Week of February 14th, 2014

Executive Summary

Although Washington focused on the state visit by French President Hollande, the think tank community did produce a wide variety of papers on subjects of interest to the Middle East.

The Monitor Analysis does look at Franco-American relations in light of Hollande’s visit and the vastly improved relations with France over the last few years.  Contrary to the view that France is America’s most important ally – supplanting Britain – the Monitor Analysis sees the current warmth as based on political expediency and temporary common interests.

Over the last 237 years, Franco-American relations have swung from love to quasi-war and back again, many times.  In each case, it was political expediency that drove the relationship.  And, while the US and France share several common policy goals now, there remain many differences that will inevitably cool relations in the future.  In the meantime, relations with Britain will remain more important as America shares many cultural, political, ethnic, and linguistic ties with that island nation.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the failures of Obama’s foreign policy.  They conclude, “Under the circumstances, it should come as no surprise that a sense of U.S. retreat and abandonment has proliferated abroad, and that American allies are busy making deals with Moscow and Beijing. If our officials had any sense of history or reality, they would know that such strategic incompetence only invites further advances from our adversaries. “Epic fail,” indeed.

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the role of Damascus in the Syrian civil war.  They note, “As the seat of power for the Assad regime, Damascus has always been heavily militarized and has hosted a high proportion of the Syrian armed forces throughout the war. It became a battleground relatively late in the conflict. In July 2012, rebels advanced into areas of the capital previously thought to be impenetrable. In response, the regime escalated operations in the capital in late 2012 and consolidated forces from other parts of the country. Meanwhile, rebels in Damascus worked to improve their organizational structure, and implemented a shift towards targeted attacks on infrastructure and strategic assets. In addition to redistributing forces, the regime in late 2012 began augmenting its forces with foreign fighters, namely Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi‘a militias, and professionalizing pro-regime militias. This influx of manpower, in addition to increased levels of support from Iran and Russia, has been critical to the regime’s military strategy in 2013.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at how to avoid destabilizing Afghanistan as US troops leave this year.  They suggest, “With only two months to go before the Afghan elections, the U.S. should simply ignore Karzai and wait for the election to produce a new government, which would very likely sign the BSA promptly. Afghanistan should not again become a hotbed for terrorists bent on attacking the U.S. To ensure that Afghanistan does not implode as the U.S. draws down its forces, the U.S. must: Continue military planning, Maintain U.S. assistance programs, and remain focused on the electoral process and clear-eyed about Afghan reconciliation.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the potential of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania engaging in maritime security in the Arabian Gulf.  Not only have they expressed a willingness to contribute forces, they. “The Baltic states have much experience dealing with mines and other unexploded ordnance. The Lithuanian navy estimates that up to 200,000 mines, torpedoes, missiles, and other ordnance were launched in the Baltic Sea for testing and other exercises between the Russian Revolution and World War II.  To deal with this problem, the Baltic States have created the Baltic Naval Squadron consisting of several Baltic ships with mine-countermeasures-vessel (MCMV) capabilities.  In 2012 and 2013, Estonian personnel participated in a major mine-clearing exercise in the Persian Gulf led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain. The three Baltic navies already have experience working as part of maritime security coalitions and have served as part of NATO’s Standing NATO Mine Countermeasure Group. It would be beneficial for the U.S. if the Baltic States deployed their countermine capabilities to the Persian Gulf.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

France Does the Heavy Lifting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disputes Remain – Agreeing to Disagree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Relations

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

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

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

February 13, 2014

Issue Brief #4148

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

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

By Lisa Curtis

Heritage Foundation

February 11, 2014

Issue Brief #4147

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

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Obama’s Foreign Policy: An Epic Fail

By Stephen Blank
American Foreign Policy Council
February 11, 2014

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

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Assad Strikes Damascus

By Valerie Szybala

Institute for the Study of War

February 2014

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

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Pivot on the rocks

By Michael Auslin

American Enterprise Institute

February 11, 2014

Commentary Magazine

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

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Week of February 07th, 2014

Executive Summary

The Washington think tank community produced a slew of papers on a number of issues impacting the Middle East.

The Monitor Analysis looks at a case brought to the US Supreme Court of the president’s power to make recess appointments.  Although the case can be seen as a bit of arcane US Constitutional law, it has a severe impact on the power of the president.  Traditionally, the Senate has given the president a bit of leeway in recess appointments – more than that required under the Constitution.  In an attempt to appoint some controversial people to office, Obama pushed the boundaries of those understandings, which brought forth a court case that has, so far, gone against Obama.  This is not the first time Obama has  pushed what he is allowed to do under the Constitution and it appears that the courts may for the first time in a long while, be willing to restrict the power of the US president.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

A new year gives think tanks to make suggestions to the government on goals for the year.  The Heritage Foundation does that by making five national security suggestions for Congress to accomplish in 2014.  Noting the growing menace of Iran, they suggest, “Effective and appropriate investment in ballistic missile defense is absolutely critical in a modern world where missile capabilities are proliferating. Iran and North Korea are cooperating on obtaining ballistic missiles that can hit anywhere in the U.S. in less than 33 minutes. They threaten U.S. allies. The U.S. cannot afford to turn a blind eye to these crucial developments. The U.S. should pursue and acquire the best available missile defense capabilities, including an improved Aegis missile defense system, the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, and space-based interceptors.”

The Heritage Foundation also looks at the top five foreign policy goals for the government too.  In addition to concern about Iran, they also encourage bolstering US allies in the Middle East.  They note, “While the Obama Administration has rushed to engage adversaries such as Iran and Syria, longtime allies such as Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have chafed at what they regard as Washington’s neglect of their core security interests. The U.S. should reassure its allies that it will not sacrifice their security interests for an illusory nuclear deal with Iran, press them to accept a diplomatic solution in Syria that preserves the Assad regime, or force them to accept half-baked deals with terrorists…Rather than rushing to midwife stillborn instant democracies, Washington should put a higher priority on supporting freedom, particularly economic freedom. Bolstering economic freedom can help fuel economic growth, create jobs for disillusioned youths who would otherwise be potential recruits for radical movements, and gradually build larger and more influential middle classes, which are building blocks for stable democracies.”

The CSIS looks at the US participation in Syrian CW destruction.  They note, “So far, Syria’s production capabilities and all unfilled munitions have been destroyed on land. Syria missed the December 31 2013 deadline for removing the most significant chemicals from Syria, but removal began a week later on January 7, 2014. Trucks are scheduled to bring chemicals to the port of Latakia, where they will be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships. They will meet up with the Cape Ray at an Italian port (not specified but it could be Trieste) where they will be off-loaded onto the U.S. ship. Using two field-deployable hydrolysis systems (FDHS) at a cost of $5M each, it should take between 45 and 60 days of operation to process the chemicals that the United States anticipates taking on.  Additional processing of the resulting effluents will be required.”

The CSIS looks at perceptions of the US in the Middle East.  They note, “The Arab leaders do not trust U.S. strategy toward Iran. They complain about U.S. policy toward Iran’s allies in Syria and Iraq. They remain aggrieved that the United States maintains a close relationship with Israel while remaining distant from the Palestinians. As it has been for many years in the past, the list is long.  Yet in years past, the Arab states were willing to swallow their complaints, because they needed the United States to protect them from their most pressing threats. In the eyes of many, the United States is now abetting their most pressing threats. While consultations between allies can alleviate misunderstandings, much of the tension between the United States and its Arab allies reflects fundamental differences in strategy. Neither side is likely to shift its strategy soon, and relations will reflect that fact.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the election on the new Egyptian constitution.  Their concern is that, “What it seems Egyptian authorities are most intent on, rather than restoring democratic processes, is ensuring there is a strong show of public support for the post-Morsi military-backed order. Authorities want “big crowds” and “expect everyone who demonstrated on June 30 [calling for Morsi’s removal] to turn out to vote,” said Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi during a December 29 television interview. Specifically, Egyptian authorities are looking for numbers that will decisively surpass the 18 million voters and 64 percent approval rating achieved by Morsi in the 2012 referendum.  A strong showing is important for domestic political reasons and international legitimacy. Recent Zogby polling suggests that public opinion on the military-backed transition remains quite polarized, and President Mansour, among other officials, has called on Egyptians to “impress the world” with their turnout.”

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) scheduled to start its trial proceedings in The Hague on January 16 in regards to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.  They note, “The STL has helped political life continue. In the framework of the tribunal, individuals are indicted as individuals and not as part of the party or sect they represent; and they are considered innocent until proven guilty. The tribunal is thus the box in which the insurmountable obstacle of the assassination has been parked, and it allows for the separation of the judicial from the political.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the problems with Turkey and its neighbors and allies.  They note, “Against the backdrop of Turkey’s internal crisis, there is a great deal of external maintenance to be done, especially with regard to NATO allies and with international investors.  In practical terms, Turkey’s tentative decision to opt for Chinese surface-to-air missiles in preference to U.S. and European bids, has raised political hackles across the alliance and works against the evident need for more closely integrated air and missile defense in the Eastern Mediterranean.  In more atmospheric terms, repeated references by Prime Minister Erdoğan and others in his government to international conspiracies, hidden hands, interest rate lobbies, and other murky forces allegedly stoking Turkey’s internal and external travails, has produced dismay on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The Wilson Center looks at the potential for stability in Afghanistan.  They note, “Afghanistan’s future will largely be determined by domestic political considerations in South Asia that the U.S. has little ability – or desire – to influence. For example, the Taliban insurgency’s trajectory will hinge to a great extent on Afghanistan’s upcoming elections and resulting new leadership. Only a legitimately elected government that properly administers justice, effectively delivers basic services, and above all is seen as clean, will convince Afghans that their government is a better alternative to the Taliban – and consequently slow recruitment to the insurgents’ cause.”

The Brookings Institution looks at a crisis simulation between the US and Iran over Syria.  It posited a hypothetical situation (very hypothetical from the perspective of real-world events at the time of the game) in which the Assad regime had suffered a number of significant setbacks that had greatly weakened its position. The Russians had largely ceased to resupply the regime in return for huge purchases of Russian arms by the Gulf states. Meanwhile, Gulf and Western states had increased their provision of arms to the opposition, particularly providing large numbers of man-portable anti-aircraft missiles and cutting-edge anti-tank weaponry. The new Western arms combination of these two factors produced a significant degradation of the regime’s firepower; the new weapons led to the destruction of more and more regime war machines, while the loss of Russian resupply meant that the regime could not keep pace with the soaring attrition rate.

 

 

ANALYSIS

Obama, the Senate, and Recess Appointments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of the American Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

Top Five National Security Priorities for Congress in 2014

By Steven P. Bucci and Michaela Dodge

Heritage Foundation

January 15, 2014

Issue Brief 4128

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

Read more

 

 

Top Five Foreign Policy Priorities for 2014

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

Heritage Foundation

January 14, 2014

Issue Brief 4123

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

Read more

 

 

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Destruction: It takes a Flotilla

By Sharon Squassoni and Bobby Kim

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 13, 2014

In a few weeks, the U.S. vessel Cape Ray will set sail for the Mediterranean.  This 648-foot long ship will be engaged in serious business once it reaches its destination: destroying some 700 tons of Syrian chemical weapons.  Under international pressure and following reports of chemical weapons use against its own citizens in 2012 and 2013, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013 and declared its inventory shortly thereafter– about 20 metric tons of mustard gas, some unfilled munitions, over 1000 metric tons of precursor materials (for VX and Sarin) and 290 metric tons of raw material, in addition to production sites (more than 20 sites in all).

Read more

 

 

Middle East Notes and Comment: A Deeper Difference

By Jon Altman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 14, 2014

If you were to believe the papers, falling U.S. standing in the Middle East is all about a supposedly feckless U.S. administration that cannot be bothered to pursue U.S. interests. In response, regional governments have reconciled themselves to a reduced U.S. role and resolved to carry on with little regard for U.S. preferences.  Such a reading misses much of what is driving international relations in the Middle East and U.S. relations with the countries of the region. What is truly at play is a reconfigured threat environment in which internal concerns outweigh external ones, and in which states increasingly question the wisdom of Western-style liberalization. In this environment, the idea has begun to circulate not only that the United States is not the asset it once was but that it is often a liability. The Obama administration’s decisions play a role in U.S. regional standing, but larger historical forces are also at play and have not been fully appreciated.

Read more

 

 

Legitimizing an Undemocratic Process in Egypt

By Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

January 9, 2014

The U.S. government, European governments, and international organizations interested in electoral fairness face a difficult balancing act with the January 14–15 constitutional referendum in Egypt. They want to observe the vote on the country’s new constitution to encourage Egypt to return to a democratic path after the July coup in which President Mohamed Morsi was removed. Several teams of international observers, whose post-referendum statements will command attention from policymakers and the media, are lined up for deployment.  But there is a real danger that international players will lend legitimacy to a flawed and undemocratic process. They risk playing into the Egyptian transitional government’s efforts to focus attention on the technicalities of the post-coup political road map while diverting notice from a deeply troubling context—widespread unrest.

