Analysis 08-01-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Upcoming Election in America Could Impact Middle Eastern Events

 

Amidst the war crimes committed by Israelis and the carnage of Gaza is the fact that Americans hold a mid-term election in three months.  And, although mid-term elections are seen mostly in a domestic framework, what happens will impact American relations in the Middle East.

Although the president has the constitutional responsibility for foreign relations, it is the Congress that has several checks on that power.  First, the US Senate must confirm any US ambassador to the region and the election climate may make that a very critical issue.  Second, Congress has the authority to authorize military action in the region and provide military and economic aid to nations in the region.  Third, the US Senate must also ratify any treaty before it becomes legal.  Finally, Congress has the “power of the purse,” which can be used to restrict administration actions by refusing funding.  Given these powers and the potential election outcome in November, we can see some changes in how the US will interact in the region starting in a few months.

To understand how events could change, remember that the US government is divided with the Congress passing laws and providing money, while the President executes policy and enforces law.  Currently the Congress is divided between the Democratic controlled Senate and the Republican controlled House of Representatives.  With the Senate in the control of his political allies, legislation that comes out of the Congress has already been made more to Obama’s liking by the input of the US Senate.  Without the Democratic control of the Senate, Obama would only have two options concerning legislation coming out of Congress – veto it in its entirety or sign it.  He would also have to accept that his choices of ambassadors might be declined by a Senate in the control of his political opponents.

As a result, the key battle in November will be over control of the US Senate.  Polling shows that the Republicans will likely retain control of the House of Representatives and a majority of the governorships in the states.  So, the best hope for Obama to retain more control of his agenda lies in preventing the Republicans from gaining six or more seats in the US Senate, which would give the GOP control.

At this point of time, it is looking bad for the Democrats.  Last weekend, the New York Times and CBS News, in partnership with YouGov, released some results of a massive polling and research effort across the country.  YouGov was quite accurate in 2012 and the results indicate that this November could be disastrous for the Democrats in the US Senate.  Republicans hold a clear advantage in races in three states: South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia. They also find the Republicans with a nominal lead in five additional states.  These states are: Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — where Democratic incumbents face tough re-election contests and where Mitt Romney won in 2012. Republicans also have a slight edge in Iowa and Michigan, two open seats in states that usually vote for Democrats in presidential elections.

That is not the only bad news for Democrats.  Americans are so disappointed with Obama at the moment that, if they could do the 2012 election all over again, they’d overwhelmingly back Romney for President.  That’s just one finding in a CNN poll, released Sunday, which shows Romney topping Obama in a re-election rematch by a whopping nine-point margin, 53 percent to 44 percent. That’s an even larger spread than CNN found in November, when a survey had Romney winning a redo 49 percent to 45 percent.  Two years ago, Obama won re-election with about 51 percent of the vote.

Since mid-term elections are usually a referendum on the president in the White House, this is bad news.  An electorate disappointed with the president will either vote for the opposing party or stay home.

Democratic strategists, however, aren’t panicking.  They recognize that they will lose seats, but will try to limit their losses to 5, which allows the Democrats to retain control.  To do this, they will remain focused on those seats they consider the easiest to hold, will move money into those campaigns, will try to cast the Democrat as an opponent to some of Obama’s policies and try to energize some of their voting base which they are afraid will not vote this November.

An important part of this election is to allow Democrats to keep their distance from Obama so as to not alienate independent voters who don’t like him.  Of the ten states with the lowest approval ratings for Obama, Democrats have to defend seats in five: South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Alaska, and Arkansas.

The most dramatic distancing comes from West Virginia Democrat Natalie Tennant, who is campaigning for a vacant Senate seat in a coal-producing state targeted by Obama environmental regulations. She is running an ad in which she hits a switch and plunges the White House into darkness in protest over his policies.

Obama has also traveled the country raising money for Senate candidates – often to the criticism of others who accuse him of spending more time in fund raising than governing the country.  So far this cycle, Obama has headlined 11 events for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, while Vice President Joe Biden has hosted five and first lady Michelle Obama has been the top draw for two. The president also has added his weight to the Senate Majority Fund PAC, which has run ads against (GOP candidates Tom) Cotton in Arkansas, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, and other normally Republican states where Democrats are fending off Republican challengers.

The next challenge is to energize the voter block that gave Obama his two electoral wins in 2008 and 2012.  As a result, he has focused on the “War on Women,” and “Economic Equality,” to encourage his 2012 voters to come out in November.

The desire to energize the Obama base may also be at the heart of the Obama threat to legalize millions of illegal immigrants between now and the election.  Some Republicans have noted that such a move is illegal and would be grounds for an impeachment of Obama.  Noting that the impeachment of Clinton actually helped the Democrats in the 1998 elections, many in the White House think that the threat of an impeachment would encourage Obama supporters to come out and vote for Democratic Senate candidates.

An idea of this strategy was noted by Dan Pfeiffer of the White House.  In reporting of the event by the Los Angeles Times, they said, “Any such move would prompt a major clash with congressional Republicans, and at least some White House officials appeared to relish the prospect that the GOP might overreach in its response and act in a politically self-destructive manner.  When the decision is announced, it will “increase the angry reactions from Republicans,” Pfeiffer said.  “I would not discount the possibility” that Republicans would seek to impeach Obama over his next immigration moves, he said.

Pfeiffer made his comments at a breakfast for reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

However, despite such talk, the Republicans appear to be circumspect about impeachment.  They could get articles of impeachment passed in the House, but would be unable to get a conviction, even if the Senate goes Republican.  This would discourage such a course.  Republicans also know that any unilateral action taken by Obama can be easily revoked under a Republican president in the future.

How a Republican Senate Would Impact the Middle East

Assuming the Republicans take the Senate in November, what impact would there be on the Middle East?

The most interesting change would be on the Democratic side of the Senate as the Senate Democratic leadership would likely become more pro-Israel and even less willing to deal with the Palestinians.  That person would be New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who is Jewish and very pro-Israel.

Schumer, is currently the Democrat’s number 4 person in the Senate, but has a realistic path to becoming the Democratic leader.  Senator Tim Johnson, (D-SD), is retiring and Senator Jack Reed, (D-RI), will become the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee after 2014. That leaves Schumer as next in line.

If Republicans seize control of the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might not keep his job.  Reid’s departure would leave a major power vacuum among Senate Democrats, one most likely filled by Schumer, who has aggressively pursued the Democratic leadership post for years.

However, as the Senator for New York, which has a large Jewish voter block, Schumer has strongly supported Israel over the years.  Last week, Chuck Schumer along with two other senators wrote to Obama that “the threats posed by Hamas rockets and tunnels whose only purpose is to kill and kidnap Israelis are intolerable, and Israel must be allowed to take any actions necessary to remove those threats.”

The senators wanted to impress upon Obama their “strong belief that any viable cease fire in Gaza must remove the threat to Israel posed by Hamas rockets and tunnels…Any cease fire should create a situation in which Israeli citizens no longer face the threat of brazen terrorist attacks,” they wrote. “Israeli citizens have faced over 1800 rocket launches from Hamas since June. While Iron Dome has saved countless lives, over five million Israelis live in fear of incoming rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza. Twenty-eight tunnels have been discovered by the IDF since the ground operation in Gaza began. Israel has an absolute right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel.” “…Any effort to broker a ceasefire agreement that does not eliminate those threats cannot be sustained in the long run and will leave Israel vulnerable to future attacks.”

In the past, Schumer has also taken Obama to task for a “hostile” attitude towards Israel.  And, while Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been a supporter of Israel, a Jewish Senator from New York could be expected to be an even stronger advocate of Israel.  In fact, as the Senate Minority leader and a member of the Congressional leadership, he would be the highest ranking Jewish American in the American government.

There are other ways that a Republican Senate could impact the Middle East.  While Obama has been cool towards the el-Sisi administration in Egypt, the Republican leadership has been more supportive of the Egyptian government and increasing foreign aid.  In addition, Senator McCain, who is in line to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee if the Republicans win, would use his power as part of the Senate majority to force more aid to Syrian rebels.

A Republican Senate might also make their mark on the diplomatic corps in the Middle East.  Obama has made more large political contributors to his presidential campaign ambassadors than any other president.  The result is that people totally unqualified to represent the US are finding themselves advancing US policy in countries that they have never visited or even know the language.  “The Obama administration’s appointments suggest that the president isn’t being honest when he says that diplomacy is important to him,” Henri J. Barkey, Lehigh University professor and former State Department policy staffer, wrote in The Washington Post. “It’s illogical, and insulting, to presume that Norwegians are such wonderful and civilized people — and hence unlikely to cause any problems with Washington — that we can afford to send someone on a taxpayer-funded three-year junket to enjoy the fjords.”

A Republican Senate, which must confirm every ambassador, would be unlikely to let such egregious appointments be confirmed. Although most Democratic Senators are already pro-Israel, a Republican senate would undoubtedly remain pro-Israel – even if other major cuts are made in the foreign aid appropriations.  Consequently, it’s nearly certain that aid to Egypt would continue in order to keep the Egypt/Israel treaty in place.

A Showdown between Obama and Congress in 2015

If the Senate becomes Republican in November, expect to see a major fight between the Congress and Obama in 2015 – a fight that may even lead to a government shutdown.

The Constitution makes it clear that the Congress has the power to appropriate money.  And, the Congress can place any strings to that spending that it wishes.

Since the appropriations bill is the one bill that can’t be filibustered in the Senate, it’s likely that the US House will pass a bill that seriously limits Obama in several areas including immigration, NSA spying, Obamacare, and the power of the IRS.  This bill will pass the Congress and will go to the President for signing – something he will be unlikely to do.  The result will probably be a short government shutdown, political posturing, and bluffing.  In the end, the shutdown will help neither party and some compromises will have to be made by both sides.

The only other critical issue will be the threat of impeachment of the president.  This is unlikely given the polls that show only about a third of Americans support Obama’s impeachment.  Although Obama is unpopular with the majority of voters, there isn’t the political support for his impeachment – a fact the Republicans are well aware of.  They are more likely to rely on the courts, the power to appropriate money, and even a reliance on state powers to negate Obama in the last two years of his administration.

Obama’s Ineffective Gaza Foreign Policy

The Israeli attacks on Gaza appear to be expanding.  Southern Command Major General Shlomo Turgeman spoke to Arutz Sheva about the expansion of the operation throughout new areas of Gaza.  “Yesterday, we expanded operations throughout central and southern Gaza,” he said. “We are hitting wherever we identify tunnels and where Hamas terrorists operate.”

Why hasn’t Obama been able to stop this escalation?

Since the formation of Israel, American presidents have been able to exert some degree of influence on Israeli leadership when it comes to observing a truce.  However, for the first time in seven decades that is not happening.  Is it Israeli intransigence or is it a failing American president.

It is, in fact, both.  Israeli leaders are determined to continue their shelling and ground attack on Gaza.  Meanwhile, Obama is unable and unwilling to exert any pressure on Israel.

One issue that has been recently raised concerning Israel’s bellicose response is the fact that there are significant natural gas reserves off the Gaza Strip that Israel covets.  Daily Sabah reported, “In 1999, the Palestinian Authority granted the British Gas Group (BGG) and Consolidated Contractors International Company gas exploration rights off the coast of Gaza in a 25-year agreement. Following that, two wells were drilled and extensive gas reserves were discovered in the area. The reserves, which hold an estimated 1.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas, has made Israel’s mouth water since then. Negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in the early 2000s went back and forth, leaving Palestine with no concrete steps to benefit from the natural resource.
Furthermore, the course of events became even more inextricable in 2006 when Hamas won a victory in elections and took over Gaza, ousting its rival Fatah, who ended up governing the West Bank.”

Hamas has rejected the 1999 agreement and wants new terms that give more money to Gaza.  This is something Israel opposes.  Consequently, the destruction of Hamas (and thousands of Palestinians) would give Israel more leverage in benefiting from these natural gas reserves.

That explains Israel’s continued attacks in Gaza.  But, what is the strategy behind Obama’s weak response to the slaughter?

Although many have accused Obama of being weak in his response to international crisis, he has moved aggressively to support Israel militarily.  Obama has agreed to re-supply Israel with ammunition, after Israeli military officials made its request to the U.S. Defense Department.  The U.S. will give access to the massive stockpile of American weapons stored in Israel, CNN reported.

The little-known stockpile is officially known as War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel and has been maintained inside Israel since the 1990s by United States European Command, according to ABC News.  The location of the stockpile as well as the types and quantities of ammunition it stores are classified.  However, a Congressional Research Service report from April says, “the United States stores missiles, armored vehicles and artillery ammunition” in the stockpile.

Compare this action to Obama’s refusal to give any significant military aid to the Ukraine. Obviously Israel has more political importance to Obama than the Ukraine.

The answer is found in domestic politics and recent polling.  According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, the public is sour on Obama’s failure to contain that conflict.  “When it comes to Obama’s handling of the increasing tensions in Gaza, the poll shows 39 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove, with one-third disapproving ‘strongly,’” The Post reported on Wednesday.   In fact, the poll shows that Obama gets lower marks for his handling of the crisis in Gaza than he does for either his approach to the downing Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 or his management of America’s foreign affairs overall.

Interestingly enough, the anger doesn’t come from Jewish voters or pro-Israel Christians, but from his own base, Democrats and young voters.  According to the Washington Post, “Sixty-five percent of Democrats approve of Obama’s efforts, but this falls significantly below the number approving of him on foreign policy overall (77 percent). Likewise, while respondents aged 18 to 39 split evenly on Obama’s general handling of foreign policy (47 percent apiece), this age group disapproves of his efforts in the Middle East by a 21-point margin, 54-33. Separate surveys from the Pew Research Center and Gallup have found younger Americans are significantly more skeptical of Israel’s actions than are older Americans.” (Italics added for emphasis)

What this means is that Americans disapprove of Obama’s Gaza policy and, at the same time, Obama’s supporters are more likely to disapprove because they see it as being slanted towards Israel, not the Palestinians.

Meantime, there is some question about Obama’s sudden focus on using Qatar and Turkey in the peace negotiations.  The Washington Post notes, “Kerry turned to Turkey and Qatar, which as friends and financial backers of Hamas had more leverage. That put the deal first and a stable solution to Gaza’s problems second. The deal blew up anyway, victim of Israeli and Palestinian inability to get to yes.”

However, Turkey and Qatar are critical in controlling the problems in Syria and Iraq.  This opens the possibility that Obama and Kerry are willing to let the slaughter in Gaza continue in order to gain leverage in the conflict against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The domestic politics for Obama is attractive.  Since younger voters are less likely to vote in mid-term elections than Jewish-American voters, giving Israel more weapons and allowing Israel to continue its attacks is more likely to appease his voter base in November.  At the same time, he positions himself for countering ISIS, which appears to be a more serious concern with the White House because a failure in Iraq will damage Obama politically more than additional killings in Gaza.

The result is more deaths in Gaza, while politics continue as usual in Washington.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Dumping Maliki and Striking at ISIS

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 28, 2014

Commentary

It is time that the United States stopped waiting for good options that could somehow quickly solve its problems in the Middle East and accept the reality that the United States faces an unstable mess in the entire Middle East/North Africa region that is likely to take at least a decade to play out before there is any real stability. There are no “good,” quick, or simple options that can avoid this reality, or avoid the fact the United States must choose between unpleasant alternatives in many cases.  The United States cannot continue to wait, hope that negotiations and half-hearted use of “soft power” can somehow substitute for more tangible action, and “lead from behind” to the point it does not really lead at all. It needs to become far more active in dealing with issues like Iraq and the growth of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and not let critical turning points pass while it waits for Godot.

Read more

 

 

What the Gaza War Means for the Middle East

By Nathan J. Brown, Michele Dunne, Lina Khatib, Marwan Muasher, Maha Yahya

Carnegie Endowment

July 28, 2014

Q&A

As a result of Israel’s incursion into Gaza, Hamas is now more popular than Fatah according to a recent poll—for the first time in years. And if Israel’s intention is to disarm or weaken Hamas, the historical record does not suggest these objectives will be achieved.   Three earlier ground incursions, in the last six years and another ground war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, failed to weaken Israel’s opponents. And they didn’t disarm either organization. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have actually strengthened their military capabilities over time.   Israel seems to be pursuing tactical objectives to appease its domestic audience and the hardliners in the Israeli cabinet—at the expense of thousands of Palestinian casualties.

Read more

 

 

The Seesaw Friendship Between Turkey’s AKP and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

By Senem Aydın-Düzgit

Carnegie Endowment

July 24, 2014

The seesawing relations between the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) demonstrate how ideological linkages can clash with geopolitical priorities in an unstable neighborhood. Between 2007 and 2013, the AKP capitalized on its ideological kinship with the MB to foster closer relations with the movement and to increase its weight in the region. Relations turned sour with the coup in Egypt and Turkey’s fear that links with the MB would lead to retaliation from both the new Egyptian government and the Gulf states (with the exception of Qatar). The once warm relationship between the AKP and the MB has measurably cooled as geopolitical realities have shifted, especially since the most recent presidential elections in Egypt.

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“Dirty Bombs:” Reason to Worry?

