Analysis 11-04-2014

Pivoting Towards Asia?

What it Means for the Middle East

The growing tension in South East Asia and the announcement that Obama will be visiting Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Malaysia, once again raises the question about America’s focus and whether it will pivot towards Asia, to the determent of the Middle East.

Each of these nations has been in the news recently.  Malaysia lost an aircraft and the ensuing investigation has raised many questions about aviation security in the region.  South Korea has been engaged in an artillery duel with its neighbor to the north, North Korea.  And, Japan and the Philippines have been forced to use their militaries to halt Chinese expansion over the South China Sea, although no shots have been fired yet.

Military tensions have grown in the last year.  Japan recently announced that Japanese fighter jets were scrambled a record high 415 times in response to Chinese aircraft (many Chinese fighter aircraft) approaching Japanese airspace in 2013.  That surpassed the previous record of 306 times the previous year.  The Chinese air activities are a result of a standoff between Japan and China over SenkakuIslands.  The tensions were heightened following Japan’s purchase in September 2012 of the main part of the Japanese-controlled, uninhabited islet group in the East China Sea.  Not only China, but Taiwan claim the islets and call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

Japan isn’t the only nation concerned about Chinese ambitions.  There is an ongoing situation between China and the Philippines over control of portions of the South China Sea.  Late last month, Chinese vessels blocked Philippine ships bringing supplies to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea that Manila effectively controls. The U.S. State Department criticized China’s actions as “provocative,” while Beijing retorted that it has sovereignty over the reef.

Malaysia is also concerned about the status of the South China Sea as it claims part of that basin.

The South China Sea issue is a critical one for all the nations in the region.  It is a major maritime route for all of the nations on the Pacific Rim – especially for the island nations of Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  De facto Chinese control of the sea could jeopardize commercial trade.

The area also has natural resources potential.  Philex Mining, the Philippines’ largest mining company, disclosed Monday that negotiations have halted with state-owned China National Offshore Oil over a joint exploration project in the South China Sea. Philex reported it was the Chinese who stopped negotiations.

Natural gas development in the South China Sea is crucial to the Philippines’ energy policy, but its private-sector companies do not have enough funds to carry out independent development. The Philippines hoped that the joint project with China would lead to a breakthrough in the territorial dispute.

One outgrowth of the Obama trip to the Philippines will probably be a new defense agreement with the US.  U.S. forces had once been stationed in the Philippines, but they withdrew in 1992 as the Cold War ended.  The economic stagnation had kept Manila from increasing defense spending after the US left.  The result is that that nation is being forced to play catch up, lest the Chinese take advantage of its weaker neighbor.

The Philippines currently has one of the weakest militaries in the region, possessing no fighter jets.  As a result, Manila has entered into a contract to buy 12 South Korean-made FA-50 fighter jets for $421 million, with two to be delivered as early as next year.  The government also plans to spend a total of $1.6 billion to modernize its military hardware, including the purchase of air search radar systems from Israel.

South Korea may be better armed, but it faces increased tensions with North Korea.  Last week, North and South Korean artillery batteries exchanged hundreds of shells across their western sea border Monday, a day after North Korea warned it was preparing to test another nuclear device.

This came after North Korea tested two medium range ballistic missiles and Japan threatened to shoot down any North Korean missiles.  North Korea responded and announced that it “would not rule out” a new nuclear test.

“(We) would not rule out a new form of a nuclear test aimed at strengthening our nuclear deterrence,” Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency. “The U.S. had better ponder over this and stop acting rashly.”

The statement did not specify what North Korea meant by a “new form” of test, and South Korea said there are no immediate signs of nuclear tests being carried out by the North.

America Reacts

Although the US is occupied with the Crimean situation, the recent Chinese actions have forced Washington to react.  US Defense Secretary Hagel travelled to China last week and told the Chinese that it would support America’s allies – a position that made the Chinese unhappy.

The US is also looking at revising its military alliance with Japan.  In January, the White House told the Japanese government through multiple channels of its intent to reinforce ties.  This bilateral agreement hasn’t been changed in 17 years and the desire to revise it reflects Obama’s concern about the situation in the region.

Since there is not a multi-national security framework like NATO in the Pacific area, the Japanese/American defense agreement is the keystone to countering Chinese moves.

Currently, the biggest issue will be whether to allow Japan the right to collective self-defense. The current interpretation of Japan’s constitution forbids this, but Prime Minister Abe and his cabinet are prepared to revise the charter.  The key issue will be defining self-defense and how it can be applied.  The new agreement will also focus on joint command structure and outlining how the US and Japan will respond to certain scenarios.

The Japan/America defense guidelines were originally drawn up in 1978 during the Cold War era to counter the threat from the Soviet Union. The current guidelines were last revised in 1997, with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton leading the efforts.  The changes were driven by tensions between China and Taiwan over a series of missile tests conducted by the Chinese military in waters in and around the Taiwan Strait.  Beijing backed down after the U.S. Navy dispatched two aircraft carriers to the region.

Today, however, the US would be hard pressed to field one aircraft carrier in the area, much less two.  They would also be more vulnerable to attack by Chinese submarines or missiles as they moved into the region.

This leaves US and Japanese forces in Japan as the major deterrent to Chinese military moves in the region.  It is currently stronger than Chinese forces, but is rapidly being overcome by a growing Chinese military presence.

The Chinese Threat

The Chinese military is rapidly evolving to be able to project its power at a distance.  China will raise its defense spending 12.2% to $131.9 billion in 2014, marking the fourth straight year of double-digit growth.  Much of that will go to naval and air forces, which can project power into the South China Sea.

Unlike in the past, China is developing a blue water navy capable of reaching far beyond its shoreline.  Beijing is now building a domestically designed aircraft carrier, which will join the Liaoning, a refurbished carrier originally built for the Soviet navy (which the Chinese showed to Secretary Hagel during his visit). China’s air force is also working hard on a stealth fighter, which can penetrate US/Japanese air defenses surrounding naval task forces.

China’s first naval goal is to be able to control the “First Island Chain,” which stretches from Okinawa’s main island to the South China Sea.  Its second goal is to control the “Second Island Chain,” which extends as far east as Tokyo and Guam.  At present, they can make it quite difficult for the US Navy to operate within the First Island Chain.  They even have sent intelligence gathering sips off the coast of Hawaii.

The US is responding.  The U.S. Defense Department released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) on March 4, which calls for deploying more naval assets to the Pacific. The latest QDR, which serves as the basic guideline for the Pentagon’s game plan, calls for shifting 60% of U.S. naval assets to the Pacific by 2020, up from 50% now.  Although it doesn’t address the Chinese threat specifically, it does refer to countering “area denial” similar to the First and Second Island Chain strategy of China.

The Future and What it Means for the Middle East

This changing US strategy will impact the Middle East.  First, since the largest reserve of US Naval ships outside the Western Pacific is in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf, a crisis in the South China Sea will mean an immediate shift of forces out of the region.  Second, as the US shifts its diminishing military resources to Asia, forces in the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, and Europe will also drop.  All of these three theaters are usually used to increase an American military presence in the Middle East in time of crisis.

However, it’s also important to remember that Obama has frequently promised to pivot towards Asia – with few results.  The same could happen again.

It’s also important to remember that a desire by China to grow militarily doesn’t mean that they can easily threaten the US or its allies in the Pacific.

China is predominantly a land power and historically it is difficult for a land power, surrounded by many hostile nations, to divert the resources to an effective blue water navy.  China shares land borders with 14 countries and requires a huge number of troops to defend them. Its 1.6 million soldiers still represent the world’s largest standing army. Chinese and Indian troops continue to face each other across their mountainous border. And Beijing relies on the army to maintain order in its restive ethnic minority regions, including the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Land powers desiring to become a major naval power have failed miserably.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, France, the dominant land power in Europe tried to build a far reaching navy, only to fail when it ran into a numerically inferior British fleet at Trafalgar.  Imperial Germany tried in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to counter the British control of the sea, only to be forced back to port at the Battle of Jutland in WW I.  The Soviet Union tried during the Cold War, only to be outspent by the US.

Projecting power is also a function of aircraft carriers and the ability to effectively employ them.  The nations of Britain, America, and France have 70 to 80 years of experience in operating large deck carriers.  China has none.

The USSR discovered in the 1970s that building and deploying an effective large deck carrier is more difficult than it seems.  In the end, the carriers they deployed only carried a few ineffective vertical jump jet fighter-bombers.  When the Cold War ended, they were some of the first ships decommissioned.

Just because China has carriers doesn’t mean they can effectively deploy them, an important fact given China’s slowing economy.

As a sea power, China also suffers from the same problems that Germany and Russia did – lack of access to the open sea.  Their coastline is hemmed in by a chain of islands that belong to other nations (Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and South Korea) that don’t approve of China’s ambitions.  As the British discovered in WW II, land based airpower can easily defeat a navy.

China can break through this island chain with the type of extensive amphibious operations employed by the US Navy in WW II.  However, it took three years to break through the islands protecting Japan, along with amphibious capability, air and naval control of the surrounding area, and a massive military logistics chain.  China does have some amphibious capability, but can’t guarantee it will control the sea and air around the islands.  And, it doesn’t have the vast military logistics ability to keep these islands supplied and carrying out extended offensive military operations.

In the end, China may not be able to project the power it wants in the near future, providing the US stands fast with it regional allies.  That being the case, the result may be that America will remain a major presence in the Middle East and few resources will permanently be moved eastwards.



Congress Should Avert Delays in the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Plans

By Dakota Wood and Brian Slattery

Heritage Foundation

April 7, 2014

Issue Brief #4194

The Army’s decision to transfer AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard to the active force has sparked a debate that ultimately concerns the roles, missions, and contributions of these ground components. Congress should prevent unnecessary delays in the implementation of these plans while making a stronger commitment to providing the resources that the armed forces need to maintain national security.  The past decade of conventional combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which relied heavily on National Guard units, has led to a renewed recognition of the contributions made by Guard (and Army reserve) units to the security interests of the nation. It has also fostered a conviction that Guard units are primarily conventional combat units that should mirror active Army units in mission, equipment, and employment.

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The Challenges to Transition in Afghanistan: 2014-2015

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 8, 2014

The final outcome of the election in Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s willingness to sign a workable Bilateral Security Agreement with the US are essential preconditions to any hope of a successful Transition. It is the quality of leadership and governance that follows the election, however, that will determine actual success. Similarly, how Afghan forces evolve, and the quality of US and other outside support to Afghan forces, will determine whether Afghanistan is secure enough for a Transition to work.

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Improving the US-GCC Security Partnership: Planning for the Future

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 8, 2014

The US and its allies in the Southern Gulf face great challenges, but they also have great opportunities. The P5+1 dialogue with Iran offers at least some hope of ending the threat posed by Iranian nuclear weapons, and of reducing the risk of further proliferation, if a comprehensive agreement is structured in a way that can eliminate the threat to the Southern Gulfs, the other states in the region, and the US.  More generally, however, improvements in the military forces of the states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and in US power projection capabilities can create a far more effective deterrent against the threats posed by Iran, other regional states, and non-state actors. Additionally, enhanced military capabilities can help safeguard the flow of petroleum exports that are critical for the global economy.

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Empty rhetoric in the Obama administration’s Iran policy

By Maseh Zarif

American Enterprise Institute

April 07, 2014

The Obama administration has often responded to crises of confidence in its foreign policy by treating unease and skepticism among international allies and partners, and among critics at home, as a messaging problem. It has interpreted failure to secure buy-in or cooperation as a failure to communicate effectively, rather than as a potential sign of flawed substance.  Administration officials have attempted to dispel the “perception” in recent months that the U.S. is negotiating with the Iranian regime at the expense of American interests and the security and stability of its allies and partners in the region. They will continue to meet resistance, however, as long as the negotiations appear to be neither fully resolving the nuclear threat nor dealing with the broader challenge posed by Iran in the Middle East. The White House does not have a messaging problem regarding its negotiations with Iran; it has a policy problem.

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Erdoğan’s Pyrrhic Victory

By Sinan Ülgen

Carnegie Endowment

April 3, 2014

Turkey’s beleaguered Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have emerged victorious from this week’s local elections. Still, the AKP’s triumph is unlikely to ameliorate the country’s internal conflicts, much less revive its tarnished international standing.  The local elections were widely seen as a referendum on Erdoğan. The AKP received 44% of the national vote and now controls 49 of Turkey’s 81 metropolitan municipalities, including Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. The main opposition force, the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), received 26% and won only 13 municipalities.  The outcome can be seen as a vindication of Erdoğan’s strategy of using political polarization to consolidate his support and counter the challenge to his rule posed by followers of his former ally, the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. With the AKP’s initial support, the Gülen movement gradually infiltrated state institutions, particularly the judiciary and law enforcement, until the alliance eventually ended in an acrimonious split over the distribution of power within Turkey.

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U.S. Can’t Bribe Israelis, Palestinians To Make Peace

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council
April 3, 2014

International Business Times

“First as tragedy, second as farce.” It’s Karl Marx’s line about history repeating itself but, per the Jonathan Pollard trial balloon of recent days, the line could just as easily apply to America’s foreign policy.  We need not debate the merits of Pollard’s release, for which supporters and detractors each can mount a compelling case, to acknowledge that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aren’t the proper milieu for making the decision or that White House maneuvering over the possibility bespeaks an extraordinary ignorance, naivety, and desperation that dominates all-too-much U.S. foreign policy.  At the urging of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, President Barack Obama is considering an early release for Pollard, the former U.S. intelligence officer who’s serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, in exchange for Israel’s release of more Palestinian prisoners – all of it designed to prevent U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from collapsing.

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Hezbollah in Syria
Institute for the Study of War

April 2014

Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Syria is one of the most important factors of the conflict in 2013 and 2014. Since the beginning of 2013, Hezbollah fighters have operated openly and in significant numbers across the border alongside their Syrian and Iraqi counterparts. They have enabled the regime to regain control of rebel-held areas in central Syria and have improved the effectiveness of pro-regime forces. The impact of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has been felt not just on the battlefield, where the regime now has momentum in many areas, but also in Lebanon where growing sectarian tensions have undermined security and stability.

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Tightening the Reins How Khamenei Makes Decisions

By Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

April 2014

Policy Focus 126

When at age fifty Ali Khamenei, a middle-ranking cleric, was named Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor as the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, he lacked not only his forerunner’s charisma but his religious and political credentials as well.  Gradually, however, over nearly two and a half decades, Khamenei has accumulated formidable centralized authority, aided by  transformation of the IRGC’s role in overseeing the country’s politics and economy. He now enjoys the final say on many issues, especially when it comes to foreign policy and the nuclear issue. Ironically, a leader once seen as an inadequate successor to Khomeini may now have accumulated more power than the first Supreme Leader, at least in some areas.

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PolicyWatch 2238

U.S. Policy and the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, Part II: Assessment and Prospects

By Robert Satloff

Washington Institute

April 10, 2014

The current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks is buffeted by a series of profound global and regional challenges, including Ukraine, Iran, and Syria, among others. In the immediate arena, while Israel and the Palestinian Authority may have dysfunctional political and diplomatic relations, they also have reasonably effective security cooperation and economic coordination. Therefore, a principal challenge for U.S. policy and for local leaders is to find ways to preserve, even enhance, the latter even as disagreement over the former worsens.  This is the environment in which Secretary of State John Kerry launched his peace initiative. In contrast to decades past, when one could argue that the strategic implications of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were clear, it is very difficult to make that argument today. Indeed, one could argue that some regional crises may even be aggravated by Israeli-Palestinian progress; neither Iran nor al-Qaeda welcomes a two-state solution, for example, and both would likely seek to undermine serious efforts to achieve it.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst
C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 04-04-2014


 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates Searching for Pro-Israel Campaign Money


It’s over two years until the 2016 presidential election, but several Republicans are exploring presidential runs and several are already in the race for pro-Israel campaign donations from Jewish Republicans.  This was evident last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) held its spring leadership conference.  Four governors, who have been mentioned as possible Republican presidential candidates came to the conference to meet potential donors, especially Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest people in the world, the biggest political contributor in 2012, and an American Jew with a very strong pro-Israel stance.

Clearly Adelson overshadowed the conference this year.  Adelson is a casino magnate and it was held in his hometown of Las Vegas.  It was also held in one of his casinos, the Venetian.  And, it was clear by looking at the guest list that included presidential possibilities and governors Jeb Bush (Florida), Chris Christie (New Jersey), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), and John Kasich (Ohio), that Adelson is looking for a presidential candidate to back.  No wonder many called the conference the “Sheldon Primary.”

The importance of Adelson was put into perspective by Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to President George W. Bush, and is a member of the RJC.  Fleischer said, “The ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary. …  anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.”  Adelson is the eighth richest man in the world according to Forbes Magazine.  He and his wife spent $93 million supporting Republicans in 2012 – $15 million for the presidential nomination bid by Newt Gingrich and then $30 million supporting Mitt Romney.

Despite the spending, Gingrich failed to get the Republican nomination and Romney lost to Obama.  That’s why Adelson is looking carefully for a 2016 candidate – one that can win.

Experience was clearly a criterion in picking the four governors who attended.  Like most presidents of the recent past (from 1977 to 2009) they are governors.  Given Obama’s lack of managerial skills, executive experience like that gained by a governor may be a critical issue, especially if the Democratic candidate is Hillary Clinton.

But, just as interesting is that each of these states has a sizable Jewish voter base – one that holds the balance of power.  Anat Hakim, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2008, identified “nine states where the size of the Jewish population was larger than the size of victory for either President Bush or Sen. John Kerry in 2004:  Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”  Note that the four governors are all from the states listed.  Note also that all four states went for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Clearly, Adelson wants a governor who can appeal to Jewish voters and who can win in states with sizable Jewish voting blocks.

Who Wasn’t Invited

Although it appears that Adelson is trying to pick a candidate that Republicans and Americans can support, there is clearly an agenda behind his moves.  Several potential Republican candidates were clearly not on the agenda – Senators Cruz and Paul and Governors Perry, Huckabee, and Palin.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was obviously not going to be invited.  He is on record as criticizing America’s support for Israel in the past.  Although he is popular with the Republican grassroots, he obviously would not appeal to the pro-Israel RJC.  And, as a senator, he lacks the executive experience that the four governors have and Adelson wants.

