Week of April 10, 2020

American Leadership Crisis Scenario During the Corona Virus Epidemic

President Trump and Vice President Pence have remained very visible during the Corona epidemic, often being seen together in briefings on the epidemic.  Yet, according to the White House, both have been tested and shown so far, no Corona contamination.

Yet, the recent news that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the hospital and placed in the intensive care unit indicates that this illness is no respecter of person or position.  It is quite possible that Trump, or Pence, or both could come down with the Corona virus.  If that happens, what then?

Currently, the US Constitution’s rules on succession of leadership is limited to singular events, not an epidemic that could incapacitate a number of those who might be required to fill the position of president.

The 25th Amendment, proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, provides the procedures for replacing the president or vice president in the event of death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation.  The Watergate scandal of the 1970s saw the application of these procedures, first when Gerald Ford replaced Spiro Agnew as vice president.  Then he replaced Richard Nixon as president after Watergate.  Then Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller to fill the resulting vacancy as vice president.

Sections 3 and 4 are the sections most applicable to the current epidemic.  Section 3 states that the president can send a letter to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore stating that he can’t discharge the powers and duties of president.  In that case, the Vice President becomes acting president until the president sends a letter stating that is now capable of fulfilling his duty as President

Section 4 is for a situation when the president wants to retain the powers of president, even though he is incapacitated.  It states, “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

In other words, if Vice President Pence and the majority of the president’s cabinet decide that Trump is so seriously ill that he is unable to discharge the position of president, the Vice President becomes acting president.

Of course, in this case, Vice President Pence is the key player.  If Pence doesn’t feel that Trump is incapacitated, this option will not work.  If he does, the transfer of power could just take hours.

While the 25th Amendment allows for a quick transfer of power, it also allows the president to challenge any charges of incapacity.  It says, “Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”

In other words, if Pence says Trump is too sick to be president, Trump can challenge it.  If the Vice President and majority of the cabinet continue to say the President is unable to carry out the office of president, it goes to Congress to determine the fitness of Trump.  It would take a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate to remove Trump.

Needless to say, the 21 days that Congress has to determine the fitness of Trump would be a politically unstable time, especially if the nation is suffering from a widespread epidemic.  If Trump is sick, then, it is quite possible that numerous members of Congress would be unable to attend because they are sick or under quarantine.

At least, there is a clear path for everyone to follow if Trump is incapacitated by the Corona virus.  Things get much murkier after that.  If the President is healthy, but the Vice President becomes incapacitated, there is no way to remove him.  He dies, resigns, or recovers.  If he dies or resigns, the president can nominate a new vice president, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

The problem is that currently the next in the line of succession to the presidency would be the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is a Democrat and opponent of Trump.  If something happens to Trump during the time when there is no vice president, Pelosi would become the president.

There is another issue that has never been decided.  If vice presidential spot is open, does the ability to declare Trump incapacitated or incompetent become Pelosi’s privilege?  If so, she could use that power to try to remove Trump – a possibility given the fact that many Democrats argued over the last three years that this was the way to remove Trump.  However, she would still have to garner most Cabinet officials and 2/3 of the Senate and House.

The problem becomes more complicated if both Trump and Pence fall ill to the Corona virus.  There is no constitutional way to remove them both.  The Speaker of the House could try to declare both the President and Vice President incapacitated, with the concurrence of the majority of the Cabinet.  Although the courts might allow this to take place, it is likely that the Cabinet officers, who are Republican, would prefer an incapacitated Republican president to a Democratic president.

This event might lead to a standoff that leads to the US not having a president for a short time.  However, while the bureaucracy would still function, there is a need for a president to sign legislation and budgets into law.

It’s possible that in such a situation, the Cabinet might negotiate with the Speaker of the House.  They might provide a majority vote to declare both the President and Vice President incapacitated in return for some consideration.

The reality is that the incapacitation of both President and Vice President poses some problems, especially if neither recovers nor dies, but remains on life support.  The same problem can continue farther down the line of succession – incapacitation of the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (both of whom are much older than the President and probably more susceptible to the virus).

There is a bigger problem if Pelosi tries to declare Trump and Pence incapacitated.  Such a move would have to ignore the limitations in the Constitution and would also mean a dramatic shift in the politics of the nation as the Democrats would then be in control of the White House.  This could very well lead to large scale civil unrest that the military would be unable or unwilling to suppress.

In other words, the legal ascension to the presidency could become a political battle (and possibly a street battle too) that could take weeks or months.  While the bureaucracy could manage to operate for a time, there must be someone who is clearly authorized to handle homeland security.

Fortunately, there is a plan in place, thanks to the Cold War and the possibility that Washington could have been leveled with a nuclear bomb, leaving the country without a clear civilian leader.  The advantage of this plan is that it can handle the slow pace of the pandemic.  The problem is that the walls of a bomb proof bunker might not stop this virus, which can infect others, even if they show no signs of illness.

As we noted in our analysis a couple of weeks ago, if the Corona virus gets out of control and the government must rely on military support, the authority will reside in the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in Colorado Springs Colorado.  On February 1st, NORTHCOM received warning orders from the Secretary of Defense to be prepared to act.

Another part of the plan is the separation of Defense Secretary Esper and Deputy Defense Secretary Norquist in order to lessen the likelihood that both will be infected.  Defense Secretary Esper in is the fifth person in the line of succession and would be a likely candidate to be sent to an isolated command headquarters.

That isolated location might be the Cheyenne Mountain facility, which was built during the Cold War and is designed to withstand a 30-megaton nuclear bomb.  This bunker complex, which is 2,000 feet under the Colorado Rockies, was designed to wage a nuclear war even if the rest of America had been destroyed by a Soviet nuclear attack.

Corona-free staff have been sent into Cheyenne Mountain and are currently being isolated there.  There is also the probably that others in the presidential line of succession will be sent there, including the Vice President.

These measures are being taken, “To ensure that we can defend the homeland despite this pandemic,” NORAD and NORTHCOM Commander General O’Shaughnessy said in a briefing.  O’Shaughnessy would be the key commander if there is a problem with the presidential succession.  He will oversee efforts defending the US if an enemy tries to take advantage of the uncertainty to attack the US.  He would also be responsible for deploying the troops that would have to deal with any civil unrest caused by the political uncertainty.

There is also another team at a secret location that can take over if the Corona virus infects the Cheyenne Mountain Bunker.  Undoubtedly, someone in the line of succession will be stationed there.

If the Corona virus gets out of control on the East Coast, it is likely that Vice President Pence will be flown to Cheyenne Mountain for the duration.  With their separation, it should limit the chance that both the President and Vice President will be infected.  Then, if the epidemic gets out of control, there will still be a civilian in control of the military.

With the military and civilian leadership protected, there remains the military itself.  It appears that the four aircraft carriers in the Pacific all have cases of the Corona virus onboard – the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Carl Vinson, USS Chester Nimitz, and the USS Ronald Reagan.  Given the threats posed by the Chinese in the South China Sea and the Iranians in the Middle East, there is no possibility that all four carriers can be sent to port all at one time for quarantine and decontamination.  The best alternative would be to ship the promising anti-malarial drugs to the ships so they can be given it at the earliest possible time.

 

Conclusion

 

Although the focus has been on those who die from the Corona virus, the evidence is that about 80% have few if any symptoms.  Seriously incapacitating symptoms usually are limited to 5% – 10% of the population.  So, although the civilian leadership is older (Trump 73, Pence 60, Pelosi 80, Grassley 86), the chances that they will all be incapacitated by the Corona virus are minimal.  It’s also likely that all four are currently taking anti-malarial medications.

Since age is a major factor in being incapacitated by the virus, it is more likely that President Pro Tempore of the Senate Grassley and Speaker of the House Pelosi would be the ones to have the biggest problems.  But House rules allow for an immediate vote for a new speaker if something happens to Pelosi.  The same type of rules pertains to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

The key person in any change of leadership would be Vice President Pence.  He is the one that is constitutionally delegated the sole authority to declare the president incapacitated, provided he is backed up by a majority of the Cabinet.  And, Pence is the youngest and least likely to be susceptible to infection.

The military leadership is much younger and likely in better health.  This means that the military side of any epidemic caused crisis is in better shape.

Although plans for succession are likely being reviewed, the chances that they will lead to a major shift in the leadership of the United States are unlikely.

 

Succession to the vacancy of the president:

1 – President

2 – Vice President

3 – Speaker of the House

4 – President Pro Tempore of the Senate

Week of April 3, 2020

Military Readiness in the Era of the Corona Virus

While there has been much talk about the readiness of the medical community and the government in terms of reacting to the Corona pandemic, there hasn’t been much conversation about military readiness, except in terms of how it can assist the government in keeping order or providing medical facilities.

However, in a world where there are dozens of conflicts, military readiness – the ability to fight in a conflict – is important.

That issue came to the fore this week when a letter from the captain of the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to his superiors was leaked to the media.  In it, he posed the problem of balancing the lives of his sailors with the need to maintain military readiness.

A week ago, the Roosevelt only had a handful of Corona virus cases.  Now it has climbed to over one hundred.  The ship has pulled into Guam and offloaded the sick, but the rest of the crew has remained onboard in quarantine.  Unfortunately, the ship, with crowded sleeping quarters and meals served by potentially sick cooks makes the threat of a growing epidemic onboard a real possibility.

Captain Crozier wrote, “Due to a warships inherent limitation of space…the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”

The Captain then comes to the key factor – one that all militaries are probably considering.  He wrote, “If the Navy focuses on being battle ready, it will lead to losses to the virus…We are not at war.  Sailors do not need to die.  If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors.”

The Captain then offers two options.  Take everyone off the ship, except for a 10% of the crew (about 500) to maintain the nuclear reactors and decontaminate the ship.  The other option is to maximize readiness despite the virus.  He wrote, “We go to war with the force we have and fight sick…there will be loses to the virus.”

He concludes, “As war is not imminent, we recommend the peace time end state.”

However, the Secretary of the Navy didn’t agree.  Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Wednesday that he did not agree with the captain that all but 10% of the crew could be removed.

This is not the first time Crozier has been at the center of controversy.  He was stationed at Strike Force NATO (Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO) and was the Deputy Director for aircraft targeting for the Libyan operation (Operation Unified Protector).  Several of the bombings hit civilian targets and killed at least 72 Libyans.

The most serious incident according to Human rights Watch occurred in the rural village of Majer, 160 kilometers east of Tripoli. Human Rights Watch found remnants of GBU-12 laser guided bombs.

If the Navy had taken his advice, the Roosevelt would have been out of commission for at least 10 days.  And, even when it went back to sea, it would have probably been undermanned.

That however, is a moot issue as Crozier has been relieved of command. The new skipper will likely be more aggressive in returning the Roosevelt to combat readiness.

This is an unusual letter for the captain of a warship – especially one of the most powerful ships to ever go to sea.  Aircraft carrier captains are usually on the track to become admiral and this letter has probably scuttled his chances to achieve flag rank.  Operational information like this is always secret and by failing to send this to his superiors in a more restricted manner the leaked letter has given American enemies a critical piece of intelligence.

Of course, the leak may have been engineered in order to force the Pentagon to decide.

Of the captain’s letter, Navy Secretary Modly said, “It’s disappointing to hear him say that.  However, at the same time, I know that’s not the truth…This ship has weapons on it. It has munitions on it…It requires a certain number of people on that ship to maintain the safety and security of the ship.”

If the Navy took his advice, the Roosevelt will probably be out of commission for at least 10 days.  And, even when to goes back to sea, it will probably be undermanned.

Of course, this is taking place when tensions in the South China Sea are at a peak and there are indications that Iran may retaliate against American troops or assets in the Middle East.  Can the US afford to take a major part of its military force in the region out of commission?

Probably, sickness on board ships is nothing new and these ships have continued.  In 1977, the American aircraft carrier USS Saratoga faced a hepatitis epidemic when a cook, who made and served ice cream to the ship’s company, got hepatitis.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough gamma globulin in Western Europe to inoculate the crew, which led to an emergency effort to gather enough medication in the US to fly to the Mediterranean, where the Saratoga was deployed.  The ship continued its deployment and was even stationed off the coast of Lebanon for a while in case there was a need to evacuate US citizens during the civil war. But Corona virus situation is unprecedented and complicated any remedy.