By John R. Haines

Foreign Policy Research Institute

July 2014

The recent report that the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized a quantity of heretofore unreported material from a university laboratory in Iraq sparked much commentary about the possibility of a malefactor fashioning and detonating a so-called “dirty bomb”—formally, an explosive radiological dispersal device or “Erdd.” Knowledge of three recent incidents involving the theft or attempted theft of radiologic material in Mexico further amplified discussions about the risk that such material could be moved covertly into the United States and fashioned into an eRDD for detonation in a major American city. The purpose of this essay is to further explore recent incidents involving the theft or attempted theft of radiologic material, and to assess whether, and if so what, threat such material may pose.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: Islamic State’s Driving Force

By Aaron Y. Zelin

Washington Institute

July 30, 2014

BBC News

On 5 July, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known by his supporters as Caliph Ibrahim, left the shadows and showed his face for the first time, in a Friday sermon in Mosul, Iraq. While previous pictures of him had been leaked, Baghdadi had not shown himself in the four years since he became leader of what was then the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq (forerunner of ISIS, then the Islamic State).  Before April 2013, Baghdadi also did not release many audio messages. His first written statement was a eulogy to Osama Bin Laden in May 2011. His first audio message was released in July 2012 and predicted future victories for the Islamic State.  Since the group’s resurgence, which began 15 months ago, Baghdadi’s media output has risen. The amount of specific information about his background has also increased.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 07-25-2014

ANALYSIS

 

 

نتنياهو يستمر بعدوانه ومحاولات كيري لانقاذه تفشل

Israeli aggression on Gaza Continue

The Israeli Army is proving what the Monitor Analysis pointed out last week – that combat operations in urban areas are costly.  As of this writing, 32 to 50 Israeli soldiers have died in the aggression on Gaza.  The recent days of combat were the heaviest in terms of Israeli casualties since 1973.

Although the United Nations, the US, Egypt, and even Russia have offered their help, no truce is being considered at this time.  Resistant leaders announced they were ready to accept a humanitarian truce, but would not agree to a full ceasefire until the terms had been negotiated.

The political situation in Israel also complicates the issue of a truce.  It’s obvious the Israeli leadership has committed to a major war in Gaza and seeks to win it as soon as possible.  However, the heavy casualties being suffered by the IDF is creating a strong desire by many Israelis to stop current operations.

Despite this, US officials are downplaying any hopes of a quick truce or settlement.  US Secretary of State Kerry arrived in Israel on Wednesday to talk with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders.  He did meet with the UN Secretary General and PA President Abbas.

The reality is that Israel doesn’t want to stop operations if at all possible.  They want the time to destroy the tunnels and track down some of resistance leadership.  Meanwhile Palestinian fighters seem content to bleed the IDF with costly urban warfare.

Heavy Operations Continue

Little is known about Israeli operations, as the Israeli government has tried to keep much of the war secret.  In fact, the major news that has come out has only been released as a result of heavy IDF casualties in certain operations.  For instance, the loss of 18 by the Golani Brigade on Sunday was the main reason for identifying that operation.  However, there are reportedly larger operations taking place.

There appear to be about five brigade sized combat teams operating in Gaza.  In addition to infantry, these combined arms teams include armor and engineering teams to identify and destroy tunnels in the Gaza Strip.

Operations have become more intense this week as the IDF has moved from the more open areas of Gaza and into Gaza City.  This, in turn has slowed the advance as engineering units are forced to destroy more buildings in order to allow the advance of the infantry and tanks.  The IDF is also facing heavier fire from rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank weapons.

As mentioned in last week’s analysis, armored vehicles are easy targets in urban warfare.  This has proven true, especially since the IDF has been using the obsolete American M-113 armored personnel carrier, which was proven to be very vulnerable during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.  The M-113 APC has very light aluminum armor that is only effective against small arms fire and unsuitable for urban warfare.  It was originally designed to be air mobile and is very vulnerable to RPG or anti-tank weapons.

This was proven to be true this last week as 7 IDF soldiers, including two Americans, were killed when they were engaged in street fighting against Palestinian fighters and the vehicle was hit by an anti-tank weapon.  A similar attack in Gaza in 2004 led to the death of 11 Israelis.

The M-113 had been hit in the rear and on the side, which indicates that Hamas fighters are able to surround many of the Israeli units entering the urban areas.

Since the destruction of the M-113, 30 Israeli reservists have refused to ride the M-113 if they have to fight in Gaza.  It was only after that that the IDF ordered all M-113s out of Gaza.  In response to the attack, Sami Turgeman, the commander of the IDF Southern Command, said that the army was aware of the M-113′s faults but did not have the means to provide full protection to every soldier entering Gaza.  Then, in a show of opportunism, the Ministry of Defense immediately asked for more money to buy newer APCs.

This successful attack against the M-113 highlights the fact that the destruction of buildings by IDF engineering teams, Israeli artillery, and Israeli aircraft have actually bogged down the pace of the IDF advance as Palestinians have been able to use the rubble for defensive positions.  The IDF is also finding that the tunnel complex in Gaza is much more extensive and harder to defeat than planned.

“It’s like a metro, an underground” connecting weapons-manufacturing and storage sites to passageways beneath the Israeli border about 2 miles away,” Lt. Col. Lerner told the Wall Street Journal. “I would describe it as a lower Gaza City.” He said the army found openings in Shajaiyeh to 10 tunnel shafts leading to the underground network. The army entered the area with infantry, artillery and armored units, he said, expecting strong resistance.

These tunnels are forcing Israel to reconsider their current anti-tunnel capability.  Britain’s newspaper The Telegraph reports, “the IDF’s elite Talpiot unit has been working on developing a tunnel detection system which was tested in Tel Aviv. Its costs are estimated to be $59 million.  “The high-tech system, which uses special sensors and transmitters, is still in its R&D phase, and if all goes well, should be operational within a year”, notes a report on Israel’s I-24 news.”

“Another Israeli company, Magna, already provides defense systems for the Israel-Egypt border, as well as for the nuclear reactor sites in Japan. It proposes digging a 70-km tunnel along the Israel-Gaza border, equipped with a sensitive alert system.

This “will provide real-time alerts of any tunnel digging that crosses our tunnel, whether above or below it. The IDF will know exactly where the attack tunnel is and how many people are in it, and can monitor the progress of digging it in real time, and decide how to respond to the threat,” the company’s founder and CEO Haim Siboni told Israel’s Globes publication.”

American Reaction

Although pro-Israeli critics have lambasted the Obama Administration for what they perceived as a timid and distant from the Israeli government, there is little evidence to prove it.

Obama’s Federal Aviation Administration was criticized for telling US flagged airlines to stop flying into Tel Aviv’s airport after a rocket had landed nearby.  However, many airlines were already stopping their Tel Aviv flights before the FAA had made their request.

There is another reason why the US government will be reticent to criticize Israel.  Much of what Israel is doing in terms of air operations closely mirror what the Obama Administration is doing in its drone war.  Last Saturday an American drone strike killed 11 people in Pakistan.  Two days before, a drone strike had killed 15.

Ironically, the US follows the same rules that Israel follows but occasionally warned them of using excessive force.  The Pakistanis didn’t pose an immediate threat to the US, civilians weren’t warned, and the US has shown no interest in a truce.  Even worse, the US and Israeli drone war has a reputation of “double tapping” targets – hitting the target twice in order to kill people who rush to aid those injured in the first strike.

This leaves the US in an uncomfortable situation.  Should they attack Israel’s tactics, they leave themselves open to criticism of their own tactics.

The US is also boosting military assistance to Israel.  Israel has requested an additional $225 million in United States funding for the production of Iron Dome components and missiles.   In a letter to the leaders of both houses of Congress on Wednesday, U. S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel wrote that the Department of Defense “has reviewed and supports this urgent request.”   This will increase Iron Dome funding by the US to more than half-a-billion dollars this year.

Despite the heavy losses by the IDF, it appears that Israel has enough support in the US to continue the war.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Hamas and the New Round of Fighting in Gaza: Both Sides are Escalating to Nowhere

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 17, 2014

Commentary

The key question in any war – in starting it and throughout the conflict – is how will this war end?  Ever since 1967, the answer in the case of Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been by pausing and then resuming in a different form with the same result. In the case of the fighting in Gaza, changes in tactics and technology have simply escalated to nowhere. The best outcome has been an unstable ceasefire. The worst has been violence too low in intensity to be labeled another round of conflict.  The initial cause in 2006, 2012, and now in 2014, has been a new attempt by Hamas to change the strategic facts on the ground – increasingly relying on rockets and missiles rather than irregular warfare in the form of ground or naval attacks on Israel. In each case, Israel’s decisive military edge has left Hamas (and the more extreme Palestinian Islamic Jihad) weaker than before, killed and wounded far more Palestinians than Israelis, prolonged the economic isolation that has crippled Gaza and reduced living standards and social mobility, and failed to have any meaningful political impact that benefited Hamas in making even limited strategic gains.

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The Shi’ites of the Middle East: An Iranian fifth column?

By Michael Rubinabnd Ahmad K. Majidyar

American Enterprise Institute

July 18, 2014

As sectarian violence rages in Iraq and Syria and simmers across the broader region, the role of the Middle East’s diverse Shi’ite communities has become increasingly important for regional stability.  Growing sectarian divisions present dilemmas to Shi’ite communities, regional Sunni rulers, and the United States, including how to preserve communal security and religious freedom while rebuffing outside forces — be they Sunni or Shi’ite — that might try to destabilize or undercut the independence of Shi‘ite religious communities. Iran’s apparent intervention in the ongoing crisis in Iraq highlights another quandary for American policymakers: how can America rebuff Iranian ambitions to speak on behalf of the diverse array of Shi’ite communities beyond Iran?

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Five Myths About Hamas

By Nathan J. Brown

Carnegie Endowment

July 18, 2014

Washington Post

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, he says that “without action, the price that we would pay would be much greater.” But predicting how Hamas is likely to act and react requires probing what the organization can do, what it wants, and how it sees itself. From Hamas’s angle, the current fighting offers just as many opportunities as threats. Let’s examine five myths about the militant Islamist organization.

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An Iranian-Turkish Reset
By Ilan Berman

American Foreign Policy Council
July 22, 2014

Washington Times

Earlier this summer, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani paid a very public two-day visit to a surprising locale: Ankara, Turkey. The June trip — the first of its kind in nearly 20 years — represented a significant evolution of the political ties between Iran and Turkey.  In recent times, relations between Ankara and Tehran have been troubled on a number of fronts (from energy to Turkey’s role in NATO’s emerging missile shield). However, no issue has roiled ties between the two countries more than Syria.  Iran, a longtime backer of the Assad regime in Damascus, has aided the Syrian government extensively since the start of the civil war there some 3 years ago. Turkey, meanwhile, has become a key source of political support (not to mention logistics and financial assistance) for the disparate opposition factions now arrayed against Mr. Assad — including extreme Islamist ones. These conflicting positions have deeply affected the health of ties between Tehran and Ankara over the past three-plus years.

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Libya and Mali Operations: Transatlantic Lessons Learned

By Philippe Gros

German Marshall Fund

July 18, 2014

The Libya and Mali engagements were very different in nature and scope, but were bothequally rich in providing insightful lessons on the state of transatlantic and European defense cooperation. The operation in Libya was an implicit support to an insurrection and for regime change, while the objective of the operation in Mali was to liberate part of a country occupied by jihadists and to destroy their capabilities. Operationally speaking, the former was a typical air and naval operation and the latter air-land campaign, moresimilar in nature to the Iraq war in 2003 than to any other recent conflicts.  However, these campaigns did share many characteristics regarding the configuration of Western coalitions, particularly in the Mediterranean and in Africa, with the backdrop of a decisive change in the nature of the transatlantic relationship marked by a relative U.S. fallback. This paper offers an analysis of some of the major lessons of each engagement regarding these partnerships, and draws a few key lessons and perspectives of this new strategic construct.

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The Endgame in Gaza

By Aaron David Miller

Wilson Center

July 22, 2014
Until I heard CNN’s weekend interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and watched Bloody Sunday unfold with scores of Palestinian civilian deaths and 13 Israeli soldiers killed, I thought I had the Gaza thing pretty much figured out. It would end — more or less — the way the two previous movies had concluded.  In both 2008-2009 and 2012, Israel degraded Hamas’s high-trajectory weapons; but Hamas survived and restocked its arsenal with weapons of greater range, precision, and lethality. Hamas maintained control over Gaza and even derived a few political benefits in the process. Meanwhile, the people of Gaza continued to suffer — from both Israel’s unrelenting economic blockade and Hamas’s catastrophic mismanagement and fixation with its armed struggle against Israel. With the advent of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government in Cairo, intensified Egyptian pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood also pinched Gazans.

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Turks in Europe and Kurds in Turkey Could Elect Erdogan

By Soner Cagaptay and Ege Cansu Sacikara

Washington Institute

July 23, 2014

PolicyWatch 2291

On August 10, Turks will go to the polls to choose a new president for the first time in the country’s history, an electoral change ushered in by a 2010 constitutional amendment. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the longtime prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is on the ballot, as is Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, joint candidate for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Action Party (MHP).  In the March 30 local government elections, the CHP-MHP bloc and the AKP each received 43% of the vote. This leaves two voter blocs as potential kingmakers in next month’s polls: Kurdish nationalists, whose Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) received 6.5% of the March vote, and Turks residing overseas, who will be allowed to vote abroad for the first time following a 2012 change to the electoral system.

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Operational Wisdom amid Strategic Distress

By Alon Paz and Nadav Pollak

Washington Institute

July 22, 2014

PolicyWatch 2289

The current confrontation between Israel and Hamas could look at first glance like merely another military round between the two sides. However, a number of major differences, especially regarding Hamas’s regional isolation, its decade-long force buildup, and its development of military strategy and tactics, distinguish Israel’s Operation Protective Edge from past operations. Although it might be too early to derive strategic conclusions from the current operation, certain key points can already be noted as lessons for the future. Moreover, as other regional terror organizations seek to learn from this conflict, the task of analyzing Hamas’s actions from day one becomes even more crucial.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 07-18-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Israeli Agression Intensifies

Ground War Cannot Solve Problems

As the Israeli aggression intensifies, Israel has ordered up more reservists, warned Gaza residents to evacuate, and made moves to send Israeli troops into Gaza as an occupation force.

Is there any way to avoid this?  And, if that happens, will Israel find itself bogged down again as it has in the past when it has tried to invade urban areas?  How will the problems caused by an occupation of Gaza impact Israel’s willingness to negotiate?

Currently, there are several attempts being made in the region to craft a truce, the most notable was the truce proposal made by Egypt.  However, although a divided Israeli cabinet accepted the terms of the truce, it was rejected by Palestinian resistance forces.   Hamas said from the outset it would refuse: “quiet for quiet,” i.e. merely stopping hostilities on both sides.  Nor, did it include a clause that Hamas considers essential – international guarantees that Israel will meet its obligations.  In addition, Hamas found out about it from the media, and viewed it as an attempt to humiliate the organization, and to undercut its political power.

Besides the mutual cessation of fire, the proposal called for the opening of border crossings to people and goods, but at some undefined time “when the situation on the ground stabilizes.”

Hamas also sees the Egyptian truce as an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to regain political power in Gaza.  PA President Abbas had approved the truce.  And, after Hamas refused the truce agreement, the Palestinian Authority was reported to propose to Egypt that it open the Rafah border crossing under the supervision of PA security forces, and deploy PA forces along the Philadelphi Corridor between Gaza and Egypt.

Turkey has also tried to step in as it has traditionally had relations with Israel.  Turkey has been attempting to mediate a cease-fire between Palestinian groups and Israel, with Foreign Minister Davutoğlu holding talks with his U.S. and Qatari counterparts, along with Hamas leader Mashaal and PA President Abbas.  They also warned Israel that relations between the two countries couldn’t be improved if the current hostilities continue.

Turkey is seeking a greater involvement by the international community and has criticized the UN for its inaction.  “The United Nations is the number one responsible on this matter. I always ask the U.N: What do you serve for? Why was this U.N. founded? To provide the world peace? If the U.N. can’t fulfill its job, then it should check itself. You look at the U.N. Security Council, everything is between the lips of five countries,” Erdoğan said.

Although there is a strong possibility that Israel and Palestinian resistant can agree to a truce in the next few days, there remains the strong possibility that Israel may invade Gaza.  And, for Israeli leaders, the cost of such an invasion is one that must be considered before launching such an attack.  Gaza his heavily urbanized and history shows that committed defenders can hold out against offensive forces several times larger.  One only has to look at the Battle of Stalingrad in WW II, which broke the back of the German Army to see the results of an offensive war in an urban setting.

Despite the lessons of history, the Israeli cabinet called up an additional 8,000 reservists for a total 56,000 – a major expense and a drag on the Israeli economy.  And, Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman promised at a press conference this that Israel, “will go all the way,” a plain threat to invade.  Other Israeli cabinet ministers favor invasion, including Deputy Defense Minister Danon, who was fired on Tuesday after criticizing Netanyahu.
Looking at an Israeli Invasion

Invading Gaza will be a daunting task.  Not only is it costly urban warfare, the Israeli Army has usually focused on highly mechanized forces that exploit technology.  House to house warfare doesn’t allow the exploitation of technology as much.  In addition, the cost of urban warfare is higher causalities and slow progress, both of which make it harder to keep reservists on active duty and away from their jobs in the economy.

Consequently, any such attack will have limited objectives rather than the total occupation of Gaza.

The first objective is to neutralize the rocket launching sites, especially those that threaten Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other heavily populated areas to the north of Gaza.  Since the Palestinian resistance rockets are not accurate, they pose less of a risk to less populated areas and are subjected to the degree of effectiveness of the infamous Israeli Iron Dome missile system.

According to military analysts, this can best be accomplished by invading the northern part of Gaza (specifically Bet Lathia), which has been the major launching area for the rockets.  The calculation is that the further away the rockets are from their targets,, the more inaccurate they will be.  Consequently they assert that, even if the resistance does manage to continue to launch rockets from unoccupied Gaza, they will be less effective.  As a result, Southern Gaza will be generally ignored in a land invasion.

The second objective is to destroy as much of the rocket inventory and rocket manufacturing capability as possible.  According to the IDF, Israel has already destroyed about one third of the resistance rocket inventory of 9,000 rockets.  In addition, many of the long and medium range rockets have already been fired at Israel.  This leaves the destruction of rocket factories as a critical goal of any invasion.

However, unlike rocket launch sites, manufacturing sites can be anywhere in Gaza, which leaves Israel with a corundum: do they risk more by actually launching a larger invasion in order to destroy resistance’ rocket manufacturing capability totally, or do they leave that responsibility to the Israeli Air Force and hope that air attacks will sufficiently neutralize the resistance’ ability to rebuild their inventory?