However, Paul has been the one candidate who has taken the Republican message out to typically Democratic strongholds to expand the Republican base.  Paul has expended a great deal of effort in reaching out to blue-state voters. He is going straight for the most left-wing constituency by finding common ground in opposition to the National Security Agency and other aspects of the anti-terror apparatus that was built up hastily and excessively (according to its critics on both left and right) in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was a more baffling non-invite.  Although he lacks the executive experience of a governor, he is very vocal in his support of Israel – probably more than any of the candidates who were invited.  He also polls well when Republicans are asked who they want to run for president.

Which is the problem.  Senator Cruz is popular with Republican grassroots supporters, but his conservative stands are not in step with Adelson.  That is also true for Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who consistently out polls Christie when Republicans are asked who they want as their presidential nominee.

Being considered too conservative is also the problem for Governor Perry of Texas, who became Texas’s governor when Clinton was still president and nearly has more executive experience than all of the four invited governors combined.  The same conservative taint holds for Governor Palin, who in a recent poll was the one woman Americans want to run for President if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run in 2016.

The fact is that amongst the four governors who spoke, only one has any degree of the grassroots support that decides presidential primaries – Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.  The Republican grassroots isn’t fond of dynasties and Governor Jeb Bush is the son of President Bush 41 and brother of President Bush 43 – neither conservative favorites.  Christie’s faced doubts even before the investigation into the Ft.Lee traffic jam, especially on his stands on gun control and social issues.  Kasich lost ground with the Republican base in his pleading for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Interestingly, although Walker is the most popular of the four governors with the Republican grassroots, his speech was the one not attended by Adelson.  Adelson did sit in the front row for Christie and sat next to Kasich at lunch.

Which means that despite their money, Adelson and the other Jewish Republican donors may find themselves spending money on candidates out of step with the Republican base.

What Happened at RJC

Although the focus of the conference was the four governors, there was more.  Briefings were given on recent polling and changes to the Republican primary process in 2016.

According to the briefings, the Republican presidential primary season will be shorter, with four states having the right to hold primaries in February.  The other states will hold them in March, April, and May.  The Republican National Convention will be held in late June or early July, which will allow them to start spending general election money.

This news was probably welcome to Adelson because a shorter primary season means a candidate with serious funding at the beginning has a better chance to win the nomination.  That gives the Adelson backed candidate a serious advantage over other potential candidates.

Another change to the primary process is that the RNC will take control of the presidential debates during the primary much like Major League Baseball controls the televising and content of all baseball games.  This should be neutral for all candidates, but should benefit the eventual nominee in the general election.

One downside for Adelson is the one that changed the rules imposed by Romney supporters at the convention in 2012.  Those rules gave the Romney team the final say in who attended the convention as a voting delegate instead of the state parties.  The rules have been changed back, and the state conventions and the grassroots delegates now have the final say on who attends and represents the states at the national convention.  That means an Adelson candidate that is well funded, but has little grassroots support will face resistance at the national convention.

Finally, one embarrassing note for Nevada resident Adelson was the information that Nevada might lose its preferential treatment in the presidential primary process.  Traditionally Nevada has been allowed to hold an early primary.  However, as the state has evolved from Republican to Democratic, many in the Republican National Committee have argued that another Western state with Republican leanings be allowed to replace Nevada.  That decision will be made at the next RNC meeting in May and there is a possibility that Arizona, which has traditionally held an early primary, may be the state to earn the privilege.

But, briefings aside, the main attractions were the speakers.  Governor Bush, who is reportedly being pressured to make a presidential run, was the featured speaker at a VIP dinner last Thursday hosted by Adelson and his wife, Miriam. The dinner was held at the Sands’ private airplane hangar at Las Vegas Macarran International airport.

Christie, Walker and former U.N. ambassador John Bolton addressed the group during its meeting on Saturday morning, while Kasich spoke at a luncheon that day.

Clearly, the speakers were trying to say what the Jewish leadership wanted to hear.  John Bolton, in what was seen as an attack on the attitude of Senator Paul towards Israel, said he fears the “rising tide of neo-isolationism within the Republican Party.”

Walker, who is not Jewish, noted that his son’s name, Matthew, is from the Hebrew word for “gift from God.” He later added that he decorates his residence with Christmas lights and a “menorah candle.”

Meanwhile, Kasich kept mentioning Adelson by name and closed his remarks by speaking directly to Adelson.  He said, “In Ohio, we’re no longer fly-over [country], Sheldon. We want you to invest. We want you to get to know us.  Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.  I don’t travel to these things much, but this was one that I thought was really, really important.”

No one was more deferential to the RJC than Christie.  Christie, a Catholic, said he was overwhelmed by displays of religious tolerance during a recent trip to Jerusalem.

But, it was another comment that caused a lot of hostility from the listeners.  Gov. Chris Christie recounted his recent trip to Israel: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories” and came “to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.”

Christie’s effort at impressing his listeners boomeranged. An angry Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America confronted Christie to demand that he explain just what he meant by “occupied territories.”

Whatever Christie’s response, it did not satisfy the ZOA or Klein who declared: “Either [Christie] doesn’t understand the issue, or he’s hostile to Israel.”

With his visit to Las Vegas falling apart, Christie asked for a private audience with Adelson to apologize.  A source close to Adelson told reporters that Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”

Of course, it isn’t just the four governors who attended the meeting that are changing their positions on Israel.  Rand Paul has told top GOP donors that he is “evolving” on foreign policy, particularly when it comes to his positions on Israel. He has also increased his outreach to prominent pro-Israel donors to show he is interested in having a dialogue.

However, that may not be enough.  Several RJC donors have said that they will spend money to defeat Rand in the primaries.  Undoubtedly, Adelson would be one of them.

Who Wins the Sheldon Primary and Does it Mean Anything?

Although each of the four governors had a chance to meet personally with Adelson, there is no idea of which one will eventually get the nod.  Christie was an early favorite, but has recently fallen – both with the investigation into the Ft.Lee traffic jam and with his political positions to the left of the Republican base.  Donors at the RJC were decidedly cool about Christie now.

That probably leaves Bush as the next in line – providing Bush is willing to throw his hat into the ring.  But, there is no excitement in the Republican base about Jeb Bush.

But, there is more to the election than Adelson money.  The history of American politics is replete with candidates with money, who fail to win.  Hillary Clinton had the money in 2008, but lost to Obama.  George Bush Sr. had more money and was considered more mainstream than Ronald Reagan.

The problem is that Adelson, with all of his money, is not looking at candidates that have Republican grassroots support.  And, although money is the mother’s milk of politics, grassroots support is the t-bone steak of American politics.   His group of potential candidates don’t poll much more (and frequently less) than Governor Palin.  In fact, in a McClatchy poll in February that included Palin, she had the same support as Bush (8%), and more than Walker (7%) or Kasich (1%).   Christie, who hadn’t seen his support erode with the bridge scandal, yet, had 13%.  However, his recent ratings have been at 8%.

At this point of time, Rand Paul has the best grassroots organization in the Republican Party – thanks to the infrastructure built in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns by his father.  Cruz, Huckabee, and Palin have the national base to build a political machine should they choose to do so.  The rest of the potential field (Santorum, Perry, Christie, Walker, Kasich, Jindal, and Ryan) have only small campaign teams limited to their own state.

As a member of the Bush family, Bush would be the natural heir to the Bush machine.  However the Bush 2000 – 2004 team is long gone.  In addition, many of the more experienced members of that team of 10 years ago have probably retired from active politics, which means building a new team.

If Adelson’s goal is to make pro-Israel candidates stronger, he may be making a big mistake.  Polling shows Senators Cruz and Paul share some of the same voter base.  However, Cruz is pro-Israel, while Paul isn’t.  In that case, it would make more political sense for Adelson to support Cruz and, in the process, cripple Paul.  However, it appears that Adelson is committed to what he perceives as a more “mainstream” Republican candidate.

In the end, despite the media’s theme, Adelson and other Jewish American donors will not be picking the next Republican presidential nominee.  The money will be critical for advertising and buying a campaign team, but it will not buy grassroots enthusiasm.  Adelson may be well served to look further abroad for a candidate that Republicans actually like.



The Pollard peace process farce

By Danielle Pletka

American Enterprise Institute

April 1, 2014

Word is that the United States is on the verge of releasing Jonathan Pollard, the former US naval analyst convicted of spying for Israel. There is no question that Pollard was guilty as charged, and he doesn’t claim any different. But the narrative over the years has evolved, with Israel at first denying he was spying for them to the point that the man and his release have become a cause celebre in the Jewish state. Are there mitigating circumstances? Yep, he’s in ill health. Has Pollard served three decades? Yep. Still, what the hell?  Forgive me for believing that the peace process up to this point was not some game for the Israelis, and that security and sustainable peace were at the heart of concerns about how to move forward. Apparently not. Apparently, all that stuff about settlement expansion and natural growth and the rights of the Jewish people were all just a way of saying “no” to negotiations. If not, why trade away a Palestinian prisoner release and settlement freeze (the quo for the Pollard quid being reported) for a convicted spy who has nothing to do with peace? Either these are points of principle or they are points of negotiation.

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How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement

By Sarah Chayes

Carnegie Endowment

March 27, 2014

On a Saturday afternoon last October, in an ornate, scarlet-draped convention center bedecked with flags and white flowers, Tunisian labor leader Houcine Abbassi presided over a signing ceremony that would mark his country’s destiny and perhaps that of the Arab world. “Thank you for heeding the nation’s call,” he told the leaders of two dozen political parties, before each stood to sign what has come to be called the Road Map.  The event almost came off the rails. Some politicians were shocked to discover upon arriving that they would be forced to sign the document in front of television cameras—and thus be bound by its terms. On a tight calendar, the text called for three giant steps: the resignation of Tunisia’s entire cabinet and the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister tasked to put together a new one, the formation of an independent election commission, and the modification and approval of a draft constitution.

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The Complexities of U.S. Oil Exports

By Deborah Gordon

Carnegie Endowment

March 20, 2014

National Interest

It’s unlikely that anyone can stop the flow of oil—one of the world’s most durable and sought-after resources. Nevertheless, since 1975, U.S. crude oil exports (with a few exceptions) have technically been banned. The president has executive authority to reverse the ban, but Congress and interest groups have begun to weigh in as U.S. oil production is projected to ramp up to 9.6 million barrels a day (bpd) in 2016—a peak not seen since 1970.  Should the forty-year-old decision to ban U.S. crude oil exports be reversed? The right answer is murkier than those in favor or against suggest. In reality, it depends on what the new rules are for the array of new oils surfacing around the globe. Given the contentious politics surrounding this decision, a healthy debate is necessary to avoid falling into traps set by numerous unanswered questions.

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The Islamic State of Iraq Returns to Diyala

By Jessica Lewis

Institute for the Study of War

April 2014

Anbar is not the only front in Iraq on which Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), now operating as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), is fighting in 2014. ISIS has also established a governorate in Diyala. Its spokesman has named the province the central front in the sectarian conflict he has urged. The security situation and sectarian tension in Diyala province are grave. ISIS has returned to fixed fighting positions within Muqdadiyah, Baqubah, and the DiyalaRiverValley. Shi’a militias are now active in these areas as well. Increasing instances of population displacement demonstrate the aggregate effect of targeted violence by both groups. It is important to estimate the effects of this displacement and the presence of armed groups within Diyala’s major cities in order to understand how deteriorated security conditions in this province will interfere with Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Furthermore, violence in Diyala has historically both driven and reflected inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian violence in other mixed areas of Iraq, including Baghdad. Diyala is therefore a significant bellwether for how quickly these types of violence will spread to other provinces.

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Erdoğan’s Secret to Success

By Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı

German Marshall Fund

April 2, 2014

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won yet another election victory in Monday’s municipal elections. While the results saw a five percent decline in support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the 2011 parliamentary elections, it was also a 6 percent improvement over the AKP’s results since the last municipal elections in 2009. Erdoğan’s party will continue to control the metropolitan municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara (although the Ankara results are disputed and may yet be reversed), and it won a few new major cities such as Antalya, an important tourist destination on the Mediterranean. What makes this victory even more significant is that it came in the aftermath of several setbacks for the AKP: the GeziPark protests, a corruption and graft investigation against a group that included ministers’ family members, and a torrent of wiretaps that embarrassed the prime minister, his sons, his ministers, and businessmen close to him.

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Understanding the Gulf States

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

Spring 2014

inFocus Quarterly

Money, they say, can’t buy you everything. But in the conservative Arab states of the Persian Gulf (or the Arabian Gulf as they prefer to call it), money can buy a lot.  What is the tallest building in the world? The Burj al-Khalifa in the sheikhdom of Dubai. What is one of the best airlines in the world? Washington, DC friends vacationing in Asia recently chose to fly there with Qatar Airways via Doha. The newness of aircraft, quality of on-board service and well-timed connecting flight trumped any political misgivings, such as Qatar’s support for Hamas in Gaza and the weapons it gives to some of the worst jihadists in Syria.

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Why Democracy in Egypt Still Matters

By Tamara Cofman Wittes

Brookings Institution

March/April 2014

Three years after the hopeful scenes of the Arab Spring, the situation in places like Syria and Libya looks more like a tragic mess. The most dramatic reversal of fortune, perhaps, is in Egypt, whose Tahrir (Freedom) Square came to symbolize the hopes of 2011. Egypt under longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak was an anchor of stability in the region, in large part because of its close ties to Washington and its historic peace treaty with Israel. But Egypt today is in turmoil: Its third post-revolutionary government, installed by the military, is cracking down on basic rights while facing an upsurge in violence from Islamist militants, an economic crisis and vicious anti-Americanism stoked by the media. The decimated Muslim Brotherhood rejects any hint of compromise and talks to its followers of martyrdom. Many outside analysts worry that the zero-sum confrontation now underway in Egypt is dragging the country over a cliff into further violence.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst
C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 28-03-2014


 Saudi Arabia Will Lead From the Front While Obama Leads From Behind

When national leaders visit another nation, the typical theme is the close relations the two nations share.  Not this time.  Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia is seen by many as an attempt to mollify a traditional ally that has been drifting away from America in the past five years.

After decades of working closely with Washington, Saudi Arabia is pursuing its own foreign policy, which is frequently in conflict with Obama’s foreign policy.  The reasons are many, but the kingdom sees current American policy as destabilizing the region and threatening the current pro-American governments in the Middle East.

The course of the” Arab Spring” heightened the concerns.  In Egypt, Obama sided with the Muslim Brotherhood and supported the overthrowing a pro-American leader – Mubarak. That, in turn, heightened Saudi anxiety with fears that Washington might back the Brotherhood in a power grab in the kingdom. That concern grew when the Brotherhood were accused of plotting a coup in Abu Dhabi and Obama ignored it.

Nor has Obama helped improve stability within the region. In the Saudi eyes, Obama has ignored the war in Syria and allowed radicals to gain influence in that war torn country.  He announced “red lines” on Syria but ended up giving Russia the final say in shaping US policy towards Syria.

Saudi Arabia is also concerned with America’s refusal to contain Iran.  The Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait are all concerned about what they see as Obama’s “caving in” to the mullahs in Tehran.  Obviously, Iran’s nuclear program is the major concern.

The result is that a nation that relies on subtle diplomacy has made it quite clear that Saudi Arabia and the US are embarking on different foreign policy courses.

Saudi National Security Council head Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was the Saudi Ambassador to the United States from 1983 until 2005, has said that Saudi Arabia will make a “major shift” in relations with the United States to protest what Saudis regard as American inaction over Syria’s internal war, among other factors.

A recent Reuter’s article cited an unnamed source close to Saudi policy as expressing a similar view. “The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,” Reuters quoted the source saying. “Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”

“Prince Bandar told diplomats that he plans to limit interaction with the U.S.,” continued the source. “This happens after the U.S. failed to take any effective action on Syria and Palestine. Relations with the U.S. have been deteriorating for a while, as Saudi feels that the U.S. is growing closer with Iran and the U.S. also failed to support Saudi during the Bahrain uprising.”

A Washington Post article last October said that Saudi King Abdullah privately expressed his frustration with U.S. policy in a lunch in Riyadh two days earlier with King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the U.A.E., citing “a knowledgeable Arab official.” The Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable,” this official said. “I don’t see a genuine desire to fix it” on either side, he added.  Post reporter David Ignatius related that in the fall of 2011, Saudi officials in Riyadh told him that that they increasingly regarded the United States as unreliable and would look elsewhere for a partner to bolster their security. Ignatius noted that “Obama’s reaction to these reports was to be peeved that the Saudis didn’t recognize all that the U.S. was doing to help their security, behind the scenes,” but he believes that the problem lies not so much in U.S. actions but in our failure, diplomatically, to reassure the Saudis that we have their best interests in mind.

At the same time, The Daily Mail quoted a statement from Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former director of Saudi intelligence, who called Obama’s policies in Syria “lamentable.”  Prince Turki continued, “The current charade of international control over Bashar’s [Assad’s] chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his people.”

Another, more long term concern, is America’s growing energy independence.  Saudi Arabia has always been considered a major ally since it was the world’s largest petroleum producer.  Now that the US has taken that position, the kingdom’s importance to Washington is lessened.

The decline of Saudi Arabia’s influence and the normalization of relations between Iran and the Obama Administration are a concern.  Before the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, America and Iran were close allies and Iran was seen as the key ally in the region.  Former national Security Advisor and Secretary of State Kissinger even said that Iran and the US had similar strategic interests.  That being the case, it’s a logical concern that the US and Iran could once again become close allies, to the detriment of the GCC nations.

Saudi Policy – Can It Diverge From American Policy?

Although Saudi Arabia is seeking new alliances, it has limited options, considering its strategic interests.

Syria is now the main focus of Saudi Arabia’s attention in the region and much has to do with its rivalry with Iran. The Saudis consider the struggle between Assad and his opponents a proxy war against their own main adversary, Iran. The Kingdom has been the primary source of financing and weaponry for Syrian rebel forces fighting Assad’s army, which is backed heavily by Iran and Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia has also focused on keeping pro-Saudi governments in power within the region by deploying forces in Bahrain during Arab Spring rioting and supporting the removal of Morsi in Egypt last year.  These moves also helped curb Iran’s influence in the region.

