Analysis 14-11-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Assassination as an Instrument of Foreign Policy

American and Israeli views – Do they agree or disagree?

Introduction

The report this week about the assassination of several nuclear scientists in Syria reignited the controversy on Israel’s policy of assassination as a tool of foreign policy.  It also raises the question of attacking a nation’s intellectual power as part of asymmetrical warfare.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday five nuclear engineers, four of them Syrian and one Iranian, were shot dead on the outskirts of Damascus on Sunday while traveling in a small convoy to a research center near the northeastern district of Barzeh.  The attack took place in territory controlled by the Syrian government.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the killings, suspicion immediately fell on the Israelis, who have a long standing reputation for assassination and have been responsible for the killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists in the past few years.

Israeli Assassination – An Instrument of Foreign Policy

Zionists has always used assassination as a tool of policy, even before Israel’s establishment.  Both British and Arab people were killed during the 1940s in order to advance Zionist goals and gain control of Palestinian land.  Since then, Israel and the Mossad have become legendary for its high profile assassinations – and several spectacular failures.

The policy isn’t without critics, even in Israel.  In 1955, seven years after the Israeli state was founded, the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote a letter to then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. In it, he complained that innocent Palestinians were being killed in Israeli operations. “I do not agree with you,” responded Ben-Gurion. “While it is good that there be a world full of peace, fraternity, justice, and honesty, it is even more important that we be in it.”

In the 1970s assassination as a tool of Israeli policy was institutionalized when then Prime Minister Golda Meir appointed a so-called “X Committee” that was – and perhaps still is – responsible for keeping a list of people to be assassinated.  At the Mossad, a unit known as “Caesaria” is allegedly tasked with carrying out targeted killings.

Although Israel has constantly targeted Palestinians for assassinations, it has been the recent war against Iran’s nuclear scientists that has gained the most attention.  Reportedly, it is a special group within the Mossad called Kidron that is carrying out the Iranian attacks.

In the case of the Iranian nuclear assassinations conducted by Kidon, they employed people with Iranian or dual nationalities. One of the Mossad assassins was Majid Jamali Fashi who confessed he had cooperated with Mossad for financial reasons only.  Fashi assassinated Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, a professor at Tehran University in January 2011 by blowing an explosive-laden motorbike via a remote-controlled device. He reportedly received training from Mossad inside Israel as well as $120,000 to assassinate the Iranian scientist. According to his confession, Jamali Fashi received forged documents in Azerbaijan’s Heydar Aliyev Airport to travel to Tel Aviv.

At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed since 2007, with men on motorcycles sticking magnetically attachable bombs to their victims’ cars. The head of the country’s ballistic missile program was also killed, while Mojtaba Ahmadi, who served as commander of the Iranian Cyber War Headquarters, was found shot dead. No Israeli national has ever been arrested.

Reaction to these killings in America was generally positive, which indicated that the CIA might have been involved to some degree.  Former US senator and candidate for president, Rick Santorum described the assassination of Iranian scientists as “wonderful,” threatening that those who work for Iran’s nuclear program “are not safe.”   “On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead. I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.”

He also said, “I think we should send a very clear message that if you are a scientist from Russia, North Korea, or from Iran and you are going to work on a nuclear program to develop a bomb for Iran, you are not safe.”

Also, former Bush administration ambassador to the UN John Bolton said on Fox News that the killing of an Iranian scientist and sanctions against Iran constitute only “half-measures in the quest to stunt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” The same sentiments were shared by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

However, it appears that Obama may be putting pressure on Israel to stop the killings as he attempts to craft an agreement with Iran on limiting their nuclear weapons development.  In addition, it appears that Israel may be stopping this type of attack as it has become too dangerous.

It’s not just Obama that has had problems with Israeli assassinations.  Revelations about the use of European passports in the attack on an alleged Hamas weapons buyer in Dubai caused diplomatic fallout between Israel and the European countries affected. Passports from the Britain, Ireland, France and Germany were used by the hit squad.  All the involved nations demanded an explanation from Israel, which made it clear that they had no intention of stopping their policy of assassination or using forged documents from other nations.  In fact, the only question in Israel was the lack of professionalism shown in the killing.

Although Europe has been more vocal in criticizing Israel, America has generally been much quieter.  In 1990 the Canadian-American scientist Gerald Bull was assassinated in Belgium. Bull, a renowned expert in long range artillery was helping Iraq develop a “super cannon” that might be able to hit Israel.

All indications are that it was an Israeli Mossad hit team that killed Bull, but the US government was unresponsive and didn’t even bring the FBI into the investigation as would normally happen with the assassination of an American citizen in Europe.  Some in the government even suggested that another nation like Iran, Syria, or South Africa might be responsible.  In the immediate aftermath, Israel even spread stories that Iraq had carried out the assassination.

How does Israel rationalize its assassination policy?  International law prohibits assassinations both in times of peace and in times of war.  In addition, it violates the sovereignty of other nations and the rights of the citizens of the other countries that are the targets of the assassination teams.

The Israeli position in the case of attacks on Palestinians is that Palestine isn’t a recognized state and Israel doesn’t have to conform to international law in terms of carrying out assassinations in Palestine or against Palestinians.

However, when carrying out murders in recognized nations, Israel has developed another legal rational.  In a legal opinion, Israeli attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein wrote, “The laws of combat which are part of international law, permit injuring, during a period of warlike operations, someone who has been positively identified as a person who is working to carry out fatal attacks against Israeli targets, those people are enemies who are fighting against Israel, with all that implies.”

This is a position that found disagreement in the international community, even in the US.  And, although privately many American officials approve of the Israeli extrajudicial solution, the official US position is, “Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don’t end the violence, but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm.”

America’s Assassination History

However, while the US publically denounces Israel’s assassination policy, it has a long record of targeting its enemies for liquidation.  The US has made more than 50 attempts to assassinate political party leaders according to William Blum in “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II.”  While some of them have been well known failures like the attacks on Fidel Castro, others have been more effective like the death of Lumumba of the Congo.  In fact, last December, the US State Department admitted that President Eisenhower authorized the murder of Lumumba and CIA Chief, Allan Dulles, allocated $100,000 to accomplish the murder.

Although the Church Committee hearings in the US Senate stopped the use of assassination as American policy in the 1970s, the 9-11 attacks renewed assassination as an instrument of American policy.  According to the July 18, 2012 issue of the Atlantic magazine, “President Bush gave the CIA permission to create a top secret assassination unit to find and kill Al Qaeda operatives. The program was kept from Congress for seven years. And when Leon Panetta told legislators about it in 2009, he revealed that the CIA had hired the private security firm Blackwater to help run it. “The move was historic,” says Evan Wright, the two-time National Magazine Award-winning journalist who wrote Generation Kill. “It seems to have marked the first time the U.S. government outsourced a covert assassination service to private enterprise.”

“It goes on to note that “in the past, the CIA was subject to oversight, however tenuous, from the president and Congress,” but that “President Bush’s 2001 executive order severed this line by transferring to the CIA his unique authority to approve assassinations. By removing himself from the decision-making cycle, the president shielded himself — and all elected authority — from responsibility should a mission go wrong or be found illegal.”

“Two Blackwater contractors told me that their firm began conducting assassinations in Afghanistan as early as 2008. They claimed to have participated in such operations — one in a support role, the other as a “trigger puller.” The contractors, to whom I spoke in 2009 and 2010, were both ex-Special Forces soldiers who were not particularly bothered by assassination work, although they did question the legality of Blackwater’s involvement in it.”

“While Blackwater’s covert unit began as a Bush administration story, President Obama now owns it. In 2010, his administration intervened on behalf of the Blackwater executives indicted for weapons trafficking, filing motions to suppress evidence on the grounds that it could compromise national security. The administration then awarded Blackwater (which is now called Academi) a $250 million contract to perform unspecified services for the CIA.”

There are, however, problems with human assassins.  They need to be able to blend into the environment and usually require a long time to properly insert them into the target area.  This has led America to automate the process with remote controlled drones.  In fact, according to an Obama administration spokesman, drone attacks are “the new normal” in the war against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Needless to say, in order to carry out its high tech assassination policy, the Obama Administration has had to stretch the law, just as Israel has.  A secret Justice Department paper outlining the legal rational for assassinating Americans in the Middle East, without benefit of legal protections said that the president, without oversight, may order a “lethal operation” against a citizen who is known to be a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or an affiliated group.

Needless to say, foreign nationals do not have even this level of legal protection, when it comes to attack by American drone aircraft.

Asymmetrical Warfare – attack the intellectual resources of a nation

Both American and Israeli assassination policies are targeted towards destroying the intellectual resources of a nation – whether that be a nuclear scientist, artillery expert, or top manager in an organization that the US or Israel wants to decapitate.  However, the US has developed another way to also drain intellectual resources from the Middle East – bringing the best minds to the US and allowing them to settle there.

Ever since Operation Paperclip began near the end of WW II, the US has made it policy to allow top scientific talent to immigrate to the US.  In fact, a report from the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation, notes that the United States is the world’s preeminent producer of scientific research thanks partially to immigrants.  The U.S. “funds the most research in academia and business, it publishes more science papers than any other nation, and its scientific papers are disproportionately among the world’s best.” And immigrants play a crucial role in those activities.

The report notes that that a large proportion of workers employed in science and engineering fields in the United States are foreign born. “Compared to the entire college-educated workforce, college graduates employed in S&E occupations are disproportionately foreign born,” the report states.

According to the 2011 American Community Survey, over 26 percent of all college-educated workers in engineering and science occupations were foreign born. Additionally, over 43 percent of workers in these occupations holding doctorate degrees are foreign born.

Much of this is due to government funding and a higher immigration priority for foreign born scientists and engineers.  Because of the federal government’s major investment in academic research over the past six decades, well-funded U.S. universities successfully compete for the best scientific talent around the world.  Many of these talented scientists remain in the United States, become American citizens, and take jobs as researchers in universities or at high tech companies.  In fact, about 2/3 of all non-citizen scientists and engineers who came to the US became American citizens.

Which brings us back to the Israeli and American assassination programs.  As life for a scientist becomes more dangerous in the Middle East, the advantages of coming to the US to live and work become more attractive.  In the end, the region still loses a brilliant mind.  It’s just less bloody.

 

PUBLICATIONS

Middle East Notes and Comment: Acting and Reacting in the Middle East

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 12, 2014

When mass protests broke out in the Arab world in 2011, the Obama administration saw opportunity. The president helped push long-time U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak to step down from the Egyptian presidency, noting, “I think history will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt that we were on the right side of history.”  Almost four years later, “people power” has not taken hold in the Middle East. Some countries, such as Libya and Syria, hemorrhage from civil wars that started as peaceful protests. In Egypt, elections produced a government so exclusionary that after a year in power, much of the public supported a return to military rule. Three and a half years after the death of Osama bin Laden, jihadis are resurgent in the region. Meanwhile, the United States finds itself fighting battles in the Middle East with strained alliances and diminished influence. What went wrong?

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The Challenge of Non-State Actors

By Haim Malka

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 12, 2014

After half a century during which the Middle East was divided along Cold War lines between U.S. allies and adversaries, the United States now has friendly relations with nearly every Arab state, save the Assad regime in Syria. Yet, non-state armed groups have emerged as key protagonists in conflicts around the region, and they are often hostile to the United States. Today they undermine U.S. policy goals, destabilize fragile states, and kill civilians.  More than ever before, the United States must address a mutating set of foes that operates in increasingly complex political environments. Doing so will require U.S. government officials to demonstrate vigilance, dynamism, and creativity at a time when security concerns push many to huddle inside embassy walls.

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Iraq’s Existential Crisis: Sectarianism Is Just Part of the Problem

By Maha Yahya

Carnegie Endowment

November 6, 2014

Much of the recent analysis of the Islamic State’s sweep into Iraq has followed a sectarian narrative. Many have focused on linking the rise of the militant group with Sunnis’ disenfranchisement and growing anger at the way former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki systematically excluded them from power. Others have viewed this as a “crisis a century in the making” and the death knell for the post–World War I order, leaving religion, and not the state, as the primary unit of analysis. So, too, have some of the subsequent policy recommendations, in particular suggestions that partition along religious and ethnic lines is the best solution to Iraq’s long-standing problems. Such analysis is not only shaping the military response to the crisis, but also the long-term solutions to it. This sectarian perspective makes the breakup of Iraq a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Who Cares about an Iranian Nuclear Breakout? Beware of an Atomic “Sneak-out”

By James M. Acton

Carnegie Endowment

November 4, 2014

It’s time for America to rethink its strategy for preventing Iran from getting the Bomb. Negotiations over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program are foundering on the question of how much enrichment capacity it can be permitted. So far, Tehran has refused to dismantle any of the 19,000 or so centrifuges it has installed. Its negotiating partners, led by the United States, insist that Iran can only be allowed to operate a few thousand at most. There is no clear path to breaking the deadlock. The United States’ current strategy would make sense if Iran’s only option for acquiring nuclear weapons were a crash program using declared facilities that are inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency—the much-discussed “breakout” scenario. If Tehran goes nuclear, however, it will almost certainly be more surreptitious and build a secret, parallel program dedicated to military ends. The United States should, therefore, aim to negotiate measures to prevent “sneak-out”

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Obama’s Pandering to Iran Has No Limits

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy
November 7, 2014

The Obama administration is in desperation mode on the nuclear talks with Iran.  With the prospect of a Republican Senate taking action next year to thwart its controversial nuclear diplomacy and a fast approaching November 24 deadline for the talks, the Obama administration reportedly has doubled down on its previous one-sided concessions to Tehran by offering to allow it to operate up to 6,000 uranium centrifuges.  Further confusing this situation, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the president wrote a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in which he reportedly stressed that “any cooperation on the Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a November 24 diplomatic deadline.”

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Jabhat al-Nusra Deepens its Foothold in Northwestern Syria

By Jennifer Cafarella

Institute for the Study of War

November 10, 2014

Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) seized large swaths of the Jabal al-Zawiya area of southern Idlib Province (in northwest Syria bordering Turkey) from Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated groups beginning in late October 2014 (see fig. 1). JN, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, began to carve out direct territorial control in Idlib Province beginning in July 2014, and its advance in southern Idlib has considerably extended its stronghold in the province. JN’s campaign in Idlib has largely targeted terrain held by the FSA-affiliated Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), and is therefore an important indicator of JN’s strength in relation to Syria’s moderate opposition and its willingness to escalate against Western-backed groups in pursuit of its own core interests.

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Policies and Politics Will Test U.S.-Israel Ties

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

November 10, 2014

PolicyWatch 2335

In the coming weeks, a number of foreign and domestic developments will affect U.S. and Israeli policy, with each potentially testing the already tense bilateral relationship. One key date is November 24, the deadline for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama has publicly said there is a “big gap” between the parties, making the prospects of a breakthrough unclear, but high-level U.S., EU, and Iranian envoys have completed two days of talks in Oman in a bid to reach such a breakthrough. If a deal is in fact made and the terms are not to Israel’s liking, then the war of words with Washington may resume on this very sensitive issue.  Exacerbating the situation was a statement this weekend by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei detailing a plan for eliminating the state of Israel. Furthermore, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been skeptical of the negotiations, has just announced that Congress will seek to review the terms of any agreement with Tehran. This comes on the heels of a midterm election in which the Republicans won control of the Senate, and shortly after the Obama administration reiterated its authority to suspend certain sanctions against Iran in the event of a breakthrough.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984                 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 08-11-2014

 

ANALYSIS

 

How the Republican Wins will Impact America

The Republican wave that swept America on Tuesday basically left the Democrats only controlling the White House. Although some races are undecided, it looks like the Republicans not only won control of the Senate, they maintained control of the House, and extended their control of the states, with two thirds of the state governors being Republican. Republicans also control at least 66 of the 98 state legislative bodies.

To understand how this election will impact governance, we must understand the chemistry of American government. The American president is constitutionally empowered to execute laws passed by Congress and conduct foreign and military affairs. Congress passes laws and the budget.

In the 1990s, when the GOP won the Congress while Clinton was president, the shared constitutional powers forced Clinton and Congress to compromise. The result was some reform legislation and a balanced budget.

Obama, however, is not like Clinton. Obama has no legislative skills, which means he is incapable of getting legislation passed (something he was even incapable of when the Democrats controlled Congress). And, unlike Clinton, he is more ideological and less willing to compromise. He displayed this during his press conference the day after the election, when he indicated he would continue to press his agenda.

“Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign,” Obama said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll take some actions that some in Congress will not like,” he said.

This inability for Obama to work with Congress has led to Obama governing through executive orders and regulations promulgated by the bureaucracy. With a Senate controlled by Democrats, he was able to operate as they blocked legislation and budgets passed by the Republican House.

With a Republican Senate, this will change. And, although the Senate minority does have the right to filibuster legislation, the Republican Congress does have two tools that they will undoubtedly use. They are the Budget Reconciliation Bill and the Congressional Review Act of 1996. Both can be passed with a simple Senate majority and can severely impact some of Obama’s actions.

The Budget Reconciliation Bill allows funding of the government without the threat of a filibuster derailing it. It was used by current Senate Majority Leader Reid to pass Obamacare, when it was obvious that Republicans could kill it with a filibuster.

With this piece of legislation, Congress can specify exactly how money will be spent by the Administration. For instance, in order to stop Obamaa’s planned immigration amnesty, Congress can pass the budget specifically limiting how much (if any) can be spent on issuing the documentation that allows someone to remain in the US. It can also prevent an agency from spending money on enforcing certain regulations.

Obviously, Obama can veto a budget he disagrees with, precipitating a government shutdown. This was done last year by Obama in hopes that the shutdown would damage the Republican’s chances of winning the mid term elections (which they obviously didn’t). This is a risky strategy for Obama since the next election is in two years. The Republicans can also make the cuts very specific and targeted towards winning voter approval, which would make it more likely that Democrats would be willing to override the Obama veto.

Another budget strategy is to pass legislation protecting popular government agencies like the Social Security Administration, and then put the cuts in a separate bill that, if not signed, would impact certain agencies like the EPA, Education Department, or FDA.