Israeli security sources have stated that they have destroyed 60% of the resistance rocket manufacturing ability with air attacks.  The source also said that Palestinian rocket production was only 30 rockets a month, which means that without the ability to smuggle any completed rockets into Gaza, the resistance can only produce about 10 rockets a month – a small number to merit a major invasion of southern Gaza.  Any other rocket production facilities in southern Gaza will probably be left to the IAF.

The reason for a probably limited excursion into Gaza by the IDF is the expected high intensity of combat that Israeli commanders will face.

Cities are notorious defensive positions.  Building-to-building combat has historically been slow and costly and attacking Gaza would be no different for the IDF.

One problem is that as the fighting gets hotter and the buildings collapse, they make even better positions for the defenders.  An excellent example can be ascertained from previous Israeli aggressions in Lebanon and Palestine and going back to WW II from the Battle for Monte Casino.  The Italian monastery, overlooking the road to Rome, was bombed by the Allies, which provided excellent defensive positions for the Germans, who were then able to hold off the Allied attacks for several months.

Similar destruction by the IDF in Gaza would give Palestinian resistance the same advantages.

The resistance forces have also had the time to build a complex structure of bunkers and tunnels in the region that will show the IDF and be costly in causalities.  Like the tunnels the Viet Cong used against the Americans in the Vietnam War, these tunnels can be used to hide soldiers, gather intelligence on IDF units, carry out surprise attacks from behind Israeli front lines, and plant explosives.  And, as the Americans learned in Vietnam, clearing out tunnels is slow and costly in lives.

Finally, a land invasion of Gaza forces Israel to fight more on resistance’ terms.  Such an attack can’t rely on the air superiority of the IAF or the famous technological advantages of Iron Dome.  Nor will the overwhelming advantage of Israeli armor be helpful because tanks and armored vehicles are very vulnerable to anti-tank rockets in close house to house combat.  The combat will depend more on small arms, anti-tank rockets and light artillery like mortars, all things that resistance has in quantity.  The close in combat will also deny the IAF the ability to strike the front lines as much.

This leaves the Israeli cabinet with a difficult decision – more war or a truce.  Although the current IDF actions have hurt the Palestinians, Israeli commanders know that launching a ground attack in a highly urbanized area like Gaza poses problems – problems that have a high price that Israel’s political leadership many not want to pay.  That’s one reason why they readily accepted the Egyptian offer.

Israel’s call up of reserves is not a total bluff.  Israel has shown in the past that they have the will to invade Gaza.  However, they know full well that the cost in lives, defense spending, and the economy are high prices.  Israel may make belligerent noises and even carry out limited Special Forces attacks into Gaza, but are leery of committing themselves to a costly major invasion.

Although events are moving quickly – faster than it often takes to write an analysis, the cost of a ground war makes Israel eager to seek a truce that stops the war.  But, since they have the edge in the air and are able to intercept some threatening incoming rockets, they are willing to continue the current state of war for additional but limited time.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Gaza Crisis Illuminates a Grave New World

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

July 17, 2014

The eruption of the third Gaza war since 2008 is yet another manifestation of the growing threat posed by Islamist militants within an increasingly unstable Middle East.  In recent years, Al-Qaeda and other Islamist revolutionary groups have made major gains in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen.  They have exploited the chaos of the “Arab Spring” uprisings, which have undermined many authoritarian regimes and created ungoverned territories that they seek to dominate.  Nature may abhor vacuums, but Islamist militants love them.

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Why the Rand Paul-Rick Perry Feud over Iraq Is Good for U.S. Policy

By Gene Healy

Cato Institute

July 14, 2014

Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican”—that’s the “11th Commandment” coined by California’s GOP chairman in 1965 and popularized by President Ronald Reagan.  It’s been suspended for the duration, judging by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ongoing dust-up over the future of the GOP’s foreign policy—even while the two combined for an impressive 19 invocations of Saint Ronnie in three dueling op-eds.  In a recent Wall Street Journal oped Paul argued that “America Shouldn’t Choose Sides in Iraq’s Civil War.” On Saturday, Perry entered the lists with a Washington Post piece titled “Why Rand Paul Is Wrong on Iraq” (print edition). In his Politico surrebuttal yesterday, Paul took a swipe at Perry’s trendy new glasses, which apparently “haven’t … allowed him to see [the world] any more clearly.” Zing!

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Hamas and the New Round of Fighting in Gaza: Both Sides are Escalating to Nowhere

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 17, 2014

Commentary

The key question in any war – in starting it and throughout the conflict – is how will this war end?  Ever since 1967, the answer in the case of Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been by pausing and then resuming in a different form with the same result. In the case of the fighting in Gaza, changes in tactics and technology have simply escalated to nowhere. The best outcome has been an unstable ceasefire. The worst has been violence too low in intensity to be labeled another round of conflict.  The initial cause in 2006, 2012, and now in 2014, has been a new attempt by Hamas to change the strategic facts on the ground – increasingly relying on rockets and missiles rather than irregular warfare in the form of ground or naval attacks on Israel. In each case, Israel’s decisive military edge has left Hamas (and the more extreme Palestinian Islamic Jihad) weaker than before, killed and wounded far more Palestinians than Israelis, prolonged the economic isolation that has crippled Gaza and reduced living standards and social mobility, and failed to have any meaningful political impact that benefited Hamas in making even limited strategic gains.

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Iraq: The Enemy of My Enemy is Not My Friend

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 16, 2014

Commentary

The proverb that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” is not an Arab proverb, it is a Sanskrit proverb that predates the Prophet Muhammad by roughly 1,000 years. It is also a proverb with a dismal history in practice. In case after case, the “enemy of my enemy” has actually proven to have been an enemy at the time or turned into one in the future. The Mongols did not save Europe from the Turks, and the Soviet Union was scarcely an ally after the end of World War II.  ISIS/ISIL and the “Islamic State” are Vital Threats to Our National Security, But, the United States needs to remember this as it considers military action in Iraq and reshaping its military role in Syria. It needs to remember this as it reshapes its security partnerships with proven friends like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. There is no question that the rise of ISIS/ISIL and the creation of an “Islamic State” that overlaps Eastern Syria and much of Western Iraq poses a major security threat in the Middle East.

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Hamas vs Israel: Truce? No truce. Here’s why

By Danielle Pletka

American Enterprise Institute

July 16, 2014

AEIdeas

The press is reporting that Israel accepted the terms of an Egyptian offered ceasefire on Tuesday morning, and that Hamas rejected it. The terms of the truce required rocket fire to cease at 9 am Israeli time; Hamas launched several dozen rockets over the course of the morning, though fewer than in recent days. Israel did not retaliate for much of the day, clearly in the hope that Hamas would come to its senses and recognize that its actions were doing more to harm the Palestinian people than Israel. The truce terms were just that — truce — with no concessions by either side, though it required border crossing openings into Egypt and other humanitarian gestures. (Note, the borders have only been closed to human traffic and general trade; food and other necessities have continued to flow into Gaza from Israel.) It also contemplated both sides meeting to hammer out an agreement within short order.

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Iraq Illusions

By Jessica Tuchman Mathews

Carnegie Endowment

July 10, 2014

The story most media accounts tell of the recent burst of violence in Iraq seems clear-cut and straightforward. In reality, what is happening is anything but. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), so the narrative goes, a barbaric, jihadi militia, honed in combat in Syria, has swept aside vastly larger but feckless Iraqi army forces in a seemingly unstoppable tide of conquest across northern and western Iraq, almost to the outskirts of Baghdad. The country, riven by ineluctable sectarian conflict, stands on the brink of civil war. The United States, which left Iraq too soon, now has to act fast, choosing among an array of ugly options, among them renewed military involvement and making common cause with Iran. Alternatives include watching Iraq splinter and the creation of an Islamist caliphate spanning eastern Syria and western Iraq.

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A Stalled War On Terror Finance

By Avi Jorisch
American Foreign Policy Council
July 15, 2014

The Journal of International Security Affairs

Only two weeks after the attacks of September 11th, President George W. Bush addressed the media in the White House Rose Garden and declared “war” on terrorism financing. “Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations,” he told reporters.[1] “Today, we are asking the world to stop payment.” A few weeks later, the Treasury Department—the agency that would become the weapon of choice of the White House in this new economic conflict—boasted in a press release, “The same talent pool and expertise that brought down Al Capone will now be dedicated to investigating Usama bin Laden and his terrorist network.”  Unfortunately, more than a decade after these pronouncements, it is obvious that the war on terror financing and money laundering has stalled. This is clear even through the lens of the government’s own bottom-line metrics: assets seized and forfeited, successful investigations and prosecutions, and effective sanctions. In fact, the situation has gotten considerably worse of late, as political considerations have progressively displaced or rolled back serious work that has been done to date on draining the financial “swamp” in which terrorists and terror-supporting regimes operate.

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An Islamic Awakening?

By Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby

Hudson Institute

July 10, 2014

More than three years ago, revolts broke out in several Arab countries against their authoritarian regimes. The revolts were often dubbed variously as either the “Arab Spring” or the “Arab Awakening.” Both phrases anticipated the establishment of democratic regimes in those countries.  But almost immediately the leaders of the radical Shiite regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran rejected this terminology. It was to be sure an awakening but an “Islamic Awakening.” It was an awakening that represented the triumphant culmination of the 20th-century movement known as Islamism, often known as political Islam for its ambition to bring religion into a leading political role in the Muslim world and thereby revive Muslim political fortunes.

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What it will take to stop the Gaza carnage

By Aaron David Miller and Josh Nason

Wilson Center

July 15, 2014

Want to try for a cease-fire to end the burgeoning conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza?  Mix a cocktail of three ingredients: urgency, the desire of both sides to climb down; an agreement that allows them to do so; and a mediator to bring it all together. Egypt’s latest cease-fire proposal, clearly coordinated with (and accepted by Israel), can’t get us there — at least not yet. Hamas, weak and desperate for a victory, isn’t ready to stand down.

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Assessing the Three Scenarios for the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

By Michael Singh and Robert Satloff

Washington Institue

July 16, 2014

PolicyWatch 2284

With less than a week remaining until expiration of the six-month negotiating period that began with the signing of the “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA) in January, significant gaps reportedly remain between Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany). Foremost among these is the uranium enrichment capacity Iran would be permitted to retain under a deal. Yet gaps also reportedly persist on matters such as inspector access to military sites (as opposed to declared, ostensibly civilian nuclear facilities) and the duration of any constraints to which Tehran is subject.  As a result, an agreement by the July 20 deadline appears unlikely. Yet it is one of the three possible scenarios that could unfold in the coming days — in order of likelihood, these include an extension of the talks, collapse of the talks, and a last-minute deal.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 07-11-2014

 

ANALYSIS

 

Israeli Aggression on Gaza and U.S. Acquiescence

Kidnappings, torture and murder, missile strikes, and bombings by American made Israeli aircraft are ripping Gaza apart, but the White House seems unwilling or unable to act.  When most presidents would cancel events and spend more time in Washington in order to influence events and monitor hostilities in the Middle East, Obama has taken off on a trip that will raise money for fellow Democrats who running for reelection.  What’s going on?

Actually, the fact that Obama is raising money for the elections in four months rather than dealing with the Gaza crisis makes his strategy clear – his inaction is political and geared towards helping the Democratic Party in November.  With dismal polls, a weak economy, and a Democratic Senate at risk of going Republican, Obama is focused on politics, not foreign policy – especially Middle Eastern foreign policy.

Obama knows he has lost the American swing vote, which usually votes based on the state of the economy.  That means limiting the damage on Election Day in November depends on getting his Democratic voters to be energized enough to vote.

Since young people, who helped Obama win in 2008 and 2012, are less likely to vote in mid term elections, Obama is trying to craft a coalition of likely voters that will come to the polls and help incumbent Democratic senators at risk of losing.  This is reflected in current White House policy.

In the last week, Obama has criticized the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby case that allowed closely held corporations to restrict coverage of abortifacients, in order to boost the turnout of women voters, who tend to vote Democratic.  He has also allowed illegal immigrants to flood the Border States in order to solidify his hold on the Hispanic and progressive pro-immigration voter base.

However, these voting blocs are not as likely to turn out in midterm elections.  That means Obama has to rely more on the one Democratic group that votes regularly in midterm elections – likes the Jewish vote.

American Jews are more politically aware and have the highest percentage of voter turnout of any ethnic group in America.  And, although 2-2.5% of the United States population is Jewish, 94% live in 13 states, which give them more power to help vulnerable Democratic politicians.

Despite attempts by Republicans to crack the Jewish vote, they remain solidly Democratic.  According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 70% of Jews self-identify as leaning towards or are members of the Democratic Party. That compares with just 49% of the American public overall who at least lean Democratic.  This makes the Jewish vote a critical one for Obama and the Democrats.  In fact, they are critical in battleground states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

But, why should Obama worry about the Jewish vote since they are traditionally Democratic voters and many Jewish voters don’t have a strong interest in American policy towards Israel.  In fact, polls regularly show that American Jewish voters aren’t concerned about Israel because most American Jews are becoming more American and less Jewish.  A Pew survey showed that 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews intermarries and two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue.  These are the ones more likely to vote Democratic regularly and who don’t have a strong affinity for Israel.  In fact, 54% of American Jews say American support of the Jewish state is “about right.”

What about the other 46% of American Jews?  These are the Jewish voters that Obama needs in November and there are concerns that not only are they drifting towards the Republican Party, their higher birthrate mean that they are becoming a larger percentage of the American Jewish voting bloc.  And, they are the Jewish voters who are concerned about Obama’s lack of support for Israel.

One of the fastest growing Jewish American groups is Orthodox Jews.  Orthodox Jews, represent 12% of the United States’ Jewish population, but about 75% of Jewish children under 18.  It is this group that tends to make up the majority of Republican Jews.  And, like the rest of Jewish voters, they tend to congregate together in key states.  For instance, in New York City, a major Orthodox Jewish Community, a Jewish voter is 33% more likely to be Republican than Democrat.

A recent survey of Jews in New York City showed that 40% of Jews in the New York area identify as Orthodox, up from 33% a decade ago, and today three in four Jewish children there are Orthodox.  That means that in a generation, the Jewish vote could be more reliably Republican than Democratic

Orthodox Jews are more likely to vote Republican than other Jews because they identify with the party’s more conservative positions on same sex marriage, abortion, church-state separation and other social issues.  In 2012, Orthodox Jews voted 86% Republican compared to 28% among the non-Orthodox. By comparison, 72% of non-Orthodox and 14% of Orthodox Jews voted for Obama.

Orthodox Jews are far more likely to put Israel as a top priority in making choices at the polls.  That’s one of the reasons reason for Obama’s neglect of the Gaza crisis – if he is to continue to rely upon the Jewish vote, he must make concessions to Israel in order to win the growing pro-Israel Jewish vote.

New Technology in war between Palestine and Israel

The events in Gaza are taking a new high tech profile.  From anti missile systems to long range missiles, this war has taken on a different appearance than clashes in the past.

While Hamas and other resistant forces have always had a large arsenal of rockets, they were short range.  However, that has changed.  Today, they have a small quantity of M-302 Chinese designed and Syrian\Iranian produced rockets that can reach deep inside Israel with their 100 mile range.

Although still inaccurate, they carry a 20 kg warhead or more and are designed to strike large targets like cities, military bases, and industrial complexes.  It was the missile that hit Hadera this week.  It was the use of these missiles, which have operational characteristics that lay outside the Iron Dome operational envelope, which forced the IDF to make a prototype David’s Sling/Magic Wand system operational.

Of a larger concern to Israel is the more accurate M-75 rocket.  These have been used to target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  The fact that it weighs nearly a ton and is 31 feet long indicates that is probably produced locally and hasn’t been smuggled in.  It has a range of 75 kilometers and a warhead of 100 kilograms. Palestinian resistant forces have claimed that three were fired at the Israeli nuclear facility at Dimona.

Despite the improved quality of the Palestinian rockets, they haven’t been able to exact any toll on Israel partially due to their inaccuracy and partially due to Israeli’s Iron Dome anti missile system.  All seven batteries are deployed near Gaza and although they haven’t been able to handle the salvos fired from Gaza, the radar’s ability to calculate the individual rocket’s trajectory and impact point allow the system to only target and intercept those rockets headed towards populated and sensitive areas.

According to Israeli newspapers, Iron Dome only targeted 27% of the 180 missiles fired this week.  Of those interceptors launched, 90% were effective, if it is true, a much better hit ratio than the 84% rate, when they were used in Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

Although the interceptor missiles of the Iron Dome are expensive, their ability to counter  some of the Palestinian rocket salvo has allowed Israel to strike more aggressively in Gaza, knowing that the Palestinians are unable to defend themselves or strike back with effective rocket attacks.

Another interesting facet to the current fighting was the amphibious commando assault against Israel by Palestinian forces. It shows that Palestinians has developed an amphibious capability that will force the IDF to more carefully watch its coastline.

All of this indicates that fighting will continue.  Israel has called up 40,000 reservists and Netanyahu has said that Operation Protective Edge will take time.  Israeli Air Force aircraft have already hit over 550 targets including populated areas, command and control targets and missile launch facilities.  And, the number of reservists called up indicates that extensive ground action inside Gaza can be expected.

This was confirmed, when Netanyahu said, “We have decided to further increase the assault on Hamas and the terrorist organizations in Gaza. The IDF is prepared for all possibilities. Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing at Israel’s citizens…The operation will be expanded and will continue until the firing at our communities stops and quiet is restored.”

President Shimon Peres, whose role is largely ceremonial and is not involved in setting policy, said that he believed a ground offensive “may happen quite soon.”