However, when considering the big picture, Saudi Arabia has few options to work with. Robert Jordan, U.S. ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03, has said there would be limits to any Saudi alliances with other powers.  “There is no country in the world more capable of providing the protection of their oil fields, and their economy, than the U.S., and the Saudis are aware of that. We’re not going to see them jump out of that orbit,” he said.

The major reason is Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Iran.

Russia, the chief competitor for influence in the region is closely allied with Iran and actively supporting Assad in Syria.  In fact, Russian nuclear help at Bushehr has helped Iran move towards its goal of becoming a nuclear power.  This makes them an unlikely substitute for America, especially since Russia can’t provide the level of military protection that the US offers.

China is also a poor choice for an alliance.  Iran relies upon China’s membership and especially Chinese veto power on the Security Council to protect it from UN or US led sanctions.  In 1980, China refused to support the UN arms embargo against Iran and abstained from voting on US-based sanctions against Iran as well.  China is also a major supplier of missiles and missile technology to Iran.  And, it is Iranian operated, Chinese missiles in the Strait of Hormuz that threaten Saudi oil shipments

In the end, the probable beneficiary of a break in US/Saudi relations would be France.  The Kingdom has worked closely with France on several issues that concern Saudi Arabia like Syria and the Iranian nuclear deal.  France held a tougher line with Iran on the nuclear program than Obama and it has some influence in the region as the former colonial power in the Levant.  France is also a major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia.

France also offers the ability to protect the Saudi oil fields if necessary.  Although not as militarily capable as the US, France does have a rapid reaction force that could move into the Kingdom quickly if necessary.  Given recent events in Africa, they also seem more willing to act quickly than the US.

Britain, also offers some of the same advantages as France.  It was a colonial power in the region, still has interests in the Middle East, and has a mobile military that can quickly react if necessary.

However, in the end, the US offers the Saudis advantages that offset the current disagreements.  Saudi foreign policy is more in line with US foreign policy than that of the other major powers.  A major change of alliances would not change that.

In the end, Saudi Arabia will probably wait the current administration out.  Comments by high ranking Saudi officials make it clear that their problem is with the unreliable American president, not America as a whole.  Saudi King Abdullah doesn’t trust Obama and another member of the Saudi royal family was quoted in the Daily Mail as accusing Obama of “dithering” on Syria and the Israeli/Palestinian issue.

Nor, is Obama likely to change course in the Middle East.  More ideological and dogmatic than pragmatic, Obama has shown a tendency to stick to his policies even after they have proven to be faulty – comments on the Ukraine and Obamacare being prime examples.

That being the case, some officials in Saudi Arabia believes that their interests may be best served by waiting out Obama and his foreign policy.  Obama’s foreign policy only receives a 40% approval rating in the AP poll released this week.  A new American president will be elected in another 2 and ½ years and considering the criticism being leveled at Obama by both Republicans and Democrats for his foreign policy, the chances that his policy will outlive his presidency are limited.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia will continue to exercise a more aggressive foreign policy that meets its strategic interests.  It will continue to counter Iranian influence by supporting rebels in Syria.  It will probably work closer with European powers to hinder the Iranian nuclear program.  And, it will work behind the scenes with Israel to neutralize Iran if it does get close to building a nuclear weapon.

Saudi Arabia’s other major interest will be pursue a degree of political stability within the region in order to maintain the continued reign of the House of Saud.  It has shown a willingness to support friendly governments in Egypt and Bahrain and will continue to do so.  It will remain a bone of contention between the kingdom and Obama, but one that will not cause Obama to act.




Afghanistan–Pakistan: U.S. Must Ensure that Its Military Gear Does Not Exacerbate Regional Tensions

By Lisa Curtis

Heritage Foundation

March 24, 2014

Issue Brief #4178

After 12 years of fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan and failing to convince Pakistani leaders to crack down decisively on terrorist bases on their side of the border, American military planners are considering providing Pakistan with billions in leftover equipment from the war. A Washington Post story from last weekend indicates that U.S. military planners are in discussions with their Pakistani counterparts about the possibility of leaving behind, for Pakistani use, armored vehicles and other equipment deemed too expensive to ship back to the U.S.  While giving the Pakistanis U.S. military equipment, including mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, might make sense from a cost and logistical standpoint, the U.S. also needs to take into account the impact of such decisions on regional security dynamics. Washington should ensure that any military equipment it leaves in Pakistan does not exacerbate regional tensions. Washington should also condition the transfer of such military equipment on Islamabad’s meeting certain counterterrorism benchmarks, including cracking down on groups that are destabilizing Afghanistan, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

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U.S. Missile Defense Policy After Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

By Michaela Dodge

Heritage Foundation

March 21, 2014

Issue Brief #4177

Russia has invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in blatant disregard of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and international law. Russia’s crude steps carry important implications for U.S. missile defense policy.  Currently, the Administration’s policy is not to affect the “strategic balance” with Russia in terms of ballistic missiles. In reality, there is no strategic balance between the two countries. Given Russia’s demonstrated willingness to use force to alter nations’ boundaries and act against U.S. interests, it is clear that the U.S. should expand its ballistic missile defense to protect itself and its allies from Russia’s ballistic missiles.

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Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 24, 2014

This most recent draft of Iraq in Crisis has been revised to take into account of outside comments covering the trends in violence, Iraq’s political crisis, the role of Al Qaeda in Iraq, problems in Iraq’s security forces, and challenges with the Iraqi economy and petroleum sector. In addition, numerous tables and charts have been added, adjusted, and update to serve as reference. These include data on Iraq’s security forces and the trends in casualties and the rising rate of Iraq’s internal violence.

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Five Questions for Sisi, Egypt’s Man of Mystery

By Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

March 26, 2014

Egyptians are about to hand the keys to their country to Field Marshal and presidential candidate Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, with very little sense of where he plans to take them. In fact, they know relatively little about Sisi himself, which is problematic given the mountain of challenges Egypt faces. And in announcing his candidacy on March 26—still in uniform, his last act as a soldier—Sisi gave only a few hints.  Sisi emerged into public life only recently. As head of military intelligence, he was virtually unknown to the public until he cooperated with the then president, Mohamed Morsi, to ensure that he replaced Mohamed Hussein Tantawi as defense minister in August 2012 and then ousted Morsi in July 2013. Throughout the ensuing months of questions about whether he would install himself into Morsi’s job, Sisi has remained a man of mystery, receiving Egyptians’ popular adoration yet maintaining a public persona that is distant and undefined.

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Egypt’s Unprecedented Instability by the Numbers

By Michele Dunne and Scott Williamson

Carnegie Endowment

March 24, 2014

Egyptians have suffered through the most intense human rights abuses and terrorism in their recent history in the eight months since the military ousted then president Mohamed Morsi. The extent of this story has been largely obscured from view due to the lack of hard data, but estimates suggest that more than 2,500 Egyptians have been killed, more than 17,000 have been wounded, and more than 16,000 have been arrested in demonstrations and clashes since July 3. Another several hundred have been killed in terrorist attacks.  These numbers exceed those seen even in Egypt’s darkest periods since the 1952 military-led revolution that would bring Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. They reflect a use of violence that is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern political history.

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The fall of Yabroud and the Campaign for the Lebanese Border

By Isabel Nassief

Institute for the Study of War

March 24, 2014

Yabroud is located in the rugged terrain of the Qalamoun Mountains and sits astride the M5 highway which connects Damascus to Homs and the Mediterranean coast. Rebel control of Yabroud had disrupted the regime’s freedom of movement along the M5 highway and created a staging ground for rebel attacks against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. In mid- November 2013, the regime intensified operations to clear the area in order to regain control of the section of the M5 highway running from Qara to Yabroud. Regime forces supported by Hezbollah and National Defense Force (NDF) fighters pushed along the main highway moving from north to south, and seized Qara on November 15th, Deir Attiyah in late November, and an-Nabek in mid-December.1  Pro-regime forces then pressed towards Yabroud where their advance slowed until launching a renewed offensive against the town in February 2014.

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Obama and the Churches of Saudi Arabia

By Nina Shea

Hudson Institute

March 21, 2014

When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia next week, he will have an opportunity to follow through on his inspiring words at the Feb. 6. National Prayer Breakfast. There, he told thousands of Christian leaders that “the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose” is central to “human dignity,” and so “promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.”  The freedom so central to human dignity is denied by the Kingdom. The State Department has long ranked Saudi Arabia among the world’s most religiously repressive governments, designating it a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. Yet the Obama administration, like its predecessors, has not pressed Riyadh to respect religious freedom.

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Egypt‘s New Military Brass

By Gilad Wenig

Washington Institute

March 26, 2014

PolicyWatch 2229

Today, following months of speculation, Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced his resignation as Egypt’s defense minister and his candidacy for president. Sedki Sobhi, former chief of staff under Sisi, has been promoted to colonel general — one rank below field marshal — and appointed as the new defense minister, while Mahmoud Hegazy, former director of military intelligence, has been promoted to lieutenant general and will be the new army chief of staff. The resultant restructuring of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will likely put some of Sisi’s closest allies in key positions and should provide him with a strong base of military support and influence once he wins the presidency as expected (click on the image below for a chart illustrating this projected restructuring).

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Nuclear Kingdom: Saudi Arabia’s Atomic Ambitions

By Olli Heinonen and Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

March 27, 2014

PolicyWatch 2230

A major probable consequence of Iran achieving a nuclear weapons capability is that Saudi Arabia will seek to match it. With President Obama currently rating the chances of diplomatic success as 50-50 and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei giving a “zero” probability, this weekend’s U.S.-Saudi summit will be an opportunity to check whether Saudi planning can help the diplomacy rather than hinder it.  In 2009, a Saudi royal decree announced that “the development of atomic energy is essential to meet the kingdom’s growing requirements for energy to generate electricity, produce desalinated water and reduce reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.” In 2011, plans were announced for the construction of sixteen nuclear power reactors over the next twenty years at a cost of more than $80 billion. These would generate about 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s electricity, while other, smaller reactors were envisaged for desalination.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst
C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 21-03-2014


Who Will Take Control of the US Senate This Year?


Democrats were shaken last week in a closely watched special election in Florida.  The results weren’t very promising for Democrats and seem to presage the loss of the US Senate to Republicans in November.  If that happens, Obama will find the last two years of his administration even more challenging than the last few weeks.

This was to be a chance for the Democrats to gain a seat.  The Democratic candidate Alex Sink, was the state’s former chief financial officer, a former candidate for governor, and a woman.  Although there is a very slight Republican voter registration advantage, the congressional district voted twice for Obama and had voted for Sink, when she ran for governor.  Sink had also outspent Republican David Jolly in the special election.

That loss was followed the next day by an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that showed Obama approval at historically low numbers and the Democratic Party in trouble.  When the poll asked whether they were more or less likely to support a candidate endorsed by President Obama, respondents turned thumbs down on Obama by 42 percent to 22 percent. Asked whether they would be more likely to back a candidate who was a strong supporter of Obama, the results were worse: 48 percent to 26 percent.

This is bad news for the Democratic Party, which holds about 20 of the seats up for election in November.  The Republicans only need to flip 6 seats to take control and currently there are 11 Democratic seats where there is no incumbent running or where the incumbent is in serious trouble.

Here’s the run down of those vulnerable Democrat seats.  In each case, Obama’s unpopularity makes the race even harder for the Democrats.  Democrats are defending seats in five states — Arkansas, Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia — where Obama’s approval rating was at or below 35 percent in 2013, according to Gallup. In four other states where Democrats hold a Senate seat that’s up in 2014, Obama’s approval rating was well below his national average of 46 percent: Louisiana (40 percent), Colorado and Iowa (42 percent), and North Carolina (43 percent). In New Hampshire and New Mexico the president had a 45 percent job-approval rating, just below his national average. That’s a total of 11 Democratic seats that could potentially be in play this November.

There are two Republican seats that may be lost.  However, Obama’s low popularity ratings make these hard pick ups for the Democrats.  In Georgia, where the GOP must defend an open seat, Obama’s approval rating of 45 percent is below his national average. In Kentucky, where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection, only 35 percent of voters have a favorable view of the president.

When it comes to campaigns for the Senate, Arkansas is probably the one that Democrats are most likely to lose.  Arkansas has changed dramatically since the days of Bill Clinton and the once reliable Democrat state is now Republican.  In fact, it gave Romney a 20% margin of victory in 2012.

Last week, Hickman Analytics, a Democratic polling firm, showed Arkansas Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor behind 51% to 42%, over a lesser-known GOP challenger, Representative Tom Cotton. Since undecided voters usually break for the challenger and Obama and his policies are unpopular in Arkansas, this is the Democrat’s most likely loss.

Another formerly Democratic state, Louisiana, also bodes ill for Democratic chances to retain the Senate.  Once a Democratic bastion in the South, Romney won this state by 17% in 2012 and Obama is very unpopular there.  Democratic Senator Landrieu narrowly won her 1996, 2002 and 2008 elections, and 2014 looks even harder.

Louisiana is an energy-producing state that has suffered from Obama administration “clean energy” policy.  Recent polling shows Representative Bill Cassidy (R.) leading Democratic senator Mary Landrieu (D.) by 46 percent to 42 percent among likely voters and a full 49 percent to 40 percent among definite voters. Cassidy is only half as well known as Landrieu but, as a physician critical of Obamacare, is an effective messenger on health care.

In North Carolina, incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is doing everything she can to avoid being associated with Obama.  Although she leads GOP candidate Thom Tillis 45 percent to 41 percent among likely voters, being under 50% is a dangerous sign for an incumbent.

In Colorado, which President Obama carried twice, a Rasmussen poll shows Democratic incumbent Mark Udall with a lead of only 42 percent to 41 percent over Republican representative Cory Gardner. Again the incumbent is underperforming where he should be at this point in the race.  This had been considered a safe Democratic seat until Gardner announced he was running.  Udall has also been plagued by a scandal concerning the bullying of Obamacare exchange employees.

In Alaska, Democratic Senator Begich is in big trouble. He is trailing both major Republican candidates in recent polling and Alaskan anger regarding Obamacare is strong.  Romney received 55% of the vote here in 2012 and this is a likely Republican pickup.

Although Montana has become more of a swing state in the recent past, Republicans have a shot at the Senate seat thanks to the resignation of Democratic Senator Max Baucus to become Obama’s new Ambassador to China.  Former Lt. Gov. John Walsh was appointed to replace him in the Senate, but the Democrat faces multiple sexual harassment and wrongful termination lawsuits. He may not be tied to a vote for Obamacare, but questions of his ethics will make the voters of Montana wonder if he can be trusted.  Romney received 55% of the vote and, with Walsh’s personal issues, Republican candidate Daines is polling over 10% ahead of the Democrat and can take this seat from him.

The once Democratic state of West Virginia has been trending Republican and in 2012 Romney won the state by nearly 30% thanks to Obama’s attempt to close coal mines – a major industry in the state.  With Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller retiring, this is an open seat and a potential Republican pickup.  GOP Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito has a record in Congress of fighting the EPA on coal mining rules and polling shows her ahead of possible Democratic candidate Natalie Tennant by double digits.

In South Dakota, Romney won 58% of the vote, which may be why Democratic Senator Tim Johnson is retiring.  Republican candidate, Governor Mike Rounds, is leading Democratic candidate, Rick Weiland by 20%.  Baring a major upset, this is a probable win for the Republicans.

Iowa is losing retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Democratic Senate hopeful Congressman Bruce Braley is polling 6% ahead of all of the announced Republicans.  However, these numbers are giving him 40% – 41%, which indicates some softness in his support.   The poor polling of Obama (42%) and how well the Republican challenger (as yet, undecided) campaigns will determine if this seat remains Democratic.

One of the surprise states is Michigan, which voted for Obama in 2012.  Democrat Senator Carl Levin is retiring and the GOP is looking surprisingly strong in 2014.  Republican Governor Rick Snyder is polling very strong and that should help the Republican nominee. Although Obama did particularly well here in 2012, the Republican Senate nominee, probably former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, can win with a good campaign.  Polls of likely voters show Land running 2% to 5% ahead of probably Democratic candidate Gary Peters.

Obama has a 45% approval rating in New Hampshire, which makes it harder for Democratic Senator Shaheen, who is polling a little below 50% in most polls.  Her biggest threat may be former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who is moving to New Hampshire and challenging her.  Some pollsters find a Brown versus Shaheen Senate race competitive. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, had Shaheen ahead by just 3 points in January. The bipartisan Purple Strategies had the race tied. But more recent polls, such as one conducted by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald, show Shaheen ahead by 13 points with Brown getting less than 40 percent of the vote.  However, Brown has shown a knack of winning in Democratic territory, so he can’t be discounted.  However, in the long run, this state will probably stay in Democratic hands.

In the end, what may be just as important will be the ability of the Republicans to hold their seats in Georgia and Kentucky – Senate seats the Democrats feel they can pick up.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is barely ahead of his Democratic challenger Alison Grimes.  He has been hurt by a primary challenge by the more conservative Matt Bevins, who is far behind in the polls, but is undoubtedly hurting the senator amongst more conservative voters.

Georgia, another Republican seat, is in danger as Saxby Chambliss is retiring.  Michelle Nunn is the likely Democratic candidate and she is consistently holding a 2% – 4% lead over her potential Republican opponents.

What may save the Republicans in both of these states is that the mid term election is usually a referendum on the sitting president.  Both of these states went comfortably for Romney in 2012 and although polling shows them potential Democratic wins, history indicates that the Republican candidate will likely squeak out a win, especially if disheartened Democrats stay home on election day.

If the Republicans can hold Georgia and Kentucky, the math for them to win control of the Senate is great.  Arkansas, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia are currently leaning towards the Republicans.   That means they need only win one of the current toss up states, Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana, or Michigan.

If, however, Georgia and Kentucky are won by the Democrats, the battle to control the Senate becomes considerably harder for the Republicans.

What a Republican Senate Would Mean

In the current climate of deadlock in Washington, a Republican Senate will not mean a great change.  Legislation might be passed by the Republican House and Senate, but end up being vetoed by Obama.  The only difference is that now, legislation passed by the House dies in the Senate rather than at the White House.

The biggest change might be with Obama’s nominations.  Without a majority to count on, Obama might be forced to either leave some positions unfilled or put forth nominees that have a better chance of being confirmed by the Republican Senate.

This problem has already been considered and many Democrats are pressuring Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to retire at the end of this SCOTUS term so Obama can nominate and the Senate can confirm a replacement before the Republicans can take charge.




