the area were closed for hours.   Officials are inclined to believe it may have been intentionally set due to the rapid spread of the flames.

There are also several radical revolutionary groups that may be working in conjunction with the unrest.  The New York Daily News said that New York law enforcement has claimed that members of the “Black Guerilla Family” are threatening to shoot on-duty police officers in New York. The group is known as an “ideological African-American Marxist revolutionary organization composed of prisoners” set up in the sixties, with inspiration from black leaders including Marcus Garvey.

Another radical group inspired by the 1960s is the New Black Panther Party.  Two members of that party were arrested for plotting to bomb the St. Louis Arch and assassinate the Ferguson Police Chief and the St. Louis public prosecutor.

In Portland, Oregon, CBS reported, “As with Occupy, the vast majority of protesters preached peace, but a fringe group of people — some covering their faces with black bandannas — advocated violence and confrontations with police. And like Occupy, the original protest drew a disparate group of people together, not all of whom agreed with one another. “Military Veterans Called for Peace,” a communist group called for the overthrow of capitalism, and a group calling for a Palestinian state all held court during a series of speeches on the steps of the state Justice Center in Portland.”

There are also reports that ISIS is showing interest in trying to recruit members from the protestors.

A group called the Revolutionary Communist Party has been sighted at Ferguson.   Two weeks ago Paul Hampel, a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said on Twitter that Communist Party members led Friday night’s protest while disseminating literature for their cause.  “The only solution is a Communist revolution,” protesters are heard chanting. Pictures posted at Twitchy also show protesters holding signs saying “racist cops” must be “smashed” with a Communist revolution.

The press also reported, “a top Occupy Wall Street organizer has been training Ferguson protesters how to “simulate chaos”… In a development that may portend extended disruptions, veteran street organizer Lisa Fithian, previously dubbed “Professor Occupy,” recently trained Ferguson protesters how to “simulate chaos.” Fithian is a legendary organizer who once announced she seeks to “create crisis, because crisis is that edge where change is possible.”

It isn’t just the left wing that sees this unrest as an opportunity.  Right wing militia units have picked up their activity this year.  Their success at forcing federal agents to back down at the Bundy Ranch has energized the movement and many have called the event the “Battle of Bunkerville,” referring to the nearby village of Bunkerville.  It’s a clear reference to the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought during the Revolutionary War.  Clearly many in the militia movement see the current unrest as an opportunity.

Although not engaged in the protests, some militia members are in the area providing protection to businesses.  Oathkeepers, an organization associated with many militias and active at the Bundy Ranch provided several armed people to protect some businesses in Ferguson.

Clearly many radicals on both ends of the political spectrum are hoping for a spark –a revolutionary situation – that will change civil unrest into revolution.  However, they may want to recall the words of Vladimir Lenin first, “A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution.”

Report on Torture Released By Senate

A highly political report on torture by the CIA was released on Tuesday.  The political nature was obvious.  It only covered actions taken by the Bush Administration – implying that nothing happened under Obama over the last six years.  It was also released in the final days of Senator Feinstein’s chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee; before the committee is taken over by the Republicans.

The report provides a graphic accounting of CIA torture and imprisonment, and goes into detail about how the CIA continued its global operations outside of Congressional and Bush Administration oversight.  The information was disturbing as it told of interrogations that lasted for days on end.  Some detainees were forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep.  There was even a prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death.

The report details how the CIA treated detainees in its custody, suggests that the practice known as “waterboarding” was far more widespread than previously believed, and notes that while the CIA routinely justified its tactics as necessary to save lives and prevent acts of terrorism, the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” it practiced did not provide as much information as they initially claimed.

The report also provides political cover for many of the people now decrying the CIA’s methods, including Feinstein and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who once admonished the same agency for not doing enough to control terrorism worldwide. They may not have had all of the information at their disposal – it certainly seems, from the report, that the CIA made concealing at least some of its methods from scrutiny a top priority – but as CIA veteran (and interrogation program head) John Rodriguez notes in the Washington Post, Congress and the Administration were pushing them to act.

For example, On May 26, 2002, Feinstein was quoted in the New York Times saying that the attacks of 9/11 were a real awakening and that it would no longer be “business as usual.” The attacks, she said, let us know “that the threat is profound” and “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

However, many of those complaining new were actually aware of what was happening.  In Feb. 2010 via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, Judicial Watch received a report created by the CIA during the Bush presidency (in 2007) detailing which members of Congress were briefed and what were they briefed on.  The report shows that the CIA briefed at least 68 members of Congress on the CIA interrogation program, including “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  It details the dates of all congressional briefings and in most cases, the members of Congress in attendance and the specific subjects discussed. Keep in mind though, that the topic for each one of these meetings was interrogation of prisoners.

Although not all meeting records released show attendees, it is known that Senator Feinstein was at a top secret meeting on CIA torture on March 15, 2006.  And, that access would surely have continued as she was to become the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 9 months.

The report may have also been a way to punish the CIA, who was spying on Senator Feinstein’s committee.  On March 12, 2014, she accused the CIA of secretly removing classified documents from her staff’s computers in the middle of an oversight investigation.  Feinstein said CIA Director John Brennan told her in January that agency personnel searched the computers in 2013 because they believed the panel’s investigators might have gained access to materials on an internal review they were not authorized to see.

“The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or how we obtained it,” Feinstein said in blistering remarks on the Senate floor. “Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computer.”

In many ways this report is much like the reports produced by the Church Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D, ID) around 1975.  The reports listed CIA efforts as assassination, spying on Americans without a warrant, and other covert actions.

The irony, as in this case, was that Senator Church, like Senator Feinstein was privy to much of what was going due to top secret briefings.  The reports, however, helped provide political cover for them.

As with the Church Committee reports, the publicity will blow over and the intelligence agencies will do what they want, with the tacit approval of the Congress and the Administration.  For example, the Church Committee condemned American intelligence for tracking the mailing information on the outside of letters.  However, since 2001, the Postal Service has been doing the same thing with all American postal mail as part of the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.

Israeli Fingerprints on Torture Program

Interestingly enough, the CIA used Israeli legal precedent to use torture.  In a draft memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Office of General Counsel, the “Israeli example” was cited as a possible justification that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.

The “Israeli example” refers to the conclusions of the Landoi Commission in 1987 and subsequent Israeli Supreme Court rulings that forbid Israel’s security services from using torture in interrogation of terror suspects, but allows the use of “moderate physical pressure” in cases which are classified as a “ticking bomb,” when there is an urgent need to obtain information which could prevent an imminent terror attack.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the CIA attorney preparing the campaign “described the ‘striking’ similarities between the public debate surrounding the McCain amendment (a congressional act passed in December 2005 regulating interrogation methods) and the situation in Israel in 1999, in which the Israeli Supreme Court had ‘ruled that several… techniques were possibly permissible, but require some form of legislative sanction,’ and that the Israeli government ultimately got limited legislative authority for a few specific techniques.”

The CIA attorney also referred to the Israeli Supreme Court’s “ticking time bomb” scenario and said that “enhanced techniques could not be preapproved for such situations, but that if worse came to worse, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense, if he were ever prosecuted.”



Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

January 2015

This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Reason

In domestic policy, libertarians tend to believe in a minimal state endowed with enumerated powers, dedicated to protecting the security and liberty of its citizens but otherwise inclined to leave them alone. The same principles should apply when we turn our attention abroad. Citizens should be free to buy and sell goods and services, study and travel, and otherwise interact with peoples from other lands and places, unencumbered by the intrusions of government.  But peaceful, non-coercive foreign engagement should not be confused with its violent cousin: war. American libertarians have traditionally opposed wars and warfare, even those ostensibly focused on achieving liberal ends. And for good reason. All wars involve killing people and destroying property. Most entail massive encroachments on civil liberties, from warrantless surveillance to conscription. They all impede the free movement of goods, capital, and labor essential to economic prosperity. And all wars contribute to the growth of the state.

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Ignoring risks to national security

By John Yoo

American Enterprise Institute

December 10, 2014

National Review

Yesterday’s release of a critical, one-sided report on the Bush-era interrogations of terrorist leaders will assume a place in the annals of congressional recklessness. Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein and conducted only by Democrats, the partisan investigation in the short term could provoke retaliation against Americans. In the longer term, it could reveal secrets to our terrorist enemies and dry up sources of cooperation with other countries.  But these effects will pale in comparison with the harm that Feinstein and her Democratic colleagues will do to our intelligence agencies. Their faithlessness will only discourage intelligence officers now, and in the future, to press the envelope to identify and stop future terrorist threats to the nation.

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The Islamic State—and Iran—and the U.S. Strategy Deficit

By Mackubin Thomas Owens

Foreign Policy Research Insstitute

December 2014

The emergence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has threatened to destabilize the Levant and Iraq, in many respects obscuring the challenges still posed by Iran. The Obama Administration originally dismissed the IS as a “JV” offshoot of al Qaeda, but its seizure of large swaths of territory belies that characterization. Its successes in the region now serve as a magnet for foreign fighters. We can belabor the administration’s role in enabling the rise of the IS—its failure to achieve an agreement to retain a U.S. military presence in Iraq and its fitful steps and missteps in Syria—but the real question is: what can the United States do now to blunt the IS?  In August of this year, Kori Schake, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institute and a member of the Orbis editorial board, wrote an insightful piece for the online “Shadow Government” feature of Foreign Policy. In her article, “An Administration with its Head Cut Off,” Dr. Schake criticized the Obama White House for its propensity to ricochet from one crisis to another without any attempt to apply a coherent strategic framework to its actions. As she remarked, this approach is driven by the administration’s apparent belief that if the United States takes a step back in the world, others will step forward. But in fact, the only actors to step forward have been our adversaries.

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In Search of an Anchor for Rights and Liberties: The Return of Secular and Center-Left Voters to Turkey’s EU Vocation? 

By Özgehan Şenyuva

German Marshall Fund

December 3, 2014

More Turks are now saying they support their country being part of the EU than at any time since 2006. Center-left voters who are discouraged by the ruling party’s policies make up a large percentage of these supporters. They view a closer connection to Europe as a possible source of protection for the liberties they see their government as encroaching upon. The questions are will these center-left voters be content with the revival of the membership negotiations and related gains only, and not actual membership, and will opposition parties shift their platforms to try to attract these voters.

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Will the Next Israeli Election Be About Regional Challenges or Netanyahu’s Leadership? 

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

December 10, 2014

PolicyWatch 2344

On December 3, the Israeli Knesset voted to hold early elections on March 17, only two years since the last election. The move followed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he was disbanding his governing coalition because his political partners — led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua — were colluding with ultraorthodox factions behind the scenes to replace him. Both ministers have denied even the plausibility of this claim and criticized the move to early elections as superfluous. These and other competing narratives could shape not only the upcoming campaign, but also the direction of Israeli politics once the election is decided.

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American Public Attitudes Toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 

By Shibley Telhami

Brookings Institution

December 5, 2014

After the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations earlier this year and the devastating violence of this summer’s Gaza war, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are on the rise. Voices on both sides of the conflict question the United States’ traditional role as shepherd of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and Americans seem increasingly skeptical about their government’s engagements in the Middle East. Nonresident Senior Fellow Shibley Telhami conducted a survey on American public attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; below are several key findings and a download to the survey’s full results.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor 

C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-12-2014


  1. Looking at the 2016 Presidential Election
  2. Ashton Carter Picked for SecDef

With the mid-term elections out of the way, potential presidential candidates are starting to make their moves.  Senator Ted, Cruz has already talked to leading Jewish political donors, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is talking to potential backers, and Texas Governor is making it clear that he intends to run.  There are also many potential candidates showing up in New Hampshire and Iowa, the first states to choose delegates to the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016.

Unlike the Democratic field, which consists mainly of Hillary Clinton, the GOP field is crowded with governors, former governors, and senators – all with the potential of going to the White House.

One GOP potential candidate that will be seriously considered if he chooses to run is Jeb Bush – brother of President George W Bush and son of President George H W Bush.  He was an accomplished governor of the critical state of Florida, has the Bush name and the money contacts to run a well financed campaign.

Despite these advantages, Bush faces a strong headwind.  Many Republicans fear the creation of a Bush dynasty and would prefer to find someone else.  In addition, he favors the education system “Common Core” and immigration reform, which are both strongly opposed by the majority of Republicans – especially the more conservative ones that usually vote in primaries.

Bush also hurt his cause this week when he said that a Republican can win the election without the support of conservatives, something that is sure to come back to haunt him.

However, with name recognition, strong political backing, and coming from Florida, which is critical to win the presidency, he is a serious contender.

Another more moderate Republican contender is Mitt Romney.  Most think that he will eschew a third run for president, especially since he lost to Obama.  However, if no other moderate Republican steps forward, he may be convinced to run again.

Governors traditionally prove to be good candidates, with executive experience and a track record to run on.  And, there are two strong candidates that are probably going to run.

The first is Rick Perry of Texas.  He has already talked to potential donors and backers and is considered a near certainty to run.  His strengths are that he has been governor of Texas for 14 years (since he took over for George Bush, who was heading to the White House), Texas has one of the strongest economies in the United States, and his politics are between the conservatives and moderates of the party.  He also has a good financial base of donors, especially from the energy industry.  The downside is his indictment, for threatening a veto – an indictment that many see as political and designed to ruin his presidential chances.

Another strong potential GOP candidate is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.  He has won two elections as governor and one recall in a state that is traditionally Democratic, which means he has the ability to attract independents and Democrats.  He also has strong conservative credentials from his tough, but successful fights against Wisconsin’s strong public labor unions.  Of course, this means that unions will target him in both the primaries and the general election.

Another potential governor is New Jersey’s Chris Christie.  He is a dynamic speaker and acceptable to the establishment Republicans if Bush decides not to run.  The problem, however, is that he is not conservative enough for the Republican base.  As governor of one of the most anti-gun states, he will not be a favorite of gun owners, who generally vote Republican.

There is a couple of other governors, who deserve to be mentioned – not as top tier presidential candidates, but as likely vice presidential candidates.  Bobby Jindal of Louisiana hasn’t become the national figure that some thought he would and he has had some problems in Louisiana, even though he won reelection.  However, he has experience as a governor and as someone with an Indian heritage; he may be able to attract Asian voters to the GOP – especially since Asian Americans are quickly growing tired of Obama.