Meanwhile, don’t expect Obama to take any tangible action that will risk his or the Democrats’ political future.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

The U.S. Needs an Integrated Approach to Counter China’s Anti-Access/Area Denial Strategy

By Dean Cheng

Heritage Foundation

July 9, 2014

Backgrounder #2927

As the Chinese military has been comprehensively modernizing its air, naval, and ground forces, it has been incorporating a variety of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems and capabilities. These include not only weapons, such as anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, but also political warfare methods, including legal, public opinion, and psychological warfare techniques. To counter these A2/AD capabilities, the United States needs to adopt a comparably holistic approach, incorporating political measures, operational military deployments, as well as technical counters to Chinese military capabilities. Washington has one major advantage over Beijing—almost all of the countries on China’s littoral are U.S. friends and allies. Leveraging these relationships, and in the process underscoring American credibility and commitment, is key.

Read more

 

 

The New “Great Game” in the Middle East: Looking Beyond the “Islamic State” and Iraq

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 9, 2014

Report

The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. This may still be possible in spite of a steady drift towards civil war that has now lasted at least three years, and in spite of IS’s gains and Maliki’s failures and intransigence.  Such an effort does mean, however, that the U.S. must find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. It means creating a bridge across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions while also meeting the challenges to create a more effective and unified national government in Iraq, and try to support and to rebuild Iraqi forces.

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Afghanistan and the Growing Risks in Transition

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 8, 2014

Report

As the Vietnam War and recent events in the Iraq War have shown all too clearly, every serious counterinsurgency campaign involves at least three major threats: the enemy, dealing with partners and allies, and dealing with ourselves. A review of the trends in all three areas raises growing questions as together the U.S. and its allies can carry out a successful Transition in Afghanistan.  The Burke Chair has prepared three related reports that illustrate the current security threats in stabilizing the Afghan security forces; the post-election challenges to Afghan reconstruction; and the challenges facing Afghan governance and the Afghan economy.

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Iraq Through the Eyes of Iran’s IRGC

By Mehrdad Moarefian

American Enterprise Institute

July 7, 2014

The rapid advances in Iraq of the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham; formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq) have forced the U.S. to confront a complex reality.  Iraqi Security Forces have been unable to stop the advances on their own, but President Obama is extremely reluctant to provide U.S. support.  Some analysts argue that the U.S. should align with Iran against the common al Qaeda enemy, even suggesting that we should combine military efforts.  Iran’s efforts in Iraq are controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), especially Qods Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani.  The feasibility of cooperation with Iran in Iraq depends in part on how the IRGC sees the problem.  This post is the first in a series that will look at the Iraq crisis from the perspective of the IRGC.

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Choosing Security and Freedom in Egypt

By Maha Yahya

Carnegie Endowment

July 1, 2014

Egyptians, it seems, are being asked once again to exchange their political freedoms for stability and security. However, the expanding clampdown on fundamental rights overlooks the fact that security and stability cannot be attained in the absence of freedom.  Recent Egyptian court rulings have signaled the expansion of authoritarianism in the name of protecting national security and combating terrorism. International and Egyptian rights organizations have condemned the long-term imprisonment of well-known political activists and journalists and the doling out of death penalties en masse. They argue that the judicial proceedings leading up to the sentences were politicized and flawed and that the crackdown is a gross violation of basic freedoms, including the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and due process.

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Fighting enemies from within and without

By Caroline Glick

Center for Security Policy

July 10, 2014

Sixteen-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir was doing his own thing last Tuesday when he was abducted by Jewish terrorists, who slaughtered him. They killed him because he was an Arab, and they are racist murderers.  The police made solving Abu Khdeir’s murder a top priority. In less than a week, they had six suspects in custody. Three confessed to the murder.  There are dark forces at work in Israeli society. They need to be dealt with.  And they will be dealt with harshly.  They will be dealt with harshly because there is no significant sector in Israeli society that supports terrorism.  There is no Jewish tradition that condones or calls for the murder of innocents. In Jewish tradition, the line between protecting society from its enemies and committing murder is long, wide, unmistakable and unmoving.

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Red Lines: Inside the Battle for Freedom in Syria

By Mouaz Moustafa, Andrew J. Tabler, and Andrea Kalin

Washington Institute

July 9, 2014

Forum

Syria’s declared chemical weapons material has left the country, but Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught continues, and the beleaguered non-Islamist forces are now caught in a multifront fight against both the regime and a new generation of brutal jihadist groups. Red Lines, a gripping documentary from Washington-based Spark Media, follows young activists Razan Shalab al-Sham and Mouaz Moustafa across battlefields, smuggling routes, and foreign capitals, putting a human face on the struggle for Syria’s future that is often lost in debates about “redlines” and acceptable levels of international response. Red Lines was an official selection at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto, where it was among the audience’s top-rated films.

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

 

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 07-04-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Ruptures in the Governing Fabric of America

 

As Americans celebrate their independence from Britain this weekend, the American system of government is showing cracks in it – cracks that were quite evident this last week.  That system, outlined by the US Constitution, creates a limited form of government with checks and balances.  It also recognizes the central power of the people, who not only have a right to vote for their leaders, but also retain the power, according to the original founding document, the Declaration of Independence, to abolish a government they don’t like.

But, it is becoming increasingly clear that many Americans think that the government and president has exceeded its authority and is restricting the freedoms expressly written into the US Constitution?  Polls are reflecting disapproval of their leadership and the institutions of government.  The US Supreme Court, which has the traditional role of interpreting the Constitution, is frequently ruling against the government in key court cases.  And, people are taking to the streets, not to demonstrate, but to physically stop government actions.

All three of these things have happened just in the last week.  A string of newly released polls showed high disapproval percentages for Obama and the other branches of the Government.  They are also showing that the American people are becoming more pessimistic about their freedom and future.  The highest court in the United States ruled in four cases in the last week alone that the Obama administration has exceeded its powers granted under the US Constitution.  And, finally, Americans physically stopped the movement of illegal immigrants by government employees in California on Tuesday.

Is America at the brink?  Can we expect more unrest?

Although it’s very hard to predict, there is a likelihood that America is on the edge of civil unrest.

To better understand these problems, we have to look at how America is governed and how Americans perceive their relationship with the government.

Limited Government – Separated Powers and Shared Sovereignty

Unlike the governments of many other countries, the US government has limited powers and those powers are separated into three different branches of the federal government – the presidency, congress, and the judiciary.  In addition, sovereignty is shared between the federal government, the states, and the people.  However, this isn’t the way the American government began and the United States underwent 15 years of trial and error before settling on the current system of government.

The first government of the United States was the Continental Congress, which was assembled on September 5, 1774.  Its president, and therefore the first president of the United States, was Peyton Randolph.  It was this government that fought the American Revolution and was recognized by France, the Netherlands, and Morocco.  Although it did handle foreign policy and the conduct of the war, it had very few powers.  The problem was that the Continental Congress was an assembly of sovereign states and it could do little unless all the states agreed.

As the war continued, the Continental Congress form of governance was shown to be too weak, so it was replaced by a second form of government formed under the Articles of Confederation, which gave the central government more power, but recognized that the states retained full sovereignty.  The US operated under the Articles of Confederation from 1779 to 1788.

When this central government proved to be too weak, a new Constitution was proposed – the one that the US currently operates under.  However, the states were worried about an all powerful central government, so certain checks were put into the document.  These checks provide the tension that governs the US today.

One new power that was granted in the Constitution was the recognition of the sovereignty of the people.  While the previous forms of government gave sovereign power to the states, the US Constitution stated in its opening words, “We the People of the United States,” a radical and controversial statement giving ultimate power to the citizens.  In fact, well known Founding Father Patrick Henry stated, “What is this “We the People” in the Preamble?  This is a Confederation of states.”  Future president Samuel Adams stated, “I stumble at the threshold. We are a confederation of states.”

Therefore, the United States represents a balance of powers granted to several entities, with the idea, that although not the most efficient government, it is the best one to protect the rights of the people and states.  It also prevents the central government from becoming too powerful.

The balance between the three sovereign powers is as follows:

Federal government – powers granted by the Constitution

President – executes laws, carries out foreign policy, Commander-in-Chief of military

House of Representatives – power of the purse, must initiate budget and tax bills

Senate – Originally represented states, but now an upper chamber that must pass bills

Supreme Court – Interprets the constitution

State Government – powers granted by the Constitution and the 10th and 11th amendments.  The bulk of laws and police enforcement reside here.

People – Power to elect federal, state, and local leaders.  Also powers and rights granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 – 10). These include freedom of religion, assembly, and speech; right to own weapons; prohibiting the quartering of soldiers in peacetime; privacy against searches; rights of the accused; right to a fair trial and counsel; trial by jury; ban on excessive punishment; and recognition that all other powers not given to the federal government or states reside in the people.

The role of the People in the United States is relatively unique.  In most countries, even democracies, sovereignty resides in the government or in the person of a monarch.  However, the key founding documents of the US, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution recognize that ultimate sovereignty resides in the People.  In fact, the Declaration of Independence states, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

This position was ratified in the 2008 Supreme Court Ruling of the District of Columbia vs. Heller, which held that keeping and bearing arms was an important constitutional right of the people because, “they are better able to resist tyranny.”

That right of the American people to abolish a government and the right to own weapons, “to resist tyranny,” gives it a unique power people in other countries don’t have.  And, the average American is well aware of this power, which is one reason why attempts by the government to control gun ownership in America always fail.

This brings us to the current situation.  The federal government, especially the presidency, has moved rapidly to centralize power.  It has acted without the approval of the Congress, it has tried to assume powers reserved to the states, and it has tried to restrict the freedoms of the People.

And, the people aren’t happy.

Obama Versus the Supreme Court

One tool the state governments and the people have to remedy the overstepping of power by the federal government is the Supreme Court, which has the traditional role of interpreting the Constitution.  And, it has been this court that has dealt some of the most far reaching losses against the Obama Administration, even though Obama has named two of the justices sitting on the court himself.  Since January 2009, the Obama administration has suffered at least 20 unanimous defeats in cases it argued (not counting cases in which it filed an amicus brief), according to Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

“President Obama’s unanimous Supreme Court loss rate, for the five and half years of his presidency, is nearly double that of President Bush and is 25 percent greater than President Clinton,” Cruz notes in a survey of how Obama’s lawyers performed before the high court.

Last week, in a unanimous, 9-0 rebuke, the justices ruled Obama had overstepped his constitutional authority when he went around the US Senate and unilaterally appointed three members to the National Labor Relations Board.  This clearly upheld a US Senate Constitutional right to approve the people nominated to key positions in the US government.

They also ruled 9-0 that the government couldn’t search cell phones without a search warrant.  Although the case dealt with a state law, the Obama Administration had argued for the additional power.  However, the court ruled unanimously that the 4th Amendment of the Constitution protected the people from such abuses.

Several Freedom of Speech rulings went against Obama as the court ruled last week that the government couldn’t force people to join a union and pay dues for political speech that they didn’t agree with.  They also agreed that anti-abortion protesters had a right to speech around abortion clinics.

Freedom of Religion also was defended when the court ruled that private companies can refuse to provide some contraceptives, mandated under Obamacare that the company owners felt were against their religious beliefs.

States have also used the Supreme Court to shift power back to themselves.  The court ruled against Congress and the Department of Justice by declaring some of parts of the Voting Rights Act, which gave the federal government power over some states voting laws, unconstitutional.

The Declining Popularity of Government in America

Although the Supreme Court has acted in its traditional role of determining the role of government and its limitations under the Constitution, the damage to the image of the government and Obama is great.

Currently Obama is suffering from approval ratings lower than any president in recent history.  According to a new poll from Quinnipiac, Americans pick Obama as the worst president in the last 70 years (Ronald Reagan was voted the best).  There is also a considerable amount of buyer’s remorse as voters now say America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the 2012 presidential election (45 percent to 38 percent).

An Investors Business Daily poll this week gave Obama more bad news.  59% of Americans blame Obama for the current immigration crisis.  56% think his withdrawal of troops from Iraq has caused the current conflict there.  And, 65% think his administration is trying to cover-up wrongdoing in the IRS.

“Mr. Obama finds himself in the uncomfortable position where every age group, independents, and whites all agree that the public has given up on his ability to accomplish anything before the end of his term,” said pollster John Zogby.

This negative perception isn’t limited to Obama.  It has permeated feelings towards government as a whole.  According to a Gallup poll released this week, 79% of Americans think that corruption is widespread in the US government.  That is up 20 points since 2006 and places the US government in the top 30% of nations in terms of perceived corruption.

The poll also showed that only 29% of Americans have great confidence in the presidency, down from 36% at the beginning of the Obama Administration.  Congress’s approval rating is only 7%.  The Supreme Court ranked highest at 30%.

Americans, who have traditionally felt America was the freest country in the world no longer think so.  The same Gallup Poll showed fewer Americans are satisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives compared with seven years ago – dropping 12 percentage points from 91% in 2006 to 79% in 2013. In that same period, the percentage of Americans dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives more than doubled, from 9% to 21%.

Today, countries like Cambodia and Uzbekistan rank higher in freedom (New Zealand and Australia come in first and second).  America comes in 36 out of 150 countries.  The decline in American freedom isn’t as great as that experienced in Egypt according to the poll, but is similar to the loss of freedom in Yemen and Pakistan from 2006 to 2013.

What does this mean for America?

The fact is that America’s society is much more brittle than many think.  A decreasing standard of living, a perception that freedom is declining, a lack of faith in government, and a perception that the US has a corrupt government have seriously hit the underpinnings of American society.

While the Supreme Court has been a relief valve in some cases, there is a growing sense of frustration in Middle America – frustration that is leading to action.  This week about 200 Americans in California physically blocked three buses that were going to drop illegal immigrants off in their town and forced the Border Patrol to reroute them to another destination.  The action was very similar to the incident 10 weeks ago at the Bundy Ranch, where people stopped the BLM from rounding up cattle.  There are also reports of armed private militia units patrolling the border in Texas and Arizona.

Historically in cases where a society becomes brittle and likely to break down, governments that back down usually can restore normalcy.  However, leaders that continue to pursue unpopular policy often face rebellion.  Czar Nicholas II in Russia is an excellent example.

Will Obama step back from the actions that have elicited rebukes from the Supreme Court and plummeting approval ratings from the public?  Possibly not.  Despite dramatic disapproval from the public, Obama has announced he will unilaterally make changes to American immigration law.  He has also promised other unilateral actions that are currently unpopular.  This will only fuel more unrest.

How far can Obama push?  We can’t say.  However, a belief that the current course of action can continue without repercussions to the government and society is likely wrong.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Why Defense Matters: A New Narrative for NATO

By Judy Dempsey

Carnegie Endowment

June 24, 2014

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in search of a new narrative. While Russia’s involvement in Eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea will not give NATO a new sense of solidarity, these events have highlighted what the alliance and its members must urgently do. It is time for all NATO countries to engage in a real strategic debate about why defense matters and what members should do to uphold the transatlantic relationship.  Alliance countries face many threats apart from Russia, including terrorism, cyberattacks, instability south of the Mediterranean and in the Sahel in particular, Iran’s nuclear program, and China’s strategic ambitions. NATO has no strategies to deal with them.

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EU-Iran Relations: A Strategic Assessment

By Cornelius Adebahr

Carnegie Endowment

June 23, 2014

The EU’s approach to Iran has emerged as one of the few successes of European foreign policy. In particular, the signing of an interim agreement in November 2013 that put limits on Tehran’s nuclear program for the first time marked a historic victory for EU diplomacy. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top diplomat, continues to lead negotiations with Iran on behalf of the international community and aims to reach a “comprehensive” long-term agreement by late July 2014.   Even so, the EU is not thinking strategically. Despite the EU’s central position in the P5+1 talks, a strategic assessment of its overall approach to Iran reveals that Europe falls short.

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The Iraq Crisis Is Not a US Intelligence Failure

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy

July 2, 2014

Stories are being circulated by Obama officials and some former intelligence officers that the Obama administration was caught off guard by the recent offensive in Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) terrorist group because of a failure by U.S. intelligence agencies to provide warning about the ISIS threat.   Some former intelligence officers are blaming this failure on a lack of human intelligence sources in Iraq and an over-reliance on technical intelligence collection.  Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, disagrees. He says the Iraq crisis is a policy and not an intelligence failure.  Rogers says the signs were there about the ISIS threat and the deteriorating situation in Iraq but Obama officials ignored them. He contends that “It was very clear to me years ago that ISIS was pooling up in a dangerous way — building training camps, drawing in jihadists from around the world. We saw all of that happening.”

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ISIS Battle Plan for Baghdad

By Jessica Lewis

Institute for the Study of War

June 27, 2014

There are indications that ISIS is about to launch into a new offensive in Iraq. ISIS published photos of a military parade through the streets of Mosul on June 24, 2014 showcasing US military equipment, including armored vehicles and towed artillery systems. ISIS reportedly executed another parade in Hawijah on June 26, 2014. These parades may be a demonstration force to reinforce their control of these urban centers. They may also be a prelude to ISIS troop movements, and it is important to anticipate where ISIS may deploy these forces forward. Meanwhile, ISIS also renewed the use of suicide bombers in the vicinity of Baghdad. An ISIS bomber with a suicide vest (SVEST) attacked the Kadhimiya shrine in northern Baghdad on June 26, 2014, one of the four holy sites in Iraq that Iran and Shi’a militias are most concerned to protect. ISIS also incorporated an SVEST into a complex attack in Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, on June 25, 2014 in a zone primarily controlled by the ISF and Shi’a militias on the road from Baghdad to Karbala. These attacks are demonstrations that ISIS has uncommitted forces in the Baghdad Belts that may be brought to bear in new offensives. ISIS’s offensive has not culminated, and the ISIS campaign for Iraq is not over. Rather, as Ramadan approaches, their main offensive is likely imminent.

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What Kurdish Independence Would Mean

By Lee Smith

Hudson Institute

July 1, 2014

The president of the Kurdish Regional Government Massoud Barzani announced today that he intends to call for a referendum on independence within the next few months. And if the Kurds do elect to break free of the central government in Baghdad, they’ll have at least one regional actor eager to acknowledge them as an independent state—Israel.

“They are a warrior nation, that is politically moderate,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the Kurds in a speech Sunday. They are “worthy of statehood,” Netanyahu continued. “We need to support the Kurdish aspiration for independence. They deserve it.”

