Analysis 06-27-2014

ANALYSIS

 

 

What Middle East Hot Spots Could Cause Another World War?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strait of Hormuz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coup Against one of the GCC Nations

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

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

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

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

Iraq, Syria, and ISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurdistan

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

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

Collapse, Coup, or Assassination of Assad

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

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

Elsewhere in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

FYSA: For Your Situational Awareness

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

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 24, 2014

Newsletter

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

Read more

 

A-10 vs. fighters and bombers

By Mackenzie Eaglen

American Enterprise Institute

June 25, 2014

The Hill

 

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

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The Economics of Egypt’s Rising Authoritarian Order

By Amr Adly

Carnegie Endowment

June 18, 2014

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

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Liberal Attitudes and Middle East Realities

By Michael Bell

German Marshall Fund

June 25, 2014

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

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Moscow’s Afghan Endgame

By Richard Weitz

Hudson Institute

June 25, 2014

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

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

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Iraq’s House of Cards: The Primary Mission

By Robin Wright

Wilson Center

June 23, 2014

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

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

By Matthew Levitt and Nadav Pollak

Washington Institue

June 25, 2014

PolicyWatch 2277

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

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-20-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Defending Iraq and Stopping ISIS

What Can America Do?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

America: Stay out of Iraq

By Benjamin H. Friedman

Cato Institute

June 13, 2014.

National Interest

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

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Iraq and Global Oil Markets

By Frank A. Verrastro and Sarah O. Ladislaw

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 18, 2014

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

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

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Hoping for Trouble in Iraq

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 17, 2014

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

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To Beat ISIS, Exploit Its Contradictions

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

June 17, 2014

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

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

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

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Jordan Has a Jihadi Problem Too

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

June 13, 2014

American Interest

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

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-13-2014

ANALYSIS

 

The Collapsing American President

 

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

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

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

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

The White House Prison

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

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

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

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

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

The Obama Personality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future

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

Can he recover?  Probably not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Afghanistan and Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Worst Case Wars

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

June 10, 2014

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

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

By Marc Thiessen

American Enterprise Institute

June 10, 2014

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

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

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Syria’s Very Local Regional Conflict

By Yezid Sayigh

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

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

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Iran: Syria’s Lone Regional Ally

By Karim Sadjadpour

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

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

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An Israeli Perspective on Syria

By Ariel (Eli) Levite

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

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

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Regional Spillover: Lebanon and the Syrian Conflict

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

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

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Gulf Calculations in the Syrian Conflict

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

June 9, 2014

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

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Turkey’s Uphill Battle in Syria

By Sinan Ülgen

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

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

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The Costs of U.S. Restraint in Syria

By Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

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

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Russia’s Interests in Syria

By Dmitri Trenin

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

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

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Moving Beyond China’s Confident Rhetoric on Syria

By Paul Haenle

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

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

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The European Union’s Concerns About Syria

By Marc Pierini

Carnegie Endowment

June 10, 2014

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

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

By Michael Knights

Washington Instutute

June 10, 2014

PolicyWatch 2265

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

 

 

 

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 06-06-2014

ANALYSIS

 

NATO – Revision 2.0

 

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

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

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

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

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

NATO’s Shifting Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And modernization by these countries…..

Is This Enough?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

 

President Obama Goes to Europe: Top Five Policy Recommendations

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

Heritage Foundation

June 4, 2014

Issue Brief #4234

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

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

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

June 3, 2014

Issue Brief #4233

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

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Our Freeloading Allies

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

May 29, 2014

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

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

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Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony H. Cordesman and Sam Khazai

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 30, 2014

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

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NATO’s land forces: Losing ground

By Guillaume Lasconjarias

American Enterprise Institute

June 4, 2014

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

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Assad’s Election: A Security Quest

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

June 2, 2014

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

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Can the EU Revive the Cause of Middle East Peace?

By Dimitris Bouris and Nathan J. Brown

Carnegie Endowment

May 29, 2014

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

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

By Richard Outzen

Washington Institute

June 2014

Research Notes 19

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

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Egypt After the Election: Advancing the Strategic Relationship

By Michael Singh

Washington Institute

May 30, 2014

PolicyWatch 2259

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

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

By Seth G. Jones

RAND

June 2014

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

Read more

 

 

 

 

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 30-05-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Is Obama Pivoting to Foreign Policy – Again?

 

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

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

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

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

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

Defending Obama’s Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Future Direction?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this a Real Pivot or a Rhetorical One?

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

Report

By Stephanie Sanok Kostro

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 28, 2014

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

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

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 28, 2014

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

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

By John R. Bolton

American Enterprise Institute

May 28, 2014

The Wall Street Journal

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

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A Russian Strategy for Afghanistan After the Coalition Troop Withdrawal

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

Carnegie Endowment

May 22, 2014

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

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Israel and the Middle East: Seeking Common Ground

Panel

German Marshall Fund

May 26, 2014

Video

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

Read more and watch video

 

 

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

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

Washington Institute

May 2014

Policy Notes 18

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

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 23-05-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Iron Beam – Analyzing Israel’s Next Anti-Missile System

 

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and about 1,000 American soldiers are holding a biennial exercise to test joint their abilities to respond to missile attacks.  The exercise, termed Juniper Cobra, will include simulations of various threats to Israel’s home front, including various missile attacks.

The American troops, who belong to the United States European Command, are designated to reinforce Israel’s anti-ballistic defense systems in case of an attack.  The US force also includes two American ships in the Mediterranean equipped with the Aegis Combat System, which can intercept missiles.

With the addition of the Aegis equipped American naval vessels, Israel is undoubtedly the most thoroughly protected nation against missiles.  Israel also has the US made Patriot missile.  In addition, it also has fielded several other antiballistic missile systems including Arrow 2, Arrow 3, and the Iron Dome.  It will also soon field David’s Sling, which will be able to intercept every missile threat that the Patriot is capable of and overlap some of the capabilities of the Arrow and Iron Dome systems.

However, a few months ago at the Singapore Air Show, Israel announced the fielding of a new anti-missile system, Iron Beam – a laser device.  Iron Beam is designed to intercept close-range drones, rockets and mortars which might not remain in the air long enough for Israel’s Iron Dome system to intercept.    It is being built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.  During the Singapore show, Rafael officials said test data show Iron Beam lasers are destroying more than 90 percent of their targets.  One advantage of the laser is that the cost to destroy an incoming missile with a laser is considerably less than the cost to destroy that same missile with an interceptor missile.

But, is it as effective as claimed?

The reality is that there is a big difference between the laser weapons of science fiction movies and the actual fielding of a laser weapon on the modern battlefield.  That’s why the US, which has spent more on laser weapons development than any other country, has only one prototype placed on a Navy ship – a prototype that is considerably less effective than what Israel claims the Iron Beam can do.

So, has Israel made a major technological breakthrough in laser weapons?  Or have they developed a laser system that has major flaws?

If one looks carefully, one can see the flaws in Iron Beam.

High energy lasers have held a lot of promise as defensive weapons, but have several problems that have prevented them from being little more than prototypes.  Early crystal rod lasers and gas discharge tube lasers were very inefficient and most of the energy was wasted as heat.  Therefore, a high energy laser would create so much waste heat as to damage the equipment.

The chemical laser changed that.  Chemical lasers are more like rocket engines than the common laser. A laser propellant, comprising a suitable mix of chemicals, is burned or reacts in some way and the chemical exhaust is then directed into an expansion nozzle. The exhaust stream from the expansion nozzle contains highly energetic molecules, which due to the choice of propellants and added agents have effectively been pumped to a state where laser action can occur. If a pair of aligned mirrors is placed to either side of the exhaust stream, laser action will occur as photons bounce between the mirrors, and power can be extracted if one of the mirrors is optically leaky.

While that sounds simple, the technology is much more complex.  The chemicals react at temperatures as high as 1000 to 2000 deg C, depending on the laser fuel mix used. The expansion nozzles require very precisely controlled flow conditions to work, which results in a complex exhaust system designed to produce the required pressure and flow rates. Some laser fuels and their exhaust can be highly corrosive and toxic. Mirrors must have very low optical losses, since even a 1 percent loss in a 1 Megawatt laser sees 10 kilowatts of waste heat dumped into the mirrors.

It is this complex chemical laser system that is at the heart of the Iron Beam.  However, instead of being a single laser, it actually uses batteries of smaller lasers and a mirror to produce the final high power output beam.

The Israelis have been quite cagey about the specifics of the Iron Beam laser and have tried to intimate that it is a solid state laser.  However, unless they have made a dramatic leap forward in solid state laser design that hasn’t been replicated by other nations, that is probably false information designed to mislead other nations.

The principal problems with solid state laser technology are cost, scalability and power handling capability. As with the older lasers, at best they only turn 10% of their energy into laser power, leaving the other 90% as waste heat that can damage the solid state laser diodes. The American solid state laser that is being deployed on a ship this summer is estimated to have a power of only 15 – 50 kilowatts (the actual figure is classified).  And, it is only effective against approaching small aircraft or high-speed boats.

Harder targets, like that the Iron Beam is designed to stop, require much more power.  100 kilowatts, is enough power to destroy soft targets like small boats and drones.  To shoot down a hard target like a cruise or ballistic missile, megawatts of power would be needed. Solid state lasers aren’t close to doing that

This leaves us with the chemical laser solution, which has the megawatts of power to shoot down hard targets.

Although very little has been released about Iron Beam, Rafael’s research into laser weapons has been well documented.  The Iron Beam appears to be a derivative of the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) that was developed by the US and Israel.

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 – the same goal of the Iron Beam system.  Although details are classified, it was a megawatt power laser.

The THEL demonstrator was tested between 2000 and 2004, and destroyed 28, 122 mm and 160 mm Katyusha rockets, multiple artillery shells, and mortar rounds, including a salvo attack by mortar.

The demonstrator THEL system was 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 similar to that of other chemical lasers.

Untitled-1

The THEL prototype tested by Israel and the United States

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. However, the exhaust gasses contain much of the waste heat that made weapons grade lasers so difficult in the past.

The original demonstrator system was too large and took up three semitrailers.  However, Rafael has miniaturized Iron Beam enough to be relatively mobile.

But, size hasn’t been the only problem with fielding lasers as weapons.  In fact, it was these problems that caused the US to drop the program and stop funding it, although Israel continued to develop it.  And, it appears that many of these problems still plague the Iron Beam.

One of those problems is “blooming,” the phenomena caused by the high energy laser interacting with the atmosphere.  This causes the laser to spread out and disperse energy into the surrounding air.  The best way to counteract this is with a very short burst of laser energy that destroys the target before the blooming starts.  However, these shorter bursts limit the damage that the laser can do to a larger target.