This isn’t the only situation where the Corona virus has impacted American military readiness.  The US Air Force has expanded its crew in the NORAD command bunker at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.  This bunker is designed to withstand a direct hit by a nuclear bomb and still carry out its mission of waging a war.  The crew sent to Cheyenne Mountain is virus free and will remain in isolation until the epidemic threat has passed.

The US Army also cancelled it NATO maneuvers this spring and sent its 20,000 soldiers back to the United States.  US military bases are also trying to isolate its occupants as much as possible in order to limit the spread of the Corona virus.

However, the fact is that hostilities do not end during a pandemic.  The Spanish influenza epidemic took place during World War One and killed more people than the war did.

In fact, a military that does lower its guard during an epidemic is making itself a target for an enemy attack.

That may be one reason that Trump publicized the fact that Iran or its “militia” allies were planning a sneak attack on US troops or assets in Iraq.  He warned, “It this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed.

It’s interesting to note that if hostilities between the US and Iran take place, it will be the task of the USS Theodore Roosevelt to reinforce the American forces in the region – unless it is undergoing the decontamination routine suggested by the ship’s captain.  That’s probably one overriding reason for keeping the Roosevelt operationally ready.  If Iran were to start hostilities, including closing the Strait of Hormuz, the US would want to move two aircraft carriers into the Indian Ocean.

However, it isn’t only the Roosevelt that is suffering from the Corona virus.  Although the rate of illness in the US military is less than that in the general population, it has impacted the military.  According to the Military Times, the military is seeing a growth in those infected by 10% – 15% daily.

However, the Pentagon has ordered military units to not publicize their infection rate.  The Pentagon told the Military Times, “Unit-level readiness data for key military forces is information that is classified as a risk to operational security and could jeopardize operational or deterrence.”

At the time this being written, about half a dozen active duty military person has died.  However, military units across the globe have been impacted.  Two aircraft carriers, three training facilities, and the Army’s Fort Bragg have had cases of the virus.  The two carriers are both in the western Pacific.

The fact that Fort Bragg has Corona virus cases is a concern for the Pentagon.  It is the largest military installation in the world with 50,000 active duty personnel.  It is headquarters to the US Army Special Operations Command, the 1st Special Forces Command, and the 82nd Airborne Division.  It is the 82nd, that acts as a rapid reaction force and was the unit that deployed to the Middle East when the American embassy in Baghdad was targeted.

In Afghanistan, US forces have been isolated as much as possible in their bases in order to prevent more infections.  Due to the virus, experts worry that the military may have to stay in Afghanistan longer than planned.

“Protecting the force is our top priority,” Army Col. Sonny Leggett wrote on twitter.  “We continue to execute the ordered drawdown to 8,600.”

“To preserve our currently healthy force, Resolute Support is making the necessary adjustments to temporarily pause personnel movement into theater,” Army General Scott Miller, commander of US operations in Afghanistan, said in a statement.  “In some cases, these measures will necessitate some service members remaining beyond their scheduled departure dates to continue the mission.”

Only essential personnel can enter US bases in Afghanistan and Americans are using more teleconferencing to communicate with their Afghan counterparts.

Although there are Corona virus test kits at US bases in Afghanistan, they can only have them verified by sending them to Germany.  Currently there are about 1,500 soldiers in quarantine – not necessarily because they are exhibiting signs of illness, but because they are new arrivals or are returning from trips.

America isn’t alone in this case.  Militaries around the world are experiencing the same problems, although they are remaining quiet about the threat to their national security.

So, what is the solution?  It’s not as simple as the two options offered by the Captain of the Roosevelt – shut down or risk sailors dying.  Giving the military priority on testing and access to anti-malarial drugs, along with aggressive treatment (medicating those with the virus even before symptoms occur) would allow military units to remain operational during this period, that’s the pentagon hope.

As of this writing, it appears that about half of the crew of the Roosevelt will be moved off the ship (a good number of those will probably be the air wing).  This will still leave the ship capable of carrying out some operations if necessary.  There will also be emergency plans for bringing the rest of the crew onboard within hours if necessary.

To the Pentagon leaders who displayed anger at the Captain of the Roosevelt, they are asserting that what he forgot is that military units must always be prepared for war. He also forgot that being combat ready is as much a guarantee of peace as anything in their view.

As one American veteran who served in the US Navy said recently, “I’m glad the captain of the Roosevelt wasn’t in charge of an American carrier at the Battle of Midway.” *

*The Battle of Midway was an epic clash between the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy that played out six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory in the air-sea battle (June 3-6, 1942) and its successful defense of the major base located at Midway Island dashed Japan’s hopes of neutralizing the United States as a naval power and effectively turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific.

Week of March 29, 2020

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

 

The Heritage Foundation sees the US as the winner in the current situation in Syria, with conflict between Turkey, Russia and Syria.  They conclude, “That leaves the U.S. sitting in not-the-worst position of all the players. We still have some small teams in Syria conducting anti-ISIS operations, but no one seems to want to challenge them. In addition to hounding terrorists, the U.S. has a vested interest in keeping the problems of Syria from spilling over and destabilizing Iraq. As long as the U.S. can maintain a presence in Iraq, Washington can keep up that effort and continue to pressure and isolate Iran. In short, Syria is a big headache for many world leaders, but Trump has more to be happy about than most. A stable Middle East is important to the U.S. The three biggest threats to stability are extremists, terrorists, and Iran. At present, the U.S. military footprint there seems adequate to keep them all contained.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at America’s weak missile defense given the recent attacks in Iraq.  They note, “Patriot systems are ill-suited for use on or near the front line. Even a relatively small caliber bullet can damage the fragile missile launchers or radar. Patriots require a secure area, free from the danger of direct fire from weapons such as anti-tank missiles. Al Asad did not provide that level of protection. Its perimeter fence is, in many cases, within sight of the main airstrip and facilities.  Unless the Iraqis and the U.S. deliberately expand the base or change its security posture, Patriot systems are unlikely to be employed there.   The situation argues for the U.S. to develop a more hardened ballistic missile defense system, but that’s difficult—especially when it comes to radar. Space-based radar might one day solve this problem, but in the meantime, the answer may be either to move all U.S. troops who are within missile range of Iran (i.e., anywhere in the Middle East) to bases able to employ Patriot or to disperse them in smaller concentrations to locations with substantial early warning assets and shelter”

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy examines the fight between the Saudis and Russia over oil.  They conclude, “Riyadh sometimes has interpreted “reasonably priced” as “realistically priced.” But these days, such diplomatic smoothness is gone. Yesterday the Department of Energy issued a statement that included: “These attempts by state actors to manipulate and shock oil markets… [.]” Such language may be normal in dealing with Moscow but is new, at least publicly, for communication with Riyadh. The White House said today that President Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MbS, on Monday about global energy markets. When is this going to end? And how is this going to end?  The “when” is difficult to answer. It might end tomorrow if Iran were to launch another salvo of missiles against Saudi oil installations as it did last September. However, assuming the crisis remains a simple struggle between the rival ambitions of President Putin and MbS, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, then expect it to be a knife fight. Both men are ruthless and determined. One could perhaps debate who is more cunning. I know where my money is.

ANALYSIS

The Coronavirus Economy

Life-threatening pandemics aren’t easy to manage.  On the medical side, isolation and quarantine are the best answer because it stops the spreading of the virus.  However, on the impact to the economy, isolation and quarantine are the worst of all possible options.  True, some can work at home, but farming and food production can’t be run out of one’s living room.

This is the problem facing the national leaders around the world.  And, each is trying to balance these two sides of the problem in their own way, based on the advice they are receiving and their own common sense.

In the United States, the solution is to throw money at the problem, then to get the population back to work in a few weeks, and count on the medical profession to limit the spread of the virus.

It appears that the US is ready to start throwing money at the problem.  Early Wednesday morning, Senate leaders and the White House announced that a $2 trillion agreement had been reached to provide economic relief to the Corona virus epidemic.

The broad outlines of the deal include the following:

Direct cash payments of about $1,200 for each adult earning under $75,000 for single people and $150,000 for couples.  The amount received will taper off over these figures, but they will receive the whole amount initially.  The excess they receive will be owed in next year’s taxes.

The bill provides $367 billion in forgivable loans to employers with less than 500 employees.  The amount that will be forgiven will depend on how many employees are laid off.  The fewer laid off, the more of the loan is forgiven.

An interesting prohibition in the bill states that businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of executive departments can’t receive loans or investments from any Treasury programs.

The $500 billion loan program for larger companies includes an inspector general and a five-member congressional panel for oversight.

The bill increases unemployment benefits for those laid off.  According to Senator Schumer, the Democratic Leader in the Senate, the deal increases “the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week and ensures that laid-off workers, on average, receive their full pay for at least four months.”

Schumer also said the bill includes $150 billion for state and local governments.

The goal of this bill is to keep consumer demand up even as many consumers are staying at home.

On the positive side, by stimulating consumer demand, when it looks like it was about to take a dive, the proposed bill keeps many sectors of the economy (and their workers) operating.  This will make it easier to restart the economy when the pandemic has passed – especially if the money is handed out quickly and the workforce is able to leave their homes.

The problem is the size of the stimulus.  The planned (before the pandemic) federal budget for FY 2021 was to be $4.829 trillion.  Revenue was to bring in $3.863 trillion, but that assumed a good economy.  The deficit would be about one trillion.  That means coronavirus emergency spending has already boosted federal spending by 50%.

The result is that the amount that the government must borrow to pay for the emergency spending will cause this year’s budget deficit to triple.  Unfortunately, with no one to buy the additional Treasury bills and notes, the Federal Reserve will be forced to step in and buy the debt with newly created money.  And, as any economist will tell you, when demand, caused by additional money, goes after a limited supply of goods, inflation will occur.

Whether the money is just created by entries in the Federal Reserve computer or a couple of trillion dollar coins are minted, the result is just the same – the money supply will be increased without an increase in the economy’s ability to produce more goods and services.

With each adult receiving $1,200 and each child receiving $500, the boost in spending will be considerable.  However, given the current coronavirus situation, it won’t go equally into all sectors of the economy.  Based on recent spending patterns, the money will surge into the grocery sector – causing more empty shelves in stores and more inflation.  The question is how much.

In 2017, the agriculture and food industries contributed $1.053 trillion to the economy.  That is 5.4% of the nation’s GDP.

If consumers that receive a government check decide to buy groceries with the bulk of their money, the food sector could see an additional $250 billion in spending.  Unfortunately, increasing food supplies takes time either to raise the cattle or grow the crops.  The result could see food prices climb 25%, depending on imports and some consumers deciding to shift their spending away from food as food prices go up.

In the meantime, some sectors of the economy like housing, automobiles, brick and mortar retail stores, and traditional restaurants will see very little of that stimulus money, although drive-in restaurants and internet stores will gain.

In turn, these other sectors of the economy will not be buying supplies from their suppliers and paying rent to property owners.  As Bloomberg News noted, what happens to the billions in rent owed for business that have closed?  Since most property owners have high levels of debt themselves, what are they to do?

These and other issues mean that a stimulus bill can’t by itself solve the problem.  The economy can only operate if everyone can go back to work.  This is the issue Trump is facing.  Can the economy recover if everyone can go back to work, while current medications and potentially new vaccines keep enough people healthy to get the economy working at full capacity?

Unfortunately, there is little information to work with.  The last major pandemic was the Spanish flu that started in the last year of World War One.  The war and the lack of data collected make it hard to base policy on a pandemic that occurred over 100 years ago.  As a result, politicians are forced to rely upon models of epidemic growth and decline.  And, there are as many models as there are experts.  And many of the experts are willing to inflate the risk in order to help their organizations.

While some models forecast a future with millions of deaths, bankruptcies, increased suicides, and a depression unknown to the modern world, there are others that see the virus coming under control soon.  Politicians are left to make the hard choices based on a variety of models and theories.

One fact that makes it more likely for politicians to ignore the doomsday predictions has been the failure of the more pessimistic models to accurately predict events.  One of the pessimistic groups is COVID Act Now, which has used a model from the Imperial College, London, which was the one to predict 2 million American deaths.  It was widely quoted and used by governors and mayors of both parties to make decisions.

