Analysis 01-25-2019


America’s Dysfunctional Government

Watching the news coming out of Washington DC reminds one of a comedy about some small country.  President Donald Trump and House speaker Nancy Pelosi traded jabs at each other — she cancels the State of the Union Address, he cancels her trip overseas — rather than come together to restart the government. The largely symbolic battle between the two sides has now grown so vindictive that it has shuttered 20 percent of the government and furloughed 800,000 federal workers. And neither side seems to care, except insofar as they can gain leverage over the opposition.

While Trump and Pelosi are in the center ring, the media obsessed over a report from BuzzFeed that claimed Special Independent Counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that the president instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Huge, if true. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t true. Indeed, the BuzzFeed story wa off the mark, that Mueller’s office publicly disputed the report, an unprecedented move.

Next, the Right to Life March produced a bit of drama, as Catholic-school students from Kentucky seemed to get into a nonphysical conflict with a Native American activist at the National Mall. In a normal era, an otherwise unknown teenager would not make national news for being a teenager. But this is not a normal era. The critics from left and right, gathered in full force on social media, and they drove news coverage into the weekend, denouncing the teen, even calling for his expulsion from school.

Behind the scenes, a high-profile Republican donor quite possibly managed to rewrite the law governing his business.  The Justice Department reversed course this week with an opinion that paved the way for online gambling.  The rational closely followed arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor and Israel’s supporter Sheldon Adelson.

Clearly, America’s government isn’t working like it’s supposed to.  While big donors from both parties’ craft regulations that suit themselves, America’s political leadership is fighting over when and where a speech is to be made – a minor Constitutional issue that doesn’t require a speech, just a written report.  And, the media is focused on shaping events to fit their narrative.

This doesn’t include the fact that about 20% of the federal government is closed over the issue of building a wall between Mexico and the US aiming to prevent illegal immigration.

Surprisingly, the while American electorate isn’t up in arms about these events.  That’s because the electorate is so deeply divided over the value of the US government.

Part of the government has been closed for over a month, but polls show that the number hurt by the closing is small.  Only 10% say that they have been personally affected by the shutdown in a major way.  54% say they that it hasn’t impacted them at all. Of course, this situation will change leading to protests in the streets if closing continue.

Of course, it doesn’t help the government’s case when 75% of voters think that the government doesn’t do the right thing some or all of the time.  A December poll showed that 56% of likely voters agree with President Reagan’s statement that government is the problem.  An August 2018 poll showed 53% of voters think the US government doesn’t have the consent of the governed. (latest polls about who’s responsible for closing is needed here).

Despite reports, Trump retains the support of his core voters.  And, for them, shutting down the government in order to get a border wall is okay.  They have little faith in the government, think it’s too large, and see the shutdown as an effective way to get the funding to build the wall.

Pelosi, on the other hand has strong support for her position and sees little downside risk in pushing Trump.  She understands if she can prevent the wall from being built, she will cripple Trump’s reelection chances in 2020.

For Trump, proof that his position has the backing of grassroots Republicans came this week at the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) winter meeting.

 “Among the grassroots Republicans that I know, they’re right behind the president. They don’t want him to give in at all. The money he’s asking for, for the wall, is pocket change. It’s lunch money,” Peter Goldberg, the RNC committeeman from Alaska, told the Washington Examiner.

 “The Democrats are not willing to negotiate,” added Glenn McCall, the RNC committeeman from South Carolina. “Everyone I talk to — they hate to see the workers impacted. But this could have been solved weeks ago if the Democrats would have come to the table in earnest and negotiated with the president.”

That’s why Republican and Democratic politicians in Washington are standing behind their leaders and their radical positions instead of pushing for compromise.  They are giving their core voters what they want.  That’s why legislation in the Senate that could break the impasse is likely to fail (has failed), even though it gives both Democrats and Trump what they want (the wall for Trump and a path to citizenship for young illegals).

But, is the American government any more dysfunctional than most other Western governments?

Maybe not.

In France, President Macron is hanging onto power despite a favorability rating of about 20% and 10 weeks of increasingly violent “Yellow Jacket” riots against him.

Sweden finally formed a government after 133 days without one.  However, it’s a minority government.  The major reason for the minority government was the insistence of some of the parties that the Sweden Democrat Party be excluded from the government because they support restrictions on immigration.  This even though the Sweden Democrat party is a major party that showed impressive strength in the last election.

Most observers don’t think the government will be able to last the four years to the next election.

Political analysts said the election and governing agreement show that Sweden’s politics are becoming more like those across Europe, with greater fragmentation, and fights over issues like migration and cultural identity that cut across old ideological lines.

The Belgium government collapsed in December over immigration policy and there is concern if the current minority government can last until the May 2019 elections.  This is the third political crisis in the last year.

Of course, Belgium is not a stranger to political crises.  In fact, Belgium went without a government for 589 days in 2010 – 2011.

A few months ago, Germany faced a political crisis over immigration policy.  The result is also a minority government for Chancellor Merkel.

There is also the Brexit in Great Britain.  Prime Minister May is finding it impossible to get any majority in Parliament to support a plan to leave the EU – even though the British voters voted to leave.

There are other dysfunctional governments in the West like Italy and Spain.

Which brings us back to the question – Is America’s government dysfunctional?  Maybe not any more than other Western governments.

Whether it is the wall between the US and Mexico, the resistance to immigration in Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, and other European countries, migration issues are threatening governments around the world.  Large factions in governments are pushing for lenient immigration, while the voters are rebelling.

What we are seeing between Trump and Pelosi is only the American version of an issue that is shaking the while Western world.  Don’t be surprised to see the issue to grow larger and cause more dysfunction in the US and Europe.



The INF Treaty—What It Means for the U.S., Russia, and China Today

By Peter Brookes

Heritage Foundation

January 15, 2019

First, a little background about the INF Treaty. As you’re aware, the bilateral INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at the White House. It entered into force in mid-1988. The treaty prohibits the production, testing, and deployment of all ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 kilometers to 1,000 kilometers (shorter-range), and 1,000 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers (medium-range and intermediate-range). It also eliminated all missile launchers for this category of missiles. It is worthwhile to note that the treaty addressed both conventional and nuclear weapons, but only restricted ground-based missile systems. It did not apply to sea-based or air-launched weapon systems.

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Iran Keeps Testing Trump Because It Knows He’s Much Tougher Than Obama Ever Was

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

January 18, 2019

N one of the world’s truly bad guys stays out the headlines for long. After keeping a relatively low profile for several months, Iran earlier this week found itself back in the news twice. First came reports that U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon last year for military options to respond to two Iranian-sponsored terrorist acts in Iraq. Then came news of a failed Iranian missile launch. Iran claimed it was merely sending up a satellite, but U.S. officials said the failed launch was part of Iran’s effort to test and expand its ballistic missile weapons capability. While Iran is back in the headlines now, it’s the months when it was out of the news that may tell us more about what the regime is up to. Clearly, the Iranian regime did not see the changed policies of President Trump coming. Iran got a sweetheart deal from the Obama administration to temporarily put its nuclear weapons program on hold. In addition, the Iranian regime watched President Obama draw and then ignore red lines in Syria and pursue ambivalent policies in Syria and Iraq until ISIS erupted and could no longer be ignored. And Iran saw President Obama soft-peddle the U.S. alliance with Israel, so that America might appear more even-handed in dealing the Palestinians.

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The Myth of the Cyber Offense: The Case for Restraint

By Brandon Valeriano and Benjamin Jensen

Cato Institute

January 15, 2019

Great-power competition in the 21st century increasingly involves the use of cyber operations between rival states. But do cyber operations achieve their stated objectives? What are the escalation risks? Under what conditions could increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyber operations result in inadvertent escalation and the use of military force? The answers to these questions should inform U.S. cyber­security policy and strategy. In the context of recent shifts in cybersecurity policy in the United States, this paper examines the character of cyber conflict through time. Data on cyber actions from 2000 to 2016 demonstrate evidence of a restrained domain with few aggressive attacks that seek a dramatic, decisive impact. Attacks do not beget attacks, nor do they deter them. But if few operations are effective in compelling the enemy and fewer still lead to responses in the domain, why would a policy of offensive operations to deter rival states be useful in cyberspace? We demonstrate that, while cyber operations to date have not been escalatory or particularly effective in achieving decisive outcomes, recent policy changes and strategy pronouncements by the Trump administration increase the risk of escalation while doing nothing to make cyber operations more effective.

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Friends Like These: Pompeo recasts ties in Cairo

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 18, 2019

For the last century, a duality has lain at the foundation of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. government maintained robust relations with other governments, but it was helped by a not-so-secret weapon. The image of the United States as a cultural icon, an economic model, and a political beacon stood alongside the government as a force-multiplier of U.S. influence around the world, reaching deeply into public perceptions. The U.S. government did its part with traditional diplomacy and institutional support, but the government’s effectiveness was due in part to the fact the United States as a nation has long been a force on the world stage independent of the government. The U.S. government has capitalized on this uniquely powerful duality by maintaining ties with governments while always keeping an eye on foreign publics as well. It was the U.S. government working with governments and the people that facilitated the peaceful end of the Cold War in Europe. It was working with governments and the people that helped spread prosperity and democracy in East Asia. From the days of decolonization after World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government has been conscious of the power that the idea of the United States has around the world.

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Israel’s Dangerous Dalliance With China

By Ilan I. Berman

American foreign Policy Council

January 14, 2019

National security adviser John Bolton traveled to Israel this month to reassure jittery officials in Jerusalem that the Trump administration isn’t planning a precipitous exit from Syria, notwithstanding the president’s surprise December announcement to the contrary. But Mr. Bolton’s most important message might have had nothing to do with America’s commitment to fighting Islamic State or its efforts to roll back Iran’s strategic influence in Syria and Iraq. The Trump administration, Mr. Bolton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is concerned about the commercial relationship between Israel and China—and the strategic vulnerabilities those ties have created. The most immediate worry is China’s impending access to Israel’s strategic northern port of Haifa. In 2015 China’s Shanghai International Port Group signed a multibillion-dollar deal with the Israeli Transportation Ministry for the future rights to operate the Haifa port. Under the terms of the agreement, the Chinese company will take control of day-to-day operations at the port for 25 years beginning in 2021.

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Is Democracy the Problem?


Carnegie Endowment

JANUARY 16, 2019

Certainly, these are all serious issues in the United States. Successive U.S. Administrations have proven woefully unable to focus sustained attention on a raft of major long-term challenges—whether it is infrastructure decay, the role of entitlement spending in the U.S. budget, or climate change—and unwilling to craft reforms that inflict short-term pain for the sake of long-term gain. The disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and corporations in the U.S. legislative process is a well-known reality. With respect to political competition producing divisions and conflict, the U.S. political system is indeed beset by a high degree of polarization and a correspondingly low sense of common purpose. And looking at the state of U.S. political leadership today, it would be hard not to see voter ignorance and irrationality as major concerns. But should we blame democracy itself, or should we blame ourselves for the pathologies of our own politics? In other words, are these problems in fact endemic to democracies? And are authoritarian governments largely able to avoid them, as some enthusiasts of authoritarianism claim?

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Iran’s Space Launch: ICBM or Space Program

By David Schmerler

Foreign Policy Research Institute

January 22, 2019

On January 3, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Iran was preparing to launch multiple Space Launch Vehicles (SLV), which he claimed had “virtually (the) same technology as ICBMs,” before issuing a threat, “We won’t stand by while the regime threatens international security.” Almost a week prior to that announcement, our team at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies was alerted to the same event by open-source researcher Fabian Hinz, who was seeing an uptick in prelaunch indicators leading up to the January 14 launch. Starting in late December, we began monitoring the site with the help of San Francisco-based satellite imaging company Planet Labs. With daily images of the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center (IKSLC), we were able to identify a variety of prelaunch signatures and activity at the launch vehicle checkout building, and at both launch pads prior to the launch of the Payam satellite aboard its Simorgh launcher. While the launch ultimately failed to insert the Payam satellite into orbit, questions as to the nature of this launch, the connection to Iran’s alleged secret desire to build an intercontinental range ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking targets in the United States, and a country’s ambition to utilize space for advancing domestic scientific capabilities needs to be discussed as to prevent this most recent launch from being misconstrued and used to support false assertions about the linkage between a space launcher and an ICBM, which could then influence policymaking.

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Analysis 01-18-2019

Does Trump Want to Leave NATO?

Once again, the issue of Trump and America’s alliance with NATO has come into question. 

The New York Times reported President Trump has privately told senior administration officials that he wants to withdraw from NATO altogether.  They wrote, “Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.”

Most of the remarks came surrounding last summer’s contentious NATO summit in Brussels, according to the Times. The 2-day meeting which concluded on July 12 was replete with Trump’s demanding that European countries pull their own weight on defense spending in the 29-nation trans-Atlantic alliance, including what was described at the time as a “vague threat” by the president that the US could exit the alliance if the imbalance continues. He told reporters at the time that NATO countries must radically increase defense spending or the US “will do our own thing.”

At the time Trump noted the Cold War era military alliance was a “drain on the United States” and that he “didn’t see the point” according to the Times report, citing current and former administration officials.

According to the Times, “In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

The Times report, which is notoriously anti-Trump, likens any potential US withdrawal “a move tantamount to destroying NATO” and perhaps to be expected, hypes NATO statements saying, “Even discussing the idea of leaving NATO — let alone actually doing so — would be the gift of the century for Putin.” But the report expresses alarm that “Mr. Trump’s skepticism of NATO appears to be a core belief.”

