Week of May 17, 2019

Does Iran have a Secret Weapon?

There is considerable turmoil and confusion in the Gulf region.  Several oil tankers have been damaged and the prime suspect according to some U.S. pundits is sabotage by Iran or its “proxies”.  The US has sent bombers, an aircraft carrier battle group, and an amphibious Marine battalion to the Gulf region.  The Spanish Navy has withdrawn a Spanish frigate from the battle group because the Spanish government doesn’t agree with the American mission.  Yemen resistance have destroyed part of the Saudi oil infrastructure with drones.  The US is evacuating employees from the Baghdad embassy and the consulate at Erbil. And, there is talk of the US sending 120,000 troops to the region.  But British commanders downplay any threat.

What is going on?  And, what should we be focusing on and what should we be ignoring?

The 120,000 US troops going to the Gulf region is one piece of information to downplay.  There are undoubtedly contingency plans to send troops to the region if hostilities with Iran occur.  However, the US military has contingency plans for a multitude of scenarios, and such plans don’t mean that there is any great chance that they will take place.

The scope of fighting Iran in a conventional war setting is mind boggling.  Since Iran is on the northern coast of the Gulf, it would require a major amphibious operation to move 120,000 Americans to the Iranian coast in an invasion.  In fact, such a move would be the equivalent of the D-Day landings in Normandy 75 years ago.  In that case, it took 5,000 ships to land 155,000 American, British, and Canadian troops on the Normandy beaches.  Not only doesn’t the US have 5,000 ships, the D-Day invasion took 3 years to plan.

Trump called the report “Fake News,” and boasted that if a war with Iran started, more than 120,000 troops would be sent.

One solid fact though is that Spain has ordered its naval frigate, the Mendez Nunez, out of a US aircraft carrier battle group in route to the Gulf, citing, “It will not enter into any other type of mission in the Persian Gulf region.”

Spanish Minister of Defense Margarita Robles said, “The United States government has embarked on a mission that wasn’t scheduled when the agreement was signed.”  Spain wants to avoid being dragged into any kind of conflict with Iran and has made it clear that it is only bound by EU and NATO commitments.

The decision was made during a meeting of European Union defense ministers this week.

Germany and the Netherlands have joined Spain in pulling out their small contingents of soldiers in Iraq.

“The German army has suspended the training,” defense ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff announced, citing the “general heightened alert awareness.”  Flosdorff also noted that there was “no concrete threat at the moment.”

“Germany has no indications of its own of attacks supported by Iran,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

America, however, remains firm about the level of the threat.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Iraqi officials that U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed militias moved missiles near bases housing American forces.

Pompeo made the disclosure to Iraq’s leaders during his surprise visit earlier this month, Reuters reported. The revelation comes just hours after all non-emergency personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq were ordered to leave the country.

He asked the military officials to keep the “Shi’ite militias” in control as they are expanding their presence in the country and now are part of the country’s security apparatus. Pompeo warned that otherwise, the U.S. would have to use force to tackle the security threats.

However, the British commander in charge of the anti-ISIS coalition disagreed.

“No, there is no increased threat from Iranian backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” British Army Major General Christopher Ghika asserted.

For all the saber rattling in the Middle East, the stock markets are remarkably calm – something unusual when tensions boil over.  West Texas Intermediate Crude oil, the American petroleum benchmark, remained relatively stable despite the bombings of the oil tankers in a UAE port.

It seems that the markets consider a major conflict in the Gulf to be a remote possibility and consider a trade war with China a bigger concern.

The reality is that much of what we are hearing is the traditional political “saber rattling.”  The US is more powerful but is committed to lowering its military presence in the region – something the American voters want.  Short of a “major Iranian provocation”, the US will try to keep a lower military profile than it has in the last 20 years.

On the other hand, Iran is aware that the US is more powerful and has an interest in keeping its action within bounds.  “Twisting the American tail” is allowable, but any attempt to threaten American lives could invoke an American response that Iran likely to avoid with the exception it U.S initiate any attack.

However, as seen with the attacks on the oil tankers and the drone attacks on the Saudi oil infrastructure, there is a strong possibility that US intelligence has good information that Iran is a suspect in backing attacks on the US and its allies – attacks that fall short of invoking a major conflict in the area.

Does Iran have something up its sleeve?

A US military expert responded to the Monitor inquiry:” It does appear that either Iran or some of its proxies are trying to attack the Middle East oil supply in order to raise petroleum prices, which would help Iran”.

“Yemen’s Iranian backed Houthi rebels carried out drone attacks on two Aramco pipeline booster stations, which were intended to disrupt world oil supplies” according to Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih.

The Houthi sources said seven drones were used against seven targets.

The most notable attack this week, however, was on four ships near the Strait of Hormuz.  The official US assessment suggested that Iran was most likely to be behind the attacks.  However, others said it was possibly a false flag event.

Imagery of one of the tankers, the Norwegian Andrea Victory, showed a hole at the waterline in the stern.  The hole was too small for a torpedo and appeared to have been caused by a swimmer-carried magnetic mine that was attached to the hull.

If this is so, it raises the question of how the diver got into Fujarian port.  Scuba divers only have a short range and can’t swim against any current.  It’s possible that they started in the port, which raises questions about port security.

If accusing Iran has any validity, it is very likely possibility that they launched from an Iranian submarine, which raises questions about American and GCC anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities and Iran’s submarine warfare capabilities.

Although the US Navy is recognized as being the master in ASW, their expertise has been in tracking Russian (or Soviet) submarines in the deep waters of the Pacific and Atlantic.

The Gulf is quite different.  It is a long, narrow body of water, with high salinity and extremely warm waters.  This causes problems for detecting submarines with sonar.  The Gulf’s thermoclines can transmit submarine noises long distances; however, the thermal layers also mean that a submarine can hide from surface ships by remaining under one of these layers.

There is also the noise of tanker traffic and oil rigs that can hide and confuse sonar.

A review of Iranian academic papers shows considerable interest in sonar detection in the Gulf.  The Iranians are working on advanced ways of detecting targets in the Gulf with advanced algorithms.  A paper last year by Iranian Doctors Alaie and Farsi showed that the Iranians can improve sonar detection by 24%.

Such research could also lead to new techniques to hide Iranian submarines.

Iran has also claimed that it has built a sonar evading submarine.  If the claims about this small sub are true, it could have been an ideal carrier for scuba divers to enter the UAE port and attach mines to the tankers.

Given Iranian research on sonar and operating submarines in the Gulf, it isn’t hard to imagine that Iran may have a technical superiority in ASW and submarine operations within the Gulf.

This can pose a problem for American and GCC ships in the Gulf if hostilities break out.

Although many American ships tend to stay in the Gulf of Oman in order to lessen the risk of attack by Iranian submarines or IRGC boats, US warships do patrol the Gulf.  And, if hostilities do break out, the US Navy may be forced to send additional ships into the Gulf in order to escort tankers.

If Iranian ASW has advanced as a result of their research, these American and GCC ships may face a greater risk from Iranian submarines.  There is also the greater possibility that warships and tankers could be attacked in port with mines – as we saw this week in the UAE.

Although the current events in the Middle East are more likely to be the typical saber rattling, we have seen over the decades, the risk of serious hostilities must be taken into account.

While the US remains the major power, we can’t ignore the possibility that Iran has the proverbial “ace up its sleeve.”

