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.

Read more

 

 

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.

Read more

 

 

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.

Read more

 

 

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.

Read more

 

 

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.

Read more

 

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.

Read more

 

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.

Read more…
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.

Read more…
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.

Read more…
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.

Read more…
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.

Read more…
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.

Read more…

 

Week of November 15th, 2013

A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
11/15/2013

Introduction

Despite the continuing litany of domestic bad news for the Obama Administration, there was attention being paid to the Middle East because of the Iranian nuclear talks, Kerry’s visit to the region, and the Russian visit to Egypt. This led to a wide range of think tank pieces coming out this week.

The Think Tank Monitor Analysis looks at the visit of a high ranking Russian delegation to Egypt and the promise of greater arms sales to Egypt by Russia. The Analysis thinks this is an oversimplification. Although the US is a major arms provider to Egypt, the Egyptian military has a wide variety of weapons from other NATO countries – countries it doesn’t want to alienate by buying Russian. As for Russian weapons already in the Egyptian inventory, many of these are very obsolete.

With that in mind, the Analysis thinks the most likely buys from Russia will either be modern air defense systems, because the US has not helped Egypt develop an air defense system that could hinder Israel’s Air Force, or modern Mig-29s that will allow the Russian Air Force to modernize their Air Force for less cost – providing the Saudis foot the bill.

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES

Executive Summary

Despite the continuing litany of domestic bad news for the Obama Administration, there was attention being paid to the Middle East because of the Iranian nuclear talks, Kerry’s visit to the region, and the Russian visit to Egypt. This led to a wide range of think tank pieces coming out this week.

The Think Tank Monitor Analysis looks at the visit of a high ranking Russian delegation to Egypt and the promise of greater arms sales to Egypt by Russia. The Analysis thinks this is an oversimplification. Although the US is a major arms provider to Egypt, the Egyptian military has a wide variety of weapons from other NATO countries – countries it doesn’t want to alienate by buying Russian. As for Russian weapons already in the Egyptian inventory, many of these are very obsolete.

With that in mind, the Analysis thinks the most likely buys from Russia will either be modern air defense systems, because the US has not helped Egypt develop an air defense system that could hinder Israel’s Air Force, or modern Mig-29s that will allow the Russian Air Force to modernize their Air Force for less cost – providing the Saudis foot the bill.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at the problems faced by America’s foreign policy in the Middle East and what it should expect. They recommend, “The United States must focus on strategic patience and continuing efforts over at least the coming decade. It must accept major reversals as inevitable, take casualties in the process, and try and try again. Like the Cold War, this will be an era of slow progress, progress though patient influence, and willingness to achieve change and progress with the aid of allies and international institutions. Patience and a willingness to accept complexity are not always American values. This time they had better be.”

The high level Russian delegation to Egypt has the CSIS asking if Russia is making a comeback in the region. The CSIS says no and notes, “But are other regional leaders clamoring for facetime with Vladimir Putin? No. Aside from its continuing tenuous ties with Tehran and Bashar Al-Assad, Russian ties with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and most of the Arab Gulf States have worsened since the onset of the Arab Spring in January 2011.”

The CSIS looks at the strained US/Egyptian relations and suggest a “shake-up.” They note, “The core of the problem is that this relationship has been too reliable. Having originated as a bold stroke that shook up Middle East alliances, gave the West a victory in the Cold War, and recast the Arab-Israeli conflict, the U.S. aid relationship to Egypt became pedestrian. Egyptians came to treat U.S. aid as an entitlement, and Americans complained that Egyptians made the aid process cumbersome and inefficient. The Egyptian government took credit for what it did with U.S. funds, often with U.S. advice and guidance. Egyptians began to complain that all of the U.S. assistance money went to U.S. implementers and vendors and argued that it was more like welfare for U.S. companies than assistance for Egypt. Meanwhile, the swarm of U.S. contractors created a constant churn of visitors with little continuity. Aid became a commodity.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the direction of the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Concerning the withdrawal of sanction on Iran, the testimony before the House Committee on foreign Affairs, AEI fellow Ms. Pletka said, “Only the strongest of sanctions have gotten Iran to the table…Only tougher measures will keep them at the table and force genuine negotiations. Regarding the administration, however, we should understand that once given, concessions are hard to withdraw. What new sanctions will do is signal to the world that the United States is not opening the floodgates to Iran, which this is not the beginning of the end of Iran’s isolation, and that even if the administration chooses to use its own latitude to ease sanctions on Iran, Congress will backfill when possible.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the process of building sustainable political parties in the Middle East. The problem, they noted, was that, “The vast majority of these new parties failed to do more than register with the government. Doing little to establish themselves on the ground, they in effect existed only on paper. Even those parties that emerged as key players generally failed to achieve any significant electoral impact in initial parliamentary elections. Instead, older and more established organizations performed most effectively. The top performers included Islamists, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s Ennahda, parties that have built effective networks at the grassroots level for decades through philanthropy, social services, and promises of better governance.”

The Carnegie Endowment writes that the downfall of Egypt’s elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in July 2013 has not resulted in the separation of religion and state in the country. They conclude, “For Egyptians of a wide variety of stripes, al-Azhar represents the true and best face of Islam as it is understood and practiced in Egypt. Those opposed to Islamist rule have rallied around al-Azhar as an alternative and have reacted positively to al-Azhar’s enhanced post–July 3 voice as a repudiation of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood bears considerable resentment toward el-Tayeb, but it still claims to support al-Azhar as an institution. The current moment is one of tremendous opportunity for al-Azhar. The institution seems to be on the brink of achieving more autonomy and influence than it has ever had in the modern era.”

This last week saw the potential for an agreement with Iran on nuclear development. While negotiations continue, the Washington Institute notes the concerns of many in the Middle East that this agreement will not stop the problem. The Institute recommends, “We should be clearer about what we mean by rolling-back the Iranian nuclear program…one reason the first step deal seems so alarming to the Israelis and others is they don’t know what we mean by a bad deal at the end of the day. They seem to think that we are so eager to avoid the use of force, given public opinion, that we will accept anything. We need to let others know, at least privately, that prevention remains the objective and has always meant that if diplomacy fails, force is the likely result. In addition, we should also make clear that we have a number of absolute requirements for any nuclear end-state agreement: Iran must dramatically reduce the number of centrifuges, ship out essentially all of its enriched uranium and, at a minimum, convert its heavy water plant into a light water reactor. In short, we must convey more clearly that we know where we are going on the nuclear issue with Iran.”

ANALYSIS

How serious is the Egypt – Russia Rapprochement?

Not since the Anwar Sadat expelled Russian advisors has the Egyptian government shown so much interest in a closer relationship with Russia. The Russian foreign and defense ministers visited Egypt this week as the new leadership in Cairo searches for new allies in order to lessen military dependence on Washington. A sign of that new relationship was the arrival of the Russian missile cruiser Varyag for a six day stay in the port of Alexandria, Egypt – the first major Russian naval vessel to visit an Egyptian port since the end of the cold War.

A major driver in the visit is the cold attitude towards the new Egyptian leadership by the Obama Administration, which has stopped its $ 1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt. The high level Russian delegation has made it clear that the purpose of this visit is to strengthen relations and expand military/technical cooperation, which means arranging to sell Russian arms to Egypt.
This is a clear slap in the face to the Obama Administration. But, how serious is it? Does this mean that Egypt will once again become a client state of Russia and primarily use Russian weapons systems?

Probably not. Changing arms producers is much harder than simply buying a new car for one’s family. Egypt has billions of dollars invested in American and Western arms – acknowledged to be better than Russian weapon systems. In addition, Egypt has been relying on American training for the last third of a century, so there are very few officers or soldiers who are competent to operate the Russian arms currently in the Egyptian arsenal.

And, although the Egyptian still have a lot of Russian arms in storage, much of that is obsolete. Even the rifle and handgun calibers of the Russian small arms of the Cold War have changed, which means that just pulling them out of storage and putting them in active duty with Russian supplied parts and ammunition isn’t an easy alternative.

There is also the fact that the current relations freeze with the US is primarily due to Obama and he will be out of office in 3 years. A new American administration would probably be friendlier and more willing to restore military aid. Should the Egyptian government spend billions just to turn around again in 3 more years?

However, in the meantime, there some items of military hardware that is high on Egypt’s shipping list.

The most important would be new air defense weapons. Although the US has been generous in supplying Egypt, it was less than eager to help modernize Egypt’s air defense system, lest it be able to stop Israeli aircraft. Consequently, the Egyptian air defense network relies on antiquated Soviet missiles and radar, which is desperately in need of modernization. That means that Egypt is ready to invest in Buk M2, Tor M2 and Pantsir- S1 air defense systems, providing the financing can be found.

Another Russian weapons system at the top of Egypt’s shopping list is the MiG-29 M2 fighter jet, an advanced version of the Soviet-designed aircraft. Egypt is interested in 24 of the warplanes, a package that may be worth US$1.7 billion.

But, is Egypt ready for a major modernization program that relies primarily on Russian weapons?
Let’s look at each branch of the Egyptian military and review its status.

Egyptian Army

The Egyptian Army is the largest in either the Middle East or Africa. Although it once relied heavily upon Russian arms, it’s now is supplied by a mix of NATO countries, including the US, France, and Britain. Other major suppliers are Brazil and China. It also has a large domestic arms industry and manufactures the American M1A2 Abrams tank.

The small arms of Egypt are decidedly NATO in origin. Their pistols come from Italy, submachine guns from Germany, assault rifles from the US and Italy, and machineguns from Belgium. Those Russian style arms like the Misr Assault Rifle that are still in use are styles that were abandoned by the Soviets decades ago. They still in use older Russian calibers and were actually manufactured in Egypt by Egyptian military factories. Since Russia no longer offers free weapons, there is little advantage to moving to Russian small arms.

Although the Russian RPG-7 remains in the Egyptian arsenal as an anti-tank weapon, the more modern anti-tank weapons like the Milan (French) Swingfire (British), and TOW (American) are NATO standard. A move to Russian anti-tank weapons would negatively affect Egypt’s relations with France and Britain more than it would hurt the US.

Egypt has a large and very modern tank force thanks to the US decision to allow Egypt to buy and build the modern M1A1 Abrams tank. Consequently, Egypt’s tank force is only second to the Israelis in terms of numbers and quality.

Although Egypt has older Russian tanks in reserve, they are obsolete in terms of the Abrams or any Israeli tank they would go up against. The most modern Russian tank in Egyptian service is the T-80, which was introduced in 1976. It has a bad reputation of high fuel consumption and poor combat performance. In fact several were given to South Korea by Russia to pay off some old Soviet debts.

The Egyptians also have the Ramses II, which is an updated Soviet T-55, as well as some old Soviet T-62s. These have been modernized by NATO countries like Britain, Germany, and Italy and would benefit little from additional Russian military assistance.

Since the war in 1973, which saw the triumph and the destruction of some of the Soviet equipment, Egypt has become increasingly reliant on NATO weapons supplied from nations that Egypt wishes to maintain friendly relations with. Only some of the modern Russian weapons offer a quantitative edge over the NATO equipment. In addition, much of the older Soviet era equipment is domestically supported and not in need of Russian modernization.

Egyptian Air Force

Although not the region’s largest air force, the Egyptian Air Force is one of the largest air forces in the region. Currently, the backbone of the EAF is the F-16. The French Mirage 2000 is the other modern interceptor used by the EAF. The Egyptian Air Force has 216 F-16s (plus 20 on order) making it the 4th largest operator of the F-16 in the World. It has about 579 combat aircraft and 149 armed helicopters having 35 Apache’s AH-64D as it also continues to fly extensively upgraded MiG-21s, F-7 Skybolts, F-4 Phantoms, Dassault Mirage Vs, and the C-130 Hercules among other planes.

Egypt still uses the older Mig-21 aircraft that was given to them in the 1960s by the Soviets. However, their airframes are getting old and an attempt to modernize them with Ukrainian help was not terribly successful.

The decision by the Obama administration to stop F-16 shipments has definitely made the Russian Mig-29 (which was designed to counter the US F-16) more attractive.

But there may be more to this deal than meets the eye and it may be more in Russia’s interest than Egypt’s. Financial problems have made it hard for the Russian air force to buy as many modern Mig-29 aircraft as they need, which means that additional business from the Egyptian Air Force would be a welcome benefit to the Russian military as it would lower the cost per aircraft. However, since the Russians are stretched financially to buy Mig-29 for themselves that limits the financial terms they can offer the Egyptians, unless Egypt finds a financial supporter like Saudi Arabia to pay for the Migs. Otherwise, the aircraft offered to Egypt will be older Russian Mig-29s that will be replaced in the Russian Air Force by newer Mig-29 models.

If Saudi Arabia will be the financier of the Egyptian aircraft purchase, it seems more likely that they will make a deal with a NATO aircraft manufacturer that will supply fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia. That will allow them to make a better deal for their own air force as well as buying Egyptian aircraft.

The biggest problem for the Egyptian Air Force is pilot training and maintenance. Egypt has the highest F-16 accident rate, which indicates systemic problems with the Egyptian Air Force organization and operation. The addition of Mig-29s to the inventory will not solve that problem and may cause more trouble as maintenance organization are forced to rely on another logistical system for parts and maintenance.

However, military aircraft are a very visible acquisition, make headlines and are a point of national pride. That means this may be one way that Egypt and Russia can snub the US and make headlines while doing it. However, traditionally, aircraft acquisitions take years for delivery and pilot training to take place.

Egyptian Navy

Considering the other navies in the Mediterranean like the US, Russian, British, Italian, and French fleets, the Egyptian navy is relatively small. Most of these vessels were built by NATO countries and use NATO standard guns, missiles, radar, and electronics.

Russian naval vessels have never been in the same class as NATO countries in terms of quality and any movement to Russian ships would be a serious step down and threaten the logistical support of their current fleet.

The only benefit the Russian have to offer in terms of naval support would be if they build some sort of maintenance facility at an Egyptian port that would be available to Egyptian naval vessels. However, how good that maintenance support would be for NATO ships is questionable.

Will Egypt Become a Major Russian Customer?

The short answer is may be. Russia can no longer afford to give away weapons as they did in the Cold War. They are also having financial problems modernizing their own forces, which limits their largess.

Egypt meanwhile has a major arms industry that needs adjustments if Egypt started buying from Russia. Such purchases would also impact relations with other NATO countries that Egypt has no desire to alienate.

Egypt also knows that it has an edge in terms of American relations. The US eventually is concerned about maintaining the Camp David accords and that means continuing to give military assistance to Egypt. To totally cut off Egypt might put these agreements at risk. It would also mean economic problems for several American defense companies that are located in states that might go Republican if their economies deteriorate any more.

Undoubtedly, Egypt and Russia have decided it is in both their interests to improve relations at this time. It allows Egypt to scare the US a bit and gives the Russians a chance to embarrass the Americans. Another favorable dimension complementing relations is the Russian grain that Russia has been exporting to Egypt for long time and It was reported by Stratfor analysis that :
“Russia can support Egypt with larger grain exports. In the 2012-13 grain season, Russia made up a third of Egypt’s grain imports, approximately 2.7 million tons. Russia is currently having a healthy year for grain production at home, with a rise in exports for 2013-14 expected. The problem in recent months between Egypt and Russia has been the price — Cairo has been unable to afford Russian grain, which is more expensive than grain from countries such as Ukraine. An agreement for discounted grain is a possibility going forward.

PUBLICATIONS

Greater Iraqi–American Cooperation Needed on Counterterrorism, Syria, and Iran
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
November 5, 2013
Issue Brief 4079

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to Washington last week in search of greater U.S. security assistance in battling the al-Qaeda-led insurgency that increasingly threatens Iraq’s internal security as well as regional stability in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The United States shares Maliki’s goal of defeating al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq, which has expanded into neighboring Syria. But it should be assured that Maliki’s Shia-dominated government does not use U.S. arms to crush the legitimate rights and aspirations of Iraq’s Sunni Arab, Kurdish, and Christian minorities, which are enshrined in Iraq’s constitution. Washington should also press Maliki to distance himself from Iran’s outlaw regime and halt Iraqi smuggling operations that undermine international sanctions against Iran.

 

Read more…

A Strong and Focused National Security Strategy
By Jim Talent and Jon Kyl
Heritage Foundation
October 31, 2013

When President Obama took office, the armed services of the United States had already reached a fragile state. The Navy had shrunk to its smallest size since before World War I; the Air Force was smaller, and its aircraft older, than at any time since the inception of the service. The Army was stressed by years of war; according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, it had been underfunded before the invasion of Iraq and was desperately in need of resources to replace its capital inventory. Since the President took office, the government has cut $1.3 trillion from defense budgets over the next ten years. The last such reduction was embodied in sequestration. At the time sequestration was passed, the top leaders of the military, and of both parties (the very people who enacted sequestration), warned that it would have a devastating effect on America’s military.

 

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Solving Egypt’s Subsidy Problem
By Dalibor Rohac
Cato Institute
November 6, 2013

Subsidies to consumer goods, including fuels and food, account for almost one third of Egypt’s public spending, or 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Not only are subsidies highly ineffective in helping the poor, they are also an increasingly unsustainable drain on the country’s public finances and its foreign reserves. Yet reform remains a thorny issue in Egypt’s unstable political environment—mostly because subsidies are the main instrument of social assistance used by the government. Subsidies to consumer goods and fuels have existed in the country since the 1920s. Various approaches are available for scaling them down or eliminating them altogether. However, most of the prior attempts to reform the subsidy system in Egypt have failed. Cash transfers targeted at the poor would be a superior policy relative to the status quo.

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Saudi Arabia and the Arab “Frontline” States
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 4, 2013

The United States needs to rethink its attitudes and polices towards Saudi Arabia and the Arab “frontline” states. The “Arab spring” has not become some sudden window to democratic reform. It has instead unleashed a broad pattern of regional instability in an area already deeply destabilized by extremism and terrorism, growing religious struggles between Sunni and other sects as well as between Sunni extremists and moderates, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its removal as a military counterbalance to Iran, a growing Iranian set of threats at every level, and massive demographic pressures on weak structures of governance and economic development. The day may come some years in the future where the resulting convulsions in states like Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen produce the conditions for effective reform: political parties capable of producing effective leaders and governance, politics based on compromise rather than a history of conspiracy and winner’s take all, elections that produce national rather than ethnic and sectarian tensions, and a rule of law rather than winner takes all and repression. Today, however, upheavals mean political instability and violence, massive new economic problems, power struggles, repression and refugees. The issue is not democracy and the more ideal human rights, it is the most basic set of human rights: security and the ability to lead a safe and secure life.