Notably, the NYT report opens by suggesting that even mere discussion of a NATO pullout plays into Moscow’s hands, and further in the report cites an anonymous US official to make the assertion that it would “accomplish all that Mr. Putin has been trying to put into motion.”

The accusation that Trump was playing into Putin’s hands was a bit farfetched as Russia’s recent behavior like military aircraft intrusions into NATO airspace seem to prove the need for NATO by heightening tensions.

Some supporters of Trump position claims that if Putin was really interested in destroying NATO, he would stop the assertive behavior and let NATO die a quiet death.

Trump has ignored conventional foreign policy wisdom by heavily criticizing NATO allies and publicly questioning their commitment to the collective defense.  He repeatedly told advisers that he didn’t understand the point of the alliance in the days leading up to the most recent NATO summit in July.

Several senior advisers, including John Bolton and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, were successful in convincing Trump of the negative geo-political implications associated with a NATO withdrawal. While Trump heeded his advisers’ warnings with respect to withdrawal, the president continues to be concerned that the U.S. is being forced to pay more than its fair share.

Secretary of Defense Mattis’s recent retirement has also unsettled his fellow national security officials and America’s NATO allies alike, as the general was viewed as a calming influence in the White House who could communicate the importance of the NATO alliance when necessary.

Where Will NATO Go?

Trump is not the first U.S. president who brought defense spending up to the European allies.  However, he has highlighted in a more dramatic and verbal way.

However, the truth is that Europe has let its military commitments lag and has grown to rely upon the US for its defense.  Its air forces are largely incapable of operating in advanced anti-access/area-denial environments, which means that in wartime it will be up to the Americans to attack advanced missile sites. European allies have failed to make significant investments in air and missile defense, giving Russia a free pass in these critical technology areas.

Europe has also failed to keep its navies able to wage an anti-submarine campaign in the Atlantic, which means that in wartime Americans will have to clear the Atlantic sea lanes before they can even land heavy equipment on European soil. So far as highly mobile armored units go, most European armies’ tanks are either too few or too antiquated to fight in a modern land war.

Although the conventional wisdom is that NATO is necessary, many are questioning its purpose.  It was created during the Cold War, when the threat was a major Soviet armored attack across West Germany from East Germany and Czechoslovakia. At that time, West Germany and France were “frontline” nations in any ground war and generals were worried that Soviet tanks could reach the English Channel within days of the beginning of the war.

Today no one worries about the threat of Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Paris or Berlin.  The Russian/NATO front line is hundreds of miles to the east and the front-line NATO nations of today are Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland.  Rather than large standing armies we saw in the front-line nations in the Cold War, NATO only has small armored battalions stationed forward today.  At best, these units are only “tripwires” if Russia tries to invade these nations.

Without the Soviet threat, NATO has evolved into a multi-national force for military adventures in non-NATO areas like the Balkans and Middle East – which has led to charges of neocolonialism.

Trump also has a justification for leaving as the European Union is forming its own army.

In 2015, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for creating an army for the troubled European Union. Noting accurately that the EU isn’t “taken entirely seriously,” Juncker suggested standing up its own army “would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union.”

In 2017, Berlin integrating brigades from smaller countries into the Bundeswehr.  Germany and two of its European allies, the Czech Republic and Romania, quietly took a radical step down a path toward something that looks like an EU army while avoiding the messy politics associated with it.  They announced the integration of their armed forces.

Each country will integrate one brigade into the German armed forces: Romania’s 81st Mechanized Brigade will join the Bundeswehr’s Rapid Response Forces Division, while the Czech 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade, which has served in Afghanistan and Kosovo and is considered the Czech Army’s spearhead force, will become part of the Germans’ 10th Armored Division.

In doing so, they’ll follow in the footsteps of two Dutch brigades, one of which has already joined the Bundeswehr’s Rapid Response Forces Division and another that has been integrated into the Bundeswehr’s 1st Armored Division.

For Romania and the Czech Republic, it means bringing their troops up to the same level of training as the German military; for the Netherlands, it has meant regaining tank capabilities. (The Dutch had sold the last of their tanks in 2011, but the 43rd Mechanized Brigade’s troops, who are partially based with the 1st Armored Division in the western German city of Oldenburg, now drive the Germans’ tanks and could use them if deployed with the rest of the Dutch army).

This concept has worked to its advantage; few people in Europe have objected to the integration of Dutch, Czech, or Romanian units into German divisions,

The European Union has also created a joint military headquarters — but it’s only in charge of training missions in Somalia, Mali, and the Central African Republic and has a meager staff of 30.

There are even reports that the EU army has already been deployed.  In the recent “Yellow Jacket” riots in France, there have been armored cars displaying EU flags instead of French flags.

Obviously, if the EU is developing an army – one that may have a role in subduing internal dissent, Trump and the US will want to avoid such development and will be reluctant to use or committing forces for domestic internal disputes in EU.

So, we come back to the issue of Trump seriously asking if the US should pull out of NATO since many of the member nations aren’t fulfilling their commitments.

Clearly, the original mission of NATO (fighting the Soviets) is gone, even though the NATO military structure is still geared up for a massive tank invasion across Germany instead of an invasion of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

True, Russia is still a threat, but less than it was 30 years ago.  Trump’s supplemental military budget boost for 2018 of $54 billion is almost as large as Russia’s entire 2018 military budget.  As for Trump’s claim that Europe is not paying its fair share of NATO expenses, remember that Britain and France combined spend more on their military forces than Russia.

There is also the issue of European Union Army.  Clearly, NATO units will be eventually moved into the EU force, which will only weaken any NATO response.  And, most NATO nations still refuse to spend the pledged 2% for defense. To Trump the issue is simple…. Why should the US risk its military and blood for European nations not committed to their own defense?

With Mattis out of the way, will Trump unilaterally try to leave NATO?  Probably not.  The New York Times article was about questions asked last summer, not today.  When it comes down it, it appears that the story is designed to criticize Trump (something that the New York Times tries to do daily) rather than focus on the real issue of NATO’s value or suggestions about modernizing the Cold War alliance.

However, many critics of US military expanding role and budget seems to suggest: questioning what NATO does and why the US should remain in it, is a wise move, even if it is controversial.

Analysis 01-11-2019


America’s Vacillating and confused Syria Policy

What is America’s current Syria strategy?  It depends on who you talked to – President Trump, National Security Advisor Bolton or Secretary of State Pompeo.  It’s further complicated by statements from Trump’s opponents on both sides of the aisle.  Even Trump’s ally Republican Senator Lindsey Graham announced last week that Trump is now slowing the withdrawal “in a smart way” after he met with the president.

These differences were highlighted this week as both Bolton and Pompeo visited the Middle East, with their own definition of Syrian and Middle Eastern policy.

It is a fact that Trump policy towards the Middle East has vacillated and confused allies and foes alike.  The current consternation over US Mideast policy began with a surprise tweet from Trump Dec. 19, in which he said the 2,200 US troops fighting ISIS in Syria would be coming home in short order. The apparent policy reversal sent former Defense Secretary James Mattis packing. A few days later, the president announced that Iran could “do what it wants” in Syria – contradicting Mr. Bolton, who recently had appeared to expand the purpose of the US role in Syria to staying put as long as Iran had its own forces and proxies there.

“The Middle East is still trying to figure out how to understand the Trump administration and trying to understand what is transient and what is likely to prove enduring – and it’s not obvious,” says Jon Alterman, senior vice president in global security and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Despite the confusion, Trump’s policy is clear-cut and reflects the views of the American voter – rapid withdrawal.  Recent polls show that voters aren’t concerned about Syria’s internal politics and wants the US to withdraw as quickly as possible.

The only question is how quick should the withdrawal should be.

A majority of Americans support President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops fighting in Syria and Afghanistan, according to a Tuesday Politico poll. Twenty-five percent of Americans strongly support the decision to bring home troops from Afghanistan and Syria, and 31 percent somewhat support the decision, according to the poll. Only 11 percent strongly oppose the decision to bring home U.S. troops, and 16 percent somewhat oppose the decision. Just under 20 percent aren’t sure what Trump should do.

That’s why Trump’s decision a few weeks ago to quickly withdraw from Syria was more popular with the American voter than with the Washington establishment.  It’s also the reason why the Washington establishment has toned down its criticism of Trump since then.

But, that doesn’t mean that the Washington establishment is going to support a quick withdrawal from Syria.  There is too much support for American involvement in Syria within the foreign policy establishment and the neo-conservative branch of the GOP.  This was seen when National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Turkey this week.  Apparently, Bolton tried to undercut Trump’s Syrian withdrawal by imposing preconditions with Turkey.

Daily Sabah, a newspaper closely allied with Turkish president Erdogan said, “If U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton thought yesterday’s visit was going to be a walk in the park, he must have had a rude awakening thanks to the lukewarm reception in the Turkish capital Ankara. In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea for Bolton to go rogue and try to impose conditions on the United States withdrawal from Syria. Keeping in mind that Turkey was already getting ready to send its troops to northern Syria before U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last month, it is time for Washington to accept that it isn’t negotiating with Turkey from a position of power.”

The preconditions dealt with the Kurds and the paper went on to say, “The Turkish government had unveiled its plan to target PKK/YPG targets in northern Syria long before Trump decided to withdraw from Syria. If senior U.S. officials keep making up new rules as they go, the Turks will run out of patience.”

But, these preconditions weren’t part of the Trump plan.  On Monday President Trump slammed a New York Times piece that heavily quoted Bolton, suggesting new preconditions on the announced Syria draw down, and that Bolton had effectively “rolled back” Trump’s decision to “rapidly withdraw from Syria.”

Trump blasted the Times via Twitter, saying the newspaper published “a very inaccurate story on my intentions for Syria,” and that the policy that remains is “No different from my original statements, we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!”

This was a clear embarrassment for Bolton, who is a major advisor to Trump on national security issues.  It will be interesting to see if this failure causes Bolton to lose influence within the Trump national security team.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo was visiting American allies in the Mid East.  Unlike Bolton, his focus was more long term and focused on limiting Iranian expansionism.  His trip was also intended to clarify the US position on withdrawing from Syria.  The trip encompasses Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf nations.

Pompeo also made an unannounced visit to Iraq, which remains a cornerstone to America’s ISIS strategy.  The secretary of state met with Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, president Barham Salih, foreign minister Mohamed Alhakim and parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi on Wednesday.

When asked earlier about the possibility of a visit by Mr Pompeo, Mr Abdul Mahdi said any meeting would involve a discussion of how to deepen Iraq’s relationship with the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.

With the US withdrawal from Syria, Iraq’s role in defeating ISIS becomes more important.

Another major focus of the tour will be sustaining a regional coalition to counter Iran, the main enemy of US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“This is a coalition that understands that the largest threats — terrorism and the Islamic Republic of Iran — are things that we ought to work on jointly and we will be marshaling all of the resources, theirs and ours, to achieve them,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo repeatedly has called Iran “the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” pointing to its targeting of domestic rivals in Europe and support of Shiite movements in the region.

Additionally, Pompeo’s trip to Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also key stops as opposition in Washington is growing about the United States’ involvement in their coalition in Yemen.  The visit will reassure both nations that Trump is solidly behind them.

Although the Pompeo and Bolton trips seem to by conflicting, each has complementary goals.

The Bolton trip is designed to allow a rapid US withdrawal without any major risk to its key allies, the Kurds.  Pompeo, in an interview before his departure, said that Erdogan has given assurances to Trump not to attack US-allied Kurdish forces who fought IS in Syria.

“President Erdogan made a commitment to President Trump as the two of them were discussing what this ought to look like — that the Turks would continue the counter-ISIS campaign after our departure and that the Turks would ensure that the folks that we’d fought with, that had assisted us in the counter-ISIS campaign, would be protected,” Pompeo told CNBC television.

In order to keep Erdogan from attacking the Kurds, Bolton has made it clear that the US will not abandon the Kurds.  That’s one reason why he added preconditions to the Trump withdrawal – although it appears that his comments went beyond what Trump meant to imply.

While the Bolton trip was to impact US withdrawals over the next few months, Pompeo’s trip was designed to create a long term alliance of US allies in the region.  While the alliance would focus on Iran, there is definitely a Syria policy included.  It appears that the US envisions Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE supporting the Kurds, while the US covertly provides Special Forces assistance.  This will contain the Iranian expansionism that they all fear.

Nor did the Bolton and Pompeo missions contradict each other.  Although they had differing goals, they reinforced each other’s message.  The U.S. is also continuing to push for countries to cut off Iran and limit the country’s influence in the Middle East. Bolton emphasized the Trump administration’s continued pressure on Iran during his visit to Israel.

“We’ve got the continuing threat of Iran’s quest for deliverable nuclear weapons and despite getting out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, despite the sanctions we have little doubt that Iran’s leadership is still strategically committed to achieving deliverable nuclear weapons,” stated Bolton.

The national security advisor has also explained the U.S. is not withdrawing from Syria quickly, but instead slowly and carefully.

In the meantime, Pompeo’s key policy speech in Egypt attempted to assure leaders in the region on the United States’ commitment to peace, prosperity, stability and security in the Middle East.

Pompeo is calling for a united Gulf Country Coalition against Iran. Though, that’s complicated as other states have a blockade against Qatar, which has been in place since June 2017. Pompeo will be visiting all countries involved in the ongoing dispute.


Trump’s Policy Goals

Trump and most American voters feel that the US footprint in the Middle East is too large and unsustainable – a position that many in Washington disagree with.

What we are seeing is Trump’s attempt to reshape US Middle Eastern policy by relying more on regional allies and focusing on the key issue, Iranian expansionism.  This means withdrawing from America’s longest conflict, the Afghan War.  It also means not letting other issues like Syria or Yemen dilute American policy towards the region.

