Analysis 28-02-2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutbacks Driven by Budgetary Needs

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

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

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

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

Criticism of the Budget

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

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

Overall Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Air Force

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

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

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

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

National Guard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics in Play

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

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


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

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

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

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




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

By Anthony B. Kim, Charlotte Florance and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

February 20, 2014

Issue Brief #4151

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

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2014 Defense Reform Handbook

Heritage Foundation

February 2014

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

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Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 25, 2014

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

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

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Stuudies

February 24, 2014

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

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

By Ahmed Charai

Foreign Policy Research Institute

February 2014

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

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Iran’s Nuclear Debate: The Domestic Politics

By Nima Gerami and Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

February 26, 2014

PolicyWatch 2215

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

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Saudi Arabia‘s Domestic and Foreign Intelligence Challenges

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

February 21, 2014

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

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Analysis 21-02-2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Rebellion at the State Level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 18, 2014

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

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The Egypt Effect: Sharpened Tensions, Reshuffled Alliances

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

Carnegie Endowment

February 13, 2014

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

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

By Justin Finkelstein

Foreign Policy Research Institute

February 2014

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

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Strategic Depth & Israel’s Maritime Strategy

By Seth Cropsey
Hudson Institute

February 20, 2014


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

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When Barry Met Hamid

By Christina Lamb

Wilson Center

February 18, 2014

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

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Jordan Not Out of the Woods Yet

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

February 19, 2014

PolicyWatch 2210

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

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Analysis 14-02-2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

France Does the Heavy Lifting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disputes Remain – Agreeing to Disagree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Relations

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

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

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



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

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

February 13, 2014

Issue Brief #4148

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

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

By Lisa Curtis

Heritage Foundation

February 11, 2014

Issue Brief #4147

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

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Obama’s Foreign Policy: An Epic Fail

By Stephen Blank
American Foreign Policy Council
February 11, 2014

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

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Assad Strikes Damascus

By Valerie Szybala

Institute for the Study of War

February 2014

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

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Pivot on the rocks

By Michael Auslin

American Enterprise Institute

February 11, 2014

Commentary Magazine

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

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Analysis 07-02-2014

America’s New Oil Independence and the Keystone Pipeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada’s Oil Sands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shale Oil and Fracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coal Based Petroleum

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

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

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

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

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

America’s Energy Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

By Robert M. Shelala II

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 6, 2014

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

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

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 3, 2014

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

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

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Polisario Front smuggling international aid

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

February 04, 2014

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

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Egypt’s Post-Mubarak Predicament

By Ashraf El-Sherif

Carnegie Endowment

January 29, 2014

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

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Afghanistan Post-2014: Scenarios and Consequences

By Frederic Grare

German Marshall Fund

February 04, 2014

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

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

By Robert Satloff

Washington Institute

February 5, 2014

PolicyWatch 2204

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

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A New Approach to the Syria Crisis

By James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

February 4, 2014

PolicyWatch 2203

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

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Analysis 17-01-2014

Obama, the Senate, and Recess Appointments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of the American Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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



Top Five National Security Priorities for Congress in 2014

By Steven P. Bucci and Michaela Dodge

Heritage Foundation

January 15, 2014

Issue Brief 4128

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

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Top Five Foreign Policy Priorities for 2014

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

Heritage Foundation

January 14, 2014

Issue Brief 4123

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

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Analysis 10-01-2014

Behind the Scenes Turmoil at the Federal Reserve

This week, the Senate confirmed Janet Yellen as the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  At the same time, it is confirmed that her previous position as Vice Chairman and Governor will be given to Stanley  Fischer, former head of Israel’s central bank (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10, 2014). Xxx Obama’s announcement   Stanley Fischer brings decades of leadership and expertise from various roles, including serving at the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Israel.  He is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading and most experienced economic policy minds 

The move is politically controversial and will have foreign policy repercussions as  Fischer has dual Israeli/US citizenship.  Many, on both political sides of spectrum, are asking if such a position should be held by one who has dual loyalties.  They point out that critics of Texas Senator Ted Cruz say his dual Canadian/American citizenship make him a questionable choice for president.  Could  Fischer’s divided loyalties hinder the development of American monetary policy in favor of Israel?

No doubt Fischer is eminently qualified economist.  In addition to his position at Israel’s central bank, he also has held high-level posts at Citigroup, was chief economist of the World Bank, and First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. As a professor at the University of Chicago and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he taught a generation of economists, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, President George W. Bush’s economic adviser Greg Mankiw and former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

Unlike many economists who are more comfortable in academic situations, Fischer has been a success in implementing economic policy at the IMF and Israel’s central bank.  At the Bank of Israel, Fischer cut interest rates early in the global financial crisis and began raising them in 2009, the first major central bank to do so.

Fischer as central bank of Israel head helped in developing the financial sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program – a skill that may find itself useful at the Fed.  He has also come out in favor of an Israeli/Palestinian agreement.

But, there is more to this than bringing on a person who was successful at implementing monetary policy in Israel.  As America’s economy continues to move sluggishly along, there is turmoil in monetary circles.  The Obama White House wants an economic recovery that will help Democratic election chances in November.  However, the traditional tools of monetary policy used by the Federal Reserve have been ineffective and new tools introduced in the last 5 years have not been any more effective.  Many are asking if the rules of economics have changed or if there is a fundamental problem that isn’t being addressed.

The answer, as one can expect, depends on one’s politics.

However, before going into that, lets do a quick survey of the Federal Reserve and its place in the US and international monetary system.

A Beginners Guide to the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve System (also known as the Federal Reserve, and informally as the Fed) is the central banking system of the United States. It was created on December 23, 1913, with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act.  The Federal Reserve System’s structure is composed of the presidentially appointed Board of Governors (or Federal Reserve Board), the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), and twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks located in major cities throughout the nation.  The Federal Reserve Banks are owned by the respective banks in their districts.  However, that ownership doesn’t give them any control over the policies, which are determined by the Board of Governors.

The appointment of an Israeli citizen to the Vice Chairman position has raised questions about the Federal Reserve and its relationship to other countries, especially Israel.

Basically, the Fed acts as a banker.  The US Treasury has a checking account with the Fed, and tax receipts and federal expenditures go through it.  Foreign governments, central banks, and international organizations also have the same ability to have an account to facilitate business in the US.  They also can store securities with the Fed.  However, the Fed doesn’t have any ability to authorize loans to foreign governments without US government approval and a transfer from the US Treasury account.

Although the Federal Reserve’s Open Market activities can influence foreign exchange rates, Congress has given the US Treasury the authority over international financial policy.  If the Treasury decides to intervene in currency markets, it is the New York Fed that actually carries out the intervention.

One of the best known functions of the New York Fed is international gold storage.  Much of the gold in the vault arrived during and after World War II as many countries wanted to store their gold reserves in a safe location. Holdings in the gold vault continued to increase and peaked in 1973, shortly after the United States suspended convertibility of dollars into gold for foreign governments. At its peak, the vault contained over 12,000 tons of monetary gold. As of 2012, the vault housed approximately 530,000 gold bars, with a combined weight of approximately 6,700 tons.

The mandate of the Fed is to keep unemployment low and keep prices stable.  This is largely done through the Federal Open Market Committee.  It consists of all seven members of the Board of Governors and the twelve regional bank presidents, though only five bank presidents vote at any given time (the president of the New York Fed and four others who rotate through one-year terms).  The Federal Reserve System is considered an independent central bank because its monetary policy decisions do not have to be approved by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branches of government, it does not receive funding appropriated by the Congress, and the terms of the members of the Board of Governors span multiple presidential and congressional terms.

The Fed has several ways to influence the economy through the FOMC.  The best known is open market operations, which is the Fed practice of buying and selling Treasury securities to influence the supply of government debt and the cost of money. When the Fed wants to stimulate the economy, it buys bonds, thereby increasing the price and bringing down the interest rate on the securities. When the Fed wants to put the brakes on the economy, it sells Treasuries into the market to increase the supply, lower the price and raise interest rates.

They can also impact interest rates in other ways.  The most traditional Fed role is to set the federal funds rate, which banks pay to one another for overnight loans and which many consumer interest rates follow as a benchmark. The Fed can reach the desired federal funds rate in three ways: open market operations, the discount window and reserve requirements.

The Fed also sets the discount rate, which moves up and down in tandem with the federal funds rate. Banks pay the discount rate when they borrow from the regional Federal Reserve banks. When the discount rate rises, banks pay more to borrow and tend to lend less, which boosts interest rates and reduces the available credit. When the discount rate falls, banks lend more freely, flooding the market with credit and causing consumer interest rates to fall.

Finally, the Fed can influence interest rates through reserve requirements, which refer to the amount of capital that banks must hold as security for their deposits. If the Fed increases the amount required as reserves, banks will be discouraged from lending, which tightens credit availability and increases rates. If the Fed lowers reserve requirements, the reverse occurs. Typically, the Fed refrains from changing reserve requirements to influence monetary policy, unless it has no other option available, because of the uncertainty it can introduce for banks.

