Private Report May 21th, 2014

Israel Spying on America always……


There’s an old American saying that goes, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”  That can be applied to Israel, who is frequently called America’s closest ally, but who carries out aggressive espionage operations against the American government and many American companies – especially those with valuable technology.


Israel has been trying to steal secrets from the US ever since its inception in 1948, and even before.  On October 29, 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall telegrammed Washington from a United Nations meeting in Paris to complain that the Israelis knew what President Truman’s instructions had been on a key vote “almost as soon as [the Americans] had received the relevant telegram.” Israeli delegate Abba Eban attributed his delegation’s information to an “unimpeachable source.”


The spying was for more than political information.  According to Samuel Cohen, the father of the neutron bomb, American nuclear scientists regularly gave nuclear weapons secrets to the Israelis.  According to Seymour Hersh, author of the Samson Option, “the CIA helped the Israelis obtain technical nuclear information in the late 1950s.”


In May 1985, Richard Kelly Smyth, a NATO consultant with a high-level security clearance, was indicted for illegally shipping krytrons to Israel — devices which can, among other uses, trigger nuclear weapons. Smyth’s company, Milco Incorporated of Huntington Beach, California, acted as the American agent for the deal on behalf of Israel’s Heli Corporation.


US officials went out of their way to take the focus off Israel. They emphasized that the indictment against Smyth resulted from a Customs Service investigation designed to block the illegal flow of military and high-tech goods out of the US. The State Department stressed that the charges did not implicate any Israelis and the Israelis denied any intention to use the krytrons to trigger nuclear weapons. – _19_#_19_

But the Israeli spying has not stopped even though they have a decided military superiority over their neighbors in the Middle East.  In fact, according to the latest issue of Newsweek, their behavior is worse and crossing “red lines” that were never crossed before.


In the words of one Congressional aide, with access to classified briefings on Israeli spying in January, Israel’s behavior was “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.”  Israel is after everything it can lay its hands on: not just diplomatic and policy documents, but industrial and military technology. The means include Israeli trade missions to the US, joint ventures between Israeli and American companies and, presumably, spying by Israeli intelligence agencies.


Of course, Israel denied the charges.   Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister called it, “A malicious fabrication aimed at harming relations…we do not engage in espionage in the US, neither directly nor indirectly.”  Other Israeli officials charged it was anti-Semitism.


A Long History of Israeli Espionage


The history of Israeli spying against the US is long and well documented.  US counter intelligence agencies were uncovering cases of Israeli espionage even before the establishment of colonial Israel. Zionist agents worked in America in the 1940s in order to acquire money and weapons for Jewish paramilitary groups.  John Davitt, who worked for the Department of Justice from 1950 to 1980 and became the head of the department’s internal security, declared that throughout his tenure the Israeli intelligence service was the second most active in the US after the Soviet Union’s.


Most Americans were unaware of the level of Israeli spying until Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American naval intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing US secrets to Israel.  These secrets, which detailed the degree to which the US had targeted Soviet military targets, were later passed by Israel on to the Soviet Union.  After the embarrassment of the Pollard incident, Israel promised to stop its spying on the US.  Unfortunately, most Americans saw the Pollard affair as an aberration in US/Israeli relations, not the normal state of affairs that it is.


Despite the promises, the spying continued.  In 1997, the US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, “complained privately to the Israeli government about heavy-handed surveillance by Israeli intelligence agents, who had been following American-embassy employees in Tel Aviv and searching the hotel rooms of visiting US officials.”  In fact, the US Secret Service even caught an Israeli spy trying to bug Vice President Gore’s hotel room.


In 1996, a General Accounting Office report “Defense Industrial Security: Weaknesses in US Security Arrangements With Foreign-Owned Defense Contractors” found that according to intelligence sources “Country A” (identified by intelligence sources as Israel) “conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally.” The Jerusalem Post quoted the report, “Classified military information and sensitive military technologies are high-priority targets for the intelligence agencies of this country.”


The GAO report also noted that “Several citizens of [Israel] were caught in the United States stealing sensitive technology used in manufacturing artillery gun tubes.”


In 2001 dozens of Israelis were arrested or held on suspicion of being part of a giant spy ring, and a US government report after 9/11 concluded that Israel ran the most aggressive espionage operation against the US of any ally. Three years later, two officials of AIPAC – America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby group – were charged with spying.   According to US intelligence, they passed official documents on US policy towards Iran to Israel. The case was quietly dropped in 2009.


The problem isn’t just limited to Israel acquiring information for its own purposes.  Frequently, Israel passes the information on to enemies of the US in return for some consideration.  An Office of Naval Intelligence document, “Worldwide Challenges to Naval Strike Warfare” reported that “US technology has been acquired [by China] through Israel in the form of the Lavi fighter and possibly SAM [surface-to-air] missile technology.” Jane’s Defense Weekly noted that “until now, the intelligence community has not openly confirmed the transfer of US technology [via Israel] to China.” The report noted that this “represents a dramatic step forward for Chinese military aviation.”


In 2000, the Israeli government attempted to sell China the sophisticated Phalcon early warning aircraft, which was based on U.S.-licensed technology. A 2005 FBI report noted that the thefts eroded U.S. military advantage, enabling foreign powers to obtain hugely expensive technologies that had taken years to develop.


One reason for the refusal of the US to release Pollard was that the information he gave Israel was leaked to the USSR.  According to the Samson Option, relaying of the Pollard information to the Soviets was their way of demonstrating that Israel could be a much more dependable and important collaborator in the Middle East than the Arabs.


However, the damage to US intelligence gathering was much worse than the mere transmission of information.  According to the Samson Option, “One senior American intelligence official confirmed that there have been distinct losses of human and technical intelligence collection ability inside the Soviet Union that have been attributed to Pollard. “The Israeli objective [in the handling of Pollard] was to gather what they could and let the Soviets know that they have a strategic capability–for their survival [the threat of a nuclear strike against the Soviets] and to get their people out [of the Soviet Union],” one former CIA official said. “Where it hurts us is our agents being rolled up and our ability to collect technical intelligence being shut down. When the Soviets found out what’s being passed”–in the documents supplied by Pollard to the Israelis–”they shut down the source.”


This isn’t a one-time incident.  CIA officials still bristle over the disappearance of a Syrian scientist who during the Bush administration was the CIA’s only spy inside Syria’s military program to develop chemical and biological weapons.  Although the agency never formally concluded that Israel was responsible, CIA officials complained about Israelis leaking “information to pressure Syria to abandon the program.”

Syrian officials learned who had access to the sensitive information and eventually identified the scientist as a traitor. Before he disappeared and was presumed killed, he told his CIA contact that Syrian Military Intelligence fingered him.

(*) The story was from an AP report a few years ago, but I can’t seem to find it anymore.  Here is a mention of it.



The result is that despite the close US/Israeli relationship, the American intelligence community must regard Israel as a major threat, just in order to protect American intelligence assets.  A secret budget request obtained by The Washington Post from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden lumps Israel alongside U.S. foes Iran and Cuba as “key targets” for U.S. counterintelligence efforts. “To further safeguard our classified networks, we continue to strengthen insider threat detection capabilities across the Community,” reads the FY 2013 congressional budget justification for intelligence programs. “In addition, we are investing in target surveillance and offensive CI [counterintelligence] against key targets, such as China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba.”


Although some groups have apologized for this Israeli spying on the grounds that the Obama Administration is not friendly towards Israel, the pattern of spying on America over the past 70 years belies that.  Israel’s espionage efforts go far beyond political or military intelligence gathering.  The also continue no matter how friendly the administration in the White House.  In many cases, Israeli spying is done, not for national security, but merely to give Israeli companies an advantage in the international economy.


The annual FBI report called “Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage” documents this industrial espionage. In 2005, it said, “Israel has an active program to gather proprietary information within the United States…These collection activities are primarily directed at obtaining information on military systems and advanced computing applications that can be used in Israel’s sizable armaments industry…Proprietary commercial and industrial information is also stolen.”


Since Israel earns much of its foreign currency through sales of weapons, this information is less for the protection of Israel then it is for increasing weapons sales, even at the expense of the US.  In fact, some of these high tech weapons sales like those of drones to Russia, go directly to potential enemies of the US


Official Israeli industrial espionage has also encouraged private Israeli industrial spying.  For example, in early 2005, a British programmer sold customized copies of his spy software to three Israeli private investigation firms. Those firms, in turn, worked for a number of Israeli firms, which allegedly used the software to spy on dozens of

their international competitors, including at least one major high-tech firm. The software tempted victims into installing it by posing as a package of confidential documents delivered via e-mail. Once installed, the software recorded every keystroke and collected business documents and e-mails on a victim’s personal computer and transmitted information to a server computer registered in London.


Why the Fuss?
So, if Israel has been spying on the US for close to 70 years, why has this become a headline issue now?  Is it just that they are now crossing “red lines” that they never did before?  Probably not.  As we have outlined, Israeli spying has been very aggressive for the last seven decades.


The timing of the Newsweek report was probably orchestrated by the White House for two reasons.  Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor is visiting Israel and the revelations were probably used to put pressure on the Israeli government on issues like the Middle East peace process, Iran, and other regional issues.  By making it well known that Israel is spying on the US, it makes it harder for Netanyahu to “go over Obama’s head” to the American public and claim that Israel is America’s closest ally.


The second reason was the ongoing debate about allowing Israeli citizens to enter the US without a visa.  Israel doesn’t have an agreement in place that allows the easy movement of Israeli’s into the US.  And, Israeli lobbyists have been pushing to change it.


Up until now, the assumption was that the hold-up on Capitol Hill was due to accusations of discrimination against Arab- and Muslim-Americans seeking entry to Israel and a growing number of young Israelis who overstay tourist visas and work illegally in the US.


However, it appears that US national security agencies are concerned that a looser entry process for Israelis would make it easier for Israeli spies to enter the country.  Israel is known for approaching scientists and engineers at trade shows or conferences and making a pitch to them to help Israel.  Flooding these evens with unregistered Israeli agents would seriously damage American national security.  By controlling the visa program, US counterintelligence can track the movement of these agents and limit their damage.


Will this stop Israeli espionage?  No.  Israel’s history clearly indicates that it will continue to spy on the US, no matter the administration or how warm relations are with America.  However, by highlighting the risks, the Newsweek article may be able to make Americans more aware of the damage they do to American security.



Week of May 16th, 2014

Executive Summary


A number of papers are being published by Washington think tanks – possibly as researchers begin to look at the Memorial Day weekend in a little more than a week and the beginning of the American vacation season.

This week’s Monitor Analysis looks at the Syrian rebel continued threatening posture on the Southern Front.  Much of that is due to American, British, and Saudi support in Jordan as well as tacit or undeclared support from Israel.  We also look at rebel training in Jordan, the weapons that they are training with and the changing tactics.  We also note that the US has begun to provide more advanced weapons to some of the rebel forces, including the TOW anti-tank missile.  We also look at some of their effectiveness on the battlefield.


Think Tanks Activity Summary


The Institute for the Study of War looks at the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).  This piece is the first in a brief series of publications that examine activity by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in Syria and Iraq. ISIS is active on both sides of the border, executing complex attacks in Deir ez-Zour and organizing local governance efforts, while carrying out a well-organized campaign in Iraq. Upcoming releases from ISW will examine these issues in greater detail, exploring the non-military activities that ISIS publicizes in Syria.

The CSIS looks at the lack of American leadership as Afghanistan transitions.  They note, “It is now May 2014 and some 17 months after the time that the U.S., NASTO/ISAF, and aid donors should have had realistic plans for Transition, and the U.S. and its allies should have clearly laid out the strategic case and the cost and conditions for continued aid. The Obama Administration seems committed to an almost endless cycle of reviews and requests for new options, but has failed to put forth any credible plans, costs, and conditions, or make a meaningful strategic and political case for its position and the role the U.S. should play in Afghanistan after 2014.”

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at instability in Afghanistan.  The paper is divided into three parts. The first examines the likely consequences of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan and identifies potential scenarios. The second analyses the interests and priorities of the regional actors in post-2014 Afghanistan and the consequences of the latter’s developing objectives and policies. In its final section, the paper proposes a mechanism to avoid the chaos likely to prevail in Afghanistan should events continue on their current trajectory. It advocates a standing ‘inclusive national conference,’ organized under the auspices of the United Nations, and examines its potential roles.

The American Enterprise Institute asks if Iran have overplayed its hand in Iraq.  They conclude, “As Iranian-backed militias augment their presence in Iraq, they either force a backlash within the communities they seek to represent or they lose their ideological purity to the more powerful, seductive forces of Iraqi nationalism. Iranian leaders may want a compliant little brother or even a puppet in Iraq. No matter what their caricature in the West, however, Iraqis Shi’ites show no desire to oblige.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Kuwaiti Salafi groups and their influence in Lebanon and Syria.  Kuwaiti Salafis have built up vast transnational networks by financially supporting Salafi groups worldwide, making them one of the main financiers of the international movement. This practice has provided them with significant influence over Salafism on the global level.  Kuwaiti purist Salafis effectively contributed to the fragmentation of Salafism in North Lebanon. Their financial support was among the crucial factors that led Lebanese purists to dramatically increase their influence and counterbalance the activists.  The different Kuwaiti Salafi groups mobilize vast financial resources from Kuwaiti citizens to sponsor a variety of Salafi armed groups in Syria, which has contributed to fragmentation and sectarianism within the Syrian armed opposition.”

The Washington Institute looks at the sudden change in Saudi Arabia’s military leadership.  The new deputy defense minister is a sixty-one-year-old former U.S.- and British-trained commander of the Royal Saudi Land Forces who has been serving as governor of the crucial Riyadh province since February 2013. Other appointments include a new assistant defense minister, a new chief and deputy chief of the general staff, and new commanders for the air force and navy.  Whatever the case, the new appointments are sure to have a significant impact on Saudi military capabilities and policies — though quite what impact is unclear. There is some evidence that the kingdom has reduced its support for jihadist fighters in Syria this year.

The Washington Institute looks at Turkey’s upcoming presidential election.  In this paper, they explain how the AKP’s largely successful approach to the March elections — from courting the increasingly powerful Kurdish voting bloc to highlighting Erdogan’s sound economic policies and reputation as an “authoritarian underdog” — will likely be repeated in the presidential campaign.






Syria: What is happening on its Southern Border?

Since the beginning, news reports have focused more on the Syrian  war in the north and the battles around Homs, Hama, and Aleppo.  However, there has been a second front, along Syria’s southern border that has become just as important, especially given the recent setbacks to the military and political campaign of the Syrian Rebels.

“For the past two months the Syrian army has suffered some serious setbacks in the southern sector, at least in the short term,” Ehud Yaari told the BBC.  “I have always believed that the key to the conflict would be in the southern sector and it’s beginning to tilt that way.  The way the Syrian army and its allies like Hezbollah are deployed means that there is an opening in the south.”  Yaari is a fellow for the Washington Institute and a commentator on Israeli television.

Although it has received less media coverage, the southern front, which runs along the Jordanian/Syrian/Israeli border, is probably the most important at this point of time.  First, it is a major pipeline for material assistance from the GCC nations like Saudi Arabia.  Second, it is the base for training camps run by American, British, and French Special Forces.  Third, the front hasn’t become an extension of Jordan’s foreign policy in the same way the northern front has become an attempt by Turkey to extend its control.  Finally, the southern front is where Israel is aiding the rebels in hope of keeping the occupied Golan Heights under control.

All of this has come into focus as Syrian rebels have launched an offensive in the Golan Heights.  The immediate goal of the rebels seems to be the crossing point between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syrian-controlled territory at Quneitra, and the roads leading to the town itself.  They are making significant headway against the two Syrian army brigades – the 61st and the 91st – that once guarded the Israeli/Syrian border.  The rebel attacks have been so strong that both brigades are now considered nearly inoperative.

In most reported accounts, despite heavy artillery support, the 61st brigade was outmaneuvered by the rebels at the Tel al-Jabia military base near Nawa. The 91st brigade lost control over much of the border area with Israel, including the high ground of Tel al-Ahmar (the Red Hills) and Tel Kudna.  Units of the Syrian 3rd Division still hold the northern part of Derra, while rebels hold the rest of this border town.

The Jordanian Connection

The reason for the relatively successful push against the Syrian army in the south has been the slow build up of trained Syrian rebels and arms in Jordan.  Here, Western nations and several GCC countries are training and arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The training appears to be from Special Forces of France, Britain, and the US.  There have also been reports of American private security contractors in the training camps too.

The lessons have focused on small and medium arms, as well as mortars, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), man portable anti-tank weapons, and anti-aircraft cannon.  There has been no training on sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles like the Stinger because the West is afraid that they will end up in the hands of” non friendly or moderate” terrorists.

Training has focused on Russian supplied arms like the AK-47, AK-74, RPG-7, the Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter antitank rifles, Concourse antitank missiles, 82-millimeter recoil-less rifles, and 23-millimeter antiaircraft weapons.  The reason for training on Russian arms is that these are the type most likely to be captured from Syrians military arsenals.  They are also the type supplied by the American CIA, which according to reports has transferred many captured Russian arms from Libya to Syria, via Turkey and Jordan.  The course of training for the rebels is about two weeks long and usually designed to train about 40 rebels at a time.

Although there has been a reticence to giving the rebels portable surface to air missiles, it appears that they have been given some Russian systems.  The Strela-2 (NATO designation, SA-7 Grail) is a man-portable, shoulder-fired, low-altitude surface-to-air missile system with a high explosive warhead and passive infrared homing guidance. It was the first generation of Soviet man-portable SAMs, entering service in 1968, with series production starting in 1970.  It has been used by the Syrian Army in Lebanon and there are reports that the CIA acquired stocks of them from Libya.

There has been considerable reticence to provide the rebels with American made arms.  There are several reasons for this.  The CIA has for decades stocked a supply of foreign made (frequently Russian) weapons that can be supplied to pro-American guerillas.  This has allowed the CIA to hide its involvement in a civil war and gives the American government plausible deniability.  These were the type of arms given originally to the Afghan rebels in the late 1970s.

These arms have come from several sources like Libya and even former Warsaw Pact countries.

Russian made arms are also easier to support in Syria as the ammunition for them is available from captured soldiers and arsenals.

Finally, the US is not eager to pass its technology to groups that may pass them on to terrorist organizations.

That, position, may have finally changed.  Recently, there have been a few American BGM TOW-71 anti-tank missiles provided to the FSA.  It is produced by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona, but these are probably drawn from Saudi military stocks and passed to the rebels with American approval.  The Israel Defense Forces used TOW missiles during the 1982 Lebanon War. On 11 July Israeli anti-tank teams armed with the TOW ambushed Syrian armored forces and destroyed 11 Syrian tanks.  They were also used effectively in Operation Desert Storm against Iraqi tanks.

The TOW missiles that have been seen in the hands of Syrian rebels are being used by Harakat Hazam, a Free Syrian Army group that is mostly composed of survivors from the now-defunct Kataeb Farouq FSA group. They are less militant than the Islamic Front, and General Idris has been the most active solicitor of American aid for the FSA. This indicates that the Obama Administration is being careful in who receives these weapons.  These weapons have been used in battle and have been responsible for destroying Syrian tanks and preventing the Syrian Army from counterattacking in the south.

Interestingly, Harakat Hazam also been seen with some shoulder fired surface to air missiles recently (frequently called man portable air defense systems – MANPADS).   According to Fox News, some of the TOWs provided to rebels since March are equipped with a complex, fingerprint-keyed security device that controls who can fire it.  It’s likely that any American MANPADS like the Stinger will be similarly equipped.

The appearance of these weapons in the Syrian theater indicates that the US has decided to increase pressure on the Assad regime.

Rather than allowing the newly trained forces reenter the war in small groups, they have been dispatched back into Syria in larger battalion or brigade strengths.  This indicates that rather than allowing the rebels to continue operating as small guerilla forces that merely harasses the Syrian Army, the focus is on larger, more conventional units that can engage similar Syrian forces and win.  Some observers think the rebel strength in the south is around 20,000 men.

This focus on larger, more conventional forces is clearly seen in recent operations in southern Syria, where the FSA has pushed back the Syrian Army’s 61st and 91st brigades despite their superior artillery firepower.  However, they do not have the strength to force the Syrian Army out of the town of Quenitra.

Clearly, the Syrian Arab military forces are stretched and he doesn’t have regular, reliable army forces to reinforce the southern front – leaving the regime to rely upon loyalist militias.  At this time, President Assad must rely upon the 9th Division to hold the door to Damascus closed.  The 9th Division is stationed in al-Kiswah, Qatana, and Kanaker on the Damascus outskirts

The Israeli Factor

But Quenitra isn’t just a town on the road to Damascus.  It is just a mile from the Israeli/Syrian cease fire line and rebel control of the border would mean that the Syrian Army would not be facing the IDF – a fact that the Israelis would like.  And, if the rebels are backed by Israel, they can carry out an offensive against Assad and Damascus without worrying about a hostile force in their rear.

Although not as visible, the Israelis have been an active partner in the internal Syrian war.  Ehud Yaari, has said, “It would not be wrong to assume some kind of contact between the Israel Defense Forces and certain rebel groups.”

Yaari also writes, “These groups are making sure — among other things — not to provoke the Israelis across the border, although rebel-regime fighting often does occur within meters of the 1974 separation line agreed upon between” Israel” and Syria.  It seems Presiden Assad does not have sufficient forces to protect the southern sector, which is proving to be the regime’s soft underbelly, and he cannot raise the reinforcements necessary to block the coming offensive already promised by the rebel command. Assad is also aware of the rebels’ strict avoidance of any clashes with Israel. Indeed, the rebels view Israel as “having their back” on the Golan Heights, so that many reliable sources are pointing already to the IDF of “facilitating” the rebels’ moves during their Quneitra offensive, explained by Israel’s declaration of the Golan border area as a “closed military zone.” The area is restricted for civilian movement, and both security and intelligence operations have been intensified.”