The laser beam can also be absorbed, either by dust, water vapor, clouds, fog, snow, or rain.  Although the 3.6 – 4.2 micrometer wavelength of the laser is able to travel well through the dry atmosphere, humidity of any kind seriously attenuates the beam.  Carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons also seriously degrade the beam at this wavelength.  This makes it more effective in the drier, less populated parts of Israel, but significantly less effective in the humid, populated corridors along the seacoast.

Since water vapor limits the range, Iron Beam is only effective as a terminal defense system, protecting a small area around the missile site.  If, as has been claimed, Iron Beam is designed to stop missile and mortar attacks from Palestinian areas like Gaza, this failure to operate effectively in humidity makes it appear to less effective than claimed by Rafael.

The final problem is the high cost per shot.  The Iron Beam laser is similar to the hydrogen fluoride lasers that operate at 2.7-2.9 micrometers. This wavelength, however, is absorbed by the atmosphere, effectively attenuating the beam and reducing its reach, unless used in the vacuum of space.

Rafael solved the problem by opting for a more exotic, very scarce, and expensive fuel.  When the rare hydrogen isotope deuterium is used instead of hydrogen, the deuterium fluoride lases at the 3.6 – 4.2 micrometer wavelength. This makes the deuterium fluoride laser usable as a close in anti-missile system.  The fuel, however, is very expensive (deuterium only accounting for 0.0156% of all hydrogen on the earth), which means each shot can cost thousands of dollars.   A paper written by a member of the US Air Force Weapons Laboratory in 1980 said the cost of the laser fuel (used industrially) would be $1,000 per megawatt per second.  The THEL was estimated to cost $3,000 per shot.

No wonder the cost of the fuel and the problem of supplying and storing unusual chemical compounds of fluorine, and deuterium led the US to push for electrically pumped lasers instead of chemical lasers.

In the end, the effectiveness of the Israeli Iron Beam remains questionable.  It is capable of intercepting and destroying incoming missiles and artillery rounds.  However, it uses a technology that was cast aside by the Americans as being too expensive, logistically difficult to support, requiring highly toxic chemicals, and limited by range and humidity.

In the end, the Iron Beam may be so costly that it should be named the platinum beam.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Measuring Military Capabilities: An Essential Tool for Rebuilding American Military Strength

By Richard J. Dunn, III

Heritage Foundation

May 16, 2014

Backgrounder #2911

In the fall of 1945, much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins. The Soviet hammer and sickle flew over the German Reichstag and most of Eastern Europe, and Mao’s red star rose higher over a China devastated by almost a decade of war and Japanese occupation. The world had paid an extraordinarily high price in blood and treasure to defeat Nazi and Japanese aggression. Moreover, the war unleashed the political, economic, and social instability that contributed enormously to the rise of totalitarian, hostile, and expansionist Communist regimes, which required more decades of Cold War vigilance and hot war sacrifice in Korea and Vietnam to restrain.

Read more

 

 

Middle East Notes and Comment: A Partnership for Egypt

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 21, 2014

Newsletter

The night Hosni Mubarak fell from power, Egyptians of all shades, sizes, and beliefs came together to celebrate the end of a fading dictatorship and the beginning of a bright new future. Amidst singing and fireworks, flag-wrapped Egyptians wept with joy.  As Egypt faces presidential elections this weekend, the future looks less bright and less new than any would have predicted three years ago. The military is clearly back, the economy is in shambles, and political space is constricting.  On a recent trip to Egypt, I met old friends who were triumphant that the Islamists had been set back. Yet I also saw palpable despair, not only among Islamists, but among liberals too. “I need to take stock this summer and decide if I have a future here,” said a friend, who had served in an interim government. “I just need a break from Egypt,” one political activist told me, gaunt-faced and weary.

Read more

 

 

Post-Election Transition in Afghanistan

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 19, 2014

Report

Ever since Vietnam, the US has faced three major threats every time it has attempted a major counterinsurgency campaign in armed nation building:  The actual hostile forces, both in terms of native insurgent elements and outside support from other states and non-state actors.  Existing challenges in host country, including corruption, internal tensions, weak governance, and uncertain economics, that make it as much of a threat in practical terms as the armed opposition.  The failures within the US government to deal honestly and effectively with both the military and civil dimensions of the war, including attempts to transform states in the middle of conflict rather than set realistic goals; levels of costs and casualties that make sustaining the US effort difficult or impossible; and a failure to sustain the effort necessary to achieve a lasting impact.

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Syrian rebels don’t love Israel! OMG!

By Danielle Pletka

American Enterprise Institute

May 19, 2014

AEIdeas

My friends over at the Free Beacon have just posted an article revealing that the Syrian rebels armed by the United States seek “the return of all Syrian land occupied by Israel,” going on to explain that this “stance that could potentially complicate US military support to the armed rebel group.” Um, guys, what?  What exactly should the rebels say? Perhaps that the Golan Heights should stay with Israel? Sure! Why not! Or what they believe the “vetting” by US interlocutors ought to be: “How do you feel about the Jews?”  This is unserious for a whole lot of reasons.

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US Media Outreach to the Arab World: Reaching a Larger Audience More Effectively and for Less Money

By Joseph Braunde

Foreign Policy Research Institute

May 2014

America’s considerable spending on Arabic-language media ventures goes primarily to one pan-regional television network and one pan-regional radio network, both based on a model envisioned in the months following September 11 that is far less relevant to the region today: At the time, pan-regional TV networks like Al-Jazeera dominated the public discussion. Today, they have lost considerable market share to national television networks with a greater focus on domestic debates in their respective countries. The ongoing American attempt to address the entire region all at once, from Casablanca to Baghdad, is less likely to succeed than in the past. Political discourse in the early years following September 11 was largely caught up in perceived struggles between dark and light: America vs. the Muslim world; Israelis vs Palestinians. While these themes remain prominent, they occupy far less airtime than in the past. The greater concern which dominates Arab public discussions, in this ongoing period of upheaval and change, is the internal dynamics of Arab societies and debates over the future direction of each country. As such, what was once a prime directive for America’s Arabic broadcasts — to improve perceptions of the United States among Arab publics — is less urgent than in the past.

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Fallout in Lebanon: The Impact of Yabroud

By Geoffrey Daniels

Institute for the Study of War

May 16, 2014

The Syrian regime’s decisive victory over rebel forces in the Qalamoun stronghold of Yabroud, bolstered by support from Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian National Defense Forces, has significant implications in the overall context of the three-year conflict. Yet also worth a careful examination is the impact of the fall of Yabroud on Syria’s fragile neighbor, Lebanon, whose own security situation remains fragile as the conflict continues to spill across the border. The ripple effects from Yabroud test the resilience of Lebanon, a country less than one decade removed from a 29-year Syrian military occupation, by flooding the border regions of Arsal and Wadi Khaled with militants, weapons, explosives, and refugees while threatening tenuous sectarian divisions.

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Iraq’s Election Results: Avoiding a Kurdish Split

By Michael Knights

Washington Institute

May 21, 2014

The votes are in, but Baghdad will need to resuscitate the revenue-sharing deal with the Kurds in order to steady the already-troubled government formation process.  On May 19, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) released the results of Iraq’s April 30 national elections, and Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki scored strongly on two fronts. First, his State of Law Alliance held its ground, winning 92 seats in the new 328-seat parliament compared to 89 in the previous 325-seat assembly. Second, he surpassed his personal vote count of 622,000 in 2010 by collecting 727,000 votes this time. Although rival Shiite parties and Kurdish and Sunni Arab oppositionists collectively won around 160 seats — just shy of the 165 required to ratify a prime minister — opponents of a third Maliki term would have to set aside their differences and demonstrate near-perfect cohesion to unseat him. Maliki is therefore the front runner for now, though his victory is not a foregone conclusion by any means.

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Libya’s Growing Risk of Civil War

By Andrew Engel

Washington Institute

May 20, 2014

PolicyWatch 2256

Long-simmering tensions between non-Islamist and Islamist forces have boiled over into military actions centered around Benghazi and Tripoli, entrenching the country’s rival alliances and bringing them ever closer to civil war.  On May 16, former Libyan army general Khalifa Haftar launched “Operation Dignity of Libya” in Benghazi, aiming to “‫cleanse the city of terrorists.” The move came three months after he announced the overthrow of the government but failed to act on his proclamation. Since Friday, however, army units loyal to Haftar have actively defied armed forces chief of staff Maj. Gen. Salem al-Obeidi, who called the operation “a coup.” And on Monday, sympathetic forces based in Zintan extended the operation to Tripoli. These and other developments are edging the country closer to civil war, complicating U.S. efforts to stabilize post-Qadhafi Libya.

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

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

Washington Institute

May 2014

Policy Notes 18

The Syrian war has left more than 150,000 dead and more than 9 million displaced. With diplomacy and sanctions having failed to achieve their objectives, the Obama administration is reportedly considering a more proactive role in the conflict. The impulse to refrain from military intervention remains understandable, but the costs of nonintervention may be even steeper: an al-Qaeda foothold and expanded Iranian influence in the Levant, a new generation of jihadists poised to migrate to other conflicts, social tensions and political instability in neighboring states, and growing doubts about U.S. credibility. Nor does military intervention necessarily imply boots on the ground.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 16-05-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Syria: What is happening on its Southern Border?

Since the beginning, news reports have focused more on the Syrian  war in the north and the battles around Homs, Hama, and Aleppo.  However, there has been a second front, along Syria’s southern border that has become just as important, especially given the recent setbacks to the military and political campaign of the Syrian Rebels.

“For the past two months the Syrian army has suffered some serious setbacks in the southern sector, at least in the short term,” Ehud Yaari told the BBC.  “I have always believed that the key to the conflict would be in the southern sector and it’s beginning to tilt that way.  The way the Syrian army and its allies like Hezbollah are deployed means that there is an opening in the south.”  Yaari is a fellow for the Washington Institute and a commentator on Israeli television.

Although it has received less media coverage, the southern front, which runs along the Jordanian/Syrian/Israeli border, is probably the most important at this point of time.  First, it is a major pipeline for material assistance from the GCC nations like Saudi Arabia.  Second, it is the base for training camps run by American, British, and French Special Forces.  Third, the front hasn’t become an extension of Jordan’s foreign policy in the same way the northern front has become an attempt by Turkey to extend its control.  Finally, the southern front is where Israel is aiding the rebels in hope of keeping the occupied Golan Heights under control.