The second, largely unused, congressional tool is the Congressional Review Act of 1996. This legislation allows both houses of Congress to review and overrule any new government regulation. As with the budget reconciliation bill, it can’t be filibustered or delayed in the Senate.

However, for the regulation to be invalidated it must also be signed by Obama – a very unlikely event – or the House and Senate must override the veto – also unlikely.

The CRA, however, does prevent the implementation of the regulation until Congress acts on it. This allows the Republican Congress to shelve the regulation by merely not bringing it up for a vote to override the president’s veto.

Expect to see both of these legislative tactics to be used in the last two years of the Obama Administration

Foreign Policy Impact

Although the election will have a major impact on governing in the US, it will have much less impact on American foreign or military policy, since they are both responsibilities of the president.

But, that doesn’t mean that Obama’s policies will escape unscathed. Congress still controls the budget process, which can control what Obama can do. In addition, the US Senate must approve treaties and confirm ambassadors. And, should Secretary of State Kerry resign (for example), the Senate would confirm any Obama selection.

A Republican Senate will also bring some GOP senators to the forefront of foreign policy debate. The most likely to impact policy will be Senator McCain, who will become the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has been an advocate of supporting the Syrian rebels and his position as chairman will give him more political clout.

That may be one reason why Obama signaled that he may go to Congress for legislation to fight ISIS – legislation that McCain would probably support. He surprised many by saying he would ask Congress for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force to help him prosecute a flagging war against (ISIS).

The move is a change from the previous position that a George W. Bush-era congressional permission slip was more than adequate to deal with turmoil in Iraq and Syria.  “We now have a different type of enemy,” Obama said Wednesday, echoing Republicans’ objections months ago. “The strategy is different.” “It makes sense for us to make sure that the authorization from Congress reflects what we perceive to be not just out strategy over the next two to three months,” he said, “but also our strategy moving forward.”

While there may be some agreement concerning Syria and ISIS, there is less possibility that the GOP and Obama will agree on a possible nuclear deal with Iran, which has a deadline of November 24th. Obama has the authority to cut back on the sanctions, but Congress can use the budget process to stop implementation of parts of the agreement.

Given the Democratic loss of the Senate, there will probably be more pressure on Obama to conclude a deal by November 24 rather than delay it and give a Republican Senate a chance to scuttle any deal. However, the GOP Senate could bring the issue up in January and force Democratic senators up for election in 2016 to either vote against Obama or support the easing of Iranian sanctions.

A Republican Senate will also be friendlier towards Israel. Israel can expect Congress to be more generous in Israeli foreign aid.

Domestic Agenda

Most of the impact on the GOP wins will be felt domestically – and some of that will probably happen long before the Republicans take control in January.

Obama will be anxious to use the Democratic Senate in the next two months to push nominations that would likely be stalled in a Republican Senate. Consequently, expect him to announce his nomination for Attorney General in the next few days, while current Senate Majority Leader Reid can quickly shepherd it through confirmation.

Another battle in the near future will be any executive action by Obama on amnesty for illegal immigrants, which he signaled he was willing to pursue on Wednesday. “I have consistently said that it is my profound preference and interest to see Congress act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” Obama said. However, Obama pledged to “do everything I can in my executive authority’ to take ‘whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve our immigration system.” He then warned, “What I’m not gonna do is just wait.”

But, there was a degree of bluff in the statements because, as was mentioned earlier, Congress, though the budget process, can restrict what Obama can do unilaterally. In fact, Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and David Vitter of Louisiana sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday saying that if Obama takes unilateral action to grant amnesty to illegal aliens it “will create a constitutional crisis.”

Then referring to the continuing resolution needed to fund the government after December 11th, they said, “Should you decline to defend the Senate and the Constitution from executive overreach, the undersigned senators will use all procedural means necessary to return the Senate’s focus during the lame duck session to resolving the constitutional crisis created by President Obama’s lawless amnesty.”

One piece of legislation that will probably move ahead in the Senate is the Keystone pipeline. The administration consistently has delayed a decision on the pipeline, which would take as much as 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta tar sands crude to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast.

So far, Senate Democrats have staved off any binding legislation that would green-light the pipeline (in 2013 the Senate passed a non-binding resolution in favor of Keystone). That will change when Republicans take control. Since several Democratic senators favor the pipeline, Obama might have to negotiate with Congress, perhaps as part of the EPA funding.

Also look for legislation to curtail Obamacare. The major changes will be eliminating the medical equipment tax and removing the mandate to provide medical insurance for full time employees.

The 2016 Presidential Election

Needless to say, the elections had an impact on what happens in 2016. The most obvious was that Martinez of New Mexico and Walker of Wisconsin won their reelection bids, giving Republicans two strong presidential contenders in two years.

However, the elections also will have an impact on the Democratic ticket. Traditionally, governors have been the strongest presidential candidates as they are able to display their leadership skills by governing a state. And, given Obama’s poor management skills, the experience of a potential president will be a major campaign issue in 2016.

That’s bad news for the Democrats, who were originally expected to gain governorships, but actually lost them. Not only does this limit the number of presidential candidates that Democrats could have considered, it forces them to consider beltway figures, especially Hillary Clinton, whose performance during the campaign did little to stop a Republican wave. In fact, the Clinton efforts, which focused on Arkansas and Kentucky, indicate the appeal of the Clintons in another national election may be limited.

Another problem for the Democrats is the continued unpopularity of Obama. Unlike Clinton, who learned from the Democratic losses in 1994 and changed course politically, Obama made it clear Wednesday that he intends to continue the same policies that led to the Democratic debacle this week. That means the chances of a rebounding popularity are minimal.

While Democrats hope for a rebound in 2016, as they found out this year, there is no way to divorce oneself from an unpopular president. Just as Republicans discovered in 2008, merely fielding a new presidential candidate still doesn’t negate the unpopularity of a sitting president.

Big Money and Elections

This was the year of the political fat cat – just 42 people are responsible for nearly a third of super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. In fact, super PACs actually outspent the national parties. The biggest political donor was Tom Steyer, the former hedge-fund manager who spent $73 million in an unsuccessful attempt to elect environmentally friendly Democrats. Former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, spent upwards of $20 million in an unsuccessful attempt to elect pro gun control politicians. On the other side is Paul Singer, a billionaire and powerful Republican fundraiser.

Obviously, given Steyer’s and Bloomberg’s failed attempts, big political donations are less effective then many think.

Although money is considered the “mother’s milk of politics,” it hasn’t always been as important as some think. Many Democratic PACs were able to out raise the Republicans even while losing the elections. In fact, after a certain level of advertising, most voters tend to tune out the advertising.

Obviously, in the end, messaging is the most important part of a campaign. Big money and a poor message will not win an election, as many Democratic politicians can attest to today.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

The Future of Overseas Contingency Operations: Due Diligence Required

By Emil Maine and Diem Salmon

Heritage Foundation

November 4, 2014

Issue Brief #4294

In 2001, the U.S. government began providing emergency supplemental funds to pay for increased military and civilian costs associated with the global war on terrorism (GWOT). Initially, war funds paid for the mobilizing and deploying of troops, transporting equipment and supplies, and increasing the number of active-duty service members associated with Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Over time, however, the use of war funding expanded to cover issues with only tenuous links to combat operations. Today, with OIF completed and OEF coming to a close, the cost of the GWOT, now called overseas contingency operations (OCO), has also declined from its peak of $187 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2008, to the $58.6 billion requested today. Yet, as OCO spending has declined under the Obama Administration, the passage of the Budget Control Act has created competing pressure to use the OCO account to fund other Defense Department activities.

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Post-Election Wrap-Up: What’s Next for Defense Spending?

By Ryan Crotty

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 5, 2014

On November 4, the Republicans expanded their majority in the House of Representatives and took the Senate, winning at least a 52-48 majority. What does this mean for the defense budget in the near term?  What are the important decision points over the next six months that are critical for defense? What are the broader concerns to pay attention to in the medium term? With the midterm elections passed, the 113th Congress returns to conclude with a lame duck session starting on November 12. Since Congress recessed on September 19, the United States conducted its first air strikes in Syria, U.S. and Afghan officials signed a bilateral security agreement, and Ebola reached the United States. With this security environment as the backdrop, the next six months harbor significant budget events that will need to be tackled by both the outgoing and incoming congresses.

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Can Oil and Gas Markets Adjust to a Rising Persia?

By Carole Nakhle

Carnegie Endowment

October 30, 2014

Given its substantial oil and gas resource potential, Iran must be on the radar screen of every major international oil company. Nevertheless, with the exception of Chinese and Russian players who are the only international oil companies currently involved with developing Iranian oil fields, major oil companies have shied away from Iran. This is largely explained by a series of sanctions, mainly targeting the banking and energy sectors and imposed in recent years by the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union, that have limited investment in Iran. The big oil companies, however, are keen to return to Iran if the international community and the Islamic Republic reach a long-term deal on its nuclear program and the sanctions are lifted accordingly, and if Iran offers more lenient contractual terms.

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Obama’s Strategy on the Iraq/Syria Crisis Collapsing as Americans Go to the Polls

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy
November 4, 2014

On September 10, 2014, President Obama announced his strategy to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State and to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight against the Assad regime. As Americans head to the polls today, this strategy is on the brink of collapse. The Islamic State has continued to make gains on the ground and commit atrocities since the president announced his strategy. Over the weekend, the Islamic State executed 322 members of the pro-U.S. Albu Nimr Iraqi tribe in Anbar province, including dozens of women and children whose bodies were dumped in a well.   Pleas by the Sunni tribe for weapons to defend itself were ignored by the Bagdad government.

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Sabre rattling in the Eastern Mediterranean

By Michael Leigh

German Marshall Fund

November 2, 2014

Cyprus Mail

While the world’s attention is focused on the conflict between fighters from the Islamic State and Kurds on the Turkish-Syrian border, a terrorist attack in Ottawa, and the Ebola outbreak, the eastern Mediterranean is going through a more low-key but worrying bout of energy-fueled tensions. An Italian-Korean consortium (ENI-KOGAS) began drilling for gas in sea areas to the south of Cyprus last month, having received a licence from the government of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey responded by the dispatch of two warships and has begun its own seismic surveys in areas overlapping Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Its research vessel Barbaros, accompanied by a warship, entered the Cyprus EEZ and began prospecting about 40 nautical miles south of Limassol and Larnaca. Israel and Cyprus launched joint military exercises nearby including aerial maneuvers by Israeli Air Force fighter jets in Cypriot airspace; Cypriot anti-aircraft technology was utilised.

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Defeating ISIS: A Strategy for a Resilient Adversary and an Intractable Conflict

By Michael Eisenstadt

Washington Institute

November 2014

Policy Notes 20

President Obama’s decision to launch a campaign aimed at “degrading and eventually destroying” the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) marks a major turning point in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. But the administration’s approach faces major challenges, including the resiliency of ISIS, the complexity of the operational environment, and the coalition’s limited ability to exploit the group’s military, geographical, political, and financial vulnerabilities. Moreover, the president’s reluctance to adequately resource the effort, commit additional reconnaissance and strike assets, or deploy small numbers of troops to the fight will further limit U.S. options and reduce the prospects for near-term success. In this Washington Institute study, military expert Michael Eisenstadt describes how the administration can overcome these obstacles, work through the contradictions inherent in its current approach, adequately resource the military campaign, and make substantial progress in addressing a key threat to American interests.

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

 

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984                 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 31-10-2014

ANALYSIS

Heightened Security at US Government Buildings Reflects Political Concerns
This week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it has increased security at federal buildings across the county, citing terror threats and recent attacks in Canada and elsewhere. The announcement was made by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who said Federal Protective Service officers are providing the increased security. Additional security will be put in place in Washington, other major U.S. cities and unnamed locations across the country.
The rational for the additional security, however, was somewhat contradictory. Officials said the move was a “precautionary” step and not made in response to any specific threat. But they cited last week’s violence in Canada, and ISIS threats.
“The reasons for this action are self-evident: the continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials, and the acts of violence targeted at government personnel and installations in Canada and elsewhere recently,” Johnson said in a statement. “Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of U.S. government installations and our personnel.”
The timing, however, is curious. The attacks in Canada are over a week old and there was no immediate response by DHS to tighten security at the time. Why wait a week before tightening security?
The answer may be the mid-term elections coming in a few days and the fear in the White House that it will sweep many Obama congressional allies away. Polls released this week show that a large majority of voters are upset with Obama policies and want a Republican Congress to offset the policies of the Democratic White House. And, in a more tangible proof of the problem Obama and the Democrats are facing, Obama and Biden are travelling to Democratic strongholds in order to shore up vulnerable Democratic incumbents rather than reaching out to defeat Republicans. Republicans, on the other hand, are moving the bulk of their remaining campaign money into Democratic districts where they see potential wins.
And, although the economy is still a major concern for voters, this year terrorism and foreign affairs are becoming a major issue – one that is hurting Democrats.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll gave the bad news to Democrats. “Six in 10 say they cannot trust the government in Washington to do what is right — the same as a year ago in the aftermath of the government shutdown and the botched rollout of the federal Web site for the Affordable Care Act.”
“With multiple crises confronting the country — including the spread of Ebola in West Africa and cases here at home, as well as threats from Islamic State militants — a majority now says the government’s ability to deal with big problems has declined in the past few years. Among those who say this, more — by 3 to 1 — blame Obama and the Democrats rather than Republicans in Congress.”
Although Obama’s numbers are all dismal, one of the worst are his approval numbers concerning his ability to handle the terrorism threat. The majority of the American public is not pleased with how President Barack Obama has handled the various terror threats facing the United States, according to New York Times/CBS news poll released a few weeks ago. Fifty percent said they disapprove of how the president is handling the “threat of terrorism,” compared with the 41 percent who said the opposite. The percentage of those who disapprove of Obama’s strategy to combat terrorism is the highest it has been since the start of his presidency.
An Associated Press poll taken more recently echoed the same results. According to the poll, most think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States, 53 percent. 12 percent say it faces a low risk of terror attacks.
In recent days, the political cost of Obama’s inaction has gone up. This week, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg poll asked voters what effect the recent news cycle – the terror attack on Canada’s parliament, an ax-wielding ( alleged to be an Islamic extremist ) attacking police in New York City, and the continued spread of Ebola to American shores has had on their vote. The results were not good for Obama and the Democrats.
For 53 percent, the events in the news have made them less likely to back Democrats at the polls. Only 40 percent said the same of the GOP. Another 35 percent said the issues in the news have made them more predisposed to vote Republican while only 25 percent said the same of the Democrats.
That same poll found a 52 percent believed Republicans were better suited to control both chambers of Congress while only 41 percent said the same of Democrats – an 11-point GOP advantage. At this point in 2010, by contrast, the GOP only had a 7-point advantage over Democrats in this poll on the question of which party deserves to control Congress.
The movement against Obama is being felt in parts of the nation where Obama has cruised to victories by large percentages in the past. In his hometown of Chicago Illinois, first-term Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider is in a rematch with Republican Bob Dold, who won in the tea party wave of 2010 and lost in 2012.
In Obama’s birth state of Hawaii, the Democrats are spending $200,000 on television ads and voter outreach for Mark Takai, who is locked in a tight race with former Republican Rep. Charles Djou in an open Honolulu-based district that Obama won with 70 percent of the vote.
The current against Obama is also being felt in the younger voters, once considered the future base of the Democratic Party. A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29- year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds slightly more than half (51%) of young Americans who say they will “definitely be voting” in November prefer a Republican-run Congress with 47 percent favoring Democrat control – a significant departure from IOP polling findings before the last midterm elections (Sept. 2010 – 55%: prefer Democrat control; 43%: prefer Republican control).
As the election has gotten closer and undecided voters have made their mind up – for Republicans, Democratic concerns and strategies have shifted. The original plan for Democratic strategists was to narrowly retain control of the Senate, possibly with the help of Senate President, Vice President Biden casting the deciding vote. In the last few weeks, as the tide started to turn for Republicans, the thought was that the GOP might gain a narrow majority in the Senate – one that would probably be lost in 2016, as more Republican senators were up for reelection.
A narrow GOP Senate majority would have allowed Democrats to focus on a few freshmen Republican senators in traditionally Democratic states. The thought was that a strong Democratic presidential candidate would have enough coattails to turn the Senate balance back in the Democrat’s favor.
However, as more undecided voters have come down on the Republican side, the hopes for retaking the Senate in 2016 have dimmed. Some political analysts are seeing the GOP having about up to 55 seats, including the potential for some defections from the current Democratic majority (Manchin of West Virginia and King of Maine begin mentioned). That would make it very hard in anything but a sweep election to regain the Senate, since only 7 Republican senators up for reelection in 2016 come from states that voted for Obama twice – something not expected if Obama continues to remain unpopular.
This leaves the Democratic strategy hinging on a couple of factors – turnout of the Democratic base, which is currently lethargic and questioning of the Obama policies, and preventing anything else from happening in the next few days to either energize GOP, convince more independents to vote Republican, or further discourage Democratic voters. Given the current political environment, the best strategy was to prevent any terrorist attack prior to the election that could quickly and decisively move voters away from the Democrats and towards the GOP.
This was a major driver in the last minute decision to increase protection of government buildings in the lead up to the election. Several current Democratic senate seats, once considered safe, have moved seen the Republican challenger closing the margin and although expected to win, the Republican momentum – along with a terrorist attack – could cause some unwelcome election night surprises for Obama.
For those watching the US election results on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, two early indicators will be New Hampshire and North Carolina. The Republican challengers in both states have been behind during most of the race, but have moved closer in the last week. If these candidates go ahead early Tuesday evening, that indicates the Republicans should comfortably pick up control of the Senate. If the Republican Senate candidates in Virginia and New Jersey show unexpected strength and either win or make the race close, the Republican wave that Democrats fear may be in the making.
Also, keep a couple of gubernatorial races in mind because they may shape the 2016 presidential election. Two Republican governors, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Susana Martinez will quickly become top tier candidates for the Republican presidential nomination if they win reelection, as expected. Both are governors in moderately Democratic states. Walker won Republican praises for successfully fighting Wisconsin’s powerful teaching unions and winning a recall election. Martinez is a Hispanic woman, who would make an attractive candidate for a party reaching out to Hispanics and women.
Next week the Monitor will look at the election results and what they mean.
PUBLICATIONS
The Imploding U.S Strategy in the Islamic State War?
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 23, 2014
It is too early to say that the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is imploding, but it is scarcely too soon to question whether this is possible. In fact, it is far from clear that the original U.S. strategy ever planned to deal with the complications that have arisen since President Obama officially announced a portion of what that strategy really had to be. The Non-Strategy for Dealing with the Islamic State: To begin with, the basic goal of degrading and destroying the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous. It was always clear that some form of violent Islamic extremism would survive any combination of U.S. air attacks, Iraqi efforts to clear Iraq on the ground, and the limited capabilities of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, senior U.S. defense officials and military officers have repeatedly made this clear by limiting the objective to “degrade” and noting that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years if not more than a decade.
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U.S.-Arab Counterterrorism Cooperation in a Region Ripe for Extremism
By Michele Dunne and Frederic Wehrey
Carnegie Endowment
October 23, 2014
Policy Outlook
U.S. cooperation with Arab allies against terrorist groups is essential—and also problematic. Many Arab governments are fueling the very extremism they purport to fight and looking for cover from the United States for increasingly repressive policies. Washington needs a holistic counterterrorism strategy that ensures its Arab allies do not use U.S. assistance to perpetuate terrorism and that supports those in Arab societies best able to combat radicalization. Initiate broad discussions with partners at every level, across agencies, about extremism’s roots. Every organ of the U.S. government that interacts with Arab partners—particularly defense and intelligence agencies—should engage in sustained discussions about a holistic approach to national security that includes human development, economic opportunity, and individual freedoms as critical tools against radicalization.
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Exploring the Prospects for Russian-Turkish Cooperation in a Turbulent Neighborhood
By Memduh Karakullukçu and Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Endowment
September 28, 2014
Even though tensions over Ukraine will inevitably cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship, Russia and Turkey—a NATO member—continue to share a range of important interests. Indeed, there are a number of areas in which the two can work together in their common neighborhood, which stretches from the South Caucasus and the Levant to Central Asia and Afghanistan. A high-level working group on Russian-Turkish regional cooperation has sketched a forward-looking approach for Russia and Turkey in tackling regional challenges.
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Turkey’s Competing Strategic Cultures: Part 4 – Now and Into the Future
By Ryan Evans
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 2014
Scholars of strategic culture have noted that multiple strategic cultures can exist in the same country or community. Indeed, this is true of the concept of culture writ large. As Alastair Iain Johnston argues, “the diversity of a particular society’s geographical, political, cultural, and strategic experience will produce multiple strategic cultures….” This is certainly the case in Turkey where two elites have produced two competing strategic cultures – one republican and the other neo-Ottoman. The rise of the neo-Ottoman strategic culture and the slow decline of the republican one have been the subject of this series so far. Both strategic cultures were elite driven (as strategic cultures almost always are). Republican strategic culture rose from the traumatic dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which lost its populous, prosperous European territories from the early 19th century through to the First World War. This process culminated in the never-enacted Treaty of Sevres, which sought to end Turkish control of the Straits, put Smyrna under Greek suzerainty and then sovereignty, and carve out independent Armenian and Kurdish states from Eastern Anatolia. Turkish nationalists prevailed in the end under the inspiring leadership of Mustafa Kemal. These experiences and the hard realities of geography forged a strategic culture that was obsessed with homogeneity and internal unity, distrustful of outside powers (particularly Russia), saw security as limited to sovereignty and territorial integrity, slow to compromise, and fearful of getting dragged into outside conflicts.
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Increased Rebel Unity Threatens Assad in Damascus and Southern Syria
By Theodore Bell
Institute for the Study of War
October 28, 2014
Rebel gains in southern Syria and efforts to sever regime supply routes north and south of Damascus indicate that the regime has lost momentum in the capital region. Rebel alliances show greater cohesion in this zone, as well a greater cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusra, while the regime is showing signs of severe manpower shortage. The regime is attempting to fill its ranks with new conscripts and reservists. The regime will likely need to reinforce its southern front in order to reverse rebel gains, though it is likely that the regime will need to sacrifice efforts elsewhere in order to provide sufficient support.
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Bahrain’s Ban on Main Opposition Prompts U.S. Policy Dilemma
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
October 28, 2014
Earlier today, a Bahraini court suspended the activities of the island’s main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, for three months. The decision comes just weeks before the November 22 parliamentary elections — although al-Wefaq is not, strictly speaking, a political party, it had already announced a boycott of the polls to protest the lack of progress in political reform talks with the Sunni-led government and the unilateral redistricting of constituencies. By apparent coincidence, Gen. John Allen, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (a.k.a. the Islamic State/ISIS), was on the island today for meetings with the Bahraini foreign minister and the commander of the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), which has been contributing F-16s for strikes against the jihadist group in Syria. Allen was accompanied by Vice Admiral John Miller, commander of the Bahrain-headquartered U.S. Fifth Fleet — a force that includes the aircraft carrier from which strikes against ISIS have been launched, as well as ships that have been firing cruise missiles at ISIS targets.
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Responding Effectively to the Military Challenges in Syria
By Jeffrey White
Washington Institute
October 27, 2014
PolicyWatch 2330
As the Obama administration’s plans for raising a moderate Syrian opposition force become clearer, its approach seems to center on a lengthy recruitment, training, and deployment program initially dedicated to defense against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). If carried out, this plan promises a long delay before significant forces are on the battlefield. It would also limit their potential effectiveness in the near to midterm and perhaps commit them to a protracted enterprise in which defeat is likely. The administration’s concept is consistent with its fixation on terrorism as the heart of the problem in Syria, and its ill-starred relations with the armed opposition. Faced with the complexity of diverse rebel forces on the ground, unwilling to accept more than minimal risk in supporting them, and focused on worst-case costs and consequences, it is advancing a program with limited prospects.
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The U.S.-Turkey-Israel Triangle
By: Dan Arbell
Brookings Institution
October 2014
The confrontation between Israel and Hamas during the summer of 2014 deepened tensions between Israel and Turkey. Now, in the fall of 2014, U.S.-Turkish relations are strained over Turkey’s role in the fight against ISIS, while gaps between the United States and Israel over policies on Iran and Palestine serve as points of friction in the relationship. Clearly the U.S.-Turkey-Israel triangle has suffered many setbacks in recent years on all sides, but the Turkish-Israeli relationship has suffered the most, as it has been in a state of semi-paralysis for the last four years.
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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 24-10-2014