Some 1600 wounded Syrians, many of them rebels have been tended by Israeli hospitals.  There has also been some “humanitarian” assistance given to villages across the frontier.

Although the official Israeli position is that they will not interfere unless there is some violence leaking across the border, Israel does benefit if President Assad falls.  Assad regime is seen in Israel as a key link between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.  If Assad falls, Hezbollah loses its strategic position of strength in Lebanon.

Recently, the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported that Israeli agents giving large sums of cash to Syrian rebel factions.  The newspaper cited a source from one of the rebel factions in southern Syria who claims that at least three opposition groups fighting Assad have received numerous payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Israeli agents who sought information about the identities of all Islamist militants who have established bases near the Syrian-Israeli border.

But, Israeli cooperation with the rebel movement goes further than” humanitarian assistance” and money for information on Islamic radicals.  According to reports, it is secretly working with Jordan, which also is worried about al-Qaida-linked groups targeting its own government.  Jordan could also be assisted with Israeli intelligence and technological assistance.

The Future of Syria

Given the facts on the ground – Rebel advances in the south and the appearance of supplying technologically advanced American weapons; it appears that America has finally decided to move more aggressively on Syria.  In fact, General Bashir of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council said the United States has been heavily involved in the recent increase of advanced arms to parts of the Free Syrian Army. He argued that the FSA’s handling of the TOW anti-tank missiles should give the American government enough confidence to start providing anti-aircraft weapons, as well.

This turnaround was also signaled this week in Washington as Syrian rebels were greeted by a somewhat apologetic Secretary of State Kerry.  In a private meeting with Syrian opposition leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry said he believed the international community “wasted a year” by not working together to help topple Assad.  Kerry told Syrian Opposition Coalition president Ahmad Jarba that the various countries trying to help the Free Syrian Army had failed to coordinate their efforts effectively for a long time.  And, that lack of coordination had dramatically set back the drive to stop Assad and counter the growing terrorism threat in Syria.

Jarba also met with Obama and Rice during the Washington visit.  Although the meeting was described and, “encouraging and productive,” little of substance appeared to come out of it.

It has been reported that Kerry has been frustrated with the Obama administration’s Syria policy for a long time and has been quietly advocating a more robust aid to the rebels, only to be stopped repeatedly by the White House.  The collapse of the Syrian talks in Geneva only made the case for support of the Syrian rebels that much clearer.

The visit was to push for more aid for the rebels, especially MANPADS.  General Bashir noted, “The FSA has been dealing very well with the TOW missiles. Under our protection, people are trained to use them, and it is with the collaboration and under the supervision of the United States…The main purpose for our visit is to get anti-aircraft weapons to protect innocent civilians inside Syria, and we are hoping the United States is going to help us push aside Assad’s air force.”

Although the supply of American arms has increased, much depends on how the weapons are used effectively.  There remain strong voices in the White House that would want to stop the arms flow if the Syrian rebels either fails to advance or are discovered selling the arms to unfriendly elements.  The next few months in the south of Syria may very well determine the course of Syria’s internal war and the future of the country.




Transition in Afghanistan: A U.S. Leadership Vacuum that Urgently Needs Hard Decisions and Real and Honest Leadership

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 12, 2014

Ever since Vietnam, the U.S. has faced three major threats every time it has attempted a major counterinsurgency campaign and exercise in armed nation building:  The actual hostile forces both in terms of native insurgent elements and outside support from other states and non-state actors.  The corruption, internal tensions, weak governance, and uncertain economics in the host country state that make it as much of a threat in practical terms as the armed opposition.  The failures within the U.S. government to deal honestly and effectively with both the military and civil dimensions of the war, the effort to transform states in the middle of conflict rather than set realistic goal, a resulting level of costs and casualties that makes sustain the U.S. effort difficult or impossible, and a failure to sustain the lesser level of effort necessary to achieve a lasting impact.

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Has Iran overplayed its hand in Iraq?

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

May 13, 2014

Al Qaeda’s seizure of Ramadi and Fallujah in January 2014 propelled questions of sectarianism in Iraq to the forefront of Iraqi politics. Sectarianism, of course, is nothing new in Iraq. While some analysts attribute the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq with unleashing sectarianism, the tension between Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqis long ­predates Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ba’athism, the ideology that late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein embraced, was inherently sectarian. While it embraced Arabism as its central pillar, Saddam and many of his aides saw true Arabism through a sectarian lens. He suspected Shi’ites of harboring loyalty to Iran; indeed, he often labeled Iraqi Shi’ites “Safawi,” the Arabic name for the 16th-century Safavid dynasty that converted Iran to Shi’ism. Beginning in the 1960s with the Ba’athist seizure of power and then in the 1980s with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, the Ba’athist regime stripped tens of thousands of Shi’ites of Iraqi citizenship and deported them to Iran. The Shi’ites, however, have from the beginning of Iraqi statehood considered themselves and their more traditional tribal ways as representing a more pure Arab identity.

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Beyond the Great Game: Towards a National Political Process in Afghanistan Post-2014

By Frederic Grare, William Maley, and Amitabh Mattoo

Carnegie Endowment

May 12, 2014

Australia India Institute

As the end of the drawdown of international forces approaches in Afghanistan, concerns are mounting about its potential impact on regional stability. By the end of 2014, all Western combat forces will have left the country. Yet despite official rhetoric, twelve years of war and billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan have neither eliminated the country’s insurgency nor dealt effectively with any of the regional irritants that have historically motivated Afghanistan’s neighbors to lend their support to various actors in the conflict.  Regional involvement in Afghanistan has been pervasive since the end of the 1970s and the Soviet invasion of the country. For more than 30 years, India and Pakistan, in different ways, have projected their fierce rivalry into Afghanistan; Pakistan and Iran have done the same. China, Russia, and a number of states in Central Asia observe the evolution of the US presence in the country and the resurgence of the insurgency with equal anxiety.

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Kuwaiti Salafism and Its Growing Influence in the Levant

By Zoltan Pall

Carnegie Endowment

May 7, 2014

The internal developments and dynamics of Salafism in Kuwait have global significance. In the Middle East, where Salafism’s influence has been rising since the Arab revolutions began in 2011, diverse Kuwaiti Salafi groups and networks have forged close contacts with Salafis in other states. But competition among Kuwaiti Salafi currents has produced corresponding fissures in local Salafi communities in Lebanon and Syria, with far-reaching consequences for each country.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and the “Cleansing” of Deir ez-Zour

By Valerie Szybala

Institute for the Study of War

May 14, 2014

Following the January 2014 uprising by rebel groups in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), ISIS contracted its footprint in Syria. The group was pushed out, tactically withdrew, or went below the radar in cities and towns across much of Idlib, Aleppo, and Deir ez-Zour. It continued to battle the Kurds in Hasaka, but constituted most of its strength in ar-Raqqa, where it is in firm control of the provincial capital and several other towns. In Syria’s eastern province of Deir ez-Zour, ISIS is attempting a resurgence. At the end of March 2014, ISIS began to move forces from the north into place for an offensive back into the heart of rebel territory in Deir ez-Zour province. This resurgence has come in the form of an offensive largely against Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, which are predominant in the province. Local tribal militias have come to play an increasing role as well.

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Surprise Rotation of Saudi Defense Officials

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

May 14, 2014

A series of royal orders issued today in the name of King Abdullah at the stated request of his heir apparent and defense minister, Crown Prince Salman, has radically changed Saudi Arabia’s political and professional military command. Perhaps most newsworthy is the appointment of Prince Khaled bin Bandar as deputy defense minister. Out goes the thirty-seven-year-old Prince Salman bin Sultan, who was just appointed to the role last August after replacing a lesser royal who had assumed the post four months prior.

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Turkey’s Presidential Prospects: Assessing Recent Trends

By Soner Cagaptay

Washington Institute

May 2014

Research Notes 18

The outcome of Turkey’s March municipal elections and other recent developments offer new insight into how the country’s upcoming presidential election season will unfold. To win the presidency in August, the governing Justice and Development Party’s presumed candidate, Prime Minister Erdogan, will need to win at least 50 percent of the vote — a considerable task even for a longtime leader with several electoral victories under his belt.

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

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Week of May 09th, 2014


Executive Summary


A number of papers were published by the think tank community this week.

The Monitor analysis looks at the Ukraine this week.  We note that it is easy to make the mistake that this crisis means a renewal of the old Cold War.  However, that is far from true as Russia is still striving to be as strong and influential on world stage as it was a quarter of a century ago.  This means that Putin is more cautious in exercising his options in dealing with this crisis and his chances of getting some success are not limited or as difficult like NATO camp. (….)


Think Tanks Activity Summary

In our analysis on the Ukraine, we note that the crisis will have an impact on NATO’s relations with Turkey.  This paper by the German Marshall Fund echoes this.  They conclude, “Turkey is very likely headed for a sharper debate about its own strategic position and role in transatlantic security arrangements. Is Turkey returning to its traditional role as a barrier in relation to this and other sources of risk? Over the last decade or more, Turkish strategy has aimed at avoiding these geopolitical conundrums by putting Turkey at the center of regional affairs. The Ukraine crisis suggests that the window for this approach is closing rapidly.”

As the US looks at ways to counter Putin’s moves in the Ukraine, the Heritage Foundation recommends strengthening military ties with the Republic of Georgia.  They address the problem of relying on Russia for moving forces out of Afghanistan and note, “As a result of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Moscow might not be willing to maintain these transit routes.  Georgia has offered its territory, infrastructure, and logistic capabilities for the transit of NATO forces and cargo for Afghanistan. Georgia is modernizing key airports and port facilities in the country, and a major railway project is due to be completed later this year linking Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia. The transit route through Georgia provides one of the shortest and potentially most cost-effective routes and offers huge potential for NATO’s use as the Afghan withdrawal begins to increase. Most important, it would reduce NATO’s dependence on Russia for moving military resources in and out of Afghanistan.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and Iranian comments about it.  They note, “Such attention to Iron Dome, even if in response to a misfire, suggests that the Iranians, despite their denials, do understand the challenge the Israeli system poses to Iran’s ability to strike at a state it has declared its chief enemy. At the same time, however, should the Iranian military convince itself that the Iron Dome system is not as technically capable as claimed, it could lead to Iranian overconfidence and perhaps a temptation to launch a first strike in pursuit of Iranian hardliners’ ideological imperatives.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at how Iran is playing for time in its nuclear negotiations.  They conclude, “The Iranians clearly want keep the pressure off, and that requires keeping the West talking. Already, the interim nuclear deal hammered out in Geneva has proven a boon to Iran’s ailing economy, providing the regime in Tehran with much-needed relief from Western sanctions and new opportunities for commerce with eager foreign companies…That dovetails with Iran’s core interest of buying time as a way of strengthening its economy and adding permanence to its nuclear effort. The only thing that has changed, in other words, is that officials in Tehran now believe the best way to do so is through disclosure, rather than concealment.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the growing operational reach of the Iranian Navy.  They note, “That several Iranian ships have docked in the small east African nation of Djibouti might not merit the same headlines as an Iranian transit of the Suez Canal or polemical—and apparently so-far baseless—claims of deploying ships off the East Coast of the United States. Nevertheless, Iranian authorities likely interpret their Djibouti port call as a challenge to the United States, for which Djibouti has long been an important military partner. The port call also symbolizes the erosion of Iran’s isolation: it is one thing for the Iranian Navy to have a port call in Sudan, itself a relatively isolated state; it is quite another to establish such a relationship with a close partner of the United States.”

The CSIS looks at the transition of civil government in Afghanistan and express concern with the trends.  They note, “the frequency of bribery has increased from 4.7 bribes to 5.6 bribes per bribe payer and the average cost of a bribe has risen from US$ 158 to US$ 214, a 29 per cent increase in real terms.  Education has emerged as one of the sectors most vulnerable to corruption.”

The Carnegie Endowment argues that the US does not necessarily support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  They conclude, “In short, there is unquestionably much to criticize in U.S. policy toward Egypt over many years, both during Mubarak’s time and since then. U.S. policy has been focused on getting along with whoever runs Egypt, for the sake of ensuring useful strategic benefits to the United States, even if those leaders do not demonstrate any real commitment to democracy, rights, or helping ordinary Egyptians. Given this reality, it is natural and justified for Egyptians to be disappointed and resentful. The United States has not been the friend they wish it were to the Egyptian people. But the flaws of U.S. policy have not included any built-in preference on the part of Washington for Islamists or a desire to see Egypt run by the Muslim Brotherhood.”





The Ukraine Crisis – New Cold War, Containment, or What?

Even though Putin has promised to pull Russian forces back from the Ukraine border, policy makers are still busy “resetting” relations towards Russia.  The generation of friendship has passed and the world is once again looking at an defiant and strong Russia that is feared by its neighbors, carrying out naval and air patrols of NATO countries, and exporting weapons to allied nations.

Unfortunately, many see the new conflict in terms of the old Cold War, with the NATO forces pitted against the Soviet empire and the Warsaw Pact.  Such an assumption is misguided and could lead to serious miscalculations.

The best way to view it is first through the eyes of the nation who has the initiative, Russia and its leader Putin.

The Putin Outlook

Russian pride in their country is at a point that it hasn’t seen since the days of the Soviet Union.  Russia is expanding and flexing its political and military muscle under the leadership of Putin.  Former Soviet satellite nations and former parts of the USSR are looking with foreboding at events in the Ukraine and the potential dismemberment of that country.

For all this joy, Russia is facing serious problems.  The Russian bear that is worrying Eastern Europe is not the same as the Soviet bear of 50 years ago.

The rump Russia of today isn’t the vast Soviet Union of 25 years ago.  Russia, is smaller, has a smaller economy, fewer industrial resources, evolving strong bureaucracy free of corruption, and an older population than before.  Meanwhile, NATO is economically and militarily larger by statistics.  Since military might is a reflection of economic power, Russia is clearly outnumbered by NATO.

It’s also important to remember that Russia no longer has the satellite nations of the Warsaw Pact to back it up militarily or economically.  In fact, the majority of those nations are members of NATO and openly hostile to Russian expansionism.

Although Russia has continued to pursue military technology, they have fallen even further behind the West in many areas.  While they have tried to maintain some edges in fighter technology, air defense, and space, they have been unable to invest in other areas.  For instance, their Main Battle Tank is the T-90, a modernization of the T-72.  Purchases have been limited recently as the Russian Army has decided to save money now in order to invest in the T-99 Universal Combat Platform due to enter service in 2020.

Even, when they have the technology, they have been unable to upgrade due to cost and production issues.  The Russian Air Force wanted to upgrade its existing Mig-29 fleet to the modernized MiG-29SMT configuration, but financial difficulties have limited deliveries.  Design problems have already forced a two-year delay in implementing a state procurement order for thirty-seven Su-35 aircraft, which will not be fulfilled until 2016.  And, there remains the Soviet era issue of quality control.

Another example of Russia’s inability to stay in step with technological development is the list of high tech weapons they must import.  These include, drones from Israel, the Iveco light multirole vehicles from Italy, and the Mistral amphibious assault ships from France.  These are all weapon technologies that are likely to be unavailable to Russia in the future.

This inability to modernize all parts of the Russian military is compounded by the state of Russian equipment right after the breakup of the USSR.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent republics became host to most of the formations with modern equipment, whereas Russia was left with lower-category units, usually with older equipment. As the Russian defense budget began to shrink, the amount of new equipment fell as well, and by 1998, only ten tanks and about 30 BMP infantry fighting vehicles were being purchased each year.

Although defense spending has grown in recent years, much of that money is going to personnel costs as Russia strives to build a professional army.  Equipment modernization is failing to catch up.  In the meantime, conscripts, who only serve one year, still make up half of the Russian Army.

This lack of modern equipment may be part of the reason for the Russian insurgency operations in the Ukraine.  Although Russia has engaged in several invasions, starting with the Russian invasion of Dagestan, the post Soviet army has yet to be seriously tested.  And, although modern aircraft can defeat the Ukrainian Air Force, it is the soldier and his equipment that must occupy the Ukraine in order to declare success.

Here Putin faces another problem.  Russian conscripts due to rotate back to civilian life this year are due to be mustered out starting this month, which will cause a decline in the quality of Russian Army forces on the Ukraine border.  This may force Putin to either react quickly and invade in the next few weeks or wait until the new Russian conscripts are combat ready.  Clearly, the lack of modern equipment and battle readiness of much of the Russian Army will give Putin some reason for concern.

In the meantime, Putin is facing a weakened economy.  Although Russia has natural energy resources and willing buyers in Europe, the rest of the economy is weak.  He is also facing economic sanctions, a declining ruble, money fleeing the country, and a lower credit rating for the type of borrowing that Russia needs to modernize its military.  Therefore, a serious military buildup would threaten the economy and damage his popularity at a time, where he is clearly the most popular Russian politician.

What Putin needs is a Ukrainian conquest on the cheap.

Although a conventional invasion of the Ukraine would have been faster, Putin opted for an insurgency campaign that would provide enough political cover to freeze NATO leaders so they wouldn’t take any aggressive action.  It relies on a small number of highly professional Special Forces instead of the larger Russian Army, which is made up of 50% conscripts.

Not only is the insurgency operation cheaper than a conventional military invasion, it offers a variety of political and military outcomes that can be modified depending on the need.  An insurgency can weaken the Ukraine in such a way that allows a pro-Russian government to take power.  It can also force a split of the Eastern Ukraine and leave the pro-European Ukraine a shadow if its former self.  It also weakens the Ukraine military in such a way that it would pose less of a threat if an invasion is attempted.

The insurgency war, however, isn’t without its problems.  There is a historical hatred between the Ukraine and Russia, which means the Ukrainians might start insurgency operations against ethnic Russians in areas under Russian control.  This will be helped by the Ukraine military, which has ample numbers of small arms to smuggle to Ukrainian insurgents.

Such a war would pose major problems for the Russian Army if it decided to move in to “protect” ethnic Russians in the Ukraine.  The Russian Army has been equipped for conventional warfare on the open plains of Central Europe.  Just as the American Army had problems adjusting to guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq after they had successfully completed their invasion, so, the Russian will find their army bogged down in a war that it is not doctrinally designed or equipped to fight.  It is also dogged by poor logistics, which prevent protracted combat operations.

An insurgency war also benefits NATO, who can secretly support it with equipment or special forces.  The war would not only tie up and weaken Russian forces, it would buy breathing space for NATO countries to rearm.

If the insurgency option doesn’t work for Russia, it still has the conventional invasion option.  It creates a fait accompli to NATO and reduces the risk of the Ukrainian crisis evolving into a more serious international situation.

However, a conventional invasion doesn’t solve all the problems.  An insurgency by Ukrainians in the western part of the country is likely, tying down large numbers of Russians.  Such operations would force the military to switch its procurement from conventional purchases of tanks and armored vehicles to counter-insurgency weapons, which have marginal use in a conventional military context.  And, there is a great likelihood that some NATO countries would actively support such guerrilla activities (there was already a mention of NATO training assistance by the Ukrainian foreign minister a few weeks ago).

A guerrilla war in the Ukraine would also hamstring the Russian military, which relies on Ukrainian parts for its war machine.  According to a 2009 survey by Kiev’s Razumkov Center, Ukrainian factories produce the engines that power most Russian combat helicopters; about half of the air-to-air missiles deployed on Russian fighter planes; and a range of engines used by Russian aircraft and naval vessels. The state-owned Antonov works in Kiev makes the AN-70 transport aircraft. These factories could be damaged in combat or sabotaged by Ukrainian insurgents.

A conventional invasion of the Ukraine would also mean more economic sanctions and the loss of international customers who are reticent about dealing with an aggressive Russia.  For instance, there is already economic fallout for an international economic conference in Russia.  The top executives of such giants as Alcoa, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley, ConocoPhillips and other multinational companies with business in Russia have either pulled out of the conference or plan to do so. Corporate officials predicted that nearly every American C.E.O. will now skip the forum in St. Petersburg.

A conventional invasion would also spark more NATO activity.  The forces that have been recently deployed to Eastern European NATO nations would be supplemented.  More active patrolling of land, sea and air boundaries would take place.  Needless to say, NATO countries would expand their military spending.

The long term outlook for Russia is murky.  Its Ukrainian intervention will spark an arms race that it is economically unable to win.  Its army is still burdened with outmoded, technologically out-of-date weapons.  And, it will not be able to rely upon foreign customers to buy its weapons, which means that costs to outfit its forces will go up (for instance, in 2013, American civilians bought more AK rifles from Russia than the Russian military and police forces combined.  This is unlikely to continue in current circumstances).

The NATO Outlook

NATO is currently in a reactive mode, as it models its policy to account for the latest Russian moves.  It clearly doesn’t want to return to a Cold War mentality and during the last generation, it has developed economic and technological ties to Russia that it is loath to sever.  Europe relies on Russia for a portion of its energy needs.  The US relies on Russia to commute to and from the International Space Station.  And, the US needs Russia’s logistical help as it pulls out of Afghanistan.

However, as the Ukrainian crisis has grown, NATO has moved to contain the Russian threat.  The US has sent F-16 and F-15 fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltic States.  They have also sent Marines to Poland and Romania.  They have also moved more naval vessels into the Black Sea.  The UK, France and Denmark have also contributed aircraft to the Baltic State air defense mission.  Although these are not sizable forces, they will act as a tripwire that will discourage Russia from expanding its control westwards.