These are the traditional tools that the Fed has used over the last 100 years to set and manage American monetary policy.  However, in the last five years, the Fed has instituted several new tools – which have been controversial and have only had a marginal impact on the American economy.  In fact, former Fed Chairman Bernanke in August 2012 said these nontraditional policies, “could impair the functioning of securities markets, reduce public confidence in the Fed’s ability to exit smoothly from its accommodative policies, create risks to financial stability, and cause the possibility that the Federal Reserve could incur financial losses.

These nontraditional tools include credit easing, quantitative easing, and signaling. In credit easing, a central bank purchases private sector assets, in order to improve liquidity and improve access to credit.

Quantitative easing is buying specified amounts of long term financial assets from commercial banks and other private institutions, thus increasing the monetary base and lowering the yield on those financial assets.  This is different from the traditional policy of buying or selling government bonds in order to keep interest rates at a specified target value

Signaling can be used to lower market expectations for future interest rates. For example, during the credit crisis of 2008, the US Federal Reserve indicated rates would be low for an “extended period.”

However, despite the traditional tools of monitory policy and the new methods like quantitative easing, the US economy has stumbled along.  This has raised the question of, “What is the Federal Reserve doing wrong?”  This is the battle that both Yellen and  Fischer have entered.

The Future of Monetary Policy

So, what should the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve be?  That is a difficult one to answer.  In November 2011, Yellen said, “Monetary policy is not a panacea.”  Yet, she holds the tiller of American monetary policy.  On the other hand, Fischer has been generally supportive of the Fed’s efforts to pump money into the U.S. economy and keep interest rates low.

This is a case where much of the policy may come from Fischer.  Yellen is a respected academic and policy maker, but she is known to operate best when given a chance to prepare meticulously.  She is not an expert in crisis management.

Fischer has been forced to handle financial crisis on the fly.  He gained extensive crisis-management experience during his tenure at the IMF in the 1990s and as Israel’s central banker during the 2008-2009 global financial crises.

But, what sort of monetary policy should the Fed follow?  That is the question and there are many differing opinions – some optimistic and some pessimistic.

Yellen is worried about the ability of the Fed to impact the economy in the current situation.  Yellen believes in behavioral economics, which posits that people often don’t act rationally the way economic models say they should. She feels that the Fed’s traditional powers are limited now because the economy may be caught in a “liquidity trap,” with interest rates already so low that additional injections of cash by the central bank will do little or nothing to stimulate the economy

In the pessimist camp is Lawrence Summers, who was a Clinton economic advisor and was considered by Obama to be Fed Chairman.  According to him, the economic crisis isn’t over.  The reason for slow growth over the last 10 years is a fundamental structural change, where the inflation-adjusted interest rate may have fallen below zero – perhaps as low as negative 2-3% – “forever.”  This, according to him is caused by a glut of investment money from Asia and computer technology that has caused a decline in the cost of capital goods and reduced the need to invest.

This produces a problem for the Fed’s monetary policy tools.   Zero or negative interest rates make the Fed’s open market operations ineffective.  It also means the US will face long term slow economic growth.  The only solution will be a new set of monetary tools to manipulate the economy.

Nobel economist Paul Krugman has a different view.  He believes in more robust government sector spending.  He says concerns about US fiscal deficits and debt are misplaced even in the longer term. Although there is considerable concern that global investors will lose their enthusiasm for holding ever-greater amounts of US debt – resulting in a sharp depreciation of the dollar, which would make US exports more competitive. He maintains that there is less reason to worry about the long-term debt problem and more reason to worry that fiscal contraction over the last three years has been depriving the economy of needed demand.

There are also opinions within the Federal Reserve System.  David Wilcox, director of research and statistics at the Fed argues that the severity and duration of the downturn that began in December 2007 has been steadily eroding the capital stock and the size and skills of the labor force. Thus, slow US output and employment growth in the last few years is a result of the financial crisis, not of some structural change as Summers argues. Without customers, firms do not build new factories, even with low interest rates.  Meanwhile, workers who have been unemployed for a long time lose their skills and drop out of the market. This means less manufacturing capacity and a less effective labor force that is unable to economically grow as fast.  It also means that keeping interest rates low will not work by itself.  However, Wilcox recommends keeping interest rates low as long as employment remains high, which means that he favors continued easing in 2014.

There are also the concerns of the business and financial communities that have to make decisions based on Fed policy.  Richard Finger, a contributor to Forbes Magazine reflects the concerns of the business and money markets.  The quantitative easing tool especially concerns them as the Fed has increased its balance sheet to $3.7 trillion.  His concern, as written in Forbes is, “The Fed has no excess money or reserves… they simply fire up the printing presses and print out of thin air $85 billion of new money each and every month. This is money that goes directly into the money supply. Nobody knows the ultimate denouement of money printing on this scale. Germany tried “abnormal” money printing in the early 1920’s after W.W. I and the result was hyperinflation, collapse of the German economy, and the rise of Hitler.”

He also notes that Obama policy is preventing the investment that would encourage economic growth, even if there are low interest rates.  Obamacare and stiffer regulations, in his mind, are a bigger impact on the economy than Fed policy.

Beset with critics on both sides, the Fed is likely to steer a middle course.   Fischer is traditional and more likely to continue with the current Fed tools.  He feels monetary policy can work, even under current conditions. New tools like quantitative easing and signaling can push down the long-term interest rate. And there are other tools in addition to regulating the interest rate through the FOMC like influencing the exchange rate, equity prices, the real-estate market, and the credit channel.

Obama doesn’t care what policy is implemented as long as the economy recovers quickly – preferably before the November elections.   Fischer has a track record as a central bank chairman, which is something no one else has.  That was probably the key factor in his choice.  However, undoubtedly, the choice of an Israeli citizen as the head of America’s central bank will be considered a play towards Israeli public opinion.  What real advantage it gives Israel will depend eventually on Fischer’s real loyalties.



Cybersecurity and Stability in the Gulf

By James Andrew Lewis

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Jan 6, 2014

The Gulf has become a flashpoint for cyber conflict. Cyberspace has become an arena for covert struggle, with the United States, Israel and other nations on one side, and Iran and Russia on the other. Iran has far outpaced the GCC states in developing its cyber capabilities, both for monitoring internal dissent and deploying hackers to disrupt or attack foreign targets. Several such attacks over the past two years were likely either directed or permitted by Iranian state authorities. Even if Iran holds back from offensive actions as nuclear talks progress, the growth in Iranian capabilities remains a potential security threat for other Gulf states. The GCC countries have begun to develop their defensive capabilities, but they will need to expand their defenses and collaborate more effectively to deter future threats.

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Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 6, 2014

As events in late December 2013 and early 2014 have made brutally clear, Iraq is a nation in crisis bordering on civil war. It is burdened by a long history of war, internal power struggles, and failed governance. It is also a nation whose failed leadership is now creating a steady increase in the sectarian divisions between Shi’ite and Sunni, and the ethnic divisions between Arab and Kurd.  Iraq suffers badly from the legacy of mistakes the United States made during and after its invasion in 2003. It suffers from the threat posed by the reemergence of violent Sunni extremist movements like al-Qaeda and equally violent Shi’ite militias. It suffers from pressure from Iran and near isolation by several key Arab states. It has increasingly become the victim of the forces unleashed by the Syrian civil war.

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Turkey Needs Less Money in Politics, and Less Politics in Court

By Sinan Ülgen

Carnegie Endowment

January 6, 2014

Financial Times

Until last month, one could not be blamed for thinking that nothing was rotten in the state of Turkey. The combined effect of government pressure, ubiquitous self-censorship and the conflicts of interest of media owners made reporting on corruption a taboo for the Turkish press. But this was shattered by recent allegations of high-level corruption within Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. The gravity of the allegations have already led to the resignation of four ministers and arguably represent the biggest threat to Mr Erdogan after 11 years of unchallenged rule.  The irony is that Mr Erdogan’s party had come to power in the wake of a failed decade of politics dominated by corruption and nepotism. His AK party had won a popular mandate with its anti-corruption rhetoric. Even the name of the party – “ak” means clean in Turkish – reflects that. It now seems that it was unable or unwilling to eradicate Turkey’s cycle of corruption-induced political crisis.

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Principle and Prudence in American Foreign Policy

By Mackubin Thomas Owens

Foreign Policy Research Institute

January 2014

U.S. foreign policy is in shambles, characterized by drift and incoherence. It is at best a-strategic at worst anti-strategic, lacking any concept of how to apply limited resources to obtain our foreign policy goals because this administration has articulated no clear goals or objectives to be achieved. The foreign policy failures of the Obama Administration are legion: the Russian “reset” that has enabled Vladimir Putin to strut about as a latter-day czar; the betrayal of allies, especially in Central Europe, not to mention Israel; snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq by failing to achieve a status of forces agreement (SOFA) that would help to keep Iraq out of the Iranian orbit; the muddled approach to Afghanistan; our feckless policy—or lack of policy—regarding Iranian nuclear weapons, not to mention Libya and Benghazi, as well as Syria. President Obama has said that he was elected to end wars, not to start them, as if wars are fought for their own purpose. Ending wars is no virtue if the chance for success has been thrown away, as it was in Iraq.

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Turkey’s 2014 Political Transition From Erdogan to Erdogan?

By Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

January 2014

Policy Notes 17

Turkey will hold local and presidential elections in 2014, both of significant import. The AKP, in power since 2002, has lasted longer than any other government since the country became a multiparty democracy in 1950. Likewise, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled Turkey longer than any other democratically elected leader. These two elections thus offer an opportunity for the AKP to strengthen its hand before the 2015 parliamentary elections.

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President Rouhani and the IRGC

By Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

January 8, 2014

PolicyWatch 2189

President Hassan Rouhani’s relationship with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a central dynamic in the country’s politics and economy. As always, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ultimately determines the roles of the president and the IRGC, so Rouhani has sought to pursue his economic imperatives without crossing the Supreme Leader or the military elite on the nuclear issue.  Unlike previous presidents, Rouhani seems unwilling to dominate the IRGC or directly challenge its influence over various aspects of Iran’s political and economic life. Instead, his approach has been to refashion the IRGC’s functions through the Supreme Leader — who is commander-in-chief of the entire armed forces — rather than taking independent initiative. This means convincing Khamenei to improve the economy by adjusting the IRGC’s role in politics and business, limiting its influence over the public sector and weakening its ability to compete with the private sector.

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Analysis 03-01-2014

Political Crisis in Turkey Threatens Erdogan’s Government

One political maxim that remains as true today as when it was coined over 100 years ago is that, “Power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  And, it doesn’t just occur in Third World one man rule like North Korea.  Democracies also are easy prey to corruption, especially when one political party stays in power too long.  America, Nixon, and Watergate is a prime example, but they are also found in Britain, France and Germany.  Even “progressive” nations like Sweden have their share of corruption, where the party is power abuses its power.

Therefore, it can’t be considered surprising that Erdogan and his administration in Turkey are finding themselves in trouble after 11 years in power and a growing centralization of power around Erdogan.  He has won three national elections – the first in 2002 because voters were tired of the corruption of the previous government, which was tied to the policies of Kemal Ataturk.  He replaced the overall direction with his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has pushed for a stronger Islamic bend to Turkish society and politics.  This has included putting restrictions on the sale of alcohol, enhancing the status of religious schools, encouraging the establishment of Muslim-oriented institutions of learning, and nominating more radical Islamists to powerful positions in the public sector.

However, with that came a corruption of his administration and a growing disrespect for Turkish institutions.  The Turkish media is subject to intimidation and journalists are sent to jail under a variety of charges. The business community is pressured to conform to Muslim mores instead or remaining secular.  This, in turn has alarmed more modern factions of the AKP, which are allied with American based Fethullah Gulen.

The first cracks appeared in the public support last summer with riots around Taksim Square over the development plan for a mall.  However, the development was only the spark that allowed public unrest with Erdogan over many issues like restrictions on alcohol sales to be exposed.  Riot police stopped the protests and the proposed development plans were shelved.

The current crisis is more serious in that it is a corruption scandal that strikes close to Erdogan himself.  There is rioting in the streets, but it is also pitting his political allies with those who back Gulen and is threatening a split in the AKP that threatens Erdogan’s political majority.

The crisis began in mid December when police raided several places as a part of a corruption investigation.  The raid netted the sons of Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan, Interior Minister Muammer Guler, and Environment and Urban planning minister Erdogan Bayraktar.  The raids had been kept secret from the government lest the Erdogan regime warn the ministers.

Investigations have also been launched into Prime Minister Erdogan’s sons Bilal and Bürak along with the newly appointed Istanbul police chief.  The state run Halkbank’s CEO Süleyman Aslan has been charged with taking bribes to circumvent the economic sanctions against Iran.  The police reportedly found $4.5 million in cash stored in shoe boxes in his home.  Police say gold was smuggled into Iran to buy Iranian oil and gas

Erdogan reacted quickly.  He ordered that future police investigations be reported to their superiors.  That order was blocked by a court.  He also, like many other political leaders in trouble, accused foreign countries like the US of fostering the trouble.

Erdogan then struck against the police who are generally more supportive of Gulen, than Erdogan.  He fired over 500 police officers and officials involved in the investigation and replaced with police loyal to himself.  He has also struck against the judiciary system by ordering the police not to obey judicial decrees.

These moves may hamper the police investigation, but they do nothing to stop the political hemorrhaging, help him win the local elections being held in a couple of months, or hold his political alliance together.  He forced three cabinet ministers to resign and has reshuffled the cabinet.  This may have stopped slowed the crisis a bit, but at the cost of political support within his own party.

The eroding support for Erdogan showed when Environment and Urbanisation Minister Erdogan Bayraktar was forced out as a result of his son being caught in the investigation and arrested in mid December.  Bayraktar, previously a close ally of Erdogan, urged the prime minister to follow suit and accused the PM of corrupt real estate dealings.  “For the sake of the wellbeing of this nation and country, I believe the prime minister should resign.”  Bayraktar made his comments during a live interview on NTV, which tried to cut him off and then later edited the interview clip on its website and during subsequent airings on television so that Bayraktar’s comments about Erdogan were missing.

Bayraktar probably voiced what many in the AKP believe is necessary in order to survive politically, but are afraid to vocalize.  However, despite the silence by many party members, the damage has rocked the AKP.  For instance, the previous interior minister, Idris Şahin, resigned from the party over the police purge and after accusing Erdogan of allowing a small oligarchy to run the party.

Three MPs also resigned from the party. One of the MPs, Ertuğrul Günay, left with a stinging attack on Erdogan and the party’s leadership.  “While the party was facing serious accusations, they tolerated the people responsible and ordered disciplinary action against those who were trying to get them to reason,” Mr Günay, himself a former cabinet minister, said in a parting statement.  “They have made my decision easier. The party has evolved into two different wings: the wide base of people who have been oppressed and an overbearing mentality on the top. This mentality has no chance now.

“At this point, those people who have this mentality are sailing to somewhere else, guided by their arrogance. We have come to the point of a parting of the ways.”   Another of the MPs, Erdal Kalkan, warned that more trouble was to come.  “This will not end here,” he said. “Our honorable people see everything.”

The reaction of a national leader to a crisis and mass resignations is instructive.  Some try to regain the initiative by bringing in new opinions and voices to broaden the political base.  Others try to stop the problem by bringing in loyalists who will not ask questions, but follow orders.  Erdogan is one to do the latter.

An example is the new Interior Minister Efkan Ala, who is not a member of parliament but is rather one of Erdogan’s political aides, who reportedly urged Erdogan to crack down harder on the protestors this summer and the Istanbul chief of police to cajole him to use greater force.

Although these new appointments will help Erdogan temporarily stop the problem, he is now relying on politically inexperienced subordinates who do not have the skills or savvy to regain power within the AKP or neutralize public unrest.  That bodes ill for Erdogan’s long term prospects.

Another problem for Erdogan is the growing lack of confidence in the Turkish economy during the continued unrest.  Turkey’s stock market has slumped and the Turkish Lira dropped about 5% in December despite substantial Turkish central bank intervention – only trouble plagued Argentina’s peso did worse.

Turkey heavily relies on foreign investment – which is scared off by political unrest and a government that is accused of corruption.  Interest rates on Turkish bonds are going up, which will economic growth in future quarters.

Inevitably elections revolve around economic issues and Erdogan has stayed in power by keeping the Turkish economy upright and encouraging foreign investment.  The current unrest promises to make the local elections in March a test for Erdogan and the AKP.  However, that is only the beginning as national elections are coming in 2015 and few think the Turkish economy will be helping the AKP.

The AKP is also losing the support of its strong grassroots supporters who back Gulen and his movement.  The Alliance for Shared Values, an organization allied with the Gulen movement released a statement that was critical of the Turkish PM.  It said, “Rather than doing what any democratic government ought to, the present government has attributed these investigations to foreign powers or certain groups. These efforts are perceived by the collective conscience of the Turkish society as an attempt to detract attention from the essence of this case…These are anti-democratic actions by the political leadership that deserve condemnation.”

Erdogan is facing the test common to all long serving politicians – corruption.  For many politicians, the answer is to claim all corruption charges are politically motivated and try to hamstring the investigation.  In democratic societies, this is a short term fix that inevitably leads to political defeat.  This is the course that Erdogan is currently taking.  And, given his penchant to blame other countries for the unrest, it’s probable that Erdogan will try to refocus on international events during this crisis.

This poses problems for US/Turkish relations since Erdogan has implied that the US is behind this political turmoil.  But, it helps him solidify support amongst voters in Turkey who are more suspicious of the US.

There are also two other courses for Erdogan.  One is to be more open to the investigation, take the short term political fallout, but place oneself in a position to win future elections, His arrogance so far makes this option unlikely course.  The second is to subvert the democratic process to ensure future political victories despite any corruption.

In the end, this is about more than corruption and gold smuggling.  It is about the amount of power Erdogan has and how much Turkey’s voters will allow him to have.