Although some may disagree with this policy, it remains in tune with the American voters.  While Americans are concerned with Iran and weapons of mass destruction, they care less about Yemen and Syria.  That may not make the Washington establishment happy, but it does help Trump retain his support in middle America.


Why Trump’s Advisors Keep Quashing His Realist Whims
By Ted Galen Carpenter
Cato Institute
January 2, 2019

Over a period of mere days in late December, the Trump administration made two troop withdrawal decisions that startled Washington. The first was announced in a tweet by Trump stating that the United States had accomplished its mission in Syria of defeating ISIS and that he was ordering the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country. Just days later, leaks from both the White House and the Pentagon indicated that a substantial draw-down of forces from Afghanistan was imminent. Some reports suggested that 7,000—roughly half of the current deployed U.S. force—would be removed. The reactions were predictable. Advocates of a restrained American foreign policy praised the moves as a key step in jettisoning two frustrating and counterproductive missions. A larger faction, consisting of neoconservative hawks along with liberal proponents of humanitarian military crusades, condemned Trump’s actions. They often did so in emotional and vitriolic terms about undermining crucial American interests in both countries.

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Iraq, Iran, the Gulf, Turkey, and the Future: The Meaningless Debate over the Trump Strategy in Syria
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
January 7, 2019

There is nothing new about the U.S. redoubling its efforts in the Middle East after it has lost sight of its objectives. There is even less new about the U.S. going on with the same effort year-after-year without having any effective strategy. The U.S. has claimed to be fighting a “war” against terrorism since 2001, and has been fighting real wars in the Gulf region since 2003. It has also been blundering in Syria since 2011. This is why the current debate over President Trump’s uncertain statement that he would suddenly withdraw from Syria needs to be put in a strategic perspective. It is no more silly or meaningless than the past focus of far too many debates over US policy towards Syria. It also is no more lacking in relevance than virtually all of the previous U.S. debates over strategy in the Middle East and the Gulf since 2001. It is a debate over levels of effort in one country that have no clear strategic purpose, and that fails to come to grips with any of the many issues that should shape U.S. strategy in the region.

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A Year Into Iran’s Quiet Counterrevolution
By Ilan I. Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
December 19, 2018

Last December, grassroots protests erupted throughout Iran. Ordinary Iranians, discontented with worsening domestic conditions and their government’s misplaced political priorities, held rallies and demonstrations that transformed over time into a profound challenge to the legitimacy of the country’s clerical regime. A year on, the Iranian “street” is still in ferment – although you don’t hear much about it in the news. Protests by Iranian workers, activists and students continue to take place throughout the country, despite the very real threat of a draconian regime response (from incarceration to death at the hands of government security forces). The reasons are not hard to discern. On virtually every economic metric, the Islamic Republic is continuing to inch up the misery index. Inflation is spiking. Iran’s annual rate of inflation has surged in recent months, and now stands at nearly 40 percent, according to independent economic observers. All told, the rate of inflation in Iran has risen by more than 50 percent over the past two years, Iran’s Central Bank has admitted. The causes are manifold, from renewed U.S. economic pressure to gross mismanagement by Iran’s regime. But the real state of affairs in the country is almost certainly worse than authorities care to admit.

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Can Congress Stop the Forever War?
Carnegie Endowment
December 17, 2018

When the 116th Congress—including a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives – is sworn into office in a few weeks, there will be no shortage of pressing issues demanding the attention of legislators. These include perhaps the most solemn question facing any government: when and how to deploy the awesome power of the United States armed forces.  Few matters are as complex or as consequential. And Congress should not be shy. The Constitution grants competing powers in the realm of foreign affairs to Congress and the president, with the expectation—even the demand—of aggressive oversight. Having served at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, I understand that many in the White House will see this congressional role as a nuisance. But they would be well advised to welcome it, because a full partnership with Congress on national security matters will improve both the policies and their execution, while also beginning to restore the American people’s trust in Washington.

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Leaving Syria
By Adam Garfinkle
Foreign Policy Research Institute
December 21, 2018

“History is irony in motion,” wrote E.M. Cioran in his 1949 book A History of Decay. So could the seemingly unanimous verdict of the chatterati and the professional staffs of both the Departments of State and Defense that President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull U.S. military forces from Syria is a mistake be itself a mistake? It it possible, in other words, that President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria will turn out to be a good idea, even if for reasons the President doesn’t understand and can’t possibly be responsible for anticipating?

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Eight Days in Middle East Puts Pompeo’s Diplomacy to the Test
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
January 7, 2019

What’s up with Secretary Pompeo’s extended tour of the Middle East? The short answer is that he is trying to sell/explain President Trump’s “we are leaving Syria” policy to America’s friends. None of these countries’ primary concern is Syria, as such. They are all much more interested in Iran’s influence and military activities there. The main elements of the trip were clearly being planned in advance of President Trump’s decision. There is a speech planned for Cairo, an annual bilateral strategic dialogue with Qatar, and another with Kuwait. But the fact that there now are eight stops in eight days probably reflects the amount of explaining that needs to be done…

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Trump Departs Syria: An Israeli Perspective
By Michael Herzog
Washington Institute
January 8, 2019

Israeli officials have been careful not to publicly criticize President Trump’s recent announcement that all U.S. military forces will be pulled out of Syria. Below the surface, however, they have exuded dissatisfaction, concern, and a desire to make the best out of the situation. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s initial public response was lukewarm, stating that Israel will continue to take care of its security and “will not abide Iranian entrenchment in Syria.” He followed those remarks with hectic bilateral discussions on the matter, holding a phone call with President Trump, meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of a gathering in Brazil, and hosting National Security Advisor John Bolton in Jerusalem. These discussions elicited U.S. public assurances about Israel’s security and, so it appears, opened opportunities to affect the manner in which Trump’s decision is implemented.  Some current and former Israeli officials have played down Trump’s announcement, emphasizing that the U.S. contingent in Syria is small and passive in the face of Iran’s military thrusts, that Israel alone has shouldered the burden of pushing back against these thrusts, and that Washington will support Israel even if U.S. forces are in fact withdrawn. Correct as they are, these statements do not tell the whole story.

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Analysis 12-21-2018

Trump Moves to Quickly Exit Syria

Those who thought that the US was doomed to stay in Syria indefinitely (as was mentioned by the Pentagon last week) were surprised when the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an article saying that the US military had been ordered to leave Syria as soon as possible.

The WSJ revealed Wednesday morning the Pentagon is preparing to withdraw all forces from northeastern Syria “immediately.”

The WSJ reported, “In an abrupt reversal, the U.S. military is preparing to withdraw its forces from northeastern Syria, people familiar with the matter said Wednesday, a move that throws the American strategy in the Middle East into turmoil.”

“U.S. officials began informing partners in northeastern Syria of their plans to begin immediately pulling American forces out of the region where they have been trying to wrap up the campaign against Islamic State, the people said.”

The Washington Post added, “The [defense] official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a decision that has not yet been announced, said the decision would include the entire force of more than 2,000 U.S. service members. It was made on Tuesday, the official said.”

“President Trump has long promised to conclude the campaign against the Islamic State and has questioned the value of costly and dangerous military missions overseas.”

The political reaction in Washington was swift. Republican Senator Graham called it, “A stain on the honor of the United States.” Other responses ran from complaints that ISIS was still in existence to the fact that the US was leaving its Kurdish allies in the lurch.

The reaction by American voters was much different. A poll released by Gallup a day earlier showed that only 1% of voters thought the situation in Syria was serious, while concerns about immigration and government were considerably more important.

Although the announcement was sudden, Israel has been aware of the American desire to withdraw from Syria for a year according to Haaretz. PM Netanyahu said that the US has “other ways to wield their influence in that arena.”

There is also the question of how American generals and Secretary of Defense Mattis reacted to the decision. They may disagree with the pace of withdrawal, but the Pentagon has other long-term concerns too.

One problem the generals have highlighted is the fact that US forces have been worn down by constant deployments in the Middle East. The result is that much of the defense budget must go to funding these operations and paying for maintenance – not implementing the modernization the Pentagon desires and needs to compete with Russia and China.

Why now? While much of the media said that Trump reacted to a threat by Turkey’s Erdogan and the Turkish military posed to invade Syria, there is a much more complex reason that goes beyond the Middle Eastern borders.

The Syrian situation has been a complex one for Trump. While he wanted to leave Syria, many Neo-con Republicans pushed for Trump to increase the number of American soldiers in Syria in order to overthrow president Assad. Although those voices are still heard, they don’t have the influence they once had. The chief critic of withdrawal from Syria, Senator McCain, is now dead and the neo-cons have lost their most effective voice in the government. Second, a major neo-con publication that has pushed for an active Syrian role for the US, the Weekly Standard, is now out of business and is no longer able to attack Trump.

According to some supporters of Trump are claiming this withdrawal isn’t necessarily a defeat for Trump and America. They promote the idea that Syrian President Assad’s most important allies, Russia and Iran, are an odd couple who have widely different ideas for Syria’s future.

By withdrawing, the US is no longer a common foe of these two nations and Russia and Iran will seek to follow their own policies in Syria, which will damage their currently friendly relationship.

But what has really driven the rapid move out of Syria and created a degree of American rapprochement with Turkey is the growing Russian threat in the Black Sea and the Ukraine.

Turkey and Russia have been enemies for hundreds of years and have fought each other to expand their spheres of influence in numerous wars. The recent warming relations between the two nations were due to the conflicting US and Turkish policy in Syria and Erdogan’s desire to play the two major powers off against each other.

That changed a few weeks ago. Russian military forces opened fire on three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea, rammed one of them, and seized all three.

Russia claims the boats had illegally entered its sovereign waters.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned of a “full-scale war,” a day after he claimed to “have serious grounds to believe Russia is ready to follow with a ground attack.” The Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had “begun testing the readiness of formations and military units of the Southern Military District,” a region that includes the disputed Crimea and borders parts of Ukraine. Russian military vehicles have been massing in the vicinity of the border.

Russian tough measures have been repeated along the whole NATO border and Russia even sent nuclear capable bombers to visit Venezuela last week.

This renewed Russian aggressiveness in the Black Sea, which Turkey controls access to, has worried Turkey. Playing Russia off against the US is a nice diplomatic ploy, but Turkey is now viewing Russia as a threat – especially in regard to sailing rights in the Black Sea.

Suddenly, the NATO treaty that Erdogan seemed willing to discard has real importance. Since it states that an attack on one member is the same as an attack on all NATO members, strengthening Turkey’s ties with NATO also protects Turkish ships and aircraft from Russian attacks like the Ukraine experienced.

Another concern for Turkey was the announcement that Russia had completed replacing Crimea’s air defense with the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. Russia had begun deployment of the missile batteries just days after the confrontation with the Ukraine ships.

The S-400 has an operation range of 400 km, which puts the airspace of NATO countries under threat. And, in a more pointed threat, the Russian foreign minister political director Olexly Makeyev noted, “We know these missiles can be used also for ground targets.”

This is the reason for the rapid rapprochement between Turkey and the US in the last few weeks. Russian projected power is more of a threat to both the US and Turkey than Syria.

So, what can we expect to see in the next few weeks?

The US military is very mobile, and we can see several units leaving Syria rapidly. In fact, it appears that the withdrawal is already happening.

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders has issued a formal statement on troop withdrawal from Syria: “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”

Moments after President Trump confirmed reports of US pullout via Twitter saying “We have defeated ISIS in Syria,” Pentagon officials said the president “ordered full US troop withdrawal from Syria,” and that this will be “rapid” — apparently already beginning, per a Reuters breaking report: “All U.S. State Department personnel are being evacuated from Syria within 24 hours – official.”

However, if it seems that the US is withdrawing too fast, remember that the US can insert troops as quickly as it withdraws them. And, there are already US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also remember that a lot depends on what the Pentagon means when it says it is withdrawing all forces. The figure of 2,000 troops is mentioned when talking about withdrawal, but many sources say there are about 4,000 US forces in Syria. That may very well mean that 2,000 troops will remain to carry out low profile operations.

Chances are great that several US Special Forces teams will remain in Syria to train Syrian forces allied with the US. And, there are US Special Forces across the border in Kurdish Iraq. This will make it difficult for either Turkey or Syria to defeat the Kurdish forces.

The warming relations between Turkey and the US may also mean the “low profile” stationing of US personnel in Turkey. These include US reconnaissance aircraft, signals intelligence personnel, and US Special Forces.

Also expect the deployment of more NATO ships to the Black Sea.

The US withdrawal from Syria is a mixed blessing for Russia. It does mean that some Russian forces can be redeployed. However, they are expected to continue manning the Syrian air defense systems.

While Russia can cut back on its military presence, it now must keep its promises of foreign aid to help rebuild Syria.



As one recent intelligence study put it: “The prospect of US being militarily involved in Syria, caught in middle of one of most complex conflicts in recent memory, with shifting objectives & ambiguous endgame, has been met with congressional indifference and public apathy.”

The current withdrawal allows Trump to keep a campaign promise by getting out of one Middle Eastern quagmire, block Iranian influence on the shore of the Mediterranean, and prevent Russian expansionism. There is the added benefit of strengthening NATO’s southern flank.

What happens in the long term is a little more uncertain. Although Turkey and Russia are hereditary enemies, Erdogan is fickle and may move back to Russia’s side if it benefits him. However, he currently has a two-front situation with Russia – on his northern border and south in Syria. And, since Russia has invested a lot in Syria, it won’t want the sort of Turkish interference that Erdogan might envisage.