Week of May 10, 2019

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

 

The Heritage Foundation looks at the reasons for Trump sending a carrier task group to the Gulf region.  They conclude, “The U.S. is a global power, with interests and responsibilities around the world. If it can’t demonstrate it can defend all those interests, it stops being a global power. In particular, the U.S. must be concerned about stability on Europe, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific – regions where our economic and political interests are the greatest. Demonstrating, that the U.S. can act in the Persian Gulf – even as it ramps up commitments to NATO, deals with North Korea, and tussles with Chinese and Russian meddling in the Western Hemisphere – is crucial. The U.S. is not the world’s policeman or its babysitter, but it doesn’t want to be blindsided by bad actors who think Washington is so preoccupied elsewhere that they can take advantage of the situation. Thus, the U.S. must demonstrate it is present and capable of acting where it needs to. The deployment to the Gulf will be a deterrent to conflict because it shows the world that the U.S. will act wherever necessary to protect its vital interests. Testing the U.S. is the last step any adversary should want to take, Tehran included.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at why it would be a mistake to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.  They note, “The few offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood that have become violent—Hamas, Hassm, Liwa al-Thawra—have already been designated as terrorist organizations. Designating the Muslim Brotherhood more broadly would not give the United States added tools to go after these groups. Sweepingly targeting the Muslim Brotherhood would create a cascade of diplomatic problems because political parties with Brotherhood roots serve in parliaments and even governments in many countries.”

The CSIS looks at the stability in the Middle East.  The report provides a series of metrics that measure the extent of civil unrest and instability by region and by country. The break-outs by country are critical to understanding the forces at work. The MENA region is often described as Arab – despite the existence of Israel – and as Muslim despite the presence of large Christian and other minorities in many states and the diverse nature of sects within Islam. As the maps in this section show, however, it consists of highly a diverse mix of nations with different neighbors, populations, political and economic conditions, and often major ethnic, regional, tribal, and sectarian differences. In practice, this makes national vulnerability to extremism and terrorism highly case specific, and involves intangibles that cannot be easily quantified, if at all. At the same time, there are many problems and issues in the civil structure of MENA states and other heavily Islamic states that can lead to political upheavals, extremism and terrorism, and civil conflict. The UN’s Arab Development Reports have long warned about these problems, and so have a wide variety of outside intelligence reports, and academic and think tanks studies.

The Washington Institute looks at obtaining a real peace in Yemen.  They note, “Getting the Saudis to pull out will no more end the bloodshed in Yemen than getting the United States to abstain from the civil war in Syria halted the violence there. Nor will a Saudi withdrawal lead to a negotiated settlement. Instead, the fighting will go on, and innocent Yemenis will continue to die until one side—most likely the Houthis—have won. True peace in Yemen will remain elusive unless both sides accept that they have nothing to gain from more fighting. We are not there yet. To get there will require not cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia but threatening to double down on it unless the Houthis honor their commitments to the UN and are ready to disgorge most of their initial conquests. If Washington is serious about ending the war, it must come to terms with this uncomfortable fact.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at how the administration is increasing pressure on Iran by declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.  They note, “More than 600 American servicemen in Iraq have died at the hands of proxy forces enabled by the Revolutionary Guard, which also controls Iran’s ballistic missile program. In short, the Guard is a dangerous and destabilizing organization that specializes in murder and mayhem. Designating it a terrorist group is more than just a fitting moniker, though: It gives the U.S. government additional tools for applying sanctions against the Guard and all foreign entities that do business with them, their subsidiaries and their front companies. “These added sanctions will drain away resources that could be used to export terrorism, thus helping bolster the security of the U.S. and its allies,” writes Mr. Phillips. “This will also benefit the Iranian people, who are the chief victims of the Revolutionary Guard.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at China’s risky Middle East bet.  They note, “Over the past three years, China has charted an ambitious future in the Middle East by forging “comprehensive strategic partnerships” with Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. This is the highest level of diplomatic relations China can provide, and Beijing believes these four countries anchor a neutral position that will prove more stable over the long term than that of the United States. China has also made massive investments in infrastructure throughout the region, including in Israel, where China is now the second-largest trading partner behind the United States… China is making a risky bet in the Middle East. By focusing on economic development and adhering to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs, Beijing believes it can deepen relations with countries that are otherwise nearly at war with one another—all the while avoiding any significant role in the political affairs of the region. This is likely to prove naive, particularly if U.S. allies begin to stand up for their interests.”

The Washington Institute looks at the local Turkish elections, which handed Erdogan a defeat.  They see Erdogan winning the next time.  They note, “For one thing, Erdogan is a populist nativist leader who has won successive national and local elections by demonizing demographics unlikely to vote for him; in response, most of his opponents have tried to be even more nativist and populist than him, with poor results… Erdogan simply cannot afford to lose Istanbul. His long ascent from the city’s mayoral office to the presidency shows the degree to which Istanbul is Turkey’s political brand-making machine. In other words, if Imamoglu’s victory stands, the CHP leader could eventually pose a challenge to Erdogan in the 2023 presidential election. Moreover, Istanbul accounted for nearly a third of Turkey’s $2.3 trillion economy as of 2018, so it plays a major role in oiling the wheels of Erdogan’s political machine, creating loyal support networks in the business community. Erdogan will therefore play a smarter game in the run-up to June 23. In light of the voided March election results, he has apparently decided that the financial and political cost of losing Istanbul far outweighs the loss of legitimacy.”

 

ANALYSIS

 

US Makes Military Moves Against Iran

On Sunday night National Security Advisor John Bolton issued a statement announcing that orders were given to deploy  the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group and four B-52 bombers to the Middle East “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on the United States interests or those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

Secretary of State Pompeo, who had cancelled a meeting with Merkel in Germany in order to go to Iraq, said, We’ve seen escalatory actions from the Iranians and…we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests…(if) these actions take place…We will  hold the …Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.”

According to some reports, the warning came from Israeli intelligence and may have involved Iranian civilian ships carrying missiles.  CNN reported, “Intelligence showing that Iran is likely moving short range ballistic missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf was one of the critical reasons.”

The Iranians called the deployment a “bluff.”  Iran’s top security body called it “psychological warfare meant to scare and intimidate Tehran.”  They said the carrier deployment was using a routine deployment as a pretext for heightened pressure.

Iran also announced that it would start retaining its enriched uranium and heavy water stocks instead of selling them.  Iranian President Rouhani also threatened to increase enriched uranium production unless other treaty partners met their commitments in terms of oil purchases – something that they are unlikely to do as US pressure is forcing them to join the US in imposing sanctions.

However, Iran is hoping to break the sanctions by offering tempting oil exploration contracts and possibly offering to pay fines imposed by the US for sanction busting.  It is also holding out the bait of lucrative defense contracts for Russia and China.

The Meaning of American Military Deployments

The IRGC doesn’t think the US will launch military action against Iran unless it closes the Strait of Hormuz.  They have also downplayed the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group to the region and insisted it is only a scheduled move.

The aircraft carrier deployment was also questioned by the Washington media, who said the announcement was meaningless since the USS Abraham Lincoln was going to the Middle East anyway.  However, the Washington media has no military experience as previous generations of reporters did.

Since the Lincoln was scheduled to move to the Middle East in two weeks, no one in the Washington media saw the significance in the early move.

Aircraft carriers have well planned and tight schedules.  The USS Abraham Lincoln is shifting its homeport from the Atlantic to the Pacific and circumnavigating the globe on its trip.  During the trip, it will be visiting several “hot spots.”

The Lincoln has a multitude of operational commitments during its trip.  After entering the Mediterranean and before transiting the Suez Canal, it had several tasks.  While in the Western Mediterranean, it would carry out exercises with other NATO nations and its Marine detachment would probably carryout maneuvers in one or more NATO countries.  The Lincoln air group would also operate with NATO air forces and carry out simulated missions – likely against “hypothetical” enemies like the Russians.