The US has also stationed paratroopers and C-130 aircraft to Poland, which gives the US a rapid deployment force in the east.

The US has also moved early warning aircraft to Eastern Europe to patrol the easternmost border of the NATO community.  And, joint maneuvers with NATO and Ukrainian forces are still scheduled.

Other containment actions will come.  The US will be more aggressive in positioning its missile defense ships in order to lessen the threat of Russian missile to NATO countries.  This could include the Eastern Mediterranean and Baltic.  There will probably be a renewed interest in stationing ABM systems in Eastern Europe as well.

Another important policy move for NATO will be a rapprochement with Turkey, which has been largely ignored as a result of Erdogan’s political moves.  Turkey has one of the largest armies in NATO and is the anchor to NATO’s southern flank.  Turkey is critical for a continued stationing of naval forces in the Black Sea and offers military bases for the stationing of troops and air assets that will be within reach of southern Russia and the Ukraine.

There are also long term goals for NATO.  The first is to economically and technically disengage from Russia.  This will hurt a Russia, whose economy needs that money and technology to grow.

In the mid to long term Europe will also move towards energy independence from Russia.  This includes larger American exports to Europe and European exploration of the Mediterranean, which has promising energy reserves.

NATO will also increase its defense spending and redirect its focus.  While groups like al Qaeda remain a threat, the NATO militaries will move away from a counter-terrorist and counter insurgency warfare focus and look at modernizing and increasing their conventional military forces.  They also will refocus on Europe instead of being a worldwide rapid reaction force.  Those modernized forces then will be forward deployed into Eastern European NATO countries like the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania.  In fact, Poland has requested two NATO brigades be permanently stationed in their country.

Another key focus must be an ABM system, which was planned during the Bush Administration, but was downgraded under Obama.  Aegis interceptors are scheduled to be stationed in Poland in 2018, but the current crisis may push that date up.  An interceptor site will be placed in Romania in 2015.  An effective missile defense will greatly enhance European security, not only against Russia, but  potential nuclear Iran.

A push for a more aggressive NATO may increase Poland’s stature in the alliance.  Poland has one of the larger militaries in the alliance, is strongly committed to its defense against Russia, is contributing a larger portion of its GDP to defense spending, and has deployed its military to Afghanistan and other nations.  It also has the largest army in Eastern Europe, with about 900 tanks and over 100 combat aircraft.  Although much of the equipment is former Soviet, they are aggressively modernizing with new German Leopard tanks.  They also carry out joint exercises with the Ukraine.  In a new NATO that is more focused on Russia, Poland is likely to be the cornerstone in NATO’s Eastern European defense.


Although it easy to see the Ukrainian crisis in a Cold War viewpoint, it’s critical to note the differences.

This isn’t a Soviet Empire against NATO.  This is a rump Russia against a vastly larger NATO, which contains most of its former Warsaw Pact allies.  Russia is clearly economically and militarily outnumbered.  The image of a vastly outnumbered NATO alliance facing a horde of modern Soviet tanks in Central Europe is long gone.  “It used to be when people talked about the Russian military, the point was it was a steamroller,” Mr. Kipp, of the Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office told a reporter. “Got steam up very slowly. It had a capacity to mobilize echelon on echelon. That’s what we feared at NATO: large, competent forces right on the Germany border and then the capacity to mobilize the entire society for a high-intensity industrial war.

“There is no great mobilization capacity in Russia today,” he said. “What that means is, in a crisis, if the military gets into problems, the Kremlin has some very unappealing options.

On the other hand, NATO has more men, tanks, and aircraft.  They are also more modern and have the deep industrial capacity to mobilize.

Putin has tried to pick up Ukrainian territory on the cheap, with an insurgency that gives him a degree of political cover.  However, insurgency works both ways and an Eastern Ukraine in pro Russian hands could face Ukrainian insurgents.  And, that same insurgency problem will be compounded if Russia decided to invade areas inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians.

Meanwhile, Putin wants to modernize the Russian military to make it more of a force in international affairs.  However, war is expensive and tends to downgrade armies as they wear down current equipment and delay modernization.  He also has a military that is relatively untried and any failure on their part would be a major political disaster.

NATO is trying to understand Russia’s weaknesses and exploit them.  Russia is in dire straits with a crumbling economy supported only by large energy resources, but hamstrung by pockets of corruption.  Putin can only succeed if NATO overestimates his strength and imagines that this is a new Cold War, with two relatively equal rivals.

The Ukrainian crisis is helping Putin’s popularity at home, but it can blow up in his face if NATO can respond as an effective united pact, but there are no strong signs of such reality so far.




Strengthen Bilateral Defense Cooperation with Georgia

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

May 5, 2014

Issue Brief #4214

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will soon meet with his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Alasania. Georgia has been a steadfast ally of the United States. Thousands of Georgian troops have served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds have been wounded, and dozens have been killed.  This meeting offers an opportunity for Secretary Hagel to thank Georgia for its contribution in Afghanistan, congratulate Georgia on its military reforms, and lay the groundwork for deeper bilateral cooperation. Few countries in the Euro-Atlantic region express as much enthusiasm for NATO as Georgia—even though it is not yet inside NATO. Georgia also welcomes the presence of U.S. forces. Currently, a small detachment of U.S. Marines located at the Krtsanisi National Training Center is preparing Georgian soldiers for combat operations in Afghanistan. In addition, elements of the U.S. Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force and U.S. National Guard and reserve units visit Georgia for joint training missions.

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The Afghan Civil Transition Crisis: Afghanistan’s Status and the Warnings from Iraq’s Failure

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 6, 2014

For more than a decade, the U.S. and its allies have been issuing claims about the progress being made in Afghanistan, and have tended to focus on success as measured in holding elections rather than the quality of governance and real world economic progress.  It is now a matter of months before the U.S. and its allies withdraw virtually all of their combat troops from Afghanistan. As yet, the U.S. has no meaningful public plan for transition, has not proposed any public plan for either the civil or military aspects of transition, and remains focused on the quality of the Afghan election rather than the quality of the leadership, governance, and conditions of Afghan life that will follow.

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Israel’s missile defense bluff

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

May 5, 2014

Iron Dome has become Israel’s first line of defense against missile attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Hezbollah-run areas of southern Lebanon, and any other potential combatants. On 1 April 2014, however, the Iron Dome system near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat launched due to a false alarm. The system failure led to a number of Iranian officials ridiculing Israel and publicly questioning whether the Iron Dome system is more propaganda than real. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Ramezan Sharif, for example, told Fars News that not only is Iron Dome unable to provide security for the Israeli “occupiers,” but the system itself also poses a serious threat to the Zionists.

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Iranian flotilla docks in Djibouti

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

May 5, 2014

The Islamic Republic continues to expand the operational reach of its navy. Whereas once Iranian ships limited themselves to the Persian Gulf or nearby littoral waters in the Indian Ocean, in recent years the Iranian Navy has expanded its reach, sending ships through the Suez Canal, into the Pacific Ocean, and around southern Africa and into the Atlantic Ocean. The Iranian presence in the Red Sea and off the Horn of Africa has become even more frequent.

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What the United States Wants in Egypt

By Thomas Carothers

Carnegie Endowment

May 1, 2014

During the last several years numerous Egyptian friends have repeatedly expressed to me puzzlement, regret, and sometimes anger about U.S. policy toward their country. Their complaints are many, but one powerful theme stands out: they are convinced that the United States, both under George Bush and Barack Obama, has favored the Muslim Brotherhood. When I ask people why they think the United States has taken a pro-Brotherhood line, they say the United States wants to weaken Egypt, and that stirring up divisions in the country and having the Brotherhood come to power is a way to do that. They also believe Americans have an Orientalist view of Egypt, one that implies Islamist rule is the country’s natural destiny.

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Disclosure: Iran’s New Diplomatic Weapon

By Ilan Berman

The American Foreign Policy Council
May 5, 2014

Give the Iranian regime credit for creativity. In the midst of extensive nuclear negotiations with the West, officials in Tehran have apparently hit upon a new way to play for time.  On the heels of the most recent — and largely fruitless — round of consultations in Vienna between Tehran and the P5+1 (the United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany), Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization has proffered a full tally of the country’s nuclear project. In what is ostensibly intended as a confidence-building measure, IAEO spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi has confirmed  that the Islamic Republic is preparing a “comprehensive document” detailing the extent of its quarter-century-old nuclear effort. But the product won’t come quickly; “This is time-consuming, as we need to coordinate with other government bodies, but we hope to have it finished in eight months,” Kamalvandi has maintained.  The timing is telling.

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Turkish Stakes in the Ukraine Crisis

By Ian Lesser

German Marshall Fund

May 6, 2014

Over the longer-term, a more competitive and conflict-prone relationship between Russia and the West will test the foundations of recent Turkish foreign policy. It will also test Ankara’s cooperation with transatlantic partners. First, the current crisis underscores the return of hard security challenges on Turkey’s borders. Second, the crisis in relations with Russia comes at a time of considerable unease in Turkey’s relations with NATO partners, many of which are not on the same page when it comes to Syria and other questions of deep concern to Ankara. Third, and more positively, the Ukraine crisis is likely to drive NATO strategy and planning in directions Turkish strategists will prefer.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Week of May 02nd, 2014

Executive Summary


This week saw a number of Middle East related papers from the Washington think tank community.

This week’s Monitor analysis is a follow on to last week’s analysis that looked at a potential breakout of violence in the Western United States.  This week we go further and look at potential flashpoints that may spark widespread civil unrest in the US.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Carnegie Endowment asks if the rebellion in Syria is waning?  They conclude, “But despite their tenacity, it is dangerous to pin too much hope on the rebels’ promise of bringing down the regime or even of weakening it further. The armed rebellion’s underlying problems leave it ever more vulnerable. Anecdotal evidence and sample surveys conducted in liberated areas suggest that, as a result, a growing number of grassroots leaders inside Syria now believe that the longer the armed conflict continues, the less ground the opposition can hold. If this is true, then the rebellion will wane faster than it can consolidate from now on.”

The Washington Institute looks at the upcoming Syrian presidential election.  Despite the questionable nature of the result, they note, “Why, then, should anyone care about another rigged election in the Middle East? Because Assad’s reelection is actually part of his larger strategy to destroy the international community-backed plan for a negotiated solution to the increasingly sectarian Syrian crisis in favor of a forced solution on his terms.”

The Washington Institute looks at the election of a new Lebanese president and argues that it might lead to new violence.  They conclude, “Without a consensus candidate or an extension, the debate could stretch beyond May 25, resulting in yet another domestic crisis at a particularly inopportune time. Three years into the war next door, more than a million mostly Sunni refugees have fled from Syria to Lebanon, where sixteen car bomb attacks occurred in 2013 alone. The hostilities have ebbed lately due to a combination of aggressive LAF action against Sunni militants, Assad regime victories in strategic border regions, and — some say — a quiet Saudi-Iranian agreement to deescalate tensions in Lebanon. While few Lebanese articulate an interest in renewed sectarian bloodshed, a prolonged, contentious, or inconclusive presidential election could rekindle the violence.”

The Center for Security Policy looks at the end of the U.S. mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.  They conclude, “Like its incompetent foreign policy concerning Syria, Egypt, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and other countries and regions, the Obama administration has bungled the Middle East peace talks with stunningly naïve policies that have undermined America’s credibility and benefited our adversaries. The Fatah-Hamas-Islamic Jihad unity agreement will put an end to the farce that was the Kerry peace talks and force the Obama administration to face up to the reality that getting a peace agreement will require strong pressure on Palestinian officials, carrying out consequences for their actions, and working with Israel as our close ally instead of publicly rebuking it as the primary obstacle to a settlement.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the Palestinian policy of seeking international recognition by other governments and membership in international organizations to bolster claims of statehood absent a negotiated peace treaty with Israel.    They argue that Palestine isn’t a state because, “Although “Palestine” is recognized by well over 100 governments and was granted non-member-state observer status by the UNGA, there are fundamental questions about whether it is a state. The traditional measures of statehood are concisely stated in Article I of the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”  Palestine certainly falls short on the defined-territory criterion, which is at the heart of the decades-long dispute with Israel. Moreover, it is a ward of the international community, nearly entirely dependent on it for revenue, services, and sustenance. The government is of questionable legitimacy—Abbas remains in office despite the fact that his term has expired and the Palestinian Legislative Council has not met since 2007. Finally, the PA is either unable or unwilling to police and govern its territory—terrorists and other extremists routinely commit violent acts against Israeli civilians from Palestinian territory.”

The CSIS looks at threats in the Gulf region.  This briefing covers the key factors that sustain the US strategic partnership with its Gulf allies, the level of US commitment to the Gulf and US power projection capabilities and resources, the level of modernization and force expansion affecting the GCC states, the importance of internal stability in the Gulf, and the overall structure of Iran’s politico-military efforts. It focuses in detail on four major aspects of the military balance: Asymmetric warfare capabilities. Conventional warfare capabilities. Missile warfare capabilities. Iran’s nuclear programs.US preventive strike capabilities, and Israel preventive strike capabilities.

The AEI looks at the failure of American policy to stop the growth of al Qaeda.  They note, “Any strategy that would seek to combat the new al Qaeda must begin with a reassessment of the enemy and its objectives and choose a set of techniques that matches this reassessment. A better definition of the enemy would take into consideration its ideology, stated objectives, and military-political strategy and would take seriously the challenge of those affiliated organizations that seek to consciously and continuously implement al Qaeda’s vision in the world. The strategy that would flow from this redefinition would almost certainly include some version of counterinsurgency as well as counterterrorism, both of which would work with and through partners, rather than through American boots on the ground, to implement a coherent and global policy to defeat this growing threat.”

The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at the Kurdistan in light of the American invasion of Iraq.  They note, “Despite tumultuous politics and numerous enemies, the Kurds took advantage of a brief window of American alliance and used it to liberate themselves. Something went right.  Almost by accident, Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the few tangible and enduring accomplishments of United States policy in the Middle East. In spite of all the false promises, hollow pledges, and failed strategies in Iraq, stable governance happened here. Was two decades of American leadership the reason why? Answering this question may offer insight for other American policy dilemmas, particularly the current face-off with Russia over Ukraine.”

The Wilson Center also looks at the Kurds.  Noting the economic success of Kurdistan, it suggests this may be a way to reduce violence in the region.  It concludes, “It is impossible to predict the long-term outcome of the forces threatening the Middle East’s regional order. States wracked by war and infighting, such as Syria, could in fact break up. And states that pursue a cooperative economic agenda aren’t guaranteed success: trade policies and efforts at economic cooperation could fall victim to the same nationalist forces that have driven Arab politics for decades. But the promise of economic associations across borders could limit the possibility of both the restoration of centralized, authoritarian states and states’ violent fragmentation into smaller ethnic or sectarian enclaves.”





Prospects of Civil Unrest

in the United States?

Last week’s analysis of the stand off between armed federal agents and American protestors and militia members was well received by our readers and elicited questions about the potential stability of the United States.  What are the chances of civil unrest in the US?  What sort of threat do these militias pose to the US?  Are divisions in the US really that serious?  What sort of outcome could come of this?

America is a unique nation.  Unlike most nations, it isn’t ethnically based – it is multicultural and multiethnic.  It hasn’t had a hereditary ruling family.  It is based on the concept that each person deserves the maximum amount of personal liberty and freedom from government – rights recognized in the US Constitution.  This freedom of the individual means that there are a multitude of tensions as each person pulls in their own direction.

This set of circumstances has made for a durable society, but one that does have serious tensions in it.  Over the years, these tensions have broken out into violence – the American Revolution, Shays Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, the Civil War, the Haymarket Affair, the great labor strikes in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Bonus Army, Battle of Athens, the race riots of the 1960s, the student riots of the 1970s, Oklahoma City Bombing, and many more.  This doesn’t include the rioting that is common when the electrical power fails in urban areas.

While most violence causes Americans to coalesce, some cause even greater divides, especially when some deep philosophical differences are behind the violence like the race riots of the 1960s.  The opening shots at Lexington and Concord at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and the firing on Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War were such cases.  The situation at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada is one that is showing those philosophical differences and could lead to a greater civil unrest, if both sides aren’t careful.

Currently, the situation at the Bundy Ranch is stable and quiet.  The federal agents haven’t returned and much of the militia force has left.  However, several small militia units remain and they are receiving logistical support from around the country.  It remains a flashpoint.

Potential Instability in the US

The greatest threat to stability in the United States is not political, but its aging infrastructure.  As has been noted in past reports, America’s electrical infrastructure is aging and over stretched.  Not only that, electrical demand is growing, while many aging coal powered plants are being forced off line by environmental regulations.  Power outages are becoming more common and longer, especially during extreme weather.

Urban areas are more susceptible to disruptions in power than suburban or rural areas.  Cities do not have large warehouses nearby to store groceries for their populations.  Consequently, they rely heavily upon transportation to move food and other necessities into the city.  Electrical outages cause refrigerated foodstuffs to spoil and prevent a smooth flow of groceries into the city.  A simple snowstorm or power outage can quickly empty grocery store shelves within hours.   Even stores that remain open with food will not be able to process credit card transactions.

Without food or electricity, city residents can quickly riot and break into closed stores to loot food supplies – causing a level of civil violence that local police and National Guard can’t contain.

An example of how a widespread infrastructure dislocation can cause havoc was Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Katrina was the strongest hurricane of the 2005 hurricane season and the sixth most powerful in American history.  Shortly after the hurricane moved away on August 30, 2005, some residents of New Orleans who remained in the city began looting stores. Many were in search of food and water that were not available to them through any other means, as well as non-essential items.

Reports of carjacking, murders, thefts, and rapes in New Orleans flooded the news. Some sources later determined that many of the reports were inaccurate, because of the confusion. Thousands of National Guard and federal troops were mobilized (the total went from 7,841 in the area the day Katrina hit to a maximum of 46,838 on September 10) and sent to Louisiana along with numbers of local law enforcement agents from across the country who were temporarily deputized by the state.

Many are unaware of the level of tension in the area.  Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco was to say, “They have M16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will.”   Congressman Bill Jefferson (D-LA) told ABC News: “There was shooting going on. There was sniping going on.”

The fact is that the federal government is unable to handle severe problems that threaten civil unrest.  In the case of Katrina, the government had planned to send evacuates to facilities such as the Louisiana Superdome (designed to handle 800, yet 30,000 arrived) and the New Orleans Civic Center (not designed as an evacuation center, yet 25,000 arrived).

Electric power industry and government officials are well aware of how fragile the American electrical power grid is and have recommended improvements.  However, these will take years and billions of dollars.  In the meantime, the government is aware that any electrical power outage covering a large sector of the nation for a period of time can spark widespread violence.

The concern is for more than extreme weather or a cascading technical failure of the electrical grid.  The US power grid is also extremely vulnerable to a terrorist attack – either domestic or foreign.  Last year, there were two attacks against the electrical infrastructure; an attack at a Tennessee nuclear power plant that involved gunfire and an attack by an unknown group of armed men against a substation in California, which destroyed 19 transformers.  Fortunately, the California attack was at night, when power demand was minimal and resources were available to shift the load.  However, if the attack had taken place during the day, the area would have experienced a blackout.  In both cases, the attackers escaped.  Many power companies are rushing to better protect their substations from such attacks in the future.

Although civil disturbance due to an electrical blackout is the biggest threat against the social fabric of the US, the threat of an armed conflict between the government and citizens has grown, especially in light of the Bundy Ranch confrontation.  And, at the tip of that threat are the mysterious militias – groups of armed Americans who are at odds with the federal government.

Little is known about these groups, although the Bundy Ranch confrontation has brought some of them out in the open.  The foremost of these is Oathkeepers, a group of about 3,000 who are either former or serving military members or police, who have sworn that they will not obey unconstitutional orders given by the government.

Oathkeepers created a high profile for itself in the Bundy Ranch standoff because their headquarters are in Las Vegas and their nationwide network of members was able to quickly funnel money and supplies to the people at the Bundy Ranch.  Although not a militia, the presence of armed Oathkeepers and their visibility gained a lot of attention for the organization.

Several other militias are also present at the Bundy Ranch, although their numbers are unknown – although they undoubtedly number less than an infantry company in total.  Texas, Montana, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Nevada militias have claimed to have sent forces to the Bundy Ranch, although numbers aren’t mentioned.  Other militia groups include the West Mountain Rangers, 912 Movement, and the III%.  In most cases, the numbers from each group probably are probably less than a dozen, although the amount of supplies streaming into the site indicates that a large number of supporters are providing logistical support.

The reality is that these militias are more of an armed presence than an actual military force.  Although many have former military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, each militia has a separate command structure and disagreements on tactics are frequent.  Each militia group also has differing agendas – ranging from simply protecting the Bundy family to seeking an armed confrontation with federal agents.

As was mentioned in the analysis last week, the Bundy Ranch has the potential to become a tipping point for rebellion in America.  In fact, many of the extremist militia members at the ranch are aware of this and are hoping for a confrontation with federal agents that will spark a rebellion that spreads across the country.  Fortunately, it appears that the government is also aware of the situation and has decided not to push them and to let the militia members drift home.

At this time, the Bundy Ranch situation is less of a flashpoint than it was a few weeks ago.  That could, however, change if the federal government stages a raid that results in a loss of life.

However, even if the Bundy Ranch situation is peacefully defused, that doesn’t mean there won’t be political consequences.  Another rebellion took place in the early days of the nation that has many similarities.  It changed the complexion of the political landscape and led to the creation of the two party system in America and led to the election of Thomas Jefferson.  That event was the Whiskey Rebellion.