Much will depend on president Assad and his ability to bring stability to Syria and resolve the competing policies of Russia and Iran.

Much also depends on Putin. NATO has informally agreed to Russia’s dominant role in Syria. However, they aren’t willing to grant the same to him in the Ukraine. If Putin tries to expand his influence in the Ukraine, NATO might try to” trim his wings in Syria”.

In other words, while the US has taken its pieces off the Syrian “chessboard,” it has added some pieces to the Russian “Chessboard.”

So, what is the verdict on the Syrian withdrawal? The politicians may not like it. The generals may not like it. However, the American voter must like it – which is one reason they voted for Trump.

Analysis 12-14-2018


American Politics Roiled as it Heads into Christmas Season

Politics and politicians usually take a break as America heads into the holiday season. Congress goes into recess and the president usually heads off to his favorite holiday retreat.

This year is different. American politics is facing instability just as its two long-time allies, Britain and France, are experiencing. All three nations are asking themselves, “Who is really in charge here?” The only difference is that Trump seems more secure than either British PM May or French President Macron.

But, at the core, the three are facing the same problem. Who exercises power in Washington, London, and Paris? And, who will come out of the current problems as the winners.

As the US faces a divided government, the question is, “Who can push their agenda successfully for the next two years?” Will it be the Republicans who control the White House and Senate or will the Democrats, who control the House, wrest control from the GOP.

There is also the question of the next presidential election in two years. Can Trump win reelection? Can the Democrats injure him to the point that he either doesn’t run for reelection or loses the general election?

And, finally, can the Democrats find a winning presidential candidate in the next year?

So, let’s break this down.

Who is in Charge Here?

Traditionally, when Washington faces a divided government, the president calls for the leaders of the other party to come to the White House for talks. In the public parts of the meeting, both sides pledge themselves to working in a bipartisan manner as befits a great democracy.

Not this time.

On Tuesday, President Trump clearly shocked House speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer with his televising of the Oval Office sit-down over his demand for $5 billion in funding for border security, including funding of critical parts for his border wall.  Knowing well that Pelosi had already vowed publicly that “transparency and openness” would characterize the Democrat-run House starting next month, her plaintive request to speak in private scored points for Trump and revealed her agenda before any substance at all was considered.

Trump’s second strategy is his bold declaration close the government if he doesn’t get the wall money – something Pelosi and Schumer don’t see from the voter’s eyes.  Since federal workers are now a major and solid constituency for Democrats, this skews their perception of the public’s concern.  However, aside from closing national monuments and national parks, the fact is that life goes on well for nearly all Americans during the shutdown.  The problem for the Democrats is that this allows the voters to learn that there are a lot of non-essential government workers. The result is that shutting down the government is quite popular with most Republicans and many independents.

The fact is, after multiple shutdowns, including the last one that bore the label “Schumer Shutdown” and was quickly conceded by the Democrats, the public is no longer afraid of non-essential services (roughly 25% of the government) being suspended.

What Trump made clear to Pelosi and Schumer is that the Republican control of the levers of power is still in place. Trump can still take executive action as Obama did and GOP control of the Senate makes any legislation passed by the Democratic House of Representatives “dead on arrival.”

What this means is that the Democratic legislation agenda is nothing more than political window dressing.

On the other hand, the Republicans and Trump will discover that executive action is limited. Trump can do many things, but there is no guarantee that these initiatives will last beyond his administration, especially if a Democratic president resides in the White House.

Which brings up the next issue – most of the politics taking place in Washington is geared to setting the stage for 2020, the presidential elections, and forcing Trump out of the White House.

Gearing up for 2020

It’s not just the Special Council and parts of the government that want Trump forced from office. New York Attorney Gen.-elect Letitia James says she plans to launch sweeping investigations into President Donald Trump, his family and “anyone” in his circle who may have violated the law once she settles into her new job next month.

“We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well…We want to investigate anyone in his orbit who has, in fact, violated the law,” said James.

This means the Trump Administration will be fighting a legal battle on several fronts in the next two years.  Although there appears to be little tangible concerning Trump/Russian collusion, the investigation goes on with questionable indictments and an FBI that both sides admit is less concerned about rights than getting something on the people it investigates.

This was highlighted in a lengthy court filing Tuesday, when attorneys for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn alleged that then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe pushed Flynn not to have an attorney present during the questioning that ultimately led to his guilty plea on a single charge of lying to federal authorities.

The document outlines, with striking new details, the rapid sequence of events that led to Flynn’s sudden fall from the Trump administration. The filing also seemingly demonstrates that the FBI took a significantly more aggressive tack in handling the Flynn interview than it did during other similar matters, including the agency’s sit-downs with Hillary Clinton.

While Flynn is among several Trump associates to have been charged with making false statements as part of the Russia probe, no one interviewed during the FBI’s Clinton email investigation was hit with false statement charges – though investigators believed some witnesses were untruthful.

Although Democrats were anxious to see what Mueller had last week, what was revealed was not something that would be considered “High crimes and misdemeanors,” as demanded by the Constitution for impeachment.

Federal lawyers prosecuting Michael Cohen in the Southern District of New York dropped a bombshell in a memorandum they filed with the court this past Friday — accusing President Trump of campaign finance crimes.

Cohen was Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. During Trump’s campaign, Cohen paid off two women to remain quiet about stories of Donald Trump. The purpose of the hush-buys, according to prosecutors referencing Cohen’s statements, was “to prevent the story from influencing the election.” The money for these hush-buys came from Trump’s corporation. Federal prosecutors titled this activity “Illegal Campaign Contributions.”

Was this activity, in fact, illegal? Were these hush-buys a type of campaign contribution?

Expert campaign finance law attorney Dan Backer, who beat the federal government in a landmark Supreme Court case, disagrees.

Cohen says that the purpose of the expenditure was “to prevent the story from influencing the election.” But Donald Trump has done this for years, having paid off individuals to stay quiet about potentially damaging stories throughout his career. “Trump” is a brand, after all. To protect the reputation of the brand, Trump participated in hush-buys before the election and likely will continue to do so after he completes his term. He’s not the only brand to do so. Small businesses like restaurants will provide complete refunds to dissatisfied customers, for example, to prevent bad reviews.

Is such activity a campaign contribution? No, Backer answers, “brand protection is not a campaign contribution.” The hush-buys were done to protect Trump as a corporate brand, not to protect him as a candidate. No evidence was presented by the federal prosecutors explaining how a lawful business deal was converted into an illegal campaign finance contribution. “The notion that every penny a candidate personally or professionally spends is somehow reportable to the FEC is utter nonsense.” Backer further explains that a campaign finance crime is “not a question of speculation, it’s a matter of proof, and there isn’t any [in this case].”

Almost everything Mueller has, the perjury cases, are crimes he created through the process of investigating. Mueller created most of his booked charges by asking questions he already knew the answers to, hoping his witness would lie and commit new crimes literally in front of him. Nobody should be proud of lying, but the DoJ and FBI tactics seem to be inconsistent with the legal right promised to Americans.

Mueller’s report will most likely claim that a lot of unsavory things went on. But it seems increasingly unlikely that he’ll have any evidence Trump worked with Russia to win the election, let alone that Trump is now under Putin’s control. If Mueller had a smoking gun, we’d be watching impeachment hearings by now

As the New York Times said in a rare moment of candor, “From the day the Mueller investigation began, opponents of the president have hungered for that report, or an indictment waiting just around the corner, as the source text for an incantation to whisk Mr. Trump out of office and set everything back to normal again.”

Consequently, a solid impeachment case based on the Mueller report is out of the question.

Getting Rid of Trump

The Democrats have several options to get rid of Trump – none of them foolproof. The one that seems the most straightforward is impeachment. Although the Democratic House can draw up articles of impeachment, hold hearings and then pass them, what has been released (and what will probably be released) isn’t will probably be weak and not enough to get a conviction in the Republican controlled Senate.

The articles of impeachment may not even get out of the House as several Democratic congressmen represent districts that voted for Trump and are aware voters may punish them at the ballot box if the charges aren’t solid.

There’s also the question of massive civil unrest if a legally elected president is impeached for minor issues.

President Donald Trump dismissed the notion that Democrats would try to impeach him, asserting that his supporters would revolt. “I’m not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened,” he said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday when asked about the possibility of impeachment. Trump did not appear worried, despite the ongoing Russia investigation and criminal charges against his private lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump: People Would ‘Revolt’ If I’m Impeached “It’s hard to impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong and who’s created the greatest economy in the history of our country,” Trump said.

An alternative to impeachment is to hold congressional hearings on Trump, his allies, and actions until he is so unpopular that he resigns or his political base stops supporting him. However, the recent past shows that Democratic opposition to Trump only solidifies his support.

Congress can also pass legislation that embarrasses Trump. One currently under consideration is legislation to sanction Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, who Trump supports. A modest bill put forward by outgoing Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee is the most likely to pass.

Mr. Corker’s bill would formally declare Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “responsible” for the October murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A more radical bill would cut off US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen – which would be an embarrassment for Trump and his relations with MbS.

The Democrats may also look at other possible legal ways to get rid of Trump. With a Democratic Speaker of the House, the line of succession now is Trump, Vice President Pence, and then a Democratic Speaker of the House. If Trump and Pence can be pushed out, the White House belongs to the Democrats.

If VP Pence was forced to resign, it could be argued that the Speaker of the House, as next in line for the presidency, might be able to use the 25th Amendment and declare Trump unable to discharge the duties of president.

This is not an unlikely scenario. It’s much like that which occurred in the Nixon years when VP Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to corruption charges. Before Ford was picked to fill the office of vice President, it is quite likely that the Democratic Speaker of the House could have declared (along with most Cabinet members) that Nixon was unable to discharge the duties of President.

That being the case, don’t be surprised to see investigations into Pence’s background and possible illegal activity.

Since impeachment or the use 25th Amendment are unlikely alternatives, the goal of the Democratic Congress will be to injure Trump politically so he either doesn’t run for reelection or losses the election.

But defeating Trump and the Republicans also requires a viable Democratic candidate for president – something which the Democrats don’t have yet.

The current crop of Democratic candidates consists of old, familiar candidates like Biden, Sanders, and Clinton. But, none of these engender the enthusiasm that the Democrats want in a candidate. Some like Beto of Texas are young and exciting but have thin resumes. There are others who project fresh faces or women without Hillary’s baggage, but still deliberating internally.

Of course, Trump also had a thin political resume.

Defeating Trump requires damaging his image AND finding an attractive alternative. Since the first presidential primaries and caucuses are only a year away, the pressure is on them to find and sell a reasonable alternative.

In other words, real Democratic control must wait until they find and elect a viable Democrat to the White House.




Ending U.S. Military Support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen Would Trigger Dangerous Consequences

By Madyson Hutchinson Posey and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

December 6, 2018


In a new resolution, a bipartisan group of senators is calling for the United States to end its involvement—specifically its support of Saudi Arabia—in the Yemen conflict.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 63-37 to pass a procedural measure that will clear the way for a floor debate on the issue next week. The push comes largely in response to the recent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Trump administration has banned 21 Saudi suspects in that murder from entering the U.S., imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials, and expressed its willingness to take further action if warranted by ongoing investigations. Many senators seek to do more to punish the Saudis, even if it means sacrificing the interests of the Yemeni government and making a negotiated settlement of the conflict more difficult.

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This Little-Known Terror Group Poses a Greater Threat Than ISIS in Syria

By James Phillips and Austin Avery

Heritage Foundation

December 3, 2018


The war in Syria is heating up again this week after recently subsiding from the front pages of newspapers. On Sunday, Russia claimed that rebels in northwestern Syria had fired shells filled with chlorine gas near the city of Aleppo. Although the rebels have not demonstrated such a chemical capability in the past, Syria’s Assad regime has repeatedly used illegal chemical weapons to demoralize insurgents and stampede their civilian supporters away from the front. Moscow could use this alleged incident as a pretext to resume the postponed offensive against Idlib province, the last major stronghold of Syria’s fractious rebel coalition. Already, Russia has resumed airstrikes in Idlib for the first time since the Sept. 17 Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey produced a tenuous cease-fire. Syria’s Assad regime, which is committed to retaking “every inch” of Syria, also escalated artillery attacks on rebel-held towns in southern Idlib.

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Erdogan, Trump, and the Khashoggi Murder

By Bulent Aliriza

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 12, 2018


Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was posthumously named Time’s “Person of the Year,” along with four other journalists, for “taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths” on December 11. The terrible fate of Khashoggi, who paid the ultimate price in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 at the hands of 15 agents who had arrived from Riyadh the previous day, not only triggered a global storm of indignation but also set in motion a major diplomatic gambit by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the pursuit of a number of related objectives involving President Donald Trump and impacting U.S.-Turkish relations. Erdogan’s primary aim was to effectively and irrevocably tie Khashoggi’s disappearance and murder to Saudi Arabia and, without ever naming him directly, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, who had elevated himself into an obstacle to Turkish regional calculations through his public identification of Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership as ‘a major threat in the region along with Iran’ as well as his ongoing blockade of Qatar. His next goal was to try to force the Trump administration, which had been backing MBS without any apparent reservation prior to the murder as a key partner in its Middle East plans, to review its relationship with him. Lacking significant direct leverage over Riyadh, Erdogan hoped to induce pressure by Trump—inconceivable before Khashoggi’s murder—to either force MBS out or to weaken him into ineffectiveness.

