Week of January 17th, 2015

Executive Summary

The Paris terrorist attacks were the center for focus for the Washington think tank community this week.  Many of the think tanks commented on the attacks – several of which are included here.

The Monitor Analysis looks at Washington’s security response to the attacks.  However, improved security involves many issues – many of the political.  These include a  confused and failed Syrian foreign policy, the ongoing debate on immigration, and an admission by Obama that his war on terror strategy has failed.

Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The Heritage Foundation says the recent Paris terrorist attacks make it imperative that the US refocus on European security issues.  They note, “This is the time for Washington to focus on strengthening ties with major allies in both Eastern and Western Europe. The threat posed by an increasingly aggressive Russia, as well as an array of Islamist terrorist groups, from ISIS to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has made the need for transatlantic military, security, and intelligence cooperation an urgent priority. An estimated 3,000 Islamists based in Europe have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with the Islamist State. Many have returned to Europe to plot terrorist attacks on European soil.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the Paris terrorist’s attacks and its impact on France and the war on terror.  They see a change in type of terrorist involved in attacks today.  They note, “The profiles of the Charlie Hebdo attackers bring to light some challenges specific to France, but also some that are relevant to the European and transatlantic fight against terrorism. First, their biographies underline the need to improve our understanding of a new form of post-9/11 terrorism — one that is much more fluid, Internet-driven, and fueled by a rage against Western society — and of the radicalization process that leads young delinquents to Jihadism, often during time served in prison. Second, police and intelligence services should rightfully see their resources increased to address the growing number of threats, but they do not — and will never — have the capabilities to keep track of all radicals. They can only be one part of prevention policies. Third, the revelations by U.S. intelligence regarding the training of one of the perpetrators, Saïd Kouachi, in Yemen emphasize the need for enhanced European and transatlantic intelligence cooperation to improve our ability to recognize potential threats and coordinate counter-terrorist strategies.”

The Brookings Institution looks at the threat of foreign fighters in the Syrian civil war.  They conclude, “The United States and Europe already have effective measures in place to greatly reduce the threat of terrorism from jihadist returnees and to limit the scale of any attacks that might occur. Those measures can and should be improved—and, more importantly, adequately resourced. But the standard of success cannot be perfection. If it is, then Western governments are doomed to fail, and, worse, doomed to an overreaction which will waste resources and cause dangerous policy mistakes.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the war on ISIS, Iraq, and the collapsing oil prices.  They conclude, “The combination of falling world oil prices and the ISIS conflict has resulted in the most serious fiscal and exchange rate challenges since the 2003 invasion. It is tempting for the new government of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to seek only limited modifications of fiscal and exchange rate policies so as not to run the risk of further destabilizing an already complex situation. And if low – sub-$100 a barrel – oil prices are a temporary phenomenon with higher oil prices returning in 2016, then this limited strategy should work. However, if deceased oil demand from the BRIC countries combined with an increased oil supply driven by both the fracking revolution in the United States and Saudi Arabian attempts to rein in the world oil market, then Iraq may face several years of oil prices substantially below $100 a barrel…A future of low oil prices will require difficult and, to a great extent, irrevocable decisions about both fiscal and exchange rate policies. Rich countries with long histories of stable government can afford to make stupid decisions. Iraq cannot.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the Palestinian Authority’s policy to gain international recognition.  They note, “PA has sought to use the United Nations and other international organizations to achieve its objectives absent negotiations. Most recently, the Palestinians proffered a Security Council resolution setting a deadline for withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 borders. When the resolution did not pass, the Palestinians applied for accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is a continuation of Palestinian tactics over the past few years to exploit the U.N. and other international organizations to bolster its unilateral statehood claims in a deliberate attempt to isolate and delegitimize Israel and avoid concessions that would be necessary in negotiating a peace agreement. This effort runs counter to U.S. policy and U.S. interests and should elicit a firm response, including ending U.S. bilateral assistance to the PA and all U.S. funding to international organizations that grant the Palestinians membership and support treaties to which they become a party.”

The Washington Institute looks at American military financing of Egypt and what is to be gained and lost.  They conclude, “Repressive and otherwise ill-advised Egyptian policies have no doubt fueled some of the Obama administration’s reticence to issue waivers and provide military support. Indeed, Cairo’s behavior is problematic and perhaps even counterproductive to the state’s long-term stability, and many in Washington would prefer to withhold military funding as leverage for improvements in human rights. But a full cutoff in U.S. assistance — especially in the midst of the Sinai insurgency — would neither improve Cairo’s conduct nor enhance the already fraught U.S.-Egyptian relationship. Indeed, precedent suggests that withholding assistance would aggravate — not moderate — the worst tendencies in Egyptian governance. For example, between October 2013 and December 2014, when U.S. funding was conditioned on democratic progress, Cairo passed a draconian new anti-protest law, implemented a more restrictive NGO law, and witnessed Sisi win the presidential election with 97 percent of the popular vote…Washington has already signaled its distaste for some of Cairo’s policies. It can further demonstrate its aversion to repression in Egypt by taking steps to end the courtesy of “cash flow financing,” which allows Cairo to commit to purchasing expensive weapons systems from American defense contractors and cover them with projected future FMF grants. For the time being, though, there is little to be gained and potentially much to be lost by waiting for Egypt’s FMF accounts at the Federal Reserve to zero out.”

The CSIS looks at the latest Saudi succession crisis.  Despite concerns, CSIS notes, “As succession crises go, however, the choice of next Saudi king is likely to be a non-crisis. The Kingdom has come a long way since the struggle that brought Ibn Saud to power. It is now a modern state by most standards, and its royal politics – while both interesting and uncertain – seem unlikely to be a serious source of instability or lead to serious shifts in its strategic role and partnership with the United States.”

As the Iranian nuclear talks restart, AEI looks at Iranian negotiating strategy.  They note, “Iran’s negotiating position as the P5+1 talks restart this week will be an important indicator of the direction of the Supreme Leader’s thinking. If Rouhani is winning the argument with the Supreme Leader, then we would expect to see Foreign Minister Javad Zarif with more room to maneuver, especially on the number of centrifuges. If we don’t see new bargaining positions from Iran, then we can deduce that Khameini is just not willing to go there yet.”

The CSIS looks at the transition in Afghanistan.  It raises serious questions about the political unity of the country and the effectiveness of its government, provides a detailed analysis of the problems resulting fromthe recent election, a growing Afghan budget crisis, and critical problems with power brokers and corruption.  The report indicates that the military situation is far worse than the US Department of Defense and ISAF have reported, and provides detailed graphs and maps showing the real risks of the current security situation. It also provides a detailed analysis of the problems in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the limits in their capability, as well as the weaknesses in past and planned US and allied force development and training efforts. The report suggests that President Obama’s insistence on rapid cuts in the US advisory presence and its near elimination by the end of 2016 could cripple the Transition effort, and that a large and longer conditions-based effort may be critical to success.


America Tightens Security in Wake of Paris Terrorist Attacks

The terrorist attacks in Paris last week and the cyber attacks on Centcom’s social media sites have forced the United States to tighten its security arrangements.

House Homeland Security Committee chair Representative Mike McCaul (R – Texas) said on CBS that he expects to “see more and more” of the Paris style attacks take place around the world.  “I believe… larger scale, 9/11-style [attacks] are more difficult to pull off – a bigger cell we can detect, a small cell like this one, very difficult to detect, deter and disrupt which is really our goal. I think we’ll see more and more of these taking place, whether it be foreign fighters going to the warfare in return or whether it be someone getting on the internet as John Miller talked about, very sophisticated social media program then radicalizing over the internet,” McCaul said.  McCaul called the Paris attack, “the most successful foreign fighter terrorist attack that we have seen to date.”

The terrorism threat is clearly a bipartisan concern.  Democratic Senator Feinstein said, “I think there are sleeper cells, not only in France, but certainly in other countries, and, yes, even in our own.”  She went on to say, “So I think this calls for vigilance. It calls for seeing that the national security organizations of our country — the intelligence community — is funded fully, is directed ably, is cooperating with … British intelligence, French intelligence, German intelligence, as we do.”

There is already evidence that the Paris attack may be spurring attacks in America.  The FBI arrested a 20-year-old Ohio man for allegedly plotting to carry out a terrorist attack on the US Capitol. Government documents filed in the case indicate that the 20-year-old Christopher Lee Cornell, who also goes by the name Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, allegedly planned to detonate pipe bombs in the Capitol and then open fire on people fleeing the building.  He had posted statements on social media sites stating that he supported the acts of ISIS, and that he believed Muslims should wage Jihad by setting up attacks in America.

But, physical attacks aren’t the only threat to the US.  Centcom was forced to shut down its Twitter and YouTube accounts this week after they were hacked into by a group calling itself the Cyber Caliphate. There were tweets praising ISIS and threatening American soldiers such as “AMERICAN SOLDIERS. WE ARE COMING. WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS.” The hackers also published the phone numbers and e-mail accounts of high ranking Army officers while videos glorifying ISIS found their way onto the YouTube account.

Obama’s critics assert that tightening security in the US involves more than additional security at airports and such, to them, the issue is more a political problem than one of reallocating resources to vulnerable targets in the US.

The first problem is that in many ways, the Obama Administration has encouraged and assisted radical forces like ISIS and al Qaeda with its surrogate war in Syria.  Obama’s Syrian policy was unfocused and had no clear cut objective, aside from removing Assad from power.  It was also suffered from fits and starts as the administration vacillated from a “hands off” policy, to remote drone attacks, to arming and training various militias in Syria.  In the meantime, the war in Syria has become a training ground for potential terrorists, who eventually return home to Europe and North America.

Additional security measures will also fall afoul of the immigration debate.  Last month, Congress only funded the Department of Homeland Security for two months so it could address Obama’s controversial immigration amnesty.  By withholding funding for DHS, Congress could limit any immigration action that DHS could take.  However, with the Paris attack, the administration is arguing that failure to quickly fund DHS could hurt the agency’s war on terrorism.  But, despite this concern, Obama has threatened to veto any funding that doesn’t allow him to continue his immigration policy.

Another problem is that admitting that the Paris attacks pose a real threat also means that Obama has to admit that much of his anti-terrorism policy has failed.  Just recently, Obama noted that al Qaeda in Yemen – the same group that took credit for the Paris attack – had been successfully defeated by America.  Therefore, any push to tighten security is to admit that his highly touted anti-terrorism policy has failed.

Tightening Security

Despite the political issues, the US is trying to address the threat.  The White House announced that President Obama will host an anti-extremism summit February 18 to discuss ways to stop the radicalization and recruitment of Americans by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.  However, critics say there is some question about the seriousness of the White House in calling this meeting and insist that it was done in order to seem more concerned about terrorism.

No doubt, there is a greater interest in increasing security at other levels of the government.  The Department of Homeland Security announced that its increased measures include increasing random screenings of passengers at airports as well as ordering the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a short-term review as to whether more is needed.

DHS secretary Jeh Johnson has also ordered heightened security around government buildings, adding to the previous tightening of security procedures that began in October after a shooter attacked Canada’s Parliament. “The precise locations at which we are enhancing security is law-enforcement sensitive, will vary and shift from location to location, and will be continually re-evaluated,” he said.

Johnson said the US would continue to share information with the French and other allies about terrorist threats, suspicious individuals, and foreign fighters.  Johnson added that the DHS is providing state and local law enforcement with FBI training in incident response.  He said he personally met with community leaders in Columbus, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, and Los Angeles to engage them in countering violent extremism and he is looking forward to a White House summit on countering violent extremism on February 18.

But, this additional security is being met by more sophisticated terrorist methods by ISIS and al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda recently posted detailed airplane bombing instructions in its online magazine, including how to build the devices, get them past security, and where to sit on the plane to cause maximum damage. Homeland Security secretary Johnson says there is no specific threat at this time, but explosives expert Kevin Barry said it appeared to be one of the most “sophisticated” non-metallic explosives devices he’s seen, which could especially be a problem for smaller airports that don’t employ high-tech body imaging security devices.

Al Qaeda in Yemen, previously attempted to bring down an American airliner on Christmas Day 2009, but the would-be bomber couldn’t get the device to detonate. That bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, reportedly crossed paths in Yemen with one of the men who executed the Paris terror attack last week.  In response to the accelerated threat, airport security has reportedly been directed to conduct more random searches of both passengers and luggage. The device that al Qaeda described is designed to go undetected by airport metal detectors, but will probably be detectable by the newer full body scanners found at larger airports.

There is also additional concern being shown about America’s rail system, which is a critical people mover in the Eastern US.  Smoke and fire plagued two of the nation’s major metro rail stations this week, raising justified questions about safety and preparedness.  On Monday, one person died and 84 fell ill after heavy smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza Metro in Washington, D.C.  Officials believe an “electrical arcing event” caused the lethal Beltway incident. A probe into the cause of the arcing — as well as an investigation into evacuation delays that trapped hundreds of passengers — is underway.

On Tuesday, an estimated 150 New York Fire Department personnel responded to a three-alarm fire at Penn Station that started before 2:30 a.m. Two firefighters suffered injuries battling the Big Apple blaze, which was initially deemed “suspicious” and then “accidental.”  There is some concern about the reason for the fire as a militant ISIS sympathizer published multiple threats on Twitter a few hours before the fire, warning that “tomorrow New York will burn” and predicting a “3:00 a.m. bomb.”

There is good reason for America’s Homeland Security to be worried.  Rail attacks have been a domestic and worldwide threat for more than 15 years, from the 1997 NYC subway-bombing plot to New Delhi, Mumbai, Chechnya, Madrid and London. Since 9/11, there have been 1,800 worldwide terrorist attacks on surface transport systems, which have claimed 4,000 innocent lives.  Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, told interrogators in 2003 of al Qaeda’s plot to target the D.C. metro rail system.

This is clearly a security problem as three years ago the Government Accounting Office (GAO) concluded that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) was failing to collect and analyze rail security threat data. The audit found that oversight and enforcement of transit security measures were “inconsistent” and inspections so spotty that “three of 19 rail agencies GAO contacted were not inspected from January 2011 through June 2012, including a large (unnamed) metropolitan rail agency.”  The Department of Homeland Security “accepted” the recommendations, but issued no timeframe to address the deficiencies.

There are also concerns about specific probes around government installations.  For instance, the military has tightened security at New Castle Air National Guard Base in Delaware after unknown suspects apparently tried to probe the base for security weaknesses.  The FBI, the Air Force, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and Delaware police are investigating at least five attempted probes of the base perimeter this week.  Vice President Biden has frequently landed and taken off from the base.

The recent cyber attacks on Sony and Centcom have also added cyber security to the more traditional role of physical security.  This week Obama unveiled legislation that would fight cyber terrorism by allowing companies and the government to share information about potential cyber threats and security vulnerabilities.

The proposal, officially announced in a speech at the National Cyber security and Communications Integration Center, hopes to provide incentives to the private sector for participating in information-sharing with the federal government by offering them liability protection. The plan seeks to address privacy concerns by requiring participating companies to comply with a set of restrictions, such as removing “unnecessary personal information,” though the White House fact didn’t specify what those restrictions would entail.

However, the proposal is already facing opposition from privacy advocates, who warn that information-sharing legislation could bolster the government’s surveillance powers. Several groups have insisted that no information sharing bill should be considered before substantial National Security Agency reform.

According to the National Journal, “The Sony hacks demonstrates a failure of corporate digital security, and not a need for greater government information-sharing,” said Amie Stepanovich, senior policy counsel with Access, a digital-freedom group. “The administration’s attempt to use Sony to justify increased transfer of information to the government is difficult to understand, particularly in the absence of substantive NSA reform, a subject the administration has yet to comment on in the new year.”

Although Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – are interested in improving cyber security, the troubling issue of personal privacy is the stumbling block.  Revelations about the extent of the NSA’s spying on Americans have only made any bill that doesn’t provide considerable protection from government spying nearly impossible.

One legislative solution that will receive serious consideration is the current visa program.  Congressman McCaul, said that his House Homeland Security Committee plans to launch an investigation to identify potential security loopholes in the visa waiver program.  “I think we need to take a look at the visa waiver program again, and see what we can do to prevent this kind of thing from happening, because I believe it will happen, if it hasn’t already,” McCaul said.

There is also support for this on the other side of the political spectrum.  Democratic Senator Feinstein pointed out that had the two terrorists who had attacked the newspaper wanted to enter the US, they could have done so using a fake passport.  “They can come back from training, they go through a visa waiver country, and they come into this country,” Feinstein said. “We have a big problem here.”

Although the events in Paris have definitely heightened security in the US, there is no guarantee that it will stop any attack.  As has been mentioned before, lone wolf attacks are very difficult to detect and stop.  While DHS may be able to stop larger, more coordinated attacks, they can’t be everywhere.

Ironically, Gun lobby in U.S. and its advocates are claiming that it may be the American right to own firearms that may protect much of the country from such an attack.  While cities like Washington and New York City have restrictive gun laws, most Americans can own firearms and several million Americans are legally allowed to carry a firearm in public.  As one American noted after the Paris attacks, “This would have never happened in Van Horn, Texas.”



Provocative Palestinian U.N. Actions Require Strong U.S. Response

By Brett D. Schaefer and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

January 12, 2015

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in assistance to facilitate peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Despite America’s financial support and its repeated diplomatic efforts, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has demonstrated little serious interest in negotiating a peace agreement that recognizes Israel’s right to exist, commits the Palestinians to preventing terrorist activity against Israel, and resolves disagreements over borders, security arrangements, Israeli settlements, and Palestinian refugees.  Instead, the PA has sought to use the United Nations and other international organizations to achieve its objectives absent negotiations. Most recently, the Palestinians proffered a Security Council resolution setting a deadline for withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 borders. When the resolution did not pass, the Palestinians applied for accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is a continuation of Palestinian tactics over the past few years to exploit the U.N. and other international organizations to bolster its unilateral statehood claims in a deliberate attempt to isolate and delegitimize Israel and avoid concessions that would be necessary in negotiating a peace agreement.

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Top Five Policy Priorities for Europe in 2015

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

Heritage Foundation

January 14, 2015

Issue Brief #4331

The United States faces mounting challenges in Europe in 2015. Russia is on the march in Ukraine, many of America’s oldest allies question its commitment to transatlantic security, and the economies of Europe have still not fully recovered from the Euro crisis. In addition, the specter of Islamist terrorism has raised its ugly head again in Europe, with the brutal slaying of 17 people in France, including eight journalists at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It is time for the U.S. to renew its commitment to European security, to make NATO relevant again, and to promote economic freedom across the continent. Here are the top five foreign policy priorities in the European region for the Administration and Congress in 2015.

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Transition in Afghanistan: Losing the Forgotten War?

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 12, 2015

The US role in Afghanistan formally transitioned from a combat role to one of supporting the Afghan government at the end of 2014.  It is far from clear, however, that Afghanistan can develop the level of effective political unity, governance and security forces, or viable economy for this transition to work. Moreover, the US faces significant challenges in dealing with Pakistan, and developing a new strategic posture in Central Asia.

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The True Nature of the Saudi Succession “Crisis”

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 9, 2015

Every time a Saudi king gets seriously ill or dies, this triggers yet another media frenzy over a Saudi succession crisis. There is yet another round of speculation about major conflicts within the royal family, the destabilization of Saudi Arabia, and how the various tensions within the Kingdom could somehow trigger a civil crisis or conflict. King Abdullah’s illness is no exception. Anyone who has written on Saudi Arabia already has a flood of calls about what will happen if he dies, whether Saudi Arabia will have a massive political crisis, the royal family will self-destruct, or it will somehow be taken over by jihadist extremists.  Some of this concern is natural. King Abdullah has been an exceptional ruler, and one who has led Saudi Arabia through a remarkably turbulent period in the Middle East.

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Special Report: Possible changes in Iranian foreign policy

By J. Matthew McInnis

American Enterprise Institute

January 14, 2015

President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s recent rhetoric portrays an Iranian regime weighing significant shifts in its foreign and economic policies, including its negotiating position at the nuclear talks. Rouhani has fought since his 2013 election to correct serious flaws he sees in Iranian policy: an excessively confrontational relationship with the United States, unnecessary and damaging isolation from the international community, pervasive public corruption, and an IRGC overly dominant in the economy. Rouhani argues that these problems threaten the economic and political viability of the Islamic Republic. The recent collapse of oil prices has given his warnings new urgency.

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ISIS and Oil: Iraq’s Perfect Storm

By Frank R. Gunter

Foreign Policy Research Institute

January 2015

The combination of the ISIS insurgency and low oil prices are producing an economic shock unprecedented in Iraq’s troubled history. The ongoing conflict will require a sharp rise in security expenditures at the same time that government oil export revenues are collapsing, forcing the government into deficit spending. This deficit spending, combined with a loss in reserves from the Central Bank of Iraq, calls into question the much-vaunted stability of the Iraqi dinar.  In the eleven years since the U.S.-led invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein, Iraq has faced brutal conflict and sharp drops in oil prices but – until mid-2014 – never both at the same time. Following the destruction of the Golden Mosque, Iraq descended into what many analysts saw as a full-fledged civil war in 2006-7. However, not only was a large proportion of Iraqi security expenses paid for by the United States but also world oil prices rose sharply. Combined with a gradual increase in oil export volume, this resulted in a substantial growth in government revenues. And when oil prices collapsed in 2009, the level of violence and associated expenses was the lowest since before the 2003 invasion. The recent combination of an acceleration in violence and an oil price collapse is unprecedented.

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France’s March to Unity — or Further Fragmentation?

By Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer and Martin Quencez

German Marshall Fund

January 13, 2015

On Sunday, around 4 million people marched in France to show national unity against the terrorist attacks that killed 17 in Paris last week. These attacks came in the context of increased terrorist threats and communal tensions in France. The estimated 2,000 French citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq constitute the largest group of Europeans there; about 200 have now returned home. Both al Qaeda and the Islamic State group have called for more terrorist acts in France in response to the interventions in Libya and Mali. Three years after Mohamed Merah’s gun attacks in Toulouse killed seven, and ten months after the murder of four people at the Brussels’ Jewish Museum, which may have involved a French jihadist, the events at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the kosher grocery reinforce the fear that France will be repeatedly targeted by Islamist terrorist attacks in the coming years. In response, the French government is likely to redefine its homeland and foreign security policies, with repercussions for the transatlantic community.

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A Moment of Decision on Egypt 

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

January 14, 2015

PolicyWatch 2355

Although Egypt is an important strategic asset for the United States — granting priority Suez Canal access to American warships and unrestricted overflights to American military aircraft — the new government led by former military commander Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is increasingly repressive. Accordingly, the Obama administration has been reluctant to resume full military and economic assistance to the longtime U.S. aid recipient. If Washington does not deliver in the coming weeks, U.S. foreign military financing (FMF) to Egypt — a constant since Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel — will run out, damaging the already tenuous bilateral relationship.

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Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq 

By: Daniel L. Byman and Jeremy Shapiro

Brookings Institution

January 2015

Many U.S. and European intelligence officials fear that a wave of terrorism will sweep over Europe, driven by the civil war in Syria and continuing instability in Iraq. Many of the concerns stem from the large number of foreign fighters involved.  Despite these fears and the real danger that motivates them, the Syrian and Iraqi foreign fighter threat can easily be exaggerated. Previous cases and information emerging from Syria suggest several mitigating effects that may reduce—but hardly eliminate—the potential terrorist threat from foreign fighters who have gone to Syria.

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


C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Week of January 10th, 2015

Executive Summary

The New Year is here and the Washington think tank community is now back from vacation. A number of studies have been released. Many look at 2015 and what the new Republican Congress should address.

The Monitor Analysis also looks at 2015 and what it sees for the US. While there are many uncertainties, there are some possibilities for Obama, including lower energy prices and a Republican Congress that appears to be willing to compromise in order to govern.

 Think Tanks Activity Summary

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the recent terrorist attack in Paris. They warn US policy makers, “As the U.S. Congress turns this year to the issue of whether to renew, reform, or let die key sections of the Patriot Act on terrorism surveillance, it might want to keep in mind what has just happened in Paris. If a country such as France—with as strong a counterterrorism effort as there is in a liberal democracy—is still vulnerable, it should give some pause to those members who think now is the time to water-down our own counterterrorism efforts.”

The Cato Institute looks at foreign policy for 2015. They warn against additional military intervention and note, “After all, our track record over the last dozen years is objectively terrible: Iraq is a mess, Libya is a mess, Syria is a mess, and Afghanistan is still, despite many years of effort, a mess. It says a lot that the advocates of U.S. nation building efforts have to go back over six decades, to the successful rebuilding of Germany and Japan, and the Marshall Plan in Europe, to make their case. Though these countries were deeply scarred by war, they retained institutions, and social and political norms, that allowed them to recover, some quite quickly. In other words, they weren’t failed states at all. Building healthy states out of weak or failed ones, it turns out, is actually really hard – and rarely worth the effort given that ungoverned spaces aren’t as ungoverned as they might seem.”