In addition to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the carrier task force would also have commitments in the Far East with Asian allies like Australia.  It would also likely have some operations in the South China Sea and the strait between Taiwan and China.

While in the Eastern Mediterranean, the carrier task force was to observe the increased Russian naval presence. They would try to learn Russian naval tactics and the proficiency of their ships’ crews.

The electronic surveillance aircraft onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln would monitor Russian airstrikes around Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo.  They would also be available for operations if a serious American military presence was needed in the eastern Mediterranean.  This would include cruise missile attacks on Syria if Trump find it necessary.

By moving the USS Abraham Lincoln to the east and away from the Mediterranean, the US Navy had to cancel several NATO exercises and its monitoring of Russian activity in Syria – hardly inconsequential.

Since the battle group would have resupplied before transiting the Suez Canal, Underway Replenishment and Vertical Replenishment would have to be pushed forward because Europe is a better supply source.  If it is delayed until the ships reached the Gulf region, the battle group faces a longer logistics tail and slower delivery of supplies.

The movement of the four B-52s was also interesting even though bombers are frequently moved to the region.  B-52s can carry out bombing missions from the US, so deploying them to the Middle East, along with their support teams, means they are scheduled to stay for a while.  It also means that the US wants a fast reaction force that can carry out bombing missions within hours and is flexible in its response.  The B-52, which has the largest practical payload in the US Air Force, can either hit targets with precise cruise missile, carry out massive airstrikes, with each bomber carrying about 35 tons of explosives, deploy bunker buster bombs that could penetrate deep underground facilities, or carry out maritime reconnaissance.

Along with the wide assortment of aircraft on the Lincoln, this gives the White House a wide spectrum of military actions.

Obviously, the most likely response is purely as a show of force – one that aimed to convince the Iranians to limit any potential actions.

However, according to military experts close to the administration thinking, the White House can use aggressive force in many ways.

The least confrontational action would be a cruise missile attack on Iranian targets outside Iran like perceived military presence in Iraq or Syria.  In order to limit political fallout, the US forces could limit their role to neutralizing air defenses while IAF aircraft carryout the actual attack.

Same experts asserted that if Iran decides to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers, the carrier battle group, which would remain outside the Gulf, could provide air cover for navies of the GCC nations carrying out convoy duties.  Since the B-52 can loiter, they could remain aloft and carry out strikes as necessary.  While the boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard can harass ships, they are easy targets against the high-flying B-52 and its guided weapons.

Even of Iran doesn’t carry out any actions, the B-52 and its maritime role would be an asset to intervene in stopping armed shipments from reaching Yemen.

While aircraft from the USS Abraham Lincoln, cruise missiles from other US warships, and even B-2s from the US attack air defense systems along Iran’s border, the B-52s could penetrate Iranian airspace and attack critical Iranian targets.

Whether the US would carry out such an attack is unknown, but the threat is serious and Trump has shown that he is willing to make such a move for his own political considerations.

In conclusion, the US military deployment shouldn’t be underestimated.  The US deployment meant the cancellation of several NATO exercises in the Mediterranean.  It meant cancelling important surveillance of Russian ships in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Most important, it meant it couldn’t observe Russian aircraft carrying out combat operations against Syrian rebels.

Finally, it limited the American response if there is a crisis in Syria.

The deployment also meant moving several air crews and support personnel to the Middle East, along with the B-52 bombers.  This is not a minor issue, which is why bombers normally carry out their sorties from US bases in America.

In other words, this was more than a domestic political move, although Trump always aiming in his foreign policy approach to serve his political and electoral agenda.

 

PUBLICATIONS

Trump Tries Gunboat Diplomacy with Iran – Here’s Why He’s Doing It

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

May 8, 2019

The United States is sending a Navy carrier group to the Middle East. Why? Because it can. It’s a continuation of the tit-for-tat struggle between the White House and the regime in Tehran that’s been going on for over a year – ever since the U.S. withdrew from the Obama-era Iran Deal. Washington has no confidence in that deal, which gave Tehran hard cash and sanctions relief up front in exchange for weak restrictions, with sunset clauses, on its nuclear weapons program. Moreover, Iran’s conduct since signing the deal – its support for surrogate forces terrorizing the region and its attempt to use Syria as a strategic corridor for threatening the survival of Israel – has further dismayed the U.S.  Tehran wasn’t happy when Trump pulled out of the deal. The regime faces troubles from within: protests, a tanking economy and botched responses a natural disaster. And it is now more isolated from the international community, due to Washington’s leadership.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/trump-tries-gunboat-diplomacy-iran-heres-why-hes-doing-it

Maximizing Pressure on a Terrorism Importer

By Edwin J. Feulner

Heritage Foundation

May 1, 2019

Maximum pressure.” That’s how the Trump administration describes its approach toward Iran—and lately, it’s really been living up to that billing. Early in April, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard was being designated a foreign terrorist organization. And now administration officials have ratcheted up the pressure even more: Eight countries that import Iranian oil won’t continue getting waivers from U.S. sanctions. Turning the screws tends to get people’s attention, so it wasn’t surprising to hear Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif decry this latest move. To hear him tell it, it’s either a clumsy attempt at regime change, or outright war-mongering by the U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/terrorism/commentary/maximizing-pressure-terrorism-importer

After the Caliphate: Factors Shaping Continuing Violent Extremism and Conflicts in the MENA Region

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 6, 2019

The report provides a series of metrics that measure the extent of civil unrest and instability by region and by country. The break-outs by country are critical to understanding the forces at work. The MENA region is often described as Arab – despite the existence of Israel – and as Muslim despite the presence of large Christian and other minorities in many states and the diverse nature of sects within Islam. As the maps in this section show, however, it consists of highly a diverse mix of nations with different neighbors, populations, political and economic conditions, and often major ethnic, regional, tribal, and sectarian differences. In practice, this makes national vulnerability to extremism and terrorism highly case specific, and involves intangibles that cannot be easily quantified, if at all. At the same time, there are many problems and issues in the civil structure of MENA states and other heavily Islamic states that can lead to political upheavals, extremism and terrorism, and civil conflict. The UN’s Arab Development Reports have long warned about these problems, and so have a wide variety of outside intelligence reports, and academic and think tanks studies. As has been noted in Part One of this survey, these problems have been so serous in countries like Syria and Iraq that they qualify as “failed states.” Few analysts would argue that Libya and Yemen do not qualify as further examples – along with other largely Islamic states outside the MENA region like Afghanistan and Somalia.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/after-caliphate-factors-shaping-continuing-violent-extremism-and-conflicts-mena-region

Nine Reasons Why Declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a Terrorist Organization Would Be a Mistake

By MICHELE DUNNE and ANDREW MILLER

Carnegie Endowment

MAY 3, 2019

There are legal, diplomatic, pragmatic, and civil rights reasons why such a designation would undermine efforts to keep Americans safe from terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) does not fit the legal definition of a foreign terrorist organization. There is no credible evidence that, as an organization, it is using violence to pursue political aims, and it has not deliberately targeted Americans. The few offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood that have become violent—Hamas, Hassm, Liwa al-Thawra—have already been designated as terrorist organizations. Designating the Muslim Brotherhood more broadly would not give the United States added tools to go after these groups. Sweepingly targeting the Muslim Brotherhood would create a cascade of diplomatic problems because political parties with Brotherhood roots serve in parliaments and even governments in many countries. But even a narrower designation of a single Muslim Brotherhood chapter, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, would still do just as much damage to U.S. interests for all the reasons that follow.