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Turkey‘s Kurdish Buffer

By Soner Cagaptay

Washington Institute

July 1, 2014

Foreign Affairs

If anything good comes out of the turmoil in Iraq, it will be improved ties between Turkey and the region’s Kurds. Until recently, they were bitter enemies. Ankara had never been able to stomach the idea of Kurdish self-government — in Iraq or Syria or Turkey — and it had generally refused to give in to Turkish Kurds’ demands for cultural rights. Instead, it preferred to crack down. Meanwhile, the region’s Kurds had never been able to stomach Iraqi, Syrian, or Turkish rule and, taking issue with Ankara’s treatment of Kurds within Turkey’s borders, threw their support behind the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a violent separatist movement in Turkey.  The Syrian civil war and developments in Iraq have started to change all that. These days, from Turkey’s perspective, Kurdish autonomy doesn’t look half bad. The portions of northern Iraq and Syria that are under Kurdish control are stable and peaceful — a perfect bulwark against threats such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)…It is a tall order, but the stars may be aligned in favor of a Turkish-Kurdish axis.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-27-2014

ANALYSIS

 

 

What Middle East Hot Spots Could Cause Another World War?

 

Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of the incident that started World War One, the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo.  The incident is more than just a historical event because it shows how a small event can cause a world war and turmoil that lasts decades.  This assassination not caused the First World War, it caused the downfall of the Russian czar, which lead to the Communist takeover that precipitated the Cold War.  In addition, it was the post WW I unrest in Germany that led to Hitler’s rise in Germany and the Second World War.

At the time of the assassination, the world was enjoying a period of international peace.  France and Germany, historical enemies, hadn’t fought since 1870.  England, Germany, and Russia were close since their ruling families were closely related.

The death of Franz Ferdinand changed that.  The Balkans were a tinderbox and many major powers were trying to expand their influence there – especially the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, who was anxious to use the assassination to expand its influence in the Balkans, demanded severe concessions from Serbia, where the assassination took place.  When Serbia refused to agree to one of those demands, Austro-Hungary declared war on them.  This caused a string of declarations of war that soon set the whole world at war.

Russia, as an ally of Serbia declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Germany then declared war on Russia in order to support Austro-Hungary.  France then declared war to support its ally Russia.  When Germany invaded Belgium in order to attack France, they triggered the declaration of war from Britain.

How does this equate to the situation in the Middle East today?  The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was a political extremist and Serbian nationalist.  And, today, the region is filled with political and religious extremists that threaten to create an incident that could cause another major conflict.  And, just as the Balkans were a tinderbox before WW I, the Middle East is a tinderbox today with unrest and small scale conflict throughout the region.  It is also a region where several world powers are seeking to expand their influence.

Let’s look at some of the potential scenarios that could cause a wider conflict.

The Strait of Hormuz

Iran lies currently at the intersection of many sources of potential dangers in the Middle East and one of the most likely is a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz.  The Strait allows the passage of about 20% of the world’s oil and choking off this waterway could cause a major war.

There are several events that could spark a closure.  One would be a move by the US, Israel, or other Western powers to prevent Iran from fielding a nuclear bomb.  The most likely would be an attack by Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities.  In retaliation, Iran would launch a barrage of ballistic missiles and close the Strait and move additional military assets to the disputed islands of Abu Musa and the Tunb islands.

Such a move would likely spark a move by the US and NATO naval forces to force opening the Strait.  Although Iran couldn’t stop the NATO forces from inflicting serious damages, they might counter such an attack by launching missiles against other targets in the Middle East, like U.S bases and GCC oil fields and Israel.  In the case of an attack on

Israel, a major Israeli retaliation could be expected.  It’s even possible that Israel might even launch nuclear tipped missiles against Iran.

Although Russia and China would be expected to stay out of the conflict initially, it’s possible that Iranian allies like Syria and Hezbollah might then attack Israel with missiles and possible incursion in the Galile occupied area.  Israel would then retaliate, leading to a major war in the Middle East that would range from the Mediterranean to the Strait of Hormuz.

The ramifications would be enormous.  As in WW I, many governments and ruling houses might fall and more radical regimes might take power.  Casualties would be high from the possibility of WMD attacks and the possibility that violence would spread beyond the region is great.

Coup Against one of the GCC Nations

The GCC nations are ruled by hereditary ruling families that aren’t always in tune with the population (Bahrain being a prime example).  And, the history of the last few decades is replete with attempted coups in the Middle East.

The most likely scenario is a military coup against the ruling families in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.  The coup leaders would be quickly recognized by Iran, which might quickly move Iranian forces into the country to solidify the new government’s control.

Reaction to the coup and Iranian presence could be quick.  Other GCC nations could attempt to move forces into the country in response to the ruling family’s request for assistance and in order to secure oil facilities.  As with the previous scenario, Western nations might also act in order to guarantee their oil supply.  The result would be a wide spread conventional war in the entire Gulf.

Although the war would probably remain conventional, it could escalate if Iran decides to blockade the Strait of Hormuz in order to stop oil shipments or to stop reinforcement of GCC nations by NATO naval forces.  However, since nuclear armed Israel wouldn’t be involved, the chances of the incident going nuclear are less.

Iraq, Syria, and ISIS

The current events in Iraq are certainly capable of causing a major conflict.  And, unlike the other scenarios, the war could be multi-sided with Kurds, ISIS, Iran (and the Maliki and Assad governments), and extremist forces vying for control of Syria and Iraq.

As it stands, no side has the ability to achieve a total win.  Iran and its allies in Syria and Iraq control the capitals, but not all of the surrounding territory.  ISIS has control of a lot of territory in Iraq and Syria, but its radical version of Islam has caused it to lose support from larger population, which precludes a quick win.  Meanwhile, other militias have more support from outside countries, especially GCC nations, but don’t have the manpower to convert that support into major battlefield victories.  The Kurds are currently satisfied to harass ISIS and consolidate their hold on Kurdistan in hopes of creating an independent Kurdistan as Iraq fractures.

Much depends on ISIS’s moves because they are currently fighting a two front war – in Iraq and Syria.  As it stands, they can’t advance much further in Iraq, so military strategy says, it would be in their best interest to shift their military assets into Syria in order to attempt to defeat the other Syrian militias and the regime.  Then, theoretically after securing Syria, they shift back to Iraq, with a larger force.

The recent bombings of ISIS forces in Iraq by Syria could be a move to preclude this shift.

Since ISIS has captured considerable Iraqi military equipment, they are much more powerful than before and pose a greater threat to other Syrian militias and Arab Syrian Army.  The most likely result of a ISIS shift to fighting in Syria is that the GCC nations, Russia, Turkey, and Iran will provide more support to their allies in Syria, which will only increase the bloodshed.

There is also an additional threat of widespread conventional war if neighboring countries see ISIS threatening them.  For instance, if ISIS moves closer to the Saudi border, it is likely that a call by some Iraqi factions opposing Maliki government” to protect” them might mean Saudi Arabia (or even a joint GCC force) would move into Iraq to protect them and provide a buffer against ISIS advances.  The same could happen with Jordan.

As violence escalates in Syria, Israel could become involved; either in response to attacks against it (as seen in the last few days) or in order to support a militia that would occupy the Golan Heights and act as a buffer between ISIS and Israel.  It would also try to covertly stop ISIS, which would create the interesting position of Israel, the GCC nations and Iran all having the same goal of stopping ISIS.

Kurdistan

Although it appears that Turkey has acquiesced to the creation of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, in the past they have threatened an invasion lest independence fever cross the border and inspire Turkish Kurds to seek independence.

If Kurdistan becomes independent, Turkish, Syrian, and Iranian Kurds may seek to join that nation.  Although Syria is less powerful now, both Iran and Turkey have the forces to try to quash such desires for independence.  In such a case, Kurdistan might need to switch sides and sign a truce with ISIS and shift those forces against Turkey and Iran.  This, in turn would give ISIS more forces to move against Baghdad or Damascus, which would further destabilize the region.

Collapse, Coup, or Assassination of Assad

Just like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the assassination of President Assad (a dream of his desperate) opponents could change spark a wide ranging conflict.

Opponents of President Assad still hoping to affect the collapse of the Syrian regime, but such outcome would benefit the militia with the greatest resources – currently ISIS.  In that case, the plans of the outside nations to train and equip other rebel militias would go out the window as ISIS could be expected to take nearly total control of Syria.  Even Israel might move further into Syria to build up a buffer zone, under a friendly, puppet militia as they did in Lebanon.

Elsewhere in the World

As we saw in WW I, events in one part of the world can cascade into other regions.  World War One saw conflicts in Africa, where the Germans were actually winning when the armistice was signed.  In addition, Japan took German colonies in the Pacific and several nations, including the US invaded Siberia in an attempt to stop the Soviet rebels in Russia.

Spreading unrest in the Middle East would allow Russia to push its interests in the Ukraine.  Currently, world attention and NATO deployments in Eastern Europe have forced Putin to rein-in his territorial interest in the Soviet era.  However, if those NATO forces need to deploy to the Middle East, he would have the opportunity to move against the Ukraine and the Baltic nations.

China would also benefit as they have become increasingly active in the South China Sea and have had military confrontations recently with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.  Since any hostility in the Middle East would require the movement of American aircraft carriers from the Western Pacific to the Arabian Gulf, it would remove the largest threat to Chinese influence and power.

The same movement of American military assets would also encourage North Korea.

Even events inside America could have an impact on Middle Eastern events.  Obama and his administration are unpopular with American voters and plagued with scandals.  This makes his reactions hard to gage if events occur overseas.  Many presidents who are unpopular try to regain favor with voters with foreign military initiatives,, which may mean that Obama might suddenly take an aggressive stance towards events in the region.

However, Obama has been unwilling to intervene much in the Middle East and polls show Americans are uninterested in sending troops to the region again.  Therefore, Obama might try to regain popularity by steadfastly refusing to move internationally.  This uncertainty only makes the situation more dangerous as world leaders are more likely to misjudge.

And, it is misjudgment that led to WW I.  The Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire misjudged Serbia’s response to its demand.  Germany misjudged its ally, when it gave unconditional support for Austro-Hungary.  And all the countries misjudged when they thought the war would be over in months instead of 4 years.

Such a misjudgment today could turn a small event in the Middle East into a major war.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

FYSA: For Your Situational Awareness

By Samuel J. Brannen, David Miller, Robert Kim, and Sarah Weiner

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 24, 2014

Newsletter

The Eastern Mediterranean was once a strategic geography discussed in reverent tones in Washington. It was NATO’s southern flank: a gateway to chokepoints and supply routes,in the crosshairs of the Soviet Union, and ignored at the peril of global stability. The Eastern Mediterranean demanded deep subject matter expertise, drove Pentagon planning, and invited big geopolitical strategy from the Truman Doctrine through the Camp David Accords.  After the Cold War’s end, the United States largely managed crises as they appeared and fostered stability in the region despite waves of instability on its periphery.  This was a successful overall strategy for the region for several decades.  But in recent years, shifting domestic politics, internal violent conflict, and uncooperative governments across the region have challenged an ad hoc and disaggregated approach to advancing U.S. interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Traditional regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel are asserting themselves in ways that are increasingly at odds with U.S. policy. NATO has failed to reengage the region. And Russia, China, and Iran are increasingly asserting themselves, exposing the region again to the return dangers of international competition with consequence for transatlantic and global security.

Read more

 

A-10 vs. fighters and bombers

By Mackenzie Eaglen

American Enterprise Institute

June 25, 2014

The Hill

 

It’s a time-honored tradition inside the Beltway to “kick the can” on really hard decisions while making sure immediate “solutions” to defer pain only cost more and create bigger problems later. Congress is set to do it again.  But the jig is up for these cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face answers. Thanks to the defense drawdown underway, the military can no longer avoid political pain for the politicians in charge.  One high profile example of this is the Pentagon proposal to retire the fleet of A-10 Warthog aircraft. Members of Congress are set to pat themselves on the proverbial back for rejecting the president’s proposal once the defense bills are finalized. But the cost of saving the A-10 fleet will be much larger numbers of fighters and bombers that will be on the chopping block instead. If the outcry was loud from the A-10 proposal, just wait until next year’s budget lands with a thud on Capitol Hill.

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The Economics of Egypt’s Rising Authoritarian Order

By Amr Adly

Carnegie Endowment

June 18, 2014

Egypt’s economy is in crisis as the new military-backed regime seeks to reestablish its authority. Fiscal restructuring and austerity measures are necessary to spur economic recovery, but they may be politically difficult to pass at this time. The new regime, therefore, will have to broaden its base and forge a more inclusive coalition of supporters in order to stabilize Egypt, retain power, and restore economic growth.  Egypt Between Populism and Austerity.  Years of political turmoil following the overthrow of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 have exacerbated many of the country’s economic problems.  Annual rates of growth have declined and there has been massive capital flight, which has worsened budget, balance of payment, and foreign reserve deficits.

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Liberal Attitudes and Middle East Realities

By Michael Bell

German Marshall Fund

June 25, 2014

A multitude of issues contribute to the dysfunction of Arab Middle East polities, including traditions of colonialism, authoritarianism, the rentier state, clientalism, corruption, and imagined history. Most importantly Arab politics is dominated by ethno-nationalism and ideological belief systems. There is little tolerance for liberal pluralism. Despite the yearning of many for a meaningful pluralistic governance system, there is at best only modest prospect for successful liberal reform, so much are these traditions part of a deeply ingrown culture. For Western policymakers, “sober realism” must be the watch phrase. The spread of what we call “progressive values” is important but can only be satisfying when seen in the light of what “can be” rather than what we think “should be” done. To ignore this reality risks making matters worse rather than better.

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Moscow’s Afghan Endgame

By Richard Weitz

Hudson Institute

June 25, 2014

Few will have been watching the troubled Afghan presidential elections with greater attention than Russia. Although Moscow has not shown a strong preference for either candidate, and has managed to develop a good working relationship with outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Russian policymakers have been seeing nightmares in Kabul for years. Now the Iraq breakdown, coming after the years of civil strife in Syria, has deepened Russian anxieties about social and economic chaos along its vulnerable southern front at a time when relations with NATO remain strained over Ukraine.

Despite its public complaints, Russians have viewed the Obama administration’s initial surge into Afghanistan and its subsequent military drawdown with unease. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin acquiesced to the U.S. and then NATO interventions in Afghanistan, he did so reluctantly, with a fearful eye on potential threats to Russia’s regional influence.

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Iraq’s House of Cards: The Primary Mission

By Robin Wright

Wilson Center

June 23, 2014

On Friday, a new report by the International Crisis Group, an independent research and policy institute, bluntly warned of both the political and military challenges in Iraq. Under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the report declared, “Parliament has been rendered toothless, independent state agencies shorn of their powers. Ministries, to an unprecedented extent, have become bastions of nepotism and other forms of corruption; the severely politicized judiciary represents anything but the ‘rule of law,’ with even the Supreme Court doing the government’s bidding.”  This week, as the jihadi juggernaut solidifies its control over almost a third of the country in a Sunni proto-state, a token American team of Special Forces will embed in Iraq to assess and advise Iraq’s disintegrating military. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is conferring with regional leaders about ways to prevent a geostrategic prize from imploding into a failed state. He, too, is expected in Baghdad.

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Hezbollah in Iraq: A Little Help Can Go a Long Way

By Matthew Levitt and Nadav Pollak

Washington Institue

June 25, 2014

PolicyWatch 2277

As Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) captured Mosul two weeks ago and set their sights on Baghdad, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah offered to send fighters to Iraq to help turn the jihadist tide. In Syria, the Lebanese Shiite group’s forces have already deployed in large numbers over the past several years and made all the difference in the Assad regime’s battle for survival. In Iraq, Hezbollah would likely dispatch only small numbers of trainers and special operators. Yet given the group’s past special operations and training activities in Iraq and its close ties with Iran’s elite Qods Force, even a modest deployment would likely have a significant impact.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-20-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Defending Iraq and Stopping ISIS

What Can America Do?

 

The big question this week is what the US is going to do to stop the relentless advance of ISIS forces on Baghdad?  At this point in time, the answer is very little.  Obama has dispatched about 300 soldiers to provide embassy protection and to help evacuate US citizens.  There are reports that some Special Forces soldiers will arrive to help train the Iraqi Army.  An amphibious ship has entered the Arabian Gulf, with a detachment of Osprey aircraft, which would be ideal for an evacuation.  And, the nuclear aircraft Carrier USS George H. W. Bush has moved into place, also most likely to provide assistance in an evacuation.

Is this all the US can do?  What are the military options available to it?  Before looking further into that, we should look at ISIS strategy.

The ISIS insurgency is following the steps of classical guerilla warfare.  Currently they are in the final stage, where they have evolved from small guerilla units into a major conventional force capable of defeating the Iraqi Army and taking and controlling territory.  The ISIS army in Iraq is estimated to be about 5,000 – small in relation to the Iraqi Army, but fully capable as seen by recent events.

The rapid disintegration of the Iraqi Army last week has slowed down as ISIS forces have been forced to pause in order to consolidate their victories.  Iraqi forces have moved in to plug holes in the defense.  In addition, some sources claimed that the Iranians have sent about 2,000 men from their Quds paramilitary force to protect Baghdad.

It’s looking more likely that ISIS can’t take Baghdad in a conventional battle under current circumstances.  In fact, they were unable to capture the Baiji oil refinery this week despite a major effort by the rebels.

The ISIS is still advancing, but at a slower rate.  They have also started fighting around Baghdad rather than trying to enter the city now.  While ISIS units have moved south toward Baghdad, units also attacked along the highway between Samarra and Baghdad. The towns of Karma, and Falluja, which are to the west of Baghdad, are reportedly under ISIS control.  ISIS and its Sunni militia allies also have an operational presence all around the town, which means that ambushes or probing attacks could be expected from any direction.

