Week of October 17th, 2014

Executive Summary

Washington started focusing more on domestic issues this week rather the war in the Middle East. The Ebola pandemic and the upcoming mid-term elections are attracting more attention from many think tanks and the American public.
This week’s Monitor Analysis does look at the events in the region. The first is a look at the differing goals of the US and Turkey and why Obama’s weakness on Middle Eastern policy have made Turkey less willing to agree to become a full partner in the US war on ISIS.
The second part of the Analysis is a special and exclusive report asks if there is a covert plan to train, equip and arm a Syrian rebel air force capable of providing close air support to Syrian rebels fighting ISIS. We provide information on what is being done here in the US.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The American Department of Homeland Security was created after 9-11 to fight terrorism. However, the Cato Institute argues that it is at the core of many of the recent Obama problems. They conclude, “The 2002 creation of DHS was a mistake. Congress should revisit its handiwork, and begin unbundling the department and closing it down. Some DHS agencies, such as the Secret Service, should be stand-alone organizations that report directly to the president. Some DHS agencies should be moved to existing departments. And some DHS agencies, including TSA, ought to be abolished.”
The Hudson Institute looks at the growing concern about Obama’s failing foreign policy and how Congress can sidestep it. They note, “There is precedent for this sort of congressional activity. In the 1970s, for example, President Jimmy Carter pursued an Obama-like policy of détente toward the Soviet Union, despite all the evidence that Moscow was continuing a nuclear- and conventional-weapons buildup and destabilizing Third World regimes. Conservative Republicans and Democrats in Congress, such as Senator Scoop Jackson of Washington, responded by successfully opposing the SALT II agreement on nuclear weapons and beginning a buildup of the American nuclear and conventional arsenal. Congress launched programs for stealth aircraft, the M1 Abrams tank, and other technologies responsible for the stunning American battlefield victories of the 1990s and 2000s.”
The Brookings Institution looks at how to build a better Syrian opposition army. In this major paper, they conclude, “if Washington hopes to bring these twinned civil wars to an end before hundreds of thousands more die and the region is further destabilized, doing so requires building a new Syrian opposition army—whether Iraq continues to move down the right track or not. Such an army, fighting both the Asad regime and the Salafi jihadists, can serve as a model for and a conduit to the moderate Sunnis of Iraq. The more that the United States is seen supporting the Syrian brothers of those Iraqi tribes, and seen building the kind of inclusive, pluralist and equitable state in Syria that the moderate Sunnis seek in Iraq, the more likely that the United States can turn moderate Sunni Iraqis against ISIS and its ilk.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks for solutions to the Syrian civil war. They note, “Until now, the controversy over Bashar al-Assad’s fate has blocked any possible compromise: some absolutely insist that he stay, others that he step down. The impasse could be sidestepped if Assad were allowed to stay in office, nominally president, but with most of his power dispersed to regional governors, the prime minister, the parliament, and the military. Though he is a war criminal, Assad’s personal fate matters less at this point than his country’s. A government of national unity could be formed embodying such an arrangement, to be bolstered by some form of international peacekeeping.”
The Carnegie Endowment sees Turkey’s strategy in Syria as dangerous. They conclude, “Rather than making futile demands of its allies, Turkey should instead use its role as an essential partner in the fight against jihadism as leverage to gather more substantial aid to better manage the complexities of caring for a massive refugee population. It can start by allowing multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank to play a much bigger role in this long-term endeavor. At the very least, Ankara and Washington should jointly work on a humanitarian action plan to save the thousands of remaining residents of Kobani from slaughter… The government must reorder its priorities. An overemphasis on bringing down Mr. Assad weakens Turkey’s ability to deal with the immediate menace posed by the Islamic State, the imminent threat of resurgent P.K.K. violence, and the more permanent challenge of an increasingly dire refugee situation.”
The Washington Institute asks how popular ISIS is in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon? Polling is these countries shows, “The most striking as well as encouraging finding is that ISIS has almost no popular support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon — even among Sunnis. Among Egyptians, a mere 3 percent express a favorable opinion of ISIS. In Saudi Arabia, the figure is slightly higher: 5 percent rate ISIS positively. In Lebanon, not a single Christian, Shiite, or Druze respondent viewed ISIS favorably; and even among Lebanon’s Sunnis, that figure is almost equally low at 1 percent. Nevertheless, there is a real difference between almost no support and no support at all. Since 3 percent of adult Egyptians say they approve of ISIS, that is nearly 1.5 million people. For Saudis, the 5 percent of adult nationals who support ISIS means over half a million people. And even in tiny Lebanon, 1 percent of adult Sunnis equals a few thousand ISIS sympathizers. In any of these places, this is enough to harbor at least a few cells of serious troublemakers.
The Carnegie Endowment sees the growth of authoritarianism in Egypt. They conclude, “The new Sisi presidency is developing a legal framework that will only enhance the power of state institutions to act as they wish—and without public oversight. At the same time, Sisi himself is moving to capitalize on existing and vague legislation to further sideline or eliminate his opposition. The absence of a parliament, together with the presence of sufficiently cooperative courts, mean the practice is likely to give strong protection to a reconstituted Egyptian authoritarianism. Three and a half years after they received a disorienting shock that paralyzed many of them, Egyptian state institutions are going back to doing what they do best—governing in a way that claims implausibly to serve the people without listening to their voices.”
CSIS looks at the recent dramatic drop in oil prices and the political impact in the Middle East. They note, “In the short term, over supply and lower oil prices clearly have some positive impacts. They are good for economies and consumers, helpful for sanctions efforts against rogue states, and serve as buffers against continued political unrest and supply disruptions around the globe. But they also carry the seeds for future troubles, including underinvestment in efficiency and alternative energy forms as well as in future oil and gas, potential instability in resource rich nations dependent on oil and gas revenue, have mixed climatic impacts, and eventually lead to higher prices.”
ANALYSIS

Turkey and US Disagree on War Strategy
The indecision and weakness by the Obama Administration during the last three years impacts how Turkey will respond

Military chiefs from the United States and 21 other countries convened last Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to discuss the campaign against ISIS. The day-long event, hosted by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, included an appearance by Obama as part of an effort to dispel doubts about America’s commitment to the region. However, the meeting failed to produce any major agreement as both the US and Turkey have vastly differing goals and Turkey shows resistance about supporting US aims.
The differences were obvious. Shadi Hamid, a Middle East scholar with the Brookings Institution in Washington, said, “The coalition partners have very different conceptions about the regional order and don’t even agree on what the primary threat is,” he said. “You have all these different actors who want different things and in some cases also strongly dislike each other.”
On the positive side, it appears that the Kurds in Kobane have managed to stop and even push back ISIS forces. However, a review of the areas recaptured show that they are surrounding countryside, not parts of the urban area. This indicates these gains were primarily due to US and allied airstrikes and the Kurds are relatively still weak.
This means the ISIS threat to take Kobane is still real. In fact, The U.N. has warned that a massacre on the level of Srebenica in 1995 is imminent: There are an estimated 700 civilians left in the city, as well as about 12,000 who haven’t yet made it across the Turkish border.
Unfortunately, with only about two dozen sorties a day against ISIS targets, the battle is far from over and the Pentagon concedes this level of air activity is unlikely to be enough to decide the battle. Consequently, the main focus of the U.S. plan hinges on convincing Turkey to do more.
But Turkey has been remarkably resistant, and for good reason. Turkish leaders are focusing on their narrow interests and don’t think the U.S. is serious in its approach to the region. The Obama administration has been unwilling to focus on the problems in the region and when it does, has a short attention span that seems more focused on domestic political gains.
In reality, Turkey has no problem getting more deeply involved in Syria. They’ve been quietly supporting the opposition to Assad for three years now and have been one of the few whose strategic goals have remained grandiose throughout the whole Syrian civil war. Their argument is simple: They’ll save Kobane if the U.S. commits to destroying not just the Islamic State but the Assad regime as well.
Turkey is quite naturally concerned that, if it accedes to American demands, it will wind up bearing the brunt of the fighting against the Islamic State until the group is degraded and Assad is strong enough to regain control over his country. At that point, they’ll have helped place a hostile neighbor back in charge, who will probably give military aid to Turkish Kurds in retaliation for Turkey’s support of Syrian rebels. And, given the uprisings by Turkish Kurds in the last week, Turkey can’t afford Syria arming the Kurds in the future.
A senior U.S. official told the Washington Post, “Of course they (Turkey) could do more. They want the U.S. to come in and take care of the problem.” However, the official doesn’t’ seem to realize that the Obama strategy is having the Turks come in and take care of problem by implementing the Obama strategy instead of furthering Turkish goals.
From the Turkish point of view, the lack of American coherence in terms of ISIS strategy is a major problem. Turkey doesn’t trust the current American strategic direction because, for the last three years, American diplomacy has swung wildly from advocating the removal of Assad from power to accepting him, to supporting the rebels, to preferring Assad to maintain power again. Turkey, meanwhile, has been persistent in advocating his removal.
During this period, Obama declared that the United States was committed to removing Assad from power even though the administration had made serious attempts to repair US/Syrian relations after Obama was inaugurated.
After the war began, the conflict evolved into Assad vs. the Syrian rebels. Now America saw it as a chance to limit Iranian influence in the region and support friendly nearby Sunnis at the same time.
This simple strategy was at the base of the failure. The Syrian regime had the support of most of the country’s religious minorities, including Assad’s Alawite tribe. This narrowed the base of the rebel support and allowed Assad, Russia, and Iran to broaden their base. Now, the internal war had become Syria, Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and Christians vs. the United States, the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda, the GCC nations, and Turkey.
As “moderate Syrian rebels” disappeared, the better-funded and more-radical Islamist groups, including the al-Nusrah Front and ISIS became the face of the Syrian rebels. When ISIS began to conquer large tracks of Iraqi territory, this once again forced the US to change direction and target ISIS.
Turkey is frustrated by America’s somewhat strategic aims, which apparently have been dictated only by Obama’s unswerving desire to minimize political disaster. The siege of Kobane certainly looks bad politically, but as Secretary of State Kerry said, not a strategic target. The result was a halfhearted series of air strikes against ISIS forces around Kobane – strikes that have pushed ISIS back, but haven’t eliminated the threat.
Given this vacillating American policy, the Turks are unwilling to abandon their primary focus — Assad — for a crisis caused by the Obama administration’s strategic indifference. It is not in their interest to defeat ISIS only to have a hostile Syrian government headed by Assad to remain in power.
The latest estimate is that ISIS controls about 40 percent of Kobane. They may well capture all of it, although they will have the same problem as the rebel Kurds – conducting an offensive in a built-up urban area. However, their long term chances are better given the recent capture of more Iraqi equipment, which can be moved to Kobane to reinforce the ISIS forces currently on the ground.
Meanwhile, ISIS has made significant gains in Iraq. They have gained ground in Anbar Province and are within miles of Baghdad International Airport. They have also captured more Iraqi military equipment, including additional American supplied vehicles and munitions.
Stopping ISIS requires stringer tactics. The answer is the opening of a supply line through Turkey to Kobane and serious airstrikes against ISIS equipment convoys moving from Iraq to Syria – preferably the massive B-52 “Arclight” missions that are quite effective against large conventional targets like convoys.
But the key remains Turkey and their commitment to open the border for rebel resupply.

SPECIAL AND EXCLUSIVE REPORT

Are ISIS Opponents Preparing to build a Syrian Rebel Air Force?
Several countries opposed to ISIS have made it clear that they will train moderate Syrian rebels in order to act as a bulwark against ISIS advances. However, there are indications that these countries are helping to build a cadre that can form a Syrian rebel air force once some Syrian ground is seized.
There are currently Middle Eastern pilots in unmarked flight suits and helmets undergoing close air support training in the western United States. This training includes carrying out close air support bombing runs at the Barry Goldwater bombing range near Yuma Arizona. They are being trained by civilian defense contractors who have extensive experience in America’s premier close air support aircraft, the A-10.

BAC Strikemaster light attack aircraft
The aircraft being used is the British made Strikemaster, a highly maneuverable, reliable light attack aircraft that is in the inventories of Saudi Arabia and some other GCC countries. They have a range of 1,300 miles and can carry 3,000 pounds of munitions. The aircraft can fly from small, unprepared air fields and is easy to maintain since many spare parts are available on the open market. There are also a considerable number of Strikemasters and similar training aircraft on the civilian market that could be turned into an air force without revealing the assistance of the countries involved.
The pilots are being trained on former Saudi Air Force Strikemasters and since some of these aircraft appear to still be in the Saudi inventory, it is possible that at a future time, they could be transferred to a Syrian rebel air force that is already staffed with pilots and forward observers trained in close air support.
UPDATE
Tucson Firm Training Middle Eastern Pilots in Close Air Support
Municipal airports are usually the backwater of aviation. Here civilians can hanger and fly their aircraft or people can take their first steps in learning how to fly a simple single engine prop aircraft.
However, Ryan Airfield, west of Tucson, Arizona is not the typical airport for private aircraft. In a mission that harks back to its days as a training center for pilots in World Two, it is now a training center for close air support missions, the type that are frequently needed in both Syria and Iraq today.

Ryan Airfield
The private firm that provides this type of training is Blue Air Training, out of Tucson. Its website, blueairtraining.com describes the company as, “the premier CAS (close air support) training provider in the United States.  We employ multiple combat-proven attack aircraft – jets and props – with the ability to drop live BDUs (bombs), live gun, and live rockets.”
Blue Air Training brags on its website, “The true measure of a contract CAS training provider is its pilot force.  All Blue Air Training pilots are current and qualified Traditional Guard and Reserve A-10C Instructor Pilots and Instructor Forward Air Controllers with combat experience in Afghanistan or Iraq – some as recent as Summer 2012. We employ the latest TTPs in support of DoD training.” Blue Air also notes it has contracts with the DoD and it ability to bring in the Strikemasters without removing the hardpoints that allow it carry bombs and missiles indicates close cooperation with the State Department and other federal agencies.
Although it does admit to providing additional training for American pilots and forward air controllers, their missions appear to go far beyond that. American close air support pilots get their training from official CAS schools like those at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, which teaches A-10 pilots close air support.
American allies also have public training arrangements with the US Air Force. The UAE F-16 pilots get their CAS training at the 162nd fighter Wing of the Arizona air National Guard. Saudi pilots learn at Mountain Home, Idaho.
Consequently, pilots from the Middle East, training with civilian contractors like Blue Air Training, without markings on their helmets or coveralls aren’t likely to be certified military jet pilots from an allied nation. And, given the situation in the Middle East and the commitment of the US to train moderate Syrian rebels and Kurds, the chances are great that they are being trained for operations in either Syria or Iraq.
This is not that unusual according to a former pilot who flew for a covert CIA air transport company during the Vietnam War. America often helps with the creation of civilian aviation firms, with skilled civilian pilots to carry out training or missions too sensitive for attribution.
Blue Air Training also has extensive experience working with America’s secret Special Forces. On their website, they tell of working last year with the 5th Special Forces Group, which is currently attached to the US Central command (CENTCOM), which includes countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, most notably Afghanistan and Iraq. The missions in support of the 5th Special Forces Group were launched from Ryan Field towards the Goldwater Range near Yuma.
This is how Blue Air Training’s website described what they do: “On day one of flying, BAT (Blue Air Training) conducted dry CAS (Close Air Support) on the North and South tactical ranges, employing the mighty BAC-167 Strikemaster. Upon check-in, BAT demonstrated its superior flexibility by joining, in an unplanned scenario, real-world A-10 Warthogs in multi-flight attacks. After a quick information update, BAT and the A-10s performed sectored and visual attacks, destroying an armored convoy within 1km of the friendlies. The ferocious Hogs softened the enemy and departed the range, leaving BAT to finish the job. Over the one-hour vul, two BAT pilots in a single Strikemaster worked six targets with two geographically separate JTAC teams. After six talk-ons, one troops-in-contact, and 12 attacks, all targets were successfully destroyed. BAT returned to base at Ryan Airfield, and lead the 5SFG through a thorough debrief that same night.”
The scope of the Blue Air Training syllabus in regards to the pilots in question is unknown. They had to qualify in single engine jet aircraft before being allowed to fly missions at the Goldwater range. And, given the fact that the company brags about its ability to use live ordinance, it’s likely that the pilots were allowed to carry out training missions with live ordinance. The website also says it will soon be installing live machineguns on their aircraft in order to teach strafing. Videos from the website indicate that the machineguns will be 7.62 Browning air cooled light machineguns.
Currently, Blue Air Training has 5 Strikemaster light attack aircraft, formerly of the Saudi and New Zealand air forces. Not only is it a reliable, relatively inexpensive attack aircraft, it has been used extensively in the Middle East. Strikemaster aircraft have served with the Saudi, Kuwait, Oman, and South Yemen air forces, which means there is a pool of qualified pilots and aircraft in the region. These aircraft could be directly transferred to the rebels or laundered through a civilian middleman.
PUBLICATIONS
Department of Homeland Security: Who Needs It?
By Chris Edwards
Cato Institute
October 14, 2014
The Secret Service is scandal prone. It spends excessively on foreign presidential trips, and it has agents who get in trouble with prostitutes and liquor bottles. The recent White House fence-jumping incident was a stunning failure. Despite the Service spending $1.9 billion a year, a guy with a knife jumped the fence, sprinted across the lawn, pushed open the front door, galloped through the Entrance Hall, danced across the East Room, and almost had time to sit down for a cup of tea in the Green Room. In the wake of the incident, the head of the Secret Service resigned. But the Service is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the head of DHS, Jeh Johnson, did not resign. Indeed, he said very little about it, presumably to evade responsibility. So what is the purpose of having the DHS bureaucratic superstructure on top of agencies such as the Secret Service? If DHS does not correct problems at agencies when they fester for years, and if DHS leaders do not take responsibility for agency failures, why do we need it?
Read more
The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Need for An “Adequacy of Resources”
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 13, 2014
The United States has stated from the start that it is conducting an air campaign to degrade the Islamic State, not to change the military situation in Syria or to substitute for Iraqi political unity and the eventual use of Iraqi ground forces. This, however, raises several key questions: What level of effort will be required over time to achieve America’s stated goal, and how will the air campaign have to change? So far, the air campaign has been minimal by any recent historical standard, and so limited that it is hard to see how it can be effective in either protecting Iraq from further gains by the Islamic State, critically degrading it in Syria, or providing humanitarian relief to threatened minorities, like the Kurds.
Read more
Oil Markets: “Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind”
By Frank A. Verrastro, Lawrence Goldstein, Guy Caruso
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 10, 2014
On the surface, the easy and conventional explanation for the recent drop (20% since June) in oil prices – even in the face of heightened geopolitical risk/unrest in key oil producing regions – has focused mainly on the growth in supply (especially in the United States), lackluster global demand, and sizable global inventories.  In combination, this trifecta has led market analysts to be both complacent (to date, this unrest has not impeded production volumes) and more recently, bearish. U.S. liquids production continues to grow; Russian exports, even in the face of sanctions remain high, and Iraq and Iran continue to export even as Libyan volumes go up and down. Given that the market had already factored in the continued U.S. tight oil surge, the “real surprise” has come in the form of demand loss.
Read more
Egypt’s Resurgent Authoritarianism: It’s a Way of Life
By Nathan J. Brown and Katie Bentivoglio
Carnegie Endowment
October 9, 2014
Since assuming office in June 2014, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been making a series of slow but deliberate legal moves to restore and strengthen the authority of state institutions. In the absence of parliament, he has taken advantage of a constitutional vacuum to lay the groundwork for authorities to act with wide discretion and little public oversight. After the 2011 revolution, outside social and political actors were optimistic that they could build a more responsive state; today, however, they are poorly placed to counter Sisi’s efforts. His approach will also likely survive the election of a parliament when that long-promised step is finally taken—perhaps by the end of 2014.
Read more
Is There an Answer for Syria?
By Jessica Tuchman Mathews
Carnegie Endowment
October 9, 2014
New York Review of Books
The glaring weakness in President Obama’s new Middle East strategy, unveiled on September 24 at the United Nations, is the lack of troops on the ground in Syria. In Iraq, the Kurdish peshmerga, a reformed and remotivated Iraqi army, and the Sunni tribes that played a major part in the success of President Bush’s surge can all be brought into the fight against ISIS. But in Syria—whose disintegration directly threatens the five nations on its borders and indirectly the entire region—there is no one. The Pentagon has made its timetable starkly clear: it has announced that it will take three to five months to identify and vet fighters from the Syrian opposition and another year to train them. What will happen, other than air strikes, in the interim?
Read more
Turkey’s Dangerous Bet on Syria
By Sinan Ülgen
Carnegie Endowment
October 9, 2014
With the Islamic State just miles from its border, Turkey is now facing its most severe security challenge in decades. In response, the Turkish government is seeking to accomplish the impossible; Ankara wants to fight the Islamic State, carry out regime change in Syria and roll back Kurdish autonomy all at the same time. The risk of this overambitious approach is that it could end up accomplishing none of these objectives while squandering the opportunity to contribute to the stabilization of the region. Underpinning this risky strategy is a questionable assumption and an equally dubious policy decision. Turkey assumes that remaining indifferent to the fate of the besieged Kurdish enclave of Kobani will not imperil its peace negotiations with Turkey’s own Kurds. Ankara has done little to assist the Kurdish enclave, ruled by an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party, or P.K.K. In Ankara’s eyes, the Syrian Kurds fighting there are essentially allies of Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
Read more
Al Qaeda, al Shabaab, and ISIS: Recruiting and Taking Ground
By Nicholas Hanlon
Center for Security Policy
October 14, 2014
The recent interplay between al Shabaab and the African Union military mission in Somalia offers new data on the role of ground troops, the holding of territory, and Islamist recruiting…It is important to keep in mind that as far back as 2007, the FBI was mobilizing to counter al Shabaab’s successful recruiting of Americans among the Somali refugee community.  In 2010, fourteen people were indicted for trying to support al Shabaab.  Individuals among them came from California, Alabama, and Minnesota.  One of the attackers at Westgate Mall in Kenya last year was believed to be from Kansas City, Missouri.
Read more
Fighting Obamapolitik
By Arthur Herman and John Yoo
Hudson Institute
October 2014
Republicans and Democrats act resigned to two more years of retreat and setbacks for the United States in international affairs, particularly when it comes to Russia. President Obama remains commander-in-chief and has at his disposal vast diplomatic, military, and intelligence resources. But a House and Senate unified under conservative leadership could use its own constitutional powers to counter presidential passivity toward Russia and begin to rebuild American influence.
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ISIS Has Almost No Popular Support in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon
By David Pollock
Washington Institute
October 14, 2014
How much grassroots support does the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) enjoy in key “coalition” countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon? Until today, one could only guess at the answer. Recent news reports about the arrests of ISIS adherents in all three of these countries add urgency to the question. Now, however, a trio of new polls — the first ones of their kind — provides the hard data on which to make this judgment. The polls were conducted in September by a leading commercial survey firm in the Middle East, using face-to-face interviews by experienced local professionals.
Read more
Building a Better Syrian Opposition Army: How and Why
By: Kenneth M. Pollack
Brookings Institution
October 2014
What a difference a year makes. In the fall of 2013, Syria dominated the headlines, in part from fear that its spillover would destabilize its neighbors, Iraq first among them. Sadly, those fears proved prophetic. Sparks from Syria, in the form of the Salafi terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), helped reignite the Iraqi civil war. And the implosion of Iraq has pulled the Syrian conflict which triggered it back into the spotlight of America’s foreign policy debate. Yet throughout that year, the notion of increased American involvement, and in particular, ramped up assistance to the Syrian opposition was effectively off the table. The Administration and most of its critics regularly scoffed at the idea. Now, thanks to the crisis in Iraq and the belated recognition that spillover from Syria is an important element of the problems there, what was once ridiculed is now policy.
Read more
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

www.thinktankmonitor.org
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Week of October 10th, 2014

Executive Summary

The war against ISIS, especially the battle in Kobane and the inability of the air war to seriously wound ISIS was the center of discussion amongst the think tank community.
This week’s Monitor Analysis looks at the continued gains of ISIS despite the air attacks and Turkey’s inaction. We speculate that this course of events will force Obama to once again take more action in the region.

Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Heritage Foundation looks at the Khorasan group in Syria and America’s attempts to defeat it. In order to defeat it, they note, “If Jabhat al-Nusra consolidates victory in Syria, Khorasan will become even more of a threat to the United States and its allies. But rather than focusing narrowly on military strikes against Khorasan, the U.S. must also develop a broad and comprehensive strategy for defeating al-Qaeda’s Islamist revolution. Al-Qaeda sees itself as the vanguard of a global insurgency. Khorasan’s rise in Syria is emblematic of al-Qaeda’s wider exploitation of the “Arab Spring” uprisings to bolster offshoots in Egypt, Libya, Mali, and Yemen. Washington must adopt a paradigm shift, stop treating the al-Qaeda threat as primarily a law enforcement problem, and adopt a comprehensive political, military, and ideological program for defeating al-Qaeda’s global insurgency.”
The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the growing instability in the world. They suggest, “If, as Turchin and others assert, we have entered into a period in history that is inherently unstable, how should the United States think, and specifically, how should it act? As any pilot will explain, it is best to correct altitude with small control inputs, and to give these sufficient time to take effect. Move the controls too much, and you will over-correct, necessitating another change, this time both more forceful and sooner than the last. Within just a few seconds, the aircraft is climbing and diving in a “porpoise” maneuver as the pilot falls further behind in the attempt to regain equilibrium.  So, too, in international relations, our idealist desire to make big gestures, and to have immediate results often makes a bad situation worse, and necessitates additional actions, while the realist urges the careful application of power.”
The Carnegie Endowment says the European Union must start to face ISIS. They note that it can’t be treated like a normal terrorist threat because, “The main difference that characterizes the Islamic State’s approach lies in the vast swaths (or rather, corridors) of land, including oil wells, that the militants control. The group also has at its disposal large quantities of military hardware and significant financial resources. And it has undertaken a massive recruitment of foreign fighters based on religious ideology.”
The Wilson Center sees military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria moving ahead without a political strategy to accompany it. They note, “most serious issue is the absence of a political strategy based on more than wishful thinking. Developing such strategy is going to be difficult, because the United States does not control the political situation in either Iraq or Syria. There are far too many actors that need U.S. support but do not feel beholden to it, certainly the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria, but also the government in Baghdad, which is probably as dependent on Iran as it is on the United States even after al-Maliki’s removal. The Syrian regime, which is a major beneficiary of the intervention, is not going to listen to the United States, which has called for its overthrow. And regional coalition participants have disparate interests, disparate perception of the level of threat and where it comes from, and different goals.”
The CSIS looks at America’s strategic partnerships in the Middle East and America’s tendency to criticize its friends. They note, “Americans have their own conspiracy theories when they state that every Arab state which has failed to come to grips with terrorism and extremism supports Jihadist movements and Islamic extremism. Americans also need more realism about the nature of strategic partnerships. Americans should not expect Arab allies to change their regimes to become clones of the U.S., or to give up their values, priorities, and strategic interests.  They should not expect to receive more than given Arab allies can credibly deliver. Like the U.S. – and our allies – every Arab government faces major limits to what it can and cannot accomplish as an ally.”
The Washington Institute looks at Turkey’s inaction in the battle for Kobane. They note, “Ankara is fast approaching a choice between deploying heavy weapons to defend Kobane or accepting an ISIS takeover of the enclave. The latter eventuality would increase Turkey’s exposure to ISIS, which already controls nearly half of the 510-mile border with Syria. At the same time, Kobane’s fall would send around 300,000 additional Kurdish refugees into Turkey, bringing the total number of displaced Syrians there to nearly 2 million, over a quarter of them Kurdish. Pro-PKK Kurds in Turkey would then likely agitate against Ankara, which they would hold responsible for Kobane’s fall. Demonstrations have already taken place in several Turkish cities to protest the government’s inaction; if the enclave does in fact fall, it could create significant unrest among pro-PKK Kurds in southeastern Turkey and threaten the country’s stability.”
The CSIS looks at Iran’s rocket and missile forces and their strategic objectives. the report examines why Iran’s missile forces now have critical limits in their lethality, and Iran’s incentives for giving them nuclear and precision conventional warheads. It shows why placing clear limits on Iran’s ability to arm such missile with nuclear warheads is a critical part of any meaningful P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran,  and why the US and Iran’s neighbors must prepare suitable deterrents and defenses to deal with Iran’s efforts to give its longer-range conventionally armed missiles sufficient precision to hit critical military, civil, infrastructure, and energy facility targets.
ANALYSIS

Is Obama About to Recalibrate His War with ISIS?
The coalition war against ISIS that Obama trumpeted has not gone well so far. More than 60 days into the air war against ISIS, the brutal deranged criminal gang continues to advance.
While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the ragtag rebel band that constitutes ISIS is winning the war to expand its caliphate, it would be fair to suggest that the Western and Arabian allies are losing it.
In Syria, near the Turkish border, Kurdish residents of the town of Ain Arab ( Kobane )fear that they will be massacred by advancing ISIS fighters. A three week siege of the town by ISIS forces has resulted in a softening of Kurdish defenses, and some fear that the town could fall at any moment. As this analysis being prepared, Reports say that ISIS is inside many neighborhoods of the city and the fighting has turned into a building-to-building battle. “A terrible slaughter is coming,” said a Kurdish intelligence official in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “If they take the city, we should expect to have 5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours.” The official added that the scale of the coming massacre would be worse than that which may have befallen Iraq’s Yazidi minority if the United States had not intervened in the conflict in Iraq when they did.
Perhaps most dispiriting, the coalition air campaign designed to halt ISIS’s advance on that Turkish border town has been utterly fruitless. In fact, many have criticized the US air offensive for being only marginal effective despite the publicity given to it by the Obama Administration. For instance, last weekend, CNN reported that, “allied airstrikes destroyed two ISIS tanks, a bulldozer and another ISIS vehicle.” That will hardly stop ISIS.
An American financial newspaper, Investors Business Daily noted, “We’re sending expensive high-tech fighters to fire laser-guided weapons at solitary bulldozers. This is beyond pathetic.” They recommended using heavier air assets like the American bomber fleet, noting “Even a single B-52 might have done more to “degrade and destroy” advancing ISIS forces in one pass than we have accomplished since Obama’s anemic air campaign began.”
The result is that Obama’s “offensive” is receiving considerable criticism from political allies and opponents. Former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in his new book has roundly criticized Obama’s war in Iraq and Syria, which led to the rise of ISIS. In the book, he called Obama frustrated and having given up on leading the nation or the world. In an interview with USA Today, Panetta said it was Obama’s failure to pursue an obtainable status of forces agreement with Iraq that “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.”
Panetta also said Obama “lost his way” by failing to arm the Syrian rebels and enforce his own “red line” threat to respond to Bashar al-Assad if to use chemical weapons against his own people. All too often, Panetta writes, Obama “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities,” painting a portrait of a president who has a hard time making up his mind.
The Washington Post, which has been previously more supportive of Obama’s Syrian strategy asked this week, “Why can’t the U.S.-led coalition prevent a ragtag insurgent army from overrunning large towns? The answers speak to the limitations imposed on the military campaign by President Obama…In contrast with the successful 2002 air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, U.S. pilots cannot rely on Special Forces spotters to identify targets. Mr. Obama has ruled out such ground personnel despite requests from military commanders.”
Criticism also came from Obama’s opponent in 2008 – Senator John McCain – a former Navy fighter pilot, who has experience in carrying out air strikes in combat situation. “There’s going to be a mass slaughter” if Kobani falls to the Islamic State, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. “There will be no greater indication of the ineffectiveness and fecklessness of the air campaign we’re now seeing.”
Obama is also faced with the ISIS advance on Baghdad. ISIS forces are so close that they may be able to soon close the Baghdad airport with artillery fire. In fact, American concerns about the fall of Baghdad are so great that the State Department earlier this week had to reassure Americans that a mortar attack alert in the Green Zone was a false alarm.
ISIS advances in Iraq aren’t just limited to Baghdad. ISIS forces have struck and captured targets in Iraq’s Anbar province, including the town of Heet on the Euphrates. The insurgent army has reportedly begun to lay siege to areas surrounding the provincial capital of Ramadi.
The failure of the American air war in Iraq is also a serious problem for American forces. The United States made a tacit admission of the air campaign’s failure on Monday when the Pentagon conceded that they had introduced Apache attack helicopters into Iraq where they struck ISIS mortar teams near Fallujah. The Apaches will allow U.S. military planners more flexibility, but they will also expose troops to the dangers of ISIS ground fire. Faced with strategic failures across the board, the United States is inching ever closer to introducing some version of “boots on the ground.”
A Readjustment in Strategy?
Obama’s trip to the Pentagon on Wednesday for briefings indicates that there may be some changes to the ISIS strategy in the near future.
Up until now, Obama has focused on doing the minimum in the region – primarily focusing on action only when it impacts his political popularity in the US. For instance, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met in May with American diplomats and Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of Central Command, asking the U.S. for the ability to strike ISIL using drones. If that wasn’t doable, Maliki said he’d approve U.S. drone or airstrikes. However, the plan was ignored by the Obama Administration, which didn’t see any political gain to acting.
However, mixed signals coming from the Administration may indicate that Obama may finally be willing to modify his policy somewhat.
However, the State Department has refused to move from the current position. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that preventing the fall of the Syrian town of Kobane to Islamic State fighters was not a strategic U.S. objective.
“As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobani … you have to step back and understand the strategic objective…Notwithstanding the crisis in Kobani, the original targets of our efforts have been the command and control centers, the infrastructure,” he said. “We are trying to deprive them (ISIS) of the overall ability to wage this, not just in Kobani but throughout Syria and into Iraq.”
Kerry however, did indicate some American flexibility – especially in creating a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria. In an unenthusiastic tone he said, “The buffer zone is an idea that has been out there. It is worth examining, it’s worth looking at very, very closely.”
This is a case where America’s NATO allies may have to push Obama, since they are more supportive of the idea. France said on Wednesday it supported the idea of setting up a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria to create a safe haven for displaced people, President Francois Hollande’s office said after he spoke to his Turkish counterpart.
Britain’s Foreign Minister Hammond was also in favor is the strategy, saying it deserved close study. “The idea of a buffer zone is one that has been floated. We have to explore with our other allies and partners what is meant by a buffer zone and how such a concept would work, but I certainly wouldn’t want to rule it out at this stage.”
Although Obama is not anxious to stop ISIS at Kobane, the political and strategic reality may force his hand. Kobane would be a big prize for ISIS. Its capture would be of great symbolic value, showing that ISIS is still maintaining their momentum, and would confirm their creeping dominance along a great portion of the Turkish-Syrian border.
The questions facing Obama are: what sort of strategy will stop ISIS and is he willing to execute it? Obama has tried to rely upon others providing the “boots on the ground.” However, that strategy is looking more and more unlikely.
It is clear that training indigenous forces to counter ISIS will not be a quick solution. In fact, coalition commanders insist that the Iraqi Army will not be in a position to serve as an effective fighting force for quite some time.
The New York Times reported earlier this week, “The American official coordinating the international coalition fighting the Islamic State said on Friday that the Iraqi military would not be ready for a campaign to retake Mosul, the largest Iraqi city under insurgent control, for as much as a year,”
“The broad timeline given by the official, retired Gen. John R. Allen, seemed to reflect the immense challenges facing the Iraqi military command and its international partners,” The Times continued.
That report indicates that the operation aimed at retaking the city of over half a million would begin before this year is out, but implicit in his admission that the Iraqi Army will be unable to finish the job the coalition starts in Mosul alone for another 12 months, which suggests that this will be a long war.
Finding, training, and arming Syrian “moderate” forces will not be any easier. On Wednesday, the Pentagon spokesman conceded that the process of vetting moderate Syrian rebel groups who will eventually serve as the “boots on the ground” has not even begun. That vetting merely the first step in creating a fighting force which planners estimate will need to be 15,000 strong in order to roll back ISIS in Syria. Exfiltrating them, training them, equipping them, and reintroducing them back into Syria will take at least one year before any tangible gains against ISIS will be made.
The other force in the region that can provide sufficient ground forces is Turkey. However, it appears that internal Turkish politics and the foreign policy of Turkish President Erdogan, are preventing Turkey’s massive army from responding.
As mentioned in last week’s Monitor Analysis, the overriding goals of the US and Turkey are very different in regards to Syria. Turkey has made it clear that it wants the end of the Assad regime, while keeping Turkey’s Kurdish population under control. The US, however, is willing to forgo the downfall of Assad in return for the “degradation” of ISIS. The US is also more willing to accept Kurdish independence, especially since Kurdish forces in Iraq are willing allies against ISIS.
Turkey’s Erdogan has made it clear that he wants a buffer zone in place and a no-fly zone over Syria before he commits ground forces to the battle. He also wants Washington’s support to defeat Assad. In the meantime, he is willing to stand by and see a degradation of Turko-Kurdish forces in Kolbane.
The Obama administration sees this more as an excuse. They note that round-the-clock air raids by the US effectively make the air over Kolbane a no-fly zone for the Syrian Air Force. “There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border,” a senior administration official told the New York Times. “After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe.
“This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid publicly criticizing an ally.
Despite criticism about not acting, Turkey is joining in the effort to fight ISIS financially. Illicit petroleum production from ISIS controlled oil fields have been interdicted in Turkey, which will hurt the ability of the insurgent gang to buy munitions and spare parts for their captured heavy equipment.
Turkey, in the meantime, is facing some internal turmoil because of its refusal to support rebels in Kolbane. Turkish Kurds represent a large minority in turkey and Kurds in the southeast are protesting the government’s limited response. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara that 19 people were killed and 145 wounded in riots across Turkey. A curfew was imposed in Mardin, Siirt, Batman and Van, according to Hurriyet newspaper.
At the same time, however, the Turkish Lira is under pressure as investors are concerned that Turkey may intervene militarily in Syria. Given the economic problems in Turkey, Erdogan may decide that inaction may offer better economic rewards for himself and his political allies than military action.
However, Turkey is the keystone of the anti-ISIS alliance. It has the largest and best equipped army in the region. It also borders key battleground areas and offers considerable logistical advantages for supporting allies in both Iraq and Syria. Without its active participation, the rest of the coalition is mainly limited to air strikes and some ground support via special forces. No major ground effort would be forthcoming.
These are the facts that are driving a reassessment of Obama’s ISIS strategy. American voters disapprove of his policy towards ISIS and the recent beheading of an American in Oklahoma has brought the threat home. If he is to salvage his last two years as president, he needs to lay out a plan that at least “degrades” ISIS so it is no longer a threat to American allies in the region or a domestic terrorist threat in the US.
If there is to be an effective ground component to take advantage of the air war, Obama must either consent to a larger US force presence or accede to Turkish demands. Given Obama’s reluctance to commit American forces, the likelihood is that eventually Obama will make some compromise with Turkey that would include some buffer zone, some sort of limited no-fly zone, and greater willingness to counter Assad rule seeking his removal.
By refusing to commit US ground forces to the conflict and relying on Turkish forces (who have a clear agenda contrary to the American one) and untrained indigenous forces, this strategy will guarantee that the conflict will be a long one and one that will not necessarily turn out the way America wants it.

PUBLICATIONS
The Rise of Al-Qaeda’s Khorasan Group: What It Means for U.S. National Security
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
October 6, 2014
Issue Brief #4281
The air strikes against Islamist terrorist groups in Syria that the U.S. launched on September 22 included strikes against a group that few Americans had heard about before: the Khorasan group. Although sometimes mistakenly characterized as a new terrorist group, Khorasan is a new tentacle of an old organization—the al-Qaeda high-command or core group. The rise of the Khorasan group underscores that al-Qaeda’s core remains a dangerous threat, and that it has grown stronger by feeding off the corpses of failed states and by recruiting foreign fighters. To defeat al-Qaeda, Washington must address the regional trends that gave rise to Khorasan, not merely target the group itself.
Read more
Strategic Partnership in the Middle East: Respecting Our Arab Allies, Realism About Ourselves
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 9, 2014
It is easy to talk about a U.S. strategy based on strategic partnership and coalitions. It is far more difficult, however, to make such efforts work. This is particularly true when the U.S. fails to honestly address its own problems and mistakes, minimizes the costs and risks involved, and exaggerates criticism of its allies. Strategic partnerships need to be forged on the basis of an honest understanding of the differences between the partners, respect, and mutual tolerance of their different needs and limitations. Some of the recent U.S. criticism of its Arab allies is justified, but much of it is exaggerated, makes sweeping generalizations, and ignores the differences between the values, priorities, and strategic interests of the U.S. and each Arab ally. At the same time, there is a false equity in U.S. criticism of allies like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – not to mention another key regional ally, Turkey.
Read more
Iran’s Rocket and Missile Forces and Strategic Options
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 6, 2014
Iran’s rocket and missile forces serves a wide range of Iranian strategic objectives. Iran’s forces range from relatively short-range artillery rockets that support its ground forces and limit the need for close air support to long-range missiles that can reach any target in the region, as well as the development of booster systems that might give Iran the ability to strike at targets throughout Europe and even in the US. Iran’s rocket and missile forces are steadily evolving. While the lethality of most current systems is limited by a reliance on conventional warheads, poor accuracy, and uncertain reliability, Iran is developing improved guidance systems, attempting to improve the lethality of its conventional warheads, and has at least studied arming its missiles with nuclear warheads.
Read more
The European Union Must Face the Islamic State
By Marc Pierini
Carnegie Endowment
October 2, 2014
Diplomatic missions, think tanks, and the media are rife with analyses of the Islamic State. Assessments of how to deal with the jihadist group range from “wait and see” to “degrade and destroy,” and there are even mundane controversies about whether the entity should be called the Islamic State (IS), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or Da’esh (the movement’s Arabic acronym)—even though these names carry almost identical meanings. The bottom line is that the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which has now taken hold in large parts of Iraq and Syria, is posing unprecedented challenges to the Western community of nations. The group is a particular threat to European states. To cope with those aspects of the situation that are specific to Europe, EU leaders must focus their efforts on five key areas: counterterrorism cooperation, the interruption of financial flows to the Islamic State, humanitarian assistance, political dialogue, and long-term policy reforms.
Read more
International Relations in a Time of Accelerating Dynamic Instability
By Lawrence Husick
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 2014
What do the rise of the “Islamic State,” the ebola epidemic, and widespread political polarization and gridlock have in common? Is it possible to understand these disparate phenomena in ways that inform and guide our reactions to them, and our planning for future events that may arise from the same conditions? If, as FPRI’s founder, Ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupé, liked to say, “a nation must think before it acts,” about what should the United States be thinking in times of domestic turmoil and accelerating international instability? The seeming breakdown of the Westphalian international order and emergence of differently governed regions such as those in Western North Africa, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the “Islamic State” that now occupies the Syria-Iraq border is viewed as a continuing source of threat to the international community. More than just artifacts of a post-World War I line-drawing blunder by the European colonial powers that ignored, and in many cases exacerbated old tribal divisions, some of these new insurgencies seem to appear from nothing, emerging in a blink from the quantum vacuum of ungovernable expanses of territory. In still other cases, however, instability takes root in the dense urban centers of states with weak governments and especially in those states lacking in functioning organs of civil society (e.g., Somalia). None of this is new, nor is it unexpected.
Read more
We Bomb ISIL: Then What?
By Marina Ottaway
Wilson Center
October 2014
Viewpoint 63
Military action in Iraq and Syria is moving ahead without a political strategy to accompany it. Although the administration argues that defeating ISIL requires the formation of inclusive governments, neither Iraq nor Syria has such government. The absence of a real political strategy will undermine any military success.
Read more

Turkey and the Battle for Kobane
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
October 8, 2014
In the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched another major offensive against the Kurdish-declared canton of Kobane (a.k.a. Ain al-Arab) in northern Syria. The group is now threatening to overrun this area, which is controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish faction affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant Turkish group. In response, the United States has launched airstrikes against ISIS military assets around Kobane. Yet Turkey, which nominally joined the U.S.-led coalition against the group on September 5, has been watching the battle from the sidelines. Ankara is also refusing to allow PKK members to cross into Syria to prevent Kobane’s fall.
Read more
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

www.thinktankmonitor.org
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Week of October 03th, 2014

Executive Summary

The think tank community had a variety of topics to consider this week, ranging from the continued war against ISIS to domestic American concerns like the first Ebola infection in the US.
Although Obama has pointed to the large coalition that is arrayed against ISIS, little is mentioned about the various political goals of the participating nations. The Monitor Analysis looks at the differing goals, especially those of Turkey, and warns this difference in war goals and strategy will only weaken this American led alliance and make it easier to fall apart.

Think Tanks Activity Summary
The American Enterprise Institute looks at the meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They see major differences continuing on the major subjects. In the end, they say, they will come out of the meeting; say nice things, but having accomplished little.
The Brookings Institution argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer the central strategic question in the Middle East. They note, “The core threats to American national security in the Middle East today are the rise of the Islamic State (IS), the advance of the Iranian nuclear program, and the spread of Iranian influence throughout the region. They are almost entirely disconnected from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If a peace agreement were signed today, the political landscape of the Middle East would remain more or less the same, and so would the most consequential challenges it poses to the United States.”
The Hudson Institute looks at the growing divide between Obama and his military advisors on conducting the war against ISIS. However, they note, “Senior officers must accept their commander in chief’s judgment and carry out orders. But they and like-minded advisers have another option: resigning. Not to embarrass the administration or cause a constitutional crisis, but to indicate the gravity of the ISIS threat. Until stopped, ISIS or its collaborators are likely to mount an attack against the U.S. homeland with the aim of equaling or surpassing al Qaeda’s 9/11 success. A military commander’s resignation, accompanied by a clear and respectful explanation, would prompt a needed debate over U.S. strategy to achieve the president’s goal “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the establishment of a new Iraqi national guard. They warn of many problems with a force like and make suggestions as to controlling it. They note, “Doing so requires several initiatives at both the domestic and international levels. First, the formation of the national guard must be accompanied by a broader political push. The Shia-dominated government in Baghdad must find ways to offer credible guarantees to the Sunni community that it will continue to have a place in political decisionmaking. In return, Sunnis must guarantee their commitment to the Iraqi state and its legitimately elected government, turning against the Islamic State and its allies through their service in the guard. Closely related, operational issues such as the chain of command between the regular army and the national guard must be established early on, to avoid mistrust and the chance for defections or rebellion. Effective U.S. oversight of the training of the national guard can help temper the centrifugal effects of the force.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at Qatar and its foreign policy. They note, “Qatar’s Arab Spring interventions also greatly undermined the country’s reputation for impartiality. The resulting skepticism of Qatari motivations further eroded the reserves of soft power that had propelled Qatar’s rise as a regional power with international reach before 2011… It may take years for Qatar to fully restore a degree of trust among regional partners, but the path is open for Qatari officials to begin rebuilding a reputation as an intermediary that is able to bridge divides. As events across much of the Arab world become more unpredictable and volatile, U.S. policymakers in particular can work with Qatar to maintain options for back-channel communications and even track-two diplomacy to reduce tension and uncertainty as and when opportunities permit.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at the continuing civil war in Libya and ways to end it. They note, “To move beyond the impasse, the first step is to accurately assess the nature of the security challenge in Libya. The country’s security malaise is typically attributed to the power and autonomy of its revolutionary armed groups and the corresponding weakness of the official army and regular police. But such a division is only part of the story, obscuring complex and fluid relationships between local armed groups, the central government, aggrieved political actors, and hybrid security entities. The assumption also ignores the fact that the “militia problem” is fundamentally a political one. The framework for understanding the “militias” challenge must move beyond normative questions of “legitimacy” and acknowledge that the armed groups represent certain constituencies and have, for better or for worse, become intimately entrenched in the state’s apparatus.”
The Foreign Policy Initiative looks at the continuing negotiations to restrict Iran’s nuclear abilities. They warn, “While Tehran refuses to acknowledge its international obligations, the United States and its international negotiating partners—known as the P5+1—are moving dangerously closer to Tehran’s position.  Called “creative solutions” by their advocates, these proposals would in reality leave Iran with the ability to resume large-scale production of nuclear material in a short period of time, effectively leaving Tehran’s nuclear weapons program intact. As 31 Republican Senators wrote in a September 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, reports of “troubling nuclear concessions to Iran” raise concerns that the P5+1 will sign an agreement “that, in return for further relief of U.S.-led international sanctions, would allow Iran to produce explosive nuclear material.”
ANALYSIS