Read more at:

https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/05/03/nine-reasons-why-declaring-muslim-brotherhood-terrorist-organization-would-be-mistake-pub-79059

China’s Risky Middle East Bet

By BRETT MCGURK

Carnegie Endowment

APRIL 29, 2019

China is making a risky bet in the Middle East. By focusing on economic development and adhering to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs, Beijing believes it can deepen relations with countries that are otherwise nearly at war with one another—all the while avoiding any significant role in the political affairs of the region. This is likely to prove naive, particularly if U.S. allies begin to stand up for their interests. In meetings I attended earlier this month in Beijing on China’s position in the Middle East, sponsored by the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, Chinese officials, academics, and business leaders expressed a common view that China can avoid political entanglement by promoting development from Tehran to Tel Aviv. China may soon find, however, that its purely transactional approach is unsustainable in this intractable region—placing its own investments at risk and opening new opportunities for the United States.

Read more at:

https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/04/29/china-s-risky-middle-east-bet-pub-79051

Why Erdogan Will Win in Istanbul, and What This Means for Turkish Democracy

By Soner Cagaptay

Washington Institute

May 7, 2019

POLICYWATCH 3116

On May 6, Turkey’s election board canceled the outcome of Istanbul’s March 31 mayoral race, in which opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu defeated Binali Yildirim of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by less than 1 percent of the vote. The ruling came shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged that the race was “stained” and demanded that it be re-run. Signaling the strength of his hold on the country’s institutions, Turkey’s election monitoring body has announced that a new Istanbul election will in fact be held on June 23. Imamoglu faces a seemingly unwinnable battle in his quest to win again, since Erdogan will pull out all the legal, political, and diplomatic stops to bring his candidate (perhaps Yildirim again) to victory.

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/why-erdogan-will-win-in-istanbul-and-what-this-means-for-turkish-democracy

A Real Plan to End the War in Yemen

By Michael Knights, Kenneth Pollack, and Barbara Walter

Washington Institute

May 2, 2019

The Saudi-led intervention may have exacerbated the situation in Yemen, but it did not start the war. Getting the Saudis to pull out will no more end the bloodshed in Yemen than getting the United States to abstain from the civil war in Syria halted the violence there. Nor will a Saudi withdrawal lead to a negotiated settlement. Instead, the fighting will go on, and innocent Yemenis will continue to die until one side—most likely the Houthis—has won…

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/a-real-plan-to-end-the-war-in-yemen

Week of May 03, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of April 26, 2019

Introduction

The 2020 presidential race picks up speed this week as former Vice President Biden joins the race.

The Monitor analysis looks at the future of US-Russian relations now that the Mueller Report says Trump didn’t collude with Russia or Putin.

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary

(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

The Heritage Foundation warns that ISIS will not go quietly.  When looking at potential threats, they note, “ISIS might target Europe instead of the U.S. For one thing, they have done it before and had success. The waves of Middle Eastern migration have been exploited to put in place a network of operatives and sympathizers stretching from the UK over half of Western Europe. In addition, European police forces are struggling to keep up with the threat. They lack officers with language skills and training in community policing and intelligence-led policing, the tools most useful in rooting out local violent extremist activity. In contrast, the U.S. is a much harder target.”

The Washington Institute looks at the Saudi royal succession and the possible outcomes, including MBS not becoming king.  They conclude, “In the current circumstances, the United States should work closely with MbS in order to limit the damage from his excesses, while also maintaining links across the spectrum of the royal family. His succession may appear inevitable, but circumstances could change. Such a bridging policy—allowing for at least the possibility of a non-MbS future—may be inimical to MbS but would be very much in the interests of the United States.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at nuclear weapons modernization.  In their recommendation, they note, “the administration and Congress should continue their support for the Columbia-class SSBN and associated Trident life extension programs, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBM to replace the Minuteman III and refurbishment of 450 launch facilities, the B-21 Raider and the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missile. In addition, the administration and Congress should continue their bipartisan support for existing NNSA warhead and infrastructure programs, DoD life extensions and nuclear command, control, and communications enhancements.”

The Heritage Foundation praises President Trump for vetoing the Yemen War resolution.  They note, “Trump’s veto is also strongly justified on policy grounds. The Yemen war resolution from Congress is a blunt instrument that could have inflicted severe collateral damage on a range of U.S. national interests in the Middle East.  It would have resulted in abandoning allies that are fighting in Yemen to defend themselves and to restore the internationally recognized government of Yemen, which was ousted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 2015 in a bloody coup that violated a U.N.-brokered ceasefire. The Trump administration has already stopped the aerial refueling of Saudi warplanes involved in the Yemen conflict and called for a negotiated settlement…It is no secret that many in Congress saw the vote as a means of punishing the Saudi government for its involvement in the death of Jamal Khashoggi last October. But the measure would have punished not just Saudi Arabia, but also the government of Yemen, and other countries fighting against the Houthis in the Saudi-led coalition: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, and Sudan.”

The CSIS looks at America’s international security assistance.  They note, “Burden shifting responsibly to allies and partners requires the United States to integrate oversight and accountability measures into the implementation of security sector assistance. Oversight and accountability mechanisms for security sector assistance allow the United States to better direct, track, and calibrate its assistance to partners to ensure the full scope of U.S. policy goals are met. However, amid reforms being undertaken by the U.S. government to adapt security sector assistance policy and processes, greater clarity is needed on how to connect policy goals of oversight and accountability to planning, operations, doctrine, and training across the security assistance enterprise.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the local elections in Turkey.  They conclude, “The opposition is now in command of the cities that make up 65 % of the nation’s GDP. Its immediate challenge is to match and outperform the service delivery standards achieved by AKP local governments over the past decades…For Erdoğan, the challenge will be to overcome the perception of weakness in the wake of a major electoral loss. His immediate concern will be the shape of the economy. His political fortunes will depend on how soon he can return Turkey to a path of sustainable growth…Local elections have demonstrated that despite having achieved a remarkable degree of power centralisation, Erdoğan and the AKP remain vulnerable to economic and political undercurrents, just as should be the case in a normal democracy. So, in many ways, the winner on Sunday was the image of Turkey’s polity, both at home and abroad. Despite being saddled with big problems, Turkish democracy demonstrated its resilience and vibrancy, and hinted at a future beyond populist and divisive politics.”

 

ANALYSIS

 

US – Russian Relations in the Post Mueller Report Era

Now that the Mueller Report has concluded that Trump didn’t collude with Russia and Putin to win the presidential election in 2016, the US-Russian relationship is expected to evolve.

The accusations had made President Trump’s actions towards Russia suspect.  Despite accusations that he was too close to Russia, Trump had accused Russia of violating the “spirit and intent” of the 1987 intermediate range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.  He had also imposed sanctions against eight Russian companies for trading with Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

On 26 March 2018, following the United States National Security Council’s recommendation, the U.S. supported the UK’s position on the Salisbury poisoning incident and President Trump ordered the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats and closure of Russian consulate in Seattle.

Despite these actions, Trump was described as weak towards Putin during their talks in Finland last year.  Many said it was a “payoff” for Russia’s help in the 2016 election.

Now that the Mueller report has come out, Trump now has the freedom to carry out normal relations with Russia.  That includes negotiations to reduce tensions, especially in terms of nuclear weapons, and the normal “back and forth” one normally sees between to powers that have opposing policies.

Here is what we can expect to see soon

US – RUSSIA SUMMIT.  Ever since the Cold War began, it has been a policy for the leaders of Russia (or the Soviet Union) and the US to meet in a major summit that took several days.  That hasn’t happened with Trump and Putin because of questions about Russian collusion with Trump.