Free Ukraine by Freeing Energy Markets

By Nicolas Loris and Jack Spencer

Heritage Foundation

March 13, 2014

Issue Brief #4170

Whether military, diplomatic, economic, or otherwise, the U.S. government has an array of policy options to bring to bear in response to Russia’s unacceptable aggression against Ukraine. However, one must not discount the impact that free markets and free trade can ultimately have on the situation.  Much of Russia’s power in the region is the result of its control over energy supplies and distribution systems. Diminishing Russia’s economic leverage over the region should be a key component of America’s response. This could be largely accomplished simply by liberalizing global energy markets. The U.S. has antiquated and unnecessary restrictions on exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) and crude oil, and Congress should make lifting these restrictions a priority.

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Middle East Notes and Comment: Traditional Remedies

By Haim Malka

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 14, 2014


In the decade after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government promoted democracy as an antidote to al Qaeda’s violent ideology. Whether or not U.S. democracy promotion had much to do with it, the revolts and revolutions of 2011 recast Arab politics. To many U.S. allies, the principal product of casting aside dictatorships was not more democratic governance, but instead weakened security structures. As they see it, the new environment provided public space for violent extremist ideology to spread and reignited a debate over how to fight it. This time around, U.S. voices will be much less relevant to the debate.  Rather than promoting Western values, which can imply separating religion and state, governments in the region are doing the opposite. They see controlling religious space, both physical and ideological, as the key to combating extremism. Their strategies are not about creating “moderate Islam,” as some Americans have advocated, but strengthening an interpretation of Islam that accepts state authority. In North Africa, defining a “traditional” or “national” Islam is at the core of this effort. The outcome of this struggle and whether governments can create viable religious alternatives to extremist narratives will shape the next generation of Islamic values across the region.

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The Need for a New “Realism” in the US-Saudi Alliance

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 17, 2014


The United States does not need to rebuild its alliance with Saudi Arabia as much as build a new form of alliance based on the new realities of the Middle East. Both sides need to recognize these changing realities, and the uncertainties involved, and develop a new level of cooperation. At the same time, they need to be more tolerant of the other side’s positions.  The United States and Saudi Arabia have many common interests, but often have different values and priorities. This requires the leaders of both countries to face facts in private that they may not be able to face in public, and to build a more functional partnership based on the new realities that shape the region.

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Were mistakes made on Russia, Turkey, and Iran?

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

Analysis 14-03-2014


 Anti Missile Defenses Proliferate in Middle East

This week, Brigadier-General John Shapland, chief defense attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, raised the idea of extending Israel’s anti-missile umbrella while speaking at a security conference in Israel.  He suggested that the upgraded Israeli Arrow 3 anti ballistic missile could also protect Egypt and Jordan.

“If we were able to build a regional defense capability in, say, Jordan, that capability could easily defend Israel, Jordan and even Egypt, if you so desired, adding one more layer to your multi-layered defense,” he told Israeli officials and experts gathered at the INSS think-tank.

Although Egyptian and Jordanian officials refused to comment on the suggestion, it was positively received in Israel by the head of Israel’s missile defense organization, Yair Ramati.  He said, “The policy of the (Israeli) Defense Ministry is always to cooperate with the countries of the region, including the countries cited.” Although he refused to comment, he also implied that the current Arrow 2 ABM system was already capable of providing some protection to both Egypt and Jordan.

Unclassified information on the Arrow 2’s interception range suggest that it could protect much of west Jordan, including the capital city Amman, and eastern regions of Egypt, as well as Israel and the occupied West Bank.  The Arrow 3, which is scheduled for deployment by 2016, would be capable of shooting down incoming Iranian rockets over Iraq – well before they reached Jordanian or Israeli-controlled airspace.

Proliferating ABM Systems

The fact is that ABM systems are proliferating in the region.  Israel has several systems, each designed to meet a specific threat.  The US is beginning to deploy naval vessels capable of providing mobile anti ballistic missile protection, in addition to the Patriot missiles currently in the region.  The GCC nations are interested in an ABM system to protect themselves from a perceived Iranian threat.  And, although not in the immediate vicinity, India is interested in a partnership with Israel in developing an ABM system to protect themselves from Chinese and Pakistani missiles.

Undoubtedly, the leader in ABM systems in the region is Israel, who has a multitude of ABM systems in use and in development.  The network of systems is called Homa, which is Hebrew for wall.  However, this “wall” has been questioned by some of Israel’s leading missile experts, who claim that Israel can’t intercept all of Iran’s missiles, should Iran decide to launch a massive salvo at one time..

The most capable system in operation is the Arrow 2.  The Arrow missile system defends against medium to long-range ballistic missiles. The Arrow 2 was designed to defeat the largest, longest-range, and fastest missile threats. The most likely missiles that Arrow would target would be the Iranian Shahab-3, Shahab-4, and Sejil missiles. Israel has developed three versions of the Arrow missile: the Arrow 1, which was a prototype to test the technology; the Arrow 2, which is deployed; and the Arrow 3, which will be operational in a few years.

Although it is common to focus on the missile itself, the Arrow radar is critical.  It is difficult to jam and can track up to 200 targets up to 500 kilometers away.  It can direct up to 14 Arrow interceptor missiles at one time.

The Arrow 2 has a range of 100 kilometers, with a maximum altitude of 50 kilometers. This allows the Arrow the ability to intercept inbound missiles at a range far from any possible target. By destroying missiles far from the intended target, the Arrow system minimizes the risk of collateral damage around the target area.

While the Arrow 2 is designed for longer range missiles, Israel also has several other systems designed for shorter range threats.  The American developed Patriot Advanced Capability–3 (PAC-3), is intended to defend against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles.  The most likely missiles that IDF Patriots would target include older Scud missiles and Scud variants, such as Shahab-1 and Shahab-2.  The Patriot is also stationed in Jordan to protect that nation from potential Scud attacks by the Syrians.

The Patriot is less capable and can only track 100 targets at 100 kilometers.  It can direct up to 9 missiles at a time and the missiles have a range of 100 kilometers and an altitude of 25 kilometers.  It can be used to kill ballistic missiles that leak through the Arrow 2 envelope.

Shorter range, tactical missiles and mortar shells are covered by Israel’s Iron Dome ABM system.  It came on line three years ago and has been used extensively, unlike the Arrow, which has never been used in actual combat conditions.

The Iron Dome system is the newest and most technologically advanced component of the IDF missile defense system, and it is the only missile defense system in routine use. The Iron Dome system shoots a radar-guided missile interceptor with an explosive warhead. After being guided to the inbound rocket or mortar by the radar, the Iron Dome interceptor explodes in close proximity to the rocket or mortar.  Because it targets short-range rockets and mortars, it has much less time than either Patriot or Arrow to detect an inbound projectile, track it, and launch an interceptor to hit it.  According to the Israelis, Iron Dome has an interception rate of 90%, although there are many who call that figure greatly exaggerated and insist that 66% is a more accurate figure and some experts discount the effectiveness of the system altogether.

Since Iron dome missiles are too expensive to fire at every incoming missile or mortar shell, the Iron Dome radar can differentiate between incoming missiles that may hit populated areas and those that will hit fall elsewhere.  This allows the system to effectively counter missile barrages by only using interceptors against threatening missiles.  The Iron Dome missile has a range of 70 kilometers.

The Arrow 2, Patriot, and Iron Dome ABM systems provide a wide level of protection against threats.  However, Israel is expanding its ABM capabilities in order to tackle a wider spectrum of threats.

The Arrow 3 is being built to expand Israel’s capability against longer range threats.  Arrow 3 is designed to intercept ballistic missiles in space before they’re over Israel and shoot them down at high altitudes to disintegrate nuclear, chemical or biological warheads.  Unlike the Arrow 2 variant currently in service, which is designed to intercept ballistic missiles at lower altitudes within Earth’s atmosphere with explosive warheads, Arrow 3 uses interceptors that ram their targets.

With the introduction of the Arrow 3, the Arrow 2 will be used as a back up to target and intercept missiles that leak through the Arrow 3 envelope.

Since the Patriot ABM system is 30 years old and designed to combat Soviet tactical missiles of the 1980s, Israel is developing a new ABM system called David’s Sling.  Although the specifications are still in flux, it will be able to intercept every missile threat that the Patriot is capable of and overlap some of the capabilities of the Arrow and Iron Dome systems.  It will probably have a range of up to 300 kilometers.

One weakness of the total system is short range missile threats that can hit their targets before Iron Dome can react.  As a result, Israel has worked with the US on laser weapons development to fill this gap.  It is called Iron Beam and is reportedly nearly ready for deployment.  It will become the innermost layer of protection.  Iron Beam is designed to intercept close-range drones, rockets and mortars which might not remain in the air long enough for Israel’s Iron Dome system to intercept.  Some of the specification of the system were made public last month at the Singapore Air Show.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which is building it, said test data show Iron Beam lasers are destroying more than 90 percent of their targets.  One advantage of the laser is that the cost to destroy an incoming missile with a laser is considerably less than the cost to destroy that same missile with an interceptor missile.

Israel’s Iron Beam will not be the first laser interceptor to be deployed in the region.  The U.S. Navy announced last year that it will attach a prototype of its Laser Weapons System (LaWS) to USS Ponce and send the amphibious transport docking ship to the Middle East this summer.  It can be used for a “hard” kill on smaller targets (directing enough energy at the target to set it on fire or explode fuel aboard it) or for a “soft” kill by blinding a drone or missile’s imaging sensors.  The ship will also support embarked forces of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) and US 5th Fleet in the Arabian Gulf.

The US will also have other ABM systems either in the Middle East or within a few days range of it.  Last month, the first of four Aegis equipped American destroyers was moved into the European theater.   The USS Donald Cook took up station in the Spanish port of Rota from where it will operate as an anti-missile platform and take part in other tasks such as maritime security and NATO deployments, a statement said.  Rota is an important American military base and a critical logistics hub for the American fleet in the Mediterranean.

“For the first time, a ship of the United States Navy equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile-defense system is permanently based in Europe” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

Although Rota is on Spain’s Atlantic coast, it is just outside the Mediterranean and only a couple of days away from the Middle East, should circumstances call for it.  Three other Aegis destroyers will be deployed in the area in the next two years, which will mean that one of them will probably be stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Israel isn’t the only nation to worry about the missile threat in the Middle East.  GCC nations are also looking at ABM systems in the face of Iran’s growing missile threat.  And, the US is relaxing the rules to allow the GCC to buy American ABM technology.  The move was made to assure the GCC nations that the US was committed to their protection, even while pursuing an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

The relaxing of the rules governing sales to the GCC has already meant sales to American firms.  Raytheon received an order for two Patriot units from Kuwait.  Meanwhile, the UAE has ordered the more capable Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) from Lockheed Martin.

Although a beginning, these purchases still leave the GCC vulnerable to many types of missile threats.  Iran military presence in several disputed islands around the Strait of Hormuz most likely includes surface to surface missiles that are capable of reaching the UAE.  These shorter range missiles are not the type of missiles that THADD was designed to intercept and therefore still pose a threat.

Despite these weaknesses, the Middle East is rapidly becoming a maze of ABM systems, primarily designed to counter Iranian growing missile capabilities.  From the growing ABM system presence in the GCC nations, to the massive Israeli ABM network that can reach Jordan and Egypt (and, undoubtedly parts of western Saudi Arabia), Patriot batteries in Turkey and Jordan, to the mobile ABM defenses of the American Navy, much of the western portion of the Middle East have fallen under the cover of some sort of missile defense.

Of course, the ability of the systems to kill incoming missiles and the cost of the interceptor missiles make these systems very expensive and subject to a degree of uncertainty, which raises the question of their value.

Experts agree that a system with a 100% ability to defeat incoming missiles is not necessary.  Their importance in a strategic sense is to drastically reduce the number of missiles that hit their target and increase the uncertainty factor for the attacking nation.

Iran could launch a salvo of missiles against Israel, knowing that only 20% may penetrate the Israeli missile defense system.  And, although that 20% may be devastating, Iran couldn’t rely upon what they would hit and what might be missed.  While Tel Aviv might be hit, would the IDF command centers or the nuclear tipped Jericho missiles be hit?  If not, Iran could expect an immediate and massive nuclear retaliation.  That fact alone, is a deterrent against an attack.

This, in fact, was the idea of the limited ABM systems deployed by the US and Russia during the Cold War – inject enough uncertainty to make a first strike unthinkable.

Within a few years, the Middle East will have a similar situation.  While Iran may have enough missiles to threaten its adversaries, local ABM systems and the concept of dispersing military assets will make the concept of a first strike in the region equally unthinkable.



The FY2015 US Defense Budget, the New Quadrennial Defense Review and the U.S. Commitment to the Middle East and Asia

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 6, 2014

The United States has repeatedly made it clear that both the Middle East and Asia are its too main priorities for both defense strategy and military partnerships. The United States stated this repeatedly in the new Defense Strategic Guidance it issued in January 2012, and has done so every year since that time. There still, however, is doubt and fear in much of the Middle East that the United States may be cutting its forces and commitments to the region, “pivoting” to Asia at the expense of its partners in the Middle East, or making some kind of deal with Iran.

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Is deepening Shi’ite-Sunni tension plunging Lebanon into a new civil war?

By Ahmad K. Majidyar

American Enterprise Institute

March 6, 2014

With Iranian support, Hezbollah—a predominantly Shi’ite group and a US-designated terrorist organization—has emerged as the most powerful military and political force in Lebanon.  Through extensive soft-power efforts, Iran promotes its ideological and political agenda in Lebanon at the expense of American interests. To promote stability in Lebanon, the US must counter Iranian influence, strengthen Lebanese state institutions, and partner with moderate leaders from all Lebanese ethnic and religious groups, including the Shi’ites, to contain and marginalize Hezbollah.

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America‘s Navy needs 12 carriers and 3 hubs

By Mackenzie Eaglen and Bryan McGrath

American Enterprise Institute

March 11, 2014

President Obama’s latest defense budget would shrink the US Navy’s fleet from 11 aircraft carriers to 10 absent additional funding. But the truth is that America is currently a nine-carrier nation.  Several years ago, Congress waived the 11-carrier requirement. As a result, the Navy currently operates 10 aircraft carriers until the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) joins the fleet in 2016. But one is in constant maintenance at all times and unavailable for global deployment.  Whereas the question used to be “Where are the carriers?” a new question emerges—“What carriers?”  Congress must now decide if America’s single-digit carrier fleet is enough to meet the global demands of a superpower. The short answer is no.

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A New U.S. Approach to Gulf Security

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

March 10, 2014

Policy Outlook

U.S. relations with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf are strained by divergent policies toward a changing Middle East, the Gulf countries’ fears of being abandoned by the United States, and unprecedented intra-Gulf tensions. Washington has attempted to reassure Gulf partners of the strength of the security alliance while calling for liberalizing reforms. Increasingly, however, the Gulf states’ domestic policies have put them at odds with these calls. Contrary to some assumptions, the goals of reassurance and reform need not contradict one another: underscoring the urgency of much-needed institutional changes reinforces the U.S. commitment to durable regional security. The United States must focus more on promoting political and security sector reforms in the Gulf that are critical to long-term regional stability by better integrating its use of military and diplomatic tools.

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How Far Backward Is Turkey Sliding?

By Marc Pierini

Carnegie Endowment

March 3, 2014

The Turkish political scene has been rocked by accusations of corruption since December 2013, when a number of people, including government officials and private citizens close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, were arrested as part of a crackdown on graft. Meanwhile, the Erdoğan-led government is enacting policies that degrade rule of law in the country, with sudden policy shifts in the judiciary and the intelligence service, as well as an ongoing clampdown on media and individual freedoms.  The government’s response to the accusations of corruption has been so severe that it has been seen as an attempt to cover up unpleasant realities. Ultimately, it is the sign of a fierce battle that Prime Minister Erdoğan is waging to retain his power. The crisis is likely to deepen in the run-up to critical elections in 2014—local elections in March and a presidential vote in August.

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Iran‘s Evolving Maritime Presence

By Michael Eisenstadt and Alon Paz

Washington Institute

March 13, 2014

PolicyWatch 2224

On March 6, Israeli naval forces in the Red Sea seized a Panamanian-flagged vessel, the Klos C, carrying arms — including long-range Syrian-made M-302 rockets — destined for Palestinian militants in Gaza. The month before, a two-ship Iranian naval flotilla set out on a much-advertised three-month, 25,000-mile cruise that would, it is claimed, for the first time take Iranian ships around Africa and into the Atlantic Ocean. These two events illustrate the role maritime activities play in Iran’s growing ability to project influence far from its shores, and how the Iranian navy has emerged, in the words of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as a “strategic force” on the high seas.

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Preventing an Iranian Breakout after a Nuclear Deal

By James F. Jeffrey and David Pollock

Washington Institute

March 12, 2014

PolicyWatch 2223

Assuming a final Iranian nuclear agreement is achieved, whatever the details, the task of the United States, the rest of the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany), and U.S. allies and friends in the region to manage the threat of an Iranian nuclear program will not slacken. Thus, the arrangements to encourage Iran to stick with an agreement will be every bit as important as the specifics of an agreement itself. It is thus important to begin thinking about these arrangements now.  Furthermore, even with an agreement, the United States and its partners will face a long-term Iranian push for hegemony in the Middle East. That fact, plus analogous recent Russian and Chinese behavior and questions about U.S. responses, offers the context within which any nuclear deal, and plans to maintain it, must be considered.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst
C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 28-02-2014

America’s New Military Posture – Looking at the Obama Defense Budget

United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed a new Pentagon budget on Monday that would shrink the U.S. military’s size down to pre-World War II levels, becoming the Defense Department’s first non-war budget since 2001.  Hagel defended the budget saying the military can reduce spending and get smaller without losing its worldwide presence. He added that there is no need for a force that can fight two wars when the Iraq war ended over two years ago, and the war in Afghanistan has been drawing down for some time.

The Marines, Navy and Air Force will all lose thousands of members, but the Army — the Pentagon’s largest branch — would see the biggest cuts. It would reduce active-duty soldiers from 522,000 to between 440,000 to 450,000, and shrink the National Guard from 355,000 to 335,000. Reserve military numbers would also be rolled back from 205,000 to 195,000.  In an attempt to lower personal costs more, the military will cut benefits and pay for active duty military too.