The Hudson Institute recommends the new US Congress focus on missile defense, even though some critics suggest suspending building. They warn, “Suspending construction of any of our missile defense systems is a risky venture; an unexpected North Korean or Iranian missile threat to the U.S. homeland could emerge before the new technology is ready. And there is no guarantee that future systems will be more effective than currently available versions. Therefore, the most prudent budget and security strategy for the Pentagon and Congress is to work on improving the existing interceptors while developing and testing new ballistic missile technologies.”

The American Foreign Policy Council suggests the new Congress address the ISIS threat immediately. As they look at the evolving threat, they note, “While the Islamic State is nominally an al-Qaida splinter group and thus fruit of the same poison tree, much has changed. Osama bin Laden is dead, the original al-Qaida organization has been dismantled and new terror leaders and groups have emerged. The country was then in the first year of the George W. Bush administration and is now in the seventh year of Barack Obama’s. Only 24 Senators in the new 114th Congress were also on hand to vote for the force resolution in 2001. It is clearly time to revisit the question.”

The Washington Institute looks at what the US should do when they start to defeat ISIS. They warn that solutions can’t be simple and note, “The Middle East is a cauldron of complexity, dysfunction, and conflict. The United States must remain engaged there given the critical interests reiterated by President Obama — combating terrorism, stopping proliferation, supporting allies and partners, and facilitating the flow of hydrocarbons — but it cannot “fix” the region. This was tried repeatedly in places such as Beirut and Mogadishu, and on a larger scale in Afghanistan and Iraq, with results best characterized as unsatisfactory.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the new leadership in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. They remind the reader that there are still regional differences and note, “These regional rivalries also played out during the contest for the Brotherhood’s top job. The Aleppo bloc initially put forward the candidacy of Aleppine ideologue Zuhair Salem, but withdrew his name in favor of Ghadban, then the head of the Brotherhood’s youth office, who was seen as a stronger candidate. Ghadban hails from the outskirts of Damascus, but he has lived for the past decade in Jordan, where many Brothers fled after the group was outlawed in 1982 following bitter clashes with the regime of Hafez al-Assad. During his time in Jordan, Ghadban befriended major figures from the Aleppine camp who lived there in exile. Walid, for his part, was elected thanks to the votes of the Hama bloc, whose figures could not agree on a name from within their own ranks. All of this suggests the continued relevance of regional rivalries within the group.

The Washington Institute suggests the Palestinian Authority’s move to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a mistake. They note, “The move is bound to deepen the mutual loathing between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas, likely shutting down any political space for further negotiations any time soon. And if negotiations are no longer feasible between Abbas and Netanyahu, it may move the entire Israeli-Palestinian discourse toward unilateralism as long as they remain in office. In terms of Israeli political opinion, the PA’s move is bound to face opposition across the political spectrum, since the thought of Israeli political figures or soldiers being hauled before The Hague is unacceptable to officials and voters of most any stripe. With an election looming on March 17, Netanyahu will likely depict the ICC maneuver as the latest manifestation of international pressure, proving that he needs to remain prime minister in order to thwart such actions. At the same time, the opposition — led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni — will cite the move as a political metaphor for what they call Israel’s growing international isolation under Netanyahu, even as they staunchly oppose what Abbas has done.”

The CSIS looks at Iran and the evolving threats in the Gulf. The brief provides maps, charts, trend analysis and key data on US military capabilities in the Gulf, and how the military spending, arms sales, and forces of the individual Arab Gulf states and the GCC compare with those of Iran. It notes Iran, “has also built up a major missile force that currently has serious accuracy and reliability problems, but which can become far more lethal even if Iran is unsuccessful in acquiring nuclear weapons. Precision-guided conventionally armed missiles could radically change the regional balance, replacing weapons of mass destruction with weapons of mass effectiveness.”





America in 2015

A new year has dawned and there are many questions about how America will react to events in the next 12 months. There are serious questions about the economy, Republican control of the Congress, civil disturbance; Obama’s growing use of executive action to bypass the Congress, and Obama’s weakened foreign policy.

The Economy

Traditionally, Americans view their circumstances in terms of their economic situation – something that destroyed the Democrats in the mid term elections in November. Unfortunately for them, the economy remains in a state of flux. The good news is that gasoline prices have dropped by nearly 50% in the last few months, which gives the average American consumer more money to spend. And, since energy costs are a major driver in economic growth and the price of consumer goods like food, the economy will get a definite boost, which will help Obama’s currently dismal approval ratings.

However, what makes the future economic situation uncertain is the rest of the economy. Although unemployment figures are down, the percentage of people not working is unusually high. And, although the stock market is still moving up, it has been driven by abnormally low interest rates from the Federal Reserve. And, while the stock market still goes up, investors are growing more worried about a major crash.

However, if the stock market doesn’t crash and fuel prices remain low, Obama will have an opportunity to regains some of the popularity he has lost in the past two years.


Obama has made it clear that he will compromise with the Republican Congress only up to a certain point. He has said that he is willing to veto some legislation that will come to his desk, even legislation that is supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

With only two more years remaining in his presidency and no more elections to worry about, Obama is expected to issue more executive orders in order to bypass Congress. These include more environmental regulation, more gun control, more business regulation, and more control of communications.

However, the path isn’t clear for unilateral executive action. Congress still controls the budget process and he will face some opposition. Homeland Security is funded only into February, there needs to be congressional approval of a debt limit in the next few months, and a government budget must be approved by the end of September.

Obama also desperately wants a legacy – something positive that will define his administration. Obamacare was supposed to be that legacy, but it is increasingly likely that it will be gutted by the Congress or the US Supreme Court.

The problem for Obama is that long term legacy legislation requires working with Congress – something he has been unable to do, even when the Congress was controlled by the Democrats. Executive action may make a change, but it can be just as quickly modified or eliminated by the next president.

The one area where Obama can make a long term difference is in foreign policy, since that is his Constitutional prerogative. However, most of his foreign policy initiatives like Iran, ISIS, Cuba, and Russia have come in for heavy criticism.

If Obama wants a foreign policy legacy, he will have to change course enough that some Republicans will support his initiatives.

The Republican Congress

Control of both the Senate and House represents both advantages and disadvantages for the Republicans. Obviously, the GOP can force Obama to accept some Republican legislation, as they did with the omnibus bill passed in December. And, even with the veto threat, they can pass popular legislation and force Democratic congressmen to either uphold the presidential veto or vote to override the veto and remain popular with their constituents.

However, the downside for the GOP is that control of the Congress also means they have a responsibility to keep the government running. That means that they are responsible for unpopular votes like raising the debt limit and continued funding of the government – even unpopular parts of it.

This leaves the Republican leadership walking a find tightrope. They will have to find a fine line between closing down the government and forcing Obama to sign legislation that contains unpopular items.

Ironically, a Republican Congress may be able to do more than the Democratic Congress. As was seen in the omnibus bill passed in December, a Republican House was able to work a compromise with Obama that neither party totally liked, but were willing to accept.

The problem with this compromise legislation is that the left wing of the Democratic Party and the right wing of the Republican Party will not accept such compromise willingly. As the 2016 election gets closer, politicians from both sides will be forced to listen to these voices and the compromise that is possible in early 2015 may be impossible by December 2015.

The Presidential Election

2015 will be the year when politicians will announce that they are running for president.

Currently, the Democratic Party is in a state of suspended animation as they await a decision by Hillary Clinton as to her intentions. This is likely to be a mistake as Clinton has high negatives, although she has name recognition. Should she run, she is not guaranteed to win. On the other hand, she is forcing other potential Democratic candidates to stay out of the race and not begin the critical fund raising necessary for a viable campaign.

The Republicans have a wide field of candidates and several have made it clear that they intend to run. This list includes Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Rand Paul. There are also several others that may throw their hat into the ring.

Although Bush may have the advantage since he comes from the Bush Family, has name recognition, the support of the Bush fund raising machine, and a record as Florida’s governor, a substantial number of Republicans are uneasy with the creation of a Bush presidential dynasty. But, Republicans will likely back him if he is seen as the best candidate to win the White House.

Opposition to Bush may coalesce around Huckabee or Walker – both governors with good records. Huckabee has better name recognition as a former candidate for president in 2008 and the host of his own national TV show. He also has a strong base of conservative Christians. He also has a technical advantage since many southern states, where he is strongest, will have primaries early in the election cycle.

Although not as well known nationally, Walker has a reputation of toughness that will appeal to many in the GOP. Eventually, his success will depend on his ability to raise money in 2015.

The Middle East

American policy towards the Middle East has been fragmented. Obama ran in 2008 on the promise to pull the US military out of Iraq and Afghanistan and mend relations with many of the nations of the region. Instead, the US military is still active in the region and air activity is so extensive that the American drone force is stretched to breaking.

With a Republican Congress and hawks like Senator John McCain having a major impact on foreign policy, expect the US to become more aggressive in fighting ISIS. Syrian rebels and Kurds can expect to see more aid in the next year.

A Republican Congress will also make a nuclear agreement with Iran more difficult. Although Obama can make some economic sanction concessions to the Iranians, Congress may make it harder to reopen full relations with Iran as that would require Congressional funding for opening the embassy and approving a new ambassador to Iran.

One area where little or no movement will be seen is in an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Israel is currently headed towards elections, which makes any agreement in the near future impossible. In addition, both Obama and Kerry have little credibility with either the Israelis or PA to act as a good faith negotiator.

The growing reach of ISIS and al Qaeda, as seen in the Paris attacks, will also become an issue. While Obama has been reticent to take action or even admit to such a terrorist threat, a Republican Congress may force the issue in coming months, especially if more attacks take place in Europe or in North America.


The new Republican Congress may help Obama in facing down Russia. Russia recently named NATO’s buildup on its border as its top threat. For the first time, the new doctrine says that Russia could use precision weapons “as part of strategic deterrent measures,” without spelling out when and how Moscow could resort to them.

This is one foreign policy arena that Obama could come out looking good. With Senator McCain in charge of the Senate Armed Service Committee, Obama will have more flexibility in terms of responding militarily to Russia. Not only could he ask for, and receive, more money for stationing more US forces in Eastern Europe, he could ask for additional money to build up conventional military units that have been degraded in the past few years.

Obama also has two other levers to use against Putin and Russia. The lower oil prices are seriously impacting Russia and its ability to act militarily. Russia is already facing financial difficulties in supporting its defense modernization and expansion – not to mention the additional military operations in the Ukraine. The drop in oil revenue not only lowers his desired influence, it makes Eastern European countries that rely on Russian energy less financially dependent on them.

The other lever Obama has is improving relations with Cuba. As oil revenue drops, Russia will be less able to assist the Cuban regime and the more attractive Cuban/American relations will become.

Dropping oil prices, NATO resolve, and the movement of NATO forces into Eastern Europe are forcing Putin’s hand. If there is one area where Obama may pull of a foreign policy achievement based on mutual compromise, this is it.

Civil Unrest

One situation that has grown worse this last year is the level of civil unrest in the United States. At the beginning of 2014, there were no ongoing demonstrations, clashes with police, or riots.

That has changed dramatically. While Ferguson grabbed most of the headlines, there were major disturbances this year in scores of cities, including New York, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Chicago. And, even though the winter weather has cut back the level of violence, there are weekly disturbances throughout the country like those in restaurants in New York on Sunday.

Although much of the violence can be blamed on a small number of extremists, it appears that these groups – both on the right and left – are preparing for major violence in 2015. The New Black Panthers – a major player in the Ferguson riots – have rented apartments in the St. Louis area so a core of extremists is on-site if more trouble occurs. The New Black Panthers have also started encouraging blacks to start buying firearms and practicing with them in preparation of civil unrest. There is also some indication that ISIS is attempting to recruit some individuals to join future unrest by these groups.

The New Black Panthers aren’t the only ones promising further activities. In Baltimore, a member of the Black Guerilla Family, the same ones blamed for the execution of two New York City policemen, have been testing the security at police stations. Baltimore police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the 29-year-old man walked into the Northeastern District station “fully armed and loaded with drugs on him.”

“An organized gang in the city of Baltimore sent an armed suspect into our building to see our security, to test our security. That is alarming to us, to me. I am going to send a message that we are not going to cower, we’re not going to back down,” Mr. Batts said.

It’s not just black militants promising trouble. A member of the right wing Michigan Militia warned that 2015 was the year when violence would explode and warned militia members to buy more guns and ammunition.

There is also unrest elsewhere. The police, who are increasingly becoming targets of extremists are at odds with political leaders. In New York City, they are ignoring the mayor, who is in charge of the police department – a situation that concerns politicians of all parties. In America, the police are under the control of the elected officials and any indication that they will not obey those officials is a concern.

Although the cold winter discourages violence, the chance of widespread civil unrest will increase as the summer approaches and temperatures increase.

2015 – Better or Worse?

Predictions are always hazardous and where the US will stand on December 31, 2015 is impossible to accurately predict.

No matter what, the presidential election cycle will be in full swing as the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses will be just weeks away. The only big questions will be if Hillary Clinton is in the race and how effective Jeb Bush will be in corralling Republican votes.

Economically, it will be a mixed bag as the stock market remains volatile and the US work force remains at high unemployment levels. That, however, will be offset by low energy prices that will boost consumer spending and lower the cost of production.

Meanwhile, Obama and the congressional Republicans will be forced to work together. Compromises that will anger the extreme wings of both will be necessary to pass the necessary legislation to fund the government. Meanwhile, it’s quite possible that Obama and the GOP may find that they have more in common than they thought.

The biggest wildcard is the threat of civil unrest, which has grown in 2014. Extremists at both ends of the political spectrum are preparing for violence and it will become more likely as the weather warms up in the spring. How extensive the unrest will be will depend on the incident that sparks the confrontations and the police responses to them.

Although the last two years of an eight year presidency are usually bad, Obama has some unique advantages. Energy prices are dropping and at this point in time, it appears that the Republican Congress and Obama can work together. If he ignores ideology and focuses on the practical and encourage republican leadership to do the same, he may be able to create the legacy that every American president desires.



Foreign Policy Lessons for 2015 and Beyond

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

January 5, 2015

A new year offers a fresh start, an opportunity to reminisce about the year past, and to set goals for the future. 2014 was a busy year. Vladimir Putin hosted the world at Sochi, then reacted to a popular revolt in Ukraine by supporting a counter-revolution and annexing Crimea. Other civil wars raged in Libya and Syria, while Egypt’s military quashed any remaining semblance of democracy that had survived from the 2011 protests. The not-destroyed insurgency returned to Iraq with gusto, fueled by American weapons left behind by an Iraqi army unwilling to fight. And the United States continued its habit of conducting numerous tactical operations abroad without any overarching strategy. The news wasn’t all bad: Germany and the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; President Obama proposed normalizing relations with Cuba; and NATO operations in Afghanistan have (kind of) ended.

The lessons from these episodes suggest some useful resolutions for U.S. policymakers:

Read more



Iran, Evolving Threats, and Strategic Partnerships in the Gulf

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 22, 2014

The U.S. and its Arab partners in the Gulf face a wide range of threats. These include the Islamic State and other Jihadist elements, civil war, instability, and divisions in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. It is Iran, however, which poses the most severe military challenge, and one that goes far beyond its search for nuclear capability. Iran has been able to greatly increase its military influence in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria – as well as in some southern Gulf states. Iran has built up a major sea-air-missile force that can conduct asymmetric warfare throughout the Gulf, at the Strait of Hormuz, and in the Gulf of Oman.

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Islamist terror attack in Paris

By Gary Schmitt

American Enterprise Institute

January 7, 2015

The Islamist terrorist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which, so far, has resulted in 12 deaths and many more wounded, should come as no surprise. The satirical weekly has been the target before, having been fire-bombed back in late 2011 after running a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed and its editor has been under police protection for some time. Even though a target of Islamist ire, the magazine has not shied away from running other stories and cartoons offensive to Muslim sensibilities. Just this week it ran a cover story on a new book that imagines a future France in which the country is led by an Islamic party and has a Muslim president who, among other things, bans women from the workplace. Nor is the attack a surprise in the sense that the Islamist threat in France has been reaching crisis proportions in recent months. According to French president Francois Hollande, this attack follows on several more terrorist plots that French security forces had thwarted over the recent holiday season.

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New Leaders for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood

By Raphaël Lefèvre

Carnegie Endowment

December 11, 2014


After three decades in exile, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has been working in recent years to rebuild its influence within Syria. The Islamist group’s 2014 leadership elections have been seen as a key test of whether the Brotherhood can make the changes needed to strengthen the organization and boost its role in the country. While the Brotherhood is often described as one of the most effective forces in Syria’s exiled opposition, it has faced divisions within its ranks. The group’s previous leader, Mohammad Riad al-Shaqfa, completed his four-year term in the summer of 2014 amid low levels of popularity with the base, which blamed him for failing to transform the Brotherhood into a coherent political and military player, among other things.

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Congress Should Act Against The Islamic State Group
By James S. Robbins
American Foreign Policy Council
January 6, 2015
U.S. News & World Report

One of the first orders of business for the new Congress may be to consider a resolution authorizing the use of force resolution in Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led combined joint mission against the Islamic State group. Such a move would be long overdue. Operations against these militants began in June 2014, and are currently being conducted under the authority of a resolution passed three days after the September 11th attacks. That 2001 bill authorized the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the [9/11] terrorist attacks… or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

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Congress’ Missile Defense Opportunity

By Richard Weitz

Hudson Institute

January 6, 2015

One of the first tasks the new Congress will need to consider is how to strengthen the U.S. National Missile Defense program. No congressional responsibility is more important than protecting the American people against nuclear threats from North Korea and other U.S. adversaries. Congress can have an early impact by highlighting the issue during the Senate confirmation hearings for Former Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter. He is a renowned ballistic missile defense expert who, in his response to Senate questions, can help dispel some misconceptions about how next to proceed on this critical issue. The House can augment this process thorough its joint work with the Senate on the Fiscal Year 2016 defense authorization and appropriations bills.

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The Palestinians Go to the ICC: Policy Implications

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

January 6, 2015

PolicyWatch 2353

On December 30, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas signed twenty different international conventions, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The name of the statute refers to the 1998 conference that established the treaty-based court, which began operations in 2002. In principle, the PA’s move enables the ICC to assert jurisdiction over future developments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and empowers any signatory to the Rome Statute — currently including 160 countries — to claim that Israel should be brought to the court on charges of war crimes. Palestinian officials have said that they want the ICC to investigate Israel’s settlement policies. Once any such inquiries were concluded, it would be up to the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda, whether to move forward with actual cases against Israeli officials. Abbas’s move comes on the heels of his failure last week to garner the votes needed for the UN Security Council to approve Palestinian statehood. Although that failure averted a potentially controversial U.S. veto, the ICC move raises other thorny problems.

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Coping With Success Against ISIS

By James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

December 29, 2014

PolicyWatch 2351

The battle against the “Islamic State”/ISIS has just begun, and officials in Washington are reiterating that it will be a long-term fight even in the Obama administration’s priority front, Iraq. Nevertheless, recent successes by Kurdish peshmerga and federal forces controlled by Baghdad point to a reversal of the jihadist group’s offensive in Iraq, likely leading to its containment and eventual eviction from Mosul, Falluja, and Tikrit. As in any military campaign, once the United States and its allies gain the upper hand, their momentum will fuel even more success, as ISIS itself experienced in June when it overran most of Sunni Arab-majority Iraq. Within a year, coalition successes could destroy the group as a major conventional force in Iraq, assuming the administration can answer the “who provides the ground component?” question for offensive action. (One answer to that question could be a mix of twelve Iraqi army and peshmerga brigades reequipped and retrained as planned by the United States, along with Sunni Arab national guard elements and a more aggressive U.S. forward ground presence involving Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and unit advisors; limited American ground troops might be needed to augment such a local force, however.)

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


C: 202 536 8984                 C: 301 509 4144

Week of December 20th, 2014

Executive Summary

The holiday season has slowed the number of publications by Washington think tanks.  However, it has not stopped news as Obama moved to normalize relations with Cuba and Sony stopped the showing of a movie that was critical of North Korea after a major cyber attack.

The Monitor Analysis looks at both of these issues.  We look at the political problems that Obama will have in normalizing relations with Cuba and the political ramifications, especially in the 2016 presidential elections.  Florida, a critical state in the 2016 election, is home to many Cuban-Americans hostile to this move.  In addition, two Republican presidential contenders have Cuban-American roots.

The Monitor Analysis also looks at the North Korean cyberwarfare capability and finds it formidable.  NK has a history of launching cyberattacks against South Korean entities and even the US government.  The recent cyber attacks against Sony are a warning for all governments and corporations.

Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The CSIS looks at the rise of religious radicalism after the Arab uprisings in a new book.  The book notes, “The chaos engulfing parts of the region convinced some citizens that they were better off with the governments they had, and many governments successfully employed old and new tools of repression to reinforce the status quo.  In the Middle East, conflicts that many thought were coming to an end will continue, as will the dynamism and innovation that have emerged among radical and opposition groups. To face the current threats, governments will need to use many of their existing tools skillfully, but they will also need to judge what tools will no longer work, and what new tools they have at their disposal.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the growing political rift in Saudi Arabia.  They recommend, “Washington should demand the repeal of sweeping new anti-terrorism laws that criminalize broad categories of social and political activism, such as that of Nimr and Shammari. The United States also should be wary of religion-based “counterradicalization” programs that are showcased by Riyadh’s state-funded clerical establishment as part of the fight against the Islamic State. “Counterradical” does not mean “countersectarian” in the Saudi context. Many of the clerical arguments in these programs are geared toward insulating the regime from the radicals’ attacks while ignoring the more intolerant, sectarian, and anti-American tenets of extremist discourse. And because the clerics delivering these messages are tied to the government, they often lack credibility in the eyes of the audiences most susceptible to the Islamic State’s appeal.”

The Cato Institute looks at the contradictions in Obama’s ISIS policy.  They note, “Obama administration officials need to face the prospect that relinquishing the goal of preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria may be a price that must be paid to defeat ISIS. One of the most appealing secular allies in Syria is the Kurdish population in the north and northeast of the country. But most Kurds are ambivalent, at best, about restoring a united Syrian state ruled from Damascus. Instead, many of them favor creating an autonomous region similar to the self-governing Kurdish region next door in Iraq. U.S. officials need to ask themselves whether there is any compelling reason from the standpoint of U.S. interests to insist that either Syria or Iraq remain intact within current boundaries. It is hard to find even a reasonable justification for such a demand, much less a compelling one.”

The CSIS looks at the civil transition in Afghanistan.  The report also warns that civil society and governance in Afghanistan have very fragile structures, and outside support for aid is limited. It is unlikely that simply having outside powers pledge more aid can be a substitute for well-planned efforts to help Afghanistan achieve some degree of economic stability over the next few years. It is also clear from the trends since 2012 that a failure to bring security can do far more in the future to cripple the Afghan economy, just as failures in governance and the economy can critically undermine security.

The Washington Institute looks at the thirty-fifth annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit, held December 10 in Qatar.  The paper notes, “the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and to a certain extent Bahrain have reached a core consensus that opposition politics are equal to terrorism… By identifying the Muslim Brotherhood as the primary obstacle to regional stability, GCC leaders have sought to focus public attention outside of Gulf domestic politics. In doing so, they have created a narrative that equates political competition with economic downturn.”


America Normalizing Relations with Cuba

On Wednesday, Obama announced a prisoner exchange with Cuba and normalization of relations after over half a century of hostility between the two countries.  The deal includes the exchange of several American and Cuban spies, and over 50 political prisoners.  The deal also includes reopening embassies in both Washington and Havana and to take concrete steps toward ending of the sanctions against Cuba.

Needless to say, the reaction from the Cuban-American community was negative.  Most of the Cuban-Americans fled Cuba when Castro took power.

But, there is much more to this move by Obama than merely normalizing relations with Cuba.  It signals another battle with Congress, opens more questions about presidential overreach, and may even impact the presidential election in 2016.

In fact, the frequent appearance by Senator Rubio of Florida on TV shows since the Cuba announcement is being seen as an attempt to counter the recent publicity from Jeb Bush announcing that he is also exploring the possibility of running for president.  Since Rubio and Bush are both from Florida, a Bush candidacy threatens Rubio’s presidential aspirations the most.

Traditionally sanctions have been a political football and opponents to sanctioning a country would invariably claim they did not pressure the government to change its behavior.  For instance, during the Cold War, conservatives favored sanctions against the Communist Bloc, but opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, saying that sanctions didn’t work.  Liberals would conversely argue leniency towards the Communists, but stricter economic sanctions towards South Africa and Rhodesia.  Undoubtedly, these same arguments will be brought out again.

The collapse of oil prices may be one of the biggest arguments against lifting sanctions.  Venezuela and Russia have been supporting Cuba economically and they have been seriously hurt by the fall of oil prices.  Many will insist that continuing the sanctions will force Cuba to institute more liberal policies.