With the Mueller Report out of the way, we can expect to see planning for a major summit – probably in 2020 – in time for the election.

Since the US and Russia control 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons talks will take priority.  Some of the issues will be the cancellation of the INF Treaty, anti-missile systems, nuclear proliferation, and a recognition that China must be made a co-signer of any major nuclear weapons deal.

The INF treaty will be a major issue and the US is expected to push for a new INF treaty that includes China.  How far Russia will go will depend on other issues with China.  However, since Chinese intermediate nuclear weapons are a threat to Russia, there is no doubt that Putin will be receptive to the issue.

An area of “push back” by Russia will be the deployment of anti-missile systems, especially in Eastern Europe.  The problem is that the US sees these systems as protection of eastern NATO nations that are afraid of a more aggressive Russia.  These missile systems also have some use against Iranian ballistic missiles.

A comprehensive deal is possible between the US and Russia that would re-impose some restrictions on intermediate nuclear weapons and limiting the number and placement of anti-missile systems.  However, the long-term chances of such a deal will depend on China’s willingness to join in negotiations.

CHINA AND RELATIONS WITH THE US AND RUSSIA.  For half a century, there has been a complex dance between Russia, the US, and China.  Starting with Secretary of State Kissinger, the US started warming relations with China in order to offset the Soviet Union.  The result was improving economic and trade relations with China, as well as a natural limitation on Russian ambitions.

Today Russia is looking towards China to limit American expansionism, especially by forcing the US to focus on the South China Sea.  It is also improving economic relations by expressing interest in the “Silk Road” economic initiative that will link Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.  The initiative will include 30% of the world’s GDP and 40% of the world’s population.  Most important, it excludes America.

By improving relations with Russia, the United States can encourage Russia to turn towards Europe again.  The fact is that the new Silk Road is underdeveloped and lacking in infrastructure and money to buy Russian goods.  Europe, on the other hand, has the resources to buy Russian goods and invest in the Russian economy.

However, reopening the economic links between Russia and Europe require a lessening of tensions between Russia, the US, and NATO.  This, in turn requires a serious summit between Putin and Trump, followed by a G-7 Meeting.

SYRIA, RUSSIA, AND THE US.  Although there are neocons in Congress and the Administration that continue to encourage the overthrow of Assad, it appears that Trump wants to reduce the American presence in that nation and eventually to resume normal relations with president Assad government.

The reality is that Russia has won in Syria by backing president Assad and the US should recognize it.  That, however, isn’t that bad for the US.  Russia wants a stable, secular government that will side with Russia and grant Russia military bases.  This, in turn, limits Iranian influence in the area, since Iran desires a stronger influence and isn’t interested in a Syria with a major Russian presence.

This is clearly a case where Russian and American interests coincide.

An advantage for America is that a Syria backed by the Russians will necessarily negatively impact Turkish-Russian relations.  Although Turkey is buying Russian anti-aircraft systems (the top of the line Russian S-400), Turkey and Russia have been enemies for over a millennium.

Turkey sees itself as having the right to interfere in Syrian affairs and will not easily condone Russian interference.  We are already seeing an Erdogan weakened by local elections and in the long run, Turkey will have to realize once again that Russia and Turkey have conflicting policies in the region.  At that time, it will realize that it may be best to “play its NATO card” instead.

The best move for the US is to recognize Russian influence in Syria, which will slow Iranian expansionism in the Levant and force Turkey to reconsider its relations with Russia.

IRAN, THE US, AND RUSSIA.  Historically Russia and Iran have never been natural allies.  Even during the times of the Czars and Persian Shahs, they have fought over influence in Central Asia.  Until recently Iraq was a Russian backed nation while Iran was Western.

That battle over influence continues today, which is one reason for Russia’s interest in a new Silk Road.  They are probably less interested in the commercial advantages than countering Iranian influence in the region.

While Russia and Iran have conflicting interests, the overriding policy is the old proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Chinese and Iranian expansionism has tied down much of the American military and left areas like the Mediterranean empty of American warships.  This gives the resurgent Russian Navy more influence, although their ability to neutralize the US Navy is questionable.

By sanctioning both Russia and Iran, the US has created an economic alliance between the two nations that would have never occurred normally.  With the end of the Mueller investigation, Trump has more flexibility to work with Russia.  This could entail the end of some economic sanctions and closer ties with Europe in return for joining the rest of the world in economically isolating Iran.

One powerful tool that the US has is offering to end the sanctions against Syria.  This would solidify relations between Syria and Russia, build relations with Europe and the US with Syria and would reduce Iranian influence in the region.

SOUTH AMERICA, RUSSIA, AND THE US.  As mentioned in a previous analysis, the United States has historically considered the America’s its own sphere of influence.

Russian and Chinese influence in Venezuela has worried the Americans.  In addition to economically supporting the nation, both countries have sent small numbers of troops to Venezuela to support president Maduro and his government.

Although Russia has supported the status quo, the number of troops is small, and the size of the Russian contingent makes it clear to Washington that there is no interest in making Venezuela area of contention between the two nations.  Washington still hoping that eventually the current regime will collapse, and the Russian troops will be only used to conduct an orderly evacuation of Russian citizens and current Venezuelan government officials.

NORTH KOREA, RUSSIAN, AND THE US.  North Korea, which has closely allied itself with China, is now expanding its diplomatic horizons by holding a summit with Putin.  This is the first meeting between Putin and Kim Jong Un although Putin has visited South Korea and the South Korean president has spoken before the Russian Duma.

Russia joined the rest of the United Nations in condemning the NK nuclear testing and imposing additional sanctions.

Russia sees better relations with North Korea as a counter to Chinese influence.  It also gives North Korea more diplomatic influence in its negotiations with the US.  However, economic relations are limited due to North Korea’s underdeveloped economy.

Since Russia and North Korea have had a long-term relationship, Trump could use Putin to put pressure on Kim.  However, the chance that Russian influence could lead to a breakthrough is unlikely.  In the end, relations between the US and NK will depend on Kim and Trump.

As with the North Korean relationship, improvements between the US and Russia offer limited opportunities. The end of the Mueller investigation will improve the atmosphere between the two nations but will not open a “golden age” of peace and understanding.

The US and Russia will have their disagreements and agreements – as seen in Libya.  However, the current atmosphere allows Trump to work with Russia on several fronts where both nations have similar interests.

It is likely to see more initiatives by the Trump administration in the coming months aiming to reduce tensions with the hope that a breakthrough should occur if and when Trump is reelected, such outcome is looking slim

As time passes.