The Muslim Brotherhood’s winter offensive

A Year of Too-Great Expectations for Iran

By Mark Hibbs

Carnegie Endowment

December 30, 2013

If all goes according to plan, sometime during 2014 Iran will sign a comprehensive final agreement to end a nuclear crisis that, over the course of a decade, has threatened to escalate into a war in the Middle East. But in light of the unresolved issues that must be addressed, it would be unwise to bet that events will unfold as planned. Unrealistic expectations about the Iran deal need to be revised downward.  In Geneva on November 24, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany agreed to a Joint Plan of Action. For good reason, the world welcomed this initial agreement because it squarely put Iran and the powers on a road to end the crisis through diplomacy.

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An Anticlimactic Referendum in Egypt

By Nathan J. Brown

Carnegie Endowment

December 27, 2013

Egyptians will begin 2014 by heading back to the polls, this time to pass judgment on a new constitution. The draft, actually a series of changes to the old constitution so numerous as to constitute an entirely new document, will be put to a vote in mid-January.  In this Q&A, Nathan Brown argues that approval of the referendum is a foregone conclusion, and the result is likely to resolve little. Indeed, the constitution and the referendum are more likely to exacerbate tensions and divisions in Egyptian politics than to form part of a democratic transition.

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The Islamist Feud behind Turkey’s Turmoil

By Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

December 29, 2013

Wall Street Journal

The news last week about a corruption scandal in Turkey seems on the surface a traditional case of prosecutors ferreting out wrongdoers in high places. But the turmoil that threatens Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been a long time coming and is the most public manifestation of a struggle between Turkey’s two main Islamic-conservative factions hitherto united under the governing party: the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, and the influential, popular Gulen movement.  The past year has already been challenging for Mr. Erdogan. Demonstrations that began in May grew out of anger over plans to develop Istanbul’s Gezi Park and were a liberal affair, challenging the prime minister’s increasingly autocratic rule. The Gezi Park occupants would seem to have little in common with the Gulen movement, an opaque, Sufi-inspired group known for its Islamic piety and, until recently, its support for Mr. Erdogan. But the Gezi and Gulen movements are now de facto, if not actual, partners with similar aims: resisting Mr. Erdogan’s near-total power.

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Saudi Arabia: Outlawing Terrorism and the Arab Spring

By Lori Plotkin Boghardt

Washington Institute

December 27, 2013

PolicyWatch 2187

King Abdullah is expected to decree a new “penal system for crimes of terrorism and its financing” in the coming days. This comes on the heels of amendments to the country’s criminal procedure law earlier this month.   The terrorism crimes legislation passed December 16 by the Saudi cabinet defines terrorism as “disturbing public order,” “endangering national unity,” and “defaming the state or its status,” among other endeavors. A criminal procedure law change that came into effect December 6 legalizes indefinite detention of prisoners without charge or trial.  Together, the new regulations will tighten the legal framework for the kingdom’s approaches to terrorism, nonviolent dissent, and other activity deemed offensive to the government. To date, Saudi Arabia does not have a written penal code, and judges sentence defendants according to their own interpretations of Islamic law based on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, as noted in a Human Rights Watch report released December 18. King Fahd decreed a criminal procedure law in 2001, but judges do not consistently adhere to its provisions. A Specialized Criminal Court has tried both terrorism and peaceful expression cases since it was established in 2008.

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Analysis 27-12-2013


Why was 2013 so Bad for Obama and What Will 2014 Mean to Him?

A year ago, Barak Obama was on the top of the world.  He had been reelected as president, his party had made some modest gains in the Congress, he was looking at the remaking of America, and some Democrats in Congress were writing a Constitutional Amendment that would have allowed him to run for a third term.

As 2013 ends, however, Obama is unquestionably at the perigee of his administration.  His policies, especially Obamacare, are in shambles and his popularity rating is lower than George Bush’s rating at the same time in his presidency.  His State of the Union agenda of action on education policy, immigration, gun control, climate change, job creation, infrastructure, tax reform, and raising the minimum wage remain unfulfilled.
Historically, second terms are difficult for American presidents.  The voters are growing tired of the same policies and the lame duck status makes members of the president’s party eager to find a new leadership to win the next election.  However, for Obama, much of the damage was self inflicted.

One problem was overestimating the extent of his mandate.  Although Obama had won a second term, his margin of victory was smaller than in his first election – a rarity since most presidents, who are reelected, do so by bigger margins.  This meant the electorate was less excited about his presidency than in the first four years and would be less tolerant of his policies.

The weakness of his mandate became obvious even before his second inauguration.  With the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, Obama made gun control his big issue leading into the new term. What he discovered was that his reelection hadn’t changed the politics of American gun ownership.  Democratic politicians quickly deserted him and just weeks after Obama’s victory at the polls, he was giving Republicans a political victory and Democrats a warning that close adherence to Obama’s policies might spell political defeat in 2014.

While a politician like Clinton would have modified his positions and moved towards the political center, Obama continued to spend his political capital on legislative efforts that didn’t’ have broad political backing.  He advocated immigration reform, which is popular with some parts of Obama’s base, but not popular with the average American voter.

Obama also misjudged the battle over sequestering some government money.  His administration stopped White House tours and curtailed some high visibility government operations in hope that the bad publicity would force the Republicans to budge.  However, the story didn’t go the way he expected as the media focused on his golf outings and the rock music concerts being held at the White House for the First Family.

Obama also damaged himself in the foreign policy realm – usually a positive arena for presidents – with his flip-flop on Syria and chemical weapons usage.  He first spoke of a “red line,” then backed down after rushing to accuse Assad of using CW, his critics were quick   to accuse him of vacillating between military strikes and doing nothing.

Obama was also hurt by several scandals – a common curse in second terms.  News that the Obama IRS was auditing Obama’s political enemies had an impact on voters.  Then, the Snowden NSA revelations caused damage to Obama, both domestically and internationally.

The final blow has been the poor roll-out of Obamacare, the one legislative achievement of Obama.  The result has been dramatic.  A survey from Quinnipiac University shows Obama’s approval rating at a negative 38 to 57 percent – a level of disapproval that in 2005 presaged the disastrous election results for the Republicans in the House and Senate in the 2006 elections.

Everyone agrees that 2013 was a bad year for Obama.  The question is if 2014 will be a better one?  Probably not.  American presidential history shows that presidential disapproval only gets worse as the second term goes along.


Looking Towards 2014

The biggest problem for Obama in 2014 is that he has proven himself to be politically tone deaf.  Unlike Clinton, who could redirect his politics, Obama is more ideologically inflexible and more likely to stick to his base beliefs.  This inflexibility will hurt his relations with Democratic politicians who will be forced to run for reelection in 2014 on Obama’s policies and give them reason to not support him or his legislative agenda.

Obama’s tendency to use executive authority rather than congressionally passed legislation will make it easier to do things, but will only frustrate voters who disagree with his policies.  It also gives Republicans issues to run on in 2014.

Politically, Obama is in bad shape with voters according to the polls.  According to the most recent Quinnipaic poll, Obama gets negative scores of 6 to 92 percent among Republicans, 30 to 62 percent among independent voters, 31 to 64 percent among men, 44 to 49 percent among women and 29 to 65 among white voters.

Even Obama’s support amongst his base is eroding.  Obama even gets a negative 41 to 49 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old and a lackluster 50 to 43 percent approval among Hispanic voters.  The only thing holding up his figures is the strong 85 to 9 percent approval rating among black voters.

This will have an impact on the mid term election in November.  Democratic chances of regaining the majority in the House are nil and retained Democratic control of the Senate is in doubt.  American voters say 41 to 38 percent that they would vote for a Republican over a Democrat for Congress, the first time this year the Democrats come up on the short end of this generic ballot. Independent voters back Republican candidates 41 to 28 percent. Voters also said by a 47 to 42 percent margin that they would like to see Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate and the House. Independent voters go Republican 50 to 35 percent for each.

A CNN/ORC poll just released on Thursday confirmed this trend.  It showed that 55% of registered voters say that they are more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who opposes the President than one who supports him and four in 10 say they are likely to vote for a candidate who supports Obama.  There is also an enthusiasm gap that favors the turnout of voters in November.  Thirty-six percent of Republicans say they’re extremely or very enthusiastic about voting. That number drops to 22% among Democrats.

These are harbingers of bad news for Democrats for November.

Should the Republicans control both the Senate and House, Obama’s last two years could be very difficult.  Currently, Obama is protected by a Democratic Senate that can negate Republican control of the House.  However, without the Senate, Obama would be forced to veto legislation that he opposes, but that might be popular with American voters.  He might also find judicial nominations and confirmation of officials in his administration difficult.

This basically leaves Obama with two choices.  Either he can moderate his policies or help Democratic politicians retain their seats in 2014 – which would make his last two years easier.  Or, he can continue along the current track, which will mean continued poor polling for himself and other Democrats – which will lead to electoral disaster in November.

Obama’s current policy is to ignore the election and the polls.  His hope is to use the one area where the US president is supreme to turn events around – foreign policy.  And, at the top of the foreign policy agenda is brokering some deal that stops Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

However, an Iranian nuclear deal is only going to help his presidency if it has the consent of the American voter.  In the case of Iranian negotiations, he is fighting American public opinion.  Americans gave Obama a negative 40 to 48 percent approval for his handling of the situation with Iran in a recent poll. They are split on the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons, with 44 percent supporting the agreement and 46 percent opposed.