However, liberals will argue that this is the perfect time to erase Russia and Venezuela’s influence.  If Cuba begins to turn toward the US, that does give Americans some influence on the Cuban policy for the first time in 50 years. The Castros won’t live forever, and this does give the US an opportunity to influence the next generation.

However, there is more to this change in relations than a simple change of course by Obama.  Cuban sanctions have a legislative foundation that Obama can’t ignore.  Congressional opponents to this move maintain that normalizing relations with Cuba, without congressional approval violates the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, Helms-Burton, and the Trading with the Enemy Act.  Helms-Burton specifically states that diplomatic relations with Havana require the release of all political prisoners and free elections.

It’s possible that Obama may ignore these laws through the same principle used in his new immigration policy – lax enforcement.  He can choose to ignore American firms breaking the law and doing business with Havana.  The problem, however, is that on Tuesday a federal judge ruled that the way Obama is applying prosecutorial discretion is violating the US Constitution by undermining Congress’s sole authority to make laws.

The opinion filed Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab, in Pennsylvania, said Obama’s immigration actions are invalid and effectively count as “legislation” from the Executive Branch.

If Obama chooses to ignore these, Congress still has the power of the purse.  Opening an embassy requires congressional funding and that is hardly likely with a Republican Congress.  Nor, is an ambassador to Cuba likely to be confirmed by the Senate.  In the end, this means that Congress may have a significant say in how this relationship evolves.

So, with all of the opposition and likely resistance to the move in Congress, why is Obama doing this?

Admittedly, the Obama Policy has been a major failure internationally.  And, Obama, who is looking at the last two years of his presidency, is looking for some international success that he can claim.  A normalization of relations with Cuba would offer him an easy victory.

The deal also helps improve relations with the Vatican, which have been strained in the past few years.  Pope Francis had asked the two nations to meet to discuss Americans and Cubans being held in jail.  The Vatican had also hosted meetings between the US and Cuban delegations.

The deal may allow some of the Pope’s popularity to rub off on Obama.  Among US Catholics, the Pope has a 68% favorability rating.

The deal may also indicate a shift in Vatican diplomacy.  For the pontiff, this deal will testify to his influence and that of the Catholic Church.  It’s also a signal that Francis will not hesitate to intervene in politics in the Americas.  The first Pope from the Americas has resolved a half-century dispute, and done so with what will be seen abroad as a relatively even-handed approach. Francis’ reputation and significance as a diplomat will grow with this episode.

Political Fallout

If this move was designed to boost Democratic chances with Cuban-Americans, Obama miscalculated.  The Cuban-American community is powerful and the move was blasted by politicians of both parties.  “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement.

“Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.”

“This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.”

“It’s absurd, and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants by the Obama administration,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), also a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, told Fox News on Wednesday.

“These Cuban spies were involved in providing information to the Cuban government that [cost] the lives of Americans,” Rubio added. “Barack Obama is the worst negotiator as president since at least Jimmy Carter.”

Rubio said that there is no support in Congress for the lifting of the Cuban embargo. “I think they’re going to struggle to get the votes to fund an embassy or to get an ambassador appointed” he later told CNBC.

“The way that his release was achieved is outrageous and proves that once again, Pres. Obama is the Appeaser-in-Chief,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). “[Obama’s] decision to allow the Castro regime to blackmail the US and abandon our pro-democracy principles is an outrage.”

But, this move goes beyond the politics of the moment.  It will also have an impact on the presidential race in 2016.  Cuban-Americans are a politically strong group in Florida, which is considered a toss-up state and nearly a necessity for any presidential candidate.  Will an energized Cuban-American voter base provide the winning edge to a Republican presidential candidate, especially since Hillary Clinton has advocated better relations with Cuba?

Interestingly enough, there are two Republican presidential possibilities with Cuban roots.  Senator Rubio of Florida is of Cuban extraction and his parents immigrated to the US in the 1950s before Castro took over.  Rubio has already blasted Obama’s action and said, “It’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants by the Obama Administration.”

Another Republican presidential hopeful with Cuban ties is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.  He is also a Cuban-American and his father Raphael Cruz was imprisoned and tortured by Cuban President Batista for his opposition to the oppressive Cuban government.  He fought with Castro in the 1950s, but left in 1957.

Senator Cruz has also criticized Obama on Cuba.   On Wednesday he said, “We have seen how previous Obama administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened.  Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros, blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power.  And if history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to undermine America and oppress the Cuban people. First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba – this is one more very, very bad deal brokered by the Obama Administration.”

Should Cruz or Rubio decide to run for president in 2016, their Cuban heritage (and obviously Hispanic heritage) will be used to attract the votes of the Cuban-American voters in the Florida presidential primary.

This may set up some interesting strategies for presidential candidates seeking to win Florida.  Since Florida usually is one of the first primary states and offers one of the biggest delegate prizes, it frequently creates the momentum for the winner of that primary to win later primaries.

However, instead of a “winner take all” election that gives the whole delegation to the winner, in 2016 Florida will probably parcel out the delegation by the percentage the candidates take in the primary.  This means many candidates may not invest the money in running a major campaign in Florida and spend their money elsewhere, since Rubio and Bush may take the bulk of the delegates.

However, if Rubio decides not to run and Bush has problems gaining traction with the Republican base, Cruz may put more effort into Florida in order to peel Cuban-American and conservative voters from Bush.  That might make a Bush nomination less likely.

No matter who runs the presence of both Cruz and Rubio in the US Senate means that the Obama decision to normalize relations with Havana will be undergoing some severe battering in the next few months.  Rubio is the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee and any embassy funding or ambassadorial nomination will have to go through his committee.

Nor can we expect any major trade improvements with Cuba, despite Obama’s declarations.  The laws that are sanctioning Cuba remain on the books and any company that decides to trade with Cuba remains a legal target.  No lawyer would advise his client to ignore the law, even if the current occupant of the White House is promising not to take them to court.  Most companies will likely wait it out to see if Obama or the Congress prevails.

North Korean Cyberwarfare Capabilities Cripple Sony


Hours after an announcement that U.S. authorities determined North Korea was behind the recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures, the company announced it was pulling the release of the film The Interview.  North Korea had made it clear for months that they opposed release of the movie and when Sony refused to relent, decided to carry out a cyberattack.

What happened to Sony should serve as a warning to governments and corporations about North Korea’s cyber capabilities and their willingness to use it.

Although many are surprised about North Korea’s cyberwarfare capability, a Hewlett-Packard report released earlier this year warned that NK is probably third behind the US and Russia in cyberwarfare capability.  North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) is in charge of both traditional and cyber operations, and is known for sending agents abroad for training in cyber warfare. The RGB reportedly oversees six bureaus that specialize in operations, reconnaissance, technology and cyber matters — and two of which have been identified as the No. 91 Office and Unit 121. The two bureaus in question comprise of intelligence operations and are based in China.

Since North Korea strictly controls the internet inside its borders, the NK attacks are launched outside of the country – frequently from computer cafes.  The NK cyberwarfare team consists of about 6,000 members.

According to the report, the regime regularly exploits computer games in order to gain financially and orchestrate cyberattacks. In 2011, South Korean law enforcement arrested five men for allegedly collaborating with North Korea to steal money via online games, specifically the massive multiplayer online role-playing game “Lineage.” The games were believed to act as conduits for North Korea to infect PCs and launch distributed denial of service attacks against its South Korea.

North Korea also tested a logic bomb in 2007 — malicious code programmed to execute based on a pre-defined triggering event — which led to a UN sanction banning the sale of particular hardware to the country.

South Korea views North Korea’s cyber capabilities as a terroristic threat, and has prepared for a multifaceted attack in the future. According to a report written by Captain Duk-Ki Kim, a Republic of Korea Navy officer, “the North Korean regime will first conduct a simultaneous and multifarious cyber offensive on the Republic of Korea’s society and basic infrastructure, government agencies, and major military command centers while at the same time suppressing the ROK government and its domestic allies and supporters with nuclear weapons.”

The cyber attack on Sony isn’t the first time NK has used its cyber capability.  North Korea reportedly was able to gain access to 33 of 80 South Korean military wireless communication networks in 2004, and an attack on the US State Department believed to be approved by North Korean officials, coincided with US-North Korea talks over nuclear missile testing in the same time period. In addition, a month later, South Korea claimed that Unit 121 was responsible for hacking into South Korean and US defense department networks.

In 2009, a virus launched through a series of “zombie” computers sent waves of Internet traffic to a number of websites in South Korea and the US. The U.S. Treasury and Federal Trade Commission sites were shut down for a weekend.   The attack also crippled a number of government sites and media outlets in South Korea.  There were also massive cyber attacks against South Korea in March 2011 (which left 30 million people without ATM access for days) and March 2013 (which deleted the critical master boot records of 48,000 computers and servers associated with South Korean banks and media outlets).

Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for McAfee Labs, said the attacks had the mark of a North Korean “cyberwar drill” and theorized that Pyongyang had built an army of zombie computers, or “botnets,” to unleash malicious software.



Washington Refuses to Face Contradictions in ISIS Fight

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Cato Institute

December 12, 2014

Obama administration officials clearly regard ISIS as a serious, perhaps even existential, security threat both to the Middle East and the democratic West. Accordingly, Washington has assembled a numerically impressive international coalition and assigned a high priority to defeating that extremist organization. But there is a disturbing, somewhat mystifying, aspect to the administration’s strategy. U.S. leaders steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that there are major contradictions in Washington’s various goals regarding the fight against ISIS.  Nowhere is that more evident than with respect to the ongoing civil war in Syria. The United States simultaneously seeks to defeat ISIS while continuing to undermine the government of Bashar al-Assad. Both goals might be achievable if there were legions of political moderates in Syria that had a reasonable chance of coming to power. But moderates—especially those committed to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity—are relatively few in number.

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The Civil Transition in Afghanistan: The Metrics of Crisis? 

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 16, 2014

It is natural to focus on the security problems of Transition in Afghanistan, and the challenges of forming an effective government with Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. As the combined reporting of the World Bank, IMF, and SIGAR indicate, however, Afghanistan may face equally serious challenges in coping with cuts in military spending, aid, capital flight, and the inability of its government to be effective in raising revenues and controlling expenditures.

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Religious Radicalism after the Arab Uprisings

By Jon Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 15, 2014

The Arab uprisings of 2011 created unexpected opportunities for religious radicals. Although many inside and outside the region initially saw the uprisings as liberal triumphs, illiberal forces have benefited disproportionately.  In Tunisia, formally marginalized jihadi-salafi groups appealed for mainstream support, and in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood triumphed in elections. Even in Saudi Arabia, not known for either lively politics or for political entrepreneurship, a surprising array of forces praised the rise of “Islamic democracy” under a Muslim Brotherhood banner.

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Everyday Sectarianism: The Paradox of an Anti-Islamic State Ally

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

December 3, 2014

Since 2011 (and even before), al-Awamiya has been ground zero in a largely forgotten corner of the Arab Spring: the struggle of Saudi Arabia’s Shiites — who comprise about 15 percent of the country’s population — for greater political and economic rights, and especially equal treatment by the country’s dominant Salafi establishment, which regards them as deviants from Sunni orthodoxy. Since the first wave of protests in 2011, approximately 20 young men from al-Awamiya and other Shiite towns have died at the hands of government forces, sometimes during peaceful demonstrations and occasionally in violent exchanges with police. Many of their demands extended far beyond Shiite-specific reforms, encompassing changes to the very structure of power in Saudi Arabia: reform of the judiciary, the release of political prisoners, a constitution, and greater power for elected bodies. This is precisely what made them so threatening.

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The GCC in 2015: Domestic Security Trumps Regional Integration 

By Karen E. Young

Washington Institute

December 15, 2014

PolicyWatch 2346

The thirty-fifth annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit, held December 10 in Qatar, was probably the most efficient meeting the group has ever held. With the diplomatic schism between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain papered over three weeks earlier, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani hosted the rulers of Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as senior substitutes for the ailing leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman.  The meeting was purposefully brief, with delegations in and out of Doha in a day. The unity message of fighting terrorism — via support for military rule in Egypt — served to cement Qatar’s reentry into the brotherhood of Gulf monarchies, while leaving the more pressing matters of economic integration, labor market reform, and political reform off the agenda.

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


C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Week of December 12th, 2014

Executive Summary

The holiday season and the truncated work week last week limited the number of papers published by the Washington Think Tank community.  Many did analyze the resignation of SecDef Hagel and the nomination of Carter to fill the position.

Although our analysis looks at the Carter nomination and what to expect, we look at the start of the 2016 presidential campaign season.  We look at the probable candidates, their weaknesses and strengths.  We see a GOP field that is younger and broader, while the Democratic field is much smaller and generally older than 70.  This gives the Republican Party an opportunity to gain the youth vote, which has been Democratic in the last few election rounds.

Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The Cato Institute argues that an aggressive, forceful foreign policy doesn’t mean it must be violent.  They note, “The United States is in a particularly advantageous position to adopt foreign policies consistent with libertarian principles. Small, weak countries might not have the luxury of avoiding wars, but the United States is neither small nor weak. Our physical security is protected by wide oceans and weak neighbors, and augmented by the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. We get to choose when and whether to wage war abroad, and we could do so by assessing the likely costs against the anticipated benefits.”

The American Enterprise Institute thinks the report on torture was highly political and will hurt US national security.   They note, “intelligence officials kept Congress well informed about interrogation. Porter Goss, who was chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and then director of the CIA, declared that the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees “were briefed that the CIA was holding and interrogating high-value terrorists.” According to Goss, these leaders “understood what the CIA was doing,” and they extended bipartisan support and funding for the interrogation program. “I do not recall a single objection from my colleagues,” he tellingly observes.”

The Brookings Institution looks at American attitudes towards the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  They note the percentage of Americans who want the US government to push for a two-state solution remains constant at 39% from last year; but the percentage of those who want the US to push for one state with equal citizenship has increased from 24% to 34%. Among those who support two states, two-thirds would support one state if two states are not possible.  If a two-state solution is not possible, 71% of Americans (84% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans) favor a single democratic state with Arabs and Jews as equal over a one in which Israel’s Jewish majority is sustained and Palestinians will not have equal citizenship.

The Washington Institute looks at the Israeli elections in March and wondering if it will be about issues or Netanyahu’s leadership.  They note that many are becoming tired of Netanyahu, who has served a total of 9 years.  However, they note, “Ironically, Netanyahu might also be counting on Palestinian diplomatic action. If Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas goes to the UN Security Council during the election season to plea for statehood — which he has already said he will do — Netanyahu would no doubt exploit this politically by accusing Abbas of circumventing direct negotiations with Israel.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute thinks the US lacks strategy in regards to Iran and ISIS.  They note, “Instead of developing any coherent strategy for dealing with the IS, the administration has reverted to form by responding in a piecemeal way. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked, “don’t do stupid stuff” is no real guide to the conduct of foreign policy. But what strategy should the United States adopt for dealing with the IS?  Strategy is a plan of action for using available means to achieve the ends of policy. Strategy does three things. First, it links ends and means, seeking to minimize any mismatch between the two. Second, strategy helps to establish a priority among ends. Since means are always limited, it is not possible to achieve all the ends of policy simultaneously.  Strategy ensures that choices are made among competing ends. As Frederick the Great observed, “he who tries to defend everything ends up defending nothing.” Finally, strategy helps to conceptualize resources as means. In other words, it translates raw inputs such as manpower and money into the divisions and fleets that will be employed for the object of war.  To carry out a strategy, one must have the right instruments, whether military, diplomatic, or economic.”

The German Marshall Fund sees many Turkish voters turning to the EU in hopes that it can protect their liberties.  They note, “Overall, the 2014 figures indicate a surge in a positive opinion of the EU by the Turkish public. Cross data examination indicates that this increase originates with opposition groups within Turkey who feel they are being excluded and their individual liberties are being jeopardized by recent government policies. As recent history suggests, these oppressed groups tend to turn to EU membership as a potential source of protection. However, one should approach this surge with caution.”


Growing Civil Unrest Raises Troubling Questions in US

2014 has seen a growing number of confrontations between Americans and law enforcement.  The first major event was the standoff between ranchers and federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch in April.  Further confrontations occurred in the spring and summer as Americans confronted Border Patrol officials who were moving illegal immigrants.

However, these events have been overshadowed by recent police violence against Black Americans.  Rioting broke out for several days in Ferguson, Missouri over the killing of an unarmed black youth by a white police officer.  The subsequent riots brought police out in military gear and armored vehicles.  It took over a week for the violence to subside.

However, America has been the scene of nearly constant rioting since November 22, when the Ferguson police officer was cleared by a grand jury.  And, it has been further fueled by a New York grand jury that refused to indict a white police officer who was videoed by bystanders chocking an unarmed black man.  Since then, riots and demonstrations have occurred in about two dozen major cities.  And, while some have been relatively peaceful, there has been escalating violence in many of them.

In the city of Berkeley, California, the protest began peacefully Sunday night at the University of California, but grew violent and spilled into nearby Oakland.  Police said they fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters after some threw rocks and bottles at them, while others set trash cans on fire, smashed store windows and looted businesses.


Tear Gas Grenades Smother Berkeley

The violence grew on Monday.  More than 1,000 protesters marched through Berkeley on Monday night, confronting police outside their headquarters before heading west and blocking Interstate 80 off and on throughout the evening before being herded off by police.  They also blocked a passenger train.

The demonstrations aren’t over.  Civil rights activist Al Sharpton has announced plans for a demonstration in Washington Saturday called the National March Against Police Violence to protest the killings of Garner, Brown and others.  Several prominent Black athletes have taken to the field wearing jerseys protesting the police violence.

Now the issue is going international.  The U.N. special representative on minority issues, Rita Izsak, has called for a review of policing in the United States. Izsak said the two grand jury decisions “leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”

Why the Growing Unrest?

The growing confrontation between the police and Americans in the last nine months isn’t a coincidence.  As we noted last April when we documented the Bundy Ranch standoff, there is a growing unrest across America.  And, it isn’t racial alone as the Bundy Ranch and Murrieta, CA confrontations were with predominantly White protestors.

For Black Americans, there is disappointment with Obama and his failure to help out the plight of Blacks.  There is also the distrust of the police, who are seen frequently as the enemy.  A Gallup poll released this week shows only 1 in 4 urban Blacks have confidence in the police – nearly half the percentage of confidence expressed by Whites or Hispanics.

For younger whites, who were out in mass at many of the demonstrations, the disappointment is with Obama and the failing economy.  Another Gallup poll released this week showed Obama’s job approval rating in 2014 among white 18- to 29-year-olds is 34%, three points higher than among whites aged 30 and older.  Obama’s approval rating was 58% among younger whites in 2009. This data underscores the gradual erosion of the disproportionately strong support Obama received from young white voters and explains why many are joining blacks in the demonstrations.

Combined with polling that shows 2 out of every 3 American voters thinking America is headed in the wrong direction, and 7 in 10 American voters thinking the economy is in poor or not good shape, there is considerable reason to think that the current violence could grow worse in the near future.

It is a concern that is being voiced more frequently.  Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, appeared on CNN this week to warn there are more protests coming if “demands” are not met.  “And America has not seen protests like those that are coming if justice doesn’t start to come down,” warned Simmons.

Although the issue of police brutality has proven a flashpoint for civil unrest in recent weeks, other experts have pointed to a possible economic collapse like those seen in Greece, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries as the most likely trigger for a more widespread revolt.

The US government is prepared for such an eventuality.  A report produced in 2008 by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Institute warned that the United States may experience massive civil unrest in the wake of a series of crises which it termed “strategic shock.”

“Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security,” stated the report, authored by [Ret.] Lt. Col. Nathan Freir, adding that the military may be needed to quell “purposeful domestic resistance”.

The Militant Fringe

While many Americans want peaceful protests, there are several militant groups that are carrying out violent actions in hopes of precipitating some sort of revolution.

One group that is active in the civil unrest is Anonymous, a computer savvy group of computer hackers, who frequently target law enforcement, government and corporate websites.  They have no definite political philosophy, but tend to be anarchist in nature.  On Sunday night, they took down the Oakland Police website in a denial of service attack.

Other groups engage in property destruction.  A recent fire in Los Angeles, a city that has seen considerable anti-police activity, is suspected of being set, possibly in conjunction with the civil unrest.  More than 250 firefighters were battling the blaze near downtown Los Angles Monday. Fire officials also said that two other buildings nearby suffered damage. One building suffered “radiant heat damage” on three floors, while the second suffered fire damage on three floors and water damage on the remaining 14 floors.  Major highways in the area were closed for hours.   Officials are inclined to believe it may have been intentionally set due to the rapid spread of the flames.

There are also several radical revolutionary groups that may be working in conjunction with the unrest.  The New York Daily News said that New York law enforcement has claimed that members of the “Black Guerilla Family” are threatening to shoot on-duty police officers in New York. The group is known as an “ideological African-American Marxist revolutionary organization composed of prisoners” set up in the sixties, with inspiration from black leaders including Marcus Garvey.

Another radical group inspired by the 1960s is the New Black Panther Party.  Two members of that party were arrested for plotting to bomb the St. Louis Arch and assassinate the Ferguson Police Chief and the St. Louis public prosecutor.

In Portland, Oregon, CBS reported, “As with Occupy, the vast majority of protesters preached peace, but a fringe group of people — some covering their faces with black bandannas — advocated violence and confrontations with police. And like Occupy, the original protest drew a disparate group of people together, not all of whom agreed with one another. “Military Veterans Called for Peace,” a communist group called for the overthrow of capitalism, and a group calling for a Palestinian state all held court during a series of speeches on the steps of the state Justice Center in Portland.”

There are also reports that ISIS is showing interest in trying to recruit members from the protestors.

A group called the Revolutionary Communist Party has been sighted at Ferguson.   Two weeks ago Paul Hampel, a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said on Twitter that Communist Party members led Friday night’s protest while disseminating literature for their cause.  “The only solution is a Communist revolution,” protesters are heard chanting. Pictures posted at Twitchy also show protesters holding signs saying “racist cops” must be “smashed” with a Communist revolution.

The press also reported, “a top Occupy Wall Street organizer has been training Ferguson protesters how to “simulate chaos”… In a development that may portend extended disruptions, veteran street organizer Lisa Fithian, previously dubbed “Professor Occupy,” recently trained Ferguson protesters how to “simulate chaos.” Fithian is a legendary organizer who once announced she seeks to “create crisis, because crisis is that edge where change is possible.”

It isn’t just the left wing that sees this unrest as an opportunity.  Right wing militia units have picked up their activity this year.  Their success at forcing federal agents to back down at the Bundy Ranch has energized the movement and many have called the event the “Battle of Bunkerville,” referring to the nearby village of Bunkerville.  It’s a clear reference to the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought during the Revolutionary War.  Clearly many in the militia movement see the current unrest as an opportunity.

Although not engaged in the protests, some militia members are in the area providing protection to businesses.  Oathkeepers, an organization associated with many militias and active at the Bundy Ranch provided several armed people to protect some businesses in Ferguson.

Clearly many radicals on both ends of the political spectrum are hoping for a spark –a revolutionary situation – that will change civil unrest into revolution.  However, they may want to recall the words of Vladimir Lenin first, “A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution.”

Report on Torture Released By Senate

A highly political report on torture by the CIA was released on Tuesday.  The political nature was obvious.  It only covered actions taken by the Bush Administration – implying that nothing happened under Obama over the last six years.  It was also released in the final days of Senator Feinstein’s chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee; before the committee is taken over by the Republicans.

The report provides a graphic accounting of CIA torture and imprisonment, and goes into detail about how the CIA continued its global operations outside of Congressional and Bush Administration oversight.  The information was disturbing as it told of interrogations that lasted for days on end.  Some detainees were forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep.  There was even a prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death.

The report details how the CIA treated detainees in its custody, suggests that the practice known as “waterboarding” was far more widespread than previously believed, and notes that while the CIA routinely justified its tactics as necessary to save lives and prevent acts of terrorism, the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” it practiced did not provide as much information as they initially claimed.

The report also provides political cover for many of the people now decrying the CIA’s methods, including Feinstein and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who once admonished the same agency for not doing enough to control terrorism worldwide. They may not have had all of the information at their disposal – it certainly seems, from the report, that the CIA made concealing at least some of its methods from scrutiny a top priority – but as CIA veteran (and interrogation program head) John Rodriguez notes in the Washington Post, Congress and the Administration were pushing them to act.

For example, On May 26, 2002, Feinstein was quoted in the New York Times saying that the attacks of 9/11 were a real awakening and that it would no longer be “business as usual.” The attacks, she said, let us know “that the threat is profound” and “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

However, many of those complaining new were actually aware of what was happening.  In Feb. 2010 via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, Judicial Watch received a report created by the CIA during the Bush presidency (in 2007) detailing which members of Congress were briefed and what were they briefed on.  The report shows that the CIA briefed at least 68 members of Congress on the CIA interrogation program, including “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  It details the dates of all congressional briefings and in most cases, the members of Congress in attendance and the specific subjects discussed. Keep in mind though, that the topic for each one of these meetings was interrogation of prisoners.