 

PUBLICATIONS

Strategic Primer – Nuclear Weapons Modernization

By Richard M. Harrison and Mark A. Bucknam

American Foreign Policy Council

March 20, 2019

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been woefully underfunded. The relatively benign appearance of the strategic environment facing America at the start of the 21st century’s second decade led the Obama administration to make “preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism” the top priority of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The 2010 NPR also made clear the president’s policy of “reducing U.S. nuclear weapons and their role in U.S. national security.” Not surprisingly, then, for two-and-a-half decades—a quarter of a century— the U.S. nuclear deterrent mission, and the weapons that underpin it, became an afterthought for the Pentagon’s policy-makers and acquisition officials. Additionally, little coordination took place between the DOE and DoD, the two organizations chiefly responsible for nuclear warheads and their delivery systems, leaving vital scientific and engineering experience to erode.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/uploads/documents/Nuclear_Weapons_Modernization_Primer_-_March_2019_(web).pdf

Shifting the Burden Responsibly: Oversight and Accountability in U.S. Security Sector Assistance

By Melissa Dalton, Hijab Shah, Tommy Ross, and Asya Akca

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 24, 2019

The United States increasingly relies on allies and partners to accomplish shared security objectives around the globe. In recent years, a greater emphasis has been placed from burden sharing to burden shifting—enabling allies and partners to assume responsibility for their own security challenges through security sector assistance. Burden shifting responsibly to allies and partners requires the United States to integrate oversight and accountability measures into the implementation of security sector assistance. Oversight and accountability mechanisms for security sector assistance allow the United States to better direct, track, and calibrate its assistance to partners to ensure the full scope of U.S. policy goals are met. However, amid reforms being undertaken by the U.S. government to adapt security sector assistance policy and processes, greater clarity is needed on how to connect policy goals of oversight and accountability to planning, operations, doctrine, and training across the security assistance enterprise.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/shifting-burden-responsibly-oversight-and-accountability-us-security-sector-assistance

U.S. Must Never be Complacent about ISIS Threat

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

April 19, 2019

Nobody expects ISIS to go quietly into the night. That’s not what Islamist terrorist groups do. What this particular group wants now is revenge for their humiliating defeat in Syria and Iraq. The question is: Where will they strike to try to save face? America is on watch to make sure it doesn’t happen here. Make no mistake about it, losing its self-proclaimed caliphate was a devastating blow to ISIS, psychologically as well as militarily. In the Middle East, power is honor. By controlling a vast territory with over 10 million inhabitants, ISIS commanded honor and attracted more followers eager to back this “strong horse.” But that once strong horse is now seen as powerless in the wake of a counteroffensive that eliminated its control of every last village. Nothing could be more degrading. The only way to get back in the game and regain their “honor” is to demonstrate they can continue to kill innocents and the bigger the numbers the better.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/us-must-never-be-complacent-about-isis-threat

Trump’s Veto of Yemen War Resolution Protects U.S. Security Interests

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

April 18, 2019

President Donald Trump rebuffed congressional efforts to withdraw U.S. support from the war in Yemen on Tuesday, vetoing a bill that would have forced the U.S. to cease support for the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

In his veto statement, Trump explained: This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future. Trump clearly had strong legal, constitutional, and policy reasons for exercising his veto.  For starters, his statement challenged the use of the War Powers Act as a basis for the legislation, S.J. Res. 7, because U.S. military forces were not directly engaged in hostilities in Yemen apart from occasional military operations against al-Qaeda and associated forces, which were explicitly exempted from the legislation. As the president said:  This joint resolution is unnecessary because, apart from counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/trumps-veto-yemen-war-resolution-protects-us-security-interests

 

 

A Fifty-Year Reign? MbS and the Future of Saudi Arabia

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

April 2019

POLICY NOTES 63

King Salman is eighty-three years old and appears to be in increasingly poor physical and mental health. Although he continues to have a packed schedule of meetings, such occasions appear carefully staged. He receives prompts for remarks on a screen often partially hidden by flowers set on a table. He also stoops when he is standing and walks with a stick. When he addressed the Arab League–European Union summit in the Egyptian city of Sharm al-Sheikh in February 2019, he made embarrassing mistakes when reading his speech and, on at least one occasion, lost his place in the text until an aide assisted him. For many months, MbS, thirty-four this year, has clearly been the top decisionmaker in the kingdom. The young royal has been crown prince and heir apparent since mid-2017, when he forced his cousin Prince Muhammad bin Nayef to resign. MbS had previously been deputy crown prince, a position to which he was promoted in April 2015—three months after his father succeeded to the throne on the death of King Abdullah.

Read more:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/pubs/PolicyNote63-Henderson.pdf

Turkish Democracy Is the Winner in These Momentous Local Elections

By SINAN ÜLGEN

Carnegie Endowment

APRIL 3, 2019

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

Read more at:

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

Week of April 12, 2019

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

 

Introduction

Washington remains focused on the fallout of the Mueller report.  There appears to be much more coming from the Department of Justice soon.

The Monitor analysis looks at the Trump Administration’s decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.  We also look at the fallout of that decision and how this may lead to increased tensions across the region.

 

The Heritage Foundation argues that sanction the Iranian Revolutionary Guard will hit Iran hard.  They note, “This will allow U.S. sanctions to hit harder at strategic sectors of Iran’s economy, since the Revolutionary Guard is extensively involved in Iran’s oil, construction, and defense industries. As CIA director in 2017, Pompeo estimated that the Revolutionary Guard controlled about 20% of Iran’s economy. These added sanctions will drain away resources that could be used to export terrorism, thus helping bolster the security of the U.S. and its allies. This will also benefit the Iranian people, who are the chief victims of the Revolutionary Guard. The new sanctions also will ratchet up pressure on foreign firms that continue to do business with Iran. Such firms could now face prosecution in U.S. courts for providing material support for terrorism if they engage in commerce with Iranian entities affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard.”

The CSIS looks at developing strategic partnerships in the Middle East.  The speaker notes, “We need to recognize that the rhetoric of regional security cooperation has always been easier to create than the reality. Historically, the more ambitious the goal has been in creating alliances, the wider the gaps have been between that rhetoric and the reality – particularly when there has not been a clear unifying threat or warfighting need that binds potential allies together. This has been true of far too many past efforts in the MENA region – almost regardless of whether they were attempts at binding Arab states together, or broader partnerships that involved outside powers as well. The Baghdad Pact is an early example of such “over reach,” but so are a long series of efforts to unite the Arab world by the Arab League and to unite the various members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.”

The Washington Institute also looks at the Revolutionary Guard designation at a terrorist group and potential Iranian responses.  They note, “In military terms, Iran may conduct missile launches and drills to show the IRGC’s endurance in the face of U.S. pressure. It is also likely to increase its harassment of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf, perhaps even trying to seize small boats if they happen to venture into Iranian waters (as it did in January 2016). In December, Iran released drone footage of the USS Stennis being harassed by IRGC vessels, claiming that “thirty boats followed the American carrier after it entered the Gulf waters.” And in October, two Iranian attack boats came within hundreds of meters of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex in the Gulf, while CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel was onboard. Iran might also detain more foreign citizens on “espionage” charges as bargaining chips with the United States. It has used this tactic against American citizens more frequently in recent years; going forward, it might focus on apprehending individuals with direct or indirect links to the U.S. Army, hoping to hit them with “terrorism” charges.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the complex partnership between Iran and Russia in Syria.  They conclude, “Thus, divergent plans for Syria and competition over their respective roles in Syria’s future now represent sources of serious tension between Tehran and Moscow. However, it is Iran’s persistent use of Syrian territory to build offensive military infrastructure that forms the biggest threat to Russia’s long-term vision for Syria. Ultimately, there has been no sign that Iran is willing to compromise on its long-term aspirations to become a regional and radical hegemon, and it has only shown a willingness to tactically reduce certain levels of activities to avoid a head-on clash with Russia, or to lower its profile after absorbing painful blows from Israel. And so long as Iran remains committed to its force build-up on Syrian soil, Tehran and Jerusalem will remain on a collision course – even if this conflict has remained muted so far.”

Considering NATO’s 70th anniversary, the Heritage Foundation argues that America needs a larger NATO.  They note, “Inside and outside the alliance, no one wants to pick a fight with Russia. Yet Putin’s aggressiveness – from his invasions of Georgia and Crimea to his militarism in Ukraine – has made joining the alliance even more attractive. And it’s not just nations who’ve already taken casualties who seek membership. In addition to Georgia and Ukraine, Finland and Macedonia are knocking on NATO’s door, membership applications in hand. These countries and more rightly see NATO as a counter to Russia destabilizing adventurism. No wonder Putin wants NATO to stop expanding. It crimps his style. There is zero likelihood that Putin would stop harassing the alliance if NATO stopped taking in new members. Much like the czars of old, he wants a hard sphere of influence over Europe – something possible only if Moscow can break up NATO and decouple the U.S. from Europe.”