One result of the bad poll numbers on Obama’s Iran deal is that several Democratic politicians up for reelection in 2014 are publically opposing the deal and fighting for more sanctions in Iran.  Given the threats by Iran to pull out of the deal if the Congress imposes more sanctions, the chances of the current deal being consummated or a longer term deal being made are poor.

Engineering a Middle Eastern peace agreement is always a goal for American presidents, even though they do little for them during elections (Carter being the prime example).  That’s one reason why Secretary of State Kerry is focused on an Israeli/Palestinian deal at the moment.

However, the odds of such an agreement in 2014 are slim.  As was noted in the poll, some American voter’s blocks are pro-Israel and the Israeli government knows it.  If Obama tries to force them into an agreement with the Palestinian Authority that it doesn’t like, Israel is likely to go over Obama’s head to the American voter this year. From the other side a brewing third Palestinian Intifada is more likely to erupt if the Palestinian Authority buckles under the American pressure and accept a sellout agreement.

Since any agreement will require some American intervention and assistance, that will require congressional approval.  If Israel generally opposes the deal, Democratic politicians will be forced to move away from Obama and support Israel in order to be reelected.  That gives Israel the upper hand in negotiations in 2014 and will make them intractable at the negotiating table.

Domestically, Obama is in even worse shape because Congress has a larger role in the domestic field.  And, Obama has a very weak legislative record.

Contrary to popular belief, gridlock isn’t the reason Obama bypasses Congress.  Frequently, Obama is advocating policies like immigration reform, which are unpopular with the American voter, and therefore, their elected representatives.  One excellent example is the Iranian nuclear deal that is opposed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress as well by the “brainwashed” American people.  The Administration is fighting passage of bipartisan Iranian sanctions legislation that might interfere with the president’s own negotiations.

Obama’s tendency to use executive orders is a sign of that weakness.  By avoiding the legislative route, he is admitting that his policy is so weak that Congress can defeat it and not face any consequences on Election Day.  Executive orders are also vulnerable to being declared unconstitutional by the courts or merely being reversed by the next president.

However, Obama is in a poor position to influence Democratic congressmen in 2014 because he has lost the most important political tools presidents have to influence legislation.

The best way a president has to influence a wavering congressman is to promise to campaign for him in the next election.  This works best in districts with a large number of voters who like the incumbent president.  It is a disaster with a president who is unpopular with independents.  That’s where Obama is with only 30% of independents approving of Obama.  This was confirmed by the CNN poll that showed that 55% of voters are more likely to vote for someone who opposes Obama.  At this point, Obama’s endorsement is a kiss of death.

The president can also help a wavering congressman by helping him in fundraising.  This can even work with unpopular presidents who still retain the support of the major contributors.  This won’t work now, however, because Obama’s fundraising is floundering and many fundraising events have had to sell cut rate tickets to fill up the hall.

Finally, a president can tell a congressman that he will give them a job in the administration if they support him and lose the next election.  However, with Obama having only two more years in office after the next election and Republicans likely to control the Senate where any high level jobs must be confirmed, the promise of a job is less attractive than in the past.

That makes Obama’s legislative muscle very weak.

2013 may have seemed to be a bad year for Obama, but it will probably pale in comparison to 2014.  Obama’s problems in 2013 had no consequence.  There were no elections, so he and his party retained control of the White House and Senate.  The biggest damage was to his popularity, which will have an impact on the 2014 election unless he can restore it.

However, Obama’s chances to restore his popularity are very limited.  First is the historical trend of American voters to tire of their president by the 6th year of the presidency.  His poll numbers may improve in the next 11 months, but probably not by enough to turn events around.

The second problem is that in the field of foreign affairs – the one field the president can have total control over – Obama has chosen to spend his political capital on a very controversial deal with the Iranians on their nuclear deal.

The third problem is that Obama is limited in making any major domestic initiative that may turn things around.  The American president is constitutionally limited in domestic policy and must work with Congress – something that Obama has shown himself unable to do.  2014 will be spent by both parties in Congress defining differences, not working in a bipartisan manner.  His reliance on executive orders will have a long term negative impact because they will tend to be more unpopular with the voter than legislated measures, which will only harden his disapproval figures.


While this happens, expect to see national figures emerge in both the Democratic and Republican Parties.  Obama is already perceived as a “lame duck” that can’t help his fellow Democrats get elected.  That means Democrats will start looking elsewhere for national leadership.  Hillary Clinton is an obvious choice, but other names are already being circulated as the next standard bearer of the Democratic Party.

And, though the Republicans are facing their own intra-party struggles, the potential of taking control of the Senate will encourage them to unite.  In the meantime, several Republicans will start looking at the presidential nomination in 2016.  By this time next year, people like Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, governors; Walker, Perry, and Christie will be making the obligatory trips to early presidential primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Obama still controls the White House, but as with all second term presidents, he is discovering the limitations.  His first year – the more important of the second term – is over, and he has done little.  He and his party face an uphill battle to retain political control later this year and many Democrats will decide their chances are better if they ignore Obama.

Historically speaking, 2015 will even be worse.  Democrats who aspire to the presidency will be starting their campaigns and differentiating themselves by publically disagreeing with Obama’s policies.  As his term winds down, the power of appointment to his administration becomes less valuable and people will see more political advantage by siding with his opposition.

Obama has learned that the American President is the most powerful position in the world.  In the next three years, he will also learn what other presidents have learned – that it can be the most ineffective and frustrating job too.



The Muslim Brotherhood’s winter offensive

By Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Center for Security Policy

December 23, 2014

Sixty-nine years ago this month, Nazi Germany mounted its last, horrific offensive in the dead of winter in what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.  Perhaps taking a page from the playbook of their fellow totalitarians, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have its own audacious winter offensive underway – only this one is being waged inside America, a country the Brothers have declared they seek “to destroy from within.”  At the moment, the object of this exercise appears to be to prevail on the U.S. government to do what it did once before: help install a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt.  The difference, of course, is that the last time was in the heyday of the so-called “Arab Spring,” a moment when the ambitions of Egyptian Islamists and those of their counterparts in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere were temporarily obscured by disinformation and wishful thinking.

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The Potential for an Assad Statelet in Syria

By Nicholas A. Heras

Washington Institute

December 2013

Policy Focus 132

As the fighting in Syria continues with no signs of decisive victory on the horizon, the Assad regime may decide to abandon parts of the country entirely and form a statelet in the western governorates that remain largely under its control. Such an entity could include as much as 40 percent of Syria’s territory and 70 percent of its population. Establishing this statelet and defending it from rebels and al-Qaeda-aligned jihadists could have dire consequences for the Syrian people and the region as a whole, including intractable conflict, forced migration, ethnic/sectarian cleansing, and permanent, restive refugee populations in neighboring countries.  In this Policy Focus, analyst Nicholas Heras assesses the geopolitical, military, and economic implications of such a development, illustrating the various scenarios with detailed maps. As the international community consider negotiations and other options, many Syrians are becoming more fearful of the jihadist threat, more entrenched in their belief that the war is a foreign conspiracy against them, and less likely to support the opposition.

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How much control does Ayatollah Khamenei have in Iranian-U.S. relations?

By Ray Takeyh

Council on Foreign Relations

December 23, 2013

Ali Khamenei is the Supreme Leader of Iran and has the final say on all issues pertaining to its foreign policy. The Islamic Republic has a complex constitutional structure whereby the authority of the president and the parliament are subservient to that of the Supreme Leader. All issues of war and peace, treaties and elections have to be approved by Khamenei. As such, the presidents and foreign ministers can engage in negotiations but cannot commit Iran to a final course until the Supreme Leader approves.  The question of relations with the United States has bedeviled the Islamic Republic since the revolution. Khamenei belongs to the cadre of ideologues who are suspicious of the United States and perceive its presence and influence as subversive. In Khamenei’s view, the United States is determined to overthrow the Iranian regime and its offers of diplomacy and dialogue have to be considered as insincere.

