Analysis 05-03-2019

ANALYSIS

A New US Failure in Venezuela: Are Mercenaries the Next Option?

The failure of the coup in Venezuela left Washington on its back foot.  Words of strong support for opposition leader Juan Guaido and threats of sanctions only came after the coup appeared to fall apart.

Secretary of State Pompeo appeared on television and said the US hasn’t ruled out military intervention, although they prefer a peaceful transition.

National Security Advisor Bolton also threatened action.  The United States will not allow Russia to take over a Western Hemisphere country through “their surrogates, the Cubans,” Bolton said Wednesday.

“That is why President Trump suggested that if the Cubans don’t get off the body politic in Venezuela they will [suffer] consequence of their own,” Bolton told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” “It is a struggle by the people of Venezuela to get control of their government, but it is also a struggle to free themselves from the colonizers from Cuba.”

Fox anchor Brian Kilmeade asked Bolton if Trump had spoken to Putin, or if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken with his counterpart, Russian Secretary of State Sergey Lavrov, Bolton replied “a call, for Mike, is scheduled for [Wednesday].”

Not everyone in America was supporting Guaido.  Former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul warned, “The big danger is a hard-war breaking out…it could be a guerrilla war or something like that.”

Paul also blasted U.S. officials for supporting Guaido and his efforts to seize power in Venezuela while denouncing with indignation the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

 “I think it’s pure hypocrisy for us to think that we are doing [the interference in Venezuela] and we are against government interference.  We love it, except when we don’t.”

Nor does it appear that the U.S. military is gearing up for action in Venezuela.

The U.S. military is preparing for the unrest in Venezuela, but that does not include direct intervention in the political process, the U.S. Southern Command chief says.

The top officer for operations in South America pushed back Wednesday against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s suggestions earlier in the day that the White House is considering military options to expedite the overthrow of the embattled Maduro regime in Venezuela.

“Our leadership’s been clear,” U.S. Southern Command chief Navy Adm. Craig Faller told the House Armed Services Committee. “It has to be, should be, a democratic transition.”

The military is preparing for non-combat options, he said, amid the widespread civil unrest in the oil-rich Latin American nation as opposition leader Guaido continues his calls for public support for his claims on the presidency.

If the U.S. options are limited to withdrawing foreign nationals and humanitarian assistance, it leaves “acting president” Guaido few attractive options.

If, as it appears, some units did defect to Guaido, there is the possibility of an insurgency campaign.  Maduro has made it clear he is not in a forgiving mood and troops and units that defected have few options – either leaving the country or fighting.

If the anti-Maduro forces can retreat with equipment and supplies, they could take and hold some ground in a rural part of Venezuela.  Then, with the support of Western intelligence agencies like the CIA, they could continue to pressure Maduro.

The problem with this option is that it appears that the Russians and other countries are committed to keeping Maduro in power. A former U.S. military analyst told TTM, “My view is that Russia has invested a lot economically in Venezuela and they know that they have little hope of recouping it if Maduro loses power.”

Russia is also coming off a win against the US in Syria.  Russia stood behind President Assad despite the West’s desire to overthrow him.  In return, Russia won prestige and military bases for its steadfast support.

If Russia can “stay the course” in Venezuela, it could gain another foothold in the Americas.

Another advantage for Russia is Guaido, who is the recognized head of Venezuela by the West.  Overthrowing a government takes ruthlessness and it appears that Guaido seems more than willing to sit back and let the Western powers do the hard work.

A truly committed leader would be importing arms from friendly governments, training civilians to be rebels, and acquiring a base in the country.

Imagine what could have happened if the thousands of protestors heading towards downtown Caracas were armed with rifles.

Guaido’s apparent inability to spark a revolution in his country makes the options for the US more difficult, especially if they have eschewed a military response.

Given the problems the U.S. is facing on its southern border with immigrants from Central and South America, a festering political crisis in Venezuela would only increase the number of refugees and migrants heading across the border.  Would the U.S. refuse anti-Maduro refugees’ entrance, even though they supported an American effort to overthrow Maduro?

Then, there is the traditional Monroe Doctrine, which holds that the U.S. considers European interference in the Americas a threat.

The CIA could provide more support to the rebels, although it is hard to imagine that they haven’t done this already.

The U.S. could support local military forces like Colombia and Brazil in hopes that they can support and train Venezuelan rebels.  But there is the question of how competent these forces are.  It is likely that any money spent on Brazil and Colombia may be wasted.

There is also the mercenary option.  There are reports that former Blackwater head Erik Prince has been pitching a plan to “privatize” the Venezuelan coup.  Although he was forced to sell Blackwater (now Academi), he has revived his mercenary empire in China in the form of Frontier Services Group (FSG).

According to Reuters, “The two sources with direct knowledge of Prince’s pitch said it calls for starting with intelligence operations and later deploying 4,000 to 5,000soldiers-for-hire from Columbia and other Latin American nations to conduct combat and stabilization operations.”

It is reported by Reuters that neither the White House nor Guaido has entertained the proposal.

Prince has also called for using mercenaries in Afghanistan and Syria.

Prince has said that “a dynamic event” is needed to break the stalemate that has existed since January, when Guaido was named interim president.  Obviously, the current coup isn’t “dynamic” enough.

But employing mercenaries is politically dangerous and there is the possibility that these mercenaries from South America could commit an atrocity that would embarrass the U.S. and destroy any chance of ousting Maduro.

The likeliest option would be sending in a small number of U.S. Special forces to train and arm the rebels.  The problem is that U.S. Special Forces are already stretched thin from their worldwide deployments.

According to analysts in Washington to whom TTM has consulted, the problem remains the West’s support for Guaido.  He appears to be unable to inspire Venezuelans enough that they will spill out in the streets in force and overthrow Maduro.

Some other U.S. advocates of regime change in Venezuela are suggesting in private circles that if the U.S. is really committed to toppling Maduro, they may want to consider replacing Guaido, who, on the global chessboard, appears to be as powerful as a pawn, and replacing him with someone who has the political power of the queen.

Analysis 04-26-2019

ANALYSIS

 

U.S. is Increasing Tensions with Iran

Tensions between Iran and the US, which have been simmering for the last 40 years, were raised this week as the US decided to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

Not to be outdone, Iran decided to do the same with the US Central Command.

This new level of confrontation only offers more opportunity for either nation to over react.  In remarks made earlier this week on a Fox News interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the US views Iran’s elite forces just as they do ISIS.

Specifically, Pompeo agreed that the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani is a terrorist on the level of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an interview Monday.  Responding to a question to whether Soleimani is now equated to the “caliphate head’ Baghdadi, Pompeo affirmed, “Yeah. He is a terrorist.”

Pompeo went on, saying, “Qassem Soleimani has the blood of Americans on his hands, as do the forces he leads.”

“Each time we find and organization, institution or an individual that has taken the lives of Americans, it is our responsibility – indeed President Trump’s duty… – to reduce the risk that any American will be killed by Qasem Soleimani and his merry band of brothers ever again.”

While many in the diplomatic community may shake their heads at this, it plays well to American voters, who still have reservations about Iran.  In fact, one of the popular planks of Trump’s presidential campaign was to “get tough” on Iran – including abrogating the nuclear deal that Obama had made with Iran.

It also plays well with Israeli voters and may have helped Prime Minister Netanyahu win what was considered the first serious political challenge to his premiership.  Netanyahu made it clear that Trump’s moves before the Israeli election were politically helpful and, in some cases, inspired by the Israeli Prime Minister.

Netanyahu celebrated his projected win Tuesday night with scores of supporters who were waving President Trump flags, aware of their longtime friendship. “He’s a great ally and he’s a friend,” Trump acknowledged outside the White House Wednesday. “I congratulate him.” National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has frequently argued for intervention in the Middle east, told Hugh Hewitt Wednesday morning that the administration was pleased with Netanyahu’s projected win, in part because he has been “a steady force in the fight against Iranian aggression”.

However, it may be Israel that is shaping Iranian policy rather than the United States.  Soon after the Trump designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization, Netanyahu thanked Trump and in the Hebrew version bragged it was the Prime Minister’s idea, saying Trump, “answered another one of my important requests.  Since the word “another” implies that another request was granted, many saw the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as that other request.

If this was an attempt by Trump to guarantee that a political ally would continue to be in charge in Jerusalem, he succeeded.  However, the question is what is the cost?  Iran and its Revolutionary Guards range across the Middle East – from Yemen to Lebanon.  While some of these hot spots are already seeing a US – Iran face off, some of these areas are currently peaceful and represent a level of cooperation, not hostility.

This “tit-for-tat” terror designation by both the US and Iran could make a tense situation break out into outright conflict.

As it stands, each side has given its armed forces authorization to target the other as part of a “war on terror.”  Nowhere is that a bigger threat to regional peace that the Strait of Hormuz, where according to Iran’s ISNA news agency Tehran has warned that America’s aircraft carrier, USS John Stennis, should avoid Revolutionary Guard boats.

ISNA reported that Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei tweeted, “Mr. Trump, tell your warships not to pass near the Revolutionary Guards boats.”

Although there have been several incidents between the two nations in the area, none have escalated to the point of a serious exchange of fire.

One concern for US Navy leaders should be the one wargame scenario from a few years ago that had the Iranian forces defeating a US carrier task force by swarming the US warships with IRGC boats.  The problem for the US Navy is that the only way to counter this tactic is for the US ships to open fire long before the IRGC boats get too close.  In that case, the recent designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization could lead to a major mistake as US naval commanders open fire on boats that have no hostile intent.

Not only is this new development a chance for a major escalation that could lead to a major conflict, the designation by both sides, puts American forces at a greater risk while operating in the area.

The 2016 detention of 10 US sailors who strayed into Iranian waters in the Gulf may have gone differently today than it did three years ago.  Today, these sailors could be treated as terrorists and not as soldiers of a national military.  The result could be a trial and even a death sentence.

This was one reason why neither the Bush nor Obama administrations designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, even though there was pressure to do so.  The blowback outweighed the benefits as many leaders of the Revolutionary Guard were already under sanction for overseeing the Iranian nuclear program.

In the “carrot and stick” tactics of American diplomacy towards Iran, the US was running out of sticks.  Without something positive to offer the Iranians, US forces operating in Iraq could be impacted.

The biggest threat to the US is what may happen to its troops, who are scattered across the region.  It makes individual soldiers a tempting target to capture and turn over to Iran for trial – a move that can legitimized by the current International Court’s investigation into possible American atrocities in Afghanistan.

What would the US do?  Trump has made it US policy to get Americans held hostage back.  Would Trump take some military action or try to negotiate a release?  Some military action could only increase tensions much as the actions by the Austro-Hungarian Empire raised tensions in the Balkans prior to the outset of WWI.

In the near term, US policy towards the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will depend on the location and situation.  In Lebanon, where the IRGC is close to factions in the Lebanese government, a “live and let live” policy will likely prevail.  The problem may be curbing Israeli military actions against targets in Lebanon – this being an issue that Trump may ask Netanyahu to show some restraint as a “pay back” for helping him in the recent election.

In Syria, where the Revolutionary Guard has some influence, expect the US to try to encourage Russia to increase their influence to reduce or diminish the power of Iran.

Iraq may be the biggest problem for America as they require Iranian acquiescence to stay there.  However, if conditions deteriorate there, the US may rely more on the Kurds.

Yemen is a place where the new terrorist designation may mean something.  Although US Special Forces are in Yemen, there is some reticence in Washington about having a larger US footprint.

Designation the IRGC as a terrorist organization may mean expanding the US impact in the Yemeni War.  The US could interdict more supplies and American drones could start a full-scale air war against what is perceived to be IRGC targets.

However, it is logical to expect Iran to retaliate and treat American forces in the region is the same way they are being treated.

The vast majority of IRGC operations outside Iran are conventional operations like those of other nations – including the United States.  They patrol the Gulf just as the US, the GCC, and other NATO nations do.  They provide assistance and training to resistance forces – just like the United States.  And, they aid fragile governments that are friendly to Iran – just like the United States.

While the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group helped Trump domestically and Netanyahu politically, there was no benefit militarily or diplomatically.  In fact, it only exacerbated the situation.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Sanctioning Revolutionary Guard as Terrorist Group Will Hit Iran Hard. Here’s Why.
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
April 8th, 2019

In a historic move on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. This is the first time the U.S. has given the designation to part of a government. The designation will enable the U.S. to further ramp up sanctions against Iran’s tyrannical regime under the administration’s “maximum pressure” policy.  The Revolutionary Guard Corps is both the sword and shield of Iran’s Islamic revolution, dating back to 1979. It is charged with attacking Iran’s enemies overseas, supporting Iran’s network of foreign terrorist proxies, and crushing political opposition to Iran’s revolutionary regime at home.