Read more

 

 

Lessons From Lebanon’s Hariri Tribunal

By Nadim Shehadi

Carnegie Endowment

January 14, 2014

Eagerly anticipated by some, highly contested and even dreaded by others, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is scheduled to start its trial proceedings in The Hague on January 16. In total, five suspects with connections to Hezbollah will be judged in absentia after having been indicted for taking part in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.  This is indeed significant progress not only for Lebanon but also for the region as a whole. However, the establishment of the tribunal and the road to trial have been littered with obstacles and criticism. The story of the tribunal is a reminder of the difficulty of implementing such international measures of accountability. Lessons from the STL’s contributions and challenges should guide the growing debates in other Arab countries about justice and accountability.

Read more

 

 

Turkey Inside-Out: Old Realities, New Risks, and Strategic Implications

By Ian Lesser

German Marshall Fund

January 13, 2014

Turkey’s burgeoning corruption scandal and the deepening political and legal crises facing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government seem strong evidence of something new on the Turkish scene. There is now a real risk that internal factors will jeopardize Turkey’s prosperity and security, just as the country faces formidable challenges on its borders. As Turkey seeks a new social and political equilibrium, there are some strategic choices to be made in foreign and security policy. Overall, Turkey, the United States, and Europe will need a new narrative to define their cooperation in the face of deepening Middle Eastern chaos, with no end in sight. This analysis suggests a few steps that can be taken to contain the damage to Turkey’s relations with transatlantic partners, and improve the prospects for crisis management on Turkey’s borders.

Read more

 

 

Afghanistan Stability: a Pipe Dream?

By Michael Kugelman

Wilson Center

January 13, 2014

In recent days, U.S. officials have admitted that negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a bilateral security agreement (BSA) continue to make little progress.

Washington’s ambassador to Kabul has reportedly concluded that Karzai is unlikely to sign an accord before the elections this spring – and yet the Obama administration, after allowing earlier deadlines to lapse, is now insisting that any agreement needs to be in place “in weeks, not months.”  Such talk increases the possibility that Washington – and, most likely, its NATO allies – will be unable to leave a residual troop presence in Afghanistan after international forces leave at the end of this year. It’s a prospect that arouses anxiety from Washington to New Delhi and many places in between – and likely in Kabul as well.  Such concern is understandable. But let’s keep things in perspective: The stabilizing role of a post-2014 force – and its overall utility – would be modest at best.

Read more

 

 

Hard Road to Damascus: A Crisis Simulation of U.S.-Iranian Confrontation Over Syria

By Kenneth M. Pollack

Brookings Institution

January 13, 2014

Last September, as part of its annual conference with the United States Central Command, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution conducted a day-long simulation of a confrontation between the United States and Iran arising from a hypothetical scenario in which the Syrian opposition had made significant gains in its civil war and was on the verge of crushing the Assad regime.  The simulation suggested that, even in the wake of President Rouhani’s ascension to power and the changed atmosphere between Tehran and Washington, there is still a risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between the two sides.

Read more

 

Week of January 10th, 2014

Executive Summary

The Washington think tank community produced a slew of papers on a number of issues impacting the Middle East.

The Monitor Analysis looks at a case brought to the US Supreme Court of the president’s power to make recess appointments.  Although the case can be seen as a bit of arcane US Constitutional law, it has a severe impact on the power of the president.  Traditionally, the Senate has given the president a bit of leeway in recess appointments – more than that required under the Constitution.  In an attempt to appoint some controversial people to office, Obama pushed the boundaries of those understandings, which brought forth a court case that has, so far, gone against Obama.  This is not the first time Obama has  pushed what he is allowed to do under the Constitution and it appears that the courts may for the first time in a long while, be willing to restrict the power of the US president.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

A new year gives think tanks to make suggestions to the government on goals for the year.  The Heritage Foundation does that by making five national security suggestions for Congress to accomplish in 2014.  Noting the growing menace of Iran, they suggest, “Effective and appropriate investment in ballistic missile defense is absolutely critical in a modern world where missile capabilities are proliferating. Iran and North Korea are cooperating on obtaining ballistic missiles that can hit anywhere in the U.S. in less than 33 minutes. They threaten U.S. allies. The U.S. cannot afford to turn a blind eye to these crucial developments. The U.S. should pursue and acquire the best available missile defense capabilities, including an improved Aegis missile defense system, the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, and space-based interceptors.”

The Heritage Foundation also looks at the top five foreign policy goals for the government too.  In addition to concern about Iran, they also encourage bolstering US allies in the Middle East.  They note, “While the Obama Administration has rushed to engage adversaries such as Iran and Syria, longtime allies such as Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have chafed at what they regard as Washington’s neglect of their core security interests. The U.S. should reassure its allies that it will not sacrifice their security interests for an illusory nuclear deal with Iran, press them to accept a diplomatic solution in Syria that preserves the Assad regime, or force them to accept half-baked deals with terrorists…Rather than rushing to midwife stillborn instant democracies, Washington should put a higher priority on supporting freedom, particularly economic freedom. Bolstering economic freedom can help fuel economic growth, create jobs for disillusioned youths who would otherwise be potential recruits for radical movements, and gradually build larger and more influential middle classes, which are building blocks for stable democracies.”

The CSIS looks at the US participation in Syrian CW destruction.  They note, “So far, Syria’s production capabilities and all unfilled munitions have been destroyed on land. Syria missed the December 31 2013 deadline for removing the most significant chemicals from Syria, but removal began a week later on January 7, 2014. Trucks are scheduled to bring chemicals to the port of Latakia, where they will be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships. They will meet up with the Cape Ray at an Italian port (not specified but it could be Trieste) where they will be off-loaded onto the U.S. ship. Using two field-deployable hydrolysis systems (FDHS) at a cost of $5M each, it should take between 45 and 60 days of operation to process the chemicals that the United States anticipates taking on.  Additional processing of the resulting effluents will be required.”

The CSIS looks at perceptions of the US in the Middle East.  They note, “The Arab leaders do not trust U.S. strategy toward Iran. They complain about U.S. policy toward Iran’s allies in Syria and Iraq. They remain aggrieved that the United States maintains a close relationship with Israel while remaining distant from the Palestinians. As it has been for many years in the past, the list is long.  Yet in years past, the Arab states were willing to swallow their complaints, because they needed the United States to protect them from their most pressing threats. In the eyes of many, the United States is now abetting their most pressing threats. While consultations between allies can alleviate misunderstandings, much of the tension between the United States and its Arab allies reflects fundamental differences in strategy. Neither side is likely to shift its strategy soon, and relations will reflect that fact.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the election on the new Egyptian constitution.  Their concern is that, “What it seems Egyptian authorities are most intent on, rather than restoring democratic processes, is ensuring there is a strong show of public support for the post-Morsi military-backed order. Authorities want “big crowds” and “expect everyone who demonstrated on June 30 [calling for Morsi’s removal] to turn out to vote,” said Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi during a December 29 television interview. Specifically, Egyptian authorities are looking for numbers that will decisively surpass the 18 million voters and 64 percent approval rating achieved by Morsi in the 2012 referendum.  A strong showing is important for domestic political reasons and international legitimacy. Recent Zogby polling suggests that public opinion on the military-backed transition remains quite polarized, and President Mansour, among other officials, has called on Egyptians to “impress the world” with their turnout.”

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) scheduled to start its trial proceedings in The Hague on January 16 in regards to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.  They note, “The STL has helped political life continue. In the framework of the tribunal, individuals are indicted as individuals and not as part of the party or sect they represent; and they are considered innocent until proven guilty. The tribunal is thus the box in which the insurmountable obstacle of the assassination has been parked, and it allows for the separation of the judicial from the political.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the problems with Turkey and its neighbors and allies.  They note, “Against the backdrop of Turkey’s internal crisis, there is a great deal of external maintenance to be done, especially with regard to NATO allies and with international investors.  In practical terms, Turkey’s tentative decision to opt for Chinese surface-to-air missiles in preference to U.S. and European bids, has raised political hackles across the alliance and works against the evident need for more closely integrated air and missile defense in the Eastern Mediterranean.  In more atmospheric terms, repeated references by Prime Minister Erdoğan and others in his government to international conspiracies, hidden hands, interest rate lobbies, and other murky forces allegedly stoking Turkey’s internal and external travails, has produced dismay on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The Wilson Center looks at the potential for stability in Afghanistan.  They note, “Afghanistan’s future will largely be determined by domestic political considerations in South Asia that the U.S. has little ability – or desire – to influence. For example, the Taliban insurgency’s trajectory will hinge to a great extent on Afghanistan’s upcoming elections and resulting new leadership. Only a legitimately elected government that properly administers justice, effectively delivers basic services, and above all is seen as clean, will convince Afghans that their government is a better alternative to the Taliban – and consequently slow recruitment to the insurgents’ cause.”

The Brookings Institution looks at a crisis simulation between the US and Iran over Syria.  It posited a hypothetical situation (very hypothetical from the perspective of real-world events at the time of the game) in which the Assad regime had suffered a number of significant setbacks that had greatly weakened its position. The Russians had largely ceased to resupply the regime in return for huge purchases of Russian arms by the Gulf states. Meanwhile, Gulf and Western states had increased their provision of arms to the opposition, particularly providing large numbers of man-portable anti-aircraft missiles and cutting-edge anti-tank weaponry. The new Western arms combination of these two factors produced a significant degradation of the regime’s firepower; the new weapons led to the destruction of more and more regime war machines, while the loss of Russian resupply meant that the regime could not keep pace with the soaring attrition rate.

 

 

ANALYSIS

Obama, the Senate, and Recess Appointments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of the American Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

Top Five National Security Priorities for Congress in 2014

By Steven P. Bucci and Michaela Dodge

Heritage Foundation

January 15, 2014

Issue Brief 4128

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

Read more

 

 

Top Five Foreign Policy Priorities for 2014

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

Heritage Foundation

January 14, 2014

Issue Brief 4123

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

Read more

 

 

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Destruction: It takes a Flotilla

By Sharon Squassoni and Bobby Kim

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 13, 2014

In a few weeks, the U.S. vessel Cape Ray will set sail for the Mediterranean.  This 648-foot long ship will be engaged in serious business once it reaches its destination: destroying some 700 tons of Syrian chemical weapons.  Under international pressure and following reports of chemical weapons use against its own citizens in 2012 and 2013, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013 and declared its inventory shortly thereafter– about 20 metric tons of mustard gas, some unfilled munitions, over 1000 metric tons of precursor materials (for VX and Sarin) and 290 metric tons of raw material, in addition to production sites (more than 20 sites in all).

Read more

 

 

Middle East Notes and Comment: A Deeper Difference

By Jon Altman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 14, 2014

If you were to believe the papers, falling U.S. standing in the Middle East is all about a supposedly feckless U.S. administration that cannot be bothered to pursue U.S. interests. In response, regional governments have reconciled themselves to a reduced U.S. role and resolved to carry on with little regard for U.S. preferences.  Such a reading misses much of what is driving international relations in the Middle East and U.S. relations with the countries of the region. What is truly at play is a reconfigured threat environment in which internal concerns outweigh external ones, and in which states increasingly question the wisdom of Western-style liberalization. In this environment, the idea has begun to circulate not only that the United States is not the asset it once was but that it is often a liability. The Obama administration’s decisions play a role in U.S. regional standing, but larger historical forces are also at play and have not been fully appreciated.

Read more

 

 

Legitimizing an Undemocratic Process in Egypt

By Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

January 9, 2014

The U.S. government, European governments, and international organizations interested in electoral fairness face a difficult balancing act with the January 14–15 constitutional referendum in Egypt. They want to observe the vote on the country’s new constitution to encourage Egypt to return to a democratic path after the July coup in which President Mohamed Morsi was removed. Several teams of international observers, whose post-referendum statements will command attention from policymakers and the media, are lined up for deployment.  But there is a real danger that international players will lend legitimacy to a flawed and undemocratic process. They risk playing into the Egyptian transitional government’s efforts to focus attention on the technicalities of the post-coup political road map while diverting notice from a deeply troubling context—widespread unrest.

Read more

 

 

Lessons From Lebanon’s Hariri Tribunal

By Nadim Shehadi

Carnegie Endowment

January 14, 2014

Eagerly anticipated by some, highly contested and even dreaded by others, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is scheduled to start its trial proceedings in The Hague on January 16. In total, five suspects with connections to Hezbollah will be judged in absentia after having been indicted for taking part in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.  This is indeed significant progress not only for Lebanon but also for the region as a whole. However, the establishment of the tribunal and the road to trial have been littered with obstacles and criticism. The story of the tribunal is a reminder of the difficulty of implementing such international measures of accountability. Lessons from the STL’s contributions and challenges should guide the growing debates in other Arab countries about justice and accountability.