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Analysis 20-12-2013


GCC Nations Create New Joint Command
In the face of a weakening US presence in the region and a potentially stronger Iranian presence, the GCC nations approved the creation of a joint military command structure last week. The three key areas of cooperation will be missile defense, Gulf maritime security, and counter terrorism.
The US quickly responded positively. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was in the Gulf in recent days, outlined steps to increase security cooperation in the Gulf region and maintained that the US would continue to base forces in the Gulf region, “We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf,” he said. This includes 10,000 US Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, radar, surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice, he said.
In addition, this week Obama signed an order that opened the door to sales of missile defense and other weapons systems to the GCC as a bloc. This places the GCC in the same select group of organizations as NATO and the UN in terms of receiving military assistance.
The joint GCC command isn’t a new era of GCC military cooperation. In 1984, the GCC decided to create a joint military force of 10,000 soldiers divided into two brigades, called the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF), based in Saudi Arabia near the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders. It currently contains about 40,000 troops.
However, the military role of Peninsula Shield in the last 30 years has been scant. A force of about 3,000 men from the PSF, in addition to forces of its member states, took part in the U.S. (and other coalition forces) military campaign to force Iraqis out of Kuwait in March 1991. 10,000 troops and two ships of PSF were deployed to Kuwait in February 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, to protect Kuwait from potential Iraqi attacks. It did not participate in operations against Iraq.
Its most active military role was in March 2011, Peninsula Shield forces, requested by the Bahraini government, entered Bahrain via the causeway from Saudi Arabia. The forces were from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Improving GCC Military Cooperation
Although the populations of the GCC nations aren’t great, their combined military forces are (on paper) a formidable force for the region. The nations rely on technology to act as a force multiplier for their smaller military forces. In fact, the GCC put $130 billion into military spending in 2012. “Our estimates showed that there was a real-term increase of over six per cent in 2012, reaching around $130 billion,” said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and Africa editor at the London-based Jane’s Defense Weekly. The big ticket items were missile defense systems, ships, and aircraft.
In terms of the new GCC military cooperation, the biggest impact in terms of spending will be an integrated missile defense system for all the nations. Although each GCC country could develop its own system, the cooperation will allow for an integrated early warning system and deployment of missiles and radar where they would best meet the needs of the GCC – without consideration of national boundaries. Expect increased interest in a major, integrated Patriot/THAAD (Theater High Altitude Air Defense System) purchase.
However, purchases will be a minor part of the new integrated system. Each nation will insist on purchasing its own ships, armor, and aircraft. Counter terrorism and maritime protection are less a function of large military purchases and rely more on cooperation between the various organizations.
Clearly, the GCC nations have been coordinating their efforts. However, an integrated command can boost that coordination. It can also give the GCC a chance to expand its roles and specialize the respective national military forces of its members.
In terms of maritime strategy, the GCC nations have to move from simple coastal protection to the protection of their economic zones inside the Arabian Gulf. Key among these are convoy protection, countering Iranian potential retaliatory threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, monitoring Iranian presence in the Gulf, and projecting GCC power along the Gulf shoreline and onto oil platforms.
Historically, convoy protection has required considerable coordination. The GCC nations have focused on this with the creation of CTF152, which provides maritime security throughout the Gulf. However, that isn’t enough if faced with an Iranian attempt to choke maritime shipping within the Gulf.
Assuming that GCC nations will be committed to protecting all maritime shipping in the Gulf, the various ships of the GCC fleets will have to improve their command and control, their close maneuvering skills, and their defensive plans for convoy protection. To maximize their reliance on Washington, they are cooperating considerably with the US Navy, which has considerable skill in convoy protection.
The GCC navies also need to focus on keeping the Strait of Hormuz open in the face of Iranian opposition. From a passive point, this includes convoy protection, but from an active point of view, this means being able to neutralize Iranian anti-ship missiles on several islands in the Strait, most notably Abu Musa. This was done with the Islands of Loyality Exercise last year where the GCC nations focused on neutralizing Iranian military power on the Tunb islands and Abu Musa.
Another active role for the GCC nations will be counter-mine exercises, since Iran has previously deployed anti-ship mines to hamper shipping in the Gulf. Every year the GCC nations and 24 other countries hold an International Mine Counter Measures Exercise in the Gulf.
Counter mine warfare is also an area of high technology cooperation between GCC nations. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), including larger unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and smaller tethered remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are being used more and more in finding and neutralizing enemy mines. Coordinating the type of robotic vehicles to be used, developing a system to share the information amongst the GCC navies, and developing tactics would be critical to keeping the Gulf mine free during any clashes .
One area of weakness for the GCC nations’ maritime strategy is projecting power along the Gulf coast. Although air power can hit anywhere in the region within hours, naval ships have “staying ability” and can act as the base for amphibious landing that can land the heavy equipment that airborne forces can’t deploy. They can also land on the numerous oil platforms in the Gulf. According to former American military officers served in the region, the UAE has the best amphibious forces among GCC Countries and is best prepared to conduct landing from the sea in support of military operations. They (former officials) are claiming that the UAE also has the ability to seriously damage Iran’s oil exporting infrastructure thanks to its investment in cruise missiles.

Another area of GCC military cooperation could be logistics, which has been a weak point of the GCC. This is a field where NATO was a major benefit during the Cold War. Not only did it standardize munitions and calibers of small arms, it had a unified logistics system of joint storage and stocking so an American unit could order a similar item from a British logistics system using an identical stock number.

The GCC nations have focused more on the major weapons systems and not the munitions needed to make them operational for long times. Three years ago, Saudi Ara¬bia committed to the purchase of nearly 800 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), 1,000 anti-shipping and anti-air defense missiles, and 4,000 guided bombs. The last need was prompted by Saudi Arabia’s rapid expenditure of its entire guided bomb arsenal in fighting against the Houthi rebels on the Saudi-Yemeni border in the summer of 2009, requiring emergency resupply from U.S. operational reserves. Between 2007 and 2011, the UAE likewise purchased over 400 U.S.- delivered AAMs and 2,800 guided bombs.
In addition, there have been recent purchases of large numbers of anti-tank missiles. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress that Riyadh will be given permission to buy 14,000 tube-launched, optically tracked missiles and other weapons in two separate deals valued at nearly $1.1 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia will also eventually receive more than 1,700 similar missiles. This indicates that Saudi Arabia has realized the need to deepen its munitions reserves.
American military experts advise that a better integrated logistics network would allow munitions to be shifted quickly and a centralized GCC reserve to be maintained. In addition, GCC purchases of commonly used munitions could allow for larger orders, lower prices, and greater availability.
Same experts advocate that the GCC nations needs to coordinate their military reaction to a whole spectrum of threats, ranging from simple terrorism to the perceived (but not realistic) threat of a nuclear Iran. This not only includes planning, but assigning areas of responsibility to various GCC nations
This brings us to:

The Major Threats Facing the GCC Integrated Military Command
Protecting Economic Centers. The GCC nations have some of the world’s most economically important targets in their region – ranging from financial centers to oil production facilities. They aren’t only threatened by other countries, but many terrorists whose goals may be very different, but would seek to cause severe economic disruption from a shutdown of the Gulf oil industry.
Obviously, the biggest targets are in Saudi Arabia – The Ras Tanura oil export terminals and Abqaiq refin¬ery in Saudi Arabia. And, this is where improved counter terrorism coordination between GCC nations, the US, and European intelligence services is expected.
From a military point of view, protecting economic centers requires the development and coordination of elite, highly mobile Special Forces skilled in counter terrorism. The GCC nations have developed such groups and have received training from both US and British Special Forces. However, specializing and coordinating these groups would prevent the supplication seen today. For instance, Saudi Special Forces could specialize in protecting and retaking petroleum facilities on land. Meanwhile, UAE forces, who have more seaborne experience, would focus on defense and retaking oil platforms in the Gulf.
Air and missile defense. This is one area which has received a lot of attention and will probably receive the greatest attention with the new military integration. In 2006, the Saudi Arabian deputy minister of Defense and Avia¬tion, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, laid out Riyadh’s think¬ing that Iran’s missiles were the key threat facing his country, noting that the threat “won’t be the Iranian Air Force, or Navy. It won’t be ships or boats. It will be missiles.”
The US will remain a critical player in the ballistic missile defense. US secretary of Defense Hagel said last week that the Pentagon “will better integrate with GCC members to enhance missile defense capabilities in the region,” adding “the United States continues to believe that a multilateral approach is the best answer for missile defense.”
The US Navy also deploys several cruisers with anti-missile capabilities in the region.
Perceived (or imagined) Iranian Threat. This is the major worry for GCC nations – not a nuclear threat, but a threat to their economic security through a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz and harassment of shipping throughout the Gulf.
This is where coordination between the GCC nations is the most critical. Clearly Iran is outgunned with modern armaments by the GCC nations, but they will have to wield it as a coordinated force if they are to be successful.
The Iranian Navy lacks modern equipment and most of Iran’s abilities lie with the Revolutionary Guards fleet of gunboats that can swarm the Gulf. They will rely upon numbers to overwhelm the GCC navies
The GCC nations rely on more modern, more capable fleets that can project power further and stay at sea longer. Their air forces are better able to provide critical air cover. They also have the advantage of having worked with the larger American, British and French fleets.
All the GCC states have invested heavily in the last decade in a new generation of power¬ful offshore patrol vessels that combine good seaworthiness and the ability to stay on station longer. They are well-armed, fast attack naval vessels with day and night sensors and effective offensive weapons systems, such as lightweight precision missiles and robotic stabilized cannons. These ships can out-see and out-shoot any Iranian counterpart. And, their ability to stay at sea longer makes up for the greater numbers of smaller Iranian craft that can’t travel far or stay at sea for long times.
In case of an Iranian threat to the Gulf shipping as result of retaliation to an attack on Iranian targets or interests by US or its allies, the GCC nations have to decide on what action to take and move aggressively. Convoy protection is passive and cannot win – it merely slows the damage to the commercial shipping fleet.
Used aggressively, the GCC nations have a powerful maritime threat if they can or know how to use it. Their ships and aircraft can strike key Iranian naval facilities like those on Abu Musa and neutralize them. They can use guided munitions to strike and destroy Iranian commercial oil facilities. And, they have the ability to carry out amphibious operations against smaller Iranian targets along the coast.
This is where political will and military integration comes in. If the GCC nations see the threat and decide to react aggressively, they have the tools. They however, need the integration necessary to carry it out.
That’s why the GCC announcement to develop a joint military command can be a positive aspect of the regions defense. The GCC nations have developed the capabilities for air and missile defense, maritime strategy, and counter terrorism (even selectively). However, national pride has often stood in the way of using them effectively.