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The Arab Gulf States and Iran: Military Spending, Modernization, and the Shifting Military Balance

By Anthony H. Cordesman and Nicholas Harrington

Center for Strategic and international Studies

December 12, 2018


The military balance between Iran, its Arab neighbors, and the United States has been a critical military issue in the Middle East since at least the rise of Nasser in the 1950s. The risks this arms race presents in terms of a future conflict have not diminished with time, and many elements of the regional arms race have accelerated sharply in recent years. Clashes with Iran in the Gulf struggles for influence in Iraq and Syria, and the war in Yemen all act as warnings that new rounds of conflict are possible. The Iranian reactions to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement, the growing tensions between the Arab Gulf states, the boycott of Qatar, and the unstable outcome of the fight against ISIS, and the Syrian civil war all contribute to an increasingly fragile and dangerous security environment.

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Iran’s Precision Missile Project Moves to Lebanon

By Katherine Bauer, Hanin Ghaddar, and Assaf Orion

Washington Institute

December 2018


Upon securing most of its war goals in Syria, Iran appeared to shift its objectives toward establishing a military presence in that country while upgrading Hezbollah’s fire precision and effectiveness in Lebanon. But once its Syrian facilities came under increased Israeli fire, Tehran began moving some of these activities into Lebanon, knowing that Israeli strikes would be more complicated there due to the escalation potential. Yet the prospect of Hezbollah acquiring or producing advanced “precision” weapons is Israel’s main redline and could put the parties on a collision course that leads to conflict in Lebanon.

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Analysis 12-07-2018

The Changing Face of
American Conservatism

This week was a milestone in the history of American conservatism. President George H. W. Bush died. He was the one who promised a “kinder gentler” conservatism when he became president. Yet, he led the first Gulf War and established the principle of interfering in Middle Eastern Politics – a foundation stone of the Neoconservative movement (neocons).

It was also announced this week that the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard is scheduled to close soon. The Weekly Standard was a strong voice of the neocon movement and was anti-Trump, even though they claimed to be conservative.

After months of searching for a buyer, the Weekly Standard’s owner MediaDC has decided to expand its other conservative publication, the Washington Examiner – a pro-Trump publication.

The Weekly Standard was founded in 1995 by Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes. During the presidency of George W. Bush, it was widely considered to be aligned with the administration and larger forces of neoconservatism.

Under Hayes’ leadership, The Weekly Standard has remained steadfast in its criticism of Trump. Supporters of Trump have lashed out at The Weekly Standard and its influence in Republican circles has dwindled, along with its subscription base.

The demise of the Weekly Standard is proof that the once popular neoconservatism of the past few decades has died, and President Trump’s definition of conservatism has triumphed for the moment.

But conservatism has gone through several changes since World War Two. In the 1950s, there was the intellectual conservatism of William F. Buckley and the National Review. That was supplanted by Reagan conservatism of the 1980s – to be followed by the neo-conservatism of the 1990s and 2000s.

Today, those have all been defeated by Trump Conservatism.

Of course, some say Trump isn’t a conservative. Earlier this year, in a speech to the National Press Club, Sen. Jeff Flake made a charge that has become common among disillusioned “never Trump” Republicans: Donald Trump is corrupting “true conservatism” with his authoritarian style, neo-isolationist foreign policy, lack of fiscal discipline, and opposition to free trade.

What Sen. Flake and other “Never-Trumpers” fail to realize is that Trumpism is only the latest mutation in a long history of conservative evolution that goes back to the early 20th century.

The Father of modern American conservatism was William F. Buckley (November 24, 1925 – February 27, 2008). He was a conservative intellectual, author, and commentator. In 1955, Buckley founded National Review, a magazine that became the flagship of the conservative movement in the late-20th century United States. Buckley hosted 1,429 episodes of the public affairs television show Firing Line (1966–1999).

George H. Nash, a historian of the modern American conservative movement, said Buckley was “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century. For an entire generation, he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure.” Buckley’s primary contribution to politics was a fusion of traditionalist conservatism, and classical liberalism; that fusion laid the groundwork for a rightward shift in the Republican Party, as exemplified by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. As a Catholic, he also started to inject religion into the Conservative mainstream.

Buckley and National Review defined the boundaries of conservatism and excluded people, ideas or groups they considered unworthy of the conservative title. For example, Buckley denounced libertarian writer Ayn Rand, the John Birch Society, George Wallace, racists, white supremacists, and anti-Semites.

At the same time, American conservatism was taking another turn – one that Buckley started. The late 1960s saw conservatives begin to champion religious causes, such as Bible reading and prayer in public schools. This caused great consternation among old-guard conservatives and their reaction to this “religious turn” in conservatism mirrors the current response of many George W. Bush neoconservatives to Trump’s “isolationist policy.”

Many have mistakenly assumed that the 1980 election of the avowedly conservative President Ronald Reagan meant that America had shifted “to the Right” after Goldwater’s loss. It was conservatism itself that had shifted toward America. By changing from a narrow-limited government economic ideology to a broader anti-Communist and religious one, conservatism had become attractive to demographics that had previously identified with the liberal side. Reagan’s election did not indicate that America had become more conservative, but that conservatism had changed to become more mainstream.

As much as they disliked some of Buckley’s ideas, establishment Republicans did admit that Buckley had changed American politics. In 1991, Buckley received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush.

But Buckley differed dramatically with the changing standards of conservatism – especially neoconservatism. Regarding the War in Iraq, Buckley stated, “The reality of the situation is that missions abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic tradition are terribly arduous.”

In a February 2006 column published at National Review Online, Buckley stated unequivocally that, “One cannot doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.” Buckley has also stated that ” … it’s important that we acknowledge in the inner councils of state that it (the war) has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure.”

About neoconservatives, he said in 2004: “I think those I know, which is most of them, are bright, informed and idealistic, but that they simply overrate the reach of U.S. power and influence.”

And, although he never knew Trump as a politician, in 2000 he described him as a “demagogue” and a “narcissist.

If there was a president that did fulfill the promise of modern conservatism, it was Ronald Reagan, who was a reader of National Review and Buckley’s books. And, it was Reagan, who turned modern conservatism into the mainstream thought of the Republican Party after the defeat of the moderate candidate George H. W. Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primary.

Although Buckley was a Reagan supporter and a personal friend, he informed the President-elect that he would decline any official position offered to him. Reagan jokingly replied that was too bad, because he had wanted to make Buckley ambassador to (then Soviet-occupied) Afghanistan. Buckley replied that he was willing to take the job but only if he were to be supplied with “10 divisions of bodyguards.”

The era of Buckley/Reagan conservatism was only 8 years. George H. W. Bush changed course as president and favored a more moderate, pro-government Republican philosophy – a political change that alienated Republican voters, who stayed away from the polling booths in 1992 and allowed for the election of William Clinton.

Although President Bush had been defeated, his one major change to American policy was neoconservatism. With Bush’s win in Kuwait, a breed of conservatives sprung up who advocated exporting American ideals overseas – especially the Middle East. The result is the American entanglements like Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

Conservatism continued to evolve. By the time of the Iraq War in 2003, foreign policy hawkishness had moved to the center of conservatism and limited government had been pushed to the margins. George W. Bush, who expanded the size of the federal government more than any president since FDR, was considered “conservative” while Bill Clinton, who oversaw a slight shrinkage of government, was considered “center-Left.” (Both worked with a putatively conservative Republican Congress.) In 1940, it would have been unthinkable for a president to expand the federal government to the degree Bush did and still be considered “conservative,” but such are the evolutions of conservatism.

While neoconservatism was popular with many conservatives, William Buckley saw the danger in forcing American values on others and favored a withdrawal, even if it might be seen as a defeat. Ironically, in 2008, before he died, Buckley supported the candidacy of the arch neoconservative Senator John McCain.

Trump’s candidacy has changed American conservatism again. It eschews American involvement overseas – a major belief of the neoconservatives. Since there remain many neoconservatives in the party who want to advance neoconservative ideas like defeating Syrian President Assad, US policy has become a mish mash of policy initiatives like officially opposing Assad, but not making that the major goal of US military intervention in Syria.

If there is one principle that runs throughout most conservative thought since WWII, it is the idea that big government is a problem. Buckley broke with Nixon over the growth of American welfare legislation. Reagan said government was the problem, not the solution. And Trump calls government the “swamp.”

If anything, Trump is bringing conservatism back to its roots of limited government.

However, it is a mistake to see Trump as the ideal conservative. Although he has been strongly endorsed by the National Rifle Association and says he supports the Second Amendment, he is preparing regulation to outlaw the possession of “bump stocks” on rifles.

So, what is conservatism? And how has Trump impacted it?

Today’s conservatism has gone back to its roots in terms of being for limited government – unlike the policies of George W. Bush. It’s also less interested in foreign involvement, even though the remaining neoconservatives are fighting Trump on this policy.

Trump’s view of limited government is more aggressive like Reagan’s. Trump – like Reagan – is more likely to take drastic steps like Reagan did when he fired the air traffic controllers.

The fact is that conservatism has evolved thanks to Trump and his defeat of Clinton. Yet, in many ways, it has the same roots that energized William F. Buckley 60 years ago. But it will continue to evolve and will look different in the future.

Analysis 11-30-2018


Russian – Ukrainian Incident Increases International Tension

The success of this week’s G-20 meeting is threatened by the increasing tensions between the Ukraine and Russia.

Russian military forces opened fire on three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea, rammed one of them, and seized all three. The ships were manned by 23 crew members. Ukrainian authorities say between three and six have been injured.

Russia claims the boats had illegally entered its sovereign waters. However, what we do know is that the Ukrainian vessels – two gunboats and a tugboat – were sailing from Odessa around the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea, headed toward the Kerch Strait and Mariupol on the north bank of the Sea of Azov. A 2003 treaty between Ukraine and Russia guarantees both nations the right to use the Kerch Strait and Azov Sea for commercial purposes. The same treaty allows either nation to use the waters to transport military vessels so long as the transporting nation notifies the other. A Russian oil tanker nonetheless blocked the ships from passing through the strait, fighter jets passed overhead as if the ships were an invading force, and Russian troops boarded and took control of the ships.

Ukraine insists that it notified Russia of the tiny fleet, and there is no reason to doubt its statement. Russia claims that the ships “crossed the Russian state border and illegally entered the temporarily closed waters of the Russian territorial sea.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned Tuesday of a “full-scale war,” a day after he claimed to “have serious grounds to believe Russia is ready to follow with a ground attack.” Also, on Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had “begun testing the readiness of formations and military units of the Southern Military District,” a region that includes the disputed Crimea and borders parts of Ukraine. Military trucks were spotted transporting the 3K60 Bal coastal defense missile system toward Crimea.

Given the G-20 meeting this weekend, this is likely a test. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to know how far the United States is willing to go to check Russian projecting power. Reuters notes, “The episode risks derailing a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 in Argentina later this week. Trump said on Tuesday that he might cancel the meeting due to the incident, but the Kremlin said on Wednesday it thought it was still on.”

(But later aboard Air Force One, on route to the summit, Trump announced the cancelation of the meeting.)

Trump says ‘‘based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!’’

On March 2014, Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula under the pretense of protecting a pro-Russian minority. Russia now considers Crimea part of Russia, although Ukraine and others holds it to be an illegal annexation. More than 10,000 have died in the conflict. The fighting goes on despite the Minsk II ceasefire signed in February 2015.

Ukraine has responded to this quiet invasion by increasing its military preparedness. The eastern European nation has doubled the size of its military in just four years: It now has around 250,000 active-duty soldiers and roughly 80,000 reservists. They are also better equipped. In 2017 the Trump administration began the sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.

This means that at any moment Crimea and eastern Ukraine could explode into a large-scale hot war between proxies of the United States and Russia. Vladimir Putin wants to consolidate his gains in Ukraine and has every reason to precipitate a low-level crisis in order to find out how far America is ready to go.

How did the United States respond to Black Sea incident? U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley issued a robust criticism of Russia’s aggression. But she’s leaving the administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s condemnation included forceful language but lacked any specific promise of consequences.

Trump’s own comments were mild: “We do not like what’s happening either way,” Trump said while leaving the White House. “And hopefully it will get straightened out.”

Russian dissident Garry Kasparov condemned the weak response and said how the US reacts will be critical, “Putin will scan this looking for ‘unless Russia…’ or ‘if Russia doesn’t comply…’ and, seeing nothing like that, he will continue as planned…Translate this U.S. statement on Russia’s latest act of war against Ukraine into dictator-speak, Putin’s language: ‘We aren’t going to do anything about it.’ That’s how he will read it.”

However, Putin isn’t taking chances. Russia has announced plans to deploy more of its advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Crimea.

“A division size of Russia’s S-400 Triumph air defense system has undergone tests and will soon be put on combat duty in Crimea,” the Southern Military District’s press service said on Wednesday.

The personnel of the air defense missile unit of the 4th army of the Air Force and the Southern Military District deployed to Crimea has started preparing the equipment to be transported by rail to a permanent base. “In the near future, the new system will enter combat duty to defend Russia’s airspace, replacing the previous air defense system,” the spokesman explained.

Adding to tensions, Reuters has further reported that a Russian warship has been dispatched to the Sea of Azov.

But this skirmish impacts NATO because Russia has made a habit of initiating challenging actions against NATO nations. In May of this year several Russian Navy (and probably Air Force) jets, including Su-30SM Flanker derivative and Su-24 Fencer jets flew in the vicinity of British HMS Duncan, which was 30 nautical miles from the Crimea.