Read more at:
https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/sanctioning-revolutionary-guard-terrorist-group-will-hit-iran-hard-heres-why

America Needs a Bigger NATO to Stymie Russia’s Ambitions
By James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation
April 8, 2019

Europe needs NATO. America needs NATO. You know who else needs NATO? Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader has long used the existence of NATO to justify his antagonism toward the West. Moscow’s aggressiveness, you see, is merely a response to the “threat” NATO poses to Russian security. It’s malarkey, of course – like a burglar claiming it’s your fault he robbed your house because you had the audacity to buy a new TV. Unlike Putin’s Russia, NATO poses no threat of aggression. It is and always has been a purely defensive alliance. Even at the height of the Cold War, NATO harbored no designs on Soviet Russia and its satellites. And once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled without a shot being fired, NATO welcomed new members to the alliance – contributing further to the mutual security of all and the expansion of freedom and democracy in Europe. NATO and the new Russia lived peacefully side-by-side for years, until Putin embraced the fiction that, by increasing its membership, NATO was somehow encroaching on Russia and threatening its security.

Read more at:
https://www.heritage.org/europe/commentary/america-needs-bigger-nato-stymie-russias-ambitions

The Outdated Alliance?
By Doug Bandow
Cato Institute
April 6, 2019

When NATO was formed seven decades ago, the world was very different: The Soviet Union had advanced into Central Europe, and Western European nations were still recovering from World War II. NATO would help them, Secretary of State Dean Acheson warned, but it would not do so forever. When asked if the United States would need “to send substantial numbers of troops over there as a more or less permanent contribution,” he assured Congress that it wouldn’t. Even Dwight Eisenhower, NATO’s first commander and a future U.S. president, presciently warned that such an American garrison could “discourage the development of the necessary military strength Western European countries should provide themselves.” The Europeans eventually did recover but, as predicted, lagged in defense. The United States has for decades demanded that European countries spend more on defense—and they agree, only to inevitably fall short. The process endlessly repeats, teaching each generation of European leaders that no matter how little they do, Washington will defend the continent.

Read more at:
https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/outdated-alliance

Shaping Effective Strategic Partnerships in the MENA Region
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 9, 2019

Speech given by Dr. Cordesman in late March 2019

We need to recognize that there are many different definitions of the Middle East and North Africa – or MENA region. Even a narrow definition of the region indicates, however, that its core consists of at least 18 nations. The United States Census Bureau estimates that this core region will have some 424 million people in mid-2019 – and this is a population divided by nation, language, sect, ethnicity, and tribe It also covers a vast area. It also covers a vast area. The MENA region is over 6,000 kilometers from Casablanca in Morocco to Mashad in Iran, and over 3,000 kilometers from Aleppo in Northern Syria to Aden in Southern Yemen. Each nation has its own history, character, and national security needs. The fact that all generally refer to themselves as “Arab” does not mean that most do not have serious internal tensions, and that there are no divisions between them and their neighbors that impose serious limits on strategic partnerships between countries.

Read more at:
https://www.csis.org/analysis/shaping-effective-strategic-partnerships-mena-region

 

Rubble, Refugees, and Syria’s Periphery
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
March 25, 2019

It is hard to say what “victory” looks like in Syria, but it has seemed for some time that Bashar al-Assad has won one. He controls all of the country’s major population centers, his Syrian adversaries are in disarray, and his regional and international antagonists are no longer contesting his rule. Eight years ago, it seemed unlikely that Assad’s bold bet on repression to defeat a broad-based opposition would work. Even four years ago, before Russia’s military engagement, his position seemed tenuous. While a battle to secure the northwest of the country still looms, the real remaining question is the terms under which his adversaries will lay down their guns. Although Assad is gaining control, his country is in shambles. Cities and infrastructure have been destroyed, and half of all Syrians have been forced from their homes (about one in five forced outside the country). Western governments are betting that Assad’s need to rebuild the country will give them leverage shaping the kind of peace that emerges. Their confidence is misplaced. Instead, they should worry about shoring up allies bordering Syria. In a game of chicken over the future of the Levant, Assad seems willing to wait everyone out, and Syria’s millions of refugees are part of his plan.

Read more at:
https://www.csis.org/analysis/rubble-refugees-and-syrias-periphery

Turkish Democracy Is the Winner in These Momentous Local Elections
By SINAN ÜLGEN
Carnegie Endowment
APRIL 03, 2019

Sunday’s local elections in Turkey resulted in a major setback for the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his ruling alliance. The ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and nationalist MHP coalition lost Turkey’s major cities to an opposition ushering in an era of change at the local level. The political transitions in Istanbul and Ankara are critical given that these cities have been held by Erdoğan’s political “family” tradition since 1994. The loss in Istanbul (now subject to a challenge by the AKP) is also laden with symbolism since the city is linked with Erdoğan’s ascendance to the pinnacle of political power in Turkey. He entered national politics as the young and promising mayor of Istanbul, winning a tight municipal race 25 years ago. So the question is how a hitherto invincible leader and political movement has lost its footing, having been able to consolidate power for such a long time.

Read more at:
https://carnegieeurope.eu/2019/04/03/turkish-democracy-is-winner-in-these-momentous-local-elections-pub-78765

The IRGC Designation Couldn’t Come at a Worse Time for Iran
By Omer Carmi
Washington Institute
April 9, 2019
POLICYWATCH 3101

On April 8, President Trump announced that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be added to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations—the first time Washington has applied this label to another country’s formal government institutions. In recent years, both hardliners and moderates in Tehran have threatened that designating the IRGC in this manner would trigger a harsh response against American forces and interests in the region, and their rhetoric this week has followed suit. But will Iran actually make good on these warnings and respond aggressively to new sanctions?

Read more at:
https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-irgc-designation-couldnt-come-at-a-worse-time-for-iran

Russia and Iran’s Complicated Partnership in Syria
By Yaakov Lappin
American Foreign Policy Council
March 8, 2019

In 2015, Russia formally entered the Syrian conflict, becoming the Assad regime’s second sponsor, alongside Iran. The grounds for that intervention, we now know, were laid at a 2015 meeting between Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.1 Russia’s entry, in turn, marked the start of a complex Iranian approach in Syria – one aimed at utilizing the benefits of Russia’s presence while circumventing potential constraints that this presence could place upon its expansionist agenda.

Read more at:
|https://www.afpc.org/uploads/documents/Iran_Strategy_Brief_No_12.pdf

Analysis 04-12-2019

ANALYSIS

 

U.S. is Increasing Tensions with Iran

Tensions between Iran and the US, which have been simmering for the last 40 years, were raised this week as the US decided to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

Not to be outdone, Iran decided to do the same with the US Central Command.

This new level of confrontation only offers more opportunity for either nation to over react.  In remarks made earlier this week on a Fox News interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the US views Iran’s elite forces just as they do ISIS.

Specifically, Pompeo agreed that the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani is a terrorist on the level of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an interview Monday.  Responding to a question to whether Soleimani is now equated to the “caliphate head’ Baghdadi, Pompeo affirmed, “Yeah. He is a terrorist.”

Pompeo went on, saying, “Qassem Soleimani has the blood of Americans on his hands, as do the forces he leads.”

“Each time we find and organization, institution or an individual that has taken the lives of Americans, it is our responsibility – indeed President Trump’s duty… – to reduce the risk that any American will be killed by Qasem Soleimani and his merry band of brothers ever again.”

While many in the diplomatic community may shake their heads at this, it plays well to American voters, who still have reservations about Iran.  In fact, one of the popular planks of Trump’s presidential campaign was to “get tough” on Iran – including abrogating the nuclear deal that Obama had made with Iran.

It also plays well with Israeli voters and may have helped Prime Minister Netanyahu win what was considered the first serious political challenge to his premiership.  Netanyahu made it clear that Trump’s moves before the Israeli election were politically helpful and, in some cases, inspired by the Israeli Prime Minister.

Netanyahu celebrated his projected win Tuesday night with scores of supporters who were waving President Trump flags, aware of their longtime friendship. “He’s a great ally and he’s a friend,” Trump acknowledged outside the White House Wednesday. “I congratulate him.” National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has frequently argued for intervention in the Middle east, told Hugh Hewitt Wednesday morning that the administration was pleased with Netanyahu’s projected win, in part because he has been “a steady force in the fight against Iranian aggression”.

However, it may be Israel that is shaping Iranian policy rather than the United States.  Soon after the Trump designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization, Netanyahu thanked Trump and in the Hebrew version bragged it was the Prime Minister’s idea, saying Trump, “answered another one of my important requests.  Since the word “another” implies that another request was granted, many saw the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as that other request.

If this was an attempt by Trump to guarantee that a political ally would continue to be in charge in Jerusalem, he succeeded.  However, the question is what is the cost?  Iran and its Revolutionary Guards range across the Middle East – from Yemen to Lebanon.  While some of these hot spots are already seeing a US – Iran face off, some of these areas are currently peaceful and represent a level of cooperation, not hostility.

This “tit-for-tat” terror designation by both the US and Iran could make a tense situation break out into outright conflict.

As it stands, each side has given its armed forces authorization to target the other as part of a “war on terror.”  Nowhere is that a bigger threat to regional peace that the Strait of Hormuz, where according to Iran’s ISNA news agency Tehran has warned that America’s aircraft carrier, USS John Stennis, should avoid Revolutionary Guard boats.

ISNA reported that Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei tweeted, “Mr. Trump, tell your warships not to pass near the Revolutionary Guards boats.”

Although there have been several incidents between the two nations in the area, none have escalated to the point of a serious exchange of fire.

One concern for US Navy leaders should be the one wargame scenario from a few years ago that had the Iranian forces defeating a US carrier task force by swarming the US warships with IRGC boats.  The problem for the US Navy is that the only way to counter this tactic is for the US ships to open fire long before the IRGC boats get too close.  In that case, the recent designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization could lead to a major mistake as US naval commanders open fire on boats that have no hostile intent.

Not only is this new development a chance for a major escalation that could lead to a major conflict, the designation by both sides, puts American forces at a greater risk while operating in the area.

The 2016 detention of 10 US sailors who strayed into Iranian waters in the Gulf may have gone differently today than it did three years ago.  Today, these sailors could be treated as terrorists and not as soldiers of a national military.  The result could be a trial and even a death sentence.

This was one reason why neither the Bush nor Obama administrations designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, even though there was pressure to do so.  The blowback outweighed the benefits as many leaders of the Revolutionary Guard were already under sanction for overseeing the Iranian nuclear program.

In the “carrot and stick” tactics of American diplomacy towards Iran, the US was running out of sticks.  Without something positive to offer the Iranians, US forces operating in Iraq could be impacted.

The biggest threat to the US is what may happen to its troops, who are scattered across the region.  It makes individual soldiers a tempting target to capture and turn over to Iran for trial – a move that can legitimized by the current International Court’s investigation into possible American atrocities in Afghanistan.

What would the US do?  Trump has made it US policy to get Americans held hostage back.  Would Trump take some military action or try to negotiate a release?  Some military action could only increase tensions much as the actions by the Austro-Hungarian Empire raised tensions in the Balkans prior to the outset of WWI.

In the near term, US policy towards the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will depend on the location and situation.  In Lebanon, where the IRGC is close to factions in the Lebanese government, a “live and let live” policy will likely prevail.  The problem may be curbing Israeli military actions against targets in Lebanon – this being an issue that Trump may ask Netanyahu to show some restraint as a “pay back” for helping him in the recent election.

In Syria, where the Revolutionary Guard has some influence, expect the US to try to encourage Russia to increase their influence to reduce or diminish the power of Iran.

Iraq may be the biggest problem for America as they require Iranian acquiescence to stay there.  However, if conditions deteriorate there, the US may rely more on the Kurds.

Yemen is a place where the new terrorist designation may mean something.  Although US Special Forces are in Yemen, there is some reticence in Washington about having a larger US footprint.

Designation the IRGC as a terrorist organization may mean expanding the US impact in the Yemeni War.  The US could interdict more supplies and American drones could start a full-scale air war against what is perceived to be IRGC targets.

However, it is logical to expect Iran to retaliate and treat American forces in the region is the same way they are being treated.