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One Word Will Define Egypt’s Constitution
By Nathan J. Brown
Carnegie Endowment
November 1, 2013
Foreign Policy

Those interested in following every word of the work of the Committee of 50 drafting comprehensive revisions to Egypt’s constitution now have a variety of sources to follow: one “official” twitter feed; an “unofficial” one; and the latest addition, an “official” Facebook page. But the most important word governing Egypt’s future constitutional order will not be mentioned in any of those places. Indeed, it will not even be placed in the final text scheduled to be submitted to voters next month. That fateful word will be spoken only by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and it will be a simple “yes” or “no” concerning his candidacy for the presidency of the Egyptian republic.

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How the West should Stop Crippling the Syrian Opposition
By Jean-Pierre Filiu
German Marshall Fund
November 06, 2013

Since its start in March 2011, the Syrian revolution has presented a challenge to classical interpretations of political protest and conventional attitudes toward armed insurgencies.
The markedly grassroots nature of this popular uprising has made the quest for a monolithic leadership elusive. In addition, the various underground groups that make up the opposition have nurtured complex dialectics with exiled militants. The Syrian National Council (SNC) that was established in Istanbul in October 2011 was, therefore,
a self-proclaimed patchwork, whose doors were left open to other groups.

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John Kerry’s Wishful Thinking About Egypt
By Lee Smith
Hudson Institute
November 5, 2013

Last week, in the midst of his latest trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry told Egypt’s ruling military junta to keep up the good work. The Obama administration wants General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who removed Muslim Brotherhood affiliated president Mohamed Morsi from office in a coup on July 3, to return Egypt to civilian rule as quickly as possible. And that road map, said Kerry, “is being carried out to the best of our perception.” In reality though, it looks as though Egypt is heading in exactly the other direction.

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Ankara’s Middle East Policy Post Arab Spring
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
November 2013

When Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) entered office in 2002, it launched an ambitious plan to become a regional power. Aided by phenomenal economic growth, Turkey ultimately became the Middle East’s largest economy with a foreign policy based on wielding soft power to gain influence. To this end, the new elites in Ankara pursued deep economic and political ties with the region’s governments, including Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. Nevertheless, the events of the Arab Spring and the subsequent emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a hardline political force in the region have shifted the trajectory of Turkey’s rise to regional preeminence. Turkey realized that its soft power is not readily transferable to hard power, a realization that has prompted a pivot in Ankara’s foreign policy over the past two years.

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Kerry’s Visit to Morocco and Algeria: Navigating Between Competitors
By Vish Sakthivel
Washington Institute
November 4, 2013

Over the past few days, following the State Department’s announcement that Secretary John Kerry would be making his first official visit to North Africa, Morocco temporarily recalled its ambassador from Algeria. The symbolic gesture came after the two countries exchanged insults over Western Sahara, accusing each other of hegemonic ambitions and disregard for human rights. Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s statement about the urgency of dispatching human rights monitors to the disputed region, which triggered Rabat’s reaction, coincides with three imminent events: the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue, the annual summit that Kerry will inaugurate during his current trip to the region; Kerry’s visit to Algiers, also scheduled for later this week; and an expected mid-November visit to the United States by Morocco’s King Muhammad VI. Indeed, this latest squabble was aimed squarely at agenda-setting. In responding to the brouhaha, the Obama administration should be mindful of the complicated diplomatic and security issues at play, careful in its reassurances to committed allies in Morocco, and realistic about the limits of potential cooperation between the two countries.

Read more…

Week of November 8th, 2013

A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
11/08/2013

Introduction
This has been a busy week for the Washington think tank community – partially due to Kerry’s trip to the Middle East. Therefore, there are several papers dealing with aspects of the visit and US relations with the various nations he is visiting.

The Monitor analysis also looks at the trip in light of Obama’s political problems at home. Given his political problems and the fact that he isn’t a foreign policy expert, we see him abandoning foreign policy initiatives in the region to spend more time rebuilding his political fortunes domestically. This means that Kerry’s trip is more of a bandage to cover serious problems in the region rather than the beginning of a serious attempt to engage in solving problems.

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES

Executive Summary

This has been a busy week for the Washington think tank community – partially due to Kerry’s trip to the Middle East. Therefore, there are several papers dealing with aspects of the visit and US relations with the various nations he is visiting.
The Monitor analysis also looks at the trip in light of Obama’s political problems at home. Given his political problems and the fact that he isn’t a foreign policy expert, we see him abandoning foreign policy initiatives in the region to spend more time rebuilding his political fortunes domestically. This means that Kerry’s trip is more of a bandage to cover serious problems in the region rather than the beginning of a serious attempt to engage in solving problems.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The German Marshall Fund looks at how the West is hurting the Syrian rebel movement. They note, “Western reluctance continued to nurture factionalism inside the Syrian guerrilla and pave the way for increased jihadi aggressiveness. Clashes between the FSA and the jihadi groups intensified in August 2013. The United States’ refusal to sanction the massive use of chemical gas by the dictatorship dealt a devastating blow to the credibility of both the Coalition and the FSA.”

The Cato Institute looks at Egyptian subsidies of food, fuel and other consumer products, which are a major governmental expense. They suggest, “Eliminating subsidies and replacing them with cash transfers would produce significant savings and would be politically feasible. A successful reform of subsidies will have to be accompanied by a series of complementary reforms, which would reduce food insecurity in the country and improve supply chains in the areas of food and energy by introducing competition. Finally, prudent macro economic policies, including a reduction in inflation rates, will be necessary to contain the potential effects of food and energy price hikes on poorer households.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the rewriting of the Egyptian constitution. They note, “The most fundamental questions regarding state structure depend on the decision of a figure that is not even in the room. If Sisi decides to run for president, whatever document is produced by the committee will operate in a manner that revives (and even strengthens) the presidency that has dominated the Egyptian state since the office was created after the abolition of the monarch over half a century ago. If he does not run, the main institutions of the Egyptian state will operate in a more decentralized manner. Neither path is likely to be particularly democratic.”

The Hudson Institute warns that Kerry is taking the wrong course in Egypt. They note, “Sisi has no qualms about possibly tearing up his country by alienating the millions of angry Egyptians who elected Morsi president because he believes he has a popular mandate to uproot the Brotherhood. In other words, the general who is riding a wave of massive street support is a populist. The issue then is that populists must tailor their policies to fit the preferences of those they lead. The Obama administration seems to have overlooked the fact that two and a half years of street protest have shown the population of Egypt to be broadly anti-American and more dangerously yet anti-Israel. If Sisi doesn’t want to wind up out of power, his leadership will amount to him having to follow the crowd, whichever way it’s going. The signs are already there for the White House to see: this is not a return to the stability of Mubarakism, because Abdel Fattah Sisi is no Hosni Mubarak.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the recent visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to Washington and argues for greater cooperation between the two nations on regional counterterrorism issues. They conclude, “In a recent television interview, Maliki compared Iraq to a ship in a storm. President Obama should make every effort to convince Maliki that he needs to set a new course that minimizes sectarian tensions and isolates extremists in Iraq and in the region. This means Maliki should distance his government from the regimes in Iran and Syria, both of which purposefully manipulate tensions between Shias and Sunnis as a means of advancing their own agendas. If he continues on his present course, Iraq is likely to disintegrate, just like Syria has.”

The CSIS suggests rethinking American policies towards Saudi Arabia and recognizing its importance as a “front line” state in keeping the peace in the region. They note, “This does not mean giving up on patient evolutionary efforts to encourage reform in the more stable Arab states, but it does mean understanding the motives driving Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, and the regimes in key friendly countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. They are not sitting on the edge of some idealized political awakening. They are “frontline” states whose regimes and peoples are threatened by a set of forces that already has impoverished or halted economic development in most of the states affect by the so-called “Arab spring,” displaced 25% of Syria’s population or made it refugees, empowered Iran, and created a crisis of civilization within Islam.”

The Washington Institute looks at Kerry’s visit to Algeria and Morocco later this week and their rivalry. The institute warns, “Acceding to either Morocco or Algeria’s view on Western Sahara would only cost the administration leverage with the other party — a counterproductive move at a time when there are gains to be made on security cooperation. The contest for influence, reputation, and U.S. favor remains the biggest contributing favor to regional counterterrorism cooperation. Accordingly, Washington should work with each country — bilaterally for now — to identify relative strengths and security priorities. If Algeria is helping militarily to contain the crisis in Jebel Chaambi, the administration should determine strategic openings there and offer its expertise. And if Morocco is playing to its strengths by taking a preemptive, soft-power approach to Malian de-radicalization, Washington should support that.

There is a growing concern about America’s military, which has undergone severe budget cuts in recent years. The Heritage Foundation addresses this concern in a paper authored by two former senators – Kyl of Arizona and Talent of Missouri. They note, “The Navy had shrunk to its smallest size since before World War I; the Air Force was smaller, and its aircraft older, than at any time since the inception of the service. The Army was stressed by years of war; according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, it had been underfunded before the invasion of Iraq and was desperately in need of resources to replace its capital inventory.”

The Washington Institute looks at Turkey’s shifting foreign policy in the Middle East and how it has impacted its push to become a major regional power. They note, “The events of the Arab Spring and the subsequent emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a hardline political force in the region have shifted the trajectory of Turkey’s rise to regional preeminence. Turkey realized that its soft power is not readily transferable to hard power, a realization that has prompted a pivot in Ankara’s foreign policy over the past two years.”

ANALYSIS

Obama Struggles to Firm up his Flank in the Middle East

It’s an axiom of politics that when a leader is in trouble domestically, he makes a major international move to deflect domestic criticism. That isn’t the way it is working for Obama.

Obama’s popularity ratings are falling as the sticker shock of his domestic cornerstone, Obamacare is hitting American voters. The website is still dysfunctional and several Democratic Senators in political trouble next year are calling for a delay in its implementation.

Unfortunately, Obama’s current diplomatic initiative has less to do with deflecting attention from his domestic problems than with patching up serious holes in his Middle East policy. Saudi Arabia, who is a longtime ally of American interests in the region, is clearly upset with Obama and his erratic\broken diplomacy in the Middle East. And, Egypt, which the US has favored with considerable foreign aid in order to retain its friendship, is considering a closer relationship with Russia.

That’s why Secretary of State Kerry was dispatched to the Middle East last week – to prevent further problems in a trouble prone second term presidency. Kerry’s visit to Egypt was the first by a senior US official since Mohamed Morsi was deposed as president in July and the first to Saudi Arabia since intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan warned last month of a “shift away” from Washington and announced the Saudi rejection of its seat on the UN Security Council.

Kerry visited Egypt first. He then arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday in order to address several areas of friction between the US and the Saudi kingdom, including Iran and its nuclear program. Then he continues to Israel and Palestine to meet the Israelis and Palestinian leaders. He will also make stops in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Morocco.

An overriding problem with the Saudis and other US allies in the region is the continuing turmoil of the Arab Spring and how the American government will react. In the case of Egypt, Obama quickly abandoned US ally Mubarak for the Muslim Brotherhood. But, when they were removed from power by popular and military coalition, Obama stopped delivery of some military and economic aid.

Kerry addressed this concern when he said the US would stick with its friends. “We will be there for Saudi Arabia, for the Emirates, for Qataris, for the Jordanians, for the Egyptians and others. We will not allow those countries to be attacked from outside. We will stand with them,” he told reporters. Note the caveat to protect them from attacks from the outside.
There is also the problem of differing goals in Syria. The Saudis were angered last month when Obama backed away from the threatened military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

While acknowledging that “some countries” wanted the United States to act differently on Syria, Kerry insisted that “differences on individual tactics on policy do not mean a difference on (the) fundamental goal of the policy…We all share the same goal … that is the salvation of the state of Syria and a transition government put in place … that can give the people of Syria the opportunity to choose their future,” Kerry said during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

There is also a concern about Egypt renewing its close ties with Russia that it had until the 1970s. The DEBKAfile reported that Russia has requested a naval base in Egypt for its Mediterranean fleet. In return for this port, Russia would provide arms and economic aid.

On Sunday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi stated that his country is looking for partners other than the US to meet its security needs. Egypt expressed intentions to buy MiG-29 planes and other military equipment from Russia in a 15 billion dollar deal that may be partially financed by Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East as seen from the Obama Administration

The fact is that the Obama White House is in a political meltdown and the Middle East is the least of their problems. Nor, do they see the Middle East as a way to make a political comeback. Kerry is visiting the region merely as a sop to regional leaders, not as a sign that Obama will commit more attention to the issues of the region.

First and most important, from the White House point of view, Obama is sinking in the polls. Last week the administration saw a record low in job approval for Obama. Only 42 percent of adults approve of the job Obama is doing as president, according to the NBC/WSJ poll conducted October 25–28, while a majority (51 percent) disapprove. The most recent Gallup poll shows Obama at 39% job approval and 53% disapproval. This was heading in the wrong direction at a time when the White House had hoped to focus on touting the rollout of Obamacare and push the post-shutdown damage done to the Republicans.

Even worse are his dropping likability numbers – numbers that have stayed up and helped him rebound in the past. Obama has always done quite well. Even in moments when a majority of Americans disapproved of his performance as president, he has always been at least neutral on this measure. People may not like how he’s running the country, but they don’t think he’s a bad guy.

What’s different about the last few weeks is that Obama has now crossed into negative territory on his favorable/unfavorable ratings, with only 41 percent holding a favorable view of the president in the most recent NBC/WSJ poll.

This is beginning to compare with the disastrous second term favorability ratings of Bush in 2005. Prior to Katrina, Bush too had faced dips in job approval, but his favorability had always been a net positive. July 2005 was the last time the NBC/WSJ poll would show less than 50 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Bush did. By the time November 2005 rolled around, Bush’s favorable were down to 38 as was his job approval (Obama has a 39% favorable rating). Neither Bush’s job approval nor his favorable rating ever really recovered.

Obama’s job-approval numbers are not good news for his administration. They could, of course, still come back into positive territory over the next year or three. However, the fact that fewer Americans view him favorably is a signal that bringing those job-approval numbers back up could be a greater challenge than it has been before.

There are several reasons for that and Obamacare is at the top of the list. Every day that it continues to make headlines for its problems, the worst Obama’s ratings become. In fact, the Obamacare issue has become so toxic for Democrats and Obama that the Republican leadership is taking the advice of Napoleon who once said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Consequently, they are leaving town for a House recess and avoiding any talk about it.

However, Democrats are still talking about the failures of Obamacare – even Obama’s staunchest supporters. Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland noted how there is a growing lack of confidence in Obama and his keynote legislation Tuesday morning to describe the rollout of the new health care law as she questioned Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the health agency tasked with overseeing the law’s implementation. “I believe that there’s been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the website, the canceling of policies, and sticker shock from some people,” said Mikulski, who has generally been a strong ally of Obama’s.

There is also the weak economy that is damaging the White House – the pocketbook issue that usually drives voters on Election Day. The US is experiencing the worst economic recovery since World War Two and a pick up isn’t in sight. This explains Obama’s recent “pivot” to jobs.

Which brings us to Election Day 2014, when the Senate and House of Representatives are up for grabs. At this time, it’s looking bad for Democrats and many vulnerable Democrats are abandoning Obama’s coattails in an attempt to survive. If the Republicans retain the House and take the Senate – which looks very likely, the last two years of the Obama Administration will be even worse.

What that means is that as far as Obama is concerned, the Middle East falls far down his list of concerns. His biggest problem there is avoiding an international incident that will worsen his problems. Small problems that don’t fill the front page of the newspaper are minor in his mind.

This is the mindset at the White House towards the Middle East. Obama thinks the Saudis’ disagreements with the US are temporary and will go away with time. Syria remains in flux and Assad is looking more likely to stay in power, so there is no overriding reason to support the rebels. Obama is counting on the short memories of the Saudis.

The White House isn’t currently worried about the potential Egyptian arms agreement with Russia because these deals take years to complete and the Egyptian military is currently wedded to American military technology. It will take years – long after Obama’s administration – for Egypt to once again be wholly reliant on Russian arms.

On the Iranian front, administration officials know there is no way they can stop Iran from building some nuclear weapons. The current talks are window dressing and the hope at the White House is that Iran keeps its nuclear capabilities off the front page of the American newspapers and out of the mind of American voters.

Obama also has very little interest in supporting American allies in the region,, since they do not offer any real time political benefit (except for Israel and the Jewish voters in the US). US agencies will continue to work with the current governments, but if a crisis occurs as was seen in Egypt, Obama may likely side with the rebels.
Although Kerry will continue to spend time in the Middle East, don’t assume that this indicates any desire by Obama to take serious initiatives there. He will basically push big decisions down the road, while trying to repair the domestic scene so he can limit the electoral damage in 2014.

Kerry will continue to visit Middle Eastern capitals and talk to national leaders. He will be seen to work on the Iranian nuclear problem and Syria. However, the leaders in the region can rest assured that these and other Middle Eastern problems will not receive any credible attention from Obama. He is too busy trying to save his presidency at home.

Off Year Election Results

There were a few elections last Tuesday in the United States and they gave mixed results. One Republican governor – Chris Christie – won reelection in traditionally Democratic New Jersey and set himself up as a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

In Colorado, voters decisively defeated a major tax increase. Results were mixed for a referendum in several Colorado counties seeking to create a new, more conservative state. Only 5 of 11 counties voted for cessecion, which kills any potential momentum. The push to cessede came from conservative rural counties who were upset by the domination of the state by the populated Denver/Boulder area.

In Virginia, while the Republican retained the state legislature, Democrat McAuliffe won the governor’s election by a narrow margin despite leading by double digits earlier in the campaign.

McAuliffe’s close win was propelled by changing demographics in Virginia. In “on year” elections in 2008, and 2012, only 70 percent of Virginia voters were white. However, in “off year” elections in 2006 and 2009, 78 percent of voters who turned out to the polls were white. In yesterday’s election, the racial makeup of the Virginia electorate looked much more like a presidential year than an “off-year,” with only 72 percent of voters saying they were white.

Younger voters also turned out in higher numbers than in 2009; some 13 percent of voters were under age 30, compared with only 10 percent four years earlier. While a far cry from the nearly one-out-of-five voters they comprised in 2012, the uptick in young voters in an off-year election is a sign that the Obama/Democratic coalition is not fading away or only reliable in presidential years. This could cause problems for Republicans in 2014.