All of this has come into focus as Syrian rebels have launched an offensive in the Golan Heights.  The immediate goal of the rebels seems to be the crossing point between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syrian-controlled territory at Quneitra, and the roads leading to the town itself.  They are making significant headway against the two Syrian army brigades – the 61st and the 91st – that once guarded the Israeli/Syrian border.  The rebel attacks have been so strong that both brigades are now considered nearly inoperative.

In most reported accounts, despite heavy artillery support, the 61st brigade was outmaneuvered by the rebels at the Tel al-Jabia military base near Nawa. The 91st brigade lost control over much of the border area with Israel, including the high ground of Tel al-Ahmar (the Red Hills) and Tel Kudna.  Units of the Syrian 3rd Division still hold the northern part of Derra, while rebels hold the rest of this border town.

The Jordanian Connection

The reason for the relatively successful push against the Syrian army in the south has been the slow build up of trained Syrian rebels and arms in Jordan.  Here, Western nations and several GCC countries are training and arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The training appears to be from Special Forces of France, Britain, and the US.  There have also been reports of American private security contractors in the training camps too.

The lessons have focused on small and medium arms, as well as mortars, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), man portable anti-tank weapons, and anti-aircraft cannon.  There has been no training on sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles like the Stinger because the West is afraid that they will end up in the hands of” non friendly or moderate” terrorists.

Training has focused on Russian supplied arms like the AK-47, AK-74, RPG-7, the Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter antitank rifles, Concourse antitank missiles, 82-millimeter recoil-less rifles, and 23-millimeter antiaircraft weapons.  The reason for training on Russian arms is that these are the type most likely to be captured from Syrians military arsenals.  They are also the type supplied by the American CIA, which according to reports has transferred many captured Russian arms from Libya to Syria, via Turkey and Jordan.  The course of training for the rebels is about two weeks long and usually designed to train about 40 rebels at a time.

Although there has been a reticence to giving the rebels portable surface to air missiles, it appears that they have been given some Russian systems.  The Strela-2 (NATO designation, SA-7 Grail) is a man-portable, shoulder-fired, low-altitude surface-to-air missile system with a high explosive warhead and passive infrared homing guidance. It was the first generation of Soviet man-portable SAMs, entering service in 1968, with series production starting in 1970.  It has been used by the Syrian Army in Lebanon and there are reports that the CIA acquired stocks of them from Libya.

There has been considerable reticence to provide the rebels with American made arms.  There are several reasons for this.  The CIA has for decades stocked a supply of foreign made (frequently Russian) weapons that can be supplied to pro-American guerillas.  This has allowed the CIA to hide its involvement in a civil war and gives the American government plausible deniability.  These were the type of arms given originally to the Afghan rebels in the late 1970s.

These arms have come from several sources like Libya and even former Warsaw Pact countries.

Russian made arms are also easier to support in Syria as the ammunition for them is available from captured soldiers and arsenals.

Finally, the US is not eager to pass its technology to groups that may pass them on to terrorist organizations.

That, position, may have finally changed.  Recently, there have been a few American BGM TOW-71 anti-tank missiles provided to the FSA.  It is produced by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona, but these are probably drawn from Saudi military stocks and passed to the rebels with American approval.  The Israel Defense Forces used TOW missiles during the 1982 Lebanon War. On 11 July Israeli anti-tank teams armed with the TOW ambushed Syrian armored forces and destroyed 11 Syrian tanks.  They were also used effectively in Operation Desert Storm against Iraqi tanks.

The TOW missiles that have been seen in the hands of Syrian rebels are being used by Harakat Hazam, a Free Syrian Army group that is mostly composed of survivors from the now-defunct Kataeb Farouq FSA group. They are less militant than the Islamic Front, and General Idris has been the most active solicitor of American aid for the FSA. This indicates that the Obama Administration is being careful in who receives these weapons.  These weapons have been used in battle and have been responsible for destroying Syrian tanks and preventing the Syrian Army from counterattacking in the south.

Interestingly, Harakat Hazam also been seen with some shoulder fired surface to air missiles recently (frequently called man portable air defense systems – MANPADS).   According to Fox News, some of the TOWs provided to rebels since March are equipped with a complex, fingerprint-keyed security device that controls who can fire it.  It’s likely that any American MANPADS like the Stinger will be similarly equipped.

The appearance of these weapons in the Syrian theater indicates that the US has decided to increase pressure on the Assad regime.

Rather than allowing the newly trained forces reenter the war in small groups, they have been dispatched back into Syria in larger battalion or brigade strengths.  This indicates that rather than allowing the rebels to continue operating as small guerilla forces that merely harasses the Syrian Army, the focus is on larger, more conventional units that can engage similar Syrian forces and win.  Some observers think the rebel strength in the south is around 20,000 men.

This focus on larger, more conventional forces is clearly seen in recent operations in southern Syria, where the FSA has pushed back the Syrian Army’s 61st and 91st brigades despite their superior artillery firepower.  However, they do not have the strength to force the Syrian Army out of the town of Quenitra.

Clearly, the Syrian Arab military forces are stretched and he doesn’t have regular, reliable army forces to reinforce the southern front – leaving the regime to rely upon loyalist militias.  At this time, President Assad must rely upon the 9th Division to hold the door to Damascus closed.  The 9th Division is stationed in al-Kiswah, Qatana, and Kanaker on the Damascus outskirts

The Israeli Factor

But Quenitra isn’t just a town on the road to Damascus.  It is just a mile from the Israeli/Syrian cease fire line and rebel control of the border would mean that the Syrian Army would not be facing the IDF – a fact that the Israelis would like.  And, if the rebels are backed by Israel, they can carry out an offensive against Assad and Damascus without worrying about a hostile force in their rear.

Although not as visible, the Israelis have been an active partner in the internal Syrian war.  Ehud Yaari, has said, “It would not be wrong to assume some kind of contact between the Israel Defense Forces and certain rebel groups.”

Yaari also writes, “These groups are making sure — among other things — not to provoke the Israelis across the border, although rebel-regime fighting often does occur within meters of the 1974 separation line agreed upon between” Israel” and Syria.  It seems Presiden Assad does not have sufficient forces to protect the southern sector, which is proving to be the regime’s soft underbelly, and he cannot raise the reinforcements necessary to block the coming offensive already promised by the rebel command. Assad is also aware of the rebels’ strict avoidance of any clashes with Israel. Indeed, the rebels view Israel as “having their back” on the Golan Heights, so that many reliable sources are pointing already to the IDF of “facilitating” the rebels’ moves during their Quneitra offensive, explained by Israel’s declaration of the Golan border area as a “closed military zone.” The area is restricted for civilian movement, and both security and intelligence operations have been intensified.”

Some 1600 wounded Syrians, many of them rebels have been tended by Israeli hospitals.  There has also been some “humanitarian” assistance given to villages across the frontier.

Although the official Israeli position is that they will not interfere unless there is some violence leaking across the border, Israel does benefit if President Assad falls.  Assad regime is seen in Israel as a key link between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.  If Assad falls, Hezbollah loses its strategic position of strength in Lebanon.

Recently, the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported that Israeli agents giving large sums of cash to Syrian rebel factions.  The newspaper cited a source from one of the rebel factions in southern Syria who claims that at least three opposition groups fighting Assad have received numerous payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Israeli agents who sought information about the identities of all Islamist militants who have established bases near the Syrian-Israeli border.

But, Israeli cooperation with the rebel movement goes further than” humanitarian assistance” and money for information on Islamic radicals.  According to reports, it is secretly working with Jordan, which also is worried about al-Qaida-linked groups targeting its own government.  Jordan could also be assisted with Israeli intelligence and technological assistance.

The Future of Syria

Given the facts on the ground – Rebel advances in the south and the appearance of supplying technologically advanced American weapons; it appears that America has finally decided to move more aggressively on Syria.  In fact, General Bashir of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council said the United States has been heavily involved in the recent increase of advanced arms to parts of the Free Syrian Army. He argued that the FSA’s handling of the TOW anti-tank missiles should give the American government enough confidence to start providing anti-aircraft weapons, as well.

This turnaround was also signaled this week in Washington as Syrian rebels were greeted by a somewhat apologetic Secretary of State Kerry.  In a private meeting with Syrian opposition leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry said he believed the international community “wasted a year” by not working together to help topple Assad.  Kerry told Syrian Opposition Coalition president Ahmad Jarba that the various countries trying to help the Free Syrian Army had failed to coordinate their efforts effectively for a long time.  And, that lack of coordination had dramatically set back the drive to stop Assad and counter the growing terrorism threat in Syria.

Jarba also met with Obama and Rice during the Washington visit.  Although the meeting was described and, “encouraging and productive,” little of substance appeared to come out of it.

It has been reported that Kerry has been frustrated with the Obama administration’s Syria policy for a long time and has been quietly advocating a more robust aid to the rebels, only to be stopped repeatedly by the White House.  The collapse of the Syrian talks in Geneva only made the case for support of the Syrian rebels that much clearer.

The visit was to push for more aid for the rebels, especially MANPADS.  General Bashir noted, “The FSA has been dealing very well with the TOW missiles. Under our protection, people are trained to use them, and it is with the collaboration and under the supervision of the United States…The main purpose for our visit is to get anti-aircraft weapons to protect innocent civilians inside Syria, and we are hoping the United States is going to help us push aside Assad’s air force.”

Although the supply of American arms has increased, much depends on how the weapons are used effectively.  There remain strong voices in the White House that would want to stop the arms flow if the Syrian rebels either fails to advance or are discovered selling the arms to unfriendly elements.  The next few months in the south of Syria may very well determine the course of Syria’s internal war and the future of the country.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Transition in Afghanistan: A U.S. Leadership Vacuum that Urgently Needs Hard Decisions and Real and Honest Leadership

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 12, 2014

Ever since Vietnam, the U.S. has faced three major threats every time it has attempted a major counterinsurgency campaign and exercise in armed nation building:  The actual hostile forces both in terms of native insurgent elements and outside support from other states and non-state actors.  The corruption, internal tensions, weak governance, and uncertain economics in the host country state that make it as much of a threat in practical terms as the armed opposition.  The failures within the U.S. government to deal honestly and effectively with both the military and civil dimensions of the war, the effort to transform states in the middle of conflict rather than set realistic goal, a resulting level of costs and casualties that makes sustain the U.S. effort difficult or impossible, and a failure to sustain the lesser level of effort necessary to achieve a lasting impact.

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Has Iran overplayed its hand in Iraq?