Conflicting Objectives in War on ISIS
Wars usually bring consensus to the countries involved in the fighting. In World War Two, even the radically different political systems of the Soviet Union and the US and Great Britain, were able to agree on defeating Hitler. That unity, however, is lacking in the current war on ISIS.
Although several countries are in the US led alliance to fight (or at least neutralize) ISIS, they all seem to allowing their differing national policies to trump the mutual goal of stopping ISIS. One such country is Turkey, a NATO member that has an eye on increasing its influence in the region by using the disruptions caused by ISIS.
Under pressure both politically and militarily, Turkey may finally climb off the fence in the fight against ISIS. Their parliament voted to authorize ground troops in both Iraq and Syria this week to push back the terrorist army, which has come within five kilometers of Turkey’s border in places. In the past, Turkey actually aided Syrian rebels like ISIS in order to weaken the Syrian government of President Assad.
The Washington Post reported, “Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters the proposal sent to parliament would include a wide range of options, including opening Turkish bases to foreign troops and deploying soldiers to establish safe zones for refugees inside Syria. The government wants the motion to be broad enough to avoid needing another parliamentary mandate for military action, he said.”
But, it seems that the decision to fight ISIS isn’t just a desire to join with other NATO countries and some Arab nations to stop the growth of the radical Islamic force. The move is also an attempt to forestall the current efforts of Kurdish separatists who have coalesced into a fighting force to assist Syrian Kurds in the besieged city of Kobane.
Kobane’s fall would give ISIS control of a large stretch of the Turkey-Syria border. The siege has prompted more than 160,000 refugees to flee into Turkey in the past week, and shells from the fighting have landed in Turkish territory. In response, Turkey dispatched hundreds of soldiers and tanks to the Syrian border to contain the potential spillover from the siege.
But, Kobane is more than a military objective. It also has political importance. Turkey has made it clear that they will not let Turkish Kurds become a separate nation and see this Turkish-Kurdish fighting force in Kobane as a long term threat to them. Consequently, the move to oppose ISIS is as much an attempt to keep Turkish/Kurdish separatists in check.
Another factor in Turkey’s potential move against ISIS is their demand for a no-fly zone over Syria. They don’t need a no-fly zone to protect them from ISIS, which doesn’t have an air force. Their support of the Syrian rebels fighting Assad have made them fearful of Assad and what he might do if they were to move into Syrian territory to stop ISIS. They want to make sure that Assad doesn’t take an opportunity to settle some scores while their army engages ISIS.
This isn’t the first time that the US has considered a possible no-fly zone over Syria. That was one of the options that the Obama administration looked at in 2013 in retaliation for the alleged Assad’s use of chemical weapons. That option was eventually discarded.
This time, the question will be whether the US can enforce it since the US and Navy forces in the area are smaller than they were a year ago. From the point of the Alliance against ISIS, the Syrians have been passive about the intrusions into their airspace — not cooperative, but also not actively contesting them. They haven’t complained about them very much, even though American operations have created a de facto no-fly zone as Syrian aircraft avoid open hostilities with the US-led coalition.
There is also the diplomatic issue of an official no-fly zone. If the US demanded an internationally-imposed, no-fly zone, the Syrians will surely lodge international protests, along with Russia, China, and Iran. These protests, in turn could force a lull in air attacks.
In the end, the best option is for the US to informally assure Turkey that Syria will not interfere with Turkey’s operations and for Turkey to accept that fighting ISIS in Syria is better than fighting in Turkey.
Not only are the Turks afraid that Syrian Air Force fighters may attack them they are also reluctant to get involved so far is based on their worry that their intervention will prop up president Assad after all their efforts to get rid of him. In addition, the area the Turkey would move into is Syrian/Kurd territory and defeating ISIS in Kurdish territory would only strengthen the Kurds.
While a Turkish military move would aid the US, some of Turkey’s objectives are in conflict with American goals. America actually launched its air strikes in Syria and Iraq in part to support the Kurdish forces, who have been the most loyal and have a biger stake in slowing the ISIS advance across Iraq. In fact more than half of the US and British air strikes have been launched in support of Kurdish forces, who have launched an offensive to retake several Iraqi towns captured by ISIS recently.
Turkey isn’t the only partner in the in the alliance with differing goals in the war on ISIS. Other nations have differing political objectives. However, unlike the Kurds, Turkey, and the US, their concern revolves around Baghdad, which is increasingly threatened by ISIS. From their point of view, air strikes against northern Iraq and Syria are only helpful to their political ends if they pull ISIS forces from central Iraq.
The Arab countries of the GCC are also on the horns of a dilemma. ISIS is a threat to their nations and ISIS forces are becoming a greater threat to the borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The air strikes in the north and the Kurdish offensive help slowing the ISIS advances across the Iraqi “Sunnis” territories in Western Iraq. And, obviously Iraqi “Shiite” opposition to ISIS also helps their objectives.
The problem for the GCC is that a weaker ISIS can mean a stronger “Shiite alliance” in Iraq and Iran that threatens the GCC. Their objective is to defeat ISIS, while keeping the” Sunni” communities militarily strong, and defeat President Assad in Syria.
Indecision in America
While the other ISIS alliance nations have conflicting goals, America is in the position of having disagreements with itself. Obama is facing a political problem of holding his anti-war Democratic coalition together, while placating the voters, who want a more aggressive response against ISIS – without putting soldiers in Iraq or Syria. The problem became even more important as a radical Muslim beheaded a coworker in Oklahoma last week, an event that brought the ISIS problem home to most American voters.
The events in the Middle East are clearly damaging the Democrat’s ability to hold the Senate. A Republican TV ad this week is attacking Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina for being absent from half of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s hearings this year and never uttering a word of complaint over Obama’s previous policies toward terrorism.
“While ISIS grew, Obama kept waiting, and Kay Hagan kept quiet,” the ad’s narrator states — “failing to recognize the growing specter of the Islamic State.”
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who’s running against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, is running an ad that says she and Obama are “confused” about the very real threat that the Islamic State poses to the U.S. Polls show the race is in a dead heat.
However, Obama’s response hasn’t helped as it is perceived as being too weak by American voters. And, when he did respond, the resulting air strikes were considered by nearly everyone to be ineffective.
Obama’s political response has been to blame the intelligence community for not warning him. Although US intelligence had warned Obama in 2012 about the threat of ISIS, Obama ignored the warnings until very recently. However, On Sunday, Obama went on the CBS program “60 Minutes” to talk about his abruptly changed policies toward the Islamic State’s war of terror on the civilized world. When asked about his dismissal of ISIS, he blamed the intelligence community for underestimating the threat – a claim that enraged many in the intelligence field who had warned him about the ISIS threat years ago.
Although late, Obama has begun to make some solid moves. One recent addition to the policy outlined by Obama last month is the movement of over 2,000 US Marines into Kuwait over the next few months. The force will have its own tactical air support, airlift ability, and theater logistical support of C-130 aircraft. This Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) will be capable of carrying out a multitude of military operations.
While the Pentagon said that this move has been in the planning stage for awhile, it appears that current events are driving it. A force of this size would be able to evacuate US citizens from Baghdad if ISIS continues advancing on the southern front and enters the Iraqi capital. The possibility that this force is being put in place for such an evacuation is reinforced by the fact that this USMC unit (the 8th Marine Regiment) was used during the summer for the evacuation of the US Embassy in Libya.
This unit is combat tested and showed itself well adapted to evacuations under difficult conditions. On July 26, after taking mortar, small arms and rocket fire in the US Embassy compound for several days, a group of Marines from the 8th Marine Regiment led more than 150 embassy personnel on a six-hour drive across the Libyan desert to the Tunisian border after the US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, decided that evacuating staff via MV-22 helicopters was too risky.
The Marine security team, which wore civilian clothing, loaded all the American embassy personnel into 40 sport utility vehicles after negotiating safe passage to the border with the militias that held the ground along the route. The convoy was shadowed by two MV-22B Ospreys, a KC-130J and two F-16 jets.
The force is also seen as a guarantee that the US will support the GCC nations if ISIS starts to threaten their borders. Although the USMC force is smaller in numbers than the ISIS army, it is heavier armed, much better trained, and better supported. Its positioning in Kuwait will insure that the oil fields of the Saudi Peninsula will not fall to ISIS. The deployment also provides a bit more flexibility to the GCC nations who are afraid of both ISIS and Iranian influence.
The fact that the war against ISIS requires positioning US Marines in Kuwait – hundreds of miles from the front lines – demonstrates the problems and complexities of the conflict. While nearly everyone is agreed that ISIS is a major problem, the outcome of the war seems to attract more concern than the defeat of this radical army. The Syrian government of presiden Assad wants to defeat the rebels and win the internal war.
Turkey, wants to defeat ISIS, while defeating Assad and keeping the Turkish Kurds from seceding from Turkey. They also want to use the war to increase their influence in the Levant.
The Kurds are more interested in independence and see their war against ISIS as their best way of becoming an independent state. The GCC nations want to defeat ISIS and president Assad, while keeping Turkish influence in the region to a minimum. Meanwhile, Iran wants to defeat ISIS, but keep president Assad in power.
Other nations also have limited objectives. Denmark, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are only carrying air operations in Iraq, while the United States, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are operating in Syria too.
In the US, Obama is at war with himself. For him, the war is merely an outgrowth of the political situation he finds himself in domestically. He won election as president on a platform of getting out of Iraq, but finds himself with a majority of Americans upset with the deteriorating situation in the region. However, his political base is strongly opposed to any more actions in both Syria and Iraq. A political misstep could find Congress in the hands of his political opponents, the Republicans in November.
What this means is that the coalition facing ISIS is only loosely bound together. Should events change, it could rapidly fall apart.
PUBLICATIONS
Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu: A preview
By Danielle Pletka
American Enterprise Institute
October 1, 2014
AEIdeas

Today, Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two are not friends, not allies, and not partners. Previous meetings have been fraught. And privately, this one is likely to be little better. What’s on their agenda?
Iran: Obama desperately wants a nuclear deal with Iran. So desperately, in fact, that his negotiating team has been willing to offer the Iranians half their current stock of 19,000 centrifuges with the other half nominally “unplugged.” This is a far cry from an administration that claimed enrichment was off the table, that Iran had no “right” to enrichment, or that the program, as it now stands, is unacceptable. Indeed, the Iranians, being no fools, have again upped the ante, demanding that UN sanctions be dropped before any nuclear deal. Obama likely believes that Iran will be an ally against ISIS (Shia! Sunni! Get it?? Get it!!), and that he can game the Middle East to resolve intra-religious quarrels, extricate himself from the region and serve his greater quest for Global Zero.
Read more
The National Guard in Iraq: A Risky Strategy to Combat the Islamic State
By Frederic Wehrey and Ariel I. Ahram
Carnegie Endowment
September 23, 2014

Reconstructing Iraq’s security sector is a crucial component of the new U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State. The failure of the Iraqi army to defend Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city, from the militant group’s attack in the summer of 2014 was a profound indictment of the country’s entire security apparatus. Despite a decade of U.S. efforts at reequipping, reorganizing, and retraining Iraqi security forces, most units in Iraq’s army and police remained plagued by sectarian and ethnic fissures and poor leadership. Reinvigorating Iraq’s security services is essential, as ultimately U.S. airpower must be coupled with an effective ground assault if the Islamic State is to be rolled back.
One of the most prominent elements of the security sector reform agenda, floated by both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, is the establishment of a new Iraqi national guard. The national guard would incorporate mainly Sunni tribal militias—armed groups that organized outside the formal army and police—to serve as local reserves under the control of provincial governors. Yet the details of this plan remain sketchy and the prospects for success uncertain.
Read more
Ending Libya’s Civil War: Reconciling Politics, Rebuilding Security
By Frederic Wehrey
Carnegie Endowment
September 24, 2014

More than three years after the fall of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is in the midst of a bitter civil war rooted in a balance of weakness between the country’s political factions and armed groups. With a domestic landscape torn apart by competing claims to power and with interference from regional actors serving to entrench divides, restoring stability in Libya and building a unified security structure will be difficult if not impossible without broad-based political reconciliation. After Qaddafi, Libya’s security sector evolved into a hybrid arrangement marked by loose and imbalanced cooperation between locally organized, state-sponsored armed groups and national military and police. The system broke down as political and security institutions became increasingly polarized along regional, communal, and ideological fault lines. The country is now split between two warring camps: Operation Dignity, a coalition of eastern tribes, federalists, and disaffected military units; and Operation Dawn, an alliance of Islamist forces aligned with armed groups from Misrata. Each camp lays claim to governance and legitimacy, with its own parliament, army, and prime minister.
Read more
Qatar and the Arab Spring: Policy Drivers and Regional Implications
By Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
Carnegie Endowment
September 24, 2014

During the Arab Spring, Qatar moved away from its traditional foreign policy role as diplomatic mediator to embrace change in the Middle East and North Africa and support transitioning states. Regional actors viewed Qatar’s approach as overreaching, and skepticism of Doha’s policy motivations increased. Qatar’s new leadership, which came to power in June 2013, is adapting by reverting to a more pragmatic foreign policy and addressing the fallout from its support for Islamist movements in the region.
Read more
The Obama-Military Divide
By Seth Cropsey
Hudson Institute
September 30, 2014

In President Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday, he reiterated his vow not to involve U.S. combat troops in the fight against Islamic State jihadists. He would avoid “the mistake of simply sending U.S. troops back” into Iraq, Mr. Obama said, noting that “there’s a difference between them advising and assisting Iraqis who are fighting versus a situation in which we got our Marines and our soldiers out there taking shots and shooting back.” Yet many Americans are skeptical, judging by the new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll showing that 72% of registered voters believe that U.S. troops will eventually be deployed. Perhaps Americans have been listening to some of the president’s senior military advisers and several retired senior officers and have decided that their expert opinions sound more realistic.
Read more
What Is the Central Strategic Question in the Middle East?
By Michael Doran
Brookings Institution
September 30, 2014

No one explains the durability of the status quo in Israeli-Palestinian relations as well as Elliott Abrams. :What Now for Israel?” demonstrates why, despite the strong will of the United States and Europe to broker a two-state solution, a formal peace remains out of reach. Forty-seven years after the Six-Day War, it’s time to conclude that, in the Middle East, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary arrangement. While Abrams focuses almost exclusively on Israeli perceptions, including Israeli perceptions of the American role, his analysis demands that we also ask and try to answer the question, “What Now for the United States?” Before anything else, American leaders need to repudiate, once and for all, what Abrams calls the “epicenter” theory: that is, the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central strategic question in the Middle East. While no American president has embraced this theory in any formal sense, almost every president since Jimmy Carter — and every secretary of state since Cyrus Vance — has taken it as axiomatic that to formulate a Middle East policy means initiating and presiding over a “peace process.”
Read more
Defiance and Desperation in Iran Nuclear Talks
By Tzvi Kahn, Evan Moore
Foreign Policy Initiative
September 30, 2014

The latest round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program was marked by Iranian defiance and Western desperation to reach a deal.  Tehran’s goal in these talks has long been clear—to simultaneously break free from international sanctions while retaining the capability to break out as a nuclear weapons power on short notice.  Western negotiators are working to determine just how short that notice must be—with the reported goal of lengthening Iran’s breakout time from less than three months to between six and twelve months.
Read more

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Week of September 27th, 2014

Executive Summary

As the air war against ISIS heated up this week many think tanks analyzed the Obama strategy and offered forth theirs. In most cases, they thought the White House plan was too halfhearted and needed more aggressive moves in order to defeat ISIS.
The Monitor Analysis looks at the failings of the Obama strategy and looks at some of the political reasons for his lukewarm moves. We note that his Democratic base is less concerned with the war against ISIS than the Republicans and independents, which will have the biggest say in who wins the elections in November. This places Obama on the horns of a dilemma – satisfy his political base or win the mid term election in November.
We also look at a recent Reuters’ poll that showed a large number of Americans favoring their state’s secession from the United States. We look at the poll in depth, to see why there is such considerable political unrest and what it means in the long run.

Think Tanks Activity Summary
The CSIS argues that the American strategy against ISIS doesn’t require a major investment in “boots on the ground.” They note, “The situation is radically different when it comes to another kind of U.S. ground presence. Iraqis have already shown that they can fight. They have done all too good a job of fighting each other since the rounds of Arab-Kurdish fighting that began in the early 1970s, and the low-level Arab Sunni vs. Arab Shi’ite fighting that began during the Iran-Iraq War and went on through the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. They fought the Middle East’s bloodiest modern war against Iran from 1980-1988, and decisively defeated Iran in 1988… Iraq still has effective combat units in spite of Maliki, but it is going to need forward Special Forces, ranger-type troops, and other teams of experts to help coordinate, train, and link ground and air power. These need to be embedded at the combat unit level, they need to be armed, they need to be capable of self-defense, and they need to be prepared to take casualties and have medical aid.”
The Carnegie Endowment argues that a truce between Assad and some Syrian rebel groups is the key to defeating ISIS. In comparing the Obama strategy to this suggestion, they note, “A truce in Syria would be in keeping with the approach to degrading and destroying the Islamic State that U.S. President Barack Obama outlined on September 10. Indeed, a truce would allow a distinct improvement on what has been viewed by many as better than nothing, but less than a strategy. An obvious drawback to Obama’s approach is that it relegates dealing with the conflict in Syria between the Assad regime and the rebels to a later stage, and offers no detail on what might be done there in the meantime. As critics have pointed out, this may severely limit the impact of the campaign against the Islamic State and allow the militants to regroup and rebound.
The Heritage Foundation looks at establishing a framework for authorizing the use of force against ISIS. However, they note, “An authorization for use of military force is not a substitute for a comprehensive strategy to confront and defeat an enemy, whether the enemy is a state actor (i.e., a country) or a non-state actor, such as a terrorist organization. Only the President, pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, is commander in chief of the armed forces. He is legally responsible “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as well as the American people, from all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is the President who, utilizing the vast resources of the executive branch, must assess any threats to our national security and, if they exist, must make the case to the American people and Congress as to how our vital interests are jeopardized by the threat. Then it is the President who must lead by developing a comprehensive, intelligent strategy to confront and defeat the enemy.”
The Washington Institute looks at strategies to defeat ISIS at a conference on September 22. Panelist James Jeffrey says, the U.S. goal of “degrading and destroying” ISIS requires some clarification. To destroy ISIS would mean to eliminate the group entirely, demonstrating U.S. resolve and reassuring allies of America’s commitment to regional security. Yet this goal is nearly impossible because ISIS is a transnational ideological movement rooted in a specific interpretation of Islam, and it exploits the weak nation-state system in the Middle East through sectarian conflict. Therefore, efforts to destroy it will look more like defeat than destruction.
The Brookings Institution sees much to like in Obama’s ISIS strategy. They note, “The administration’s new approach has resulted in several important developments. Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down as prime minister of Iraq. That country has a new, more inclusive government that’s committed both to fighting ISIS and accommodating the demands of its alienated Sunni community. Humanitarian tragedies have been averted at Mount Sinjar and Amerli. ISIS has been driven back from Mosul Dam and the approaches to Erbil. And many of the states of the region have signed on to the U.S.-led effort. These are merely first steps in the right direction, but that in itself is an important achievement. When Mosul fell, the Middle East was plummeting into chaos. Today, at least in some key areas, it has started to pull out of that nosedive—even if it has not yet started to gain altitude. But there is one piece of the strategy that the Obama administration has not articulated and does not yet seem to be preparing for. We must also start gearing up for nation-building, particularly in Syria.”
The American Enterprise Institute looks at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who they maintain, has stood firmly in Iran’s political center, closely bound to Khamenei. Concerning American relations with Iran, they conclude, “Whatever the resolution of talks this fall, and however the fight against the Islamic State evolves, Rouhani’s position with Khamenei will almost certainly remain secure as the president navigates critical economic reforms – with or without sanctions relief – and helps manage regional crises. Washington and other world powers should have no illusions. Rouhani is ultimately a creature of this regime, and as such, his domestic polices and diplomatic outreach will inevitably aim to preserve the Islamic republic rather than to change it from within.”
The Institute for the Study of War looks at a strategy to defeat ISIS. They note, “The core challenge facing the U.S. in Iraq and Syria is the problem of enabling the Sunni Arab community stretching from Baghdad to Damascus and Turkey to Jordan to defeat al-Qaeda affiliates and splinters, while these extreme groups deliberately concentrate in Sunni majority areas. Persuading those communities to rejoin reformed states in Iraq and Syria after long seasons of internal strife will be daunting. But their participation in state security solutions will be essential to keep al-Qaeda from returning. Many of these populations, especially Syrians, may be losing confidence in such a post-war vision.”
The Wilson Center looks at Afghanistan’s future in light of the new government. In considering the future of the unity government, they warn, “In a country as divided as Afghanistan, a rift of any kind could doom a unity government to a life that is—as Thomas Hobbes might put it—nasty, brutish, and short. Here’s hoping that Afghanistan’s new leadership avoids such a fate.”

 