This appears to be following the strategy of ISIS’s forerunner, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).   That plan is to avoid a bloody battle in the streets of the capital and wear the defenders down though terrorist attacks.  This plan was discovered after the US found a crude map on the body of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was killed by US forces in Baqubah in June 2006. The “Baghdad belts” map was released by Multinational Forces-Iraq during its offensive to liberate vast areas under al Qaeda/ISI control in 2007 and 2008.  Zarqawi’s plan was to seize control of the outer provinces and Baghdad’s belts, or key areas surrounding the capital. The ISI would then use its bases in the belts to control access to Baghdad and funnel money, weapons, car bombs, and fighters into the city. The ISI also planned to strangle the US helicopter air lanes by deploying man portable anti-aircraft missiles along known routes in the belts areas around Baghdad.

American Options

The key question is the amount of political will to be found in Obama and the White House.  Americans aren’t interested in getting involved in Iraq again and Obama has shown little interest in countering that prevalent view.  However, the stakes are huge and Americans, while not wanting a major involvement in Iraq will be quick to criticize Obama if this causes major problems in the region.

The biggest problem is that ISIS appears to be girding for a major conflict similar to that which took place in 2007 when President Bush sent more US forces into Iraq to quell the ISI insurgency.  More than 130,000 US troops, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi security forces were needed to control Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala, Ninewa, Baghdad, and the “triangle of death.” The operations took more than a year, and were supported by the US Air Force, US Army aviation brigades, and US special operations raids that targeted the ISI’s command and control, training camps, and bases, as well as its IED and suicide bomb factories.

The problem is that there are no significant American ground forces in Iraq.  And, even in the presence of Obama’s willingness to deploy them, few can arrive in a short time.  A 500 man Marine Force could be quickly landed from American ships in the Gulf and elsewhere, but these numbers would not be enough to protect Baghdad from a major attack, much less push the ISIS back.

The US could also quickly deploy the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions and some of the units could be on the ground within days.  However, these are light infantry units and their heavier equipment would take longer to reach Iraq.  They would also mean creating a major logistics chain to support them.  They would also inevitably require the approval of Congress. As of now Obama ruled out any introduction of US ground combat forces into Iraq.

Such a major military involvement would stop the ISIS for the moment.  However, the deadly insurgency attacks of 2006 – 2007 would quickly return and the US would once again have to decide whether to escalate the operation or pull out.

The second option that would have an impact would be massive air strikes by the US Air Force.  These would not be the surgical strikes of drones, cruise missiles, or F-18s off American aircraft carriers.  This would be B-52, B-1, and B-2 strikes at major ISIS combat formation, headquarters, and supply centers in order to demolish them.  This would also stop the ISIS advance on Baghdad.  However, these conventional attacks are only effective against conventional targets, so this would encourage ISIS to return to insurgency tactics.  This would delay ISIS, but not defeat them.

The US could also carry out more surgical air attacks with fighter aircraft, cruise missiles and drones.  The political cost back home would be less, but so would the military advantage.  Experience has shown in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere that these attacks, while helpful, can’t take the place of an army on the ground that can take and hold territory.  In addition, these attacks would really require some American forces on the ground for air control and target acquisition.  There is also the problem of MANPADS that have been recently acquired by ISIS from Iraqi stores that could be used against the aircraft.

There is a political and regional problem with deploying US air assets without having US forces on the ground because it means the US is relying on Iran to become a major force in stabilizing Iraq.  Secretary of State Kerry said Washington is “open to discussions” with Tehran if the Iranians can help end the violence and restore confidence in the Iraqi government. Asked about possible military cooperation with Iran, Kerry said he would “not rule out anything that would be constructive.”

However, Senator McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, said that such a move would be a mistake.  McCain said in a statement: “This is the same Iranian regime that has trained and armed the most dangerous Shia militant groups, that has consistently urged Prime Minister Maliki to pursue a narrow sectarian agenda at the expense of national reconciliation, that supplies the rockets that have been fired at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, that has sponsored acts of terrorism throughout the Middle East and the world, and that continues to use Iraq’s territory and airspace to send weapons and fighters to prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria…”

 

“For all of these reasons, and more, the United States should be seeking to minimize greater Iranian involvement in Iraq right now, not encouraging it. That means rapid, decisive U.S. action to degrade ISIS and halt theiroffensive in Iraq.”

Some critics of Obama are stressing that conducting U.S. airstrikes without deploying American special operators or other ground forces would in effect make the U.S. Air Force a part of Iran’s army.

Some US military experts are suggesting that American air operations could be enhanced by inserting a small number of Special Forces units into Iraq to coordinate air attacks, train Iraqi forces, and carry out covert operations.  However, they are recommending that these forces must be under military command and not under State Department control as current military assets in Iraq are now, and that these forces need a broad charter and wouldn’t be limited to supporting the Iraqi government, but would be used to assist the Kurds, who had very good relations with US Special Forces in the 2003 invasion.  This would force ISIS to divert forces from the Baghdad operation to protect the Kurdish front.  As this report being prepared President Obama announced he is ready to send up to 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq to assist in training and advising Iraqi forces as the tense situation in the country continues to escalate.

In a statement in the White House briefing room, Obama said the U.S. is prepared to create joint operation centers between the U.S. and Iraq in Baghdad and northern Iraq.

He also said the U.S. is taking steps so that it’s “prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine the situation on the ground requires it.” He reiterated that he would consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq before any decision is made.

Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the Middle East and Europe where he will talk about the situation in Iraq.

According to former US intelligence officer :”Both the Syrian and Iraqi fronts would benefit if American air operations would be immediately carried out to target captured American vehicles and armored vehicles that are moving to Syria, this could be done with some Iranian assistance and intelligence”.

The US must also reverse its policy in Syria and counter the rise of ISIS as it grows so powerful that it is capable of establishing an area of control stretching from Baghdad, to the Saudi border to the Mediterranean.  It also means more heavy equipment that can combat the heavy equipment that ISIS has captured in the last week in Iraq.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia are now faced with the potential of ISIS controlled territories on their borders and they will have to deal militarily and diplomatically with that threat as well as changing course of supporting rebels in Syria.  Saudi Arabia will also have to worry about increasing internal security threats that likely to cause unrest in the oil producing provinces of Saudi Arabia.

Although America has several options that are less vigorous than returning to Iraq in force, the long term impact of the ISIS victories are likely to be significant. Without a major investment of arms and men Iraq can’t retake what they have lost to ISIS.

That leaves ISIS with control of a major piece of Iraq, but unlikely to be able to take Baghdad proper, especially since some of its Sunni militia allies have major religious and ideological differences with the radical ISIS.  The makings of a long term stalemate are in place.

This in turn, could lead to more ethnic and religious fighting and less conflict on battle fronts.  There is considerable concern about religious and ethnic fighting on a major scale as Sunni and Shiite forces try to cleanse areas of potentially hostile groups.  ISIS has already carried out religious killings in its occupied territory.

According to the former intelligence officer who worked in Iraq “The Kurds may be in the best position in history to become a separate nation.  Syria and Iraq are too powerless to stop it and recognize that a strong Kurdistan threatens ISIS.  The Turks will oppose an independent Kurdish state, but may have problems stopping it.  Turkey is now the largest foreign investor in Iraqi Kurdistan, and regards the KRG as a reliable partner.  And although Turkey has threatened to invade an independent Kurdistan, it may have changed its mind”.

“The Kurds of Iraq have the right to decide the future of their land, said Huseyin Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AKP on Friday.  “The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of the entity they are living in,” Celik said in an interview.  “In case Iraq gets partitioned, the Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate.”  Celik believes that Iraq is already headed towards partition thanks to “Maliki’s sectarian policies.”

The Kurds also have the only military force that isn’t stretched to its limits.  Kurdish Peshmerga forces advanced to take control of territories abandoned by the Iraqi army that were previously claimed by the Kurds – most notably the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oilfields.

However, the Kurds have not tried to stop the ISIS fighters moving south.  But, Peshmerga forces are close enough to the roads leading south from Mosul to Baghdad to cut the ISIS line of communications and stop the advance on Baghdad if it is to the Kurd’s advantage.

Conclusion

Although the US is forced to be a major player in the region, it appears that Obama is disengaged.  He is unwilling to invest the military force necessary to assist Maliki government in defeating or countering ISIS either in Syria or Iraq.

Since Obama will be unwilling to make the major investment to support a whole and independent Iraq and will probably only invest enough military forces to stabilize the political situation, a de facto divided Iraq is the likely outcome in the short term.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

America: Stay out of Iraq

By Benjamin H. Friedman

Cato Institute

June 13, 2014.

National Interest

President Obama said today he would essentially take the weekend to decide whether to use the U.S. military to help Iraq’s government repel Sunni Islamist rebels—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—who recently took Mosul and swaths of other territory in northern and central Iraq. Obama ruled out using U.S. ground forces, but drone strikes and traditional air support remain on the table. The usual Congressional hawks are outraged that has not happened already.  The major reason using force to defend Iraq’s government is a bad idea is that it always was. Advocates of going into Iraq, like advocates of staying in Iraq in past years, tend to employ sunk costs logic, where the pursuit of a dumb idea before somehow makes it sensible now. Invocations of dead and wounded Americans’ sacrifice give such thinking added resonance but do not make it sensible.

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Iraq and Global Oil Markets

By Frank A. Verrastro and Sarah O. Ladislaw

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 18, 2014

How is the recent escalation of violence in Iraq impacting global oil markets?

A1: Last week’s attack on and seizure of Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city) by armed groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an extreme jihadist group, represents a major expansion of the group’s previously held control of areas near the Syria/Iraqi border and escalated security concerns within Iraq. Unable to stem the tide of the incursion thus far, the Maliki government asked Parliament to declare a state of emergency and requested assistance from the U.S. military as well. The U.S. Embassy is already evacuating certain employees and sending in additional troops to bolster security at the Embassy.

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Hoping for Trouble in Iraq

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 17, 2014

Few in the United States take much pleasure in what has happened in Iraq in recent days. Many in the Middle East do. Until Western governments understand Middle Eastern governments’ motivations better, they won’t have much influence on the violence unfolding in Iraq.  At first blush, it would seem obvious that anyone with any pretention of humanity would be appalled at the gains of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL or, by its Arabic acronym, Da‘ish). Before taking over Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities north of Baghdad, the organization proved so extreme and murderous that even al Qaeda sought distance from it. Massacres and beheadings are ISIS’s most common calling cards, but it also performs a large number of amputations and crucifixions, and then brags about them on social media.  How could anyone see their rise in Iraq as good news?

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To Beat ISIS, Exploit Its Contradictions

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

June 17, 2014

Back at the height of the U.S. war in Iraq, the late emir of what was then just the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) remarked that “Iraq is the University of Terrorism.” Its curriculum, he believed, was made up of all the combat tactics students would learn there, before graduating to range beyond the borders of Mesopotamia. But the jihadi leader’s pupils seem to have absorbed another lesson from the Iraq War: the necessity of winning popular support and co-opting local sources of authority.  In its lightning sweep across northwestern Iraq, ISI’s successor, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has engaged in a careful strategy of civic administration, social outreach, and coalition building.

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Chaos In Syria Is Obama’s Own
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
June 16, 2014

It’s hard not to notice that the Obama administration’s foreign policy is on the skids. Increasingly, the critiques leveled at the administration from both left and right share a common theme: that U.S. foreign policy has become characterized by strategic drift, with serious consequences for American interests abroad.  The list of failures is legion, from a lack of leadership on Russia to faulty assumptions about the feasibility of detente with Iran to a rudderless “pivot” toward Asia — but it is Syria that is perhaps President Obama’s greatest foreign-policy failure to date.  Since the start of the civil war there a little more than three years ago, the White House has chosen to pursue a deliberately minimalist strategy. Its principal achievement — a Russian-brokered deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons — has yielded only meager results. The Syrian regime has repeatedly missed deadlines for dismantling its chemical stocks, as it attempts to delay its own disarmament. It is also continuing to use chemical weapons against opposition forces and civilians alike, confident that America won’t do much in response.

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Jordan Has a Jihadi Problem Too

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

June 13, 2014

American Interest

The Jordanian city of Maan is boiling. Three hours of bad road south of the capital, Amman, this underdeveloped and economically depressed tribal town of 60,000 has long been a locus of anti-government protest. But lately the natives have been particularly restive. Last June, so many locals were firing automatic weapons at the downtown police station that a decision was made to move the headquarters out of town. More recently, violent clashes between Maanis and the gendarmerie have become so ubiquitous that a tank has been stationed along the highway at city limits.  Endemic unemployment — believed to be more than 30 percent — is a big part of the problem. So is criminality and hair-trigger hostility toward the central government. Worse, the city’s residents are armed to the teeth, and misunderstandings routinely escalate to Hatfield-McCoy proportions. Perhaps most troubling, however, has been the unprecedented growth of the Salafi jihadist movement in Maan.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-13-2014

ANALYSIS

 

The Collapsing American President

 

The last few weeks haven’t been good for Obama.  In fact, 2014 is slated to be the worse of his presidency.  The continuing problems of Syria, Benghazi, Afghanistan, the Ukraine and Iraq, Obamacare, and the IRS were just the foundation of a slew of new problems that hit the White House in the last couple of weeks – a weak foreign policy speech at West Point, new proposed rules on power plant emissions, the Veterans Administration scandal, and the Bergdahl prisoner trade.  No wonder a Reuter’s poll this week showed Obama with a 38% approval rating and a 55% disapproval rating.

The slide is not coming from Republicans or independents, which have already deserted Obama.  The slide in approval is coming from the Democratic base.  The National Journal, a generally pro-Obama publication had an article titled: “’I’ve Had Enough’: When Democrats Quit on Obama – Bergdahl swap is latest last straw for top Democrats frustrated with president’s leadership.”  The theme of the piece was that several top level Democrats have lost faith in Obama.  The article stated, “They respect and admire Obama but believe that his presidency has been damaged by his shortcomings as a leader; his inattention to details of governing; his disengagement from the political process and from the public; his unwillingness to learn on the job; and his failure to surround himself with top-shelf advisers who are willing to challenge their boss as well as their own preconceived notions.”

The result is that the White House has become tone deaf and is lurching from self-induced crisis to self-induced crisis.  The West Point speech was to counter Obama’s perceived weakness in foreign policy, but merely highlighted it even more.  The Bergdahl trade was designed to quiet the VA scandal and show his concern for veterans and those who serve in the military, but it proved unpopular with veterans.  In fact, 68% of veteran or veteran families opposed the deal.  And, to top off the damage done to his popularity from the trade, he didn’t consult Congress as required by law, which caused more political damage, especially amongst Democratic allies in both the Senate and House.  The vast majority (64/30) of Americans believe Congress should have been consulted, including a (67/38) landslide among independents.

So, why Obama and the White House are making so many spectacular failures now?  The answer is complex and is a blend of institutional problems and personality traits of Obama and his closest advisors.

The White House Prison

The insularity of the presidency has grown dramatically in the past 60 years.  President Truman would frequently leave the White House for morning walks without his Secret Service protection.  Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy would frequently travel in open cars to see the people.  That changed with the Kennedy assassination.   The Secret Service became so obsessed with protecting the president that he is now isolated from the people he represents.

The protection for the president (Republican or Democrat) is smothering.  Air and surface traffic is stopped while he is in motion and any group that he is seeing is carefully screened in advance for potential troublemakers or even people with politically opposing ideas.  And, those groups are usually limited to hearing a preplanned speech or, in the case of Oval office visits, are merely there for a few chosen words and a photo opportunity.

The result is that the president rarely sees or hears an average American from the day he becomes president until he leaves office.   His only window to the public is polling, which is frequently less about knowing what Americans think or want, but is tuned for a political outcome.  The problem has grown as more polls are commissioned to produce certain results by carefully wording the questions.

The second institutional problem is the same one that faces most leaders, a staff of sycophants who tell the leader what he wants to hear, not bad news that he probably should hear.  This week, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post noted that this was the problem with the Bergdahl trade.  Commenting on the unanimous view by Obama’s advisors that the trade was the right choice, Milbank wrote, “I don’t doubt these accounts about Obama’s agreeable advisers. Such affirmations of Obama’s instincts are what has worried me about the way Obama has structured his administration in his second term: By surrounding himself with longtime loyalists in the White House and on his national-security team, he has left himself with advisers lacking either the stature or the confidence to tell him when he’s wrong…The danger with such an arrangement is you create a bubble around yourself, and your advisers become susceptible to groupthink.”

Combined with the isolation of the presidency, the choice of agreeable advisors leaves the president unusually reliant on few reliable sources of information about voter views.  In fact, the American president may know more about views in other countries than the views of his own citizens.  The result is that the president is more vulnerable to making political mistakes that he wouldn’t have made if he were more in tune with the electorate.

The Obama Personality

The natural isolation of the presidency is combined with some of Obama’s personality traits to make a dangerous mix.  Obama is something of a loner, who is surrounded by a small coterie of trusted advisers like Valerie Jarrett and is unwilling to expand his political circle, even in the face of evidence that such a move would enhance his own political fortunes and the nation’s.

Everybody else, including members of his Cabinet, have little face time with him except for brief meetings that serve as photo ops. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner both noted that they were shut out of important decisions.

Vanity Fair, in a piece titled “The Lonely Guy,” says Obama lives in a personal and political bubble.  They note, “The latest round of ‘what did the president know and when did he know it’ on the disastrous rollout of Obamacare and the tapping of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone raised troubling questions: Were Obama’s aides too afraid to tell him?  Was he too detached to ask?  Or both?”

Again, this means that Obama has limited sources of information on what is happening with average Americans and even fewer people to rely upon for feedback when he is contemplating a decision.  And, that leads to the surprises and frequent backlash that occur when the president makes a decision.