On the other hand, exit polls show some hope for Republicans next year. Exit polls showed Virginia voters opposed Obamacare rather than favored it by a 53 percent to 45 percent margin. When asked who was more to blame, 47 percent of voters said Republicans in Congress and 46 percent said Obama. Considering that individuals almost always poll better than groups of people—particularly Republicans (or, for that matter, Democrats) in Congress, this is a devastating result for Obama. It also means the government shutdown didn’t seriously damage Republicans.

PUBLICATIONS

Greater Iraqi–American Cooperation Needed on Counterterrorism, Syria, and Iran
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
November 5, 2013
Issue Brief 4079

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to Washington last week in search of greater U.S. security assistance in battling the al-Qaeda-led insurgency that increasingly threatens Iraq’s internal security as well as regional stability in the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The United States shares Maliki’s goal of defeating al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq, which has expanded into neighboring Syria. But it should be assured that Maliki’s Shia-dominated government does not use U.S. arms to crush the legitimate rights and aspirations of Iraq’s Sunni Arab, Kurdish, and Christian minorities, which are enshrined in Iraq’s constitution. Washington should also press Maliki to distance himself from Iran’s outlaw regime and halt Iraqi smuggling operations that undermine international sanctions against Iran.

Read more

A Strong and Focused National Security Strategy
By Jim Talent and Jon Kyl
Heritage Foundation
October 31, 2013

When President Obama took office, the armed services of the United States had already reached a fragile state. The Navy had shrunk to its smallest size since before World War I; the Air Force was smaller, and its aircraft older, than at any time since the inception of the service. The Army was stressed by years of war; according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, it had been underfunded before the invasion of Iraq and was desperately in need of resources to replace its capital inventory. Since the President took office, the government has cut $1.3 trillion from defense budgets over the next ten years. The last such reduction was embodied in sequestration. At the time sequestration was passed, the top leaders of the military, and of both parties (the very people who enacted sequestration), warned that it would have a devastating effect on America’s military.

Read more

Solving Egypt’s Subsidy Problem
By Dalibor Rohac
Cato Institute
November 6, 2013

Subsidies to consumer goods, including fuels and food, account for almost one third of Egypt’s public spending, or 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Not only are subsidies highly ineffective in helping the poor, they are also an increasingly unsustainable drain on the country’s public finances and its foreign reserves. Yet reform remains a thorny issue in Egypt’s unstable political environment—mostly because subsidies are the main instrument of social assistance used by the government. Subsidies to consumer goods and fuels have existed in the country since the 1920s. Various approaches are available for scaling them down or eliminating them altogether. However, most of the prior attempts to reform the subsidy system in Egypt have failed. Cash transfers targeted at the poor would be a superior policy relative to the status quo.

Read more

Saudi Arabia and the Arab “Frontline” States
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
November 4, 2013

The United States needs to rethink its attitudes and polices towards Saudi Arabia and the Arab “frontline” states. The “Arab spring” has not become some sudden window to democratic reform. It has instead unleashed a broad pattern of regional instability in an area already deeply destabilized by extremism and terrorism, growing religious struggles between Sunni and other sects as well as between Sunni extremists and moderates, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its removal as a military counterbalance to Iran, a growing Iranian set of threats at every level, and massive demographic pressures on weak structures of governance and economic development. The day may come some years in the future where the resulting convulsions in states like Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen produce the conditions for effective reform: political parties capable of producing effective leaders and governance, politics based on compromise rather than a history of conspiracy and winner’s take all, elections that produce national rather than ethnic and sectarian tensions, and a rule of law rather than winner takes all and repression. Today, however, upheavals mean political instability and violence, massive new economic problems, power struggles, repression and refugees. The issue is not democracy and the more ideal human rights, it is the most basic set of human rights: security and the ability to lead a safe and secure life.

Read more

One Word Will Define Egypt’s Constitution
By Nathan J. Brown
Carnegie Endowment
November 1, 2013
Foreign Policy

Those interested in following every word of the work of the Committee of 50 drafting comprehensive revisions to Egypt’s constitution now have a variety of sources to follow: one “official” twitter feed; an “unofficial” one; and the latest addition, an “official” Facebook page. But the most important word governing Egypt’s future constitutional order will not be mentioned in any of those places. Indeed, it will not even be placed in the final text scheduled to be submitted to voters next month. That fateful word will be spoken only by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and it will be a simple “yes” or “no” concerning his candidacy for the presidency of the Egyptian republic.

Read more

How the West should Stop Crippling the Syrian Opposition
By Jean-Pierre Filiu
German Marshall Fund
November 06, 2013

Since its start in March 2011, the Syrian revolution has presented a challenge to classical interpretations of political protest and conventional attitudes toward armed insurgencies.

The markedly grassroots nature of this popular uprising has made the quest for a monolithic leadership elusive. In addition, the various underground groups that make up the opposition have nurtured complex dialectics with exiled militants. The Syrian National Council (SNC) that was established in Istanbul in October 2011 was, therefore,
a self-proclaimed patchwork, whose doors were left open to other groups.

Read more

John Kerry’s Wishful Thinking About Egypt
By Lee Smith
Hudson Institute
November 5, 2013

Last week, in the midst of his latest trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry told Egypt’s ruling military junta to keep up the good work. The Obama administration wants General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who removed Muslim Brotherhood affiliated president Mohamed Morsi from office in a coup on July 3, to return Egypt to civilian rule as quickly as possible. And that road map, said Kerry, “is being carried out to the best of our perception.” In reality though, it looks as though Egypt is heading in exactly the other direction.

Read more

Ankara’s Middle East Policy Post Arab Spring
By Soner Cagaptay
Washington Institute
November 2013

When Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) entered office in 2002, it launched an ambitious plan to become a regional power. Aided by phenomenal economic growth, Turkey ultimately became the Middle East’s largest economy with a foreign policy based on wielding soft power to gain influence. To this end, the new elites in Ankara pursued deep economic and political ties with the region’s governments, including Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. Nevertheless, the events of the Arab Spring and the subsequent emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a hardline political force in the region have shifted the trajectory of Turkey’s rise to regional preeminence. Turkey realized that its soft power is not readily transferable to hard power, a realization that has prompted a pivot in Ankara’s foreign policy over the past two years.

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Kerry’s Visit to Morocco and Algeria: Navigating Between Competitors
By Vish Sakthivel
Washington Institute
November 4, 2013

Over the past few days, following the State Department’s announcement that Secretary John Kerry would be making his first official visit to North Africa, Morocco temporarily recalled its ambassador from Algeria. The symbolic gesture came after the two countries exchanged insults over Western Sahara, accusing each other of hegemonic ambitions and disregard for human rights. Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s statement about the urgency of dispatching human rights monitors to the disputed region, which triggered Rabat’s reaction, coincides with three imminent events: the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue, the annual summit that Kerry will inaugurate during his current trip to the region; Kerry’s visit to Algiers, also scheduled for later this week; and an expected mid-November visit to the United States by Morocco’s King Muhammad VI. Indeed, this latest squabble was aimed squarely at agenda-setting. In responding to the brouhaha, the Obama administration should be mindful of the complicated diplomatic and security issues at play, careful in its reassurances to committed allies in Morocco, and realistic about the limits of potential cooperation between the two countries.

Read more

Week of November 1st, 2013

Introduction

Many think tanks remain focused on the domestic issue of Obama’s healthcare program, which is facing a myriad of problems, along with growing distrust amongst the population.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the continuing leaks on the breath of the NSA spying against American allies. While the US maintains that its communications intercepts are for use in the war on terrorism, recent information about its targets show that America is using its intelligence collecting capabilities to gain economic and negotiating advantages against its allies.

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES

Executive Summary

Many think tanks remain focused on the domestic issue of Obama’s healthcare program, which is facing a myriad of problems, along with growing distrust amongst the population.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the continuing leaks on the breath of the NSA spying against American allies. While the US maintains that its communications intercepts are for use in the war on terrorism, recent information about its targets show that America is using its intelligence collecting capabilities to gain economic and negotiating advantages against its allies.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the political realignment taking place amongst Syrian rebels at the behest of the Saudis. They warn, “This leaves the Saudi leadership heavily dependent on Syria’s Sunni rebels. If its plan to unite them fails, Riyadh’s credibility will be diminished. Worse, Saudi Arabia could find itself replicating its experience in Afghanistan, where it built up disparate mujahedeen groups that lacked a unifying political framework. The forces were left unable to govern Kabul once they took it, paving the way for the Taliban to take over…In Syria, Saudi reliance on funding and weapons supply as principal levers of acquiring influence, the concentration on escalating military pressure on the regime without developing a clear political strategy to defeat it in parallel, and the focus on mobilizing and strengthening groups with an overtly Sunni Muslim character risk contributing to a similar outcome. The Saudi leadership should be careful what it creates in Syria: Muhammad’s Army may eventually come home to Mecca.”

The Washington Institute looks forward to the meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq. They recommend taking a new look at US/Iraq relations and note, “Iraq currently holds a unique and unfortunate status in U.S. regional policymaking. Any other country with the same strategic resources and challenges would receive significantly more direct assistance, most obviously in terms of counterterrorism support. But the stigma of the former military occupation has prevented Washington from viewing Iraq with fresh eyes, based on its strategic merits. Even as the administration’s focus shifts to Asia, countries like China and India are shifting their focus to Iraq, recognizing its importance and investing heavily there. In short, there is no muting Iraq. The only way to get this troubled country off of America’s television screen is to expand U.S. engagement in the near term, particularly during next year’s pivotal elections — the first national polls since the U.S. military withdrawal and a milestone against which to judge Washington’s commitment to a democratic and prosperous Iraq.”

The Brookings Institution looks at Sinai security and potential cooperation between Hamas, Egypt and Israel. The paper examines the interests of various actors in, and neighboring, Sinai; considers areas of mutual concern; and lays out the individual capabilities Egypt, Israel and Hamas have for addressing these threats, as well as opportunities for all parties to combine their core strengths to better address mutual interests. It shows the clear mutual interests Egypt, Israel and Hamas share in countering the rise of Salafi-jihadis in Sinai and avoiding border tensions that could escalate to full conflicts. Despite these shared interests, the relationship between each of these actors is also extremely complicated. As such, this paper also considers obstacles to cooperation and opportunities for the United States to encourage trust-building and intelligence cooperation between Egypt and Israel.

The Washington Institute recommends speed in terms of negotiating with Iran. They warn, “In the Middle East, many are concerned that Iran’s progress puts it on the cusp of becoming a de facto nuclear power. Perception being a reality, Tehran is emerging as the regional hegemon, and an agreement with the West would be seen as Washington confirming this status. Even at this delicate stage, then, Washington needs to negotiate expeditiously, achieving tangible progress that defangs Iran and eases the fears of U.S. allies.”

Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute testified in front of Congress on the importance of Pakistan and Afghanistan to US security. He concludes, “There can be no rapid conclusion to the problems of South Asia, nor is there any end in sight to the threats to American security and its interests emanating from that region. The White House is quite wrong to keep repeating that al Qaeda is “decimated,” “on its last legs,” or nearly defeated. Even the “core group” still in Pakistan remains functional, but that core group is far from being the only threat to Americans. Al Qaeda franchises are expanding in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and North Africa, which should cause us great concern. But the sheer number and complexity of extremist Islamist terrorist groups based along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border remains by far the greatest single concentration of threats. A strategic partnership with Afghanistan, underwritten with aid and with troops, along with continued engagement with Pakistan, is the only hope for securing American interests and the safety of Americans in this region.

The CSIS looks at Morocco and its links to Sub Saharan Africa. It says, “Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly vital to Morocco’s future economic growth and security.” It recommends, “While Morocco enjoys some competitive advantage in sub-Saharan Africa, it faces several challenges to transforming its presence there. Diplomatically, it must diversify its ties with larger African economies and overcome constraints posed by the Western Sahara conflict. Economically, the challenge will be to restructure its nascent manufacturing base and diversify its products in order to meet growing African consumer demand. The United States can play a role in supporting Morocco’s engagement in Africa, which complements U.S. policy objectives in both Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Gülen movement in Turkey and its impact on Turkish politics. They conclude, “The deterioration in relations between the AKP and the Gülen movement, or more exactly between Erdoğan and Gülen, is undeniable. The tension of this situation has led some Turkish observers to speculate that a total break may be inevitable. Others posit that the weakening of the AKP–Gülen movement alliance may exacerbate the existing divide within the AKP between the prime minister’s hardline faction and the more pragmatic contingent represented by Gül and Arinç, especially given the disputes over the Gezi Park crackdown…But such a scenario still seems unlikely. Erdoğan’s alliance with the Gülen community, although strained, is still likely to last. Despite Gülen’s concerns about the prime minister’s growing authoritarianism and Erdoğan’s fears about the Gülen movement’s growing influence over state structures, ideologically the AKP and the Gülen movement remain close.”

ANALYSIS

NSA Leaks Continue to Embarrass Obama Administration

What the spying means and how it impacts Middle Eastern nations

The most recent Guardian story about NSA spying on at least 35 world leaders not only damaged America’s relations with critical allies, but called into question the scope and focus of the NSA’s spying activities. Is the NSA really focusing on fighting terrorism or is it more interested in diluting its efforts to gather information on other subjects. At this time, it appears that the NSA, contrary to public protestations, is focused less on terrorism than it claims.

Of course, the NSA insists Merkel herself was not targeted, but that her personal cell phone calls were intercepted as part of a broad telecommunications sweep of European cell phone traffic. The Germans rightly claim that is not likely.

However, there is no doubt that NSA collects massive amounts of information from all around the world. According to a collection of the reports and leaked classified government files, in January 2013 the NSA collected 124.8 billion phone calls. Cryptome, a site that posts government and corporate documents, combined the various documents and says the largest share of calls originated in Afghanistan (21.98 billion) and Pakistan (12.76 billion). Elsewhere in the Middle East, billions of calls were monitored in Iraq (7.8 billion), Saudi Arabia (7.8 billion), Egypt (1.9 billion), Iran (1.73 billion) and Jordan (1.6 billion). 70 million phone calls were monitored from France.

According to the Italian magazine Panorama, NSA spying even extended to monitoring phone calls to the Vatican during the conclave to elect a new Pope. “The National Security Agency wiretapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including the accommodation housing cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.

The allegations follow a report by Cryptome which said the United States intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December 2012 and early January 2013. Among those, “there are apparently also calls from and to the Vatican,” Panorama said. “It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.

If America is spying on German leader Merkel, the Pope, and even average people, what is the core mission of America’s communications spying effort?

We know what it isn’t. It isn’t primarily focused on international terrorist groups like al Qaeda or countries that sponsor terrorism. Nor, is it focused totally on nations with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) like North Korea.

If America were the driving force for democracy in the world, one might expect its communication intercept program to be focused on undemocratic nations. In that case, democratically elected governments supposedly should be exempt from such coverage. That standard is easily broken. If it isn’t a desire to promote democracy or stop international terrorism, what are the criteria for intercepting communications? The answer appears to lie in the targeting of Germany’s leader, Merkel. The NSA’s spying efforts in Germany are comparable to the attention it spends on China, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. And pointing to one top secret document, Der Spiegel writes that Germany is considered a “third party foreign partner” by the NSA, unentitled to the freedom from spying exclusively granted to the English speaking American allies: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK
Apparently the US desired information on the behind-the-scenes dealing between Merkel and other European leaders involving financial actions that could impact U.S. currency and its economy. In fact, the Italian magazine Panorama noted that one target of NSA intercepts was, “threats to financial systems.”

This concern is not unusual. It should be noted in the case of Germany in the past, the then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had engineered a project with the Russians to build a gas pipeline along a northern route from Vyborg, Russia, through the Baltic Sea to Greifswald, Germany. Shortly after leaving office Schroeder became chairman of the Russian-dominated Gazprom-led consortium that built the pipeline. German financial dealings are a priority for anybody interested in European security.

There has been some financial friction between the US and Germany, especially concerning the German gold being held by the US in the vaults of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. The European Union and its currency, the Euro has come under pressure from some of the weaker economies in southern Europe like Greece, Cyprus, Spain, and Italy. As the major economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany is expected to act as the banker of final resort to the European Union. And, that may require that it sell some of its massive gold holdings.

Germany’s central bank indicated that it wished to move its American holdings of gold, worth about $36 billion (about half of Germany’s gold reserves), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to the vaults at the Bundesbank’s Frankfurt headquarters. The problem is that the US government has been reticent to make the move. In fact, the Federal Reserve said it couldn’t handle the transfer and that it would take 7 years – until 2020 – to accomplish the transfer. That caused German government to ask to visit the Federal Reserve vaults to inventory the gold and determine its actual existence, but the US refused to permit Germany to examine its own gold. The reasons given were “security” and “no room for visitors.”

Source on info about Gold story: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-politicians-demand-to-see-gold-in-us-federal-reserve-a-864068.html

Germany did finally send some staff to the NY Federal Reserve Bank, and they were permitted only into the vault’s anteroom where they were shown 5 or 6 gold bars as representative of their holdings, and were permitted nothing else. They apparently came a second time, and the bank did open only one of 9 rooms and let the Germans look at the stack of gold, but were not permitted to either enter or touch.

Tapping Merkel’s cell phone not only gives the US an idea of the financial maneuvers taking place within the European Union, it also provides the Federal Reserve an idea of what actions Germany may take to repatriate its gold.

The massive spying on Saudi Arabia also points to other targets than terrorists. Saudi Arabia, as a major petroleum producer is a major economic target for an American government that desires to know pricing and production information before it becomes public. It also wants to know any Saudi movement of dollar assets because the Saudi Arabia decision to rely upon the dollar for petroleum sales is a major underpinning for the international demand for the American dollar.

However, American and Obama Administration interest in Saudi Arabian communications extends to its evolving foreign policy. The Saudi decision not to take its seat on the UN Security Council highlighted its desire to move away from American foreign policy initiatives and strike out on its own or in conjunction with other GCC nations.

Saudi Arabia has become increasingly irritated with American foreign policy concerning Syria and Iran. This disagreement is more than words. The Saudis are actively following policies that counter American policies in both countries. That means the US wants to know what the Saudis are doing so they can counter any Saudi actions.

In the case of Syria, this means the NSA not only is looking at Saudi diplomatic and military communications concerning its efforts, it is undoubtedly passing that information on to groups that may not favor Saudi Arabia or its Syrian allies. The result of these communications intercepts might be military defeats of Saudi allies in Syria or ambushes of their forces. There is also a greater likelihood of interceptions of arms shipments or financial aid.