Another governor to be mentioned is New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.  As a Hispanic Republican governor of a typically Democratic state, she might find her way onto the ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

Although governors make the most likely presidential nominees, the US Senate is a frequent source of candidates – although not a likely to win – as John McCain, John Kerry, and Bob Dole proved.  However, two GOP senators both had strong grassroots support that will make them formidable.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is the son of former congressman Ron Paul a frequent, if unsuccessful, candidate for President.  His libertarian philosophy, which includes lukewarm support of Israel and a strong belief in small federal government have not won more conservative supporters.  But, he is popular with younger, more libertarian Republicans.  One problem is that he is a freshman senator, which will mean that he will be attacked for lack of experience.

Paul’s strength is that he is managing to expand his base to include some non-Republican demographics like young people and even some minorities.  He regularly goes to meetings where Republican politicians are usually not welcome.  If he wins the nomination, which will be hard, he can be expected to fight for traditional Democratic voters.

Rand Paul has also managed not to alienate the Republican establishment as his colleague from Texas, Ted Cruz.  This year, he fought for the reelection of Mitch Mitchell, who was opposed by many conservative Republicans.  In return he has secured the support of the future Senate Majority leader, which will help him to project a more moderate face.

Another senator is Ted Cruz of Texas.  He is more traditionally conservative and has a reputation as a firebrand in the US Senate.  And, although he is from Texas – an advantage in the primary where Texas has a large say – he must compete for Texas votes with Rick Perry.  He is, however a dynamic speaker and the fact that the establishment dislikes him will work well with the GOP base.

Another Senator is Mark Rubio of Florida.  Rubio has a Hispanic background (his parents are from Cuba) and he represents the toss up state of Florida.  Although he was considered a real potential candidate, he faded when he came out for immigration reform, which conflicted with the majority of Republican voters.  He will have to work hard to bounce back.

There are other potential candidates, who are probably unlikely to stand out enough to win many primaries.  Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is mentioned and he has a measure of support amongst conservative Republicans.  Ben Carson is a doctor, who came to national attention when he criticized Obama to his face at a prayer breakfast.  However, his stance on gun control will alienate many gun owners in the party.  There is also Romney’s former VP choice Paul Ryan.

In reality, the GOP’s field is wide, experienced, and young, thanks in part to a large majority of state governors being Republican.  Although it means a more vigorously fought primary season, the eventual candidate will probably have more experience than the Democratic candidate.

The view for the Democrats is much different.  The loss of governorships at the state level and preponderance of older Democratic politicians at the national level will be a hindrance in winning the White House.  In addition, the continuing bad ratings for Obama will make it much harder for the Democratic candidate to win the necessary independent voters.

Age is a real problem for Democrats as the youngest probable candidate for the nomination is Hillary Clinton, who will be 69 on Election Day 2016.

Clinton has two primary advantages.  She is strong enough that she will probably scare off other potential challengers.  She is also a woman, which may inspire women to come out in large numbers to vote for her.

Hillary, however, has many weaknesses.  Although poplar in the Democratic Party, she is viewed less favorably by independents – something that was proved as she failed to deliver victories for candidates she campaigned for last month).  She is the victim of frequent verbal gaffes and her book tour last spring was considered a disaster.  Nor, has the fall been better for her as many of her speeches are to half filled rooms.  If her campaign is run like her book tour or her 2008 presidential campaign, she will not do well.

Although her husband Bill Clinton could be considered an asset, she will have to fight to keep him in the background.  She also has to realize that it has been 20 years since he was elected as president and many young voters will see them as part of the past, not the future.

Nor, are all Democrats onboard with her campaign.  Gov. Deval Patrick (D., Mass.) has said the sense of inevitability surrounding Hillary’s candidacy is “off-putting to voters.” The American people view inevitability as a sense of entitlement, Patrick said on Meet The Press, and prefer candidates who make an affirmative case for themselves. “The American people want – and ought to want – their candidates to sweat for the job, to actually make a case for why they are the right person at the right time,” he said.

Meanwhile, recent polling suggests Hillary’s aura of inevitability is fading. She is only four to five points ahead in matchups with potential GOP challengers with much lower name recognition.  That, in and of itself, may make her reconsider her run for the White House.

Hillary’s other problem is that her main claim to having the experience to be president is based on four years as Secretary of State.  Given the poor state of American foreign policy, she will have little to brag about in terms of accomplishments.

Hillary’s natural competition is Vice President Joe Biden.  As vice president, he is seen as a natural successor to Obama.  He also has considerable experience as both a senator and vice president.  However, he will be 73 by Election Day 2016 and is known for frequent verbal gaffes.  He has also run poor presidential campaigns in the past.

After Clinton and Biden, the field becomes extremely thin.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is considering a run, however, he is an independent, not a Democrat.  He is a philosophical socialist and is loved by the left wing of the Democratic Party.  He has a wide base of small donors, but probably will not be able to compete for big campaign donors like either Clinton or Bush.  Although many Democrats would love for him to run, the Democratic establishment would probably feel that he is a sure loser to the Republican candidate.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is another liberal possibility, but younger and fresher faced than the other possible candidates.  She is also a woman, which might invigorate the Democratic female voter base.  However, like Sanders, her positions a might look too liberal for the average American voter.

The Democratic field might have been larger if it wasn’t for the 2014 elections that defeated some potential candidates like Colorado’s Udall and tarnished the reputations of others.

One such person is former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.  He could point to his achievements as governor and had solid liberal credentials.  However, the loss of his handpicked candidate for Maryland governor last month means that even Maryland voters, who are strongly Democratic, preferred a Republican.

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb might be the strongest national candidate.  He has a military background as a Marine officer and was seen as a moderate Democrat.  However, as far as the Democratic grassroots are concerned, he is not liberal enough.  He is also an erratic speaker, who can’t rally his supporters.

The major problem for any Democratic candidate will be the voters’ weariness with Obama and Democratic leadership.  All of these candidates sided with Obama during their time in office and their support of unpopular issues like Obamacare will come back to haunt them in 2016.

What this means is that many younger Democratic politicians may eschew running in 2016 and facing probable defeat.  Many may decide to let the “old bulls” of the party battle it out in 2016 and then lose to a Republican candidate.  That would then leave the field open in 2020 for a younger candidate, who will have a better chance to win the support of major donors and then go on to beat the Republican.


2)Ashton Carter Picked for SecDef

It was becoming quickly apparent that no one wanted to be Obama’s pick as the next Secretary of Defense.  Michele Flournoy pulled her name after talks with the White House. Several people familiar with Flournoy’s thinking say she decided to withdraw her name in part out of concern over dealing with White House micromanagement.  Then Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan also said they did not want the job.  That essentially left Ashton Carter as the last candidate under serious consideration.

Carter is deeply respected inside the defense establishment, and has a long track record serving in a number of Pentagon jobs, but he is not likely to bring significant change to the Pentagon.  CNN said that Pentagon officials doubt this White House really wants a secretary of defense who will offer significant new ideas.

Ashton Carter may not get along well with the White House.  The Politico wrote, “He is brilliant and driven, a policy wonk equally adept at mastering the bureaucracy,” says a former White House official. “He’s also arrogant, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”

That could be a warning sign in an administration that has already gone through three defense secretaries who resented White House micromanagement of their affairs.  In Carter, Obama would be choosing a strong-willed independent thinker who believed the US should have left a strong, operational troop force in Iraq and believes the military has been asked to swallow dangerously large budget cuts. He has also taken more hawkish stances against American opponents like North Korea, which means he may advocate a more aggressive policy towards ISIS.  Carter’s record on nuclear non-proliferation also suggests he could take a harder line on Iran policy than Obama favors.