ANALYSIS

Obama’s War on Terrorism Failing in Middle East and at Home
Despite a major emphasis on fighting ISIS in the last couple of weeks, there is little to show for it. Surgical air strikes have had a limited impact on the military capability of ISIS. They have killed Abu Yousef al-Turki, a key al-Nusra Front leader. And, there are also reports that airstrikes in northern Syria killed Muhsin al-Fadhl, the leader of the Khorasan Group, before his group of Islamist militants were able to carry out bomb attacks on the US and Europe.
However, the coalition that Obama called for has largely failed to emerge on the battlefield and most military action is American.
Just as worse for Obama is the political impact at home. Although traditionally, foreign conflicts help a leader’s approval numbers, Obama has seen his approval ratings fall even more as members of the Obama coalition have lost faith in him.
Meantime, the strikes carried out to immense fanfare by the White House appear to be little more than pinpricks compared to previous American action by either of the Bush presidents or Clinton. In fact, the 1998 “Operation Desert Fox” cruise missile attacks that were launched by President Clinton were criticized as “mere pinpricks,” but were much larger than this week’s attacks.
Operationally the strikes were indicative of the unfocused nature of Obama’s strategy.  In additional to attacking the ISIS leadership, other strikes went after elements of al-Nusra, the formal al Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria, and members of the Khorasan Group, a group of senior al Qaeda leaders and bomb experts tasked by al Qaeda leadership to find new ways to penetrate Western security.
All these terrorist targets were of value, but the fact that the US had to target three different types of targets reflects the diffuse and dispersed nature of the enemy and the price of failed policy and covert action in Syria.
According to some U.S military commentators on U.S media, another problem with the strategy of the strikes is that Obama has made the classic military mistake of dividing his forces in the face of a numerically superior force. By attacking in three directions at once with a relatively small force, he guaranteed a long campaign, a smaller political and tactical impact for each strike, and a smaller chance of ultimate victory.
The lessened military impact of the strikes was magnified by the limited breadth of the coalition against ISIS. When announcing the strikes, Obama stressed that the “broad coalition” against ISIL “makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”  But based upon public information, the coalition is very narrow and small. France has carried out symbolic air strikes until now, but Britain has been surprisingly reticent although may move in the direction of participating. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qatar “participated” militarily, while Bahrain, host to the U.S. Navy’s regional headquarters, “supported” operations. Obviously the Kurds, although not a nation, were supportive of the strikes, especially those that impact ISIS military operations near Kurdistan.
Although portrayed as gratifying by Obama administration, these Middle Eastern nations are all moderate Sunni states, longtime allies of the US, and the most at risk from ISIS expansion. However, of concern was the lack of support from Turkey. Turkey, which has the second largest military in NATO after the US, has been reluctant to join the fight against ISIS, which conspicuously received 49 Turkish hostages last weekend.
Another concern is ISIS’s resolve to strike back against nations that carry out air strikes against it. Just half an hour after Obama spoke at the UN against ISIS, ISIS-linked militants in Algeria beheaded a French hostage captured the weekend before. The group had threatened to kill him if France did not stop bombing targets in Iraq.
Despite the killing and threat, French President Francois Hollande condemned the killing as a “cruel and cowardly” act. He said that French air strikes which began last week would continue.
Meanwhile, the halfhearted attack on ISIS was only received with lukewarm support from the so called “moderate Syrian rebels”. “We are glad today to see the international community joining our fight against ISIL and extremism,” said Syrian Opposition Coalition President Hadi al-Bahra, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State. But he said the longtime U.S. refusal to provide rebels with antiaircraft and other heavy weaponry is hampering the effort.
American Foreign Policy or Politics?
While Obama insists that he is focused on ISIS and other terrorist threats, even in his UN speech, he diverged from the unrest in the world to address global warming. Obama told the UN, “America is pursuing ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions, and we have increased our investments in clean energy. We will do our part, and help developing nations to do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.”
The wavering nature of Obama’s approach to defeating ISIS and continued focus on global warming once again brings up the question of if Obama is more concerned about ISIS or winning elections. A Pew Research Center/USA Today survey conducted in August showed that Obama’s political base has very different views of the terrorist threat than independents (who decide elections in the US) and Republicans.
Obama’s Democrats consider global climate change a greater threat to the United States than either Al Qaeda (67%), or ISIS (65%). By contrast, 80 percent of Republicans cited Al Qaeda as the principal threat facing the nation, followed by 78 percent citing ISIS, and only 25 percent expressing concern about global climate change. Among Independents, Al Qaeda led the way at 69 percent, followed by ISIS at 63 percent, and global climate change bringing up the rear at 44 percent.
This conundrum can be seen in the plummeting approval numbers for Obama. On September 11th, the day after his speech announcing the more aggressive strategy against ISIS, 36.6% of American either strongly or somewhat approved of Obama. By the beginning of this week, that number had dropped to 31.6%.
Much of that drop came from Democrats, who previously had given him more support. On September 11th, Democrats who strongly and slightly approved of him was at 67.4%. Earlier this week, it had dropped down to 59.5%. And, although Blacks are his strongest ethnic support group, his support dropped 5 points during the same time from 73% to 68%.
This reflects the problem Obama is facing in the war against terrorism and ISIS. In order to continue to remain effective as president and maintain some hopes for Democrats to hold Senate and Congressional seats in November, he must focus on fighting ISIS. However, much of his political base in uninterested in the war on terror and is focused on subjects like global warming.
In his approach to the War in Syria and Iraq, He is attempting to do enough to retain some support for his actions by Republicans and independents. Yet, he doesn’t want to go so far as to alienate his Democratic base. Unfortunately, the political results of this halfhearted political strategy will probably be as unsuccessful as his entire foreign policy.
PUBLICATIONS
A Framework for an Authorization for Use of Military Force Against ISIS
By Charles “Cully” Stimson
Heritage Foundation
September 24, 2014
Backgrounder #2957
For over a decade, the United States has been in armed conflict with Islamist terrorists. In a variety of organizations and forms, this agile and adaptive enemy continues to wage war against the interests of both the U.S. and its allies. ISIS poses a “direct and significant threat to us” and must be defeated using all necessary means. The American people support military action against ISIS, and the Administration accordingly must develop a comprehensive, overarching strategy to confront and ultimately defeat this enemy. Working with our partners and allies and the countries in the region that are most affected by ISIS, the United States must do what it traditionally has done: lead.
Read more
Iraq, Syria, and the Islamic State: The “Boots on the Ground” Fallacy
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
September 19, 2014
There are times the United States does not need an enemy in going to war. It poses enough of a threat to itself without any foreign help. The current debate over ground troops in Iraq and Syria threatens to be yet another case in point, compounding the American threats to America that have done so much damage in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the earlier fighting in Iraq. The Islamic State is Not the Center of Gravity, and the Politics of Iraqi Unity are More Critical Than the Fighting.
Read more
Iran’s president is still the Ayatollah’s man
By J. Matthew McInnis
American Enterprise Institute
September 25, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today takes the podium at the U.N. General Assembly. With Rouhani two years into his presidential term, many in the West hold out hope he will push Iran toward modernization domestically and assume a less confrontational approach abroad. Rouhani is seen as savvy and moderate, steering through a mass of treacherous hardliners in Tehran and an entrenched Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. But this is the wrong way to understand Rouhani – it likely reflects wishful thinking on our part. In the face of momentous crises and policy challenges over the past year, the president has stood firmly in Iran’s political center, closely bound to Khamenei. This should not be surprising. After the tumultuous 2009 election and the internal political strife that characterized the latter years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, Khamenei was probably pleased to see one of his confidantes ascend to the presidency. Indeed Rouhani, long a regime insider, was intimately involved in the country’s nuclear program, and he helped carry out a harsh crackdown on major student protests in 1999.
Read more
To Confront the Islamic State, Seek a Truce in Syria
By Yezid Sayigh
Carnegie Endowment
September 18, 2014
As a core coalition led by the United States gears up to confront the militant Islamic State with action in Iraq, there is a rare opportunity to engineer a truce in Syria. Both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the more moderate armed rebels arrayed against it are stretched thin, bleeding badly, and in an increasingly vulnerable position. They remain as far as ever from negotiating a political solution to the conflict, but the timing is opportune. Each has self-serving reasons to suspend military operations to confront the looming jihadist threat from the east. The two sides would unilaterally observe truces that are separate but implemented in parallel. This approach would not require a formal diplomatic agreement, just robust endorsement and timely coordination by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Iran—the government’s and the opposition’s external backers that are most engaged in Iraq and warily converging on the shared goal of destroying the Islamic State.
Read more
A Strategy to Defeat The Islamic State
By Kimberly Kagan, Frederick W. Kagan, and Jessica D. Lewis
Institute for the Study of War
September 2014
The Islamic State poses a grave danger to the United States and its allies in the Middle East and around the world. Reports that it is not currently planning an attack against the American homeland are little comfort. Its location, the resources it controls, the skill and determination of its leaders and fighters, and its demonstrated lethality distinguish it from other al-Qaeda-like groups. Its ability to offer safe-haven and support to terrorists planning attacks against us is beyond any terrorist threat we have ever seen. The thousands of American and European citizens who are fighting alongside the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Iraq and Syria constitute an unprecedented threat to our security regardless of whether those groups intend to attack us. The Islamic State is a clear and present danger to the security of the United States. It must be defeated.
Read more
Four Questions for Afghanistan’s Future
By Michael Kugelman
Wilson Center
September 23, 2014
Five months after Afghans voted in national elections, they finally have a new government—albeit not the kind they had in mind. In effect, two bitter rivals in a bitterly divided nation will be sharing power under an arrangement that represents not the will of the Afghan people but a solution imposed by the international community. The two top presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, have pledged to form a national unity government in which Mr. Ghani, the election winner, will be president and Mr. Abdullah, the runner-up, will appoint a chief executive officer (though he may decline this post himself and opt for another position).
Read more
Defeating ISIS: From Strategy to Implementation
By Jean-Pierre Filiu, James F. Jeffrey, and Michael Eisenstadt
Washington Institute
September 23, 2014
PolicyWatch 2315
On September 22, 2014, Jean-Pierre Filiu, James Jeffrey, and Michael Eisenstadt addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Filiu is a professor of Middle East studies at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. Jeffrey is the Institute’s Philp Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow and former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey. Eisenstadt directs the Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.
Read more
We Need to Begin Nation-Building in Syria Right Now If we want to avoid the mistakes we made in Iraq
By Kenneth M. Pollack
Brookings Institution
September 24, 2014
New Republic
Winston Churchill once famously said that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all of the alternatives.” He could have been speaking of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy. For six years I have criticized the administration’s policies toward Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East (mostly excepting its Iran policy). But since the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June, at least where Iraq and Syria are concerned, I can find little to criticize and much to praise. The administration has reversed course in both countries, shifting from stubborn disengagement to smart leadership. Since the stunning ISIS offensive in Iraq in June, Washington’s moves have been uncharacteristically deft: promising greater military support to Iraq as leverage to effect political change there; providing air support and weapons to the Kurds to halt the ISIS offensive; launching a sustained air campaign against ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria; and deploying advisors and weapons to Iraq, to name a few.
Read more

 

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org
C: 202 536 8984 C: 301 509 4144

Week of September 20th, 2014

Executive Summary

 

The think tank community remained focused on Obama’s new strategy against ISIS this week.  In fact, much of this week’s commentary is on that subject.

The Monitor analysis looks at the politics of Obama’s plan to build a Syrian rebel army.  Ironically, it was the Republicans in congress that supported Obama, while many Democrats opposed Obama’s strategy.  The reason is politics and the likelihood that the Republicans can gain control of the US Senate in November.  By working with Obama, they increase their chances, even though they are actually pessimistic of the final success of Obama’s ISIS strategy.

 

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at the American campaign against ISIS and argues for a broader strategy.  They conclude, “The Islamic State is only one battle in the fight for the future of Islam and the stability of Islamic countries. If the United States is to succeed in creating anything like a broader pattern of stability, secure the flow of world petroleum exports, and secure its own role in the global economy, it must create a far broader structure for working work with its Muslim and other allies, and building on the lesson learned from dealing with the Islamic State to fight a far longer war.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the risks of Obama’s strategy against ISIS.  One problem they see is, “The focus on targeting the Islamic State’s leadership—drawing from what Obama hailed as successful campaigns in Yemen and Somalia—doesn’t create the conditions on the ground for a lasting solution to the movement. High-value leadership targeting through precision strikes carries the risk of collateral casualties and radicalization. And the record shows that militant leadership cadres can reconstitute themselves quickly, making such a strategy akin to a game of Whac-a-Mole.”

The Cato Institute argues that Obama’s “war” on ISIS will not remain popular with voters.  In terms of framing the ISIS threat, they note, “In the wake of 9/11, Al Qaeda represented a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. But the American public does not yet see the threat from ISIL in the same way, thanks in part to collective ignorance about the group and its designs, but also in part to the fact that the U.S. intelligence community is on record as saying there is zero evidence that ISIL has any plans to attack the United States.  In the absence of a concrete threat from ISIL, the invisible benefits of the campaign will pale next to its visible costs and frustrations. In the worst case, the extended U.S. engagement in the domestic politics of Iraq and Syria will persuade many people that the entire exercise is primarily an effort to reshape the Middle East, rather than a necessary act of self-defense. If this happens, we can expect support to drop to levels similar to the current levels of Iraq and Afghanistan. There is not much the American people like less than nation building.”

 

The Center for Security Policy argues that the United States must resist the temptation to draw Iran further into the crises in Iraq and Syria.  They note, “Iran bears significant responsibility for the outbreak of sectarian tensions in Iraq since 2011 due to its strong support for the Nouri al-Maliki government and by its training of Shiite militias that have massacred Iraqi Sunnis.  An increased Iranian presence in Iraq would alienate Iraqi Sunnis and make it more difficult to bring them back into the political process.”

The Center for a New American Security looks at the potential for ISIS to fund its terrorism through oil sales.  They note, “Currently, ISIL controls oil fields in both Eastern Syria (most notably, the Al-Omar oil field in Raqqa), and Iraq, including Najmah, al-Qayyara, Ujayl, Himreen, and al-Dujail. In total, these fields produce between 30,000 and 70,000 barrels per day (bpd). Although a small number for any significant oil producer, for a non-state actor to be in control of as much oil production as the countries of Bahrain or France is extremely concerning. Not only do they have the ability to use already refined oil to power their cache of military vehicles, but they are also able to illegally sell oil. Even when only fetching below-market prices, ISIL is sitting on an ever-growing hoard of cash. Currently, ISIL is reported to be generating around $2 million per day solely through discounted and illegal oil sales. As ISIL moves farther into Iraqi territory, the possibility that they could overtake oil fields farther into Kurdistan and potentially into Southern Iraq is a very real possibility that cannot be ignored. If this were to happen, their influence, and their financial assets, would only grow.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at Turkey’s recent turn towards the European Union.  They conclude, “Critics suspect that embracing more positive leanings toward the EU could very well be merely a stepping stone for the ruling authorities in Turkey to restore imperial Turkic and Ottoman glory, or a tactical move to further consolidate their power for the extension of their immunity.  Reasons aside, it is up to opposition parties and the EU to use this opportunity to lock Turkey into the implementation of reforms for sustainable Europeanization.”

The Carnegie Endowment argues that Qatar’s desire to increases its influence in the region has been disastrous.  They note, “Qatar has long pursued a foreign policy that is both expansionist and pragmatic. In a bid to claim a greater regional role, the tiny Gulf state has relied on picking winners, riding political trends, and engaging with multiple actors, even volatile ones like jihadist groups.  Its foreign policy activities have evolved from focusing on mediation between conflicting parties to direct funding and training of military groups.  But since the start of the Arab uprisings in 2011, Qatari foreign policy has been plagued by miscalculations, domestic challenges, and international pressure—all of which, to a significant degree, are connected to Qatar’s relationship with it main regional rival, Saudi Arabia.  As a result, Qatar’s regional role has entered a new, diminished phase…As a result of those external and domestic pressures on Qatar, Saudi Arabia has been able to bring Doha back into its orbit. But although this is a loss for Qatar’s regional ambitions, it is not a gain for Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-Qatari rivalry has damaged both Gulf countries’ degree of external power and increased levels of instability in the Middle East. Looking ahead, Qatar’s will and ability to overcome its rivalry with Saudi Arabia when addressing mutual challenges will be key to its regional influence.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

 

America Responds to ISIS

Strategy or Political Cover

A week after outlining his strategy against ISIS, Obama went to Congress for the legislative support for his program of building a Syrian opposition army.  The $500 million was added to a stop gap funding bill that will keep the federal government funded until December.  The House voted 273-156 Wednesday to insert the amendment, which authorizes Obama’s plans, into the spending bill. The yes votes included 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats, while 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans voted against the amendment.

Ironically, although Republicans lambasted his plan last week, the Republican congressional leadership and 2/3rds of the Republicans gave the president what he wanted.  Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “I frankly think the president’s request is a sound one. I think there’s a lot more that we need to be doing, but there’s no reason for us not to do what the president asked us to do,”

Republicans have also backed off from requiring Obama to come to Congress for authority to use military force.  In an attempt to sidestep the issue, Boehner said that typically, the White House would be the one to make a request to have Congress vote on such an authorization and the administration has not done so yet.  “This is an interim step to do what the president’s asked for, it does not preclude us from revisiting the issue of a broader use of military force,” Boehner said.  “As you heard me say last week, I believe that it’s important, frankly, for the Congress to speak on this issue, and when we get to that point, we will.”

Interestingly enough, the opposition in Congress came from Obama’s own party, which saw 40% of the Democratic congressmen oppose the bill.  “The more I get briefed the more concerned I am,” said Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern.  He said Obama’s assertion he has authority to conduct air strikes under a 2001 law passed to authorize military force against Afghanistan “ludicrous” and said the administration’s plan didn’t make sense.  “I don’t get it, I don’t understand the end game, I don’t understand how this is supposed to work,” McGovern said.

In another example of the military unsoundness of the strategy, military veterans on both sides of the House opposed the bill.  California Republican representative Duncan Hunter, a Marine who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the authority “does nothing” to destroy the Islamic State.  Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a captain in the Hawaii National Guard who served in Iraq, called Obama’s strategy “unrealistic” and worried “it will take way too long” to work.

However, in the end, it was the Republicans who delivered the victory to Obama.

Why is Obama getting support from Republicans?  The answer is the upcoming mid-term elections.  Republicans are looking forward to winning the Senate in November and don’t want to take any political stand that risks that possibility.  They also want to take advantage of the political opportunity offered by Obama to work with him on bipartisan legislation.  That makes it harder for Obama and the Democrats to attack them in the coming weeks for causing gridlock in Washington.

Polling in the last week has shown an increase in support for Obama’s action in Iraq and Syria.  For instance, YouGov poll showed that American support for air strikes against ISIS in Syria had gone from 42% to 53% after the president’s speech.  This is not the attitude of a war weary electorate.

Other polls show the same shift in opinion.  Three different polling groups now find majority support for Obama’s more aggressive strategy against ISIS: 62 percent per NBC, 64 percent per Reuters, and 53 percent per Pew, which includes 60 percent support among Democrats and 64 percent support among Republicans. The Pew poll now also shows voters evenly divided at 41 percent on whether Obama’s strategy goes too far or not far enough.  A month ago, that split was 51/32. Likewise, Reuters notes that 53 percent of the public say they’ll support the mission even if it takes two to three years, as the White House has estimated.

Although Obama still remains unpopular, this shift has made Republicans leery about opposing the president on this issue especially since Republican voters are more likely to support a more aggressive strategy against ISIS.

This leaves the Republican leadership in a tough position.  Either they can oppose the president’s ISIS strategy, which most military experts think is flawed and take the political risk of fighting the plan and end up giving Obama the political ammunition of attacking Republicans for leading a “do nothing” Congress. Or they can support Obama in this one vote.   Clearly House Speaker Boehner has decided to take the political option in hopes of winning the Senate in November.  Just like a military leader, Boehner has decided to only fight the political battles he can win.

That’s not to say that the political battle is over.  Obama has won the initial battle for funding until December, but as Commander-in-Chief, he still responsible for executing the strategy.  Republicans have reluctantly given him what he wants, but they have expressed enough reservations about the strategy that they will have ammunition if the strategy backfires.  And, if he succeeds, they can take part of the credit, while the Democrats who failed to back Obama will have to take the brunt of criticism.

The Battle for the US Senate

Republican strategy is clearly revolving around gaining control of the US Senate in November.

Although polls continue to shift, the Republicans clearly have a better than average chance to take the Senate by winning at least six seats.  First, mid-term elections in the 6th year of a sitting president usually go strongly against the party that controls the White House.  That is especially true when the president is as unpopular as Obama currently is.

Second, the Democrats are fighting to hold seats that they won in their landslide year of 2008, when Obama won.  Eight of the Democratic seats being contested are in states that voted for Republican Romney two years ago.  None of the Republican seats are in Democratic states.  Polls show Republicans holding at least nominal leads in eight contests for Democrat-held seats, while retaining all Republican seats.

Although some major pro-Democratic media outlets have indicated that Democrats are rebounding in some Senate races, professional political watchers still insist that the Republicans have the advantage.

First, it’s important to remember that American voters usually don’t engage in politics until after Labor Day.  That means that most movement in the polls comes in the last month – and that usually goes in the favor of the party out of power in mid-term elections.  For instance, in late September of 2010, Republicans held a three-point lead on the generic ballot in Real Clear Politics’ poll averaging. By Election Day, that gap had widened to nine-plus points.  The GOP ended up winning the election by about seven points.

At this point in time, there is still a large undecided voter population that historically breaks depending on how they view the performance of the president.  Currently, vulnerable Democratic senators are collecting nearly all of those voters who support Obama.  The undecided voters are overwhelmingly opposed to Obama and his policies.  This means that they historically will vote Republican by a large margin.

An excellent example of how this works is in the Iowa senate race that pits Democrat Braley against Republican Ernst.  The race had been very tight up to now, but a newly released poll by Quinnipiac show that Ernst had jumped ahead 50% to 44%.  The movement had been by previously undecided voters, who are upset with Obama and are breaking for the Republican candidate.

Another example is in Colorado where Democratic Senator Udall, who comes from one of the most successful Democratic families in the American West, has fallen behind in a state that voted for Obama.  The survey shows Udall at 42%, Republican challenger Cory Gardner at 43% in what is essentially a tie.  By 2-1 margin, 37%-19%, those surveyed say they think of their vote for Congress as a vote against Obama, not for him.

For Udall, the most frequent specific responses by those surveyed were that Udall was: “Obama follower/puppet,” “liberal” and “dishonest/untrustworthy.” His job-approval rating is 42% approve, 49% disapprove. His favorable-unfavorable rating is 43%-44%.

If undecided voters are upset with Obama and tending to break for the Republican in the generally Democratic states of Colorado and Iowa that means any Democratic Senator who is polling less than 50% is in trouble.

This is why Democrats are very worried.  Even supposedly safe seats in Democratic states like Minnesota, Delaware, and New Jersey have their incumbent Senator under 50%, which means a Republican landslide could potentially defeat them.

Meantime, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released on September 17th, Republicans hold a six-point lead on the Congressional ballot among likely voters, winning independents by nine points and holding a double-digit enthusiasm advantage. Those are all very significant numbers.  The GOP holds substantial voter preference edges on the economy (+11), terrorism (+21) and foreign policy (+12), while pulling even with Democrats on immigration and largely erasing Democrats’ wide, decades-long lead on healthcare.  Obama’s overall approval rating is sagging at 40 percent, underwater by double-digits.  He’s fallen to new lows in this poll on his handling of terrorism (41 percent approval) — formerly a bright spot amidst otherwise ugly numbers — and foreign policy (34 percent).

This brings us back to the decision by the congressional Republican leadership to go along with Obama’s ISIS strategy.  Voters want a more vigorous response to ISIS and trust the Republicans more.  At the same time, by supporting Obama’s Syrian “ moderate opposition” strategy, despite their reservations, they show themselves to be willing to work on bipartisan legislation with the president, which undermines one of Obama’s campaign talking points that the Republican Congress is a “do nothing” Congress.

In the end, unless there is a major Republican landslide that overwhelms several Democratic senators in Democratic states, the chances are that the Republicans will probably gain 7 or 8 Senate seats and reclaim control of the Senate.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Why Obama’s War on ISIL Won’t Hold Its Popularity

By A. Trevor Thrall

Cato Institute

September 17, 2014

National Interest

With the prime-time announcement of his campaign to destroy ISIL, President Obama is staking his presidency in a place he certainly never intended. Obama launches his campaign with what appears to be a reasonable level of public support. A September CNN/ORC poll found that roughly 75 percent of the public supports airstrikes against ISIL, a figure that may climb a bit higher in the wake of Obama’s address to the nation on September 10. This support compares relatively favorably with most U.S. military interventions of the past (see Gallup’s list of public support by major intervention here), closer to initial levels of support for Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, than to the invasion of Panama or the Kosovo air war.  Despite the apparently strong initial wave of support for confronting ISIL, however, Obama’s campaign will almost certainly become a very unpopular affair. This will occur despite his best efforts to frame the campaign as part of the war against terrorism, despite his strategy to maintain support by avoiding the use of ground troops and U.S. casualties, and it will happen regardless of how much damage the United States manages to inflict on ISIL.

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The Campaign Against the Islamic State.  Key Issues and Demands for Action from the Administration and Congress

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 16, 2014

Commentary

If there is any one lesson of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, it is that it is far easier to begin a conflict than to manage it well and achieve a meaningful form of victory. The President’s announcement of a strategy for seeking to degrade and destroy the Islamic State — and de facto Congressional acceptance of the need to fight a new conflict — has now committed the United States to a high risk, low-level war of indefinite duration.  Winning that war will require persistence, resources, effective planning and management, and sustained domestic and international political support. The Obama Administration now needs to show that it will both commit the necessary resources, and manage them effectively. It needs to show that it is doing its best to address the key risks it has accepted in going to war.  It needs to provide an honest picture of the course of the fighting and its impact on the stability and security of the region.

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Five Hidden Risks of U.S. Action Against the Islamic State

By Frederic Wehrey

Carnegie Endowment

September 11, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama’s four-pronged strategy of air strikes, support to local proxies, defense against the Islamic State’s attacks through intelligence and counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance leaves many unanswered questions. It’s hardly a clear articulation of the sort of long-term, holistic strategy needed to deny the Islamic State the fertile ground it needs to thrive. The approach is fraught with trade-offs, risks, and hidden costs that need to be addressed.

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Qatar and the Recalibration of Power in the Gulf

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

September 11, 2014

Long a minor regional actor in the shadow of Saudi Arabia, Qatar wants to increase its influence. But Doha’s expansionist foreign policy has been plagued by miscalculations, domestic challenges, and international pressure—all issues connected to Doha’s relationship with Riyadh. As a result of these setbacks, Qatar’s regional role has diminished, and for the foreseeable future, its external influence is likely to remain under the direction of Saudi Arabia.  Qatar’s Strategic Miscalculations: Qatar’s desire to chart an independent path led it into confrontation with Saudi Arabia, particularly in Egypt and Syria. This has damaged both countries’ external power and increased instability in the Middle East.

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No Place for Iran in ISIS Plans

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy

September 17, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry’s awkward denial that the United States has not proposed “coordinating with Iran” against ISIS suggests the Obama administration did indeed propose this and is engaged in damage control after its efforts were revealed by Iranian officials.  I wrote in a Sept. 3 Newsmax article that while the U.S. should attack ISIS — also known as ISIL and the Islamic State — in Syria even though this will help keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, the United States must resist the temptation to draw Iran further into the crises in Iraq and Syria. I believe this because Iran bears significant responsibility for the outbreak of sectarian tensions in Iraq since 2011 due to its strong support for the Nouri al-Maliki government and by its training of Shiite militias that have massacred Iraqi Sunnis.  An increased Iranian presence in Iraq would alienate Iraqi Sunnis and make it more difficult to bring them back into the political process.

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Turkey’s Turn Toward the EU: Superficial or Real?

By Diba Nigar Göksel

German Marshall Fund

September 12, 2014

The Transatlantic Trends 2014 survey reflects a swell of support for the EU in Turkish society. Meanwhile, in the last days of August, the top echelon of Ankara’s ruling party also made more positive statements about Turkey’s commitment to EU accession than

they had in years. It seems the EU is making a comeback in Turkey.  The reasons why will be decisive in whether Ankara merely takes cosmetic steps toward reforms, or accepts EU-style checks and balances. On the other hand, given the rise of Turkoskepticism in Europe, whether Turkey will be able to make a comeback in EU

is an open question.