In 2017, Su-24s attack jets flew close to the Royal Netherlands Navy Frigate HNLMS Evertsen, operating in the Baltic Sea,

In Apr. 2016, some Su-24s performed as many as 20 overflights, (as low as 100 feet and 11 “very low simulated attack”) within 1,000 yards of the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea. Two years earlier, in April 2014, a Russian Su-24MR, flew within 1,000 yards of the very same US Navy destroyer that was operating in the Black Sea following the crisis in Ukraine. At that time, a show of force was considered “provocative and inconsistent with international agreements.”

On Thursday last week, the Belgian Navy command ship Godetia was participating in a minesweeping mission, when it was surprised by the low-level flyover of two Russian Su-24s in the Baltic Sea. A Belgian frigate (F931 Louise-Marie) operating in the same area had to temporarily suspend an Air Defense exercise and keep an eye on the Su-24 “threat” to the other Belgian vessel.

At the same time, NATO nations are supporting the Ukraine. Earlier this year, the Defense Department approved a $200 million military aid package to Ukrainian forces, bringing the total amount of American weapons and equipment sent to support Kiev’s fight against Russian-backed separatists in the country to $1 billion.

The military support package will include new “capabilities to enhance Ukraine’s command and control, situational awareness systems, secure communications, military mobility, night vision, and military medical treatment,” according to a Pentagon statement.

Pentagon officials have also agreed to provide “cooperation funds for additional training, equipment and advisory efforts to build the defensive capacity of Ukraine’s forces,” as part of the effort, the statement says.

The Trump administration also told Congress that it plans to sell Ukraine 210 anti-tank missiles to help it defend its territory from Russia.

Just two months ago on Sept. 27, the U.S. Coast Guard signed off on providing two patrol boats to Ukraine within the next year.

And on Nov. 21, Britain announced it would provide Ukraine even more troops than promised back in September.

That’s not all. Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported that Kiev had been trying to persuade Washington – so far unsuccessfully – to open a military base in Ukraine.” However, Reuters, noted it could not be independently confirmed.

The reality is that the Ukraine needs NATO assistance in any confrontation with Russia. The Ukrainian armed forces, which were placed on high alert Monday, were composed of about 250,000 personnel, including about 204,000 troops, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, a figure dwarfed by 1.9 million Russian military personnel, a 2018 estimate that includes some 1,013,628 servicemen. Russian military expenditures also topped off in 2017 at $66.3 billion as compared to Ukraine’s $3.6 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Russia also commands the world’s largest tank army with some 20,000 armored vehicles and the Ukrainian government claimed last year that the number of Russian tanks covertly operating in support of rebels in Ukraine alone numbered some 680, a figure that would outrank the tank forces of the United Kingdom and Germany combined.

As for the Ukrainian navy, much of its ships were lost when Russia gained control of Crimea and three more have been seized in Sunday’s incident. Though Russia lost its sole aircraft carrier in a floating drydock incident late last month, the Black Sea Fleet has dozens of warships and the navy was set to receive 26 more vessels by the end of this year. Commentator Michael Bociurkiw argued Wednesday in a CNN op-ed that Ukraine was “woefully unprepared to wage a fight with Russia at sea” and that a Russian amphibious assault on the Azov coastline “would face little opposition.”

Dozens of Ukrainian aircraft were also taken in the annexation of Crimea. Even in Ukrainian hands, however, many of these planes were deemed unable to fly. David Axe of the War Is Boring blog writing in April 2014 that “16 Su-27s, 24 MiG-29s, 35 Su-24s and 24 Su-25s were flight worthy at the time of the Russian annexation” a month earlier and that “just 15 percent of the air force’s planes were combat-ready,” citing a local survey.

A more recent assessment authored by Mykola Bielieskov last month found that—following a deadly Su-27UB1M crash involving a Ukrainian pilot and a U.S. pilot—”the Ukrainian Air Force is left with seventeen Su-27s, in addition to twenty-one MiG-29 Fulcrums, a tactical fighter comparable to the F-16.” He added: “It also can muster thirteen Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack jets, a dozen Su-24 supersonic bombers, and forty-six L-39 jet trainers which can serve in the light attack role.” It also has several heavy transport planes, reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters.

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s 2017 Russia Military Power report detailed the country’s air power as comprising of a vast array of equipment including 141 bombers, 420 fighters, 345 fighter ground-attack aircraft, 215 attack jets, 32 electronic intelligence aircraft, 22 airborne warning and control aircraft, 6 command and control aircraft, 15 tankers, 122 heavy transport planes and 198 trainers. More modernized aircraft have begun entering service as of this year.

Although the Ukraine is friendly with most NATO nations, without NATO membership, the Western military alliance has no obligation to intervene on Ukraine’s behalf, potentially leaving the nation to face Russia on its own.

However, NATO support of the Ukraine doesn’t mean Russia will lose any military engagement with the West. NATO forces in Eastern Europe are just a fraction of what Russia can field. Not only will they outnumbered, it will be difficult to reinforce them should hostilities break out against Russia and NATO.

This is where the G-20 meeting in Argentina and the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Putin becomes important.

Putin is paying close attention to how Trump and the US reacts. If Trump meets Putin and acts like nothing is happening, expect Putin to push the Ukraine harder.

The deployment of a destroyer or frigate to the Black Sea may make Putin more circumspect in his action. However, a couple of American Navy ships in the Black Sea can do little in a military confrontation, because they would be seriously outnumbered.

A more important move would be to deploy US Army units to Ukraine for “training” and maneuvers. Although these can’t stop Russia, they will act as a “trip wire” that Russia may not want to cross. NATO can also move ground units to Eastern NATO nations that could be moved to the Ukraine in a crisis.

Don’t expect sanctions to stop Russia. Speaking before the VTB Capital forum in Moscow on Wednesday, Putin wryly explained that by implementing sanctions on Russia and other countries, Washington is effectively “shooting itself not in the foot but a bit higher.”

He clearly made the case that aggressive US punitive measures against its rivals is undermining confidence in the dollar.

Putin explained, “We are not setting the target of moving away from the dollar – the dollar is moving away from us, and those who take respective [sanctions] decisions are shooting themselves not just in the foot, but slightly higher, as such instability in calculations in dollars creates a desire of many global economies to find alternative reserve currencies and create settlement systems independent of the dollar.”

Putin also reminded Trump that Europe might not be willing to push Russia over the Crimea by noting that sanctions against Russia would lead to the loss of 400,000 jobs in Europe. Any NATO action might threaten natural gas supplies as Europe heads into winter.

In the end, it is more likely that the current situation will calm down. However, it’s not guaranteed that calmer heads will prevail. We have only to look at World War One a century ago to realize that it’s quite possible for rational politicians to march the world into a major war.




Senate Move to Block Arms Sales to Bahrain Would Undermine U.S. Interests
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
November 16, 2018

The Senate is set to vote Thursday on a resolution of disapproval that would block the sale of what advocates describe as “offensive weapons” to Bahrain, an important U.S. ally that faces deadly threats from Iran. Advocates of the ban argue that this denial would somehow ease the humanitarian suffering in Yemen. In reality, it will have no such impact and would produce a host of unintended consequences. Yemen has been engulfed in a slow-motion civil war for more than a decade. That war has accelerated in recent years due to Iranian military support for the Houthi rebels, which provoked a 2015 military intervention by a Saudi-led Arab coalition. The Houthi militia, a radical Shia group that increasingly has fallen under Iran’s baleful influence, has inflicted humanitarian suffering on its Yemeni opponents and continues to launch Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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Why Russia’s Latest Aggression Against Ukraine Could Be Aimed at Boosting Putin
By Alexis Mrachek
Heritage Foundation
November 27, 2018

Russian Federal Security Service border patrol boats opened fire Nov. 25 on three Ukrainian maritime vessels—two navy artillery ships and a tugboat—in a standoff in the Kerch Strait, a narrow body of water connecting the Black Sea and Azov Sea. Russia struck two of the vessels and wounded six crew members in the process. The Russians then boarded and seized the three Ukrainian naval ships. The incident followed an earlier clash that morning between the Russian Federal Security Service border patrol boats and the same three Ukrainian vessels. According to Kyiv, a Federal Security Service boat purposely rammed the Ukrainian navy tugboat, which was attempting to reach the Kerch Strait and enter the Azov Sea, causing damage to the tugboat’s “engine, outer hull, and guardrail.”

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The Evolution of the Salafi-Jihadist Threat
By Seth G. Jones and Danika Newlee
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 20, 2018

Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001. Based on a CSIS data set of groups, fighters, and violence, the regions with the largest number of fighters are Syria (between 43,650 and 70,550 fighters), Afghanistan (between 27,000 and 64,060), Paki­stan (between 17,900 and 39,540), Iraq (between 10,000 and 15,000), Nigeria (between 3,450 and 6,900), and Somalia (between 3,095 and 7,240). Attack data indicates that there are still high lev­els of violence in Syria and Iraq from Salafi-jihad­ist groups, along with significant violence in such countries and regions as Yemen, the Sahel, Nigeria, Afghan­istan, and So­malia.

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Three Ways the New Congress Can Defend Democracy Abroad
Carnegie Endowment
NOVEMBER 16, 2018

While the new U.S. Congress will face deep divides on many issues, it does have a chance to act on one issue upon which both sides broadly agree: supporting democracy abroad. Under President Donald Trump, U.S. government support for democracy around the world has reached its lowest ebb in forty years. Many American diplomats and aid providers diligently continue to defend democracy overseas. But their leader’s praise for dictators, disdain for U.S. liberal allies, and anti-democratic outbursts at home have undercut these efforts. Despite this, the 116th Congress can and should step up to reaffirm the United States’ decades-old commitment to supporting democracy around the world. By passing new and useful legislation, encouraging pro-democracy diplomacy, and showing its support for democratic leaders and activists, Congress can help mitigate the damage Trump has inflicted in this arena.

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What the Khashoggi Affair Tells Us about American Journalism, Politics, and Policymaking in the Age of Trump
By: Adam Garfinkle
Foreign Policy Research Institute
November 28, 2018

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 has tripped off one of the grandest cascades of news copy, electronic and print, in many recent weeks, and perhaps even many months. Why is that? Several reasons come to mind. First, the deed itself was both gruesome and spectacular, surprising and utterly beyond the pale of civilized diplomatic protocol. Mainstream media markets in the United States and, less so in the main in the West generally, love that sort of thing because it registers high on the all-critical shock meter. The fact that Khashoggi allegedly entered the Consulate in order to secure a document necessary to enable his marriage to a Turkish woman, knowingly putting himself at some risk as she tells the tale, just makes the plotline juicier for an audience that has become increasingly challenged by the task of untangling reality from fiction (of which more below). Then there ensued for several days an undulating uncertainty about what actually happened, revelations of the existence of surreptitious Turkish tapes promising to reveal the Truth, and the subsequent lateral entry of the CIA into the investigatory mix amid howls of righteous indignation from assorted congressmen and journalists. So the plot thickened, the decibel level rose, and the drama intensified. Think of it: murder and much blood courtesy of a bone saw; love and certainly sex implied; Oriental intrigue, jet-set hit squads, and high-tech eavesdropping in diplomatic inner sancta: This is market share manna from entertainment heaven for mainstream media. No wonder they played it to the hilt.

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Analysis 11-23-2018

American Politics and the Khashoggi Murder

The Khashoggi murder is taking center stage once again as some of the hard evidence of the journalist’s death inside the Saudi consulate comes to light.

The problem for those who want to highlight the murder (especially his occasional employer the Washington Post), is that the great majority of Americans really don’t care – in fact, their reaction is more likely to be, “Oh, that again.”  In other words, it gets attention in the halls of power in Washington but is a very minor story elsewhere – especially as many Americans are more worried about the currently eroding stock market.

The result is that the Khashoggi story is becoming a political ping pong ball.  While American voters don’t care, President Trump is standing alongside Saudi Arabia for both personal, political and economic reasons.  Meanwhile, Trump’s opponents in both the Democratic and Republican parties are trying to take political advantage of it.

However, despite the sound and fury, Saudi Arabia remains a major American client and functionary.

Trump has been playing the pragmatic businessman in this whole affair.  In a world of tyrants, who imprison and kill journalists on a regular basis, one murder of a journalist by an economically powerful dictatorial client or ally is of little importance.

Trump released a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying, “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

He added, “That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi… the United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

Here Saudi Arabia is also helping by playing its most powerful public relations tool – helping to lower oil prices – always an important issue with the American public.  Americans are more likely to own a car and since distances are so vast in America, oil prices have a dramatic impact on their ability to travel, especially during the current holiday season.

This week Trump warned a group of reporters that oil prices would go “through the roof” should there be a rupture between the US and the Kingdom.  Later, the president once again left little room for subtlety by thanking the kingdom for helping to facilitate this month’s record-setting slide in oil prices.

Hailing the drop-in oil prices from multi-year highs as a “big tax cut” for Americans, the president said that while Americans should be thrilled with the drop, he would like to see prices move even lower. “Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!”

Trump’s congratulations come after Saudi Arabia reportedly raised production for a second straight month in November.   Admittedly, if the Saudis had their choice, they’d prefer oil prices above $80 a barrel. But they know a 20 cent drop in the price per gallon of gasoline will keep Saudi Arabia popular in the United States and make Americans forget Khashoggi.

In the world of politics, that is what the former German chancellor Otto Von Bismarck called “realpolitik.”

Those who are opposing Trump on this issue are forgetting that Americans are pragmatic, especially when it comes to gas prices.

In many cases, the political opposition isn’t based on moral issues but pure politics.  One example was the recent denunciation of Trump’s comments by Republican Senator Corker of Tennessee.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said Tuesday that he was “really astounded” by the White House statement on Saudi Arabia and journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, likening it to “a press release for Saudi Arabia and not the United States.”