Carter also gets along well with Republicans, which will help during confirmation hearings and hearings before Congress.

Of course, Carter’s policy positions will probably put him at odds with the White House, which may lead to his firing if he fails to support Obama enough.  In that case, the White House may have an even more difficult time finding a qualified person to take the poisoned chalice of the SecDef position next time.



National Security Priorities for the Next Secretary of Defense

By James Jay Carafano, Dakota Wood, James Phillips and Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

November 26, 2014

Issue Brief #4308

President Barack Obama is replacing his Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Hagel was the third Secretary of Defense to serve under President Obama, following Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.   The announcement of Hagel’s resignation, reportedly under pressure from the White House, was not accompanied by mention of a successor, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Hagel will continue to serve until a replacement is approved, the timing of which is uncertain, given the limited time Congress will be in session until control of the Senate shifts to Republicans when the new Congress convenes in January.  Unsurprisingly, speculation about the reason for Secretary Hagel’s departure and the list of potential candidates to replace him now dominates reporting of this event, but these are distractions from the two primary points that should be the focus of attention: (1) the President’s failed national security agenda and (2) his dysfunctional approach to handling national security matters.

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Whatever Ashton Carter’s Views on War Are, He Should Stick to the Pentagon Budget

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

December 3, 2014

The White House has apparently settled on Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, after other leading candidates withdrew their names from consideration. It can never be a pleasant experience to come into a new job with the baggage of everyone knowing that you were the third or fourth best choice for the position. But that is the least of Carter’s challenges.  He will be expected to manage several ongoing wars, at a time when the public wants to kill bad guys without necessarily using U.S. ground troops to do it. Carter must also oversee numerous major new and costly weapons programs (especially nuclear weapons) in an increasingly tight budgetary environment. The Pentagon’s base budget (excluding the costs of the wars) remains near historic highs in inflation-adjusted terms, and personnel expenses are likely to remain high despite some reductions in the numbers of men and women serving in uniform. The just-released draft budget implements modest cost controls, but the Military Times reports that these “are likely to irritate outside advocates who pushed against any pay and benefits cuts.” Absent significant reform, military pay and benefits will place additional downward pressure on both new weapon R&D and normal operations and maintenance.

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Pentagon 2015: New year, same problems

AEI’s Foreign and Defense Policy team

American Enterprise Institute

December 4, 2014


Once the president announces his nominee to be the administration’s fourth secretary of defense, that candidate will be faced with critical decisions about how to address the many Pentagon priorities, probably including a 2016 defense budget that will shatter sequestration caps by $60 billion and no politically viable agreement to find those additional dollars. Failure to fund a defense budget increase would once again result in widespread, crippling cuts.  With an aging, outdated military and a standstill in Washington, Resident Fellow at AEI’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies Mackenzie Eaglen’s warnings from 2012 continue to ring true. In January 2012, Eaglen noted in the Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon’s announcement to cut $500 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years served as “the final nail in the coffin of our national contract with our all-volunteer military—that if they fight, they’ll have the very best to win. It marks the beginning of the end of America’s unquestioned international military dominance. Our soldiers will increasingly go into combat with aged equipment, lacking assurance that they’ll prevail against any enemy.”

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Winning Battles, Losing Wars

By Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik

Institute for the Study of War

December 2, 2014

Army Magazine

Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. begins his book, On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context, by relaying the following conversation: “‘You know you never defeated us on the battlefield,’ said the American colonel. The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. ‘That may be so,’ he replied, ‘but it is also irrelevant.’” As much as we may not want to admit it, in this sense, our current war against al Qaeda and their ilk resembles that of Vietnam. In fighting our post- 9/11 wars, we have won nearly every battle but are far from winning the war. How can this be? The answer lies largely in the civil military nexus that underpins how America wages war. Waging war involves selecting proper war aims; identifying initial military, nonmilitary, U.S. and coalition forces, strategies, policies and campaigns that, if successfully executed, will achieve those aims; constructing execution mechanisms and coordinative bodies to translate the plans into action and then to adapt as the war unfolds; and maintaining the war’s legitimacy from start to finish. These war-waging responsibilities are civil-military responsibilities shared by the set of senior political leaders of the executive and legislative branches and selected senior military leaders. Even a cursory look at these elements reveals that our war-waging proficiency has simply not been up to the task.

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Hagel’s Successor Has a Tough Task Ahead

By Arthur Herman

Hudson Institute

November 26, 2014

Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense on Monday may have come as a surprise, but the way it was done certainly wasn’t.  A competent White House would have used the president’s announcement to name a successor. The fact that a final choice is still up in the air conveys an air of improvisation and futility that’s been the hallmark of Obama foreign and defense policy (likewise the announcement that same day that Secretary of State John Kerry’s much heralded final deal with Iran is stalled again).

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Reversing the Revolution: Mubarak’s Court Case Vindicates the Saudi Strategy on Egypt

By Bruce Riedel

Brookings Institution

November 30, 2014

The Saudi royal family undoubtedly welcomed the decision to drop the charges against Hosni Mubarak as a vindication of their strategy to reverse the 2011 revolution in Egypt and restore authoritarian military rule over their most important Arab ally. The Saudis were horrified when Mubarak was toppled in 2011. The Egyptian dictator had been a consistent ally of the Kingdom for three decades even sending two divisions to defend it in 1990 when Iraq threatened to attack. Trying him for repressing demonstrations set an unwanted precedent for other Arab leaders

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor 

C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 29-11-2014



Hagel Leaving Defense Department:

What’s Next?

In a surprise move, it was announced on Monday that Secretary of Defense Hagel had resigned from Obama’s Administration.  This major resignation in Obama’s national security team raises a lot of questions:  Who will be his successor, what will their policies be, and how well will he be able to influence Obama?

But one question that everyone in Washington is asking is if Hagel resigned voluntary or was pushed?

Hagel, a former Republican senator was Obama’s attempt at bipartisanship in his cabinet.  The problem was that Hagel’s Republican credentials kept him outside Obama’s inner circle of policy makers.  Nor, did it help that Hagel (who opposed the American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq) wasn’t well regarded by his Republican counterparts in the Senate.

Former presidential candidate Senator John McCain, who is considered by his republican colleagues the Senate expert on national defense, was critical of Hagel, who was a senator from Nebraska and a Vietnam veteran.  McCain was one of Hagel’s toughest critics during his nomination fight in early 2013. “I don’t believe [Hagel] is qualified,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the time.

It was Democrats and others backing Obama that were Hagel’s biggest supporters.  Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald (who later broke the Snowden/NSA story) called criticism of Hagel part of a “smear campaign” headed by the pro-Israel lobby. “Hagel is one of the very, very few prominent national politicians from either party who has been brave enough to question and dissent from the destructive bipartisan orthodoxies on foreign policy,” Greenwald wrote. “If this nomination actually happens, this will be one of Obama’s best appointments and boldest steps of his presidency.”

Former Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezezinski said Hagel, “would infuse into our foreign policy what is very much needed . . . strategic significance — that is to say, a preoccupation with the problems that we’re slowly, collectively sliding into.” Former secretary of state Colin Powell called Hagel “superbly qualified,” claiming he’d do a “great job as secretary of defense.”