Read more

 

 

Turkey Inside-Out: Old Realities, New Risks, and Strategic Implications

By Ian Lesser

German Marshall Fund

January 13, 2014

Turkey’s burgeoning corruption scandal and the deepening political and legal crises facing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government seem strong evidence of something new on the Turkish scene. There is now a real risk that internal factors will jeopardize Turkey’s prosperity and security, just as the country faces formidable challenges on its borders. As Turkey seeks a new social and political equilibrium, there are some strategic choices to be made in foreign and security policy. Overall, Turkey, the United States, and Europe will need a new narrative to define their cooperation in the face of deepening Middle Eastern chaos, with no end in sight. This analysis suggests a few steps that can be taken to contain the damage to Turkey’s relations with transatlantic partners, and improve the prospects for crisis management on Turkey’s borders.

Read more

 

 

Afghanistan Stability: a Pipe Dream?

By Michael Kugelman

Wilson Center

January 13, 2014

In recent days, U.S. officials have admitted that negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a bilateral security agreement (BSA) continue to make little progress.

Washington’s ambassador to Kabul has reportedly concluded that Karzai is unlikely to sign an accord before the elections this spring – and yet the Obama administration, after allowing earlier deadlines to lapse, is now insisting that any agreement needs to be in place “in weeks, not months.”  Such talk increases the possibility that Washington – and, most likely, its NATO allies – will be unable to leave a residual troop presence in Afghanistan after international forces leave at the end of this year. It’s a prospect that arouses anxiety from Washington to New Delhi and many places in between – and likely in Kabul as well.  Such concern is understandable. But let’s keep things in perspective: The stabilizing role of a post-2014 force – and its overall utility – would be modest at best.

Read more

 

 

Hard Road to Damascus: A Crisis Simulation of U.S.-Iranian Confrontation Over Syria

By Kenneth M. Pollack

Brookings Institution

January 13, 2014

Last September, as part of its annual conference with the United States Central Command, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution conducted a day-long simulation of a confrontation between the United States and Iran arising from a hypothetical scenario in which the Syrian opposition had made significant gains in its civil war and was on the verge of crushing the Assad regime.  The simulation suggested that, even in the wake of President Rouhani’s ascension to power and the changed atmosphere between Tehran and Washington, there is still a risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between the two sides.

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Week of January 10th, 2014

Executive Summary

The holiday season is over and the Washington think tank community went back to work, although a record cold blast left many unable to get to work as the aging electrical infrastructure in the northeast US strained to keep with demand.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the American Federal Reserve and its new Chairman Janet Yellen and the controversial choice of Stanley Fischer as Vice Chair of the Fed.   Fischer holds joint American/Israeli citizenship and many are questioning if such a sensitive role should be held by anyone with divided loyalties.  We also look at the Federal Reserve System and how they impact the economy.  We also look at the growing concern that the monetary tools of the past aren’t working and what may be done in the future.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at failed American foreign policy.  They suggest, “The United States must return to the more classical connection between force and diplomacy. For too long, American policy makers, motivated by the assumptions of liberal internationalism, have acted as if diplomacy alone is sufficient to achieve our foreign policy goals. But as Frederick the Great once observed, “Diplomacy without force is like music without instruments.” Prudent American realism recognizes that diplomacy and force are two sides of the same coin. Finally, the United States should not hesitate to use its economic power as an instrument of foreign policy. The changing geopolitics of energy provides an opportunity for the United States to counter the likes of Putin, and others in the world who have wielded the energy weapon against America in the past.”

The CSIS looks at the growing problems in Iraq.  They conclude, “Like so much of the Arab world, Iraq cannot succeed through denial of its real world challenges or export the blame even when that blame is valid. It also cannot be “fixed” by U.S. aid to its military or counterterrorism force that does not address Iraq’s political failures and mistakes. Iraq’s progress depends on the willingness of its political leaders to turn away from a narrow focus on their own position sect, ethnicity, and faction. If they do not move forward – and persist in seeking personal and factional power – Iraq will either move towards all out civil war or towards far more serious repression. In both cases, it will become a failed state.”

The CSIS looks at cybersecurity in the Gulf region.  They note, “Iran has far outpaced the GCC states in developing its cyber capabilities, both for monitoring internal dissent and deploying hackers to disrupt or attack foreign targets. Several such attacks over the past two years were likely either directed or permitted by Iranian state authorities. Even if Iran holds back from offensive actions as nuclear talks progress, the growth in Iranian capabilities remains a potential security threat for other Gulf states. The GCC countries have begun to develop their defensive capabilities, but they will need to expand their defenses and collaborate more effectively to deter future threats.

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the political crisis facing Turkey and Erdogan.  Rather than consider this a minor issue, they warn, “Turkey’s current crisis is of huge significance. It will not only determine whether Mr Erdogan’s party can continue to dominate the domestic political scene. With twin local and presidential elections slated for 2014, the shape of the country’s politics will be affected by this episode. However, the crisis has also laid bare the deficiencies of a democracy marred by cycles of corruption. A return to normalcy will require prioritising reforms to bolster the independence of a key set of state institutions and to overhaul the rules on financing politics. The sooner the Turkish political class is able to reach a consensus on the indispensability of this reform agenda, the sooner the country can return to long-term political stability.”

The Washington Institute also looks at Turkey.  They examine possible outcomes for the 2014 elections, and their ramifications, touching on Turkey’s economy, key infrastructure projects, the Syria conflict, and other factors likely to shape the outcome. How Turkey sorts through this upcoming trial by politics will affect not only Turkey’s domestic scene but the region and the United States as well because, with the exception of Israel, Turkey is the most stable and strongest U.S. partner in the region. A domestically stable and economically healthy Turkey can be a kind of regional anchor, with which the United States shares enough interests to undertake common initiatives; however, a Turkey consumed by political conflict or maximizing its authoritarian and “majoritist” tendencies will weaken this bond. And any real backsliding from a liberal, democratic trajectory by a country so significant in global politics would do immense harm to the century-long American effort to promote liberal universal.

The Washington Institute looks at Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani’s relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  They see, “Rouhani as someone who “understands the power relations in the Islamic Republic…and knows that his success depends on constructive engagement with influential institutions…Unlike Khatami, he does not see engagement with the IRGC as an obstacle to democracy, and unlike Ahmadinejad, he does not look at such institutions as an impediment to his independent authority…He may have some sympathy with Khatami or Ahmadinejad, but he takes a different path and prefers not to create tension with these institutions.” According to the article, Rouhani acts in a way that “all powerful institutions will feel indebted to him. This is the secret to endurance for the Islamic Republic’s traditional technocrats.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Behind the Scenes Turmoil at the Federal Reserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beginners Guide to the Federal Reserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Monetary Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

Cybersecurity and Stability in the Gulf

By James Andrew Lewis

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Jan 6, 2014

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

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Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 6, 2014

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

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

By Sinan Ülgen

Carnegie Endowment

January 6, 2014

Financial Times

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

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Principle and Prudence in American Foreign Policy

By Mackubin Thomas Owens

Foreign Policy Research Institute

January 2014

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

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Turkey’s 2014 Political Transition From Erdogan to Erdogan?

By Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

January 2014

Policy Notes 17

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

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President Rouhani and the IRGC

By Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

January 8, 2014

PolicyWatch 2189

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

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Week of January 03rd, 2014

Executive Summary

This week was very slow as the United States celebrated New Years.  Many think tanks were closed and very few papers were released.  The pace of activity will pick up next week as the holiday season ends.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the political crisis in Turkey.  After 11 years in power, it appears that significant segments of the Turkish voter base have tired of Erdogan and this current corruption scandal – and his reaction to it – will be a major test to his ability to survive.  Gulen supporters, who have been part of Erdogan’s political coalition, are looking more likely to split off and support his opposition.  We also see problems with the US/Turkish relationship as Erdogan has intimated that the US is somehow involved in the corruption investigation.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Carnegie endowment also looks at the upcoming referendum in Egypt on the proposed constitution.  On that question, they say, “It is rare for a constitution to be rejected in a referendum. Egyptian voters have never turned their rulers down, and constitutional referenda in other countries almost always pass. In this case, it is true that there are some political actors opposed to the constitution—most notably the Muslim Brotherhood and its associated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which was ousted from power in July.  But these actors are more likely to boycott the referendum than to mobilize for a “no” vote. It is unlikely that the FJP would be able to muster a majority against the constitution. What’s more, prevailing feelings among FJP members—from what can be gleaned—lend themselves far more to expressions of outrage than to cold electoral strategizing.”

The Washington Institute looks at new Saudi laws that are aimed at reducing terrorism, and stifling non-violent activism.  They conclude, “This month’s legislative developments in Saudi Arabia are a testament to the domestic pressures the royal family continues to feel three years into the Arab Spring. President Obama has made it clear that Saudi stability is a Middle East policy priority. At the same time, the kingdom’s muddying of the waters between terrorism and nonviolent expression once again brings into sharp relief important differences on political, social, and religious rights between the United States and its strategic partner. Private discussions with the Saudi leadership regarding the issue — perhaps including rewards for progress — remain important to our own and longer-term Saudi interests.”

The Washington Institute looks at the crisis in Turkey too.  They look towards the March elections and conclude, “What happens in March has the potential to determine Turkey’s democratic trajectory. This poses a major challenge for the U.S., raising thorny questions about the future of America’s alliance with Turkey.  The threat to bilateral relations has been exacerbated by the remarkably explicit attacks on the U.S. by prominent AKP officials and pro-government media, which have accused America of being behind the corruption probes. Other allegations include an assertion that U.S. Embassy staffers have conspired with Turkish nongovernmental organizations to try to oust the AKP government. Last week, Mr. Erdogan publicly complained that the corruption investigation is a foreign plot. And he made matters even more precarious on Dec. 21 by suggesting that the American ambassador, Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., a stellar diplomat, leave the country — the first such incident in living memory.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Iranian nuclear deal.  They note that in any deal – the current proposed one or any future deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will play a major role that must be accounted for.  They note, “The IAEA could be the elephant in the room. The IAEA is not a party to the initial step, but it remains closely involved with Iran’s nuclear program… The IAEA, on the basis of its verification mandate, independently seeks answers about whether Iran is in compliance with its bilateral agreement on nuclear safeguards. The forthcoming negotiation over the final step will have to reconcile these two imperatives… but neither it nor the November 24 Joint Plan of Action spells out when or to what extent Iran must comply with the IAEA’s request for information concerning activities related to nuclear weapons development. It is possible that Iran may strictly implement the suspension terms in the Joint Plan of Action but not cooperate to the extent the IAEA deems necessary on PMD. In that case, if the powers conclude that lack of cooperation between the IAEA and Iran stands in the way of a final agreement, they might pressure the IAEA to relent on its requirements in the interest of making a deal.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Political Crisis in Turkey Threatens Erdogan’s Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

The Muslim Brotherhood’s winter offensive

A Year of Too-Great Expectations for Iran

By Mark Hibbs

Carnegie Endowment

December 30, 2013

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

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An Anticlimactic Referendum in Egypt

By Nathan J. Brown

Carnegie Endowment

December 27, 2013

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

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The Islamist Feud behind Turkey’s Turmoil

By Soner Cagaptay and James F. Jeffrey

Washington Institute

December 29, 2013

Wall Street Journal

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

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Saudi Arabia: Outlawing Terrorism and the Arab Spring

By Lori Plotkin Boghardt

Washington Institute

December 27, 2013

PolicyWatch 2187

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

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Week of December 27th, 2013

Executive Summary

This week was very slow as the United States celebrated Christmas.  Many think tanks were closed and very few papers were released.  Since next week is New Years, many think tanks will not be open next week either.

The Monitor, however, did produce an analysis on Obama’s last year and what we should expect in 2014.  Last year was a poor one for the president, with many failures both domestically and internationally.  But the chances of a rebound in 2014 are poor.  The Obama Administration has definitely fallen into the second lethargy that bedevils second term American presidents and his polling numbers indicate that the Republicans could see major political gains in November.  There is also the fact that Obama has never been accomplished in pushing legislation and his weakened political position will make it that much harder

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Washington Institute looks at the potential of a part of Syria becoming an Assad “statelet.”  They note, “Acknowledging the threat that an Assad-led statelet would pose to these groups’ ability to rule a postwar Syria, several of the Islamic Front’s battalions are participating in cam­paigns aimed at cutting off the Damascus-based Assad regime from its core constituencies of support in the Latakia, Tartus, and Homs governorates Should an Assad-led statelet be developed, this would reflect a de facto partitioning of the country, with significant and potentially very bloody ramifications for its future. Such an entity, led by Assad and the remnants of the Syrian military, could include a swath of western Syria possibly con­stituting 40 percent of the country’s land area and encompassing some 60 to 70 percent of its population.3 Achieving control over the statelet’s ter­ritory and defending it from the armed opposition, including committed jihadist fighters aligned with al-Qaeda, could possibly lead to intractable conflict, forced migration (or ethnic and sectarian cleansing), and perma­nent restive Syrian refugee populations in neighboring countries, among other long-term potential consequences.”