However, its predictions have been inaccurate.  They claimed that by March 19th, 5,400 New Yorkers would be hospitalized.  Only about 750 were hospitalized by the 19th.  They predicted 13,000 hospitalizations by March 23rd in New York.  By the 23rd, the actual number was only 2,500.

The COVID Act Now model was also wrong in predictions about Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, and Virginia.  Now COVID Act Now has admitted the problems of its model and has stated, “The model does not adjust for population density, culturally determined interaction frequency and closeness, humidity, temperature, etc. in calculating.”  They also admitted to many other problems with the model.

This isn’t the model that the President is basing his decisions on.  In the case of President Trump, he sees a more optimistic pandemic track.  His desire is to keep the US economy going, while trying to limit physical contact, and allowing doctors to use medications currently used for malaria.

The Wall Street Journal has come in on Trump’s desire to get the people back to work.  It noted that the third coronavirus stimulus plan will cost a lot, but so will a shutdown of the country.  They note, “Each month of a national shutdown costs the economy about a trillion dollars.  The damage will become harder to fix as businesses fire workers and close forever…A blanket lockdown can’t go on.”

They go on to note that keeping every business closed and every worker unemployed won’t work.  Nor will replacing the private economy with borrowed money won’t work.  They also noted that the private sector was taking steps as many businesses were already tailoring their businesses to working in the current environment.

Will the Trump plan work?  That is an unknown currently.  The President is aware that a shutdown of the nation will have serious side effects that may take years to recover.  On the other hand, an early return to “business as usual” may mean the number of coronavirus cases will rise, along with deaths.

Currently, Trump is looking at the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.  If those numbers are trending down by Easter and the anti-malarial drugs are shown to limit the severity of the coronavirus, he will probably try to get people back to work.  If he can do that, the stimulus money that everyone gets will be less likely to be spent solely on food and may flow into other sectors of the economy.  A family that is confident that there will be food at the grocery store may use the stimulus money for a down payment on a new automobile.

If Trump can do that, he will have reassured his reelection.

PUBLICATIONS

An Increasingly Aggressive Iran Warrants New Emphasis on Missile, Rocket Defense

By Thomas Spoehr

Heritage Foundation

March 24, 2020

On March 11, about 30 rockets rained down on Taji Air Base in central Iraq, killing two American troops and one British soldier. Three days later, more rockets landed on Taji, wounding another three U.S. service members. Last week lawmakers pressed Pentagon officials regarding the lack of missile and rocket defenses on Iraqi bases housing American forces. Why wasn’t our Army using the Iron Dome system or other capabilities to protect our troops? Similar concerns had been raised earlier, following Iranian missile attacks on the al-Asad and Irbil air bases, launched in response to the killing of Qassem Suleimani. The short answer is: our current missile defense systems are not optimized for use on remote bases. Our rocket defenses have progressed no further than what we fielded in Iraq from 2004 to 2010.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/missile-defense/commentary/increasingly-aggressive-iran-warrants-new-emphasis-missile-rocket

Syria Is the War Nobody Wins, Except Maybe Trump

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

March 11, 2020

Many forces are waging war in Syria, all of them willing to fight to the last Syrian. But in this conflict, the United States is MIA. Thank goodness for that. The war in Syria is likely to devolve into another interminable, unwinnable conflict. Fighting recently flared in the Syrian province of Idlib. A year and a half ago, Russia and Turkey had negotiated a demilitarized zone in the province, one that separated the area controlled by the forces of President Bashar Assad from the territory held by rebels. Russian and Turkish patrols made sure that zone remained heavy-weapons-free until late last month, when the Syrian army moved in with the assistance of air cover from the Russians. From a military perspective, what happened next could not have gone worse for the Syrians. Years of war had already decimated their air and ground forces. Now, the Turks have gutted what was left. The Syrians lost the equivalent of two mechanized divisions and virtually all of its fixed wing and helicopter air force.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/syria-the-war-nobody-wins-except-maybe-trump

Russia and Saudis in a Knife Fight Over Oil—But We May Be the Victims

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

March 10, 2020

The Hill

A train wreck is about to occur in the oil market, and there will be casualties. Russia and Saudi Arabia, which previously had cooperated in making the world market well-supplied, no longer can agree on how to share the benefits. Today Riyadh announced it will step up output to a record 12.3 million barrels per day in April, the vast majority of which is exported. Russia also is increasing production but its incremental volumes are smaller. It’s a game of bluff: Who can survive longer? And we are the spectators…

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/russia-and-saudis-in-a-knife-fight-over-oilbut-we-may-be-the-victims

 

Week of March 20, 2020

Part 1/2 series:

The American Corona Virus Apocalypse – What to Expect and What Could Happen

A month ago, predictions about the course of the Corona virus were varied.  Many insisted it was merely a typical mild winter sickness that would quickly dissipate when the weather got warmer.  Others warned this was a pandemic that could impact the world and how we live for decades.

It seems the pessimists were closer to the mark.  While the death rate has moderated itself in China and other nations in East Asia like Japan and South Korea, the West is experiencing an alarming growth of the disease.

It now appears that the West will have the same widespread problems China had.  Confirmed cases in the West are doubling every two to three days.  Some countries like Italy don’t have the medical infrastructure to handle the serious cases.  And, instead of just targeting the old, the Corona virus is also infecting and killing young people in their 20s and 30s.

In the meantime, all investments from stock to precious metals are losing value.  It appears that the only investment that is holding its value is food and sanitary supplies.  Major companies like Boeing are on the verge of bankruptcy and it appears that employment figures this month will be like those during the worldwide depression of the 1930s.

Fortunately, humans are resilient, and the world will come back – eventually.

So, how will this impact the world superpower – America?  The fact is that recovery will be slow.

Many companies will go bankrupt in the coming months.  And, others will take time to get back on their feet as they must gear up production and rebuild their customer base.  Although the US government is passing legislation to provide economic assistance, most of that will go to paying bills that must be paid despite the lack of sales and paying for sick leave for employees.  Companies may start up production, but there must be a market for their goods and demand for everything from aircraft to automobiles has crashed.  The result will be higher unemployment for a while – unemployment that can lead to civil unrest.

As billionaire Bill Ackman noted about government assistance, “You can’t borrow your way out of the problem. You can’t lend your way out of the crisis.  You have to kill the virus.”

There will be some positives in the long terms for America as this crisis has shown how dependent the US is on Chinese products.  Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which will bring critical manufacturing back to the US from China.  However, starting up production is something that takes years, not weeks or months.

The most important sector of the economy in this crisis is food – as seen in the empty shelves in American stores as people rushed out to buy food for self-imposed quarantines.  Here the US has an advantage.  Most American food production is in states that have not been seriously hit by the Corona virus.  Population density is low in farm country, so the virus will have problems spreading in the American food belt.  However, the weakness is to be found in the logistics that converts Midwestern wheat into flour and then the loaf of bread on the shelf in New York.  These factories, mills, food processing plants, warehouses, and truck lines are vulnerable to sick workers, food riots, theft, and economic factors.

Another long-term impact is social.  Although many of the lines in stores were orderly, many fights broke out between people over limited supplies of food and sanitary products.  One can only wonder what will happen when there isn’t enough food to go around.

The potential violence will be multiplied by the impact the virus is having on law enforcement, the courts, and prisons.  In order to limit contact with potential Corona virus carriers, law enforcement has been instructed to limit their enforcement actions to serious crime.  Shoplifting, petty crime, drugs, prostitution, and traffic laws will be overlooked in order to limit the chance the police are exposed to the virus.

The change is also found in the courts.  Court cases have been delayed; juries are not being empaneled due to the health risk, and warrants for minor crimes aren’t being issued.

This reduction in law enforcement and justice has been compounded by the release of some prisoners in order to keep prisons from becoming hot spots for the Corona virus.  Hopefully many of those released will go home and try to change their lives.  Unfortunately, many will go back to crime – especially since the chances of being caught and arrested are lower now.


An American Apocalypse?

Apocalyptic movies have been popular entertainment ever since Mad Max.  And, in recent years, these movies have used the theme of worldwide infections.  Popular movies like the Resident Evil series and the Maze Runner trilogy have popularized the idea of an epidemic destroying the world as we know it.

But, is real life beginning to resemble a movie?  Could the scuffles in American stores over toilet paper be just a sample of what may occur if the corona virus epidemic continues to grow at a geometric rate?

It’s not unlikely.  Food riots are common in some nations and the only thing keeping it from happening in America is the abundance of food and its low prices.

However, as Alfred Lewis observed in 1906, “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.”  The same has been observed by others, including the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  While people can deal with other shortages like clothing or gasoline, food is an essential commodity.  And, if there is no food, even the most civilized person will commit a crime to feed themselves or their family.

The American food industry operates on thin profit margins and “just in time” stocking.  Unusual consumer demand, as America has seen in the last few weeks, can quickly empty the shelves.  And, the only way to refill those shelves is a rapid resupply by truck from the local warehouse, which in turn relies on food processors.  Any glitch in transportation, food processing or warehousing can keep shelves empty.

There is also the inflation problem.  The US is seriously looking at economic recovery legislation that will cost over $1 trillion.  And, since there isn’t that sort of money available to the federal government, it will be paid for with the selling of more government debt, which is purchased in large part by the Federal Reserve – using money it has created.  And has been seen in 1920s Germany, 2000 Argentina, and modern-day Venezuela, food supplies are most vulnerable in inflationary times.  Stores with the worst profit margin (usually in the poorer parts of a city) close first.  This, in turn leads to food riots.

Don’t forget that as food becomes scarcer, theft grows.  Hijacking trucks, warehouse thefts, and shoplifting become prevalent as food prices go up and law enforcement looks the other way.

It’s not hard to see food riots becoming common in the Western world.

If food riots come to the US, expect the US military to step in.  Many states have already called up the National Guard and California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the state is prepared to declare martial law.

There are plans for such an eventuality in America.  In 2008, the Army War College issued a report saying that an economic crisis in the US could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene to restore order.

Ironically, the military planning for such a civil disturbance is based on the same types of movies that are popular with the movie going public – zombies created by some infection.

As Time.com writer observed, “Dystopian movies used to reflect our anxieties, now they reflect our reality, mirroring…how our government views us.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) joined with the Department of Defense (DoD) to use zombies to train government agents in mock military drills.  In 2011, the DoD created a 31-page manual on how to protect America from an attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague.

The current plan for a military intervention during civil unrest is outlined in “CONOP 8888.”  According to a Foreign Policy article dated May 13, 2014, the document states, “This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for US Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve “non-zombie” humans from the threat posed by a zombie horde.”

Lest anyone think this was a joke, in the disclaimer section, it states, “This plan was not actually designed as a joke.”  Although zombies are the theoretical enemy, it outlines how the military envisions its role in any unrest.

By basing the study on “enemy zombies,” the Pentagon avoids any political fallout by picking a realistic threat like terrorists, white supremacists, leftists, black nationalists, militias, etc.

Although the Corona virus doesn’t create zombies, the manual does outline how the military will put down a civil uprising that may result from the Corona virus.  Its 6 phases to protect and restore the civilian government and civil peace are: shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize, and restore civil authority.

The first step is to increase surveillance, carry out drills, and coordinate with state and local law enforcement.  This transitions into deterrence by recalling military personnel to their duty stations, fortifying military bases, and starting limited combat operations against the enemy.

The military would then shelter all essential government employees at these bases and then deploy troops to control waterways.  Reconnaissance forces would then reconnoiter remaining threats and survey the status of important infrastructure like water, power, and lines of communication.

The last step is restoring civilian authority and assisting them with military forces.  Any opposition hold outs will then be attacked.

Although there is no solid evidence that CONOP 8888 is seriously under consideration, the DoD has ordered troops to stay on base and is quickly moving the 20,000 troops currently in Europe on NATO exercises back to the US – movements that are similar to stage 2 in the plan.  They are also making plans to deploy two Navy hospital ships to Corona virus hot spots in order to care for patients that aren’t infected.  The Army Corps of Engineers is also planning to build temporary hospitals to handle hospital overflows.