The reality is that despite American protests that it is focused on fighting terrorism, it uses its vast communications intercept program for other national interests, including economic and foreign policy. Nations with interests that may conflict with American policy must be aware of that and operate with the understanding that if a communications is electronic, they are passing it on to American leaders.

Keeping Information Secret

Given the scope of NSA spying on friend and enemy alike, everyone is interested in keeping private information private.

Here are some tips:

The key to the NSA’s vast communications interception network is its ability to intercept electronic communications and the vast NSA computer network used to process that information. Try to avoid giving them the information or the ability to process it.

Keep communications non-electronic. Avoid transmitting private information via phone, email, text, or fax. Conventional mail is better – not because it can’t be intercepted – but, because it requires US intelligence to actually have a physical presence along the route the mail takes in order to intercept it.

Use typewriters for private communications. If additional copies are needed, use a copier to make them and then run a few blank pages through the copier to make sure that the copier drum no longer has the latent image on it.

Send mail from a mail box or post office to keep someone from easily intercepting it. The same holds to receiving mail.

If you use the mail, avoid using the same post office all the time; use alternate post offices for both sending and receiving.

Couriers are better for private messages than the mail or email – providing you can trust them. As with mail, intercepting a courier requires a physical presence by the NSA, which takes more effort. They may go to that effort to intercept a terrorist suspect’s communication, but not to intercept the average person’s communications.

Government agencies should develop courier routes between offices to transmit information rather than using email or phone calls. Israeli defense officials are prohibited from discussing “top secret” information over any phone line, even encrypted ones. Classified information can be conveyed only via envelopes with a wax seal, Maariv reports.
If electronic data must be transmitted, use a computer not physically hooked up to the internet and write the information on a CD instead of a memory stick.

Assume that your local American embassy is sweeping up all local electronic communications.

Keep in mind that the NSA only specializes in communications. Other US intelligence agencies specialize in other types of intelligence gathering that also benefit from the computer revolution. For instance, if the NSA can gather and analyze billions of phone calls, what does that mean the American spy satellite galaxy is viewing, saving and analyzing? Iran and North Korea and Syria are only a small fraction of what these satellites view every day (how about China and Russia?). Don’t assume that the US turns the cameras off when they fly over friendly countries.

PUBLICATIONS

Morocco’s African Future
By Haim Malka
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 30, 2013

Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly vital to Morocco’s future economic growth and security. Morocco has pursued a soft power strategy in Africa for over a decade, but regional and global dynamics create a new urgency for Morocco to diversify its economic ties, boost multilateral security cooperation, and play a more active diplomatic role. While Morocco enjoys some competitive advantage in sub-Saharan Africa, it faces several challenges to transforming its presence there. Diplomatically, it must diversify its ties with larger African economies and overcome constraints posed by the Western Sahara conflict. Economically, the challenge will be to restructure its nascent manufacturing base and diversify its products in order to meet growing African consumer demand. The United States can play a role in supporting Morocco’s engagement in Africa, which complements U.S. policy objectives in both Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa.

Read more

An unarguable fact: American security is tied to Afghanistan and Pakistan
By Frederick W. Kagan
American Enterprise Institute
October 29, 2013

Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific

Reasonable people can disagree about the desirability of committing to a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, keeping American troops there, giving large amounts of financial aid to Pakistan, and many other specific policy decisions in South Asia. We can argue about the relative importance of U.S. interests in that area compared with the costs of taking this or that action-and also compared with the costs of inaction or withdrawal. We can certainly argue about what strategies might work or probably won’t work.

Read more

Turkey’s Gülen Movement: Between Social Activism and Politics
By Bayram Balci
Carnegie Endowment
October 24, 2013

Since its election in 2002, the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has transformed Turkey. The reforms initiated by this conservative government with Islamic roots have amounted to a passive revolution—they have profoundly altered Turkish society, modernized its institutions, and strengthened its economy, which is now the sixteenth-largest in the world in terms of GDP. Yet it would be a mistake to attribute the many successes that have enhanced Turkey’s role as a major regional and international player to AKP leadership alone. Erdoğan’s government has enjoyed support from a number of political organizations as well as from influential religious and social forces within Turkey. The most invaluable, but also the hardest to assess, is a movement that plays a fundamental role in Turkey’s social and religious life: the Gülen movement of Fethullah Gülen, referred to by the terms cemaat or hizmet.

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Unifying Syria’s Rebels: Saudi Arabia Joins the Fray
By Yezid Sayigh
Carnegie Endowment
October 28, 2013

Various Syrian rebel groups have announced a spate of mergers and alliances over the past month. In theory, the trend is a welcome sign that the opposition’s extreme fragmentation is at long last being reversed. Such a development would complement the emergence of a few dominant multibrigade groupings and “fronts” within the armed rebellion over the past year. But the reality is quite the opposite. The recent announcements reflect realignment rather than unification, and they reveal a competitive logic driven by the expectation of external funding that presages greater political polarization and deepening division.

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Meeting Maliki: A Chance to Reset U.S. Policy on Iraq
By Michael Knights
Washington Institute
October 30, 2013
PolicyWatch 2164

When President Obama meets with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on November 1, he will have a rare chance to transmit strong messages to both the Iraqi leader and his people. Many Iraqis will be listening closely for a sign that the U.S. government is still a force for moderation in their country and a counterbalance to perceived meddling by Shiite Iran, Sunni Gulf states, and Turkey. If no strong U.S. voice is heard, the message will be clear: that other, less impartial states and transnational militant groups stand to become the principal external influences on Iraq, as is gradually becoming the case already.

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The Need for Speed in Negotiations with Iran
By Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen
Washington Institute
October 30, 2013

Today, two days of talks begin in Vienna between experts from the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) and their Iranian counterparts, who will discuss technical issues relating to Tehran’s nuclear program and international sanctions. The meeting will help lay the groundwork for the next round of diplomatic negotiations, scheduled to take place in Geneva on November 7-8. Expectations of progress were reinforced earlier this week by comments made after separate talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. In a rare joint statement, both sides called the talks “very productive” — a departure from their eleven previous meetings in recent years, which failed to make progress in resolving what the IAEA has called the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program. The statement also indicated that a document discussed in past meetings has been set aside and a new approach has been taken.

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Sinai Security: Opportunities for Unlikely Cooperation Among Egypt, Israel, and Hamas
By Zack Gold
Brookings Institution
October 22, 2013

With U.S. aid to Egypt now limited to areas of mutual interest, U.S. focus shifts to Egyptian counterterrorism and border security operations in the Sinai Peninsula. U.S. concern about Sinai is longstanding. However, since the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, what had been a buffer zone between Egypt and Israel has become increasingly lawless and unstable, threatening both countries.

Read more

Week of October 25th, 2013

A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
10/25/2013

Introduction

The budget crisis is over and Washington and its think tanks are able to look at other issues outside the Washington Beltway. One such issue is the continuing hemorrhage of secrets concerning the breath of the NSA spying program. It appears that it has especially targeted several American allies – a fact that has seriously damaged relations with some of America’s oldest allies like France.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the NSA’s spying program and how it has grown with the growth of computer technology, which allows it to store more data and analyze it. We also show how mathematical algorithms are the heart of the NSA’s spying technology. We also look at ways to protect ones privacy by avoiding the attention of the NSA computers.

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES

Executive Summary

The budget crisis is over and Washington and its think tanks are able to look at other issues outside the Washington Beltway. One such issue is the continuing hemorrhage of secrets concerning the breath of the NSA spying program. It appears that it has especially targeted several American allies – a fact that has seriously damaged relations with some of America’s oldest allies like France.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the NSA’s spying program and how it has grown with the growth of computer technology, which allows it to store more data and analyze it. We also show how mathematical algorithms are the heart of the NSA’s spying technology. We also look at ways to protect ones privacy by avoiding the attention of the NSA computers.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Saudi rejection of a seat on the Security Council elicited analysis from several Washington Think Tanks. The Washington Institute recommends some damage control. They recommend, “the United States finds itself without an ambassador in Riyadh at this potentially crucial juncture. Ambassador James Smith, a political appointee, has just returned home after his four-year term, and a new envoy is yet to be named. Although previous bilateral dissonance has been repaired relatively easily, the latest incidents are unusually petulant and public, so Washington should dispatch a team of high-level officials to the kingdom for a full discussion. Indeed, given the range of issues that a Saudi policy shift could affect, it is important that Washington act promptly to ameliorate or dispel some of Riyadh’s recent threats. One place to start is the UN, where protocol was thrown into confusion by the Security Council seat rejection. The two-year term for that seat does not start until January 1, so there is time for the Saudis to reconsider.”.

The growing rift with American Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia is highlighted in this CSIS piece that reminds US negotiators that other countries have concerns about Iran’s capabilities and intentions. They conclude by saying, “we need to treat our security partners in the Gulf and the rest of the Middle East as real partners. To fully explain our negotiations with Iran, to make it clear there will be no deal at their expense, and that we will not focus on the nuclear issue alone. In practice, we also need to make it clear that U.S. forces and security guarantees will continue regardless of any new U.S. agreement with Iran, and that we fully recognize their fears and concerns. We need to show them we have some viable strategy for dealing with Syria, with Iraq, and Iran’s efforts to influence Shi’ites in the Gulf and Lebanon. We need to show them that we will aid Jordan and that we will seek to move Egypt towards stability and not simply punish it. More than that, we need to listen, to get their advice as well as inform them, and more towards solutions that can actual work on a regional level.

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at the Saudi foreign policy situation. They conclude, “If there is a real chasm opening between Saudi Arabia and the United States in light of regional developments, it may not be on the foreign policy front at all, but rather in disagreements over how the Gulf states are conducting their internal affairs in response to regional tumult. What is often overlooked is that Gulf rulers tend to conflate external ideological threats with internal political dissent. Put differently, Gulf reformists and dissidents are frequently seen to be the agents (or potential agents) of outside powers who are bent on destabilizing Gulf monarchies.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the Syrian conflict as seen from Moscow, Tehran, and Washington. They note, “Russia, along with the United States and Iran, has a crucial interest in making the chemical weapons deal work swiftly and neatly. If it does not, these actors will face a terrible accusation: that they used the movement on chemical weapons as a way to gloss over the continuation of the conventional war. Beyond chemical weapons, ending the Syrian nightmare clearly requires a few indispensable ingredients: maintaining strong Russian pressure on Assad; including Iran in the discussions about Syria’s future, under certain conditions; safeguarding the Syrian state, though without Assad in the final stage; marginalizing jihadist forces; and holding the Geneva II conference with all concerned stakeholders.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the negotiations with Iran on their nuclear program. Although there has been a change in the tone from Iran, the Heritage Foundation warns, “Although Tehran has softened the tone of its nuclear diplomacy; it continues to reject a halt in its enrichment and reprocessing activities, which were called for by six U.N. Security Council resolutions. It seeks to gain relief from biting international sanctions by making tactical concessions that involve limited restrictions on enrichment that would allow it to retain the strategic option of later building a nuclear weapon. When the Geneva talks resume on November 7, the United States should insist that Iran take concrete and irreversible steps to comply with its nonproliferation obligations and minimize the risks of a nuclear breakout. The goal should be to reach a credible and verifiable agreement that would maintain the long-term barriers to Iranian nuclear proliferation, not merely to defuse the crisis temporarily by reducing the size of Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister to Washington and the future of US/Pakistani relations. They conclude, “Both the U.S. and Pakistani sides clearly face strategic and political constraints on how much they can expect from Sharif’s visit. The two countries will need each other in the months to come—and the very fact that there will be a visit proves that both sides know that. But if there is a mismatch between what the interlocutors ask for and how much they believe the other side can give, the talks could well increase mutual resentment. The result may be a new cycle of tensions that could imperil not only Washington’s short-term goals in Afghanistan but also its broader strategic interests in South Asia.”

The Wilson Center also looks at the Pakistan PM visit. In order to help nourish democratic principles, they recommend, “The United States government can help reduce the dominance of the Pakistani military by strengthening key civilian institutions, particularly Parliament and the police. The American government should renew its main civilian assistance program to Pakistan, which is financed only through 2014.

Every year, before it can release security assistance, the United States government is required by law to certify that the Pakistani armed forces meet certain counterterrorism criteria. Last year, however, the Obama administration quietly issued a waiver — citing national security needs — that allowed the certification process to be bypassed. Such free passes are a bad idea.”

The Carnegie Endowment questions the advisability of the upcoming Afghan elections. They warn, “The result is likely to be another fraught exercise, the outcome of which will raise profound questions of legitimacy. Apart from the disengagement of international officials, the problem is that Afghanistan’s government “has no centre of gravity,” as one insightful analyst put it. “Authorities are ill-defined. There is no clear mechanism for arbitration,” no power that convincingly has the final say.”

ANALYSIS

How Far Does NSA’s Reach go?
What can be done to limit its reach?

“Gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s mail.” Henry L. Stimson, President Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State who in 1929 shut down the U.S. State Department’s office responsible for breaking diplomatic codes.

Clearly things have changed in the last 85 years. Not only is the United States’s National Security Agency (NSA) reading diplomatic messages, they are reading everyone else’s mail too. The result has been a worldwide concern about individual privacy and an international incident about America’s widespread spying on friends and enemy alike.

This week, the French government castigated the United States on Monday for carrying out extensive electronic eavesdropping within France. The NSA gathered more than 70 million French phone records over a month period. Some conversations reportedly were recorded. The caused the French government to summon the U.S. ambassador for an explanation, even as Kerry was visiting Paris.

France wasn’t the only injured American ally. Germany and Mexico have also voiced serious concern about U.S. surveillance. A new report in the German magazine Der Spiegel said a division of the NSA once gained access to former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s email account. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff even cancelled a state visit to Washington following reports that the U.S. was tapping into Brazilian communications and networks.

Nor, were these communications caught in the massive NSA collection net. In many cases they are specific targets. Speigel reported that Mexico’s president was a special target of US intelligence. The National Security Agency (NSA) has a division for particularly difficult missions called “Tailored Access Operations.” This department devises special methods for special targets. In May 2010, the division reported in a top secret document that, “TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.” Brazilian television network TV Globo revealed in September that the NSA monitored then-presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and others around him in the summer of 2012.

Spiegel reports, “The tone of the document that lists the NSA’s “tremendous success” in monitoring Mexican targets shows how aggressively the US intelligence agency monitors its southern neighbor. ” These TAO accesses into several Mexican government agencies are just the beginning — we intend to go much further against this important target,” the document reads. It goes on to state that the divisions responsible for this surveillance are “poised for future successes.”

Brazil is reported to be planning to develop its own email and communications system to make NSA spying harder. According to one internal NSA presentation, the agency investigated, “the communication methods and associated selectors of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff and her key advisers.” It also said it found potential “high-value targets” among her inner circle. Brazil’s nuclear program also had a high priority. Brazil now plans to introduce a law that will force companies such as Google and Facebook to store their data inside Brazil’s borders, rather than on servers in the US, making these international companies subject to Brazilian data privacy laws. The Brazilian government is also developing a new encryption system to protect its own data against hacking.

Germany has also complained to the US. German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after learning that U.S. intelligence may have targeted her mobile phone, and said that would be “a serious breach of trust” if confirmed, her government announced. The German government said it responded after receiving “information that the chancellor’s cellphone may be monitored” by U.S. intelligence. Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement the chancellor made clear to Obama that “she views such practices, if the indications are confirmed … as completely unacceptable.”

So, how is it that NSA’s reach has grown so much and is tapping everyone’s message traffic? The answer is the computer. Computer technology, which the US leads the world in, is better and cheaper than ever before. While the NSA relies on traditional eavesdropping platforms like listening posts and satellites to scoop up electronic data, the ability to store, process, and identify potential valuable data has grown by leaps and bounds.

The NSA has also been helped by the fact that the world communications industry is dominated by American firms, who either cooperate with the NSA voluntarily or are forced to release information via secret court orders.

It’s not that NSA satellites and listening stations can do more. They still rely upon transmissions that go out over the airwaves. They also still tap communications lines and break into “secure” facilities and computers.

The big evolution is that NSA computers can store more of the data collected – data that was once not stored, processed, or analyzed. The NSA satellite collection system ECHELON was created to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies during the Cold War in the early 1960s. That was all the computers of the day could do. However, thanks to the power of 21st Century computers, the system has evolved beyond its military/diplomatic origins, to also become a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications.

That is why the NSA storage facility in Utah is a concern. It allows the storage of about 3 – 12 billion gigabytes in the short term – material that was ignored in the past because there wasn’t the computer capacity. The data center is alleged to be able to process all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and internet searches, as well as all types of personal data trails – credit card receipts, bank transactions, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases,” and other digital data.

The only thing standing in the way of its operation is a series of technical problems. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the site has had ten shutdowns caused by lightening arcs and circuit meltdowns. There was another reported incident last Thursday, which caused a closedown over the weekend. Contractors have even been electrocuted and sent to the hospital.
Snooping with Algorithms

Although the NSA can still target a specific person or group like al Qaeda, the massive amount of data that NSA has stored allows it to develop algorithms to find suspicious behavior amongst the rest of the data. Obviously targeting close contacts of suspected terrorists is one way, but the amount of data allows more in-depth spying of people unrelated to such individuals or their organizations.

The NSA is capable of looking at internet searches and correlate suspicious activity. Instead of merely tracking visits to al Qaeda websites, the NSA can take visitors to those sites and cross check their visits to websites that show how to build bombs or sell chemicals or devices that could be used for terrorist activities. They can follow your reading list by seeing what books you look at Amazon or other book websites. They can also use their interceptions of bank and credit card data to see if suspicious purchases were made. From all of this data, they can develop a profile of a potential terrorist.

The NSA database isn’t isolated. They also have access to other government databases to look at a person’s travel, passport information, tax records, and employment history.
Other algorithms also look at other behavior. People who make a lot of calls or make many calls overseas to countries of special interest will get different attention. If a person gets an email or phone call from a suspect and then proceeds to make several other calls in a short time, the NSA will assume that the person receiving the call was an intermediately who was passing on the message to functionaries.

Here’s an example of how this data can be used. Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues analyzed 1.5 million anonymous call records from a Western cell carrier. They showed that it takes few as four calls or text messages, each made at a different time and place, to distinguish one person’s movements from everyone else’s.

An experiment by German politician Malte Spitz shows what happens when you fuse such data with online activity. Spitz sued German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom to get it to hand over six months of his own phone data. Then, working with German newspaper Die Zeit, Spitz melded that data with social network and other web information about him to create a map that tracked his movements and activities. It showed where Spitz was at any given time, what he was doing, how many calls he made and how long he was connected to the internet.