Although the 1794 incident was a vastly larger rebellion than the standoff at the Bundy Ranch, the situations share important parallels including the use of what many people in each situation considered the disproportionate use of force by the government.  It also reflects the differing political views of the people in the more urban parts of the country and those in more rural areas.

The rebellion began in 1791 when Congress passed an excise tax on distilled whiskey with the firm backing of President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s plan was to federalize the debt accumulated by the states during the Revolutionary War and pay it off through a variety of measures, including domestic taxation. On top of that, Hamilton wanted to fund a more widespread extension of government investment in the new country’s military and infrastructure. The tax was excessively high–about 25 percent of the value of each gallon of whiskey.  Needless to say, it encountered almost immediate opposition.

Opposition was fierce on the western frontier (then around Pittsburgh, PA), where farmers would turn excess corn into whiskey.  Not only was whiskey cheaper to transport over the dirt roads, in the money starved west, it was used as a form of money.  In addition, frontier people rarely saw the benefits of federal spending.  In a quote vaguely similar to the statements coming from the Bundy Ranch, one westerner wrote, “To be subject to all the burdens of government and enjoy none of the benefits arising from government is what we will never submit to.”

Western Pennsylvania rose up.  In four western counties of Pennsylvania, excise officers were terrorized; the Pittsburgh mail was robbed; federal judicial proceedings were stopped; and a small body of regular troops guarding the house of General John Neville, excise inspector for western Pennsylvania, was forced to surrender to the rebels.

Patriotic organizations, called “democratic  republican societies” were formed, which were viewed as subversive by the federal government.  President Washington would later write, “I early gave it as my opinion to the confidential characters around me, that if these societies are not counteracted (not by prosecutions, the ready way to make them grow stronger)… they would shake the government to its foundation.”

Historian John Miller would later write that Hamilton “knew that he was committing the government to a trial of strength with Westerners, but he deliberately courted the contest” to display the power and legitimacy of the federal government. Goaded by Hamilton, Washington assembled one of the largest armies built in America up until that time. The president, with the treasury secretary by his side, would lead this force from the capitol in Philadelphia into to wilds of western Pennsylvania.  The size of the assembled army was astounding given the threat.

This force, called the “Watermelon army” by detractors, ended up arresting 30 rebels without any resistance.  Although the rebellion was quashed, the political damage was enormous.

Some Americans viewed the sudden expansion of government power as a blow to the principles fought for during the Revolution, and worried about a government quick to pull the trigger on legitimate freedom of assembly and protest.  The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, attacked the excise tax an “infernal tax” and said that the “conduct of the ‘rebels’ was no worse than riotous.” He and many others called for an elimination or reduction of the hated tax.

From the scattered protests of leaders like Jefferson and others, a new party was formed to oppose the administration. Panicked Federalists, sensing the rise in support for “Republican” opposition, started to become more repressive in their tactics. Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 under President John Adams in response to the Republican protest during the short “Quasi War” with France, which severely curtailed civil liberties. The acts targeted Jefferson’s supporters. The political storm was growing, and Jefferson and Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, calling out the laws as unconstitutional and repressive.

The Resolutions became a political platform for the new party, and a massive wave of supporters was swept into office in 1798. That year’s election became known as the “Revolution of ‘98” and marked a major change in American politics.  Jefferson was elected president in 1800 and he appointed Albert Gallatin, who had spoken up for the rights of the western farmers, as his treasury secretary.  By tapping into these “patriot” societies of the time, he was able to politically establish a political counterbalance to the Federalist Party.

Although the political parties of that time have disappeared, they have set up the continuing philosophical differences of the two parties of today – one calling for more federal control, and one calling for more state and local control.

In the end, the fallout of the Bundy Ranch standoff may not be violence, but political reform – just as it was for the Whiskey Rebellion.

But, in the background, the threat of civil upheaval remains.  Although the situation at the Bundy Ranch has cooled considerably, the fractures in American society remain and social upheaval is still a possibly – either through a massive disruption of the electrical infrastructure or some sort of standoff like that at the Bundy Ranch.



Palestinian Intent to Accede to 15 Treaties and U.S. Response

By Brett D. Schaefer, Steven Groves, and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

April 30, 2014

Issue Brief #4209

President Mahmoud Abbas announced on April 1 that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will seek to join 15 international conventions and treaties. This is a new facet of the existing Palestinian policy of seeking international recognition by other governments and membership in international organizations to bolster claims of statehood absent a negotiated peace treaty with Israel.   Now that the April 23 Hamas–Fatah reconciliation agreement has provoked Israel to suspend negotiations with the Palestinians, Washington should reiterate to Palestinian leaders that they cannot gain statehood by doing an end run around Israel. Such a unilateral strategy would kill any chances for a genuine Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement. The United States has, correctly, opposed this effort and should take additional steps to dissuade the PA from further pursuing this strategy and discourage United Nations organizations from abetting it.

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Evolving Threats and Strategic Partnerships in the Gulf

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 30, 2014

The current US and P5+1 negotiations with Iran may or may not remove nuclear weapons as a major new threat in the Gulf. Nuclear weapons, however, are only one aspect of the threats that affect US allies in the region. The full range of threats includes the following seven major categories of strategic challenges to the US strategic partnership with its Gulf allies: Internal stability: The internal tensions and instability within each GCC state are a threat that each Gulf state must address largely on a national basis. Economic growth, distribution of wealth, demographic pressures and major problems in employing young men and women, the role of foreign labor, the impact of social change and hyper-urbanization, and the role of religion and religious extremism within the state are very real issues that compete for resources with military forces.

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Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011

By Mary Habeck

American Enterprise Institute

April 24, 2014

Current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates throughout the Muslim-majority world. While there are many reasons for this failure, three key issues stand out: a poor definition of the enemy, an incorrect view of its objectives, and the adoption of a strategy that will not defeat the latest evolution of this adaptive organization. If the US understood al Qaeda as it is: the leadership and field army of an insurgency with worldwide linkages that hopes to impose its extremist version of shari’a, govern territory, and overthrow the leaders of every Muslim-majority country, the current national strategy for combating al Qaeda would not be confined to counterterrorism and attrition, but would instead make counterinsurgency—without large numbers of American ground forces—its main technique for confronting and defeating the organization.

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Is the Armed Rebellion in Syria on the Wane?

By Yezid Sayigh

Carnegie Endowment

April 24, 2014

Syria’s armed rebellion has undergone visible consolidation both in the field and at the command level since September 2013. Long overdue, this is a highly positive development. Still, it is unlikely to be enough to best the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While the armed rebellion is far from being defeated, it has plateaued, both militarily and politically.  Fragmentation and dysfunctional competition among the rebel groups persist, and new rebel alliances have not yet demonstrated a notable increase in operational effectiveness. Credible estimates, moreover, indicate that overall rebel strength has not increased over the past year, suggesting that the rebellion has a “shrinking population of potential new recruits,” as a Carter Center report based on exhaustive field data noted in March 2014.

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Good Riddance to John Kerry’s Middle East Peace Talks

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy

April 29, 2014

The U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended today after Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Palestinian president, announced an alliance last week with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Hamas is the Palestinian group which controls Gaza and has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, and the European Union. Islamic Jihad is a terrorist organization backed by Iran.  Israel’s decision to end the talks was long overdue. Like several prior U.S. administrations, the Obama administration has tried to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. However, the peace process begun by Secretary of State John Kerry last year differs from past U.S. efforts due to an inexplicable anti-Israel bias.

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The Thin Red Line: Policy Lessons from Iraqi Kurdistan

By David Danelo

Foreign Policy Research Institute

May 2014

The hotel maid in Sulaymaniyah had red hair, weathered eyes, freckled skin, and a wide smile. Shirin was originally from Baghdad; she spoke the slang Iraqi Arabic jargon I had learned a decade before. As a Kurdish woman, she had married, settled, and somehow survived. In 2007 she fled north, escaping chaos and civil war. In Sulaymaniyah she had a husband and young son, but she also had a husband and son in her past. “Saddam,” she said, drawing her finger across her throat. She paused and repeated the name and gesture, smiling. It seems Saddam killed them, and that she was happy the dictator is dead.  Shirin, along with the other Iraqi Kurds I met in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, is among those few Iraqis who still celebrate the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation.

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How the Kurds Got Their Way, Economic Cooperation and the Middle East’s New Borders

By Marina Ottaway and David Ottaway

Wilson Center

April 29, 2014

The surge of ethnic and sectarian strife in Syria and across the Middle East has led a number of analysts to predict the coming breakup of many Arab states. This potential upending of the region’s territorial order has come to be known as “the end of Sykes-Picot,” a reference to the secret 1916 Anglo-French agreement to divide up the Middle Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire into British and French zones of control. Because the European treaties that created new Arab states in the aftermath of World War I upheld the outlines of that agreement, Sykes-Picot became the convenient shorthand for the map that colonial powers imposed on the region, one that has remained essentially constant to the present day.  With bloodshed from Aleppo to Baghdad to Beirut, it is indeed tempting to predict the violent demise of Sykes-Picot. But although the worst fighting is spilling over borders and pushing some countries, such as Syria, toward fragmentation, there is another force crossing national lines and even realigning national relationships: trade. New transnational zones of economic cooperation are making Middle Eastern borders more porous, but in a way that does not directly challenge existing states. Instead, mutual economic interests, especially in the oil and gas industries, may signal a softer end to Sykes-Picot.

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Lebanon’s Presidential Race

By David Schenker

Washington Institue

May 1, 2014

PolicyWatch 2245

Last week, Lebanon’s parliament convened for the first round of balloting to elect a new president. While Samir Geagea — who leads the Christian “Lebanese Forces” party, which is aligned with the pro-Western March 14 coalition — received the most votes, he failed to secure the requisite two-thirds parliamentary support. In the coming weeks, legislators are slated to continue meeting until a president is selected. Unlike last week’s session, in which the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc did not challenge Geagea’s candidacy, the voting promises to become increasingly contentious in subsequent rounds. Perennial sectarian tensions exacerbated by the war next door in Syria have complicated the historically wrought and arcane election process. Should a compromise candidate not emerge by May 25, the term of current president Michel Suleiman will expire, leaving the post vacant.  In the past, the presidency — which by law must be held by a Christian — was the dominant office in Lebanon’s government. But the 1989 Taif Accord effectively stripped the position of its powers, delegating them to the prime minister, who must hail from the Sunni Muslim constituency. Given the post’s largely symbolic nature, some might argue that the tense selection process is much ado about nothing. Yet the presidency remains an emotionally evocative issue for Lebanese Christians, and both the March 8 and March 14 blocs see a sympathetic chief executive as an important advantage worth fighting for.

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Assad’s Reelection Campaign Matters — Really

By Andrew J. Tabler

Washington Institute

April 30, 2014

The Atlantic

The United States and the international community have spent the better part of the last year backing peace talks in Geneva to bring about a “political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” and ultimately end the war between the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni and Kurdish-dominated opposition. But Assad has his own transition in mind: running for a third seven-year term as president. On April 28, the Syrian president nominated himself as a candidate in Syria’s June 3 presidential poll, “hoping the parliament would endorse it.”  This was hardly a surprise. Assad has hinted at his candidacy for months, and “spontaneous rallies” calling for him to run — many complete with images of Assad beside Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah — have sprung up across regime-controlled areas of the country, while shopkeepers have been encouraged to paint their storefronts with Syrian flags and slogans supporting the leader.

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst

C: 202 536 8984  C: 301 509 4144

Week of April 25th, 2014

Executive Summary

All eyes were turned towards the escalating events in Eastern Europe and the president’s visit to Asia.  However, there were several papers published on Syria, Afghanistan, and the Iraq crisis.

While tensions have increased around the world, there was a similar event in the US, where armed federal agents faced off against armed Americans.  The event, which had the overtones of a Hollywood western, ended peacefully, but brings about the question posed recently by a Russian academic that the US may be poised for a civil war and breakup.  This week’s analysis looks at what happened, the circumstances surrounding it, and the potential for an outbreak of violence in the US.  While much of the media coverage is about the rancher grazing his cattle on federal land, the issue, as many Westerners see it, is about federal ownership of vast amounts of land in the West.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The issues of federal land ownership that came to a head in the Bundy ranch standoff mentioned in the analysis are looked at by the Cato Institute.  They conclude, “The solution is to transfer most federal lands in Nevada to the State of Nevada. Charges for the use of the land—such as grazing fees—should be set in the marketplace. Where feasible, environmentally significant land should be owned and managed by private non-profit land trusts. But these sorts of decisions should be made by the Nevada legislature. Politicians in Washington lack the knowledge to make the crucial land-use decisions that affect the lives of people such as Cliven Bundy, and they are far too distracted with all the other issues on the federal agenda.”

The Syrian conflict was the subject at a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute.  Former UK foreign secretary David Miliband noted the Syrian emergency has become the defining humanitarian crisis of our time. The international community’s failure to effectively deal with it has helped create an explosive cocktail of brutal dictatorship, communal sectarianism, and global and regional power plays. Because the country’s political and humanitarian challenges are interdependent, the failure to adequately address the latter has dangerous consequences for international law — not only for the Syrian conflict, but for future conflicts as well. The war’s fiercely sectarian nature has blurred the line between civilian and combatant, setting a potentially disastrous precedent.

The CSIS looks at the crisis in Iraq.  The country’s main threats, however, result from self-inflicted wounds caused by its political leaders. The 2010 Iraqi elections and the ensuing political crisis divided the nation. Rather than create any form of stable democracy, the fallout pushed Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to consolidate power and become steadily more authoritarian. Other Shi’ite leaders contributed to Iraq’s increasing sectarian and ethnic polarization – as did key Sunni and Kurdish leaders.  Since that time, a brutal power struggle has taken place between Maliki and senior Sunni leaders, and ethnic tensions have grown between the Arab dominated central government and senior Kurdish leaders in the Kurdish Regional government (KRG). The actions of Iraq’s top political leaders have led to a rise in Sunni and Shi’ite violence accelerated by the spillover of the extremism caused by the Syrian civil war.

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at the Iraq Crisis.  They conclude, “the continuity of the Sunni-Shia divide is a result of the failure to undertake successful nation-building processes and the exclusionary politics that have characterized the country’s modern history. A highly contentious environment, weak state institutions, the effects of political Islam, and geopolitical rivalries have heightened sectarianism in Iraq in the last decade. Increasing terrorist attacks against Shia civilians and the ISF’s operations in Sunni areas have exacerbated the risk of an outright sectarian conflict reminiscent of the 2006–2007 civil war.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates in recent years.  They fault the current strategy and note, “The misreading of the enemy and his objectives has led to the adoption of a strategy, centered on counterterrorism, that cannot defeat al Qaeda. The set of techniques known as counterterrorism is ultimately based on attrition—that is, killing or capturing the members of the terrorist group. Counterterrorism and attrition work best against small groups that are incapable of mass recruitment and therefore cannot replace themselves, are unable to hold territory, and lack the capacity to set up shadow governance. None of this is true of al Qaeda today. Given the resurgence of al Qaeda since 2011, one would expect a serious rethinking of US national strategy to combat the group, but so far this has not happened.”

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the White House plan to leave 5,000 troops in Afghanistan.  They conclude, “It is premature to conclude before the election is over that fewer than 5,000 troops will suffice after 2014. Violence will increase as the fighting season begins and the Taliban and other insurgent groups have not yet exercised their full strength. The White House’s thinking is based on a misleading single-day snapshot and does not consider the real picture of violence and persisting threats in Afghanistan.”









Is the United States on the Verge of a Second American Civil War?

On April 12th, just north of Las Vegas, Nevada, the US may have tottered on the edge of civil war as about 200 heavily armed federal agents faced a crowd of civilians – some on horseback and some clearly armed.  Despite repeated warnings from the federal agents for the crowd to disperse or be fired upon, the crowd continued to advance on their positions.  Finally, the government forces relented and pulled back – giving way and allowing a couple dozen mounted cowboys to reclaim the 300+ cattle that had caused the confrontation.

During the 15 or so minutes when both sides were standing their ground, gunfire from either side could have very easily caused a civil war, just as a single shot on the green at Lexington in 1775 ignited the American Revolution.


BLM agents facing protestors

Is America really on the verge of civil war?  It may closer than many imagine.  The response from many Americans indicates it may be – as militia groups from around the US came to the support the rancher at the center of this controversy, Cliven Bundy.  Even though the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has backed down for the moment, armed militia units remain at the ranch in order to fight any returning government troops.  And many expect the federal government to return, this time with more force.

The response to the incident was mixed and showed the fissures in American society.  The senior US senator from Nevada, Harry Reid, called the people at the ranch, “domestic terrorists.”  However the other US senator from Nevada, Dean Heller, called them, “patriots.”

Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, after visiting the Bundy Ranch, disagrees with BLM agents.  Although the Bundy Ranch is in Nevada, the grazing area borders Arizona and some Arizonan cattle have been known to wander across the state border.  “If there was any type of public-safety concern, it was with the Park Service and the BLM,” he said. To Gosar, Bundy represents victims of unwanted federal control in Western states like Arizona. “A government that can take all and can seize all, a government that doesn’t trust its citizens, a government that says it’s their way or the highway,” said Gosar, whose western Arizona district borders Nevada… that’s the scary part.”

This controversy is much deeper than one rancher and a handful of right-wing militia members.  The standoff is just the focal point in a debate on the vast amount of land controlled by the federal government in the West.  The issue is so hot that official delegations from other Western states like Arizona and Oregon went to the ranch in support of Bundy.  In fact, More than 50 lawmakers from nine Western states gathered last Friday for a summit in Utah, where an estimated 67 percent of the land is owned by the federal government and which has twice passed provisions seeking to reduce the reach of Washington’s control over that property.

The meeting at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City had been planned weeks ago, but the federal action at the cattle rancher’s property shed new light on the issue of federal control of Western land.  62 percent of Alaska is federally owned, as well as 62 percent of Idaho. More than 81 percent of Nevada is managed by federal authorities; 48 percent of California; 35 percent of New Mexico; 42 percent of Arizona; 53 percent of Oregon; 29 percent of Washington; and just over 48 percent of Wyoming.  Federal policy for the nation’s first 150 years was for the federal government to dispose of lands it acquired by handing it back to states, businesses, or individuals.  No wonder some westerners are on the edge of rebellion.

The Eye of the Storm – the Bundy Ranch

This analysis will skirt the complex legal issues surrounding the Bundy Ranch showdown.  It’s obvious that both Bundy and the BLM have made the situation worse.  Bundy has admitted that he isn’t paying grazing fees to the federal government.  However, the normal recourse for the Federal government to collect money owed them is to put a legal lien on the property, not send armed agents.

For many of Bundy’s supporters, the law isn’t as important.  They see it as civil disobedience, in the tradition of Dr. Martian Luther King, Gandhi, and the protesters of the” Arab Spring”.  In fact, many of the Bundy supporters are calling this the beginning of the American Spring – a clear reference to what happened in the Middle East.

The BLM had obtained federal rulings that they could take Bundy’s cattle off their land several years ago.  However, events came to a head on March 15th, when the BLM informed Bundy that they were going to impound his cattle for trespassing on federal land.  On the 27th, the BLM closed off 322,000 acres to the public in order to collect the cattle.  Bundy responded by contacting his supporters around the country.

On April 5th, the roundup of cattle began and the next day confrontations between the BLM and Bundy supporters started.  However, the situation heated up on April 9th when a violent confrontation between both sides took place, while being filmed by several people in the crowd.  This video quickly ended up on the internet and went viral.  This confrontation brought the issue to national attention and hundreds of supporters flocked to Nevada to support Bundy.  By the next day a protest camp had been set up on the side of the road near the ranch.

The major confrontation came on April 12th.  That morning, the BLM announced that they were suspending the roundup and were reopening the BLM land to the public.  Instead of accepting the BLM’s retreat, Bundy insisted the BLM leave the area and release his cattle.  When he didn’t receive an answer, he and dozens of cowboys and ranchers mounted up on horseback and rode towards the BLM corrals.

At this point, the confrontation began to look like a western movie – mounted cowboys versus federal agents as they both tried to get the other side to retreat.  The BLM repeatedly told the crowd that they had a court order and would shoot if the crowd advanced.  However, the crowd continued to move forward and up to the cattle gate, where the agents were.  Tensions remained high for about 15 minutes as armed federal agents and armed protesters faced off.


Ranchers on horseback, protesters, and militia members in foreground faceoff

against BLM agents under bridge

Finally cooler heads prevailed and the BLM agreed to leave and release the cattle.  Reports from the ground indicate that many of the government agents were uncomfortable with shooting fellow Americans, as well as being aware that they were also facing an armed crowd that could return fire.  They also knew events were being videoed and streamed live on the internet.

The following YouTube videos from two separate sources show the confrontation and the release of the cattle.

As of the time of this analysis, the standoff continues.  The BLM has made it clear that they will take legal action to remove the cattle.  The Bundys are standing their ground and a contingent of militia members is on the scene in order to guard them and their ranch.
Is Revolution Brewing?

Uprisings need a flash point and history and events in other countries show that when the government shoots at civilians, the chance for an outbreak of violence increases dramatically.  In the case of the US, the Bundy Ranch might serve as one, if shooting breaks out there.

There are several reasons to believe this.  The first is the American character, which has celebrated rebellion, whether it is protecting escaping slaves, the civil rights marches of the 1960s, or the American Revolution against Great Britain.  Certainly, the image of American cowboys standing up against government agents reinforces the image as cowboys have always been the American icon of independence.