“It was unnecessarily provocative,” Corker said in an interview with ABC News Channel 9 in Chattanooga. “I don’t understand how that furthers the cause.”

Corker and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to President Trump demanding to decide as to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder. In the interview, Corker said lawmakers are still trying to “determine the appropriate way to respond.”

A determination that the Saudis are guilty would lead to more economic sanctions on the kingdom.

Although many made an issue of the fact that a fellow Republican was opposing Trump, the reality is quite different.

Corker is leaving the Senate at the end of the year because as a “liberal Republican”, he would have likely lost to the more conservative pro-Trump Republican Marsha Blackburn (who is now to fill Corker’s seat in January 2019) in the Republican primary.  Corker had also made it clear that he wouldn’t campaign against Democratic candidate Bredesen, who ran against Blackburn.

And, if that wasn’t political enough, Senator Corker admitted on Tuesday night that he has not ruled out primarying President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential primary in 2020.

When asked by reporters on Tuesday if he plans to run for president in 2020, Corker said, “I have not ruled it out.”

Obviously, there is a question if Corker is opposing Trump for moral reasons or is positioning himself for a presidential challenge against Trump.

The next issue is the American intelligence community’s knowledge of the event, its history with Trump, and if Trump can be expected to rely upon their assessment.

Despite leaks that the intelligence communities discover later after Khashouggi murder that he was in danger, there is concern that the US intelligence community knew of the planned attack on Khashoggi and didn’t warn him.  There is an internal government order in place requiring U.S. intelligence agencies to warn an intended victim if the agency acquires information that a threat of kidnapping, murder, or serious bodily injury is imminent.

But the Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications that indicated a Saudi plan to capture Khashoggi may have been in the works:

“Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information. The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there, this person said. It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him, or if the United States warned Khashoggi that he was a target, this person said.”

Since there were no reports that Trump had been advised and had decided not to warn Khashoggi, the fault lies with the intelligence community and much of the post-murder publicity is aimed to take the pressure off the American intelligence failure to act.

This only accentuates Trump’s dislike for the American national security community.  The prime directive of any intelligence agency is to warn the national leadership of any event that could impact the nation.  Therefore, from Trump’s point of view, he has been left hanging by his intelligence community by failing to warn Khashoggi or to give him the critical intelligence beforehand.

There is also the question of the intelligence community’s hostility towards the Trump candidacy.  It appears that the US intelligence community received permission to intercept some Trump campaign communications in 2016 with the use of warrants based on flawed intelligence information.  That gives Trump another reason to distrust their opinions and analysis.

In addition, former intelligence directors John Brennan and Gen. Michael Hayden are among Trump’s harshest critics. Other former CIA leaders like Michael Morell and John McLaughlin are more circumspect. But as a group, they are far more outspoken about the current president than, say, former director George H.W. Bush was about President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. When Trump threatened to pull Brennan’s security clearance, more than 70 former intelligence officers signed an open letter calling Trump’s action a threat to free speech.

Former CIA head Brennan said a “constitutional crisis” is fast approaching because of the clash between a commander in chief and a politicized intelligence community.

“I think the blatant disregard for the threat of foreign influence in our election and the demonization of the Intelligence Community was a turning point for a lot of us,” former branch chief Cindy Otis told a Raw Story journalist in an email. “…Critics can call me ‘The Deep State,’ but I joined the CIA under George W. Bush and the vast majority of people at CIA lean conservative on foreign policy/natsec [national security] issues.”

Six former CIA officers spoke to Raw Story of the ideals of disinterested intelligence collection and analysis as the basis for their opposition to Trump.

But the intelligence community has had it failures – many based on political considerations – something Trump is aware of.  In the 1980s, former director Bush and a host of senior agency operatives joined the Iran-Contra conspiracy. They sought to subvert the Democratic majority in Congress that had banned covert intervention in Central America. The agency’s rank and file did not object. Indeed, many applauded when President Bush pardoned four CIA officials who had been indicted in the scandal.

The failure to see the collapse of the Soviet Union was predicated on the political consideration that the US government wanted to deal with only one country (The USSR) instead of several independent states.

After the 9/11 attacks, the consensus in Langley that torture was a permissible, effective and necessary counterterrorism technique no doubt struck many intelligence officers as apolitical common sense.

In addition, in a press conference Secretary of Defense Mattis, said neither the CIA nor the Saudi government have “fully established” who was behind the killing.  In fact, CNN has said the CIA assessment is based on “available intelligence,” not specific “smoking gun type of evidence.”

Given all of this, it is easy to see why Trump questions the intelligence community’s assessment on the Khashoggi murder.  He has no reason to believe that their analysis, which has proved to be political in the recent past, is any different.

But, that’s not all.

SecDef Mattis also noted that it still wouldn’t change the fact that it is in the US’s interest to work with the Saudis.

Mattis also said that presidents don’t always get to work with “unblemished” strategic partners.  Furthermore, it’s the president’s duty to balance competing interests.

In addition to the economic reasons for supporting Saudi Arabia, there is the need to support one of America’s most important allies in the region.  Saudi Arabia, under MbS has improved relations with Israel.

To Trump administration Saudi Arabia is also a bulwark against what is perceived Iranian expansionism in the region and loyal customer of American weapons. So, to Trump and his hard-line advisers, Military or economic actions against Iran can’t be effective without Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC.

In the end, what matters is pragmatism.  Saudi Arabia helps set oil prices, which is critical for the US economy and the car driving American population.  It is also an important ally in stopping Iranian expansionism and bringing Israel and the Arab States closer together.

Although America often casts itself as the “moral compass” of the world, the reality is far from that.   Dictators are okay if they are pro-American dictators.

Analysis 11-16-2018


Prepare for Trump Administration Turnovers

The mid term elections are over and Americans are preparing for a number of resignations and firings inside the White House.  It’s obvious that a president who made the phrase, “You’re fired,” popular is getting ready to use the same words in Washington.

In this analysis, we want to look at the attrition rate of the Trump Administration and how it stacks up to previous administrations. Then we will look at the critical posts that will probably be vacant within the next few weeks.  Then we will look at possible replacements and the potential policy changes that this will engender.

Turnover is common in White House positions.  While they are attractive, they engender long hours and considerable pressure.  As a result, there is a above average turnover as people decide they don’t want the pressure and time away from their families, and their bosses decide that the person isn’t fulfilling the job requirements.

It’s also a fact that many people who go the White House only want to stay long enough to make contacts and add the job to their résumé.  Then they are off to a higher paying position in the outside world.

The post election period between November and January is a popular time to make these changes.  The White House can calibrate its policy and make changes (as Bush did in 2006 after suffering major losses in the Senate and House).  In addition, the holidays are a slow time, when positions can remain vacant until a new person is picked and confirmed (if necessary).

There is also the case of firing people that the president didn’t want to fire before the elections for political reasons.  That was surely the case with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Consequently, the Trump Administration is making several key changes.

Although the media has made an issue of the turnover in the Trump Administration, a Brookings Institution study shows that changes amongst Trump’s important White House executives are in line with turnovers in every administration since President Reagan.  In fact, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush made more mid term election year changes in their executive staff.

President Trump has had the largest percentage turnover in the first year since 1980 (about 35%).  However, his second year turnover rate is lower than other presidents (this figure includes Sessions, but may change in the next two months).  In terms of cabinet positions, Trump is tied with Clinton in number of turnovers. Obama is in third place.

Obviously, the media has made more of an issue of changes in Trump’s Administration than they did with other presidents.

However, that isn’t to say that the Trump Administration is not without its problems.  There have been reports of heated arguments in the hallways (the argument between Chief of Staff Kelly and National Security Advisor Bolton is a good example.

In some cases, the problem is that when Trump was elected he relied on advice from other Republicans because he knew little about the people in Washington.  The result was that he picked people that were not a good fit for his administration. In many cases, they advocated positions that he opposed.

The first post election casualty was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was asked to resign.  As senator, Sessions was the first important politician to endorse Trump. Given his early support and former job in the Justice Department, he was a natural choice for the position.  However, he proved to be ineffective – partially because he recused himself from the Russian probe and he failed to take firm control of his department.

Although the Attorney General doesn’t have a major impact in national security issues, he is part of the national security team.  And, given the number of investigations that the Democrats are threatening, he will be a point man in defending the administration’s actions.

Trump’s temporary appointment of Matthew Whitaker as Attorney General fits the Trump criteria.  In recent writings, he has taken the same positions as Trump on the Special Prosecutor and Immigration.  He has also made it clear that he will not recuse himself from supervising the Special Prosecutor and will take over management of that from the current Deputy Attorney General.  This has raised objections from the Democrats that he can’t fill the position. The DoJ has countered with legal precedents and will probably win the case in the courts.

Since Whitaker is only temporary, he must be confirmed by the US Senate in order to be the permanent Attorney General.

There, are however, some changes that will have more of an impact on foreign policy.  One of those changes represented a first – being pushed out by the First Lady.

First Ladies traditionally stay out of major national and international policy formulation, and if they do, are subtle.  That wasn’t true this week when the office of the First Lady   called for the firing of Deputy National Security Advisor Mira Ricardel, who reported to National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Mrs. Trump’s office said, “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”

A Wall Street Journal report suggests that the First Lady’s office had had it with Ricardel’s behavior.

The Wall Street Journal reported, “The president became involved in that decision at the urging of Mrs. Trump, whose staff battled with Ms. Ricardel during the first lady’s trip to Africa last month over seating on the plane and requests to use National Security Council resources, according to people familiar with the matter.”

“The first lady’s team told the president that they suspect Ms. Ricardel is behind some negative stories about Mrs. Trump and her staff.”

Politico also reports that Ricardel may also be responsible for a breakdown in communication between the Pentagon and NSC because of conflicts with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Ricardel is a tough bureaucratic infighter and supports more of a traditional Republican foreign policy than John Bolton does.

She has also had several run-ins with Washington power brokers.  Ricardel was part of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team as a Department of Defense advisor.  She was looked at for positions in the new administration in the Defense and State Departments, but was twice blocked based upon past bureaucratic run-ins, in the first instance by Mattis and in the second by Department of State Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin.   Ricardel had blocked some nominees wanted by Mattis because they had Democratic backgrounds.

In the end, she lasted only 24 hours after the First Lady pushed for her ousting.

Personality issues may also account for other White House shakeups, namely Chief of Staff John Kelly and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

CoS Kelly has made it clear that he is willing to resign and talk of his departure has been common.  However, it seems that his presence has settled the White House Staff after a first year of turmoil.

However talk of his departure has grown since reports of his heated argument with National Security Advisor John Bolton.

The issue was border security and Kelly supported the more lenient position of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.  Bolton favored a stricter policy that would close the border. The issue became hotter when Bolton reportedly accused Kelly of having an affair with Nielsen, who served as Kelly’s deputy when Kelly was in charge of DHS.

After the blowup, aides whispered privately that one of the men might leave the White House given the deep disagreement over the border.  The fact that the President sided with Bolton only added to Kelly’s fury.

This isn’t the first time Nielsen’s handling of border security has been scrutinized by the Trump White House. Trump and Nielsen got into a heated argument during a Cabinet meeting in May over border security, a source with knowledge told CNN.

Trump said he didn’t think she was doing enough to secure the border and two people told The New York Times, which first reported the argument, that Nielsen drafted a resignation letter over the matter.

If Kelly leaves the White House the top choice for the position of Chief of Staff is Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers.  Ayers is only 36, but enjoys warm relations with some of the most important figures in Trump’s White House: his eldest son, Don Jr., his eldest daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Ayer also enjoys support among outside advisers who have Trump’s ear but have clashed with Kelly when he sought to regulate access to the president.

Ayer has proven to be a settling influence on the Pence team – something needed in the Trump White House.  He also managed Pence’s 2018 campaign strategy, which impressed Trump.

Trump and Ayers had already discussed the chief of staff job in the early summer, according to a former senior administration official, but at the time it was unclear when Kelly would depart. And Trump spent the summer asking friends, White House advisers and former aides: “What do we think about Nick?” – an indication he is privately considering a staff shake-up.

Ayers first impressed Ivanka Trump, Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon as an aide to Pence during the presidential campaign. All three later encouraged Ayers to join the White House as a replacement for Pence’s first chief of staff, Josh Pitcock. If Ayers took over as chief of staff, he would be seen by some Trump allies as an improvement over Kelly, since he has far greater political influence and connections.

As for a DHS choice to replace Nielsen, Trump is considering Thomas Homan, former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to succeed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, three people familiar with the process told Politico.

Homan is a hardliner on immigration and immigration is an immportant issue for Trump’s voter base and necessary for his reelection in 2020.

Homan once recommended charging so-called sanctuary city politicians “with crimes” and has pugnaciously defended even Trump’s most controversial immigration moves, including separating children from their parents at the border.

In addition to Homan, other potential Nielsen replacements include Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and David Pekoske, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. Both have already been confirmed by the Senate.

The president is also considering Maj. Gen. Vincent Coglianese, who currently runs the Marine Corps Installations Command, according to two people familiar with the process. One of Coglianese’s sons serves as editorial director at the Daily Caller, a conservative outlet known for its favorable news coverage of the Trump administration.

Clearly, these resignations and replacements will fit Trump’s agenda.  However, there appears to be another personality in the changes – National Security Advisor John Bolton.

It was Bolton who precipitated the heated argument with Kelly over Nielsen – an argument that Trump sided with Bolton on.

If Nielsen or Kelly resign or are fired, Bolton’s hand will be in it.

We can also be sure that the departure of Deputy National Security Advisor Mira Ricardel, at least had Bolton’s acquiescence.  And we can be sure that the replacement will be in tune with Bolton’s policies.