Needless to say, The NSA’s supercomputers and government databases would make an even more detailed portrait of anyone it was interested in.

Avoiding the NSA Web

Can someone avoid the NSA’s web in order to keep some semblance of privacy? Yes, but it isn’t easy. If you rely on cell phones computers, emails, the internet, and credit cards, it will be harder. You have to assume that anything that has an electronic aspect to it is recorded and is likely to be targeted by the NSA.

Needless to say, the NSA is busy trying to expand its reach to those sectors that have avoided surveillance. Tor, an anonymous internet that uses encrypted data is a current target of the US government, which has tried to infect computers with viruses that allow them to decode and track behavior on this formerly secret part of the web.

Smart phone Apps like Silent Circle and RedPhone can already encrypt your calls and send them over a data connection or Wi-Fi instead of through your carrier’s voice network. They also stop carriers from logging end phone numbers. Downloads have exploded since The Guardian’s revelations on NSA spying – but such apps do not give you full anonymity because they cannot prevent your movements between phone masts being tracked. In other words, what your said was secret, but where you were and how you traveled are still open to NSA.

Your computer is obviously a vector for spying and intrusion on your privacy. And, if it is connected to the internet via hard wire or even wireless, it is liable to be spied upon – especially if it becomes infected with a virus that downloads information without your approval. And, obviously, backup systems that automatically protect your computer by having it automatically send files to a central place via the internet are available to the NSA.

Many think that keeping a computer off the internet protects them. Wrong. Everybody wants to send and receive files and even a computer off the net can be infected – as we saw with the Stuxnet malware that invaded the Iranian nuclear software. A memory stick can easily copy files unbeknownst to the user.

Here are some suggestions to lessen you exposure to NSA spying on your computer:

When you set up your computer, connect it to the internet as little as possible. It’s impossible to completely avoid connecting the computer to the internet, but try to configure it all at once and as anonymously as possible. Buy from a big store so a “special” computer isn’t sold to you.

Install the minimum software set you need to do your job, and disable all operating system services that you won’t need. The less software you install, the less an attacker has available to exploit.
Once you have your computer configured, never directly connect it to the internet again. Consider physically disabling the wireless capability, so it doesn’t get turned on by accident.
Turn off all auto-run functions. This was used to infect US military computers.

Only use trusted media to move files on and off air-gapped computers. A USB stick you purchase from a store is safer than one given to you by someone you don’t know — or one you find somewhere.

The more complex the software code, the more vulnerability. If you can, use only text files, not pdf or Microsoft files.

For file transfer, a writable optical disk (CD or DVD) is safer than a USB stick. Malware can silently write data to a USB stick, but it can’t spin the CD-R up to 1000 rpm without your noticing. This means that the malware can only write to the disk when you write to the disk. You can also verify how much data has been written to the CD by physically checking its properties. If you’ve only written one file, but it looks like three-quarters of the CD was burned, you have a problem. You can stop that problem by using the smallest storage media when transferring files to keep malware, viruses, and undetected files from being transferred.

Avoiding Notice by Avoiding Patterns

Keeping a computer off the internet is easy. Phones must be connected to be of use and there is still the problem of internet searches. This is where understanding that your visibility to the NSA is determined by your patterns rather than whether you are a terrorist or not.

If your phone calls or internet patterns don’t raise a red flag because they don’t fit the algorithms for a terrorist, your privacy is much greater. For instance, if you have a land line phone, a personal cell phone, and a business cell phone, your patterns (and visibility to the NSA algorithms) will be much different than if you have just one phone and make all of your calls on that.

Since most phones can track your movements, several phones can help you to avoid developing a travel pattern. The key is to take only one phone with you, change which one you take along with you on a random basis, and charge the phones in different locations.

The same is true with credit card purchases. If you buy books on radical Islam and then buy airplane tickets on the same card, you may get some unwelcome visibility, even if you are just studying Islam. Buying the tickets on a business related credit card would avoid that problem and make it easier to separate for tax purposes later.

Needless to say, cash transactions are harder to monitor and can’t be used to develop a pattern with NSA algorithms.

Patterns are also a problem for going on the internet. In that case, one can gain a bit more privacy by using an internet search site that doesn’t save search information and give its data to the NSA like Google. A couple such search sites are: ixquick.com and zeekly.com.

Needless to say, suspected terrorists are liable to attract extra surveillance and human attention. Simply avoiding patterns will not help them avoid attention from anti-terrorist agencies. However, avoiding patterns can help those average people who want to keep a little privacy from the NSA.

Countries will fight the NSA’s abilities by making it harder for American companies to win communication contracts within their territory. And, like Brazil, they will force the companies to keep sensitive personal data within the country and under the jurisdiction of their own laws.

Although computers have vast memory storage, the computing ability to break the secret codes of sovereign nations, and the ability to sort through mountains of data to target individuals, they have vulnerabilities. They can only look for what their designers tell them is important. They thrive on patterns and need vast amounts of data to work on.

Don’t give the NSA a pattern or data, and they come up empty.

PUBLICATIONS

U.S. Should Maximize Pressure on Iran at Nuclear Talks
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
October 18, 2013

The Geneva talks have once again raised hopes for a breakthrough in the long-stalled nuclear negotiations with Iran. Western diplomats have expressed “cautious optimism” about the prospects for success after two days of talks. But Iran has not budged from its defiance of key elements of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions; it has merely adopted a softer and more diplomatic tone. Washington should reject a partial deal that allows Tehran to continue down its path toward a nuclear breakout capability. The United States should maintain sanctions as well as the credible threat of force until Iran has taken concrete actions to dismantle its uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities, given up its stockpile of enriched uranium, and permitted more intrusive inspections of its nuclear sites.

Read more

The Gulf and Middle East Strategic Partnerships: The Other Side of the Iran Negotiations
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 22, 2013

No one can deny the importance of trying to end Iran’s search for nuclear weapons. Even the most effective U.S. preventive strikes will leave a heritage of tension and confrontation in the Gulf that is likely to mean a continuing arms race and constant risk of some clash that will affect the flow of Gulf oil and the global economy. If Iran persists and actually arms its missiles and aircraft, it will trigger a nuclear arms race with Israel, push Saudi Arabia towards seeking nuclear weapons, and confront the United States with making good on its offers of extended deterrence. But, it is important to realize that Iran’s nuclear programs are only part of the story and one that many of our allies and security partners in the region see as less important than the other Iranian threats they face.

Read more

Discussing the Future of U.S.-Pakistan Relations
By Frederic Grare and Reece Trevor
Carnegie Endowment
October 22, 2013

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on October 23 during a four-day visit to Washington. The trip will mark the first official visit of a Pakistani leader to the United States since Pakistan’s new government took office after the country’s May 2013 legislative elections. Sharif’s visit will play out against the backdrop of Washington’s desire to achieve a safe, dignified exit from Afghanistan and to secure its strategic interests in the region after its forces are gone.

Read more

Afghanistan Isn’t Ready to Vote
By Sarah Chayes
Carnegie Endowment
October 20, 2013

“It’s started! They’re stuffing the boxes!” My friend’s voice on the line was a breathless jumble. He was calling from the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak the night before Afghanistan’s last presidential election, in the summer of 2009. I was in nearby Kandahar, where I had lived for seven years. By then, I was serving as an adviser to the commander of the international troops.

Read more

The Syrian War in Three Capitals
By Marc Pierini
Carnegie Endowment
October 17, 2013

More than ever before, the Syrian war is being played out in Moscow, Tehran, and Washington. After a series of actions taken by Russia and the United States, the current situation is somewhat hopeful. The positions of the three major players have begun to evolve: Russia may have started looking at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an unpalatable ally. U.S. President Barack Obama, although criticized for inaction, is strongly influencing developments. And the return of Iran, which has long been a supporter of the Assad regime, to the regional stage might come along with mutual concessions on Syria.

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What to Make of Saudi Hand-Wringing
By Frederic Wehrey
Carnegie Endowment
October 15, 2013

These are troubling and uncertain times for Saudi diplomacy. A string of regional upsets and friction with the United States has cast the kingdom into rocky, uncharted waters. Washington’s support of the Islamist government in Egypt and its response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria elicited outrage and accusations of U.S. unreliability and even betrayal from Riyadh. Then came the slight warming in U.S.-Iranian relations—highlighted by the unprecedented phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That mild rapprochement brought to the fore an old specter: an U.S.-Iranian breakthrough that marginalizes the Gulf states and erodes their long-standing position as beneficiaries of U.S.-Iranian hostility.

Read more

An Incomplete Democracy
By Michael Kugelman
Wilson Center
Oct 22, 2013

Pakistan’s military continues to cast a long and often dominant shadow over the state. So when President Obama meets with Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, on Wednesday, he should use the occasion to bolster the civilian government’s role relative to the military. Pakistan, ruled by the military for half of its 66-year life, has taken steps toward democracy, but the process is far from complete. In March, for the first time, a democratically elected government completed a full term. It transferred power to the current administration, led by Mr. Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party won elections in May.

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Spat or Split? Saudi Arabia’s Diplomatic Anger with Washington
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
October 23, 2013

Saudi Arabia’s abrupt October 17 decision to refuse a seat on the UN Security Council — an unprecedented occurrence — has generated international bewilderment and concern about the mechanics of the kingdom’s foreign policy. The sense of crisis was increased by reports on October 22 that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan had warned European diplomats of a potential “major shift” in relations with the United States, due primarily to Washington’s perceived inaction on Syria and overtures to Iran. Yet the seriousness of such threats is uncertain, and timely U.S. diplomatic outreach may help defuse the situation.

Read more

Week of October 18th; 2013

A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
10/18/2013

Executive Summary

The focus was on the US budget and debt battles this. However, there were several important pieces put out by Washington think tanks that ranged geographically from Morocco to Afghanistan.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the budget battle in terms of next year’s mid-term elections. Clearly, both the Democrats and Republicans are maneuvering to gain advantage in the elections and control of the US Senate. We show how what happened in the last few weeks was partially a result of this battle to control the Senate and how just a few seats could mean a big difference.

As the US and other nations negotiate with Iran on its nuclear policy, the Carnegie Endowment advocates a more realistic US nuclear policy regarding the use of nuclear technology by other nations. They suggest, “realistic appreciation of the particular circumstances of each country with which it negotiates a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. In some cases, such as with countries in areas of political instability or of high proliferation risk, this may prompt the U.S. to negotiate new agreements containing legal commitments to abstain from enrichment and reprocessing. But in some instances the United States will not be able to persuade countries to forgo or forswear future nuclear fuel cycle options…In other cases, countries may be more willing to abstain from ENR if the United States works with them to lease or take back their spent nuclear fuel, or if the United States effectively promotes the establishment of multilateral fuel cycle enterprises.”

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the quandary of Saudi foreign policy as American foreign policy drifts. The paper suggests, “If history is any guide, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf more generally, will continue to pursue policies that align with the broad contours of U.S. strategy—but with a creeping preference for hedging and unilateralism that will, in some cases, clash with U.S. interests. It is in the Gulf’s domestic landscape that the sharpest breaks between Saudi and U.S. views are emerging: regional tensions have enabled a harsh security campaign against a wide range of dissidents, the rise of sectarianism, and the troubling use of censorship.”

The CSIS looks at the Jihadi-Salafism movement in North Africa that is attracting a younger generation of activists. In warning about this new movement, the CSIS notes, “Al Qaeda attracted young men to take up arms against Western-backed governments and fight an international jihad, but it failed to inspire a large mass of adherents. This new extremism uses social activism and outreach as its primary tactics, and it threatens to undermine fragile governments and radicalize publics in divided societies. While the governmental response to al Qaeda focused on counterterrorism tactics, the antidote to this emerging extremism will have to be more complex and navigate local socioeconomic, religious, and political divisions. Ultimately, this mainstream or popular jihadi-salafism is less dramatic than al Qaeda’s version, but it will have a far greater impact on the region’s future.”

The Washington Institute looks at the cut off of foreign aid to Egypt. They warn in their conclusion, “But if the U.S. proceeds with an inflexible and impractical interpretation of its latest well-intentioned effort to spread the blessings of democracy abroad, the results are likely to be very bad for Egypt, for the region, and especially for American interests therein. Those with memories a bit longer than the current administration have seen this movie before. The starring role was played by Egypt’s military leader of the time, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who famously told President Eisenhower to take any conditional U.S. aid and “go jump in the lake.” It took a generation of wars, Russian dominance in Egypt, desperate poverty, and increasingly repressive rule to get past that disaster. This historical analogy is of course imperfect, as all analogies are by definition. Yet it serves as an important cautionary tale to help guide the next fragile steps in the long, crucial and complex U.S.-Egyptian relationship.”

The Foreign Policy Research Center looks at the new Egyptian leader General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. They note, “A quiet man known for saying little and keeping his own counsel, in his year of study at the U.S. Army War College in 2006, al-Sisi produced a research paper or brief thesis on his views of Islam and the state. In it, al-Sisi declares, “There is hope for democracy in the Middle East over the long term; however, it may not be a model that follows a Western Template” (sic). By that, al-Sisi makes plain, he means that Middle Eastern democracy must be based not on secularism, but on Islam.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at Afghanistan’s presidential elections. They note, “The frantic realignment of political figures over the last few days has in some cases led to the creation of mismatched tickets, where not only old foes joined hands but even decentralization advocates coalesced with backers of a strong central government. It will require a great deal of work for several contenders and their running mates to tie together their visions that are largely incompatible, solidify new alignments, form platforms, and eventually manage a campaign, all in short order.”

The CSIS looks back at the Arab Oil Embargo of 40 years ago, its roots, and its impact. In measuring its long term impact, they conclude, “Yet, even as we remember the embargo and the turbulent times of the 1970s, we would do well to take note of the significant changes that both domestic and global energy markets have undergone. At this writing, the United States is poised to become the world’s number one producer of oil and gas, and we are on our way to achieving more than 90 percent energy self-sufficiency. We have enormous coal resources and have made remarkable strides in promoting efficiency and renewables growth. The technological advances that helped promote the “unconventional” oil and gas revolution we are currently experiencing and our ability to explore and develop frontier resources are nothing short of astounding. Additionally, our energy usage per unit of GDP is less than half what it was back in the 1970s—all great advances.”

The Washington Institute looks at Morocco’s newest cabinet. They conclude, “The Islamists are ever weakened. While on the one hand one could argue that these latest developments seriously undermine prospects for Moroccan democratization, there is little consensus on what could serve as a viable alternative to the status quo. Morocco’s ability to remain stable, relatively secure, and a major non-NATO U.S. ally can be attributed, at least in part, to what many critics perceive as the monarch’s chess game. Beyond old guard incentives to weaken the Islamists, two more observations are worth mentioning. The first is that given the backlash against Islamists in the other parts of North Africa, PJD’s position as a minority participant may allow the party the silent exit it needs. Second, as Mezouar was an important figure in brokering the 2004 U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, he is likely to be seen as bolstering the ever-important U.S.-Morocco bilateral relationship.”

ANALYSIS

The (Domestic) Political Consequences of the Government Shutdown and Debt Crisis
A temporary deal has been reached to keep the US federal government working and paying its bills. The agreement would fund the government until January 15, extend the debt ceiling until February 7, and initiate a budget conference for fiscal negotiations later this year. The agreement would also keep sequestration intact.

As for Obamacare, which was a major sticking point in the continuing resolution, there was only one minor change. It requires individuals and families seeking subsidies to purchase coverage to verify their incomes before qualifying.

But, this doesn’t permanently solve the budget problem. Consider it a time-out in the political game. We will hear more about this in the upcoming months, especially as Republicans think that Obamacare will become more unpopular in the coming months, which will give them more political leverage. And, Americans still think the federal government is spending too much.

Despite the rhetoric, the big goal behind the intransigence by both the Democrats and Republicans in the current debt and continuing resolution fight is the outcome of the election in 2014. The election results hold the political leanings of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the balance and may herald a new beginning for the Obama Administration as he regains political clout in the Congress. Or, it may hasten his “lame duck” status as a Republican Senate and House ignore his initiatives.

Or, it could lead to a split decision and more gridlock.

This has been why the battle has been so fierce and both sides have not backed down much. Traditionally, the mid-term elections for the party holding the White House during the second four year term are disastrous. President Bush lost both the House and Senate in a landslide in 2006. And, Obama’s poll ratings are nearing those experienced by Bush before that disastrous election.

By holding the line against the Republicans, Obama hopes to energize his political base and improve the anemic fund-raising of the Democratic Party. By standing tough and blaming the Republicans, he hopes to convince the key independent voters that Republican politicians are the problem and that a smoother running federal government requires giving the House of Representatives back to the Democrats.

The Republicans are also trying to rally their grassroots, who are more conservative. They are also hoping to win the Senate in 2014, which would make it that much harder for Obama to push his agenda in the last two years of his administration.

While current polling shows that the public holds the Republicans more at fault for the government shutdown, it’s important to remember that these polls are of adults – not likely voters, who will actually decide the political balance of power in 2014.

So, when it comes to who is looking better at winning in 2014, who has the edge? The smart money is on the Republicans, who have election history and trends on their side. This is backed up by polling in critical races.

No wonder why the Republicans are standing fast.

The big battles will be in the Senate, where a shift of three seats would give the Republicans control of the Senate. And, recent polling shows that the Republicans may have those three seats in play already.

This is why the Senate did not vote on the measures passed by the House that would have kept some parts of the government fully funded. Senate Majority Leader Senator Reid ironically agrees with his Republican opposition that these measures are political dynamite and risk the Democrats control of the Senate as well as Obama’s policies. If he allows the bills to come to the Senate floor and he holds the Democrats together to defeat them, he may very well lose control of the Senate next year. If he allows the bills to come to the floor and the Republicans win with the critical votes of a few Democratic senators, he may keep control of the Senate, but Obama loses his key legislative victory – Obamacare.

That’s why the Senate refused to pass the House legislation. Reid must protect his very thin majority in the Senate, which relies on the fate of four senate seats that the Republicans think they can win in 2014. If three of these four go Republican, the Republicans gain control. All four of those seats are in states that voted for Romney in 2012 and dislike Obama.

First, let’s look at the seats with an incumbent Democratic senator.

The three top incumbent Democratic Senate seats being targeted by Republicans are in Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. All three went for Romney in 2012 and the incumbent Democratic Senators are polling at below 50% – a danger point at this time of the election cycle.