The second reason is that the Bundy/BLM confrontation is only one of many that are taking place across the West.   Long before Cliven Bundy faced down federal agents in his dispute with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights, fellow Nevada rancher Raymond Yowell, an 84-year-old former Shoshone chief, had his herd seized by the BLM.  Other Shoshone families, the Danns, Colvins, and Vogts have had their cattle taken by the BLM.  Their cattle roamed Shoshone reservation land. But a 1979 Supreme Court decision held that even land designated for Indian reservations is held in trust for them, and thus subject to BLM regulation. The Shoshone say that the treaties with the federal government and ratified by the Senate, granted them the right to graze cattle on the land. The Western Shoshone say they have never relinquished their right to the territory.

Yowell represented himself in a successful effort to win a federal injunction to stop the BLM from impounding his cattle, as well as a subsequent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that reversed the lower court. He’s again representing himself in a petition to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear his case, in which he argues his cattle were taken without due process and in violation of multiple treaties.

Yowell said he sees some “commonality” between his fight and Bundy’s, but stressed his claim to the land is further strengthened by the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863, which formally recognized Western Shoshone rights to some 60 million acres in Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California.  “There’s a definite pattern in the West, beginning in the 1990s, maybe in the late ’80s, of what I feel are illegal cattle seizures,” Yowell said. “[Bundy’s case] is the latest example of that pattern.”


The Bundy cattle at the center of the standoff being herded by cowboys after being released.

Other Nevada ranchers also note that in order to rush the process of making Nevada a state during the American Civil War, statehood was rushed along with the help of an enabling act promising that Washington would sell off surplus lands beyond what would be necessary for the construction of military bases and similar facilities.  The rush was to secure the vast silver deposits in Nevada, which were helping to finance the war.  They argue that the BLM’s vast holdings in Nevada violate this legislation.

Questionable BLM actions aren’t limited to Nevada.  It was also recently reported that the BLM intends to seize 90,000 acres belonging to Texas landholders along the Texas/Oklahoma line; Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott questioned the BLM’s authority to take such action.   “I am about ready,” Abbott told a reporter, “to go to go to the Red River and raise a ‘Come and Take It’ flag to tell the feds to stay out of Texas.”  The ‘Come and Take It’ flag was flown in 1835 at the Battle of Gonzales, the opening battle of the Texas Revolution and was a subtle reminder by Abbott that Texas had once fought for its independence and could do so again.

Abbott, who is running for governor of Texas, sent a strongly-worded letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze, asking for answers to a series of questions related to the potential land grab.   He later told reporters, “This is the latest line of attack by the Obama Administration where it seems like they have a complete disregard for the rule of law in this country …And now they’ve crossed the line quite literally by coming into the State of Texas and trying to claim Texas land as federal land. And, as the Attorney General of Texas I am not going to allow this.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a possible Republican nominee for president in 2016 has also gone on record.  “It’s not a dare, it’s a promise that we’re going to stand up for private property rights in the state of Texas,” Perry said.

In many ways, this has more potential to be a flashpoint as the BLM has no legal authority to seize the land without legislation.  This, and the fact that the agreement between the independent Republic of Texas and the US to cede all unowned land within Texas to the state rather than the federal government upon its entrance into the US, make this a situation to watch.  There is already a Texas succession movement and any abrogation of this agreement will only strengthen this movement.

Nor is this battle limited to Nevada and Texas.  State and local conflicts with federal government action are roiling politics in Oregon, California, Utah, and Wyoming.  Each of these areas offers a potential spark for an uprising.

There is also a growing concern amongst Americans about how the federal government enforces the law.  While the president purposely refuses to enforce some laws like border enforcement, he is strict in enforcing BLM regulations.  Many are asking why the federal government is allowed to pick and choose the laws it wishes to enforce and are wondering if the current system is broken.

The next reason for being concerned that the US may break out in civil war is the mood of the nation.  In a poll taken by Rasmussen after the standoff at the Bundy Ranch, 54% consider the federal government today a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector. Just 22% see the government as a protector of individual rights, and that’s down from 30% last November.

Even more troubling was the finding that 37% of likely U.S. Voters now fear the federal government.  Two-out-of-three voters (67%) view the federal government today as a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Just 17% disagree.  Only 19% now trust the federal government to do the right thing most or nearly all the time and 71% of voters believe that if America’s Founding Fathers came back today, they would regard the federal government as too big.

A poll taken a week earlier also had bad news.  It showed just 19% of Likely U.S. Voters believe the federal government today has the consent of the governed.  Sixty-sixty percent (66%) do not believe the federal government has the consent of the governed today, while 16% are unsure.  The wording is critical as the phrase, “Consent of the governed,” comes from Ameirca’s Declaration of Independence, which states that governments receive their power from the consent of the governed and when the government becomes destructive, the people have the right to abolish it.

These polls are consistent with the findings of other polling organizations.  Five months ago, the Gallup polling group found seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question.

Clearly there is a serious level of unrest in the US, combined with a stagnant economy that has hit Middle America more than the ruling class.  History shows that this is an explosive mixture.

The final factor is the heavily armed American people and the rise of militias.  Although numbers are merely guesses, it is not out of line to assume that there is one privately owned firearm for every American.  That being the case, Americans are well positioned to fight, and win, if a clash occurs.


Militia stationed near Bundy Ranch

The federal government is also finding itself up against more trained militias than in the past.  As was seen in the Bundy Ranch standoff, these units can quickly mobilize and travel to a hot spot.  And, many of these units have cadres of militia members with military experience – especially from Afghanistan and Iraq.  They also have communications and other logistical gear necessary for sustained operations.

Although these militias say that they have thousands of members (the Oklahoma Volunteer Militia claims they have 50,000 supporters), only a few hundred showed up at the Bundy Ranch and currently only about 50 are at the ranch.  However, they have shown that they can reappear quickly.


Crowd advances on BLM agents

The biggest problem is not the militias, but the rest of the armed Americans who may quickly rally to a rebellion.  At the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, only 77 American militiamen were present when the shooting began.  By that afternoon, hundreds of armed Americans were shooting at the British as they retreated towards Boston.  By the next morning, a militia army of 15,000 American colonists were besieging the British in Boston.

The problem is not the few thousand militia members.  The problem is what will happen if a shooting war breaks out between federal agents and some Americans and militia members?  Could people with grievances, just like those in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, flood into the streets, but with a level of firepower that would overwhelm the government?

There has been some recent controversy about some racist remarks made by Bundy to the New York Times during an interview.  Although this has cast some doubt on Bundy and forced many of his supporters to declaim the statements, the core issues of massive federal land ownership remain.

These comments may lessen the support for the rancher and cause some of the supporters at the ranch to leave in the next few days.  However, only time will tell

It might not happen.  However, history tells us that it is quite possible.



BLM vs. the Nevada Rancher

By Chris Edwards

Cato Institute

April 21, 2014

The battle between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) might be viewed as an overly aggressive federal bureaucracy enforcing misguided environmental regulations vs. an oppressed individual and his overly enthusiastic supporters with guns.  However, like the ongoing battles in California between farmers and environmentalists over water, the Nevada story is more complex than that. The issues are not divided neatly along left-right political lines. In both cases, the property rights issues are complicated, and the federal government has long subsidized the use of land and water resources in the West. The first step toward a permanent solution in both cases is to revive federalism. That is, to transfer federal assets to state governments and the private sector.

Read more



Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony H. Cordesman and Sam Khazai

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 21, 2014

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

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Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011

By Mary Habeck

American Enterprise Institute

April 24, 2014

Current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates throughout the Muslim-majority world. While there are many reasons for this failure, three key issues stand out: a poor definition of the enemy, an incorrect view of its objectives, and the adoption of a strategy that will not defeat the latest evolution of this adaptive organization. If the US understood al Qaeda as it is: the leadership and field army of an insurgency with worldwide linkages that hopes to impose its extremist version of shari’a, govern territory, and overthrow the leaders of every Muslim-majority country, the current national strategy for combating al Qaeda would not be confined to counterterrorism and attrition, but would instead make counterinsurgency—without large numbers of American ground forces—its main technique for confronting and defeating the organization.

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Iraq’s Sectarian Crisis: A Legacy of Exclusion

By Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee

Carnegie Endowment

April 23, 2014

One decade after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, violence and tensions between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds continue to threaten Iraq’s stability and fragile democracy. The political elite have failed to develop an inclusive system of government, and internal divides have been reinforced by the repercussions of the Arab Spring, especially the effects of the largely Sunni uprising against the Syrian regime and the reinforcement of transnational sectarianism. To prevent further fragmentation or the emergence of a new authoritarian regime, Iraq needs a political compact based less on sectarian identities and more on individual citizens.

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By Saša Hezir with Reza Jan

Institute for the Study of War

April 23, 2014

The White House is dropping strong hints that the number of American troops in Afghanistan after 2014 may fall below 10,000, possibly even below 5,000. Unnamed White House officials suggested to the press that lower levels of U.S. support to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be sufficient to contain future Taliban threats, given the relatively smooth election on April 5 and lack of high-profile attacks that day.  In January, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General Joseph Dunford, and other military leaders recommended leaving 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train and assist the ANSF and to conduct counter-terrorism operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Read more



The Syrian Conflict: Where Strategic Interest and Humanitarian Urgency Intersect

By David Miliband, Ambassador Robert S. Ford, and Andrew J. Tabler

April 21, 2014

PolicyWatch 2241

On April 17, 2014, David Miliband and Robert Ford addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Miliband is president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom. Ford is a former U.S. diplomat who recently retired after completing four years’ service as ambassador to Syria. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks. Institute senior fellow Andrew J. Tabler moderated the event.

Watch the video and read more


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

Week of April 18th, 2014

Executive Summary



This was a slower week for papers as Americans celebrated two religious holidays – the Christian Holy Week, which culminates in Easter and the Jewish Passover.


This week’s Monitor Analysis looks at the ongoing drone war.  Although Obama promised nearly a year ago to limit drone strikes in the Middle East, they continue.  And, despite the civilian casualties and deaths of Americans in some attacks, the US courts have ruled that they are legal and can continue.



Think Tanks Activity Summary


The Center for Security Policy argues for more US/Israeli cooperation in counter-drone technology.  They note, “As the Pentagon moves toward a future of fewer troops and more unmanned vehicles, other countries are doing the same, particularly in the use of drones. The military is trying to account for that by not only expanding its use of unmanned aerial vehicles, but looking for technologies to defend against them.”


The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs advocates transferring bombers to the Israeli Air Force.  They conclude, “By transferring to Israel MOPs (30,000-pound bunker-buster bombs) and B-52Hs the administration would send a signal that its ally, which already has the will, now has the ability to prevent a nuclear Iran. Once they are delivered-ideally as the current six-month interim deal is set to expire in July-Iran will be put on notice that its nuclear program will come to an end, one way or another.”


The American Enterprise Institute looks at America’s faltering Middle East peace process policy.  They note, “For America, entering into a fraught, potentially doomed negotiation incurs enormous costs, now being demonstrated throughout the Middle East as all of Obama’s major diplomatic initiatives (Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; Syria’s civil war; and Iran’s nuclear weapons program) crash and burn. Our failures have consequences. Both U.S. friends and adversaries will analyze the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and make judgments about advancing their own interests in light of the perception (and the reality) of a weaker, less-effective, less-competent U.S. presidency.”


The Carnegie Endowment looks at the growing violence in northern Lebanon.  They conclude, “Since early 2014, the political and sectarian violence shaking Tripoli has begun to spread to parts of the Beqaa Valley and is now threatening to engulf other parts of the country. To prevent all of Lebanon from falling into the abyss of civil strife once again, Lebanese decision-makers must urgently come to terms with a series of challenges that have not been sufficiently addressed in past decades. These challenges have plagued Lebanon since long before the beginning of the Syrian uprising. The most obvious of these issues is the need to reverse the neglect and underdevelopment of Tripoli as well as other areas. These conditions provide the backdrop for radicalization. Sunni politicians should also reactivate Dar al-Fatwa to make sure that their medium- and long-term plans for economic development are accompanied by efforts to contain religious extremism.”


The CSIS updated its report on threats and partnerships in the Gulf.  It sees the following as key threats, “Internal ethnic and sectarian tensions, civil conflict, continued instability, failed governance and economy.  Syrian civil war, Iraq, Lebanon, “Shi’ite crescent.”  Sectarian warfare and struggle for future of Islam through and outside region. Sunni on Sunni and vs. Shi’ite struggles. Terrorism, insurgency, civil conflict linked to outside state and non-state actors.  Wars of influence and intimidation.  Asymmetric conflicts escalating to conventional conflicts.  Major “conventional” conflict threats: Iran-ArabGulf, Arab-Israeli, etc.  Economic warfare: sanctions, “close the Gulf,” etc.  Missile and long-range rocket warfare.  Proliferation, preventive strikes, containment, nuclear arms race, extended deterrence, “weapons of mass effectiveness.”


The German Marshall Fund looks at ruling versus governing in the Middle East.  They conclude, “Finally, the obstacle before democracy is not identities or Islam per se, but a particular mode of governance that incumbents adopt through ruling instead of governing. The parties to the ongoing conflict in Turkey, the former allies of the AKP and the Gulen movement, are both conservative Islamic groups, and their disagreement is not about identity, Islamic values, or Islamic ideologies. Instead, it is about hegemony and power. The swings in the AKP experience since 2002 — as well as the difference between Tunisian and Egyptian Islamists — clearly show that power and politics make for a much greater difference than do identities.”








Has America’s Drone Policy Really Changed in the Last Year?


It’s been nearly a year since Obama outlined America’s new drone policy.  Last May, he outlined stricter rules and regulations for drones, which have been used to target suspected militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries. Critics had blamed these drone strikes for high numbers of civilian casualties.


Under the new policy, the Defense Department, not the CIA carries out drone attacks, and only in established conflict zones.  However, the policy that governs these assassinations is classified – although Obama insisted that his administration would only ever launch a drone strike against any suspect to stop a planned attack, when it was not possible to capture a suspect, and when there was “near certainty” that civilians would not be injured or killed.


Yet, the drone attacks continue and critics say that Obama isn’t carrying out his own policy outlined in May.  The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates unmanned aerial vehicles have killed between 2,296 and 3,718 people, as many as 957 of them civilians.


In fact, the drone war has increased so much in the last few years that there is a manning shortage for drone pilots.  A recent government report also said that these drone operators are not receiving adequate training, which may cause additional civilian casualties in the future.


In December 2013, a drone strike on a wedding procession in Yemen raised questions amongst human rights groups.  The December 12th attack killed 12 men and wounded at least 15 other people, including the bride.  US and Yemeni officials said the dead were members of the armed group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but witnesses and relatives told Human Rights Watch the casualties were civilians. This was in direct conflict with Obama’s statement that US policy requires “near-certainty” that no civilians will be harmed in targeted attacks.


In February, the European Union, with an overwhelming vote of 534-49, passed a resolution calling on EU Member States to “oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings” and demanding that EU member states “do not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states.” This resolution was designed to pressure individual European nations to stop their own production and/or use of weaponized drones (especially the UK, Germany, Italy and France), and to stop their collaboration with the US drone program.


On February 13, the World Council of Churches–the largest coalition of Christian churches, came out in opposition to the use of armed drones. The Council said that the use of armed drones poses a “serious threat to humanity” and condemned, in particular, US drone strikes in Pakistan.


The continued use of drones led the UN Human Rights Council to issue a report a few weeks ago that asked the administration to review its drone policy and reveal how it picked its targets. The report said the United States should give more information on how it decided someone was enough of an “imminent threat” to be targeted in covert operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia and other countries.  It should “revisit its position regarding legal justifications for the use of deadly force through drone attacks,” investigate any abuses and compensate victims’ families, the committee added in its conclusions.


There is a push for the UN to review drone warfare policy.  Pakistan is trying to pass a resolution in the council that would mandate an impartial investigation into U.S. drone strikes there that may have violated human rights, and the council had its third discussion about the topic on March 19. The resolution would also ensure a more accurate record of death totals from those attacks, according to “Foreign Policy.” The U.S., which claims the strikes are necessary to thwart potential terrorists, says the council shouldn’t have jurisdiction over human rights violations that come from drone strikes, so it won’t be a part of the conversation.


The U.S. vowed to be a collaborative member of the council when it decided to join in 2009 but has so far refused to declassify much of the information it has on drone strikes in Pakistan.  “We just don’t see the Human Rights Council as the right forum for discussion narrowly focused on a single weapons delivery system,” an unnamed State Department official told “Foreign Policy.” By avoiding the talks, the US can ignore any rules that come from the discussions.


Nor will there be any domestic pressure to modify the drone policy, especially since the US federal courts have given Obama legal cover for his drone attacks.  Two weeks ago, federal judge Rosemary M. Collyer dismissed a lawsuit brought by Nasser al-Awlaki, the relative of two U.S. citizens who were killed by American drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.


Attorney General Eric Holder asserted Anwar al-Awlaki was directly and personally involved “in the continued planning and execution of terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland.”  The administration also believed that al-Awlaki was directly linked to the 2009 attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner and the 2009 FortHood shooting.


But in reaching that conclusion, the court also found it “plausible” that Awlaki’s Fifth Amendment due-process rights were violated. Ultimately, the judge decided, there was no remedy available, so the lawsuit was dismissed. But this sets a dangerous precedent for the targeted-killing program because it means there is no legal recourse for anyone attacked by a drone.


Ironically, the problem began with the Obama administration itself, which argued several years ago that the determination to target Awlaki complied with due process.  The essence of due process, as Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman recently argued at an Intelligence Squared debate, is that “the government would not kill its own citizens without a trial.” That principle comes from the English Magna Charta of 1215, and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution had that in mind when, in the Fifth Amendment, they wrote that no onemay “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”


The question is when due process takes place and when the situation demands other recourses.  The Constitution is clear that due process is required before the federal government takes a citizen’s life. But in many cases, that would fly in the face of common sense.


Noted legal expert and law professor Alan Dershowitz points out a bank robber firing at police as he flees is not entitled to a trial before police can shoot back at him.  Rather, the dangerous and imminent threat posed by the robber justified an exception to due process. This exception is widened in the case of war, which is why the laws of war have never required a prior hearing before incapacitating an enemy combatant that is on the battlefield.


So, what does the US consider due process?  A Department of Justice white paper leaked last year stated that the current policy of the executive branch is that it can lawfully target and kill Americans abroad who pose an imminent threat of violent attack to the US.


The court in the al-Awlaki case agreed that he met this standard: The decision stated, “The fact is that Anwar Al-Aulaqi was an active and exceedingly dangerous enemy of the United States.”


But, the court did go on to say that it is plausible that Awlaki’s due-process rights were violated because the DOJ’s white paper argued that it actually is affording due process to targeted Americans.


This is an issue that will cause considerable debate because the definition is so flexible.  The DOJ argues that “the process due in any given instance is” determined by weighing the interests involved. The private interest involved, e.g., someone’s life, is weighed against the government’s asserted interest in protecting American lives. While both interests are weighty, the government’s interest is weightier, so due process can be expedited and simplified for those targeted.”  In other words, due process depends on how important the issue is, not by legal norms. According to the DOJ white paper, the administration thinks due-process requirements are met “where an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat.”  However, no one knows what constitutes a “high-level official.”


This is an interpretation that has been criticized by Administration critics on both sides of the political spectrum.  Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia vehemently criticized this malleable interpretation of due process in 2004 when it was applied to wartime detention.


The criticism also comes from Obama’s own party.  Democratic Senator Wyden asked, “Are there any geographical limitations to the president’s ability to kill people with drones? Put another way, could the president send a drone armed with a “Hellfire” missile to kill an American on American soil in their home?”


Although the number of drone strikes has declined in the last year (8 attacks in Yemen in 2014), the question of how they are used remains a hot subject – especially in the light of the federal court ruling and the growing use of drones for surveillance within the United States.  The secretive nature of the process bothers many because due process was written into the US Constitution to prevent governments from secretly ruling that people could lose their property, freedom, or life.



Drones have been used recently in the US to track and arrest American citizens.  The first known incident of a drone-aided arrest took place in North Dakota in 2011 when farmer Thomas Brossart was taken into custody after he refused to return some cows that had wandered onto his property.  Police across the US now regularly use drones for surveillance.



The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is concerned about where that data ends up. “The trick is, we need a system of rules to ensure we can enjoy the benefits of drone technology without becoming a surveillance society,” said Allie Bohm, advocacy and policy strategist for the ACLU. “We want to prohibit drones for massive surveillance and still allow law enforcement to use them in cases of wrongdoing.” The ACLU supports the warrant requirements some states have enacted.


Although Obama promised a new drone policy last year, it’s clear that despite worldwide condemnation, the American Administration will continue use drones as a weapon.  The recent court case will only make it politically easier for them to continue on the same course.





Evolving Threats and Strategic Partnerships in the Gulf

By Anthony Cordesman


Center for Strategic and International Studies


April 15, 2014


Key Threats: Internal ethnic and sectarian tensions, civil conflict, continued instability, failed governance and economy.  Syrian civil war. Iraq, Lebanon, “Shi’ite crescent.”  Sectarian warfare and struggle for future of Islam through and outside region. Sunni on Sunni and vs. Shi’ite struggles. Terrorism, insurgency, civil conflict linked to outside state and non-state actors.  Wars of influence and intimidation.  Asymmetric conflicts escalating to conventional conflicts.  Major “conventional” conflict threats: Iran-ArabGulf, Arab-Israeli, etc.  Economic warfare: sanctions, “close the Gulf,” etc.  Missile and long-range rocket warfare.  Proliferation, preventive strikes, containment, nuclear arms


race, extended deterrence, “weapons of mass effectiveness”.