But the employment of martial law and the military comes at a cost.  In America, there is a clear line separating the military and law enforcement – a legacy of the days when the United States was a British colony and British soldiers enforced the law.  As a result, any attempt to put the military on the streets to enforce laws will not be greeted with favor in many parts of the country.

Another problem with martial law is that some in government will use the situation to advance their agenda without public debate or legislation.  For instance, in the past week, some anti-gun politicians have used the state of emergency to restrict gun rights.  Many gun owners are concerned that some politicians could use martial law to try to confiscate firearms as they did in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  If that happens, the level of civil unrest will grow into a post-apocalyptic civil war.

What happens next depends on the course of the virus, the actions of health officials, and what politicians – who are trying to balance economic issues and health concerns – will allow.

Although an American Corona virus apocalypse is still an unlikely event, the chances of it occurring are much greater than they were just a few weeks ago.

 

*Next part 2 : Military Takes

Week of March 13, 2020

Coronavirus Plagues America

 For the first time in living history, the headlines after a major presidential primary night weren’t focused on the election.  Instead, they were focused on the coronavirus and its spread across the nation.

Even the election news focused on the fact that both Biden and Sanders were cancelling their post-primary rallies due to the coronavirus.

The American mood is certainly schizophrenic.  While airplanes fly nearly empty as Americans are afraid of coming in contact with someone with the corona virus, they are willing to wait in line and crowd in cheek to jowl with others at grocery stores and warehouse clubs in order to buy toilet paper, sanitary supplies, water, and freeze dried food.

Although the US was slow in taking the virus seriously, they have reacted quickly in the last few days.  Several states have declared States of Emergency.  New York governor Cuomo called in the National Guard to police the New Rochelle area, which is the hot spot of corona virus infection on the East Coast.

President Trump after a dismissive attitude of the seriousness of the situation, came out Wednesday with a program of health and economic incentives to battle the epidemic.  Although his speech was intended to assure the American public, he created confusion regarding some of the elements about banning travel from Europe and how the Americans will deal with testing…

However, there are a lot of problems in fighting this infection.  Since many who get the virus don’t show any symptoms (or very mild ones), health officials don’t really know the extent of the infection or how serious it really is.  For instance, an infected person with mild or no symptoms can pass it on to another person, who can develop a serious condition that can lead to death.  Consequently, no one really knows the real situation, which leads to predictions that are probably more too pessimistic.

On the other hand, there are doctors who remain optimistic based on research on the virus and how it interacts with humans.

One positive is that studies are showing that the virus is most effective at 47.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  At temperatures above that, it’s ability to spread decreases dramatically.  One proof of that is that all the major hot spots in the US are in colder states.  Warmer, drier states like Arizona have patients with the Corona virus, but it hasn’t spread throughout the community like it has in Washington State, Northern California, New York, and Boston. 

This temperature weakness of the virus means that as summer approaches, the chances are good that new cases will decline, giving scientists a chance to discover a way to fight it before the winter cold returns.

In the meantime, the virus will have an impact of America’s economy, social interaction, stability, and even the presidential election in November.

 

Economy

Although the world has lost trillions of dollars in the world’s stock markets, much of that loss was do as much to the fact that stock prices were overvalued in the first place. 

The biggest economic problem from the infection is production and consumer buying.  With the corona virus ability to spread, many factories are closing in order limit the threat.  Factories that aren’t producing aren’t selling to consumers.  They aren’t paying their employees or suppliers either.

There is also consumer demand.  With a population afraid to go out, brick and mortar stores are experiencing a decline in sales – unless they sell toilet paper, water, and sanitary supplies.

There is an upside for some sectors of the economy.  As the population stays inside, they will probably increase their buying online.  Businesses like Amazon should experience growth as more consumers rely on products that are delivered directly to them.  In addition, many grocery store chains are also taking orders online and then delivering to homes.

Some companies that sell emergency food supplies have seen their business skyrocket.  Companies that produce freeze dried foods or military rations for emergencies are working overtime to meet demand.

Companies that rely upon energy will do well, providing they have consumers buying their product or service.  The mining industry is very energy reliant, but with slowing global demand for minerals and metals, they will see lower earnings in the upcoming quarters.  With the decline in traveling and the oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, oil prices are expected to remain low, which will hurt the American petroleum sector. 

Normally, low oil prices benefit the airlines.  However, with the Corona virus scare, many airlines are flying nearly empty aircraft.  Although lower ticket prices may tempt some customers, the airlines are in for a bad time.

One benefit for the US economy in the long run may be a return of some manufacturing to the US from China.  Shortages in pharmaceuticals, rare earths, and electronics are encouraging some companies to rethink their strategy of subcontracting to China.  In fact, there is talk that President Trump may invoke his presidential powers to bring back pharmaceutical production of masks, antibiotics, medicines, etc. to the US.

 

Society

One only had to look at the fights breaking out over the last package of toilet paper on the shelves to see how the panic is impacting Americans.  The “everyone for themselves” mentality is breaking out across the nation.

This wouldn’t be so bad normally, but in a society already fractured by racial, political, economic, and gender lines, it is only exacerbating the fissures already in American society.

We can add to that a geographical divide as most of the corona illness is on the predominantly Democratic coastlines.

Should the pandemic grow and there becomes a refugee flow from the Democratic coastlines to the interior and warmer south, which are more Republican, there could be calls for quarantines to keep people out of these states – especially if there are instances of them bringing the corona virus with them

Another issue is Americans’ basic human rights and the medical battle against the epidemic.  Although quarantines have been instituted in the US in the past, this could potentially be the biggest quarantine in American history.  How will Americans feel about military forces patrolling the street like they are doing in New Rochelle, New York?  How will they react to orders limiting their travel?

These may seem to be minor issues, but in a society that fights over toilet paper, what can happen is anyone’s guess.

 

Political

Ever since the coronavirus struck, some who have have wondered how this might impact the presidential election.  Many think that Trump could lose the election as he will be too weak to effectively govern.

As we have noted in the past, a week is an eternity in politics.  Consequently, there is no way to predict what will happen in November.

Although Democrats are already blaming Trump for the problem, Trump’s poll numbers are currently at an acceptable range compared to previous presidents.  There is also the fact that America is not currently experiencing the coronavirus deaths that have occurred in other countries Italy, Iran, and China are having.

There’s also the fact that nothing makes a president more presidential than going on national TV and announcing his plans.  Obama did it when U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden and his poll numbers jumped.  Trump did that on Wednesday as he outlined the economic and other steps the government would take.  These include a ban on travel from Europe (except for Britain) for the next 30 days, with the exception of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and proposed economic measures to help businesses and people facing an economic impact from the virus.

One step was to eliminate the health insurance co-pays and completely cover coronavirus treatment.  This should encourage people to get treatment earlier. But  many observers echoed what a CNN political analyst observed:  “President Donald Trump set out to steady a rattled nation and a diving economy in a solemn Oval Office address, but instead sowed more confusion and doubts that he is up to handling the fast-worsening coronavirus crisis”.

“Trump spoke to the nation at a fearful moment, when the rhythms of everyday American life are starting to shut down — with schools closing, the NBA suspended, hospitals on high alert and movie icon Tom Hanks saying he and his wife have the disease”.

The White House also is preparing an executive order that would eliminate U.S. government reliance on foreign made medical supplies.  The order covers 400 “essential medicines” and medical countermeasures and aims to attract more medical jobs to the United States.

All these moves might help Trump look presidential.

If the virus slows down as summer temperatures arrive, the coronavirus issue could be gone long before the election.  Since it takes a few months, the start of the 2020/2021 flu season will not be in full swing when the election is held.

The biggest impact may be economic.  If voters view the economy pessimistically and think conditions will get worse before getting better, they will be more likely to vote Democratic.

One mixed blessing for Trump is the decline in the markets.  That limits a downturn in the days before the election, which hurt Senator McCain, who was leading Obama before the stock market crash in 2008.  It also means that stocks may experience a bull market this fall, which will only help Trump.

However, it’s important to remember that the world is experiencing an unusual event.  Although we have seen pandemics, they haven’t been as contagious and have been limited geographically.  We are truly in unknown territory.

Week of March 06, 2020

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

The Heritage Foundation looks at the peace deal for Afghanistan.  They note, “most importantly, talks within Afghanistan between the government and the Taliban will take place March 10.  This is the most crucial stage in the peace process. It does not matter what the U.S. agrees to with the Taliban; what matters most is what the Afghan government agrees to with the Taliban.  Many questions remain unanswered. And healthy skepticism is only natural under circumstances like this.  But ultimately it is for all Afghans—those who support the government in Kabul and those who identify as Taliban—to settle their differences. The Afghan government has been fighting a Taliban-led insurgency. History shows that most insurgencies are successfully ended through a political settlement. After all, the most basic goal of any counterinsurgency campaign is to allow those who have political grievances the ability to express these grievances through a political process rather than through violence. This is the goal of the intra-Afghan talks. You no more can kill your way out of an insurgency than you can drink yourself out of alcoholism.” 

 

The CSIS has a skeptical view of the Afghan agreement.  They note, “As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance… Most of the media’s reaction to the announcement of a peace process agreement ignores a wide range of these issues and has only focused on the immediate military implications of the agreement to enter negotiations. This commentary focuses on the three critical limits in the official reporting and media coverage of these military developments: 1. Underestimating the real size of U.S. forces in (and for) Afghanistan. 2.Ignoring the critical role of forward train and assist forces and airpower. 3.Failing to examine the importance of the role played by our allies.”

 

The Cato Institute also looks at the Afghan agreement.  They conclude, “If the Trump administration is truly making U.S. withdrawal contingent on the Taliban and Kabul successfully signing a powersharing peace agreement, it could very well be the death knell for the deal. We are already seeing cracks: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that he rejects the idea of a TalibanKabul prisoner swap, which is supposed to be carried out by March 10. He said the United States was in no position to make that promise on his behalf. Even as America announces her impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, she still helplessly clings to the very fantasies that have kept her bogged down in this quagmire for nearly 20 years. We have not remade Afghan politics. We have not established a stable, democratic, independent government in Kabul. We have not defeated the Taliban. But that does not vitiate the wisdom of withdrawal. After nearly 20 years, $2 trillion, and an immense loss of life, it is now a vital national interest to end the war. But if the war doesn’t end within 14 months, exiting the war should be the priority, regardless of conditions on the ground.”

 

The American Foreign Policy Council says America should declare war on proxies.  They note, “Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences. The most systematic user of this tactic is Russia. Since the early 1990s, it has manipulated ethnic conflicts in three different states and helped set up nominally independent entities over which it exerts control. Moscow’s practice began in Moldova’s Transnistria region and in two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia…Following its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia established permanent military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and formally recognized the independence of the two territories. This allowed Moscow to create a fictive legal basis for its military presence, based on so-called interstate agreements it signed with its proxies.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Super Tuesday Election Results Shake Up Democratic Nomination Race

There is an old political adage that says, “a week is an eternity in politics.”  That adage was no truer than this week.  A week ago, Vice President Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seemed dead.  His showings in the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa and Nevada caucuses were dismal.  Major Democratic donors were sitting on the sidelines, which left the Biden campaign without the money to contest important states like Texas.  And, his verbal gaffs on the campaign circuit created questions about his ability to mentally handle the office of president.

All that changed in the last few days.

On Saturday, Biden won the South Carolina primary thanks to overwhelming Black support.  Within a day, candidates Buttigieg and Klobuchar had pulled out of the race and had endorsed Biden – followed by several other prominent Democratic politicians like Beto O’Rourke.

The momentum of the weekend led to a surprising win in the Super Tuesday primary elections.  As of this writing, although Biden hasn’t sewn up the nomination, he is leading by a comfortable margin and has over 50% of the delegates pledged.

That win was followed on Wednesday by the withdrawal of candidate Bloomberg, who endorsed Biden.  On Thursday, Warren pulled out.

Although Biden doesn’t have the 1991 delegates to guarantee a first ballot win at the convention, his road to the nomination seems much clearer.  With only Sanders to seriously contest the nomination, the chances of a “brokered” convention are nearly impossible.  And, even if the convention is brokered and Biden doesn’t win on the first ballot, he is nearly assured victory in the second ballot by the super delegates who overwhelmingly support Biden.