If passed, the budget would eliminate the Air Force’s U-2 spy planes, in favor of remote controlled drones, and its A-10 aircraft, which were designed to destroy Soviet tanks in a European theater war. However, Obama’s budget did not affect the F-35, a $400 billion joint venture between the Pentagon and contractor Lockheed Martin. The project, which is set to continue, has been plagued by a host of technical issues with the aircraft.  It will also cut naval cruiser numbers and the Army Ground Combat Vehicle.  Proposed cutbacks in the National Guard, which is under the control of the states drew fire from governors, both Democratic and Republican, and merely heated up the federal/state friction that was discussed in last week’s Monitor Analysis.

While some of the cuts like the end of the U-2 can be justified, many of the others are very controversial and reflect a federal budget that has been stretched, is financed by too much debt, and is in need of cutbacks.

Hagel defended the proposed reductions in troop strength, as a trade-off for building up “technological superiority” and priorities like Special Operations Forces and “cyber resources.”  “We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States,” he said.

Cutbacks Driven by Budgetary Needs

The proposed cuts are incredibly large.  In 2011, the defense budget represented 4.7% of total gross domestic product; this year’s percentage will be 2.7%. In real dollars, US defense spending is set to plummet from $705.6 billion in 2011 dollars to $496 billion in 2011 dollars. That represents a budget cut of approximately 30%.

The reality is that the government is revenue shortfalls and the Obama Administration decided that the cuts could best be made in the Defense Department.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that mandatory spending, which includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, is projected to rise $85 billion, or 4 percent, to $2.1 trillion this year.

Interest on the debt is worse. It is projected to increase 14 percent per year, almost quadrupling in dollar terms between 2014 and 2024. “We are going to be spending more in interest in a couple of years then we do on national defense,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, (R-CA) told Fox News.

Of course, defense cutbacks after land wars are a historical fact in American history.  After World War II, during which the United States spent 43.6% of its annual GDP on defense in 1943 and 1944, spending declined dramatically – all the way down to 14.3% of the annual GDP in 1949.  The same happened after the Vietnam War and the end of the Cold War too.

Criticism of the Budget

There was an immediate outcry about the proposed budget.  Former Vice President and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney called the cuts “Absolutely dangerous” and “just devastating”   He added, “I have not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama. But this really is over the top. It does enormous long-term damage to our military.”

Senator McCain, Obama’s presidential opponent in 2008 told CNN, “I believe that when we are sending the signal that we are cutting defense, I think in this very dangerous world that we live in, is a serious mistake…There are savings that could be made in defense, but when we’re making cuts this size, it concerns me a great deal especially since we’re increasing domestic spending.”

Overall Impact

The biggest impact will be on the pay and benefits for military personnel.  Since the end of the Vietnam War, the US has focused on building a highly professional, technologically savvy military, with wages that allow the military to pick and retain top talent.  But, that is set to change.

The Defense Department budget will take billions away from personnel accounts.  It will scale back housing allowances and cut the subsidies for military commissaries, were military personnel can buy cheaper food.  Family members and military retirees will have to pay more for medical care.  Active duty personnel will also only see 1% pay increases – much lower than the inflation rate.

These cuts could reduce the annual pay of some military by up to $1,000 per person.

The cuts are obviously designed to cause a decline in troop numbers through attrition.  However, areas where the reductions will take place will also reduce readiness.

The major losses will take place in the ranks of younger non commissioned officers (NCOs) and middle grade commissioned officers.  These are the ranks that have completed their initial obligation, but haven’t committed themselves to a military career.  They are experienced, trained and the ones running the day to day operations of the military.

They are also the ones most in demand by American industry.  Their training makes them valuable and companies usually offer a premium salary to lure them away from military service.  In addition, they are usually starting a family and are eager for more pay and more time at home.  The reductions in pay and benefits will create a personnel gap in these critical grades and leave more mediocre NCOs and officers to take up the responsibility and get promoted.

Although the impact will not be immediate, this loss of personnel will lower the quality of day to day operations and force the military to spend more on training in order to replace the talent lost through attrition.


The US Army will bear the biggest reduction.  “An Army of this size is larger than required to meet the demands of our defense strategy,” Hagel said. “It is also larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready.” But he said the smaller force still would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major war “while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary.”

A closer look shows that the cuts aren’t just in numbers.  Some reductions are being made that will directly impact the Army’s ability to carry out even smaller operations in the Middle East.  Plans are underway for massive cuts to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the organization that led military’s efforts to combat a major type of weapon used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. JIEDDO’s current staff of 3,000 will be reduced to 1,000 by the end of this fiscal year, and further plans could see the number fall as low as 400 down the road.

The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program was also cancelled.  Although this could hurt the Army long term, the program was plagued with problems as the vehicle had grown in size, which made it too heavy to transport in many aircraft and restricted its ability to move across country in undeveloped nations.

n a move that generated controversy with the state governors, who command their own National Guard units, the Department of Defense is transferring the National Guard’s Apache helicopters to the Army and replacing them with the Black Hawk helicopter.  This will give the Army more firepower without additional spending.  However, it seriously restricts in theater tactical mobility and logistical support for front line units.  The result will be an Army that can’t move as rapidly, reinforce small units during combat, or provide rapid resupply as it did in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Ironically, this change in helicopters will seriously degrade one of the major peacekeeping functions of the US Army – disaster relief, which relies on moving supplies to remote towns in other countries.  The Apache, although better able to fight tanks, will be useless in this role.

The Army does get one boost.  The number of special-operations troops — those who perform highly specialized raids in small groups, such as the attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound — is actually set to increase from around 66,000 to nearly 70,000. This reflect the current administration belief that many wars are not effectively fought by large, conventional armies, but rather through small groups that can eliminate particular targets in dangerous territory without drawing much attention.

This focus on Special Forces reflects a “Hollywood” version of Special Forces capabilities.  Although very versatile and capable, SF aren’t “super soldiers” that can fight and hold ground as regular soldiers do.  They focus on special operations of short, violent duration, before pulling out.  As light infantry, they do not have the ability for sustained operations that normal Army units have.

The other problem is that training a Special Forces soldier is highly selective, expensive, and time consuming.  One Special Forces soldier takes about two years and two million dollars to train.  And, this doesn’t include the high attrition rate amongst the trainees, which can exceed a 90% dropout rate.  The result is that this additional capability will not be realized for at least two years and at a cost of $8 billion.  Nor does it address how the additional 4,000 will be recruited.  Will SF standards be lowered in order to recruit and train the additional soldiers?

The other problem is retaining Special Forces soldiers.  Although highly motivated, former Special Forces soldiers are highly sought after in the civilian world as civilian security forces or executive protection.  As benefits and pay decline, it is more likely that these soldiers will choose to become civilians and earn as much at ten times their military salary.


Although the Navy will retain its 11 aircraft carriers, the problem is with the other ships that are necessary to protect the carriers in the task force.  Half of the Navy’s cruiser fleet, 11 ships, will be put out of operation for modernization under this budget.

The cruiser is the air defense platform of the carrier task force.  By reducing the number in half, they are either faced with increasing deployments for the cruiser fleet, which will cause even more departures by trained NCOs and Officers, or they will leave the carrier task force with a reduced ability to ward off enemy air attacks.  Although the destroyer has some air defense capability, using it in this role will take it away from its anti-submarine warfare role.

One interesting note on the Navy cuts.  The Obama Administration insists that it intends to “pivot” towards Asia.  However, many of the countries Obama wants to pivot towards are on the Pacific Rim, where sea power has more influence than land based forces.  By cutting naval forces, Obama is making it that much harder to accomplish his promised pivot.

Air Force

The Air Force will be decommissioning the U-2 reconnaissance and A-10 aircraft.  While the U-2, which has been in service for half a century will be replaced by drone aircraft, the A-10 will be replaced by F-35 in the early 2020s.  “The A-10 is a 40-year old, single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield,” Hagel said. “It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses.”

In irony of the Hagel comment is that the Apache helicopter that the Army is moving from the National Guard to active duty units was also designed as an anti-tank weapon for use in the European theater during the Cold War nearly half a century ago.  In fact, it was often used as a target designator for the A-10 in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, they also proved to be vulnerable to enemy fire and several were downed by enemy fire.

The A-10 has always been controversial in the Air Force, where generals prefer the more glamorous air superiority aircraft to the close air support aircraft that support army operations.  And, although the A-10 was designed to fight Soviet tanks in Europe, it was found to be highly effective against ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq thanks to its rapid firing 30 mm cannon.

Close air support is a hallmark of US military operations and a critical ingredient of its tactical doctrine.  Since the US Army relies on short range small arms like the M-4 rifle, the A-10 has been an important weapon in ground combat operations that are beyond M-4 range or where the American troops are outnumbered.  This will force the Army to either rely upon artillery, which has a more limited range, the more vulnerable (and shorter range) Apache helicopter, or face situations where it is outgunned.

National Guard

Last week, the Monitor looked at the increasing friction between the states and the federal government.  This week, another fracture appeared as the Obama Administration proposed cutting National Guard units.

The proposed budget envisions a 5-percent reduction in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. “While it is true that reserve units are less expensive when they are not mobilized, our analysis shows that a reserve unit is roughly the same cost as an active duty unit when mobilized and deployed,” Hagel said.

In addition, the Army Guard’s Apache attack helicopters would be transferred to the active force, while Black Hawk helicopters would be transferred to the National Guard.  The Black Hawks will be better in disaster relief, but will be unable to boost the Army’s combat capability significantly in an emergency.

Although the Department of Defense funds the much of the National Guard, they fall under the control of the states and the governor of each state is the Commander-in-Chief of their National Guard.  Although they can be activated by the federal government for military duty, they are usually used by the state for disaster relief like hurricanes or even the brutal winter weather experienced by many parts of the United States in the last two months.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting between the President and the National Governors Association, the governors said they were deeply troubled by Obama’s tone when asked about planned cuts to the National Guard. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said Obama became “aggressive” and that his tone “chilled the room quite a bit.”  The proposal would move 24 Apache attack helicopters from the South Carolina National Guard to active-duty units elsewhere, and they would be replaced with 20 Blackhawks

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is looking at running for president in 2016, echoed Haley’s remarks, saying, “I hope that we’re not about to make a tragic mistake in this country by hollowing out our guard in our states in some political statement of ‘you’re all going to feel the pain,’ because that’s certainly what I heard from the President of the United States today.”

This change will seriously impact Army doctrine, which in the past has ensured the National Guard mirrors the active army in capability.  This allowed it to be a way to rapidly expand the military in an emergency.  However, this new defense policy means that the National Guard will have a different tactical doctrine of providing more logistical support and less combat fighting capability.

Politics in Play

There is also concern from the governors that many of the cuts are political.  Republican states like Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina seem to be facing some of the biggest cuts.  The A-10 cuts will fall heaviest on Arizona, which is heavily Republican and the home of the A-10 training command.  Major installations such as Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, could be scaled back significantly.

Meanwhile, states where US Senate seats will be competitive in November are protected.  Installations such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Campbell, Kentucky would likely emerge largely unscathed from the cuts.


Despite the proposal put forth by the Department of Defense, it must be passed by Congress, where many of the cuts will be fought by members of both parties.  The A-10, for instance, has been put on the chopping block before, only to be saved by Congress.  In this case, a Democrat will be one of its biggest defenders as the A-10 training command is in the district of a vulnerable Democratic congressman, Ron Barber.

Nor, will the proposed defense cuts be helped by the sinking popularity of Obama.  This is one way for Democrats to distance themselves from Obama and move rightward to attract more voters in November.

However, if the cuts go through, the character of the US military will change dramatically.  It will not be able to conduct major operations with large numbers of troops for long periods of time as was seen in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Operations, will of necessity, be short and sharp as in Kuwait.  The US will also be forced to rely more upon the ground forces of other nations, while the US will provide more logistical support – as is being done with France in Africa.  It will also not be as mobile as it has been in the past.

Although the mission of the US military is evolving, the role of the US hasn’t changed that much.  The question is if the new military will be able to carry out the role of a military superpower in the decades to come.




U.S. Should Support Tunisia’s Democratic Progress with Concrete Action

By Anthony B. Kim, Charlotte Florance and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

February 20, 2014

Issue Brief #4151

On January 26, three years after the beginning of Tunisians’ uprising for greater freedom, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly peacefully and decisively ratified a model constitution that lays the foundation for a functioning democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Tunisia’s remarkable political turnaround, epitomized by the near unanimous ratification of the constitution and the inauguration of an interim technocratic government, is a truly hard-won triumph for Tunisians.  Given the instability continuing to plague Arab Spring countries and the increase in violent Islamist extremism, security and good governance is a formula the U.S. should be actively promoting in the region, particularly in a country such as Tunisia, which is continuing to make measurable progress largely on its own accord. The U.S. should take concrete action to reinforce Tunisia’s ongoing democratic transition toward a nation where freedom, economic opportunity, and civil society can flourish.

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2014 Defense Reform Handbook

Heritage Foundation

February 2014

Providing for the common defense has been a complex challenge for U.S. policymakers since the first days of the Continental Congress. In particular, the Constitution assigns Congress a multitude of specified and enumerated responsibilities to meet its obligation to raise and maintain the armed forces of the United States. On the one hand, Congress bears a significant responsibility to ensure that the government maintains suitable and adequately trained and ready forces to protect the nation’s vital national interests. On the other hand, Congress has an obligation to be a good steward of the people’s resources and ensure the legitimate exercise of the instruments of limited government. The Heritage Foundation Defense Reform Handbook provides a guide to resources available to U.S. policymakers to the efficient and effective oversight of defense management.

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Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 25, 2014

It does not take much vision to predict that Secretary Hagel and the Obama Administration’s FY2015 defense budget submissions are going to be the subject of bitter partisan criticism. It is an election year and virtually everything in Washington is already the subject of bitter partisan criticism. Playing the national security card is a perennial aspect of U.S. politics, as is playing it to court veterans, National Guard supporters, defense manufacturers, and the more doctrinaire conservatives.  The problem is that simply focusing on total spending levels does not address the critical problems in shaping our future defense posture and is not particularly relevant. Secretary Hagel’s focus on spending more than the Sequestration level in his February 24th speech announcing the FY2015 defense budget dodges around fundamental problems in the way we plan defense spending, but does any Republican focus on spending more without focusing on realistic costs or setting any meaningful goals for the future?

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Syria and the Least Bad Option: Dealing with Governance, Economics, and the Human Dimension

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Stuudies

February 24, 2014

There is no realistic way to approach the tragedy in Syria without choosing the least bad options among the uncertain and unfavorable approaches available. The time has passed to debate whether there was point when moderate rebel factions could have won with limited outside U.S. intervention. One cannot debate that situation now. As the situation stands now, the rebels are too divided and have too many extremist elements, “the center cannot hold,” and the rebels face an Assad regime that has too much outside support from Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia, and has recovered its ability to use to force.  There are no “good” options in Syria at the present time, and the best we can hope for is finding a “least bad” option to accept. Much of the focus on finding the least bad option now centers on either peace negotiations or finding a way for rebel factions to win at the military level that will be moderate enough to win some form of international acceptance. This may still be a hope, but it is not a short-term probability. Even if it was possible, Syria would then face years of reconstruction.

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Morocco, Counter-Terrorism, and the US-Africa Summit

By Ahmed Charai

Foreign Policy Research Institute

February 2014

In the wake of unprecedented Islamist explosions and attacks across North Africa, the foreign ministers of 19 states–including France and much of North Africa—launched an equally unprecedented response. Meeting in Morocco’s capital this past November, they vowed to pool their intelligence efforts against al Qaeda and its salafi fellow travellers. Their agreement, known as the “Rabat Declaration,” creates a counter-terrorism intelligence fusion center and formalizes its plans to share secret reports on terrorists. This is a major blow against al Qaeda’s North African affiliates, which have long exploited intelligence gaps among neighboring nations.

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Iran’s Nuclear Debate: The Domestic Politics

By Nima Gerami and Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

February 26, 2014

PolicyWatch 2215

Despite Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s guarded support for nuclear engagement with the West, Iran’s fractious internal dynamics remain a major obstacle to a comprehensive, long-term agreement. When discussing Iranian politics, Western observers tend to speak only of “reformers” and “hardliners,” but the nuclear issue does not fall neatly along such lines. The regime is structurally complex, and its leaders sometimes disagree about how best to serve Iran’s interests. They also have a long history of prohibiting and censoring debate on the nuclear program. This culture of secrecy often prevents them from sharing information, and the legislators in the Majlis have been consistently shut out of many important aspects of nuclear decisionmaking.

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Saudi Arabia‘s Domestic and Foreign Intelligence Challenges

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

February 21, 2014

Yesterday, two Saudi police officers were killed and two injured in a gunfight while trying to detain “armed troublemakers” in the Eastern Province town of al-Awamiyah. Two Shiites also died in contested circumstances — opposition activists say they were unarmed, identifying one as a twenty-two-year-old who was shot eleven times while running away, and the other as a local photographer who died as he documented the raid.

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Analysis 21-02-2014

The Balkanization of America – Is a Breakup of the United States in the Cards?

Public dissatisfaction is high in America, due in part to a poor economy and a widening gulf in political and social beliefs.  The result is a potential balkanization of America.

Political movements to break away from states are the highest ever.  Last November, several rural counties in Colorado voted against succeeding from Colorado, although one county in the referendum did give secession a majority of their votes.  This week, news came out that some in New York State want to divide the state administratively to separate the liberal New York City from the more conservative upper New York State.  In recent months, the Western part of Maryland has voiced a desire to break away from the more liberal parts of Maryland.

California, which is in deep economic and financial distress, is also threatened with succession.  Upset at the liberal, more densely populated coast, which dominates state politics, inland Californians have proposed splitting the state into up to five states that will reflect the divergent political views of its different residents.

And, of course, there is Texas, which is booming economically and has always had an independent streak.  There is always a movement in Texas to declare independence from the US – a sentiment that has only grown in recent years.

Clearly, polls show a growing social and political divide in the US.  Rural parts of the nation are much more conservative and upset by the political agenda at the national level, while urban areas are more supportive of Obama.  This has created an exodus of jobs and businesses from more populated and liberal areas of the US to more rural and conservative regions.