This means that Bolton’s policies will have more support in the new Trump Administration.  Bolton has been called a neoconservative and is an advocate for regime change in Iran and North Korea and repeatedly called for the termination of the Iran deal. He has continuously supported military action and regime change in Syria.

Bolton is skeptical of international organizations and international law, believing them to endanger American sovereignty, and does not believe they have legitimate authority under the U.S. Constitution.  He is a critic of the European Union and praised Britain’s vote to leave it.

Bolton is known for his strong support for Israel.  Bolton opposed the two-state solution.  He is also a supporter of Taiwan, which has increased tension with China.

These are all policies that Trump advocates, which means that some of his new advisers will merely echo his opinions, instead of providing opposing opinions.

If this proves to be true, expect Trump’s policies in the run-up to the 2020 election to be less nuanced and more in line with his campaign promises.



Minding the “God Gap”: ISIS’ Genocide of Religious Minorities and American Statecraft

By Emilie Kao and Joshua Meservey

Heritage Foundation

November 8, 2018

The swift rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq presented the United States with yet another threat from a religiously motivated actor—yet American leaders struggled to “know the enemy.” American leaders have historically secularized the motives and commitments of religious actors, which weakens our ability to “know the enemy.” At the same time, secular political assumptions have limited our capacity to engage religious actors in the work of promoting religious freedom and pluralism. In the future, U.S. attempts to understand religious actors should treat the sincerity of religious commitments with due gravity. Doing so enhances our ability to distinguish friend from foe and helps anticipate hostile actions, as well as find avenues of cooperation in our pursuit of freedom, security, and peace.

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A Century after the Armistice, the World is Still Coping with the End of Empires

By Jeffrey Mankoff

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 13, 2018

A century after the Armistice that ended World War I on the Western Front, much of the world remains haunted by the legacies of that conflict. Apart from the deaths of more than 9 million soldiers and an untold number of civilians, the most lasting impact of the First World War may be the collapse of the old empires that dominated Europe and Eurasia until 1918. From Poland to Syria, states that emerged from the peripheries of the old empires struggled to reconcile nationalist ideologies, the principle of self-determination, and the reality of diversity. Meanwhile, the old imperial cores—states like Russia and Turkey—still wrestle with the loss of status and territory that accompanied the end of empire. With the post-Cold War order giving way, instability along the old periphery remains, even as the centers of the old empires increasingly look to the past for inspiration, seeking to recreate something like an imperial order in the regions they once ruled.

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America’s FY2020 Defense Strategy and Programming Crisis

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 13, 2018

For several decades, American strategic planning has been little more than a facade for annual line item budget debates. Arguably, U.S. strategic planning peaked when Harold Brown was Secretary of Defense in 1981. From that point onwards, efforts to create and manage U.S. national security using some effective linkage between strategy and real-world planning, programming, and budgeting activity steadily declined. Meaningful posture statements by the Secretary that tied strategy to plans and budgets faded away, along with real-world force goals, future year defense plans and budgets, and efforts to link strategy and spending to key joint mission areas like the categories in the program budget system or to the major regional and functional military commands.

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Testing Trump’s Iran Strategy

By Ilan I. Berman

American Foreign Policy Council

October 30, 2018

On Nov. 6, Americans will go to the polls in midterm elections that are likely to reshape the complexion of national politics. But even before they do, U.S. foreign policy will face a crucial test of resolve vis-a-vis the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Back in May, President Trump formally announced that the United States was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and that pre-existing sanctions which had been waived by the Obama administration would begin to “snap back” into place against the Islamic Republic. The first step in this direction was the re-imposition on Aug. 7 of restrictions on Iran’s ability to buy U.S. currency, its trade in precious metals, and commercial sales of aircraft and auto parts to the Islamic Republic. These steps have already begun to have a marked impact on Iran’s economy, prompting a veritable exodus of foreign companies from the Islamic Republic and cratering the value of Iran’s national currency, the rial. But the second tranche of sanctions, which is set to be reinstated on Nov. 4, promises to be even more serious. The new measures will include massive restrictions on Iran’s global oil trade, as well as a severing of Iran’s Central Bank from the global financial system.

Taken in isolation, these steps have the power to deal a severe blow to Iran’s fragile, energy-dependent economy. Taken together, the impact on Iran’s radical regime — which is already said to be on the verge of economic collapse — could be nothing short of catastrophic.

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Israel’s embrace of China is sorely misguided

By Dan Blumenthal

American Enterprise Institute

November 15, 2018

Israel’s embrace of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) under Xi Jinping is morally and strategically misguided. This has become increasingly evident as Xi has transformed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from the “soft authoritarian” developmental state created by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s into the “hard totalitarian” state it is today, both at home and abroad. In turn, Washington is gradually changing its own strategy to one of vigorous competition with China as its main great-power rival. As Washington shifts course, Israel would do well to align itself accordingly.

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U.S.-Saudi Security Cooperation: Restricting Operational Support in Yemen

By Michael Knights and Lt. Col. August Pfluger, USAF

Washington Institute

November 6, 2018

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis laid out a sequence for ending hostilities in Yemen: the Houthi rebels are expected to cease border and missile attacks, after which the Saudi-led coalition is to halt high-risk airstrikes in populated areas, thus laying the ground for peace talks. Yet if the hoped-for talks wind up failing (as the previous round did earlier this year in Geneva when the Houthis refused to attend), Washington will likely intensify its scrutiny of U.S. operational support to the Saudi war effort. Since the conflict began in 2015, Congress has debated whether to end support activities such as refueling coalition aircraft and providing advise/assist functions in Saudi Arabia. Yet discussion of these missions often loses sight of their limited scale and, in the case of advisory support, their crucial defensive and diplomatic value.

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Analysis 11-09-2018


Historical Trends and Conventional Wisdom Win Mid Term Elections

For all the hype, viewers of the election results could have gone to bed early because what happened pretty much followed predictions – the party out of power – in this case the Democrats – gained seats.  In races over the last 100 years, the party out of power gains 30 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate during the midterms.  In this case, the Democrats have won 25 to 35 seats in the House (there are still some close elections yet to be decided), which gives them a slim majority.

This election wasn’t as bad for the party in power as some recent midterm elections.  Clinton lost 54 house seats and 8 senate seats in 1994.  Obama lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats in 2010.

The Senate was a victory for the Republicans, who have increased their majority by four, and could gain more seats if the slim margins they hold in some races hold up.

The split decision is a result of Trump’s strategy to focus on the Senate, where several weak Democratic seats in the Senate were in play.  The effort paid off as several Democratic Senators lost, while some weak Republican senate seats were saved.

The Senate strategy also allows Trump to continue his campaign promise of appointing conservative judges to the federal court system.  It will also ease the appointment of new cabinet members as several members of Trump’s cabinet are expected to resign soon.

The Democrats won the House after 8 years of being out of power.  However, there is a question if Pelosi will return as the Speaker of the House position.  As of late, she has acted confused in press conferences and there are some in her party who want a younger, face for the Democratic Party in the House.

While the election followed historical trends, the change in leadership in the House and the larger Republican majority in the Senate, mean a lot in terms of how the US will be run in the next 2 years.

Here are some of those changes


When the Republicans won the House in 2010, they had great plans – end Obamacare, reduce spending, etc.

What the Republicans learned quickly, was that there was little they could do while the Democrats controlled the Senate and White House.  They frequently found their legislation stalled in the Senate, while Obama used the split Congress to take executive action.

The other problem with controlling the House is that the leadership, must stop being a hindrance and take responsibility as part of the national leadership.  Mundane legislation like raising the debt ceiling must be passed, even though the new leaders have complained about spending too much in the past.

Although Pelosi and Trump have had problems in the past, they will be forced in some cases to join forces.  If Pelosi refuses to help Trump on occasion, Trump (like Obama) might very well take executive action.


Trump made the appointment of conservative judges a major issue in the 2016 campaign.  With the one vote margin, some of Trump’s appointments like Justice Kavanaugh were barely confirmed.  With a bigger Senate majority, it should be easier to get more judicial nominations through the Senate in the next two years.


Now that they control the House and will chair the committees, the Democrats have promised investigations into the Trump Administration’s actions and Trump’s income taxes.

The problem is that this can cut both ways.  While the House Democrats can investigate several Republicans, Senate Republicans and the Department of Justice can turn this around and carry out investigations into the Democratic leadership.  Trump has already promised to do this in his post-election press conference.

One issue will be congressional subpoenas.  It has become common for Democrats to ignore congressional subpoenas.  We can expect this trend to continue as Democrats subpoena, and Republicans refuse to obey them.  Will a Democratic Congress try to push this issue and try to arrest some officials – something the Republicans never did.

The House and Senate do have the authority to arrest someone they find in contempt.  And, the Congress even has a jail in the Capitol.  However, arresting political opponents is probably one of the quickest ways to start a civil war in the US.


With a divided Congress, we can expect more gridlock.  In that case, we can be sure that Trump will rely more and more on executive orders.  Although Trump will try to pass some legislation in the current “lame duck” session, we can expect Trump to govern by executive order like Obama in the last six years of his presidency.

Don’t be surprise to see executive orders on birthright citizenship and immigration in January.


As much as some Democrats like the idea, many Democrats are warning that impeachment isn’t sensible and may very well prove to be a losing idea.

As was seen with the Clinton impeachment, it took votes away from the Republicans as voters wanted Congress to focus on solving problems, not engaging in politics.

Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Willie Geist said that Trump “would like nothing more” than an impeachment probe, because it would be: “the Kavanaugh situation multiplied times a thousand, which is Democratic overreach, and Donald Trump looks like the victim in the whole thing. He does not mind an impeachment investigation.”

Just as important, exit polling showed that 56% of voters do not want the Congress to impeach Trump.  A majority of them also think the Muller investigation is political.

Democrats also know that the Republican Senate will not vote for conviction, so any effort spend on passing articles of impeachment will be futile in the long run.


Clinton lost 54 house seats and 8 senate seats in 1994.  Obama lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats in 2010.  Yet, both presidents won reelection.

Americans like divided government, which explains why people who voted for a Republican senator, voted for a Democratic congressman and a Republican governor.  That means voters who voted for a Democratic Congress may very well vote for Trump again.

It’s also important to remember that it was Trump’s ceaseless electioneering in the last few weeks that resulted in Republican wins in the Senate.  In fact, Trump won 9 out of 11 seats that he personally campaigned for.

People who may not like his coarse style, still like him enough to vote for him.


A continued Republican Senate in 2020 and beyond is a strong possibility.  Of the 21 Republican Senate seats up in 2020, only three of them are potential Democratic pickup opportunities – Colorado, Iowa, and Maine.

With the current Republican edge in the Senate, it means that the Democrats have little chance of taking total control of the government in 2020, even if they win the presidency and retain control of the House.


 Attorney General Sessions was only the first of many to be forced out of the Administration in the coming months.

Trump has been disappointed in many he originally picked for his administration but was unwilling to ask for their resignations since he only had a one vote margin in the US Senate.  With a larger margin, he can push some presidential appointees to resign and put more of his people in the vacated places.

It will be interesting to see how much change will be made in the Department of Justice.  The acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has been a critic of the range of Muller’s investigation, but as senior DoJ person, is now in charge of the investigation – something that has upset Democrats.  In fact, former Attorney General Eric Holder said the fact that Rosenstein isn’t in charge of the Mueller investigation called the move “a red line.”

Ron Rosenstein’s position as number two in the DoJ is also in question since it came out that he may have been involved in secretly taping the president in order to get evidence that could be used in removing him from office.  He will probably remain until the Muller investigation is over and a report has been submitted to the DoJ.

But, don’t expect the resignations to come solely from the DoJ.  There are many who could be leaving Washington soon.


The Democrats had two attractive potential presidential candidates up for election this week – Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.  However, both lost, which means the same, old faces will make up the Democratic presidential race.


President Trump was widely criticized for raising the issue of immigration again in the closing days of the campaign. And while he received criticism from some Republicans, he had solid underlying points: The nation has to enforce its immigration laws, and Democrats are opposed to enforcing them.  His tactic may have helped bring some of his 2016 voters who were undecided off the fence.

This will give Trump the public backing to push for immigration legislation – or lacking that, executive orders on birthright citizenship and immigration enforcement.

Don’t be surprised if Trump calls the Mexican caravan’s invasion of the southern border a national security issue and then uses Department of Defense money to build parts of the wall.


 For the last half century, the Democratic Party has relied on blacks giving about 95% of their votes to Democratic candidates.  However, that may be changing as in Florida, Republicans DeSantis and Scott got 14% – 15% of the black vote in exit polls.


 The split decision in the election means both sides got something to make them happy for now.  However, that doesn’t appear to be the end of it.  The Democrats and media appear to be willing to play “hardball” (as seen in the Sessions resignation).

A likely flashpoint for civil unrest will be the upcoming fight between Trump and Democrats over investigations and the status of the Department of Justice.  The Constitution gives Trump the authority as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, who has the privilege to delegate some of that power to others like the attorney general.  However, the Democrats want the DoJ to be totally independent while it is under Trump.

If Trump moves aggressively to appoint his own people to the DoJ and FBI (which he is constitutionally permitted to do), the rhetoric could escalate until some start protesting on the streets.

There are many other issues that could spark civil unrest – US troops stopping illegal immigrants in a heavy-handed manner, congressional investigations, the police killing of a black, a protest turning violent, etc.

With an aggressive Trump and Democrats not willing to back down, anything could happen.

Don’t let a peaceful interlude lull one into thinking all the problems are over.