But, what did lead to Hagel’s resignation?  The White House said that it was Hagel’s incompetence in handling the DoD, especially in failing to react to ISIS.  “When Secretary Hagel was first nominated for this job . . . the threat that was posed by ISIL was not nearly as significant as it is now,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told the Daily Mail.

However, Hagel’s most notable disagreement with Obama, was on this issue.  And Hagel was right.  Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” contradicting the Obama’s comments months before that the group was simply ‘junior varsity.”

Ironically, the White House is using the fact that ISIS is definitely not a JV team to justify Hagel’s ouster. “Another secretary might be better suited to meet those challenges,” as White House press secretary Earnest put it.​

The White House tried to make the decision look less like a firing than a mutual agreed upon separation.  White House press secretary Josh Earnest refused to answer whether Chuck Hagel was fired, steadfastly repeating the vague assertion that he’s leaving based on “conversations” between the defense secretary and the president.

“Did Chuck Hagel indicate, in these conversations, a desire to stay on?” NPR’s Mara Liasson asked Earnest on Monday.

“Um — well, again, this is a decision that the two of them arrived at together,” the press secretary responded. “I’m not aware of sort of, the twists and turns of the conversation they’ve had over the past month.”

Behind the scenes, however, White House officials were clearer.  According to a Fox News report, “Make no mistake, Secretary Hagel was fired,” a senior U.S. official with close knowledge of the situation told Fox News.  This same official discounted Pentagon claims it was a mutual decision claiming President Obama has lost confidence in Hagel and that the White House had been planning to announce his exit for weeks.

“The president felt he had to fire someone. He fired the only Republican in his cabinet. Who is that going to piss off that he cares about?”

In a swipe at the resume of Hagel, who served as U.S. Army sergeant in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts, the official added, “This is why you don’t send a sergeant to do a secretary’s job.”

However, onetime critic Senator McCain told of a Secretary of Defense shut out of the decision making.  McCain said that retiring defense secretary Chuck Hagel was “very, very frustrated” with the White House, with the Arizona Republican claiming that Hagel was shut out of many policy decisions by President Obama’s inner circle.

McCain spoke Monday with Phoenix-area radio station KFYI about Hagel’s resignation, which McCain seems to believe was made under duress. “I can tell you, he was in my office last week [and] he was very frustrated,” he said, citing the turmoil throughout the globe and a reluctance of the Obama administration to address it.

“Already the White House people are leaking, ‘Well, he wasn’t up to the job,’” McCain continued. “Believe me, he was up to the job. It was the job he was given, where he really was never really brought into that real tight circle inside the White House that makes all the decisions — which has put us into the incredible debacle that we’re in today throughout the world.”

In the end, it wasn’t about Hagel’s abilities as much as it was the decisions being made by the Obama inner circle – decisions that Hagel had to implement, but didn’t have any input into.  He had clearly warned about ISIS and Syria, but to no avail.  According to the New York Times, “White House officials also expressed annoyance over a sharply critical two-page memo that Mr. Hagel sent to Ms. Rice (National Security Advisor) last month, in which he warned that the administration’s Syria policy was in danger of unraveling because of its failure to clarify its intentions toward President Bashar al-Assad.

This problem with the inner circle of the White House was also reported in Politico.  Politico reports that “Hagel’s main gripe, according to people close to him, was what he viewed as a disorganized National Security Council run by Ricea criticism shared by [White House chief of staff Denis] McDonough, according to a senior administration official.” Politico also points out that in this respect, Hagel was no outlier; his predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, shared this concern.”

This opinion is also shared in the Washington think tank community.  Defense News interviewed Aaron David Miller, an adviser to six secretaries of state and now vice president of the Wilson Center. He said Obama “dominates [and] doesn’t delegate. . . . [Obama] is probably the most controlling foreign-policy president since Richard Nixon.”

The problem is that Obama shows no signs of having Nixon’s skill in foreign policy. As his policies fail to produce the results he seeks, Obama’s instinct is to listen to loyal White House aides and push away dissenting voices. Hagel is the third defense secretary to suffer that fate.

Robert Gates and Leon Panetta “didn’t toe the party line, so the White House people weren’t happy,” Korb tells Defense News. “So pushed out is what they got. Now, this is what Hagel got, too.”

If the problem is that decisions are made in the White House without input by the SecDef, the question is, “Is there any potential SecDef that can influence policy made in the White House?”

The Future

Given the tensions in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and on the Chinese periphery, Obama is unlikely to take long in naming a successor.  However, the political chemistry has changed.

The new SecDef nominee will have to face a Republican Senate, which has many questions about national security policy and the future of a rapidly shrinking military.  And, the spear point of that nomination fight will be Arizona Senator John McCain, a retired Naval Officer and the Senate’s expert on National Defense issues.  As Obama’s constant thorn on issues like supporting Syrian Rebels and fighting ISIS, McCain will use these hearing to highlight administration failings.

McCain will also make an issue of Hagel’s decision to eliminate the A-10 close support aircraft.  The A-10 has proved useful in the Middle East as a close air support weapon and is stationed in McCain’s home state.  It is the world’s premier tank buster and it had been scheduled for elimination as the threat of a major tank war in Europe faded.

However, as Russia and its tank armies become a growing threat, the A-10 is seen as a potential tool to counter Russian advances in Eastern Europe.  Expect the A-10 to be retained.

The issue of ISIS will also be a major topic at any hearings.  The issue will revolve around three questions:  Will advisers go into combat? (Yes.) Will American aid flow directly to the Sunni and Kurdish tribes instead of through the government in Baghdad? (This will probably be a frustrating compromise.) Will America insist upon a status-of-forces agreement so that they stay for the long term? (A necessity to keep Baghdad out of the orbit of Iran.)

Who will the next SecDef be?

Broadly speaking, Obama has two choices – a politician or a bureaucrat.  Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

A politician, especially a senator, would have an easier time getting through the Senate nominating process, which would get him in place quicker, without the crippling hearings.

The problem is that Obama may have a hard time finding s politician willing to take on the task.  The Obama foreign and defense policy is collapsing and few politicians with any future plans will be willing to head into that firestorm.  With only two years remaining, there is little potential for formulating a strong agenda.  Rather, the position will consist of fighting policy failures over the globe, while keeping a hostile Republican Congress informed.  On the other hand, a political figure with some weight would definitely help in the Congress.

There are some prominent political names being mentioned.  A more centrist, if not right wing, defense choice from the political side would be former senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.  Another name being mentioned is Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington State.

A Lieberman choice would probably sail through the Republican Senate.  Lieberman is a strong supporter of Israel and a good friend of the future Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Senator McCain.  Although Lieberman wouldn’t reflect Obama’s national security ideals, the choice would probably be the best political choice as it would give him the best liaison with Congress on defense and national security matters.  It would also signal that Obama is willing to hear options from outside his own inner circle.

The other broad option is to pick a policy oriented person with knowledge of the defense bureaucracy.  Although they would not help in the legislative battles, they would more likely fit into Obama’s broad national security policy.

The four names that emerged early in the top running were former under secretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy, founder and chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a D.C. think tank; former deputy secretary of defense Ashton Carter; and current deputy secretary of defense Robert Work. Also in the mix is John Hamre, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a longtime D.C. player as well as former deputy secretary of defense.