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

May 13, 2014

Al Qaeda’s seizure of Ramadi and Fallujah in January 2014 propelled questions of sectarianism in Iraq to the forefront of Iraqi politics. Sectarianism, of course, is nothing new in Iraq. While some analysts attribute the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq with unleashing sectarianism, the tension between Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqis long ­predates Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ba’athism, the ideology that late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein embraced, was inherently sectarian. While it embraced Arabism as its central pillar, Saddam and many of his aides saw true Arabism through a sectarian lens. He suspected Shi’ites of harboring loyalty to Iran; indeed, he often labeled Iraqi Shi’ites “Safawi,” the Arabic name for the 16th-century Safavid dynasty that converted Iran to Shi’ism. Beginning in the 1960s with the Ba’athist seizure of power and then in the 1980s with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, the Ba’athist regime stripped tens of thousands of Shi’ites of Iraqi citizenship and deported them to Iran. The Shi’ites, however, have from the beginning of Iraqi statehood considered themselves and their more traditional tribal ways as representing a more pure Arab identity.

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Beyond the Great Game: Towards a National Political Process in Afghanistan Post-2014

By Frederic Grare, William Maley, and Amitabh Mattoo

Carnegie Endowment

May 12, 2014

Australia India Institute

As the end of the drawdown of international forces approaches in Afghanistan, concerns are mounting about its potential impact on regional stability. By the end of 2014, all Western combat forces will have left the country. Yet despite official rhetoric, twelve years of war and billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan have neither eliminated the country’s insurgency nor dealt effectively with any of the regional irritants that have historically motivated Afghanistan’s neighbors to lend their support to various actors in the conflict.  Regional involvement in Afghanistan has been pervasive since the end of the 1970s and the Soviet invasion of the country. For more than 30 years, India and Pakistan, in different ways, have projected their fierce rivalry into Afghanistan; Pakistan and Iran have done the same. China, Russia, and a number of states in Central Asia observe the evolution of the US presence in the country and the resurgence of the insurgency with equal anxiety.

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Kuwaiti Salafism and Its Growing Influence in the Levant

By Zoltan Pall

Carnegie Endowment

May 7, 2014

The internal developments and dynamics of Salafism in Kuwait have global significance. In the Middle East, where Salafism’s influence has been rising since the Arab revolutions began in 2011, diverse Kuwaiti Salafi groups and networks have forged close contacts with Salafis in other states. But competition among Kuwaiti Salafi currents has produced corresponding fissures in local Salafi communities in Lebanon and Syria, with far-reaching consequences for each country.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the “Cleansing” of Deir ez-Zour

By Valerie Szybala

Institute for the Study of War

May 14, 2014

Following the January 2014 uprising by rebel groups in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), ISIS contracted its footprint in Syria. The group was pushed out, tactically withdrew, or went below the radar in cities and towns across much of Idlib, Aleppo, and Deir ez-Zour. It continued to battle the Kurds in Hasaka, but constituted most of its strength in ar-Raqqa, where it is in firm control of the provincial capital and several other towns. In Syria’s eastern province of Deir ez-Zour, ISIS is attempting a resurgence. At the end of March 2014, ISIS began to move forces from the north into place for an offensive back into the heart of rebel territory in Deir ez-Zour province. This resurgence has come in the form of an offensive largely against Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, which are predominant in the province. Local tribal militias have come to play an increasing role as well.

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Surprise Rotation of Saudi Defense Officials

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

May 14, 2014

A series of royal orders issued today in the name of King Abdullah at the stated request of his heir apparent and defense minister, Crown Prince Salman, has radically changed Saudi Arabia’s political and professional military command. Perhaps most newsworthy is the appointment of Prince Khaled bin Bandar as deputy defense minister. Out goes the thirty-seven-year-old Prince Salman bin Sultan, who was just appointed to the role last August after replacing a lesser royal who had assumed the post four months prior.

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Turkey’s Presidential Prospects: Assessing Recent Trends

By Soner Cagaptay

Washington Institute

May 2014

Research Notes 18

The outcome of Turkey’s March municipal elections and other recent developments offer new insight into how the country’s upcoming presidential election season will unfold. To win the presidency in August, the governing Justice and Development Party’s presumed candidate, Prime Minister Erdogan, will need to win at least 50 percent of the vote — a considerable task even for a longtime leader with several electoral victories under his belt.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 09-05-2014

ANALYSIS

 

The Ukraine Crisis – New Cold War, Containment, or What?

Even though Putin has promised to pull Russian forces back from the Ukraine border, policy makers are still busy “resetting” relations towards Russia.  The generation of friendship has passed and the world is once again looking at an defiant and strong Russia that is feared by its neighbors, carrying out naval and air patrols of NATO countries, and exporting weapons to allied nations.

Unfortunately, many see the new conflict in terms of the old Cold War, with the NATO forces pitted against the Soviet empire and the Warsaw Pact.  Such an assumption is misguided and could lead to serious miscalculations.

The best way to view it is first through the eyes of the nation who has the initiative, Russia and its leader Putin.

The Putin Outlook

Russian pride in their country is at a point that it hasn’t seen since the days of the Soviet Union.  Russia is expanding and flexing its political and military muscle under the leadership of Putin.  Former Soviet satellite nations and former parts of the USSR are looking with foreboding at events in the Ukraine and the potential dismemberment of that country.

For all this joy, Russia is facing serious problems.  The Russian bear that is worrying Eastern Europe is not the same as the Soviet bear of 50 years ago.

The rump Russia of today isn’t the vast Soviet Union of 25 years ago.  Russia, is smaller, has a smaller economy, fewer industrial resources, evolving strong bureaucracy free of corruption, and an older population than before.  Meanwhile, NATO is economically and militarily larger by statistics.  Since military might is a reflection of economic power, Russia is clearly outnumbered by NATO.

It’s also important to remember that Russia no longer has the satellite nations of the Warsaw Pact to back it up militarily or economically.  In fact, the majority of those nations are members of NATO and openly hostile to Russian expansionism.

Although Russia has continued to pursue military technology, they have fallen even further behind the West in many areas.  While they have tried to maintain some edges in fighter technology, air defense, and space, they have been unable to invest in other areas.  For instance, their Main Battle Tank is the T-90, a modernization of the T-72.  Purchases have been limited recently as the Russian Army has decided to save money now in order to invest in the T-99 Universal Combat Platform due to enter service in 2020.

Even, when they have the technology, they have been unable to upgrade due to cost and production issues.  The Russian Air Force wanted to upgrade its existing Mig-29 fleet to the modernized MiG-29SMT configuration, but financial difficulties have limited deliveries.  Design problems have already forced a two-year delay in implementing a state procurement order for thirty-seven Su-35 aircraft, which will not be fulfilled until 2016.  And, there remains the Soviet era issue of quality control.

Another example of Russia’s inability to stay in step with technological development is the list of high tech weapons they must import.  These include, drones from Israel, the Iveco light multirole vehicles from Italy, and the Mistral amphibious assault ships from France.  These are all weapon technologies that are likely to be unavailable to Russia in the future.

This inability to modernize all parts of the Russian military is compounded by the state of Russian equipment right after the breakup of the USSR.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent republics became host to most of the formations with modern equipment, whereas Russia was left with lower-category units, usually with older equipment. As the Russian defense budget began to shrink, the amount of new equipment fell as well, and by 1998, only ten tanks and about 30 BMP infantry fighting vehicles were being purchased each year.

Although defense spending has grown in recent years, much of that money is going to personnel costs as Russia strives to build a professional army.  Equipment modernization is failing to catch up.  In the meantime, conscripts, who only serve one year, still make up half of the Russian Army.

This lack of modern equipment may be part of the reason for the Russian insurgency operations in the Ukraine.  Although Russia has engaged in several invasions, starting with the Russian invasion of Dagestan, the post Soviet army has yet to be seriously tested.  And, although modern aircraft can defeat the Ukrainian Air Force, it is the soldier and his equipment that must occupy the Ukraine in order to declare success.

Here Putin faces another problem.  Russian conscripts due to rotate back to civilian life this year are due to be mustered out starting this month, which will cause a decline in the quality of Russian Army forces on the Ukraine border.  This may force Putin to either react quickly and invade in the next few weeks or wait until the new Russian conscripts are combat ready.  Clearly, the lack of modern equipment and battle readiness of much of the Russian Army will give Putin some reason for concern.

In the meantime, Putin is facing a weakened economy.  Although Russia has natural energy resources and willing buyers in Europe, the rest of the economy is weak.  He is also facing economic sanctions, a declining ruble, money fleeing the country, and a lower credit rating for the type of borrowing that Russia needs to modernize its military.  Therefore, a serious military buildup would threaten the economy and damage his popularity at a time, where he is clearly the most popular Russian politician.

What Putin needs is a Ukrainian conquest on the cheap.

Although a conventional invasion of the Ukraine would have been faster, Putin opted for an insurgency campaign that would provide enough political cover to freeze NATO leaders so they wouldn’t take any aggressive action.  It relies on a small number of highly professional Special Forces instead of the larger Russian Army, which is made up of 50% conscripts.

Not only is the insurgency operation cheaper than a conventional military invasion, it offers a variety of political and military outcomes that can be modified depending on the need.  An insurgency can weaken the Ukraine in such a way that allows a pro-Russian government to take power.  It can also force a split of the Eastern Ukraine and leave the pro-European Ukraine a shadow if its former self.  It also weakens the Ukraine military in such a way that it would pose less of a threat if an invasion is attempted.

The insurgency war, however, isn’t without its problems.  There is a historical hatred between the Ukraine and Russia, which means the Ukrainians might start insurgency operations against ethnic Russians in areas under Russian control.  This will be helped by the Ukraine military, which has ample numbers of small arms to smuggle to Ukrainian insurgents.

Such a war would pose major problems for the Russian Army if it decided to move in to “protect” ethnic Russians in the Ukraine.  The Russian Army has been equipped for conventional warfare on the open plains of Central Europe.  Just as the American Army had problems adjusting to guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq after they had successfully completed their invasion, so, the Russian will find their army bogged down in a war that it is not doctrinally designed or equipped to fight.  It is also dogged by poor logistics, which prevent protracted combat operations.

An insurgency war also benefits NATO, who can secretly support it with equipment or special forces.  The war would not only tie up and weaken Russian forces, it would buy breathing space for NATO countries to rearm.

If the insurgency option doesn’t work for Russia, it still has the conventional invasion option.  It creates a fait accompli to NATO and reduces the risk of the Ukrainian crisis evolving into a more serious international situation.

However, a conventional invasion doesn’t solve all the problems.  An insurgency by Ukrainians in the western part of the country is likely, tying down large numbers of Russians.  Such operations would force the military to switch its procurement from conventional purchases of tanks and armored vehicles to counter-insurgency weapons, which have marginal use in a conventional military context.  And, there is a great likelihood that some NATO countries would actively support such guerrilla activities (there was already a mention of NATO training assistance by the Ukrainian foreign minister a few weeks ago).