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ISIL: A Well-Oiled Machine

By Rachel Rizzo

Center for a New American Security

September 12, 2014

The speed at which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has swept through and taken control of parts of Syria and Northern Iraq is both shocking and unexpected.  Thought to number between 30,000 and 50,000 fighters, ISIL has proven that it not only has the wherewithal to control huge swaths of territory, but that it is also a self-sufficient, financially viable entity with over $2 billion in assets. The group is funded through various illicit income-generating activities, and supplied from the military bases in Iraq and Syria from which they have looted weapons and equipment. However, the possibility of controlling and exploiting key oil fields is what truly has the ability to tip the financial scale further in ISIL’s favor. One facet of the long-term U.S. strategy to counter ISIL laid out by President Obama is to “redouble our efforts to cut off its funding.” Part of this strategy must be ensuring that they do not gain control of, and financially exploit, additional Iraqi or Syrian oil fields.

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Week of September 13th, 2014

Executive Summary

 

ISIS was clearly the issue of the week at the Washington think tank community looked forward to Obama’s Wednesday evening address to the nation on ISIS.  Needless to say, much of the commentary was on this subject and what each think tank thought was the most important strategy to pursue.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the speech and notes that it was more political than a cohesive plan to destroy ISIS.  Not only did the White House not consult many key allies before the speech, it was vague in specifics.  And, the specifics mentioned are unlikely to defeat ISIS by themselves.  Consequently, the speech must be seen as an attempt to fight the falling approval numbers of the president in the run up to the mid-term elections in 7 weeks.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

American Enterprise Institute scholars react to Obama’s speech – mostly negatively.  One scholar, Michael Rubin noted, “Nor does Obama realize that pinprick strikes are never enough. My colleague Katie Zimmerman has talked about the fallacy of the Yemen model. Somalia, too, is no example. That country is stabilizing not because of limited airstrikes, but rather because the African Union occupied the country to fight Al-Shabaab where they ate and slept.  It’s good to have a strategy. But national security should never be sacrificed upon the altar of diplomatic whimsy, political correctness, or twisted history.”

The Carnegie Endowment notes that defeating ISIS will require cooperation between Saudi Arabia.  In noting the difficulties, they say, “However, despite sharing animosity toward the Islamic State with Iran, Saudi Arabia is still concerned about what would happen if the group were eradicated as the situation in Iraq and Syria currently stands. In Syria, the Assad regime is stronger than the moderate opposition, while Iraq still has not formed a national unity government. The eradication of the Islamic State without alternatives to the Assad regime and to a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad would mean the survival of Iran’s two allies in those countries. The continuation of the political status quo in Syria and Iraq would consolidate Iran’s influence in the region.”

The Brookings Institution looks at the inconsistencies of Obama’s policy towards ISIS over the last year.  They suggest that Obama be clear on the threat posed by ISIS and realistic about the difficulty of destroying them, and explain how to prevent similar groups from emerging in the aftermath of their defeat.

The CSIS looks at the factors that govern and limit Obama’s actions against ISIS.  “They note, “Limited U.S. airpower may be able to contain the Islamic State, but it will take a far larger air campaign to defeat it in Iraq and a campaign that strikes targets in Syria to have any chance of reducing the Islamic State back to a small extremist faction with only limited support. In practice, air power must be extended well beyond targeting forward IS combat elements and strike at the entire leadership, military forces, key cadres, and key strategic political and economic centers of IS operations. This will, however, take time if the United States is to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage. It will require creating an extremely sophisticated intelligence, targeting, and damage assessment capability. And, it can only succeed even in Iraq if the Iraqi government and Iraqi forces make the previous kinds of reform.”

The Center for American Progress looks at strategies for defeating ISIS.  Amongst their many suggestions, they mention, “A successful U.S. strategy will require reinvigorated support for Syrian opposition forces to establish a third way that is opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on one side and ISIS on the other. This reinvigorated support should include the $500 million of additional assistance that President Obama proposed in June. With 10 nations agreeing to work together against ISIS during the NATO summit in Wales and the Arab League announcing a joint commitment to fight ISIS, the foundation for such international cooperation is taking shape. These countries—including the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—should match their commitment on paper with financial and material resources to complement the resources committed by the United States in the fight against ISIS.”

The Cato Institute argues for a limited strategy to defeat ISIS.  They conclude, “Simply put, a full-scale ground war with U.S. troops doing most of the fighting isn’t necessary. ISIS currently presents, at worst, a minor and manageable threat to U.S. security. The group has many enemies, and they are growing more determined to resist it by the day. If ISIS expands the territory under its control, it will acquire even more enemies. If it attempts to consolidate control in the territory it already has, it will engender resistance and opposition, as al Qaeda did in western Iraq in 2006.  There is a military mission available—targeted air strikes against ISIS extremists, and military assistance to Kurdish and Iraqi forces taking the fight to them on the ground—that can degrade ISIS’s capabilities, and complicate its now very limited ability to attack the United States. The president should focus upon that narrow mission, and resist the calls to launch the U.S. military on yet another quixotic nation-building crusade in the Middle East.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at ISIS’s sophisticated electronic media outreach.  They note, “gruesome videos are interspersed with those explaining that IS is governing for the benefit of Muslims in the areas that it controls. Scenes of food distribution, medical care, giving of alms, and devout mass prayer are common, and produced in a style reminiscent of USAID and Peace Corps documentaries extolling the virtues of United States foreign aid programs. These videos, narrated and subtitled in English, are aimed at Western professionals, and explain that it is now a duty of Muslims to emigrate to the IS to care for its people and to help build and expand the new Caliphate, which the leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed on June 29, 2014. A sister publication, “IS Report” features English language articles about how the IS has established an office of Consumer Protection, and how it operates seminars to train imams in the Wahabi doctrines of Shaikh Ali Al-Khudair, a Saudi cleric famous for his fatwa in 2001 calling on his followers to rejoice in the 9/11 attacks. IS Report also features photos of executions for violation of Islamic law, battlefield victories, and of new recruits from around the world.”

The German Marshall Fund talks about the anti-immigrant attitude in Turkey.  As immigrants in Turkey became more visible, so did a previously hidden problem: the intolerance of Turkish citizens toward immigrants. Several surveys reveal that Turkish citizens have a less than welcoming attitude regarding immigrants, and this attitude is often fanned by politicians and the media. This policy brief explains the reasons for this and recommends actions to reverse this trend.

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Obama Attempts to Manage ISIS Crisis

Obama’s speech addressing ISIS on Wednesday wasn’t an attempt to defeat ISIS and its threat to the Middle East as much as it was political and an attempt to manage domestic political considerations.  In fact, one column on the speech was titled, “Obama Declares War on His Bad Poll Numbers.”

After first calling ISIS a junior varsity team and then blithely telling reporters that he had no strategy to handle ISIS, Obama has seen his ratings plummet.  A Fox News poll released the day after the speech showed that voters don’t think Obama can handle foreign policy. Only 34 percent of those surveyed approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy and 59 percent think the U.S. is less respected today than when Obama took office. Among independents, key voting groups that will swing this year’s midterm election, a full 67 percent feel the U.S. is less respected. Even 35 percent of Democrats now agree the U.S. has lost respect, compared with just 20 percent who think the U.S. is more respected.

Even worse for Obama, an increasing number of voters no longer take him seriously on foreign policy. An astonishing 55 percent of voters say they feel embarrassed that Obama hasn’t articulated a strategy to combat ISIS until now.  A Gallup poll also released on Thursday showed that only 32 percent of Americans think that Obama and the Democrats can protect America from terrorist and military threats.  55 percent think the Republicans can do a better job.

These aren’t numbers that Obama wants to see just weeks before the mid term elections that could give control of the Senate to the Republicans.

It was this political reality that forced Obama to address ISIS rather than his desire to truly defeat it.  In fact, the need for political damage control was most obvious as Obama repeatedly used the word, “strategy” in his speech in order to follow up his statement two weeks ago that, “We don’t have a strategy yet” to confront ISIS in Syria.

The domestic aspect of the speech was quickly highlighted in the hours following the speech, when Britain, Germany, and Turkey indicated that they wouldn’t participate.  In fact, Germany indicated it wasn’t even consulted.  German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a news conference in Berlin Thursday that Germany has not been asked to take part in the air strikes and would not be participating. “To be quite clear, we have not been asked to do so and neither will we do so,” Steinmeier said.

If the speech had been a well thought out attempt to rally international support to stop ISIS, these allies would have been consulted beforehand and been “onboard” before the speech was made.  By not consulting them, the White House clearly showed that the speech was mainly for domestic political consumption.

The speech itself was broad in tone and lacking in details.  Obama said ISIS poses a threat to Iraq, Syria and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities.  “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States,” he said. “While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

“I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve.”

The president announced “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” to “degrade, and ultimately destroy,” ISIS.  “First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists,” he said. “Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense…Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.”

Obama also pledged the U.S. would continue to draw on counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIS attacks by cutting off its funding, improving intelligence, strengthening U.S. defenses and stemming the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.  “And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort,” he added.

Lastly, Obama said the U.S. would provide humanitarian aid to civilians, including Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities who have been driven from their homes.

Will the Obama Strategy Work?

One way to judge the potential for success is to look at the reaction by America’s NATO allies.  That alone should cause worry as Britain, Germany, and Turkey have already said they will not participate in the bombing of Syria.  This indicates that contrary to the implications in the speech about a broad coalition, many nations are leery about the Obama strategy.

One problem was the lack of details on defeating ISIS and the limited effort being made by the US.  Obama did not announce any new actions, beyond sending fewer than 500 military members to Iraq, and repeated request for Congress to fund training of Syrian opposition forces. He said “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria,” but cautioned that “it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.”

Obama insisted that this limited involvement in the region would work and gave the examples of Somalia and Yemen as proof that this strategy would bear fruit.  The problem is that these two countries are not the best examples of America’s victory over terrorism.

Admittedly, the US has had some successes in Yemen and Somalia while limiting the monetary cost and not exposing Americans to combat situations.  However, these are not overwhelming successes that imply a future victory against ISIS.

America has successfully used drones to kill many terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, but hasn’t destroyed or even significantly degraded terrorist capabilities of the key groups in either country.  In addition, both countries are almost as unstable as they were five years ago.  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remains a terrorist threat. Its leader, Nasser al Wahayshi, became al Qaeda’s general manager in August 2013, in fact. Its threats caused the closure of over 20 U.S. diplomatic posts across the Middle East and North Africa at that time. Its bomb maker, Ibrahim al Asiri, was behind a threat to U.S. airlines just over six months ago. AQAP is still trying to kill Americans and continues to probe U.S. security for a chance to do so.

 

It’s hard to call that success.

In the meantime, American drone attacks that have killed civilians have cost the US dearly in the region.

Another problem with the Obama strategy is the overreliance on air power and the unwillingness to commit forces to the ground war.

It has been a military axiom since World War Two that despite modern technology like missiles, aircraft, and precision targeting, it is still the soldier who must occupy and hold the ground.  By relying on surgical air strikes, Obama is forced to rely upon frequently untrained and potentially unreliable forces to occupy the ground in Iraq and Syria.  Admittedly, nearly 500 American Special forces soldiers will go into the area to train Kurds and other militia members, but those trainees will not be ready for combat operations for many months.

The other problem with the military aspect of the new Obama strategy is that he insists on treating ISIS like a terrorist cell instead of a quasi-nation.  ISIS controls and governs enormous territory in Iraq and Syria.  It has a conventional army that though lightly armed compared to traditional Western armies, is supported by armored vehicles and has the potential to field tanks and even some military aircraft.  It has combat experience – ranging from guerrilla warfare to conventional set piece tactics.  It has also fought and defeated several regular military units from Iraq, Syria, and Kurdistan.

Not only is ISIS not a terrorist organization, its goals are more akin to those of a nation state than a group of terrorists.  ISIS has stated that it wants to conquer the territory of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan,” Israel”, and the Palestinian Territories.  This means it needs to be attacked like a country rather than a terrorist cell.

This is something that the American people understand.  According to the Fox News poll, Obama’s strategy to treat ISIS like a large terrorist organization and to combat the group using air power and surrogate forces on the ground generates some skepticism. “By nearly two-to-one, voters think it will take boots on the ground to defeat ISIS (51 percent) rather than airstrikes alone,” reports Fox News pollster Dana Blanton.

This brings us back to the original purpose of the speech – to stop Obama’s plummeting popularity.

In order for the speech to reverse Obama’s foreign policy weaknesses, he must be perceived as being serious and taking a course that will solve the problem.  However, American voters clearly think that defeating ISIS will require more action by the US than Obama is willing to take.  By that standard alone, the speech will be considered a failure.

Obama is clearly out of his depth when dealing with ISIS.  Although warned about its threat over a year ago, he ignored the problem and downplayed it when questioned about it.  He has consistently refused to take the advice of experts on dealing with the radical Islamic threat posed by the unrest in Syria and Iraq.  His actions up to this point have been purely for domestic political consumption rather than national or international security concerns.

This speech is merely the latest attempt to politically neutralize an international threat that threatens to shift the US Senate into Republican hands.

Unless ISIS starts to collapse from internal forces, the course set out by Obama this week will not guarantee their defeat.  In the end, Obama’s war on ISIS and his bad poll numbers will both be failures.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Nation Building Isn’t Needed to Fight ISIS

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

September 10, 2014

In his speech to the American people tonight, President Obama aims to build support for a protracted military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  It doesn’t have to be a hard sell. A majority of Americans support a military response—though not U.S. troops on the ground. Very few are content with allowing ISIS to spread its influence with impunity, especially after the brutal killing of the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The group has effectively declared itself an enemy of the United States, and there is growing support for action against the group before it even attempts an attack on the U.S. homeland (something that it appears only to be aspiring to, as opposed to actively planning for).

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Key Factors Shaping the President’s Islamic State Speech

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 9, 2014

Commentary

There are several critical aspects of the U.S. strategy in Iraq that the President may not be able to address in full. They will, however, be critical to what the United States can and cannot do in the future.  The United States Already Has a Strategy.  The real world context is important. The President is now trapped to some extent by his previous misstatement about the United States not having a strategy. Anyone who looks seriously at the timeline of U.S. action will see he is now formally announcing a strategy that the United States not only had already developed in July, but partly begun to implement after the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) first made major gains back in December 2013. At the same time, there are many good reasons the President needs to be cautious about what he says and not speak too openly about the details.

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Obama’s ISIS speech: AEI scholars react

American Enterprise Institute

September 11, 2014

Let’s get one thing clear: it’s not the job of the president of the United States to determine what Islam is or is not, what Christianity is or is not, and what Judaism is or is not. Religion is what its practitioners believe it to be. That President Obama begins with a politically correct paean and only addresses the Islamic State’s ideology as a passing thought later on undercuts the seriousness of a very good speech, one that calls for the Islamic State’s defeat without any artificial timeline and recognizes that a return to Bashar Assad’s rule is no option.  The problem lies with Obama’s inability to separate theory from reality. Alliances may sound good on paper, but they can also be an Achilles’ heel: Turkey has become Pakistan on the Med, saying one thing to our diplomats while coddling the adversaries we fight behind our backs. Most jihadis transit Turkey and cross the Turkish border for the cost of a $40 bribe. Trust Saudi Arabia with running counter radicalization programs? That’s like having Bernie Madoff teach accounting.

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Defeating the Islamic State Requires a Saudi-Iranian Compromise

By Lina Khatib

Carnegie Endowment

September 3, 2014

Airstrikes are intensifying on areas of Iraq held by the militant Islamic State, and the group has beheaded a second American hostage. But clear indications of a strategy to tackle the escalating Islamic State problem are hard to find. Indeed, in a statement in late August, U.S. President Barack Obama affirmed that the United States did not yet have a strategy to combat this militant threat.  The president did, however, single out further cooperation with “Sunni partners” against the Islamic State. Such regional partnerships are necessary, but putting such an emphasis on Sunni players misses a crucial component without which no strategy against the Islamic State will succeed: finding a way to appease the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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The Islamic State’s Electronic Outreach

By Lawrence Husick

Foreign Policy Research Institute

September 2014

Over the past several months the world has witnessed a new media creation of jihadis – al Hayat (“life”) Media Center (not to be confused with the liberal pan-Arab newspaper of the same name) – and has seen a new level of sophistication in messaging and brutality in content, and of effectiveness in communication. In print through the glossy online magazine “Dabiq” and on the Internet in video bearing the al Hayat brand, the victories of the new mujahideen (holy fighters) of the “Islamic State” and their efforts to “purify” dar al Islam (the lands of Islam) are glorified and chronicled. These media efforts have effectively silenced most other jihadi channels, and have drowned out all efforts of the West to counter this Internet onslaught.

Read more

 

 

Unwanted, Unwelcome: Anti-Immigration Attitudes in Turkey

By Emre Erdogan

German Marshall Fund

September 10, 2014

Until the spread of the Arab Spring and the conflict in Syria, Turkey was known as a “sending” country in terms of international migration. When it was founded in 1924, around 60 percent of the citizens of the young Turkish republic were either first or second-generation immigrants from the former Ottoman realms.  More recently, according to available statistics, only 2 percent of Turkey’s population immediately before the Arab Spring consisted of immigrants and the majority of those were from ex-Ottoman territories, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria.  Immigrants became visible in Turkey when the direction of migration flow changed.

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Obama Changed His Mind about Syria, Now He Needs to Explain Why

By William McCants

Brookings Institution

September 10, 2014

A year ago today, President Obama addressed the American public. In his speech, the president explained why the United States should attack Syria to punish its ruler for ignoring Obama’s warning not to use chemical weapons. But a war-weary American public balked and the president ultimately decided against military action. Today, the president is again going to argue for military action inside Syria and this time the American public supports him. But instead of initiating attacks on a sovereign state, we contemplate extending a weeks-old war against an insurgent pretender to statehood.  The Islamic State has been around for a while and, despite sharing the global jihadi ideology that calls for the destruction of the United States, the president and the American public were not too worried about it previously. What changed the president’s calculations and those of the public are the Islamic State’s actions this summer. The group took over large swathes of territory in Iraq, prompting the president to launch airstrikes to halt their advance on the capital of our allies in Baghdad. When the group responded by beheading American journalists, American support for military action against them soared.

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Defeating ISIS: An Integrated Strategy to Advance Middle East Stability

By Brian Katulis, Hardin Lang, and Vikram Singh

Center for American Progress

September 10, 2014

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, have been an important step to contain the rise of the extremist group, respond to immediate threats to U.S. citizens in Iraq, and prevent possible acts of genocide. These airstrikes enabled Iraqis to resist ISIS and bought time for the Iraqi government to begin building a more inclusive administration under a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.* But as the Center for American Progress noted in a June report, U.S. military action needs to be just one part of a long-term multinational political and security strategy in the region.  The new strategy should aim to contain and degrade ISIS and enable regional partners to continue to build the tools needed to defeat ISIS’s movement with international support. This report outlines actions to advance three core strategic goals:

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Week of September 5th, 2014

Executive Summary

 

The American summer is officially over and the pace of think tank publications should probably pick up.

Needless to say, the upcoming NATO summit in Wales was at the forefront of conversation, especially given the unrest in the Ukraine and the ISIS murder of another journalist.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the NATO summit and the proposed rapid reaction force that will be authorized by the NATO members.  Although it will be designed to move into a theater of operations within 48 hours, we ask if it is a substantial military force or more a political Band-Aid.  In order to answer that, we look at how it will be composed and what military history tells us about light, highly mobile forces in combat.  We find this month’s 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden particularly instructive.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

 

The Heritage Foundation looks at the key issues surrounding the NATO summit this week in Wales.  One of the recommendations is that the alliance< “get back to basics.”  They note, “NATO’s mission in 1949 and throughout the Cold War was to deter and (if required) defeat the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, to protect the territorial integrity of its members, and to stop the spread of communism in Europe. Although the nature of the threat might have changed, the threat itself has not gone away. NATO does not have to be everywhere in the world doing everything all the time, but it does have to be capable of defending its members’ territorial integrity. The 1949 North Atlantic Treaty is clear that NATO’s area of responsibility is “in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.” The U.S. must use the Summit as an opportunity to focus on collective defense, encourage Europeans to spend more on their militaries, and to keep NATO’s “open-door” policy alive.”

The CSIS notes that the United States does not have good or quick options in dealing with the Islamic State.  It also notes that they effort must go beyond what the US appears willing to do now by saying, “The United States needs to use airpower, weapons transfer, forward military advisors, its full range of intelligence and targeting assets, and the careful allocation of special forces and covert operations to attack the key networks, centers, foreign volunteers, and physical assets of the Islamic state with sufficient precision to avoid striking at the Sunnis who must rejoin the Iraqi government and turn against the Islamic State. But, the ideological, political, and economic aspects of the campaign are at least as critical.  The United States must work with the Iraqi government and with its Arab allies to create the political and economic conditions that will bring Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds back into an effective government and give then real incentives to turn on the Islamic State.”

The Institute for the Study of War says the American air attacks haven’t stalled ISIS progress.  They note, “ISIS operations in Syria have centered on five main objectives: control of the Euphrates River Valley; seizure of critical oil infrastructure; freedom of maneuver through Kurdish areas of Syria; expulsion of remaining regime forces from bases in Eastern Syria; and seizure of critical supply lines along the Turkish border. ISIS thereby seeks to merge its Iraq and Syria fronts by consolidating lines of communication between the two. ISIS has continued to pursue these objectives in Syria despite U.S. airstrikes in Northern Iraq and the Syrian regime’s sustained air strikes in North-Eastern Syria.”

The Washington Institute looks at the threat ISIS poses to Lebanon.  They note, “It is unlikely that Lebanon’s Sunnis and their leaders will submit to ISIS out of true ideological conviction, but practical needs might overshadow ideology. Shortages in supplies and ammunition have pushed many Syrian rebels to switch allegiances, and others have said that their desperation on the battlefield might force them to join ISIS. Driven by despair and sectarian violence, some of Lebanon’s Sunnis might soon succumb to a similar trend. If Lebanon continues to disenfranchise Sunnis, ISIS will repeat Hezbollah’s approach to the Lebanese Shiites. It will take advantage of the absence of the Lebanese state and provide armed protection and a wide array of social services to some Sunnis in exchange for their obedience. In short, Lebanon is in grave danger of becoming the next victim of ISIS, and the clashes in Arsal were just a taste of things to come.”

The Cato Institute criticizes Washington for praising Egypt’s military run government.  They conclude, “Repression is unlikely to deliver stability.  Terrorism may be seen by more than jihadists as the only way to challenge a regime which bars peaceful dissent.  Mubarak’s jails helped turn Brotherhood member Ayman al-Zawahiri into al-Qaeda’s leader. There isn’t much the U.S. can do to change Cairo.  But the Obama administration could stop intervening constantly and maladroitly.  In fact, Washington’s influence is extremely limited…The U.S. should work with Cairo on issues of shared interest but otherwise maintain substantial distance.  In particular, the administration should stop using foreign aid to bribe Egypt’s generals.  They don’t have to be paid to keep the peace and shouldn’t be paid for anything else. Egypt appears likely to end up without liberty or stability.  Instead of pretending to be in control, Washington should step back from a crisis which it cannot resolve.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the air strikes carried out by Egypt and the UAE against targets in Libya.  They note, “Such a strategy is ultimately shortsighted. The airstrikes were not enough to stop Islamist-oriented Misratan forces from taking over the Tripoli airport, which had previously been controlled by Zintani militias aligned with Hifter. And no amount of Egyptian support—military or otherwise—will result in a complete diminishing of the Islamist threat to el-Sisi’s satisfaction.”

In the past, the Monitor Analysis has looked at the vulnerability of America’s electrical power grid.  Now, according to the Center for Security Policy, it appears that ISIS may be considering a terrorist attack against the US to take advantage of that weakness.  “The Texas Department of Public Safety believes there is evidence that IS plans an imminent attack in this country…Among the targets national security professionals fear may now be in the jihadis’ crosshairs is America’s exceedingly vulnerable electric grid.” A panel discussion held at the National Press Club in Washington last Wednesday showed how a spate of recent attacks involving sabotage and destruction of property at various electric substations here and elsewhere could be leading indicators of the next 9/11 – one potentially vastly more destructive than the original which occurred thirteen years ago next week.

The CSIS observes that the US lacks a strategic view for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.  They note, “While the US does want to see peaceful and stable relations between Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan countries, it has little desire to maintain a major role in the region or make further major expenditures in aid. It does see India as a potential counterweight to China, but has not seen its efforts to build closer strategic relations produce major results or benefits. Accordingly, the US is focusing its “rebalancing to Asia” on Pacific states, and less on the Indian Ocean. To paraphrase a term from the US film “Wargames,” the best way for the US to win any new Great Game in Central and South Asia is not to play.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Obama and NATO Respond to Russia

 

Will NATO make the same mistake that the Allies did 70 years ago?

The convergences of a NATO summit meeting in Wales and renewed hostilities between Russia and the Ukraine have forced both Obama and NATO to address the deteriorating security situation in Eastern Europe and Russia’s aggressive preventive defense posture.  It has also forced both Obama and Cameron to face the growing issue of ISIS, although no specific action was mentioned.