Read more




The takeaway from the languishing Middle East peace process

By John R. Bolton


American Enterprise Institute


April 12, 2014


Barack Obama has announced a “pause” for a “reality check” in his Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, although no one is really deceived by this euphemism. His “peace process” is verging on collapse, despite a year’s investment of U.S. diplomatic time and effort. Not only will the negotiations’ impending failure leave Israelis and Palestinians even further from resolving their disputes than before but America’s worldwide prestige will be significantly diminished. Our competence and influence are again under question, Israel has been undermined and by misallocating our diplomatic priorities, we have impaired our ability to resolve international crises and problems elsewhere, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea.


Read more




The Roots of Crisis in Northern Lebanon

By Raphaël Lefèvre


Carnegie Endowment


April 15, 2014


As the conflict in Syria enters its fourth year, it continues to spill over the borders of neighboring countries and alter local dynamics, sometimes with significant consequences.   Lebanon, in particular, has been greatly affected by the Syrian civil war. An influx of Syrian refugees, now exceeding 1 million in a population of 4.4 million, has impacted the country’s local socioeconomic and religious fabric. The ongoing stalemate in Syria has also further polarized Lebanon’s already-tense domestic political situation, which is shaped by a schism between the March 8 coalition, broadly sympathetic to the Syrian regime, and the March 14 alliance, which is opposed to the government in Damascus. Most recently, the rise of Sunni extremism in the Syrian conflict has unleashed disturbing religious and security dynamics in Lebanon, with al-Qaeda affiliates that are fighting in Syria, such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, launching Lebanese chapters.


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The Next Huddle on US-Israel Security Technology Cooperation

By Ben Lerner


Center for Security Policy
April 7, 2014


One of the many benefits of the US-Israel relationship has been the extent to which American and Israeli security have been significantly bolstered by security technology cooperation.  Joint US-Israel missile defense programs such as Iron Dome and the Arrow system have demonstrated their utility in obstructing rocket fire directed at Israel by terrorist organizations and their Iranian patrons, and Elbit Systems will soon be bringing Israel’s border security expertise to bear on our persistent southwest border vulnerabilities.  As with missile defense and border security, the United States and Israel now need to huddle on another area of security technology that is emerging as an imperative for both nations: counter-drone technology.


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Ruling vs. Governing: Pluralism and Democracy in Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia

By Sebnem Gumuscu and E. Fuat Keyman


German Marshall Fund


April 15, 2014


The past few months have been marked by critical developments in Turkey, where corruption allegations against the government ignited a power struggle between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen movement over control of the state. We contend that the AKP’s increasing tendency to rule through domination instead of governing through leadership in the ongoing political predicament exacerbates the crisis by undermining the rule of law and political pluralism. Political leaders may be tempted to rule and dominate rather than to govern and lead. However, as we see in Turkey (also in Egypt), this temptation makes incumbents weak and vulnerable while governing through leadership makes them stronger.


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Sending a Bunker-Busting Message to Iran
By Lt. General David Deptula, USAF (ret.) & Dr. Michael Makovsky


Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
April 8, 2014


The Wall Street Journal


Prussian leader Frederick the Great once lamented, “The ways of negotiation have failed up to the present, and negotiations without arms make as little impression as notes without instruments.” The same could be said about nuclear negotiations with Iran. The Obama administration has cut a deeply flawed interim deal, forgone new sanctions, and effectively taken the military option off the table. It’s time to increase the pressure on Tehran by boosting Israel’s military capacity to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.  It’s hard to imagine negotiations succeeding. The interim deal has undercut the leverage of the U.S. and its partners. It has triggered a rise in Iran’s oil-export revenue, while its nuclear-breakout timing remains unchanged due to increased centrifuge efficiency, as permitted in the deal. Tehran continues to deny inspectors access to key nuclear facilities. Recent tensions with Russia will only create new opportunities for Iran to exploit the U.S. in negotiations.


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Week of April 11th, 2014

Executive Summary


While Washington remains focused on the Ukraine, events are taking place on the other side of the world that may have an impact on the Middle East.  Interestingly enough, Secretary of State Kerry isn’t involved in them and remains embroiled in the Ukraine, Syria, and Iranian situations.  It is Secretary of Defense Hagel and Obama who are traveling to the Far East, where tensions are growing.  This may indicate a growing lack of confidence in Kerry’s ability to execute American foreign policy.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the escalating crisis in Asia, where Chinese growing influence and North Korea are making it more likely that the US will have to “pivot” to the Far East.  We look at the cause of the tensions and how neighboring nations and the US are responding.  We also look at what China is doing and ask if their strategy will be successful in the long term.  We also look at how this crisis will impact US involvement in the Middle East.



Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Institute for the Study of War looks at Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Syria.  This paper details Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria from the beginning of the conflict to the present. Much of the focus is on 2013, when Hezbollah publicly acknowledge its presence in Syria and deepened its commitment on the ground. The first part of the paper explores the relationship between Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria and Hezbollah’s rationale for its involvement in Syria. The second part looks at Hezbollah’s activities in Syria from 2011 to 2012, when it operated on a limited and clandestine basis. The third section of the paper details Hezbollah’s escalation of its presence in 2013 and examines the group’s role in operations across Syria since the beginning of 2013. The fourth part analyzes the size, scope, and structure of Hezbollah’s operations in Syria. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of Hezbollah’s growing presence in Syria within Lebanon, Syria, and more broadly.

The Washington Institute looks at the current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks.  They note, “It is important to note that while diplomacy may be on life support, it is not necessarily dead. Abbas most likely prefers direct diplomacy over the UN route; he may have taken initial steps on the latter path because he has been stung by attacks from former PA security chief Muhammad Dahlan as well as pressure from hardline elements in Fatah. Standing up to America and Israel helps him regain popularity and legitimacy. From this perspective, the Palestinians’ UN gambit may be a prelude to returning to the negotiating table. If so, the “431 deal” — in which Israel would release 400 new Palestinian prisoners and the last tranche of 30 old prisoners, while the United States would release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, all in exchange for Palestinian suspension of UN efforts and continuation of peace talks through 2015 — may still be on the table.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the idea behind the proposed release of Israeli spy Pollard.  They scold the administration for trying to bribe the participants to make peace in Palestine.  They comment, “Ah, bribery as diplomacy. Hopes that a Pollard-centric strategy could save the peace talks seem strikingly disconnected from what’s driving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The CSIS also looks at strengthening the GCC/US security partnership.  They note, “The key question that both the US and Southern Gulf states face is whether they can take advantage of both their current military lead and the massive investments they are making in new weapons and technology. At present, the debate over US and Gulf relations tends to focus on the fear that the US is cutting its military capabilities to the point it can no longer protect its Gulf allies. Conspiracy theories in the Gulf suggest that the US is somehow planning to shift its alliances to Iran and in some variants from Sunnis to Shi’ites.  What is even more serious in terms of real world problems is that divisions between the Southern Gulf states have prevented the GCC from making effective use of its forces and military resources, and recent feuding has made this situation far worse. Key GCC states seem more committed to deepening their differences rather than creating an effective security structure.”

The Washington Institute maintains that Iran’s Khamenei has accumulated formidable centralized authority.  This new study by Mehdi Khalaji focuses on explaining the decisionmaking process within Iran’s highest political echelon. Setting aside the notion of the Supreme Leader as omnipotent, certain realities and actors can affect his mindset and decisions, but till  now, few studies have examined these contingencies with regard to either Khamenei or Khomeini. Practically speaking, a better understanding of the subtleties that drive the Supreme Leader’s actions and behavior can help U.S. and other leaders craft a more effective approach to the regime, particularly in light of its emerging nuclear capability.

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the rhetoric of the Obama Administration towards Iran.  They note, “This rhetoric suggests that the Administration is clear-eyed about the regime and is publicly committing to countering its behavior. There is, however, little substance to support these statements and much evidence against them. Opportunities to challenge Iran’s regional strategy, demonstrate resolve in pushing back against its actions, and develop approaches to enhance leverage, such as a competitive soft power strategy, have been squandered rather than seized…By failing to match its rhetoric with concrete action while simultaneously working toward an agreement that does not appear aimed at verifiably eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration is heading toward the worst of both worlds: a marginalized U.S. role in an increasingly destabilized Middle East and an emboldened, nuclear threshold Iranian regime.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the recent Turkish elections.  They maintain the Erdogan’s win will have costs.  They note, “With a renewed popular mandate, the government is likely to begin prosecuting Gülenists for alleged criminal behavior. But the creation of a wider siege mentality to boost domestic support also requires the invention of external co-conspirators – global financial markets, the international media, or even Turkey’s NATO allies. Such allegations have been a part of the government’s conspiratorial rhetoric since last summer’s protests, and the authorities dismissed the recent corruption accusations against Erdoğan in the same way.  Turkey’s international standing has thus suffered enormously from Erdoğan’s strategy of internal polarization. Long gone are the days when the prospect of accession to the European Union sustained a powerful dynamic of democratic reform. With hope of EU membership fading, reform momentum has been lost, and the European Commission is expected to issue a sharply critical progress report in October.”

The CSIS looks at the challenges to transition in Afghanistan.   It lists the areas where the US government – as well as the Afghan government and other powers – have failed to provide leadership, planning, and transparency, and create the institutions necessary for success.  The paper warns that past failures to sustain successful transitions have been the rule and not the exception.  It shows the need for leadership that can win congressional and popular US support, and that goes far beyond empty rhetoric about terrorism. That provides a clear strategic justification for US action, and provides a credible path

Forward. It shows the rate at which US spending has already been cut, and the lacking of any meaningful budget panning and details in the President‘s FY2015 budget request.

The Heritage Foundation looks at the proposed restructuring of Army Aviation in light of the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq.  They note, “The past decade of conventional combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which relied heavily on National Guard units, has led to a renewed recognition of the contributions made by Guard (and Army reserve) units to the security interests of the nation. It has also fostered a conviction that Guard units are primarily conventional combat units that should mirror active Army units in mission, equipment, and employment. Rather than perceiving the Army’s proposal as a trivialization of the historical contributions of the citizen soldier and demeaning the sacrifices of the Guard personnel, Congress should see the plan as an opportunity to build on the successes of both components.”




Pivoting Towards Asia?

What it Means for the Middle East

The growing tension in South East Asia and the announcement that Obama will be visiting Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Malaysia, once again raises the question about America’s focus and whether it will pivot towards Asia, to the determent of the Middle East.

Each of these nations has been in the news recently.  Malaysia lost an aircraft and the ensuing investigation has raised many questions about aviation security in the region.  South Korea has been engaged in an artillery duel with its neighbor to the north, North Korea.  And, Japan and the Philippines have been forced to use their militaries to halt Chinese expansion over the South China Sea, although no shots have been fired yet.

Military tensions have grown in the last year.  Japan recently announced that Japanese fighter jets were scrambled a record high 415 times in response to Chinese aircraft (many Chinese fighter aircraft) approaching Japanese airspace in 2013.  That surpassed the previous record of 306 times the previous year.  The Chinese air activities are a result of a standoff between Japan and China over SenkakuIslands.  The tensions were heightened following Japan’s purchase in September 2012 of the main part of the Japanese-controlled, uninhabited islet group in the East China Sea.  Not only China, but Taiwan claim the islets and call them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

Japan isn’t the only nation concerned about Chinese ambitions.  There is an ongoing situation between China and the Philippines over control of portions of the South China Sea.  Late last month, Chinese vessels blocked Philippine ships bringing supplies to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea that Manila effectively controls. The U.S. State Department criticized China’s actions as “provocative,” while Beijing retorted that it has sovereignty over the reef.

Malaysia is also concerned about the status of the South China Sea as it claims part of that basin.

The South China Sea issue is a critical one for all the nations in the region.  It is a major maritime route for all of the nations on the Pacific Rim – especially for the island nations of Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  De facto Chinese control of the sea could jeopardize commercial trade.

The area also has natural resources potential.  Philex Mining, the Philippines’ largest mining company, disclosed Monday that negotiations have halted with state-owned China National Offshore Oil over a joint exploration project in the South China Sea. Philex reported it was the Chinese who stopped negotiations.

Natural gas development in the South China Sea is crucial to the Philippines’ energy policy, but its private-sector companies do not have enough funds to carry out independent development. The Philippines hoped that the joint project with China would lead to a breakthrough in the territorial dispute.

One outgrowth of the Obama trip to the Philippines will probably be a new defense agreement with the US.  U.S. forces had once been stationed in the Philippines, but they withdrew in 1992 as the Cold War ended.  The economic stagnation had kept Manila from increasing defense spending after the US left.  The result is that that nation is being forced to play catch up, lest the Chinese take advantage of its weaker neighbor.

The Philippines currently has one of the weakest militaries in the region, possessing no fighter jets.  As a result, Manila has entered into a contract to buy 12 South Korean-made FA-50 fighter jets for $421 million, with two to be delivered as early as next year.  The government also plans to spend a total of $1.6 billion to modernize its military hardware, including the purchase of air search radar systems from Israel.

South Korea may be better armed, but it faces increased tensions with North Korea.  Last week, North and South Korean artillery batteries exchanged hundreds of shells across their western sea border Monday, a day after North Korea warned it was preparing to test another nuclear device.

This came after North Korea tested two medium range ballistic missiles and Japan threatened to shoot down any North Korean missiles.  North Korea responded and announced that it “would not rule out” a new nuclear test.

“(We) would not rule out a new form of a nuclear test aimed at strengthening our nuclear deterrence,” Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency. “The U.S. had better ponder over this and stop acting rashly.”

The statement did not specify what North Korea meant by a “new form” of test, and South Korea said there are no immediate signs of nuclear tests being carried out by the North.

America Reacts

Although the US is occupied with the Crimean situation, the recent Chinese actions have forced Washington to react.  US Defense Secretary Hagel travelled to China last week and told the Chinese that it would support America’s allies – a position that made the Chinese unhappy.

The US is also looking at revising its military alliance with Japan.  In January, the White House told the Japanese government through multiple channels of its intent to reinforce ties.  This bilateral agreement hasn’t been changed in 17 years and the desire to revise it reflects Obama’s concern about the situation in the region.

Since there is not a multi-national security framework like NATO in the Pacific area, the Japanese/American defense agreement is the keystone to countering Chinese moves.

Currently, the biggest issue will be whether to allow Japan the right to collective self-defense. The current interpretation of Japan’s constitution forbids this, but Prime Minister Abe and his cabinet are prepared to revise the charter.  The key issue will be defining self-defense and how it can be applied.  The new agreement will also focus on joint command structure and outlining how the US and Japan will respond to certain scenarios.

The Japan/America defense guidelines were originally drawn up in 1978 during the Cold War era to counter the threat from the Soviet Union. The current guidelines were last revised in 1997, with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton leading the efforts.  The changes were driven by tensions between China and Taiwan over a series of missile tests conducted by the Chinese military in waters in and around the Taiwan Strait.  Beijing backed down after the U.S. Navy dispatched two aircraft carriers to the region.

Today, however, the US would be hard pressed to field one aircraft carrier in the area, much less two.  They would also be more vulnerable to attack by Chinese submarines or missiles as they moved into the region.

This leaves US and Japanese forces in Japan as the major deterrent to Chinese military moves in the region.  It is currently stronger than Chinese forces, but is rapidly being overcome by a growing Chinese military presence.

The Chinese Threat

The Chinese military is rapidly evolving to be able to project its power at a distance.  China will raise its defense spending 12.2% to $131.9 billion in 2014, marking the fourth straight year of double-digit growth.  Much of that will go to naval and air forces, which can project power into the South China Sea.

Unlike in the past, China is developing a blue water navy capable of reaching far beyond its shoreline.  Beijing is now building a domestically designed aircraft carrier, which will join the Liaoning, a refurbished carrier originally built for the Soviet navy (which the Chinese showed to Secretary Hagel during his visit). China’s air force is also working hard on a stealth fighter, which can penetrate US/Japanese air defenses surrounding naval task forces.

China’s first naval goal is to be able to control the “First Island Chain,” which stretches from Okinawa’s main island to the South China Sea.  Its second goal is to control the “Second Island Chain,” which extends as far east as Tokyo and Guam.  At present, they can make it quite difficult for the US Navy to operate within the First Island Chain.  They even have sent intelligence gathering sips off the coast of Hawaii.

The US is responding.  The U.S. Defense Department released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) on March 4, which calls for deploying more naval assets to the Pacific. The latest QDR, which serves as the basic guideline for the Pentagon’s game plan, calls for shifting 60% of U.S. naval assets to the Pacific by 2020, up from 50% now.  Although it doesn’t address the Chinese threat specifically, it does refer to countering “area denial” similar to the First and Second Island Chain strategy of China.

The Future and What it Means for the Middle East

This changing US strategy will impact the Middle East.  First, since the largest reserve of US Naval ships outside the Western Pacific is in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf, a crisis in the South China Sea will mean an immediate shift of forces out of the region.  Second, as the US shifts its diminishing military resources to Asia, forces in the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, and Europe will also drop.  All of these three theaters are usually used to increase an American military presence in the Middle East in time of crisis.

However, it’s also important to remember that Obama has frequently promised to pivot towards Asia – with few results.  The same could happen again.

It’s also important to remember that a desire by China to grow militarily doesn’t mean that they can easily threaten the US or its allies in the Pacific.

China is predominantly a land power and historically it is difficult for a land power, surrounded by many hostile nations, to divert the resources to an effective blue water navy.  China shares land borders with 14 countries and requires a huge number of troops to defend them. Its 1.6 million soldiers still represent the world’s largest standing army. Chinese and Indian troops continue to face each other across their mountainous border. And Beijing relies on the army to maintain order in its restive ethnic minority regions, including the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Land powers desiring to become a major naval power have failed miserably.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, France, the dominant land power in Europe tried to build a far reaching navy, only to fail when it ran into a numerically inferior British fleet at Trafalgar.  Imperial Germany tried in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to counter the British control of the sea, only to be forced back to port at the Battle of Jutland in WW I.  The Soviet Union tried during the Cold War, only to be outspent by the US.

Projecting power is also a function of aircraft carriers and the ability to effectively employ them.  The nations of Britain, America, and France have 70 to 80 years of experience in operating large deck carriers.  China has none.

The USSR discovered in the 1970s that building and deploying an effective large deck carrier is more difficult than it seems.  In the end, the carriers they deployed only carried a few ineffective vertical jump jet fighter-bombers.  When the Cold War ended, they were some of the first ships decommissioned.

Just because China has carriers doesn’t mean they can effectively deploy them, an important fact given China’s slowing economy.

As a sea power, China also suffers from the same problems that Germany and Russia did – lack of access to the open sea.  Their coastline is hemmed in by a chain of islands that belong to other nations (Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and South Korea) that don’t approve of China’s ambitions.  As the British discovered in WW II, land based airpower can easily defeat a navy.

China can break through this island chain with the type of extensive amphibious operations employed by the US Navy in WW II.  However, it took three years to break through the islands protecting Japan, along with amphibious capability, air and naval control of the surrounding area, and a massive military logistics chain.  China does have some amphibious capability, but can’t guarantee it will control the sea and air around the islands.  And, it doesn’t have the vast military logistics ability to keep these islands supplied and carrying out extended offensive military operations.

In the end, China may not be able to project the power it wants in the near future, providing the US stands fast with it regional allies.  That being the case, the result may be that America will remain a major presence in the Middle East and few resources will permanently be moved eastwards.



Congress Should Avert Delays in the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Plans

By Dakota Wood and Brian Slattery

Heritage Foundation

April 7, 2014

Issue Brief #4194

The Army’s decision to transfer AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard to the active force has sparked a debate that ultimately concerns the roles, missions, and contributions of these ground components. Congress should prevent unnecessary delays in the implementation of these plans while making a stronger commitment to providing the resources that the armed forces need to maintain national security.  The past decade of conventional combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which relied heavily on National Guard units, has led to a renewed recognition of the contributions made by Guard (and Army reserve) units to the security interests of the nation. It has also fostered a conviction that Guard units are primarily conventional combat units that should mirror active Army units in mission, equipment, and employment.

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The Challenges to Transition in Afghanistan: 2014-2015

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 8, 2014

The final outcome of the election in Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s willingness to sign a workable Bilateral Security Agreement with the US are essential preconditions to any hope of a successful Transition. It is the quality of leadership and governance that follows the election, however, that will determine actual success. Similarly, how Afghan forces evolve, and the quality of US and other outside support to Afghan forces, will determine whether Afghanistan is secure enough for a Transition to work.

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Improving the US-GCC Security Partnership: Planning for the Future

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 8, 2014

The US and its allies in the Southern Gulf face great challenges, but they also have great opportunities. The P5+1 dialogue with Iran offers at least some hope of ending the threat posed by Iranian nuclear weapons, and of reducing the risk of further proliferation, if a comprehensive agreement is structured in a way that can eliminate the threat to the Southern Gulfs, the other states in the region, and the US.  More generally, however, improvements in the military forces of the states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and in US power projection capabilities can create a far more effective deterrent against the threats posed by Iran, other regional states, and non-state actors. Additionally, enhanced military capabilities can help safeguard the flow of petroleum exports that are critical for the global economy.