A guerrilla war in the Ukraine would also hamstring the Russian military, which relies on Ukrainian parts for its war machine.  According to a 2009 survey by Kiev’s Razumkov Center, Ukrainian factories produce the engines that power most Russian combat helicopters; about half of the air-to-air missiles deployed on Russian fighter planes; and a range of engines used by Russian aircraft and naval vessels. The state-owned Antonov works in Kiev makes the AN-70 transport aircraft. These factories could be damaged in combat or sabotaged by Ukrainian insurgents.

A conventional invasion of the Ukraine would also mean more economic sanctions and the loss of international customers who are reticent about dealing with an aggressive Russia.  For instance, there is already economic fallout for an international economic conference in Russia.  The top executives of such giants as Alcoa, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley, ConocoPhillips and other multinational companies with business in Russia have either pulled out of the conference or plan to do so. Corporate officials predicted that nearly every American C.E.O. will now skip the forum in St. Petersburg.

A conventional invasion would also spark more NATO activity.  The forces that have been recently deployed to Eastern European NATO nations would be supplemented.  More active patrolling of land, sea and air boundaries would take place.  Needless to say, NATO countries would expand their military spending.

The long term outlook for Russia is murky.  Its Ukrainian intervention will spark an arms race that it is economically unable to win.  Its army is still burdened with outmoded, technologically out-of-date weapons.  And, it will not be able to rely upon foreign customers to buy its weapons, which means that costs to outfit its forces will go up (for instance, in 2013, American civilians bought more AK rifles from Russia than the Russian military and police forces combined.  This is unlikely to continue in current circumstances).

The NATO Outlook

NATO is currently in a reactive mode, as it models its policy to account for the latest Russian moves.  It clearly doesn’t want to return to a Cold War mentality and during the last generation, it has developed economic and technological ties to Russia that it is loath to sever.  Europe relies on Russia for a portion of its energy needs.  The US relies on Russia to commute to and from the International Space Station.  And, the US needs Russia’s logistical help as it pulls out of Afghanistan.

However, as the Ukrainian crisis has grown, NATO has moved to contain the Russian threat.  The US has sent F-16 and F-15 fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltic States.  They have also sent Marines to Poland and Romania.  They have also moved more naval vessels into the Black Sea.  The UK, France and Denmark have also contributed aircraft to the Baltic State air defense mission.  Although these are not sizable forces, they will act as a tripwire that will discourage Russia from expanding its control westwards.

The US has also stationed paratroopers and C-130 aircraft to Poland, which gives the US a rapid deployment force in the east.

The US has also moved early warning aircraft to Eastern Europe to patrol the easternmost border of the NATO community.  And, joint maneuvers with NATO and Ukrainian forces are still scheduled.

Other containment actions will come.  The US will be more aggressive in positioning its missile defense ships in order to lessen the threat of Russian missile to NATO countries.  This could include the Eastern Mediterranean and Baltic.  There will probably be a renewed interest in stationing ABM systems in Eastern Europe as well.

Another important policy move for NATO will be a rapprochement with Turkey, which has been largely ignored as a result of Erdogan’s political moves.  Turkey has one of the largest armies in NATO and is the anchor to NATO’s southern flank.  Turkey is critical for a continued stationing of naval forces in the Black Sea and offers military bases for the stationing of troops and air assets that will be within reach of southern Russia and the Ukraine.

There are also long term goals for NATO.  The first is to economically and technically disengage from Russia.  This will hurt a Russia, whose economy needs that money and technology to grow.

In the mid to long term Europe will also move towards energy independence from Russia.  This includes larger American exports to Europe and European exploration of the Mediterranean, which has promising energy reserves.

NATO will also increase its defense spending and redirect its focus.  While groups like al Qaeda remain a threat, the NATO militaries will move away from a counter-terrorist and counter insurgency warfare focus and look at modernizing and increasing their conventional military forces.  They also will refocus on Europe instead of being a worldwide rapid reaction force.  Those modernized forces then will be forward deployed into Eastern European NATO countries like the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania.  In fact, Poland has requested two NATO brigades be permanently stationed in their country.

Another key focus must be an ABM system, which was planned during the Bush Administration, but was downgraded under Obama.  Aegis interceptors are scheduled to be stationed in Poland in 2018, but the current crisis may push that date up.  An interceptor site will be placed in Romania in 2015.  An effective missile defense will greatly enhance European security, not only against Russia, but  potential nuclear Iran.

A push for a more aggressive NATO may increase Poland’s stature in the alliance.  Poland has one of the larger militaries in the alliance, is strongly committed to its defense against Russia, is contributing a larger portion of its GDP to defense spending, and has deployed its military to Afghanistan and other nations.  It also has the largest army in Eastern Europe, with about 900 tanks and over 100 combat aircraft.  Although much of the equipment is former Soviet, they are aggressively modernizing with new German Leopard tanks.  They also carry out joint exercises with the Ukraine.  In a new NATO that is more focused on Russia, Poland is likely to be the cornerstone in NATO’s Eastern European defense.

Conclusion

Although it easy to see the Ukrainian crisis in a Cold War viewpoint, it’s critical to note the differences.

This isn’t a Soviet Empire against NATO.  This is a rump Russia against a vastly larger NATO, which contains most of its former Warsaw Pact allies.  Russia is clearly economically and militarily outnumbered.  The image of a vastly outnumbered NATO alliance facing a horde of modern Soviet tanks in Central Europe is long gone.  “It used to be when people talked about the Russian military, the point was it was a steamroller,” Mr. Kipp, of the Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office told a reporter. “Got steam up very slowly. It had a capacity to mobilize echelon on echelon. That’s what we feared at NATO: large, competent forces right on the Germany border and then the capacity to mobilize the entire society for a high-intensity industrial war.

“There is no great mobilization capacity in Russia today,” he said. “What that means is, in a crisis, if the military gets into problems, the Kremlin has some very unappealing options.

On the other hand, NATO has more men, tanks, and aircraft.  They are also more modern and have the deep industrial capacity to mobilize.

Putin has tried to pick up Ukrainian territory on the cheap, with an insurgency that gives him a degree of political cover.  However, insurgency works both ways and an Eastern Ukraine in pro Russian hands could face Ukrainian insurgents.  And, that same insurgency problem will be compounded if Russia decided to invade areas inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians.

Meanwhile, Putin wants to modernize the Russian military to make it more of a force in international affairs.  However, war is expensive and tends to downgrade armies as they wear down current equipment and delay modernization.  He also has a military that is relatively untried and any failure on their part would be a major political disaster.

NATO is trying to understand Russia’s weaknesses and exploit them.  Russia is in dire straits with a crumbling economy supported only by large energy resources, but hamstrung by pockets of corruption.  Putin can only succeed if NATO overestimates his strength and imagines that this is a new Cold War, with two relatively equal rivals.

The Ukrainian crisis is helping Putin’s popularity at home, but it can blow up in his face if NATO can respond as an effective united pact, but there are no strong signs of such reality so far.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Strengthen Bilateral Defense Cooperation with Georgia

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

May 5, 2014

Issue Brief #4214

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will soon meet with his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Alasania. Georgia has been a steadfast ally of the United States. Thousands of Georgian troops have served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds have been wounded, and dozens have been killed.  This meeting offers an opportunity for Secretary Hagel to thank Georgia for its contribution in Afghanistan, congratulate Georgia on its military reforms, and lay the groundwork for deeper bilateral cooperation. Few countries in the Euro-Atlantic region express as much enthusiasm for NATO as Georgia—even though it is not yet inside NATO. Georgia also welcomes the presence of U.S. forces. Currently, a small detachment of U.S. Marines located at the Krtsanisi National Training Center is preparing Georgian soldiers for combat operations in Afghanistan. In addition, elements of the U.S. Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force and U.S. National Guard and reserve units visit Georgia for joint training missions.

Read more

 

 

The Afghan Civil Transition Crisis: Afghanistan’s Status and the Warnings from Iraq’s Failure

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 6, 2014

For more than a decade, the U.S. and its allies have been issuing claims about the progress being made in Afghanistan, and have tended to focus on success as measured in holding elections rather than the quality of governance and real world economic progress.  It is now a matter of months before the U.S. and its allies withdraw virtually all of their combat troops from Afghanistan. As yet, the U.S. has no meaningful public plan for transition, has not proposed any public plan for either the civil or military aspects of transition, and remains focused on the quality of the Afghan election rather than the quality of the leadership, governance, and conditions of Afghan life that will follow.

Read more

 

 

Israel’s missile defense bluff

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

May 5, 2014

Iron Dome has become Israel’s first line of defense against missile attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Hezbollah-run areas of southern Lebanon, and any other potential combatants. On 1 April 2014, however, the Iron Dome system near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat launched due to a false alarm. The system failure led to a number of Iranian officials ridiculing Israel and publicly questioning whether the Iron Dome system is more propaganda than real. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Ramezan Sharif, for example, told Fars News that not only is Iron Dome unable to provide security for the Israeli “occupiers,” but the system itself also poses a serious threat to the Zionists.

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Iranian flotilla docks in Djibouti

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

May 5, 2014

The Islamic Republic continues to expand the operational reach of its navy. Whereas once Iranian ships limited themselves to the Persian Gulf or nearby littoral waters in the Indian Ocean, in recent years the Iranian Navy has expanded its reach, sending ships through the Suez Canal, into the Pacific Ocean, and around southern Africa and into the Atlantic Ocean. The Iranian presence in the Red Sea and off the Horn of Africa has become even more frequent.

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What the United States Wants in Egypt

By Thomas Carothers

Carnegie Endowment

May 1, 2014

During the last several years numerous Egyptian friends have repeatedly expressed to me puzzlement, regret, and sometimes anger about U.S. policy toward their country. Their complaints are many, but one powerful theme stands out: they are convinced that the United States, both under George Bush and Barack Obama, has favored the Muslim Brotherhood. When I ask people why they think the United States has taken a pro-Brotherhood line, they say the United States wants to weaken Egypt, and that stirring up divisions in the country and having the Brotherhood come to power is a way to do that. They also believe Americans have an Orientalist view of Egypt, one that implies Islamist rule is the country’s natural destiny.

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Disclosure: Iran’s New Diplomatic Weapon

By Ilan Berman

The American Foreign Policy Council
May 5, 2014

Give the Iranian regime credit for creativity. In the midst of extensive nuclear negotiations with the West, officials in Tehran have apparently hit upon a new way to play for time.  On the heels of the most recent — and largely fruitless — round of consultations in Vienna between Tehran and the P5+1 (the United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany), Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization has proffered a full tally of the country’s nuclear project. In what is ostensibly intended as a confidence-building measure, IAEO spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi has confirmed  that the Islamic Republic is preparing a “comprehensive document” detailing the extent of its quarter-century-old nuclear effort. But the product won’t come quickly; “This is time-consuming, as we need to coordinate with other government bodies, but we hope to have it finished in eight months,” Kamalvandi has maintained.  The timing is telling.