The week of action began for Obama on Wednesday when he arrived in Estonia to talk to the leaders of the three Baltic nations, who are all members of NATO.  In a speech delivered there, he pledged additional military aircraft to patrol the Baltic region in addition to more frequent stationing of American troops on the ground.

“The defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London,” Obama said, invoking the founding principle of collective defense that undergirds NATO. “An attack on one is an attack on all, and so if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, ‘Who’ll come to help?’ you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America.”

“We’ll be here for Estonia. We’ll be here for Latvia. We’ll be here for Lithuania,” Obama said. “You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.”

Obama also addressed the situation in the Ukraine.  “It is a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent European nation,” Obama said. “It challenges that most basic of principles of our international system — that borders cannot be redrawn at the barrel of a gun; that nations have the right to determine their own future.”

The US also announced a military exercise, Rapid Trident, to take place in the next few weeks as a show of support for Eastern NATO nations and the Ukraine.  The annual exercise takes place in Poland, near its border with the Ukraine.  The United States European Command (EUCOM) says the exercise will involve about 200 U.S. personnel as well as 1,100 others from Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Britain, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania and Spain.  It will focus on peacekeeping missions and will include command post drills, patrolling, and dealing with improvised explosive devices.

In addition to Rapid Trident, the United States is moving tanks and 600 troops to Poland and the Baltic states for joint maneuvers in October, replacing a more lightly armed force of paratroopers.

This wasn’t the only action to support beleaguered NATO nations in the east.  Several NATO nations declared that they would send forces to Eastern Europe to deter any Russian aggression.  France also announced that it was suspending delivery of two helicopter carriers to Russia.  The first one, the Vladivostok, was due to be delivered next month.  Although the helicopter carriers aren’t much of a threat to the Ukraine, they would be a problem to NATO nations with coastlines on the Black and Baltic seas.

However, the most important news that will come out of the NATO meeting will be the formation of a brigade sized rapid reaction force that can move into an area within 48 hours.  Stockpiles of heavy equipment will be stored in Eastern Europe for the reaction force to mate up with.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO Secretary-General, said on Monday: “This is a time of multiple crises on several fronts. To the east, Russia is intervening overtly in Ukraine; to the south we see growing instability, with fragile states, the rise [of] extremism, and sectarian strife. These crises can erupt with little warning, move at great speed and they all affect our security in different ways.  “We will develop a spearhead within our response force. This will require reception facilities in NATO territory, pre-positioned equipment and supplies, command and control and logistics experts. So this force can travel light, but strike hard if needed.”

NATO’s current rapid reaction force would take 5 days to arrive on scene and be able to remain on scene for up to 30 days without resupply.  The NATO Response Force has only been used 6 times (The 2004 Olympic Games, the Iraqi Elections, the 2011 Libyan civil war, humanitarian relief to Afghanistan, humanitarian relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and humanitarian relief in the earthquake disaster in Pakistan).

One of the criticisms of the force is that it fields very small land contingent.  In its first deployment for the Athens Olympics in 2004, of the 9,500 personnel, about 8,500 were airmen and sailors, and only 1,000 were ground troops. Its land component included a French paratroop battalion, a Greek airmobile company, and a Belgian commando company.

Another criticism of the rapid reaction force is that its divergent nationalities make it hard to smoothly coordinate.

So, the question is if the new, proposed NATO rapid reaction force will be a credible deterrent to Russia?

Ironically, the answer may lie in history and NATO ministers may want to look at events that happened 70 years ago this month in Belgium and Holland.  Operation Market Garden (September 17 – 25,, 1944) represented the largest use of airborne forces – the rapid reaction forces of World War II.  The result was the near destruction of the British First Airborne Division at Arnhem.

Rapid reaction forces traditionally have limited capabilities, as Allied commanders discovered in Operation Market Garden.  They are light infantry – usually delivered by air – that have to rely upon light weapons and have little mobility.  Their advantage lies in the training and quality of the airborne troops, which are traditionally higher than the average soldier.  Their immobility makes them a target for heavier units

Excellent examples of such a force are the American 82nd Airborne Division and the 75th Ranger Regiment – both of whom would undoubtedly be allocated to such a NATO force at some time.  Both units have the mission of having combat troops “Wheels Up” (en route by aircraft) within 18 hours of an order to move. Both units have the capability of “Forced Entry” into a territory to seize and secure key terrain, e.g. Drop Zone (DZ), airfield or airport, to accommodate follow on forces. A good example of this was Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. The Rangers were at the staging base in Barbados in less than 18 hours from notification followed by the 82nd Airborne Division.

But, is speed enough?  What would such a unit bring to a combat situation in Eastern Europe?

Although heavy equipment will be prepositioned in Eastern Europe, It’s very likely that these depots will be hit be Russian strikes before they can be mobilized.  In that case, NATO will have to rely upon what the force brings to the battlefield.

A situation in Eastern Europe may very well rely upon a forced entry into hostile or contested territory.  This is something the 82nd Division can do, but with limited ability to project power beyond a limited range.  The 82nd Division can land 2,000 paratroopers, armored vehicles, and 155mm howitzers over a three mile drop zone to seize and defend an airfield in order to allow reinforcements, including air mobile Stryker armored units, to land and fight their way to the objective.  However, the ability of the attack to reach its objective relies upon the reinforcements and the air superiority to allow them to land.

An example of this was seen by the 82nd Airborne in Operation Market Garden in 1944.  They had been assigned the mission of capturing the Nijmegen Bridge, but were stopped by a light German armored unit.  They didn’t achieve their objective until days later – then with the support of armored units from the ground units of the 30th Corps.  Even then, they took heavy casualties in a daylight assault across the Waal River in order to capture the northern end of the bridge.

Event proved worse for the British 1st Airborne Division.  They reached their objective, but lost their landing zone.  The result was that they ran out of ammunition and supplies and those who weren’t captured by the Germans were forced to retreat.  The story of Operation Market Garden was made into a movie titled, “A Bridge Too Far.”

So, what does this history lesson mean to a modern day NATO quick reaction force?  Rapid reaction forces are highly skilled, highly trained light infantry that may be very mobile going into battle, but are largely immobile once they land.  Man per man, they can outfight any unit, but they don’t have the logistics tail or heavy equipment to continue fighting for long, especially in heavy combat.

Operation Market Garden also highlighted the communication problems between units of different nationalities, even though the majority of the Market Garden forces were all English speaking British and Americans.  A poly-lingual NATO rapid reaction force will have even greater problems.

The success of such a rapid reaction unit will depend on how quickly it gets to the potential theater of operations.  A rapid reaction force that can move in days before any combat and link up with heavy equipment and a logistics chain can be a deterrent as its combat ability exceeds its numbers.

Should that force not enter the area of operations until just before combat, its ability is seriously degraded.  The ability of the unit to fight against superior numbers depends on supply support that probably will not be there.  Consequently, the unit may stop a Russian advance for a few days before running out of ammunition and supplies.

Should the rapid reaction force try to force an entry into hostile territory without adequate air cover, the lives of the 4,000 men would be wasted.

In reality, a NATO rapid reaction force is more of a political response than a sound military one.  Deterring Russian expansionism would be better served by permanently stationing smaller numbers of ground forces in Eastern Europe – forces that would have all their equipment and an established supply infrastructure.

Undoubtedly, Putin is aware of this.   While the uncertainty of a NATO force will cause him to pause, it will not stop him if he decides to act.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

2014 NATO Summit: Understanding the Key Issues

By Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis

Heritage Foundation

September 3, 2014

Issue Brief #4271

The 2014 NATO summit will be held this week in Wales. The last time the United Kingdom hosted the NATO summit was in 1990, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the Cold War was coming to a close, and the alliance was questioning its future role in the world. Today’s situation is not dissimilar. This will be the last summit before NATO ends its combat operations in Afghanistan and the first since Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula and brought instability to eastern Ukraine. The U.S. should use this opportunity to refocus the alliance on the core tenets of the original 1949 North Atlantic Treaty: collective security and territorial defense. In advance of the summit, The Heritage Foundation has published six Issue Briefs touching on important policy issues that President Obama and his NATO counterparts should address.

Read more

 

 

Washington Should Stop Praising Military Tyranny in Egypt

By Doug Bandow

Cato Institute

September 2, 2014

Egypt’s capital is crowded, busy, confused, and messy.  Security isn’t obvious, until you get close to a sensitive site, such as the Interior Ministry. The military has taken firm control, elevating its leader, Abdel Fata al-Sisi, to the presidency.  The army permitted dictator Hosni al-Mubarak’s ouster by street protests in 2011 because he planned to turn military rule into a family dynasty.  If ousted president Mohamed al-Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood been defeated in a future election, they would have been discredited peacefully.  However, the coup turned the movement’s members into angry victims.  In Cairo they took over Rab’a al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Squares, just as the anti-Mubarak and anti-Morsi crowds had done in Tahir Square.  The military government responded with a campaign of premeditated murder.  In a new report Human Rights Watch detailed the junta’s crimes.  From the beginning the military used deadly force with no concern for casualties.  In fact, the army began using live ammunition against protestors just two days after the coup.

Read more

 

 

The U.S. Strategic Vacuum in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 2, 2014

Strategy does not consist of concepts, good intentions, or public statements that will not be implemented in any meaningful form. It consists of the policies and actions that are already in place and practical plans that can – and are – actually implemented. Today, the US lacks a real world strategy for dealing with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. It has an unworkable and under-resourced Transition plan for Afghanistan, no meaningful public strategy for Pakistan, and little more than statements of good intentions for Central Asia as it withdraws the forces that supported the war in Afghanistan. This “strategy” of good intentions is not a strategy. Yes, it would be nice to resolve the tensions and risk of conflict between India and Pakistan. It would be nice to see Afghanistan emerge as a unified, peaceful, developing democracy. It would be nice to seek Pakistan put on the same path. It would be nice to see Central Asia develop as a region, and do so in ways that are peaceful, and involve the same progress towards democracy.

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Winning the Campaign Against the Islamic State: Key Strategic and Tactical Challenges

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 29, 2014

Commentary

The United States does not have good or quick options in dealing with the Islamic State, in part because it faces serious challenges in Iraq and Syria that cannot be separated from any efforts to weaken and destroy the Islamic State. This, however, is not a reason to stand and wait for better options that do not exist. The situation will not get better because the United States continues to dither.  The United States already has the elements of the strategy it needs and has begun to act in important ways, and if this action is taken more decisively, in an integrated form, and over enough time to be effective it may well be capable of both imploding the Islamic State and serving U.S. interests in both Iraq and Syria.

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Backdrop to an Intervention: Sources of Egyptian-Libyan Border Tension

By Frederic Wehrey, David Bishop, and Ala’ Alrababa’h

Carnegie Endowment

August 27, 2014

The airstrikes that Emirati forces with Egyptian support conducted against militia positions in Libya in late August 2014 were sparked by an anti-Islamist military campaign in eastern Libya.  The campaign, led by retired General Khalifa Hifter and a breakaway faction of the Libyan military, has profoundly altered Egyptian-Libyan relations. But the roots of Egyptian meddling in Libya run deeper than Hifter’s current operation.  Among Libya’s many afflictions, none is more threatening to Egypt than the two states’ nearly 700-mile-long shared border. Border policing in Libya has always been weak and ill-defined—even under Muammar Qaddafi—but it has suffered a catastrophic decline following the dictator’s overthrow in 2011. Oversight of borders has devolved to a constellation of eastern militias that are only tenuously connected to the government and that, in many cases, are colluding in the very smuggling they are meant to combat. The border is now North Africa’s eastern thoroughfare for weapons, fighters, illegal migrants, and illicit goods flowing into the Levant, with profoundly destabilizing effects on the Sinai, Gaza, and Syria.

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Will ISIS Strike America’s Achilles Heel?

By Frank Gaffney

Center for Security Policy

September 3, 2014

According to the indispensable government watchdog group Judicial Watch, the U.S. government has evidence that the jihadist Islamic State (IS) is present in Juarez, Mexico – across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.  Worse yet, the Texas Department of Public Safety believes there is evidence that IS plans an imminent attack in this country. In light of the latest murderous attack by this organization against an American journalist, Steven Sotloff, among other atrocities, such threats must be taken with the utmost seriousness.  Among the targets national security professionals fear may now be in the jihadis’ crosshairs is America’s exceedingly vulnerable electric grid. A panel discussion being held at the National Press Club in Washington Wednesday afternoon will show how a spate of recent attacks involving sabotage and destruction of property at various electric substations here and elsewhere could be leading indicators of the next 9/11 – one potentially vastly more destructive than the original which occurred thirteen years ago next week.

Read more

 

 

ISIS’s Offensive in Syria Shows that U.S. Airstrikes Have Not Blunted Momentum

By Isabel Nassief and Jennifer Cafarella

Institute for the Study of War

August 28, 2014

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters that U.S. airstrikes “have stalled ISIL’s momentum” after two weeks of bombarding ISIS positions in Northern Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has not stalled under U.S. pressure.  Rather, since the fall of Mosul and despite U.S. airstrikes, the insurgent army has continued a successful and spectacular offensive in Syria. Their gains nearly equal in scale the seizure of northern Iraq in June.  The insurgent army’s latest triumph is the capture of Assad’s Tabqa air base in Eastern Syria.  ISIS is one armed force fighting on multiple fronts in two theaters of operation, Iraq and Syria, across a border that the group does not recognize. It aims to establish and consolidate a cross-border Caliphate and has sought to fuse its lines of communication across the border region, while also seizing control of populated urban areas in both countries. ISIS has sought to expel armed forces of both states from positions within  ISIS’s desired “borders” in order to preserve the Caliphate’s territorial integrity.

Read more

 

 

Lebanon and the ISIS Threat

By David Daoud

Washington Institute

August 28, 2014

Fikra Forum

The advance of the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham (ISIS), currently known as the Islamic State, has focused the international spotlight on Syria and Iraq, as ISIS has taken control over huge swaths of the two countries. Although Lebanon has managed to stay off the international radar, instability and sectarianism leave the country equally vulnerable to this growing threat in the region.  The lack of national unity has been disastrous for Lebanon. The country has yet to overcome the damaging consequences of its bloody civil war (1975-1990), during which regional actors capitalized on Lebanon’s sectarian divides for their own political interests. For example, the Syrian army entered Lebanon under the initial pretext of aiding the Christian Maronites, and Iran took advantage of the disenfranchisement of Shiites and the Israeli occupation to create the Shiite militia Hezbollah. ISIS is very likely to exploit the Lebanese state’s failure to resolve the deep sectarian divides just like it did in Iraq and Syria.

Read more

 

 

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

 

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Week of August 31st, 2014

Executive Summary

 

Although ISIS was a major topic in the think tank community, Washington is slowing down as it heads into the Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer in the United States.

The Monitor Analysis looks at ISIS and its threat to cause damage in the United States through terrorist attacks.  Although the White House discounts the threat, hundreds of Americans are fighting with ISIS and many more are sympathizers.  In addition, there is a porous southern American border that is probably a potential entry of ISIS terrorists into the US right now.

We also look at ways the US could combat ISIS and noticed that an alliance with Syria’s Assad

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

 

As the Monitor Analysis notes, American airstrikes will not be enough to defeat ISIS.  This is confirmed by this report by the Institute for the Study of War.  In noting the continuing advance in Syria, they write, “ISIS operations in Syria have centered on five main objectives: control of the Euphrates River Valley; seizure of critical oil infrastructure; freedom of maneuver through Kurdish areas of Syria; expulsion of remaining regime forces from bases in Eastern Syria; and seizure of critical supply lines along the Turkish border. ISIS thereby seeks to merge its Iraq and Syria fronts by consolidating lines of communication between the two. ISIS has continued to pursue these objectives in Syria despite U.S. airstrikes in Northern Iraq and the Syrian regime’s sustained air strikes in North-Eastern Syria. ISIS’s campaign has proceeded in Syria along four main fronts: the Euphrates River Valley in Deir ez-Zour province; Hasaka province; North-Western Aleppo province; and the Syrian regime airbase in Raqqa province.”

The Washington Institute looks at the ISIS capture of Syria’s al-Tabqa Airfield earlier this week.  They warn, “Indeed, the regime failure in Raqqa and the continuing weaknesses of other rebel forces raise the question of who will stop ISIS in Syria. The regime may be more successful in defending areas it regards as more critical, but there are no guarantees. Its pattern of letting isolated positions fall is well established, and it has little in the way of reserves or mobile forces to restore failing situations or retake lost ground. It is also fighting on other fronts against various rebel units. As a result, it will most likely lose Deir al-Zour province and then have to face ISIS much closer to its heartland. The regime’s Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite allies are already committed to critical fronts with only limited success, so it is unclear how big of a difference they could make against ISIS while still heavily engaged against other groups.”

The Brookings Institution looks at the war with ISIS as a result of the cold war in the region.  They note, “In one sense, ISIS is an outgrowth of the new Middle East cold war. The root cause of this region-wide crisis is the failure of state authorities to be able to control their borders and their territories, to provide services to their populations and, ultimately, to forge a common political identity that could be the basis of political community. This collapse of normal state authority has not only occurred in large swathes of Syria and Iraq; it is also occurring in Lebanon, Yemen, Libya and perhaps even in parts of Egypt. In the absence of central government control, local forces emerge, based on sectarian, ethnic, tribal and regional identities, to fill the gap. The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Huthi movement in Yemen and the various sectarian militias in Syria and Iraq are, in their different ways, similar manifestations of the failure of centralized governance in these countries.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Egyptian government, its counterterrorism campaign and how it is alienating its citizens.  They note, “Among the various factors that are alienating many Egyptians and making them more susceptible to radicalization, several stand out: abuses related to the massive detentions since the summer 2013 coup against then president Mohamed Morsi, lack of accountability for killings, exclusion of most Islamists from politics and public life, and brutal methods used in the marginalized Sinai region. U.S. officials should pay close attention to these problems because Egypt may well be fueling terrorism at a faster pace than fighting it.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at Afghanistan and the upcoming NATO meeting is Wales in September.  Although NATO is keen to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Heritage foundation reminds them of Russian history in thea same country a few decades ago.  They conclude, “When Russia stopped funding Mohammad Najibullah’s regime in 1992, the Afghan air force was grounded due to lack of fuel, and Afghan army desertions increased by 60 percent due to lack of pay and food shortages. This established the chaotic conditions in Afghanistan that, in part, helped to bring the Taliban to power in 1994. Today in Iraq, the consequences of full disengagement are seen in the rise of the so-called Islamic State. NATO should learn these lessons and not disengage from Afghanistan at such an important time.”

The Cato Institute argues that the economic problem in the Middle East is due to too much socialism and not enough privatization.  They note, “Three main lessons emerge from the experience of countries that have undergone large privatization pro­grams in the past. First, the form of privatization matters for its economic outcomes and for popular acceptance of the reform. Transparent privatization, using open and competitive bidding, produces significantly better results than privatization by insiders, without public scrutiny. Second, private ownership and governance of the finan­cial sector is crucial to the success of restructuring. Third, privatization needs to be a part of a broader reform pack­age that would liberalize and open MENA economies to competition.”

An American Muslim and journalist write for the Foreign Policy Research Institute about the battle for the soul of the Arab and Muslim world.  His paper concludes, “I cannot forget how Obama said — in a most condescending tone — in the earliest days of U.S. Air Force strikes against IS fighters advancing on Erbil and terrorizing the Christians of Mosul that the American jet fighters “are not the Iraqi air force.” Why not? But I also wonder: Why just the U.S. Air Force? Where are the Arab and Turkish air forces?  For the fight in Iraq is a battle for the soul of the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

ISIS and the Threat to American Domestic Security

The ISIS threat to the US has two facets – the actual threat and the political factor.  While the threat is real, the political issues must limit the threat so as not to damage Obama, who has claimed in the past that the threat of Islamic terrorism is gone.

Apparently, right now, the Obama administration is focused on the political factor.  Soon after the Foley beheading, Obama made a brief statement denouncing it before returning to the golf course.  Some analysts said this showed Obama’s disinterest in his role as president, while others said it was his way of showing that he didn’t take the domestic ISIS threat seriously.

But, there are other voices in the Obama administration that disagree.  Although the Obama White House has until recently downplayed the threat posed by ISIS to the United States, military and intelligence sources are warning that ISIS is already in the US and is adding more personal through the porous US/Mexico border.  The result, they say, is a terrorist threat greater than that seen before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda.

Obviously, the Obama administration is trying to walk a political tightrope by highlighting the ISIS threat overseas, but trying to downplay the threat inside the US.  In 2012, Obama claimed credit for destroying Al Qaeda and lambasted his opponent Romney for claiming that Islamic terrorists still posed a threat to the US.  The result is that Obama’s homeland security network is left providing contradictory information and threat assessments.

Here’s an example of the contradictory nature of the administration’s threat assessment.  The FBI and Homeland Security Department said last Friday there are no specific or credible terror threats to the U.S. homeland from ISIS.  An intelligence bulletin, issued to state and local law enforcement, says while there’s no credible threat to the U.S. as a result of recent American airstrikes in Iraq, officials remain concerned that ISIS supporters could attack overseas targets with little warning.

But, there is a major concern that American intelligence agencies are monitoring – American Islamic radicals in Syria.  America’s Homeland Security department has been concerned by the attractiveness of Syria’s rebel groups to Islamic Americans.  This was just highlighted this week by the death of American Douglas McCain, who was fighting for ISIS in Aleppo, Syria, and the announcement of anther American as this report being prepared. Could American ISIS terrorists export terrorism from Syria to the US?

Although the US has tried to downplay the seriousness of the ISIS threat in America by calling it the “Junior Varsity,” (a term that refers to school sports teams consisting of members not good enough for the first team), there are Americans going to Syria and others allied to ISIS that have remained in the US.  The U.S. State Department says they don’t have precise numbers of Americans who have joined ISIS, but they have positively identified about12. Obviously, precise numbers are unavailable and intelligence assessments, while educated, are still estimates due to limited U.S. intelligence in Syria.  However, many in the intelligence community think the number is much higher.

In addition to ISIS, there is also a group of Americans who have linked up with al Qaeda’s affiliate al Nusra.  CBS News reports there are even a larger number of unknown Americans who have joined the Syria Free Army.

While the State Department will only admit to a relatively small number of Americans who have linked up with terror groups in Syria, American law enforcement has been frantically trying to identify other ISIS sympathizers who could bring a terrorist campaign back to United States. Because they have passports that do not require visas to travel back, they represent the potential operatives who pose the biggest threat.

This could be a larger threat that the US State Department may be willing to admit.  US intelligence estimates that about of the about 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria and about 300 American passport holders are allied with jihadist groups in Syria.  “We know that there are several hundred American passport holders running around with ISIS in Syria or Iraq,” an official told the Washington Times, offering a figure well above widespread reports of about 100 such fighters. “It’s hard to tell whether or not they’re in Syria or moved to Iraq.”

How serious is the threat?  The Pentagon says the terror group is “beyond anything we’ve seen.”   In May, a 22-year-old man from Florida carried out a suicide bombing mission in Syria.  And, last month, a Colorado woman was charged with conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization after she told FBI agents that she planned to travel to Syria to meet a man who claimed to be fighting for ISIS.  More recently, there have been pro-ISIS social media postings that have indicated that they may in the US and be targeting locations like Chicago (Obama’s hometown) and Las Vegas.  Another sign of concern is that in the recent riots in Ferguson, there was a sign held by protestors that said, “ISIS is here.”

“This is a global crisis in need of a global solution. The Syrian conflict has turned that region into a cradle of violent extremism,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in his July speech in Oslo. “But the world cannot simply sit back and let it become a training ground from which our nationals can return and launch attacks. And we will not.”

The concern has been exacerbated by the porous nature of the US/Mexican border, where many fear that ISIS or other Islamic terrorists have already crossed.   Texas Governor Rick Perry warned that there’s a “very real possibility that terrorists from groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are illegally crossing into the United States from Mexico.”

“Certainly there a great concern that the border between the United States and Mexico is un-secure, and we don’t know who’s using that. What I will share with you is that we’ve seen historic high levels of individuals from countries with terrorist ties over the course of the last months,” Perry said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

The same concern is being expressed in the Congress.  The ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. Senate warned that ISIS is trying to develop the capability of blowing up an entire American city.

The comments from Sen. Jim Inhofe, (R-Oklahoma), came in an interview with a television station in Oklahoma City.  He said the U.S. now is in “the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in.”

Responding to questions about terror and the threat facing Americans, he said: “They’re crazy out there. And they are rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city. You just can’t believe that’s happening.”  He blamed the situation on the cuts in defense spending made by Obama.