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Empty rhetoric in the Obama administration’s Iran policy

By Maseh Zarif

American Enterprise Institute

April 07, 2014

The Obama administration has often responded to crises of confidence in its foreign policy by treating unease and skepticism among international allies and partners, and among critics at home, as a messaging problem. It has interpreted failure to secure buy-in or cooperation as a failure to communicate effectively, rather than as a potential sign of flawed substance.  Administration officials have attempted to dispel the “perception” in recent months that the U.S. is negotiating with the Iranian regime at the expense of American interests and the security and stability of its allies and partners in the region. They will continue to meet resistance, however, as long as the negotiations appear to be neither fully resolving the nuclear threat nor dealing with the broader challenge posed by Iran in the Middle East. The White House does not have a messaging problem regarding its negotiations with Iran; it has a policy problem.

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Erdoğan’s Pyrrhic Victory

By Sinan Ülgen

Carnegie Endowment

April 3, 2014

Turkey’s beleaguered Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have emerged victorious from this week’s local elections. Still, the AKP’s triumph is unlikely to ameliorate the country’s internal conflicts, much less revive its tarnished international standing.  The local elections were widely seen as a referendum on Erdoğan. The AKP received 44% of the national vote and now controls 49 of Turkey’s 81 metropolitan municipalities, including Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. The main opposition force, the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), received 26% and won only 13 municipalities.  The outcome can be seen as a vindication of Erdoğan’s strategy of using political polarization to consolidate his support and counter the challenge to his rule posed by followers of his former ally, the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. With the AKP’s initial support, the Gülen movement gradually infiltrated state institutions, particularly the judiciary and law enforcement, until the alliance eventually ended in an acrimonious split over the distribution of power within Turkey.

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U.S. Can’t Bribe Israelis, Palestinians To Make Peace

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council
April 3, 2014

International Business Times

“First as tragedy, second as farce.” It’s Karl Marx’s line about history repeating itself but, per the Jonathan Pollard trial balloon of recent days, the line could just as easily apply to America’s foreign policy.  We need not debate the merits of Pollard’s release, for which supporters and detractors each can mount a compelling case, to acknowledge that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aren’t the proper milieu for making the decision or that White House maneuvering over the possibility bespeaks an extraordinary ignorance, naivety, and desperation that dominates all-too-much U.S. foreign policy.  At the urging of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, President Barack Obama is considering an early release for Pollard, the former U.S. intelligence officer who’s serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, in exchange for Israel’s release of more Palestinian prisoners – all of it designed to prevent U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks from collapsing.

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Hezbollah in Syria
Institute for the Study of War

April 2014

Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Syria is one of the most important factors of the conflict in 2013 and 2014. Since the beginning of 2013, Hezbollah fighters have operated openly and in significant numbers across the border alongside their Syrian and Iraqi counterparts. They have enabled the regime to regain control of rebel-held areas in central Syria and have improved the effectiveness of pro-regime forces. The impact of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has been felt not just on the battlefield, where the regime now has momentum in many areas, but also in Lebanon where growing sectarian tensions have undermined security and stability.

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Tightening the Reins How Khamenei Makes Decisions

By Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

April 2014

Policy Focus 126

When at age fifty Ali Khamenei, a middle-ranking cleric, was named Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor as the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, he lacked not only his forerunner’s charisma but his religious and political credentials as well.  Gradually, however, over nearly two and a half decades, Khamenei has accumulated formidable centralized authority, aided by  transformation of the IRGC’s role in overseeing the country’s politics and economy. He now enjoys the final say on many issues, especially when it comes to foreign policy and the nuclear issue. Ironically, a leader once seen as an inadequate successor to Khomeini may now have accumulated more power than the first Supreme Leader, at least in some areas.

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PolicyWatch 2238

U.S. Policy and the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, Part II: Assessment and Prospects

By Robert Satloff

Washington Institute

April 10, 2014

The current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks is buffeted by a series of profound global and regional challenges, including Ukraine, Iran, and Syria, among others. In the immediate arena, while Israel and the Palestinian Authority may have dysfunctional political and diplomatic relations, they also have reasonably effective security cooperation and economic coordination. Therefore, a principal challenge for U.S. policy and for local leaders is to find ways to preserve, even enhance, the latter even as disagreement over the former worsens.  This is the environment in which Secretary of State John Kerry launched his peace initiative. In contrast to decades past, when one could argue that the strategic implications of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were clear, it is very difficult to make that argument today. Indeed, one could argue that some regional crises may even be aggravated by Israeli-Palestinian progress; neither Iran nor al-Qaeda welcomes a two-state solution, for example, and both would likely seek to undermine serious efforts to achieve it.

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

Week of April 04th, 2014

Executive Summary


After the Obama foreign trip last week, the Washington think community focused more on domestic issues this week.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the meeting last weekend in Las Vegas of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and their hunt for an acceptable Republican presidential candidate for 2016.  The four potential candidates are all governors and come from states with sizable Jewish populations.  However, none of the four has much support from Republican Party voters.  The analysis notes that although these Jewish donors can offer a lot of money to a potential candidate that they support, the Republican Party grassroots are less likely to support one of the candidates that the RJC prefers.



Think Tanks Activity Summary

Rumors were floating around Washington that the United States is on the verge of releasing Jonathan Pollard, the former US naval analyst convicted of spying for Israel.  The American Enterprise Institute comments on the idea.  They conclude, “Finally, there’s the question of the Obama administration. What could John Kerry be thinking? Bribing the Israelis to advance the peace talks beyond April 29, the arbitrary deadline imposed by Kerry himself? Releasing a convicted spy in order to persuade the Israelis to release convicted terrorists ( FREEDOM FIGHTERS  BY OUR CENTER)* to appease the Palestinians, who themselves are demanding the release of terrorists ( FREEDOM FIGHTERS BY OUR CENTER)* to return to peace talks? What? This is not even final status, and yet Kerry seems to believe its worth upending the US legal system in order to buy time. But even if it were final status, who could possibly fool themselves into believing that a “peace” built on returned spies and released terrorists ( FREEDOM FIGHTERS BY OUR CENTER)* is sustainable? Apparently, the answer to that is John Kerry and his boss, Barack Obama.”

The Brookings Institution looks at the continuing political unrest in Egypt and says democracy there is still important.  They conclude, “The Obama Administration’s emphasis on stability is understandable, and so is Israel’s; both need a government of Egypt that can be an effective partner in regional security. But only an open, pluralist system will bring Egyptians together to make the big decisions the country needs and to reform its politics and economics. Egypt’s youth may not love the United States or Israel, but they want their nation to be part of the globalized world these two countries exemplify. Washington’s task is to stay aligned with that vision for Egypt—one that will advance stability, security and U.S. interests.”

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the growing instability and violence in Iraq – especially Diyala.  They conclude, “Unfortunately, the politics of Diyala are now framed in the context of increasing levels of violence generated by the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), the successor to AQI, which has centered its concept for an Islamic emirate around a capital in Diyala for many years.”

The Washington Institute looks at the GCC nations.  They note, “The major problem would appear to be the growing internal contradictions among the GCC member states. In early March 2014, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha to protest Qatari meddling in the internal affairs of the other countries. Apparently there had been a row about this last year, which had led to an agreement in late November 2013. But Qatar was not living up to its side of the bargain. The root cause of the crisis was Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, though this was unstated. Indeed, the November 2013 pact had never been revealed and the announcement of the withdrawal of ambassadors only emerged in a communique issued at the end of a meeting of GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh.

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the recent political settlement in Tunisia.  In noting the importance of workers unions in creating the compromise, the paper warns, “Westerners, while acknowledging the persistence and ultimate flexibility of Tunisian political actors in reaching consensus, should not draw the wrong lesson from this remarkable story. As they think about how Tunisia’s experience might usefully be applied to other contexts, they should be sure to give appropriate weight to the mediating role of powerful and legitimate external institutions. After all, as LTDH Vice President Ali Ziddini puts it, “just as our revolution was a model, we want our National Dialogue to be a model for other countries.”

The German Marshall Fund looks at Erdogan’s win in Turkey’s municipal elections last week, despite several scandals that surround him.  They conclude, “Erdoğan’s secret recipe for success, then, appears to be a combination of providing social services, identifying strongly with a voter base, and isolating them from other parties through polarization. This has helped him win six parliamentary and local elections and two referenda, and could help him win several more in the future.  Alas, polarization is also making Turkey less governable, which in time could make Erdoğan’s strategy less functional, particularly in the event of an economic slowdown. As he prepares to run for president of Turkey, will Erdoğan assume a more conciliatory approach? Will the opposition parties develop a language, which shows that they genuinely empathize with Turkey’s conservative groups? The answers to these questions will determine whether Turkey can overcome the current political crises and consolidate its democracy.”

The US is now the world’s largest oil producer and many are asking how this will impact its policies towards the Middle East and if the US will become a major energy exporter and supplant several Middle Eastern oil exporting nations.  The Carnegie Endowment looks at the issue and the complexities.   They note, “The world’s refineries don’t crave American oil given the way they are currently set up. Crudes are very different from one another and most nations in fact run their transport and industry on diesel and heavier residual fuels. Gasoline is not in high demand. Because of this international preference, the U.S.—the only nation that prefers gasoline to diesel—has recently invested tens of billions in Gulf Coast and Midwest complex refineries that are designed to maximize diesel exports by processing heavier global crudes. Thus, the majority of U.S. refineries—and a growing number of refineries overseas—cannot be fed a steady diet of America’s light-tight oils despite the ease of refining these oils into gasoline, jet fuel, and petrochemical feedstock. The reality is that the oil industry did not see the U.S. oil boom coming. As a result, U.S. oil is incompatible with the recently retrofitted refining sector that will require revamping to handle America’s fracked oils.”




2016 Republican Presidential Candidates Searching for Pro-Israel Campaign Money

It’s over two years until the 2016 presidential election, but several Republicans are exploring presidential runs and several are already in the race for pro-Israel campaign donations from Jewish Republicans.  This was evident last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) held its spring leadership conference.  Four governors, who have been mentioned as possible Republican presidential candidates came to the conference to meet potential donors, especially Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest people in the world, the biggest political contributor in 2012, and an American Jew with a very strong pro-Israel stance.

Clearly Adelson overshadowed the conference this year.  Adelson is a casino magnate and it was held in his hometown of Las Vegas.  It was also held in one of his casinos, the Venetian.  And, it was clear by looking at the guest list that included presidential possibilities and governors Jeb Bush (Florida), Chris Christie (New Jersey), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), and John Kasich (Ohio), that Adelson is looking for a presidential candidate to back.  No wonder many called the conference the “Sheldon Primary.”

The importance of Adelson was put into perspective by Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to President George W. Bush, and is a member of the RJC.  Fleischer said, “The ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary. …  anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.”  Adelson is the eighth richest man in the world according to Forbes Magazine.  He and his wife spent $93 million supporting Republicans in 2012 – $15 million for the presidential nomination bid by Newt Gingrich and then $30 million supporting Mitt Romney.

Despite the spending, Gingrich failed to get the Republican nomination and Romney lost to Obama.  That’s why Adelson is looking carefully for a 2016 candidate – one that can win.

Experience was clearly a criterion in picking the four governors who attended.  Like most presidents of the recent past (from 1977 to 2009) they are governors.  Given Obama’s lack of managerial skills, executive experience like that gained by a governor may be a critical issue, especially if the Democratic candidate is Hillary Clinton.

But, just as interesting is that each of these states has a sizable Jewish voter base – one that holds the balance of power.  Anat Hakim, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2008, identified “nine states where the size of the Jewish population was larger than the size of victory for either President Bush or Sen. John Kerry in 2004:  Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”  Note that the four governors are all from the states listed.  Note also that all four states went for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Clearly, Adelson wants a governor who can appeal to Jewish voters and who can win in states with sizable Jewish voting blocks.

Who Wasn’t Invited

Although it appears that Adelson is trying to pick a candidate that Republicans and Americans can support, there is clearly an agenda behind his moves.  Several potential Republican candidates were clearly not on the agenda – Senators Cruz and Paul and Governors Perry, Huckabee, and Palin.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was obviously not going to be invited.  He is on record as criticizing America’s support for Israel in the past.  Although he is popular with the Republican grassroots, he obviously would not appeal to the pro-Israel RJC.  And, as a senator, he lacks the executive experience that the four governors have and Adelson wants.

However, Paul has been the one candidate who has taken the Republican message out to typically Democratic strongholds to expand the Republican base.  Paul has expended a great deal of effort in reaching out to blue-state voters. He is going straight for the most left-wing constituency by finding common ground in opposition to the National Security Agency and other aspects of the anti-terror apparatus that was built up hastily and excessively (according to its critics on both left and right) in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was a more baffling non-invite.  Although he lacks the executive experience of a governor, he is very vocal in his support of Israel – probably more than any of the candidates who were invited.  He also polls well when Republicans are asked who they want to run for president.

Which is the problem.  Senator Cruz is popular with Republican grassroots supporters, but his conservative stands are not in step with Adelson.  That is also true for Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who consistently out polls Christie when Republicans are asked who they want as their presidential nominee.

Being considered too conservative is also the problem for Governor Perry of Texas, who became Texas’s governor when Clinton was still president and nearly has more executive experience than all of the four invited governors combined.  The same conservative taint holds for Governor Palin, who in a recent poll was the one woman Americans want to run for President if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run in 2016.

The fact is that amongst the four governors who spoke, only one has any degree of the grassroots support that decides presidential primaries – Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.  The Republican grassroots isn’t fond of dynasties and Governor Jeb Bush is the son of President Bush 41 and brother of President Bush 43 – neither conservative favorites.  Christie’s faced doubts even before the investigation into the Ft.Lee traffic jam, especially on his stands on gun control and social issues.  Kasich lost ground with the Republican base in his pleading for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Interestingly, although Walker is the most popular of the four governors with the Republican grassroots, his speech was the one not attended by Adelson.  Adelson did sit in the front row for Christie and sat next to Kasich at lunch.

Which means that despite their money, Adelson and the other Jewish Republican donors may find themselves spending money on candidates out of step with the Republican base.

What Happened at RJC

Although the focus of the conference was the four governors, there was more.  Briefings were given on recent polling and changes to the Republican primary process in 2016.

According to the briefings, the Republican presidential primary season will be shorter, with four states having the right to hold primaries in February.  The other states will hold them in March, April, and May.  The Republican National Convention will be held in late June or early July, which will allow them to start spending general election money.

This news was probably welcome to Adelson because a shorter primary season means a candidate with serious funding at the beginning has a better chance to win the nomination.  That gives the Adelson backed candidate a serious advantage over other potential candidates.

Another change to the primary process is that the RNC will take control of the presidential debates during the primary much like Major League Baseball controls the televising and content of all baseball games.  This should be neutral for all candidates, but should benefit the eventual nominee in the general election.

One downside for Adelson is the one that changed the rules imposed by Romney supporters at the convention in 2012.  Those rules gave the Romney team the final say in who attended the convention as a voting delegate instead of the state parties.  The rules have been changed back, and the state conventions and the grassroots delegates now have the final say on who attends and represents the states at the national convention.  That means an Adelson candidate that is well funded, but has little grassroots support will face resistance at the national convention.

Finally, one embarrassing note for Nevada resident Adelson was the information that Nevada might lose its preferential treatment in the presidential primary process.  Traditionally Nevada has been allowed to hold an early primary.  However, as the state has evolved from Republican to Democratic, many in the Republican National Committee have argued that another Western state with Republican leanings be allowed to replace Nevada.  That decision will be made at the next RNC meeting in May and there is a possibility that Arizona, which has traditionally held an early primary, may be the state to earn the privilege.

But, briefings aside, the main attractions were the speakers.  Governor Bush, who is reportedly being pressured to make a presidential run, was the featured speaker at a VIP dinner last Thursday hosted by Adelson and his wife, Miriam. The dinner was held at the Sands’ private airplane hangar at Las Vegas Macarran International airport.

Christie, Walker and former U.N. ambassador John Bolton addressed the group during its meeting on Saturday morning, while Kasich spoke at a luncheon that day.

Clearly, the speakers were trying to say what the Jewish leadership wanted to hear.  John Bolton, in what was seen as an attack on the attitude of Senator Paul towards Israel, said he fears the “rising tide of neo-isolationism within the Republican Party.”

Walker, who is not Jewish, noted that his son’s name, Matthew, is from the Hebrew word for “gift from God.” He later added that he decorates his residence with Christmas lights and a “menorah candle.”

Meanwhile, Kasich kept mentioning Adelson by name and closed his remarks by speaking directly to Adelson.  He said, “In Ohio, we’re no longer fly-over [country], Sheldon. We want you to invest. We want you to get to know us.  Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.  I don’t travel to these things much, but this was one that I thought was really, really important.”

No one was more deferential to the RJC than Christie.  Christie, a Catholic, said he was overwhelmed by displays of religious tolerance during a recent trip to Jerusalem.

But, it was another comment that caused a lot of hostility from the listeners.  Gov. Chris Christie recounted his recent trip to Israel: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories” and came “to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.”

Christie’s effort at impressing his listeners boomeranged. An angry Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America confronted Christie to demand that he explain just what he meant by “occupied territories.”

Whatever Christie’s response, it did not satisfy the ZOA or Klein who declared: “Either [Christie] doesn’t understand the issue, or he’s hostile to Israel.”

With his visit to Las Vegas falling apart, Christie asked for a private audience with Adelson to apologize.  A source close to Adelson told reporters that Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”

Of course, it isn’t just the four governors who attended the meeting that are changing their positions on Israel.  Rand Paul has told top GOP donors that he is “evolving” on foreign policy, particularly when it comes to his positions on Israel. He has also increased his outreach to prominent pro-Israel donors to show he is interested in having a dialogue.

However, that may not be enough.  Several RJC donors have said that they will spend money to defeat Rand in the primaries.  Undoubtedly, Adelson would be one of them.

Who Wins the Sheldon Primary and Does it Mean Anything?

Although each of the four governors had a chance to meet personally with Adelson, there is no idea of which one will eventually get the nod.  Christie was an early favorite, but has recently fallen – both with the investigation into the Ft.Lee traffic jam and with his political positions to the left of the Republican base.  Donors at the RJC were decidedly cool about Christie now.

That probably leaves Bush as the next in line – providing Bush is willing to throw his hat into the ring.  But, there is no excitement in the Republican base about Jeb Bush.

But, there is more to the election than Adelson money.  The history of American politics is replete with candidates with money, who fail to win.  Hillary Clinton had the money in 2008, but lost to Obama.  George Bush Sr. had more money and was considered more mainstream than Ronald Reagan.

The problem is that Adelson, with all of his money, is not looking at candidates that have Republican grassroots support.  And, although money is the mother’s milk of politics, grassroots support is the t-bone steak of American politics.   His group of potential candidates don’t poll much more (and frequently less) than Governor Palin.  In fact, in a McClatchy poll in February that included Palin, she had the same support as Bush (8%), and more than Walker (7%) or Kasich (1%).   Christie, who hadn’t seen his support erode with the bridge scandal, yet, had 13%.  However, his recent ratings have been at 8%.

At this point of time, Rand Paul has the best grassroots organization in the Republican Party – thanks to the infrastructure built in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns by his father.  Cruz, Huckabee, and Palin have the national base to build a political machine should they choose to do so.  The rest of the potential field (Santorum, Perry, Christie, Walker, Kasich, Jindal, and Ryan) have only small campaign teams limited to their own state.

As a member of the Bush family, Bush would be the natural heir to the Bush machine.  However the Bush 2000 – 2004 team is long gone.  In addition, many of the more experienced members of that team of 10 years ago have probably retired from active politics, which means building a new team.

If Adelson’s goal is to make pro-Israel candidates stronger, he may be making a big mistake.  Polling shows Senators Cruz and Paul share some of the same voter base.  However, Cruz is pro-Israel, while Paul isn’t.  In that case, it would make more political sense for Adelson to support Cruz and, in the process, cripple Paul.  However, it appears that Adelson is committed to what he perceives as a more “mainstream” Republican candidate.

In the end, despite the media’s theme, Adelson and other Jewish American donors will not be picking the next Republican presidential nominee.  The money will be critical for advertising and buying a campaign team, but it will not buy grassroots enthusiasm.  Adelson may be well served to look further abroad for a candidate that Republicans actually like.



The Pollard peace process farce

By Danielle Pletka

American Enterprise Institute

April 1, 2014

Word is that the United States is on the verge of releasing Jonathan Pollard, the former US naval analyst convicted of spying for Israel. There is no question that Pollard was guilty as charged, and he doesn’t claim any different. But the narrative over the years has evolved, with Israel at first denying he was spying for them to the point that the man and his release have become a cause celebre in the Jewish state. Are there mitigating circumstances? Yep, he’s in ill health. Has Pollard served three decades? Yep. Still, what the hell?  Forgive me for believing that the peace process up to this point was not some game for the Israelis, and that security and sustainable peace were at the heart of concerns about how to move forward. Apparently not. Apparently, all that stuff about settlement expansion and natural growth and the rights of the Jewish people were all just a way of saying “no” to negotiations. If not, why trade away a Palestinian prisoner release and settlement freeze (the quo for the Pollard quid being reported) for a convicted spy who has nothing to do with peace? Either these are points of principle or they are points of negotiation.

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How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement

By Sarah Chayes

Carnegie Endowment

March 27, 2014

On a Saturday afternoon last October, in an ornate, scarlet-draped convention center bedecked with flags and white flowers, Tunisian labor leader Houcine Abbassi presided over a signing ceremony that would mark his country’s destiny and perhaps that of the Arab world. “Thank you for heeding the nation’s call,” he told the leaders of two dozen political parties, before each stood to sign what has come to be called the Road Map.  The event almost came off the rails. Some politicians were shocked to discover upon arriving that they would be forced to sign the document in front of television cameras—and thus be bound by its terms. On a tight calendar, the text called for three giant steps: the resignation of Tunisia’s entire cabinet and the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister tasked to put together a new one, the formation of an independent election commission, and the modification and approval of a draft constitution.