The vast majority of IRGC operations outside Iran are conventional operations like those of other nations – including the United States.  They patrol the Gulf just as the US, the GCC, and other NATO nations do.  They provide assistance and training to resistance forces – just like the United States.  And, they aid fragile governments that are friendly to Iran – just like the United States.

While the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group helped Trump domestically and Netanyahu politically, there was no benefit militarily or diplomatically.  In fact, it only exacerbated the situation.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Sanctioning Revolutionary Guard as Terrorist Group Will Hit Iran Hard. Here’s Why.
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
April 8th, 2019

In a historic move on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. This is the first time the U.S. has given the designation to part of a government. The designation will enable the U.S. to further ramp up sanctions against Iran’s tyrannical regime under the administration’s “maximum pressure” policy.  The Revolutionary Guard Corps is both the sword and shield of Iran’s Islamic revolution, dating back to 1979. It is charged with attacking Iran’s enemies overseas, supporting Iran’s network of foreign terrorist proxies, and crushing political opposition to Iran’s revolutionary regime at home.

Read more at:
https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/sanctioning-revolutionary-guard-terrorist-group-will-hit-iran-hard-heres-why

America Needs a Bigger NATO to Stymie Russia’s Ambitions
By James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation
April 8, 2019

Europe needs NATO. America needs NATO. You know who else needs NATO? Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader has long used the existence of NATO to justify his antagonism toward the West. Moscow’s aggressiveness, you see, is merely a response to the “threat” NATO poses to Russian security. It’s malarkey, of course – like a burglar claiming it’s your fault he robbed your house because you had the audacity to buy a new TV. Unlike Putin’s Russia, NATO poses no threat of aggression. It is and always has been a purely defensive alliance. Even at the height of the Cold War, NATO harbored no designs on Soviet Russia and its satellites. And once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled without a shot being fired, NATO welcomed new members to the alliance – contributing further to the mutual security of all and the expansion of freedom and democracy in Europe. NATO and the new Russia lived peacefully side-by-side for years, until Putin embraced the fiction that, by increasing its membership, NATO was somehow encroaching on Russia and threatening its security.

Read more at:
https://www.heritage.org/europe/commentary/america-needs-bigger-nato-stymie-russias-ambitions

The Outdated Alliance?
By Doug Bandow
Cato Institute
April 6, 2019

When NATO was formed seven decades ago, the world was very different: The Soviet Union had advanced into Central Europe, and Western European nations were still recovering from World War II. NATO would help them, Secretary of State Dean Acheson warned, but it would not do so forever. When asked if the United States would need “to send substantial numbers of troops over there as a more or less permanent contribution,” he assured Congress that it wouldn’t. Even Dwight Eisenhower, NATO’s first commander and a future U.S. president, presciently warned that such an American garrison could “discourage the development of the necessary military strength Western European countries should provide themselves.” The Europeans eventually did recover but, as predicted, lagged in defense. The United States has for decades demanded that European countries spend more on defense—and they agree, only to inevitably fall short. The process endlessly repeats, teaching each generation of European leaders that no matter how little they do, Washington will defend the continent.

Read more at:
https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/outdated-alliance

Shaping Effective Strategic Partnerships in the MENA Region
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
April 9, 2019

Speech given by Dr. Cordesman in late March 2019

We need to recognize that there are many different definitions of the Middle East and North Africa – or MENA region. Even a narrow definition of the region indicates, however, that its core consists of at least 18 nations. The United States Census Bureau estimates that this core region will have some 424 million people in mid-2019 – and this is a population divided by nation, language, sect, ethnicity, and tribe It also covers a vast area. It also covers a vast area. The MENA region is over 6,000 kilometers from Casablanca in Morocco to Mashad in Iran, and over 3,000 kilometers from Aleppo in Northern Syria to Aden in Southern Yemen. Each nation has its own history, character, and national security needs. The fact that all generally refer to themselves as “Arab” does not mean that most do not have serious internal tensions, and that there are no divisions between them and their neighbors that impose serious limits on strategic partnerships between countries.

Read more at:
https://www.csis.org/analysis/shaping-effective-strategic-partnerships-mena-region

 

Rubble, Refugees, and Syria’s Periphery
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
March 25, 2019

It is hard to say what “victory” looks like in Syria, but it has seemed for some time that Bashar al-Assad has won one. He controls all of the country’s major population centers, his Syrian adversaries are in disarray, and his regional and international antagonists are no longer contesting his rule. Eight years ago, it seemed unlikely that Assad’s bold bet on repression to defeat a broad-based opposition would work. Even four years ago, before Russia’s military engagement, his position seemed tenuous. While a battle to secure the northwest of the country still looms, the real remaining question is the terms under which his adversaries will lay down their guns. Although Assad is gaining control, his country is in shambles. Cities and infrastructure have been destroyed, and half of all Syrians have been forced from their homes (about one in five forced outside the country). Western governments are betting that Assad’s need to rebuild the country will give them leverage shaping the kind of peace that emerges. Their confidence is misplaced. Instead, they should worry about shoring up allies bordering Syria. In a game of chicken over the future of the Levant, Assad seems willing to wait everyone out, and Syria’s millions of refugees are part of his plan.

Read more at:
https://www.csis.org/analysis/rubble-refugees-and-syrias-periphery

Turkish Democracy Is the Winner in These Momentous Local Elections
By SINAN ÜLGEN
Carnegie Endowment
APRIL 03, 2019

Sunday’s local elections in Turkey resulted in a major setback for the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his ruling alliance. The ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and nationalist MHP coalition lost Turkey’s major cities to an opposition ushering in an era of change at the local level. The political transitions in Istanbul and Ankara are critical given that these cities have been held by Erdoğan’s political “family” tradition since 1994. The loss in Istanbul (now subject to a challenge by the AKP) is also laden with symbolism since the city is linked with Erdoğan’s ascendance to the pinnacle of political power in Turkey. He entered national politics as the young and promising mayor of Istanbul, winning a tight municipal race 25 years ago. So the question is how a hitherto invincible leader and political movement has lost its footing, having been able to consolidate power for such a long time.

Read more at:
https://carnegieeurope.eu/2019/04/03/turkish-democracy-is-winner-in-these-momentous-local-elections-pub-78765

The IRGC Designation Couldn’t Come at a Worse Time for Iran
By Omer Carmi
Washington Institute
April 9, 2019
POLICYWATCH 3101

On April 8, President Trump announced that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be added to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations—the first time Washington has applied this label to another country’s formal government institutions. In recent years, both hardliners and moderates in Tehran have threatened that designating the IRGC in this manner would trigger a harsh response against American forces and interests in the region, and their rhetoric this week has followed suit. But will Iran actually make good on these warnings and respond aggressively to new sanctions?

Read more at:
https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-irgc-designation-couldnt-come-at-a-worse-time-for-iran

Russia and Iran’s Complicated Partnership in Syria
By Yaakov Lappin
American Foreign Policy Council
March 8, 2019

In 2015, Russia formally entered the Syrian conflict, becoming the Assad regime’s second sponsor, alongside Iran. The grounds for that intervention, we now know, were laid at a 2015 meeting between Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.1 Russia’s entry, in turn, marked the start of a complex Iranian approach in Syria – one aimed at utilizing the benefits of Russia’s presence while circumventing potential constraints that this presence could place upon its expansionist agenda.

Read more at:
|https://www.afpc.org/uploads/documents/Iran_Strategy_Brief_No_12.pdf

Analysis 04-05-2019

ANALYSIS

Another Step Taken in Space Warfare

 

Last week, India became the fourth nation to display their anti-satellite capabilities. This week, satellite imagery of China’s anti-satellite laser center became public (although undoubtedly the major nations had already acquired imagery of the center).

Ironically, India was involved in both incidents.

On 27 March 2019, India announced the successful launch of the India’s first anti-satellite weapon (ASAT).  The interceptor was able to strike and destroy an aging Indian military imaging satellite in a 300-kilometer (186 mi) orbit. The interceptor was launched at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur, Odisha and hit its target, the Microsat-R after 168 seconds. The operation was named Mission Shakti. The missile system was developed by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and is a modification of its ballistic missile interceptor.

With this test, India became the fourth nation with proven anti-satellite missile capabilities. However, India stated that this capability is a deterrent and is not directed against any nation.

Although the US condemned the test for exacerbating the problem of space debris, the debris from the test should burn up in the atmosphere in three weeks.

The test was more than a technological achievement. It sent political messages to both China and Pakistan; both enemies of India.

The ASAT missile was a modification of the Indian Missile Defense System interceptor, which was developed as a protection against Chinese and Pakistani ballistic missiles. This test showed that the Indian Missile Defense program was operational and could conduct successful intercepts – a powerful demonstration to Pakistan, since tensions between both nations have escalated in recent weeks.

It also demonstrated that India could intercept and destroy Chinese and Pakistani satellites if necessary.

The second anti-satellite event of the last two weeks was the release of satellite imagery of China’s anti-satellite laser weapons center in western China.

The story came out days after the Indian ASAT test and was written by a retired Indian Army Colonel Bhat. This raises the question if Col. Bhat timed the article to defend India’s decision to test its ASAT weapon.

The satellite imagery shows how advanced the Chinese laser ASAT program is. The Monitor consulted with an independent satellite imagery expert (who wishes to be anonymous) conducted its own analysis and discovered some mistakes made by Col. Bhat and additional information that he did not see. We will summarize below some of the important finding.

Col. Bhat noted, “In terms of satellite tracking, Chinese technology has grown in leaps and bounds. There are now many space tracking stations dotted all over the country – like Ngari, Tibet – which provide accurate data about satellites to be targeted.”

“Once the accurate satellite path and other data is known, directed energy weapons located at 5 different places can take over the task. One such facility is in Xinjiang.”

Satellite image of the Chinese directed Energy Weapon (DEW) site. Arrows point to buildings with sliding roofs.

Previous reports have inaccuracies like the laser using neodymium, which is only used in less powerful lasers. In this case, the Chinese use the most powerful laser known, the chemical laser.

The Chinese weapon system appears to be technologically like the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) that was developed by the US and Israel. In fact, a review of Chinese scientific papers shows considerable research on chemical lasers and their fuels.

Originally, the design aim of the THEL system was to provide a point defense weapon which was capable of engaging and destroying short range rockets like Katyushas, artillery shells, mortar rounds and low flying aircraft. However, it can reach out much further and damage satellites in low orbit.

These chemical lasers – frequently called “Cowboy Lasers,” by American military testers are powerful, but have major technical problems that the Chinese have chosen to ignore. The Chinese chemical laser system was probably built around a deuterium fluoride chemical laser operating at a wavelength of 3.6 to 4.2 micrometers (Mid-Wavelength Infrared, also called thermal infrared). The weapons system burns ethylene in Nitrogen Trifluoride gas, which is then mixed with deuterium and helium, to produce the excited deuterium fluoride lasing medium. This gas is then fed into expansion nozzles like that of other chemical lasers.

This system uses the most energetic chemical formula and produces laser energy in a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is transparent to laser energy.

However, there are problems. Since the exhaust of this laser is hazardous to humans, a complex exhaust system must be used to absorb and neutralize the highly corrosive and toxic deuterium fluoride exhaust gas.

Traditional lasers did not have the potential of chemical lasers because they generate too much heat during operation.

The sign that the Chinese are using chemical lasers with toxic fuels can be seen on the left-hand side of the satellite image, where one can see a round storage tank surrounded by a security fence. This is where the toxic fuel is stored before being transferred to the building via pipeline.

On the other side of the building, one sees an air duct coming out of the building and going into a smaller structure that probably contains a fan to extract the spent, toxic gases. An air duct then goes into another building, where the toxic fumes are probably scrubbed.

Some of the same facilities are also seen between the two other buildings just to the right of the one in the graphic above.

Given the technological advances of the Americans in the field of chemical lasers, we can assume that the Chinese have developed and fielded chemical lasers with megawatt power levels. At close range, they can burn through armor and are capable of damaging satellite sensors at a long distance.

Given the large radius roads that allow movement by large articulated trucks, and the roads coming out of both sides of the buildings, these lasers are probably on a mobile trailer that can be towed by a large truck. Although the sliding roof means they could be fired from the building, it appears that they are designed to be deployed to remote sites – probably via the dirt road heading out of the lower edge of the image.

These lasers are not designed to “kill” a low orbit satellite. Rather, they are designed to damage sensors and blind them.

The satellite image also indicates that the Chinese are not ignoring electric powered lasers. One can see electrical power lines appearing in the upper, center part of the image and going to an apparent transformer set between two of the buildings.