The upcoming primaries don’t provide much hope for Sanders to overcome Biden’s lead.  The March 10, primaries are in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Washington.  Of those, only Washington and maybe Michigan appear to be in the Sanders column.  The rest are probably going for Biden.

On the positive side for Sanders, the upcoming states holding primaries has more – White and more Hispanic – groups that did give Sanders more support

If Sanders can stop Biden’s momentum on March 10, the March 17th primaries of Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio may help get him back in the race.  However, with the democratic rules that split up the delegates according to the percentage of support each candidate gets, Sanders must manage to get some major wins in order to overcome Biden’s lead in delegates.

Sander’s problem is that there aren’t any other serious candidates that can siphon off votes from Biden.  And, he needs another viable candidate in the race in order to create a brokered convention.

Although the primary season goes into June, it’s possible that the eventual winner will be clear by the end of March.

 

Senator Bernie Sanders

Although Biden’s comeback was the big story coming out of Super Tuesday, the Democratic leadership who backed Biden can’t afford to ignore Sanders.  Sanders did win the biggest prize, California.  He also earned enough votes to win delegates in every state that Biden won – even though Senator Warren siphoned votes from him. 

Biden can’t expect a victory like Super Tuesday every week.  Super Tuesday had a preponderance of Southern states (the old Confederacy) that are more conservative and less likely to support Sanders.

There is also the fact that the upcoming primaries have more Whites and Hispanics, which are more likely to vote for Sanders.  The problem is that the demographics of the likely voter in the upcoming primary states probably will not be enough to overcome the current Biden lead.

But it isn’t just the nomination that is on the line.  The race also reflects the great divide in the Democratic Party and its future.  Currently, control of the party is in the hands of more moderate establishment Democrats.  They want Biden to win the nomination at all costs, just as they wanted Hillary Clinton to win the nomination in 2016.

The Democratic leadership is concerned that a more radical presidential candidate like Sanders would hurt the party in local elections as well as the US Senate and US House.  In their mind, it’s better to lose the White House with a moderate candidate yet, retain its majority in the House.

However, there is a sizable minority in the Democratic Party that envisions a more democratic socialist Democratic Party like those in Europe.  They also want to overthrow the establishment Democrats that currently run the party.  And, Biden’s win will not mend that divide.

Therefore, it’s possible that Biden may come to the Democratic convention with enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot, but face an upset minority that supports Sanders and feels that the nomination was taken from their candidate, as it was in 2016.  These Sanders voters may decide to stay home in November and hope that they can take over party leadership with a new generation of politicians like New York Congresswoman Cortez.

In other words, while this is probably Sanders last run for president, it isn’t the last time that democratic socialists will be heard from.

 

Michael Bloomberg

Although Bloomberg pulled out of the race on Wednesday, he has won one distinction – howbeit a humiliating one.  He has beaten John Connally for the distinction of spending the most money for fewest delegates.  Former Texas governor Connally had spent $11 million for one delegate in the 1980 Republican primary.  As of the time of this writing, Bloomberg had won 50 delegates after spending $700 million (the delegate count should give Bloomberg more delegates in the next few days).

Bloomberg had misread the Trump victory in 2016.  He assumed that a large personal fortune that could be spent on the campaign would insure victory.  As a result, he saturated the airwaves, including the expensive California market, with commercials for the last month. 

But he had little to show for it but the victory in the small American Pacific territory of American Samoa.  He had forgotten that a candidate needs an agenda in addition to media coverage.

It also helps to make a good impression in the debates.  Bloomberg, however made a poor impression on the debate stage as the other candidates ganged up to attack him.

Although Bloomberg is out of the race, he is expected to remain active, using his personal fortune to help defeat Trump. 

Although the Bloomberg money will help the Democrats this year, it is offset by the lack of donations to the Democratic National Committee this year.  There is also the fact that Americans don’t like the idea of anyone “buying” the election.  Consequently, Bloomberg may waste hundreds of millions of dollars more in a vain attempt to defeat Trump in November.

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Warren has pulled out of the race, thanks to a poor performance across the nation, including her home state of Massachusetts, where she lost to Biden.  The reality, however, is that Warren had no path to victory. 

Warren did poorly with demographic groups that she counted upon.  Exit polls showed that only 1 in 10 women in Massachusetts voted for her and only 1 in 5 college educated Whites in the state supported her.

Her future, post campaign, is uncertain.  As a woman, she would be a logical VP choice for Biden and may help bring pro-Sanders democratic socialists back into the Democratic Party camp.

 

The Future

As we noted at the beginning, a week is an eternity in politics.  That means that any attempt to analyze the future may prove wrong within a week.

Assuming Biden retains his lead in delegates, he will be the nominee – either on the first or second ballot.  However, his victory may not bring about a Democratic victory in November.

There are questions about Biden, his son, and corruption in the Ukraine – an issue that came up in the Trump impeachment proceedings.  In fact, the Ukraine has started a criminal corruption investigation into the circumstances surrounding Biden’s involvement in stopping an investigation into his son’s action.  There is also the possibility of a Senate investigation.

There is also the question of Biden’s suitability as a presidential candidate.  As the former Vice President, Biden should have sewn up the nomination months ago.  However, his missteps on the campaign trail have worried many in the Democratic Party.  During campaign stops he has often forgotten what state he is in and what office he is running for.  As a result, many observers think that he may be showing signs of mental degeneration.

This placed the Democratic leadership on the horns of a dilemma.  Do you support a moderate, establishment candidate like Biden, even though he may lose the election, but will keep the establishment Democratic leadership in power?  Or, do you support someone who will be a better campaigner, but is outside the establishment.

Picking an outsider for the nominee is a threat to the leadership.  Someone like Sanders will oust many current Democratic leaders and install his own supporters if he wins the nomination.

On the other hand, Biden has made it clear that he is sticking with the status quo and political leaders like Speaker of the House Pelosi.

There are also troubling signs that the Democratic majority in the House may be in jeopardy – another reason to back Biden.  The California congressional primaries on Tuesday showed that Republican voters in Republican congressional districts that had flipped Democratic in 2018 outnumbered Democratic voters, even though there was no Republican presidential primary. 

Traditionally, a Democratic presidential primary, with no Republican presidential primary will see Democratic voters outnumber Republican ones.  The fact that Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters, means that nine California congressional seats could flip to the Republican side in November – about half the number needed to turn the House Republican.

While a Biden candidacy may help the Democrats in the House, there is also the issue of Biden’s mental condition.  If he is elected and his mental condition continues to decline, there is a chance that a move to oust him by using the 25th Amendment may take place.  In that case, the choice of a vice presidential nominee at the Democratic Convention may be critical.

Normally, VP choices are made to “balance” the ticket.  Biden may want a more democratic socialist VP – preferably one that is a woman and a minority.  Senator Kamala Harris of California would be a choice that might energize women voters and Blacks, although she is from the strongly Democratic state of California.  Senator Warren of Massachusetts could also be a possibility.  Both would also help pacify the democratic socialist wing of the party too.

Both women, however, would not be the favorite VP candidate for the Democratic Party establishment, which sees both of them as far left outsiders like Sanders.  If one of them succeeds Biden as president, they will likely replace the current Democratic leadership.

A more logical choice for a VP that could take over for Biden and retain the current Democratic leadership might be a Democratic governor from a state that Biden needs to win in November.  He could take a more active role in a Biden Administration and be a good successor if the 25th Amendment is used.

What this means is that the race for the Democratic nomination is hardly over.  Does the party want someone who can win the White House in November?  Does the party want to allow more of a say for democratic socialists in the party, although it may cause the party to lose seats in the House of Representatives?  Or does the party leadership want to retain its power?

All of these are questions that must be answered by the end of the Democratic Convention in July.

 

PUBLICATIONS

U.S., Taliban Sign Peace Deal for Afghanistan

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

Feb 29, 2020

A U.S. special envoy and a senior Taliban representative signed an agreement Saturday in Doha, Qatar, that aims to be the first step to bring peace to Afghanistan and allow U.S. troops to come home. In the seven days leading up to the signing ceremony, violence by all sides in Afghanistan had dropped. While there were some attacks, the overall trajectory and levels of violence were reduced drastically. After concluding that the reduction in violence was satisfactory, President Donald Trump gave the green light for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to accept the deal, which comes more than 18 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Pompeo was present in Doha as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder and chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the agreement that resulted from more than a year of on-and-off formal talks. Among those also present were the foreign ministers of Turkey and Pakistan. This is a first step in what will be a long, drawn-out process. The Afghan people want peace, having known some form of war since 1979. 

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/defense/commentary/us-taliban-sign-peace-deal-afghanistan

 

 

Ending the War in Afghanistan vs Exiting It

By John Glaser

Cato Institute

March 2, 2020

The Trump administration has signed an interim deal with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan. The basic contours of the deal are as follows: the Taliban agree to not allow alQaeda or any other group to use Afghan territory to conduct international terrorism against the United States or its allies, and in return the United States will withdraw its military forces from the country. Within 135 days, the Trump administration will reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from approximately 13,000 today to 8,600. The remainder will be withdrawn within 14 months, contingent on the Taliban’s fulfillment of its side of the bargain, which includes a prisoner exchange, verifying that it is taking measures against foreign terrorist groups on Afghan soil, and starting intraAfghan negotiations with the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul.  The good news is that we have never been this close to ending the war. 

Read more at:

https://www.cato.org/blog/ending-war-afghanistan-vs-exiting-it

 

 

Afghanistan at Peace or Afghanistan in Pieces – Part One: The First Phase

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 3, 2020 

In fairness, Secretary Pompeo made it clear when he announced the first steps towards a peace agreement that, “the United States has secured separate commitments from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban to hold negotiations for peace.” He made no reference to a full peace plan with any major details. Currently, however, far too much of the coverage given to his announcement has focused on the conditions which allowed the start of such negotiations – as if they provided a coherent plan for the future. As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance. This previous analysis, entitled, Afghanistan: “Peace” as the Vietnamization of a U.S. Withdrawal?

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/afghanistan-peace-or-afghanistan-pieces-part-one-first-phase

 

 

The United States Needs to Declare War on Proxies

By Svante E. Cornell and Brenda Shaffer

American Foreign Policy Council

February 27, 2020 

There has been no shortage of debate about the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and its effects on U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and the broader Middle East. Not nearly enough has been said about whether it can broadly serve as a model for dealing with the problems posed by proxy forces elsewhere in the world. By killing Suleimani, the United States indicated it would no longer tolerate Iran’s use of proxies to circumvent its responsibility for killing Americans and for other acts of terrorism and mass bloodshed. Washington decided to deal with the source of the terrorism, not its emissaries. The same principle should apply to the many proxy regimes established by various states—Russia most prominently—to circumvent responsibility for illegal military occupations. Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/publications/articles/the-united-states-needs-to-declare-war-on-proxies

Week of February 28, 2020

Trump firing of Key Administration Officials – What Does it Mean?

 

Since President Trump was acquitted by the US Senate, he has been firing government officials.  These include the withdrawing of Jessie Liu’s name from a top Treasury position, firing the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, and pushing about 200 people out of the National Security Council.  And the word is that many more are expected to be push aside in the coming months.

 

In addition to pushing out anti-Trump officials, it appears that there is a pro-Trump list that has names of people loyal to Trump that will be named to fill these positions.  It is rumored that one of the people compiling these lists is Ginni Thomas, wife of conservative Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

 

There are several questions that these moves raise: are Trump’s actions legal, why is Trump doing this, and what policy implications will come out of the new order?

 

The US Constitution makes the Executive Branch of the government a singular entity.  In other words, all executive power resides in the president.  Those people under him merely act in his behalf.  So, the Secretary of State merely uses the authority of the president to carry out the foreign policy that the president wants to pursue.  If he fails to carry out that policy or refuses to carry it out, he can be summarily fired.  And, since he “serves at the pleasure of the president,” he can be relieved of his position for no reason at all.

 

This power to fire isn’t limited to Cabinet members.  It also extends to high administration officials, heads of government departments inside the executive branch like the FBI, ambassadors, and commissioned officers of the US military.