Michele Flournoy was seen as the front runner until she withdrew her name from consideration on Tuesday.  She is currently the chief executive officer at the Center for a New American Security, a left wing think tank (in the American context) that the Obama administration relied heavily upon in developing national security policy. Many think she has the inside track as Obama wanted to appoint her earlier, but settled for Hagel instead.  However, she asked not to be considered for health and family reasons.

But there may have been other reasons since Flourney comes with considerable baggage.  She co-founded CNAS in 2007, and served as its president until 2009, when she took her under secretary job.  Since CNAS has published many papers on national security policy that have later been taken up by the Obama Administration, she will have to defend these policies and their failures during her nominations.  As a result, her confirmation hearings may have been used to focus on Obama foreign policy failures.

Another choice is Robert Work, who is currently the deputy defense secretary, and has previously served as undersecretary of the Navy. Work, a retired Marine colonel, also served as the CEO of CNAS before the Senate confirmed him in his present position in April.

As a former CNAS alumni, Work also has to face critical questions about Obama policy failures.  He also will be questioned about his work on the Defense Department budget and several questionable priorities that the Senate will not agree with.  And, as chairman of the Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group, he will need to answer questions about several scandals concerning military personnel working with nuclear weapons and the overall condition of the aging arsenal.

Another choice is Ashton Carter, who served as the Pentagon’s No. 2 official from October 2011 until December 2013, and stepped down after being bypassed in favor of Hagel for the job.

What is interesting is that in the first few hours of the vacancy at the Department of Defense, two top choices, Reed and Flournoy pulled their names from consideration, which seems to indicate that few top people see any benefit to serving two years in a job that has little access to Obama or his inner circle.  As the National Review reported, “Why should anyone put up with those headaches and not even have full command of your department?” asks one leading Democratic defense analyst I spoke with. He said the White House’s need to micromanage the national-security apparatus is notorious in Washington.”

Future policy will depend on who is picked and their relationship with Obama and his inner circle.  Lieberman, would be the least likely to adhere to the Obama doctrine, and with considerable bipartisan support from the Congress, would strike a more pro-Israel stance as well as push for more assistance to Iraq and the Syrian rebels.

Work is an alumnus of one of Obama’s favorite Washington think tanks – one that has articulated many Obama Administration policies.  Although he would bring some of his own perspective to the job, he is most likely to adhere to current Obama national security principles.  Meanwhile, someone like Ashton Carter, would probably fall between Lieberman and Work in terms of how they would relate to Obama and his inner circle.

Which brings us back to the main ingredient in America’s national security policy – Obama and his inner circle.  While detail and minutia can be controlled by the SecDef, ultimately, major policy decisions must go to the White House and be vetted by Obama and the Inner Circle – an inner circle that has become smaller and tighter in the last six years.

This means that decisions on the war against ISIS, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Syrian civil war, or unrest throughout the region will not face much deviation no matter who the new SecDef will be.  While Lieberman will have the political power to speak up against Obama, it will not change matters anymore than Hagel’s warnings about ISIS forced a policy reversal by Obama.

Which brings us back to the question we asked earlier in the analysis, “Is there any potential SecDef that can influence White House policy?”

Unfortunately, no.

Although each of the potential nominees have serious credentials, none have displayed the most important characteristic necessary for an effective SecDef in the Obama Administration – the ability to join the Inner Circle and become a major influence in national security policy making.  In the end, like Hagel, they will find themselves outside the real decision making circle and forced to defend and react to the White House decisions.

While their tenure may be longer than Hagel’s, it will not be any more satisfying or successful.



Nuclear Negotiations with Iran: U.S. Must Avoid a Rush to Failure

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

November 22, 2014

Issue Brief #4304

The November 24 deadline for a nuclear agreement with Iran is fast approaching, with no sign that a deal that would advance U.S. national security interests can be reached by that date. After almost a year of negotiations, Iran has won international acceptance of its once-covert uranium enrichment facilities and obtained substantial sanctions relief in exchange for symbolic and incremental concessions that can easily be withdrawn, as Tehran has done in the past. The Obama Administration, eager to conclude a deal to salvage a foreign policy “legacy,” has already made so many concessions on relaxing sanctions that it has undermined its own bargaining leverage as it seeks to close a deal. There is a real danger that if the Administration makes too many concessions, the legacy it leaves behind will be an Iran on the threshold of becoming a nuclear weapons state.

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The Vice President’s Difficult Trip to Turkey

By Bulent Aliriza

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Nov 20, 2014

On November 21, Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Istanbul for a two day visit during which he will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. According to a November 18 White House briefing prior to his departure on the three nation trip that will conclude in Turkey, “the Vice President will discuss cooperation in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq; coping with the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflicts on Turkey’s southern border and countering the threat posed by foreign fighters.” While the focus would be on countering ISIS, “promoting the Cyprus settlement process and other regional issues” would also be on the agenda.  Mr. Biden’s high profile trip will be the most recent effort in the ongoing U.S. campaign to persuade Turkey to give greater support in the fight against ISIS which has established brutal control over much of Syria as well as portions of Iraq. Although it is clear that Turkey’s contribution has not been at the level the U.S. would have liked, U.S. officials have been generally reluctant to publicize their disappointment. Instead they have chosen to emphasize areas of convergence and to downplay fundamental divergences.

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Iran Nuclear Talks Extended, Again

By George Perkovich

Carnegie Endowment

November 25, 2014

Iran and world powers agreed to extend negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program after a comprehensive deal proved elusive as the latest deadline approached. In a new Q&A, George Perkovich details where the talks stand and analyzes what lies ahead. Perkovich says Washington and its allies should strategically continue patient diplomacy unless Iran resumes provocative nuclear activities.

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Tunisia’s Security Challenge

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

November 26, 2014


As Tunisia prepares to enter a new phase in its process of democratization, with the election of a new president and the formation of a new cabinet following the successful parliamentary elections held in October, two key challenges face the country’s government: the economy and security.  Those two problems are related in Tunisia; as one journalist I spoke to while I was there last month told me, “the fate of many young Tunisians is suicide: Those who used to kill themselves through trying to reach Europe illegally by sea are now killing themselves by joining jihadist groups.” Indeed, the question on everyone’s lips during my trip was, how come thousands of Tunisians are fighting in Syria today?

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After Hagel
By James Robbins

American Foreign Policy Council
November 25, 2014

U.S. News & World Report

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was reportedly eased out of the Pentagon because President Barack Obama did not think he was the right man for the job. But finding the right person to replace him will require clear thinking from the White House on the dangerous state of the world.  When Hagel assumed defense leadership in February 2013, his job was to bring a declining department in for a soft landing. He was to oversee the end of the war in Afghanistan, make smart cuts in the defense budget, downside overall force levels, cancel unnecessary weapons contracts and reduce American force commitments overseas. From the vantage point of the beginning of Obama’s second term, defense was to play a secondary role; the emphasis would be on domestic policy.