First, Alaska, which is deeply Republican and elected Sarah Palin as governor. In Alaska, where Democrat Mark Begich is up for reelection in 2014, Republican candidate Mead Treadwell trails by one point, 43 percent to 42 percent, while likely GOP candidate Dan Sullivan trails Begich by two points, 43 percent to 41 percent. In the generic race, a Republican candidate leads the Democratic candidate by 45% to 35%. Senator Begichhas 39 percent job approval and 42 percent disapproval.

Another target state is Arkansas, home of President Clinton, but which has become more Republican since sending Clinton to the White House. There, the race between Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton, remains close. The Harper poll only found Pryor with a three-point lead over Cotton, 45 percent to 42 percent (in a Hendrix College poll, Pryor led Cotton 42 percent to 41 percent). In the generic ballot, Arkansas voters say they would prefer to vote for the generic Republican over the generic Democrat for Senate 40 percent to 37 percent. The reason why Pryor remains ahead is that he is more popular in Arkansas than Obama.

Louisiana is another state with Democratic traditions that is leaning more Republican and threatening an incumbent Democratic Senator. Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu favorability rating is 47 percent, with 44 percent having an unfavorable opinion. That thin margin means leading Republican candidate, Congressman Bill Cassidy is only 2 points behind Landrieu, 44 percent to her 46 percent, in the Harper poll. However, the generic ballot shows the Republican ahead 40% to 37%.

There is also an open senate seat in West Virginia that is being vacated by Democratic Senator Rockefeller that could be a pick up for the Republicans. Obama’s approval rating is dramatically low in West Virginia, with just 25 percent of likely voters approving, and 65 percent disapproving. That, in turn benefits the Republicans as the generic ballot shows the Republicans with a sizable lead – 48% to 36%. Head to head, Representative Shelley Moore Capito, Republican, leads Natalie Tennant, Democrat, 51 percent to 34 percent.

The rule of thumb in politics is that a politician with less than 50% approval or less than 50% when paired up against a challenger is in trouble because undecideds tend to break for the challenger. Thus, a win in three of these four races could mean that the Republicans could take the Senate next year.

Meanwhile, the House remains relatively safe for the Republicans despite the recent news. Many of the House Republican seats are in safe districts and the Democrats are having problems recruiting top contenders who can raise the money and run the type of campaign that threatens an incumbent. And, although voters are upset with Congress as a whole, they are more satisfied with their specific congressman.

There are also several Democrats who are vulnerable in the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee has compiled a list of what they believe are the seven most vulnerable Democratic House members, who are in Republican districts. And in five of those seven races this past quarter, GOP challengers out-raised their opponents. This means that the Democrats have to protect some of their own members, rather than merely focus on beating Republican incumbents.

Remember also that mid-term elections are also used by voters to voice their opinion of the president. In this case, Obama is very unpopular and his favorable rating amongst likely voters is in the high 30’s – a rating Bush had before the disastrous 2006 elections that eviscerated the Republican Party nationally. This was evident in the special New Jersey senate election this week where Democrat Booker won by only half the margin Obama had won by in New Jersey last year. In fact, the vote tied the best performance for a GOP Senate candidate in the strongly Democratic state since 2000.

This is why the Republicans are standing up to Obama despite the recent compromise on the government shutdown – they are reading the polls that are showing them in a commanding position next year. It also explains why the Senate majority leader, Democratic Senator Reid did not allow Senate votes on the House bills. These measures are popular with the voters and would force his vulnerable Democratic Senators from Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana to either vote along with their constituent’s wishes, which would give the Republicans a victory in budget fight, but help their reelection next year, or vote in accordance with Obama’s wishes and risk losing next year and giving the Republicans control of the Senate.

As we said earlier, this is about much more than the budget or debt – it’s about who will win next year.

Changes at NSA

The Snowden leaks have finally taken their toll. NSA director Keith Alexander and his top deputy will depart soon, according to reports. John Inglis will retire at the end of the year, and Alexander will follow his deputy out the door by spring 2014. Although the reports say that the moves have nothing to do with the embarrassing situation the NSA has gotten itself into, the fact that both of the top NSA people are leaving within months of each other indicate some pressure for them to go. The NSA Director destroyed his own credibility and that of the agency after the leaks exposed his previous Congressional testimony as misleading.

Iranian Nuclear Talks

Iran, the permanent five members of the UN Security Council (the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France), and Germany finished talks in Geneva on the Iranian nuclear program. Although the tone of talk has improved, observers warned that the road to any agreement is down the road. They will meet again in November.

Iran laid out a new roadmap of what it was willing to do to permanently allay fears that its nuclear program is for more than peaceful purposes. The country also laid out what relief it expects in return from a US-engineered array of global sanctions.

The stated goal for the Iranians is to be able to enrich uranium for themselves for peaceful purposes, while removing fears of a bomb effort and lifting sanctions.

PUBLICATIONS


The Arab Oil Embargo—40 Years Later
By Frank A. Verrastro and Guy Caruso
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 16, 2013

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Arab Oil Embargo. And while certain (and selective) aspects of the event will undoubtedly be commemorated with policy fora and written reflections, it is useful to recall the contributory causes, significant impacts, and resultant policy- and market-induced outcomes in order to view the event in proper perspective. In truth, the seeds of the embargo were being put in place long before October 1973. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed in 1960, in no small part to allow producer nations greater control of the pricing and production of their indigenous oil resources. In 1968, several of the Arab members of OPEC formed the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), essentially putting in place the organizational vehicle for executing the 1973 supply disruption. But it was a combination of economic and military/political actions and circumstances that teed the action up.
Read more

Jihadi-Salafism’s Next Generation
By Haim Malka andWilliam Lawrence
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 11, 2013

Popular uprisings across North Africa unleashed a new wave of jihadi-salafism that is increasingly mainstream and appeals to a younger generation of activists. Al Qaeda attracted young men to take up arms against Western-backed governments and fight an international jihad, but it failed to inspire a large mass of adherents. This new extremism uses social activism and outreach as its primary tactics, and it threatens to undermine fragile governments and radicalize publics in divided societies. While the governmental response to al Qaeda focused on counterterrorism tactics, the antidote to this emerging extremism will have to be more complex and navigate local socioeconomic, religious, and political divisions. Ultimately, this mainstream or popular jihadi-salafism is less dramatic than al Qaeda’s version, but it will have a far greater impact on the region’s future.
Read more

What to Make of Saudi Hand-Wringing
By Frederic Wehrey
Carnegie Endowment
October 15, 2013

These are troubling and uncertain times for Saudi diplomacy. A string of regional upsets and friction with the United States has cast the kingdom into rocky, uncharted waters. Washington’s support of the Islamist government in Egypt and its response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria elicited outrage and accusations of U.S. unreliability and even betrayal from Riyadh. Then came the slight warming in U.S.-Iranian relations—highlighted by the unprecedented phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. That mild rapprochement brought to the fore an old specter: an U.S.-Iranian breakthrough that marginalizes the Gulf states and erodes their long-standing position as beneficiaries of U.S.-Iranian hostility.
Read more

A Realistic and Effective Policy on Sensitive Nuclear Activities
By Mark Hibbs and Fred McGoldrick
Carnegie Endowment
October 15, 2013

The U.S. government will very soon set a new policy course on the nonproliferation terms it wants to incorporate into new bilateral peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements with foreign countries. It is likely that the administration will instruct diplomats to persuade the foreign countries with which it intends to cooperate in the future to refrain from engaging in enrichment of uranium or the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (ENR) on their territories if they do not already possess such capabilities. Enrichment and reprocessing are sensitive nuclear activities because they can produce nuclear materials directly usable in nuclear weapons.
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Islamist or Nationalist: Who is Egypt’s Mysterious New Pharaoh?
By Raymond Stock
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 2013
E-note

Egypt’s new de facto pharaoh, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, is a man of mystery. Is he an Islamist, or a nationalist? Is he a person of high principle, or a lowly opportunist? And in a land which has known five thousand years of mainly centralized, one-man rule, with limited experience of democracy, when have we seen his type before, and where will he lead the troubled, ancient nation now? These questions are crucial to knowing how the U.S. should react to al-Sisi’s removal of Egypt’s first “freely elected” president, Mohamed Morsi on July 3 in answer to overwhelmingly massive street protests demanding that he do so, and to the ongoing bloody crackdown on Morsi’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), that began on August 14.
Read more

Afghanistan’s crowded electoral roster
By Javid Ahmad
German Marshall Fund
October 11, 2013
Foreign Policy

The frenzied phase of registration for the 2014 presidential election in Afghanistan ended Sunday with more names on the roster than expected, more last-minute horse-trading than anticipated, and more questions than answers about what is already shaping up to be a hectic but vibrant process leading up to the critical ballot next April. Nominee registration began as a trickle and ended as a deluge of presidential hopefuls submitting their paperwork. Finally, 26 men and one woman — some known political figures, others untested — presented their running mates (consisting of 45 men and 9 women), and took advantage of the media glare to present their core campaign slogans to millions of enthused, but bewildered Afghans on live television.
Read more

Assessing Morocco’s New Cabinet
By Vish Sakthivel
Washington Institute
October 16, 2013

Last Thursday, October 10, King Muhammad VI of Morocco signed off on the country’s new cabinet after months of protracted negotiations. In the new cabinet, known as “Benkirane II,” the secretary-general of the governing Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), Abdelilah Benkirane, for whom the coalition is named, retains the post of prime minister. The head of the centrist, pro-palace National Rally of Independents (RNI), Salah Eddine Mezouar, has secured the coveted foreign ministry portfolio from the PJD’s own Saad Eddine al-Othmani. The RNI ruled in several coalitions before the PJD joined in the wake of February 20 Movement (M20F) protests (a pro-democracy effort that burgeoned following the 2011 Arab uprisings). A former RNI member turned independent, Mohamed Boussaid, has assumed the finance minister post, which was originally intended for Mezouar until public protests over his ongoing corruption case threatened his candidacy. Other unaffiliated technocrats have assumed the Interior and Education Ministry portfolios.
Read more

Next Steps with Egypt
By Adel El-Adawy and David Pollock
Washington Institute
October 15, 2013
The Hill

The decision by the Obama administration to suspend a large portion of U.S. military aid to Egypt is not productive, either for Egyptian democracy or for relations between the two countries. But since what’s done is done, the question today is how Cairo and the rest of the region will react to this decision, and how both Egypt and the U.S. can best recover from this self-inflicted wound. First, regarding Egypt, the Obama administration is either underestimating or miscalculating the response of its government, even more important, of the Egyptian people. Background briefings described General Sisi’s reaction as “friendly,” and the Egyptian foreign ministry’s reaction as “nonchalant.” Such self-serving comments not only obscure the deep disappointment of Egyptian officials, but also entirely ignore the Egyptian public — ironic for a U.S. administration that prides itself on promoting that public’s interest.
Read more

Week of October 11th, 2013

A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
10/11/2013

Introduction

The talk around Washington is still the government shutdown. And, this issue remains in flux and may very well change between the time this is written and you read it.

Currently, it appears that Republicans are signaling that they are willing to increase the government debt ceiling for 6 weeks so both sides can sit down and discuss the budget and the government shutdown. Talk within the GOP indicates that this is a plan that can be agreed upon by most Republicans, including conservative ones.

This bill may be passed by the time you read this. However, this doesn’t end the government shutdown. It only mitigates its impact. And, the whole process may take place again in six weeks as it has in the past (read the Monitor analysis for more on the past history of debt ceiling negotiations).
One component under discussion is how the shutdown is impacting the world and American foreign relations. The Monitor analysis looks at this issue and tries to separate fact from political rhetoric. The analysis shows that the threatened default is only a threat and that holdings by China and Japan are only a fraction of US debt and their liquidation would hurt China more than the US.

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES

Executive Summary

The talk around Washington is still the government shutdown. And, this issue remains in flux and may very well change between the time this is written and you read it.

Currently, it appears that Republicans are signaling that they are willing to increase the government debt ceiling for 6 weeks so both sides can sit down and discuss the budget and the government shutdown. Talk within the GOP indicates that this is a plan that can be agreed upon by most Republicans, including conservative ones.

This bill may be passed by the time you read this. However, this doesn’t end the government shutdown. It only mitigates its impact. And, the whole process may take place again in six weeks as it has in the past (read the Monitor analysis for more on the past history of debt ceiling negotiations).
One component under discussion is how the shutdown is impacting the world and American foreign relations. The Monitor analysis looks at this issue and tries to separate fact from political rhetoric. The analysis shows that the threatened default is only a threat and that holdings by China and Japan are only a fraction of US debt and their liquidation would hurt China more than the US.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Brookings Institution looks at the reported suspension of foreign aid to Egypt. They suggest that Obama was politically backed into a corner. “Having failed to suspend aid right after the coup, despite threatening to do exactly that, the administration was left with little choice but to define its least worst option. With this partial suspension, it hopes to make clear that there is some price (largely symbolic and perhaps temporary) for ignoring U.S. preferences. The administration hopes to show it they won’t be overly influenced on Egypt policy by Gulf and Israeli lobbying for total aid resumption. And it hopes to sustain a working relationship with the people who are running Egypt—an objective which has been perhaps the only consistent component of the U.S. approach toward Egypt since the 2011 revolution.”

The Wilson Center releases what are called the Avner Cohen Collection on the Israeli Nuclear Bomb. Cohen has spent decades documenting Israel’s nuclear program. In the introduction, Cohen states, “While this collection serves as a guide to the past, it may also enlighten our understanding of the present and help shape a more peaceful future. Historical scholarship on Israel’s nuclear program affects contemporary thinking on nuclear matters in the Middle East and globally. Moreover, historical transparency may help promote regional stability by reducing distrust between Israel and its neighbors.”

It was confirmed in the releases that during the 1973 war some Military leaders contemplate using nuclear weapon.

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Russia and its support of Syria and Assad. They note, “The Russians side with Mr Assad not because he is their man, but because his forces are killing Islamist extremists, whom Moscow now considers to be its most dangerous enemies. But for him, al-Qaeda’s allies would have turned Syria into a base for international terrorism. Russians play down the fact that Mr Assad’s Russian-made weapons are also killing innocent civilians, and thus breed more jihadis. While the Kremlin has long decided on its goals, the White House has so far demonstrated only two aims: it wants to see Mr Assad go and is reluctant to become involved militarily. Sensing this, Russia has sought to engage the US on Syria’s chemical disarmament and a wider political settlement of the crisis. These are less about Syria than about achieving Mr Putin’s most far-reaching, even improbable goal in foreign affairs: restoring equality to the US-Russia relationship.”

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at Russia and the Arab Spring and the perception of the phenomena with Russian Muslims. They conclude, “As Moscow works out the details of its new policy in the Middle East, it is also important for Moscow to take into account the Arab Spring’s impact on Russia’s Muslim community, which is only now starting to show its reaction to the upheavals in the Middle East. Russian Muslims are following with interest and even admiration the successes of their radically minded coreligionists in the Arab world, and many think that Russia should seek a rapprochement with the victors. Of course, Moscow cannot shape its foreign policy to suit the wishes of Muslims in the North Caucasus or the Volga Region. At the same time, the Kremlin must take into account the possibility of an increasingly radicalized Islam in Russia, especially in the context of the Russian leadership’s desire to maintain normal relations with the new elites in the Arab world.”

The Wilson Center looks at Russia’s history in the Middle East. In the interview with Paul du Quenoy, he speaks about Russia’s traditional interests in the region. “If you look at a lot of the Soviet era publications on imperial Russia in the Middle East – documentary collections or academic articles – they almost always bring out this idea that Russia had a long-standing relationship with the people of that part of the world as a benefactor, as a friend, as someone who could be relied on in a crisis, and I do think that informs how they think today. The people making policy are likely more engaged with immediate problems, but these are all people who were educated in the diplomatic academy and probably have a pretty pronounced sense of what the Russian Empire’s history was in the region.”

The CSIS looks at the US capture of Al-Libi and how it may impact the growing terrorism in Libya. Of interest to the US is, “information that al-Libi might possess regarding militant groups within Libya itself. After the fall of Gaddafi, Libya’s interim government has had great difficulty in asserting its authority beyond a few select areas. Islamist militant groups have recently grown in strength and influence within Libya, presenting a threat not only to the Libyan government but, as demonstrated by the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, to U.S. interests as well. Given al-Libi’s history with the LIFG, many of whose former members remain active within Libyan militant movements, his capture could prove a boon for those seeking to counter the rise of violent militancy within Libya.”

The CSIS looks at the Turkish decision to buy a Chinese air defense system and what it means about overall US/Turkish relations. They note, “There has undoubtedly been some deterioration in the previously close relationship between the Turkish Prime Minister and U.S. President Barack Obama since their two meetings at the White House on May 16 of this year. Erdogan’s disappointment at the continuing unwillingness of Obama to engage forcefully in the Syrian crisis has been deepened by his sanctioning of the Russia-brokered deal with the Assad regime on its chemical weapons instead of military action. The two sides have also publicly disagreed on the reaction to the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and the Turkish government’s reaction to the Gezi Park protests. The absence of a bilateral meeting between the two leaders at the recent St. Petersburg G-20 meeting testified to a possible chill in the relationship and it remains to be seen how Washington will choose to react to Ankara’s Chinese gambit.”

The Heritage Foundation asks what happens if the debt ceiling is not raised and the US government must pick who gets paid. Although the Constitution says government issued bonds must be paid, there is some flexibility given to the President as to what other government functions get funded. They conclude, “In brief, the President has broad authority to manage government payments to avoid defaulting on federal obligations. He can choose which payments to make and in which order and these choices will impact the effects on the average U.S. taxpayer and the economy.

The German Marshall Fund argues that the US government shutdown is hindering US foreign policy. They note, “The government shutdown sends a very negative message about the United States’ reliability as a partner in world affairs and reduces the authority with which it can carry out a leadership role. How can allies have confidence that the country’s attention will remain on developments in Syria or Iran’s nuclear ambitions when it cannot even keep its government’s doors open? President Barack Obama was forced to cut his planned visits to Southeast Asia, thereby postponing potential advances in bilateral and multilateral relations in the Asia-Pacific. The moral authority of the United States to guide other countries on a pathway to pluralistic democracy is further complicated when a minority faction is able to cause a shutdown of the U.S. government in an effort to press for its specific policy demands. As one U.S. diplomat recently put it, “How are we supposed to promote good government when we can’t even pass a budget?”

ANALYSIS

Will US Government Shutdown Have International Implications?