The Cato Institute argues that NATO is outdated.  They conclude, “Given Europe’s size, economic strength, and lack of clear and present danger, it is time to end the fantasy of burden sharing. Last year, the United States devoted $1,898 per person to the military. NATO’s European members spent $503. If they take over the core duty of defending Europe, they could spend what they want without hectoring from Washington. They could conciliate or threaten Russia. They could add or eliminate sanctions. They could make whatever decisions they wish, but they would be responsible for the consequences. The United States could become an associate member of NATO, or whatever the Europeans wish to call their new defense compact and forge new agreements with Europe to cooperate where interests coincide. Rather than remain permanently entangled in disputes of little matter to Washington, it could informally play the role of offshore balancer, prepared to respond more directly to any unlikely hegemonic threat. NATO has reached the venerable age of 70. It should be pensioned off and replaced with security architecture developed to meet current challenges.

The CSIS looks at the aftermath of the Syrian civil war.  They note, “Refugees give Assad leverage. Jordan hosts somewhere between 600,000 and 1.3 million Syrian refugees, and Lebanon hosts more than a million. Both are countries with intimate ties to Western and Gulf governments. Another three million refugees in Turkey and a half million in Europe expand the circle of pain still further. Assad has made it difficult for many to return. For Assad, the refugees’ displacement is a relief. He does not need to provide them with food, services, or jobs, and their absence frees up housing for allies who have lost their own. The refugees’ absence also helps ensure that those most likely to be hostile to him are kept at arm’s length, helping guarantee that currently pro-regime areas are heavily pro-regime and allowing him to focus security attention on the frontiers that he is seeking to reincorporate.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Turkish local elections that repudiated Turkish President Erdogan.  They note, “The opposition is now in command of the cities that make up 65 % of the nation’s GDP. Its immediate challenge is to match and outperform the service delivery standards achieved by AKP local governments over the past decades. In the longer term, it will need to cement its alliance at the national level, something that will be facilitated by a more inclusive model of local governance including merit-based staffing policies to replace the ideology-based patronage of the AKP years. For Erdoğan, the challenge will be to overcome the perception of weakness in the wake of a major electoral loss. His immediate concern will be the shape of the economy. His political fortunes will depend on how soon he can return Turkey to a path of sustainable growth. The risks are not negligible given that superficial steps will no more suffice. Deep reforms tackling Turkey’s democratic deficit and rule of law will also be needed.”

 

ANALYSIS

 

U.S. is Increasing Tensions with Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speech given by Dr. Cordesman in late March 2019

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Week of April 05, 2019

ANALYSIS

Another Step Taken in Space Warfare

 

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

Ironically, India was involved in both incidents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Week of March 26, 2019

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

 

Introduction

Washington remains focused on domestic politics, especially the soon to be released Mueller report on Trump and Russia.  Current expectation is that there will not be any surprises in it.

The Monitor analysis looks at the crisis in Venezuela.  Although Trump has made sounds that the US might invade Venezuela, there are considerable political risks to such a move.  We look at other alternatives and try to isolate the reason why a change in government will require more than American resolve.

 

The Cato Institute looks at the foreign policy disconnect between Washington and America.  They note, “Elites are far more likely to view globalization and international trade positively, for example, while the public is are more likely to express support for focusing on domestic affairs over foreign affairs. A 2017 Chicago Council on Global Affairs study found that 90% of Republican leaders and 94% of Democratic leaders believe globalization and trade are “mostly good” for the United States, while the figures hover around 60% for the public. The same study shows that the public, on the other hand, is more sensitive than elites to perceived threats to the economy and to the homeland. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans and 74% of Democrats think protecting American jobs should be a “very important” foreign policy goal, compared to just 25% of Republican leaders and 37% of Democratic leaders. Meanwhile 27% of Democrats, 40% of Independents, and 67% of Republicans view “large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the U.S.” as a critical threat in the next 10 years, compared to just 5% of Democratic leaders and 19% of Republican leaders. Finally, though it depends on the scenario, the public has always been more hesitant about the use of military force abroad than elites.”

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at the differing views of Washington’s elite and the American middle class as it pertains to foreign policy.  They look at the state of Ohio, a bell weather state and note, “many people at the state and local levels are unclear on what all this activity actually entails or how it helps their communities prosper. They worry that policymakers prioritize the concerns of special interests with privileged access and influence. And they mostly depend on big businesses and industry associations to assess the economic implications of U.S. foreign policy—which becomes problematic when the interests of the state’s key industries are at odds with each other or their own workers. Trade-offs assumed to exist between different U.S. states play out within Ohio itself.

The Washington Institute asks if Israeli politics will doom the current American peace initiative?  They note, “But the biggest challenge for Trump may be the shifting political winds in Israel. Only a strong prime minister can take the big risks required for peace, but Netanyahu is struggling to overcome a difficult few weeks. First, there was a merger of two centrist parties, including an unprecedented joining of three former military chiefs of staff who could neutralize Netanyahu’s advantage in the all-important national security sphere. This new Blue-White party is led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who suddenly surged roughly ahead of Netanyahu in the polls. Second, the attorney general’s preliminary indictment against the premier has cast a legal cloud over Netanyahu. Gantz may have a real shot to unseat Netanyahu, though the incumbent prime minister has campaigned relentlessly in recent weeks and erased Gantz’s lead. Netanyahu is confident, too, that he can more easily cobble together a majority coalition. Yet even if he prevails in April, the legal case will dog Netanyahu’s political future for months to come. The Gantz-Netanyahu showdown is already affecting U.S. calculations before the plan is rolled out. At a recent U.S.-led Middle East conference in Warsaw, President Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, announced the U.S. will not release the plan until after the Israeli elections.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at Iran and Russia’s relationship in terms of Syria.  However, they see a split between the two now.  They note, “Recently, Russia acknowledged tensions with Iran more explicitly. In January 2019, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov, rejected the idea that Russia and Iran are allies. Instead, Ryabkov depicted them as simply partners on some goals in Syria, and went as far as to emphasize that Russia remains committed to Israel’s security… More and more, it is apparent that Russia views Iran’s military activities in Syria as a destabilizing factor, while Iran has repeatedly expressed anger about being left out of international negotiations over a political settlement in Syria and has accused Russia and Turkey of trying to sideline it from talks about Syria’s future.”

The CSIS looks at Iran’s growing footprint in the Middle East.  They note, “There is a growing regional conflict with Iran, which consists of a war in Yemen (including the Houthi use of ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia), an escalating conflict with Israel in Syria, a growth of Shia militia forces in Iraq, targeted assassinations, and cyberattacks. Iran’s expanding presence in Syria, for example, has led to concerns among Israeli leaders, who have authorized hundreds of military strikes against missile and other targets over the past few years. Based in part on IRGC-QF assistance, Iran’s partners have improved their capabilities in such areas as missiles and drones. These developments are significant because Iranian leaders have assessed that irregular warfare— including support to non-state partners—is a critical element to competing with the United States in the region.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the increased tensions between Pakistan and India.  They conclude, “In theory the solution is simple: Pakistan’s security establishment must be convinced the cost for using terrorism as an instrument of state policy outweighs the benefits. Showing Pakistan, the tremendous economic and diplomatic benefits it would accrue from abandoning this misguided adventure is the easy part. Getting the U.S. government and international community to do a much more effective job imposing costs has proved more challenging. They will have to devote more time, energy, and diplomatic capital to the endeavor, including pressuring Pakistan’s remaining patrons, China and Saudi Arabia, to help break the destructive cycle. It’s a painful pill to swallow but one necessary to break an even deadlier fever.”