Defense Secretary Hagel echoed the concern.  “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” he said during a briefing on the beheading of American journalist James Foley.  “ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen,” Hagel said. “They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded…So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it…and get ready.”

“There’s real concern that they could take what they’ve learned … come back home and conduct terror attacks,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN.  “So I think (McCain) is a stark reminder of the inside threat that foreign fighters can pose.”

US Special Forces soldiers who have fought in Iraq warn that although ISIS is fanatically Islamic, that will not stop them from allying with non-fanatics in order to become a more effective fighting machine.  One retired Green Beret noted that ISIS is using much of the money from captured banks to buy non-jihadist technicians who can maintain and repair some of the technical military equipment that it has captured from Iraqi and Syrian forces.  They have also become a haven for former Iraqi Army officers who were once members of the Baath party.  This has given ISIS considerable military savvy.

 

If, as many are claiming, ISIS is in the US and is planning a terrorist attack, what is the potential target?

Many experts think that ISIS related terrorists in the US will opt for a large public gathering to maximize publicity like those terrorist attacks in India and Kenya.  These targets might be stadiums, shopping malls, airports, schools, hotels, hospitals, and churches.

This is one reason why the threat against Las Vegas is taken so seriously.  It is a major visitor location with some of America’s largest hotels.  As in Mumbai, terrorists could methodically carry out their attacks with the largest number of potential targets.

The other option is a bomb as Senator Inhofe intimated.  Some have even speculated that ISIS may try to detonate a radiological bomb, using some of the radioactive materials recently stolen from Iraqi nuclear research laboratories.

Stopping ISIS

If ISIS is a threat to the US, how can America destroy the threat?

Even at this late date, the White House refuses to take the ISIS threat too seriously.  However, there is some indication that a strategy is developing, which includes a rapprochement although indirectly with Syria’s Assad.

A regional peace and balance of power can’t be achieved by allying with Assad and leaving a political vacuum with the destruction of ISIS.  There must be some Sunni political force to fill that vacuum or there will be no peace.

The answer is crafting an alliance with other regional nations like Saudi Arabia and the GCC.  The goal is to create and support an acceptable, moderate Sunni political entity that can represent the Sunnis and have the military force to stop ISIS, Al Qaeda, Assad, and the Shiites.

Such a policy would also require stronger support of the Kurds in northern Iraq.  The US has already announced that it is shipping arms directly to the Kurds.  And, sources in Washington report that about 150 American Special Forces are already on the ground in Kurdistan training Kurds.

The Kurdish flank is critical for a holistic solution.  According to American Special Forces experts, the Kurds are highly motivated and fighters with an excellent reputation – a reputation that has only been enhanced as Kurdish forces have advanced against ISIS with the help of US air strikes.   One retired Green Beret, who trained and fought with the Kurds in 2003, has said that he has no doubts that with adequate arms, the Kurds can push ISIS back in Iraq.

According to many analysts in Washington, That leaves Syria.  It isn’t enough to push ISIS back into Syria.  It must be defeated or else it will merely return at a later date.

They are calling for a broad coalition of American, European, and Middle Eastern nations that will have to work together to solve the ISIS problem in Syria.  Allying itself with Assad or carrying out limited air strikes on ISIS targets will only delay the inevitable conquest of Syria by ISIS.

Some military experts in Washington advocating that Western intervention will also require more than air strikes and arms shipments.  Western Special Forces will be needed to act as highly trained cadres that can fight with the local established militias (like Sahawat) as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The great irony in the US is that the opposition Republicans in Congress (along with many Democrats) is more likely to support some sort of intervention in this manner than the Obama Administration.  If Obama had greater persuasive talents, he could probably get congressional approval for more aggressive action against ISIS, just as President Bush did in the 2001 – 2003 timeframe.

Although the threat posed by ISIS is great, the ability of the Western world and the majority of Middle Eastern nations to stop them exist.  Although many nations are ready and willing to act, to some observers the biggest block right now is the person residing in the White House.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

NATO Summit 2014: Stay Committed to Afghanistan

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

August 21, 2014

Issue Brief #4266

The 2014 NATO summit will be held in September in Wales. It will be the last summit before NATO ends its combat operations in Afghanistan and begins its Resolute Support mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).   The two most important issues at the summit regarding Afghanistan will be the financial funding for and size of the ANSF after 2015 and the number of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. More than 50 international leaders of those nations that are participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will attend the summit. This offers a unique opportunity to address these issues.

Read more

 

 

The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World

By Dalibor Rohac

Cato Institute

August 25, 2014

Policy Analysis No. 753

Extensive government ownership in the economy is a source of inefficiency and a barrier to economic development. Although precise measures of government ownership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are hard to come by, the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen all operate sizeable segments of their economies—in some cases accounting for more than two-thirds of the GDP.

International experience suggests that private ownership tends to outperform public ownership. Yet MENA countries have made only modest progress toward reducing the share of government ownership in their economies and are seen as unlikely candidates for wholesale privatization in the near future.

Read more

 

 

Egypt, Counterterrorism, and the Politics of Alienation

By Michele Dunne and Scott Williamson

Carnegie Endowment

August 20, 2014

When U.S. President Barack Obama pledged on August 18 “to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide” against jihadi terrorists in Iraq, “working with key partners in the region and beyond,” Egypt was probably one partner he had in mind. On the very same day, U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf cited counterterrorism as an “overlapping strategic interest” between the United States and Egypt. Asked if the United States still views Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as leading a democratic transition despite human rights abuses (such as those identified in a recent Human Rights Watch report), Harf replied, “He is, he is.”  On the face of it, counterterrorism and human rights abuses might appear to be unrelated subjects. U.S. officials certainly treat them that way; they expect Sisi to be a useful ally in fighting terrorism, while occasionally bemoaning his repression and human rights abuses.

Read more

 

 

James Foley and the Battle for the Soul of the Arab and Muslim Worlds

By S. Abdallah Schleifer

Foreign Policy Research Institute

August 27, 2014

As an American Muslim and as a journalist, I am more than appalled by the murder of James Foley and the murder video. If I were King of Whatever/Wherever,  I would go to war—to wipe out these IS perverts — perverters not just of Islam but of all the decencies known to all men/women of all the traditional faiths and to all men/women of just simple decent feelings.  And not just for James Foley, brave soul that he was. But for all the victims of this atrocity that is called “The Islamic State” and known to us as ISIL or ISIS – the Christians, the Yazidis, the Shia soldiers of the Iraqi Army who surrendered and were then executed gangland style; the Sufis and any Iraqi Sunni who does not submit in public to the barbaric Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi , the False Khalifa of Islam.  Because of these criminals, who but traditional Muslims and decent Western scholars of Islam know that for Muslims the greatest litany of all, invoked at all times, in all places is Bism’Allah ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem – in the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.

Read more

 

 

ISIS’s Offensive in Syria Shows that U.S. Airstrikes Have Not Blunted Momentum

By Isabel Nassief and Jennifer Cafarella

Institute for the Study of War

August 28, 2014

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters that U.S. airstrikes “have stalled ISIL’s momentum” after two weeks of bombarding ISIS positions in Northern Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has not stalled under U.S. pressure.  Rather, since the fall of Mosul and despite U.S. airstrikes, the insurgent army has continued a successful and spectacular offensive in Syria. Their gains nearly equal in scale the seizure of northern Iraq in June.  The insurgent army’s latest triumph is the capture of Assad’s Tabqa air base in Eastern Syria.

Read more

 

 

ISIS and the New Middle East Cold War

By F. Gregory Gause, III

Brookings Institution

August 25, 2014

The territorial gains this summer by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in both those countries have added a new element to the new Middle East cold war that I wrote about in a Brookings Doha analysis paper published earlier in the summer. ISIS rebranded itself “the Islamic State” and declared a caliphate in Mosul. It threatened both Baghdad and Irbil in Iraq while consolidating control over more of eastern Syria and taking its fight toward Aleppo. Its successes have added to its numbers, both in terms of volunteers and in terms of other fighting groups which, while perhaps not sharing its ideology, are bandwagoning with an apparent winner. Its grisly execution of American journalist James Foley riveted world attention, but its successes predated that event by months. American bombing helped to turn back some of its recent gains in northern Iraq, but no one claims that ISIS has been defeated.

Read more

 

Military Implications of the Syrian Regime’s Defeat in Raqqa

By Jeffrey White

Washington Institute

August 27, 2014

PolicyWatch 2310

Over the past two months, jihadist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have waged an increasingly successful campaign against Assad regime forces in Syria’s northern Raqqa province, culminating in the capture of al-Tabqa Airfield earlier this week. The defeat in Raqqa has major military implications — it represents a loss at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war, raising questions about whether the regime or Syrian rebels can defend other, more important areas of the country against further ISIS offensives.

Read more

 

 

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Week of August 23th, 2014

Executive Summary

 

The Washington think tank community has focused on the continued rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, although the beheading of the American photojournalist by ISIS has gained much attention.

The Monitor analysis also looks at Ferguson.  We look at how Israeli military tactics like those used in Gaza and other Palestinian territories have become the tactics of choice for many American police departments, including Ferguson’s.  We also look at the growing dissatisfaction in America and the growing potential for widespread civil unrest in the future.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

 

 

The CSIS looks at the crisis in the Levant.  This study shows that the United States faced an increasing level of instability across the Levant, which in turn affected every key aspect of US competition with Iran in the broader Middle East and North Africa. It asks how do the US and Iran compete in the Levant, where do they compete, and what are the forces and constraints that shaped this contest in the past, present, and possibly in the future?

The Washington Institute looks at the potential threat of Hamas firing missiles at Israeli gas platforms in the Mediterranean.  They note, “Tamar fuels an increasing proportion of the country’s electricity — by 2015 the figure is forecast to be as high as 50 percent. Although the Tamar field itself lies fifty miles offshore from the northern port city of Haifa, it has to be pumped along nearly 100 miles of subsea pipe to a platform off the southern city of Ashkelon for initial cleaning…Yet the rockets fielded thus far by Hamas and other Gaza militants are unguided and without radar-homing or heat-seeking warheads, so unless they are fired in large salvoes, the platforms are a very difficult target for them. Even so, the mere threat of such fire raises the possibility of having to shut down production for safety reasons.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at how Egypt hindered the truce talks between Hamas and Israel.  They note, “While Egyptian mediators were forced in the end to deal directly with Hamas’s leadership in order to reach a cease-fire, they have tried to mitigate this unpleasant reality in two ways. They have not only been seeking to enhance the role of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — something Mubarak always did in his day — but may also be flirting with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group far more committed to violence against Israel than Hamas. PIJ leaders such as Khaled al-Batsh have been quoted in the Egyptian government-owned media recently insisting that no other state can take Egypt’s place as mediator.  Egypt’s military-dominated regime, then, has proved that it is not against forging alliances with violent Islamists; its only feud is with those allied with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Brookings Institution also looks at what’s next in Iraq.  They note, “The key is going to be for the United States to lay out for the Iraqis what military support it would be willing to provide them once they are willing and able to fight as a unified whole against the Sunni extremists.  So far, American officials have been very specific about what they have wanted the Iraqis to do and very vague about what the U.S. would be willing to do for them in return.  That too has undermined America’s influence in the machinations in Baghdad so far.  Of greater importance, Iraqis are starting to see this vagueness as a sign that the U.S. won’t provide the same levels of support for an Iraqi counteroffensive as it has for the defense of Kurdistan.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at options in Iraq.  The paper has four suggestions:  The U.S. should keep Kurdistan in the fight. This region of the country is an irreplaceable bulwark against Islamist expansion and a critical contributor to rebuilding the Iraqi economy.  Iraqis need a stable unity government in Baghdad. Without a government committed to representing all Iraqis and reestablishing sovereignty over all Iraqi territory, saving Iraq will be an almost impossible task. Stability in Baghdad is a prerequisite for getting effective Iraqi security forces back in the fight. Remember Jordan. Jordan is a keystone of stability in the region. It would be a tragedy if the conflict in Iraq spilled over and destabilized this small but important country.  Worry about Iran. Iran remains an active state sponsor of terrorism with a terrible human rights record and a penchant for meddling in Iraqi affairs. Further, despite international efforts, significant concerns remain over the Iranian nuclear program. The U.S. should be working to marginalize Iran’s influence in the region and particularly in Iraq.

The Wilson Center looks at the battle over the Mosul Dam.  They note, “The Islamic State appears to be primarily interested in using water as a strategic leverage point or component in its project to establish a long-lasting Caliphate rather than as a tactical weapon. According to one report, once they took control of the Mosul Dam, IS officials told workers their salaries would be paid, provided the dam remained in operation and electricity was generated for the region under its control. This would seem to adhere to other reports that detail how IS uses its control of oil fields, oil revenues, and petroleum products primarily as income generating projects.  The distinction is important because it can frame how we anticipate and respond to water problems. Labeling a conflict a “water war” reduces the complexity of water to a single conflict variable. But water intersects with society in all its forms and is also important for peacebuilding and establishing government legitimacy.”

The CSIS looks at the economic and governance issues in Iraq.  They conclude, “What the United States cannot do is simply focus on the fighting. It is all very well to say there are no military solutions to insurgency and civil wars, but it is also necessary to act on such advice. Far more is needed than a token effort at stability operations, and while the United States does not like the term “nation-building,” Iraq will either have to rebuild as a nation or even the most successful military effort will fail.”

The CSIS looks at the missile threat posed by Iran to the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Gulf.  This new study of the Iranian sea-air -missile threat to maritime traffic in the Gulf and Indian Ocean which examines the strategic importance of this threat, and Iran’s naval, air, and missile capabilities. It examines how these maritime threats interact with its growing rocket and ballistic missile capabilities and focuses on its capabilities for asymmetric warfare and in scenarios like closing the Gulf.

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Social Crisis in America – From the Ferguson Riots to the Bundy Ranch Standoff

The American/Israeli Law Enforcement Relationship

 

The scenes in Ferguson, Missouri this week were eerily reminiscent of those in Gaza and West Bank -Palestine in the past few weeks.  Armed soldier-police faced African-American protesters, while residents of Gaza were twittering advice to the residents of Ferguson on how to survive tear gas attacks by the police.

Actually, there shouldn’t be any surprise since the Assistant Police Chief of the Ferguson Police Department, Joseph Mokwa, travelled to Israel in February 2008 to learn police tactics from the Israeli police and army.  The program is called the Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) and is sponsored by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) a Jewish think tank.  Mokwa had been Chief of Police for St. Louis, but had to resign over a controversy concerning his daughter and other police officers using impounded cars for their own personal use.

Although the program is supposed to teach American police officers about terrorist related issues like bomb disposal and border security, the training covers much more.  A JINSA article on the first LEEP trip to Israel notes, “The Americans observed methods and techniques used by Israeli police forces in preventing and reacting to suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism including bomb disposal, forensics, crowd control, and coordination with the media and the public.”  In addition, YAMAM, which is involved in carrying out raids and operations in Gaza, is involved in the program

Since the program started in 2002, over 100 American police officers have undergone training in Israel.  An additional 11,000 have been trained in LEEP conferences held in the US.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a similar program.  In 2011, then St. Louis County Police Department chief Timothy Fitch attended the ADL’s National Counter-Terrorism Seminar, an annual week-long Israeli training camp where US law enforcement executives “study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies” directly from “senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces,” according to the ADL’s website.  Interestingly enough, it was the St. Louis Police Department’s heavy handed military response that caused the governor of Missouri to transfer responsibility for the protests to the Missouri Highway Patrol.

This isn’t the only Israeli influence.  Former Israeli military officers are frequently brought in to help in airport and shopping mall security.

How is it that the Israeli police and military have gained so much influence in America’s law enforcement community?

The transformation began after September 11, when American law enforcement officers began to look to the Israelis for counter-terrorism expertise.  JINSA and the ADL used this need as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves to the US law enforcement community through free trips to Israel and free conferences here in the US.

Along with the Israeli counter-terrorist training came the Israeli attitude towards law enforcement – the idea that the police aren’t part of the community, but more of an occupying force designed to maintain control at any cost.  This attitude is reinforced in many cities like Ferguson, where the community is predominantly black, but the police force is overwhelmingly white.

The more aggressive Israeli attitude towards law enforcement is also seen in the growing number of police brutality incidents in the United States and the growing distrust of the police by the public.  A poll taken August 11 – 14 by the Huffington Post and YouGov showed that nearly half of Americans (45%) did not trust the police, while 37% did trust them.  The poll also found that 43 percent think police violence with the use of lethal force happens too often in the US, while 32 percent disagreed with the statement.

The Fraying Social Fabric of America

The tarnished reputation of the police isn’t the only problem.  Americans as a whole are distrustful of government as a whole.  A CNN poll taken two weeks ago showed that only 13% of Americans trust the federal government to do what is right at least most of the time, the lowest figure recorded in more than 55 years of reporting.  Ten percent of Americans say they never trust the government to do what is right, the highest number ever recorded. A vast majority — 76 percent — say they can only trust government some of the time, the second-highest figure ever recorded.

That distrust also is escalating into fear of the government.  A Rasmussen Poll in April showed 37% of likely U.S. voters now fear the federal government, while 54% consider the federal government today a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector.  Two-out-of-three voters (67%) view the federal government today as a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests.

Add to this high unemployment, a slow economy, the shrinking middle class, and a feeling that America is being ruled by an elite instead of democracy and it’s easy to see the potential for unrest – especially if the government is seen as an enemy.  There is also the Black Community’s concern about the police.  The FBI stated that over a seven-year period that ended in 2012, a white policeman killed a black person on average of twice a week.  USA Today reported that an average of 400 police killings a year was reported, with 96 percent of them involving a black person as the victim.
Given all of this, it’s not a surprise that confrontations between the government and US citizens have escalated in the last few months – confrontations that have involved groups with widely differing political views, ethnic city and section of the country.  While the Ferguson rioters are predominately black, politically liberal, and urban; the Bundy protestors in Nevada in April were predominantly white, politically conservative, and rural.  In the confrontation in Murrieta, California, the protestors who were blocking the movement of illegal immigrants was more ethnically diverse, with blacks and Hispanics joining white protestors.  In both the Ferguson and Bundy confrontations, the government officers were fully militarized.

Another factor is the number of people on both sides of the political spectrum that are eager for a violent incident that could lead to revolution.  While there are reports that black militants and Communists were encouraging events in Ferguson, right wing militias were ready for a violent confrontation at the Bundy Ranch.

Given the voters current distrust of the government, the increasing frequency of confrontations that could spiral out of control and take on a national scope, there is a serious likelihood that America could be facing major civil unrest in the near future.  The only question, given the wide ethnic, geographical, and political nature of those upset with events, is when, where, and with whom the confrontation will take place.

The current concern is Ferguson, which has simmered for over a week and a half.  Although it looked like the violence was tapering down a week ago, the protests and occasionally riots have continued as agitators have come from the outside to spur on the anger.  Fortunately for the authorities, the rioting has remained localized and it hasn’t spread to other urban centers with large black populations like Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and New York.  If that were to happen, however, law enforcement might be pushed to breaking.

Widespread rioting might then spread across ethnic or political groups.  Radical Hispanics might decide to take advantage of the violence or militia groups might carry out operations to cause disruptions.  This would force Obama to mobilize the National Guard in order to help the police.  He could even declare martial law in parts of the US (Ferguson is currently under a state of emergency), although the political cost would be high and it would likely inflame passions even more.

The martial law concept in the US is closely tied with the right of habeas corpus, which is in essence the right to a hearing on lawful imprisonment, which means the courts have a say in who is imprisoned. The ability to suspend habeas corpus is granted under Article 1, Section 9 of the US Constitution, which states, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”  The suspension of habeas corpus would mean anyone could be arrested and detained even if they haven’t broken a law.

Obama administration is wishing that tempers wane or a rainstorm hits Ferguson and forces the rioters indoors for a few days, so they can calm down before any of this happens.  However, that doesn’t mean that the US has dodged a bullet.  Violence could easily breakout elsewhere.

There are several potential tinderboxes; inner city riots, immigration protests, and land disagreements with the BLM in the West.  There are also several potential” instigators” like the New Black Panthers, anarchists, and several militia groups.  Each poses different threats, goals, and levels of violence.

Radical black militants are found predominantly in the inner city.  They are lightly armed and more enthusiastic.  There are reports coming out of New Jersey that they may be targeting the police.  However, they are more likely to take advantage of a race riot to cause trouble than actually create a confrontation.

There are also anarchist groups like Anonymous at Ferguson, but these mainly white leftists specialize in creating their own events like the Occupy movement, and demonstrations and civil disobedience at major leadership meetings like the G8 meetings and national conventions.  They tend to be more technically savvy and rely more on technological asymmetric warfare rather than using firepower.  Last week they executed a cyber attack on the Ferguson government website.

The militias generally are right wing and have more firepower.  They also have more members who were in the US military, which means they are more tactically savvy.  In fact, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was a militia leader and Iraqi veteran who placed militia snipers at the Bundy Ranch confrontation.  Their tactically superior position above the federal agents forced the government agents to withdraw and leave the cattle in the hands of the Bundys.

There is some concern that the militias may try to take advantage of a civil disturbance.  In fact, some in the government think that it was the militias that targeted parts of the US electrical grid in California last year.  The attack, which is still being investigated by the FBI was reportedly well planned and expertly executed.

All of these groups (and others) have proven to be mobile and willing to travel to hot spots.  Black militants and anarchists have travelled to Ferguson recently and militias have gone to the Bundy Ranch and are currently operating on the US/Mexico border.

Ironically, even though these extremist groups have different ethnic and political backgrounds, it’s likely that they may find it in their best interest to support each other in furtherance of their differing political agendas.  Black militants would probably find little resistance and even some support from militias who also wish civil unrest.

This is not to say the US government isn’t prepared for such civil unrest.  In April of this year, the US Army published, U.S. Army Techniques Publication 3-39.33: Civil Disturbances.  It details preparations for “full scale riots” within the United States during which troops may be forced to engage in a “lethal response” to deal with unruly crowds of demonstrators.  The training manual outlines scenarios under which, “Civil unrest may range from simple, nonviolent protests that address specific issues, to events that turn into full-scale riots.”  Although it mentions the Constitutional rights of American citizens it goes on to stress that such protections are null and void under a state of emergency.

Although the US is relatively stable and the riots in Ferguson are impacting a very small part of the nation, it remains a flashpoint.  And, it’s important to realize that civil unrest can spread quickly.  Who would have realized that the Soviet Union would have broken up a year before, or the impact of the so called “Arab Spring”.  Even Yugoslavia, which was a calm tourist destination once, quickly descended into civil unrest in the 1990s.  With that in mind, future rioting on a larger scale or confrontations between people and the government out west are real, serious threats to the social fabric of the US.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

The Way Forward in Iraq

By James Jay Carafano and Steven P. Bucci

Heritage Foundation

August 15, 2014

Issue Brief #4262

The situation in Iraq remains grave. Spiraling violence, political instability, and a humanitarian crisis caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could impact U.S. vital interests. The Obama Administration has an obligation to take responsible action. Congress should insist the President take immediate, suitable, and appropriate measures to safeguard American interests.  Further, President Obama was right when he said, “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to be a long-term project.” Therefore, Congress needs to look to the long term, ensuring that the instruments of national power are sufficient to stem the rise of a new global transnational terrorist threat and spreading war in the Middle East, which could lead to greater and even more dangerous and destructive conflict.

Read more

 

 

The Struggle for the Levant: Geopolitical Battles and the Quest for Stability

By Aram Nerguizian

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 19, 2014

The United States and its allies compete with Iran in a steadily more unsettled and uncertain Levant and Middle East. The political upheavals in the Middle East, economic and demographic pressures, sectarian struggles and extremism, ethnic and tribal conflicts and tensions all combine to produce complex patterns of competition. The civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, and the internal upheavals in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon all interact and affect the competition between the US and Iran.  The Burke Chair is circulating a review draft on US and Iranian strategic competition in the Levant. This study shows that the United States faced an increasing level of instability across the Levant, which in turn affected every key aspect of US competition with Iran in the broader Middle East and North Africa. It asks how do the US and Iran compete in the Levant, where do they compete, and what are the forces and constraints that shaped this contest in the past, present, and possibly in the future?

Read more

 

 

Iraq: The Economic and Governance Sides of the Crisis

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 18, 2014

There is no question that the Islamic State is the most immediate aspect of the Iraq crisis. It needs to be checked, its gains need to be reversed, and it needs to be driven out of Iraq if possible. But – and it is a critical but – Iraq requires far more. It is going to require fundamental political and economic reforms to achieve any meaningful form of unity and stability and to overcome its sectarian and ethnic divisions.  The last three years have effectively made Iraq a failed state. Prime Minister Maliki did not simply fail by becoming corrupt, authoritarian, and sectarian. He and those around him failed at every level.