The US Federal government shutdown is heading into its second week with little movement. The biggest change in the situation is that next week the US runs up against its debt ceiling. This has the Republican congressmen talking about a temporary debt ceiling increase and Obama threatening a US default that will roil the international monetary markets.

Can that happen? Not likely. What is coming out of Washington is primarily rhetoric from both sides to make the opposition back down. The fact that the US financial markets have been relatively calm is indication that there is little economic threat despite the terrible prophecies.

In this analysis, we will look at two issues: What is the international impact of the US shutdown and how is it impacting US foreign policy?

Let’s look at the financial impact. Despite the stories of doom, the US will not default on its debts. Default means the inability of the U.S. government to service its debt, to make principal and interest payments on outstanding bills, notes, and bonds. This is not to be confused with payments due to others, whether contractors, vendors, or recipients of entitlement programs, each of whom would have a serious issue were cash flow to cease but none of which is the same as a true national default.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, it does not mean the government has defaulted, but rather than it must immediately balance its budget – a problem since the government borrows nearly 40 cents of every dollar it currently spends. But default isn’t an issue.

Here’s why. Monthly interest expense on Treasury debt is typically about $25 billion, with larger sums due (about $95 billion in 2012) in both June and December. Although revenue varies month to month, the Treasury should receive roughly $175 billion in October, slightly less in November, and about $250 billion in December based on current trends. In other words, the government takes in about seven times as much in revenue as it pays out in interest on the national debt. There is no possibility of real default. And, the government can still roll over its debt as long as it doesn’t exceed the debt ceiling.

There is also the Constitutional aspect. Obama can’t default as long as there is money in the treasury. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution (The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned. ) guarantees the payment of the Government’s debt and Obama ignoring this part of the US Constitution would be an impeachable offense.

The US does have entitlement obligations, including the politically sensitive Social Security payments due at the beginning of November. Obama could choose not to make those payments, but would likely run up against a court injunction if he did. This, in turn, would force deeper cuts in other parts of the government if no deal is reached.

Despite the horror stories, political battles over debt ceilings are a regular part of the brinksmanship of Washington. President Reagan fought Democrats in Congress over the debt limit as both sides sought to gain budget concessions. From 1985 to 1987, there were short-term debt limit increases passed, 11th-hour compromises, “extraordinary measures” used by the Treasury Department in order to extend the federal government’s borrowing power, veto threats, demands for clean hikes, and, eventually, grand budget bargains. Democrats wanted to use the impending debt limit to force tax hikes and military spending cuts.

In October 1985, Democrats refused to pass a long-term debt limit hike because they wanted to use the issue to force multiple showdowns over the budget in coming months. The threat of a filibuster was enough to stall a grand budget bargain, and the Reagan Treasury Department was able to enact emergency procedures – including raiding the Social Security “trust fund” – in order to extend the government’s ability to pay its bills.

The standoff lasted over a month. On November 14, 1985, Congress approved a temporary measure, buying enough time to pass a grand budget bargain – the bipartisan Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction measure – which included a spending cut measure similar to last summer’s sequestration.

The same thing happened after the 1986 midterm elections gave the Senate back to Democrats, giving them complete control of Congress. Emboldened by the debt limit fights of the last two years, Congressional Democrats would use the debt limit to push their demands. The increases in tax revenue and cuts to defense spending would finally be theirs.

The reality is that when the Congress and the White House are under the control of different parties, the debt ceiling becomes a tool to pass measures that the White House doesn’t like. What we see today is really the norm.
Financial Markets
However, we can still ask the question: will the international financial markets understand the politics of Washington and not panic? Then, there is the question of continued buying and holding of US securities by the Chinese and the Japanese.

The evidence in the marketplace says yes. If there were a real concern, the markets would be reacting already.

However, the size of the Chinese and Japanese holdings forces us to look at potential ramifications. China is by far the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities. At the end of July (the last month for which official statistics are available) it had holdings of $1.2773 trillion in Treasuries. The holdings of autonomous Hong Kong add an additional $120.0 billion. That total is down $37.6 billion over the last two years, which means the Chinese have reduced their exposure to US Treasury securities.

Japanese holdings are $1.1354 trillion.

The holdings of the Chinese and Japanese sounds like a lot, but it is just a fraction of US debt. In 2011, the last year for which U.S. Treasury data is available, U.S. debt securities amounted to a staggering $33.7 trillion, 34.2% of the world’s total. In comparison, China’s foreign exchange reserves, which are thought to be mostly in Treasuries, totaled only $3.50 trillion at the end of this June.

Since the debt must be paid per the US Constitution, there is little reason to sell it. And, if they do, the damage to their own economy and reserves will be much greater. In fact, the damage to their economy would be the destruction of their export economy and the rebirth of the US export economy.

If China sold Treasury securities in massive quantities, it would cause a panic, but the world’s deep markets would quickly adjust. The Chinese would get back dollars. Then, they would have to either buy hard assets or convert the proceeds into other currencies. Those would be securities denominated in euros, pounds, francs, and yen.

As China buys these other currencies, the dollar would drip in relation to the euro, yen, pound, and franc. That would make American goods cheaper and the goods of Japan and Europe more expensive. China’s export market to America would be destroyed in one binge of US treasuries sales.

Since the Europeans and Japanese would not want more expensive currencies, they would buy dollars and dollar denominated securities to cheapen their currencies and make their exports more competitive. Then, America’s debt would be in the hands of more friendly Europeans, who bought them with their more valuable currencies.

The Chinese government is running too much of a deficit itself to allow such damage to its own economy.
So, what of all the talk about default and the resulting financial meltdown? It’s just that – talk.

Meanwhile, the American public isn’t voicing any concerns about raising the debt limit. Most voters don’t want to see the debt ceiling hiked yet again in a clean deal, according to a Fox News poll released Tuesday morning. Fifty-eight percent of voters would vote against hiking the debt-ceiling if they were lawmakers, while 37 percent would vote for it.

The public also wants cuts in government spending by combining a debt-ceiling hike with spending reductions. 62 percent of voters want any debt-ceiling hike combined with significant spending cuts in a deal. This may undercut the Senate Democrats and Obama because even 48 percent of Democrats would like to see a hike accompanied by cuts.

Is the Shutdown Hurting American Foreign Policy?

The issue of the shutdown’s impact on US foreign policy came up last week when Obama announced that he was cancelling the planned trip to Asia due to the government shutdown.

The White House was quick to paint the shutdown as impacting US foreign policy. Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.”

Obama sees Asia as a fast-growing region where the United States is competing for influence with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and Russian President Vladi¬mir Putin also will attend APEC. There was some speculation that Obama and Putin had hoped to meet during that summit and work toward a resolution of Syria’s crisis.

However, the reality is that major world leaders don’t just meet to make agreements. Meetings like those between Xi Jinping and Putin are the result of months of negotiation at lower levels. The leaders only get together to ratify these previous negotiations. Interestingly, meeting with Putin didn’t seem so important when Obama purposely snubbed him in Scandinavia just a few months ago.

In this era of vast foreign policy bureaucracies and instant communications, the concept of international meetings of world leaders that lead to agreements that weren’t pre-arranged is long past. Presidential visits are more symbolic than substantial. Any agreements that were to be announced have already been made and agreed upon. They will likely be announced quietly in the next few weeks.

Conversely, the damage was done to Obama. No one, including the Republicans would have denied him the opportunity to go to Asia. He also had the chance to travel by announcing that he would agree to negotiate with the Republicans in order to make this critical trip. That means he has damaged his personal relations with Xi Jinping and Putin just to make a point of not travelling during the shutdown. And, this is the second time he has backed down with meeting Putin.

This is not the first time Obama has cancelled trips to Asia either. He has cancelled in 2010 for domestic reasons, which calls to question the seriousness of his repeated “pivot” to Asia.

PUBLICATIONS

The President’s Legal Authority at the Debt Limit
By Andrew Kloster
Heritage Foundation
October 9, 2013
Issue Brief 4067

Some time between the middle and the end of October, the federal government will reach a hard limit on the amount of debt it can issue, and its ability to finance governmental operations will be affected. Confusion about the debt limit abounds, and this Issue Brief will address some common questions. The United States debt limit, or debt ceiling, is the statutorily defined amount of debt the U.S. Treasury can issue, either by borrowing from the public or issuing an intragovernmental receipt to special accounts, such as the Social Security or Medicare trust funds. The Treasury Department has to have liquidity, or cash on hand, to disburse the funds necessary to meet its contractual obligations. The federal government maintains this liquidity by managing governmental receipts (such as income tax payments) and selling debt (such as Treasury bonds).

Read more

Turkey Looks to China on Air and Missile Defense?
By Bulent Aliriza and Samuel Brannen
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 8, 2013

On October 1, Turkish Defense Minister Yilmaz explained that the decision was made because “the Chinese gave us the best price.” He added “We had asked for co-production and a technology transfer. If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can.” The following day, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed his colleague by saying that the Chinese offer had met Turkey’s primary demands of price and co-production and commented “If only the American and European system makers offered better conditions, we could choose them.” The long-serving Under Secretary for Defense Industry Murad Bayar followed up with a press conference on the same day in which he said that the three reasons behind the choice were satisfaction of operational needs, the opportunity for over 50 percent local co-production of missile parts and the overall cost. Bayar also noted that the agreement could be signed in six months and that the system would be delivered in four years.

Read more

The Capture of Abu Anas al-Libi
By Rob Wise
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 7, 2013

Al-Libi, a 49-year old Libyan whose given name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al- Ruqai, has a long history of involvement with Islamic militancy. Originally a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a violent Islamist movement that fought to oust Muammar Gaddafi, al-Libi appears to have become involved with al Qaeda in the early 1990s. He reportedly spent time in Sudan while al Qaeda – under the leadership of Osama bin Laden – was headquartered there. Al-Libi also allegedly lived for several years in Afghanistan before fleeing the country in late 2001. He appears to have spent much of the last decade in Iranian custody before returning home to Libya in the midst of the 2011 civil war. While al-Libi is believed to have served as a computer expert for al Qaeda, he is wanted by the United States primarily for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Read more

Russia Is Defending Its Own Interests With Its Stance on Syria
By Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Endowment
October 2, 2013
Financial Times

When people in the west seek to explain Moscow’s approach to the crisis in Syria, they often refer to Damascus as Russia’s “last remaining ally in the Middle East”. They also frequently include Russia’s interest in the Syrian arms market and the Tartus naval facility. Finally, a seemingly powerful argument is made about the Syrian people’s fight for democracy – which sends shivers down the spine of authoritarians, including President Vladimir Putin. These explanations are generally misleading. True, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, was a Soviet ally, but Moscow de facto withdrew from geopolitical competition in the Middle East in 1990, when it joined Washington and many others to oppose its other nominal ally, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Bashar al-Assad, in calmer times, was a more frequent visitor to Paris and London than to Moscow. Mr Putin himself never visited Damascus.

Read more

Russia and the Arab Spring
By Alexey Malashenko
Carnegie Endowment
October 1, 2013

Russia has spent over a decade trying to recapture the influence the Soviet Union once enjoyed in the Middle East, but President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to position Moscow as a key regional player have come up short. With revolutions across the Arab world overturning old orders and ushering in Islamist governments, Russia’s chances for strengthening its position in the region look increasingly slim. The Kremlin must change course and ensure that its approach to the Middle East and Islamists reflects post–Arab Spring realities.

Read more

The United States Shuts Down Its Diplomacy
By Glenn Nye
German Marshall Fund
October 7, 2013

On October 1, the start of the United States’ new fiscal year, thousands of federal government workers awoke to the sad realization that they would not be going to work. Their paychecks and their duties were indefinitely on hold due to the failure of the U.S. Congress to reach a compromise on funding for agencies. The immediate result was the shuttering of several federal agencies responsible for carrying out a wide array of services, while members of Congress treated their country and the world to an unfortunate and troubling bit of political drama. However long the shutdown lasts, it will have serious repercussions not only for citizens at home but also for the United States’ global leadership role.

Read more

New Exclusive Interviews on the Israeli Nuclear Program
By Avner Cohen
Wilson Center
October 2013

More than sixty years have passed since Israel began its nuclear project and almost half a century has elapsed since Israel first crossed the nuclear weapons threshold. Yet Israel’s nuclear history has no voice of its own: no insiders have told the story from within.

(http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/avner-cohen-collection#_ftn1#_ftn1 ). Unlike all seven other nuclear weapons states, Israel’s nuclear policy is built upon non-acknowledgement. Israel believes that nuclear silence is golden, referring to this national conduct as amimut (opacity in Hebrew). Amimut is the public trademark of Israel’s relationship with the bomb. It involves secrecy, ambiguity and taboo. As such, researching Israel’s nuclear history poses serious challenges. I recall how Israel Dostrovsky and Shalheveth Freier—the second and the third heads of the Israeli Atomic Nuclear Commission—told me that the deeds of that history resisted the written record. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War down broke out, Freier ordered his subordinates to stop communicating with anyone in writing.

Read more

Russia’s Curious Relationship with the Middle East – from Imperial Times to the Present
Interview with Paul du Quenoy
Wilson Center
October 2013

What I found to be most significant was what the Russians were doing in places like Syria and Palestine, where they were building not just diplomatic ties but also cultural and educational ties through school systems and religious endowments. There was also a Russian ecclesiastical mission in Jerusalem, which was trying hard to create an atmosphere where Russian pilgrims could travel and also to get local Arab populations to be on their side geopolitically. I also found that in places like Egypt and Morocco, there were Russian diplomatic missions arriving for really no particular reason other than to create constituencies that believed in the disinterestedness of Russian power. The diplomats would receive instructions to meet the local ruler and try to impress upon him the majesty of Russian power, the breadth of Russia’s interest in the region and in Muslims, and convince him that Russia was a true friend.

Read more

Reported Suspension of U.S. Aid to Egypt a Short-Term Measure
By Tamara Cofman Wittes
Brookings Institution
October 9, 2013

The reported plan to suspend part of U.S. military aid to Egypt reflects exactly what President Barack Obama announced in his speech at the UN General Assembly two weeks ago—continued aid to support counterterrorism and border security efforts, but withholding “prestige” items, like tanks and F-16s. The president also mentioned resumption of economic aid to support education, but we have seen no further news on that front as yet. The Egyptian military is unlikely to overreact to this move—the Egyptian state paper has been spinning the president’s words as representing U.S. acquiescence in Egypt’s political trajectory and a resumption of aid—which is not inaccurate. So the announcement, when it finally comes, will present a half measure that will gain the U.S. little except closure on an awkward, months-long saga over Egypt aid—but given how telegraphed this move has been, I don’t expect it will have much negative impact in Egypt either.

Read more

Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst
C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Week of October 4th, 2013

A Weekly Report of U.S. Think Tank Community Activities
10/04/2013

Introduction

The talk around Washington is still the government shutdown. And, this issue remains in flux and may very well change between the time this is written and you read it.

Currently, it appears that Republicans are signaling that they are willing to increase the government debt ceiling for 6 weeks so both sides can sit down and discuss the budget and the government shutdown. Talk within the GOP indicates that this is a plan that can be agreed upon by most Republicans, including conservative ones.

This bill may be passed by the time you read this. However, this doesn’t end the government shutdown. It only mitigates its impact. And, the whole process may take place again in six weeks as it has in the past (read the Monitor analysis for more on the past history of debt ceiling negotiations).

One component under discussion is how the shutdown is impacting the world and American foreign relations. The Monitor analysis looks at this issue and tries to separate fact from political rhetoric. The analysis shows that the threatened default is only a threat and that holdings by China and Japan are only a fraction of US debt and their liquidation would hurt China more than the US.

Executive Summary

The talk around Washington is still the government shutdown. And, this issue remains in flux and may very well change between the time this is written and you read it.

Currently, it appears that Republicans are signaling that they are willing to increase the government debt ceiling for 6 weeks so both sides can sit down and discuss the budget and the government shutdown. Talk within the GOP indicates that this is a plan that can be agreed upon by most Republicans, including conservative ones.

This bill may be passed by the time you read this. However, this doesn’t end the government shutdown. It only mitigates its impact. And, the whole process may take place again in six weeks as it has in the past (read the Monitor analysis for more on the past history of debt ceiling negotiations).

One component under discussion is how the shutdown is impacting the world and American foreign relations. The Monitor analysis looks at this issue and tries to separate fact from political rhetoric. The analysis shows that the threatened default is only a threat and that holdings by China and Japan are only a fraction of US debt and their liquidation would hurt China more than the US.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Brookings Institution looks at the reported suspension of foreign aid to Egypt. They suggest that Obama was politically backed into a corner. “Having failed to suspend aid right after the coup, despite threatening to do exactly that, the administration was left with little choice but to define its least worst option. With this partial suspension, it hopes to make clear that there is some price (largely symbolic and perhaps temporary) for ignoring U.S. preferences. The administration hopes to show it they won’t be overly influenced on Egypt policy by Gulf and Israeli lobbying for total aid resumption. And it hopes to sustain a working relationship with the people who are running Egypt—an objective which has been perhaps the only consistent component of the U.S. approach toward Egypt since the 2011 revolution.”

The Wilson Center releases what are called the Avner Cohen Collection on the Israeli Nuclear Bomb. Cohen has spent decades documenting Israel’s nuclear program. In the introduction, Cohen states, “While this collection serves as a guide to the past, it may also enlighten our understanding of the present and help shape a more peaceful future. Historical scholarship on Israel’s nuclear program affects contemporary thinking on nuclear matters in the Middle East and globally. Moreover, historical transparency may help promote regional stability by reducing distrust between Israel and its neighbors.”

It was confirmed in the releases that during the 1973 war some Military leaders contemplate using nuclear weapon.
The Carnegie Endowment looks at Russia and its support of Syria and Assad. They note, “The Russians side with Mr Assad not because he is their man, but because his forces are killing Islamist extremists, whom Moscow now considers to be its most dangerous enemies. But for him, al-Qaeda’s allies would have turned Syria into a base for international terrorism. Russians play down the fact that Mr Assad’s Russian-made weapons are also killing innocent civilians, and thus breed more jihadis. While the Kremlin has long decided on its goals, the White House has so far demonstrated only two aims: it wants to see Mr Assad go and is reluctant to become involved militarily. Sensing this, Russia has sought to engage the US on Syria’s chemical disarmament and a wider political settlement of the crisis. These are less about Syria than about achieving Mr Putin’s most far-reaching, even improbable goal in foreign affairs: restoring equality to the US-Russia relationship.”