Although China, India, Russia, and the US have a proven ASAT capability, it is likely that other nations have the same potential. Israel, which has a high-level ballistic missile defense system like India could modify some of its missiles to shoot down low orbiting satellites. And, there are several European nations that possess the capability.

Although India spoke of a treaty to limit such weapons in space, there is every likelihood that the number of nations fielding ASATS will only grow soon.

 

 

Analysis 03-26-2019

ANALYSIS

 

Venezuela – What are Trump’s Options?

When newly elected Brazilian President Bolsonaro visited President Trump this week, one of the subjects was the crisis in Venezuela.  First stop was an unprecedented visit to the CIA for a “briefing” on Venezuela. Then it was off to a visit with Trump, where the US president promised at the least a path to NATO membership for the South American country.

This was an interesting response to a country that had made it clear a month ago that they wanted no part in an invasion of its neighbor Venezuela.

Obviously, many nations are looking at the US to solve the problem.  However, instituting a peaceful transfer of power to a democratically elected regime is much harder than some neocons think (Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples).

But the US is clearly upping the pressure on Venezuela’s leaders.  Last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the last of the US diplomats out of Venezuela, saying their presence was a “constraint” on US policy toward the country. The wording seemed intended to convey the idea that the US is about to launch military action to place the Washington-backed, Juan Guaido to the presidency. Was it just bluster, designed to intimidate? Or is the Trump Administration about to invade another country?

While US Administrations engaged in “regime change” have generally tried to mask their real intentions, this attempted coup is remarkable for how honest its backers are being. Not long ago the National Security Advisor to the president, John Bolton, openly admitted that getting US companies in control of Venezuelan oil was the Administration’s intent.

Then there is the suspiciously-timed nationwide power failure which devastated Venezuelans.

But, if all of this is an American attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s government, it isn’t going well.

According to media reports, Vice President Mike Pence is angry with the Venezuela coup leader, Juan Guaido, because he promised the whole operation would be a cake walk. Guaido said hundreds of thousands of protesters would follow him to the Colombian border to “liberate” US aid trucks just over the border, but no one showed up. So, a story was crafted that Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s thugs burned the aid trucks to prevent the people from getting relief from their suffering. Now it appears that this story was false.

Obviously, many are asking if the US is behind the take-down of Venezuela’s power grid.  It would not be the first time the CIA pulled such a move, and US officials are open about the US goal of making life as miserable as possible for average Venezuelans in hopes that they overthrow their government.

Congress has to this point been strongly in favor of President Trump’s “regime change” policy for Venezuela. Sadly, even though recent bipartisan American foreign policy of interventionism has proven disastrous (from Iraq to Libya to Afghanistan, to Syria) both parties in Congress continue to insist they will get it right this time.  The only opposition is to insist that Trump get congressional approval first.

So is President Trump about to attack Venezuela? At a recent US House hearing, one of the expert witnesses testified that such an invasion would require between 100,000 and 150,000 US troops, going up against maybe three times that number of Venezuelan troops in a country twice the size of Iraq.

But, is a massive invasion of Venezuela the only option?  Not really.  Here are the options that Trump has:

Massive American Invasion.  Contrary to some of the experts, the US doesn’t need a massive force to effectively control Venezuela.  The US has a mobile, well supplied, professional army with decades of combat experience.  The Venezuelan Army is poorly supplied, poorly fed, dispirited, and, except for some pro-Maduro forces, unlikely to put up a fight.

If the US invaded with its airborne divisions and a Marine amphibious force (and token South American forces to give it an “international” look), it could take the key areas of Venezuela in less time than it took to invade Iraq.  Of course, the problems would be the same as those faced by US forces in post-invasion Iraq.  Pro-Maduro forces could head to the hills and jungles and carry out a guerilla war for years.

The political fallout from such a move would be disastrous.  Even countries that oppose Maduro and the current regime would condemn the US.  Domestically, it would give Democrats a target for the 2020 presidential campaign.

Clearly, this isn’t the best option.

Special Forces to train and Assist Venezuelan Anti-Government Forces.  This could be called the “Syrian Option.”

The US could find and support a guerrilla force that could eventually overthrow Maduro.  However, as we saw in Syria, the challenge is finding a force that isn’t politically radical but has the will to win a civil war.

As we saw in Syria, US Special Forces would not only train the rebels, they could engage in clandestine combat missions and even direct covert air attacks by American aircraft.

The problem is that the US could end up with a policy failure just as we see in Syria, where Maduro remains in power, thanks to the intervention of American enemies like Russia, Iran, and China.

Send Arms and Humanitarian supplies.  This is the current policy.  It is also the American policy that led to success in the Soviet invaded Afghanistan.

However, the US faces the same problem as faced in sending Special Forces – trying to discover who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  In the case of Afghanistan, the US supplied arms to people like Bin Laden, only to face him after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan.

Economic Sanctions.  Economic sanctions do not lead to the overthrow of governments as witnessed by Cuba, Iran, and North Korea.  They will not cause the overthrow of Maduro.

The problem facing the US in Venezuela is that, despite the privations, the Venezuelans have failed to rise up in sufficient force to overthrow the current government.

Currently, the US is trying to impose sanctions that threaten the government but limit the damage to Venezuelans.  For instance, Citigroup is planning to sell tons of Venezuelan gold that was used as collateral for a loan.  The excess, which should be returned to the Venezuelan government, will be deposited in a New York bank instead.

Maduro has shown that he intends to stay in power, and he has enough military support to ignore the large demonstrations in the streets of Caracas.  In that case, the political opposition like Guaido need more than the support of several countries to achieve a change of government.  They need a military force of Venezuelans with the will to oppose the current regime.

Although the Venezuelan military has experienced some low level of desertions, these soldiers haven’t appeared to coalesce into an opposition army.  Nor does it appear that Guaido has the charisma to inspire the creation of an opposition army.  And, no matter how much the US may want it, the Maduro regime will remain in place unless the opposition reaches a critical mass of military power to force Maduro to give up and leave the country.

This limits the options for the US.  A massive American invasion could force the regime change, but the political cost would be great, and the chances of long-term success would be the same as Afghanistan and Iraq.  Halfway measures offer the same problems as seen in Syria.

The only route to success is to find a Venezuelan leader that has the political savvy and charisma to unite the Venezuelan people to overthrow Maduro, but no one has stepped or found yet, it may not appear at all.

In other words, real regime change goes through Venezuela, not Washington.

 

PUBLICATIONS

India and Pakistan: Living on Borrowed Time

By Jeff M. Smith
Heritage Foundation
March 11, 2019

If there’s one conclusion to draw from the recent crisis in India-Pakistan relations, it’s this: We’ve been living on borrowed time. The latest episode in their longstanding dispute over Kashmir confirms that we have entered a new, more volatile chapter in bilateral relations, one in which the world can no longer expect India to respond with unquestioned restraint to future provocations from its neighbor. To avoid a disastrous escalation in the future, the world will have to redouble its efforts to end the scourge of state-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan.  On February 14, Indian forces suffered the deadliest-ever single attack in Kashmir, the territory disputed by the nuclear-armed antagonists since Partition in 1947. Delhi’s response was unprecedented. On February 26, for the first time this century, Indian fighter jets struck deep inside Pakistani territory, targeting camps operated by the notorious terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The group, perpetrator of several prior attacks in India, had claimed responsibility for the bombing that killed over 40 Indian soldiers.

Read more at:
https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/india-and-pakistan-living-borrowed-time


Mind the Gap: The Foreign Policy Disconnect between Washington and America

By A. Trevor Thrall
Cato Institute
March 18, 2019

During the Cold War, Washington’s foreign policy establishment operated comfortable in the knowledge that sizeable majorities supported vigorous American global leadership in the struggle with the Soviet Union. More recently, however, many observers have started worrying about the growing disconnect between the Washington’s elites and the public. The scholar Walter Russell Mead argued in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece that the most important question in world politics today is “Will U.S. public opinion continue to support an active and strategically focused foreign policy?

The answer is a qualified yes. Americans on balance remain committed to international engagement but advocates of the status quo are right to worry because Americans increasingly disagree with Washington about how to engage the world.

Read more at:
https://www.cato.org/blog/mind-gap-foreign-policy-disconnect-between-washington-america

Russia and Iran’s Complicated Partnership in Syria

By Yaakov Lappin
American Foreign Policy Council
March 8, 2019

In 2015, Russia formally entered the Syrian conflict, becoming the Assad regime’s second sponsor, alongside Iran. The grounds for that intervention, we now know, were laid at a 2015 meeting between Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Russia’s entry, in turn, marked the start of a complex Iranian approach in Syria – one aimed at utilizing the benefits of Russia’s presence while circumventing potential constraints that this presence could place upon its expansionist agenda.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/uploads/documents/Iran_Strategy_Brief_No_12.pdf

War by Proxy: Iran’s Growing Footprint in the Middle East

By Seth G. Jones
Center for Strategic and International Studies
March 11, 2019

Tehran wields influence in the Middle East through its use of non-state partners, despite renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran and a U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Iran’s economic woes have not contributed to declining activism in the region—at least not yet. If anything, Iranian leaders appear just as committed as ever to engagement across the Middle East using irregular methods. According to data collected and analyzed in this brief, there has been an increase in the overall size and capability of foreign forces that are partnered with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), Iran’s paramilitary organization responsible for foreign operations. The IRGC-QF’s partners are in countries like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Iran is also attempting to establish land corridors across the region and increase its ability to move fighters and material from one theater to another.

Read more at:
https://www.csis.org/analysis/war-proxy-irans-growing-footprint-middle-east-0

U.S. Foreign Policy for the Middle Class: Perspectives from Ohio

By SALMAN AHMED and KARAN BHATIA, et. al.
Carnegie Endowment
December 10, 2018

All U.S. administrations aim to conceive foreign policies that protect and enhance Americans’ safety, prosperity, and way of life. However, views now diverge considerably within and across political party lines about whether the U.S. role abroad is adequately advancing the economic well-being of the middle class at home. Today, even as the U.S. economy is growing and unemployment rates are falling, many households still struggle to sustain a middle-class standard of living. Meanwhile, America’s top earners accrue an increasing share of the nation’s income and wealth, and China and other economic competitors overseas reap increasing benefits from a global economy that U.S. security and leadership help underwrite.

Read more at:
https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/12/10/u.s.-foreign-policy-for-middle-class-perspectives-from-ohio-pub-77779

The Decline of Deterrence

By Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.
Hudson Institute
March 12, 2019

Since the end of World War II, the United States has relied on deterrence as the centerpiece of its defense strategy. This emphasis endures in the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. Yet as this study shows, the strategic environment in which deterrence must function has changed dramatically and continues changing. Moreover, some lessons that we thought had emerged from our Cold War experience regarding the robustness of deterrence strategies have proven false. Similarly, some critical assumptions regarding how rationally humans behave when making decisions under conditions of risk have been overturned by advances in the cognitive and behavioral sciences. Deterrence involves efforts to prevent a competitor (the object or “target”) from pursuing a proscribed action.

Read more at:
https://www.hudson.org/research/14871-the-decline-of-deterrence

Are Israeli Politics Dooming Kushner’s Peace Push?

By David Makovsky
Washington Institute
March 19, 2019
Politico

The Israeli attorney general’s 55-page preliminary indictment linking Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to three charges of corruption may create collateral damage: President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan. Until now, many had assumed that Netanyahu would win Israel’s election on April 9 and the long-awaited Trump plan—an effort to make what the U.S. president has described as “the deal of the century”—would be put forward shortly afterward. Given the close relationship between Trump and Netanyahu, it seemed a certainty that the plan’s overall contours would suit the Israeli premier even if he might object to some of its components. Hopes have never been high, whether in Washington or the Middle East, that Trump would be able to reach a breakthrough where many American presidents have not. And yet this novice president has persistently instructed aides to pursue this effort even as regional leaders and pundits all over have panned his peace push as unrealistic, one-sided, ill-timed, or worse.

Read more at:
https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/are-israeli-politics-dooming-kushners-peace-push

Analysis 03-15-2019

America’s Hollow Military: Losing in war -games to Russia and China

Last week saw another sign of American military strength and technological superiority.   The USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), a 16,000-ton, next generation, guided missile destroyer with advanced stealth technology, left its homeport of San Diego for its first operational period at sea.

“The Zumwalt is designed for stealth,” said Captain Carlson, the ships commanding officer.  “This aids her role as a multi-mission surface combatant and improves the fleet commander’s options for delivery of naval combat power”

The ship is larger than the currently operating Arleigh Burke destroyers and produces enough power to fire electrically powered weapons like directed energy weapons.