Just before Egypt designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group this week, the Center for Security Policy looked at the Muslim Brotherhood.  The paper noted, “In short order, however, the determination of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ilk to impose the supremacist and brutally repressive doctrine they call shariah became evident in Cairo and the rest of the Middle East.  Whether they gained power via violent revolution or through the ballot box, the goal was the same: compel moderate Muslims, secularists, Christians and everybody else to submit to orthodox Islamic misrule. Resistance was met with violence, imprisonment and the destruction of churches.  Fortunately, as many as thirty million Egyptians took to the streets of their cities last summer to denounce the Brotherhood and demand the removal from power of its president, Mohamed Morsi.  He was overthrown and arrested in July by the military-led opposition, his organization banned and its other leaders incarcerated.  Most sentient Americans recognized this as a very positive development.”

The Council on Foreign Relations looks at Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and his impact on Iranian foreign policy.  They conclude, “Given the immense economic pressure his country faces, Khamenei has conceded to negotiations with the United States on the nuclear file, but he remains dubious of diplomacy and its prospects. As such, Khamenei has to be considered an obstacle to better relations between Iran and the United States.”

 

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Looking Towards 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are harbingers of bad news for Democrats for November.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That makes Obama’s legislative muscle very weak.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

The Muslim Brotherhood’s winter offensive

By Frank Gaffney, Jr.

Center for Security Policy

December 23, 2014

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

Read more

 

 

The Potential for an Assad Statelet in Syria

By Nicholas A. Heras

Washington Institute

December 2013

Policy Focus 132

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

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

By Ray Takeyh

Council on Foreign Relations

December 23, 2013

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

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Week of December 20th, 2013

Executive Summary

The Washington Think Tank community produced a flurry of reports before closing down for the Christmas holiday.  They range from the Iranian nuclear agreement, to the civil war in Syria to the Tunisian constitution.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the move by the GCC to create a joint military command and the American move to recognize this command and give it the same status in receiving military hardware and assistance that is granted to NATO.  We look at the threats faced by this new joint command and where a greater military coordination by the GCC nations is likely to occur.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Washington Institute looks at the politics of Syria’s Kurds.  They conclude, “The United States should reach out to the PYD (the Democratic Union Party, a Syrian Kurdish group affiliated with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party). Yet Washington must condition such recognition on the PYD’s commitment to pluralistic democracy…The group must also address Turkish concerns about its ambitions. Ankara has fought a twenty-nine-year battle against the PYD’s patron, the PKK, and fears the emergence of a new PKK safe haven on its border with Syria. Thus far, the PKK has not conducted any cross-border raids, and the PYD has gone to great lengths to ensure a calm frontier. Nevertheless, Turkey has sought to stem the PYD’s growing influence by propping up the KNC, though to no avail.  Perhaps the right mix of incentives from Washington and Ankara could nudge the PYD toward becoming a reliable ally. In a revolution that has witnessed the proliferation of jihadists, the emergence of secular moderate elements should not be shunned.”

The Washington Institute also looks at the Syrian government’s military solution to the civil war.  They conclude, “While the regime is not certain to win the kind of victory it seeks, and may have to settle for less, the war is now moving in its favor and prospects for a reversal do not look good.  Barring a sudden collapse of the armed resistance, which for the Islamist core seems unlikely, the regime will only slowly defeat rebel forces and recover territory. But the regime is implacable and its allies are steadfast.  Regarding Geneva, the regime’s approach to the war suggests that it will not negotiate seriously with the rebels. And given its increasing success on the battlefield, the continued support of its allies, and a divided and feckless opposition, there is no reason why it should.”

The CSIS looks at the shaping of Iraq’s security forces.  In speaking of the violence in Iraq, the CSIS suggests, “The US must do what it can to improve this situation in spite of the failure of its effort to create a true strategic partnership that would survive the departure of its combat forces. As has been discussed earlier, the US retains critical national security interests in Iraq. These interests center on giving Iraq a successful political and economic structure and making it a securer source of petroleum exports, eliminating civil violence and the risk of a return to a serious civil war, reducing or eliminating the threat of Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist elements, limiting Iranian influence over Iraq’s Shi’ite factions. They can best be served by supporting Iraqi governance and security forces by providing such support present critical challenges.”

The German Marshall fund looks at the development of a new Tunisian constitution.  Despite the challenges faced, they conclude, “The good news is that the international community is in a better position to assist with Tunisia’s policy objectives after the constitution is passed. There could be a role for the international community in breaking the current conflict, either by providing an impartial mediator or closely supervising the next elections. The United Nations (UN) thus far has had little direct impact on the political transition beyond support to the elections commission despite an ambitious agenda by the United Nations Development Programme; providing a mediator or taking a more central role in administering the elections could be a natural role.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the awakening of political forces from the Arab Spring and how they will play out in 2014.  They note, “There are three key dynamics shaping the evolution of the Arab Awakening. The first and perhaps most important consequence of the Arab uprisings is the transformation of Islamist movements—mostly offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood—from opposition groups into major political forces in most countries undergoing transitions… The second fight is especially worrisome. The tension between Sunnis and Shia is rising to an alarming degree in countries like Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and most horrifically in Syria. And political demands in all these countries are turning sectarian. In many cases, particularly in the Gulf, this “sectarianization” of politics is being aggravated by government policies of exclusion and discrimination… The last factor shaping the Arab Awakening is the secular forces, which have not easily accepted the rise of political Islam. These forces have behaved in a way that seems to suggest that they are fine with democracy only as long as it brings them to power.”

The CSIS looks at the interim Iranian nuclear agreement.  They conclude, “It still remains far from clear, however, that sanctions and negotiations can stop Iran from moving toward a nuclear weapons capability. It is already clear that Iran is building up its long-range missile forces and is steadily building up its capabilities for asymmetric warfare in ways that can be used to deliver a wide range of attacks. It also continues to use its Al Quds force, intelligence services, and diplomats to pose a growing threat to the Arab states and Israel and to seek an axis of influence that includes Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.  Accordingly, the report traces the reasons the US, its Arab allies, and Israel may still face a point where they will have a grim choice between preventive strikes and forming a de facto coalition to contain Iran.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

GCC Nations Create New Joint Command

In the face of a weakening US presence in the region and a potentially stronger Iranian presence, the GCC nations approved the creation of a joint military command structure last week.  The three key areas of cooperation will be missile defense, Gulf maritime security, and counter terrorism.

The US quickly responded positively.  U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was in the Gulf in recent days, outlined steps to increase security cooperation in the Gulf region and maintained that the US would continue to base forces in the Gulf region,  “We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf,” he said.  This includes 10,000 US Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, radar, surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice, he said.

In addition, this week Obama signed an order that opened the door to sales of missile defense and other weapons systems to the GCC as a bloc.  This places the GCC in the same select group of organizations as NATO and the UN in terms of receiving military assistance.

The joint GCC command isn’t a new era of GCC military cooperation.  In 1984, the GCC decided to create a joint military force of 10,000 soldiers divided into two brigades, called the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF), based in Saudi Arabia near the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders.  It currently contains about 40,000 troops.

However, the military role of Peninsula Shield in the last 30 years has been scant.  A force of about 3,000 men from the PSF, in addition to forces of its member states, took part in the U.S. (and other coalition forces) military campaign to force Iraqis out of Kuwait in March 1991.  10,000 troops and two ships of PSF were deployed to Kuwait in February 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, to protect Kuwait from potential Iraqi attacks. It did not participate in operations against Iraq.

Its most active military role was in March 2011, Peninsula Shield forces, requested by the Bahraini government, entered Bahrain via the causeway from Saudi Arabia. The forces were from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

 

Improving GCC Military Cooperation

Although the populations of the GCC nations aren’t great, their combined military forces are (on paper) a formidable force for the region.  The nations rely on technology to act as a force multiplier for their smaller military forces.  In fact, the GCC put $130 billion into military spending in 2012.  “Our estimates showed that there was a real-term increase of over six per cent in 2012, reaching around $130 billion,” said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East and Africa editor at the London-based Jane’s Defense Weekly.  The big ticket items were missile defense systems, ships, and aircraft.

In terms of the new GCC military cooperation, the biggest impact in terms of spending will be an integrated missile defense system for all the nations.  Although each GCC country could develop its own system, the cooperation will allow for an integrated early warning system and deployment of missiles and radar where they would best meet the needs of the GCC – without consideration of national boundaries.  Expect increased interest in a major, integrated Patriot/THAAD (Theater High Altitude Air Defense System) purchase.

However, purchases will be a minor part of the new integrated system.  Each nation will insist on purchasing its own ships, armor, and aircraft.  Counter terrorism and maritime protection are less a function of large military purchases and rely more on cooperation between the various organizations.

Clearly, the GCC nations have been coordinating their efforts.  However, an integrated command can boost that coordination.  It can also give the GCC a chance to expand its roles and specialize the respective national military forces of its members.

In terms of maritime strategy, the GCC nations have to move from simple coastal protection to the protection of their economic zones inside the Arabian Gulf.  Key among these are convoy protection, countering Iranian potential retaliatory threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, monitoring Iranian presence in the Gulf, and projecting GCC power along the Gulf shoreline and onto oil platforms.

Historically, convoy protection has required considerable coordination.  The GCC nations have focused on this with the creation of CTF152, which provides maritime security throughout the Gulf.  However, that isn’t enough if faced with an Iranian attempt to choke maritime shipping within the Gulf.

Assuming that GCC nations will be committed to protecting all maritime shipping in the Gulf, the various ships of the GCC fleets will have to improve their command and control, their close maneuvering skills, and their defensive plans for convoy protection.  To maximize their reliance on Washington, they are cooperating considerably with the US Navy, which has considerable skill in convoy protection.

The GCC navies also need to focus on keeping the Strait of Hormuz open in the face of Iranian opposition.  From a passive point, this includes convoy protection, but from an active point of view, this means being able to neutralize Iranian anti-ship missiles on several islands in the Strait, most notably Abu Musa.  This was done with the Islands of Loyality Exercise last year where the GCC nations focused on neutralizing Iranian military power on the Tunb islands and Abu Musa.

Another active role for the GCC nations will be counter-mine exercises, since Iran has previously deployed anti-ship mines to hamper shipping in the Gulf.  Every year the GCC nations and 24 other countries hold an International Mine Counter Measures Exercise in the Gulf.

Counter mine warfare is also an area of high technology cooperation between GCC nations.  Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), including larger unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and smaller tethered remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are being used more and more in finding and neutralizing enemy mines.  Coordinating the type of robotic vehicles to be used, developing a system to share the information amongst the GCC navies, and developing tactics would be critical to keeping the Gulf mine free during any clashes .

One area of weakness for the GCC nations’ maritime strategy is projecting power along the Gulf coast.  Although air power can hit anywhere in the region within hours, naval ships have “staying ability” and can act as the base for amphibious landing that can land the heavy equipment that airborne forces can’t deploy.  They can also land on the numerous oil platforms in the Gulf. According to former American military officers served in the region, the UAE has the best amphibious forces among GCC Countries and is best prepared to conduct landing from the sea in support of military operations. They (former officials) are claiming that the UAE also has the ability to seriously damage Iran’s oil exporting infrastructure thanks to its investment in cruise missiles.

 

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

 

The GCC nations have focused more on the major weapons systems and not the munitions needed to make them operational for long times.  Three years ago, Saudi Ara­bia committed to the purchase of nearly 800 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), 1,000 anti-shipping and anti-air defense missiles, and 4,000 guided bombs. The last need was prompted by Saudi Arabia’s rapid expenditure of its entire guided bomb arsenal in fighting against the Houthi rebels on the Saudi-Yemeni border in the summer of 2009, requiring emergency resupply from U.S. operational reserves. Between 2007 and 2011, the UAE likewise purchased over 400 U.S.- delivered AAMs and 2,800 guided bombs.

In addition, there have been recent purchases of large numbers of anti-tank missiles.  The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress that Riyadh will be given permission to buy 14,000 tube-launched, optically tracked missiles and other weapons in two separate deals valued at nearly $1.1 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia will also eventually receive more than 1,700 similar missiles.  This indicates that Saudi Arabia has realized the need to deepen its munitions reserves.

American military experts advise that a better integrated logistics network would allow munitions to be shifted quickly and a centralized GCC reserve to be maintained.  In addition, GCC purchases of commonly used munitions could allow for larger orders, lower prices, and greater availability.

Same experts advocate that the GCC nations needs to coordinate their military reaction to a whole spectrum of threats, ranging from simple terrorism to the perceived (but not realistic) threat of a nuclear Iran.  This not only includes planning, but assigning areas of responsibility to various GCC nations

This brings us to:

 

The Major Threats Facing the GCC Integrated Military Command

Protecting Economic Centers.  The GCC nations have some of the world’s most economically important targets in their region – ranging from financial centers to oil production facilities.  They aren’t only threatened by other countries, but many terrorists whose goals may be very different, but would seek to cause severe economic disruption from a shutdown of the Gulf oil industry.

Obviously, the biggest targets are in Saudi Arabia – The Ras Tanura oil export terminals and Abqaiq refin­ery in Saudi Arabia.  And, this is where improved counter terrorism coordination between GCC nations, the US, and European intelligence services is expected.