ANALYSIS

American Mid-Term Elections Promise Big Shift to Republicans

Although there is a saying that two weeks in politics is an eternity, there appears to be a shift in voter attitudes as Americans look towards the mid-term elections on November 4th. Not only is control of the US Senate and House of Representatives up for grabs, control of most states will be involved in a multitude of governor’s and legislative races. Therefore, a tidal wave election like that seen in 2006, could radically shift governance in the US.
These races will mean more than control of the legislative branch of the federal government and states. Since future federal politicians usually come from the state system, many of those elected this year at the state level will become the federal candidates in 2016 – several of them even potential presidential nominees.
So, how does the election battleground look about 10 days away from the election?
The Shape of the 2014 Election
Mid-term elections, especially the mid-term elections in the second term of an incumbent president are traditionally very bad for the president’s party. That appears to be true this year. Not only is Obama at record low approval levels, the economy (traditionally the most important issue for voters) is doing poorly and for the first time in decades, foreign policy (namely Obama’s policy towards ISIS, immigration, and the Ebola crisis in Africa) is becoming a major election issue.
There is also a widespread perception by Republicans, Independents, and many Democrats that Obama is out of his depth as president and large central government can’t work. This has fed into the Republican small government mantra and as a result, Democratic Senate candidates are struggling to distance themselves from the president – from Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor’s awkward assessment of the president’s handling of the Ebola crisis to Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s refusal to discuss who she voted for in the 2012 election.
These all are working against Obama.
However, Democrats can take some solace in a recent Politico poll that shows their party’s image is not as badly tainted as is the Republican “brand.” While 70 percent of respondents had a “somewhat” or “strongly” negative view of the GOP, 61 percent said the same of Democrats.
But there was much for Democrats to worry about. Asked to select one issue of critical importance to them; the general economy, national security (wars abroad, defense cuts), and the issue of health care were of most importance to voters. And, as far as these issues were concerned, voters think Republicans are best able to handle them.
This is becoming evident in early voting around the US.
Early voting in several states, which normally breaks for Democrats, shows Republicans limiting the normal Democratic edge. In Iowa, a critical state in terms of determining control of the US Senate, about 43 percent of Iowa voters who have already voted are Democrats. But around 40 percent are Republicans, a dramatic improvement over the party’s performance in 2012, when just 32 percent of the early electorate was registered Republican, and 2010, when 38 percent of early voters were Republicans. This confirms polls that indicate that the Republican will probably win this critical state.
This early ballot phenomena is also seen in a critical gubernatorial election in the battleground state of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his opponent, former governor Charlie Crist (D), have invested heavily in early voting turnout, but Scott deputy campaign manager Tim Saler pointed to early statistics that show Republicans making up 48 percent of the early-vote total, compared with about 35 percent for Democrats. If Scott should win, expect his name to be mentioned in terms of the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
The Washington Post has noticed that this is happening is other key states too. They said, “Compared to overall voter registration, Iowa and North Carolina Democrats are doing much worse than earlier in the month, and Republicans in those states much better. We’ve also added new states that recently began early voting: Nevada, California and Colorado. In each, Republicans are outperforming Democrats.
Interestingly, unaffiliated/undeclared voters are uniformly underperforming their registration numbers, perhaps in part because campaigns aren’t targeting them as aggressively in the early vote process. But that puts the poor performance of Democratic campaigns in sharper relief. If unaffiliated voters are underperforming as a percentage of all of the votes that are in, one would expect the two parties to be overperforming.
But Democrats aren’t.”
This election has left Obama, the flag bearer of the Democratic Party in a difficult position. As president, he is supposed to be the rallying point for Democrats and the best Democratic asset on the campaign trail. However, he isn’t as Democrats around the country refuse to be seen with him, although they are more than willing to have him raise money for them, providing he remains low profile.
As a result, Obama has been left campaigning in states that are heavily Democratic, but where statewide candidates are being seriously challenged by Republicans. Instead of campaigning in battleground states, Obama is left trying to rally Democrats in states like Illinois, Maryland, and Connecticut. And, even in heavily Democratic Maryland, people walked out of an Obama speech.
In some cases, this might bode well for Democrats who want to shift the Democratic Party away from Obama and towards a more centrist, moderate party. However this doesn’t appear to be true as even the Clinton wing of the party – considered the one that will control the party once Obama is considered a lame duck – is having problems winning support for their candidates. Currently, the Clintons are having problems convincing voters that Clinton Democrats are better able to govern than Obama Democrats. The Hill reported on Sunday, “Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have tried to turn on their charms to help centrist Democrats in Kentucky and Arkansas. But as candidates in both states are slipping, help from the party’s preeminent power couple is falling short.”
The Hill noted two of the most prominent examples of Democratic candidates shunning the president in favor of the Clinton label, Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, are rapidly seeing their electoral prospects dwindle.
Hillary Clinton’s ability to win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination depends much on her ability to show that she can help other Democrats get elected. Her inability to do that this year opens up potential challenges by other candidates, especially from the left wing of the party.
The Senate
The biggest battle in November revolves around the US Senate, which is currently controlled by Democrats. If the Republicans can wrest this away from Obama’s party, they can control the budget process, which will limit many of Obama’s policies.
The Republicans need six seats to take over the Senate. They are now positioned to net between six and nine Senate seats in the upcoming mid-terms, with the higher end looking more likely as undecided voters appear to be shifting towards the Republican candidate. Most of the battleground Senate contests are now either trending in a Republican direction or remaining stable with a GOP advantage.
The tide is running in the Republicans favor. Although trailing in the North Carolina Senate race throughout much of the fall, Republican Thom Tillis has lately put Sen. Kay Hagan on the defensive by connecting her to the president’s management of the ISIS threat and the outbreak of Ebola. In Colorado, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner has led in all of the six public polls released in October, with leads ranging from 2 to 6 points. Early voting data out of Iowa is looking favorable for Republican Joni Ernst, consistent with public polls showing her with a small advantage. The Cook Political Report recently moved the New Hampshire race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Scott Brown into toss-up status, indicative of polling showing Shaheen still ahead but with a rapidly narrowing lead. Outside of Kansas, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg now has Republicans holding an edge in all the red-state races, reflecting a hostile environment for Democrats throughout most of the nation.
So, let’s look at the states and how the GOP may reach the magical 6 seats.
Given their current wide leads, the GOP wins Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. That’s half of the required six. Some media outlets are focusing on the chances of Republican Mike Rounds losing in South Dakota, but he has yet to trail a poll.
The fourth seat: In Arkansas, the latest poll puts Republican Tom Cotton up by 8 points. Pryor has not led a poll this month.
The fifth seat: In Alaska, Republican Dan Sullivan has not trailed in any poll since early August.
The sixth seat: Democrats still hold out hope for Democrat Udall, but Republican Cory Gardner led nine of the last ten polls. Tuesday the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling released a survey putting Gardner up by 3 points, Udall is only leading women by 4 points, where he needs to have wider margins in order to offset Gardner’s male lead. Meantime, as Public Policy Polling noted, “Udall continues to struggle with his approval numbers, as only 37% of voters think he’s doing a good job to 52% who disapprove.” That sort of disapproval means a near certain loss by Udall.
It seems that there is also a near certain seventh seat for Republicans: In Iowa, Joni Ernst led five of the last six polls, and the sixth is a tie.
But, these aren’t the only Democratic seats in serious jeopardy. Several others are on the cusp, but aren’t certain GOP pickups. These are:
Louisiana: This one is almost certain to go to a runoff in December. Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu is polling exceptionally badly for an incumbent in the first round — 36 percent, 41 percent, 36 percent – and Republican Bill Cassidy is winning all the runoff polling.
North Carolina: Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan keeps leading by a small margin, but there is some indication that the national trend is finally moving this towards the GOP. As a result, the Republicans have pumped $6 million into television ads in hopes that Tillis can come from behind.
New Hampshire: The Democrats’ troubles are clearly evident in New Hampshire, where Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen’s hanging on, but within the margin of error. Republican Scott Brown, who moved to New Hampshire in order to challenge Shaheen has a reputation for doing well in tight elections and could pull this one out.
Democrats are hoping that these losses can be offset by winning a current Republican seat. However, the chances of that happening are disappearing quickly. Democrats’ biggest hope was in Kansas, where Republican Sen. Pat Roberts remains vulnerable. But he’s led three of the last four polls, and the one that had him trailing was the Democratic Public Policy Polling survey. That survey noted, “By a 52/35 margin, voters in the state would rather Republicans had control of the Senate than Democrats. And among those who are undecided there’s a 48/25 preference for a GOP controlled Senate.” That makes it a likely hold for Republicans.
Democrats also had hope of unseating the Senate Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell. That is also looking less likely. A Survey USA poll, conducted over a weekend (which tend to normally skew Democratic), only put McConnell up by just one point. But the last time Survey USA polled Kentucky, at the beginning of the month, Alison Lundergan Grimes led by 2, so this survey represents movement in the GOP direction. That poll was the only one in the past 15 surveys to show Grimes ahead.
Democrats are also hopping their candidate can win in Georgia, which requires the winner to gather 50%, or a runoff is required between the top two candidates in early January. However, Democrat Nunn has never received 50% in any poll, although Republican Perdue has in several polls.
What this means is that the chances are good that by the morning of November 5th, the Republicans will be in a position to take control of the Senate in January.
Other Races
Given the US’s federal system of government, the state races are critical. Not only do they determine who will govern the states, the likelihood is that several governors will be mentioned in the next two years as possible presidential nominees.
There are nearly twice as many Republicans up for reelection this year than Democrats, which makes the Republicans more vulnerable, even though it looks like a good year for Republicans. That’s because state races don’t always follow national election results and are more likely to punish the governor who is doing a bad job rather than voting against the president. In fact, several Republicans may lose, including Pennsylvania Governor Corbett. However, there are several Democrats facing defeat like Colorado’s Hickenlooper. According to the Cook Report, 7 Republican governor seats are very vulnerable, while 6 Democratic seats are vulnerable.
What’s just as important, however, is the fact that American presidents frequently come from governorships, which means these races may give an insight into who will be running for president in 2016. For instance, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is in a tight race in normally Democratic Wisconsin. Should he win, expect him to become a very real contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. Two Republican women; Haley of South Carolina and Martinez of New Mexico could become potential presidential candidates if they win reelection.
On the Democratic side, New York’s Governor Cuomo may decide to run on the Democratic side depending on Clinton’s success in gathering supporters. However, if sales of his recently released autobiography are any indicator, he will need much more than a win in New York to solidify his position as a potential presidential nominee.
Will 2014 be a Wave Election?
That depends on who one talks to. Should Republicans do well – and it looks like they will – Republicans will say yes. Democrats will say no and point to a few races where Republicans didn’t win.
The fact is that there will always be some races won or lost despite a national wave. 2010 was seen as a wave election with Republicans gaining 6 additional Senate seats, 63 U.S. House seats, 8 additional governor’s mansions, and adding more than 660 state legislative seats across the country. It was enough of a wave for Republicans to win Senate races in traditionally Democratic states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
However, Republicans also lost Senate races in Nevada and Colorado. In California, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman didn’t perform much better than past losing GOP statewide efforts. Republicans picked up some U.S. House seats in New York, but their statewide candidates for governor and both Senate races lost handily. Democratic incumbents like Ron Wyden in Oregon, Patrick Leahy in Vermont, and Patty Murray in Washington easily won reelection.
Conversely, Democrats saw 2012 as their wave election, with Obama’s reelection. However, Republican Dean Heller survived in Nevada by a percentage point as Obama won the state, and Jeff Flake hung on in Arizona, despite a strong Democratic challenger. Democrats managed to reelect Jon Tester in Montana and elect Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota while Romney was winning those states, but couldn’t elect Bob Kerrey in Nebraska.
So, ignore the talk of “wave elections” and focus on who wins control of the Senate and who gains control of the most states.
PUBLICATIONS
America’s Fatal Blunder in the War against ISIS
By Ted Galen Carpenter
Cato Institute
October 15, 2014
National Interest
US and Western officials like to portray the campaign to defeat ISIS as a struggle between the civilized world and a monstrous terrorist organization. As with most wartime narratives throughout history, that portrayal greatly oversimplifies matters. The war against ISIS actually involves numerous factions, each with its own policy agenda. The American people need to grasp the extent of the complexity, lest the United States drift into an endless war with no coherent, attainable objective. Admonitions from U.S. military and political leaders that the anti-ISIS mission will be a very long one—perhaps lasting three decades or more—should sound alarm bells about the likelihood of policy drift. An especially important factor is the need to understand the number of players in this conflict and their conflicting agendas. Washington’s attempt to assemble a broad international coalition against ISIS largely ignores that factor—which could be a fatal blunder. In addition to the United States and its European allies, there are at least five major factions involved in the turmoil afflicting Iraq and Syria.
Read more
Unhappy Yemen
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 21, 2014
Amidst the Middle East headlines of recent months is a quiet but steady drumbeat of trouble out of Yemen. The country, by many accounts the poorest in the Arab world, attracts little attention next to struggles in Syria, Iraq, Libya and beyond. These other conflicts provide more compelling pictures and more gripping stories, and Yemen appears to many to be dusty and remote. Yemen’s problems cannot be ignored, though, for at least two reasons. First, Yemen’s problems seem unlikely to stay in Yemen. With immediate proximity to Saudi Arabia, the Bab al-Mandab Strait, and the Horn of Africa, a collapse in Yemen will have a profound effect on its neighbors. But even more chillingly, Yemen’s problems follow many years of precisely the kinds of international mediation and support backed by targeted strikes that are being proposed for other Arab conflicts. What does it mean when a prime example of what Western countries and their allies have been trying to do has descended into more chaos?
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The Reconstruction of Gaza and the Peace Process: Time for a European “Coalition of the Willing”
By Yezid Sayigh
Carnegie Endowment
October 16, 2014
Al-Hayat
Speaking at the international pledging conference for the reconstruction of Gaza on October 12, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the need to prevent the “cycle of building and destroying” from becoming a ritual, by addressing the root causes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Last summer’s war was the deadliest of three significant outbreaks of violence endured by the 1.8 million inhabitants of Gaza since December 2008. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed, arguing that, without a long-term peace agreement, rebuilding homes and infrastructure in Gaza would be a mere “band-aid fix.”  This is entirely correct. But Palestinian leaders are also equally right in cautioning against resuming the existing peace process without correcting its deficiencies, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 26.
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Turkey’s Shifting Strategic Culture
By Ryan Evans
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 22, 2014
Coups are a constant reference point in Turkish politics. This is not surprising given the fact that the country has experienced three of them, plus a military intervention into politics in the late 1990s that has been dubbed a “post-modern coup.” The 1980 coup occupies a uniquely salient position in Turkey’s historical memory and contemporary politics. It was the most far-reaching in terms of its remaking of the Turkish polity and the most heavy-handed.  Its masterminds – real and imagined – are routinely condemned and disparaged for their repressive measures. Just this past summer, the two surviving coup leaders, including General Kenan Evren, who served as Turkey’s self-appointed president for most of the 1980s, were sentenced to life imprisonment.  In 2010, amidst efforts to reform the Turkish Constitution, which was heavily revised by the 1980 coup leaders, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused those opposing reforms to be defenders of the coup. He read aloud letters from people who were executed during the coup with tears welling up in his eyes and described the constitutional referendum as a way to “face the torture, cruelty, and inhuman practices of Sept. 12, 1980.
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U.S. strategy on Islamic State and Turkey needs to start with the endgame
By Joshua W. Walker
German Marshall Fund
October 16, 2014
LA Times
Turkish-American relations reached their nadir last week. Turkey’s failure to take a definitive stance on Islamic State has unleashed a torrent of criticism in Western media of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. Vice President Joe Biden set the tone for Washington’s frustration with his off-the-cuff remarks at Harvard insinuating that Turkey had earlier lent support to Islamic State. Erdogan declared that Biden would be “history to me” unless he apologized. Despite Biden’s apology, pundits have piled on to accuse Turkey of choosing Islamic State militants over the Kurds of Syria, and some even suggest ousting it from NATO.
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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 17-10-2014