The ship is also armed with 80 missiles.

As impressive as that sounds, the fact is that despite having the largest military budget on earth, the US is falling behind in military power and technology.  In fact, recent war-gaming shows that the US would lose conflicts with either China or Russia.

RAND analyst David Ochmanek, who was involved in the war-gaming said, “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, Blue (the US) gets its ass handed to it.”

Much of the problem is due to the shortsighted and changing priorities of the US military since the end of the Cold War.

The end of the Cold War saw the US with a large conventional military designed to fight the Soviet Union across the plains of Europe.  With 9-11, the focus shifted rapidly to a military with cheaper and lighter armored vehicles that were ideal for insurgency, but vulnerable in a conventional war.  These vehicles were also able to be quickly deployed to Third World nations with limited transport infrastructure.  Meanwhile, American tanks were mothballed.

It wasn’t just the US Army that was focusing on insurgency.  The US Navy moved from its traditional “Blue Water” naval strategy and began to focus on ships that would fight near the shore and support ground forces.

The US military also started focusing on Special Forces, who were ideal for insurgency warfare, but too small in numbers for a conventional ground war in Europe.

However, as the US withdraws from battlefields in the Middle East and begins to look at the growing threat of China and Russia, the weapons mix in the American military is out of sync with the current threat.

What the War-games Show

 The RAND Corporation’s annual ‘Red on Blue’ war-game simulation found that the United States would be a loser in a conventional confrontation with Russia and China.

The RAND Corporation think tank in Santa Monica, California has hosted annual “Red on Blue” war-game simulations since 1952. The exercise purpose is to understand how the United States represented by ‘Blue’ can counter ‘Red’ adversaries. By modeling how adversaries could use of asymmetric strategies or weapons, Pentagon planners are forced to deal with unfamiliar threats. The goal is educating the military on how to formulate strategies for training and response for emerging threats and capabilities.

RAND’s ‘America’s Security Deficit’ released on March 7 found that despite spending $700 billion a year on an array of superweapons including stealth aircraft and aircraft carriers, the U.S. forces “suffer heavy losses in one scenario after another and still can’t stop Russia or China” from overrunning U.S. allies in the Baltics or Taiwan.

The primary assumptions of the war-games were that the United States fights Russia in the Baltics region and it battles China for Taiwan. In an overview of the war-games work done by RAND, Ochmanek said: “We lost a lot of people, we lose a lot of equipment, we usually fail to achieve our objectives of preventing aggression by the adversary.” He added, “Within 48 to 72 hours, Russian forces are able to reach a capital of a Baltic country.” In a comment to Fox News, he suggested that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would be a military risk for China, but that would not stop it from prevailing. Ochmanek also added another threat is missiles from the enemies. “… salvos that are so great that we cannot intercept all the missiles.”

How did the US go from Strength to Weakness?

US military policy has been whipsawed by politics for the last thirty years.

After the USSR suffering a financial collapse in 1991, the U.S. military was rated as omnipotent.  The result was defense spending cutbacks and a major growth in NATO membership.

RAND highlights that the post-Cold War expansion of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact members in Eastern Europe and Baltic States created undefined U.S. security obligations. Coupled with China’s economic success funding a rapid offensive military modernization, America now faces “vulnerabilities in U.S. power-projection capabilities.”

Many of the U.S. high-tech weapons systems acquired over the last two decades have value. But weapons deployed to big land bases and giant aircraft carriers are now vulnerable to Russian and Chinese advances in long-range precision-guided missiles.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who has decades of RAND war-gaming experience, recently warned: “In every case I know of, the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

Work cautioned: “Whenever we have an exercise and the Red Force really destroys our command and control, we stop the exercise” because it is exceedingly difficult to lead from a command post with blank screens and radio static.”

Ochmanek identifies the growing “Red” arsenals of “smart” weapons as an existential threat to “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructure like runways.  Fuel tanks are going to have a hard time.” Regarding the wisdom of building $13 billion carriers, “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.”

The RAND study also found that huge Army supply bases and the NATO Brigade Combat Teams across Europe are virtually undefended from cruise missiles, drones, and helicopters, “because the Army largely got rid of its mobile anti-aircraft troops.”

“If we went to war in Europe, there would be one Patriot battery moving, and it would go to Ramstein. And that’s it,” said Work.  The US have 58 brigade combat teams in Europe, but no anti-air and missile defense capabilities to handle a barrage of missiles from Russia.

RAND also war-games cyber and electronic attacks by the Russians and Chinese.  The scenarios show both countries crippling the US communications networks.

The RAND study specifically focus on the need to invest about $24 billion in missiles to shoot down ‘Red’ offensive missiles, aircraft, and drones. A short-term fix would include buying lots of the Army’s new Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD) batteries — Stinger missiles mounted on Stryker armored vehicles. Unfortunately, the Stryker is one of the new generation of armored vehicles that is ideal for insurgencies but very vulnerable to Russian armored vehicles.

The long-term response requires investment in lasers, railguns, and high-powered microwaves to shoot down incoming missiles.

RAND complimented the Trump administration’s 2020 defense budget proposal that plans a decades-early retirement of the USS Harry Truman carrier and cuts two amphibious landing ships. Money is being reinvested in ground-based air and missile defenses, plus the rollout of Marine Corps F-35 jump-jets that can take off from tiny ad hoc airstrips.

The good news for the US is that China and Russia haven’t finished their military modernization.  That means the biggest threat is 10 to 20 years down the road.  If the US military starts to reprioritize, it can reduce the risk.

The US also has a large, mothballed tank force that could be reactivated and sent to Europe – providing they can acquire the manpower to operate and maintain them.

RAND suggests moving away from large, fixed or slow-moving targets that are vulnerable to hypersonic missiles or missile barrages.

Ironically, some of the strategies are like those employed by NATO in the early Cold War years.  The US Marine Corps strategy of relying on F-35 jump jets is reminiscent of the British decision to build and deploy the Harrier jump jet.  It was designed to operate on roads or small open areas in a wartime scenario, where the airfields have been destroyed.

Jump jets also can be deployed to civilian container ships just as the British turned the civilian ship, Atlantic Conveyor, into an “aircraft carrier” during the Falkland Islands War in 1982.  This tactic makes it harder for the Chinese or Russians to totally destroy carrier-based aircraft in a conflict.

However, new strategies are frequently disliked by bureaucracies and those in control.  For instance, the Marine Harrier jump jet has always been opposed by the US Navy for fear that it may mean cutbacks in aircraft carrier production.  Senior Naval admirals are frequently pilots and former aircraft carrier captains and the idea of placing jump jets on small ships rather than a large carrier is an anthemia to them (just as pilotless drones are opposed by senior Air Force officers).

In the end, the US needs more than new equipment.  Its senior officers, who grew up fighting insurgency war in the Middle East, must change their thinking to cope with a new type of warfare.

Then they must sell the idea to the politicians.

Analysis 03-08-2019

ANALYSIS

“The Democrat’s Anti-Trump Strategy – Looking towards 2020

Although the Senate’s probe into the alleged Trump-Russian collusion reported that both Democrats and Republicans found “no collusion,” and it appears that the Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report will find no smoking gun evidence that Trump and the Russians colluded, Democrats are still pursuing the impeachment will-o-the-wisp.

For Democrats, who based their 2020 presidential campaign on Trump’s guilt, there appears to be a concerted effort in Democratic circles to redefine the battlefield, no matter what Mueller’s verdict may be on Russian “collusion.”

Time Reporter Renato Mariotti explained the Mueller report this way, “Mueller’s report will almost certainly disappoint you, and it’s not his fault. It’s your fault for buying into Trump’s false narrative that it is Mueller’s’ job to prove “collusion,” a nearly impossible bar for any prosecutor to clear.”

Despite banking on the report in the past, Democrats appear to be moving beyond it as a foundation for impeachment.  Earlier this week, on ABC News, George Stephanopoulos asked House judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler “Do you think the president obstructed justice?”
Nadler’s response was unambiguous, “Yes, I do. It’s very clear that the president obstructed justice.”

On Meet the Press, Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner said, “lawmakers have found enormous evidence of possible collusion between President Trump’s orbit and Russians during that election…what we already know is bad enough.”

Although many think the House Democrats have taken the first step in removing Trump from office, the constitutional restraints still make impeachment and conviction nearly impossible.

Although the Democratic controlled House of Representatives make articles of impeachment an easy hurdle, with a simple majority of representatives voting in favor of it, the route through the Senate is much harder.

In order to convict Trump, 2/3 of the Senate must vote to convict – an unlikely scenario as the Republicans control the Senate.  It would take a total collapse in Trump’s current approval ratings to convince Republican senators to abandon the president (a recent Quinnipiac poll shows 59% of Americans oppose the impeachment of Trump).

Another factor in Trump’s favor is Senate minority leader Schumer’s difficulty in finding top quality candidates to run against vulnerable Republican senators.  It seems that several potential candidates, who were governors, are more interested in running for president.  This makes vulnerable Republican Senators more likely to support Trump in the lead up to the election.

What all this means that taking the impeachment route is next to impossible.  Which raises the question, “what are the Democrats doing to get rid of Trump?”

Why is Nadler, who heads the committee in the House that originates articles of impeachment, not moving forward with impeaching President Trump right now?  Nadler’s talk with ABC was the clearest indication yet that Democrats have decided to impeach Trump and are now simply doing the legwork involved in making that happen.  And that means the debate among House Democrats will be a tactical one — what is the best time and way to go forward — rather than a more fundamental discussion of whether the president should be impeached.

Other House Democrats are sending similar messages – that the process of impeachment is more important than the reason for it.   “There is abundant evidence of collusion,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Calif), said on CBS Sunday.


Impeachment or Death from a Thousand Cuts?

While Washington debates the need to impeach Trump, the anti-Trump grassroots is already starting its campaign.  Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer is setting his sights on two of President Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders in Congress: Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina.

Steyer’s Need to Impeach PAC is launching a week-long TV ad campaign in districts currently held by the two GOP members of the House oversight committee — one week after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, presented evidence to the committee of alleged criminal conduct committed by the president.

The new ads are the latest turn in Steyer’s effort to impeach Trump, which began in 2017. Need to Impeach decided to target Jordan and Meadows after their comments at the Cohen hearing.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Democratic plan is coming into sharper relief.  The impeachment decision has been made even though the House committees have yet to receive any evidence supporting articles of impeachment.

Various committee chairs are moving forward in gathering and organizing the formal justification for removing the president. The timing decision is still up in the air, as is an overarching communications plan — selling impeachment to the American public, or more specifically those Americans who don’t already support impeachment…whatever the stated rationale, impeachment is on.

The Democratic strategy according to the internet site Axios is not to push impeachment over the next year-plus, but rather to execute a slow-bleed of politically damaging charges of potential crimes over that time span. The idea would be to cripple and overwhelm Trump’s presidency all the way up to Election Day, then let the voters oust him from office.

“The smart play is to do what they’re doing, launching an open-ended investigation that will dig up plenty of dirt on Trump and grind on to Election Day next year,” the website Hotair insists. “Instead of passing articles of impeachment and seeing them die in the Senate, they’re probably going to produce a Democratic counterpart to the Mueller report, laying out everything they find in gory detail and publishing it next summer so that the Democratic nominee and the media have a treasure trove of opposition research to use against Trump.”

A sign that the Democrats will be aggressive is the news that Chairman Schiff has hired two prosecutors from the Southern District of New York to pursue the Trump-Russia case.  He maintains Trump’s interest in building a tower in Moscow led Trump to curry Putin’s favor.

One of the newly hired prosecutors is former NBC News legal analyst Daniel Goldman – an outspoken critic of President Trump – as senior adviser and director of investigations.

The problem for Schiff, however, is that the Senate, the House, and Mueller have investigated the Trump-Russia link and come up with nothing concrete.

In that case, what would be the reason for impeaching Trump?  Nadler intimated it in the ABC interview: President Nixon was threatened with impeachment for obstruction of justice. President Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice.

There’s a political reason for avoiding the Trump-Russia charges.  The heart of these claims is based on a shady and unverified Clinton/DNC opposition research document.  It has impacted the political landscape but will not erode Trumps popularity within his base at this point in time.


Will the Democratic Strategy work?

Interestingly, not all Democrats agree that Nadler’s sprawling, open-ended investigation is a smart move.  Many remember that the Republicans took a similar tack against Clinton in 1998 and lost seats in Congress in a midterm election that they should have won.