From a military point of view, protecting economic centers requires the development and coordination of elite, highly mobile Special Forces skilled in counter terrorism.  The GCC nations have developed such groups and have received training from both US and British Special Forces.  However, specializing and coordinating these groups would prevent the supplication seen today.  For instance, Saudi Special Forces could specialize in protecting and retaking petroleum facilities on land.  Meanwhile, UAE forces, who have more seaborne experience, would focus on defense and retaking oil platforms in the Gulf.

Air and missile defense.  This is one area which has received a lot of attention and will probably receive the greatest attention with the new military integration.  In 2006, the Saudi Arabian deputy minister of Defense and Avia­tion, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, laid out Riyadh’s think­ing that Iran’s missiles were the key threat facing his country, noting that the threat “won’t be the Iranian Air Force, or Navy. It won’t be ships or boats. It will be missiles.”

The US will remain a critical player in the ballistic missile defense.  US secretary of Defense Hagel said last week that the Pentagon “will better integrate with GCC members to enhance missile defense capabilities in the region,” adding “the United States continues to believe that a multilateral approach is the best answer for missile defense.”

The US Navy also deploys several cruisers with anti-missile capabilities in the region.

Perceived (or imagined) Iranian Threat.  This is the major worry for GCC nations – not a nuclear threat, but a threat to their economic security through a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz and harassment of shipping throughout the Gulf.

This is where coordination between the GCC nations is the most critical.  Clearly Iran is outgunned with modern armaments by the GCC nations, but they will have to wield it as a coordinated force if they are to be successful.

The Iranian Navy lacks modern equipment and most of Iran’s abilities lie with the Revolutionary Guards fleet of gunboats that can swarm the Gulf.  They will rely upon numbers to overwhelm the GCC navies

The GCC nations rely on more modern, more capable fleets that can project power further and stay at sea longer.  Their air forces are better able to provide critical air cover.  They also have the advantage of having worked with the larger American, British and French fleets.

All the GCC states have invested heavily in the last decade in a new generation of power­ful offshore patrol vessels that combine good seaworthiness and the ability to stay on station longer.  They are well-armed, fast attack naval vessels with day and night sensors and effective offensive weapons systems, such as lightweight precision missiles and robotic stabilized cannons.  These ships can out-see and out-shoot any Iranian counterpart.  And, their ability to stay at sea longer makes up for the greater numbers of smaller Iranian craft that can’t travel far or stay at sea for long times.

In case of an Iranian threat to the Gulf shipping as result of retaliation to an attack on Iranian targets or interests by US or its allies, the GCC nations have to decide on what action to take and move aggressively.  Convoy protection is passive and cannot win – it merely slows the damage to the commercial shipping fleet.

Used aggressively, the GCC nations have a powerful maritime threat if they can or know how to use it.  Their ships and aircraft can strike key Iranian naval facilities like those on Abu Musa and neutralize them.  They can use guided munitions to strike and destroy Iranian commercial oil facilities.  And, they have the ability to carry out amphibious operations against smaller Iranian targets along the coast.

This is where political will and military integration comes in.  If the GCC nations see the threat and decide to react aggressively, they have the tools.  They however, need the integration necessary to carry it out.

That’s why the GCC announcement to develop a joint military command can be a positive aspect of the regions defense.  The GCC nations have developed the capabilities for air and missile defense, maritime strategy, and counter terrorism (even selectively).  However, national pride has often stood in the way of using them effectively.

 

PUBLICATIONS

The US and Iran: Sanctions, Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change

By Anthony H. Cordesman, Chloe Coughlin-Schulte and Bryan Gold

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 17, 2013

The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs reached between the P5+1 and Iran has made this a major policy issue for the US, the other members of the P5+1, Iran, Israel, and the other states in the region. It raises major question about the extent to which sanctions drove Iran to negotiate, the impact of the agreement, prospects for broader forms of arms control, and how reaching an agreement affects the real world options for changing the behavior of Iran’s regime.  The report provides an in-depth analysis of US and Iranian competition focusing on four interrelated areas – sanctions, energy, arms control, and regime change. It shows this competition has been steadily building since the fall of 2011, when the IAEA issued a new report on the possible military applications of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has continued to issue threats to “close the Gulf,” and has stalled negotiations, spurring a renewed round of sanctions that have had an increasingly significant impact on Iran’s economy throughout 2012 and continuing into 2013.

Read more

 

 

Shaping Iraq’s Security Forces

By Anthony H. Cordesman, Sam Khazai and Daniel Dewit

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 13, 2013

Two years after the withdrawal of all US military forces from Iraq, the Iraqi military is facing major challenges as it seeks to confront a resurgence of Islamist violence. The failure to maintain any residual US force in the country to train and support Iraqi counterterrorism operations has placed heavy constraints on the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and on US policy options for confronting terrorism spilling into Iraq as a result of the deepening crisis in Syria. The development of the Iraqi Security Forces has proceeded haltingly, and as a result Iraqi military and police units are ill-equipped to confront the non-state threats currently operating inside Iraq.

Read more

 

 

Year Four of the Arab Awakening

By Marwan Muasher

Carnegie Endowment

December 12, 2013

How will history judge the uprisings that started in many parts of the Arab world in 2011? The label “Arab Spring” proved too simplistic from the beginning. Transformational processes defy black-and-white expectations, but in the end, will the awakenings be more reminiscent of what happened in Europe in 1848, when several uprisings took place within a few weeks only to be followed by counterrevolutions and renewed authoritarian rule? Or will they more closely resemble the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, after which some countries swiftly democratized while others remained in thrall to dictatorship?  Whatever the case, it is clear that the process of Arab transformation will need decades to mature and that its success is by no means guaranteed. The movements driving it are more unanimous about what they are against than about what they are for. But the debate to define this awakening has begun.

Read more

 

 

Tunisia’s Constitutional Process: Hurdles and Prospects

By Duncan Pickard

German Marshall Fund

December 18, 2013

Three unsettled and related issues — the completion of the constitution, the legal framework for elections, and the replacement of the current government — jeopardize progress that has been made in Tunisia’s democracy so far. The chief political parties of Ennahda, currently in power, and Nidaa Tunis, a leading secular party led by long-time politician and former prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi, are currently negotiating the terms of a deal that would cover these three contentious issues. The fundamental socio-political tension in Tunisia can be boiled down, if somewhat crudely, into these two camps: for Nidaa Tunis and a return to the progressive, French-style secularism of former president Habib Bourguiba, and for Ennahda and the rebirth of a Tunisian political identity rooted in Islam. This divide is the theme of the current crisis and likely will remain even in the new constitutional order.

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The Fractious Politics of Syria’s Kurds

By Barak Barfi

Washington Institute

December 18, 2013

PolicyWatch 2184

On November 12, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish group affiliated with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), announced the creation of an interim government in areas under its control in northeastern Syria. The plan has the potential to increase rifts within the opposition and exacerbate regional tensions. To minimize them, Washington should help forge a pan-Kurdish coalition that can devote all of its attention to fighting al-Qaeda elements seeking to exploit Syria’s civil war.

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The Syrian Regime’s Military Solution to the War

By Jeffrey White

Washington Institute

December 18, 2013

PolicyWatch 2185

It has become commonplace to say that “there is no military solution” to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition.  The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and “game changers” could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible — and that is what the regime is counting on.

Read more

 

Week of December 13th, 2013

 

Executive Summary

 

Washington was slowed by both a snow storm and the American holiday season.  However, several reports came out on the Middle East and a major policy forum was held at the Brookings Institution on US/Israeli relations.

 

The Monitor Analysis looks at the leaked security arrangements between the US and Israel.  Although no particulars have been released, the analysis sees them falling into three areas – creating constraints in the Iranian nuclear deal that Israel can live with, receiving tacit approval for an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities if the deal fails, and overt US/Israeli security cooperation and intrusive measures on Palestinian land and sovereignty in any potential agreement that is currently under negotiation.

 

And, the Analysis looks at where Israel is focusing its efforts in terms of influencing the Geneva talks.  It appears from reports from Geneva that Israel is focusing less on uranium enrichment than plutonium production and nuclear detonation technology – which, according to our analysis, implies that Israel has accepted the fact that Iran can build a 1st generation U-235 nuclear device, but wants to prevent them from building a more sophisticated, more portable 2nd or 3rd generation device that can easily fit on a missile.

 

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

A forum was held at the Brookings Institution last week on US/Israeli relations that included Obama and Kerry.  The 2013 Forum examined the political changes taking place across the Middle East, including the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran; and the deepening Syrian civil war and resulting humanitarian crisis. Forum speakers and participants discussed the implications of these events on U.S. interests in the region, U.S.-Israel relations and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  Video highlights can be viewed by clicking on the link found at the end of the Monitor.

 

The CSIS writes about the negotiations with Iran.  As with the Monitor analysis, they note that the negotiations must include Congress and the Israelis.  They state, “Several forces drive Congress. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s critique that the deal is too permissive to the Iranians resonates with many, and others seek to check the president’s supposed instinct to compromise with enemies. Some Congressional leaders insist that their firm position gives the president leverage in negotiations with Iran, as the president can argue that some Iranian terms are unworkable because they would be unacceptable to Congress. But any such argument relies on the premise that there are conditions under which Congress would come along. To succeed at all with Iran, Iranians have to believe Congressional acquiescence is possible.”

 

The CSIS looks at Iran’s missile capability.  It notes, “that a nuclear arms race already exists between Israel and Iran – albeit one where only Israel now has a nuclear strike capability. The practical problem this raises for Iran – and for stabilizing this arms race – is that it will face a possible Israeli first strike option until it can secure its nuclear armed forces. This pushes it towards a concealed or breakout deployment, and an initial phase where it would have to launch on warning or under attack until it has a survivable force. It then must compete with powers with far larger stockpiles which include boosted and thermonuclear weapons until it can create a more sophisticated force of its own. The options will result in a high-risk arms race, particularly during its initial years, for all sides and do so regardless of the level of containment.”

 

The Carnegie Endowment writes that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is forming a political party, the National Party for Justice and the Constitution (Waad).  Their analysis says it will fail and note, “The Muslim Brotherhood may genuinely seek to establish a viable, inclusive new party, but the ambiguity about Waad’s purpose and prospects bode poorly for it. The Brotherhood has never shaken off the perception that it pulls all the strings in the opposition’s exile platform, the Syrian National Council, and skeptical observers believe it will do the same with Waad. The attempt to make up for Waad’s lack of presence on the ground in Syria by stacking it with “nationalist figures” and other worthy “personalities” further reduces confidence in its ability to survive as an autonomous party.  This is a shame, because Waad’s political program is an impressively detailed, 91-page document that touches transparently on every issue of importance to Syria’s political, economic, social, and administrative development in an admirably liberal framework. But the harsh truth is that Waad lacks the substance to become a viable, functioning party able to survive the current conflict.”

 

The Washington Institute looks at the security threat posed by the Syrian civil war refugee problem.  They note, “Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said that Lebanon is facing a “crisis of survival” due to the influx of Syrian refugees, saying that “social tension will increase with the fierce competition for jobs and services.” Lebanon’s Interior Minister Marwan Charbel recently asserted that many refugees are in fact rebel fighters and therefore are a threat to Lebanon’s security. Hezbollah MP Walid Sukariya also remarked that refugees are carrying out “killing operations” targeting factions in Lebanon that support the Assad regime, while some are in the country to carry out “acts of sabotage.” Lebanese MP Sleiman Frangieh, another figure historically close to Syria, said that up to 50,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon carrying arms.”

 

The Carnegie Middle East Center asks about the foreign soldiers in Syria.   When it comes to impacting the civil war, they note, “Many of the foreign fighters on the side of the rebels come in with very little battle experience and are first put through training camps…There are also veterans from places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Yemen, and Libya…Those who have had prior involvement in fighting have mattered on the battlefield, in training, and in strategy. The foreigner-dominated Muhajirin wa-Ansar Army, which is linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, was decisive in the takeover of the Menagh Air Base in August 2013. Foreigners also fought zealously in Latakia this summer, where they were involved in cleansing Alawites from captured areas.  The foreigners are likely even more important for the regime. Those who have come into Syria at the behest of Iran are professional fighters. They have ample experience, either against Israel or against American forces in Iraq. Hezbollah’s participation was key for taking back the border town of Qusayr from the rebels in May and June 2013. Iraqi Shia militiamen have been helping to cleanse and starve out Sunni enclaves in the Ghouta region surrounding Damascus.”