Although not all meeting records released show attendees, it is known that Senator Feinstein was at a top secret meeting on CIA torture on March 15, 2006.  And, that access would surely have continued as she was to become the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 9 months.

The report may have also been a way to punish the CIA, who was spying on Senator Feinstein’s committee.  On March 12, 2014, she accused the CIA of secretly removing classified documents from her staff’s computers in the middle of an oversight investigation.  Feinstein said CIA Director John Brennan told her in January that agency personnel searched the computers in 2013 because they believed the panel’s investigators might have gained access to materials on an internal review they were not authorized to see.

“The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or how we obtained it,” Feinstein said in blistering remarks on the Senate floor. “Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computer.”

In many ways this report is much like the reports produced by the Church Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D, ID) around 1975.  The reports listed CIA efforts as assassination, spying on Americans without a warrant, and other covert actions.

The irony, as in this case, was that Senator Church, like Senator Feinstein was privy to much of what was going due to top secret briefings.  The reports, however, helped provide political cover for them.

As with the Church Committee reports, the publicity will blow over and the intelligence agencies will do what they want, with the tacit approval of the Congress and the Administration.  For example, the Church Committee condemned American intelligence for tracking the mailing information on the outside of letters.  However, since 2001, the Postal Service has been doing the same thing with all American postal mail as part of the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.

Israeli Fingerprints on Torture Program

Interestingly enough, the CIA used Israeli legal precedent to use torture.  In a draft memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Office of General Counsel, the “Israeli example” was cited as a possible justification that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.

The “Israeli example” refers to the conclusions of the Landoi Commission in 1987 and subsequent Israeli Supreme Court rulings that forbid Israel’s security services from using torture in interrogation of terror suspects, but allows the use of “moderate physical pressure” in cases which are classified as a “ticking bomb,” when there is an urgent need to obtain information which could prevent an imminent terror attack.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the CIA attorney preparing the campaign “described the ‘striking’ similarities between the public debate surrounding the McCain amendment (a congressional act passed in December 2005 regulating interrogation methods) and the situation in Israel in 1999, in which the Israeli Supreme Court had ‘ruled that several… techniques were possibly permissible, but require some form of legislative sanction,’ and that the Israeli government ultimately got limited legislative authority for a few specific techniques.”

The CIA attorney also referred to the Israeli Supreme Court’s “ticking time bomb” scenario and said that “enhanced techniques could not be preapproved for such situations, but that if worse came to worse, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense, if he were ever prosecuted.”



Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

January 2015

This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Reason

In domestic policy, libertarians tend to believe in a minimal state endowed with enumerated powers, dedicated to protecting the security and liberty of its citizens but otherwise inclined to leave them alone. The same principles should apply when we turn our attention abroad. Citizens should be free to buy and sell goods and services, study and travel, and otherwise interact with peoples from other lands and places, unencumbered by the intrusions of government.  But peaceful, non-coercive foreign engagement should not be confused with its violent cousin: war. American libertarians have traditionally opposed wars and warfare, even those ostensibly focused on achieving liberal ends. And for good reason. All wars involve killing people and destroying property. Most entail massive encroachments on civil liberties, from warrantless surveillance to conscription. They all impede the free movement of goods, capital, and labor essential to economic prosperity. And all wars contribute to the growth of the state.

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Ignoring risks to national security

By John Yoo

American Enterprise Institute

December 10, 2014

National Review

Yesterday’s release of a critical, one-sided report on the Bush-era interrogations of terrorist leaders will assume a place in the annals of congressional recklessness. Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein and conducted only by Democrats, the partisan investigation in the short term could provoke retaliation against Americans. In the longer term, it could reveal secrets to our terrorist enemies and dry up sources of cooperation with other countries.  But these effects will pale in comparison with the harm that Feinstein and her Democratic colleagues will do to our intelligence agencies. Their faithlessness will only discourage intelligence officers now, and in the future, to press the envelope to identify and stop future terrorist threats to the nation.

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The Islamic State—and Iran—and the U.S. Strategy Deficit

By Mackubin Thomas Owens

Foreign Policy Research Insstitute

December 2014

The emergence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has threatened to destabilize the Levant and Iraq, in many respects obscuring the challenges still posed by Iran. The Obama Administration originally dismissed the IS as a “JV” offshoot of al Qaeda, but its seizure of large swaths of territory belies that characterization. Its successes in the region now serve as a magnet for foreign fighters. We can belabor the administration’s role in enabling the rise of the IS—its failure to achieve an agreement to retain a U.S. military presence in Iraq and its fitful steps and missteps in Syria—but the real question is: what can the United States do now to blunt the IS?  In August of this year, Kori Schake, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institute and a member of the Orbis editorial board, wrote an insightful piece for the online “Shadow Government” feature of Foreign Policy. In her article, “An Administration with its Head Cut Off,” Dr. Schake criticized the Obama White House for its propensity to ricochet from one crisis to another without any attempt to apply a coherent strategic framework to its actions. As she remarked, this approach is driven by the administration’s apparent belief that if the United States takes a step back in the world, others will step forward. But in fact, the only actors to step forward have been our adversaries.

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In Search of an Anchor for Rights and Liberties: The Return of Secular and Center-Left Voters to Turkey’s EU Vocation? 

By Özgehan Şenyuva

German Marshall Fund

December 3, 2014

More Turks are now saying they support their country being part of the EU than at any time since 2006. Center-left voters who are discouraged by the ruling party’s policies make up a large percentage of these supporters. They view a closer connection to Europe as a possible source of protection for the liberties they see their government as encroaching upon. The questions are will these center-left voters be content with the revival of the membership negotiations and related gains only, and not actual membership, and will opposition parties shift their platforms to try to attract these voters.

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Will the Next Israeli Election Be About Regional Challenges or Netanyahu’s Leadership? 

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

December 10, 2014

PolicyWatch 2344

On December 3, the Israeli Knesset voted to hold early elections on March 17, only two years since the last election. The move followed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he was disbanding his governing coalition because his political partners — led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua — were colluding with ultraorthodox factions behind the scenes to replace him. Both ministers have denied even the plausibility of this claim and criticized the move to early elections as superfluous. These and other competing narratives could shape not only the upcoming campaign, but also the direction of Israeli politics once the election is decided.

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American Public Attitudes Toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 

By Shibley Telhami

Brookings Institution

December 5, 2014

After the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations earlier this year and the devastating violence of this summer’s Gaza war, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are on the rise. Voices on both sides of the conflict question the United States’ traditional role as shepherd of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and Americans seem increasingly skeptical about their government’s engagements in the Middle East. Nonresident Senior Fellow Shibley Telhami conducted a survey on American public attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; below are several key findings and a download to the survey’s full results.

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


C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Week of December 06th, 2014

Executive Summary

The holiday season and the truncated work week last week limited the number of papers published by the Washington Think Tank community.  Many did analyze the resignation of SecDef Hagel and the nomination of Carter to fill the position.

Although our analysis looks at the Carter nomination and what to expect, we look at the start of the 2016 presidential campaign season.  We look at the probable candidates, their weaknesses and strengths.  We see a GOP field that is younger and broader, while the Democratic field is much smaller and generally older than 70.  This gives the Republican Party an opportunity to gain the youth vote, which has been Democratic in the last few election rounds.

Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The Heritage Foundation looks at what the priorities should be for the next Secretary of Defense.  They note the problem lies with the White House and conclude, “The President must allow the Secretary of Defense to be the Secretary of Defense. National Security Council micromanagement of defense policy formulation, operational assessments, and tactical execution to achieve stated security objectives simply must stop—and only the White House can make this happen. The dysfunction induced by such filtering and inner-circle shaping of the President’s views undermines key Cabinet officers, such as the Secretary of Defense, when presenting their best advice and recommendations to the President. The President must remove these impediments so that the Secretary’s effectiveness as a key adviser on national security and defense matters is maximized and that person is fully enabled to perform the functions of the office.”

The Cato Institute argues the new SecDef, Carter should focus on the Defense budget instead of wars.  They suggest, “Given all of the things on Ash Carter’s plate, a logical division of labor would put him in charge of managing the Pentagon’s budget, and (Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General) Dempsey in the forefront explaining how these resources should be deployed. The hawks in and out of Congress are reluctant to criticize the judgment of uniformed military personnel, and Americans remain wary of sending U.S. troops into the middle of distant civil wars. If Dempsey advises against greater U.S. involvement in such wars, he might have a bigger impact on the course of U.S. foreign policy than any of his civilian counterparts — Ashton Carter included.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at problems facing the Department of Defense in 2015, especially in light of a new SecDef.  They also look towards the new Congress for solutions, noting, “Congress has been a significant culprit in raising the military’s cost to rebuild. Year after year, policymakers reject Pentagon proposals to slow the rate of growth within the defense budget—for example rejecting plans to ask for enrollment fees from select retirees receiving TriCare for Life. Every time Congress says “no” to Pentagon plans that have baked-in savings within the president’s budget requires the services have to go back and siphon off money from other priorities.”

The Hudson Institute also looks at the challenges facing the new SecDef.  They note, “An active and conscientious SecDef will have to reverse that process. He or she can’t expect any help from the White House or its National Security staff — they’ve been presiding over this military train wreck since 2009. Instead, Hagel’s successor will want to reach out to the new Republican Congress and those who understand the real cost of defense cuts in terms of national security and military readiness, like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the chairs of the House Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, in order to restore the cuts imposed by sequestration and halt the stream of pink slips being sent to our serving men and women, especially officers, whom we will desperately need in rebuilding a post-Obama military.”

The Institute for the Study of War argues that the US is unable to conduct a war like those in the Middle East properly.  They conclude, “Almost 15 years into our post-9/11 wars demonstrates that the U.S.’s war-waging capacity is suffering. America is too focused on winning battles. This is a tactical focus. No one wants to lose battles, but winning them while losing the war is far more odious. Perhaps there is an opportunity—in the renewed discussion over developments in Iraq and Syria; in the recognized advances of and continued threat from radical jihadism in the Middle East, North and East Africa, and the Southern Arabian Peninsula; and in anticipation of force reductions in Afghanistan—to focus not only on fighting war but also on waging war. We have waged war well before; our World War II civil-military predecessors provide a good example. We can do it again, if we put our minds to it.”

The Brookings Institution says the Egyptian decision to drop the charges against Hosni Mubarak is a vindication of the Saudi strategy to reverse the 2011 revolution in Egypt and restore authoritarian military rule over their most important Arab ally.  They warn, however, “Of course the Saudis now own the burden of keeping the generals in office, an expensive proposition especially when oil prices are dropping. King Abdallah’s son, National Guard commander Prince Mitab, told Asharq Al Awsat this week that the Kingdom will stand in solidarity with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and “legitimate institutions” in Egypt no matter the cost. Mitab, who has just returned to Riyadh from consultations in Washington which he suggested had been contentious, underscored the Kingdom’s determination to preserve “regional security” and stability against the Brotherhood and other terrorists.”



  1. Looking at the 2016 Presidential Election
  2. Ashton Carter Picked for SecDef

With the mid-term elections out of the way, potential presidential candidates are starting to make their moves.  Senator Ted, Cruz has already talked to leading Jewish political donors, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is talking to potential backers, and Texas Governor is making it clear that he intends to run.  There are also many potential candidates showing up in New Hampshire and Iowa, the first states to choose delegates to the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016.

Unlike the Democratic field, which consists mainly of Hillary Clinton, the GOP field is crowded with governors, former governors, and senators – all with the potential of going to the White House.

One GOP potential candidate that will be seriously considered if he chooses to run is Jeb Bush – brother of President George W Bush and son of President George H W Bush.  He was an accomplished governor of the critical state of Florida, has the Bush name and the money contacts to run a well financed campaign.

Despite these advantages, Bush faces a strong headwind.  Many Republicans fear the creation of a Bush dynasty and would prefer to find someone else.  In addition, he favors the education system “Common Core” and immigration reform, which are both strongly opposed by the majority of Republicans – especially the more conservative ones that usually vote in primaries.

Bush also hurt his cause this week when he said that a Republican can win the election without the support of conservatives, something that is sure to come back to haunt him.

However, with name recognition, strong political backing, and coming from Florida, which is critical to win the presidency, he is a serious contender.

Another more moderate Republican contender is Mitt Romney.  Most think that he will eschew a third run for president, especially since he lost to Obama.  However, if no other moderate Republican steps forward, he may be convinced to run again.

Governors traditionally prove to be good candidates, with executive experience and a track record to run on.  And, there are two strong candidates that are probably going to run.

The first is Rick Perry of Texas.  He has already talked to potential donors and backers and is considered a near certainty to run.  His strengths are that he has been governor of Texas for 14 years (since he took over for George Bush, who was heading to the White House), Texas has one of the strongest economies in the United States, and his politics are between the conservatives and moderates of the party.  He also has a good financial base of donors, especially from the energy industry.  The downside is his indictment, for threatening a veto – an indictment that many see as political and designed to ruin his presidential chances.

Another strong potential GOP candidate is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.  He has won two elections as governor and one recall in a state that is traditionally Democratic, which means he has the ability to attract independents and Democrats.  He also has strong conservative credentials from his tough, but successful fights against Wisconsin’s strong public labor unions.  Of course, this means that unions will target him in both the primaries and the general election.

Another potential governor is New Jersey’s Chris Christie.  He is a dynamic speaker and acceptable to the establishment Republicans if Bush decides not to run.  The problem, however, is that he is not conservative enough for the Republican base.  As governor of one of the most anti-gun states, he will not be a favorite of gun owners, who generally vote Republican.

There is a couple of other governors, who deserve to be mentioned – not as top tier presidential candidates, but as likely vice presidential candidates.  Bobby Jindal of Louisiana hasn’t become the national figure that some thought he would and he has had some problems in Louisiana, even though he won reelection.  However, he has experience as a governor and as someone with an Indian heritage; he may be able to attract Asian voters to the GOP – especially since Asian Americans are quickly growing tired of Obama.

Another governor to be mentioned is New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.  As a Hispanic Republican governor of a typically Democratic state, she might find her way onto the ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

Although governors make the most likely presidential nominees, the US Senate is a frequent source of candidates – although not a likely to win – as John McCain, John Kerry, and Bob Dole proved.  However, two GOP senators both had strong grassroots support that will make them formidable.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is the son of former congressman Ron Paul a frequent, if unsuccessful, candidate for President.  His libertarian philosophy, which includes lukewarm support of Israel and a strong belief in small federal government have not won more conservative supporters.  But, he is popular with younger, more libertarian Republicans.  One problem is that he is a freshman senator, which will mean that he will be attacked for lack of experience.

Paul’s strength is that he is managing to expand his base to include some non-Republican demographics like young people and even some minorities.  He regularly goes to meetings where Republican politicians are usually not welcome.  If he wins the nomination, which will be hard, he can be expected to fight for traditional Democratic voters.

Rand Paul has also managed not to alienate the Republican establishment as his colleague from Texas, Ted Cruz.  This year, he fought for the reelection of Mitch Mitchell, who was opposed by many conservative Republicans.  In return he has secured the support of the future Senate Majority leader, which will help him to project a more moderate face.

Another senator is Ted Cruz of Texas.  He is more traditionally conservative and has a reputation as a firebrand in the US Senate.  And, although he is from Texas – an advantage in the primary where Texas has a large say – he must compete for Texas votes with Rick Perry.  He is, however a dynamic speaker and the fact that the establishment dislikes him will work well with the GOP base.

Another Senator is Mark Rubio of Florida.  Rubio has a Hispanic background (his parents are from Cuba) and he represents the toss up state of Florida.  Although he was considered a real potential candidate, he faded when he came out for immigration reform, which conflicted with the majority of Republican voters.  He will have to work hard to bounce back.

There are other potential candidates, who are probably unlikely to stand out enough to win many primaries.  Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is mentioned and he has a measure of support amongst conservative Republicans.  Ben Carson is a doctor, who came to national attention when he criticized Obama to his face at a prayer breakfast.  However, his stance on gun control will alienate many gun owners in the party.  There is also Romney’s former VP choice Paul Ryan.

In reality, the GOP’s field is wide, experienced, and young, thanks in part to a large majority of state governors being Republican.  Although it means a more vigorously fought primary season, the eventual candidate will probably have more experience than the Democratic candidate.

The view for the Democrats is much different.  The loss of governorships at the state level and preponderance of older Democratic politicians at the national level will be a hindrance in winning the White House.  In addition, the continuing bad ratings for Obama will make it much harder for the Democratic candidate to win the necessary independent voters.

Age is a real problem for Democrats as the youngest probable candidate for the nomination is Hillary Clinton, who will be 69 on Election Day 2016.

Clinton has two primary advantages.  She is strong enough that she will probably scare off other potential challengers.  She is also a woman, which may inspire women to come out in large numbers to vote for her.

Hillary, however, has many weaknesses.  Although poplar in the Democratic Party, she is viewed less favorably by independents – something that was proved as she failed to deliver victories for candidates she campaigned for last month).  She is the victim of frequent verbal gaffes and her book tour last spring was considered a disaster.  Nor, has the fall been better for her as many of her speeches are to half filled rooms.  If her campaign is run like her book tour or her 2008 presidential campaign, she will not do well.

Although her husband Bill Clinton could be considered an asset, she will have to fight to keep him in the background.  She also has to realize that it has been 20 years since he was elected as president and many young voters will see them as part of the past, not the future.

Nor, are all Democrats onboard with her campaign.  Gov. Deval Patrick (D., Mass.) has said the sense of inevitability surrounding Hillary’s candidacy is “off-putting to voters.” The American people view inevitability as a sense of entitlement, Patrick said on Meet The Press, and prefer candidates who make an affirmative case for themselves. “The American people want – and ought to want – their candidates to sweat for the job, to actually make a case for why they are the right person at the right time,” he said.

Meanwhile, recent polling suggests Hillary’s aura of inevitability is fading. She is only four to five points ahead in matchups with potential GOP challengers with much lower name recognition.  That, in and of itself, may make her reconsider her run for the White House.

Hillary’s other problem is that her main claim to having the experience to be president is based on four years as Secretary of State.  Given the poor state of American foreign policy, she will have little to brag about in terms of accomplishments.

Hillary’s natural competition is Vice President Joe Biden.  As vice president, he is seen as a natural successor to Obama.  He also has considerable experience as both a senator and vice president.  However, he will be 73 by Election Day 2016 and is known for frequent verbal gaffes.  He has also run poor presidential campaigns in the past.

After Clinton and Biden, the field becomes extremely thin.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is considering a run, however, he is an independent, not a Democrat.  He is a philosophical socialist and is loved by the left wing of the Democratic Party.  He has a wide base of small donors, but probably will not be able to compete for big campaign donors like either Clinton or Bush.  Although many Democrats would love for him to run, the Democratic establishment would probably feel that he is a sure loser to the Republican candidate.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is another liberal possibility, but younger and fresher faced than the other possible candidates.  She is also a woman, which might invigorate the Democratic female voter base.  However, like Sanders, her positions a might look too liberal for the average American voter.

The Democratic field might have been larger if it wasn’t for the 2014 elections that defeated some potential candidates like Colorado’s Udall and tarnished the reputations of others.

One such person is former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.  He could point to his achievements as governor and had solid liberal credentials.  However, the loss of his handpicked candidate for Maryland governor last month means that even Maryland voters, who are strongly Democratic, preferred a Republican.

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb might be the strongest national candidate.  He has a military background as a Marine officer and was seen as a moderate Democrat.  However, as far as the Democratic grassroots are concerned, he is not liberal enough.  He is also an erratic speaker, who can’t rally his supporters.

The major problem for any Democratic candidate will be the voters’ weariness with Obama and Democratic leadership.  All of these candidates sided with Obama during their time in office and their support of unpopular issues like Obamacare will come back to haunt them in 2016.

What this means is that many younger Democratic politicians may eschew running in 2016 and facing probable defeat.  Many may decide to let the “old bulls” of the party battle it out in 2016 and then lose to a Republican candidate.  That would then leave the field open in 2020 for a younger candidate, who will have a better chance to win the support of major donors and then go on to beat the Republican.


2)Ashton Carter Picked for SecDef

It was becoming quickly apparent that no one wanted to be Obama’s pick as the next Secretary of Defense.  Michele Flournoy pulled her name after talks with the White House. Several people familiar with Flournoy’s thinking say she decided to withdraw her name in part out of concern over dealing with White House micromanagement.  Then Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan also said they did not want the job.  That essentially left Ashton Carter as the last candidate under serious consideration.

Carter is deeply respected inside the defense establishment, and has a long track record serving in a number of Pentagon jobs, but he is not likely to bring significant change to the Pentagon.  CNN said that Pentagon officials doubt this White House really wants a secretary of defense who will offer significant new ideas.

Ashton Carter may not get along well with the White House.  The Politico wrote, “He is brilliant and driven, a policy wonk equally adept at mastering the bureaucracy,” says a former White House official. “He’s also arrogant, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”

That could be a warning sign in an administration that has already gone through three defense secretaries who resented White House micromanagement of their affairs.  In Carter, Obama would be choosing a strong-willed independent thinker who believed the US should have left a strong, operational troop force in Iraq and believes the military has been asked to swallow dangerously large budget cuts. He has also taken more hawkish stances against American opponents like North Korea, which means he may advocate a more aggressive policy towards ISIS.  Carter’s record on nuclear non-proliferation also suggests he could take a harder line on Iran policy than Obama favors.

Carter also gets along well with Republicans, which will help during confirmation hearings and hearings before Congress.

Of course, Carter’s policy positions will probably put him at odds with the White House, which may lead to his firing if he fails to support Obama enough.  In that case, the White House may have an even more difficult time finding a qualified person to take the poisoned chalice of the SecDef position next time.



National Security Priorities for the Next Secretary of Defense

By James Jay Carafano, Dakota Wood, James Phillips and Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

November 26, 2014

Issue Brief #4308

President Barack Obama is replacing his Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Hagel was the third Secretary of Defense to serve under President Obama, following Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.   The announcement of Hagel’s resignation, reportedly under pressure from the White House, was not accompanied by mention of a successor, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Hagel will continue to serve until a replacement is approved, the timing of which is uncertain, given the limited time Congress will be in session until control of the Senate shifts to Republicans when the new Congress convenes in January.  Unsurprisingly, speculation about the reason for Secretary Hagel’s departure and the list of potential candidates to replace him now dominates reporting of this event, but these are distractions from the two primary points that should be the focus of attention: (1) the President’s failed national security agenda and (2) his dysfunctional approach to handling national security matters.

Read more



Whatever Ashton Carter’s Views on War Are, He Should Stick to the Pentagon Budget

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

December 3, 2014

The White House has apparently settled on Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, after other leading candidates withdrew their names from consideration. It can never be a pleasant experience to come into a new job with the baggage of everyone knowing that you were the third or fourth best choice for the position. But that is the least of Carter’s challenges.  He will be expected to manage several ongoing wars, at a time when the public wants to kill bad guys without necessarily using U.S. ground troops to do it. Carter must also oversee numerous major new and costly weapons programs (especially nuclear weapons) in an increasingly tight budgetary environment. The Pentagon’s base budget (excluding the costs of the wars) remains near historic highs in inflation-adjusted terms, and personnel expenses are likely to remain high despite some reductions in the numbers of men and women serving in uniform. The just-released draft budget implements modest cost controls, but the Military Times reports that these “are likely to irritate outside advocates who pushed against any pay and benefits cuts.” Absent significant reform, military pay and benefits will place additional downward pressure on both new weapon R&D and normal operations and maintenance.

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Pentagon 2015: New year, same problems

AEI’s Foreign and Defense Policy team

American Enterprise Institute

December 4, 2014


Once the president announces his nominee to be the administration’s fourth secretary of defense, that candidate will be faced with critical decisions about how to address the many Pentagon priorities, probably including a 2016 defense budget that will shatter sequestration caps by $60 billion and no politically viable agreement to find those additional dollars. Failure to fund a defense budget increase would once again result in widespread, crippling cuts.  With an aging, outdated military and a standstill in Washington, Resident Fellow at AEI’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies Mackenzie Eaglen’s warnings from 2012 continue to ring true. In January 2012, Eaglen noted in the Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon’s announcement to cut $500 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years served as “the final nail in the coffin of our national contract with our all-volunteer military—that if they fight, they’ll have the very best to win. It marks the beginning of the end of America’s unquestioned international military dominance. Our soldiers will increasingly go into combat with aged equipment, lacking assurance that they’ll prevail against any enemy.”