 

However,  the right of presidents to summarily fire officials has been a bone of contention in the past.  In fact, ironically the first impeachment, of President Andrew Johnson, was for firing a Cabinet official. 

 

In 1868, President Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, which caused the same type of uproar that the firing of FBI Director Comey did in 2017.  Johnson was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act, which was passed specifically to protect Stanton.  Johnson was eventually acquitted.

 

Over 50 years later, the US Supreme Court ruled (Myers v. United States) that the president has the power to remove senior people without congressional approval.  The majority opinion stated, “The Tenure of Office Act of 1867, insofar as it attempted to prevent the President from removing executive officers who had been appointed by him and with the advice and consent of the Senate was invalid.”

 

Consequently, although the Democrats are condemning Trump for his actions, he has the law, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court on his side.

 

Although Trump has the authority, what is the reason for his actions?

 

Unlike others who won the presidency, he had no cadre of political allies he could appoint to office.  Since he wasn’t a politician, he hadn’t collected a group of loyal politicians and bureaucrats that he could use to fill the administration.  Consequently, he relied on other Republicans (who were once opposed to Trump) and former Obama officials.

 

The problem was that these officials had policy goals far different than those of Trump and those who voted for him.  In many cases, they ignored his orders, leaked damaging information to the press, and worked to continue the policies of the past.  One example was National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was a Republican, but whose foreign policies were more interventionist than Trump’s.

 

The same is true of the 200 NSC officials sent back to their original departments.  In most cases, they had been brought onboard by Obama and tended to continue his policies.  The result of this action is that now NSC advice will more closely reflect Trump’s desires.

 

One of the most senior firings was Pentagon policy official John Rood who had frequently been accused of slowing down Trump policy, while implementing policy that Trump disagreed with.  Rood was also reluctant to provide the White House with a plan to withdraw troops from Syria.  In addition, he didn’t pressure South Korea or Japan to pick up more of the cost of stationing troops there – a Trump priority.  He also stonewalled the appointment of pro-Trump people and preferred to leave the positions vacant.

 

Trump also fired the entire White House Presidential Office staff, which is responsible for administration appointments.  Several members of the staff were anti-Trump and it was preventing pro-Trump appointments.

 

Now that Trump is free of the impeachment charges and is starting to look forward to a second term, he is interested in cleaning out the bureaucracy (called the Swamp by Trump and the Deep State by others).  That means discovering who has opposed his agenda and targeting them for firing.  It also means finding Republicans who approve of Trump’s policies that he can insert into the administration.

 

However, that isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Even pro-Trump officials become advocates of the departments they head and try to protect the members of their departments.

 

One example is the Department of Justice and the FBI.  Although the Inspector General and the federal courts have found major problems with the FBI’s handling of FISA warrants and have recommended major changes, Attorney General Barr has joined the DOJ and FBI in order to minimize any corrective actions.  And, although Barr’s actions have proved him to be a pro-Trump Cabinet official, he has sided with his department to protect officials and fight the publication of embarrassing documents.

 

Barr is fenced in.  If he carries out the cleanup of the DOJ and FBI that Trump desires, he will alienate his subordinates, who will work to undermine him through leaks to the press.  If he sides totally with his subordinates, he will get fired by Trump.

 

This is the problem for any Trump Administration official – past, present, and future.

 

Interestingly, civil liberty advocates in both parties warn that allowing agencies to set policy and ignore the president is dangerous.  Many say the intelligence community and FBI have too much power and little accountability under anti-terrorism laws.  As it stands now, the only way to stop them is to allow the president (of either party) to fire them.

 

Given the growing distrust of the intelligence community and the FBI by voters, their only recourse is to vote for a president that promises to reform these agencies. 

 

Looking Towards the Future

 

The question now is, what will the firing of some administration officials and hiring of pro-Trump officials mean?

 

As we just mentioned, it is traditionally easy for an official to become an advocate of department policy, even though he was appointed by the president to change that policy.  That means that any attempt by Trump to change the status quo policy inside the federal bureaucracy will be difficult.  It will require officials who are committed to Trump’s policy and who aren’t afraid to upset their department and even risk damaging leaks to the media.

 

Then there is the question of how the vacancies in the government and the appointment of pro-Trump officials will change US policy.

 

Except for the wholesale removal of about 200 people in the National Security Council, the vacancies created so far are few.  Other officials will be able to fill in and slowly, the policies of Trump might prevail.

 

One change will be in foreign policy and national security policy.  Obama had dramatically increased the NSC, since he didn’t need Senate approval to bring them onboard.  The move to reduce the size of the NSC means that the NSC will act more like it did during the George W Bush presidency. 

 

With the reassignment of this block of NSC employees, much of the policy will go back to other departments like State, Defense, and Homeland Security.

 

However, the major change in policy will not come until after the November presidential elections.  If Trump is reelected, as some analysts expect, we can expect to see a major reshuffling of the Administration.  Officials who have stayed in but haven’t been aggressive in pursuing Trump’s policies may be removed in favor of someone more willing to carry out the President’s policies.  That could mean a more aggressive immigration policy and a serious attempt to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.  It also means a reduction in federal government regulations.

 

Given the controversial actions by the FBI and intelligence community during the 2016 campaign that perceived to be against Trump, it’s very likely that Trump may move against them and appoint officials who will “clean house” and institute major reforms if he wins reelection.

 

There are two scenarios that could stop this – a Democratic Senate or House.  If the Democrats retain the House in November, they could always reintroduce articles of impeachment.  And, if the Senate becomes Democratic, it will allow the Democrats to block the appointment of pro-Trump officials, even though there is very little possibility that the Democrats would gain enough seats to convict Trump of impeachable actions.  However, a Democratic majority in the Senate would allow for a full impeachment trial, unlike the short trail held a few weeks ago.

 

Both the threat of impeachment and the inability to place his preferred officials into his administration would tend to curtail Trump’s actions.  However, since NSC appointments aren’t sent to the Senate for confirmation, Trump may be forced to rely on his NSC for foreign policy actions.

 

Although many are criticizing Trump for firing some members of his administration, the fact is that what we are seeing is only a sample of what we could see if Trump is reelected.

Week of February 21, 2020

NATO “Defender 20” Exercise
Demonstrates Trump’s Policy Change

Since before Trump was even elected, experts have openly worried that his skepticism of NATO could lead to its dissolution. Russia would take advantage of that weakness, and the security guarantees America has given its European allies for decades would fade away.

But Trump in recent days has seemingly become a NATO fan.

Despite President Trump’s threats in the past not to defend NATO countries that don’t “pay their fair share,” the US is spending more on NATO readiness and has more forces in Europe than three years ago.

Another sign of the American commitment to NATO is the current NATO exercise “Defender 20,” the largest NATO exercise, in terms of American manpower, since the Cold War.  It will deploy 20,000 American soldiers to Europe from bases in the US and test America’s ability to move from the US to the European mainland, move across Europe on highways, bridges, and railroads, and carry out military maneuvers close to the Russian border.

When these American based forces are combined with US troops already stationed in Europe and other NATO countries, the total number of forces that will be involved in the exercise will be 37,000.

Britain is the largest non-American force to take part.  Their Royal Engineers are expected to participate in the bridging operation in Poland as well as their Army Air Corps helicopters.

Unlike previous exercises in recent years that were held at brigade level, this one will deploy division level forces, including the American 82nd Airborne, the 1st Armored, 1st Infantry, 3rd Infantry, and the 1st Cavalry divisions.  It will include 15 NATO nations and two non-NATO nations (Finland and Georgia).  20,000 pieces of equipment will be shipped from the US and 13,000 pieces of pre-positioned NATO equipment will be broken out of storage in Europe.

The goal is for an American based armored unit to land in Europe on military aircraft, draw pre-positioned stocks and become an armored brigade combat team in 96 hours.

Ironically, after years of saying the Abrams M-1 Tank was no longer needed, it will be used in the exercise.  These will include the new Abrams active protection system.

The exercise is clearly targeting a potential Russian threat.  One of the exercises taking place under Defender 20 is Allied Spirit.  It will entail a bridging exercise across a major river in Poland.  It will include the US 1st Cavalry Division, Czech forces, British forces, and the Polish 12th and 9th Mechanized.  The goal is to see if an international force can carry out the complex goal of building bridges and moving divisional sized units across it while under fire.

US Ambassador to Poland emphasized Poland’s place in NATO by noting, “In a crisis, NATO must be able to respond as quickly as possible.  Defender Europe 20 simply could not happen without Poland.”

Another aspect that makes it clear that this is an exercise against potential Russian threats is the “Forcible Entry” of Immediate Response Forces into Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.  This will include elements of America’s 82nd Airborne Division, which is part of America’s fast reaction force.  It was this unit that quickly deployed to the Middle East, when the US Embassy in Baghdad was attacked.

The 6th Polish Airborne Brigade, American 173 Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and Spanish and Italian paratroopers will also be part of the paratrooper drops in Latvia, and Lithuania.

Another “Forcible Entry” of NATO airborne forces will also take place in the nation of Georgia.

While NATO appears to be operating seamlessly at the military level, there remains dissention at the political level.  Turkey will not be participating, even though one of the exercises is taking place in neighboring Georgia.

There is also the ongoing question of a European Union military force that would take the place of NATO, although an EU without Great Britain makes this force considerably less of a threat.

French President Macron, a major fan of the EU, has been especially critical of NATO.  In December, Macron said that NATO was experiencing “Brain Death.” –  a comment that met with puzzlement and distrust from many NATO nations, including Germany.  While Macron has attacked NATO publicly, France works well with the US military and carried out military strikes in Syria.  Macron has also called for enlarging NATO to include specifically Albania and North Macedonia.  They also rotate troops in the Baltic nations as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.

France will be sending troops to Defender 20 too.

One NATO nation not participating is Turkey.  However, Turkish President Erdogan will be very aware that NATO will be carrying out an airborne operation in Georgia – a Turkish neighbor.  The message will be clear – that NATO can carry out operations in the region without Turkish help.

Germany will be participating in the NATO exercise.  Although much of the equipment will be arriving in Belgium ports, many soldiers will be landing via military transport aircraft in Germany.  In fact, one critical part of the exercise is to make sure that US and British forces moving forward to the front can transverse German roads, bridges, and rail lines.  German rail is also investing more on heavy rail cars that can handle the heavy armored equipment of the US Army.

There will also be a focus on Eastern European nations and their transportation infrastructure.  These nations, who joined NATO after the Cold War, don’t have the extensive infrastructure of Western European nations.  As a result, Lithuania is improving its rail system to better handle the movement of NATO troops in an emergency.

For Western European nations, attention will be paid to the growing Chinese control of some major European ports that will pose a potential threat in a wartime situation.

One difference between the Defender 20 exercise and the annual Reforger NATO exercises of the Cold War era is that they will not focus on Germany, which was the expected route of invasion at that time.  Instead, they will focus on “front line” nations like Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia.

This has engendered some criticism of Poland’s importance by German military leaders.  German General Hartmut Renk criticized Polish forces and their readiness.  He noted that the Polish forces had problems in previous exercises and said, “Lack of professionalism and complete irresponsibility which the command of the Polish Army keeps demonstrating from year to year, may be a reason to cancel the planned actions during the exercise Defender 20.”

Despite this criticism, Poland is one of the NATO countries that is meeting its defense spending goal set by NATO.  It also has one of the largest tank forces of NATO.  It has also made it clear that they are willing to pay for American forces stationed in Poland.

Although much has been made of President Trump’s criticism of NATO and its funding, the US has clearly decided to spend the money for this exercise.  Moving 20,000 soldiers and their tanks and armored equipment will cost the US about $340 million.

The number of troops and units involved demonstrates that America’s and Trump’s commitment to NATO isn’t just lip service.

The Defender 20 exercise demonstrates that what European NATO leaders say at meetings is just rhetoric.  Despite their criticisms of NATO, France and Germany still participate in NATO exercises in a major way.  While an EU military may be the wish of some European leaders like Macron, it isn’t practical.  An EU military without Great Britain becomes a continental military with little ability to project military power.  Meanwhile, NATO is a reality, despite its shortfalls.