 

ANALYSIS

Turkey and US Disagree on War Strategy
The indecision and weakness by the Obama Administration during the last three years impacts how Turkey will respond

Military chiefs from the United States and 21 other countries convened last Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to discuss the campaign against ISIS. The day-long event, hosted by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, included an appearance by Obama as part of an effort to dispel doubts about America’s commitment to the region. However, the meeting failed to produce any major agreement as both the US and Turkey have vastly differing goals and Turkey shows resistance about supporting US aims.
The differences were obvious. Shadi Hamid, a Middle East scholar with the Brookings Institution in Washington, said, “The coalition partners have very different conceptions about the regional order and don’t even agree on what the primary threat is,” he said. “You have all these different actors who want different things and in some cases also strongly dislike each other.”
On the positive side, it appears that the Kurds in Kobane have managed to stop and even push back ISIS forces. However, a review of the areas recaptured show that they are surrounding countryside, not parts of the urban area. This indicates these gains were primarily due to US and allied airstrikes and the Kurds are relatively still weak.
This means the ISIS threat to take Kobane is still real. In fact, The U.N. has warned that a massacre on the level of Srebenica in 1995 is imminent: There are an estimated 700 civilians left in the city, as well as about 12,000 who haven’t yet made it across the Turkish border.
Unfortunately, with only about two dozen sorties a day against ISIS targets, the battle is far from over and the Pentagon concedes this level of air activity is unlikely to be enough to decide the battle. Consequently, the main focus of the U.S. plan hinges on convincing Turkey to do more.
But Turkey has been remarkably resistant, and for good reason. Turkish leaders are focusing on their narrow interests and don’t think the U.S. is serious in its approach to the region. The Obama administration has been unwilling to focus on the problems in the region and when it does, has a short attention span that seems more focused on domestic political gains.
In reality, Turkey has no problem getting more deeply involved in Syria. They’ve been quietly supporting the opposition to Assad for three years now and have been one of the few whose strategic goals have remained grandiose throughout the whole Syrian civil war. Their argument is simple: They’ll save Kobane if the U.S. commits to destroying not just the Islamic State but the Assad regime as well.
Turkey is quite naturally concerned that, if it accedes to American demands, it will wind up bearing the brunt of the fighting against the Islamic State until the group is degraded and Assad is strong enough to regain control over his country. At that point, they’ll have helped place a hostile neighbor back in charge, who will probably give military aid to Turkish Kurds in retaliation for Turkey’s support of Syrian rebels. And, given the uprisings by Turkish Kurds in the last week, Turkey can’t afford Syria arming the Kurds in the future.
A senior U.S. official told the Washington Post, “Of course they (Turkey) could do more. They want the U.S. to come in and take care of the problem.” However, the official doesn’t’ seem to realize that the Obama strategy is having the Turks come in and take care of problem by implementing the Obama strategy instead of furthering Turkish goals.
From the Turkish point of view, the lack of American coherence in terms of ISIS strategy is a major problem. Turkey doesn’t trust the current American strategic direction because, for the last three years, American diplomacy has swung wildly from advocating the removal of Assad from power to accepting him, to supporting the rebels, to preferring Assad to maintain power again. Turkey, meanwhile, has been persistent in advocating his removal.
During this period, Obama declared that the United States was committed to removing Assad from power even though the administration had made serious attempts to repair US/Syrian relations after Obama was inaugurated.
After the war began, the conflict evolved into Assad vs. the Syrian rebels. Now America saw it as a chance to limit Iranian influence in the region and support friendly nearby Sunnis at the same time.
This simple strategy was at the base of the failure. The Syrian regime had the support of most of the country’s religious minorities, including Assad’s Alawite tribe. This narrowed the base of the rebel support and allowed Assad, Russia, and Iran to broaden their base. Now, the internal war had become Syria, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and Christians vs. the United States, the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda, the GCC nations, and Turkey.
As “moderate Syrian rebels” disappeared, the better-funded and more-radical Islamist groups, including the al-Nusrah Front and ISIS became the face of the Syrian rebels. When ISIS began to conquer large tracks of Iraqi territory, this once again forced the US to change direction and target ISIS.
Turkey is frustrated by America’s somewhat strategic aims, which apparently have been dictated only by Obama’s unswerving desire to minimize political disaster. The siege of Kobane certainly looks bad politically, but as Secretary of State Kerry said, not a strategic target. The result was a halfhearted series of air strikes against ISIS forces around Kobane – strikes that have pushed ISIS back, but haven’t eliminated the threat.
Given this vacillating American policy, the Turks are unwilling to abandon their primary focus — Assad — for a crisis caused by the Obama administration’s strategic indifference. It is not in their interest to defeat ISIS only to have a hostile Syrian government headed by Assad to remain in power.
The latest estimate is that ISIS controls about 40 percent of Kobane. They may well capture all of it, although they will have the same problem as the rebel Kurds – conducting an offensive in a built-up urban area. However, their long term chances are better given the recent capture of more Iraqi equipment, which can be moved to Kobane to reinforce the ISIS forces currently on the ground.
Meanwhile, ISIS has made significant gains in Iraq. They have gained ground in Anbar Province and are within miles of Baghdad International Airport. They have also captured more Iraqi military equipment, including additional American supplied vehicles and munitions.
Stopping ISIS requires stringer tactics. The answer is the opening of a supply line through Turkey to Kobane and serious airstrikes against ISIS equipment convoys moving from Iraq to Syria – preferably the massive B-52 “Arclight” missions that are quite effective against large conventional targets like convoys.
But the key remains Turkey and their commitment to open the border for rebel resupply.

SPECIAL AND EXCLUSIVE REPORT

Are ISIS Opponents Preparing to build a Syrian Rebel Air Force?
Several countries opposed to ISIS have made it clear that they will train moderate Syrian rebels in order to act as a bulwark against ISIS advances. However, there are indications that these countries are helping to build a cadre that can form a Syrian rebel air force once some Syrian ground is seized.
There are currently Middle Eastern pilots in unmarked flight suits and helmets undergoing close air support training in the western United States. This training includes carrying out close air support bombing runs at the Barry Goldwater bombing range near Yuma Arizona. They are being trained by civilian defense contractors who have extensive experience in America’s premier close air support aircraft, the A-10.

BAC Strikemaster light attack aircraft
The aircraft being used is the British made Strikemaster, a highly maneuverable, reliable light attack aircraft that is in the inventories of Saudi Arabia and some other GCC countries. They have a range of 1,300 miles and can carry 3,000 pounds of munitions. The aircraft can fly from small, unprepared air fields and is easy to maintain since many spare parts are available on the open market. There are also a considerable number of Strikemasters and similar training aircraft on the civilian market that could be turned into an air force without revealing the assistance of the countries involved.
The pilots are being trained on former Saudi Air Force Strikemasters and since some of these aircraft appear to still be in the Saudi inventory, it is possible that at a future time, they could be transferred to a Syrian rebel air force that is already staffed with pilots and forward observers trained in close air support.
UPDATE
Tucson Firm Training Middle Eastern Pilots in Close Air Support
Municipal airports are usually the backwater of aviation. Here civilians can hanger and fly their aircraft or people can take their first steps in learning how to fly a simple single engine prop aircraft.
However, Ryan Airfield, west of Tucson, Arizona is not the typical airport for private aircraft. In a mission that harks back to its days as a training center for pilots in World Two, it is now a training center for close air support missions, the type that are frequently needed in both Syria and Iraq today.

Ryan Airfield
The private firm that provides this type of training is Blue Air Training, out of Tucson. Its website, blueairtraining.com describes the company as, “the premier CAS (close air support) training provider in the United States.  We employ multiple combat-proven attack aircraft – jets and props – with the ability to drop live BDUs (bombs), live gun, and live rockets.”
Blue Air Training brags on its website, “The true measure of a contract CAS training provider is its pilot force.  All Blue Air Training pilots are current and qualified Traditional Guard and Reserve A-10C Instructor Pilots and Instructor Forward Air Controllers with combat experience in Afghanistan or Iraq – some as recent as Summer 2012. We employ the latest TTPs in support of DoD training.” Blue Air also notes it has contracts with the DoD and it ability to bring in the Strikemasters without removing the hardpoints that allow it carry bombs and missiles indicates close cooperation with the State Department and other federal agencies.
Although it does admit to providing additional training for American pilots and forward air controllers, their missions appear to go far beyond that. American close air support pilots get their training from official CAS schools like those at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, which teaches A-10 pilots close air support.
American allies also have public training arrangements with the US Air Force. The UAE F-16 pilots get their CAS training at the 162nd fighter Wing of the Arizona air National Guard. Saudi pilots learn at Mountain Home, Idaho.
Consequently, pilots from the Middle East, training with civilian contractors like Blue Air Training, without markings on their helmets or coveralls aren’t likely to be certified military jet pilots from an allied nation. And, given the situation in the Middle East and the commitment of the US to train moderate Syrian rebels and Kurds, the chances are great that they are being trained for operations in either Syria or Iraq.
This is not that unusual according to a former pilot who flew for a covert CIA air transport company during the Vietnam War. America often helps with the creation of civilian aviation firms, with skilled civilian pilots to carry out training or missions too sensitive for attribution.
Blue Air Training also has extensive experience working with America’s secret Special Forces. On their website, they tell of working last year with the 5th Special Forces Group, which is currently attached to the US Central command (CENTCOM), which includes countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, most notably Afghanistan and Iraq. The missions in support of the 5th Special Forces Group were launched from Ryan Field towards the Goldwater Range near Yuma.
This is how Blue Air Training’s website described what they do: “On day one of flying, BAT (Blue Air Training) conducted dry CAS (Close Air Support) on the North and South tactical ranges, employing the mighty BAC-167 Strikemaster. Upon check-in, BAT demonstrated its superior flexibility by joining, in an unplanned scenario, real-world A-10 Warthogs in multi-flight attacks. After a quick information update, BAT and the A-10s performed sectored and visual attacks, destroying an armored convoy within 1km of the friendlies. The ferocious Hogs softened the enemy and departed the range, leaving BAT to finish the job. Over the one-hour vul, two BAT pilots in a single Strikemaster worked six targets with two geographically separate JTAC teams. After six talk-ons, one troops-in-contact, and 12 attacks, all targets were successfully destroyed. BAT returned to base at Ryan Airfield, and lead the 5SFG through a thorough debrief that same night.”
The scope of the Blue Air Training syllabus in regards to the pilots in question is unknown. They had to qualify in single engine jet aircraft before being allowed to fly missions at the Goldwater range. And, given the fact that the company brags about its ability to use live ordinance, it’s likely that the pilots were allowed to carry out training missions with live ordinance. The website also says it will soon be installing live machineguns on their aircraft in order to teach strafing. Videos from the website indicate that the machineguns will be 7.62 Browning air cooled light machineguns.
Currently, Blue Air Training has 5 Strikemaster light attack aircraft, formerly of the Saudi and New Zealand air forces. Not only is it a reliable, relatively inexpensive attack aircraft, it has been used extensively in the Middle East. Strikemaster aircraft have served with the Saudi, Kuwait, Oman, and South Yemen air forces, which means there is a pool of qualified pilots and aircraft in the region. These aircraft could be directly transferred to the rebels or laundered through a civilian middleman.
PUBLICATIONS
Department of Homeland Security: Who Needs It?
By Chris Edwards
Cato Institute
October 14, 2014
The Secret Service is scandal prone. It spends excessively on foreign presidential trips, and it has agents who get in trouble with prostitutes and liquor bottles. The recent White House fence-jumping incident was a stunning failure. Despite the Service spending $1.9 billion a year, a guy with a knife jumped the fence, sprinted across the lawn, pushed open the front door, galloped through the Entrance Hall, danced across the East Room, and almost had time to sit down for a cup of tea in the Green Room. In the wake of the incident, the head of the Secret Service resigned. But the Service is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the head of DHS, Jeh Johnson, did not resign. Indeed, he said very little about it, presumably to evade responsibility. So what is the purpose of having the DHS bureaucratic superstructure on top of agencies such as the Secret Service? If DHS does not correct problems at agencies when they fester for years, and if DHS leaders do not take responsibility for agency failures, why do we need it?
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The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Need for An “Adequacy of Resources”
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 13, 2014
The United States has stated from the start that it is conducting an air campaign to degrade the Islamic State, not to change the military situation in Syria or to substitute for Iraqi political unity and the eventual use of Iraqi ground forces. This, however, raises several key questions: What level of effort will be required over time to achieve America’s stated goal, and how will the air campaign have to change? So far, the air campaign has been minimal by any recent historical standard, and so limited that it is hard to see how it can be effective in either protecting Iraq from further gains by the Islamic State, critically degrading it in Syria, or providing humanitarian relief to threatened minorities, like the Kurds.
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Oil Markets: “Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind”
By Frank A. Verrastro, Lawrence Goldstein, Guy Caruso
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 10, 2014
On the surface, the easy and conventional explanation for the recent drop (20% since June) in oil prices – even in the face of heightened geopolitical risk/unrest in key oil producing regions – has focused mainly on the growth in supply (especially in the United States), lackluster global demand, and sizable global inventories.  In combination, this trifecta has led market analysts to be both complacent (to date, this unrest has not impeded production volumes) and more recently, bearish. U.S. liquids production continues to grow; Russian exports, even in the face of sanctions remain high, and Iraq and Iran continue to export even as Libyan volumes go up and down. Given that the market had already factored in the continued U.S. tight oil surge, the “real surprise” has come in the form of demand loss.
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Egypt’s Resurgent Authoritarianism: It’s a Way of Life
By Nathan J. Brown and Katie Bentivoglio
Carnegie Endowment
October 9, 2014
Since assuming office in June 2014, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been making a series of slow but deliberate legal moves to restore and strengthen the authority of state institutions. In the absence of parliament, he has taken advantage of a constitutional vacuum to lay the groundwork for authorities to act with wide discretion and little public oversight. After the 2011 revolution, outside social and political actors were optimistic that they could build a more responsive state; today, however, they are poorly placed to counter Sisi’s efforts. His approach will also likely survive the election of a parliament when that long-promised step is finally taken—perhaps by the end of 2014.
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Is There an Answer for Syria?
By Jessica Tuchman Mathews
Carnegie Endowment
October 9, 2014
New York Review of Books
The glaring weakness in President Obama’s new Middle East strategy, unveiled on September 24 at the United Nations, is the lack of troops on the ground in Syria. In Iraq, the Kurdish peshmerga, a reformed and remotivated Iraqi army, and the Sunni tribes that played a major part in the success of President Bush’s surge can all be brought into the fight against ISIS. But in Syria—whose disintegration directly threatens the five nations on its borders and indirectly the entire region—there is no one. The Pentagon has made its timetable starkly clear: it has announced that it will take three to five months to identify and vet fighters from the Syrian opposition and another year to train them. What will happen, other than air strikes, in the interim?
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Turkey’s Dangerous Bet on Syria
By Sinan Ülgen
Carnegie Endowment
October 9, 2014
With the Islamic State just miles from its border, Turkey is now facing its most severe security challenge in decades. In response, the Turkish government is seeking to accomplish the impossible; Ankara wants to fight the Islamic State, carry out regime change in Syria and roll back Kurdish autonomy all at the same time. The risk of this overambitious approach is that it could end up accomplishing none of these objectives while squandering the opportunity to contribute to the stabilization of the region. Underpinning this risky strategy is a questionable assumption and an equally dubious policy decision. Turkey assumes that remaining indifferent to the fate of the besieged Kurdish enclave of Kobani will not imperil its peace negotiations with Turkey’s own Kurds. Ankara has done little to assist the Kurdish enclave, ruled by an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party, or P.K.K. In Ankara’s eyes, the Syrian Kurds fighting there are essentially allies of Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
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Al Qaeda, al Shabaab, and ISIS: Recruiting and Taking Ground
By Nicholas Hanlon
Center for Security Policy
October 14, 2014
The recent interplay between al Shabaab and the African Union military mission in Somalia offers new data on the role of ground troops, the holding of territory, and Islamist recruiting…It is important to keep in mind that as far back as 2007, the FBI was mobilizing to counter al Shabaab’s successful recruiting of Americans among the Somali refugee community.  In 2010, fourteen people were indicted for trying to support al Shabaab.  Individuals among them came from California, Alabama, and Minnesota.  One of the attackers at Westgate Mall in Kenya last year was believed to be from Kansas City, Missouri.
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Fighting Obamapolitik
By Arthur Herman and John Yoo
Hudson Institute
October 2014
Republicans and Democrats act resigned to two more years of retreat and setbacks for the United States in international affairs, particularly when it comes to Russia. President Obama remains commander-in-chief and has at his disposal vast diplomatic, military, and intelligence resources. But a House and Senate unified under conservative leadership could use its own constitutional powers to counter presidential passivity toward Russia and begin to rebuild American influence.
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ISIS Has Almost No Popular Support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon
By David Pollock
Washington Institute
October 14, 2014
How much grassroots support does the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) enjoy in key “coalition” countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon? Until today, one could only guess at the answer. Recent news reports about the arrests of ISIS adherents in all three of these countries add urgency to the question. Now, however, a trio of new polls — the first ones of their kind — provides the hard data on which to make this judgment. The polls were conducted in September by a leading commercial survey firm in the Middle East, using face-to-face interviews by experienced local professionals.
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Building a Better Syrian Opposition Army: How and Why
By: Kenneth M. Pollack
Brookings Institution
October 2014
What a difference a year makes. In the fall of 2013, Syria dominated the headlines, in part from fear that its spillover would destabilize its neighbors, Iraq first among them. Sadly, those fears proved prophetic. Sparks from Syria, in the form of the Salafi terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), helped reignite the Iraqi civil war. And the implosion of Iraq has pulled the Syrian conflict which triggered it back into the spotlight of America’s foreign policy debate. Yet throughout that year, the notion of increased American involvement, and in particular, ramped up assistance to the Syrian opposition was effectively off the table. The Administration and most of its critics regularly scoffed at the idea. Now, thanks to the crisis in Iraq and the belated recognition that spillover from Syria is an important element of the problems there, what was once ridiculed is now policy.
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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 10-10-2014