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Winning Battles, Losing Wars

By Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik

Institute for the Study of War

December 2, 2014

Army Magazine

Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. begins his book, On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context, by relaying the following conversation: “‘You know you never defeated us on the battlefield,’ said the American colonel. The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. ‘That may be so,’ he replied, ‘but it is also irrelevant.’” As much as we may not want to admit it, in this sense, our current war against al Qaeda and their ilk resembles that of Vietnam. In fighting our post- 9/11 wars, we have won nearly every battle but are far from winning the war. How can this be? The answer lies largely in the civil military nexus that underpins how America wages war. Waging war involves selecting proper war aims; identifying initial military, nonmilitary, U.S. and coalition forces, strategies, policies and campaigns that, if successfully executed, will achieve those aims; constructing execution mechanisms and coordinative bodies to translate the plans into action and then to adapt as the war unfolds; and maintaining the war’s legitimacy from start to finish. These war-waging responsibilities are civil-military responsibilities shared by the set of senior political leaders of the executive and legislative branches and selected senior military leaders. Even a cursory look at these elements reveals that our war-waging proficiency has simply not been up to the task.

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Hagel’s Successor Has a Tough Task Ahead

By Arthur Herman

Hudson Institute

November 26, 2014

Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense on Monday may have come as a surprise, but the way it was done certainly wasn’t.  A competent White House would have used the president’s announcement to name a successor. The fact that a final choice is still up in the air conveys an air of improvisation and futility that’s been the hallmark of Obama foreign and defense policy (likewise the announcement that same day that Secretary of State John Kerry’s much heralded final deal with Iran is stalled again).

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Reversing the Revolution: Mubarak’s Court Case Vindicates the Saudi Strategy on Egypt

By Bruce Riedel

Brookings Institution

November 30, 2014

The Saudi royal family undoubtedly welcomed the decision to drop the charges against Hosni Mubarak as a vindication of their strategy to reverse the 2011 revolution in Egypt and restore authoritarian military rule over their most important Arab ally. The Saudis were horrified when Mubarak was toppled in 2011. The Egyptian dictator had been a consistent ally of the Kingdom for three decades even sending two divisions to defend it in 1990 when Iraq threatened to attack. Trying him for repressing demonstrations set an unwanted precedent for other Arab leaders

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


C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Week of November 29th, 2014

Executive Summary

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, this week was shorter and more bereft of think tank papers.  However, it was not short of news as talk turned from the extension of the Iranian talks to the surprising resignation of Hagel as Secretary of Defense on Monday morning.  And, in the background was the civil violence erupting across the nation due to the Ferguson grand jury not indicting the police officer who killed an unarmed black man.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the Hagel resignation, what was behind it, who might be the next SecDef, and future US defense policy.  We see the problem being the tight inner circle of policy makers surrounding Obama that will not allow any Secretary of Defense to have any significant input into national security policy.  Therefore, few people will want to be considered for the emasculated position and few policy changes will be considered as the decisions will still come from the White House.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the DoD after Hagel.  They conclude, “The most important question is whether the White House understands that the world is not heading in the direction Obama thought it would. The new defense secretary will face a dangerous strategic environment which is likely to become more treacherous as the Obama years wind down. He will need someone tough, experienced and with a worldview appropriate to these perilous times. The nomination will be a test of whether Obama can admit that he has not brought the world to the brink of peace, and that the decline of American power is in fact not a “good thing.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at security issues for Tunisia.  They see a growth in Jihad sentiment in Tunisia due to, “growing anger at the government for overlooking industrial and agricultural development in rural areas despite their richness of natural resources (Kasserine for example is rich in water and marble and cultivatable land). Coupled with the continued practice of torture by the police—which further increased disillusionment with state institutions—the combination of bad governance, lack of economic development, and the incentives presented by jihadist cells, all led many Tunisian youth to flock to join extremist groups. Indeed, the results of the latest parliamentary elections were telling: In Kasserine, the voter turnout percentage was lower than the country average, and most of the people who voted were older, suggesting a degree of mistrust and indifference by the area’s youth.”

The CSIS looks at Vice President Biden’s trip to Turkey.  They see problems and note, “The reality Biden will face in his meetings in Istanbul is that there are major and persistent differences between the U.S. and Turkey over not just the means but also the goals of the current campaign. Ankara does not share the basic premises of Mr. Obama’s policy which are that ISIS is an immediate major threat that supersedes all other threats, that it is even more dangerous to the countries in the region than to the United States itself and that as such it needs to be the primary focus of cooperation between the two allies. Given the limited returns so far on the diplomatic investment made by Washington in its effort to get Turkey fully on board in the campaign against ISIS, it seems unlikely that the Biden trip will yield the kind of immediate and concrete result the Obama Administration would surely wish to see.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the extension of talks on the Iranian nuclear negotiations.  They note the problems are a result of the two sides having differing viewpoints.  They note, “The P5+1 has long seen the issue as a compliance problem: Iran demonstrably broke rules requiring transparency in its nuclear program and conducted activities that suggest that its nuclear program has not been exclusively peaceful, as required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Thus, Iran must take steps to build international confidence that (notwithstanding its violations of rules) its nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful in the future.  Iran has argued that the rules have been unfairly applied and that the situation can be resolved only through bargaining that places Tehran on equal footing, not as an object of compliance. Having suffered through major international sanctions, isolation, and covert operations against its scientists and facilities, leaders insist Iran will not give up the capabilities it has developed, including, most famously, enrichment of uranium.”

The Wilson Center also looks at the Iranian nuclear talks.  Looking toward the future, they note, “Despite repeated assertions that Nov. 24 was a firm deadline, it seems that neither side took the date seriously. The Iranian negotiating team had its instructions and stuck to its position, even though no reprieve in the sanctions regime was offered. The Iranians know that the U.S. Senate will change hands in January and that it would be very difficult for the Obama administration to work with a Republican majority whose members have been skeptical of negotiations throughout the process. It is hard to see how the next seven months are to produce a change of mind among Iran’s leaders.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the Iranian nuclear negotiations and Obama’s rush to get an agreement.  They warn, “The Administration should avoid a rush to failure and refuse to agree to a deal that would legitimize Iran’s expanding nuclear infrastructure and allow Tehran to gain nuclear weapons. Such a deal would jeopardize U.S. national security, distress U.S. allies, particularly Israel and most Arab states, and invite a bipartisan congressional backlash. If the Administration signs a deal that allows Iran to escape sanctions, while only temporarily slowing its march to a nuclear arsenal, the agreement will become another legacy of the Administration’s wishful thinking—like the “ending” of the war in Iraq and putting al-Qaeda on a “path to defeat.”




Hagel Leaving Defense Department:

What’s Next?

In a surprise move, it was announced on Monday that Secretary of Defense Hagel had resigned from Obama’s Administration.  This major resignation in Obama’s national security team raises a lot of questions:  Who will be his successor, what will their policies be, and how well will he be able to influence Obama?

But one question that everyone in Washington is asking is if Hagel resigned voluntary or was pushed?

Hagel, a former Republican senator was Obama’s attempt at bipartisanship in his cabinet.  The problem was that Hagel’s Republican credentials kept him outside Obama’s inner circle of policy makers.  Nor, did it help that Hagel (who opposed the American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq) wasn’t well regarded by his Republican counterparts in the Senate.

Former presidential candidate Senator John McCain, who is considered by his republican colleagues the Senate expert on national defense, was critical of Hagel, who was a senator from Nebraska and a Vietnam veteran.  McCain was one of Hagel’s toughest critics during his nomination fight in early 2013. “I don’t believe [Hagel] is qualified,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the time.

It was Democrats and others backing Obama that were Hagel’s biggest supporters.  Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald (who later broke the Snowden/NSA story) called criticism of Hagel part of a “smear campaign” headed by the pro-Israel lobby. “Hagel is one of the very, very few prominent national politicians from either party who has been brave enough to question and dissent from the destructive bipartisan orthodoxies on foreign policy,” Greenwald wrote. “If this nomination actually happens, this will be one of Obama’s best appointments and boldest steps of his presidency.”

Former Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezezinski said Hagel, “would infuse into our foreign policy what is very much needed . . . strategic significance — that is to say, a preoccupation with the problems that we’re slowly, collectively sliding into.” Former secretary of state Colin Powell called Hagel “superbly qualified,” claiming he’d do a “great job as secretary of defense.”

But, what did lead to Hagel’s resignation?  The White House said that it was Hagel’s incompetence in handling the DoD, especially in failing to react to ISIS.  “When Secretary Hagel was first nominated for this job . . . the threat that was posed by ISIL was not nearly as significant as it is now,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told the Daily Mail.

However, Hagel’s most notable disagreement with Obama, was on this issue.  And Hagel was right.  Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” contradicting the Obama’s comments months before that the group was simply ‘junior varsity.”

Ironically, the White House is using the fact that ISIS is definitely not a JV team to justify Hagel’s ouster. “Another secretary might be better suited to meet those challenges,” as White House press secretary Earnest put it.​

The White House tried to make the decision look less like a firing than a mutual agreed upon separation.  White House press secretary Josh Earnest refused to answer whether Chuck Hagel was fired, steadfastly repeating the vague assertion that he’s leaving based on “conversations” between the defense secretary and the president.

“Did Chuck Hagel indicate, in these conversations, a desire to stay on?” NPR’s Mara Liasson asked Earnest on Monday.

“Um — well, again, this is a decision that the two of them arrived at together,” the press secretary responded. “I’m not aware of sort of, the twists and turns of the conversation they’ve had over the past month.”

Behind the scenes, however, White House officials were clearer.  According to a Fox News report, “Make no mistake, Secretary Hagel was fired,” a senior U.S. official with close knowledge of the situation told Fox News.  This same official discounted Pentagon claims it was a mutual decision claiming President Obama has lost confidence in Hagel and that the White House had been planning to announce his exit for weeks.

“The president felt he had to fire someone. He fired the only Republican in his cabinet. Who is that going to piss off that he cares about?”

In a swipe at the resume of Hagel, who served as U.S. Army sergeant in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts, the official added, “This is why you don’t send a sergeant to do a secretary’s job.”

However, onetime critic Senator McCain told of a Secretary of Defense shut out of the decision making.  McCain said that retiring defense secretary Chuck Hagel was “very, very frustrated” with the White House, with the Arizona Republican claiming that Hagel was shut out of many policy decisions by President Obama’s inner circle.

McCain spoke Monday with Phoenix-area radio station KFYI about Hagel’s resignation, which McCain seems to believe was made under duress. “I can tell you, he was in my office last week [and] he was very frustrated,” he said, citing the turmoil throughout the globe and a reluctance of the Obama administration to address it.

“Already the White House people are leaking, ‘Well, he wasn’t up to the job,’” McCain continued. “Believe me, he was up to the job. It was the job he was given, where he really was never really brought into that real tight circle inside the White House that makes all the decisions — which has put us into the incredible debacle that we’re in today throughout the world.”

In the end, it wasn’t about Hagel’s abilities as much as it was the decisions being made by the Obama inner circle – decisions that Hagel had to implement, but didn’t have any input into.  He had clearly warned about ISIS and Syria, but to no avail.  According to the New York Times, “White House officials also expressed annoyance over a sharply critical two-page memo that Mr. Hagel sent to Ms. Rice (National Security Advisor) last month, in which he warned that the administration’s Syria policy was in danger of unraveling because of its failure to clarify its intentions toward President Bashar al-Assad.

This problem with the inner circle of the White House was also reported in Politico.  Politico reports that “Hagel’s main gripe, according to people close to him, was what he viewed as a disorganized National Security Council run by Ricea criticism shared by [White House chief of staff Denis] McDonough, according to a senior administration official.” Politico also points out that in this respect, Hagel was no outlier; his predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, shared this concern.”

This opinion is also shared in the Washington think tank community.  Defense News interviewed Aaron David Miller, an adviser to six secretaries of state and now vice president of the Wilson Center. He said Obama “dominates [and] doesn’t delegate. . . . [Obama] is probably the most controlling foreign-policy president since Richard Nixon.”

The problem is that Obama shows no signs of having Nixon’s skill in foreign policy. As his policies fail to produce the results he seeks, Obama’s instinct is to listen to loyal White House aides and push away dissenting voices. Hagel is the third defense secretary to suffer that fate.

Robert Gates and Leon Panetta “didn’t toe the party line, so the White House people weren’t happy,” Korb tells Defense News. “So pushed out is what they got. Now, this is what Hagel got, too.”

If the problem is that decisions are made in the White House without input by the SecDef, the question is, “Is there any potential SecDef that can influence policy made in the White House?”

The Future

Given the tensions in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and on the Chinese periphery, Obama is unlikely to take long in naming a successor.  However, the political chemistry has changed.

The new SecDef nominee will have to face a Republican Senate, which has many questions about national security policy and the future of a rapidly shrinking military.  And, the spear point of that nomination fight will be Arizona Senator John McCain, a retired Naval Officer and the Senate’s expert on National Defense issues.  As Obama’s constant thorn on issues like supporting Syrian Rebels and fighting ISIS, McCain will use these hearing to highlight administration failings.

McCain will also make an issue of Hagel’s decision to eliminate the A-10 close support aircraft.  The A-10 has proved useful in the Middle East as a close air support weapon and is stationed in McCain’s home state.  It is the world’s premier tank buster and it had been scheduled for elimination as the threat of a major tank war in Europe faded.

However, as Russia and its tank armies become a growing threat, the A-10 is seen as a potential tool to counter Russian advances in Eastern Europe.  Expect the A-10 to be retained.

The issue of ISIS will also be a major topic at any hearings.  The issue will revolve around three questions:  Will advisers go into combat? (Yes.) Will American aid flow directly to the Sunni and Kurdish tribes instead of through the government in Baghdad? (This will probably be a frustrating compromise.) Will America insist upon a status-of-forces agreement so that they stay for the long term? (A necessity to keep Baghdad out of the orbit of Iran.)

Who will the next SecDef be?

Broadly speaking, Obama has two choices – a politician or a bureaucrat.  Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

A politician, especially a senator, would have an easier time getting through the Senate nominating process, which would get him in place quicker, without the crippling hearings.

The problem is that Obama may have a hard time finding s politician willing to take on the task.  The Obama foreign and defense policy is collapsing and few politicians with any future plans will be willing to head into that firestorm.  With only two years remaining, there is little potential for formulating a strong agenda.  Rather, the position will consist of fighting policy failures over the globe, while keeping a hostile Republican Congress informed.  On the other hand, a political figure with some weight would definitely help in the Congress.

There are some prominent political names being mentioned.  A more centrist, if not right wing, defense choice from the political side would be former senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.  Another name being mentioned is Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington State.

A Lieberman choice would probably sail through the Republican Senate.  Lieberman is a strong supporter of Israel and a good friend of the future Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Senator McCain.  Although Lieberman wouldn’t reflect Obama’s national security ideals, the choice would probably be the best political choice as it would give him the best liaison with Congress on defense and national security matters.  It would also signal that Obama is willing to hear options from outside his own inner circle.

The other broad option is to pick a policy oriented person with knowledge of the defense bureaucracy.  Although they would not help in the legislative battles, they would more likely fit into Obama’s broad national security policy.

The four names that emerged early in the top running were former under secretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy, founder and chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a D.C. think tank; former deputy secretary of defense Ashton Carter; and current deputy secretary of defense Robert Work. Also in the mix is John Hamre, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a longtime D.C. player as well as former deputy secretary of defense.

Michele Flournoy was seen as the front runner until she withdrew her name from consideration on Tuesday.  She is currently the chief executive officer at the Center for a New American Security, a left wing think tank (in the American context) that the Obama administration relied heavily upon in developing national security policy. Many think she has the inside track as Obama wanted to appoint her earlier, but settled for Hagel instead.  However, she asked not to be considered for health and family reasons.

But there may have been other reasons since Flourney comes with considerable baggage.  She co-founded CNAS in 2007, and served as its president until 2009, when she took her under secretary job.  Since CNAS has published many papers on national security policy that have later been taken up by the Obama Administration, she will have to defend these policies and their failures during her nominations.  As a result, her confirmation hearings may have been used to focus on Obama foreign policy failures.

Another choice is Robert Work, who is currently the deputy defense secretary, and has previously served as undersecretary of the Navy. Work, a retired Marine colonel, also served as the CEO of CNAS before the Senate confirmed him in his present position in April.

As a former CNAS alumni, Work also has to face critical questions about Obama policy failures.  He also will be questioned about his work on the Defense Department budget and several questionable priorities that the Senate will not agree with.  And, as chairman of the Nuclear Deterrent Enterprise Review Group, he will need to answer questions about several scandals concerning military personnel working with nuclear weapons and the overall condition of the aging arsenal.

Another choice is Ashton Carter, who served as the Pentagon’s No. 2 official from October 2011 until December 2013, and stepped down after being bypassed in favor of Hagel for the job.

What is interesting is that in the first few hours of the vacancy at the Department of Defense, two top choices, Reed and Flournoy pulled their names from consideration, which seems to indicate that few top people see any benefit to serving two years in a job that has little access to Obama or his inner circle.  As the National Review reported, “Why should anyone put up with those headaches and not even have full command of your department?” asks one leading Democratic defense analyst I spoke with. He said the White House’s need to micromanage the national-security apparatus is notorious in Washington.”

Future policy will depend on who is picked and their relationship with Obama and his inner circle.  Lieberman, would be the least likely to adhere to the Obama doctrine, and with considerable bipartisan support from the Congress, would strike a more pro-Israel stance as well as push for more assistance to Iraq and the Syrian rebels.

Work is an alumnus of one of Obama’s favorite Washington think tanks – one that has articulated many Obama Administration policies.  Although he would bring some of his own perspective to the job, he is most likely to adhere to current Obama national security principles.  Meanwhile, someone like Ashton Carter, would probably fall between Lieberman and Work in terms of how they would relate to Obama and his inner circle.

Which brings us back to the main ingredient in America’s national security policy – Obama and his inner circle.  While detail and minutia can be controlled by the SecDef, ultimately, major policy decisions must go to the White House and be vetted by Obama and the Inner Circle – an inner circle that has become smaller and tighter in the last six years.

This means that decisions on the war against ISIS, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Syrian civil war, or unrest throughout the region will not face much deviation no matter who the new SecDef will be.  While Lieberman will have the political power to speak up against Obama, it will not change matters anymore than Hagel’s warnings about ISIS forced a policy reversal by Obama.

Which brings us back to the question we asked earlier in the analysis, “Is there any potential SecDef that can influence White House policy?”

Unfortunately, no.

Although each of the potential nominees have serious credentials, none have displayed the most important characteristic necessary for an effective SecDef in the Obama Administration – the ability to join the Inner Circle and become a major influence in national security policy making.  In the end, like Hagel, they will find themselves outside the real decision making circle and forced to defend and react to the White House decisions.

While their tenure may be longer than Hagel’s, it will not be any more satisfying or successful.



Nuclear Negotiations with Iran: U.S. Must Avoid a Rush to Failure

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

November 22, 2014

Issue Brief #4304

The November 24 deadline for a nuclear agreement with Iran is fast approaching, with no sign that a deal that would advance U.S. national security interests can be reached by that date. After almost a year of negotiations, Iran has won international acceptance of its once-covert uranium enrichment facilities and obtained substantial sanctions relief in exchange for symbolic and incremental concessions that can easily be withdrawn, as Tehran has done in the past. The Obama Administration, eager to conclude a deal to salvage a foreign policy “legacy,” has already made so many concessions on relaxing sanctions that it has undermined its own bargaining leverage as it seeks to close a deal. There is a real danger that if the Administration makes too many concessions, the legacy it leaves behind will be an Iran on the threshold of becoming a nuclear weapons state.

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The Vice President’s Difficult Trip to Turkey

By Bulent Aliriza

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Nov 20, 2014

On November 21, Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Istanbul for a two day visit during which he will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. According to a November 18 White House briefing prior to his departure on the three nation trip that will conclude in Turkey, “the Vice President will discuss cooperation in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq; coping with the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflicts on Turkey’s southern border and countering the threat posed by foreign fighters.” While the focus would be on countering ISIS, “promoting the Cyprus settlement process and other regional issues” would also be on the agenda.  Mr. Biden’s high profile trip will be the most recent effort in the ongoing U.S. campaign to persuade Turkey to give greater support in the fight against ISIS which has established brutal control over much of Syria as well as portions of Iraq. Although it is clear that Turkey’s contribution has not been at the level the U.S. would have liked, U.S. officials have been generally reluctant to publicize their disappointment. Instead they have chosen to emphasize areas of convergence and to downplay fundamental divergences.

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Iran Nuclear Talks Extended, Again

By George Perkovich

Carnegie Endowment

November 25, 2014

Iran and world powers agreed to extend negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program after a comprehensive deal proved elusive as the latest deadline approached. In a new Q&A, George Perkovich details where the talks stand and analyzes what lies ahead. Perkovich says Washington and its allies should strategically continue patient diplomacy unless Iran resumes provocative nuclear activities.

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Tunisia’s Security Challenge

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

November 26, 2014


As Tunisia prepares to enter a new phase in its process of democratization, with the election of a new president and the formation of a new cabinet following the successful parliamentary elections held in October, two key challenges face the country’s government: the economy and security.  Those two problems are related in Tunisia; as one journalist I spoke to while I was there last month told me, “the fate of many young Tunisians is suicide: Those who used to kill themselves through trying to reach Europe illegally by sea are now killing themselves by joining jihadist groups.” Indeed, the question on everyone’s lips during my trip was, how come thousands of Tunisians are fighting in Syria today?

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After Hagel
By James Robbins

American Foreign Policy Council
November 25, 2014

U.S. News & World Report

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was reportedly eased out of the Pentagon because President Barack Obama did not think he was the right man for the job. But finding the right person to replace him will require clear thinking from the White House on the dangerous state of the world.  When Hagel assumed defense leadership in February 2013, his job was to bring a declining department in for a soft landing. He was to oversee the end of the war in Afghanistan, make smart cuts in the defense budget, downside overall force levels, cancel unnecessary weapons contracts and reduce American force commitments overseas. From the vantage point of the beginning of Obama’s second term, defense was to play a secondary role; the emphasis would be on domestic policy.

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Iran’s Nuclear Politics and Missed Opportunities 

By Haleh Esfandiari and Robert S. Litwak

Wilson Center

November 25, 2014

Already, the extension of nuclear talks announced Monday is being portrayed in Iran as a victory for its negotiating team. In a televised interview Monday night, President Hasan Rouhani made clear that Iran would not stop its centrifuges or give up its technology. What’s been agreed to is, indeed, a bonus for Tehran as its government continues to access about $700 million a month from its frozen assets.  Western negotiators and Iran had more than a year to reach a comprehensive deal. Despite repeated assertions that Nov. 24 was a firm deadline, it seems that neither side took the date seriously. The Iranian negotiating team had its instructions and stuck to its position, even though no reprieve in the sanctions regime was offered. The Iranians know that the U.S. Senate will change hands in January and that it would be very difficult for the Obama administration to work with a Republican majority whose members have been skeptical of negotiations throughout the process. It is hard to see how the next seven months are to produce a change of mind among Iran’s leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that 14 months of negotiations have failed to bring about.

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


C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Week of November 21th, 2014

Executive Summary

As far as Middle Eastern issues that came to the forefront in the Washington think tank community, it was the upcoming deadline with Iran in the talks on their nuclear weapons development that was center stage.

Next week is the American holiday of Thanksgiving, which traditionally marks the beginning of the holiday season, which will not end until New Years Day.  As a result, we can expect to see fewer papers coming out of the think tank community as many analysts will be taking vacation.

The Monitor analysis looks at the current lame-duck session of Congress that still must deal with several important issues before the new congress takes over in January.  We see the biggest issue centering around the budget – not only for the rest of the year, but well into 2015 as Obama and Congress battle over the national agenda.  Several other issues of interest are Congress’s reaction to an Iranian deal, funding Syrian rebels, sending troops to the Middle East, and the Keystone pipeline.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS thinks it’s unlikely that an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons development will occur in the next few days.  They note, “Delay would mean going forward with no picture of how far Iran has already gotten, how dependent it is on visible actions like actual fissile or weapons tests for success, and how long Iran would need to develop a meaningful nuclear strike capability. It also would mean going forward without any serious public US assessment of how dependent Iran’s missile program are an deploying nuclear weapons or the extent to which a nuclear-armed force is critical to deterring preventive/preemptive strikes or US and Gulf escalation to major conventional strikes on Iran if Iran should conduct a major military action like using its asymmetric forces to try to bloc petroleum exports out of the Gulf.”

The AEI says that the US is failing in the Iranian nuclear talks because they fail to understand Iran and its priorities.  They note, “Understanding Iran is not easy. Careful study of the relationships between senior leaders, internal decision-making structures, ideological principles, and official statements and actions can provide far greater insight into how Iran works and, more importantly, why the Tehran regime does what it does. Discerning the drivers of behavior can help not only explain Tehran’s policies but also anticipate how the regime will interpret US actions and react to crises as they occur and evolve.”