Former Obama advisor David Axelrod warned, “Maybe I’m missing something, but the hazard of an omnibus document demand by House judiciary versus discreet, serial ones is that, however legitimate the areas of inquiry, the wide-ranging nature of it is too easily plays into the “witch-hunt” meme.”

Alan Dershowitz famed attorney and Trump defender warned Tuesday that House Democrats may have gone “too far” and could face lawsuits for allegedly abusing their oversight powers.

“Congress has a legitimate oversight function to perform but it has to make sure it doesn’t go too far. It can’t use that oversight function, which is really designed to help get legislation, in order to really prevent a president from finishing out his terms and acting. They’re interfering with the executive branch if they do so,” Dershowitz said on Fox News.

“A balance has to be struck between the legitimate function of Congress to investigate,” Dershowitz said. “The framers didn’t intend for Congress to become another prosecutorial branch, yet another investigative branch, they’re supposed to pass laws. So, it seems to me these investigations look like they’re going too far.”

There is also a serious question if the Democrats accusations are actually illegal. The Wall Street Journal said this week, “A president cannot obstruct justice when he takes actions that are consistent with his Article II powers under the Constitution.  That includes firing inferior executive branch officers such as Mr. Comey.”

The House Judiciary Committee may also find itself hard pressed to get the evidence they want as it appears that the White House and associates of Trump will use the same tactics that Obama used against the Republican Congress.  Michael Caputo, a former aide with the Trump campaign who was interviewed on Fox News on Wednesday afternoon, has already told the committee he does not have any relevant records and that he “does not plan to testify in front of the panel.”

The Democrats are also facing a president with higher ratings.  President Trump’s approval ratings continue to climb, as this week he reached his highest average approval rating since the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October.

Trump’s RealClearPolitics average approval rating, which aggregates data from several well-known polls, has the 45th President at an average approval rating of 44.4 percent Tuesday. His highest average approval was 46 percent, just after his inauguration in January of 2017. The average rating has hovered between 44 and 46 percent for most of his presidency, despite two years of accusations about colluding with the Russians.

According to an NBC/WSJ poll, Democrats are also having a crisis of character. When asked whether it was more important that the 2020 Democratic Party nominee can beat Trump, or whether the voter agreed with the nominee’s policies, only 40 percent responded by saying that beating Trump was more important.

If most voters don’t think defeating Trump is important, the chances that they will win next year are slight.

The PJ Media website condensed the polling data this way:

“Trump is beginning to display a Reaganesque vision of optimism and confidence that has always appealed to Republican voters.”

“But the 2020 presidential race is…going to be decided, like these things always are, by the relative health of the economy and the large vision of the future the different candidates put forward. As the economy continues to expand (however anemically compared to historical averages) and he continues to avoid credible charges of impeachable offenses, Trump is becoming sunnier and sunnier while the Democrats are painting contemporary America as a late-capitalist hellhole riven by growing racial, ethnic, and other tensions. National elections over the last decade have not been a battle for “moderates.” Barack Obama created a hyperpartisan political culture that Donald Trump is only exploiting for his own benefit and will tap into in order to win in 2020.”

“There is no “center” in American politics anymore. Elections are won or lost based on how many of your partisan supporters you can get to the polls by any means. Trump’s sky-high numbers among Republicans is a sign that he is in pretty good shape going into the campaign that will begin in earnest next fall.”

 

PUBLICATIONS


Problem-Plagued Pakistan Faces Incredible Challenges Beyond Rivalry With India
By James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation
March 7, 2019

Pakistan fears two things more than war with India: pressure from Washington and indifference from Beijing. In the latest round of tit-for-tat fighting with India, Pakistan saw a bit of both – more evidence that the country may be heading for the strategic dead-end of South Asia geo-politics. That’s not the best outcome for Pakistan or the United States. Islamabad and New Delhi have been rivals since the partition of India created Pakistan in 1947. Their enmity wasn’t dampened when both sides got nuclear weapons in the 1980s.But some things have changed. Today India sees Pakistan in its rearview mirror. India is focused on its role as an Indo-Pacific power and a rising global economic player.

Read more at:
https://www.heritage.org/global-politics/commentary/problem-plagued-pakistan-faces-incredible-challenges-beyond-its-rivalry

Let’s Withdraw from Afghanistan, and Learn the Hard Lessons
By John Glaser
Cato Institute
March 5, 2019

A new joint resolution introduced in the Senate calls on the executive branch to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan within one year. President Trump has already expressed a desire to draw down, and with negotiations with the Taliban showing promising signs, it seems America’s longest war is coming to an end. However, politics always lag substantially behind reality. While polls show public support for withdrawal, much of Washington opposes bringing the war to a close. Policymakers must face some hard truths on Afghanistan. We lost. The core of our nation-building mission in Afghanistan has failed. We have not been able to pacify the Taliban insurgency, nor have we created a viable democratic government that can maintain order without external support. The Taliban now hold more territory, about half the country’s districts, than at any point since 2001. Last year marked the highest recorded number of civilian deaths since 2009.

Read more at:
https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/lets-withdraw-afghanistan-learn-hard-lessons

Don’t Allow McConnell to Thwart Vote on Yemen
By Christopher A. Preble
Cato Institute
March 4, 2019

Last week, before Michael Cohen and the collapse of U.S.-North Korea talks in Hanoi, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a House resolution cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen would not have “privileged” status in the Senate, due to unrelated language that had been inserted at the 11th hour. This means that the measure’s supporters are unable to force a vote and pass it with a simple majority. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) plan to reintroduce a resolution similar to one they sponsored (with Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut) last year, and hopefully it will be voted on this week. But the delay means that U.S. involvement in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, threatens millions more, and undermines American security and values, will continue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has previously tried to block efforts at ending American involvement in foreign wars, and it is reasonable, therefore, to suspect that he was behind this latest move. But he’s hardly the first GOP leader to employ such methods.

Read more at:
https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/dont-allow-mcconnell-thwart-vote-yemen

Looking Beyond Syria and ISIS: America’s Real Strategic Needs in the Middle East
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
February 28, 2019

When Secretary of Defense James Mattis left the Pentagon, he was quoted as describing Washington as a “strategy free zone.” Secretary Mattis was all too accurate in noting the lack of effective United States strategies and strategic planning. However, he misstated the core problem that has affected virtually every key aspect of U.S. strategy since the end of the Cold War. Washington has always had something that at least masqueraded as a strategy, even if it has almost always been little more than a broad concept or goal tied to short-term efforts that only addresses a fraction of the key issues involved. Washington’s real problem is not that it is a “strategy free zone.” It is rather that is has become a “wrong strategy zone.”

Read more at:
https://www.csis.org/analysis/looking-beyond-syria-and-isis-americas-real-strategic-needs-middle-east

Analysis 03-01-2019

ANALYSIS

What Happened at the Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi?

 

The mood of the meeting went from optimistic on Wednesday to collapse on Thursday.  Trump said, “There were several options but this time we decided not to do any of the options. Sometimes you have to walk”

In short, the disagreements centered around how much sanctions relief NK would get in return for ridding itself of nuclear infrastructure.

While North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, travelled back to Pyongyang to report to the generals, security police commanders, and other members of the governing elite on what happened, North Korea held an unusual press conference.

During a midnight news conference that was ostensibly intended as a debriefing, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho contradicted Trump’s narrative about what prompted him to abruptly walk away from the talks in Vietnam.

According to Ri, the North offered a “realistic proposal”: In return for partial sanctions relief (Trump claimed that Kim had demanded “all sanctions lifted in their entirety” presumably including both US and UN sanctions). Namely, that Kim had proposed the dismantling of its plutonium and uranium processing facilities at Yongbyon in the presence of US experts, in exchange for partial relief.

General Vincent Brooks (Army retired), former commander, U.S. Forces Korea said “It’s another step in diplomacy. The United States did not get the disclosure it wanted…I think this is a clear indication of where we are and how many more steps there have to be. Remember, this is a country that doesn’t know anything about trust.”

Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer praised Trump on the floor of the Senate for walking away instead of accepting an inferior deal that would have made the US less safe in the long run.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, “It’s good the president didn’t give him anything for the little he was proposing…Diplomacy is important; we all support it.”

The Washington Post explained the difficult issues this way:

“Trump said Kim promised he would not conduct missile launches or test nuclear weapons.  And he said Kim was willing to close the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Complex, the site of North Korea’s main nuclear reactor and its only source of plutonium to make bombs.  But Trump said other covert facilities to enrich uranium had not been offered up.”

“Trump zeroed in on sanctions as the key sticking point in his talks with Kim.

“It was about the sanctions,” he said.  “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.  They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.” …

“Chairman Kim and myself, we want to do the right deal.  Speed is not important,” he said.”

“And Kim said he was ready to denuclearize, at least in principle.  “If I’m not willing to do that, I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said through an interpreter.”

“Asked if he were confident that the pair would reach a deal, Kim was equally guarded.

“It’s too early to tell.  I won’t prejudge,” Kim said in reply to the question from a Washington Post reporter, a rare response from a North Korean leader.  “From what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come.”

Kim also promised that he would not resume nuclear and missile tests – the basis for the detente between the two countries – and Trump said he would take Kim at his word.

It is clear from The Washington Post reporting and Kim’s language that the talks didn’t collapse into a refusal to proceed.  Both leaders remained cordial and continue to affirm their mutual goal of getting to a deal.

What few noted was that this was also the first time a North Korean leader has ever faced a press conference with Western media asking questions.

“Walking Away” as a Negotiation Ploy

Trump signaled that he is not in a hurry for a deal — any deal — at the expense of getting a less than satisfactory result.  He set the expectation that, while optimistic about eventually getting to his goal of denuclearization, it might be a longer process than the short timeframe the media would prefer.

It’s also important to remember that “walking away” from negotiations is an important part of getting a deal satisfactory to both sides.  President Reagan walked out on the Reykjavik Summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in October 1986 – while being ridiculed for walking out by the same media attacking Trump today.

After the negotiations broke down without a final agreement, Reagan wrote that he left the meeting knowing how close they had come to achieving his long goal of eliminating the threat of nuclear destruction, and that this was the angriest moment of his career.

Reykjavik was a critical event that eventually led to a deal between the two super powers.  A year after Reykjavik the U.S. and Soviet Union signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), for the first time eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons.  The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed a few years later during President H.W Bush’s term.

Many Trump’s supporters asserting none of this progress would have been possible without the willingness to walk away when it appeared that a deal wasn’t the cards.

In the end, any deal between the US and North Korea must be able to receive the support of a majority of people – the ruling elite and people in North Korea and the congress and voters in the US.  In the case of the US-Soviet agreements, they had to pass muster with the Senate.  If Reagan hadn’t been willing to walk away, he would have been forced to go to the Senate with a deal that would have likely been rejected by the Senate.

This process isn’t limited to the US.  Kim faces the same problems in North Korea.

What’s Next?

Trump supporters and few of Washington pundits rushed to praise him and cover his failure to reach an agreement. They advanced the notion that many people wrongly assume that because North Korea is an absolute dictatorship, Kim can do anything he wishes, and his putative subordinates will go along with it.  Contrary to American perceptions, North Korea isn’t a kingdom with Kim sitting as an absolute monarch.  They are claiming that the young leader depends on the loyalty of the commanders of troops and police who have the weapons that could overthrow him and install someone more to their liking. They conclude that this threat is why he had his half-brother assassinated at Kuala Lumpur Airport.  But if the military and security force commanders see an existential threat to their survival in power, they could still overthrow Kim and install another leader, finding grounds to claim legitimacy.

They assert that when Kim returns to Pyongyang, he must deliver the message that Trump won’t settle for anything less than what he demands.

They are hoping that Kim did take note of Hanoi while there.  Half a century ago, Hanoi was an enemy of the US.  Today it is experiencing economic growth and is a key part of Asia’s attempt to curb Chinese ambitions.

The thinking in the administration circle is in Making some sort of deal with the US promises to give North Korea some flexibility in its international relations.  Currently, NK is dependent on China for economic and foreign policy support.  It relies on China for the majority of its food, heavy equipment, and fuel.  In fact, 90% of NK’s international trade is with China.

However, if NK can make a deal with the US, it can loosen its economic ties to China and improve its relations with South Korea and Japan.

However, the first step is to rid itself of its nuclear infrastructure.  That will eliminate the sanctions and encourage investment from other nations.  Then, finally after 70 years, NK can join the community of nations.