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Iran’s Nuclear Politics and Missed Opportunities 

By Haleh Esfandiari and Robert S. Litwak

Wilson Center

November 25, 2014

Already, the extension of nuclear talks announced Monday is being portrayed in Iran as a victory for its negotiating team. In a televised interview Monday night, President Hasan Rouhani made clear that Iran would not stop its centrifuges or give up its technology. What’s been agreed to is, indeed, a bonus for Tehran as its government continues to access about $700 million a month from its frozen assets.  Western negotiators and Iran had more than a year to reach a comprehensive deal. Despite repeated assertions that Nov. 24 was a firm deadline, it seems that neither side took the date seriously. The Iranian negotiating team had its instructions and stuck to its position, even though no reprieve in the sanctions regime was offered. The Iranians know that the U.S. Senate will change hands in January and that it would be very difficult for the Obama administration to work with a Republican majority whose members have been skeptical of negotiations throughout the process. It is hard to see how the next seven months are to produce a change of mind among Iran’s leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that 14 months of negotiations have failed to bring about.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor 

C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 21-11-2014



America Awaits a Lame-Duck Congress

Now that the election is over and the Republicans have gained control of the US Senate, the period of the “Lame-duck” Congress is upon us.  In politics, a lame duck refers to politicians still in power for the remainder of the term, but who have been defeated in the election.  As it stands, the Democratic controlled Senate is lame-duck because at the beginning of January, the Democrats lose control of the Senate to the Republicans.

In this case, the lame-duck session that will continue into December is the last chance the Democrats have to legislatively act – although they still have to get it through a Republican House of Representatives.  And, although the Democrats still have Obama in the White House, some issues like the budget must be acted upon by Congress, not Obama.  In addition, several of the issues will impact the Middle East like Syrian funding of the rebels, the Keystone pipeline, and congressional approval of any deal made by Obama with Iran on nuclear proliferation.

The political chemistry surrounding the lame-duck session is complex.  First, there is the outgoing Democratic Senate majority that was able to approve Obama’s nominations to cabinet, judgeships, and ambassadorships.  Obviously, a Republican Senate will be much more critical of Obama’s nominations.  As a result, there will still be a push to clear several nominations, even though more senior nominations may have to languish until January and the Republicans takeover.

The Democratic Senate also meant Republican legislation coming out of the House could be stopped at the Senate instead of forcing Obama to veto any legislation.  It also forced Republicans to negotiate with the Senate Democrats in order to pass a budget to fund the government.

While the Democrats have a reason to hurry, the Republicans are more interested in delaying budgeting and legislation.  Why, they reason, should they hurry to pass bills in November and December, while Democrats control the Senate, when they can wait and pass legislation that is more amenable to Republicans in 2015?

Meanwhile, Obama is already facing a hostile Congress that will become more difficult to work with once the Senate becomes Republican.  This is fueling his desire to act unilaterally and bypass Congress with executive orders.  One example of this is his executive action on immigration this week.

But taking unilateral action without congressional approval has risks.  The federal government runs out of money on December 11th and unless Congress approves a continuing resolution, the government will have to shut down non-critical offices.

By taking executive action on immigration, Obama is challenging Congress to counter his move.  Congress has the authority to prevent him from granting amnesty to illegal immigrants by preventing the government from spending any money to give them documents, but the problem is doing it in such a way that Obama is hemmed in and can’t cause a government shutdown that he will blame the Republican for.

One advantage for the Republicans is that all budget legislation must originate out of the Republican House instead of the Senate, which gives the House the edge in writing the budget legislation.

With a Democratic Senate, the options for the Republican House are more limited.  If they pass a long term continuing resolution without any clause preventing the expenditure of money in processing the illegal immigrants, Obama is free to issue papers until October 2015.

If the House passes a long term continuing resolution with a clause preventing amnesty, the Democratic Senate could block the bill, let the government shut down, and try to blame the Republicans for passing unreasonable legislation.  Or Reid could add an amendment that cuts the anti-amnesty clause out.

The other option, and one that is the likely outcome is to pass a short term continuing resolution that will not address amnesty,, but will allow the government to operate until early next year.  Then a Republican Congress can craft a continuing resolution that contains the non-amnesty clause that forces Obama either to sign it or veto it and force a government closure.

It appears, however, that the Republicans are leery of forcing a government closure, so they have another option for next year – passing departmental budgets.  In this, Congress would pass separate budgets for each department that Obama would sign.  However, the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill would contain a clause that would prevent use of any of the money to process illegal aliens or give them amnesty.  This leaves Obama with the hard choice of signing the bill and stopping the amnesty or vetoing it and forcing the closure of DHS – something that would hardly inconvenience the majority of Americans.

Given the history of the budgeting process, expect a short term continuing resolution coming out of the Congress in December, followed by more congressional battles on government funding in early 2015.

Lame-Duck Legislation

Although the funding issue remains, the lame-duck session has already tackled a couple of issues – the Keystone pipeline and NSA spying.

The revelation of massive NSA spying by Snowden galvanized many in Congress – many who were even Obama’s allies.  In a rare piece of bipartisanship, outgoing Judiciary chair Democratic Senator Pat Leahy has spent the last year working on a plan to reform laws controlling the NSA and had reached agreement with Republican James Sensenbrenner in the House on a joint bill.  The act would have severely restricted the collection of phone data.

However, the Senate successfully filibustered the bill this week and it is unlikely to come up again before the end of the year.

However, the issue will be renewed in 2015 as parts of the Patriot Act expire in June.  And, what may happen has implications in the 2016 presidential race.  Although many Republican senators, including incoming Senate Majority Leader McConnell, are opposed to limiting NSA authority, Republican aspirant Rand Paul is a NSA critic and wants even stronger NSA restrictions.  However, Ted Cruz, a Republican Senator from Texas and potential rival of Paul favors letting the NSA retain more authority.

This could provide an interesting split in the Republican Party as the conservative Republicans will favor Cruz’s position, while libertarian Republicans will support Paul.  This may allow someone like Jeb Bush, who is not supported by either the libertarians or conservatives, to win the nomination.

Although the NSA bill is focused on 2016 politics, the Keystone legislation that would allow Canadian oil to flow more readily into the US was focused on immediate politics and the fate of Democratic Senator Landrieu, who is behind in her race to retain her Senate seat against Republican Bill Cassidy.  Construction of Keystone has broad support in Louisiana, an oil producing state and Landrieu had maintained that her position on the Senate Energy committee gave her more power to help oil producers in her state.

Despite all of her pressure, her Democratic colleagues were un-swayed and when the vote came to stop debate and vote, she came up one vote short – an indication that most Democratic senators had concluded that she would lose her runoff race in December anyway.

Syria and the Continuing Resolution

The funding bill will also have to address funding of Syrian Rebels.  Obama asked Congress recently for another $5.6 billion to fight against ISIS.  The new appropriation will help fund the 1,500 additional troops the Pentagon plans to deploy to Iraq.  Increasing the Pentagon’s $58 billion overseas contingency operations request – the account used to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other hot spots – is expected to get broad support on Capitol Hill and pass easily. If Congress decides to go with the continuing resolution, they will fold the money into that legislation.

That, however, would only resolve the funding issue.  There is still the issue of the American military actions against ISIS.  Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war and many in Congress want Obama to go to Congress for authority to fight ISIS.  In the last few weeks, Obama has indicated he may be willing to update the legal justifications for carrying out a war against ISIS.

The temporary authorization to act against ISIS was included in the last continuing resolution and must be renewed by December 11th.  It is likely to be included in any temporary funding legislation.