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Turkish Stakes in the Ukraine Crisis

By Ian Lesser

German Marshall Fund

May 6, 2014

Over the longer-term, a more competitive and conflict-prone relationship between Russia and the West will test the foundations of recent Turkish foreign policy. It will also test Ankara’s cooperation with transatlantic partners. First, the current crisis underscores the return of hard security challenges on Turkey’s borders. Second, the crisis in relations with Russia comes at a time of considerable unease in Turkey’s relations with NATO partners, many of which are not on the same page when it comes to Syria and other questions of deep concern to Ankara. Third, and more positively, the Ukraine crisis is likely to drive NATO strategy and planning in directions Turkish strategists will prefer.

Read more

 

 

Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 02-05-2014

ANALYSIS

 

Prospects of Civil Unrest

in the United States?

Last week’s analysis of the stand off between armed federal agents and American protestors and militia members was well received by our readers and elicited questions about the potential stability of the United States.  What are the chances of civil unrest in the US?  What sort of threat do these militias pose to the US?  Are divisions in the US really that serious?  What sort of outcome could come of this?

America is a unique nation.  Unlike most nations, it isn’t ethnically based – it is multicultural and multiethnic.  It hasn’t had a hereditary ruling family.  It is based on the concept that each person deserves the maximum amount of personal liberty and freedom from government – rights recognized in the US Constitution.  This freedom of the individual means that there are a multitude of tensions as each person pulls in their own direction.

This set of circumstances has made for a durable society, but one that does have serious tensions in it.  Over the years, these tensions have broken out into violence – the American Revolution, Shays Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, the Civil War, the Haymarket Affair, the great labor strikes in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Bonus Army, Battle of Athens, the race riots of the 1960s, the student riots of the 1970s, Oklahoma City Bombing, and many more.  This doesn’t include the rioting that is common when the electrical power fails in urban areas.

While most violence causes Americans to coalesce, some cause even greater divides, especially when some deep philosophical differences are behind the violence like the race riots of the 1960s.  The opening shots at Lexington and Concord at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and the firing on Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War were such cases.  The situation at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada is one that is showing those philosophical differences and could lead to a greater civil unrest, if both sides aren’t careful.

Currently, the situation at the Bundy Ranch is stable and quiet.  The federal agents haven’t returned and much of the militia force has left.  However, several small militia units remain and they are receiving logistical support from around the country.  It remains a flashpoint.

Potential Instability in the US

The greatest threat to stability in the United States is not political, but its aging infrastructure.  As has been noted in past reports, America’s electrical infrastructure is aging and over stretched.  Not only that, electrical demand is growing, while many aging coal powered plants are being forced off line by environmental regulations.  Power outages are becoming more common and longer, especially during extreme weather.

Urban areas are more susceptible to disruptions in power than suburban or rural areas.  Cities do not have large warehouses nearby to store groceries for their populations.  Consequently, they rely heavily upon transportation to move food and other necessities into the city.  Electrical outages cause refrigerated foodstuffs to spoil and prevent a smooth flow of groceries into the city.  A simple snowstorm or power outage can quickly empty grocery store shelves within hours.   Even stores that remain open with food will not be able to process credit card transactions.

Without food or electricity, city residents can quickly riot and break into closed stores to loot food supplies – causing a level of civil violence that local police and National Guard can’t contain.

An example of how a widespread infrastructure dislocation can cause havoc was Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Katrina was the strongest hurricane of the 2005 hurricane season and the sixth most powerful in American history.  Shortly after the hurricane moved away on August 30, 2005, some residents of New Orleans who remained in the city began looting stores. Many were in search of food and water that were not available to them through any other means, as well as non-essential items.

Reports of carjacking, murders, thefts, and rapes in New Orleans flooded the news. Some sources later determined that many of the reports were inaccurate, because of the confusion. Thousands of National Guard and federal troops were mobilized (the total went from 7,841 in the area the day Katrina hit to a maximum of 46,838 on September 10) and sent to Louisiana along with numbers of local law enforcement agents from across the country who were temporarily deputized by the state.

Many are unaware of the level of tension in the area.  Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco was to say, “They have M16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will.”   Congressman Bill Jefferson (D-LA) told ABC News: “There was shooting going on. There was sniping going on.”

The fact is that the federal government is unable to handle severe problems that threaten civil unrest.  In the case of Katrina, the government had planned to send evacuates to facilities such as the Louisiana Superdome (designed to handle 800, yet 30,000 arrived) and the New Orleans Civic Center (not designed as an evacuation center, yet 25,000 arrived).

Electric power industry and government officials are well aware of how fragile the American electrical power grid is and have recommended improvements.  However, these will take years and billions of dollars.  In the meantime, the government is aware that any electrical power outage covering a large sector of the nation for a period of time can spark widespread violence.

The concern is for more than extreme weather or a cascading technical failure of the electrical grid.  The US power grid is also extremely vulnerable to a terrorist attack – either domestic or foreign.  Last year, there were two attacks against the electrical infrastructure; an attack at a Tennessee nuclear power plant that involved gunfire and an attack by an unknown group of armed men against a substation in California, which destroyed 19 transformers.  Fortunately, the California attack was at night, when power demand was minimal and resources were available to shift the load.  However, if the attack had taken place during the day, the area would have experienced a blackout.  In both cases, the attackers escaped.  Many power companies are rushing to better protect their substations from such attacks in the future.

Although civil disturbance due to an electrical blackout is the biggest threat against the social fabric of the US, the threat of an armed conflict between the government and citizens has grown, especially in light of the Bundy Ranch confrontation.  And, at the tip of that threat are the mysterious militias – groups of armed Americans who are at odds with the federal government.

Little is known about these groups, although the Bundy Ranch confrontation has brought some of them out in the open.  The foremost of these is Oathkeepers, a group of about 3,000 who are either former or serving military members or police, who have sworn that they will not obey unconstitutional orders given by the government.

Oathkeepers created a high profile for itself in the Bundy Ranch standoff because their headquarters are in Las Vegas and their nationwide network of members was able to quickly funnel money and supplies to the people at the Bundy Ranch.  Although not a militia, the presence of armed Oathkeepers and their visibility gained a lot of attention for the organization.

Several other militias are also present at the Bundy Ranch, although their numbers are unknown – although they undoubtedly number less than an infantry company in total.  Texas, Montana, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Nevada militias have claimed to have sent forces to the Bundy Ranch, although numbers aren’t mentioned.  Other militia groups include the West Mountain Rangers, 912 Movement, and the III%.  In most cases, the numbers from each group probably are probably less than a dozen, although the amount of supplies streaming into the site indicates that a large number of supporters are providing logistical support.

The reality is that these militias are more of an armed presence than an actual military force.  Although many have former military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, each militia has a separate command structure and disagreements on tactics are frequent.  Each militia group also has differing agendas – ranging from simply protecting the Bundy family to seeking an armed confrontation with federal agents.

As was mentioned in the analysis last week, the Bundy Ranch has the potential to become a tipping point for rebellion in America.  In fact, many of the extremist militia members at the ranch are aware of this and are hoping for a confrontation with federal agents that will spark a rebellion that spreads across the country.  Fortunately, it appears that the government is also aware of the situation and has decided not to push them and to let the militia members drift home.

At this time, the Bundy Ranch situation is less of a flashpoint than it was a few weeks ago.  That could, however, change if the federal government stages a raid that results in a loss of life.

However, even if the Bundy Ranch situation is peacefully defused, that doesn’t mean there won’t be political consequences.  Another rebellion took place in the early days of the nation that has many similarities.  It changed the complexion of the political landscape and led to the creation of the two party system in America and led to the election of Thomas Jefferson.  That event was the Whiskey Rebellion.

Although the 1794 incident was a vastly larger rebellion than the standoff at the Bundy Ranch, the situations share important parallels including the use of what many people in each situation considered the disproportionate use of force by the government.  It also reflects the differing political views of the people in the more urban parts of the country and those in more rural areas.

The rebellion began in 1791 when Congress passed an excise tax on distilled whiskey with the firm backing of President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s plan was to federalize the debt accumulated by the states during the Revolutionary War and pay it off through a variety of measures, including domestic taxation. On top of that, Hamilton wanted to fund a more widespread extension of government investment in the new country’s military and infrastructure. The tax was excessively high–about 25 percent of the value of each gallon of whiskey.  Needless to say, it encountered almost immediate opposition.

Opposition was fierce on the western frontier (then around Pittsburgh, PA), where farmers would turn excess corn into whiskey.  Not only was whiskey cheaper to transport over the dirt roads, in the money starved west, it was used as a form of money.  In addition, frontier people rarely saw the benefits of federal spending.  In a quote vaguely similar to the statements coming from the Bundy Ranch, one westerner wrote, “To be subject to all the burdens of government and enjoy none of the benefits arising from government is what we will never submit to.”

Western Pennsylvania rose up.  In four western counties of Pennsylvania, excise officers were terrorized; the Pittsburgh mail was robbed; federal judicial proceedings were stopped; and a small body of regular troops guarding the house of General John Neville, excise inspector for western Pennsylvania, was forced to surrender to the rebels.

Patriotic organizations, called “democratic  republican societies” were formed, which were viewed as subversive by the federal government.  President Washington would later write, “I early gave it as my opinion to the confidential characters around me, that if these societies are not counteracted (not by prosecutions, the ready way to make them grow stronger)… they would shake the government to its foundation.”

Historian John Miller would later write that Hamilton “knew that he was committing the government to a trial of strength with Westerners, but he deliberately courted the contest” to display the power and legitimacy of the federal government. Goaded by Hamilton, Washington assembled one of the largest armies built in America up until that time. The president, with the treasury secretary by his side, would lead this force from the capitol in Philadelphia into to wilds of western Pennsylvania.  The size of the assembled army was astounding given the threat.

This force, called the “Watermelon army” by detractors, ended up arresting 30 rebels without any resistance.  Although the rebellion was quashed, the political damage was enormous.

Some Americans viewed the sudden expansion of government power as a blow to the principles fought for during the Revolution, and worried about a government quick to pull the trigger on legitimate freedom of assembly and protest.  The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, attacked the excise tax an “infernal tax” and said that the “conduct of the ‘rebels’ was no worse than riotous.” He and many others called for an elimination or reduction of the hated tax.