In 2008, while President Bush was still in power, Igor Panarin, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian foreign affairs ministry, said the economic turmoil in the US had confirmed his long-held belief that the country was heading for extinction in its present form.  He said the country’s break-up would be accelerated by rising unemployment and Americans losing their savings.

Public dissatisfaction was growing and was held back only by the election and the hope that Barack Obama “can work miracles”, he said. “But when spring comes, it will be clear that there are no miracles.”

Although it’s nearly six years since this prediction was made (Panarin thought the breakup would occur in 2010), America is still united.  Or is it?  And, how much?  The trends predicted by Panarin are being seen in American headlines.


Economics and politics are rapidly changing the demographics of the US and where its economic base is.  And, of special interest if a breakup occurs, is the movement of America’s vast arms industry from its traditional base to an area of the nation that is in disagreement with the Obama Administration.

The latest news was the announcement Monday that the Remington Arms Company, the oldest American firearms maker and oldest manufacturer in North America was opening a factory in Alabama, which would move the base of operations from Ilion, New York, where it has been based since 1816.  Remington is one of America’s biggest ammunition and firearms makers and is known for its precision military sniper rifles.  It also produces the Adaptive Combat Rifle that is used by Polish forces.

Although economic reasons had an impact on the move, politics was the major factor.  As America have evolved in the last few decades, the state of New York has become less firearms friendly, while Alabama has become a major supporter of firearms ownership rights and a major consumer of civilian firearms.  Last year, New York passed a strict firearms law that would have prevented many New York residents from owning several types of Remington firearms.  The hostile political environment forced Remington to move its base for the first time in nearly two centuries.

But, other arms producers are also moving – and not just for political reasons.  California was once the home of America’s aerospace industry.  Today, most of those operations have moved elsewhere.

An example is Raytheon Company, a major arms producer and the largest manufacturer of guided missiles.  As of 2012, it was the fifth-largest military contractor in the world,and is the fourth largest defense contractor in the United States by revenue.  It produces, amongst others, the Stinger missile, the Tow missile, the Tomahawk missile, Sidewinder missile, and the Javelin Missile.  Its missile systems groups was once based in Southern California, but is now based in Tucson, Arizona due to the negative economic climate in California.

It’s not just the aerospace industry that is leaving California.  Occidental Petroleum, No. 125 on the Fortune 500, has announced that it is moving its headquarters from Los Angeles to Houston. Nor is this offset by high-tech businesses that California claims.  Occidental is about 1.75 times the size of eBay, more than twice as big as Visa, four-and-a-half times the size of AMD(advanced micro devices), and nearly five times the size of Facebook.

America’s largest aircraft maker and the world’s second largest defense and aerospace company is also relocating due to economic pressures.  Boeing, founded in Seattle a century ago, has been a cornerstone of the regional economy for decades, though in recent years the company has moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, a key assembly line to South Carolina, and other units to Utah, Missouri and other states.  The state of Washington was only able to keep jobs for the Boeing 777 in the state by offering $8.7 billion in subsidies and tax breaks.

Other major companies are remaining in uncompetitive states, but are expanding their businesses in more economically viable states like Texas.  Apple plans to go ahead with its $5 billion headquarters in Cupertino, CA, but it also is expanding its operations in Austin, Texas, where it is building a 38-acre campus that will be home to some 3,600 employees.

The result is that California is no longer the home of well-paying jobs.  In fact, family income is actually lower than it is in other, less glamorous states.  The median income for a three-member household is $67,401 in California. That is less than the Pennsylvania ($68,848) or Wyoming ($73,688), which both have Republican governors and legislatures, as well as lower cost of living.  Other states like Texas do have smaller family incomes, but higher job creation and a much lower cost of living.

Other major companies are also moving.  Small arms manufacturer Beretta also announced that it was making a major move from its North American base in Maryland due to the state’s politics concerning firearms.  Originally Beretta was looking intently at a short move to Virginia until Governor Terry McAuliffe was elected on promises of more gun control. They quickly marked the Virginia off their short list and chose Tennessee instead, where Governor Bill Haslam greeted them with open arms.

Beretta Executive Vice President Franco Gussalli Beretta went out of his way to explain how “Haslam and his economic team did an excellent job of demonstrating the benefits of doing business in Tennessee.”  What wasn’t mentioned though was that Tennessee was a more gun friendly state.

Several other small arms companies have also moved from strict gun ownership states like Colorado, Connecticut, and New York for more politically friendly parts of the country.  Kahr Arms even moved its operations 30 miles from its current location in New York State, across the border, to gun friendly Pennsylvania.

This has been an unprecedented economic migration.  In the past, companies rarely moved major manufacturing bases due to cost.  In fact, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut, which have all had strict gun ownership laws for decades have been the industrial base of small arms production in the US with companies like Colt, Remington, Smith and Wesson, Ruger, and Beretta.   Much was due to a highly trained workforce.

Part of the economic migration of jobs is due to taxes and regulation.  States like California, with larger governments and more regulations impose higher taxes.  As taxes have grown, the incentive to move has grown.  Lower taxes mean larger profits.  Higher profits and increased regulation can mean corporate death.

There is no better example than the legendary gun manufacturer Colt.  Colt, which decided to stay in heavily regulated Connecticut, has shrunk so much that the UAE pistol manufacturer Caracal imports more pistols into the US that Colt exports out of the US.

The politics and social division of America are also important factors in this economic migration.

Few things provide a political litmus test of a person’s politics than their belief in civilian ownership of guns in America.  Urban area, that are liberal are opposed to gun ownership and have strict gun ownership laws.  Rural areas that are conservative have more lenient regulations.  But this mindset goes beyond just guns.  It is reflected in the way gun owners and non-gun owners see the world and the US.

An excellent example was last week’s vote at the VW automobile manufacturing plant in Tennessee to reject union representation.  Southern worker’s resistance to unionization has attracted automobile makers to move to the Southern, Republican states and away from the Northern, Democratic states like Michigan, which was the traditional home for the auto industry.

Although the VW management supported the union’s bid to represent the workers and the opposition wasn’t allowed to operate in the factory, the workers rejected the union in a vote that was a surprise to people in Washington, but not to people who understand the mindset of the more conservative people in Tennessee.

However, that isn’t the only divide in the US.  There are other serious splits that cut differently – like the concept of privacy and NSA spying.  Ironically, one of the most liberal states, Maryland, and one of the most conservative states, Utah, are both considering legislation that will restrict the ability of the NSA to spy within their borders.  In this case, the most ideological conservatives and liberals are joining forces.


Although these political differences have existed in the past, current conditions are bringing them to the surface and causing unprecedented fractures in America.

A contributing cause is Obama and his administration.  His approval ratings are the lowest in his term as president.  The majority of states are in the hands of his political opposition – 29 Republican governors to 21 Democratic governors – 27 Republican legislatures to 17 Democratic legislatures.

At the federal level, the House of Representatives is in Republican control and the US Senate may become Republican in November.

Usually, when faced with this degree of opposition, the president compromises as Clinton did in 1994.  However, Obama has decided not to compromise and to bypass the political process and issue executive actions unilaterally.

Rebellion at the State Level

As is seen in other countries that prevent the use of the political process to change, the American voters, upset with the inability to achieve change in Washington have resorted to other action – in this case, at the state level.  As a result, the states are now in rebellion for all intents and purposes.  This is proving to be an effective political tactic since 2/3 of American voters are opposed to Obama’s executive actions and support state governments who oppose Obama.

While New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Colorado toughened gun laws in the last year, other states actually made them more lenient.   Many states have introduced or passed laws that nullify federal gun laws within that state.

In mid-April, Kansas passed a law asserting that federal gun regulations do not apply to guns made and owned in Kansas. Under the law, Kansans could manufacture and sell semi-automatic weapons in-state without a federal license or any federal oversight.

Kansas’ “Second Amendment Protection Act” backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: when dealing with “Made in Kansas” guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony.  Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states.

Although questions have been raised about this tactic, other states like Missouri and Arizona have written legislation that prevents local police from enforcing federal law, something that has been ruled legal by the Supreme Court in the 1997 Prinz vs. US case.  This rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot “commandeer” or coerce states into implementing or enforcing federal acts or regulations – constitutional or not.

Again, this isn’t limited to gun legislation.  A group of lawmakers in Maryland has introduced a bill that would deny state support to the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md., which might see electricity and water supplies cut to the intelligence nerve center.  Meanwhile, Utah is looking at a 4th Amendment Protection Act, which would prohibit state material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency that collects electronic data or metadata without a search warrant “that particularly describes the person, place and thing to be searched or seized.”  This puts contracts that provide the 1.7 million gallons of water a day necessary to cool the NSA computers at its Bluffdale, Utah facility in the crosshairs.

Other states targeting the NSA are Arizona, California, Tennessee and Washington.  The action has been taken at the state level since Obama has made it clear that he would veto any federal legislation that hampers the NSA.

State legislation opposing Obamacare is being used to hamper that unpopular legislation within the borders of these states.  Between 2010 and December of 2013, 22 state legislatures had enacted laws and measures related to challenging or opting out of Obamacare.

The use of drones is also causing a rebellion in the states.  10 states have taken action against the federal government use of drones in surveillance within the borders of the respective states and more are considering it.  This is another piece of legislation that has wide bipartisan support amongst Republicans and Democrats.

States are finding other ways to oppose federal government action.  In fact, the Goldwater Institute has released a list of ways for states to hamper federal action, including having local officials refuse to work with or meet with federal officials.

As a result of this widespread rebellion against parts of Obama’s policies, the State Right’s movement, which many thought was dead 50 years ago, has come back to life.  For the first time in half a century, states (both liberal and conservative) are blocking federal actions.


The fractures predicted by Panarin are coming true.  Economic forces are destroying some states, while rewarding others.  Social differences are reinforcing these economic trends.  Meanwhile, those in the states, who disagree with these policies are seeking to breakaway and become their own sovereign states.

States have been the biggest driving force in this rebellion.  The move towards a stronger central government has stalled and states’ rights are in the ascendancy as states on both political sides of the spectrum are going their own way on everything from gun ownership to NSA spying to Obamacare.

In many ways, the failures of Obama in his relationship with the states are similar to his failures in the Middle East – he fails to recognize that each state is sovereign and has differing views of its neighbors.  Instead, he tries to impose his will on the sovereign entities and pick winners and losers.  He supports unpopular causes like Iranian nuclear development, gun control, or NSA spying, only to lose even more support.

If Obama wishes to retain the central power of the federal government, he will need to meet the 50 states halfway.  Most governors and state legislatures are more than willing to work with the federal government, which is why federal government control has grown so much in the last 50 years.

If he fails to do that, then Panarin’s predictions of a breakup of the US could become possible.  And, there is little that the government in Washington could do.

Traditionally the states have been the enforcer of federal laws.  As of December 31, 2009, the FBI had a total of 13,412 special agents.  Total federal law enforcement personnel totals about 110,000, with about 75% being in Homeland Security.

In 2008, state and local law enforcement agencies employed more than 1.1 million persons on a full-time basis, including about 765,000 sworn personnel.  Clearly, federal law can’t be enforced without state help.  That’s why legislation to curtail the power of state and local police to assist the federal government (which has been ruled constitutionally legal by the Supreme Court) could hurt the federal government considerably.

That leaves Obama or any other president with few legal options.  He could hire more law enforcement officers, but that would mean that Congress would have to raise taxes, something they are loath to do.  Nor, will a Republican House be willing to give Obama vast legal powers.

That leaves Obama with either questionable executive action – which still needs federal law enforcement offices to execute it.  Or he may try to use military force to enforce administration actions, which is forbidden by federal law.

The use of military force would be a red line as far as Americans are concerned.  In addition, there are only about half a million active duty army troops in the US and abroad, which is less than the number of local law enforcement.  The benefit of calling them in to enforce federal law would be outweighed by the political furor on both conservative and liberal sides of the aisle.

Calling in federal troops to enforce federal laws would be tantamount to starting a new civil war in those states affected.  But the results may be quite different this time.

If Obama tries to enforce his will through military force on the Republican states that oppose him, he may find himself on a losing side.  As was noted earlier in this analysis, defense contractors and small arms manufacturers are moving to Republican states along with other major industries.  Unlike the Civil War in the United States 150 years ago, the rebels will have the industrial base instead of the states that side with the federal government.


The balkanization of the US has already occurred.  Differing political and social views are found in different parts of the nation.  The only thing that is holding them together is the federal government.

Under Obama, the power of the federal government has been pushed without regard for the political opinions of the states, which are under Republican control.  The result is that states are fighting back by using their constitutional rights that have been upheld by the US Supreme Court.

Assuming that the states don’t back down, there are a few options for the federal government.  The first is that Obama reaches some sort of compromise that gives the states some relief in turn for stopping their current rebellion.  The second option is that he continues his current policies and ignores the states actions, which will have a serious impact on the power of the federal government and give the states a degree of freedom not seen since before the American Civil War.  The final is to try to impose the will of the federal government on the states, a risky move both constitutionally and in practice.

Break ups of nations are often unpredictable.  The Soviet Union seemed invulnerable in early 1989, but showed its weaknesses just 11 months later when the Berlin Wall was torn down.  Mubarak seemed likely to stay in power indefinitely, until the waves of unprecedented popular uprisings.  And, Yugoslavia seemed to remain united until the fractures caused by Tito’s death.

The same is true with the United States.  The fractures are there and it only requires an incident to cause an irreparable schism.  If that happens before Obama leaves office is pure conjecture.




Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 18, 2014

This most recent draft of Iraq in Crisis has been revised to take into account outside comments covering the trends in violence, Iraq’s political crisis, the role of Al Qaeda in Iraq, problems in Iraq’s security forces, and challenges with the Iraqi economy and petroleum sector. In addition, numerous tables and charts have been added, adjusted, and update to serve as reference.  The new draft now focuses on the deep structural problems in Iraqi governance, the Iraqi security forces, Iraqi demographics, the Iraqi state sector and Iraqi agriculture. It also expands the analysis of Sunni-Shiite tensions, growing problems between the central government and Syria, and the role of Iran in Iraq.

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The Egypt Effect: Sharpened Tensions, Reshuffled Alliances

By Anouar Boukhars, Nathan J. Brown, Michele Dunne, Raphaël Lefèvre, Marwan Muasher, Frederic Wehrey, Katherine Wilkens, and Scott Williamson

Carnegie Endowment

February 13, 2014

The military coup that overthrew then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in early July 2013 and the new government’s ensuing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood are having a dramatic impact on the politics, security, and rights environment in Egypt. But the effects of these events outside Egypt’s borders—in North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf, and Turkey—are also significant.  The Egypt effect has generally heightened Islamist-secularist tensions and pushed the region in the direction of zero-sum politics rather than consensus building. Islamist leaders and parties that behaved just a year ago as though their ascendance to power through elections was a historical inevitability are now on the defensive. At the same time, secularists— whether in opposition or in power—are more assertive and less ready to compromise. This dynamic has led some Islamists to become increasingly defiant in their isolation. In some cases, it has enlivened Islamist dissent in surprising ways.

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An Opening for Peace: Israelis, Palestinians and the Two-State Solution

By Justin Finkelstein

Foreign Policy Research Institute

February 2014

Particularly in the past few years, a wide array of pundits, experts and observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict have suggested that the two-state solution is dead. Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest push for peace has not done much, if anything, to temper these opinions. Despite his proclamations—at times ubiquitous in the media—that the two sides are close to an agreement, Kerry is being met with far more pessimistic assessments among most Israelis, Palestinians and commentators.

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Strategic Depth & Israel’s Maritime Strategy

By Seth Cropsey
Hudson Institute

February 20, 2014


Israel’s military accomplishments have often approached their biblical antecedents.  Surrounded by the combined invasions of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in 1948, the newly created Jewish state triumphed decisively.  Anticipating attack by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in 1967, Israel gained air superiority with a surprise strike that destroyed most of the Egyptian and—later in the same day—Syrian air forces as they sat parked on the ground.  Israel’s success in the south helped the late Ariel Sharon decimate Egyptian tank forces in the Sinai.  Israel won in six days and, among other accomplishments, threw Syrian forces from their commanding position atop the Golan Heights. But the future strategic focus for Israel may be as much at sea as on land or in the air.   What is concentrating the attention of Israeli strategy toward the sea? The need for physical distance between a threat and what needs to be protected – strategic depth.

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When Barry Met Hamid

By Christina Lamb

Wilson Center

February 18, 2014

WHEN Afghan President Hamid Karzai told me in an interview in the Arg Palace last week that he and President Barack Obama had not spoken for seven months, I was astonished.  The war in Afghanistan might be unpopular – more so even than Vietnam according to latest polls – but it is America’s longest war and there are still 39,000 U.S. troops on the ground, not to mention the $91.5 billion spent there last year. So one might have assumed the two leaders were in regular contact.  Instead Karzai said; “We last had a video conference in June when we had a very direct talk, from that time onwards we didn’t talk. We met in South Africa [for Mandela’s funeral] but didn’t speak. Letters have been exchanged.”

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Jordan Not Out of the Woods Yet

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

February 19, 2014

PolicyWatch 2210

On February 14, President Obama met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Rancho Mirage, California. In the year since their previous summit, tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed and over 400,000 have registered as refugees in Jordan, bringing the total number of exiles from across the northern border to nearly 1 million. Despite the deterioration next door and the 16 percent increase in the kingdom’s population, Jordan is paradoxically more stable today than when the two leaders met in March 2013. Yet the refugees still constitute a threat that will likely increase, especially given President Obama’s assessment that “we don’t expect to solve [the Syria crisis] anytime in the short term.”

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Analysis 14-02-2014

Has France Become America’s Closest or Most Important Ally?

The state visit by French President Hollande to Washington has raised the question of who is America’s most important ally – Britain or France.  Obama dodged the question during the visit by comparing the relations to the two countries to his affection for his two daughters.  He responded, “They are both gorgeous and wonderful, and I would never choose between them. And that’s how I feel about my outstanding European partners. All of them are wonderful in their own ways.”

The fact is that the relations between America and France have gone through many ups and down since France was the first country to recognize the fledgling nation during the American Revolution,  And, while relations with Britain haven’t always been cordial, they have remained very close as the English and Americans have more shared values (and language) than with France.