 

The Washington Institute asks if Iran will lash out at Saudi Arabia?  They reason, “the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will soon become a target for Iran, because while the al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the Iranian embassy blast in Beirut, it is difficult to believe that Iran and Hezbollah will not retaliate against Saudi Arabia, as the chief backer of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon and the Sunni revolt in Syria. Indeed, Hezbollah officials including Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al Akhbar — whose articles frequently reflect the Shiite militia’s views — have attributed the bombing to a group tied to Saudi Arabia, suggesting that the Kingdom’s embassy, diplomatic personnel, or nationals in Lebanon or abroad could be the next targets.  Should Tehran hit Riyadh, it could transform and broaden the ongoing Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into a more overt, deadly, and destabilizing conflict.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

Kerry Offers Security Guarantees to Israel

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

What an American Israeli Security Agreement Would Address

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

ISRAELI “FANTASY SCENARIO” OF MILITARY ATTACK

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Palestinian Deal goes through Tehran and Geneva

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

PUBLICATIONS

Three Negotiations on Iran

By Jon Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 11, 2013

 

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

Read more

 

 

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

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 9, 2013

 

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

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Uncertain Future for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s Political Party

By Yezid Sayigh and Raphaël Lefèvre

Carnegie Endowment

December 9, 2013

 

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

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An Unregulated Security Threat

By Andrew J. Tabler

Washington Institute

December 10, 2013

NOW Lebanon

 

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

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Is Iran Set to Lash Out at Saudi Arabia?

By David Schenker

Washington Institute

December 10, 2013

 

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

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Who Are the Foreign Fighters in Syria?

Interview of Aaron Y. Zelin

Carnegie Middle East Center

December 5, 2013

 

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

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

Forum

Brookings Institution

December 6-8, 2013

 

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

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Week of December 6th, 2013

Executive Summary

The focus moved from the Middle East and the Iran nuclear deal to the east and China’s newly declared air defense zones.  This, and a slow holiday season limited the number of think tank papers on the Middle East.

The Monitor Analysis looks at Israel and its relations with America and the American Jew.  Obama’s relations with Israeli PM Netanyahu have been rocky even though Obama has the support of most American Jews.  The Analysis looks at the changing nature of the American Jewish voter and their relationship with Israel.  It finds that the American Jew is less tied to Israel than in the past, which has freed Obama in his Middle Eastern policy.  It also identifies the new voter group that has grown closer to Israeli policy than American Jews.

 

Think Tanks Activity Summary

Revelations about NSA continue and the Cato Institute looks at them in this paper.  They worry that, “In light of the government’s demonstrated willingness to expand its surveillance powers through secret court rulings and tortured legal reasoning, there’s little way of knowing what limits on NSA surveillance truly remain. We know that a bulk collection program for Internet metadata, analogous to the phone records program, operated under a different Patriot Act authority until 2011, but we know little else about its scope, usefulness, or the legal arguments used to justify it.  Some news reports have hinted at large scale government collection of still other types of sensitive records, such as credit card bills, which are combined with phone records to enable large-scale data mining and profiling of social networks. Here, too, the legal and technological details remain obscure.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Egypt’s draft constitution.  They note, “The primary winners in Egypt’s new draft constitution are the state institutions that banded together to oust Morsi.  The constitution enshrines autonomy for the military, which had already been granted a considerable measure of autonomy by the now-suspended 2012 constitution. In effect, it is no longer treated as part of the executive branch of government but rather a branch unto itself.  The most significant change is the requirement that the military approve the defense minister for the next two presidential terms.”

The Washington Institute looks at the rebels in Syria and the Islamic Front.  They conclude, “The Islamic Front is not a global jihadist force, nor is it a U.S.-designated terrorist organization like JN and ISIS. Even so, the group is too ideologically unseemly for the United States to engage or back: it refuses to participate in Geneva II, and it rejects democracy and minority rights. Yet U.S. allies in the Gulf may decide to back the IF anyway, further complicating both the rebellion itself and the Obama administration’s hope that Geneva II will bring peace to Syria. Deciding how to approach the organization will be a major challenge for Washington.”

The CSIS looks at the case for staying in Afghanistan and questions it without laying out a clear case for it.  They note, “It should be stressed that many of these concerns and caveats might disappear if the Obama Administration demonstrated it had effective plans, meaningful cost-benefit assessments, and credible estimates of the cost in money and people. What exists to date falls far short of even the standard of planning that led to the mess in the Affordable Care Act. At least there were public plans and some form of credible debate. The problem in assessing the Zero Option is that there are zero plans, zero real debate over the issues that matter, and therefore zero substantive credibility.”

While most of the discussion is about Iranian uranium enrichment, the CSIS warns about the growing problems with American uranium enrichment.  They note, “With the closure of the Paducah, Kentucky, plant earlier this year, the United States has no domestic facility that uses U.S.-origin technology to enrich uranium, which, for example, could then be used to produce tritium, a key component in maintaining our nuclear arsenal. Further, existing stockpiles of tritium and enriched uranium produced by U.S.-origin technology are limited. Efforts to deploy a next-generation American enrichment technology must succeed so that our nation has the ability to address the forthcoming shortage of this strategic material.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the controversy of sequestering defense spending.  They note, “But if the U.S. military’s resources are slashed, its missions have not.  True, President Obama is fulfilling his promises to “end” U.S. participation in the wars of the Middle East.  But that region continues to make operational demands on a military that was already reeling from more than a decade of war.  Iran, at the brink of becoming a nuclear power and having successfully protected its Syrian proxy, terrifies America’s allies from Jerusalem to Jeddah.  Osama bin Laden is dead, but al Qaeda never stronger.  Ongoing operations in Afghanistan, a still-elevated naval presence in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, and a wide variety of smaller efforts continue to consume a large slice of the available U.S. forces.  The much-ballyhooed “Pacific pivot” is a promise yet to be redeemed – indeed, it is one that China seems to be directly challenging across the region, underscoring the gap between the administration rhetoric and the military realities.  Just this past week, the Navy has been scrambling to shift ships from relief missions in the Philippines to patrol the waters of the South and East China seas in response to Chinese provocations like the declaration of an “air defense zone” over islands administered by Japan.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

America, Israel, and America’s Jewish Voter

The strategic situation in the Middle East has changed dramatically in the last few years.  Israel, which has generally been concerned about its neighbors sees little threat from them as Syria is engaged in a civil war and Jordan and Egypt maintain a cold, but peaceful relationships with the Zionist state.  The biggest threat seen by Israel is Iran, which is hundreds of miles away.

But, there is another strategic issue that bothers Israel: the United States, Obama, and the American Jewish voter.  Ever since its founding, Israel has relied on the US, the American Jewish voter, and the Democratic Party (who is the usual beneficiary of American Jewish votes) to come to their defense blindly.  Not anymore.

The chemistry in the Middle East has changed.  Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have had very pubic disagreements.  Obama has Okayed an agreement with Iran that lifts some sanctions and promises to ease gradually any diplomatic isolation, although Israel strongly opposes it.  Yet, none of this has greatly upset the American Jewish voter, who has been critical for the Democrats in several key states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have been tense and often have provided journalists with juicy tidbits that have demonstrated their mutual disdain for the other.  When Netanyahu came to Washington a few years ago, there were false rumors circulated by pro-Israeli circles that Obama left the meeting for dinner with his family. On the other side,, however, the White House didn’t release a photo of the meeting, which offended Netanyahu.  Netanyahu retaliated a year later at the White House, when he scolded Obama for saying that peace negotiations would have to begin with Israel’s 1967 borders.  “Remember that before 1967, Israel was all of 9 miles wide – half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars.”

The dispute went international in late 2011, when France’s president told Obama, “I cannot bear Netanyahu; he’s a liar,” and Obama replied, “I have to deal with him even more often than you.”

There is a time when these actions towards an Israeli Prime Minister would have so politically damaged an American president that he would have lost the next election.  However, Obama easily won reelection in 2012 against a pro-Israel Republican candidate, Mitt Romney by winning the heavily Jewish states of New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

How could Obama attack the Israeli Prime Minister and still win the American Jewish vote?

Much of that is due to the changing profile of the American Jewish voter and the Jewish community.  Ironically, you are more likely to find pro-Israel voters in an evangelical Christian church than in an American Jewish community center.

A recent high-profile Pew Research Center survey of American Jews shows that, with the exception of Orthodox Jews, the typical American Jew has shifted his or her opinion on issues in the Middle East.

The fact is that the American Jew is losing their “Jewishness” and is becoming more American than Jewish.  The Pew survey showed that 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews intermarries and two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue.  These have a strong correlation to their support for Israel.

So, what are American Jew’s opinions on Israel and the Middle East?  61% of American Jews say “Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully.”  54% of American Jews say American support of the Jewish state is “about right,” while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough.  That’s a far cry from the first three decades of Israel’s existence, when there was very little daylight between the Israeli government and the overwhelming majority of American Jews.

There was a reason for that closeness in the early days.  The majority of the American Jewish community and newly established Israel were European Jews, and mostly Central or East European Jews. Many came from the Russian Empire in the 1880s and 1890s, when there was a major immigration of Jews to both North America and Palestine.

There is a reason for the dramatic change in the last couple of decades.

In the early years of Israel’s existence, religious Jews in North America felt a keen affinity with religious Jews in Israel, just as most secular Jews in North America felt an affinity with Labor Zionism, which was responsible for the Israeli kibbutz movement.  No matter the American Jew’s feelings – religious or secular – there was a reason to support Israel.

What has happened in the last few decades is that religion has created a dramatic shift.  While the average American Jew has become less religious, Israel, especially its leadership, has become more religious.  In fact, American Jews are nearly three times more likely to not believe in God than the average American according to the Pew report.

The religious bent of the Israeli government has alienated the secular American Jew, who has moved away from supporting Israel and given the Democratic Party more flexibility in its Middle Eastern policies.  Lobbies like J Street allow a more flexible policy toward Israel that still receives secular American Jewish support.

Ironically, much of this ambivalence towards Israel by American Jews can be traced to the pro-Jewish attitudes of Americans in general.  Unlike some of the Eastern European Christian attitudes, English Christian attitudes (which are the main contributor in American Christian tradition) has been pro-Jewish and focused on” Judeo-Christian traditions”.  Consequently, unlike in other countries, where Jews have been forced to remain in tight Jewish communities that look inward, American Jews have felt more welcome in the Christian community and have assimilated at a rate much greater than in other countries.  This has lessened their Jewish ties and made them better able to view Israel, not as a part of their religious or ethnic heritage, but from the point of view of American self-interest.

But, there is another political trend that has given Obama the flexibility to move Middle Eastern policy – the decline of the Judeo-Christian culture in America.  America has become less religious – especially in regards to adhering to the Judeo-Christian tradition.  The percentage of Americans who identify as Protestants (the most Judeo-Christian tradition) fell from 53 percent in 2007 to 48 percent in 2012 – the first time since the birth of the United States that Protestants were in the minority.  Add to this the changing demographics of America, where whites, who are more likely to be Protestant, are becoming a smaller portion of the population.  This means support for Israel, which is now based more on religious orientation, is dropping, although Hispanic Catholics are more pro-Israel than their white counterparts.

This is seen most in the Democratic Party, which polls show is more secular than the Republican Party.  Last year at the Democratic National Convention that re-nominated Obama, a motion to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was met with boos from the assembled delegates – a reaction very different than what would be seen at the Republican National Convention.

So, where is the current support for Israel?  Its strength is found amongst orthodox Jews, who remain faithful to their religious heritage (and are drifting towards the Republican Party) and evangelical Christians, who are now the cornerstone of American support for Israel.

According to the Pew Poll, “Twice as many white evangelical Protestants as Jews say that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God (82% vs. 40%). Some of the discrepancy is attributable to Jews’ lower levels of belief in God overall; virtually all evangelicals say they believe in God, compared with 72% of Jews (23% say they do not believe in God and 5% say they don’t know or decline to answer the question). But even Jews who do believe in God are less likely than evangelicals to believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people (55% vs. 82%).”

White evangelical Protestants also are more likely than Jews to favor stronger U.S. support of Israel. Among Jews, 54% say American support of the Zionist state is “about right,” while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough. By contrast, more white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (46%) than say support is about right (31%).

Part of the shift occurred as a result of the events of 9-11.  The al Qaeda attacks on the US were seen by many evangelical Christians as an attack on their Christianity as much as on America.  This feeling has been furthered by radical Islamic attacks on Middle Eastern Christians in Egypt and Syria.  Meanwhile, Israeli leadership has fostered an evangelical Christian friendly policy that has solidified support in that sector of the American electorate.

This translates into pro-Israeli political views towards the Middle East.  White evangelical Protestants are less optimistic than Jews about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution to conflict in the region. When asked if there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, six-in-ten American Jews (61%) say yes, while one-third say no. Among white evangelical Protestants, 42% say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, while 50% say this is not possible.

This attitude shift hasn’t been ignored by Israeli leadership.  No wonder that when Israeli PM Netanyahu comes to the United States, he is usually interviewed on the television network, the Christian Broadcasting Network – an evangelical Christian outlet.  This gives him the perfect outlet to reach his most ardent supporters.  And, since he has spent much of his life in the US, he is better able to connect with American evangelical Christians than many of his predecessors.

The result is that the political map of America’s Israel policy has changed.  Where once a pro-Israel policy would reap political benefits in New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other Atlantic Coast states, a pro-Israel policy wins votes today in the Mid-Western states and the South.