That is undoubtedly an attractive scenario for Kim – but will it be attractive to the other leaders in North Korea?

Trump continues to assert that pressure has brought Kim to the verge of abandoning his nuclear weapons, or “denuking,” as Trump calls it. For Trump, Kim must give everything up and then accept Trump’s promises of generosity.

Kim, by contrast, believes that the successful tests of thermonuclear weapons and ICBMs that can strike the United States have forced Trump to come to him, offering to end the sanctions. To make Kim’s rule and his possession of the bomb more palatable, he has declared an end to nuclear and missile tests and is willing to offer a variety of gestures that mimic disarmament. The world must live with North Korea’s bomb, but Kim won’t rub it in anyone’s face.

 The Washington post concluded:” This is not a difference in perspective that can be fudged with careful phrasing. One side must give on the core question of whether North Korea’s isolation can end before it undergoes nuclear disarmament. Since it would be utter madness to try to topple a nuclear-armed dictator, it seems obvious which side should yield: Trump and the national security community in Washington must abandon the broad, bipartisan consensus that North Korea must disarm before anything else. This is, after all, what nuclear weapons do. They trap us together with our enemies, like scorpions in a bottle, creating a shared danger that compels us to work together to advance our mutual interest in survival.”

When President Richard M. Nixon opened relations with China, he did not demand that Mao Zedong abandon the bomb. Mao would simply have refused, and the historic moment would have been lost. Trump faces the same fundamental choice.

Analysis 02-22-2019

ANALYSIS

Putin Threatens U.S. over INF Weapons

The already tense relations between Russia and the US grew colder this week.  The threats included naval maneuvers, political rhetoric during Russia’s State-of-the-Nation speech, new weapons systems, and arrests of a prominent American investor in Russia.

In the latest indicator of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West, the Russian Navy is reportedly shadowing an American warship, the USS Donald Cook, as it transited the Dardanelles Strait on Tuesday.

The US ship is in route to its second Black Sea deployment in under a month and fourth since the dangerous Kerch Strait incident.

There were also threatening words in addition to military maneuvers in Putin’s first major public address since the US formally pulled out of the INF arms-control treaty.  The INF Treaty bans medium range ground launched missiles with a range of 310 to 3,400 miles.  Both sides have accused each other of violating the treaty at one time or another.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Wednesday that Russia would point its new arsenal of hypersonic missiles – which can purportedly defeat NATO’s ABM systems – directly at the US if it dares to reintroduce ground-based intermediate-range missiles to Europe.

The announcement comes after the US said it would withdraw from a key Cold War era arms treaty over what it said were Russian violations, prompting a similar move from Moscow.

“Russia does not intend to be the first to deploy such missiles in Europe,” Putin said during the annual state of the nation address.

“If (the US) develops and deploys them in Europe… this will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, creating serious threats to Russia,” he said.

According to Fox News, Putin threatened to deploy Russia’s new Zircon missiles, which Putin said can fly at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 620 miles and are part of the country’s drive to upgrade its defensive capabilities against an increasingly hostile environment with the US and NATO.

Putin also took a few moments to praise Russia’s weapons program, comparing the new Avangard hypersonic missile to the 1957 launch of Sputnik-1, the world’s first manmade satellite, which was built by the Soviet Union. The weapon has demonstrated that Russia has the technological capabilities to surpass the US, according to RT.

And in another warning that will likely aggravate the US defense community, Putin revealed that Russia has been carrying out successful tests of its Burevestnik cruise missile and the Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone.

“It seemed until recently that Russia can’t make a breakthrough in defense technologies.  But we made it,” Putin gloated.

Though Russia won’t deploy weapons preemptively, Putin said that if the US does place weapons in Europe, Russia will deliver an “asymmetric” response and target not only the host countries of those weapons, but “decision-making center” in the US (presumably Washington).

Still, Putin said he’s hoping the US and Russia can work out their differences.

“We don’t want confrontation, particularly with such a global power as the US.”

With the US and Europe reportedly close to agreeing on a fresh raft of sanctions against Russia, Putin saw these moves as a “destructive” US policy of targeting Russia.

Hypersonic weapons aren’t the only new technologies that Russia is developing.  Russia unveiled a “Kamikaze” drone at the IDEX-2019 arms show in the United Arab Emirates.

The Drone, called the KYB UAV is a precision suicide drone manufactured by the Kalashnikov Group, which also manufacturers the world-famous AK-47 assault rifle.  The drone can travel at speeds of 50 – 80 miles per hour with a 6.6-pound warhead and a flight duration of up to 30 minutes.

The Kalashnikov Group has also started shipping the Kalashnikov AK-103, a third-generation assault rifle, to Saudi Arabia.

 

Naval Maneuvers

However, the biggest threat to peace is where US and Russian military units are in proximity and mistakes can lead to war.

The Russian navy is reportedly shadowing an American warship, the USS Donald Cook, as it transits the Dardanelles Strait.

A US Navy statement confirmed that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer began transiting the strait on Tuesday on a mission to conduct what it called “maritime security operations” and to “enhance regional maritime stability” with NATO allies and partners in the region. According to Russia’s TASS news agency “the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s guard ship Pytlivy tracked the US vessel’s movements at the time.”

Meanwhile, America is showing a shift in military thinking as it changes the focus of its military training.

For the first time in decades, the US Marine Corps is spending more time training in snow and winter conditions, a shift from the focus on desert training that has been the priority for the past thirty years.  This is due to a realization that probable threats like Russia, China, and North Korea have long, cold winters and as the US withdraws from the Middle East, there is less chance of fighting in a desert environment.

 “We haven’t had to deal with these things. We’ve been very focused on Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen, head of the Marines’ Training and Education Command. “What we really have to do is wake folks up, expose them to things that they haven’t had to think about for quite a while.”

 

Political Arrests?

One of Russia’s most respected American investors, Michael Calvey has been arrested, even though he has good relations with the Russian government and has been investing in Russia for a quarter of a century.

The arrest has sent a panic amongst other foreign investors in Russia as they worry that they could be arrested by the FSB (the successor to the KGB), especially if a business dispute occurs.

Calvey had been one of the few investors who chose to retain their Russian businesses after 2014 embargos on Russia caused by the hostilities with the Ukraine.

The American investor was arrested after a fellow stockholder in a Russian bank accused him of striping the bank of its assets.

The arrest has prompted investors to shy away from Russian stocks and securities in recent days.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first arrest of a prominent American in Russia.  Less than two months ago, Russia arrested Paul Whelan, a 48-year-old former US Marine, who was involved in private security services.  He was arrested meeting with a Russian citizen in his room at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.  He has been accused of spying on Russia.

Many think that the circumstances under which he was arrested, and the American response indicated he was actually spying on the Russians for the Americans.

Many experts think both Americans might be bargaining chips for Moscow to ensure the return of Maria Butina, who plead guilty for trying to establish unofficial lines of communication with groups in Washington.

 

The Russian Strategy

So, why the increasing hostility with Washington currently?  With the Special Prosecutor due to end his investigation of Trump’s relationship with Russia and probably finding little evidence of collusion, it would make more sense for Moscow to use this period to repair relations.

The theme that Russia controls Trump has tended to hurt relations as Trump is forced to take a harder line with Russia to avoid any charges that he is favoring Putin.  That is one reason that after two years in office Trump hasn’t had any serious summit meeting with Putin – a historical staple of American and Russian (or Soviet) diplomacy since the Cold War.

It also seems that Russia is starting to focus more on China according to a Politico editorial.  The editorial noted, Moscow just isn’t interested in the continent [Europe] anymore.” It’s now “All about China.”

The author, Bruno Maceas, argues that Moscow is no longer pursuing European integration following sanctions and the unraveling of the INF treaty.  Meanwhile, China is more willing to jeopardize its relations with the US because Russia doesn’t pose an economic threat as the US does.

From Putin’s point of view, Russian-Chinese hegemony would end the American led global order and force Europe to look to the East for economic advantages.

 

The Trump-Russia Investigations

The wild card in the US-Russian relations is the Special Prosecutors report on Trump-Russian collusion, which is expected to come out in the near future and could determine US-Russian relations for the next decade.

Although the bipartisan Senate report found no evidence of collusion and Muller hasn’t been able to indict anyone on colluding with the Russians, the outcome of the report will have a major impact on future American-Russian relations.

If, as many expect, there is little to tie Trump with the Russians, it will free Trump’s hands and he can work towards having a summit with Putin, where many of these issues can be negotiated and possibly be solved.  Putin, in a verbal acknowledgement that he preferred peace said, “We don’t want confrontation, particularly with such a global power as the US.”

Putin also shared a concern of Trump’s that other countries could continue to develop weapons that were banned for the US and Russia under the INF treaty.  This opens the possibility of a multilateral INF treaty if Trump has the political maneuverability to work with Russia and China to craft such a deal.

However, if there is evidence of collusion, Trump will be forced to maintain an antagonistic relationship with Russia.  He will also find much of his time taken up in defending himself against possible attempts to remove him from office.

No matter what, some of Trump’s opponents will try to keep the Russia story going, especially going into the next presidential election in 2020. However, as American voters are growing tired of the collusion claims of the last 2 ½ years, they will have little impact, unless new evidence comes out.

PUBLICATIONS

Pompeo’s Tough Diplomacy on Display in Europe

By Helle C. Dale

Heritage Foundation

February 21, 2019

Europeans routinely complain about being neglected by U.S. administrations. As much as Europeans doted on then-President Barack Obama, he indeed treated them with benign indifference, taking their support for granted. But now, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo having made his way through their capitals last week, Europeans have gotten a taste of a new and tougher style of engagement that is making some bristle.

Pompeo had several priorities to cover: Re-establishing the close relationship between the United States and Central Europe, which the George W. Bush administration had nurtured so successfully in the early years of the 21st century. Pressing Europeans against doing business with Iran, which they persist in, even after the Trump administration walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. Warning of the influence of Russia and China, as they seek to exploit and deepen differences between the United States and Europe. Pompeo’s five-day visit, begun on Feb. 11, focused on reinforcing U.S. relations with Central Europe, with stops in Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. A lack of U.S. engagement in the region under Obama opened the door to Chinese and Russian investment and influence.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/europe/commentary/pompeos-tough-diplomacy-display-europe

Beyond Algeria’s Presidential Election

By Haim Malka

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 13, 2019

More than 100 candidates have declared their interest in running for president when Algeria heads to the polls on April 18. They range from a former general to an Islamist politician to a housewife. Despite the buzz over old and new faces, all eyes are fixed on one man: 81-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The president, who suffered a stroke in 2013, recently announced that he would seek a fifth term as president. His supporters argue that only Bouteflika has the credibility to lead the country. Opposition figures charge that he is too sick to continue performing his presidential duties and that he is being manipulated by people in his inner circle to further their own agendas. The focus on one candidate, however, is a distraction from Algeria’s bigger challenges. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who wins Algeria’s next presidential election. What matters for Algerians and the country’s partners is whether Algeria’s powerbrokers—the military, presidency, and influential business clans—can build a consensus on how to address widespread socioeconomic grievances while maintaining public security and stability.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/beyond-algerias-presidential-election

Welcome to the Hypersonic Arms Race

By Richard M. Harrison

American Foreign Policy Council

January 19, 2019

These days, with Capitol Hill divided and at odds with the White House, the opportunities for political compromise seem dimmer than ever. However, all concerned can still agree that an emboldened Russia and increasingly aggressive China represent a threat to the national security of the United States, and to the safety of our allies. So it should be troubling to both sides of the aisle that these two nations are rapidly developing weapons against which the United States currently has no defense. According to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude, and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities. There are no existing countermeasures.” Indeed, hypersonics represent a very real and rapidly maturing threat.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/publications/articles/welcome-to-the-hypersonic-arms-race

Planning for Failure: The US Withdrawal from Syria

By Aaron Stein

Foreign Policy Research Institute

February 14, 2019

Last week, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported that the United States military will begin to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria with the end of April as a “soft date” to finish the removal of most (if not all) of the 2,000 troops stationed there. In parallel, Ambassador James Jeffrey, the Special Representative for Syria, is engaged in negotiations with Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Kurdish-led partner force that has borne the brunt of the U.S.-led ground war against the Islamic State, to try to manage the U.S withdrawal. After President Donald Trump announced in mid-December that the Islamic State had been defeated, the United States military has sought to catch-up with the president’s rhetoric and finish the fight against the small and sparsely populated Islamic State territory in a small sliver of eastern Syria. The challenge is that the United States military may begin its withdrawal from Syria before it reaches agreement with Turkey and the SDF for a self-described safe zone. The start of the U.S. withdrawal is likely to hasten non-American diplomatic efforts to fill the void the coalition leaves behind. However, it does not appear that American diplomatic goals are being narrowed to secure minimum U.S. interests, risking a messy withdrawal without agreement on key issues with the various stakeholders in Syria’s northeast.