Given that history, is it possible that France is headed towards replacing Britain as America’s closest and most important ally, or is this just a more cordial period brought about by politics?

Chances are that the current warm relations represent political expediency for both Hollande and Obama.

Franco-American relations have generally been about political expediency rather than shared values.  France recognized America in 1777 in order to neutralize British influence in North America.  However, that recognition and military support would have never happened if the Americans hadn’t beaten the British at the Battle of Saratoga – thus showing the French that the Americans could actually win and reduce British influence in the New World.

Political expediency rather than gratitude quickly became the common currency in US/French relations.  When France had its revolution and went to war with Britain, the US remained neutral.  They also signed a treaty with Britain at the same time (Jay’s Treaty) in order to remove British troops from America’s Northwest Territory.  This was viewed as a hostile act by France.  This was soon followed by a quasi war between the US and France.

The 237 year history of Franco-American relations is replete with ups and downs.  President Thomas Jefferson (who was a Francophile) had considered war with France to neutralize their control of the Mississippi – only to get an offer by France to sell what was to become the Louisiana Purchase.  France broke off relations with the US over payment of damages to American property during the French Revolution in 1834, but supported the American expansion west in order to offset Britain’s influence.

The 20th Century saw serious disagreements between the two nations on German reparations after WW I.  While the US lent money to Germany, they demanded repayment of the war loans made to France.  And, although France joined NATO, the two countries disagreed frequently on many issues ranging from colonialism to Vietnam.  This seesaw has continued in the 21st Century as there was considerable disagreement on the War on Terror.

This most recent warming of relations appears to be a continuation of the past behavior.  America needs France’s help in the Middle East.  Then there is the political consideration of two presidents desperately in need of improving their political fortunes at home.

From the French President’s perspective, Hollande’s approval rating is at a historic low and the prestige of a state visit to the US is the type of event to boost his approval.  French unemployment has reached a record high with 3.3 million Frenchmen out of work.  Foreign investment in France declined by 77% in 2013.  And, although much of the glamour of Obama has rubbed off in the last five years, being seen with the US president and having the president praise him can only help him with disgruntled Frenchmen.

Obama is also in need of the political boost of the state visit of Hollande.  His approval rating is also the lowest of his presidency, his party is in serious danger of losing the Senate, and he is perceived as being weak on foreign policy by both Democrats and Republicans.  Standing side by side with the French President and being praised for improving US/French relations provides a bit of luster to an otherwise weak foreign policy resume.

France Does the Heavy Lifting

Certainly Obama has benefited from the improving relationship with France.  Many of Obama’s foreign policy problems are in the Middle East and Northern Africa, which France has historic links with.  And, since the French President has more political freedom than a US president, Hollande has more flexibility to act in the region.

The greater constitutional power of the French presidency also allowed Hollande to send small arms to the Lebanese Army without review by the French Assembly – which helped improve stability in the Levant.   This was something Obama couldn’t do without congressional approval.

France has also been important in the war on terror in Northern Africa, where France has many interests and historical links.  The year old intervention in Mali has been critical to ousting terrorists in that region.  French troops have also recently been sent to the Central African Republic.

French operations are expected to expand in the future.  During a visit to the US a few weeks ago, French Defense Minister Le Drian spoke about the French operations. “We want to be more reactive, more available and have one commander for the force,” he said. “This is a long-term mission. It will cover the whole region with several bases. In all, there will be 3,000 soldiers in that zone permanently.”

The French soldiers are to be positioned in Mali, Niger, and Chad, with the logistical base in Ivory Coast’s Port of Abidjan and Special Forces in Burkina Faso.

Although the US is providing logistical support to the French operations with tankers, cargo aircraft and intelligence, the ground forces are French because Obama couldn’t deploy that number of American soldiers without congressional approval.

Disputes Remain – Agreeing to Disagree

Although the Hollande visit highlighted the positive aspects of Franco-American relations, there are still serious problems that could cause a downturn in relations in the future.

One of those problems was mentioned in the Obama/Hollande press conference this week when the conversation moved to Iranian sanctions.  Obama warned international businesses that might try to sign contracts with Iranians before the easing of sanctions on Iran.  “Businesses may be exploring: Are there some possibilities to get in sooner rather than later if and when there is a actual agreement to be had?  But I can tell you that they do so at their own peril right now.  We will come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

Obama’s comment was aimed at 100 French businesses leaders who went to Tehran last week to position themselves for the possibility that trade will resume. This upset US State Department and NSC officials, who said the trip sent the wrong message.  It also opened up old wounds from previous times when France and French businesses didn’t conform to American sanction demands.

Hollande didn’t back down. Instead, he commented. “The president of the republic is not the president of the employers union in France, and he certainly doesn’t wish to be.”  He did remind businesses that the sanctions remain in place and they should not sign contracts before a nuclear deal was signed.

The” Arab Spring” has shown the dichotomy in French and Obama administration interests.  France has sided more with the moderates in the Arab Spring, while Obama supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  Similar to its partnership with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Washington favored Nahda in Tunisia and the more radical Islamic forces in Morocco.  France, on the other hand, was relieved that Tunisia has moved away from Nahda’s radical regime and is happy that Morocco’s real power continues to be in the hands of the King, not his radical Islamic cabinet.

There have been many other areas of disagreement.  On Syria, France displayed more determination than Obama to support the opposition, particularly in the earliest stages of the revolt in 2011. Over the three years of the “Arab Spring”, Paris worked hard at the U.N. Security Council and with Gulf Arab States to support the opposition, mostly the Free Syria Army, to topple President Assad.

Last summer, the French stood staunchly by the Obama administration when it appeared to be readying for a strike on Syria’s chemical weapons.  Hollande was disappointed when Washington made an about face and asked the Russians to find a political solution. France found itself abandoned by Obama – a situation that will be remembered by the French sometime in the future, when Obama will ask for help from Paris.

Obama also pulled the rug from under Hollande on Iran.  France was surprised with the speed with which the Obama administration declared its initiative for a nuclear deal.  As was the case with Syria, France remained tough on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program only to find itself politically abandoned — as did other Arab leaders.

Even in Northern Africa, where France and the US are cooperating militarily, there are differences.  The Obama administration wants to go only against what it calls “the core” of al-Qaida, i.e., the men who actually worked with bin Laden. That is where US military support ends.

What Hollande wants, and will not receive from Obama, is support for a war against the al-Qaida branches, affiliates, and ideologically motivated militants in this strategically critical area for France.

The issue of NSA spying on France also remains a sore subject and Obama, while making conciliatory remarks about respecting the privacy of the French at the Obama/Hollande press conference, was adamant on the right of the NSA to continue surveillance.  When asked if he would commit to a “no spying” agreement with France, he replied, “There’s no country where we have a no-spy agreement.  You know, we have, like every other country, an intelligence capability, and then we have a range of partnerships with all kinds of countries.”

The Future of Relations

The French/American relationship has undergone a multitude of ups and downs as the politics and policies of both countries have changed.  Unlike the relationship with Britain, which is founded on a commonality of language, legal system, political system, and culture, the relationship with France depends primarily on the separate needs of the two nations.  There are also many more Americans with English/Scot/Irish roots than Americans with French roots.

The current good time is based on the political needs of the two presidents, who are both in need of a diversion from bad approval ratings.  It is also based on common interests in the Middle East at this time.  Yet, it’s important to remember that France is not as important in US relations with the rest of Europe, Asia, and the Americas.  If Obama ever “pivots” towards Asia, as he frequently promises, France’s importance to Washington will quickly diminish.

France and the US will remain close allies, but not the best of friends.  There are wide differences in policy that could cause a quick chill in relations.  Nor, are there any new factors in this 237 year old alliance that give any indication that France is on the verge of becoming America’s closest or most important ally.



U.S.–Baltic Military Cooperation in the Persian Gulf

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

February 13, 2014

Issue Brief #4148

The three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—have contributed greatly to overseas military operations, especially Afghanistan, in recent years. Although they are small in size, the Baltic states demonstrate a willingness to contribute to NATO and the political will to deploy their militaries in a way notably absent across most of Europe.  A major concern of the Baltic states is that military cooperation with the United States will decrease when the mission in Afghanistan winds down. As the U.S. works with its Baltic partners to find new areas of military cooperation, one area that should be considered is maritime security in the Persian Gulf.

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How to Ensure That a U.S. Troop Drawdown Does Not Destabilize Afghanistan

By Lisa Curtis

Heritage Foundation

February 11, 2014

Issue Brief #4147

The Obama Administration has lost confidence in the government in Afghanistan, and it is easy to understand why. After the loss of nearly 2,300 U.S. troops in 12 years of military operations and the investment of over $90 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a security pact allowing for a residual U.S. force presence post-2014 and continual rants and conspiracy theories about U.S. policy are inexplicable and unforgiveable.  But allowing frustration with Karzai to lead to a total U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan this year would be a monumental mistake. The recent increase in al-Qaeda violence in Iraq should serve as a warning that failure to maintain a residual force presence in Afghanistan post-2014 would increase instability throughout South and Central Asia and embolden a vast network of Islamist terrorists with global ambitions. Moreover, renewed instability in Afghanistan would also likely spill over into Pakistan, where terrorist attacks are on the rise and the U.S. intelligence community’s concerns over the safety and security of its nuclear weapons arsenal are growing.

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Obama’s Foreign Policy: An Epic Fail

By Stephen Blank
American Foreign Policy Council
February 11, 2014

College students call something that has gone completely wrong an “epic fail.” Today, the foreign policy of U.S. President Barack Obama fully merits this label. In the last few months, it has become exceedingly clear not only that the administration has no idea how to relate the use of force to diplomacy but also that it is safer to be America’s adversary (or even its enemy) than to be its ally. The fiasco in Syria – in which Obama drew “red lines” against President Bashar Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, only to erase them in the absence of both an acceptable political goal and popular support – is well known. The administration’s vacillation opened the door for Russia, which bailed out the White House with a diplomatic deal that the administration was only too eager to seize. Since then, Moscow has concluded major energy and/or arms deals with Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, while steadily flooding Syria with arms. Syria’s pledge to disarm, meanwhile, remains unmet; at last tally, the Assad regime had shipped out less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons, ensuring its lengthy tenure in office.

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Assad Strikes Damascus

By Valerie Szybala

Institute for the Study of War

February 2014

Damascus is the Syrian regime’s center of gravity. The capital of Syria has long been viewed by the rebel forces as the key to winning the war in Syria, and its loss is unthinkable for Bashar al-Assad. Thus the struggle for Damascus is existential for the regime as well as the opposition. An operational understanding of the battle for Damascus is critical to understanding the imminent trajectory of the war. This report details the course of the conflict as it engulfed Damascus in 2013; laying out the regime’s strategy and describing the political and military factors that shaped its decisions on the battlefield.  As the seat of power for the Assad regime, Damascus has always been heavily militarized and has hosted a high proportion of the Syrian armed forces throughout the war. It became a battleground relatively late in the conflict. In July 2012, rebels advanced into areas of the capital previously thought to be impenetrable. In response, the regime escalated operations in the capital in late 2012 and consolidated forces from other parts of the country. Meanwhile, rebels in Damascus worked to improve their organizational structure, and implemented a shift towards targeted attacks on infrastructure and strategic assets. In addition to redistributing forces, the regime in late 2012 began augmenting its forces with foreign fighters, namely Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi‘a militias, and professionalizing pro-regime militias. This influx of manpower, in addition to increased levels of support from Iran and Russia, has been critical to the regime’s military strategy in 2013.

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Pivot on the rocks

By Michael Auslin

American Enterprise Institute

February 11, 2014

Commentary Magazine

Max’s questions about why John Kerry is paying far less attention to helping tamp down the tension in Asia are echoed throughout the region. On Thursday, Kerry is leaving for his fifth visit to Asia since taking office last year. The State Department claims this is proof of his commitment to the administration’s pivot. Yet the White House continues to believe that merely showing up is 90 percent of success. This Woody Allen approach has worn thin with countries looking at Washington’s continuing refusal to confront China head-on over its increasingly coercive behavior. Nor were our partners in Asia appeased by once-regular statements that D.C. budget battles would not reduce the American presence in the Pacific.

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Analysis 07-02-2014

America’s New Oil Independence and the Keystone Pipeline

Last Friday, the US State Department released a report that said the Keystone XL pipeline that would move Canadian oil into the US and south towards the Gulf for refining and export, is environmentally safe.  The report was hailed by many who favor creation of this pipeline and the jobs it would create.  However, the report met with criticism from environmental groups.

The issue concerns more than oil independence for the United States.  It is seen as an economic issue and many think it will be an issue in the 2014 mid-term elections and which party will control the US Senate.  “It is very likely that there will be negative consequences for Democrats if Keystone were approved,” said Kate Colarulli, the associate director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign. “This is a tremendous opportunity to protect the climate and build the Democratic base if Obama rejects Keystone XL.”

Vulnerable Democrats think differently.  Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the time to build the pipeline “is now,” adding that pipelines are safer and more environmentally friendly than oil that is transported by trains or trucks.  Polls show Landrieu continuing to lose ground to her Republican challengers.  Last week, a statewide telephone survey of Likely Louisiana Voters found Cassidy, a Republican congressman, with 44% support to Landrieu’s 40%.

But, it’s more than that.  It is a way for environmental groups to raise money according to Betsy Taylor, a philanthropic adviser on environmental issues.  “The biggest effect right now is that more money is going to flow,” said Ms. Taylor, adding that she had already received an offer from a donor to pay for the buses to bring activists to Washington.  The Sierra Club, for instance, raised $1 million in just six weeks for an anti-pipeline protest in Washington — and “about $100,000 of that came from contributions of less than $1,000.” Similarly, the climate-change organization has seen its e-mail list grow to 530,000 since 2011, more than twice what it was before.

However, many see the economic and security benefits to this pipeline moving Canadian oil.  Although it isn’t produced in the US, it comes from Canada and is seen as more secure than oil from the Middle East.  Along with shale oil, which is being produced in the US, Canadian oil sands promise to keep North America petroleum independent for decades.

As for jobs, the report give the economic benefit of the project, “During construction, proposed Project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced), and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States.”

No wonder, the project has the majority of Americans supporting it.  A Bloomberg National Poll shows support for the $5.4 billion link between Alberta’s oil sands and U.S. Gulf Coast refineries remains strong, with 56 percent of respondents viewing it as a chance to reduce dependence on oil imports from less reliable trading partners. That compares with the 35 percent who say they see it more as a potential source of damaging oil spills and harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Since this new oil independence isn’t from traditional oil fields like those seen in the Arabian Gulf, it’s important to understand them and the technology needed to extract the oil.

Canada’s Oil Sands

Canada owes its new oil sands wealth to one company – Suncor.  Suncor had the foresight to invest early on; long before the current oil sands craze.

One reason other oil companies avoided the Canadian oil sands deposits was that they were different from traditional oil deposits and very hard to exploit.  The oil sands are a mixture of bitumen, sand, water, and clay, and if you looked at an individual grain of sand under a microscope, you would see a grain of sand coated with a thin layer of water and a thick coat of bitumen.  Bitumen is a thick, tar-like hydrocarbon that can be processed into crude oil with a lot of effort.

Although the deposits were discovered in 1719, it took two hundred years for scientists to find a process that could separate the oil from the sand.  But the process was difficult and although some companies tried to mine the sand, the region was only producing 450 barrels of oil a day during WW II.  It was Suncor, which opened up its first commercially successful oil sands mine 46 years ago, that has managed to perfect an economical way to mine the oil sands.

The oil sands are crushed and treated with hot water, while the debris is screened off.  After the bitumen and sand mixture is separated from the rest of the mixture, it is diluted with naphtha, which strips the oil from the individual grains of sand.

After the naphtha is removed for recycling, the bitumen is heated and thermally cracked.  The result is coke, which is used to generate energy for the operation, and gases, which are liquefied to become synthetic crude oil.  Since the sulfur has been removed during the process, the resulting crude oil is cleaner, higher grade oil than most natural products.

In order to lower the impact on the environment, Suncor has been developing in situ technology.  Unfortunately, the technology has been harder to develop than had been previously imagined and led to production figures that were lower than original forecasts.

In situ mining uses horizontal wells to reach the oil sands. One well injects steam to heat the reservoir, allowing the bitumen to flow to the lower well where it is collected and piped to upgrading facilities.  This leaves the sand in place and dramatically reduces reclamation costs.

Despite the problems, the Canadian oil sands are a massive oil reserve.  In fact, Canada’s oil sands reserves are second in size only to those found in Saudi Arabia. And, as technology continues to improve, that reserve number could go as high as 300 billion barrels or more.   By 2030, the Canadian oil sands industry could be producing five million barrels per day.

Much of the opposition to the Keystone pipeline is due to the larger carbon footprint of Canadian oil sands.  The State Department report notes the Albertan oil generates about 17 percent more emissions than oil from other sources.  However, the report also acknowledges that the oil will be extracted whether or not the United States approves the pipeline. Meanwhile, other studies have reported that although the Alberta tar sands constitute the third-largest oil reserve in the world, the energy derived contributes only 0.01 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. In other words: Approving the Keystone XL project won’t have much of an effect at all on carbon emissions.

In fact, the new State Department report suggests that the anti-Keystone effort has actually led to an increase in emissions. As of now, Albertan oil can’t be transported by pipeline, so instead it’s sent to refineries by trains and ships — and both of those modes of transit result in significantly higher emissions than Keystone XL would, the report finds.

Shale Oil and Fracking

A second petroleum source has become available thanks to new technology.  That is oil shale and it has become a major industry in the Dakotas.  Many American oil producers are hoping that the Keystone pipeline can be used to move their product to refineries too.

The use of oil shale can be traced back to ancient times.  By the seventeenth century, oil shales were being exploited in several countries.  The Scottish oil shale industry began about 1859, the year that Colonel Drake drilled his pioneer well at Titusville, Pennsylvania.  As many as 20 beds of oil shale were mined at different times.  Mining continued during the 1800s and by 1881 oil shale production had reached one million metric tons per year.  With the exception of the World War II years, between 1 and 4 million metric tons of oil shale were mined yearly in Scotland from 1881 to 1955 when production began to decline, then ceased in 1962.  Canada produced some shale oil from deposits in New Brunswick and Ontario in the mid-1800s.  Currently several countries use some oil shale, with Estonia being the major producer and consumer.