ANALYSIS

Is Obama About to Recalibrate His War with ISIS?
The coalition war against ISIS that Obama trumpeted has not gone well so far. More than 60 days into the air war against ISIS, the brutal deranged criminal gang continues to advance.
While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the ragtag rebel band that constitutes ISIS is winning the war to expand its caliphate, it would be fair to suggest that the Western and Arabian allies are losing it.
In Syria, near the Turkish border, Kurdish residents of the town of Ain Arab ( Kobane )fear that they will be massacred by advancing ISIS fighters. A three week siege of the town by ISIS forces has resulted in a softening of Kurdish defenses, and some fear that the town could fall at any moment. As this analysis being prepared, Reports say that ISIS is inside many neighborhoods of the city and the fighting has turned into a building-to-building battle. “A terrible slaughter is coming,” said a Kurdish intelligence official in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “If they take the city, we should expect to have 5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours.” The official added that the scale of the coming massacre would be worse than that which may have befallen Iraq’s Yazidi minority if the United States had not intervened in the conflict in Iraq when they did.
Perhaps most dispiriting, the coalition air campaign designed to halt ISIS’s advance on that Turkish border town has been utterly fruitless. In fact, many have criticized the US air offensive for being only marginal effective despite the publicity given to it by the Obama Administration. For instance, last weekend, CNN reported that, “allied airstrikes destroyed two ISIS tanks, a bulldozer and another ISIS vehicle.” That will hardly stop ISIS.
An American financial newspaper, Investors Business Daily noted, “We’re sending expensive high-tech fighters to fire laser-guided weapons at solitary bulldozers. This is beyond pathetic.” They recommended using heavier air assets like the American bomber fleet, noting “Even a single B-52 might have done more to “degrade and destroy” advancing ISIS forces in one pass than we have accomplished since Obama’s anemic air campaign began.”
The result is that Obama’s “offensive” is receiving considerable criticism from political allies and opponents. Former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in his new book has roundly criticized Obama’s war in Iraq and Syria, which led to the rise of ISIS. In the book, he called Obama frustrated and having given up on leading the nation or the world. In an interview with USA Today, Panetta said it was Obama’s failure to pursue an obtainable status of forces agreement with Iraq that “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.”
Panetta also said Obama “lost his way” by failing to arm the Syrian rebels and enforce his own “red line” threat to respond to Bashar al-Assad if to use chemical weapons against his own people. All too often, Panetta writes, Obama “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities,” painting a portrait of a president who has a hard time making up his mind.
The Washington Post, which has been previously more supportive of Obama’s Syrian strategy asked this week, “Why can’t the U.S.-led coalition prevent a ragtag insurgent army from overrunning large towns? The answers speak to the limitations imposed on the military campaign by President Obama…In contrast with the successful 2002 air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, U.S. pilots cannot rely on Special Forces spotters to identify targets. Mr. Obama has ruled out such ground personnel despite requests from military commanders.”
Criticism also came from Obama’s opponent in 2008 – Senator John McCain – a former Navy fighter pilot, who has experience in carrying out air strikes in combat situation. “There’s going to be a mass slaughter” if Kobani falls to the Islamic State, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. “There will be no greater indication of the ineffectiveness and fecklessness of the air campaign we’re now seeing.”
Obama is also faced with the ISIS advance on Baghdad. ISIS forces are so close that they may be able to soon close the Baghdad airport with artillery fire. In fact, American concerns about the fall of Baghdad are so great that the State Department earlier this week had to reassure Americans that a mortar attack alert in the Green Zone was a false alarm.
ISIS advances in Iraq aren’t just limited to Baghdad. ISIS forces have struck and captured targets in Iraq’s Anbar province, including the town of Heet on the Euphrates. The insurgent army has reportedly begun to lay siege to areas surrounding the provincial capital of Ramadi.
The failure of the American air war in Iraq is also a serious problem for American forces. The United States made a tacit admission of the air campaign’s failure on Monday when the Pentagon conceded that they had introduced Apache attack helicopters into Iraq where they struck ISIS mortar teams near Fallujah. The Apaches will allow U.S. military planners more flexibility, but they will also expose troops to the dangers of ISIS ground fire. Faced with strategic failures across the board, the United States is inching ever closer to introducing some version of “boots on the ground.”
A Readjustment in Strategy?
Obama’s trip to the Pentagon on Wednesday for briefings indicates that there may be some changes to the ISIS strategy in the near future.
Up until now, Obama has focused on doing the minimum in the region – primarily focusing on action only when it impacts his political popularity in the US. For instance, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met in May with American diplomats and Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of Central Command, asking the U.S. for the ability to strike ISIL using drones. If that wasn’t doable, Maliki said he’d approve U.S. drone or airstrikes. However, the plan was ignored by the Obama Administration, which didn’t see any political gain to acting.
However, mixed signals coming from the Administration may indicate that Obama may finally be willing to modify his policy somewhat.
However, the State Department has refused to move from the current position. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that preventing the fall of the Syrian town of Kobane to Islamic State fighters was not a strategic U.S. objective.
“As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobani … you have to step back and understand the strategic objective…Notwithstanding the crisis in Kobani, the original targets of our efforts have been the command and control centers, the infrastructure,” he said. “We are trying to deprive them (ISIS) of the overall ability to wage this, not just in Kobani but throughout Syria and into Iraq.”
Kerry however, did indicate some American flexibility – especially in creating a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria. In an unenthusiastic tone he said, “The buffer zone is an idea that has been out there. It is worth examining, it’s worth looking at very, very closely.”
This is a case where America’s NATO allies may have to push Obama, since they are more supportive of the idea. France said on Wednesday it supported the idea of setting up a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria to create a safe haven for displaced people, President Francois Hollande’s office said after he spoke to his Turkish counterpart.
Britain’s Foreign Minister Hammond was also in favor is the strategy, saying it deserved close study. “The idea of a buffer zone is one that has been floated. We have to explore with our other allies and partners what is meant by a buffer zone and how such a concept would work, but I certainly wouldn’t want to rule it out at this stage.”
Although Obama is not anxious to stop ISIS at Kobane, the political and strategic reality may force his hand. Kobane would be a big prize for ISIS. Its capture would be of great symbolic value, showing that ISIS is still maintaining their momentum, and would confirm their creeping dominance along a great portion of the Turkish-Syrian border.
The questions facing Obama are: what sort of strategy will stop ISIS and is he willing to execute it? Obama has tried to rely upon others providing the “boots on the ground.” However, that strategy is looking more and more unlikely.
It is clear that training indigenous forces to counter ISIS will not be a quick solution. In fact, coalition commanders insist that the Iraqi Army will not be in a position to serve as an effective fighting force for quite some time.
The New York Times reported earlier this week, “The American official coordinating the international coalition fighting the Islamic State said on Friday that the Iraqi military would not be ready for a campaign to retake Mosul, the largest Iraqi city under insurgent control, for as much as a year,”
“The broad timeline given by the official, retired Gen. John R. Allen, seemed to reflect the immense challenges facing the Iraqi military command and its international partners,” The Times continued.
That report indicates that the operation aimed at retaking the city of over half a million would begin before this year is out, but implicit in his admission that the Iraqi Army will be unable to finish the job the coalition starts in Mosul alone for another 12 months, which suggests that this will be a long war.
Finding, training, and arming Syrian “moderate” forces will not be any easier. On Wednesday, the Pentagon spokesman conceded that the process of vetting moderate Syrian rebel groups who will eventually serve as the “boots on the ground” has not even begun. That vetting merely the first step in creating a fighting force which planners estimate will need to be 15,000 strong in order to roll back ISIS in Syria. Exfiltrating them, training them, equipping them, and reintroducing them back into Syria will take at least one year before any tangible gains against ISIS will be made.
The other force in the region that can provide sufficient ground forces is Turkey. However, it appears that internal Turkish politics and the foreign policy of Turkish President Erdogan, are preventing Turkey’s massive army from responding.
As mentioned in last week’s Monitor Analysis, the overriding goals of the US and Turkey are very different in regards to Syria. Turkey has made it clear that it wants the end of the Assad regime, while keeping Turkey’s Kurdish population under control. The US, however, is willing to forgo the downfall of Assad in return for the “degradation” of ISIS. The US is also more willing to accept Kurdish independence, especially since Kurdish forces in Iraq are willing allies against ISIS.
Turkey’s Erdogan has made it clear that he wants a buffer zone in place and a no-fly zone over Syria before he commits ground forces to the battle. He also wants Washington’s support to defeat Assad. In the meantime, he is willing to stand by and see a degradation of Turko-Kurdish forces in Kolbane.
The Obama administration sees this more as an excuse. They note that round-the-clock air raids by the US effectively make the air over Kolbane a no-fly zone for the Syrian Air Force. “There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border,” a senior administration official told the New York Times. “After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe.
“This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid publicly criticizing an ally.
Despite criticism about not acting, Turkey is joining in the effort to fight ISIS financially. Illicit petroleum production from ISIS controlled oil fields have been interdicted in Turkey, which will hurt the ability of the insurgent gang to buy munitions and spare parts for their captured heavy equipment.
Turkey, in the meantime, is facing some internal turmoil because of its refusal to support rebels in Kolbane. Turkish Kurds represent a large minority in turkey and Kurds in the southeast are protesting the government’s limited response. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara that 19 people were killed and 145 wounded in riots across Turkey. A curfew was imposed in Mardin, Siirt, Batman and Van, according to Hurriyet newspaper.
At the same time, however, the Turkish Lira is under pressure as investors are concerned that Turkey may intervene militarily in Syria. Given the economic problems in Turkey, Erdogan may decide that inaction may offer better economic rewards for himself and his political allies than military action.
However, Turkey is the keystone of the anti-ISIS alliance. It has the largest and best equipped army in the region. It also borders key battleground areas and offers considerable logistical advantages for supporting allies in both Iraq and Syria. Without its active participation, the rest of the coalition is mainly limited to air strikes and some ground support via special forces. No major ground effort would be forthcoming.
These are the facts that are driving a reassessment of Obama’s ISIS strategy. American voters disapprove of his policy towards ISIS and the recent beheading of an American in Oklahoma has brought the threat home. If he is to salvage his last two years as president, he needs to lay out a plan that at least “degrades” ISIS so it is no longer a threat to American allies in the region or a domestic terrorist threat in the US.
If there is to be an effective ground component to take advantage of the air war, Obama must either consent to a larger US force presence or accede to Turkish demands. Given Obama’s reluctance to commit American forces, the likelihood is that eventually Obama will make some compromise with Turkey that would include some buffer zone, some sort of limited no-fly zone, and greater willingness to counter Assad rule seeking his removal.
By refusing to commit US ground forces to the conflict and relying on Turkish forces (who have a clear agenda contrary to the American one) and untrained indigenous forces, this strategy will guarantee that the conflict will be a long one and one that will not necessarily turn out the way America wants it.

PUBLICATIONS
The Rise of Al-Qaeda’s Khorasan Group: What It Means for U.S. National Security
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
October 6, 2014
Issue Brief #4281
The air strikes against Islamist terrorist groups in Syria that the U.S. launched on September 22 included strikes against a group that few Americans had heard about before: the Khorasan group. Although sometimes mistakenly characterized as a new terrorist group, Khorasan is a new tentacle of an old organization—the al-Qaeda high-command or core group. The rise of the Khorasan group underscores that al-Qaeda’s core remains a dangerous threat, and that it has grown stronger by feeding off the corpses of failed states and by recruiting foreign fighters. To defeat al-Qaeda, Washington must address the regional trends that gave rise to Khorasan, not merely target the group itself.
Read more
Strategic Partnership in the Middle East: Respecting Our Arab Allies, Realism About Ourselves
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 9, 2014
It is easy to talk about a U.S. strategy based on strategic partnership and coalitions. It is far more difficult, however, to make such efforts work. This is particularly true when the U.S. fails to honestly address its own problems and mistakes, minimizes the costs and risks involved, and exaggerates criticism of its allies. Strategic partnerships need to be forged on the basis of an honest understanding of the differences between the partners, respect, and mutual tolerance of their different needs and limitations. Some of the recent U.S. criticism of its Arab allies is justified, but much of it is exaggerated, makes sweeping generalizations, and ignores the differences between the values, priorities, and strategic interests of the U.S. and each Arab ally. At the same time, there is a false equity in U.S. criticism of allies like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – not to mention another key regional ally, Turkey.
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Iran’s Rocket and Missile Forces and Strategic Options
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 6, 2014
Iran’s rocket and missile forces serves a wide range of Iranian strategic objectives. Iran’s forces range from relatively short-range artillery rockets that support its ground forces and limit the need for close air support to long-range missiles that can reach any target in the region, as well as the development of booster systems that might give Iran the ability to strike at targets throughout Europe and even in the US. Iran’s rocket and missile forces are steadily evolving. While the lethality of most current systems is limited by a reliance on conventional warheads, poor accuracy, and uncertain reliability, Iran is developing improved guidance systems, attempting to improve the lethality of its conventional warheads, and has at least studied arming its missiles with nuclear warheads.
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The European Union Must Face the Islamic State
By Marc Pierini
Carnegie Endowment
October 2, 2014
Diplomatic missions, think tanks, and the media are rife with analyses of the Islamic State. Assessments of how to deal with the jihadist group range from “wait and see” to “degrade and destroy,” and there are even mundane controversies about whether the entity should be called the Islamic State (IS), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or Da’esh (the movement’s Arabic acronym)—even though these names carry almost identical meanings. The bottom line is that the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which has now taken hold in large parts of Iraq and Syria, is posing unprecedented challenges to the Western community of nations. The group is a particular threat to European states. To cope with those aspects of the situation that are specific to Europe, EU leaders must focus their efforts on five key areas: counterterrorism cooperation, the interruption of financial flows to the Islamic State, humanitarian assistance, political dialogue, and long-term policy reforms.
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International Relations in a Time of Accelerating Dynamic Instability
By Lawrence Husick
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 2014
What do the rise of the “Islamic State,” the ebola epidemic, and widespread political polarization and gridlock have in common? Is it possible to understand these disparate phenomena in ways that inform and guide our reactions to them, and our planning for future events that may arise from the same conditions? If, as FPRI’s founder, Ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupé, liked to say, “a nation must think before it acts,” about what should the United States be thinking in times of domestic turmoil and accelerating international instability? The seeming breakdown of the Westphalian international order and emergence of differently governed regions such as those in Western North Africa, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the “Islamic State” that now occupies the Syria-Iraq border is viewed as a continuing source of threat to the international community. More than just artifacts of a post-World War I line-drawing blunder by the European colonial powers that ignored, and in many cases exacerbated old tribal divisions, some of these new insurgencies seem to appear from nothing, emerging in a blink from the quantum vacuum of ungovernable expanses of territory. In still other cases, however, instability takes root in the dense urban centers of states with weak governments and especially in those states lacking in functioning organs of civil society (e.g., Somalia). None of this is new, nor is it unexpected.
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We Bomb ISIL: Then What?
By Marina Ottaway
Wilson Center
October 2014
Viewpoint 63
Military action in Iraq and Syria is moving ahead without a political strategy to accompany it. Although the administration argues that defeating ISIL requires the formation of inclusive governments, neither Iraq nor Syria has such government. The absence of a real political strategy will undermine any military success.
Read more