From the scattered protests of leaders like Jefferson and others, a new party was formed to oppose the administration. Panicked Federalists, sensing the rise in support for “Republican” opposition, started to become more repressive in their tactics. Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 under President John Adams in response to the Republican protest during the short “Quasi War” with France, which severely curtailed civil liberties. The acts targeted Jefferson’s supporters. The political storm was growing, and Jefferson and Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, calling out the laws as unconstitutional and repressive.

The Resolutions became a political platform for the new party, and a massive wave of supporters was swept into office in 1798. That year’s election became known as the “Revolution of ‘98” and marked a major change in American politics.  Jefferson was elected president in 1800 and he appointed Albert Gallatin, who had spoken up for the rights of the western farmers, as his treasury secretary.  By tapping into these “patriot” societies of the time, he was able to politically establish a political counterbalance to the Federalist Party.

Although the political parties of that time have disappeared, they have set up the continuing philosophical differences of the two parties of today – one calling for more federal control, and one calling for more state and local control.

In the end, the fallout of the Bundy Ranch standoff may not be violence, but political reform – just as it was for the Whiskey Rebellion.

But, in the background, the threat of civil upheaval remains.  Although the situation at the Bundy Ranch has cooled considerably, the fractures in American society remain and social upheaval is still a possibly – either through a massive disruption of the electrical infrastructure or some sort of standoff like that at the Bundy Ranch.

 

PUBLICATIONS

Palestinian Intent to Accede to 15 Treaties and U.S. Response

By Brett D. Schaefer, Steven Groves, and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

April 30, 2014

Issue Brief #4209

President Mahmoud Abbas announced on April 1 that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will seek to join 15 international conventions and treaties. This is a new facet of the existing Palestinian policy of seeking international recognition by other governments and membership in international organizations to bolster claims of statehood absent a negotiated peace treaty with Israel.   Now that the April 23 Hamas–Fatah reconciliation agreement has provoked Israel to suspend negotiations with the Palestinians, Washington should reiterate to Palestinian leaders that they cannot gain statehood by doing an end run around Israel. Such a unilateral strategy would kill any chances for a genuine Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement. The United States has, correctly, opposed this effort and should take additional steps to dissuade the PA from further pursuing this strategy and discourage United Nations organizations from abetting it.

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Evolving Threats and Strategic Partnerships in the Gulf

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 30, 2014

The current US and P5+1 negotiations with Iran may or may not remove nuclear weapons as a major new threat in the Gulf. Nuclear weapons, however, are only one aspect of the threats that affect US allies in the region. The full range of threats includes the following seven major categories of strategic challenges to the US strategic partnership with its Gulf allies: Internal stability: The internal tensions and instability within each GCC state are a threat that each Gulf state must address largely on a national basis. Economic growth, distribution of wealth, demographic pressures and major problems in employing young men and women, the role of foreign labor, the impact of social change and hyper-urbanization, and the role of religion and religious extremism within the state are very real issues that compete for resources with military forces.

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Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011

By Mary Habeck

American Enterprise Institute

April 24, 2014

Current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates throughout the Muslim-majority world. While there are many reasons for this failure, three key issues stand out: a poor definition of the enemy, an incorrect view of its objectives, and the adoption of a strategy that will not defeat the latest evolution of this adaptive organization. If the US understood al Qaeda as it is: the leadership and field army of an insurgency with worldwide linkages that hopes to impose its extremist version of shari’a, govern territory, and overthrow the leaders of every Muslim-majority country, the current national strategy for combating al Qaeda would not be confined to counterterrorism and attrition, but would instead make counterinsurgency—without large numbers of American ground forces—its main technique for confronting and defeating the organization.

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Is the Armed Rebellion in Syria on the Wane?

By Yezid Sayigh

Carnegie Endowment

April 24, 2014

Syria’s armed rebellion has undergone visible consolidation both in the field and at the command level since September 2013. Long overdue, this is a highly positive development. Still, it is unlikely to be enough to best the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While the armed rebellion is far from being defeated, it has plateaued, both militarily and politically.  Fragmentation and dysfunctional competition among the rebel groups persist, and new rebel alliances have not yet demonstrated a notable increase in operational effectiveness. Credible estimates, moreover, indicate that overall rebel strength has not increased over the past year, suggesting that the rebellion has a “shrinking population of potential new recruits,” as a Carter Center report based on exhaustive field data noted in March 2014.

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Good Riddance to John Kerry’s Middle East Peace Talks

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy

April 29, 2014

The U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended today after Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Palestinian president, announced an alliance last week with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Hamas is the Palestinian group which controls Gaza and has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, and the European Union. Islamic Jihad is a terrorist organization backed by Iran.  Israel’s decision to end the talks was long overdue. Like several prior U.S. administrations, the Obama administration has tried to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. However, the peace process begun by Secretary of State John Kerry last year differs from past U.S. efforts due to an inexplicable anti-Israel bias.

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The Thin Red Line: Policy Lessons from Iraqi Kurdistan

By David Danelo

Foreign Policy Research Institute

May 2014

The hotel maid in Sulaymaniyah had red hair, weathered eyes, freckled skin, and a wide smile. Shirin was originally from Baghdad; she spoke the slang Iraqi Arabic jargon I had learned a decade before. As a Kurdish woman, she had married, settled, and somehow survived. In 2007 she fled north, escaping chaos and civil war. In Sulaymaniyah she had a husband and young son, but she also had a husband and son in her past. “Saddam,” she said, drawing her finger across her throat. She paused and repeated the name and gesture, smiling. It seems Saddam killed them, and that she was happy the dictator is dead.  Shirin, along with the other Iraqi Kurds I met in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, is among those few Iraqis who still celebrate the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation.

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How the Kurds Got Their Way, Economic Cooperation and the Middle East’s New Borders

By Marina Ottaway and David Ottaway

Wilson Center

April 29, 2014

The surge of ethnic and sectarian strife in Syria and across the Middle East has led a number of analysts to predict the coming breakup of many Arab states. This potential upending of the region’s territorial order has come to be known as “the end of Sykes-Picot,” a reference to the secret 1916 Anglo-French agreement to divide up the Middle Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire into British and French zones of control. Because the European treaties that created new Arab states in the aftermath of World War I upheld the outlines of that agreement, Sykes-Picot became the convenient shorthand for the map that colonial powers imposed on the region, one that has remained essentially constant to the present day.  With bloodshed from Aleppo to Baghdad to Beirut, it is indeed tempting to predict the violent demise of Sykes-Picot. But although the worst fighting is spilling over borders and pushing some countries, such as Syria, toward fragmentation, there is another force crossing national lines and even realigning national relationships: trade. New transnational zones of economic cooperation are making Middle Eastern borders more porous, but in a way that does not directly challenge existing states. Instead, mutual economic interests, especially in the oil and gas industries, may signal a softer end to Sykes-Picot.

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Lebanon’s Presidential Race

By David Schenker

Washington Institue

May 1, 2014

PolicyWatch 2245

Last week, Lebanon’s parliament convened for the first round of balloting to elect a new president. While Samir Geagea — who leads the Christian “Lebanese Forces” party, which is aligned with the pro-Western March 14 coalition — received the most votes, he failed to secure the requisite two-thirds parliamentary support. In the coming weeks, legislators are slated to continue meeting until a president is selected. Unlike last week’s session, in which the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc did not challenge Geagea’s candidacy, the voting promises to become increasingly contentious in subsequent rounds. Perennial sectarian tensions exacerbated by the war next door in Syria have complicated the historically wrought and arcane election process. Should a compromise candidate not emerge by May 25, the term of current president Michel Suleiman will expire, leaving the post vacant.  In the past, the presidency — which by law must be held by a Christian — was the dominant office in Lebanon’s government. But the 1989 Taif Accord effectively stripped the position of its powers, delegating them to the prime minister, who must hail from the Sunni Muslim constituency. Given the post’s largely symbolic nature, some might argue that the tense selection process is much ado about nothing. Yet the presidency remains an emotionally evocative issue for Lebanese Christians, and both the March 8 and March 14 blocs see a sympathetic chief executive as an important advantage worth fighting for.

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Assad’s Reelection Campaign Matters — Really

By Andrew J. Tabler

Washington Institute

April 30, 2014

The Atlantic

The United States and the international community have spent the better part of the last year backing peace talks in Geneva to bring about a “political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” and ultimately end the war between the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni and Kurdish-dominated opposition. But Assad has his own transition in mind: running for a third seven-year term as president. On April 28, the Syrian president nominated himself as a candidate in Syria’s June 3 presidential poll, “hoping the parliament would endorse it.”  This was hardly a surprise. Assad has hinted at his candidacy for months, and “spontaneous rallies” calling for him to run — many complete with images of Assad beside Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah — have sprung up across regime-controlled areas of the country, while shopkeepers have been encouraged to paint their storefronts with Syrian flags and slogans supporting the leader.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Analysis 18-04-2014

 

 

 

Has America’s Drone Policy Really Changed in the Last Year?

 

It’s been nearly a year since Obama outlined America’s new drone policy.  Last May, he outlined stricter rules and regulations for drones, which have been used to target suspected militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries. Critics had blamed these drone strikes for high numbers of civilian casualties.

 

Under the new policy, the Defense Department, not the CIA carries out drone attacks, and only in established conflict zones.  However, the policy that governs these assassinations is classified – although Obama insisted that his administration would only ever launch a drone strike against any suspect to stop a planned attack, when it was not possible to capture a suspect, and when there was “near certainty” that civilians would not be injured or killed.

 

Yet, the drone attacks continue and critics say that Obama isn’t carrying out his own policy outlined in May.  The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates unmanned aerial vehicles have killed between 2,296 and 3,718 people, as many as 957 of them civilians.

 

In fact, the drone war has increased so much in the last few years that there is a manning shortage for drone pilots.  A recent government report also said that these drone operators are not receiving adequate training, which may cause additional civilian casualties in the future.

 

In December 2013, a drone strike on a wedding procession in Yemen raised questions amongst human rights groups.  The December 12th attack killed 12 men and wounded at least 15 other people, including the bride.  US and Yemeni officials said the dead were members of the armed group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch the casualties were civilians. This was in direct conflict with Obama’s statement that US policy requires “near-certainty” that no civilians will be harmed in targeted attacks.

 

In February, the European Union, with an overwhelming vote of 534-49, passed a resolution calling on EU Member States to “oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings” and demanding that EU member states “do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states.” This resolution was designed to pressure individual European nations to stop their own production and/or use of weaponized drones (especially the UK, Germany, Italy and France), and to stop their collaboration with the US drone program.