NATO has shown its ability to respond to situations around the world.  And, although European leaders may criticize the US, it is America’s ability to move NATO forces with its massive Air Force transport aircraft fleet that allow European nations to deploy its forces.  And, an EU military force couldn’t achieve such capability for over a decade and would require a major expenditure.

Then, there is American airpower that can support other nation’s militaries anywhere in the world.

Like it or not, the EU nations are stuck with NATO.

It is expected that Defender like the Cold War maneuvers called Reforger will become an annual event.  But the focus will not always be on Russia.

Plans are for two Defender exercises every year – one in Europe and one in the Pacific.  Later this year there will be the Pacific Defender exercise – although much smaller than the one in Europe this year.  The two exercises will alternate between being a major or minor exercise.  The Pacific exercise will be lighter in 2020 but will be the major exercise in 2021.  The exercise will alternate with every other year being the “major” exercise.

“Defender 20” will continue until the spring.

Week of February 14, 2020

The Democratic Presidential Race After Iowa and New Hampshire

After the disaster of Iowa, where the results were late and confusing regarding who was the winner, the New Hampshire primary provided some clarity.

As in the past, the New Hampshire “First in the Nation” presidential primary eliminated several “also rans.”  Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, and Deval Patrick pulled out of the race.

The election also sorely weakened some once formidable candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Biden’s results were so bad that he left New Hampshire even before the voting ended.  Warren, who comes from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, finished in fourth place and below the 15% necessary to garner delegates.

In terms of exceeding expectations, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota came in a surprising third place, some attributed that to a good showing in the latest debate.

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg came in a very close second place and may end up gaining more delegates than Sanders, who came in first.

However, before anyone claims that these two states have decided the winner of the Democratic nomination, it’s important to remember that the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination needs 1,991 delegates in order to win on the first round.  Currently Buttigieg has 23, Sanders has 21, Warren 8, Klobuchar has 7 and Biden has 6.  Interestingly, Buttigieg has more delegates, but Sanders has won more votes.

Obviously, there is a long way to go and some of the leaders in the delegate count may have problems in some of the upcoming primaries due to the differing demographics.

Sanders may have the slightest bit of momentum over his opponents, although the results don’t seem to show it.

Senator Klobuchar has gained some momentum, but her third place showing in New Hampshire has usually gone to candidates who pull out of the race.  For instance, in the 2012 race, Jon Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire and ended up pulling out of the race a few days later.

The Klobuchar campaign may eventually help Sanders defeat Buttigieg.  Klobuchar targeted Buttigieg in the last debate and she did very well.  Her New Hampshire showing may keep some Democrats from backing Buttigieg now in order to stop Sanders.

Although Buttigieg has attracted some attention as the “anybody but Sanders” candidate, he has some weaknesses going into the rest of the primaries.  He is openly gay and has a male partner – something that will turn off many Democratic voters in the South and Midwest.  He also appeals to white voters who have degrees – a demographic found on the coasts, but not in heartland America.

This is where the next two upcoming presidential nomination contests will hurt Buttigieg – South Carolina and Nevada.  Neither state has a preponderance of educated whites and the Hispanics of Nevada aren’t likely to favor a gay candidate.  Nevada, which holds its caucus on February 22, is also a strong union state thanks to the SEIU union that represents much of the casino industry.  They are more progressive and likely to side with Sanders or Warren.

Nevada is a caucus state, which means organization is important.  And, it has been over a month since a poll was taken.  In those polls, Biden was ahead, with Sanders in a close second place Warren was in third place.  Depending on Biden and Warren voters, this seems to give Sanders an edge, however slight.

South Carolina’s primary is on February 25th.  This is Biden’s last hope for a clear road to the nomination.  The hope is that more conservative Democrats will prefer the former Vice President to the more progressive candidates.  The last poll was taken two weeks ago, and it shows Biden leads Sanders with a comfortable 18 point lead.  However, much of Biden’s loss in support came after this poll was taken.

However, remember that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are a small percentage of the votes needed for the nomination.  It will be “Super Tuesday” on March 3rd that will have a major impact on the Democratic nomination, especially since two major states, California and Texas, hold their primary elections that day.  On that day, 1,344 delegates, about one third of the delegate total. will be awarded.  If one candidate wins an overwhelming number of the states that day, the presidential nomination race may be over.

That will be difficult to do, however.

Super Tuesday was originally a primary day for southern states in order to have a bigger say in the nomination of the Democratic candidate.  That has changed as states outside of the Old South have moved their elections to that day too.

The varying demographics of the Super Tuesday states make it harder to sweep.  Three states, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have their native presidential candidates, Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar, who have the edge in winning those states.  And, while Sanders is doing well in liberal California with 29%, his chances of winning conservative states like Alabama and Texas are nearly impossible.

However, California has 416 delegates, which is over one fifth of the number needed to win the nomination.

Assuming no Democratic candidate gains the momentum necessary to sweep Super Tuesday in the next two and a half weeks; the situation may be very complicated and may lead to a brokered convention in July.

While Sanders can be expected to do well in California, Colorado, Vermont, and Maine, Biden (if he survives) can take states like Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Buttigieg may have few outright wins but can be expected to pick up delegates in California, Virginia, Maine, and Colorado.  If the Klobuchar surge continues, she may do well in the southern states, where Sanders and Buttigieg are weak.

The candidate who comes out of Super Tuesday with the most delegates should have the momentum for the rest of the month of March.  And, by the end of March, over 50% of the Democratic delegates will have been picked.

However, the March primary states have different demographics.  Rust Belt Ohio and Sunshine state Florida have different demographics, but both have their primaries on March 17th.  These states are both swing states in the general election in November and how they vote may indicate who has the best chance of taking these states (who both voted for Trump in 2016) from Trump.  If Klobuchar survives, several Midwest states like Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota, and Michigan may give her several delegates.

If there is no clear winner by the end of March, the chance of a brokered convention is much greater.  However, there is another factor to consider – the late entry of billionaire Michael Bloomberg. He is self-funding his campaign and has reportedly spent $100 million to$ 200 million in advertising.  Polls show him in third place in national polls, behind Sanders (1st place) and the rapidly plummeting Biden (2nd place).

Depending on the poll, either Buttigieg or Warren is in 4th place.

Given the number of candidates still in the race and the very good chance that they will split the delegates still to be awarded, there is a chance that the candidates will go into the Democratic National convention without a clear winner – what is called a “brokered convention.”  The last brokered convention was in 1952.

If the Democratic convention is brokered, the two most important factors will be the super delegates, who are uncommitted by the primary and the candidates, who don’t have any chance of winning the nomination, but have a significant number of votes.

The super delegates are usually politicians who are considered Democratic Party leaders and elected Democrats.  Unless there is a clear majority for a candidate, they can’t vote until the second ballot.

Most of the super delegates oppose Sanders, so unless Sanders comes into the convention with most delegates, he will have a hard time winning the nomination.  If Biden has survived the primary season and has enough delegates, the super delegates are likely to vote for him in the second ballot to give him the nomination.

If Sanders has the plurality of the delegates from the primaries, he may work a deal with some of the other candidates like naming one of them as vice presidential nominee in return for their delegates.

If no one has enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot and Biden has faded as a potential candidate, the super delegates may decide to pick someone who has a better chance to beat Trump in November and even from outside the names of the candidates.

Here is where Bloomberg comes in.  Although he is missing from many primary ballots, which means he has less chance of acquiring delegates, he is hoping for a brokered convention.  As someone more mainstream than Sanders, can put a lot of money into his presidential campaign, and who can donate lots of money to other Democrats, he is an attractive second ballot choice for establishment Democrats.  In fact, there are news reports that Bloomberg is preparing for a brokered convention by meeting regularly with Democratic congressmen, who are usually super delegates.

Of course, if Bloomberg takes the nomination from Sanders after Sanders has campaigned nationally, he will face considerable backlash.  Undoubtedly, there will be accusations that Bloomberg “bought” the nomination and some Democratic voters will sit out the election.

However, it’s important to remember that while the super delegates can vote in the second ballot, the regular delegates are also released from supporting the candidate who won their vote in the primaries.  In fact, some delegates may be committed to voting for one candidate on the first ballot but may really favor one of the other candidates.

As exciting as a brokered convention is, the leaders of the Democratic Party don’t want one.  Conventions are geared to be a week-long advertisement of the presidential nominee.  Speakers and votes are scheduled for prime time, so they get the largest number of TV viewers.  Controversy is the last thing they want because too many remember the 1968 Democratic Convention that spiraled out of control and let Republican nominee Richard Nixon win the election.

Consequently, if it looks like a brokered convention, expect the Democratic leadership to meet ahead of the convention and try to negotiate a solution.  However, will the candidates be willing to negotiate?

Although he did well in the primaries in 2016, Sanders lost the nomination to Clinton.  Consequently, he is unlikely to negotiate his delegates away if he has the plurality of the delegates.  But, if the party takes the nomination away from him again, his supporters may sit out the election, which will guarantee a Trump win.

The next 20 days will be critical for the Democratic Party.  They want a candidate that will unify the party and win the White House in November.  Whether they get that will be seen by midnight on Super Tuesday.

However, remember that old political adage – two weeks is an eternity in politics.  And, there are a lot of eternities between now and the general election in November.

Week of February 7, 2020

Introduction

The focus this week in Washington was the conclusion of the Trump impeachment trial and acquittal of the president.  This was capped off by the president’s State of the Union Speech made on Tuesday.

This week saw reports that the US Navy was fielding a new, low yield nuclear weapon on its ballistic missile submarines.  The Monitor analysis looks at the new nuclear weapon and the strategy behind it.

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

The Heritage Foundation looks at Trump’s State of the Union Speech and his defense and foreign policy comments.  The Middle East was prominently featured in Trump’s State of the Union speech. The president noted that his administration had made a priority of “combating radical Islamic terrorism” and briefly described his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, which calls for the disarming of Hamas and other Islamic terrorists, as part of that effort. He spent much more time in recounting the progress his administration has made in defeating ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria. He noted the death of ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi in a U.S. military operation last year and received one of the longest standing ovations of the night.  Trump ended the Middle East portion of his speech by drawing a distinction between Iran’s long-suffering people and Iran’s oppressive regime. He called on Tehran to end its nuclear weapon ambitions and support for terrorism, while stressing that he remains open to a diplomatic resolution of these issues

The CSIS looks at America’s failure to plan Navy force levels.  They conclude, “Because of the reduced budget, it cannot do what it had done for the last several years of budget growth: expand the fleet while still investing in new technologies. Because of the 355-ship force goal, it cannot cut the size of the fleet to fund new initiatives. Because of the fixed counting methodology, it cannot claim to meet the 355-ship goal by including ships that were previously uncounted. It may be that some combination of delay in meeting the 355-ship goal, small changes to the counting methodology, smaller and more affordable ships, and a bit more shipbuilding money will provide a solution, but getting all parties to agree will be hard.”

The American Foreign Policy Council says Washington needs to anticipate Iran’s next move.  They conclude, “Looking ahead, the question is whether the regime, facing rising domestic discontent and surely worried about its grip on power, will seek to rally public support by again targeting U.S. interests — especially in the aftermath of elections that will likely usher in a more conservative body. We shouldn’t be surprised to see Tehran flex its muscles by increasing its support for terrorist and militia groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and — in light of President Trump’s efforts to craft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement — in the Gaza Strip as well. Nor should we be surprised to see more direct Iranian regional action of the kind that we’ve witnessed in recent months, such as another attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman or another strike at Saudi oil facilities…Presuming that Washington will continue to tighten the screws on Iran economically, the coming months could prove more dangerous, not less. One hopes that Washington is preparing for all the possibilities.”