Turkey and the Battle for Kobane
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
October 8, 2014
In the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched another major offensive against the Kurdish-declared canton of Kobane (a.k.a. Ain al-Arab) in northern Syria. The group is now threatening to overrun this area, which is controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish faction affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant Turkish group. In response, the United States has launched airstrikes against ISIS military assets around Kobane. Yet Turkey, which nominally joined the U.S.-led coalition against the group on September 5, has been watching the battle from the sidelines. Ankara is also refusing to allow PKK members to cross into Syria to prevent Kobane’s fall.
Read more
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 10-03-2014

ANALYSIS

Conflicting Objectives in War on ISIS
Wars usually bring consensus to the countries involved in the fighting. In World War Two, even the radically different political systems of the Soviet Union and the US and Great Britain, were able to agree on defeating Hitler. That unity, however, is lacking in the current war on ISIS.
Although several countries are in the US led alliance to fight (or at least neutralize) ISIS, they all seem to allowing their differing national policies to trump the mutual goal of stopping ISIS. One such country is Turkey, a NATO member that has an eye on increasing its influence in the region by using the disruptions caused by ISIS.
Under pressure both politically and militarily, Turkey may finally climb off the fence in the fight against ISIS. Their parliament voted to authorize ground troops in both Iraq and Syria this week to push back the terrorist army, which has come within five kilometers of Turkey’s border in places. In the past, Turkey actually aided Syrian rebels like ISIS in order to weaken the Syrian government of President Assad.
The Washington Post reported, “Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters the proposal sent to parliament would include a wide range of options, including opening Turkish bases to foreign troops and deploying soldiers to establish safe zones for refugees inside Syria. The government wants the motion to be broad enough to avoid needing another parliamentary mandate for military action, he said.”
But, it seems that the decision to fight ISIS isn’t just a desire to join with other NATO countries and some Arab nations to stop the growth of the radical Islamic force. The move is also an attempt to forestall the current efforts of Kurdish separatists who have coalesced into a fighting force to assist Syrian Kurds in the besieged city of Kobane.
Kobane’s fall would give ISIS control of a large stretch of the Turkey-Syria border. The siege has prompted more than 160,000 refugees to flee into Turkey in the past week, and shells from the fighting have landed in Turkish territory. In response, Turkey dispatched hundreds of soldiers and tanks to the Syrian border to contain the potential spillover from the siege.
But, Kobane is more than a military objective. It also has political importance. Turkey has made it clear that they will not let Turkish Kurds become a separate nation and see this Turkish-Kurdish fighting force in Kobane as a long term threat to them. Consequently, the move to oppose ISIS is as much an attempt to keep Turkish/Kurdish separatists in check.
Another factor in Turkey’s potential move against ISIS is their demand for a no-fly zone over Syria. They don’t need a no-fly zone to protect them from ISIS, which doesn’t have an air force. Their support of the Syrian rebels fighting Assad have made them fearful of Assad and what he might do if they were to move into Syrian territory to stop ISIS. They want to make sure that Assad doesn’t take an opportunity to settle some scores while their army engages ISIS.
This isn’t the first time that the US has considered a possible no-fly zone over Syria. That was one of the options that the Obama administration looked at in 2013 in retaliation for the alleged Assad’s use of chemical weapons. That option was eventually discarded.
This time, the question will be whether the US can enforce it since the US and Navy forces in the area are smaller than they were a year ago. From the point of the Alliance against ISIS, the Syrians have been passive about the intrusions into their airspace — not cooperative, but also not actively contesting them. They haven’t complained about them very much, even though American operations have created a de facto no-fly zone as Syrian aircraft avoid open hostilities with the US-led coalition.
There is also the diplomatic issue of an official no-fly zone. If the US demanded an internationally-imposed, no-fly zone, the Syrians will surely lodge international protests, along with Russia, China, and Iran. These protests, in turn could force a lull in air attacks.
In the end, the best option is for the US to informally assure Turkey that Syria will not interfere with Turkey’s operations and for Turkey to accept that fighting ISIS in Syria is better than fighting in Turkey.
Not only are the Turks afraid that Syrian Air Force fighters may attack them they are also reluctant to get involved so far is based on their worry that their intervention will prop up president Assad after all their efforts to get rid of him. In addition, the area the Turkey would move into is Syrian/Kurd territory and defeating ISIS in Kurdish territory would only strengthen the Kurds.
While a Turkish military move would aid the US, some of Turkey’s objectives are in conflict with American goals. America actually launched its air strikes in Syria and Iraq in part to support the Kurdish forces, who have been the most loyal and have a biger stake in slowing the ISIS advance across Iraq. In fact more than half of the US and British air strikes have been launched in support of Kurdish forces, who have launched an offensive to retake several Iraqi towns captured by ISIS recently.
Turkey isn’t the only partner in the in the alliance with differing goals in the war on ISIS. Other nations have differing political objectives. However, unlike the Kurds, Turkey, and the US, their concern revolves around Baghdad, which is increasingly threatened by ISIS. From their point of view, air strikes against northern Iraq and Syria are only helpful to their political ends if they pull ISIS forces from central Iraq.
The Arab countries of the GCC are also on the horns of a dilemma. ISIS is a threat to their nations and ISIS forces are becoming a greater threat to the borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The air strikes in the north and the Kurdish offensive help slowing the ISIS advances across the Iraqi “Sunnis” territories in Western Iraq. And, obviously Iraqi “Shiite” opposition to ISIS also helps their objectives.
The problem for the GCC is that a weaker ISIS can mean a stronger “Shiite alliance” in Iraq and Iran that threatens the GCC. Their objective is to defeat ISIS, while keeping the” Sunni” communities militarily strong, and defeat President Assad in Syria.
Indecision in America
While the other ISIS alliance nations have conflicting goals, America is in the position of having disagreements with itself. Obama is facing a political problem of holding his anti-war Democratic coalition together, while placating the voters, who want a more aggressive response against ISIS – without putting soldiers in Iraq or Syria. The problem became even more important as a radical Muslim beheaded a coworker in Oklahoma last week, an event that brought the ISIS problem home to most American voters.
The events in the Middle East are clearly damaging the Democrat’s ability to hold the Senate. A Republican TV ad this week is attacking Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina for being absent from half of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearings this year and never uttering a word of complaint over Obama’s previous policies toward terrorism.
“While ISIS grew, Obama kept waiting, and Kay Hagan kept quiet,” the ad’s narrator states — “failing to recognize the growing specter of the Islamic State.”
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who’s running against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, is running an ad that says she and Obama are “confused” about the very real threat that the Islamic State poses to the U.S. Polls show the race is in a dead heat.
However, Obama’s response hasn’t helped as it is perceived as being too weak by American voters. And, when he did respond, the resulting air strikes were considered by nearly everyone to be ineffective.
Obama’s political response has been to blame the intelligence community for not warning him. Although US intelligence had warned Obama in 2012 about the threat of ISIS, Obama ignored the warnings until very recently. However, On Sunday, Obama went on the CBS program “60 Minutes” to talk about his abruptly changed policies toward the Islamic State’s war of terror on the civilized world. When asked about his dismissal of ISIS, he blamed the intelligence community for underestimating the threat – a claim that enraged many in the intelligence field who had warned him about the ISIS threat years ago.
Although late, Obama has begun to make some solid moves. One recent addition to the policy outlined by Obama last month is the movement of over 2,000 US Marines into Kuwait over the next few months. The force will have its own tactical air support, airlift ability, and theater logistical support of C-130 aircraft. This Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) will be capable of carrying out a multitude of military operations.
While the Pentagon said that this move has been in the planning stage for awhile, it appears that current events are driving it. A force of this size would be able to evacuate US citizens from Baghdad if ISIS continues advancing on the southern front and enters the Iraqi capital. The possibility that this force is being put in place for such an evacuation is reinforced by the fact that this USMC unit (the 8th Marine Regiment) was used during the summer for the evacuation of the US Embassy in Libya.
This unit is combat tested and showed itself well adapted to evacuations under difficult conditions. On July 26, after taking mortar, small arms and rocket fire in the US Embassy compound for several days, a group of Marines from the 8th Marine Regiment led more than 150 embassy personnel on a six-hour drive across the Libyan desert to the Tunisian border after the US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, decided that evacuating staff via MV-22 helicopters was too risky.
The Marine security team, which wore civilian clothing, loaded all the American embassy personnel into 40 sport utility vehicles after negotiating safe passage to the border with the militias that held the ground along the route. The convoy was shadowed by two MV-22B Ospreys, a KC-130J and two F-16 jets.
The force is also seen as a guarantee that the US will support the GCC nations if ISIS starts to threaten their borders. Although the USMC force is smaller in numbers than the ISIS army, it is heavier armed, much better trained, and better supported. Its positioning in Kuwait will insure that the oil fields of the Saudi Peninsula will not fall to ISIS. The deployment also provides a bit more flexibility to the GCC nations who are afraid of both ISIS and Iranian influence.
The fact that the war against ISIS requires positioning US Marines in Kuwait – hundreds of miles from the front lines – demonstrates the problems and complexities of the conflict. While nearly everyone is agreed that ISIS is a major problem, the outcome of the war seems to attract more concern than the defeat of this radical army. The Syrian government of presiden Assad wants to defeat the rebels and win the internal war.
Turkey, wants to defeat ISIS, while defeating Assad and keeping the Turkish Kurds from seceding from Turkey. They also want to use the war to increase their influence in the Levant.
The Kurds are more interested in independence and see their war against ISIS as their best way of becoming an independent state. The GCC nations want to defeat ISIS and president Assad, while keeping Turkish influence in the region to a minimum. Meanwhile, Iran wants to defeat ISIS, but keep president Assad in power.
Other nations also have limited objectives. Denmark, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are only carrying air operations in Iraq, while the United States, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are operating in Syria too.
In the US, Obama is at war with himself. For him, the war is merely an outgrowth of the political situation he finds himself in domestically. He won election as president on a platform of getting out of Iraq, but finds himself with a majority of Americans upset with the deteriorating situation in the region. However, his political base is strongly opposed to any more actions in both Syria and Iraq. A political misstep could find Congress in the hands of his political opponents, the Republicans in November.
What this means is that the coalition facing ISIS is only loosely bound together. Should events change, it could rapidly fall apart.
PUBLICATIONS
Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu: A preview
By Danielle Pletka
American Enterprise Institute
October 1, 2014
AEIdeas

Today, Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two are not friends, not allies, and not partners. Previous meetings have been fraught. And privately, this one is likely to be little better. What’s on their agenda?
Iran: Obama desperately wants a nuclear deal with Iran. So desperately, in fact, that his negotiating team has been willing to offer the Iranians half their current stock of 19,000 centrifuges with the other half nominally “unplugged.” This is a far cry from an administration that claimed enrichment was off the table, that Iran had no “right” to enrichment, or that the program, as it now stands, is unacceptable. Indeed, the Iranians, being no fools, have again upped the ante, demanding that UN sanctions be dropped before any nuclear deal. Obama likely believes that Iran will be an ally against ISIS (Shia! Sunni! Get it?? Get it!!), and that he can game the Middle East to resolve intra-religious quarrels, extricate himself from the region and serve his greater quest for Global Zero.
Read more
The National Guard in Iraq: A Risky Strategy to Combat the Islamic State
By Frederic Wehrey and Ariel I. Ahram
Carnegie Endowment
September 23, 2014

Reconstructing Iraq’s security sector is a crucial component of the new U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State. The failure of the Iraqi army to defend Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, from the militant group’s attack in the summer of 2014 was a profound indictment of the country’s entire security apparatus. Despite a decade of U.S. efforts at reequipping, reorganizing, and retraining Iraqi security forces, most units in Iraq’s army and police remained plagued by sectarian and ethnic fissures and poor leadership. Reinvigorating Iraq’s security services is essential, as ultimately U.S. airpower must be coupled with an effective ground assault if the Islamic State is to be rolled back.
One of the most prominent elements of the security sector reform agenda, floated by both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, is the establishment of a new Iraqi national guard. The national guard would incorporate mainly Sunni tribal militias—armed groups that organized outside the formal army and police—to serve as local reserves under the control of provincial governors. Yet the details of this plan remain sketchy and the prospects for success uncertain.
Read more
Ending Libya’s Civil War: Reconciling Politics, Rebuilding Security
By Frederic Wehrey
Carnegie Endowment
September 24, 2014

More than three years after the fall of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is in the midst of a bitter civil war rooted in a balance of weakness between the country’s political factions and armed groups. With a domestic landscape torn apart by competing claims to power and with interference from regional actors serving to entrench divides, restoring stability in Libya and building a unified security structure will be difficult if not impossible without broad-based political reconciliation. After Qaddafi, Libya’s security sector evolved into a hybrid arrangement marked by loose and imbalanced cooperation between locally organized, state-sponsored armed groups and national military and police. The system broke down as political and security institutions became increasingly polarized along regional, communal, and ideological fault lines. The country is now split between two warring camps: Operation Dignity, a coalition of eastern tribes, federalists, and disaffected military units; and Operation Dawn, an alliance of Islamist forces aligned with armed groups from Misrata. Each camp lays claim to governance and legitimacy, with its own parliament, army, and prime minister.
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Qatar and the Arab Spring: Policy Drivers and Regional Implications
By Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
Carnegie Endowment
September 24, 2014

During the Arab Spring, Qatar moved away from its traditional foreign policy role as diplomatic mediator to embrace change in the Middle East and North Africa and support transitioning states. Regional actors viewed Qatar’s approach as overreaching, and skepticism of Doha’s policy motivations increased. Qatar’s new leadership, which came to power in June 2013, is adapting by reverting to a more pragmatic foreign policy and addressing the fallout from its support for Islamist movements in the region.
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The Obama-Military Divide
By Seth Cropsey
Hudson Institute
September 30, 2014

In President Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday, he reiterated his vow not to involve U.S. combat troops in the fight against Islamic State jihadists. He would avoid “the mistake of simply sending U.S. troops back” into Iraq, Mr. Obama said, noting that “there’s a difference between them advising and assisting Iraqis who are fighting versus a situation in which we got our Marines and our soldiers out there taking shots and shooting back.” Yet many Americans are skeptical, judging by the new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll showing that 72% of registered voters believe that U.S. troops will eventually be deployed. Perhaps Americans have been listening to some of the president’s senior military advisers and several retired senior officers and have decided that their expert opinions sound more realistic.
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What Is the Central Strategic Question in the Middle East?
By Michael Doran
Brookings Institution
September 30, 2014

No one explains the durability of the status quo in Israeli-Palestinian relations as well as Elliott Abrams. :What Now for Israel?” demonstrates why, despite the strong will of the United States and Europe to broker a two-state solution, a formal peace remains out of reach. Forty-seven years after the Six-Day War, it’s time to conclude that, in the Middle East, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary arrangement. While Abrams focuses almost exclusively on Israeli perceptions, including Israeli perceptions of the American role, his analysis demands that we also ask and try to answer the question, “What Now for the United States?” Before anything else, American leaders need to repudiate, once and for all, what Abrams calls the “epicenter” theory: that is, the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central strategic question in the Middle East. While no American president has embraced this theory in any formal sense, almost every president since Jimmy Carter — and every secretary of state since Cyrus Vance — has taken it as axiomatic that to formulate a Middle East policy means initiating and presiding over a “peace process.”
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Defiance and Desperation in Iran Nuclear Talks
By Tzvi Kahn, Evan Moore
Foreign Policy Initiative
September 30, 2014

The latest round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program was marked by Iranian defiance and Western desperation to reach a deal.  Tehran’s goal in these talks has long been clear—to simultaneously break free from international sanctions while retaining the capability to break out as a nuclear weapons power on short notice.  Western negotiators are working to determine just how short that notice must be—with the reported goal of lengthening Iran’s breakout time from less than three months to between six and twelve months.
Read more

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 09-27-2014

 