This does not mean that evangelical Christian support for Israel is inherently tied to Israeli policy any more than American Jewish policy was tied to Israeli policy or Democratic Party policy was tied to Israeli policy.  It does, however, mean that policy towards America must be able to differentiate between evangelical Christian issues and Israeli policy.

 

PUBLICATIONS

Decoding the Summer of Snowden

By Julian Sanchez

Cato Institute

Nov/Dec 2013

Nearly 40 years ago, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Americans got an unprecedented look behind the cloak of secrecy shielding government surveillance — and what they saw was chilling. A Senate committee headed by Sen. Frank Church uncovered a train of abuses by intelligence agencies stretching back decades, under presidents of both parties. Employing illegal break-ins, mail-opening programs, concealed bugs, bulk interception of telegrams, and telephone wiretaps, these agencies had gathered information about domestic political dissidents, journalists, labor leaders, and even members of Congress and Supreme Court justices. Perhaps most notoriously, the Church Committee revealed that J. Edgar Hoover had conducted a 10-year campaign to destroy and discredit Martin Luther King Jr., seeking to blackmail him into retirement or suicide with illegal recordings of the civil rights leader’s extramarital liaisons.  This summer, Americans got the most comprehensive look at the government’s massive surveillance machinery since the Church Committee, by way of leaked documents provided to the press by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden — as well as the government’s own grudging disclosures.

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The Uncertain Strategic Case for the Zero Option in Afghanistan

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 4, 2013

It is far too easy to concentrate on the tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and ignore the sheer lack of U.S. debate over the value of staying in Afghanistan.  The key question is whether there is a legitimate case for something approaching a zero option and a full withdrawal of U.S. forces and aid. If there is, it does not really matter whether Karzai signs the BSA or in fact if the US has a good excuse to leave. If there is not a legitimate case, one needs to be very careful about setting artificial deadlines and red lines.  The key problem in answering this question is that with little more than a year before the planned withdrawal of all U.S. troops, the Obama Administration has never provided any meaningful rational for staying Afghanistan or any plan for what happens after the end of 2014.

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Recapturing U.S. Leadership in Uranium Enrichment

By George David Banks and Michael Wallace

Center for Strategic and International Studies

December 3, 2013

The United States is at risk of finding its nuclear weapons capabilities severely weakened by the absence of an available capability to enrich uranium. International legal obligations prohibit the United States from using, for military purposes, foreign-produced enriched uranium or uranium enriched here in this country by foreign-source technology. With the closure of the Paducah, Kentucky, plant earlier this year, the United States has no domestic facility that uses U.S.-origin technology to enrich uranium, which, for example, could then be used to produce tritium, a key component in maintaining our nuclear arsenal. Further, existing stockpiles of tritium and enriched uranium produced by U.S.-origin technology are limited. Efforts to deploy a next-generation American enrichment technology must succeed so that our nation has the ability to address the forthcoming shortage of this strategic material. This national security requirement could be met with little cost to taxpayers if the federal government implemented policies that ensure a strong U.S. enrichment industry.

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Patronizing a patriot

By Thomas Donnelly and Roger I. Zakheim

American Enterprise Institute

December 4, 2013

The Weekly Standard

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon doesn’t look like an insurgent.  The quintessential Californian – a man of Reaganesque optimism whose congressional district now includes the Gipper’s presidential library – McKeon has been a steadfast supporter of House speaker John Boehner in turbulent times. Yet, to the green-eyeshade editorialists of The Wall Street Journal, McKeon is leading a “rebellion” of defense hawks, an “act of masochism” threatening the Holy of Holies: the sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act (BCA). McKeon’s crime is that he’s hoping for a 2014 budget deal that would reduce the amount of defense sequestration by half.

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Egypt’s Draft Constitution Rewards the Military and Judiciary

By Nathan J. Brown and Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

December 4, 2013

The draft constitution submitted to Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, on December 2 settles a few important matters—it enhances the status of the state institutions that banded together against the Muslim Brotherhood, including the military, judiciary, and police. But it leaves other equally important questions unanswered. The sequencing, system, and timing for presidential and parliamentary elections remain unclear, for example, issues that are particularly fraught because Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who removed Mohamed Morsi from power in July, might run for president.  The new constitution offers better human rights protections than the 2012 version forced through by the then president, Morsi. Yet it also continues a pattern of leaving much up to the vagaries of implementing legislation. And that legislation may be written—and implemented—in an atmosphere of government and public indifference, even hostility, to human rights concerns.

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Rebels Consolidating Strength in Syria: The Islamic Front

By Aaron Y. Zelin

Washington Institute

December 3, 2013

PolicyWatch 2177

The recent merger of several Syrian rebel groups into the Islamic Front (IF) is one of the war’s most important developments. Although the political and military opposition has long been fragmented, the new umbrella organization brings seven groups and their combined force of 45,000-60,000 fighters under one command. It also links the fight in the north and the south. Most notably, though, it affirms the troubles Washington will have setting policy in Syria going forward.  Formally announced on November 22, the IF includes groups from three prior umbrella organizations: the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), and the Kurdish Islamic Front (KIF). From the SIF, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (HASI), Kataib Ansar al-Sham, and Liwa al-Haqq joined, as did the KIF as a whole and former SILF brigades Suqur al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Jaish al-Islam. None of these groups has been designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization.

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Week of November 22th, 2013

A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
11/22/2013

Introduction

As the United States heads into its end of the year holiday season, the number of reports coming from the Washington think tank community will lessen.  However, there are several reports out – many focusing on Middle East policies.

The Monitor analysis looks at one of the reasons for the lack of coherence in Obama’s foreign policy – the differences between the State Department and the White House foreign policy teams.  We look at the key players in the White House and the Secretary of State John Kerry and examine the critical personal, philosophical, and political issues that are creating this dichotomy.

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES

Executive Summary

As the United States heads into its end of the year holiday season, the number of reports coming from the Washington think tank community will lessen. However, there are several reports out – many focusing on Middle East policies.

The Monitor analysis looks at one of the reasons for the lack of coherence in Obama’s foreign policy – the differences between the State Department and the White House foreign policy teams. We look at the key players in the White House and the Secretary of State John Kerry and examine the critical personal, philosophical, and political issues that are creating this dichotomy.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Brookings Institution looks at America’s souring relations with many of its allies due to Obama’s policies in the Middle East. They look at several recent incidents, including the reports about a deal with the Iranians and conclude, “Allies are like mothers-in-law. Keeping them happy is hard work. It often feels thankless. But failure to do it is a recipe for a much deeper form of misery. It’s important to remember that, when America is in a pinch, only its friends will stand by its side. If Obama continues to treat allies as afterthoughts, he risks finding himself alone in a dangerous and unforgiving world.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at the Palestinian/Israeli peace talks. They warn, “The recent series of meetings involving the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians in July 2013 is the first successful attempt by Washington to lead the peace process since the 2007 Annapolis conference. This latest U.S. attempt to send Israelis and Palestinians on a path to a final status settlement is unlikely to succeed. The core obstacles to peace remain as strong as ever. Events since 2007 have hardly improved the chances of an agreement. It is unrealistic to believe that Israel could step into the unknown at a time when the regional environment is beset by ever-so strong instability.

Nevertheless, any attempt to rejuvenate the peace process is certainly worth a try, if only to gauge the evolution of the parties’ positions and attempt to build trust among them. In a context where expectations are so low, Washington’s effort hardly runs the risk of fostering disappointment.”

As Obama plans to meet the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, the Foreign Policy Research Institute takes a look at the competing visions of Islam and the differences between the King’s vision and that of bin Laden. They note, “The King’s vision of Islam embraces cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity. Can there be a better litmus test of toleration in the Arab world than how a country treats its Jews and Christians? In Morocco, the law provides for equal rights for its tiny Jewish population, the country’s Jewish heritage is taught in schools, and the King personally criticizes Holocaust denial while calling on his countrymen to commemorate the Holocaust – not to mention the country’s historic role as a backchannel in the Arab-Israeli dispute and the King’s public advocacy of the two-state solution.”

The CSIS suggests a new tack to public diplomacy in Muslim nations. This report identifies six areas of primary concern. The first is a larger strategic issue; the other five are directed at the on-the-ground implementation of public diplomacy: Strategically the US must define the goals, tell America’s story, and influence attitudes to reduce support for extremist organizations. There is no one path to success. Public diplomacy must be consistent, multifaceted, and localized to advance American goals in Muslim-majority countries. This report sketches a way forward to accomplish these goals.

The Wilson Center discusses the IAEA’s efforts to inspect Iran’s nuclear program. They note. “In Tehran, Amano signed an agreement with Iran Monday on a first step to resume inspections into still unanswered questions about Tehran’s nuclear work. Iran has refused since August 2008 to answer any questions about possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Monday’s agreement was thus a breakthrough for the IAEA. “This is the first step forward and only the first step and this is by no means the end of the process,” Amano said.”

The Washington Institute looks at what is making a deal with the Iranians and their nuclear program so hard. They state, “Iran’s nuclear program has, in fact, relatively little to do with the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. After all, Iran has built only one nuclear power plant that has operated only fitfully, and it has invested little in the infrastructure needed for a bona fide nuclear-energy program. Rather, its nuclear program has much more to do with Iran’s place in the world, while nuclear negotiations are about the degree of nuclear latency (i.e., proximity to the bomb) the international community is willing to tolerate in the Islamic Republic. There should be no illusions about that.”

Although the US is reducing its energy dependence due to the development of shale oil reserves, the CSIS warns in a report that it cannot ignore the issues concerning oil producing nations like the GCC in the Middle East. They note, “This is why the U.S. role in the Gulf – caught between U.S. power projection across the Atlantic and Mediterranean and across the Pacific and Indian Oceans – is so important. One of the most critical roles the US plays in serving its global strategic interests comes from securing this flow of oil – and from ensuring that no other outside power like China assumes this role.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the administration plan to reduce American ICBMs. The paper opposes this move and warns, “ICBMs are the most responsive and least expensive to operate leg of the nuclear triad. They can be launched faster and reach their targets faster than any other leg of the triad. They might provide the U.S. with a decisive advantage in a conflict, since the purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to not only deter aggression but also end the conflict as fast as possible on terms favorable to the nation. Because the 450 ICBMs the U.S. deploys are dispersed, they are essentially invulnerable to nuclear arsenals of smaller and emerging nuclear weapons states. ICBMs would force adversaries with large nuclear weapons arsenals to exhaust their own nuclear forces to disarm the U.S., thus leaving the opponent vulnerable to a U.S. retaliatory strike.”

ANALYSIS

The Two Sides of Obama Foreign Policy and What it means to the Middle East

This week saw a reported rift over Egypt between Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. Reports in a liberal blog with connections close to the White House say John Kerry didn’t agree with Susan Rice on major portions of the White House’s Egypt policy, and he made a deliberate and conscious decision not to mention Morsi in his Cairo meetings. Previously, Rice told Kerry he should speak publicly and privately about ousted Egyptian President Morsi’s trial while in the country earlier this month. Instead, the secretary of State said publicly that Egypt was “on the path to democracy.” Sources also said he didn’t discuss Morsi in his private meetings with Egyptian officials either.

Rice wasn’t happy about Kerry’s deviation from the White House policy. But disagreements between national security advisors and secretaries of state aren’t anything new.

There has usually been a difference between State Department and National Security Council policy and recommendations. The State Department is more non-political and takes a more long term view of foreign affairs. The National Security Council, which is appointed by the president, is more political and more likely to view policy in terms of domestic political advantage or the president’s agenda.

Presidents have also viewed the two foreign policy teams differently. While some presidents have relied heavily upon the State Department and relegated the NSC to a minor role, other presidents have tilted the other way and made the national security advisor the major foreign policy expert.

The best example of this was Henry Kissinger during the Nixon Administration. Nixon had a distrust of the State Department and relied heavily on Kissinger to develop and implement foreign policy. Ironically, however, Kissinger was to later become Secretary of State and transferred his considerable personal influence to the former “enemy.”

Under Obama, the State Department has sat outside the inner circle of power. In his first term, it was the political “Siberia” for his major Democratic competitor, Hillary Clinton. Real power was relegated to a series of “czars,” who had portfolio to handle the major foreign policy issues.

Needless to say, the rivalry between the State Department and the NSC continues in the Obama Administration, with each following different goals and policies.

Kerry and the State Department

Unlike many Secretaries of State, John Kerry comes to the position with his own political base. As a long time senator from Massachusetts and former presidential nominee in 2004, he has national name recognition and a political base. He is not beholden to Obama for power and knows that he could probably return to Massachusetts and run for the US Senate again if he so desired.

Kerry is also aware as a member of the US Senate that if Obama decides to “fire” him for his difference in policy, serious questions and a possible inquiry would be held by the Senate. Since Obama is in political trouble – even inside his own party – he can’t afford any more scandal. This gives Kerry considerably more latitude to ignore White House diktat.

Kerry’s style is a function of his years in the US Senate, which relies on developing personal relationships with other senators. This works to his advantage on the international scene.