The Washington Institute looks at the Trump peace plan and the issues of Jerusalem and borders.  They conclude, “The Trump plan’s parameters on borders and Jerusalem suggest that the administration has moved the U.S. position sharply in the direction of Israel’s current government. In the most hopeful scenario, the combination of a tough new U.S. approach and the initial openness of Arab states to consider the plan as a point of departure could jolt the Palestinians to decide that time is not on their side, perhaps leading the parties to resume talks and find suitable compromises. In a less hopeful scenario, Palestinian anger toward the plan proves too strong to dispel, and unilateral Israeli annexations in the West Bank produce broad international opposition to the plan, essentially ending any near-term prospects of negotiations or a two-state solution. Abbas seemed isolated in the region prior to the plan’s release, but the February 1 Arab League meeting in Cairo and the February 3 Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Jeddah may have changed that somewhat. Going forward, he may be able to paint the administration’s shift on core issues as American overreach, and silence Arab critics who are fatigued by the longstanding paralysis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the Trump Peace Plan.  They conclude, “Getting the buy-in of these key Arab states is important for the Trump administration’s “outside-in” strategy, which seeks to enlist support from Arab states that already have made peace with Israel (Egypt and Jordan) as well as Arab Gulf oil states that fear Iran more than Israel (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait).  It is not clear how hard Arab leaders will pressure Palestinian leaders to accept the plan. Realistically, the plan is unlikely to advance peace talks unless the Palestinians engage on it, and that is not likely. It takes two to tango, but Palestinian leaders have refused multiple American invitations to attend the dance. The Trump peace plan is therefore unlikely to jumpstart the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.  But even if it produces no immediate results, Trump’s initiative will serve as a marker that could encourage Palestinian leaders to take a more realistic approach to negotiations in the future and improve the long-term prospects for peace.”

The CSIS looks at Erdogan’s policy in Libya.  They note, “The international situation Erdogan finds himself in is different to that which prevailed at the time of his third military intervention in northern Syria in October. He was then able to obtain not only the implicit assent of both the United States and Russia prior to the operation but also their subsequent diplomatic acceptance through separate ceasefire agreements. This time Erdogan has not been able to get the understanding he may have expected from either Putin, with whom he discussed the Libyan situation in bilateral meetings in Istanbul, Moscow, and Berlin, or President Donald Trump.”

 

ANALYSIS

America Fields New
Low-Yield Nuclear Weapon

It was announced this week that the US has fielded a new nuclear weapon on its ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBM).  The warhead, model W76-2, is a low yield weapon that has been wedded to the Trident missile and according to reports is currently on the USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), which is on patrol in the Atlantic.

According to the Federation of Atomic Scientists, only one or two of the 20 missiles on the submarine are tipped with the new weapon.  They reportedly have a yield of about five kilotons – about one third of the yield of the Hiroshima bomb.  The other missiles onboard either have the 90 kiloton W76-1 or 455 kiloton W88.  Each missile can carry up to 8 warheads.

The more powerful W88 is designed to target hardened underground command facilities, while the W76-1 is the nuclear weapon for other targets.

Despite the controversy of building the new warhead, the Rational presented by proponents is that America’s nuclear arsenal was due for a modernization.  Nuclear weapons contain radioactive elements, and these degrade over the years – especially the tritium, which has a half-life of about 11 years.  That meant the nuclear weapons were aging and had to be modernized if they were expected to be reliable.

This was what happened with the W76 class of warheads, which received congressional approval for modernization late in the Clinton Administration.  The production of the W76-1 started in 2008 and extended the life of the warheads by 20 years.

The W76-2 warhead design was added to the W76-1 production, since the design was similar.  Some speculate that the only major difference is that the new design doesn’t have the secondary fusion package that provides much of the yield.

Many critics claim the new low yield weapon increases the chances of a nuclear exchange.  They also claim that there is already an assortment of low yield nuclear weapons that are already fielded on cruise missiles, air launched missiles and gravity bombs.

Critics also note that the Russian detection of a submarine launched ballistic missile could cause a catastrophic misunderstanding.  The Russian high command wouldn’t know if the missile contained a low yield warhead, or one of the larger, more destructive warheads.  As a result, Russia might very well launch a major counterattack.

Despite the criticism of the low yield weapon, the history of nuclear weapon development over the past 60 years is the development of smaller, more accurate weapons.  Since the 1950s, the nuclear powers have gone from the development of 100 megaton bombs to neutron bombs that have the explosive yield of as little as one kiloton.

As missiles became more accurate, it made sense to develop smaller, lighter warheads that destroyed the target, without damaging and contaminating the surrounding area.  Arguably, it made the idea of a nuclear exchange more likely because the potential damage was less.

On the other hand, a nuclear exchange that caused less damage to civilian areas is not a bad idea.

What worried American strategists was that the physics of small yield nuclear weapons was known to the Russians and Chinese and it was quite likely that they had already fielded them.  This left the US in a quandary.  If Russia used a low yield nuclear weapon in a conflict, what would be the US response if they didn’t have a low yield option?  Either the US escalated the war by using its more powerful ballistic missiles, tried to penetrate Russian airspace with the more vulnerable nuclear tipped cruise missiles or air launched missile, or responded with less powerful conventional weapons.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review saw a need for a capability to “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable gap in US regional deterrence capabilities.”

Nuclear strategists argued that Russia had developed a “escalate to deescalate” or “escalate to win” strategy, where they could use tactical nuclear weapons if a conventional attack stalled.  The thinking was that the US wouldn’t respond to a tactical nuclear attack with the more devastating strategic nuclear weapons.

In fact, this was a strategy that had been “war gamed” by the Russians when looking at conflict scenarios in Europe.

What was needed was a “prompt” and usable nuclear capability that could counter and deter Russian use of tactical nuclear capabilities.

Unlike gravity bombs, air launched missiles or cruise missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles were harder to intercept and could be launched at Russian targets in minutes, which was a faster response than what it would take for cruise missiles, air launched missiles, or gravity bombs to hit their target.  Ballistic missiles would also be more likely to penetrate Russia’s new air defense systems.

Although much of the strategy rests on retaliating against Russia, these weapons also have a use against other nuclear powers like China, North Korea, and potentially nuclear Iran.

It is perceived that American war planners have explored options against Iranian and North Korean missile sites, these are known to the US and they aren’t as “hardened” against attack as Russian missiles are.   Advocates of these weapons asserts that it could be used without the collateral damage that larger nuclear weapons would cause.  And, since they have a lower yield, they are more likely to be used and sometimes as a preemptive strike.

Another concern is the Israeli nuclear strategy.  Since the science of low yield nuclear weapons is well known, it is very likely that Israel has developed them too.  And, since the Middle East is a relatively smaller theater of war than Europe, the idea of low yield nuclear weapons is much more attractive.

What’s important to remember is that the evolution of smaller yield nuclear weapons has been going on for over 60 years.  And, there is little likelihood that it will stop soon.  The nuclear powers are already working on 4th generation nuclear weapons that are smaller, lighter, and less powerful than anything that has been fielded yet.  Scientists are already designing thermonuclear devices the size of an egg, with the explosive yield of a few tons of high explosives.

Given these advances, one must assume that there will come a time when nuclear explosives become a likely choice for war.

 

 

PUBLICATIONS

What you need to know about Trump’s policy proposals

Heritage Foundation

February 5, 2020

The president declared that “our military is completely rebuilt.”  The last three years have indeed been good for the U.S. military, and much of the lost readiness that had dwindled over the years has been restored. Army readiness, for example, is up 55%.  But despite favorable budgets, the military is not yet fully rebuilt. Years of budget cuts and years of over-use have strained the military, postponed necessary equipment refresh, and caused the military to shrink in size. While there are unmistakable signs of progress, there is still work to be done to fully restore the military. Additional investment and attention will still be needed. As noted by the president, the creation of the Space Force is a true step forward for the United States. It will allow our country to better focus its efforts in this critical domain.

Read more at:

https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/02/04/live-reaction-to-trumps-state-of-the-union-address/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=live-reaction-to-trumps-state-of-the-union-address#headline2

 

Palestinians Miss Opportunity by Rejecting Trump Peace

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

Jan 31, 2020

 

President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday at a White House ceremony attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump declared that the plan “presents a ‘win-win’ opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security.” Netanyahu enthusiastically embraced Trump’s vision, proclaiming, “It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace.” He then lauded Trump as “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”  Indeed, Trump’s vision for peace is the most pro-Israeli peace initiative ever promoted by the United States. It accords a high priority to Israeli security needs, recognizes Israel’s vital interest in retaining control of the border with Jordan, and clears the way for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over many settlements and Jewish holy sites in the disputed territory of the West Bank. Trump’s vision also includes important benefits for Palestinians, who were offered the opportunity to build a state of their own, supported by a $50 billion regional development plan for the Palestinian territories and nearby Arab states.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/palestinians-miss-opportunity-rejecting-trump-peace-plan

 

The Spectacular & Public Collapse of Navy Force Planning

By Mark F. Cancian and Adam Saxton

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 30, 2020

 

Planning for a 21st century Navy of unmanned vessels, distributed operations, and great power competition has collapsed. Trapped by a 355-ship force goal, a reduced budget, and a fixed counting methodology, the Navy can’t find a feasible solution to the difficult question of how its forces should be structured. As a result, the Navy postponed announcement of its new force structure assessment (FSA) from January to “the spring.” That means the navy will not be able to influence the 2021 budget year much, forfeiting a major opportunity to reshape the fleet and bring it in line with the national defense strategy.

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/spectacular-public-collapse-navy-force-planning

 

Erdogan’s Libyan Gambit

By Bulent Aliriza

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 24, 2020

 

After having focused for most of the last quarter of 2019 on northeastern Syria and his declared security imperative of pushing the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from the Turkish border, a goal he partially achieved through a military operation launched on October 9, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned his attention to Libya. Accordingly, parallel to the worsening of the long-running Libyan civil war, Erdogan has raised the level of Turkish diplomatic and military involvement on the side of the embattled Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli headed by Fayez Sarraj against the growing challenge of the Libyan National Army (LNA) under Khalifa Haftar. Erdogan’s decision to insert Turkey more forcefully into the complex Libyan crisis is the product of a number of factors, each of them important from his perspective. To begin with, it fits into Erdogan’s proactive foreign policy, which seeks to establish and expand Turkey’s role in its region, especially in countries with which Turkey enjoys historical, cultural, or religious links, while raising Turkey’s overall international profile.

Read more at: https://www.csis.org/analysis/erdogans-libyan-gambit

 

Washington needs to anticipate Iran’s next provocation

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council

January 30, 2020

 

Signs are mounting that in Tehran, which faces rising pressures at home and abroad, the country’s powerful hardline conservatives are circling the wagons, raising the odds of still more Iranian global provocations. The question is whether Washington — which continues to tighten the economic screws on Tehran — is ready for what might come next. In the latest conservative effort to solidify power, the country’s Guardian Council recently barred 9,500 prospective candidates (almost two-thirds of the 14,500 prospective candidates) in next month’s parliamentary elections, from running. The 12-member Guardian Council — an unelected body that includes six designees of the nation’s ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — routinely bars hundreds if not thousands of would-be candidates from elections because they’re not conservative enough or committed enough to the regime’s revolutionary goals. This time, however, the barred candidates include nearly a third of the current parliament. The signal was clear. The Council not only wants to prevent new reformist candidates from winning office; it also wants to purge the parliament of members it considers too moderate.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/publications/articles/washington-needs-to-anticipate-irans-next-provocation

 

Continuity vs. Overreach in the Trump Peace Plan (Part 1): Borders and Jerusalem

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

February 4, 2020

POLICYWATCH 3255

 

The newly released U.S. peace plan marks a very significant shift in favor of the current Israeli government’s view, especially when compared to three past U.S. initiatives: (1) the Clinton Parameters of December 2000, (2) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “Annapolis Process” of 2007-2008, and (3) Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2013-2014 initiative. The message is clear: the Trump administration will no longer keep sweetening the deal with every Palestinian refusal, a criticism some have aimed at previous U.S. efforts. Yet the new plan raises worrisome questions of its own. Will its provisions prove so disadvantageous to the proposed Palestinian state that they cannot serve as the basis for further negotiations? And would such overreach enable Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to sway Arab states who have signaled that they want to give the proposal a chance, convincing them to oppose it instead? If so, the plan may wind up perpetuating the current diplomatic impasse and setting the stage for a one-state reality that runs counter to Israel’s identity as a Jewish, democratic state. This two-part PolicyWatch will address these questions by examining how the Trump plan compares to past U.S. initiatives when it comes to the conflict’s five core final-status issues. Part 1 focuses on two of these issues: borders and Jerusalem.

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/continuity-vs.-overreach-in-the-trump-peace-plan-part-1-borders-and-jerusal