The US and Iran: Sanctions, Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Chloe Coughlin-Schulte and Bryan Gold
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 17, 2013
The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs reached between the P5+1 and Iran has made this a major policy issue for the US, the other members of the P5+1, Iran, Israel, and the other states in the region. It raises major question about the extent to which sanctions drove Iran to negotiate, the impact of the agreement, prospects for broader forms of arms control, and how reaching an agreement affects the real world options for changing the behavior of Iran’s regime. The report provides an in-depth analysis of US and Iranian competition focusing on four interrelated areas – sanctions, energy, arms control, and regime change. It shows this competition has been steadily building since the fall of 2011, when the IAEA issued a new report on the possible military applications of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has continued to issue threats to “close the Gulf,” and has stalled negotiations, spurring a renewed round of sanctions that have had an increasingly significant impact on Iran’s economy throughout 2012 and continuing into 2013.
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Shaping Iraq’s Security Forces
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Sam Khazai and Daniel Dewit
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 13, 2013
Two years after the withdrawal of all US military forces from Iraq, the Iraqi military is facing major challenges as it seeks to confront a resurgence of Islamist violence. The failure to maintain any residual US force in the country to train and support Iraqi counterterrorism operations has placed heavy constraints on the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and on US policy options for confronting terrorism spilling into Iraq as a result of the deepening crisis in Syria. The development of the Iraqi Security Forces has proceeded haltingly, and as a result Iraqi military and police units are ill-equipped to confront the non-state threats currently operating inside Iraq.
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Year Four of the Arab Awakening
By Marwan Muasher
Carnegie Endowment
December 12, 2013
How will history judge the uprisings that started in many parts of the Arab world in 2011? The label “Arab Spring” proved too simplistic from the beginning. Transformational processes defy black-and-white expectations, but in the end, will the awakenings be more reminiscent of what happened in Europe in 1848, when several uprisings took place within a few weeks only to be followed by counterrevolutions and renewed authoritarian rule? Or will they more closely resemble the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, after which some countries swiftly democratized while others remained in thrall to dictatorship? Whatever the case, it is clear that the process of Arab transformation will need decades to mature and that its success is by no means guaranteed. The movements driving it are more unanimous about what they are against than about what they are for. But the debate to define this awakening has begun.
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Tunisia’s Constitutional Process: Hurdles and Prospects
By Duncan Pickard
German Marshall Fund
December 18, 2013
Three unsettled and related issues — the completion of the constitution, the legal framework for elections, and the replacement of the current government — jeopardize progress that has been made in Tunisia’s democracy so far. The chief political parties of Ennahda, currently in power, and Nidaa Tunis, a leading secular party led by long-time politician and former prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi, are currently negotiating the terms of a deal that would cover these three contentious issues. The fundamental socio-political tension in Tunisia can be boiled down, if somewhat crudely, into these two camps: for Nidaa Tunis and a return to the progressive, French-style secularism of former president Habib Bourguiba, and for Ennahda and the rebirth of a Tunisian political identity rooted in Islam. This divide is the theme of the current crisis and likely will remain even in the new constitutional order.
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The Fractious Politics of Syria’s Kurds
By Barak Barfi
Washington Institute
December 18, 2013
PolicyWatch 2184
On November 12, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish group affiliated with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), announced the creation of an interim government in areas under its control in northeastern Syria. The plan has the potential to increase rifts within the opposition and exacerbate regional tensions. To minimize them, Washington should help forge a pan-Kurdish coalition that can devote all of its attention to fighting al-Qaeda elements seeking to exploit Syria’s civil war.
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The Syrian Regime’s Military Solution to the War
By Jeffrey White
Washington Institute
December 18, 2013
PolicyWatch 2185
It has become commonplace to say that “there is no military solution” to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition. The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and “game changers” could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible — and that is what the regime is counting on.
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Analysis 13-12-2013



Kerry Offers Security Guarantees to Israel

 As US Secretary of State John Kerry barnstormed the Middle East, it became clear that providing security guarantees to Israel would be a keystone in progress in Iranian and Palestinian negotiations.  Without them, pro-Israel forces in the US Congress would make any deal nearly impossible.


The push began a few weeks ago when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu slammed the tentative Iran nuclear deal.  In a case of damage control, Kerry visited Israel last week, spoke to the Brookings Institution on Saturday, and made a policy speech on the Middle East on Wednesday.


Kerry insisted last Thursday that Israel’s security is a top priority for Washington, both in nuclear talks with Iran and peace talks with the Palestinians.  Kerry was in Israel for a day of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at breaking the logjam in the peace negotiations which stalled since they began in late July.  He met for more than three hours with Netanyahu in what was their first face-to-face meeting since the controversial nuclear deal struck with Iran.


“I can’t emphasize enough that Israel’s security in this negotiation (with Iran) is at the top of our agenda,” Kerry said at a joint news conference in Jerusalem.  “The United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran’s nuclear program of weaponization possibilities is terminated.” Kerry also stressed the two men had spent “a very significant amount of time” discussing the peace talks with the Palestinians. “Israel’s security is fundamental to those negotiations,” he said.


The most important issue as far as Israel goes is the negotiations with Iran.  Iran’s nuclear capability poses a larger threat in Israel’s eyes than Palestine, and Israel appears to be holding this issue over the heads of the Western negotiators in Geneva.  If Israel is not happy with the Iranian deal, there is no hope of a Palestinian deal or an Iranian deal that passes muster with Congress.


Consequently, Israel has become a “behind the scenes” partner in the Iranian talks as they have had considerable input on what they consider to be acceptable curbs in Iranian nuclear development according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.  Since the start of these talks between Iran and the P5+1 nations, Israel has been in continuous contact with the negotiating teams there, not only to keep itself updated but also in order to try and insert last-minute modifications to the agreement, and to prevent concessions to Iran in regard to its heavy water reactor in Arak.  In return for this, the Israeli PM has curtailed his criticism of the deal with Iran.


Part of the promised American security commitment is the appointment of American General John Allen (USMC-Ret) as a special envoy for US/Israeli security issues.  Kerry described Allen’s role as that of “assessing the potential threats to Israel, to the region, and ensuring that the security arrangements that we might contemplate in the context of this process, will provide for greater security for Israel”.  Kerry said he and Allen had offered Netanyahu “some thoughts about that particular security challenge” in a couple of discussions.  According to a report in Maariv newspaper, Allen was to have outlined a “bridging proposal” which will enable Israel to reduce, as much as possible, its military presence in the Jordan Valley.  However, they stressed that these were “ongoing” discussions, not the presentation of a plan. In his remarks at Saban Forum last week Kerry disclosed the wider range of the security work that he tasked Gen Allen to embark on:
“General Allen is joined by dozens – literally, I think there are about 160 people: military experts, intel experts and others working to analyze this so what we put on the table is deadly serious, real, because these stakes are real. And we have highly qualified defense officials working with dozens of organizations in the United States, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency; the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; DARPA, which is the Pentagon’s research arm that created the Internet; not to mention the Joint Staff and the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. They’re all hard at work, analyzing what began, frankly, back in 2011 as a preliminary analysis was made, and now is becoming state of the art as we ramp it up for this possibility of peace. They’re all hard at work in close consultation with their IDF counterparts. And we will engage in further close evaluation with Shin Bet, with Mossad, with every aspect, and with the Palestinians – and with the Palestinians, which is critical.”


Although the Iranian nuclear issue is seen as the most important, there are voices in Israel that warn that a Palestinian agreement must be reached.  In fact the focus on Iran was heavily criticized by a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, Yuval Diskin.


“The consequences of not having a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more existential than the Iranian nuclear project,” Yuval Diskin told a conference in Tel Aviv.

“Israel must freeze settlement building immediately” in order to reach a much-needed agreement with the Palestinians, Diskin said.


Despite Diskin’s comments, it is clear that the key to any peace accord must primarily address Israel’s concerns about Iran.



What an American Israeli Security Agreement Would Address


In addition to the security measures at the expense of Palestinians outlined previously and considering past Israeli concerns and the science of nuclear weapons, it is likely that the following will comprise the bulk of the agreement – what guarantees and restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program come out of the Geneva talks, what the US secretly agrees to allow Israel to do militarily to Iran ) hypothetically) if the deal falls through, and what the US will tangibly do to support Israeli security.


Israel knows that Iran has crossed the uranium enrichment line, but wants to limit further advancement.  This means Israel has tacitly accepted that Iran can build a first generation nuclear device, but wants to keep them from developing a second generation device.


As Israel sees it, first generation nuclear device using uranium 235 would be very difficult to load on current long range Iranian missiles since they weigh much more (the American first generation atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima weighed about 4.5 tons – this is not indicative of the final weight of an Iranian 1st gen nuclear device, but shows that 1st generation uranium devices are not as sophisticated and miniaturized as 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation designs).