The White House Foreign Policy Team

To understand what drives White House foreign policy, one has to understand who has the political power in the Obama White House. In this case, the key person is Valerie Jarrett, who is considered the single, most influential person in the Obama White House. She has been called Obama’s “Rasputin.” Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who clashed often with Jarrett, likened her and senior aide Peter Rouse to Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay.

Jarrett’s personal friendship with the president and first lady dates back more than two decades, before the couple was married, and before Barack Obama launched his political career in Chicago. The president has said he views her “like a sibling” and trusts her “completely.” As result, she enjoys “unlimited, almost mystical access” to the president.

Jarrett was born in Iran, which has some accusing her of favoring Iran and favoring a softer approach to their nuclear program, even though her parents were Western and not Iranian.

Although her job description says she serves as “chief liaison to the business community, state and local governments, and the professional left,” her influence throughout the White House is undeniable. She commands a staff of nearly three dozen and has a hand in decisions ranging from the invitation list to state dinners and what gifts to give foreign leaders, to who should be nominated to the Supreme Court, appointed to a vacant ambassadorship, or awarded the President Medal of Freedom. Survival inside the White House depends on being her friend. Her enemies quickly disappear. One reason why the current Secretary of Human Services, Sibelius, has survived the continuing scandals surrounding Obamacare is her close friendship with Jarrett.

Jarrett’s friendship with Susan Rice and Samantha Power has cemented their position inside the White House and Obama’s foreign policy. While Kerry has an outside political base he can rely upon, their power flows from Obama and they are loyal to him.
However, the difference isn’t just about who is closer to Obama. Rice and Power sees foreign policy in a different light and this is setting up the current difference between the State Department and the White House.

Rice and Kerry both have different styles. Kerry, who worked in the Senate, which relies on compromise and geniality, is more diplomatic. Rice is known to have sharp elbows and is known for a more combative tone. Rice has reportedly clashed with other administration officials, such as former Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration. “Even more so than Donilon … [Rice] has a temper that needs tempering,” Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote at The Daily Beast. “And unlike Donilon, she often rushes to judgment, and then digs in. She’ll have to learn to count to one hundred—I mean one thousand—before making up her mind, and meantime, listen to different views carefully.”

However, Rice is known to be loyal to Obama. She was his premier foreign policy adviser since the 2008 presidential campaign. She is also a close personal friend of both Michelle Obama. As a result, Rice is an Obama insider, with a personal friendship with the president – not foreign policy expertise – as her greatest asset. She worked hard to preserve her relationship with the president while serving as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. for four years, spending more time in Washington than any of her predecessors.

Rice was the point person during the Benghazi attacks and damaged her reputation by claiming the riots were a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video. That was at the heart of her decision to withdraw her name from consideration as Secretary of State – a nomination that required the consent of the Senate and a bruising confirmation battle. Instead, she was given the position of National Security Advisor, which doesn’t need confirmation by the Senate.

In the Obama White House, the NSC position has more power as foreign policy decisions flow from there rather than the State Department. Thomas Wright, a scholar at the Brookings Institution said, “For better or worse, the Obama administration… Its chosen concept is central power—the idea that everything flows to and from the National Security Council.”

While Kerry is seen as more pragmatic, Rice is seen as a tool to further Obama’s world view via US foreign policy. The New York Times said of her appointment, (Rice) “would bring a more muscular, idealistic cast to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.”

The other foreign policy decision maker in the Obama inner circle is Samantha Power, the ambassador to the UN. In many ways, she and her writings (which were responsible for her Pulitzer Prize in 2003) are at the core of the Obama foreign policy that eschews strategic interests for “humanitarian” issues. As such, this explains the stance taken by Obama during the Arab Spring.

Power has been a key player in the Obama position towards Syria, although she failed attend a critical UN emergency meeting on the Syrian CW crisis in August because she was in Ireland on a personal trip to visit family (she was born in Ireland). This reflects one of her weaknesses – she is more focused on ideology and less interested in practical diplomacy. The reality is that UN ambassadors need to be practical in order to win other nations over to the American side of an issue.

Obama’s speech a couple of months ago on Syria was a close reflection of Power’s views. The overwhelming emphasis was on humanitarian goals, with a brief, secondary, and noticeably weak effort to buttress that case with talk about threats to American interests. Power’s core argument in her writings is that American foreign policy has historically “refused to take risks” for humanitarian ends. Power chastises American leaders for declining to “invest the military, financial, diplomatic, or domestic political capital” necessary to prevent massacres. U.S. officials, she complains, consistently “play up the futility, perversity, and jeopardy of any proposed intervention.”

Ironically, despite her writings, Power is an opponent of the use of military power in the Middle East, specifically Syria. “There are other interests at play,” she told the Politico, noting that military action in the Middle East can affect oil prices and the U.S. economy. “None of us would pretend that we are a single-issue administration.

White House/State Department Foreign Policy Differences

The philosophical difference between the White House and the State Department under Obama has impacted US foreign policy. Kerry spent his first months as Secretary of State working to repair the U.S.-Russia relationship and use that as a mechanism to find a political solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and the civil war in Syria. Kerry believes he has developed a relation with the Russian Foreign Minister that can be used to reach an agreement on these problems. Rice, by contrast has traded public insults with her Russian counterpart at the U.N.

In regards to Syria, administration officials and other close supporters of the White House say Rice in internal meetings has supported a no-fly zone for Syria and is wary of arming the more liberal elements of Syria’s opposition.

Kerry has worked to reach an international settlement on Syria in conjunction with the Russians. Much of his success has relied upon his closer working relationship with the Russians, who have traditionally been a close supporter of Assad.

The rift over Egypt has been a long time in the making. Well before Kerry and Rice disagreed publicly on Egypt, the White House and the State Department clashed privately over the administration’s Egypt policy. During a months-long administration review of U.S. military aid to Egypt, the State Department and Defense Department pushed internally to preserve most of the assistance, while Rice insisted most military aid be suspended, pending more progress by the Egyptian government.

“There are real differences in the fundamental approach to Egypt between Susan Rice and John Kerry,” one Washington Egypt expert with close ties to the administration told a political blog. “We wouldn’t have had any aid suspension at all if it had been up to John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.”

The other problem is that there is no conflicting opinion within the inner circle to give Obama a sense of foreign policy balance. With Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and David Petraeus out of the way, the president has all but eliminated any dissenting viewpoints. Kerry is the only person in the Administration with the political power and will to disagree with the Jarrett/Rice/Powers foreign policy triumvirate.

The problem with conflicting foreign policy coming from two parts of the administration is deciding which one to believe and work with. In Egypt, officials are receiving diverging messages from the U.S. government’s various parts, causing confusion as they try to decide how to react to recent U.S. actions. For example, the administration has not told the government of Egypt what exactly it must do to get the partial aid suspension lifted, said a source close to the Egyptian government.

In terms of understanding White House foreign policy it is important to remember that Samantha Power is the philosopher of White House foreign policy – pushing “humanitarian” issues rather than strategic interests. Susan Rice is the executor of that policy through her control of the NSC. And, Valerie Jarrett provides the political cover by getting Obama’s approval and neutralizing any conflicting opinions.

How governments deal with the US today depends on their goals. If the goal is short term and focuses on humanitarian issues, it pays to focus on the Power/Rice/Jarrett policy team, which will give faster results and has the ear of Obama. However, for long term relations that focus on strategic issues that will outlive the current administration, the best bet is to focus on the State Department/Kerry route, which is based on long term US foreign policy and is more likely to be followed after Obama leaves office in three years.

PUBLICATIONS

International Security Demands U.S. Intercontinental-Range Missiles
By Michaela Dodge
Heritage Foundation
November 20, 2013
Issue Brief #4092

Since the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) entered into force in February 2011, the U.S. has borne a significant majority of the nuclear arms reductions required under the treaty. Russia, the other party to the treaty, has been increasing the number of its deployed nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, which the treaty allows. Now, according to a document prepared by the Office of the Secretary of Defense-Policy to the Senate Intercontinental-Range Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Coalition, the Administration is planning on eliminating an ICBM squadron to allegedly comply with New START. Not only would such a move be unwise and imprudent at this time, but the U.S. does not need to eliminate an ICBM squadron to meet New START’s limits.

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The Other “Pivot to Asia” – The Shifting Strategic Importance of Gulf Petroleum
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 18, 2013

It is all too easy to focus on energy developments in the United States and lose sight of the overall pattern of changes in world energy production and consumption. The fact is, however, that the Department of Energy does not forecast U.S. energy independence in its reference case – only a dip to 37% dependence on foreign oil by 2040. It does not mean that the US is free of the need to pay world oil prices in a crisis. Far more important, the US already imports some $2.4 trillion worth of goods to sustain a $14 trillion economy, and some $1.2 trillion of these steadily rising imports are dependent on the stable flow of MENA, and particularly Gulf, oil and gas exports to Europe and Asia.

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Engaging the Muslim World
By Walter Douglas
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 18, 2013

Public diplomacy supports the interests of the United States by advancing American goals outside the traditional arena of government-to-government relations. Since 9/11, with the rise of al Qaeda and other violent organizations that virulently oppose the United States, public diplomacy in Muslim-majority countries has become an instrument to blunt or isolate popular support for these organizations. Efforts in this direction complement traditional public diplomacy that explains American policies and society to foreign publics. Public diplomacy must take many paths to accomplish its goals in the Arab Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the geographic focus of this study. Their populations are not monolithic. In fact, they are extremely varied within states and across regions. The best public diplomacy is tailored to these differences, with multiple approaches to strategically important segments in each country.

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Competing Visions of Islam: From Osama bin Laden to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI
By Alan Luxenberg
Foreign Policy Research Institute
November 2013

Some conservatives mistake Islam, the religion, with Islamism, a political ideology (of several variants); conversely, some liberals mistake criticism of Islamism with criticism of Islam. Worse, both sides sometimes arrogate to themselves the right to define Islam – either as a religion of war or as a religion of peace. But every religion can be defined only by its adherents, and those adherents themselves may define the same religion differently. Indeed, Michael Doran famously analyzed the events of 9/11 as the product of “somebody else’s civil war,” by which he meant the war among Muslims to define Islam. If Osama bin Laden represented one end of that spectrum, then the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, represents the other. As President Obama prepares to receive the King this Friday, it behooves all Americans to take the measure of this King and his vision of Islam, explore why that vision matters, and what it means for the United States.

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The Middle East Peace Process: Time for a Reality Check
By Bruno Macaes
German Marshall Fund
November 15, 2013

While a new round of peace negotiations has opened in July 2013, the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be framed by general misperceptions and illusions. This brief takes a dispassionate look at the factual and political realities of the Middle East peace process today, and highlights how these illusions constitute an obstacle to realistic compromises. Finally, the author provides concrete solutions for enhanced transatlantic cooperation in the peace process.

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IAEA Chief Cites Modest Iran Nuclear Progress; Official Report Due
By Michael Adler
Wilson Center
Nov 15, 2013

Iran has not significantly accelerated its nuclear program in recent months, UN nuclear chief Yukiya Amano told Breaking Defense. This could be a sign that Iran hopes to create favorable conditions for a deal with the United States, which wants the Islamic Republic to freeze its program at its current level and not add to its nuclear capabilities. Amano’s International Atomic Energy Agency is to release a report later this week on Iran. The last report was filed on August 28, so the two-and-a-half months covered corresponds roughly to the time since Hassan Rouhani took office as Iranian president last August 3.

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Why a Nuclear Deal with Iran Is So Hard
By Michael Eisenstadt
Washington Institute
November 20, 2013
National Interest

It should have come as no surprise when talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva two weeks ago ended without an interim confidence-building agreement — apparently because the Islamic Republic could not accept a revised draft agreement that did not recognize its “right to enrich.” Negotiations with Iran have always been difficult, protracted affairs — in this case, made more fraught by differences between France and the other members of the P5+1. Diplomacy has been further complicated by the fact that Tehran hopes to use negotiations to confirm (if not legitimize) its status as a nuclear threshold state, while preserving a degree of ambiguity regarding its actual capabilities — an outcome that the P5+1 is not likely to — or at least should not — agree to. Finding a way through these thickets will be key if nuclear diplomacy with Iran is to succeed.

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U.S. Relations With Allies In Free Fall
By Michael Doran
Brookings Institution
November 18, 2013

Israeli-American relations are in free fall. Why? On the face of it the key issue is the terms of the draft deal with Iran that Secretary of State John Kerry was reportedly ready to sign in Geneva, week before last. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated yet again that it is “a bad deal.” And last week Israel’s intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, claimed the concessions to Tehran that the United States is contemplating will funnel between $20 and $40 billion to Iran’s coffers. The State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, dismissed Steinitz as a fabulist. “Without going into specifics about what we’re considering, that number, I can assure you, is inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based in reality,” she said. The disagreement over the deal is significant; there can be no doubt. But the debate over its terms diverts attention from another factor of great significance—namely, Netanyahu’s growing distrust, in general, of the Obama administration.

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