 

On February 13, the World Council of Churches–the largest coalition of Christian churches, came out in opposition to the use of armed drones. The Council said that the use of armed drones poses a “serious threat to humanity” and condemned, in particular, US drone strikes in Pakistan.

 

The continued use of drones led the UN Human Rights Council to issue a report a few weeks ago that asked the administration to review its drone policy and reveal how it picked its targets. The report said the United States should give more information on how it decided someone was enough of an “imminent threat” to be targeted in covert operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia and other countries.  It should “revisit its position regarding legal justifications for the use of deadly force through drone attacks,” investigate any abuses and compensate victims’ families, the committee added in its conclusions.

 

There is a push for the UN to review drone warfare policy.  Pakistan is trying to pass a resolution in the council that would mandate an impartial investigation into U.S. drone strikes there that may have violated human rights, and the council had its third discussion about the topic on March 19. The resolution would also ensure a more accurate record of death totals from those attacks, according to “Foreign Policy.” The U.S., which claims the strikes are necessary to thwart potential terrorists, says the council shouldn’t have jurisdiction over human rights violations that come from drone strikes, so it won’t be a part of the conversation.

 

The U.S. vowed to be a collaborative member of the council when it decided to join in 2009 but has so far refused to declassify much of the information it has on drone strikes in Pakistan.  “We just don’t see the Human Rights Council as the right forum for discussion narrowly focused on a single weapons delivery system,” an unnamed State Department official told “Foreign Policy.” By avoiding the talks, the US can ignore any rules that come from the discussions.

 

Nor will there be any domestic pressure to modify the drone policy, especially since the US federal courts have given Obama legal cover for his drone attacks.  Two weeks ago, federal judge Rosemary M. Collyer dismissed a lawsuit brought by Nasser al-Awlaki, the relative of two U.S. citizens who were killed by American drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.

 

Attorney General Eric Holder asserted Anwar al-Awlaki was directly and personally involved “in the continued planning and execution of terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland.”  The administration also believed that al-Awlaki was directly linked to the 2009 attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner and the 2009 FortHood shooting.

 

But in reaching that conclusion, the court also found it “plausible” that Awlaki’s Fifth Amendment due-process rights were violated. Ultimately, the judge decided, there was no remedy available, so the lawsuit was dismissed. But this sets a dangerous precedent for the targeted-killing program because it means there is no legal recourse for anyone attacked by a drone.

 

Ironically, the problem began with the Obama administration itself, which argued several years ago that the determination to target Awlaki complied with due process.  The essence of due process, as Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman recently argued at an Intelligence Squared debate, is that “the government would not kill its own citizens without a trial.” That principle comes from the English Magna Charta of 1215, and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution had that in mind when, in the Fifth Amendment, they wrote that no onemay “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

 

The question is when due process takes place and when the situation demands other recourses.  The Constitution is clear that due process is required before the federal government takes a citizen’s life. But in many cases, that would fly in the face of common sense.

 

Noted legal expert and law professor Alan Dershowitz points out a bank robber firing at police as he flees is not entitled to a trial before police can shoot back at him.  Rather, the dangerous and imminent threat posed by the robber justified an exception to due process. This exception is widened in the case of war, which is why the laws of war have never required a prior hearing before incapacitating an enemy combatant that is on the battlefield.

 

So, what does the US consider due process?  A Department of Justice white paper leaked last year stated that the current policy of the executive branch is that it can lawfully target and kill Americans abroad who pose an imminent threat of violent attack to the US.

 

The court in the al-Awlaki case agreed that he met this standard: The decision stated, “The fact is that Anwar Al-Aulaqi was an active and exceedingly dangerous enemy of the United States.”

 

But, the court did go on to say that it is plausible that Awlaki’s due-process rights were violated because the DOJ’s white paper argued that it actually is affording due process to targeted Americans.

 

This is an issue that will cause considerable debate because the definition is so flexible.  The DOJ argues that “the process due in any given instance is” determined by weighing the interests involved. The private interest involved, e.g., someone’s life, is weighed against the government’s asserted interest in protecting American lives. While both interests are weighty, the government’s interest is weightier, so due process can be expedited and simplified for those targeted.”  In other words, due process depends on how important the issue is, not by legal norms. According to the DOJ white paper, the administration thinks due-process requirements are met “where an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat.”  However, no one knows what constitutes a “high-level official.”

 

This is an interpretation that has been criticized by Administration critics on both sides of the political spectrum.  Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia vehemently criticized this malleable interpretation of due process in 2004 when it was applied to wartime detention.

 

The criticism also comes from Obama’s own party.  Democratic Senator Wyden asked, “Are there any geographical limitations to the president’s ability to kill people with drones? Put another way, could the president send a drone armed with a “Hellfire” missile to kill an American on American soil in their home?”

 

Although the number of drone strikes has declined in the last year (8 attacks in Yemen in 2014), the question of how they are used remains a hot subject – especially in the light of the federal court ruling and the growing use of drones for surveillance within the United States.  The secretive nature of the process bothers many because due process was written into the US Constitution to prevent governments from secretly ruling that people could lose their property, freedom, or life.

 

 

Drones have been used recently in the US to track and arrest American citizens.  The first known incident of a drone-aided arrest took place in North Dakota in 2011 when farmer Thomas Brossart was taken into custody after he refused to return some cows that had wandered onto his property.  Police across the US now regularly use drones for surveillance.

 

 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is concerned about where that data ends up. “The trick is, we need a system of rules to ensure we can enjoy the benefits of drone technology without becoming a surveillance society,” said Allie Bohm, advocacy and policy strategist for the ACLU. “We want to prohibit drones for massive surveillance and still allow law enforcement to use them in cases of wrongdoing.” The ACLU supports the warrant requirements some states have enacted.

 

Although Obama promised a new drone policy last year, it’s clear that despite worldwide condemnation, the American Administration will continue use drones as a weapon.  The recent court case will only make it politically easier for them to continue on the same course.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

 

Evolving Threats and Strategic Partnerships in the Gulf

By Anthony Cordesman

 

Center for Strategic and International Studies

 

April 15, 2014

 

Key Threats: Internal ethnic and sectarian tensions, civil conflict, continued instability, failed governance and economy.  Syrian civil war. Iraq, Lebanon, “Shi’ite crescent.”  Sectarian warfare and struggle for future of Islam through and outside region. Sunni on Sunni and vs. Shi’ite struggles. Terrorism, insurgency, civil conflict linked to outside state and non-state actors.  Wars of influence and intimidation.  Asymmetric conflicts escalating to conventional conflicts.  Major “conventional” conflict threats: Iran-ArabGulf, Arab-Israeli, etc.  Economic warfare: sanctions, “close the Gulf,” etc.  Missile and long-range rocket warfare.  Proliferation, preventive strikes, containment, nuclear arms

 

race, extended deterrence, “weapons of mass effectiveness”.

 

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The takeaway from the languishing Middle East peace process

By John R. Bolton

 

American Enterprise Institute

 

April 12, 2014

 

Barack Obama has announced a “pause” for a “reality check” in his Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, although no one is really deceived by this euphemism. His “peace process” is verging on collapse, despite a year’s investment of U.S. diplomatic time and effort. Not only will the negotiations’ impending failure leave Israelis and Palestinians even further from resolving their disputes than before but America’s worldwide prestige will be significantly diminished. Our competence and influence are again under question, Israel has been undermined and by misallocating our diplomatic priorities, we have impaired our ability to resolve international crises and problems elsewhere, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

 

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The Roots of Crisis in Northern Lebanon

By Raphaël Lefèvre

 

Carnegie Endowment

 

April 15, 2014

 

As the conflict in Syria enters its fourth year, it continues to spill over the borders of neighboring countries and alter local dynamics, sometimes with significant consequences.   Lebanon, in particular, has been greatly affected by the Syrian civil war. An influx of Syrian refugees, now exceeding 1 million in a population of 4.4 million, has impacted the country’s local socioeconomic and religious fabric. The ongoing stalemate in Syria has also further polarized Lebanon’s already-tense domestic political situation, which is shaped by a schism between the March 8 coalition, broadly sympathetic to the Syrian regime, and the March 14 alliance, which is opposed to the government in Damascus. Most recently, the rise of Sunni extremism in the Syrian conflict has unleashed disturbing religious and security dynamics in Lebanon, with al-Qaeda affiliates that are fighting in Syria, such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, launching Lebanese chapters.

 

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The Next Huddle on US-Israel Security Technology Cooperation

By Ben Lerner

 

Center for Security Policy
April 7, 2014

 

One of the many benefits of the US-Israel relationship has been the extent to which American and Israeli security have been significantly bolstered by security technology cooperation.  Joint US-Israel missile defense programs such as Iron Dome and the Arrow system have demonstrated their utility in obstructing rocket fire directed at Israel by terrorist organizations and their Iranian patrons, and Elbit Systems will soon be bringing Israel’s border security expertise to bear on our persistent southwest border vulnerabilities.  As with missile defense and border security, the United States and Israel now need to huddle on another area of security technology that is emerging as an imperative for both nations: counter-drone technology.

 

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Ruling vs. Governing: Pluralism and Democracy in Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia

By Sebnem Gumuscu and E. Fuat Keyman

 

German Marshall Fund

 

April 15, 2014

 

The past few months have been marked by critical developments in Turkey, where corruption allegations against the government ignited a power struggle between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen movement over control of the state. We contend that the AKP’s increasing tendency to rule through domination instead of governing through leadership in the ongoing political predicament exacerbates the crisis by undermining the rule of law and political pluralism. Political leaders may be tempted to rule and dominate rather than to govern and lead. However, as we see in Turkey (also in Egypt), this temptation makes incumbents weak and vulnerable while governing through leadership makes them stronger.

 

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Sending a Bunker-Busting Message to Iran
By Lt. General David Deptula, USAF (ret.) & Dr. Michael Makovsky

 

Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
April 8, 2014

 

The Wall Street Journal

 

Prussian leader Frederick the Great once lamented, “The ways of negotiation have failed up to the present, and negotiations without arms make as little impression as notes without instruments.” The same could be said about nuclear negotiations with Iran. The Obama administration has cut a deeply flawed interim deal, forgone new sanctions, and effectively taken the military option off the table. It’s time to increase the pressure on Tehran by boosting Israel’s military capacity to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.  It’s hard to imagine negotiations succeeding. The interim deal has undercut the leverage of the U.S. and its partners. It has triggered a rise in Iran’s oil-export revenue, while its nuclear-breakout timing remains unchanged due to increased centrifuge efficiency, as permitted in the deal. Tehran continues to deny inspectors access to key nuclear facilities. Recent tensions with Russia will only create new opportunities for Iran to exploit the U.S. in negotiations.

 

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