Read more

 

 

The Iranian Sea-Air-Missile Threat to Gulf Shipping

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 14, 2014

The build-up of Iran’s naval, air, and missile capability is steadily increasing Iran’s ability to pose a wide range of threats to maritime traffic throughout and outside of the Gulf. One potential target of this threat is the steady increase of bulk cargo shipments into the Gulf, Arabian Sea/Gulf of Oman, and Red Seas – shipments that are of growing strategic importance to the Gulf states. However, it is the danger Iran poses to Gulf energy exports that poses the most critical threat to the economies and stability of the other Gulf states, and is the key threat to both international maritime security and the global economy.  There is no question that the secure flow of maritime traffic from the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz into the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and beyond is critical to the global economy and every developed nation.

Read more

 

 

 

How Egypt Prolonged the Gaza War

By Michele Dunne and Nathan J. Brown

Carnegie Endowment

August 18, 2014

Foreign Policy

As negotiations on a lasting cease-fire in Gaza grind on in Cairo, it’s not only the animosity between Israel and Hamas that is complicating the talks — it’s also Egypt’s role as mediator. Egypt’s internal politics — far more fraught and violent than they were during Hosni Mubarak’s era — have intruded on the attempts to reach an agreement, as the military-dominated government in Cairo attempts to use the talks as part of its war against the Muslim Brotherhood.  This subtle shift — from mediator with interests, to interested party that also mediates — has led to a longer and bloodier Gaza war than might otherwise have been the case. And while a strong Egypt-Israel alliance was supposed to cut Hamas down to size, this strategy has also backfired on the diplomatic front. However much it has bloodied Hamas — and particularly the population of Gaza — the war has actually led to a breaking of international taboos on dealing with Hamas, a former pariah.

Read more

 

 

What Can Iraq’s Fight Over the Mosul Dam Tell Us About Water Security?

By Cameron Harrington and Schuyler Null

Wilson Center

August 20, 2014

The fight for control over “the most dangerous dam in the world” is raging.  Since its capture by Islamic State (IS) militants on August 7 and subsequent attempts by Iraqi government and Kurdish forces to take it back, Iraq’s Mosul Dam has been one of the central components of the government’s surprising and rapid collapse in the country’s northern and western provinces. In fact, one might see the capture of the Mosul Dam as the moment IS ascended from a dangerous insurgent group to an existential threat to Iraq as a state.

Read more

 

 

Rocket Fire on Israeli Gas Platforms Could Escalate Gaza Fighting

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

August 20, 2014

Earlier today, Hamas claimed to have fired two rockets at an Israeli natural gas installation located about nineteen miles off the coast of Gaza. The Israeli military neither confirmed nor denied the claim, merely saying that its offshore gas platforms have not been struck.  There are two gas platforms off the coast of southern Israel, both reachable by fire from Gaza. The main one is the production platform for the Tamar field, Israel’s largest producing gas reserve. Tamar fuels an increasing proportion of the country’s electricity — by 2015 the figure is forecast to be as high as 50 percent. Although the Tamar field itself lies fifty miles offshore from the northern port city of Haifa, it has to be pumped along nearly 100 miles of subsea pipe to a platform off the southern city of Ashkelon for initial cleaning. It is then piped ashore for further treatment at a special plant in Ashdod before entering the gas grid. A mile away from the Tamar production platform, in waters similarly around 800 feet deep, stands the Mari-B platform, which served a similar purpose for the now-depleted Mari-B and Noa gas fields. It is unclear which platform the Hamas rockets were targeting, or indeed whether they were fired at all.

Read more

 

 

Next Steps in Iraq

By Kenneth M. Pollack

Brookings Institution

August 18, 2014

Now is not the time to break out the old “Mission Accomplished” banners.  Nuri al-Maliki’s decision to withdraw his candidacy for a third-term as prime minister was an important step forward for Iraq.  But it was a necessary, not a sufficient condition for progress.  It means that Maliki is no longer an impediment to reforming Iraqi political system to bring the Sunnis, disaffected Shi’a and potentially the Kurds back into Iraq’s political process.  Still, those reforms will require a great deal of work.

Read more

 

 

 

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

www.thinktankmonitor.org

C: 202 536 8984             C: 301 509 4144

Week of August 16th, 2014

Executive Summary

 

The crisis in Iraq held the attention of the Washington think tank community this week.

The Monitor Analysis also looks at Iraq and the potential of US military involvement in stopping ISIS incursions in Kurdish controlled area.  We note that in order to introduce US Special Forces into Iraq, a clear military objective must be outlined first.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

 

The CSIS looks at options in Iraq.  They say that Obama’s strategy, based on air and missile power, advisers, and arms transfers, and conditional on Iraqis moving toward unity and helping themselves is the right one.  Given the current conditions in Iraq, they note, “These are realities Americans must face and accept in spite of their partisan divisions and future political hopes. We finally seem to be edging toward the right strategy, but it is a mix of least bad options. Worse, the uncertainties involved are so great that no one can be sure it will have the right outcome.”

 

The Institute for the Study of War looks at how ISIS is consolidating its front.  They conclude, “Through a significant escalation against the Syrian regime and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga beginning in mid-July, ISIS forces have made large advances in a campaign to consolidate internal control within the Caliphate…In order to achieve its goal of establishing a functional, viable state ISIS must continue to leverage its military capabilities to consolidate its interior lines across Iraq and Syria and form a set of identifiable and defensible borders. Eliminating interior vulnerabilities is a key component of this effort and is likely to remain a primary objective for the ISIS military campaign in ensuing weeks. The victories in ar-Raqqa, Hasaka, and Ninewa suggests that ISIS operational objectives prioritize setting the stage for the consolidation of control over logistical lines of communication from the Iraqi border and the current operational zone in southern Hasaka to strongholds in ar-Raqqa province in order to secure freedom of movement between currently separate systems. As continued military successes from increasingly unified theatres of operation fuel the ISIS war machine, a hardened ISIS exterior line is likely to allow ISIS forces to pursue further expansion.”

 

The Wilson Center argues that other nations in the Middle East must take the lead in Iraq.  They conclude, “President Obama’s signature policy has been that the United States should form counterterrorism partnerships with other countries. This carnage should be an opportunity for Washington to work with responsible actors in the region. Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council countries should take the lead and provide humanitarian and military aid in the form of air power and ground troops to defeat and uproot ISIS, as it is already a coming attraction for Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Maybe this Thursday afternoon’s intervention will embarrass enough members of the Arab League to step up to what is expected from them.”

 

The Washington Institute argues that ISIS could become the voice of Sunnis unless Washington takes steps.  They note, “If the American people really do not want to be sucked into another war in the Middle East, then Washington will need to cement these gains by working with Arab allies to bolster the moderate Sunnis who would fill the vacuum in Syria and Iraq following an ISIL defeat.”

 

A number of scholars from the CSIS answer questions about Iraq.  On the question of supporting the Kurds, they answer, “First, the Kurds have earned our support. They have been an oasis of pro-American stability and decent governance since the first Gulf War more than two decades ago. We are obliged to help them defend themselves. Second, a strong Kurdistan is a necessary first step in containing the newly proclaimed Islamic State, which may end up as our default strategy for coping with it. Third, our strong support for Kurdish self-defense will put teeth in the Obama administration’s effort to pressure Baghdad to form a more unified, inclusive government that might, with U.S. and Iranian support (!), be capable of rolling back ISIS. The more likely outcome, of course, is an Iranian-backed Shiite state that tries to contain the Islamic State to its northwest.”

 

The Cato Institute warns about a larger involvement in Iraq.  They note, “Intervention brings unintended, unpredictable and uncontrollable consequences. America’s experience in the Middle East highlights how one intervention almost always begets another. Removing Saddam Hussein triggered years of bloody conflict. Even if the new government in Baghdad had backed a continued U.S. military presence, the latter likely would not have prevented hostilities from exploding today. Barring reconciliation, opined Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 2007, “no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference.”

 

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the horrific loss of life in the Gaza conflict and warns it could become likely in other parts of the Middle East.  They note, “It appears that Israel, and the region as a whole, is destined to cope with this type of challenge for the foreseeable future. And despite the complacency and even hostility to Israel on display in some democratically governed countries, this danger will, sooner or later, confront other democracies, even those far from the Middle East.”

 

The German Marshall Fund looks at the election of Erdogan as Turkey’s president.  They note, “He has already made it publicly known that he has no intention to limit himself to the presidential powers defined in the constitution. Until he can change the regime to a presidential system, he will likely impose a de facto presidential system through a prime minister who will not mind devolving powers to the president.”

 

The Washington Institute also looks at the Erdogan election in Turkey and the future of US/Turkish relations.  They note, “Armed with the results of a landmark popular vote, liberally interpreted constitutional powers, and the fear and respect of the AKP-majority parliament, Erdogan is poised to single-handedly run the country as president. This suggests a strong Erdogan-defined tinge in Turkish politics going forward, and in U.S.-Turkish relations. The new president will likely agitate for more U.S. assistance to the Syrian rebels. He will seek U.S. assistance to bolster the Iraqi Kurds in their political struggles with the Baghdad government. And he will prioritize securing the release of Turkish hostages seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) over short-term military action that could provoke the group.  At the same time, though, Erdogan will have more room to cooperate with the United States on politically sensitive issues such as Turkey’s ties with Armenia and Israel. In fact, he will likely launch a charm offensive toward Washington on issues near and dear to U.S. policymakers, restoring friendly relations with President Obama in order to secure U.S. assistance that can shield Turkey from instability in Syria and Iraq. Since he will control key levers of power, the U.S. government will have to deal with him on core issues more frequently, often skipping the traditional channels of bureaucracy and other key personalities.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Crisis Deepens in Iraq

 

This last week was a busy one in Iraq.  Iraqi Premier Maliki tried to remain in power by deploying military forces loyal to him, ISIS continued its offensive, and Kurdish forces started to receive help from American and European sources.

The political problems came to a head a few days ago when Iraq’s parliament, who refused to rename Prime Minister Maliki to a third term, chose a new candidate to form the new government.  Maliki declared the move unconstitutional even though his own State of Law Party pulled support from him. He then ordered his forces to seize government buildings and the airport, while surrounding the Green Zone.

The move worried everyone from Iran to the US, who is concerned about political unrest in Iraq and its vulnerability to ISIS.  As a result, most nations were pleased when Iraq’s president named Haider al-Abadi as the new prime minister.  Obama congratulated his nomination and the head of Tehran’s National Security Council congratulated Abadi.

Iraq isn’t out of the woods yet.  The key for Abadi will be to allow the Sunnis and Kurds to once again occupy senior positions in the government and military. Maliki purged them from those positions over the last three years, which forced the Sunni tribal chiefs to throw in with ISIS and the Kurds to seek independence. It may be too late to keep the Kurds within a unified Iraq, but the Sunni chiefs will soon tire of ISIS’s despotic rule. Abadi will have a narrow window in which to get them back in the fold, but there should be a realistic chance of turning them once again.

The new government will at least receive more support for the US.  “We are prepared to consider additional political, economic and security options as Iraq’s government starts to build a new government,” Kerry told a news conference together with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and their Australian counterparts.

Hagel said the United States was prepared to consider further military support in Iraq. However, Kerry ruled out U.S. combat troops on the ground.  “We would wait and see what future requests this new government will ask of us and we will consider it based on those requests.”

The Kurdish Front

While the Iraqi political situation appears to be stabilizing, ISIS is continuing its push against the Kurds.  This has caused the US to change its position of only supplying the Kurds through the Iraqi government.  The decision came after Kurdish troops outside Irbil retreated from an ISIS offensive last week when they ran low on ammunition.

In response to the ISIS victories, Obama ordered US Navy aircraft from the carrier USS George H. W. Bush to strike ISIS positions that were threatening the Kurds.  The attacks on Monday hit attacked four checkpoints manned by the militants near Mt. Sinjar, where the extremists have threatened to kill thousands of displaced Yazidis they say are religious apostates.  The Pentagon said the attacks destroyed an armored personnel carrier, four trucks and a U.S.-made Humvee.

The problem is that there is no way that limited air strikes like those carried out in the last few days can stop ISIS from making more inroads into Kurdish territory.  Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff, told Stars and Stripes,

“Our current operations are limited in scope. . . . I think in the immediate areas where we have focused our strikes, we’ve had a very temporary effect and . . . we may have blunted some tactical decisions to move in those directions and move further east to Irbil. What I expect the ISIL to do is to look for other things to do — to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by ISIL.”

Nor does the White House have plans to expand the air operations, as senior administration officials told Stars and Stripes, “that the strikes will remain confined to areas of Iraq where U.S. personnel are at risk or a preventable humanitarian disaster looms.”

In addition to air strikes, the US has also sent the Kurds arms and ammunition through the CIA, which has stores of small arms to quickly equip insurgents.  However, the Department of Defense will be taking over the job because they have much larger stockpiles of weapons and munitions than the CIA.

Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, said the U.S. intended to provide “longer-range weapons” that can destroy the U.S.-made vehicles and other heavy equipment.  This is necessary because outgunned Kurdish commanders say their forces’ light weapons cannot penetrate the American-made armored vehicles.

The needs of the Kurdish forces are “pretty substantial,” Mayville said at a Pentagon news briefing.  Kurdish forces have requested long-range anti-armor mortars, shoulder-fired rockets and Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter and 12.5-millimeter heavy machine guns.  Since the Kurds rely upon Russian designed and built small arms, the US will probably have to call upon regional allies like Egypt for additional Russian munitions.

However, merely supplying arms will not be enough.  And, despite the “no boots on the ground” pledge by Obama, some Special Forces still need to be inserted into the Kurdish area in order to equip, train and lead Kurds in the fight against ISIS.

The question is what type of commitment will it require to materially help the Kurds and can the Kurds carry on the fight without significant Western Special Forces assistance?  For that answer, we need to look at the Kurdish effort against Iraq in the 2003 war – a military operation that had heavy US Special Forces assistance.

The Kurds had a major role in the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq.  On March 1, Turkey changed course and told the US that it wouldn’t allow the US 4th Division to transit Turkey and invade Iraq from the north.  That forced the Kurds and allied Special Forces to take on the role of holding down significant Iraqi forces so they couldn’t be shifted south towards the major American/British thrust.

Although the Kurds fought with bravery, they weren’t the spear point of the operation.  This was provided by US Special Forces, many who have worked with the Kurdish insurgents since the early 1990s.  The Kurds were used frequently for clearing out operations or as support.

An excellent example of the Kurdish role can be seen in the critical battle of Debecka Pass, which stopped elite Iraqi armored forces from pushing past the Green Line and into Kurdish territory and opened up the western flank so US/Kurdish forces could move towards the Kirkuk oil fields.  The point units in the fight were the Americans of the US 3rd Battalion Special Forces.

While the Kurds were critical for clearing a minefield and a roadblock, they stopped soon after passing the critical crossroads and congregated at an abandoned Iraqi T-55 tank.  Meanwhile the American Green Beret A-Teams continued forward to engage Iraqi armor.  In the heavy engagement, which saw the American Special Forces beat back the Iraqi armor with the use of Javlin anti-tank missiles and air support, the Kurds remained behind the lines. In fact, some US Special Forces were diverted to the rear to help aid the Kurds, when they were mistakenly hit by an US airstrike.

This battle indicates the level of Kurdish military training.  While they are competent and can hold their own in light combat, they appear to be unable to stand up to heavy conventional arms – the type that ISIS has captured.

This means that a Kurdish victory over ISIS means a commitment of US forces – regular or special.  Since Obama is reluctant to commit US regular forces to Iraq, the battle will fall on the same type of Special Forces that were critical in 2003.

But, is this strategically wise?

There are four major factors in conducting a special operation like supporting the Kurds in fighting ISIS.  They are: a clear objective, buildup of forces and equipment, insertion, and execution.

Clearly the US has the forces and ability to buildup and insert.  However, the question is about the clear objective.

Usually Special Forces are employed when conventional forces can’t be used.  This clearly isn’t the case.  Conventional US forces would be better able to defeat ISIS than American Special Forces, although their footprint would be larger and Obama would have to make the political case for using them.

Clearly Obama is misusing his SF capability for political purposes, even though SF troops take years to train and are very expensive to field and equip.  On the positive side, Special Forces are skilled in training indigenous forces, so they would be better able to improve the quality of the Kurdish military, if given time.  But, that assumes Obama is willing to insert them into Kurdistan for years.

This goes back to having a clear military objective, not a political one of preventing a further erosion of the president’s popularity.

Merely stopping ISIS from gaining further ground in Kurdish Iraq is a vague objective.  That means a war of attrition that ties up the SF units for a long time and is costly in lives and equipment.  It’s a better idea to use the force to push back and defeat ISIS.

The problem is that Obama has refused to commit either the manpower or equipment to defeat this threat.  At best, he is only willing to put the effort into creating a stalemate.

If the Kurds can only expect a degree of American support that stops further incursions into Kurdistan by ISIS, but not enough to either defeat them, the solution must come from the region.

Several nations in the Middle East have made it clear that they oppose the radical governance of ISIS.  There are also some European countries like France that have called for arms shipments to the Kurds.  They will need to come forward while the American air attacks are slowing ISIS.

Since the ISIS captured American military gear has been invulnerable to the relatively limited arms of the Kurds, the answer will be refitting the Kurdish military with American and European weapons and then guaranteeing a continuing supply of the munitions to support them.

With the international effort to supply advanced arms, the Kurds can expect to hold briefly against ISIS, but still can fail if ISIS decide to direct their full force against them.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

Stay out of This Iraq War

By Doug Bandow

Cato Institute

July 25, 2014

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria represents a significant failure of U.S. policy. However, ISIS so far does not pose a significant security threat to America that requires military action.  Despite its successes, ISIS lacks the strength necessary to capture Iraq’s capital, let alone gain control of the majority-Shia nation. Most important, so far, is that, ISIS, unlike al-Qaida, has not confronted the U.S. Thus, Washington should react circumspectly, avoiding further unnecessary entanglements.  Recent experience offers several sobering lessons for confronting ISIS’s rise.

Read more

 

 

Iraq: The Right, but a High-Risk, Strategy

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 11, 2014

Commentary

President Obama seems to have adopted a strategy of making a long-term military commitment to Iraq. It is one based on air and missile power, advisers, and arms transfers, and conditional on Iraqis moving toward unity and helping themselves. He has also been right in giving the Kurds priority. They faced the most immediate risks, and their fate had the most immediate humanitarian impact on Iraq’s minorities.

As is all too common in today’s Middle East, however, the best option is ultimately the least bad option and filled with risks.

Read more

 

 

Next Level Questions on Iraq Operations

By Clark A. Murdock, Kathleen H. Hicks, Thomas Karako, Samuel J. Brannen, Ryan Crotty, and John Schaus

Center for Strategic and International Studies

August 13, 2014

Scholars in the CSIS International Security Program offer analysis beyond the headlines on the evolving U.S. military intervention in Iraq.  Q1: Is the United States doing enough in Iraq?  By Clark Murdock, Senior Adviser  A1: At least, President Obama is no longer doing nothing to address the rapidly growing terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While a faint-hearted response is (hopefully) better than none, much more is needed to address the eruption of instability in Syria-Iraq and the emergence of a new terrorist state eager to kill apostates who won’t convert and attack infidels who, in their demonology, are led by the United States.

Read more

 

 

Warfare That Targets Civilian Lives Must Be Made Unacceptable
By Avi Jorisch
American Foreign Policy Council
August 8, 2014

South China Morning Post

As the recent hostilities in Gaza demonstrate, Israel stands at the forefront of a new kind of warfare. Israel is not alone in the need to confront radical forces that include terrorist organisations and oppressive regimes who deliberately seek civilian casualties on all sides as the core element of their military strategy; this is a long-term battle that other liberal societies will ultimately have to fight.   Sooner or later most free democracies will face the same challenge that Israel is struggling with today: how to defend themselves from ruthless enemies who deliberately place civilians in harm’s way, without undermining the basic values upon which open societies are based.  Hamas’ strategy is to force Israel into a lose/lose situation by rejecting the basic norms of warfare, which seek to protect civilian populations. By indiscriminately firing rockets from heavily populated areas in Gaza into Israel’s major cities, Hamas confronts Israel with a terrible choice: either allow rocket fire to continue and put its civilians at risk, or attack Hamas’ weapons depots, which are deliberately placed in and around civilian areas.

Read more

 

 

ISIS Works to Merge its Northern Front across Iraq and Syria

By Jennifer Cafarella

Institute for the Study of War

August 8, 2014

Recent ISIS operations in Hasaka and Ninewa provinces indicate that ISIS has begun to further merge its northern battlefronts across the Syrian-Iraq border. ISIS is eradicating pockets of resistance that fall within the territory ISIS seeks to claim for its Caliphate, including the Iraqi city of Sinjar near the border in Ninewa province. ISIS seized the city of Sinjar on August 3, 2014 despite the protection of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces, roughly 100 km east of Hasaka city, the provincial capital of the adjacent Syrian province. ISIS operations in these Northern provinces are likely linked, and the recent ISIS offensive in northern Iraq must be evaluated through a cross-border lens. Since mid-July ISIS has seized control of the Regiment 121 Artillery Base in Hasaka Province in addition to the Division 17 and Brigade 93 Bases in ar-Raqqa Province. ISIS forces also appear to be mobilizing to seize the final base in ar-Raqqa, the Tabqa Military Airbase. Significantly, these operations have proceeded in tandem with a campaign to remove internal threats to the Caliphate posed by isolated Syrian regime bases in ar-Raqqa province, and it appears ISIS is quickly moving toward a successful consolidation and hardening of its exterior borders in Northern Syria.

Read more

 

 

A New Era for Turkey Under President Erdoğan

By Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı

German Marshall Fund

August 11, 2014

After his team’s 1990 World Cup loss, English football player Gary Lineker said, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” Likewise, elections have become a simple game in Turkey: a number of political parties and leaders compete and at the end Recep Tayyip Erdoğan always wins. Sunday’s presidential election was no exception. Prime Minister Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKParty), won the election in the first round and became not only Turkey’s 12th president, but also the first to be elected in a popular vote. Erdoğan’s next move will be to try to change the constitution to introduce a presidential system in Turkey. Whether he can achieve that goal remains to be seen, but doubtless a new era has begun in Turkey.

Read more

 

 

Arab and Gulf Countries Must Take the Lead in Iraq

By Haleh Esfandiari

Wilson Center

August 8, 2014

I cannot shake the images of Vian Dakhil, the Iraqi member of Parliament, screaming at her colleagues that her people are being slaughtered, children are being murdered and the women are being taken into slavery or killed. Her constituents have fled their villages and are taking refuge in the mountains, where they are dying of heat.  Ever since ISIS entered Iraq and started advancing like the Mongol conquest in the 13th century, it has been killing people, purging the country of its religious minorities — Shiites, Christians, Yezidis and others — and destroying monuments. The legacy of ISIS is destruction, devastation and genocide. It has become quite obvious that the Iraqi government and army are incapable of stopping the invaders.  This carnage should be an opportunity for Washington to work with responsible actors in the region to form counterterrorism partnerships.

Read more

 

 

ISIL Could Become the Voice of Sunnis If We Don’t Find a Way to Stop It Soon

By Andrew J. Tabler

Washington Institute

August 11, 2014

New Republic

Given the consolidation of jihadist gains and the lack of interest and capacity among neighboring states to uproot ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the group is likely to endure absent a more assertive U.S. policy involving military and political operations.  The Islamic State in Iraq and Levant’s deep-rooted sense of purpose and its political, financial, and military ability have helped it carve out a safe haven between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This week’s American airstrikes could help roll ISIL back — but if the American people really do not want to be sucked into another war in the Middle East, then Washington will need to cement these gains by working with Arab allies to bolster the moderate Sunnis who would fill the vacuum in Syria and Iraq following an ISIL defeat.

Read more

 

 

Will President Erdogan Run Turkey?

By Soner Cagaptay

Washington Institute

August 11, 2014

PolicyWatch 2302

On August 10, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been running the country since 2002, won the presidential election with 52 percent of the popular vote. Under Turkey’s current parliamentary system, the prime minister is the chief executive and head of government, while the president is the nonpartisan head of state and second in line with regard to executive powers. Yet on August 4, Erdogan hinted that “he will not assume the traditional role of the president in Turkish politics,” adding that he “will track all the issues and make sure that the cabinet [which includes the prime minister] and the other institutions work in accord.” Can Erdogan run the country from his new post? An analysis of Turkey’s constitution and political structure suggests that is likely, with implications for U.S.-Turkish relations on a variety of regional issues.

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