According to reports, Israel’s focus has shifted from concern about enrichment to other technologies that would make an Iranian nuclear device more practical.  That’s one reason why the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor has become so critical.  Heavy water reactors are critical to the production of plutonium, a nuclear weapons material that is critical to the development of smaller and more sophisticated second and third generation nuclear weapons.  By stopping the Arak nuclear plant, Israel can help limit Iran to the development of a first generation nuclear device.


Israel is also focusing on nuclear detonation devices.  Unlike uranium 235, which can be triggered in a very simple gun/target device, plutonium must be triggered by imploding it with a sophisticated array of detonators and explosives that can crush a plutonium sphere into a critical mass.  Eliminate the detonator technology and Iran faces considerable problems constructing a plutonium device.  That makes the development of thermonuclear devices and warheads small enough to fit into a missile much harder.


Of course, these demands don’t detract from Israel’s desire to limit Iran’s enrichment program – especially the enrichment to weapons grade.  Israel asked that world powers insist the agreement committed Iran to convert all of its 190 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium into oxide, which cannot be used to develop nuclear weapons.  This will slow, but not stop Iranian development of a first generation nuclear device.




Israel would also want some sort of guarantee that they could act militarily if Iran breaches the agreement.  This wouldn’t be publicized or put on paper, but would be critical to receiving tacit Israeli agreement to any Iranian deal.


Such guarantees would probably contain several assurances.  First would be that the US would not initiate any sanctions against Israel (or neighboring nation that allows Israel to use their airspace) for carrying out an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities if Iran abrogates the agreement.  The second is that US forces in the Arabian Gulf would “look the other way,” if such an attack were launched.  Finally, Israel would want access to special American munitions like bunker busters to be able to carry out such an attack.


The final aspect to Israeli agreement would be a larger American/Israeli military cooperation.  This would include joint military exercises as has been scheduled in a few months.  However, it would undoubtedly include additional military aid in areas like anti-missile defense for both short range and long range missile threats.  This would also help encourage Israel to soften its stance in its dealings with the Palestinian Authority.


Palestinian Deal goes through Tehran and Geneva


The reason Kerry is emphasizing Israeli security is that it is the hinge on which the whole Obama/Kerry Middle East policy hangs.  An agreement with Iran on nuclear development that doesn’t’ receive tacit Israeli approval (at the least) is bound to fail as a pro-Israel US Congress pushes for more Iranian sanctions, which would abrogate the agreement from the Iranian point of view.  This, in turn would hinder working with Iran on solving Syria’s internal/regional war.


This forces Kerry to balance the desires of both Israel and Tehran in order to get a deal.  At this point this means allowing Iran uranium enrichment capability and the road to a first generation nuclear device.  However, Israel will draw the line at allowing Iran access to technology that gives them the ability to build second generation nuclear devices that are much more portable and pose a greater threat to Israel.


But, Israel will not agree to this unless they have a military option.  Although they are aware that Obama will not want them to strike Iran, they will insist that they will retain the right to do so.  If the US fails to recognize that, rest assured that Israel will work to sabotage the agreement in Congress.


Finally, Israel will want a higher profile American security presence, especially given the bad relations between Obama and Netanyahu over the last few years.  That will make Iran more willing to adhere to any agreement and open the door for a security agreement with the Palestinian Authority.


Kerry has his work cut out for him.  American Middle Eastern policy requires an Iranian nuclear deal coming out of Geneva – one that Iran agrees to and one that Israel can live with.  That requires an Israeli security agreement – one that Israel agrees to and one that the Palestinian Authority can live with.  Whether the pieces can come together has yet to be seen.



Three Negotiations on Iran

By Jon Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 11, 2013


Reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran over the country’s nuclear program will be tough for President Obama. Even successful bilateral negotiations would only be the first step, because in fact, his negotiations with Iran are actually three sets of interconnected negotiations. One set is with Iran, one is with Congress, and the third is with partners in the P5+1. Succeeding with the Iranians without succeeding on the other two fronts would leave the United States and its allies far less secure than if Obama had not negotiated at all.  For all of the focus on the complexity of negotiating with the Iranians, those negotiations are relatively straightforward. The president’s emissaries are in direct discussions with Iranian government officials, and the parameters of the discussions are known. Iran is seeking sanctions relief, and the United States—with its allies—is seeking verifiable guarantees that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.

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Iran and The Gulf Military Balance II: The Nuclear and Missile Dimensions

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 9, 2013


Volume II: The Nuclear and Missile Dimensions addresses missiles in terms of their capabilities in conventional and asymmetric warfare, as well as U.S., Arab Gulf, and allied options for missile defense. At the same time, it analyzes Iran’s nuclear and other WMD programs, Tehran’s possible use of nuclear-armed missiles, and U.S., Arab Gulf, and Israeli options for deterrence, containment, and preventive strikes.  The report shows that Iran’s current missile and rocket forces help compensate for its lack of effective air power and allow it to pose a threat to its neighbors and U.S. forces that could affect their willingness to strike Iran should Iran use its capabilities for asymmetric warfare in the Gulf or against any of its neighbors.At another level, Iran’s steady increase in the number, range, and capability of its rocket and missile forces has increased the level of tension in the Gulf, and in other regional states like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. Iran has also shown that it will transfer long-range rockets to “friendly” or “proxy” forces like the Hezbollah and Hamas.

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Uncertain Future for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s Political Party

By Yezid Sayigh and Raphaël Lefèvre

Carnegie Endowment

December 9, 2013


With the death and destruction in Syria ongoing, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is forming a political party, the National Party for Justice and the Constitution. Known by its acronym, Waad—“promise” in Arabic—the party is meant to represent the Brotherhood, currently in exile, in an eventual democratic transition. Describing itself as “a national party with an Islamic framework [marjaiyyah] that adopts democratic mechanisms in its programs,” Waad is in theory open to all segments of Syrian society.  The Brotherhood’s concern to showcase its commitment to inclusive, pluralist politics and to reiterate its identity as a “centrist” Islamist organization is commendable given the growing radicalization and sectarianism in Syria. But delivering on its promise will prove a tough challenge. Religious and ethnic minorities as well as secular Sunni Muslims are likely to dismiss Waad as a mere facade for the Brotherhood.

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An Unregulated Security Threat

By Andrew J. Tabler

Washington Institute

December 10, 2013

NOW Lebanon


As more and more Syrians flee to neighboring Lebanon, the situation there is a growing national security concern not only for Lebanon, but the entire region. While Hezbollah and Iran are supporting the Assad regime in Syria, their increased vulnerability in Lebanon should give them pause, as the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy and the assassination of Hezbollah operative Hassan al-Laqis show. Instead of continuing their carte blanche support for Assad, the Party of God and Iran have increased reason to constrain him, not only through the international effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, but also via a future political settlement in which the Assad family cabal “steps aside” in favor of a viable transitional government that can truly end the conflict.

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Is Iran Set to Lash Out at Saudi Arabia?

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

December 10, 2013


The November 19 double suicide bombings of the Iranian embassy in Beirut may have looked shocking in the headlines — they killed 23 people. But they also should not have come as a surprise.  Since 2011, Tehran has earned its karma in Lebanon. The attack, whose victims included an Iranian diplomat, was likely payback for the Shiite theocracy’s unwavering support for the Bashar al-Assad regime’s brutal repression of the largely Sunni uprising in Syria. Aided by Iranian troops, weapons and its Lebanese Shiite proxy militia Hezbollah, over the past three years, al-Assad’s government has killed tens of thousands of mostly Sunni Syrians.  The real question is what comes now — and I expect a surge in regional violence. Paradoxically, the international “first step” nuclear agreement with Iran increases rather than diminishes the chances that the Shiite theocracy in Tehran will take steps that exacerbate the regional sectarian conflict.

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Who Are the Foreign Fighters in Syria?

Interview of Aaron Y. Zelin

Carnegie Middle East Center

December 5, 2013


On the side of the Sunni Arab rebels, a conservative estimate would place the number of foreigners at 5,000 individuals, while a more liberal estimate could be upward of 10,000. These totals are for the entire conflict, not necessarily how many are currently on the ground there. Many of them have been killed, arrested, or have since returned home. The speed of this mobilization is unprecedented, compared to for example the foreigners who fought against the United States in Iraq or the Soviets in Afghanistan.  The majority comes from the Arab world, with Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Tunisia in the lead — although the number of Iraqis could be higher than what’s publicly known. The second-largest grouping is Western Europeans, especially from the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Additionally, there are some from the Balkans, the Caucasus, and many other places. By my count, we’ve seen Sunni fighters from more than 60 countries. There has also been an unprecedented number of foreigners coming in to fight for Assad’s regime. While the Sunni jihadis are coming in through informal networks, most of the pro-Assad fighters are Shia Muslims who believe in the teachings of Iran’s former religious and political leader Ayatollah Khomeini and are directed through Iran’s state-sponsored apparatuses.

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Saban Forum 2013—Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East


Brookings Institution

December 6-8, 2013


On December 6-8, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted its 10th annual Saban Forum, titled “Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East.” This year’s event featured webcasted remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

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