Obama also refuses to accept criticism, which reinforces the tendency of those around him to agree rather than provide useful criticism.  A good example was shown in the campaign book Double Down, where the authors note Obama’s relationship with members of the Congressional Black Caucus is tense because he balks at any hint of criticism from black politicians

Another weakness appears to be a short attention span.  Again, from the National Journal article, “A Democratic House member whose endorsement in 2008 helped lift the Obama candidacy told me in January, “He’s bored and tired of being president, and our party is paying the price.” “Talented guy but no leader,” said a Democratic lobbyist and former member of Congress in March. “If he could govern half as well as he campaigns, he’d be a good-to-great president.””

Unlike most presidents, who work long hours, Obama is not a workaholic.  In fact, he admitted that in an ABC news interview in 2011.  Obama’s workdays are said to end early, often at 4 p.m. He usually has dinner in the family residence with his wife and daughters, then retreats to a private office. One person said he takes a stack of briefing books. Others aren’t sure what he does.

The natural isolation of the White House, Obama’s loner mentality, his short attention span, and lazy work habits have created a long list of problems for this administration.  There has been a loss of confidence among some U.S. allies about the administration’s commitment at a time of escalating tensions thanks to a lazy nature that fails to take foreign policy seriously and a short attention span that fails to follow up after a “pivot.”  Russia is displaying more aggressiveness than anytime since the Cold War and China has provoked many of its neighbors with aggressive actions at sea.

Obama has fallen short also by misreading the US electorate.  The Bergdahl trade and the VA scandal are excellent examples of how he has totally misread American values and opinion.  He is still convinced that Obamacare is popular with Americans because he is too isolated to speak with the majority of Americans who disapprove of it.  Other issues like immigration, environmental policy, regulation, voter identification, a balanced budget, and defense policy are also 180 degrees out of step with what been perceived American views.

The Future

As has been noted in the past, second term presidencies are usually cursed with bad ratings.  However, Obama is suffering more do to a tone deafness that has set him at odds with the American electorate.

Can he recover?  Probably not.

A turn around would require two things, new staff and a new attitude by Obama.  However, Obama has shown distaste for firing members of his administration, even when faced with serious problems – the VA firing is an exception to the rule.  That means that he will continue to live in the self imposed bubble of limited information, a lack of dissent, and access.  In fact, chances are that the circle of confidants will shrink as the attacks against his policies grow.

Nor is it likely that Obama will change his personality traits that have bedeviled his administration.  In fact, some reports are coming out of Washington saying that he is already distracted by his post-presidential life and looking forward to it.

This leaves the Democratic Party with a dilemma.  Like it or not, they are tied to Obama and his policies and the election in 6 months will reflect it.  The House looks secure for the Republicans and the Senate may swing out of Democratic hands in November.

A legislative branch dominated by Republicans will only make life that much more miserable for Obama.  Given his personality, he will likely withdraw that much more into the Presidential bubble and look forward to January 20, 2017.

Although Obama can withdraw, the Democrats can’t.  They will need a visible leader for the run up to the 2016 presidential election.  And, it’s become clear in the last few weeks of presidential missteps that Hillary Clinton is readying herself to fill the role of leader of the Democratic Party.

A withdrawn Obama and a bumbling White House will strengthen her status amongst Democratic faithful.  She can raise money and start supporting candidates for congressional and state offices, which will help her if she decided to run for president.

However, Hillary Clinton has to carry the baggage of her service in the Obama Administration – baggage that may very well sink her.  Although many of the failures in foreign policy came after her term as Secretary of State, she still has to adequately answer questions on Libya, Syria, and Russia.  She will also have to answer for her political support for controversial Obama decisions when she could have resigned in protest.

And, although Hillary has better work habits than Obama, she also suffers from tone deafness that rubs some American wrong.  The most recent example was her comments this week that she and her husband President Bill Clinton were “dead broke,” after leaving the White House, even though she had just signed a $8 million book deal and they were buying a house in New York so  she could run for the Senate.  These could be just as damaging as some of the Obama missteps.

As it stands, the power of the Obama White House is collapsing.  Its missteps are organic and likely to continue unless there is a major shakeup at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The Republican Party is preparing to take a more active role in government after the mid-term elections and the Democratic Party is looking for a new leader – a leader that can win in 2016 and erase the failures of the current administration.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Afghanistan and Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Worst Case Wars

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 10, 2014

The US needs to learn hard lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even if it does intend to fight such wars in the future. The Burke Chair is issuing a summary analysis of these lessons that focuses on what the US needs to learn as it shifts towards a strategy centered on strategic partnerships, and where irregular and unconventional war will be a critical element in US security efforts.

Read more

 

 

Al Qaeda takes control of another city in Obama-abandoned Iraq

By Marc Thiessen

American Enterprise Institute

June 10, 2014

Remember Joe Biden’s claim in 2010 that Iraq would go down as “one of the great achievements of [the Obama] administration”?  Back then, Biden boasted “You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”  Well, the Washington Post updates us on the results this morning:

Insurgents seized control early Tuesday of most of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, including the provincial government headquarters, offering a powerful demonstration of the mounting threat posed by extremists to Iraq’s teetering stability.

Read more

 

 

Syria’s Very Local Regional Conflict

By Yezid Sayigh

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

A few months after Syria’s uprising began in March 2011, it became commonplace to portray the country as the battleground for a proxy contest between regional and international powers. Since then, Syria’s descent into full-fledged civil war has prompted an equally widespread view that any resolution depends wholly on reaching an understanding between those powers. But the highly localized nature of the Syrian conflict means that its evolution and eventual resolution, whether this comes through diplomatic or military means, will elude the control of outsiders.

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Iran: Syria’s Lone Regional Ally

By Karim Sadjadpour

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

Few countries in the world stand to lose more from the collapse of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria than its lone regional ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite being subjected to onerous economic sanctions over its nuclear ambitions, Tehran’s unwavering financial and military support has proven critical to Assad’s continued survival. For Tehran, the Syrian conflict is not simply about who controls Damascus. It is the epicenter of a broader ideological, sectarian, and geopolitical struggle against a diverse array of adversaries, including radical Sunni jihadists, Arab Gulf states, Israel, and the United States.

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An Israeli Perspective on Syria

By Ariel (Eli) Levite

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

Israel’s strategy toward the Syrian conflict has been rather opaque, with Israeli officials maintaining an unusually low profile on the issue since the onset of the civil war. Only a handful of authoritative official statements have been made on the issue during this period, and even these have been largely enigmatic on the broader issues concerned, usually confined to a single topic—namely, Syrian strategic arms transfers to Hezbollah. Furthermore, Israel has made no active effort to be part of the Geneva diplomatic process.

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Regional Spillover: Lebanon and the Syrian Conflict

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

Lebanon faces complex problems associated with the Syrian conflict. Over 1 million refugees are changing the country’s demographics, straining its social contract, and putting pressure on its economy. The Lebanese government’s lack of a refugee policy and sharp domestic political divisions over intervention in Syria are contributing to security concerns and sectarian tensions in Lebanon. And regional rivalries, namely between Saudi Arabia and Iran, have exacerbated polarization between Lebanese clients.  Lebanon has always been in the shadow of Syria. Following both countries’ independence in the 1940s, Syria did not fully accept Lebanon’s sovereignty—despite its official recognition of the Lebanese state—and since then Damascus has exerted significant influence over Lebanese politics. Syrian oversight was strengthened during the Lebanese civil war, when in 1976 the then Lebanese president, Suleiman Frangieh, invited Syrian troops into his country to act as a “deterrent” force in the struggle between Lebanese and Palestinian factions. Those troops ended up becoming key players in the conflict.

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Gulf Calculations in the Syrian Conflict

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

The Gulf is far from a monolithic force, and Gulf policies toward Syria are complex, driven by a number of factors ranging from sectarian divides to power politics. Still, there are some clear commonalities and divergences when it comes to the Gulf states’ interests, activities, and prospects in Syria.

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Turkey’s Uphill Battle in Syria

By Sinan Ülgen

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

Turkey faces the challenge of recalibrating its policy toward Syria given the Assad regime’s resilience and gradual recovery of international legitimacy.

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The Costs of U.S. Restraint in Syria

By Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

Washington’s reluctance to take a leadership role in Syria has played a part in increasing the threat to core U.S. interests.

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Russia’s Interests in Syria

By Dmitri Trenin

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

Russia has two broad strategic objectives in the Syrian conflict: challenging U.S. dominance in world affairs and aiding Assad in the fight against Islamist radicals.

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Moving Beyond China’s Confident Rhetoric on Syria

By Paul Haenle

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

China is unusually secure in its policy of nonintervention in the Syrian conflict. But will strong rhetoric and vetoes be enough?

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The European Union’s Concerns About Syria

By Marc Pierini

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

The Syrian conflict has recently become a major source of concern for Europe, but it could still be overshadowed by an escalation of tensions in Ukraine.

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Mosul Security Crisis: A Chance to Break Iraq’s Political Logjam

By Michael Knights

Washington Instutute

June 10, 2014

PolicyWatch 2265

Over the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, has seized control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. ISIS and its antecedents have long maintained a covert presence in the city, including major fundraising via organized crime networks, but the current breakdown has witnessed open terrorist control of the streets to an extent not seen since 2005.  Beginning with powerful probing actions by Sunni militant convoys at the city’s northern and western edges on June 6, the ISIS offensive quickly snowballed. At present, hundreds of militants are openly contesting control with government forces in the predominantly Arab neighborhoods west of the Tigris River. The provincial council and governor have been forced to withdraw from their offices, which were overrun on June 9; they are reportedly sheltering under Kurdish protection in eastern Mosul. ISIS forces are now within the perimeter of the city’s international airport and military air base; worse yet, over 200 U.S.-provided armored vehicles and masses of weaponry have been lost to the group, greatly strengthening its capabilities in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, over 150,000 people have reportedly left the city, and streams of displaced people are visible on outbound roads.

 

 

 

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-06-2014

ANALYSIS

 

NATO – Revision 2.0

 

Probably the biggest news coming out of Obama’s trip to Europe this week was the increased focus on NATO’s defense against Russia. Advocates of such course admit the task isn’t one that can  be solved by a three day visit to Europe. To them it requires the restructuring of NATO from a rapid reaction force that could be used in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, back to a conventional land army that is tasked to defend Europe from the newly rising Russian threat.

Yet, this change isn’t merely a return to the old NATO of the Cold War.  That NATO was comprised of economically powerful nations with large conventional land armies.  And, although there were several countries bordering the Warsaw Pact nations like Greece, Turkey, and Norway, the major emphasis during the Cold War was on protecting West Germany from a massive armored attack across the German Plain.

Today’s NATO faces more challenges.  Not only are there more nations “threatened” by Russia projection of influence and power today, they are considerably more vulnerable than NATO was 25 years ago, when the Soviet Empire collapsed.  The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have no fighter aircraft of their own and can only muster three tanks between them.  Estonia is already spending over 2% of their GDP on defense spending (the NATO goal for member nations) and Latvia and Lithuania are promising to double their spending in order to reach that goal.

The other major European NATO powers are spending more, but are still falling behind.  Only Great Britain and Greece joined Estonia in hitting the two percent benchmark, and Greece reached that goal more as a response to Turkey than Russia.  Poland has been increasing military outlays, in a major arms modernization and spent 1.8 percent last year (that will go up to 1.95 in 2015). France and Turkey fall short. Germany comes in at 1.3 percent. Italy is at 1.2 percent. Overall, NATO hit 1.6 percent last year.

By comparison, America defense spending was 4.1 percent of GDP.

NATO’s Shifting Mission

One reason for the low defense spending by the other NATO allies is the shifting mission of NATO from a conventional military alliance to a post Cold War small, rapid reaction force.  Smaller, more mobile forces didn’t need the level of spending, which pleased NATO countries, which could use the additional money for domestic programs.

Many analysts even saw post Cold War NATO, not as a military alliance, but as an alliance of democracies.  Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2002, “NATO can be usefully re-imagined. Its new role should be to serve as incubator for Russia’s integration into Europe and the West. It is precisely because NATO has turned from a military alliance into a trans-Atlantic club of advanced democracies that it can now safely invite Russia in…NATO is dead. Welcome, Russia, to the new NATO.”

Needless to say, that idea is now dead.  But, it can’t merely return to the old NATO concept with a massive conventional army in Germany.  There are more fronts to cover and several weak allies that must be protected until they develop more powerful militaries.

Obviously the keystone to an eastern NATO defense is Poland.  Poland has the largest military establishment in Eastern Europe and is strongly committed to its defense against Russia.  It has also contributed towards the mission in Afghanistan, which means it has a small core of combat trained troops.  It also has the largest army in Eastern Europe, with about 900 tanks and over 100 combat aircraft.  Although much of the equipment is former Soviet, they are aggressively modernizing with new German Leopard tanks.

US military strategists are looking in to the problem; however they see, with the exception of Turkey, the rest of the front line NATO nations are militarily weak and could be easily invaded by Russia.  That means NATO must not merely rely upon a massive, slow moving conventional military force in one place, but a mobile force capable of quickly deploying to a threatened NATO country and being capable of combating a Russian Army as soon as it enters the theater.

The US has already begun working on this.  In April, approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland for training and NATO exercises.  In March the United States increased the Poland Aviation Detachment (AVDET) with additional F-16s.  These F-16s and airmen will act as a tripwire in Poland and improve coordination with the Polish Air Force.  In addition, three C-130J aircraft were deployed to Powidz Air Base, Poland, as part of a regularly scheduled two-week AVDET rotation.

Another need is for NATO to pre-deploy equipment and forces to front line nations that will not only act as a tripwire, but can allow for a rapid mobilization in a crisis.

One such operation is the NATO air operations in the Baltic nations.  In March, the United States deployed an additional six F-15Cs to augment the four F-15Cs already in Lithuania in order to have a quick reaction interceptor aircraft force to protect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  The U.S. rotation began in January and ended in early May.  Since then, Poland, the United Kingdom, France, and Denmark, have assumed the air policing mission in the Baltic.

Although the threat in Southeast Europe is less, NATO has also increased its presence there.  Canada deployed aircraft to augment NATO air policing in Southeast Europe.  In addition, there is the Black Sea Rotational Forces (BSRF) based out of Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania, which includes 250 Marines.  There are also 500 U.S. troops and 175 U.S. Marines temporarily based out of MK Air Base.  The Marines are part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) that is designed to respond to a broad range of military operations in Africa and Europe.

The NATO meeting this week in Brussels saw additional measures to rapidly reinforce NATO nations.  NATO defense ministers agreed to a Readiness Action Plan, which will improve the NATO Response Force’s (NRF) capability, upgrade NATO’s intelligence and awareness, pre-position equipment and supplies in frontline NATO nations, and focus NATO exercises on the threat from Russia.  The United States pledged several thousand service members to the NRF, including a brigade combat team from the 1st Cavalry Division, air-to-air refueling tankers, and escort ships.

NATO ministers also approved Germany’s initiative on “Framework Nations,” which will help boost multinational forces in Eastern Europe.  The NATO Secretary General welcomed the decision by Denmark, Germany and Poland to start work to raise the readiness of Multinational Corps North East in Poland. “This will strengthen our ability to address future threats and challenges in the region. And it is a significant contribution to our collective defense,” he said.

NATO will also have to increase cooperation with non-NATO nations friendly with the West.  NATO Defense Ministers met their Ukrainian counterpart Mykhailo Koval in the NATO-Ukraine Commission. They reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s security and defense reforms. A comprehensive package of measures aimed to increase the capacity and strength of the Ukrainian armed force will be finalized in the coming weeks.

Although NATO doesn’t have the manpower to station large combat units in the frontline NATO nations, they need to step up exercises that rotate more forces through these nations, while increasing cooperation with the militaries of these countries.  To that end, NATO launched a large-scale exercise, STEADFAST JAVELIN 1, in Estonia on May 16.  Around 6,000 troops from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated in the exercise which finished on May 23.  Many participants were already in Estonia taking part in the annual Estonian-led KEVADTORM14 exercise that began on May 5 and was merged into the NATO-led event.

Finally, individual NATO nations will have to reconfigure their militaries to the new reality.  This may mean that armored units that were scheduled for demobilization may remain active.  NATO nations that were anxious to retire main battle tanks too large for operations in places like Afghanistan may keep them active.  It may also mean more emphasis on armor technology than there has been in the past decade. US military industrial complex will get its lion share of course from any future military build up

And modernization by these countries…..

Is This Enough?

Although NATO’s defense forces are considerably smaller than they were at the end of the Cold War 25 years ago, the NATO nations have cobbled together a plan that will refocus NATO on the current threat, while giving the individual nations a chance to modernize their respective defense forces.

 

NATO does have several advantages that help.  First, it has more of a defense in depth that it during the Cold War.  25 years ago, most of Western Europe was within range of the Russian military.  Today, countries like Germany, France, and England are far removed from the potential front lines, which make it harder for Russia to deliver a decisive blow against NATO.

Another advantage according to US military leaders is that NATO’s military – especially the major nations of the UK, France, Germany, and the United States have more technologically advanced militaries than the Russian Army, which still relies on leftover equipment from the Cold War.  They can hit harder and more effectively than Russia can ever hope to.

Ironically, the post Cold War NATO also gives the alliance another advantage they claimed.  The focus on small rapid reaction forces that could carry out combat operations in Afghanistan is critical to countering the Russian threat today.  Since the Eastern NATO frontier is so large, NATO must rely upon the rapid movement of forces from theater to theater during a crisis.  These forces, which contain a large number of combat hardened troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be more capable than their numbers suggest.

NATO planners boast also that NATO has a much larger logistics chain – both in its military and its commercial infrastructure.  That means the military units of the US, France, Britain, and Germany can rapidly deploy into Eastern Europe in case of a crisis.

They stress finally, NATO has a much larger economic base than Russia.  Therefore, was the winning edge during the Cold War and, if anything, the advantage is even greater today than it was a quarter century ago.