The Foreign Policy Initiative looks at the failures of the Iranian sanctions.  They note, “Yet more than 20 years after Congress passed its first nuclear-related sanctions, Iran continues to defy the international community. It has refused to accept any limits on its centrifuge production. It has refused to explain the possible military dimensions of its program. And it has refused to make a meaningful offer during negotiations that would end its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Sanctions may have weakened Iran’s economy, but they have not weakened Tehran’s determination to acquire the bomb. They have received multilateral support, but not comprehensive multilateral enforcement. They have upset the regime, but not jolted it into submission.”

The American Foreign Policy Council hits the Administration in giving Russia such a large part in the Iran nuclear deal.  They warn, “U.S. trust for Russia makes little sense, however, as its reckless leader seems intent on flouting international norms, testing Washington and its allies, and, when finding them wanting, expanding Moscow’s reach.  In recent months, Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea, spurred Russian-backed rebels to seize more of Ukraine, and repeatedly violated cease-fire agreements by sending troops and weaponry across its border. He intimidated Ukraine into postponing a landmark trade treaty with the European Union.  Now, with the West responding with mild sanctions and empty threats, Putin is eying further prey. He’s threatening the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and, in particularly reckless and brazen displays, he recently sent Russian strategic bombers along the U.S. and Canadian coasts, nuclear bombers on a practice cruise-missile attack off Canada’s coast, and a submarine to Sweden’s waters.”

The Center for a New American Security talks about the possible outcomes from the Iranian nuclear talks.  They note, “The third and most likely scenario is a simple extension of the status quo. Iran would continue to receive some very limited commercial sector sanctions relief, though no new cash injections from its reserves held in escrow abroad, and would keep its nuclear program frozen as it has over the past year. This is the simplest outcome to negotiate but also the most vulnerable politically. Failure to show progress in negotiations could lead opponents in both Iran and the United States to argue for walking away from the table and in the aftermath of the deadline it may be difficult to hold off congressional action or steps by hardliners in Tehran that could sabotage a future deal.”

The Washington Institute argues that the tensions will get worse in the Middle East.  In regards to the Iranian nuclear agreement, they note, “Despite all the headaches the Middle East has provided him, Obama might see the region not as a vast expanse of quicksand that could smother what’s left of his ambition but as fertile territory for legacy-building in the final years of his administration. By all accounts, a strategic breakthrough with Iran would meet that test. But even with his best efforts — in the form of concessions in key areas of negotiations and willingness to cede considerable regional influence to Tehran — the president might not be able to secure the supreme leader’s agreement to a deal. Indeed, there are many possible reasons Iran might just not take yes for an answer. In that case, Washington almost surely would prefer a face-saving extension of the existing interim agreement rather than a total collapse of talks that could trigger a spiral of sanctions and retribution whose end cannot be infallibly foreseen.”




America Awaits a Lame-Duck Congress

Now that the election is over and the Republicans have gained control of the US Senate, the period of the “Lame-duck” Congress is upon us.  In politics, a lame duck refers to politicians still in power for the remainder of the term, but who have been defeated in the election.  As it stands, the Democratic controlled Senate is lame-duck because at the beginning of January, the Democrats lose control of the Senate to the Republicans.

In this case, the lame-duck session that will continue into December is the last chance the Democrats have to legislatively act – although they still have to get it through a Republican House of Representatives.  And, although the Democrats still have Obama in the White House, some issues like the budget must be acted upon by Congress, not Obama.  In addition, several of the issues will impact the Middle East like Syrian funding of the rebels, the Keystone pipeline, and congressional approval of any deal made by Obama with Iran on nuclear proliferation.

The political chemistry surrounding the lame-duck session is complex.  First, there is the outgoing Democratic Senate majority that was able to approve Obama’s nominations to cabinet, judgeships, and ambassadorships.  Obviously, a Republican Senate will be much more critical of Obama’s nominations.  As a result, there will still be a push to clear several nominations, even though more senior nominations may have to languish until January and the Republicans takeover.

The Democratic Senate also meant Republican legislation coming out of the House could be stopped at the Senate instead of forcing Obama to veto any legislation.  It also forced Republicans to negotiate with the Senate Democrats in order to pass a budget to fund the government.

While the Democrats have a reason to hurry, the Republicans are more interested in delaying budgeting and legislation.  Why, they reason, should they hurry to pass bills in November and December, while Democrats control the Senate, when they can wait and pass legislation that is more amenable to Republicans in 2015?

Meanwhile, Obama is already facing a hostile Congress that will become more difficult to work with once the Senate becomes Republican.  This is fueling his desire to act unilaterally and bypass Congress with executive orders.  One example of this is his executive action on immigration this week.

But taking unilateral action without congressional approval has risks.  The federal government runs out of money on December 11th and unless Congress approves a continuing resolution, the government will have to shut down non-critical offices.

By taking executive action on immigration, Obama is challenging Congress to counter his move.  Congress has the authority to prevent him from granting amnesty to illegal immigrants by preventing the government from spending any money to give them documents, but the problem is doing it in such a way that Obama is hemmed in and can’t cause a government shutdown that he will blame the Republican for.

One advantage for the Republicans is that all budget legislation must originate out of the Republican House instead of the Senate, which gives the House the edge in writing the budget legislation.

With a Democratic Senate, the options for the Republican House are more limited.  If they pass a long term continuing resolution without any clause preventing the expenditure of money in processing the illegal immigrants, Obama is free to issue papers until October 2015.

If the House passes a long term continuing resolution with a clause preventing amnesty, the Democratic Senate could block the bill, let the government shut down, and try to blame the Republicans for passing unreasonable legislation.  Or Reid could add an amendment that cuts the anti-amnesty clause out.

The other option, and one that is the likely outcome is to pass a short term continuing resolution that will not address amnesty,, but will allow the government to operate until early next year.  Then a Republican Congress can craft a continuing resolution that contains the non-amnesty clause that forces Obama either to sign it or veto it and force a government closure.

It appears, however, that the Republicans are leery of forcing a government closure, so they have another option for next year – passing departmental budgets.  In this, Congress would pass separate budgets for each department that Obama would sign.  However, the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill would contain a clause that would prevent use of any of the money to process illegal aliens or give them amnesty.  This leaves Obama with the hard choice of signing the bill and stopping the amnesty or vetoing it and forcing the closure of DHS – something that would hardly inconvenience the majority of Americans.

Given the history of the budgeting process, expect a short term continuing resolution coming out of the Congress in December, followed by more congressional battles on government funding in early 2015.

Lame-Duck Legislation

Although the funding issue remains, the lame-duck session has already tackled a couple of issues – the Keystone pipeline and NSA spying.

The revelation of massive NSA spying by Snowden galvanized many in Congress – many who were even Obama’s allies.  In a rare piece of bipartisanship, outgoing Judiciary chair Democratic Senator Pat Leahy has spent the last year working on a plan to reform laws controlling the NSA and had reached agreement with Republican James Sensenbrenner in the House on a joint bill.  The act would have severely restricted the collection of phone data.

However, the Senate successfully filibustered the bill this week and it is unlikely to come up again before the end of the year.

However, the issue will be renewed in 2015 as parts of the Patriot Act expire in June.  And, what may happen has implications in the 2016 presidential race.  Although many Republican senators, including incoming Senate Majority Leader McConnell, are opposed to limiting NSA authority, Republican aspirant Rand Paul is a NSA critic and wants even stronger NSA restrictions.  However, Ted Cruz, a Republican Senator from Texas and potential rival of Paul favors letting the NSA retain more authority.

This could provide an interesting split in the Republican Party as the conservative Republicans will favor Cruz’s position, while libertarian Republicans will support Paul.  This may allow someone like Jeb Bush, who is not supported by either the libertarians or conservatives, to win the nomination.

Although the NSA bill is focused on 2016 politics, the Keystone legislation that would allow Canadian oil to flow more readily into the US was focused on immediate politics and the fate of Democratic Senator Landrieu, who is behind in her race to retain her Senate seat against Republican Bill Cassidy.  Construction of Keystone has broad support in Louisiana, an oil producing state and Landrieu had maintained that her position on the Senate Energy committee gave her more power to help oil producers in her state.

Despite all of her pressure, her Democratic colleagues were un-swayed and when the vote came to stop debate and vote, she came up one vote short – an indication that most Democratic senators had concluded that she would lose her runoff race in December anyway.

Syria and the Continuing Resolution

The funding bill will also have to address funding of Syrian Rebels.  Obama asked Congress recently for another $5.6 billion to fight against ISIS.  The new appropriation will help fund the 1,500 additional troops the Pentagon plans to deploy to Iraq.  Increasing the Pentagon’s $58 billion overseas contingency operations request – the account used to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other hot spots – is expected to get broad support on Capitol Hill and pass easily. If Congress decides to go with the continuing resolution, they will fold the money into that legislation.

That, however, would only resolve the funding issue.  There is still the issue of the American military actions against ISIS.  Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war and many in Congress want Obama to go to Congress for authority to fight ISIS.  In the last few weeks, Obama has indicated he may be willing to update the legal justifications for carrying out a war against ISIS.

The temporary authorization to act against ISIS was included in the last continuing resolution and must be renewed by December 11th.  It is likely to be included in any temporary funding legislation.

This issue is likely to be debated in the new Congress in January.  Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona, who are expected to lead key committees in the Senate, have both said they favor a new, expanded war authorization law.  That additional authority may either be in a stand alone bill or, more likely, folded into the defense budget.

There is also the question of additional commitments of US troops in the region, which Obama was asked about during his recent trip to Asia.  “Yes, there are circumstances in which [Dempsey] could envision the deployment of U.S. troops. That’s true everywhere, by the way,” Obama said Sunday in Australia. “That’s his job, is to think about various contingencies. And, yes, there are always circumstances in which the United States might need to deploy U.S. ground troops.”

Obama did admit that there was one definite reason to move troops into the region – if ISIS gained control of a nuclear bomb.  “If we discovered that [ISIS] had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes,” Obama told reporters at the news conference. “I would order it.”

Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

Although supporting the Syrian rebels will likely find its way into the continuing resolution, there is likely to be more trouble in regards to any nuclear deal Obama makes with Iran.

The Senate is warning the Obama administration that it is poised to veto a final nuclear deal with the Iranians and impose harsher sanctions on Tehran, according to a letter sent late Wednesday to Obama.  Nearly half of the Senate has signed onto a letter promising to reject a “weak and dangerous deal” with Iran as final negotiations in Vienna approach their Nov. 24 deadline.  Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk authored the letter.

The senators warn that the Obama administration is close to inking a deal that will permit Iran to continue the most controversial aspects of its nuclear program and enable Tehran to build a nuclear weapon in the near future, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon and signed by all 43 Republican senators who backed the Mendendez-Kirk sanctions legislation killed earlier this year by the White House.

The senators lashed out at Obama for completely ignoring congressional efforts to provide oversight of the deal.  “Your negotiators appear to have disregarded clear expressions from the Senate emphasizing the need for a multi-decade agreements requiring Iran to fully suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities, to dismantle its illicit nuclear infrastructure, and completely disclose its past work on nuclear weaponization,” the senators wrote to Obama.  “We see no indication your negotiators are pressing Iran to abandon efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach American soil,” the senators warn.

Although the Constitution makes Obama the sole authority to deal with foreign nations, the Congress must provide the funding that will implement the agreement.

By relying on a confidential Treasury Department study, Obama has concluded that he can suspend most sanctions against Iran without congressional approval.  Reportedly, that would be enough for Iran to sign a deal.

However, the Congress can severely restrict any agreement by failing to provide funding for any actions that the US has agreed to undertake.  They can also punish the State Department by cutting their budget, especially in regards to opening an embassy in Iran or expanding operations there.



Assessing a Deal or Non-deal with Iran 

The Critical Issue of Iran’s Progress in Weapons Research, Development, and Production Capability 

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 20, 2014

It now seems unlikely that the P5+1 countries of the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany can reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran by the end of November. A final agreement remains a possibility, but it seems far more likely that if an agreement is not reached, the negotiations will be extended rather than abandoned all together. The question then arises as to how to judge the outcome of this set of negotiations, be it an actual agreement, an extension, or the collapse of the negotiations.  So far, most analyses of the negotiations have focused on the key features of Iran’s various enrichment efforts and its ability to acquire fissile material. These include: The number of centrifuges, The development of more advanced centrifuges, The level of Uranium enrichment and the size of Iran’s stockpiles, The potential use of the new reactor at Arak to produce Plutonium, How soon Iran could use any of these to get enough material to produce a nuclear device, The extent to which any agreement dealing with all of these issues is enforceable, How long an agreement will be in force, and The incentives to Iran for reaching an agreement, especially the extent to which UN, US, and EU sanctions will be lifted, and the timing of such action.

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ISIS, Israel, and nukes: Iran faces crises

By J. Matthew McInnis

American Enterprise Institute

November 19, 2014

Better policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran begins with a better understanding of Tehran’s decision making. Analysts, commentators, and policymakers are overwhelmed by the apparent complexity of Tehran’s political system, believing it to be opaque and often the source of irrational decisions. Because of these misperceptions about Tehran’s intentions, the United States has been too often shocked by Iran’s actions.

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A Deal With Two Devils

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council
November 18, 2014

U.S. News & World Report

Nothing better showcases Washington’s confusion over foreign policy than the idea that – as part of a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal – Iran would ship much or all of its enriched uranium to Russia, and Russia would then process it for Iranian civilian usage.  Were the U.S.-led “P5+1” negotiators (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) to reach a deal with Iran with this provision, the United States would subjugate its national security and that of its allies to two U.S. adversaries, both of which are undermining U.S. interests around the world.  In addition, Washington would further legitimize Tehran and Moscow as good-faith actors that adhere to global norms and can be valuable partners with the United States, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

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The Next President’s Mideast Mess 

By Robert Satloff

Washington Institute

November 16, 2014


Even God, it seems, is tired of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — and the never-ending standoff between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. When a third intifada threatened to erupt recently following Israel’s temporary closure of Muslim prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in response to stone-throwing against Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below, Palestinian leaders called for a “day of rage,” and Israel dispatched more than 1,000 riot police to prepare for the worst…It will likely take an even more dramatic brand of divine intervention to prevent a slew of worsening Mideast problems — renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Islamic terrorism, Iranian nukes and so on — from landing squarely on the desk of the next U.S. president, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or anyone else. All indications are that President Obama is going to try to make a difference in his last two years, especially in securing what he reportedly believes could be a transformative nuclear agreement with Iran. But the overwhelming odds are that most of these problems will still be unresolved by the next inauguration — and that the 45th president’s tenure will be as engulfed by the Middle East as Obama’s has been.

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How Iran Sanctions Failed

By Tzvi Kahn

Foreign Policy Initiative

November 17, 2014

How to explain America’s failure, after 20 years of efforts, to impose genuinely crippling sanctions on Iran? Start with the penchant of the executive branch—from Presidents Clinton to Obama—for excluding Congress from the process.  Last month, the New York Times reported that President Obama planned to bypass Congress on any final deal with Iran, directly violating a pledge by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year that the administration would “of course” consult with lawmakers about the future of sanctions. “We’d be obligated to,” he said, “under the law.”  At the same time, the administration maintains that it feels perfectly copacetic with its current slate of sanctions anyway—no need to rush for more. Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew said shortly after the implementation of the interim agreement that the United States—thanks to “President Obama’s leadership, congressional actions, [and] American diplomacy”—had “put in place a historic sanctions regime, and Iran now finds itself under the greatest economic and financial pressure any country has ever experienced.”

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Press Note: Prospects for Negotiations with Iran and Nuclear Diplomacy 

By Elizabeth Rosenberg, Ilan Goldenberg

Center for a New American Security

November 19, 2014

As negotiators head towards the November 24 deadline for the Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna, we should expect neither a full comprehensive agreement nor a complete breakdown. Instead, the most likely scenarios involve interim agreements that could range from a significant step forward involving some concessions on all sides, a partial agreement on some elements, or simply an extension of the status quo. While the best outcome for advancing nuclear security and future diplomacy with Iran would clearly be a major breakthrough in the negotiations, a continuation of talks and a perpetuation of the status quo would be far superior to a total breakdown. The durability of any agreement or the durability of continued nuclear diplomacy will depend on how key constituencies including the U.S. Congress, Iranian hardliners, Israeli and Saudi skeptics, and the countries negotiating with Iran (the P5+1) behave in the aftermath of the deadline.

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


C: 202 536 8984C: 301 509 4144

Week of November 14th, 2014

Executive Summary


While Obama travelled to Asia, most of Washington was still absorbing the results of last week’s mid term elections, which boosted the Senate Republican majority to 53, with a probable additional seat coming to them in December, when Louisiana holds its runoff election.

The murder of several nuclear scientists in Syria once again raises the issue of Israeli assassination as a tool of national policy. The Monitor Analysis looks at this issue, along with the US assassination programs and how America has managed to attract many promising scientists to its shores.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at the problems in the Middle East and sees America’s policy vacillations as a conflict between ideals and expediency. They note, “The United States has remained not only idealistic but naïve in the face of real and persistent threats in the Middle East. Gulf Arab allies continue to complain that the Obama administration “threw Hosni Mubarak under the bus,” yielding to chaos. Conservative regional governments express puzzlement that the United States has remained blind to the menace of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing democrats where these governments saw power-hungry theocrats. These governments not only wonder about U.S. support should they face internal challenges, but even if the United States would provide aid and comfort to their enemies out of a misplaced belief in the enemies’ good intentions. Realists in the United States complain that the disorder that accompanies rapid political change is both predictable and profound, and the eagerness with which the United States embraced such change reflects a lack of historical awareness or strategic thinking.”

The Washington Institute notes that in the coming weeks, a number of foreign and domestic developments will affect U.S. and Israeli policy, with each potentially testing the already tense bilateral relationship. These include a potential Iranian nuclear deal, the new Republican Congress, violence in Jerusalem, and the upcoming Likud primary election on January 6th which will force Israeli PM Netanyahu to the right.

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the gains that Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) has made in NW Syria. In a blow to American goals of arming “moderate” Syrian rebels, they note, “In so doing, JN effectively neutralized the FSA-affiliated Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) in Idlib Province… A leader of the January 2014 uprising against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in northwestern Syria, the SRF has been considered a potential ally in the U.S. “train and assist” mission to the Syrian opposition and is representative of the reliance of the U.S. strategy in Syria on the existence and reliability of key moderate groups through whom Western influence can be channeled. Prior to the conflict with JN, SRF leader Jamal Ma’arouf had reiterated his commitment to defeating ISIS and appeared to be a natural conduit for increased Western assistance. In addition, both the SRF and Harakat Hazm appear to be recipients of a covert U.S. program supplying certain vetted groups with TOW anti-tank missiles, considered to be a flagship effort for the train and assist mission to the Syrian opposition.”

The CSIS looks at the problem of non-state actors that are disrupting the Middle East. They note, “In many cases, non-state armed groups are inherently political actors with highly refined objectives that resonate with significant parts of local populations. Hezbollah fought for the rights of the Shi’a majority population that had long been marginalized in modern Lebanon. Hamas presented an Islamist alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) arrogance and corruption, which critics believed had done little to establish an independent Palestinian state. Even in the fight against al Qaeda and ISIS, there seems to be a steady supply of young men willing to die for the ideology and goals these movements espouse. While U.S. rhetoric describes ISIS in polemical terms, the reality is that ISIS has two powerful drivers of support: it is a utopian social and political entity that appeals to disaffected young people, and it is a powerful protector of sectarian interests for millions of Sunni Arabs in Syria and Iraq who feel systematically disenfranchised.”

The Carnegie Endowment argues that sectarian issues aren’t the only problem in Iraq and dividing the nation into ethnic states will note solve all the problems. They note, “In many respects, Iraq’s turn to subnational identities has not privileged any one community. Inequality and poverty have affected wide swaths of Iraqis, irrespective of sect or ethnicity. The breadth of socioeconomic  problems can be seen in the incidence of poverty across different governorates. In 2007, the highest poverty headcount (defined by the World Bank as the percentage of the population whose per capita expenditure falls below the poverty line) was registered in predominantly Shia Muthanna (49 percent) and Babil (41 percent), and mixed Saladin (40 percent). These areas also experienced the most severe poverty. In addition, Iraqis are increasingly dissatisfied with their standard of living, according to a recent Gallup poll. Iraqis overall rated their lives significantly worse in 2011 than in previous years.”

The Center for Security Policy looks at the upcoming deadline on the Iranian nuclear talks and Obama’s desperation to craft some sort of deal. They conclude, “The Obama administration’s decision to allow Iran to enrich uranium was unconscionable and made the negotiations to slow or halt the Iranian nuclear program an unacceptable risk to American and international security from the outset.  Over the last year, Obama officials gave away more and more to Tehran in the nuclear talks, setting the stage for a final agreement that is certain to be a diplomatic train wreck.”

The Carnegie Endowment warns that the problem is not of Iran “breaking out” in terms of a nuclear weapon, but, “sneaking out.” They note, “America’s focus on breakout is, therefore, misplaced. While reducing the number of centrifuges at Natanz is a worthwhile goal, it is less important than Iran’s acceptance of much more intrusive measures to detect any secret facilities that it might try to build in the future. These measures should include—but go beyond—the Additional Protocol, an enhanced inspection arrangement, developed in the 1990s, following the discovery of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear program. Iran could, for example, give the IAEA blanket permission to take environmental samples from any publicly accessible place in the country. Inspectors could then easily and rapidly investigate a suspect facility by searching for the traces of radioactive materials that inevitably leak out. Iran could also permit the IAEA to monitor non-nuclear materials that are used in the production of the feedstock for enrichment to help ensure that centrifuges couldn’t be supplied in secret.”





Assassination as an Instrument of Foreign Policy

American and Israeli views – Do they agree or disagree?


The report this week about the assassination of several nuclear scientists in Syria reignited the controversy on Israel’s policy of assassination as a tool of foreign policy. It also raises the question of attacking a nation’s intellectual power as part of asymmetrical warfare.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday five nuclear engineers, four of them Syrian and one Iranian, were shot dead on the outskirts of Damascus on Sunday while traveling in a small convoy to a research center near the northeastern district of Barzeh. The attack took place in territory controlled by the Syrian government.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the killings, suspicion immediately fell on the Israelis, who have a long standing reputation for assassination and have been responsible for the killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists in the past few years.

Israeli Assassination – An Instrument of Foreign Policy

Zionists has always used assassination as a tool of policy, even before Israel’s establishment. Both British and Arab people were killed during the 1940s in order to advance Zionist goals and gain control of Palestinian land. Since then, Israel and the Mossad have become legendary for its high profile assassinations – and several spectacular failures.

The policy isn’t without critics, even in Israel. In 1955, seven years after the Israeli state was founded, the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote a letter to then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. In it, he complained that innocent Palestinians were being killed in Israeli operations. “I do not agree with you,” responded Ben-Gurion. “While it is good that there be a world full of peace, fraternity, justice, and honesty, it is even more important that we be in it.”

In the 1970s assassination as a tool of Israeli policy was institutionalized when then Prime Minister Golda Meir appointed a so-called “X Committee” that was – and perhaps still is – responsible for keeping a list of people to be assassinated. At the Mossad, a unit known as “Caesaria” is allegedly tasked with carrying out targeted killings.

Although Israel has constantly targeted Palestinians for assassinations, it has been the recent war against Iran’s nuclear scientists that has gained the most attention. Reportedly, it is a special group within the Mossad called Kidron that is carrying out the Iranian attacks.

In the case of the Iranian nuclear assassinations conducted by Kidon, they employed people with Iranian or dual nationalities. One of the Mossad assassins was Majid Jamali Fashi who confessed he had cooperated with Mossad for financial reasons only. Fashi assassinated Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, a professor at Tehran University in January 2011 by blowing an explosive-laden motorbike via a remote-controlled device. He reportedly received training from Mossad inside Israel as well as $120,000 to assassinate the Iranian scientist. According to his confession, Jamali Fashi received forged documents in Azerbaijan’s Heydar Aliyev Airport to travel to Tel Aviv.

At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed since 2007, with men on motorcycles sticking magnetically attachable bombs to their victims’ cars. The head of the country’s ballistic missile program was also killed, while Mojtaba Ahmadi, who served as commander of the Iranian Cyber War Headquarters, was found shot dead. No Israeli national has ever been arrested.

Reaction to these killings in America was generally positive, which indicated that the CIA might have been involved to some degree. Former US senator and candidate for president, Rick Santorum described the assassination of Iranian scientists as “wonderful,” threatening that those who work for Iran’s nuclear program “are not safe.”   “On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead. I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.”

He also said, “I think we should send a very clear message that if you are a scientist from Russia, North Korea, or from Iran and you are going to work on a nuclear program to develop a bomb for Iran, you are not safe.”

Also, former Bush administration ambassador to the UN John Bolton said on Fox News that the killing of an Iranian scientist and sanctions against Iran constitute only “half-measures in the quest to stunt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” The same sentiments were shared by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

However, it appears that Obama may be putting pressure on Israel to stop the killings as he attempts to craft an agreement with Iran on limiting their nuclear weapons development. In addition, it appears that Israel may be stopping this type of attack as it has become too dangerous.