Oil shale production wasn’t always successful in the United States.  Settlers found oil shale in Colorado in the 19th Century and even named a creek Stinking Water Creek because of the mixture of oil and water found in it.  In the 20th Century many oil companies were interested in the oil shale in what was called the Green River Formation in Colorado, but only pilot plants were built.  Unocal operated the last large-scale experimental mining and retorting facility in western United States from 1980 until its closure in 1991.  Unocal produced 4.5 million barrels of oil from oil shale averaging 34 gallons of shale oil per ton of rock over the life of the project.

There are two methods for extracting the oil from the shale, mining or in situ methods.  In the case of mining, the shale is mined, usually from an open pit operation, and the oil shale is transported to a crusher and retorting facility for processing.  After crushing, it is heated in the absence of oxygen to remove gases and the condensable oil.  The oil is then refined.

Processing the oil underground without mining (in situ) is also an option, although much depends on the porosity of the shale and recovery rates.  The most popular method is called Hydraulic Fracturing – “Fracking.”  Fracking breaks up the rock and then “scrubs the shale with slurry of frack sand.  Some environmentalists have claimed that fracking can damage the ground water, but the nature of shale deposits prevents that.  The shale rock is more brittle than most rock layers in the mantel that covers the earth’s surface. Because of this, they are easier to fracture which allows for less pressure to be used in the fracking technique. This reduced pressure causes less of an impact on the surrounding rock layers so they are more likely to stay intact while the shale layer is broken up.  In addition, the average in situ shale formation is thousands of feet underground, while the average drinking well or aquifer is a few hundred feet deep.

The safety of fracking was confirmed by a former Obama cabinet member.  Former U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said Wednesday that he believes hydraulic fracturing is safe, and the energy industry should work to convince the public that it doesn’t pose a safety threat.

The US has 62% of the world’s shale oil reserves, which equates to over 600 billion barrels of oil in recoverable shale oil reserves.  This compares to conventional world oil reserves of one trillion barrels – which would make the US a major oil producer for the foreseeable future.

Coal Based Petroleum

America’s potential oil production is also enhanced by its massive coal reserves, which can easily be turned into oil.

Making fuel from coal isn’t new or that complicated.  The original process was discovered by German scientists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch in the 1920s (hence the name Fischer-Tropsch Process).  They discovered that carbon monoxide and hydrogen could be converted into liquid hydrocarbons through a chemical reaction.  These feedstocks could be provided from coal.  And, since Germany had rich coal reserves, it proved to be practical for them.

This synthetic fuel was critical for Germany in World War II.  During the war, synthetic fuel production reached more than 124,000 barrels per day from 25 plants.  It was also the source for lubricants.

American officials were impressed with the German synthetic fuel program during the war and were determined to duplicate it in order to reduce American dependency on foreign petroleum sources.  With the help of Germans experts, a synthetic fuel plant was using North Dakota lignite to product diesel fuel in 1949.  During the next four years, 1.5 million gallons were produced, most of which was used in testing by the armed forces.  It was closed when major oil discoveries in Texas made petroleum a cheaper option.

Although there are pilot plants turning coal into fuel, this technology hasn’t been fully exploited by the Americans.  However, it promises another way to extend its oil independence.

America’s Energy Future

Given the technology and the natural resources, North America will be a major oil producer despite the Keystone pipeline controversy.

However, there are some energy losers that are trying to limit these new energy sources.  They consist of oil companies who are heavily invested in Middle Eastern oil reserves and who failed to seize the shale oil and oil sands reserves when they were available.

Another opponent to the Keystone pipeline is not opposed to the idea of oil sands.  Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway spent $34 billion to acquire Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in 2009.  This railroad is currently carrying the oil from Canada and the Dakotas.  Buffett, a close Obama ally, doesn’t want Keystone to cut into the lucrative oil transport business.

However, polls show Americans to favor the pipeline.  And, they have more votes than the environmentalists.

In the long run, the issue is more about American energy than one single pipeline.  As America produces more of its own oil and relies more on Canada to fill its import needs, Saudi Arabia, America’s second largest oil supplier, will need to seek new markets.  The Asian giants of India and China are the most logical customers, which will make Saudi Arabia and the other GCC nations more focused on maintaining relations with the East rather than the West.

The US, on the other hand, will find its interest in the Middle East declining.  Obviously, the US will remain focused on Iran and its nuclear intentions.  It will also remain committed to keeping the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz clear for shipping.

US interests and goals will become more generalized.  There will remain a commitment to keeping peace in the region since war could destabilize energy prices and bring about a worldwide recession.  However, there will not be the urgency brought about by a heavy reliance on Middle Eastern oil.



Maritime Security in the Middle East and North Africa: A Strategic Assessment

By Robert M. Shelala II

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 6, 2014

Political instability in Egypt, Somalia, and Yemen has raised security risks for the global shipping industry in the waters of the Middle East and North Africa. As regional governments struggle to provide physical and economic security to impoverished populations, pirates and terrorist groups have taken advantage of these power vacuums, placing commercial vessels and trade infrastructure at risk.  At the same time, Iran continues to maintain naval forces that have loomed as a threat to commerce since the Tanker Wars of the 1980s. As Western progress toward rapprochement with Iran remains uncertain, and the Syrian Civil War strains Iranian-Gulf Arab relations, maritime trade could very well become a target of Iran’s forces in the event of conflict.

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Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the “Clash within a Civilization”

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 3, 2014

No one has ever been able to travel to the Gulf without discovering just how different the perspectives and values of the West and the Middle East can be. During the last two years, however, these differences have threatened to become a chasm at the strategic level.  Many in the West still see the political upheavals in the region as the prelude to some kind of viable democratic transition. Western commentators focus on Iran largely in terms of its efforts to acquire nuclear forces, and see Saudi Arabia and the other conservative Gulf states as somehow involved in a low-level feud with Iran over status.

The reality in the Gulf is very different. Seen from the perspective of Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states, the upheavals in the Arab world have been the prelude to chaos, instability, and regime change that has produced little more than violence and economic decline.

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Polisario Front smuggling international aid

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

February 04, 2014

The Polisario Front claims to be the government of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a state which it hopes to establish in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Morocco since 1975. Backed by Algeria, the Polisario Front waged war against Morocco until 1991, but now controls little beyond camps in western Algeria for Sahrawi tribesmen it claims are refugees. While the Polisario claims the Tindouf camps hold more than 100,000 refugees, diplomats and former residents place the number considerably lower, perhaps 40,000. Nor are all the camp residents technically refugees from the Western Sahara: as many as half have their origins in Algeria, Mali, or Mauritania. Nevertheless, with the Polisario Front refusing to allow an independent census, the international community bases its humanitarian assistance for the Sahrawi refugees in these camps upon the inflated numbers.

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Egypt’s Post-Mubarak Predicament

By Ashraf El-Sherif

Carnegie Endowment

January 29, 2014

Three years after the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak from power, Egypt continues to grapple with an authoritarian state. Throughout the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, authoritarian forces remained the key political players. Democratic alternatives have not capitalized on cracks in the system. Prospects for the Brotherhood’s political reintegration and a democratization of political Islam are bleak. As long as credible alternatives fail to gain traction, the old state will persist and Egypt’s central challenges will remain unresolved.

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Afghanistan Post-2014: Scenarios and Consequences

By Frederic Grare

German Marshall Fund

February 04, 2014

Analyzing the evolution of four key variables that will affect the future of Afghanistan after 2014, this paper argues that the weaknesses of the country’s political system will ultimately determine its stability and security. The author examines the implications of these variables and concludes that Afghanistan will likely lose all significant state authority, and that it will remain a significant security concern for the international community in the future.

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Assessing U.S. Strategy in the Israeli-Palestinian Talks: A Mideast Trip Report

By Robert Satloff

Washington Institute

February 5, 2014

PolicyWatch 2204

Amid the swirl of Middle East chaos, Israelis are enjoying relative calm and real prosperity. External events — from the counterrevolution in Egypt and the deepening sectarian war in Syria to the spread of Iranian influence across the region — should provoke deep concern, but the political class is consumed with the politics and diplomacy of negotiations with the Palestinians.  The timing was not supposed to work this way. Israelis quite reasonably expected clarity on the Iran nuclear issue before having to make decisions on the Palestinian issue. This expectation arose not because there is any direct regional linkage between the two issues — there isn’t — but rather because Israelis anticipated a timetable in which the resolution of the Iran issue would tell them whether the United States will be a firm and reliable partner in the peace process. Now, however, Israel is being asked to make critical decisions on the Palestinian issue without that clarity and, even worse, amid profound doubts about the content and direction of U.S. Middle East policy.

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A New Approach to the Syria Crisis

By James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

February 4, 2014

PolicyWatch 2203

The conjuncture of Syria-related events over the past two weeks does not bode well for the Obama administration’s limited engagement strategy. Some argue that the talks in Montreux and Geneva isolated the Assad regime even more, presented the opposition in a positive light, and might produce progress down the road despite the discouraging short-term outcome. Yet at a time of newly reported regime atrocities, continued inter-rebel fighting, and other problematic developments, there is no evident plan to push Damascus and its supporters to accept even humanitarian actions, let alone a real ceasefire.  The administration’s mindset seems to be based on two assumptions: first, that Bashar al-Assad, Moscow, and Tehran will eventually realize “there is no military solution,” and second, that the conflict can be managed until then by U.S.-led efforts to ease “symptoms” (e.g., chemical weapons, refugees, al-Qaeda offshoots), contain regional spillover, and address other challenges to America’s global security role. Suggesting a more activist policy conjures up the specter of a Libya-like quagmire, empowering powerful al-Qaeda franchises, or, per the administration, launching a new “war.”

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Analysis 17-01-2014

Obama, the Senate, and Recess Appointments

A Supreme Court case took place on Monday, which on the surface seems trivial, but may have a major impact on the power of the American President.  Should the Supreme Court rule against Obama, the presidency will lose a power it has had for over 200 years.  If the court rules for Obama, the balance of power carefully constructed in the US Constitution, will swing towards the President.  The ruling could also have a major impact on the flow of power from the Congress to the President since the beginning of the republic.

The issue is recess appointments and four specific appointments.  On January 4, 2012, Obama made four recess appointments while the Senate was conducting pro forma sessions. A federal appellate court invalidated these appointments on the principal ground that they were made during a Senate session rather than “the Recess” within the meaning of the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has never before considered the meaning or application of the Recess Appointments Clause, but it has agreed to review President Obama’s recess appointments this term.

In an attempt to balance the powers of the legislative and executive branches of the US government, the writers of the constitution gave the president the power to appoint key government officials like judges, ambassadors, military officers, and cabinet secretaries.  However, the Constitution made it clear that these appointments must receive the “advice and consent” of the US Senate.

Since the Constitution was written in the 1780s, when travel was by foot or horse, the Constitution made an arrangement to make recess appointments when the Senate was not in session and it might take weeks to gather the Senate for a vote.  Article II, section 2, clause 3 of the Constitution provides that “[t]he President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”

Alexander Hamilton, one of the framers of the Constitution, described the recess appointment power as “nothing more than a supplement” or an “auxiliary method of appointment,” to operate “in cases to which the general method [of appointing officers] was inadequate.” He explained further:  The ordinary power of appointment is confided to the President and Senate jointly, and can therefore only be exercised during the session of the Senate; but as it would have been improper to oblige this body to be continually in session for the appointment of officers, and as vacancies might happen in their recess, which it might be necessary for the public service to fill without delay.

However, the recess appointment became a powerful tool for presidents who were trying to make a controversial appointment or faced a Senate controlled by a different party than the president’s.

It didn’t take long before the president tried to push the meaning of the constitution.  In 1823, President James Monroe’s Attorney General William Wirt issued an opinion expanding its use. Wirt addressed the question of filling a vacancy created as the result of the statutory expiration of the commission of the navy agent in New York. Although the vacancy arose while the Senate was in session, Wirt concluded that the President could fill the vacancy once the Senate was in recess because the president was unable to act.  That has been the position of presidents for the last 190 years.

The Senate reacted in 1863 by refusing to pay recess appointments until they were actually confirmed by the Senate.  However, they rescinded it partially in 1940 by agreeing to the Wirth definition of a recess appointment.

Needless to say, presidents have used the recess appointment whenever they wanted, with few objections.  Theodore Roosevelt used it frequently and President Bush used in 20 time in just the first two years of his presidency.  Obama used it in his first two years in the White House even though the Democrats had an overwhelming majority in the Senate.

Of course, the Senate had several options to stop recess appointments too.  The most common was to not recess – something Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid did during the final years of the Bush presidency.  He would hold pro-forma Senate sessions every three days even though most members were back home so Bush could not make appointments.

Although the Democrats still control the Senate, the Republican House had another way to stop recess appointments.  Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution states that neither house of Congress may adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other house. The House of Representatives did not consent to a Senate recess of more than three days at the end of 2012, and so the Senate, consistent with the requirements of the Constitution, had some sort of session every few days.

Obama problem was that he wanted to make several controversial appointments that wouldn’t have made it through a traditional Senate confirmation.  Therefore, he pushed the definition of the recess appointment and attempted to unilaterally appoint three people to seats on the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (after the Senate blocked action on his nomination), even though the Senate was holding pro forma sessions every three days in accordance with the Constitution.  Obama justified this by noting grounds that the Senate’s pro forma sessions could be disregarded because the Senate, by its own declaration, was not intending to conduct business during these pro forma sessions. While acknowledging that “[t]he question is a novel one” with “substantial arguments on each side,” the Office of Legal Counsel concluded that “while Congress can prevent the President from making any recess appointments by remaining continuously in session and available to act on nominations, it cannot do so by conducting pro forma sessions during a recess.”

This didn’t go over well with Senate Democrats who are jealous of their prerogatives’.  Democratic Senator Baucus blasted the White House for making the recess appointment without congressional approval.  “Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee—and answered,” Baucus said.

The courts, who are the arbiter in this, haven’t’ agreed with Obama either.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated these recess appointments on two grounds not directly related to the use of pro forma sessions. First, the court held that the adjournment in question took place within a formal enumerated Senate session and therefore did not constitute “the Recess” of the Senate within the meaning of the Recess Appointments Clause. Second, a majority of the panel held that the vacancies in question did not “happen” during the recess and therefore could not be filled under the Clause at all.

Although the US Supreme court hasn‘t ruled yet, it sounds like they are unlikely to support Obama’s legal stance.  Even Obama appointee Justice Elena Kagan, said at least twice that “it was the Senate’s job to decide” when it goes out on recess, thus giving it the ability to control when, or if, the president may make such appointments.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, argued that the president’s use of the recess appointments to fill empty slots on the National Labor Relations Board “flatly contradicts the clear text of the Constitution.” When U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli defended the decision by saying the Constitution is ambiguous on that question, Scalia retorted, “It’s been assumed to be ambiguous by self-interested presidents,” to gasps and laughs in the chamber.

The Future of the American Presidency

Although this issue may seem to be a bit of arcane constitutional law, it has a major impact on the powers of the American president.  For the last 200 years, the American president has gained in power compared to the other branches of government, the judiciary and Congress.  When presidents have overstepped their bounds, it has usually been on the ground of national security – something that is rarely challenged by Congress, and, if it makes it to court, is frequently upheld.

By making these controversial appointments to the NLRB, he has weakened his and future president’s powers.  And, it is quite probable that future presidents will have even less latitude in recess appointments than they have in the past.  This is a severe reduction in the power of the president.

This may be only the beginning.  Every decision made by those appointees will be struck down as unconstitutional.  This will lead to a raft of other court cases.  And, depending on the ruling, there may be other court cases challenging the power of the president’s power.  Ironically, in an attempt to increase the power of the presidency, he may have severely restricted it.

There may be other impact.  Over the years, presidents have frequently used executive orders rather than go through the legislative process.  Obama has gone further and has also changed legislation by deciding what should be enforced.  If the Supreme Court signals in this case that the presidency has exceeded its constitutional authority, other cases may be headed to the Supreme Court that will further trim the power of the presidency.

And, there is evidence that this already is beginning.  On Tuesday, the DC Court of Appeals clipped the power of the presidency a bit more.  In a unanimous decision (with some dissent on the justification), the court invalidated the Net Neutrality rules imposed by the FCC because Congress refused to approve them.  This is a blow to Obama who made Net Neutrality an issue in his 2008 campaign.

If the recess appointment decision goes against Obama, it won’t have much impact now that Reid has eliminated the filibuster for presidential appointees.   But it may be critical next year if the GOP holds the majority in a narrowly divided Senate. In the case of a controversial appointment by Obama, a Senate leader, who is a Republican could refuse to bring the nomination to the floor, leaving Obama unable to make recess appointments. If the Court rules against Obama and the GOP’s odds of winning big in November start to climb this year, expect Obama to nudge anyone in a Senate-confirmable federal position to quit this year so he can fill their vacancy on favorable terms.



Top Five National Security Priorities for Congress in 2014

By Steven P. Bucci and Michaela Dodge

Heritage Foundation

January 15, 2014

Issue Brief 4128

America is dramatically less safe and prosperous than when President Obama took office. Threats to the nation have increased as the President’s “leading from behind” strategy only caused the U.S. to lose respect and influence on every front. U.S. adversaries became more emboldened. As a result of President Obama’s poor leadership, the U.S. will have to face the return of great power competition, the spread of global terrorism, assaults on U.S. sovereignty and individual liberties from unaccountable international organizations, and an uncertain global economy made worse by unsustainable fiscal policies and debt. The U.S. ability to “command its own fortunes,” as George Washington put it, will be greatly diminished.

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Top Five Foreign Policy Priorities for 2014

By Nile Gardiner, Theodore R. Bromund, and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

January 14, 2014

Issue Brief 4123

The United States faces mounting challenges abroad in 2014. With weak leadership from the White House over the past five years, the U.S. has been confronted and all too often sidelined by America’s adversaries and strategic competitors. The Obama Administration’s “leading from behind” strategy has been a spectacular failure that has led to confusion among traditional U.S. allies while emboldening the enemies of freedom.  In 2014, the U.S. should be willing to stand up to those who threaten its interests while it stands with those who share its values and goals. Foremost among those values are the principles of sovereignty and self-determination, which must be as central to U.S. foreign policy as they are sacred to its system of government. Here are the top five foreign policy priorities for the Administration and Congress in 2014.

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