ANALYSIS

Obama’s War on Terrorism Failing in Middle East and at Home
Despite a major emphasis on fighting ISIS in the last couple of weeks, there is little to show for it. Surgical air strikes have had a limited impact on the military capability of ISIS. They have killed Abu Yousef al-Turki, a key al-Nusra Front leader. And, there are also reports that airstrikes in northern Syria killed Muhsin al-Fadhl, the leader of the Khorasan Group, before his group of Islamist militants were able to carry out bomb attacks on the US and Europe.
However, the coalition that Obama called for has largely failed to emerge on the battlefield and most military action is American.
Just as worse for Obama is the political impact at home. Although traditionally, foreign conflicts help a leader’s approval numbers, Obama has seen his approval ratings fall even more as members of the Obama coalition have lost faith in him.
Meantime, the strikes carried out to immense fanfare by the White House appear to be little more than pinpricks compared to previous American action by either of the Bush presidents or Clinton. In fact, the 1998 “Operation Desert Fox” cruise missile attacks that were launched by President Clinton were criticized as “mere pinpricks,” but were much larger than this week’s attacks.
Operationally the strikes were indicative of the unfocused nature of Obama’s strategy.  In additional to attacking the ISIS leadership, other strikes went after elements of al-Nusra, the formal al Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria, and members of the Khorasan Group, a group of senior al Qaeda leaders and bomb experts tasked by al Qaeda leadership to find new ways to penetrate Western security.
All these terrorist targets were of value, but the fact that the US had to target three different types of targets reflects the diffuse and dispersed nature of the enemy and the price of failed policy and covert action in Syria.
According to some U.S military commentators on U.S media, another problem with the strategy of the strikes is that Obama has made the classic military mistake of dividing his forces in the face of a numerically superior force. By attacking in three directions at once with a relatively small force, he guaranteed a long campaign, a smaller political and tactical impact for each strike, and a smaller chance of ultimate victory.
The lessened military impact of the strikes was magnified by the limited breadth of the coalition against ISIS. When announcing the strikes, Obama stressed that the “broad coalition” against ISIL “makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”  But based upon public information, the coalition is very narrow and small. France has carried out symbolic air strikes until now, but Britain has been surprisingly reticent although may move in the direction of participating. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qatar “participated” militarily, while Bahrain, host to the U.S. Navy’s regional headquarters, “supported” operations. Obviously the Kurds, although not a nation, were supportive of the strikes, especially those that impact ISIS military operations near Kurdistan.
Although portrayed as gratifying by Obama administration, these Middle Eastern nations are all moderate Sunni states, longtime allies of the US, and the most at risk from ISIS expansion. However, of concern was the lack of support from Turkey. Turkey, which has the second largest military in NATO after the US, has been reluctant to join the fight against ISIS, which conspicuously received 49 Turkish hostages last weekend.
Another concern is ISIS’s resolve to strike back against nations that carry out air strikes against it. Just half an hour after Obama spoke at the UN against ISIS, ISIS-linked militants in Algeria beheaded a French hostage captured the weekend before. The group had threatened to kill him if France did not stop bombing targets in Iraq.
Despite the killing and threat, French President Francois Hollande condemned the killing as a “cruel and cowardly” act. He said that French air strikes which began last week would continue.
Meanwhile, the halfhearted attack on ISIS was only received with lukewarm support from the so called “moderate Syrian rebels”. “We are glad today to see the international community joining our fight against ISIL and extremism,” said Syrian Opposition Coalition President Hadi al-Bahra, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State. But he said the longtime U.S. refusal to provide rebels with antiaircraft and other heavy weaponry is hampering the effort.
American Foreign Policy or Politics?
While Obama insists that he is focused on ISIS and other terrorist threats, even in his UN speech, he diverged from the unrest in the world to address global warming. Obama told the UN, “America is pursuing ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions, and we have increased our investments in clean energy. We will do our part, and help developing nations to do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.”
The wavering nature of Obama’s approach to defeating ISIS and continued focus on global warming once again brings up the question of if Obama is more concerned about ISIS or winning elections. A Pew Research Center/USA Today survey conducted in August showed that Obama’s political base has very different views of the terrorist threat than independents (who decide elections in the US) and Republicans.
Obama’s Democrats consider global climate change a greater threat to the United States than either Al Qaeda (67%), or ISIS (65%). By contrast, 80 percent of Republicans cited Al Qaeda as the principal threat facing the nation, followed by 78 percent citing ISIS, and only 25 percent expressing concern about global climate change. Among Independents, Al Qaeda led the way at 69 percent, followed by ISIS at 63 percent, and global climate change bringing up the rear at 44 percent.
This conundrum can be seen in the plummeting approval numbers for Obama. On September 11th, the day after his speech announcing the more aggressive strategy against ISIS, 36.6% of American either strongly or somewhat approved of Obama. By the beginning of this week, that number had dropped to 31.6%.
Much of that drop came from Democrats, who previously had given him more support. On September 11th, Democrats who strongly and slightly approved of him was at 67.4%. Earlier this week, it had dropped down to 59.5%. And, although Blacks are his strongest ethnic support group, his support dropped 5 points during the same time from 73% to 68%.
This reflects the problem Obama is facing in the war against terrorism and ISIS. In order to continue to remain effective as president and maintain some hopes for Democrats to hold Senate and Congressional seats in November, he must focus on fighting ISIS. However, much of his political base in uninterested in the war on terror and is focused on subjects like global warming.
In his approach to the War in Syria and Iraq, He is attempting to do enough to retain some support for his actions by Republicans and independents. Yet, he doesn’t want to go so far as to alienate his Democratic base. Unfortunately, the political results of this halfhearted political strategy will probably be as unsuccessful as his entire foreign policy.
PUBLICATIONS
A Framework for an Authorization for Use of Military Force Against ISIS
By Charles “Cully” Stimson
Heritage Foundation
September 24, 2014
Backgrounder #2957
For over a decade, the United States has been in armed conflict with Islamist terrorists. In a variety of organizations and forms, this agile and adaptive enemy continues to wage war against the interests of both the U.S. and its allies. ISIS poses a “direct and significant threat to us” and must be defeated using all necessary means. The American people support military action against ISIS, and the Administration accordingly must develop a comprehensive, overarching strategy to confront and ultimately defeat this enemy. Working with our partners and allies and the countries in the region that are most affected by ISIS, the United States must do what it traditionally has done: lead.
Read more
Iraq, Syria, and the Islamic State: The “Boots on the Ground” Fallacy
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 19, 2014
There are times the United States does not need an enemy in going to war. It poses enough of a threat to itself without any foreign help. The current debate over ground troops in Iraq and Syria threatens to be yet another case in point, compounding the American threats to America that have done so much damage in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the earlier fighting in Iraq. The Islamic State is Not the Center of Gravity, and the Politics of Iraqi Unity are More Critical Than the Fighting.
Read more
Iran’s president is still the Ayatollah’s man
By J. Matthew McInnis
American Enterprise Institute
September 25, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today takes the podium at the U.N. General Assembly. With Rouhani two years into his presidential term, many in the West hold out hope he will push Iran toward modernization domestically and assume a less confrontational approach abroad. Rouhani is seen as savvy and moderate, steering through a mass of treacherous hardliners in Tehran and an entrenched Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. But this is the wrong way to understand Rouhani – it likely reflects wishful thinking on our part. In the face of momentous crises and policy challenges over the past year, the president has stood firmly in Iran’s political center, closely bound to Khamenei. This should not be surprising. After the tumultuous 2009 election and the internal political strife that characterized the latter years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, Khamenei was probably pleased to see one of his confidantes ascend to the presidency. Indeed Rouhani, long a regime insider, was intimately involved in the country’s nuclear program, and he helped carry out a harsh crackdown on major student protests in 1999.
Read more
To Confront the Islamic State, Seek a Truce in Syria
By Yezid Sayigh
Carnegie Endowment
September 18, 2014
As a core coalition led by the United States gears up to confront the militant Islamic State with action in Iraq, there is a rare opportunity to engineer a truce in Syria. Both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the more moderate armed rebels arrayed against it are stretched thin, bleeding badly, and in an increasingly vulnerable position. They remain as far as ever from negotiating a political solution to the conflict, but the timing is opportune. Each has self-serving reasons to suspend military operations to confront the looming jihadist threat from the east. The two sides would unilaterally observe truces that are separate but implemented in parallel. This approach would not require a formal diplomatic agreement, just robust endorsement and timely coordination by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Iran—the government’s and the opposition’s external backers that are most engaged in Iraq and warily converging on the shared goal of destroying the Islamic State.
Read more
A Strategy to Defeat The Islamic State
By Kimberly Kagan, Frederick W. Kagan, and Jessica D. Lewis
Institute for the Study of War
September 2014
The Islamic State poses a grave danger to the United States and its allies in the Middle East and around the world. Reports that it is not currently planning an attack against the American homeland are little comfort. Its location, the resources it controls, the skill and determination of its leaders and fighters, and its demonstrated lethality distinguish it from other al-Qaeda-like groups. Its ability to offer safe-haven and support to terrorists planning attacks against us is beyond any terrorist threat we have ever seen. The thousands of American and European citizens who are fighting alongside the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Iraq and Syria constitute an unprecedented threat to our security regardless of whether those groups intend to attack us. The Islamic State is a clear and present danger to the security of the United States. It must be defeated.
Read more
Four Questions for Afghanistan’s Future
By Michael Kugelman
Wilson Center
September 23, 2014
Five months after Afghans voted in national elections, they finally have a new government—albeit not the kind they had in mind. In effect, two bitter rivals in a bitterly divided nation will be sharing power under an arrangement that represents not the will of the Afghan people but a solution imposed by the international community. The two top presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, have pledged to form a national unity government in which Mr. Ghani, the election winner, will be president and Mr. Abdullah, the runner-up, will appoint a chief executive officer (though he may decline this post himself and opt for another position).
Read more
Defeating ISIS: From Strategy to Implementation
By Jean-Pierre Filiu, James F. Jeffrey, and Michael Eisenstadt
Washington Institute
September 23, 2014
PolicyWatch 2315
On September 22, 2014, Jean-Pierre Filiu, James Jeffrey, and Michael Eisenstadt addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Filiu is a professor of Middle East studies at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. Jeffrey is the Institute’s Philp Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow and former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey. Eisenstadt directs the Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.
Read more
We Need to Begin Nation-Building in Syria Right Now If we want to avoid the mistakes we made in Iraq
By Kenneth M. Pollack
Brookings Institution
September 24, 2014
New Republic
Winston Churchill once famously said that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all of the alternatives.” He could have been speaking of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. For six years I have criticized the administration’s policies toward Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East (mostly excepting its Iran policy). But since the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June, at least where Iraq and Syria are concerned, I can find little to criticize and much to praise. The administration has reversed course in both countries, shifting from stubborn disengagement to smart leadership. Since the stunning ISIS offensive in Iraq in June, Washington’s moves have been uncharacteristically deft: promising greater military support to Iraq as leverage to effect political change there; providing air support and weapons to the Kurds to halt the ISIS offensive; launching a sustained air campaign against ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria; and deploying advisors and weapons to Iraq, to name a few.
Read more

 

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 09-20-2014

 

ANALYSIS

 

 

America Responds to ISIS

Strategy or Political Cover

A week after outlining his strategy against ISIS, Obama went to Congress for the legislative support for his program of building a Syrian opposition army.  The $500 million was added to a stop gap funding bill that will keep the federal government funded until December.  The House voted 273-156 Wednesday to insert the amendment, which authorizes Obama’s plans, into the spending bill. The yes votes included 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats, while 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans voted against the amendment.

Ironically, although Republicans lambasted his plan last week, the Republican congressional leadership and 2/3rds of the Republicans gave the president what he wanted.  Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “I frankly think the president’s request is a sound one. I think there’s a lot more that we need to be doing, but there’s no reason for us not to do what the president asked us to do,”

Republicans have also backed off from requiring Obama to come to Congress for authority to use military force.  In an attempt to sidestep the issue, Boehner said that typically, the White House would be the one to make a request to have Congress vote on such an authorization and the administration has not done so yet.  “This is an interim step to do what the president’s asked for, it does not preclude us from revisiting the issue of a broader use of military force,” Boehner said.  “As you heard me say last week, I believe that it’s important, frankly, for the Congress to speak on this issue, and when we get to that point, we will.”

Interestingly enough, the opposition in Congress came from Obama’s own party, which saw 40% of the Democratic congressmen oppose the bill.  “The more I get briefed the more concerned I am,” said Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern.  He said Obama’s assertion he has authority to conduct air strikes under a 2001 law passed to authorize military force against Afghanistan “ludicrous” and said the administration’s plan didn’t make sense.  “I don’t get it, I don’t understand the end game, I don’t understand how this is supposed to work,” McGovern said.

In another example of the military unsoundness of the strategy, military veterans on both sides of the House opposed the bill.  California Republican representative Duncan Hunter, a Marine who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the authority “does nothing” to destroy the Islamic State.  Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a captain in the Hawaii National Guard who served in Iraq, called Obama’s strategy “unrealistic” and worried “it will take way too long” to work.

However, in the end, it was the Republicans who delivered the victory to Obama.

Why is Obama getting support from Republicans?  The answer is the upcoming mid-term elections.  Republicans are looking forward to winning the Senate in November and don’t want to take any political stand that risks that possibility.  They also want to take advantage of the political opportunity offered by Obama to work with him on bipartisan legislation.  That makes it harder for Obama and the Democrats to attack them in the coming weeks for causing gridlock in Washington.

Polling in the last week has shown an increase in support for Obama’s action in Iraq and Syria.  For instance, YouGov poll showed that American support for air strikes against ISIS in Syria had gone from 42% to 53% after the president’s speech.  This is not the attitude of a war weary electorate.

Other polls show the same shift in opinion.  Three different polling groups now find majority support for Obama’s more aggressive strategy against ISIS: 62 percent per NBC, 64 percent per Reuters, and 53 percent per Pew, which includes 60 percent support among Democrats and 64 percent support among Republicans. The Pew poll now also shows voters evenly divided at 41 percent on whether Obama’s strategy goes too far or not far enough.  A month ago, that split was 51/32. Likewise, Reuters notes that 53 percent of the public say they’ll support the mission even if it takes two to three years, as the White House has estimated.

Although Obama still remains unpopular, this shift has made Republicans leery about opposing the president on this issue especially since Republican voters are more likely to support a more aggressive strategy against ISIS.

This leaves the Republican leadership in a tough position.  Either they can oppose the president’s ISIS strategy, which most military experts think is flawed and take the political risk of fighting the plan and end up giving Obama the political ammunition of attacking Republicans for leading a “do nothing” Congress. Or they can support Obama in this one vote.   Clearly House Speaker Boehner has decided to take the political option in hopes of winning the Senate in November.  Just like a military leader, Boehner has decided to only fight the political battles he can win.

That’s not to say that the political battle is over.  Obama has won the initial battle for funding until December, but as Commander-in-Chief, he still responsible for executing the strategy.  Republicans have reluctantly given him what he wants, but they have expressed enough reservations about the strategy that they will have ammunition if the strategy backfires.  And, if he succeeds, they can take part of the credit, while the Democrats who failed to back Obama will have to take the brunt of criticism.

The Battle for the US Senate

Republican strategy is clearly revolving around gaining control of the US Senate in November.

Although polls continue to shift, the Republicans clearly have a better than average chance to take the Senate by winning at least six seats.  First, mid-term elections in the 6th year of a sitting president usually go strongly against the party that controls the White House.  That is especially true when the president is as unpopular as Obama currently is.

Second, the Democrats are fighting to hold seats that they won in their landslide year of 2008, when Obama won.  Eight of the Democratic seats being contested are in states that voted for Republican Romney two years ago.  None of the Republican seats are in Democratic states.  Polls show Republicans holding at least nominal leads in eight contests for Democrat-held seats, while retaining all Republican seats.

Although some major pro-Democratic media outlets have indicated that Democrats are rebounding in some Senate races, professional political watchers still insist that the Republicans have the advantage.

First, it’s important to remember that American voters usually don’t engage in politics until after Labor Day.  That means that most movement in the polls comes in the last month – and that usually goes in the favor of the party out of power in mid-term elections.  For instance, in late September of 2010, Republicans held a three-point lead on the generic ballot in Real Clear Politics’ poll averaging. By Election Day, that gap had widened to nine-plus points.  The GOP ended up winning the election by about seven points.

At this point in time, there is still a large undecided voter population that historically breaks depending on how they view the performance of the president.  Currently, vulnerable Democratic senators are collecting nearly all of those voters who support Obama.  The undecided voters are overwhelmingly opposed to Obama and his policies.  This means that they historically will vote Republican by a large margin.

An excellent example of how this works is in the Iowa senate race that pits Democrat Braley against Republican Ernst.  The race had been very tight up to now, but a newly released poll by Quinnipiac show that Ernst had jumped ahead 50% to 44%.  The movement had been by previously undecided voters, who are upset with Obama and are breaking for the Republican candidate.

Another example is in Colorado where Democratic Senator Udall, who comes from one of the most successful Democratic families in the American West, has fallen behind in a state that voted for Obama.  The survey shows Udall at 42%, Republican challenger Cory Gardner at 43% in what is essentially a tie.  By 2-1 margin, 37%-19%, those surveyed say they think of their vote for Congress as a vote against Obama, not for him.

For Udall, the most frequent specific responses by those surveyed were that Udall was: “Obama follower/puppet,” “liberal” and “dishonest/untrustworthy.” His job-approval rating is 42% approve, 49% disapprove. His favorable-unfavorable rating is 43%-44%.

If undecided voters are upset with Obama and tending to break for the Republican in the generally Democratic states of Colorado and Iowa that means any Democratic Senator who is polling less than 50% is in trouble.

This is why Democrats are very worried.  Even supposedly safe seats in Democratic states like Minnesota, Delaware, and New Jersey have their incumbent Senator under 50%, which means a Republican landslide could potentially defeat them.

Meantime, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released on September 17th, Republicans hold a six-point lead on the Congressional ballot among likely voters, winning independents by nine points and holding a double-digit enthusiasm advantage. Those are all very significant numbers.  The GOP holds substantial voter preference edges on the economy (+11), terrorism (+21) and foreign policy (+12), while pulling even with Democrats on immigration and largely erasing Democrats’ wide, decades-long lead on healthcare.  Obama’s overall approval rating is sagging at 40 percent, underwater by double-digits.  He’s fallen to new lows in this poll on his handling of terrorism (41 percent approval) — formerly a bright spot amidst otherwise ugly numbers — and foreign policy (34 percent).

This brings us back to the decision by the congressional Republican leadership to go along with Obama’s ISIS strategy.  Voters want a more vigorous response to ISIS and trust the Republicans more.  At the same time, by supporting Obama’s Syrian “ moderate opposition” strategy, despite their reservations, they show themselves to be willing to work on bipartisan legislation with the president, which undermines one of Obama’s campaign talking points that the Republican Congress is a “do nothing” Congress.