It’s not just Obama that has had problems with Israeli assassinations. Revelations about the use of European passports in the attack on an alleged Hamas weapons buyer in Dubai caused diplomatic fallout between Israel and the European countries affected. Passports from the Britain, Ireland, France and Germany were used by the hit squad. All the involved nations demanded an explanation from Israel, which made it clear that they had no intention of stopping their policy of assassination or using forged documents from other nations. In fact, the only question in Israel was the lack of professionalism shown in the killing.

Although Europe has been more vocal in criticizing Israel, America has generally been much quieter. In 1990 the Canadian-American scientist Gerald Bull was assassinated in Belgium. Bull, a renowned expert in long range artillery was helping Iraq develop a “super cannon” that might be able to hit Israel.

All indications are that it was an Israeli Mossad hit team that killed Bull, but the US government was unresponsive and didn’t even bring the FBI into the investigation as would normally happen with the assassination of an American citizen in Europe. Some in the government even suggested that another nation like Iran, Syria, or South Africa might be responsible. In the immediate aftermath, Israel even spread stories that Iraq had carried out the assassination.

How does Israel rationalize its assassination policy? International law prohibits assassinations both in times of peace and in times of war. In addition, it violates the sovereignty of other nations and the rights of the citizens of the other countries that are the targets of the assassination teams.

The Israeli position in the case of attacks on Palestinians is that Palestine isn’t a recognized state and Israel doesn’t have to conform to international law in terms of carrying out assassinations in Palestine or against Palestinians.

However, when carrying out murders in recognized nations, Israel has developed another legal rational. In a legal opinion, Israeli attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein wrote, “The laws of combat which are part of international law, permit injuring, during a period of warlike operations, someone who has been positively identified as a person who is working to carry out fatal attacks against Israeli targets, those people are enemies who are fighting against Israel, with all that implies.”

This is a position that found disagreement in the international community, even in the US. And, although privately many American officials approve of the Israeli extrajudicial solution, the official US position is, “Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don’t end the violence, but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm.”

America’s Assassination History

However, while the US publically denounces Israel’s assassination policy, it has a long record of targeting its enemies for liquidation. The US has made more than 50 attempts to assassinate political party leaders according to William Blum in “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II.” While some of them have been well known failures like the attacks on Fidel Castro, others have been more effective like the death of Lumumba of the Congo. In fact, last December, the US State Department admitted that President Eisenhower authorized the murder of Lumumba and CIA Chief, Allan Dulles, allocated $100,000 to accomplish the murder.

Although the Church Committee hearings in the US Senate stopped the use of assassination as American policy in the 1970s, the 9-11 attacks renewed assassination as an instrument of American policy. According to the July 18, 2012 issue of the Atlantic magazine, “President Bush gave the CIA permission to create a top secret assassination unit to find and kill Al Qaeda operatives. The program was kept from Congress for seven years. And when Leon Panetta told legislators about it in 2009, he revealed that the CIA had hired the private security firm Blackwater to help run it. “The move was historic,” says Evan Wright, the two-time National Magazine Award-winning journalist who wrote Generation Kill. “It seems to have marked the first time the U.S. government outsourced a covert assassination service to private enterprise.”

“It goes on to note that “in the past, the CIA was subject to oversight, however tenuous, from the president and Congress,” but that “President Bush’s 2001 executive order severed this line by transferring to the CIA his unique authority to approve assassinations. By removing himself from the decision-making cycle, the president shielded himself — and all elected authority — from responsibility should a mission go wrong or be found illegal.”

“Two Blackwater contractors told me that their firm began conducting assassinations in Afghanistan as early as 2008. They claimed to have participated in such operations — one in a support role, the other as a “trigger puller.” The contractors, to whom I spoke in 2009 and 2010, were both ex-Special Forces soldiers who were not particularly bothered by assassination work, although they did question the legality of Blackwater’s involvement in it.”

“While Blackwater’s covert unit began as a Bush administration story, President Obama now owns it. In 2010, his administration intervened on behalf of the Blackwater executives indicted for weapons trafficking, filing motions to suppress evidence on the grounds that it could compromise national security. The administration then awarded Blackwater (which is now called Academi) a $250 million contract to perform unspecified services for the CIA.”

There are, however, problems with human assassins. They need to be able to blend into the environment and usually require a long time to properly insert them into the target area. This has led America to automate the process with remote controlled drones. In fact, according to an Obama administration spokesman, drone attacks are “the new normal” in the war against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Needless to say, in order to carry out its high tech assassination policy, the Obama Administration has had to stretch the law, just as Israel has. A secret Justice Department paper outlining the legal rational for assassinating Americans in the Middle East, without benefit of legal protections said that the president, without oversight, may order a “lethal operation” against a citizen who is known to be a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or an affiliated group.

Needless to say, foreign nationals do not have even this level of legal protection, when it comes to attack by American drone aircraft.

Asymmetrical Warfare – attack the intellectual resources of a nation

Both American and Israeli assassination policies are targeted towards destroying the intellectual resources of a nation – whether that be a nuclear scientist, artillery expert, or top manager in an organization that the US or Israel wants to decapitate. However, the US has developed another way to also drain intellectual resources from the Middle East – bringing the best minds to the US and allowing them to settle there.

Ever since Operation Paperclip began near the end of WW II, the US has made it policy to allow top scientific talent to immigrate to the US. In fact, a report from the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation, notes that the United States is the world’s preeminent producer of scientific research thanks partially to immigrants. The U.S. “funds the most research in academia and business, it publishes more science papers than any other nation, and its scientific papers are disproportionately among the world’s best.” And immigrants play a crucial role in those activities.

The report notes that that a large proportion of workers employed in science and engineering fields in the United States are foreign born. “Compared to the entire college-educated workforce, college graduates employed in S&E occupations are disproportionately foreign born,” the report states.

According to the 2011 American Community Survey, over 26 percent of all college-educated workers in engineering and science occupations were foreign born. Additionally, over 43 percent of workers in these occupations holding doctorate degrees are foreign born.

Much of this is due to government funding and a higher immigration priority for foreign born scientists and engineers. Because of the federal government’s major investment in academic research over the past six decades, well-funded U.S. universities successfully compete for the best scientific talent around the world. Many of these talented scientists remain in the United States, become American citizens, and take jobs as researchers in universities or at high tech companies. In fact, about 2/3 of all non-citizen scientists and engineers who came to the US became American citizens.

Which brings us back to the Israeli and American assassination programs. As life for a scientist becomes more dangerous in the Middle East, the advantages of coming to the US to live and work become more attractive. In the end, the region still loses a brilliant mind. It’s just less bloody.



Middle East Notes and Comment: Acting and Reacting in the Middle East

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 12, 2014

When mass protests broke out in the Arab world in 2011, the Obama administration saw opportunity. The president helped push long-time U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak to step down from the Egyptian presidency, noting, “I think history will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt that we were on the right side of history.” Almost four years later, “people power” has not taken hold in the Middle East. Some countries, such as Libya and Syria, hemorrhage from civil wars that started as peaceful protests. In Egypt, elections produced a government so exclusionary that after a year in power, much of the public supported a return to military rule. Three and a half years after the death of Osama bin Laden, jihadis are resurgent in the region. Meanwhile, the United States finds itself fighting battles in the Middle East with strained alliances and diminished influence. What went wrong?

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The Challenge of Non-State Actors

By Haim Malka

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 12, 2014

After half a century during which the Middle East was divided along Cold War lines between U.S. allies and adversaries, the United States now has friendly relations with nearly every Arab state, save the Assad regime in Syria. Yet, non-state armed groups have emerged as key protagonists in conflicts around the region, and they are often hostile to the United States. Today they undermine U.S. policy goals, destabilize fragile states, and kill civilians. More than ever before, the United States must address a mutating set of foes that operates in increasingly complex political environments. Doing so will require U.S. government officials to demonstrate vigilance, dynamism, and creativity at a time when security concerns push many to huddle inside embassy walls.

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Iraq’s Existential Crisis: Sectarianism Is Just Part of the Problem

By Maha Yahya

Carnegie Endowment

November 6, 2014

Much of the recent analysis of the Islamic State’s sweep into Iraq has followed a sectarian narrative. Many have focused on linking the rise of the militant group with Sunnis’ disenfranchisement and growing anger at the way former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki systematically excluded them from power. Others have viewed this as a “crisis a century in the making” and the death knell for the post–World War I order, leaving religion, and not the state, as the primary unit of analysis. So, too, have some of the subsequent policy recommendations, in particular suggestions that partition along religious and ethnic lines is the best solution to Iraq’s long-standing problems. Such analysis is not only shaping the military response to the crisis, but also the long-term solutions to it. This sectarian perspective makes the breakup of Iraq a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Who Cares about an Iranian Nuclear Breakout? Beware of an Atomic “Sneak-out”

By James M. Acton

Carnegie Endowment

November 4, 2014

It’s time for America to rethink its strategy for preventing Iran from getting the Bomb. Negotiations over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program are foundering on the question of how much enrichment capacity it can be permitted. So far, Tehran has refused to dismantle any of the 19,000 or so centrifuges it has installed. Its negotiating partners, led by the United States, insist that Iran can only be allowed to operate a few thousand at most. There is no clear path to breaking the deadlock. The United States’ current strategy would make sense if Iran’s only option for acquiring nuclear weapons were a crash program using declared facilities that are inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency—the much-discussed “breakout” scenario. If Tehran goes nuclear, however, it will almost certainly be more surreptitious and build a secret, parallel program dedicated to military ends. The United States should, therefore, aim to negotiate measures to prevent “sneak-out”

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Obama’s Pandering to Iran Has No Limits

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy
November 7, 2014

The Obama administration is in desperation mode on the nuclear talks with Iran.  With the prospect of a Republican Senate taking action next year to thwart its controversial nuclear diplomacy and a fast approaching November 24 deadline for the talks, the Obama administration reportedly has doubled down on its previous one-sided concessions to Tehran by offering to allow it to operate up to 6,000 uranium centrifuges. Further confusing this situation, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the president wrote a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in which he reportedly stressed that “any cooperation on the Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a November 24 diplomatic deadline.”

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Jabhat al-Nusra Deepens its Foothold in Northwestern Syria

By Jennifer Cafarella

Institute for the Study of War

November 10, 2014

Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) seized large swaths of the Jabal al-Zawiya area of southern Idlib Province (in northwest Syria bordering Turkey) from Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliated groups beginning in late October 2014 (see fig. 1). JN, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, began to carve out direct territorial control in Idlib Province beginning in July 2014, and its advance in southern Idlib has considerably extended its stronghold in the province. JN’s campaign in Idlib has largely targeted terrain held by the FSA-affiliated Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), and is therefore an important indicator of JN’s strength in relation to Syria’s moderate opposition and its willingness to escalate against Western-backed groups in pursuit of its own core interests.

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Policies and Politics Will Test U.S.-Israel Ties

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

November 10, 2014

PolicyWatch 2335

In the coming weeks, a number of foreign and domestic developments will affect U.S. and Israeli policy, with each potentially testing the already tense bilateral relationship. One key date is November 24, the deadline for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama has publicly said there is a “big gap” between the parties, making the prospects of a breakthrough unclear, but high-level U.S., EU, and Iranian envoys have completed two days of talks in Oman in a bid to reach such a breakthrough. If a deal is in fact made and the terms are not to Israel’s liking, then the war of words with Washington may resume on this very sensitive issue. Exacerbating the situation was a statement this weekend by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei detailing a plan for eliminating the state of Israel. Furthermore, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been skeptical of the negotiations, has just announced that Congress will seek to review the terms of any agreement with Tehran. This comes on the heels of a midterm election in which the Republicans won control of the Senate, and shortly after the Obama administration reiterated its authority to suspend certain sanctions against Iran in the event of a breakthrough.

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



C: 202 536 8984                 C: 301 509 4144

Week of November 08th, 2014

Executive Summary


The focus in Washington this week was the mid term elections that saw Obama’s political allies take a beating.

This week’s Monitor Analysis looks at the election and how it will impact what happens in America politically. We look at how Obama and Congress will likely interact in the next two years, the 2016 presidential outlook, and the impact of money in politics.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS says that with the elections behind America, Congress needs to review defense spending in light of the recent developments overseas. They note, “With the midterm elections passed, the 113th Congress returns to conclude with a lame duck session starting on November 12. Since Congress recessed on September 19, the United States conducted its first air strikes in Syria, U.S. and Afghan officials signed a bilateral security agreement, and Ebola reached the United States. With this security environment as the backdrop, the next six months harbor significant budget events that will need to be tackled by both the outgoing and incoming congresses.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the decline in spending on contingency operations in the war on terror and how the money has been diverted to other defense spending. They note, “As OCO spending has declined under the Obama Administration, the passage of the Budget Control Act has created competing pressure to use the OCO account to fund other Defense Department activities. This approach is not fiscally responsible. Instead of jeopardizing the nation’s fiscal well-being through accounting gimmicks, Congress should increase the defense top line to fund all national defense requirements and seek fiscal savings by reforming the key drivers of spending and debt: entitlements.”

The Center for Security Policy looks at Obama’s tattered Syria/Iraq policy. They conclude, “The evidence is mounting that the president’s strategy is an utter failure and is undermining American credibility. It is crucial after the election that President Obama approve a much tougher approach to defeat the Islamic State, bring Iraqi Sunnis into the government, and prevent non-Islamist rebels in Syria from being wiped out. The urgent need for a better Iraq/Syria strategy is a compelling reason why Mr Obama must shake up his National Security Council staff after the election to bring in more competent advisors who will present him with insightful, hard-hitting policy options that are divorced from U.S. domestic politics.”

The Washington Institute looks at the long term commitment it will take to defeat ISIS. They conclude, “In taking on ISIS, then, the United States has entered a new phase of a struggle that predates 9/11 and from which there is no near-term exit. And even if the United States succeeds in defeating ISIS, as it did AQI before it, ISIS’s progeny and other jihadist groups are likely to remain part of the Middle East landscape and to threaten U.S. interests and allies there for years to come. Until the United States and its Muslim-majority allies and partners can figure out how to dampen the appeal of the jihadist ideology that animates ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other such groups, there will be no quick “end game” or “exit strategy” for this struggle. The United States will need to remain militarily engaged in the region, one way or another, for years to come. For as the Obama administration, like prior administrations, has learned the hard way, “if you don’t visit the Middle East, it will visit you.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at a potential Iranian nuclear deal, the removal of sanctions, and the reentry of major oil companies into Iran. They conclude, “There is no doubt that a long-term nuclear deal with Iran would create interesting intricacies in world energy markets. However, other major oil and gas producers in the Middle East may not need to be too concerned about rising Persia—at least not in the short term. Even if an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is reached, it would be premature to predict that the oil and gas markets will be immediately flooded with new supplies from that part of the world. Many technical and legislative bottlenecks remain. Iran might get some speedy concessions, but these are unlikely to reverse the oil and gas production and investment realities in the country, given that oil and gas projects require long-term commitments lasting decades. Furthermore, the removal of sanctions, especially U.S. sanctions, is a lengthy and complex process. Oil companies will also have to assess whether the new contract arrangements are enticing enough to commit valuable capital.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the growing tensions off the coast of Cyprus as competing nations look at offshore energy reserves. They conclude, “Turkey’s decision to escalate existing disputes by the dispatch of warships seems calculated to torpedo the already difficult Cyprus settlement talks and its own problematic EU membership negotiations. Cyprus’s response, which was particularly harsh, will make a return to the negotiating table even more difficult. The EU, the United States, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and, indeed, Russia should exercise their leverage with the parties to wind down tensions. This will reassure investors and give a chance for stalled diplomatic processes to address the underlying causes of conflict.”





How the Republican Wins will Impact America

The Republican wave that swept America on Tuesday basically left the Democrats only controlling the White House. Although some races are undecided, it looks like the Republicans not only won control of the Senate, they maintained control of the House, and extended their control of the states, with two thirds of the state governors being Republican. Republicans also control at least 66 of the 98 state legislative bodies.

To understand how this election will impact governance, we must understand the chemistry of American government. The American president is constitutionally empowered to execute laws passed by Congress and conduct foreign and military affairs. Congress passes laws and the budget.

In the 1990s, when the GOP won the Congress while Clinton was president, the shared constitutional powers forced Clinton and Congress to compromise. The result was some reform legislation and a balanced budget.

Obama, however, is not like Clinton. Obama has no legislative skills, which means he is incapable of getting legislation passed (something he was even incapable of when the Democrats controlled Congress). And, unlike Clinton, he is more ideological and less willing to compromise. He displayed this during his press conference the day after the election, when he indicated he would continue to press his agenda.

“Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign,” Obama said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll take some actions that some in Congress will not like,” he said.

This inability for Obama to work with Congress has led to Obama governing through executive orders and regulations promulgated by the bureaucracy. With a Senate controlled by Democrats, he was able to operate as they blocked legislation and budgets passed by the Republican House.

With a Republican Senate, this will change. And, although the Senate minority does have the right to filibuster legislation, the Republican Congress does have two tools that they will undoubtedly use. They are the Budget Reconciliation Bill and the Congressional Review Act of 1996. Both can be passed with a simple Senate majority and can severely impact some of Obama’s actions.

The Budget Reconciliation Bill allows funding of the government without the threat of a filibuster derailing it. It was used by current Senate Majority Leader Reid to pass Obamacare, when it was obvious that Republicans could kill it with a filibuster.

With this piece of legislation, Congress can specify exactly how money will be spent by the Administration. For instance, in order to stop Obamaa’s planned immigration amnesty, Congress can pass the budget specifically limiting how much (if any) can be spent on issuing the documentation that allows someone to remain in the US. It can also prevent an agency from spending money on enforcing certain regulations.

Obviously, Obama can veto a budget he disagrees with, precipitating a government shutdown. This was done last year by Obama in hopes that the shutdown would damage the Republican’s chances of winning the mid term elections (which they obviously didn’t). This is a risky strategy for Obama since the next election is in two years. The Republicans can also make the cuts very specific and targeted towards winning voter approval, which would make it more likely that Democrats would be willing to override the Obama veto.

Another budget strategy is to pass legislation protecting popular government agencies like the Social Security Administration, and then put the cuts in a separate bill that, if not signed, would impact certain agencies like the EPA, Education Department, or FDA.

The second, largely unused, congressional tool is the Congressional Review Act of 1996. This legislation allows both houses of Congress to review and overrule any new government regulation. As with the budget reconciliation bill, it can’t be filibustered or delayed in the Senate.

However, for the regulation to be invalidated it must also be signed by Obama – a very unlikely event – or the House and Senate must override the veto – also unlikely.

The CRA, however, does prevent the implementation of the regulation until Congress acts on it. This allows the Republican Congress to shelve the regulation by merely not bringing it up for a vote to override the president’s veto.

Expect to see both of these legislative tactics to be used in the last two years of the Obama Administration

Foreign Policy Impact

Although the election will have a major impact on governing in the US, it will have much less impact on American foreign or military policy, since they are both responsibilities of the president.

But, that doesn’t mean that Obama’s policies will escape unscathed. Congress still controls the budget process, which can control what Obama can do. In addition, the US Senate must approve treaties and confirm ambassadors. And, should Secretary of State Kerry resign (for example), the Senate would confirm any Obama selection.

A Republican Senate will also bring some GOP senators to the forefront of foreign policy debate. The most likely to impact policy will be Senator McCain, who will become the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has been an advocate of supporting the Syrian rebels and his position as chairman will give him more political clout.

That may be one reason why Obama signaled that he may go to Congress for legislation to fight ISIS – legislation that McCain would probably support. He surprised many by saying he would ask Congress for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force to help him prosecute a flagging war against (ISIS).

The move is a change from the previous position that a George W. Bush-era congressional permission slip was more than adequate to deal with turmoil in Iraq and Syria.  “We now have a different type of enemy,” Obama said Wednesday, echoing Republicans’ objections months ago. “The strategy is different.” “It makes sense for us to make sure that the authorization from Congress reflects what we perceive to be not just out strategy over the next two to three months,” he said, “but also our strategy moving forward.”

While there may be some agreement concerning Syria and ISIS, there is less possibility that the GOP and Obama will agree on a possible nuclear deal with Iran, which has a deadline of November 24th. Obama has the authority to cut back on the sanctions, but Congress can use the budget process to stop implementation of parts of the agreement.

Given the Democratic loss of the Senate, there will probably be more pressure on Obama to conclude a deal by November 24 rather than delay it and give a Republican Senate a chance to scuttle any deal. However, the GOP Senate could bring the issue up in January and force Democratic senators up for election in 2016 to either vote against Obama or support the easing of Iranian sanctions.

A Republican Senate will also be friendlier towards Israel. Israel can expect Congress to be more generous in Israeli foreign aid.

Domestic Agenda

Most of the impact on the GOP wins will be felt domestically – and some of that will probably happen long before the Republicans take control in January.

Obama will be anxious to use the Democratic Senate in the next two months to push nominations that would likely be stalled in a Republican Senate. Consequently, expect him to announce his nomination for Attorney General in the next few days, while current Senate Majority Leader Reid can quickly shepherd it through confirmation.

Another battle in the near future will be any executive action by Obama on amnesty for illegal immigrants, which he signaled he was willing to pursue on Wednesday. “I have consistently said that it is my profound preference and interest to see Congress act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” Obama said. However, Obama pledged to “do everything I can in my executive authority’ to take ‘whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve our immigration system.” He then warned, “What I’m not gonna do is just wait.”

But, there was a degree of bluff in the statements because, as was mentioned earlier, Congress, though the budget process, can restrict what Obama can do unilaterally. In fact, Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and David Vitter of Louisiana sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday saying that if Obama takes unilateral action to grant amnesty to illegal aliens it “will create a constitutional crisis.”

Then referring to the continuing resolution needed to fund the government after December 11th, they said, “Should you decline to defend the Senate and the Constitution from executive overreach, the undersigned senators will use all procedural means necessary to return the Senate’s focus during the lame duck session to resolving the constitutional crisis created by President Obama’s lawless amnesty.”

One piece of legislation that will probably move ahead in the Senate is the Keystone pipeline. The administration consistently has delayed a decision on the pipeline, which would take as much as 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta tar sands crude to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast.

So far, Senate Democrats have staved off any binding legislation that would green-light the pipeline (in 2013 the Senate passed a non-binding resolution in favor of Keystone). That will change when Republicans take control. Since several Democratic senators favor the pipeline, Obama might have to negotiate with Congress, perhaps as part of the EPA funding.

Also look for legislation to curtail Obamacare. The major changes will be eliminating the medical equipment tax and removing the mandate to provide medical insurance for full time employees.

The 2016 Presidential Election

Needless to say, the elections had an impact on what happens in 2016. The most obvious was that Martinez of New Mexico and Walker of Wisconsin won their reelection bids, giving Republicans two strong presidential contenders in two years.

However, the elections also will have an impact on the Democratic ticket. Traditionally, governors have been the strongest presidential candidates as they are able to display their leadership skills by governing a state. And, given Obama’s poor management skills, the experience of a potential president will be a major campaign issue in 2016.

That’s bad news for the Democrats, who were originally expected to gain governorships, but actually lost them. Not only does this limit the number of presidential candidates that Democrats could have considered, it forces them to consider beltway figures, especially Hillary Clinton, whose performance during the campaign did little to stop a Republican wave. In fact, the Clinton efforts, which focused on Arkansas and Kentucky, indicate the appeal of the Clintons in another national election may be limited.

Another problem for the Democrats is the continued unpopularity of Obama. Unlike Clinton, who learned from the Democratic losses in 1994 and changed course politically, Obama made it clear Wednesday that he intends to continue the same policies that led to the Democratic debacle this week. That means the chances of a rebounding popularity are minimal.

While Democrats hope for a rebound in 2016, as they found out this year, there is no way to divorce oneself from an unpopular president. Just as Republicans discovered in 2008, merely fielding a new presidential candidate still doesn’t negate the unpopularity of a sitting president.

Big Money and Elections

This was the year of the political fat cat – just 42 people are responsible for nearly a third of super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. In fact, super PACs actually outspent the national parties. The biggest political donor was Tom Steyer, the former hedge-fund manager who spent $73 million in an unsuccessful attempt to elect environmentally friendly Democrats. Former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, spent upwards of $20 million in an unsuccessful attempt to elect pro gun control politicians. On the other side is Paul Singer, a billionaire and powerful Republican fundraiser.

Obviously, given Steyer’s and Bloomberg’s failed attempts, big political donations are less effective then many think.

Although money is considered the “mother’s milk of politics,” it hasn’t always been as important as some think. Many Democratic PACs were able to out raise the Republicans even while losing the elections. In fact, after a certain level of advertising, most voters tend to tune out the advertising.

Obviously, in the end, messaging is the most important part of a campaign. Big money and a poor message will not win an election, as many Democratic politicians can attest to today.