This issue is likely to be debated in the new Congress in January.  Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona, who are expected to lead key committees in the Senate, have both said they favor a new, expanded war authorization law.  That additional authority may either be in a stand alone bill or, more likely, folded into the defense budget.

There is also the question of additional commitments of US troops in the region, which Obama was asked about during his recent trip to Asia.  “Yes, there are circumstances in which [Dempsey] could envision the deployment of U.S. troops. That’s true everywhere, by the way,” Obama said Sunday in Australia. “That’s his job, is to think about various contingencies. And, yes, there are always circumstances in which the United States might need to deploy U.S. ground troops.”

Obama did admit that there was one definite reason to move troops into the region – if ISIS gained control of a nuclear bomb.  “If we discovered that [ISIS] had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes,” Obama told reporters at the news conference. “I would order it.”

Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

Although supporting the Syrian rebels will likely find its way into the continuing resolution, there is likely to be more trouble in regards to any nuclear deal Obama makes with Iran.

The Senate is warning the Obama administration that it is poised to veto a final nuclear deal with the Iranians and impose harsher sanctions on Tehran, according to a letter sent late Wednesday to Obama.  Nearly half of the Senate has signed onto a letter promising to reject a “weak and dangerous deal” with Iran as final negotiations in Vienna approach their Nov. 24 deadline.  Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk authored the letter.

The senators warn that the Obama administration is close to inking a deal that will permit Iran to continue the most controversial aspects of its nuclear program and enable Tehran to build a nuclear weapon in the near future, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon and signed by all 43 Republican senators who backed the Mendendez-Kirk sanctions legislation killed earlier this year by the White House.

The senators lashed out at Obama for completely ignoring congressional efforts to provide oversight of the deal.  “Your negotiators appear to have disregarded clear expressions from the Senate emphasizing the need for a multi-decade agreements requiring Iran to fully suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities, to dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure, and completely disclose its past work on nuclear weaponization,” the senators wrote to Obama.  “We see no indication your negotiators are pressing Iran to abandon efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach American soil,” the senators warn.

Although the Constitution makes Obama the sole authority to deal with foreign nations, the Congress must provide the funding that will implement the agreement.

By relying on a confidential Treasury Department study, Obama has concluded that he can suspend most sanctions against Iran without congressional approval.  Reportedly, that would be enough for Iran to sign a deal.

However, the Congress can severely restrict any agreement by failing to provide funding for any actions that the US has agreed to undertake.  They can also punish the State Department by cutting their budget, especially in regards to opening an embassy in Iran or expanding operations there.



Assessing a Deal or Non-deal with Iran 

The Critical Issue of Iran’s Progress in Weapons Research, Development, and Production Capability 

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 20, 2014

It now seems unlikely that the P5+1 countries of the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany can reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran by the end of November. A final agreement remains a possibility, but it seems far more likely that if an agreement is not reached, the negotiations will be extended rather than abandoned all together. The question then arises as to how to judge the outcome of this set of negotiations, be it an actual agreement, an extension, or the collapse of the negotiations.  So far, most analyses of the negotiations have focused on the key features of Iran’s various enrichment efforts and its ability to acquire fissile material. These include: The number of centrifuges, The development of more advanced centrifuges, The level of Uranium enrichment and the size of Iran’s stockpiles, The potential use of the new reactor at Arak to produce Plutonium, How soon Iran could use any of these to get enough material to produce a nuclear device, The extent to which any agreement dealing with all of these issues is enforceable, How long an agreement will be in force, and The incentives to Iran for reaching an agreement, especially the extent to which UN, US, and EU sanctions will be lifted, and the timing of such action.

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ISIS, Israel, and nukes: Iran faces crises

By J. Matthew McInnis

American Enterprise Institute

November 19, 2014

Better policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran begins with a better understanding of Tehran’s decision making. Analysts, commentators, and policymakers are overwhelmed by the apparent complexity of Tehran’s political system, believing it to be opaque and often the source of irrational decisions. Because of these misperceptions about Tehran’s intentions, the United States has been too often shocked by Iran’s actions.

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A Deal With Two Devils

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council
November 18, 2014

U.S. News & World Report

Nothing better showcases Washington’s confusion over foreign policy than the idea that – as part of a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal – Iran would ship much or all of its enriched uranium to Russia, and Russia would then process it for Iranian civilian usage.  Were the U.S.-led “P5+1” negotiators (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) to reach a deal with Iran with this provision, the United States would subjugate its national security and that of its allies to two U.S. adversaries, both of which are undermining U.S. interests around the world.  In addition, Washington would further legitimize Tehran and Moscow as good-faith actors that adhere to global norms and can be valuable partners with the United States, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

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The Next President’s Mideast Mess 

By Robert Satloff

Washington Institute

November 16, 2014


Even God, it seems, is tired of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — and the never-ending standoff between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. When a third intifada threatened to erupt recently following Israel’s temporary closure of Muslim prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in response to stone-throwing against Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below, Palestinian leaders called for a “day of rage,” and Israel dispatched more than 1,000 riot police to prepare for the worst…It will likely take an even more dramatic brand of divine intervention to prevent a slew of worsening Mideast problems — renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Islamic terrorism, Iranian nukes and so on — from landing squarely on the desk of the next U.S. president, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or anyone else. All indications are that President Obama is going to try to make a difference in his last two years, especially in securing what he reportedly believes could be a transformative nuclear agreement with Iran. But the overwhelming odds are that most of these problems will still be unresolved by the next inauguration — and that the 45th president’s tenure will be as engulfed by the Middle East as Obama’s has been.

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How Iran Sanctions Failed

By Tzvi Kahn

Foreign Policy Initiative

November 17, 2014

How to explain America’s failure, after 20 years of efforts, to impose genuinely crippling sanctions on Iran? Start with the penchant of the executive branch—from Presidents Clinton to Obama—for excluding Congress from the process.  Last month, the New York Times reported that President Obama planned to bypass Congress on any final deal with Iran, directly violating a pledge by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year that the administration would “of course” consult with lawmakers about the future of sanctions. “We’d be obligated to,” he said, “under the law.”  At the same time, the administration maintains that it feels perfectly copacetic with its current slate of sanctions anyway—no need to rush for more. Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew said shortly after the implementation of the interim agreement that the United States—thanks to “President Obama’s leadership, congressional actions, [and] American diplomacy”—had “put in place a historic sanctions regime, and Iran now finds itself under the greatest economic and financial pressure any country has ever experienced.”

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Press Note: Prospects for Negotiations with Iran and Nuclear Diplomacy 

By Elizabeth Rosenberg, Ilan Goldenberg

Center for a New American Security

November 19, 2014

As negotiators head towards the November 24 deadline for the Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna, we should expect neither a full comprehensive agreement nor a complete breakdown. Instead, the most likely scenarios involve interim agreements that could range from a significant step forward involving some concessions on all sides, a partial agreement on some elements, or simply an extension of the status quo. While the best outcome for advancing nuclear security and future diplomacy with Iran would clearly be a major breakthrough in the negotiations, a continuation of talks and a perpetuation of the status quo would be far superior to a total breakdown. The durability of any agreement or the durability of continued nuclear diplomacy will depend on how key constituencies including the U.S. Congress, Iranian hardliners, Israeli and Saudi skeptics, and the countries negotiating with Iran (the P5+1) behave in the aftermath of the deadline.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor 

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