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at Russia and the Arab Spring and the perception of the phenomena with Russian Muslims. They conclude, “As Moscow works out the details of its new policy in the Middle East, it is also important for Moscow to take into account the Arab Spring’s impact on Russia’s Muslim community, which is only now starting to show its reaction to the upheavals in the Middle East. Russian Muslims are following with interest and even admiration the successes of their radically minded coreligionists in the Arab world, and many think that Russia should seek a rapprochement with the victors. Of course, Moscow cannot shape its foreign policy to suit the wishes of Muslims in the North Caucasus or the Volga Region. At the same time, the Kremlin must take into account the possibility of an increasingly radicalized Islam in Russia, especially in the context of the Russian leadership’s desire to maintain normal relations with the new elites in the Arab world.”

The Wilson Center looks at Russia’s history in the Middle East. In the interview with Paul du Quenoy, he speaks about Russia’s traditional interests in the region. “If you look at a lot of the Soviet era publications on imperial Russia in the Middle East – documentary collections or academic articles – they almost always bring out this idea that Russia had a long-standing relationship with the people of that part of the world as a benefactor, as a friend, as someone who could be relied on in a crisis, and I do think that informs how they think today. The people making policy are likely more engaged with immediate problems, but these are all people who were educated in the diplomatic academy and probably have a pretty pronounced sense of what the Russian Empire’s history was in the region.”

The CSIS looks at the US capture of Al-Libi and how it may impact the growing terrorism in Libya. Of interest to the US is, “information that al-Libi might possess regarding militant groups within Libya itself. After the fall of Gaddafi, Libya’s interim government has had great difficulty in asserting its authority beyond a few select areas. Islamist militant groups have recently grown in strength and influence within Libya, presenting a threat not only to the Libyan government but, as demonstrated by the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, to U.S. interests as well. Given al-Libi’s history with the LIFG, many of whose former members remain active within Libyan militant movements, his capture could prove a boon for those seeking to counter the rise of violent militancy within Libya.”

The CSIS looks at the Turkish decision to buy a Chinese air defense system and what it means about overall US/Turkish relations. They note, “There has undoubtedly been some deterioration in the previously close relationship between the Turkish Prime Minister and U.S. President Barack Obama since their two meetings at the White House on May 16 of this year. Erdogan’s disappointment at the continuing unwillingness of Obama to engage forcefully in the Syrian crisis has been deepened by his sanctioning of the Russia-brokered deal with the Assad regime on its chemical weapons instead of military action. The two sides have also publicly disagreed on the reaction to the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and the Turkish government’s reaction to the Gezi Park protests. The absence of a bilateral meeting between the two leaders at the recent St. Petersburg G-20 meeting testified to a possible chill in the relationship and it remains to be seen how Washington will choose to react to Ankara’s Chinese gambit.”

The Heritage Foundation asks what happens if the debt ceiling is not raised and the US government must pick who gets paid. Although the Constitution says government issued bonds must be paid, there is some flexibility given to the President as to what other government functions get funded. They conclude, “In brief, the President has broad authority to manage government payments to avoid defaulting on federal obligations. He can choose which payments to make and in which order and these choices will impact the effects on the average U.S. taxpayer and the economy.

The German Marshall Fund argues that the US government shutdown is hindering US foreign policy. They note, “The government shutdown sends a very negative message about the United States’ reliability as a partner in world affairs and reduces the authority with which it can carry out a leadership role. How can allies have confidence that the country’s attention will remain on developments in Syria or Iran’s nuclear ambitions when it cannot even keep its government’s doors open? President Barack Obama was forced to cut his planned visits to Southeast Asia, thereby postponing potential advances in bilateral and multilateral relations in the Asia-Pacific. The moral authority of the United States to guide other countries on a pathway to pluralistic democracy is further complicated when a minority faction is able to cause a shutdown of the U.S. government in an effort to press for its specific policy demands. As one U.S. diplomat recently put it, “How are we supposed to promote good government when we can’t even pass a budget?”

ANALYSIS

Will US Government Shutdown Have International Implications?

The US Federal government shutdown is heading into its second week with little movement. The biggest change in the situation is that next week the US runs up against its debt ceiling. This has the Republican congressmen talking about a temporary debt ceiling increase and Obama threatening a US default that will roil the international monetary markets.

Can that happen? Not likely. What is coming out of Washington is primarily rhetoric from both sides to make the opposition back down. The fact that the US financial markets have been relatively calm is indication that there is little economic threat despite the terrible prophecies.

In this analysis, we will look at two issues: What is the international impact of the US shutdown and how is it impacting US foreign policy?

Let’s look at the financial impact. Despite the stories of doom, the US will not default on its debts. Default means the inability of the U.S. government to service its debt, to make principal and interest payments on outstanding bills, notes, and bonds. This is not to be confused with payments due to others, whether contractors, vendors, or recipients of entitlement programs, each of whom would have a serious issue were cash flow to cease but none of which is the same as a true national default.

If the debt ceiling is not raised, it does not mean the government has defaulted, but rather than it must immediately balance its budget – a problem since the government borrows nearly 40 cents of every dollar it currently spends. But default isn’t an issue.

Here’s why. Monthly interest expense on Treasury debt is typically about $25 billion, with larger sums due (about $95 billion in 2012) in both June and December. Although revenue varies month to month, the Treasury should receive roughly $175 billion in October, slightly less in November, and about $250 billion in December based on current trends. In other words, the government takes in about seven times as much in revenue as it pays out in interest on the national debt. There is no possibility of real default. And, the government can still roll over its debt as long as it doesn’t exceed the debt ceiling.

There is also the Constitutional aspect. Obama can’t default as long as there is money in the treasury. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution (The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned. ) guarantees the payment of the Government’s debt and Obama ignoring this part of the US Constitution would be an impeachable offense.

The US does have entitlement obligations, including the politically sensitive Social Security payments due at the beginning of November. Obama could choose not to make those payments, but would likely run up against a court injunction if he did. This, in turn, would force deeper cuts in other parts of the government if no deal is reached.
Despite the horror stories, political battles over debt ceilings are a regular part of the brinksmanship of Washington. President Reagan fought Democrats in Congress over the debt limit as both sides sought to gain budget concessions. From 1985 to 1987, there were short-term debt limit increases passed, 11th-hour compromises, “extraordinary measures” used by the Treasury Department in order to extend the federal government’s borrowing power, veto threats, demands for clean hikes, and, eventually, grand budget bargains. Democrats wanted to use the impending debt limit to force tax hikes and military spending cuts.

In October 1985, Democrats refused to pass a long-term debt limit hike because they wanted to use the issue to force multiple showdowns over the budget in coming months. The threat of a filibuster was enough to stall a grand budget bargain, and the Reagan Treasury Department was able to enact emergency procedures – including raiding the Social Security “trust fund” – in order to extend the government’s ability to pay its bills.

The standoff lasted over a month. On November 14, 1985, Congress approved a temporary measure, buying enough time to pass a grand budget bargain – the bipartisan Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction measure – which included a spending cut measure similar to last summer’s sequestration.

The same thing happened after the 1986 midterm elections gave the Senate back to Democrats, giving them complete control of Congress. Emboldened by the debt limit fights of the last two years, Congressional Democrats would use the debt limit to push their demands. The increases in tax revenue and cuts to defense spending would finally be theirs.

The reality is that when the Congress and the White House are under the control of different parties, the debt ceiling becomes a tool to pass measures that the White House doesn’t like. What we see today is really the norm.

Financial Markets

However, we can still ask the question: will the international financial markets understand the politics of Washington and not panic? Then, there is the question of continued buying and holding of US securities by the Chinese and the Japanese.

The evidence in the marketplace says yes. If there were a real concern, the markets would be reacting already.

However, the size of the Chinese and Japanese holdings forces us to look at potential ramifications. China is by far the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities. At the end of July (the last month for which official statistics are available) it had holdings of $1.2773 trillion in Treasuries. The holdings of autonomous Hong Kong add an additional $120.0 billion. That total is down $37.6 billion over the last two years, which means the Chinese have reduced their exposure to US Treasury securities.
Japanese holdings are $1.1354 trillion.

The holdings of the Chinese and Japanese sounds like a lot, but it is just a fraction of US debt. In 2011, the last year for which U.S. Treasury data is available, U.S. debt securities amounted to a staggering $33.7 trillion, 34.2% of the world’s total. In comparison, China’s foreign exchange reserves, which are thought to be mostly in Treasuries, totaled only $3.50 trillion at the end of this June.

Since the debt must be paid per the US Constitution, there is little reason to sell it. And, if they do, the damage to their own economy and reserves will be much greater. In fact, the damage to their economy would be the destruction of their export economy and the rebirth of the US export economy.

If China sold Treasury securities in massive quantities, it would cause a panic, but the world’s deep markets would quickly adjust. The Chinese would get back dollars. Then, they would have to either buy hard assets or convert the proceeds into other currencies. Those would be securities denominated in euros, pounds, francs, and yen.

As China buys these other currencies, the dollar would drip in relation to the euro, yen, pound, and franc. That would make American goods cheaper and the goods of Japan and Europe more expensive. China’s export market to America would be destroyed in one binge of US treasuries sales.

Since the Europeans and Japanese would not want more expensive currencies, they would buy dollars and dollar denominated securities to cheapen their currencies and make their exports more competitive. Then, America’s debt would be in the hands of more friendly Europeans, who bought them with their more valuable currencies.
The Chinese government is running too much of a deficit itself to allow such damage to its own economy.

So, what of all the talk about default and the resulting financial meltdown? It’s just that – talk.

Meanwhile, the American public isn’t voicing any concerns about raising the debt limit. Most voters don’t want to see the debt ceiling hiked yet again in a clean deal, according to a Fox News poll released Tuesday morning. Fifty-eight percent of voters would vote against hiking the debt-ceiling if they were lawmakers, while 37 percent would vote for it.
The public also wants cuts in government spending by combining a debt-ceiling hike with spending reductions. 62 percent of voters want any debt-ceiling hike combined with significant spending cuts in a deal. This may undercut the Senate Democrats and Obama because even 48 percent of Democrats would like to see a hike accompanied by cuts.

Is the Shutdown Hurting American Foreign Policy?

The issue of the shutdown’s impact on US foreign policy came up last week when Obama announced that he was cancelling the planned trip to Asia due to the government shutdown.

The White House was quick to paint the shutdown as impacting US foreign policy. Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.”
Obama sees Asia as a fast-growing region where the United States is competing for influence with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and Russian President Vladi¬mir Putin also will attend APEC. There was some speculation that Obama and Putin had hoped to meet during that summit and work toward a resolution of Syria’s crisis.

However, the reality is that major world leaders don’t just meet to make agreements. Meetings like those between Xi Jinping and Putin are the result of months of negotiation at lower levels. The leaders only get together to ratify these previous negotiations. Interestingly, meeting with Putin didn’t seem so important when Obama purposely snubbed him in Scandinavia just a few months ago.

In this era of vast foreign policy bureaucracies and instant communications, the concept of international meetings of world leaders that lead to agreements that weren’t pre-arranged is long past. Presidential visits are more symbolic than substantial. Any agreements that were to be announced have already been made and agreed upon. They will likely be announced quietly in the next few weeks.

Conversely, the damage was done to Obama. No one, including the Republicans would have denied him the opportunity to go to Asia. He also had the chance to travel by announcing that he would agree to negotiate with the Republicans in order to make this critical trip. That means he has damaged his personal relations with Xi Jinping and Putin just to make a point of not travelling during the shutdown. And, this is the second time he has backed down with meeting Putin.
This is not the first time Obama has cancelled trips to Asia either. He has cancelled in 2010 for domestic reasons, which calls to question the seriousness of his repeated “pivot” to Asia.

PUBLICATIONS

The President’s Legal Authority at the Debt Limit
By Andrew Kloster
Heritage Foundation
October 9, 2013
Issue Brief 4067

Some time between the middle and the end of October, the federal government will reach a hard limit on the amount of debt it can issue, and its ability to finance governmental operations will be affected. Confusion about the debt limit abounds, and this Issue Brief will address some common questions. The United States debt limit, or debt ceiling, is the statutorily defined amount of debt the U.S. Treasury can issue, either by borrowing from the public or issuing an intragovernmental receipt to special accounts, such as the Social Security or Medicare trust funds. The Treasury Department has to have liquidity, or cash on hand, to disburse the funds necessary to meet its contractual obligations. The federal government maintains this liquidity by managing governmental receipts (such as income tax payments) and selling debt (such as Treasury bonds).

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Turkey Looks to China on Air and Missile Defense?
By Bulent Aliriza and Samuel Brannen
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 8, 2013

On October 1, Turkish Defense Minister Yilmaz explained that the decision was made because “the Chinese gave us the best price.” He added “We had asked for co-production and a technology transfer. If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can.” The following day, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed his colleague by saying that the Chinese offer had met Turkey’s primary demands of price and co-production and commented “If only the American and European system makers offered better conditions, we could choose them.” The long-serving Under Secretary for Defense Industry Murad Bayar followed up with a press conference on the same day in which he said that the three reasons behind the choice were satisfaction of operational needs, the opportunity for over 50 percent local co-production of missile parts and the overall cost. Bayar also noted that the agreement could be signed in six months and that the system would be delivered in four years.

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The Capture of Abu Anas al-Libi
By Rob Wise
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 7, 2013

Al-Libi, a 49-year old Libyan whose given name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al- Ruqai, has a long history of involvement with Islamic militancy. Originally a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a violent Islamist movement that fought to oust Muammar Gaddafi, al-Libi appears to have become involved with al Qaeda in the early 1990s. He reportedly spent time in Sudan while al Qaeda – under the leadership of Osama bin Laden – was headquartered there. Al-Libi also allegedly lived for several years in Afghanistan before fleeing the country in late 2001. He appears to have spent much of the last decade in Iranian custody before returning home to Libya in the midst of the 2011 civil war. While al-Libi is believed to have served as a computer expert for al Qaeda, he is wanted by the United States primarily for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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Russia Is Defending Its Own Interests With Its Stance on Syria
By Dmitri Trenin
Carnegie Endowment
October 2, 2013

Financial Times
When people in the west seek to explain Moscow’s approach to the crisis in Syria, they often refer to Damascus as Russia’s “last remaining ally in the Middle East”. They also frequently include Russia’s interest in the Syrian arms market and the Tartus naval facility. Finally, a seemingly powerful argument is made about the Syrian people’s fight for democracy – which sends shivers down the spine of authoritarians, including President Vladimir Putin. These explanations are generally misleading. True, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, was a Soviet ally, but Moscow de facto withdrew from geopolitical competition in the Middle East in 1990, when it joined Washington and many others to oppose its other nominal ally, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Bashar al-Assad, in calmer times, was a more frequent visitor to Paris and London than to Moscow. Mr Putin himself never visited Damascus.

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Russia and the Arab Spring
By Alexey Malashenko
Carnegie Endowment
October 1, 2013

Russia has spent over a decade trying to recapture the influence the Soviet Union once enjoyed in the Middle East, but President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to position Moscow as a key regional player have come up short. With revolutions across the Arab world overturning old orders and ushering in Islamist governments, Russia’s chances for strengthening its position in the region look increasingly slim. The Kremlin must change course and ensure that its approach to the Middle East and Islamists reflects post–Arab Spring realities.

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The United States Shuts Down Its Diplomacy
By Glenn Nye
German Marshall Fund
October 7, 2013

On October 1, the start of the United States’ new fiscal year, thousands of federal government workers awoke to the sad realization that they would not be going to work. Their paychecks and their duties were indefinitely on hold due to the failure of the U.S. Congress to reach a compromise on funding for agencies. The immediate result was the shuttering of several federal agencies responsible for carrying out a wide array of services, while members of Congress treated their country and the world to an unfortunate and troubling bit of political drama. However long the shutdown lasts, it will have serious repercussions not only for citizens at home but also for the United States’ global leadership role.

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New Exclusive Interviews on the Israeli Nuclear Program
By Avner Cohen
Wilson Center
October 2013

More than sixty years have passed since Israel began its nuclear project and almost half a century has elapsed since Israel first crossed the nuclear weapons threshold. Yet Israel’s nuclear history has no voice of its own: no insiders have told the story from within. )http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/avner-cohen-collection#_ftn1#_ftn1 ( Unlike all seven other nuclear weapons states, Israel’s nuclear policy is built upon non-acknowledgement. Israel believes that nuclear silence is golden, referring to this national conduct as amimut (opacity in Hebrew). Amimut is the public trademark of Israel’s relationship with the bomb. It involves secrecy, ambiguity and taboo. As such, researching Israel’s nuclear history poses serious challenges. I recall how Israel Dostrovsky and Shalheveth Freier—the second and the third heads of the Israeli Atomic Nuclear Commission—told me that the deeds of that history resisted the written record. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War down broke out, Freier ordered his subordinates to stop communicating with anyone in writing.

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Russia’s Curious Relationship with the Middle East – from Imperial Times to the Present
Interview with Paul du Quenoy
Wilson Center
October 2013

What I found to be most significant was what the Russians were doing in places like Syria and Palestine, where they were building not just diplomatic ties but also cultural and educational ties through school systems and religious endowments. There was also a Russian ecclesiastical mission in Jerusalem, which was trying hard to create an atmosphere where Russian pilgrims could travel and also to get local Arab populations to be on their side geopolitically. I also found that in places like Egypt and Morocco, there were Russian diplomatic missions arriving for really no particular reason other than to create constituencies that believed in the disinterestedness of Russian power. The diplomats would receive instructions to meet the local ruler and try to impress upon him the majesty of Russian power, the breadth of Russia’s interest in the region and in Muslims, and convince him that Russia was a true friend.

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Reported Suspension of U.S. Aid to Egypt a Short-Term Measure
By Tamara Cofman Wittes
Brookings Institution
October 9, 2013

The reported plan to suspend part of U.S. military aid to Egypt reflects exactly what President Barack Obama announced in his speech at the UN General Assembly two weeks ago—continued aid to support counterterrorism and border security efforts, but withholding “prestige” items, like tanks and F-16s. The president also mentioned resumption of economic aid to support education, but we have seen no further news on that front as yet. The Egyptian military is unlikely to overreact to this move—the Egyptian state paper has been spinning the president’s words as representing U.S. acquiescence in Egypt’s political trajectory and a resumption of aid—which is not inaccurate. So the announcement, when it finally comes, will present a half measure that will gain the U.S. little except closure on an awkward, months-long saga over Egypt aid—but given how telegraphed this move has been, I don’t expect it will have much negative impact in Egypt either.

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