The Future of Overseas Contingency Operations: Due Diligence Required

By Emil Maine and Diem Salmon

Heritage Foundation

November 4, 2014

Issue Brief #4294

In 2001, the U.S. government began providing emergency supplemental funds to pay for increased military and civilian costs associated with the global war on terrorism (GWOT). Initially, war funds paid for the mobilizing and deploying of troops, transporting equipment and supplies, and increasing the number of active-duty service members associated with Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Over time, however, the use of war funding expanded to cover issues with only tenuous links to combat operations. Today, with OIF completed and OEF coming to a close, the cost of the GWOT, now called overseas contingency operations (OCO), has also declined from its peak of $187 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2008, to the $58.6 billion requested today. Yet, as OCO spending has declined under the Obama Administration, the passage of the Budget Control Act has created competing pressure to use the OCO account to fund other Defense Department activities.

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Post-Election Wrap-Up: What’s Next for Defense Spending?

By Ryan Crotty

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 5, 2014

On November 4, the Republicans expanded their majority in the House of Representatives and took the Senate, winning at least a 52-48 majority. What does this mean for the defense budget in the near term?  What are the important decision points over the next six months that are critical for defense? What are the broader concerns to pay attention to in the medium term? With the midterm elections passed, the 113th Congress returns to conclude with a lame duck session starting on November 12. Since Congress recessed on September 19, the United States conducted its first air strikes in Syria, U.S. and Afghan officials signed a bilateral security agreement, and Ebola reached the United States. With this security environment as the backdrop, the next six months harbor significant budget events that will need to be tackled by both the outgoing and incoming congresses.

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Can Oil and Gas Markets Adjust to a Rising Persia?

By Carole Nakhle

Carnegie Endowment

October 30, 2014

Given its substantial oil and gas resource potential, Iran must be on the radar screen of every major international oil company. Nevertheless, with the exception of Chinese and Russian players who are the only international oil companies currently involved with developing Iranian oil fields, major oil companies have shied away from Iran. This is largely explained by a series of sanctions, mainly targeting the banking and energy sectors and imposed in recent years by the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union, that have limited investment in Iran. The big oil companies, however, are keen to return to Iran if the international community and the Islamic Republic reach a long-term deal on its nuclear program and the sanctions are lifted accordingly, and if Iran offers more lenient contractual terms.

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Obama’s Strategy on the Iraq/Syria Crisis Collapsing as Americans Go to the Polls

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy
November 4, 2014

On September 10, 2014, President Obama announced his strategy to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State and to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight against the Assad regime. As Americans head to the polls today, this strategy is on the brink of collapse. The Islamic State has continued to make gains on the ground and commit atrocities since the president announced his strategy. Over the weekend, the Islamic State executed 322 members of the pro-U.S. Albu Nimr Iraqi tribe in Anbar province, including dozens of women and children whose bodies were dumped in a well.   Pleas by the Sunni tribe for weapons to defend itself were ignored by the Bagdad government.

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Sabre rattling in the Eastern Mediterranean

By Michael Leigh

German Marshall Fund

November 2, 2014

Cyprus Mail

While the world’s attention is focused on the conflict between fighters from the Islamic State and Kurds on the Turkish-Syrian border, a terrorist attack in Ottawa, and the Ebola outbreak, the eastern Mediterranean is going through a more low-key but worrying bout of energy-fueled tensions. An Italian-Korean consortium (ENI-KOGAS) began drilling for gas in sea areas to the south of Cyprus last month, having received a licence from the government of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey responded by the dispatch of two warships and has begun its own seismic surveys in areas overlapping Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Its research vessel Barbaros, accompanied by a warship, entered the Cyprus EEZ and began prospecting about 40 nautical miles south of Limassol and Larnaca. Israel and Cyprus launched joint military exercises nearby including aerial maneuvers by Israeli Air Force fighter jets in Cypriot airspace; Cypriot anti-aircraft technology was utilised.

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Defeating ISIS: A Strategy for a Resilient Adversary and an Intractable Conflict

By Michael Eisenstadt

Washington Institute

November 2014

Policy Notes 20

President Obama’s decision to launch a campaign aimed at “degrading and eventually destroying” the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) marks a major turning point in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. But the administration’s approach faces major challenges, including the resiliency of ISIS, the complexity of the operational environment, and the coalition’s limited ability to exploit the group’s military, geographical, political, and financial vulnerabilities. Moreover, the president’s reluctance to adequately resource the effort, commit additional reconnaissance and strike assets, or deploy small numbers of troops to the fight will further limit U.S. options and reduce the prospects for near-term success. In this Washington Institute study, military expert Michael Eisenstadt describes how the administration can overcome these obstacles, work through the contradictions inherent in its current approach, adequately resource the military campaign, and make substantial progress in addressing a key threat to American interests.

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



C: 202 536 8984                 C: 301 509 4144

Week of October 31st, 2014

Executive Summary

Although Washington and the think tank community are focused on the American mid-term elections, there were several papers coming out on Turkey and Syria.
The Monitor Analysis looks at the US government’s heightened security around numerous government buildings this week. Although the threat is serious, as seen by the attack in Canada, we see that the late response to the threat indicates that it is more a political move. Politically, momentum is turning in the Republicans favor and Obama’s traditional political strategies aren’t working. Not only does the heightened security limit the political damage to Obama if such an attack takes place between now and Election Day, it helps make Obama look stronger in terms of fighting terrorism, – a major weakness as perceived by American voters.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The CSIS says the strategy being used by Obama against ISIS is not working. They note, “To begin with, the basic goal of degrading and destroying the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous. It was always clear that some form of violent Islamic extremism would survive any combination of U.S. air attacks, Iraqi efforts to clear Iraq on the ground, and the limited capabilities of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, senior U.S. defense officials and military officers have repeatedly made this clear by limiting the objective to “degrade” and noting that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years if not more than a decade.”
The Washington Institute maintains the moderate rebel force currently envisioned by Washington would take far too long to arrive on the battlefield and could be easy prey for ISIS and Assad. They conclude, “Given that events in Syria do not necessarily proceed according to the U.S. timetable, the most promising answer is to build effective moderate forces sooner rather than later using the vetting that has already occurred. This means incorporating existing moderate units into a structure that takes advantage of their numbers, their presence on key battlefields, and their experience in fighting the regime and ISIS. Washington would then enhance its train-and-equip program for these units, especially by providing antitank, antiaircraft, and light artillery/mortar systems. Finally, such forces should not be constrained to a defensive role against ISIS — they should be expected, even encouraged, to fight the regime as well. They will have successes and failures, but the United States would not “own” them in the same sense it would with a force built from scratch. And there would be risks, as there always are when working with irregulars: unauthorized weapons transfers, criminal activity, violations of the rules of warfare, and so forth. But this kind of force is more likely to be deployed in a shorter timeframe, and to be more effective on the battlefield against ISIS and the regime.
The Institute for the Study of War notes that the Syrian rebels are gaining ground in Southern Syria. They conclude, “The single greatest threat to the regime in Damascus continues to be the emergence of a stronger, more unified opposition force, potentially in receipt of Western aid, that is capable of taking and holding ground and cutting regime supply lines. As rebels increasingly cooperate and advance in Quneitra, Dera’a, and Damascus, the regime will therefore continue to use airpower, including chlorine gas and barrel bombs, to offset military setbacks, and to maintain and open supply routes, as it has done in Dera’a, Damascus, Hama, and Aleppo.49… If rebels in Quneitra and Dera’a successfully connect the southern front with Eastern Ghouta and encircle the capital along the southeast, the regime will be forced to redouble its efforts to ensure Damascus is not cut off from the rest of the country. To do so while maintaining momentum on its other fronts throughout Syria, the regime will likely attempt to generate more troops, as it done via conscription and reservist mobilization campaigns in October. But it is unclear the extent to which the regime can re-establish momentum in Damascus and the southern front without making sacrifices elsewhere.”
The Washington Institute looks at the political unrest in Bahrain. They conclude, “Although Washington’s top priority at the moment is ISIS, it should also take time to remind the Bahraini government that excluding al-Wefaq from the political process risks bolstering other, more militant Shiite groups. These groups have already concluded that political progress within the current system is impossible and have been supporting violent protests on the island for some time. Bahrain’s neighbor and ally, Saudi Arabia, needs to understand the same message in regard to its own Shiite community. Finally, U.S. officials may need to explain that any attempt by Bahrain to withdraw its public commitment to the anti-ISIS coalition would reflect poorly on its diplomatic stature.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at ways the US can team up with Arab allies to defeat terrorist threats like ISIS. They suggest taking a broader approach and conclude, “Washington needs to work collaboratively and cooperatively with its Arab allies to face the imminent threat from the Islamic State. But it needs to do so with attentiveness to the broader domestic trends inside Arab states that are not fostering the sort of durable social and political peace required to defeat the radicals’ narrative once and for all. The United States should pursue holistic measures that emphasize political reform and civil society assistance as fundamental pillars. It must also be more sensitive to the limits and drawbacks of Arab assistance on the counterterrorism front, as well as the ways in which U.S. technical assistance can be used for political ends that not only run contrary to American values but could inflame the very terrorist problem Washington is trying to combat.”
The Foreign Policy Research Institute continues its look at Turkey’s strategic cultures – Republican and Neo-Ottoman. In looking at this dichotomy, they use the Kurds as one example and note, “The Kurdish problem is perhaps the most interesting illustration of the tension between Turkey’s two strategic cultures. A restive Kurdish population has been the biggest challenge to the homogenous Turkish identity the modern Republic has sought to establish. Both Özal, himself of partial Kurdish extraction, and Erdoğan extended more political and social rights to Turkey’s Kurds than they previously enjoyed. Under Erdoğan, the Kurds enjoy greater freedom to use their own language and organize as Kurds. And in the aftermath of America’s second war in Iraq, the Turkish government forged ties with Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and started peace talks with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), with which the Turkish state had been fighting since the 1980’s…And then two strands of Turkish policy collided. Just as the PKK talks had reportedly reached discussions about disarmament, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) exploded out of Syria into Iraq, seizing much of the country’s north and west, threatening the KRG, among others. ISIL also advanced on Kobane, one of three main Syrian Kurdish enclaves that had enjoyed relative autonomy for the last two years. While Turkey could accept military relief and support for the KRG, Kobane was a different matter. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the predominant Syrian Kurdish faction and is affiliated with the PKK. The PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), has been effective in the field against ISIL previously, but talk of arming them came up against serious opposition from Ankara. A tension was thereby revealed between a neo-Ottoman strategic culture that sought to advance Turkish power abroad and accept sub-national identities and a republican strategic culture that was threatened by challenges to internal unity.
The Brookings Institution looks at the Turkey-Israel-US relationship. This paper suggests two closely intertwined conclusions: first, that good Turkish-Israeli relations are essential to the security and stability of the Middle East; and second, that U.S. leadership has come to play a central role in shaping—and often mediating—the Turkish-Israeli relationship. Indeed, while Israel and Turkey continue to face common strategic challenges and share mutual interests, the capacity to restart relations will partly depend on the readiness of U.S. leaders to help both Ankara and Jerusalem find a way back to sustained strategic cooperation. A United States willing to demonstrate leadership and apply leverage on both allies is vital for progress.
The Carnegie Endowment looks at Russian-Turkish cooperation in the region. Despite historical differences, they note, “Fundamentally, Russia and Turkey have some significant commonality of interests that provide a setting conducive to further strengthening their dialogue and cooperation. They have common interests in enhancing economic revival and political stability in their shared geography. Both have reservations about foreign intervention, especially a military one, on this geography. Furthermore, it would not be an overstatement to say that they also hold common fears and even historical traumas. Opposing the spread of terrorism and extremism as a potential threat to their own stability and integrity is an essential part of their foreign engagements. For their neighboring regions, ensuring a secular future based on international rule of law remains crucial.”

Heightened Security at US Government Buildings Reflects Political Concerns
This week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it has increased security at federal buildings across the county, citing terror threats and recent attacks in Canada and elsewhere. The announcement was made by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who said Federal Protective Service officers are providing the increased security. Additional security will be put in place in Washington, other major U.S. cities and unnamed locations across the country.
The rational for the additional security, however, was somewhat contradictory. Officials said the move was a “precautionary” step and not made in response to any specific threat. But they cited last week’s violence in Canada, and ISIS threats.
“The reasons for this action are self-evident: the continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials, and the acts of violence targeted at government personnel and installations in Canada and elsewhere recently,” Johnson said in a statement. “Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of U.S. government installations and our personnel.”
The timing, however, is curious. The attacks in Canada are over a week old and there was no immediate response by DHS to tighten security at the time. Why wait a week before tightening security?
The answer may be the mid-term elections coming in a few days and the fear in the White House that it will sweep many Obama congressional allies away. Polls released this week show that a large majority of voters are upset with Obama policies and want a Republican Congress to offset the policies of the Democratic White House. And, in a more tangible proof of the problem Obama and the Democrats are facing, Obama and Biden are travelling to Democratic strongholds in order to shore up vulnerable Democratic incumbents rather than reaching out to defeat Republicans. Republicans, on the other hand, are moving the bulk of their remaining campaign money into Democratic districts where they see potential wins.
And, although the economy is still a major concern for voters, this year terrorism and foreign affairs are becoming a major issue – one that is hurting Democrats.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll gave the bad news to Democrats. “Six in 10 say they cannot trust the government in Washington to do what is right — the same as a year ago in the aftermath of the government shutdown and the botched rollout of the federal Web site for the Affordable Care Act.”
“With multiple crises confronting the country — including the spread of Ebola in West Africa and cases here at home, as well as threats from Islamic State militants — a majority now says the government’s ability to deal with big problems has declined in the past few years. Among those who say this, more — by 3 to 1 — blame Obama and the Democrats rather than Republicans in Congress.”
Although Obama’s numbers are all dismal, one of the worst are his approval numbers concerning his ability to handle the terrorism threat. The majority of the American public is not pleased with how President Barack Obama has handled the various terror threats facing the United States, according to New York Times/CBS news poll released a few weeks ago. Fifty percent said they disapprove of how the president is handling the “threat of terrorism,” compared with the 41 percent who said the opposite. The percentage of those who disapprove of Obama’s strategy to combat terrorism is the highest it has been since the start of his presidency.
An Associated Press poll taken more recently echoed the same results. According to the poll, most think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States, 53 percent. 12 percent say it faces a low risk of terror attacks.
In recent days, the political cost of Obama’s inaction has gone up. This week, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg poll asked voters what effect the recent news cycle – the terror attack on Canada’s parliament, an ax-wielding ( alleged to be an Islamic extremist ) attacking police in New York City, and the continued spread of Ebola to American shores has had on their vote. The results were not good for Obama and the Democrats.
For 53 percent, the events in the news have made them less likely to back Democrats at the polls. Only 40 percent said the same of the GOP. Another 35 percent said the issues in the news have made them more predisposed to vote Republican while only 25 percent said the same of the Democrats.
That same poll found a 52 percent believed Republicans were better suited to control both chambers of Congress while only 41 percent said the same of Democrats – an 11-point GOP advantage. At this point in 2010, by contrast, the GOP only had a 7-point advantage over Democrats in this poll on the question of which party deserves to control Congress.
The movement against Obama is being felt in parts of the nation where Obama has cruised to victories by large percentages in the past. In his hometown of Chicago Illinois, first-term Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider is in a rematch with Republican Bob Dold, who won in the tea party wave of 2010 and lost in 2012.
In Obama’s birth state of Hawaii, the Democrats are spending $200,000 on television ads and voter outreach for Mark Takai, who is locked in a tight race with former Republican Rep. Charles Djou in an open Honolulu-based district that Obama won with 70 percent of the vote.
The current against Obama is also being felt in the younger voters, once considered the future base of the Democratic Party. A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29- year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds slightly more than half (51%) of young Americans who say they will “definitely be voting” in November prefer a Republican-run Congress with 47 percent favoring Democrat control – a significant departure from IOP polling findings before the last midterm elections (Sept. 2010 – 55%: prefer Democrat control; 43%: prefer Republican control).
As the election has gotten closer and undecided voters have made their mind up – for Republicans, Democratic concerns and strategies have shifted. The original plan for Democratic strategists was to narrowly retain control of the Senate, possibly with the help of Senate President, Vice President Biden casting the deciding vote. In the last few weeks, as the tide started to turn for Republicans, the thought was that the GOP might gain a narrow majority in the Senate – one that would probably be lost in 2016, as more Republican senators were up for reelection.
A narrow GOP Senate majority would have allowed Democrats to focus on a few freshmen Republican senators in traditionally Democratic states. The thought was that a strong Democratic presidential candidate would have enough coattails to turn the Senate balance back in the Democrat’s favor.
However, as more undecided voters have come down on the Republican side, the hopes for retaking the Senate in 2016 have dimmed. Some political analysts are seeing the GOP having about up to 55 seats, including the potential for some defections from the current Democratic majority (Manchin of West Virginia and King of Maine begin mentioned). That would make it very hard in anything but a sweep election to regain the Senate, since only 7 Republican senators up for reelection in 2016 come from states that voted for Obama twice – something not expected if Obama continues to remain unpopular.
This leaves the Democratic strategy hinging on a couple of factors – turnout of the Democratic base, which is currently lethargic and questioning of the Obama policies, and preventing anything else from happening in the next few days to either energize GOP, convince more independents to vote Republican, or further discourage Democratic voters. Given the current political environment, the best strategy was to prevent any terrorist attack prior to the election that could quickly and decisively move voters away from the Democrats and towards the GOP.
This was a major driver in the last minute decision to increase protection of government buildings in the lead up to the election. Several current Democratic senate seats, once considered safe, have moved seen the Republican challenger closing the margin and although expected to win, the Republican momentum – along with a terrorist attack – could cause some unwelcome election night surprises for Obama.
For those watching the US election results on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, two early indicators will be New Hampshire and North Carolina. The Republican challengers in both states have been behind during most of the race, but have moved closer in the last week. If these candidates go ahead early Tuesday evening, that indicates the Republicans should comfortably pick up control of the Senate. If the Republican Senate candidates in Virginia and New Jersey show unexpected strength and either win or make the race close, the Republican wave that Democrats fear may be in the making.
Also, keep a couple of gubernatorial races in mind because they may shape the 2016 presidential election. Two Republican governors, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Susana Martinez will quickly become top tier candidates for the Republican presidential nomination if they win reelection, as expected. Both are governors in moderately Democratic states. Walker won Republican praises for successfully fighting Wisconsin’s powerful teaching unions and winning a recall election. Martinez is a Hispanic woman, who would make an attractive candidate for a party reaching out to Hispanics and women.
Next week the Monitor will look at the election results and what they mean.
The Imploding U.S Strategy in the Islamic State War?
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 23, 2014
It is too early to say that the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is imploding, but it is scarcely too soon to question whether this is possible. In fact, it is far from clear that the original U.S. strategy ever planned to deal with the complications that have arisen since President Obama officially announced a portion of what that strategy really had to be. The Non-Strategy for Dealing with the Islamic State: To begin with, the basic goal of degrading and destroying the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous. It was always clear that some form of violent Islamic extremism would survive any combination of U.S. air attacks, Iraqi efforts to clear Iraq on the ground, and the limited capabilities of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, senior U.S. defense officials and military officers have repeatedly made this clear by limiting the objective to “degrade” and noting that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years if not more than a decade.
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U.S.-Arab Counterterrorism Cooperation in a Region Ripe for Extremism
By Michele Dunne and Frederic Wehrey
Carnegie Endowment
October 23, 2014
Policy Outlook
U.S. cooperation with Arab allies against terrorist groups is essential—and also problematic. Many Arab governments are fueling the very extremism they purport to fight and looking for cover from the United States for increasingly repressive policies. Washington needs a holistic counterterrorism strategy that ensures its Arab allies do not use U.S. assistance to perpetuate terrorism and that supports those in Arab societies best able to combat radicalization. Initiate broad discussions with partners at every level, across agencies, about extremism’s roots. Every organ of the U.S. government that interacts with Arab partners—particularly defense and intelligence agencies—should engage in sustained discussions about a holistic approach to national security that includes human development, economic opportunity, and individual freedoms as critical tools against radicalization.
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Exploring the Prospects for Russian-Turkish Cooperation in a Turbulent Neighborhood
By Memduh Karakullukçu and Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Endowment
September 28, 2014
Even though tensions over Ukraine will inevitably cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship, Russia and Turkey—a NATO member—continue to share a range of important interests. Indeed, there are a number of areas in which the two can work together in their common neighborhood, which stretches from the South Caucasus and the Levant to Central Asia and Afghanistan. A high-level working group on Russian-Turkish regional cooperation has sketched a forward-looking approach for Russia and Turkey in tackling regional challenges.
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Turkey’s Competing Strategic Cultures: Part 4 – Now and Into the Future
By Ryan Evans
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 2014
Scholars of strategic culture have noted that multiple strategic cultures can exist in the same country or community. Indeed, this is true of the concept of culture writ large. As Alastair Iain Johnston argues, “the diversity of a particular society’s geographical, political, cultural, and strategic experience will produce multiple strategic cultures….” This is certainly the case in Turkey where two elites have produced two competing strategic cultures – one republican and the other neo-Ottoman. The rise of the neo-Ottoman strategic culture and the slow decline of the republican one have been the subject of this series so far. Both strategic cultures were elite driven (as strategic cultures almost always are). Republican strategic culture rose from the traumatic dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which lost its populous, prosperous European territories from the early 19th century through to the First World War. This process culminated in the never-enacted Treaty of Sevres, which sought to end Turkish control of the Straits, put Smyrna under Greek suzerainty and then sovereignty, and carve out independent Armenian and Kurdish states from Eastern Anatolia. Turkish nationalists prevailed in the end under the inspiring leadership of Mustafa Kemal. These experiences and the hard realities of geography forged a strategic culture that was obsessed with homogeneity and internal unity, distrustful of outside powers (particularly Russia), saw security as limited to sovereignty and territorial integrity, slow to compromise, and fearful of getting dragged into outside conflicts.
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Increased Rebel Unity Threatens Assad in Damascus and Southern Syria
By Theodore Bell
Institute for the Study of War
October 28, 2014
Rebel gains in southern Syria and efforts to sever regime supply routes north and south of Damascus indicate that the regime has lost momentum in the capital region. Rebel alliances show greater cohesion in this zone, as well a greater cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusra, while the regime is showing signs of severe manpower shortage. The regime is attempting to fill its ranks with new conscripts and reservists. The regime will likely need to reinforce its southern front in order to reverse rebel gains, though it is likely that the regime will need to sacrifice efforts elsewhere in order to provide sufficient support.
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Bahrain’s Ban on Main Opposition Prompts U.S. Policy Dilemma
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
October 28, 2014
Earlier today, a Bahraini court suspended the activities of the island’s main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, for three months. The decision comes just weeks before the November 22 parliamentary elections — although al-Wefaq is not, strictly speaking, a political party, it had already announced a boycott of the polls to protest the lack of progress in political reform talks with the Sunni-led government and the unilateral redistricting of constituencies. By apparent coincidence, Gen. John Allen, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (a.k.a. the Islamic State/ISIS), was on the island today for meetings with the Bahraini foreign minister and the commander of the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), which has been contributing F-16s for strikes against the jihadist group in Syria. Allen was accompanied by Vice Admiral John Miller, commander of the Bahrain-headquartered U.S. Fifth Fleet — a force that includes the aircraft carrier from which strikes against ISIS have been launched, as well as ships that have been firing cruise missiles at ISIS targets.
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Responding Effectively to the Military Challenges in Syria
By Jeffrey White
Washington Institute
October 27, 2014
PolicyWatch 2330
As the Obama administration’s plans for raising a moderate Syrian opposition force become clearer, its approach seems to center on a lengthy recruitment, training, and deployment program initially dedicated to defense against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). If carried out, this plan promises a long delay before significant forces are on the battlefield. It would also limit their potential effectiveness in the near to midterm and perhaps commit them to a protracted enterprise in which defeat is likely. The administration’s concept is consistent with its fixation on terrorism as the heart of the problem in Syria, and its ill-starred relations with the armed opposition. Faced with the complexity of diverse rebel forces on the ground, unwilling to accept more than minimal risk in supporting them, and focused on worst-case costs and consequences, it is advancing a program with limited prospects.
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The U.S.-Turkey-Israel Triangle
By: Dan Arbell
Brookings Institution
October 2014
The confrontation between Israel and Hamas during the summer of 2014 deepened tensions between Israel and Turkey. Now, in the fall of 2014, U.S.-Turkish relations are strained over Turkey’s role in the fight against ISIS, while gaps between the United States and Israel over policies on Iran and Palestine serve as points of friction in the relationship. Clearly the U.S.-Turkey-Israel triangle has suffered many setbacks in recent years on all sides, but the Turkish-Israeli relationship has suffered the most, as it has been in a state of semi-paralysis for the last four years.
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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

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