To the military adventurists ,although Russia remains a threat to Europe, NATO has started to take the threat seriously.  Until several of the newer NATO nations upgrade their conventional combat capabilities, they will have to rely upon the major NATO nations to provide technologically advanced, highly mobile, professional forces to act as a tripwire and counter to Russian military might.  The only question that remains is if European NATO members will be able to sacrifice much needed funds for another illusion of preparing for a new cold war that only benefiting the trans-Atlantic military industrial complex.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

 

President Obama Goes to Europe: Top Five Policy Recommendations

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

Heritage Foundation

June 4, 2014

Issue Brief #4234

President Obama’s visit to Europe this week will be an important opportunity for the U.S. President to restate America’s commitment to the transatlantic partnership, strengthen the NATO alliance, and shore up European opposition to Russian aggression against Ukraine.  Across the Atlantic, President Obama should also take note of the mounting disillusionment with the European Union, expressed in recent European parliamentary elections, and voice his support for the principles of national sovereignty and self-determination in Europe, as well as economic freedom and free trade.  Below are Heritage’s recommendations for what the President should do and say in his meetings with European leaders and in his public and private statements.

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To Defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Stronger Counterterrorism Cooperation Needed

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

June 3, 2014

Issue Brief #4233

Iraq faces major political, national security, and economic challenges that should be addressed by the new government that emerges from the April 30 elections. Last year, more than 7,800 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces were killed in political violence and terrorist attacks, making it Iraq’s deadliest year since 2008.  The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formerly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has staged a bloody comeback and seized large swaths of territory in western Iraq. Its leader has threatened attacks against the U.S. homeland, and it is recruiting foreign fighters in Syria who could carry out this threat. Washington urgently needs to step up cooperation with Iraq to address this mounting threat.

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Our Freeloading Allies

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

May 29, 2014

One of the overlooked aspects of President Obama’s speech at West Point yesterday was his call for other countries to step forward, and do more to defend themselves and their interests. He also expected them to contribute “their fair share” in places like Syria.

It might have been overlooked because it was neither new, nor unexpected. Polls consistently show that Americans believe we use our military too frequently, and they are tired of bearing the costs of policing the planet. Meanwhile, the minority who believe that we should be spending more on the military  – 28 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll – might not feel that same way if they knew how much we spend as compared to the rest of the world, especially our wealthy allies.

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Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony H. Cordesman and Sam Khazai

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 30, 2014

Iraq is a nation in crisis bordering on civil war in 2014. The country now faces growing violence, a steady rise in Sunni Islamist extremism, an increasingly authoritarian leader that favors Iraq’s Sunnis, and growing ethnic tension between Arabs and Kurds. The recent Iraqi election offers little promise that it can correct the corruption, the weaknesses in its security forces, and the critical failures in governance, economic development, and leadership. The problems Iraq faces in 2014 are a legacy of mistakes made during and after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but increasingly the nation is dealing with the self-inflicted wounds of its leaders who abuse human rights, repress opposing factions, and misuse the Iraqi police and security forces to their own end.

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NATO’s land forces: Losing ground

By Guillaume Lasconjarias

American Enterprise Institute

June 4, 2014

The state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) land forces is something of a paradox. Although the alliance has no equal in terms of its gross domestic product, commands a wealth of human and social capital, and boasts the world’s largest aggregate defense sector, NATO’s land forces in particular have lost ground when it comes to their overall combat capacities.  In member states, the effects of the worldwide economic crisis on defense budgets have been compounded by dwindling public support for the continued commitment of national armed forces to apparently insoluble foreign conflicts. Nevertheless, as the alliance draws down its longest and costliest mission in Afghanistan, now is the time to review the lessons learned from a decade of sustained combat operations and to ensure they are implemented in time for the next major deployment. Overall, the idea is to shift from a “NATO deployed” to a “NATO ready” mode; the challenge, according to US General Philip Breedlove, current supreme allied commander in Europe, is to maintain the operational excellence acquired over the past decade

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Assad’s Election: A Security Quest

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

June 2, 2014

On June 3, 2014, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks forward to securing a new seven-year presidential term in a sham election conducted in the shadow of regime violence. A key objective for Assad in his third term is consolidating his “counterterrorism” campaign—in other words, presenting his crackdown on Syrian opposition groups as a fight against jihadism. In doing so, Assad is betting on the eventual support of, or at least coordination with, the international community in this new “war on terror,” which would secure his position in power. Although Western countries have called the June 3 election a “parody,” Assad’s bet is not too far-fetched. The Egyptian case shows why.

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Can the EU Revive the Cause of Middle East Peace?

By Dimitris Bouris and Nathan J. Brown

Carnegie Endowment

May 29, 2014

Two very strong assumptions have governed much international diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the past decades. The first is that the solution is known, so all that is necessary is strong leadership—and U.S. determination—to arrive at that goal. The second is that European action is not likely to have much independent effect, so Europe can at best only support American efforts. The unhelpfulness of the first assumption is now apparent to all but a few diehards. That makes it an especially important time to demolish what remains of the second assumption. This is not to suggest that Europeans can succeed where Americans have failed. Rather, Europe might be able to have some long-term positive effects in precisely those areas where the United States has decided not to go. This conclusion flows not from unrealistic optimism but from a hard-nosed look at the past.

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Turkey’s Commitment to NATO: Not Yet Grounds for Divorce

By Richard Outzen

Washington Institute

June 2014

Research Notes 19

The history of Turkey’s relations with the United States and NATO has been characterized by stable commitment on security matters and remarkable volatility in political matters. In a time of great political change in Turkey — the end of military tutelage and the ascendance of political Islam over Kemalist secularism — how far from the North Atlantic political consensus can Turkey move without affecting its security role within NATO? The preliminary decision taken by Turkey last year to select the Chinese HQ-9 intercept system for its air defense network caused much speculation in Western capitals about whether this development marked a definitive change in Turkey’s strategic identity.

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Egypt After the Election: Advancing the Strategic Relationship

By Michael Singh

Washington Institute

May 30, 2014

PolicyWatch 2259

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s apparent victory in Egypt’s presidential election this week marks the beginning of a new chapter for his country, though not necessarily the end of its political and economic turmoil. The past three years have not only left Egypt gripped by domestic troubles and economic malaise, they have also resulted in further deterioration of bilateral relations. Cairo has looked inward, immune to advice or influence, while Washington has looked on in bewilderment. Although American officials continue to describe relations with Egypt as “strategic,” they have in fact become transactional, with one side trading its immediate needs for the other’s: the United States needs a stable and cooperative Israeli-Egyptian relationship and preferential access to the Suez Canal, while Egypt needs military hardware and international recognition. Paradoxically, Egypt has had the upper hand in the relationship despite its troubles, mainly because it believes it can turn to others to meet its needs in the short run — Russia for military equipment, the Persian Gulf states for aid, and the international community for validation. Washington, in contrast, has no geopolitical substitute for Egypt.

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A Persistent Threat The Evolution of al Qa’ida and Other Salafi Jihadists

By Seth G. Jones

RAND

June 2014

This report examines the status and evolution of al Qa’ida and other Salafi-jihadist groups, a subject of intense debate in the West. Based on an analysis of thousands of primary source documents, the report concludes that there has been an increase in the number of Salafi-jihadist groups, fighters, and attacks over the past several years. The author uses this analysis to build a framework for addressing the varying levels of threat in different countries, from engagement in high-threat, low government capacity countries; to forward partnering in medium-threat, limited government capacity environments; to offshore balancing in countries with low levels of threat and sufficient government capacity to counter Salafi-jihadist groups.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 30-05-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Is Obama Pivoting to Foreign Policy – Again?

 

The military academy at West Point has been “staged” to have the President of the United States as the keynote speaker for its commencement 14 times in its history.  Each time, the president used it to outline his foreign and military policy.  This year was no different.

But, there is one difference.  Polls show growing discontent with the incoherence of the Obama foreign policy.  He is perceived by voters and foreign leaders as weak and indecisive.

In order to counter this perception, Obama spoke to the graduating class of West Point on Wednesday in a speech that the White House said was to be a major foreign policy speech.  In reality, it was less a speech outlining Obama’s view of American foreign policy than a weak defense of his current policy, which has received criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.  In many cases, he took credit for policy decisions that he has fought for years.  For instance, on Syria, the new plan he announced – vaguely saying he’ll “work with Congress to ramp up support” for some Syrian rebels – is precisely the proposal that many members of his own Cabinet, and other politicians outside the administration, have been making for two years. He offered no explanation whatsoever for why he is now accepting advice he has been rejecting for all that time.

It was clear that the Commander-in-Chief was less than popular with the audience as only about a quarter of the attendees stood up and applauded when he was introduced.  Applause was tepid throughout the speech and reflected a military that is facing morale problems thanks to the growing political nature of the American military.  This is reflected in the hemorrhaging of mid career military talent as non commissioned officers and middle grade commissioned officers leave the military to seek jobs in the private sector.

Obama’s biggest applause line was not for a policy position, but in praise of a former West Point cadet who was wounded in Afghanistan.  Gavin White, “lost one of his legs in an attack,” Obama said. “I met him last year at Walter Reed. He was wounded, but just as determined as the day that he arrived here. He developed a simple goal.  Today, his sister Morgan will graduate. And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her.”

Defending Obama’s Foreign Policy

In many ways, the speech contradicted itself, as Obama tried to defend himself from both liberal and conservative critics.  Early in the speech, he said, “America must always lead on the world stage.”  A few minutes later he reversed course and said, “we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.”

He defended his policy as the center road that lies between, “self-described realists” who resist foreign conflicts altogether and their extreme opposition, the “interventionists from the left and right.” He later took aim at “skeptics,” who “often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong.”  As he frequently does, Obama castigated those who offer “false choices” in foreign policy — intervention vs. isolation, war vs. diplomacy.  He also noted that he was elected to stop wars, not start them.  Yet, he failed to outline how his contradictory policy offers better results.

The speech was also political.  During his remarks, Obama went after his political opponents, saying that in their criticisms of a weakened U.S. they were “either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.” He assured the audience that the United States would maintain its leading role in the world and said that “America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world,” He also criticized members of Congress for failing to “lead by example” on issues like climate change and the Law of the Sea treaty.

He urged a more measured approach to conflict abroad that would avoid what he described as the impulse of some to intervene militarily wherever problems exist.  And, he regularly referred to multilateral action.

“The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance,” he said. “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

“You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim. And you do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces,” he concluded. “You will embody what it means for America to lead.”

Obama was quick to note his own accomplishments by noting that his administration had “decimated” al-Qaeda and that “Osama bin Laden is no more.”  He also defended his efforts in Syria and Ukraine, among other countries.

A Future Direction?

 

The White House had promised a major foreign policy speech.  However, with the exception of some details, such as the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the establishment of a new Counterterrorism Partnership fund, and a renewed interest in Syria, there was nothing new in what he presented.

However, the speech did give an idea of how Obama viewed the world and how the US would pursue foreign policy in his final two years as he outlined, “my vision for how the United States of America and our military should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership.”

As expected for a speech at a military academy, Obama reiterated the fact that if American core interests demand it, he will use military force.  However, he was vague on when and where it would be used, saying, “when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger.  In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.”

Obama did admit that decentralized terrorist groups comprise the most direct threat to America today. He told the graduates, “I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy — drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan — to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.”  He said he will ask Congress for $5 billion to partner with and to train countries threatened by terrorists. This will include some funds for the moderate opposition groups inside Syria, although he said, “As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon.”

As he has stated numerous times, Obama said the U.S. must strengthen international institutions and alliances. These, Obama explained, provide the new leadership channels for 21st-century conflict resolution. He took credit for easing tensions in the Ukraine, by claiming the U.S. shaped world opinion and gathered European support that isolated Russia, “giving a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future.”  Obama tried to tie the Senate’s refusal to ratify a “Law of the Sea” treaty with Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.   He accused the Senate of “retreat” and “weakness.”

Obama also tied American foreign policy to the campaign for human dignity. He said, “America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism — it is a matter of national security.  Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war.  Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.  Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.”  He claimed a victory in Burma due to American diplomacy.

Obama did speak directly about events in the Middle East.  He reiterated that he would continue to pressure the government in Egypt.  However, he did note, “In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests — from peace treaties with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism.  So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.”

Obama defended his approach toward Iran’s nuclear program.  He said, “Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years.  But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government.  And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully.”

“The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement — one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.  And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.”

Syria was clearly a major issue as he stated that the US would start providing more support for the Syrian rebels.  Although he made it clear that US troops wouldn’t be committed to Syria, he did say, “But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.  And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.”

“So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.  I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.  And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people.”

Is this a Real Pivot or a Rhetorical One?

Over the past five years, Obama has said many things and promised “pivots” to critical issues.  But he has regularly failed to follow through on them.  Is this new, more aggressive foreign policy one of those?

Probably.  The reality is that 2014 is an election year – one that will shape the last two years of his administration.  And, elections pivot on domestic policy, not foreign policy.  Obama will be focused on keeping the US Senate in Democratic hands rather than focusing on what is happening overseas.

In the end, this was a political event – being seen in the presence of American soldiers as the Commander-in-Chief helps him as the US military is still widely respected by the American population.  It gave him a chance to boost his popularity, rebut his critics, and sound forceful.   However, it will not likely mark a change in the woefully lacking foreign policy of the Obama Administration.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Citizen-Soldiers in a Time of Transition – The Future of the U.S. Army National Guard

Report

By Stephanie Sanok Kostro

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 28, 2014

Currently, U.S. armed forces are facing a rapidly shifting environment. Even as the major combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that defined the last decade are coming to an end, a wide variety of new and evolving challenges, both abroad and at home, are confronting the nation’s military. The U.S. Army National Guard faces a unique set of dynamics, given its role in domestic as well as overseas operations. As the Army National Guard considers its future, it asked the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program to provide an independent analysis of the strategic-level issues facing the Guard as well as its evolving roles and missions. This report provides policymakers and practitioners with objective insights and recommendations to assist in outlining potential future responsibilities for the Army National Guard.

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President Obama’s Announcement on Troop Levels in Afghanistan: No Plan, No Transparency, No Credibility, and No Leadership

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 28, 2014

President Obama announced troop levels for Afghanistan on May 27th in ways that make no effort to present a real plan or strategy. He simply set dates certain for the elimination of a meaningful U.S. military presence in 2015 – ignoring the fact that leaving half of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in 2016 is too small in enabling capability to meet Afghan needs. He said: “Today, I want to be clear about how the United States is prepared to advance those missions.  At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 98,000 U.S. — let me start that over, just because I want to make sure we don’t get this written wrong.  At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9,800 U.S. service members in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half, and we will have consolidated our troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield.  One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we’ve done in Iraq.”

Read more

 

 

Doubling down on a muddled foreign policy – The president has somehow managed to combine the worst features of isolationism and multilateralism.

By John R. Bolton

American Enterprise Institute

May 28, 2014

The Wall Street Journal

At West Point on Wednesday, President Obama told the graduating seniors that he had discovered a middle way in foreign policy between isolationism and military interventionism. To the White House, this was like “the dawn come up like thunder outer China,” in Kipling’s phrase.  Others were less impressed, especially since it took five-plus years of on-the-job training to grasp this platitude. Of course the United States has options between war and complete inaction. Not since Nixon has a president so relished uncovering middling alternatives between competing straw men.  When any president speaks, he engages in more than academic analysis. But playing with words, at which Mr. Obama excels, improves nothing in his record. Inattention to foreign threats and challenges as diverse as Islamic terrorism or China’s increasing belligerence in the East Asian littoral; inconsistency and ineptitude in pursuing his own policies, as in Syria and Libya; and indecisiveness in confronting threats like Russia’s pressure on Ukraine and Iran’s nuclear-weapons program all hang like albatrosses around his presidential tenure. Mr. Obama’s speech only further muddled the administration’s contradictory messages on foreign policy.

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A Russian Strategy for Afghanistan After the Coalition Troop Withdrawal

By Dmitri Trenin, Oleg Kulakov, Alexey Malashenko, and Petr Topychkanov

Carnegie Endowment

May 22, 2014

Twenty-five years after Soviet troops left the country, Afghanistan is facing another historical crossroads, this time on the eve of the withdrawal of U.S.-led international coalition combat troops, the International Security Assistance Force, scheduled to depart by the end of 2014. The country’s present is unstable, and its future is uncertain—will it develop progressively, or is it bound for chaos and regression, as was the case after the Soviet troop withdrawal?  Potential threats and risks associated with post-withdrawal Afghanistan are a matter of concern for neighboring countries and the international community. In addition, reduced American military presence and weaker U.S. interest in the country will increase the role other great powers and neighboring nations—mainly Russia and China, as well as Pakistan, Iran, India, and states from both the Gulf and Central Asia—will play in Afghanistan.

Read more

 

 

Israel and the Middle East: Seeking Common Ground

Panel

German Marshall Fund

May 26, 2014

Video

On May 26, GMF hosted the first public panel discussion between a former Saudi head of intelligence, HRH Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, and a former Israeli head of military intelligence, General Amos Yadlin. The debate, which was moderated by David Ignatius, columnist and associate editor at The Washington Post, focused on the position of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East context and the current security situation in the region.  During a very engaging debate, the various efforts for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute were assessed.

Read more and watch video

 

 

Between Not-In and All-In: U.S. Military Options in Syria

By Chandler P. Atwood, Joshua C. Burgess, Michael Eisenstadt, and Joseph D. Wawro

Washington Institute

May 2014

Policy Notes 18

The Syrian war has left more than 150,000 dead and more than 9 million displaced. With diplomacy and sanctions having failed to achieve their objectives, the Obama administration is reportedly considering a more proactive role in the conflict. The impulse to refrain from military intervention remains understandable, but the costs of nonintervention may be even steeper: an al-Qaeda foothold and expanded Iranian influence in the Levant, a new generation of jihadists poised to migrate to other conflicts, social tensions and political instability in neighboring states, and growing doubts about U.S. credibility. Nor does military intervention necessarily imply boots on the ground. Many options entail lower levels of force, including strengthened sanctions and cyberoperations, force build-ups, or an enhanced effort to equip and train the moderate opposition. The window may have closed for seeking a positive outcome in Syria, but by acting wisely yet assertively, the United States may yet secure its interests.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

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