Read more at:

https://www.fpri.org/article/2019/02/planning-for-failure-the-u-s-withdrawal-from-syria/

Seeing Red: Trade and Threats Shaping Gulf-Horn Relations

By Elana DeLozier

Washington Institute

February 15, 2019

POLICYWATCH 3079

Alongside the perceived U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, the emergence of new economic opportunities and security threats in the Red Sea has apparently spurred Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to draw closer to their neighbors in the Horn of Africa. This underdeveloped, populous area represents a clear economic opportunity for the Gulf, while the African states welcome the financial and infrastructure investment. Ideally, all nine states along the Red Sea—Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—would benefit from cooperation and coordination, but conflicts between regional players risk further destabilizing some of the more fragile states that flank the waterway. The United States should increase its diplomatic efforts to facilitate cooperation, stave off conflict, and support its allies in the area.

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/seeing-red-trade-and-threats-shaping-gulf-horn-relations

Iran’s Shift to a More Offensive Posture Could Be a Sign of Weakness

By Farzin Nadimi

Washington Institute

February 7, 2019

POLICYWATCH 3073

In the post-9/11 era of regional military interventions, Iran sought to deter invasion by adopting a defensive strategy with a “threat-centric” asymmetric approach. This strategy entailed focusing on its own vulnerabilities and how enemies might exploit them, developing suitable means to detect and respond to imminent threats. Over time, however, the regime appeared to question the efficacy of this approach, especially after President Trump assumed office and pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal. Last year’s deadly Islamic State terrorist attack in Ahvaz—for which Tehran blamed the United States and its regional allies—added to the air of uncertainty, as did Israel’s numerous military strikes against Iranian activities in Syria. Today, Tehran’s rhetoric and actions indicate that its defensive threat-centric posture may be giving way to an offensive “target-centric” paradigm.

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/irans-shift-to-a-more-offensive-posture-could-be-a-sign-of-weakness

Analysis 02-08-2019

ANALYSIS

Trump’s 2019 State of the Union Speech

Undoubtedly the framers of the US Constitution had no idea that the constitutionally mandated State of the Union Message would one day become such a political event.

The 2019 SOTUS event was no different.  Aside from the political wrangling about when and where it would be held,

the one-week delay in the speech only helped President Trump.  According to polling done by CBS news, three out of four Americans liked the speech and 71% now believe there is a problem at the southern border.  The polling showed that while the Democrats remain skeptical, Trump made serious inroads with the all-important independent voters who usually decide elections.

Parts of the speech was surprisingly conciliatory and bipartisan.  In fact, Speaker of the House Pelosi at one time even had to signal to her backbenchers to stand and applaud the president.

Trump’s attempted to sound bipartisan.  He said, “The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda. It is the agenda of the American people.”

 “Many of us campaigned on the same core promises: to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers; to rebuild and revitalize our Nation’s infrastructure; to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs; to create an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern and secure; and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.”

The speech highlighted three areas: fair trade, immigration, and foreign policy.

The foreign policy part of the speech had no new initiatives.

Although Congress is pushing legislation to prevent Trump from leaving Syria and Afghanistan, the president made it clear he intended to continue the withdrawal.  He stated, “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

He outlined the cost to the US since 9-11.  “Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years. In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion in the Middle East.

Trump made it clear it was time to leave.  “When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers.”

 “Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”

He added, “In Afghanistan, my Administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism. We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”

These comments contrasted with an earlier vote by the US Senate that conflicted with the Trump policy of withdrawal.

In a bipartisan 77 to 23 votes, the Senate passed and sent to the House the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act,” which includes a provision from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell warning against a “precipitous” withdrawal of troops from the area.

 “It would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell said of his provision to the bill on the Senate floor last week.

The rest of the bill, sponsored by Florida Republican Marco Rubio, would impose new sanctions on Syria’s bank and those supporting Syria’s government while increasing military aid to Israel and Jordan. It also includes a controversial measure that divided Democrats, which would allow states and local governments to refuse contracts to entities involved in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement that seeks to punish Israel.

Although the legislation warned of a “precipitous withdrawal,” it didn’t have the force of law – probably because an attempt by the US Congress to force US troops to stay in Syria and Afghanistan would be politically and legally fraught with danger.

If the Congress tried to keep US forces in these two countries and something happened that took American lives, Congress would find itself being blamed.

Second, the US Constitution makes it clear that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the US military and in charge of foreign policy.  Any attempt by Congress to direct the conflicts or decide the troop levels in Syria and Afghanistan would probably be found unconstitutional in the courts.

The only legislative tool available to Congress would be to declare war on ISIS and the Taliban – a very unlikely option since the US Congress has avoided declarations of war since WWII.

The result is an innocuous “warning” that allows Congress to say, “I told you so” without facing any consequences.

Trump also made it clear that Iran remained a major threat.  The president said, “My Administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror: the radical regime in Iran.”

 “To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. And last fall, we put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”

Although they weren’t mentioned, this made it clear that countering Iran would remain US policy whether it was in Yemen or Venezuela.

While Iran remains a major concern for Trump, he made it clear that there is progress with North Korea.  Trump noted, “As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months. If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed. Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one. And Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.” Trump’s claims about war with South Korea was met with criticism as one of his self-congratulation gestures.

In one change, an organization that has frequently been criticized by Trump was praised in the SOTUS.  Trump praised the nations of NATO by noting, “We are also getting other nations to pay their fair share. For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by NATO — but now we have secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies.”

Trump also added two points of interest for NATO nations – missile defense and the INF treaty with Russia that Trump has pulled out of.  He said, “As part of our military build-up, the United States is developing a state-of-the-art Missile Defense System.”

He also accused Russia of violating the INF treaty in the past.  He said, “For example, decades ago the United States entered into a treaty with Russia in which we agreed to limit and reduce our missile capabilities. While we followed the agreement to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms. That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty.”

 “Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.”

No statement received widely differing responses as Trump’s comments in reference to events in Venezuela.  He said, “We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.”

What was controversial was what he said next – eliciting verbal shouts of approval from some, while receiving stony silence from others.  Trump veered from Venezuelan socialism to talk of American socialism, “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

Trump used support for Israel as a wrap up to his speech.  He said, “My Administration recognized the true capital of Israel — and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem.”

In reference to Iran, he said, “We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people. We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”

He went on to mention the attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue and recognized two guests who were survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.  Then mentioning the rescue of these and other concentration camp survivors by American soldiers in 1945, he closed with an appeal to American greatness.

 “Why did they do it? They did it for America — they did it for us.”

 “Everything that has come since — our triumph over communism, our giant leaps of science and discovery, our unrivaled progress toward equality and justice — all of it is possible thanks to the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before.”


Conclusion

In the end, what did the SOTUS accomplish?

There weren’t any dramatic legislative initiatives in the speech.  Everything mentioned by Trump had been covered in previous campaign events.

No doubt, Trump’s popularity will take a bump up – for a little while.  State of the Union speeches always help the president for a week or so before they are forgotten by most voters.

Although more conciliatory and bipartisan than campaign speeches, he refused to back down where there has been a difference of opinion between the Democrats and him.  He made it clear he was pulling American forces out of Syria and Afghanistan, despite any congressional votes.  He also repudiated the drift towards socialism by many in the Democratic Party.

In the end, it will go the same way as previous SOTUS events – drama beforehand, only to be quickly forgotten afterwards.

 

PUBLICATIONS

The Way Forward for the United States in a Post-INF World

By Thomas Callender

Heritage Foundation

February 1, 2019

After five years of failed attempts to get Russia to return to compliance with its Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty obligations and verifiably destroy its 9M729 missile system, the United States officially announced its intentions to withdraw from the treaty. While the U.S. should continue to encourage the Russian government to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, in parallel, it should develop and field new low-yield nuclear weapons as well as improved conventional ground-based cruise missile systems and cruise missile defenses. These actions would better deter Russian use of low-yield nuclear weapons and better defend America’s NATO allies from Russian cruise missile threats.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/arms-control/report/the-way-forward-the-united-states-post-inf-world

The President Understands Afghanistan: It Is Time to Just Leave

By Doug Bandow

Cato Institute

February 4, 2019

As he began his presidency Donald Trump had the right idea about Afghanistan: “Let’s get out.” However, he surrounded himself with conventional thinkers who thwarted his wishes and refused to provide him with withdrawal options. After two years of additional, unnecessary American deaths, he apparently again is pushing for troop cut-backs. Perhaps for this reason, administration officials are negotiating with the Taliban seeking a peace agreement that will allow an American pullout. The Kabul government, which purports to be both an essential U.S. ally and legitimate representative of the Afghan people, is on the outside looking in. Nevertheless, progress supposedly has been made. But who will hold the Taliban to its promises, the president’s hawkish critics ask? Whatever the treaty’s terms, enforcement would require a continued U.S. military presence. Once American troops go home, they won’t return, absent overwhelming need. Saving the Kabul authorities won’t count. Thus, if the administration fulfills the president’s wish to pull out America’s 14,000 military personnel, the ability to hold the insurgents to their promises will disappear. That doesn’t matter. The troops should come home. Quickly and permanently.

Read more at:

https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/president-understands-afghanistan-it-time-just-leave

Finishing Strong: Seeking a Proper Exit from Afghanistan

By Daniel F. Runde and Earl Anthony Wayne

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 6, 2019

A precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would endanger many of the social, political, economic, and health gains that have been achieved in Afghanistan over nearly 20 years. Afghanistan has a myriad of problems, including corruption, violence, and poverty, but these challenges often overshadow improvements in mortality rates, media and cellular access, tax collection, and women and girls’ education and political freedoms, among others. To prevent these gains from dissipating, the international community should encourage the Afghan government to meet certain governance benchmarks and continue on its path to self-reliance. The United States and its international allies should also consider a gradual withdrawal of troops, funding for the Afghan security forces, and economic assistance, based on a timeline that reflects facts on the ground and progress on peace negotiations.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/finishing-strong-seeking-proper-exit-afghanistan

Welcome to the Hypersonic Arms Race

By Richard M. Harrison

American Foreign Policy Council

January 19, 2019

These days, with Capitol Hill divided and at odds with the White House, the opportunities for political compromise seem dimmer than ever. However, all concerned can still agree that an emboldened Russia and increasingly aggressive China represent a threat to the national security of the United States, and to the safety of our allies. So, it should be troubling to both sides of the aisle that these two nations are rapidly developing weapons against which the United States currently has no defense. According to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude, and maneuverability may defeat most missile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities. There are no existing countermeasures.” Indeed, hypersonics represent a very real and rapidly maturing threat. These systems fall into two categories: hypersonic cruise missiles, which are propelled by jet or rockets, and hypersonic boost-glide vehicles that are launched from a ballistic missile. These highly maneuverable missiles can carry conventional or nuclear payloads and can travel at more than five times the speed of sound.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/publications/articles/welcome-to-the-hypersonic-arms-race

Trump’s Foreign Policy Critics Are Losing

By Walter Russell Mead

Hudson Institute

February 5, 2019

Is President Trump losing control of the foreign-policy agenda? Last week the administration suffered a stinging political defeat as the Senate voted 68-23 to advance a bill that criticizes his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. This comes on the heels of Congress’s refusal to accede to Mr. Trump’s demands for further funds to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border and the Senate’s December vote to end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s operations in Yemen. It is now clear the president’s foreign-policy and national-security approach faces increasing and often bipartisan congressional opposition. Yet the White House shows no sign of backtracking. Far from meeting his critics halfway, Mr. Trump and his foreign-policy team announced progress in Afghanistan negotiations that opponents call a surrender, doubled down on plans to withdraw troops from Syria, announced its impending withdrawal from an arms-control agreement many consider foundational to the post-Cold War security order in Europe, and attacked the judgment of his senior intelligence officials. The administration also advanced an aggressive hemispheric strategy aimed not only at Venezuela, but also at Cuba and Nicaragua—the other two regimes in what national security adviser John Bolton calls the “troika of tyranny.”

Read more at:

https://www.hudson.org/research/14800-trump-s-foreign-policy-critics-are-losing