In the end, unless there is a major Republican landslide that overwhelms several Democratic senators in Democratic states, the chances are that the Republicans will probably gain 7 or 8 Senate seats and reclaim control of the Senate.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Why Obama’s War on ISIL Won’t Hold Its Popularity

By A. Trevor Thrall

Cato Institute

September 17, 2014

National Interest

With the prime-time announcement of his campaign to destroy ISIL, President Obama is staking his presidency in a place he certainly never intended. Obama launches his campaign with what appears to be a reasonable level of public support. A September CNN/ORC poll found that roughly 75 percent of the public supports airstrikes against ISIL, a figure that may climb a bit higher in the wake of Obama’s address to the nation on September 10. This support compares relatively favorably with most U.S. military interventions of the past (see Gallup’s list of public support by major intervention here), closer to initial levels of support for Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, than to the invasion of Panama or the Kosovo air war.  Despite the apparently strong initial wave of support for confronting ISIL, however, Obama’s campaign will almost certainly become a very unpopular affair. This will occur despite his best efforts to frame the campaign as part of the war against terrorism, despite his strategy to maintain support by avoiding the use of ground troops and U.S. casualties, and it will happen regardless of how much damage the United States manages to inflict on ISIL.

Read more

 

 

The Campaign Against the Islamic State.  Key Issues and Demands for Action from the Administration and Congress

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 16, 2014

Commentary

If there is any one lesson of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, it is that it is far easier to begin a conflict than to manage it well and achieve a meaningful form of victory. The President’s announcement of a strategy for seeking to degrade and destroy the Islamic State — and de facto Congressional acceptance of the need to fight a new conflict — has now committed the United States to a high risk, low-level war of indefinite duration.  Winning that war will require persistence, resources, effective planning and management, and sustained domestic and international political support. The Obama Administration now needs to show that it will both commit the necessary resources, and manage them effectively. It needs to show that it is doing its best to address the key risks it has accepted in going to war.  It needs to provide an honest picture of the course of the fighting and its impact on the stability and security of the region.

Read more

 

 

Five Hidden Risks of U.S. Action Against the Islamic State

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

September 11, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama’s four-pronged strategy of air strikes, support to local proxies, defense against the Islamic State’s attacks through intelligence and counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance leaves many unanswered questions. It’s hardly a clear articulation of the sort of long-term, holistic strategy needed to deny the Islamic State the fertile ground it needs to thrive. The approach is fraught with trade-offs, risks, and hidden costs that need to be addressed.

Read more

 

 

Qatar and the Recalibration of Power in the Gulf

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

September 11, 2014

Long a minor regional actor in the shadow of Saudi Arabia, Qatar wants to increase its influence. But Doha’s expansionist foreign policy has been plagued by miscalculations, domestic challenges, and international pressure—all issues connected to Doha’s relationship with Riyadh. As a result of these setbacks, Qatar’s regional role has diminished, and for the foreseeable future, its external influence is likely to remain under the direction of Saudi Arabia.  Qatar’s Strategic Miscalculations: Qatar’s desire to chart an independent path led it into confrontation with Saudi Arabia, particularly in Egypt and Syria. This has damaged both countries’ external power and increased instability in the Middle East.

Read more

 

 

No Place for Iran in ISIS Plans

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy

September 17, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry’s awkward denial that the United States has not proposed “coordinating with Iran” against ISIS suggests the Obama administration did indeed propose this and is engaged in damage control after its efforts were revealed by Iranian officials.  I wrote in a Sept. 3 Newsmax article that while the U.S. should attack ISIS — also known as ISIL and the Islamic State — in Syria even though this will help keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, the United States must resist the temptation to draw Iran further into the crises in Iraq and Syria. I believe this because Iran bears significant responsibility for the outbreak of sectarian tensions in Iraq since 2011 due to its strong support for the Nouri al-Maliki government and by its training of Shiite militias that have massacred Iraqi Sunnis.  An increased Iranian presence in Iraq would alienate Iraqi Sunnis and make it more difficult to bring them back into the political process.

Read more

 

 

Turkey’s Turn Toward the EU: Superficial or Real?

By Diba Nigar Göksel

German Marshall Fund

September 12, 2014

The Transatlantic Trends 2014 survey reflects a swell of support for the EU in Turkish society. Meanwhile, in the last days of August, the top echelon of Ankara’s ruling party also made more positive statements about Turkey’s commitment to EU accession than

they had in years. It seems the EU is making a comeback in Turkey.  The reasons why will be decisive in whether Ankara merely takes cosmetic steps toward reforms, or accepts EU-style checks and balances. On the other hand, given the rise of Turkoskepticism in Europe, whether Turkey will be able to make a comeback in EU

is an open question.

Read more

 

 

ISIL: A Well-Oiled Machine

By Rachel Rizzo

Center for a New American Security

September 12, 2014

The speed at which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has swept through and taken control of parts of Syria and Northern Iraq is both shocking and unexpected.  Thought to number between 30,000 and 50,000 fighters, ISIL has proven that it not only has the wherewithal to control huge swaths of territory, but that it is also a self-sufficient, financially viable entity with over $2 billion in assets. The group is funded through various illicit income-generating activities, and supplied from the military bases in Iraq and Syria from which they have looted weapons and equipment. However, the possibility of controlling and exploiting key oil fields is what truly has the ability to tip the financial scale further in ISIL’s favor. One facet of the long-term U.S. strategy to counter ISIL laid out by President Obama is to “redouble our efforts to cut off its funding.” Part of this strategy must be ensuring that they do not gain control of, and financially exploit, additional Iraqi or Syrian oil fields.

Read more

 

 

 

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

 

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 09-13-2014

 

ANALYSIS

 

Obama Attempts to Manage ISIS Crisis

Obama’s speech addressing ISIS on Wednesday wasn’t an attempt to defeat ISIS and its threat to the Middle East as much as it was political and an attempt to manage domestic political considerations.  In fact, one column on the speech was titled, “Obama Declares War on His Bad Poll Numbers.”

After first calling ISIS a junior varsity team and then blithely telling reporters that he had no strategy to handle ISIS, Obama has seen his ratings plummet.  A Fox News poll released the day after the speech showed that voters don’t think Obama can handle foreign policy. Only 34 percent of those surveyed approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy and 59 percent think the U.S. is less respected today than when Obama took office. Among independents, key voting groups that will swing this year’s midterm election, a full 67 percent feel the U.S. is less respected. Even 35 percent of Democrats now agree the U.S. has lost respect, compared with just 20 percent who think the U.S. is more respected.

Even worse for Obama, an increasing number of voters no longer take him seriously on foreign policy. An astonishing 55 percent of voters say they feel embarrassed that Obama hasn’t articulated a strategy to combat ISIS until now.  A Gallup poll also released on Thursday showed that only 32 percent of Americans think that Obama and the Democrats can protect America from terrorist and military threats.  55 percent think the Republicans can do a better job.

These aren’t numbers that Obama wants to see just weeks before the mid term elections that could give control of the Senate to the Republicans.

It was this political reality that forced Obama to address ISIS rather than his desire to truly defeat it.  In fact, the need for political damage control was most obvious as Obama repeatedly used the word, “strategy” in his speech in order to follow up his statement two weeks ago that, “We don’t have a strategy yet” to confront ISIS in Syria.

The domestic aspect of the speech was quickly highlighted in the hours following the speech, when Britain, Germany, and Turkey indicated that they wouldn’t participate.  In fact, Germany indicated it wasn’t even consulted.  German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a news conference in Berlin Thursday that Germany has not been asked to take part in the air strikes and would not be participating. “To be quite clear, we have not been asked to do so and neither will we do so,” Steinmeier said.

If the speech had been a well thought out attempt to rally international support to stop ISIS, these allies would have been consulted beforehand and been “onboard” before the speech was made.  By not consulting them, the White House clearly showed that the speech was mainly for domestic political consumption.

The speech itself was broad in tone and lacking in details.  Obama said ISIS poses a threat to Iraq, Syria and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities.  “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States,” he said. “While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

“I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve.”

The president announced “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” to “degrade, and ultimately destroy,” ISIS.  “First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists,” he said. “Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense…Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.”

Obama also pledged the U.S. would continue to draw on counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIS attacks by cutting off its funding, improving intelligence, strengthening U.S. defenses and stemming the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.  “And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort,” he added.

Lastly, Obama said the U.S. would provide humanitarian aid to civilians, including Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities who have been driven from their homes.

Will the Obama Strategy Work?

One way to judge the potential for success is to look at the reaction by America’s NATO allies.  That alone should cause worry as Britain, Germany, and Turkey have already said they will not participate in the bombing of Syria.  This indicates that contrary to the implications in the speech about a broad coalition, many nations are leery about the Obama strategy.

One problem was the lack of details on defeating ISIS and the limited effort being made by the US.  Obama did not announce any new actions, beyond sending fewer than 500 military members to Iraq, and repeated request for Congress to fund training of Syrian opposition forces. He said “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria,” but cautioned that “it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.”

Obama insisted that this limited involvement in the region would work and gave the examples of Somalia and Yemen as proof that this strategy would bear fruit.  The problem is that these two countries are not the best examples of America’s victory over terrorism.

Admittedly, the US has had some successes in Yemen and Somalia while limiting the monetary cost and not exposing Americans to combat situations.  However, these are not overwhelming successes that imply a future victory against ISIS.

America has successfully used drones to kill many terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, but hasn’t destroyed or even significantly degraded terrorist capabilities of the key groups in either country.  In addition, both countries are almost as unstable as they were five years ago.  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remains a terrorist threat. Its leader, Nasser al Wahayshi, became al Qaeda’s general manager in August 2013, in fact. Its threats caused the closure of over 20 U.S. diplomatic posts across the Middle East and North Africa at that time. Its bomb maker, Ibrahim al Asiri, was behind a threat to U.S. airlines just over six months ago. AQAP is still trying to kill Americans and continues to probe U.S. security for a chance to do so.

 

It’s hard to call that success.

In the meantime, American drone attacks that have killed civilians have cost the US dearly in the region.

Another problem with the Obama strategy is the overreliance on air power and the unwillingness to commit forces to the ground war.

It has been a military axiom since World War Two that despite modern technology like missiles, aircraft, and precision targeting, it is still the soldier who must occupy and hold the ground.  By relying on surgical air strikes, Obama is forced to rely upon frequently untrained and potentially unreliable forces to occupy the ground in Iraq and Syria.  Admittedly, nearly 500 American Special forces soldiers will go into the area to train Kurds and other militia members, but those trainees will not be ready for combat operations for many months.

The other problem with the military aspect of the new Obama strategy is that he insists on treating ISIS like a terrorist cell instead of a quasi-nation.  ISIS controls and governs enormous territory in Iraq and Syria.  It has a conventional army that though lightly armed compared to traditional Western armies, is supported by armored vehicles and has the potential to field tanks and even some military aircraft.  It has combat experience – ranging from guerrilla warfare to conventional set piece tactics.  It has also fought and defeated several regular military units from Iraq, Syria, and Kurdistan.

Not only is ISIS not a terrorist organization, its goals are more akin to those of a nation state than a group of terrorists.  ISIS has stated that it wants to conquer the territory of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan,” Israel”, and the Palestinian Territories.  This means it needs to be attacked like a country rather than a terrorist cell.

This is something that the American people understand.  According to the Fox News poll, Obama’s strategy to treat ISIS like a large terrorist organization and to combat the group using air power and surrogate forces on the ground generates some skepticism. “By nearly two-to-one, voters think it will take boots on the ground to defeat ISIS (51 percent) rather than airstrikes alone,” reports Fox News pollster Dana Blanton.

This brings us back to the original purpose of the speech – to stop Obama’s plummeting popularity.

In order for the speech to reverse Obama’s foreign policy weaknesses, he must be perceived as being serious and taking a course that will solve the problem.  However, American voters clearly think that defeating ISIS will require more action by the US than Obama is willing to take.  By that standard alone, the speech will be considered a failure.

Obama is clearly out of his depth when dealing with ISIS.  Although warned about its threat over a year ago, he ignored the problem and downplayed it when questioned about it.  He has consistently refused to take the advice of experts on dealing with the radical Islamic threat posed by the unrest in Syria and Iraq.  His actions up to this point have been purely for domestic political consumption rather than national or international security concerns.

This speech is merely the latest attempt to politically neutralize an international threat that threatens to shift the US Senate into Republican hands.

Unless ISIS starts to collapse from internal forces, the course set out by Obama this week will not guarantee their defeat.  In the end, Obama’s war on ISIS and his bad poll numbers will both be failures.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Nation Building Isn’t Needed to Fight ISIS

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

September 10, 2014

In his speech to the American people tonight, President Obama aims to build support for a protracted military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  It doesn’t have to be a hard sell. A majority of Americans support a military response—though not U.S. troops on the ground. Very few are content with allowing ISIS to spread its influence with impunity, especially after the brutal killing of the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The group has effectively declared itself an enemy of the United States, and there is growing support for action against the group before it even attempts an attack on the U.S. homeland (something that it appears only to be aspiring to, as opposed to actively planning for).

Read more

 

 

Key Factors Shaping the President’s Islamic State Speech

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 9, 2014

Commentary

There are several critical aspects of the U.S. strategy in Iraq that the President may not be able to address in full. They will, however, be critical to what the United States can and cannot do in the future.  The United States Already Has a Strategy.  The real world context is important. The President is now trapped to some extent by his previous misstatement about the United States not having a strategy. Anyone who looks seriously at the timeline of U.S. action will see he is now formally announcing a strategy that the United States not only had already developed in July, but partly begun to implement after the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) first made major gains back in December 2013. At the same time, there are many good reasons the President needs to be cautious about what he says and not speak too openly about the details.

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Obama’s ISIS speech: AEI scholars react

American Enterprise Institute

September 11, 2014

Let’s get one thing clear: it’s not the job of the president of the United States to determine what Islam is or is not, what Christianity is or is not, and what Judaism is or is not. Religion is what its practitioners believe it to be. That President Obama begins with a politically correct paean and only addresses the Islamic State’s ideology as a passing thought later on undercuts the seriousness of a very good speech, one that calls for the Islamic State’s defeat without any artificial timeline and recognizes that a return to Bashar Assad’s rule is no option.  The problem lies with Obama’s inability to separate theory from reality. Alliances may sound good on paper, but they can also be an Achilles’ heel: Turkey has become Pakistan on the Med, saying one thing to our diplomats while coddling the adversaries we fight behind our backs. Most jihadis transit Turkey and cross the Turkish border for the cost of a $40 bribe. Trust Saudi Arabia with running counter radicalization programs? That’s like having Bernie Madoff teach accounting.

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Defeating the Islamic State Requires a Saudi-Iranian Compromise

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

September 3, 2014

Airstrikes are intensifying on areas of Iraq held by the militant Islamic State, and the group has beheaded a second American hostage. But clear indications of a strategy to tackle the escalating Islamic State problem are hard to find. Indeed, in a statement in late August, U.S. President Barack Obama affirmed that the United States did not yet have a strategy to combat this militant threat.  The president did, however, single out further cooperation with “Sunni partners” against the Islamic State. Such regional partnerships are necessary, but putting such an emphasis on Sunni players misses a crucial component without which no strategy against the Islamic State will succeed: finding a way to appease the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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The Islamic State’s Electronic Outreach

By Lawrence Husick

Foreign Policy Research Institute

September 2014

Over the past several months the world has witnessed a new media creation of jihadis – al Hayat (“life”) Media Center (not to be confused with the liberal pan-Arab newspaper of the same name) – and has seen a new level of sophistication in messaging and brutality in content, and of effectiveness in communication. In print through the glossy online magazine “Dabiq” and on the Internet in video bearing the al Hayat brand, the victories of the new mujahideen (holy fighters) of the “Islamic State” and their efforts to “purify” dar al Islam (the lands of Islam) are glorified and chronicled. These media efforts have effectively silenced most other jihadi channels, and have drowned out all efforts of the West to counter this Internet onslaught.

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Unwanted, Unwelcome: Anti-Immigration Attitudes in Turkey

By Emre Erdogan

German Marshall Fund

September 10, 2014

Until the spread of the Arab Spring and the conflict in Syria, Turkey was known as a “sending” country in terms of international migration. When it was founded in 1924, around 60 percent of the citizens of the young Turkish republic were either first or second-generation immigrants from the former Ottoman realms.  More recently, according to available statistics, only 2 percent of Turkey’s population immediately before the Arab Spring consisted of immigrants and the majority of those were from ex-Ottoman territories, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria.  Immigrants became visible in Turkey when the direction of migration flow changed.

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Obama Changed His Mind about Syria, Now He Needs to Explain Why

By William McCants

Brookings Institution

September 10, 2014

A year ago today, President Obama addressed the American public. In his speech, the president explained why the United States should attack Syria to punish its ruler for ignoring Obama’s warning not to use chemical weapons. But a war-weary American public balked and the president ultimately decided against military action. Today, the president is again going to argue for military action inside Syria and this time the American public supports him. But instead of initiating attacks on a sovereign state, we contemplate extending a weeks-old war against an insurgent pretender to statehood.  The Islamic State has been around for a while and, despite sharing the global jihadi ideology that calls for the destruction of the United States, the president and the American public were not too worried about it previously. What changed the president’s calculations and those of the public are the Islamic State’s actions this summer. The group took over large swathes of territory in Iraq, prompting the president to launch airstrikes to halt their advance on the capital of our allies in Baghdad. When the group responded by beheading American journalists, American support for military action against them soared.

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Defeating ISIS: An Integrated Strategy to Advance Middle East Stability

By Brian Katulis, Hardin Lang, and Vikram Singh

Center for American Progress

September 10, 2014

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, have been an important step to contain the rise of the extremist group, respond to immediate threats to U.S. citizens in Iraq, and prevent possible acts of genocide. These airstrikes enabled Iraqis to resist ISIS and bought time for the Iraqi government to begin building a more inclusive administration under a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.* But as the Center for American Progress noted in a June report, U.S. military action needs to be just one part of a long-term multinational political and security strategy in the region.  The new strategy should aim to contain and degrade ISIS and enable regional partners to continue to build the tools needed to defeat ISIS’s movement with international support. This report outlines actions to advance three core strategic goals:

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

 

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