The Hudson Institute looks at the decline in deterrence as a foreign policy.  They note, “The international system is entering a new, more contentious era. The “unipolar era” that followed the Cold War and that saw the United States enjoy a rare period of singular military dominance has passed into history. Not only is military power becoming more diffused, thanks to the introduction of new kinds of military capability; it is also becoming increasingly multidimensional. Moreover, military competitions have expanded progressively into new parts of the globe and new domains to include space, cyberspace, and the seabed. Given these and other ongoing changes in the international security environment, it seems fair to ask: Will strategies relying primarily on deterrence prove as effective in the coming years as they did during the Cold War and unipolar eras? This study finds that changes in the geopolitical and military-technical environments are eroding the effectiveness of strategies based on deterrence. Moreover, relatively recent revelations of Cold War history and advances in the behavioral sciences raise important concerns regarding our understanding of how deterrence has worked in the past, as well as its limitations going forward. In brief, the efficacy of deterrence is being challenged across multiple fronts.”

 

ANALYSIS

 

Venezuela – What are Trump’s Options?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, this isn’t the best option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

India and Pakistan: Living on Borrowed Time

By Jeff M. Smith
Heritage Foundation
March 11, 2019

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

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


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

By A. Trevor Thrall
Cato Institute
March 18, 2019

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

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

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

Russia and Iran’s Complicated Partnership in Syria

By Yaakov Lappin
American Foreign Policy Council
March 8, 2019

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

Read more at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Decline of Deterrence

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

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

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

Are Israeli Politics Dooming Kushner’s Peace Push?

By David Makovsky
Washington Institute
March 19, 2019
Politico

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

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

Week of March 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

The ship is also armed with 80 missiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the War-games Show

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

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

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

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

How did the US go from Strength to Weakness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then they must sell the idea to the politicians.

Week of March 8, 2019

Introduction

The Democratic House of Representatives is starting its push against the Trump White House.

The Monitor Analysis this week looks at the Democratic strategy of investigating Trump.  We don’t see impeachment as the final goal as much as damaging Trump’s reputation so he will lose the 2020 election.

 

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)


The Washington Institute looks at “light footprint” options for America in Syria.  Some of the options include covert U.S. presence, rotational U.S. presence, non-U.S. airstrike controllers, Syrian airstrike controllers, and increased use of artillery systems. A final option is to seek Iraqi government approval for moving more coalition tube artillery and long-range rocket artillery to the border with Syria. Artillery is highly responsive, and fire missions can be called by less-qualified forward observers, potentially including trusted local partners. If additional range is needed, coalition artillery could temporarily deploy into Syria with Baghdad’s permission. Such operations are already undertaken from time to time, involving airmobile insertion of artillery into Syria for specific fire missions.

The CSIS looks at America’s strategic goals in the Middle East after Syria.  They conclude, “The current focus of America’s short attention span – on withdrawing from Syria and making exaggerated claims about the defeat of ISIS – will only make things worse. The same is true of the U.S. failures to try to shape some coherent approach to a wide range of other issues in the region. These failures include key challenges like focusing on burden sharing and arms sales rather than security and stability, failing to reduce the critical divisions between its strategic partners in the Gulf, focusing on the military and civil steps necessary unite Iran and make it an effective check on Iraq, the Gulf, finding better options to dealing with Iran’s growing asymmetric threats, failing to cooperate with its European allies in areas like the JCPOA and Syria, find ways to help heal Yemen, reducing Israeli and Palestinian tensions, and helping its Arab partners address both the civil and security causes of extremism and terrorism…What the U.S. cannot afford to do, however, is to keep on focusing on short-term issues, lurching from one set of poorly defined goals to another, and spending more on defense without far better-defined plans and strategic objectives.”

The Washington Institute looks at the concept of a Turkish “safe zone” in Syria.  A problem they note is the Kurdish demographic.  They write, “Most of affected inhabitants would be Kurds, despite the zone’s presumed exclusion of Qamishli (a large Kurdish-majority city under partial Syrian army control) and Kobane (a Kurdish-majority border town that would likely remain a YPG-controlled enclave). Many of these Kurds no doubt prefer the status quo and would view Turkey as a hostile occupying power, favoring Syrian rule if they had to choose between the two. Anecdotal reports indicate that many Arab residents prefer the status quo as well, though they seem more willing to align with Turkey if it intervened. In short, a unilateral Turkish safe zone could become an arena of contention between the Assad regime and Ankara, between Turkish-sponsored Arab groups and the YPG, and between Kurds and returning Arab refugees. This could in turn provide a favorable environment for IS to reemerge. None of these scenarios is in Turkey or Washington’s interests, which is why Ankara has tried so hard to convince the U.S. to work with it on a zone that is not predicated on Turkish intervention.”

The Cato Institute says the US should withdraw from Afghanistan.  They conclude, “Afghanistan is not a very free and liberal place even with an indefinite U.S. military presence. The Kabul regime is certainly better than Taliban rule, but by no means is it a shining success: It ranks low on democracy, political rights and civil liberties, while ranking one of the highest in the world on corruption. Watching democracy roll back in Afghanistan will be difficult, but it should serve as a reminder that the nation-building mission we elected to adopt after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 was a lost bet from the beginning. We’ve been at it for nearly 18 years, at great cost, and it has failed. Policymakers must learn the limits of U.S. power and refrain from adopting ambitious missions for peripheral interests. Refusing to fight unwinnable and unnecessary wars is the first step to not losing them.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at Pakistan’s problems in light of renewed tension between Pakistan and India.  They note India sees Pakistan in its rearview mirror and is focused on its role as an Indo-Pacific power and a rising global economic player. They conclude, “it doesn’t look like Pakistan can leverage either the U.S. or China to pressure India. Yet dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and accompanying web of corruption that riddle Pakistan presents tremendous challenges as well. On the other hand, a Pakistan that muddles through in South Asia just risks being left further behind. There should be no joy in Washington at Pakistan’s problems. What is in the best interest of the U.S. is a peaceful and prosperous South Asia. But that’s not possible without a Pakistan that can partner with others and deliver the kind of regional economic integration that would jumpstart progress. Washington can’t sugarcoat the problem. Pakistan needs to make some fundamental changes. It must stop indulging terrorism and tolerating corruption. It can begin by remaining engaged with those who are willing work for a better national – and regional – future and by punishing those who make trouble for neighboring countries.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Pakistan-India tension and says Pakistan will not change.  They note, “Consequently, persuading the international community to press Pakistan on terrorism is something that India does because there are few other good solutions. But expecting that to produce a reformed Pakistan would be expecting too much and is not worth undue investment. India must recognize that Pakistani terrorism can at best be mitigated—not eliminated—in the absence of a fundamental transformation within Pakistan.  Mitigation may occasionally require punitive military or covert action but, even when these are tactically successful, their larger effects are rarely enduring. Even targeting of terrorist leaders rarely produces permanent benefits. Not only would they require repeated applications of force inside Pakistan, they would also open the door to destabilizing retaliations inside India with consequences that could spiral out of control.”

 

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Impeachment or Death from a Thousand Cuts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Will the Democratic Strategy work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PJ Media website condensed the polling data this way:

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of March 1, 2019

What Happened at the Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post explained the difficult issues this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Walking Away” as a Negotiation Ploy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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