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The Complexities of U.S. Oil Exports

By Deborah Gordon

Carnegie Endowment

March 20, 2014

National Interest

It’s unlikely that anyone can stop the flow of oil—one of the world’s most durable and sought-after resources. Nevertheless, since 1975, U.S. crude oil exports (with a few exceptions) have technically been banned. The president has executive authority to reverse the ban, but Congress and interest groups have begun to weigh in as U.S. oil production is projected to ramp up to 9.6 million barrels a day (bpd) in 2016—a peak not seen since 1970.  Should the forty-year-old decision to ban U.S. crude oil exports be reversed? The right answer is murkier than those in favor or against suggest. In reality, it depends on what the new rules are for the array of new oils surfacing around the globe. Given the contentious politics surrounding this decision, a healthy debate is necessary to avoid falling into traps set by numerous unanswered questions.

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The Islamic State of Iraq Returns to Diyala

By Jessica Lewis

Institute for the Study of War

April 2014

Anbar is not the only front in Iraq on which Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), now operating as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), is fighting in 2014. ISIS has also established a governorate in Diyala. Its spokesman has named the province the central front in the sectarian conflict he has urged. The security situation and sectarian tension in Diyala province are grave. ISIS has returned to fixed fighting positions within Muqdadiyah, Baqubah, and the DiyalaRiverValley. Shi’a militias are now active in these areas as well. Increasing instances of population displacement demonstrate the aggregate effect of targeted violence by both groups. It is important to estimate the effects of this displacement and the presence of armed groups within Diyala’s major cities in order to understand how deteriorated security conditions in this province will interfere with Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Furthermore, violence in Diyala has historically both driven and reflected inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian violence in other mixed areas of Iraq, including Baghdad. Diyala is therefore a significant bellwether for how quickly these types of violence will spread to other provinces.

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Erdoğan’s Secret to Success

By Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı

German Marshall Fund

April 2, 2014

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won yet another election victory in Monday’s municipal elections. While the results saw a five percent decline in support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the 2011 parliamentary elections, it was also a 6 percent improvement over the AKP’s results since the last municipal elections in 2009. Erdoğan’s party will continue to control the metropolitan municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara (although the Ankara results are disputed and may yet be reversed), and it won a few new major cities such as Antalya, an important tourist destination on the Mediterranean. What makes this victory even more significant is that it came in the aftermath of several setbacks for the AKP: the GeziPark protests, a corruption and graft investigation against a group that included ministers’ family members, and a torrent of wiretaps that embarrassed the prime minister, his sons, his ministers, and businessmen close to him.

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Understanding the Gulf States

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

Spring 2014

inFocus Quarterly

Money, they say, can’t buy you everything. But in the conservative Arab states of the Persian Gulf (or the Arabian Gulf as they prefer to call it), money can buy a lot.  What is the tallest building in the world? The Burj al-Khalifa in the sheikhdom of Dubai. What is one of the best airlines in the world? Washington, DC friends vacationing in Asia recently chose to fly there with Qatar Airways via Doha. The newness of aircraft, quality of on-board service and well-timed connecting flight trumped any political misgivings, such as Qatar’s support for Hamas in Gaza and the weapons it gives to some of the worst jihadists in Syria.

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Why Democracy in Egypt Still Matters

By Tamara Cofman Wittes

Brookings Institution

March/April 2014

Three years after the hopeful scenes of the Arab Spring, the situation in places like Syria and Libya looks more like a tragic mess. The most dramatic reversal of fortune, perhaps, is in Egypt, whose Tahrir (Freedom) Square came to symbolize the hopes of 2011. Egypt under longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak was an anchor of stability in the region, in large part because of its close ties to Washington and its historic peace treaty with Israel. But Egypt today is in turmoil: Its third post-revolutionary government, installed by the military, is cracking down on basic rights while facing an upsurge in violence from Islamist militants, an economic crisis and vicious anti-Americanism stoked by the media. The decimated Muslim Brotherhood rejects any hint of compromise and talks to its followers of martyrdom. Many outside analysts worry that the zero-sum confrontation now underway in Egypt is dragging the country over a cliff into further violence.

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

Week of March 28th, 2014

Executive Summary


The Ukraine remains the focus of the Washington think tank community.  However, several papers on the Middle East were published in advance of Obama’s visit to the region.

The Monitor analysis looks at the serious breach in US/Saudi foreign policy objectives.  Although there is some serious differences, Saudi Arabia has few options in choosing a new ally with the capabilities of the US.  As a result, the Kingdom will likely continue its more aggressive “go it alone” foreign policy until a new American president is elected in 2 ½ years.



Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Institute for the Study of War looks at the battle for Yabroud and the regime’s fight to control the Lebanese border.  They note this is an, “indicator of Hezbollah and the regime’s intent to secure the Lebanese border in order to prevent the escalation of violence in Lebanon and cut off vital rebel supply lines. On both the northern and western borders, pro-regime forces will continue to target pockets of rebel control while facing the challenge of holding previously seized territory in order to prevent rebels from reestablishing control in those areas. Rebels, on the other hand, will seek to establish new support and staging zones on both sides of the border. In the short-term, the regime’s recent victories have disrupted rebels’ ability to launch attacks against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. In the long-term, however, groups such as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and JN’s Lebanon branch, which have built networks and infrastructure to facilitate such attacks, will likely attempt to escalate operations against Hezbollah targets and Iranian assets. Furthermore, the continued displacement of combatants and civilians into Lebanese territory, namely Arsal and the Wadi Khaled district, will exacerbate tensions and weaken Hezbollah’s ability to enforce stability in Lebanon.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Egyptian Field Marshal and presidential candidate Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.  They note he is very likely to win and warn, “there is no telling whether he will actually take the steps Egypt critically needs, such as reforming energy subsidies or starting the long-overdue process of police reform. But right now, the problem is that no one knows whether he even thinks those steps are necessary. And even if Egyptians start getting answers during the campaign, it will already be too late to reverse course because of the lack of other viable presidential candidates. Having handed Sisi the keys, Egyptians will be along for the ride, unable to do much more than shout from the backseat in the hope of getting the attention of the mysterious man driving the car.”

The Carnegie Endowment also looks at political instability and violence in Egypt.  They note, “Egypt’s rulers have already earned two dubious distinctions in less than a year: since 1952, no Egyptian regime has been more repressive, and no regime in more than a generation has confronted a more intense terrorism challenge.  Where the current authorities have not yet caught up to their predecessors in the Nasser and Mubarak years is in duration. Nasser (and his successors) left thousands of Egyptians languishing in jail for years, and the insurgency of the 1990s continued for at least half a decade. But in the end Nasser did not eradicate the Brotherhood, a movement present in Egyptian society and public life since 1928. And while the 1990s insurgency was eventually defeated, the campaign against it brought a heavy legacy of authoritarian laws that sowed the seeds of unrest.”

Now that Sisi is running for president of Egypt, a new group of Egyptian military leaders are moving up to the supreme military council according to the Washington Institute.  They note, “Sisi decided to reshuffle the SCAF on March 17, an unorthodox move given that such changes generally take place biannually in either January or July. He vacated three council seats by pushing Ibrahim Nasouhi and Mustafa al-Sharif into retirement and appointing Mohamed Arafat, commander of the Southern Military Zone, as head of the Inspection Authority. In other changes, Ahmed Wasfi, former commander of the Second Field Army, was named the new director of training; two former chiefs of staff now head the Second Field Army and the Southern Military Zone; and Khairat Barakat, former director of the Military Records Authority, is now director of officer affairs.”

The CSIS has revised its publication, “Iraq in Crisis.”  The core analysis remains the same. The book shows that Iraq is a nation in crisis bordering on civil war. Iraq must contend with a long history of war, internal power struggles, and failed governance.  Iraq suffers from the legacy of U.S. mistakes made during and after the American invasion in 2003. It suffers from the threat posed by the reemergence of violent Sunni extremist movements like al-Qaeda and other violent Shi’ite militias. It suffers from pressure from Iran and near isolation by several key Arab states. The country has increasingly become the victim of the forces unleashed by the Syrian civil war.  Iraq’s main threats, however, are self-inflicted wounds caused by its political leaders. The 2010 Iraqi elections and the ensuing political crisis divided the nation. Rather than create any form of stable democracy, the fallout pushed Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to consolidate power and become steadily more authoritarian. Other Shi’ite leaders contributed to Iraq’s increasing sectarian and ethnic polarization – as did key Sunni and Kurdish leaders.

The Washington Institute looks at a nuclear Saudi Arabia.  They note, “Since at least 2003, Saudi Arabia has consistently maintained a veiled military nuclear strategy. Reports have suggested that the kingdom is considering either acquiring its own nuclear deterrent or forming an alliance with an existing nuclear power that could offer protection, or else reaching a regional agreement on establishing a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East. It is noteworthy that discussion of these options coincided with increasing apprehension of Iran’s nuclear plans, as contrasted with the posture of Israel, which is reported to have developed nuclear weapons in the late 1960s.”

As Obama heads to Saudi Arabia, the Hudson Institute looks at the Kingdom’s religious repression.  They conclude, “The kingdom is now organizing internationally against Iranian and al Qaeda extremism, so this is an especially good time to implore the country to begin ending religious extremism at home. So far President Obama has only preached to the choir. In a few days he will have a chance to make his case before the Saudi king.”

As the US leaves Afghanistan, it is looking at disposing billions of dollars in heavy equipment by giving it to Pakistan.  The Heritage Foundation warms that this could upset the dynamics of the region.  They conclude, “Providing Pakistan with military equipment that the U.S. is unwilling to leave with the Afghans could send the wrong signal in the region. While it may be logistically expedient to give the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles to Pakistan, the U.S. must ensure that such a decision will not negatively affect the regional security situation. There is enough uncertainty already about Afghanistan’s future because of the U.S. and NATO drawdown, and Washington must not make problems worse through hasty decisions about what to do with excess military equipment from the war.

The Heritage Foundation looks at missile defense in light of Russia’s actions in the Ukraine.  In addition to Putin’s belligerence, they note, “Russia is currently engaged in the largest nuclear weapons buildup since the end of the Cold War. It is planning to spend over $55 billion on its missile and air defense systems in the next six years, compared to about $8 billion a year that the U.S. spends on its missile defense programs.  Russia has over 1,400 nuclear warheads deployed on long-range ballistic missiles. These missiles can reach the U.S. within 33 minutes. It is also engaged in ballistic missile modernization and is reportedly developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles that are prohibited under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the U.S.  These missiles are most threatening to allies in the European theater.”




Saudi Arabia Will Lead From the Front While Obama Leads From Behind

When national leaders visit another nation, the typical theme is the close relations the two nations share.  Not this time.  Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia is seen by many as an attempt to mollify a traditional ally that has been drifting away from America in the past five years.

After decades of working closely with Washington, Saudi Arabia is pursuing its own foreign policy, which is frequently in conflict with Obama’s foreign policy.  The reasons are many, but the kingdom sees current American policy as destabilizing the region and threatening the current pro-American governments in the Middle East.

The course of the” Arab Spring” heightened the concerns.  In Egypt, Obama sided with the Muslim Brotherhood and supported the overthrowing a pro-American leader – Mubarak. That, in turn, heightened Saudi anxiety with fears that Washington might back the Brotherhood in a power grab in the kingdom. That concern grew when the Brotherhood were accused of plotting a coup in Abu Dhabi and Obama ignored it.

Nor has Obama helped improve stability within the region. In the Saudi eyes, Obama has ignored the war in Syria and allowed radicals to gain influence in that war torn country.  He announced “red lines” on Syria but ended up giving Russia the final say in shaping US policy towards Syria.

Saudi Arabia is also concerned with America’s refusal to contain Iran.  The Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait are all concerned about what they see as Obama’s “caving in” to the mullahs in Tehran.  Obviously, Iran’s nuclear program is the major concern.

The result is that a nation that relies on subtle diplomacy has made it quite clear that Saudi Arabia and the US are embarking on different foreign policy courses.

Saudi National Security Council head Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was the Saudi Ambassador to the United States from 1983 until 2005, has said that Saudi Arabia will make a “major shift” in relations with the United States to protest what Saudis regard as American inaction over Syria’s internal war, among other factors.

A recent Reuter’s article cited an unnamed source close to Saudi policy as expressing a similar view. “The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,” Reuters quoted the source saying. “Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”

“Prince Bandar told diplomats that he plans to limit interaction with the U.S.,” continued the source. “This happens after the U.S. failed to take any effective action on Syria and Palestine. Relations with the U.S. have been deteriorating for a while, as Saudi feels that the U.S. is growing closer with Iran and the U.S. also failed to support Saudi during the Bahrain uprising.”

A Washington Post article last October said that Saudi King Abdullah privately expressed his frustration with U.S. policy in a lunch in Riyadh two days earlier with King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the U.A.E., citing “a knowledgeable Arab official.” The Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable,” this official said. “I don’t see a genuine desire to fix it” on either side, he added.  Post reporter David Ignatius related that in the fall of 2011, Saudi officials in Riyadh told him that that they increasingly regarded the United States as unreliable and would look elsewhere for a partner to bolster their security. Ignatius noted that “Obama’s reaction to these reports was to be peeved that the Saudis didn’t recognize all that the U.S. was doing to help their security, behind the scenes,” but he believes that the problem lies not so much in U.S. actions but in our failure, diplomatically, to reassure the Saudis that we have their best interests in mind.

At the same time, The Daily Mail quoted a statement from Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former director of Saudi intelligence, who called Obama’s policies in Syria “lamentable.”  Prince Turki continued, “The current charade of international control over Bashar’s [Assad’s] chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his people.”

Another, more long term concern, is America’s growing energy independence.  Saudi Arabia has always been considered a major ally since it was the world’s largest petroleum producer.  Now that the US has taken that position, the kingdom’s importance to Washington is lessened.

The decline of Saudi Arabia’s influence and the normalization of relations between Iran and the Obama Administration are a concern.  Before the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, America and Iran were close allies and Iran was seen as the key ally in the region.  Former national Security Advisor and Secretary of State Kissinger even said that Iran and the US had similar strategic interests.  That being the case, it’s a logical concern that the US and Iran could once again become close allies, to the detriment of the GCC nations.

Saudi Policy – Can It Diverge From American Policy?

Although Saudi Arabia is seeking new alliances, it has limited options, considering its strategic interests.

Syria is now the main focus of Saudi Arabia’s attention in the region and much has to do with its rivalry with Iran. The Saudis consider the struggle between Assad and his opponents a proxy war against their own main adversary, Iran. The Kingdom has been the primary source of financing and weaponry for Syrian rebel forces fighting Assad’s army, which is backed heavily by Iran and Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia has also focused on keeping pro-Saudi governments in power within the region by deploying forces in Bahrain during Arab Spring rioting and supporting the removal of Morsi in Egypt last year.  These moves also helped curb Iran’s influence in the region.

However, when considering the big picture, Saudi Arabia has few options to work with. Robert Jordan, U.S. ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03, has said there would be limits to any Saudi alliances with other powers.  “There is no country in the world more capable of providing the protection of their oil fields, and their economy, than the U.S., and the Saudis are aware of that. We’re not going to see them jump out of that orbit,” he said.

The major reason is Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Iran.

Russia, the chief competitor for influence in the region is closely allied with Iran and actively supporting Assad in Syria.  In fact, Russian nuclear help at Bushehr has helped Iran move towards its goal of becoming a nuclear power.  This makes them an unlikely substitute for America, especially since Russia can’t provide the level of military protection that the US offers.

China is also a poor choice for an alliance.  Iran relies upon China’s membership and especially Chinese veto power on the Security Council to protect it from UN or US led sanctions.  In 1980, China refused to support the UN arms embargo against Iran and abstained from voting on US-based sanctions against Iran as well.  China is also a major supplier of missiles and missile technology to Iran.  And, it is Iranian operated, Chinese missiles in the Strait of Hormuz that threaten Saudi oil shipments

In the end, the probable beneficiary of a break in US/Saudi relations would be France.  The Kingdom has worked closely with France on several issues that concern Saudi Arabia like Syria and the Iranian nuclear deal.  France held a tougher line with Iran on the nuclear program than Obama and it has some influence in the region as the former colonial power in the Levant.  France is also a major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia.

France also offers the ability to protect the Saudi oil fields if necessary.  Although not as militarily capable as the US, France does have a rapid reaction force that could move into the Kingdom quickly if necessary.  Given recent events in Africa, they also seem more willing to act quickly than the US.

Britain, also offers some of the same advantages as France.  It was a colonial power in the region, still has interests in the Middle East, and has a mobile military that can quickly react if necessary.

However, in the end, the US offers the Saudis advantages that offset the current disagreements.  Saudi foreign policy is more in line with US foreign policy than that of the other major powers.  A major change of alliances would not change that.

In the end, Saudi Arabia will probably wait the current administration out.  Comments by high ranking Saudi officials make it clear that their problem is with the unreliable American president, not America as a whole.  Saudi King Abdullah doesn’t trust Obama and another member of the Saudi royal family was quoted in the Daily Mail as accusing Obama of “dithering” on Syria and the Israeli/Palestinian issue.

Nor, is Obama likely to change course in the Middle East.  More ideological and dogmatic than pragmatic, Obama has shown a tendency to stick to his policies even after they have proven to be faulty – comments on the Ukraine and Obamacare being prime examples.

That being the case, some officials in Saudi Arabia believes that their interests may be best served by waiting out Obama and his foreign policy.  Obama’s foreign policy only receives a 40% approval rating in the AP poll released this week.  A new American president will be elected in another 2 and ½ years and considering the criticism being leveled at Obama by both Republicans and Democrats for his foreign policy, the chances that his policy will outlive his presidency are limited.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia will continue to exercise a more aggressive foreign policy that meets its strategic interests.  It will continue to counter Iranian influence by supporting rebels in Syria.  It will probably work closer with European powers to hinder the Iranian nuclear program.  And, it will work behind the scenes with Israel to neutralize Iran if it does get close to building a nuclear weapon.

Saudi Arabia’s other major interest will be pursue a degree of political stability within the region in order to maintain the continued reign of the House of Saud.  It has shown a willingness to support friendly governments in Egypt and Bahrain and will continue to do so.  It will remain a bone of contention between the kingdom and Obama, but one that will not cause Obama to act.




Afghanistan–Pakistan: U.S. Must Ensure that Its Military Gear Does Not Exacerbate Regional Tensions

By Lisa Curtis

Heritage Foundation

March 24, 2014

Issue Brief #4178

After 12 years of fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan and failing to convince Pakistani leaders to crack down decisively on terrorist bases on their side of the border, American military planners are considering providing Pakistan with billions in leftover equipment from the war. A Washington Post story from last weekend indicates that U.S. military planners are in discussions with their Pakistani counterparts about the possibility of leaving behind, for Pakistani use, armored vehicles and other equipment deemed too expensive to ship back to the U.S.  While giving the Pakistanis U.S. military equipment, including mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, might make sense from a cost and logistical standpoint, the U.S. also needs to take into account the impact of such decisions on regional security dynamics. Washington should ensure that any military equipment it leaves in Pakistan does not exacerbate regional tensions. Washington should also condition the transfer of such military equipment on Islamabad’s meeting certain counterterrorism benchmarks, including cracking down on groups that are destabilizing Afghanistan, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

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U.S. Missile Defense Policy After Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

By Michaela Dodge

Heritage Foundation

March 21, 2014

Issue Brief #4177

Russia has invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in blatant disregard of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and international law. Russia’s crude steps carry important implications for U.S. missile defense policy.  Currently, the Administration’s policy is not to affect the “strategic balance” with Russia in terms of ballistic missiles. In reality, there is no strategic balance between the two countries. Given Russia’s demonstrated willingness to use force to alter nations’ boundaries and act against U.S. interests, it is clear that the U.S. should expand its ballistic missile defense to protect itself and its allies from Russia’s ballistic missiles.

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Iraq in Crisis

By Anthony Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 24, 2014

This most recent draft of Iraq in Crisis has been revised to take into account of outside comments covering the trends in violence, Iraq’s political crisis, the role of Al Qaeda in Iraq, problems in Iraq’s security forces, and challenges with the Iraqi economy and petroleum sector. In addition, numerous tables and charts have been added, adjusted, and update to serve as reference. These include data on Iraq’s security forces and the trends in casualties and the rising rate of Iraq’s internal violence.

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Five Questions for Sisi, Egypt’s Man of Mystery

By Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment

March 26, 2014

Egyptians are about to hand the keys to their country to Field Marshal and presidential candidate Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, with very little sense of where he plans to take them. In fact, they know relatively little about Sisi himself, which is problematic given the mountain of challenges Egypt faces. And in announcing his candidacy on March 26—still in uniform, his last act as a soldier—Sisi gave only a few hints.  Sisi emerged into public life only recently. As head of military intelligence, he was virtually unknown to the public until he cooperated with the then president, Mohamed Morsi, to ensure that he replaced Mohamed Hussein Tantawi as defense minister in August 2012 and then ousted Morsi in July 2013. Throughout the ensuing months of questions about whether he would install himself into Morsi’s job, Sisi has remained a man of mystery, receiving Egyptians’ popular adoration yet maintaining a public persona that is distant and undefined.

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Egypt’s Unprecedented Instability by the Numbers

By Michele Dunne and Scott Williamson

Carnegie Endowment

March 24, 2014

Egyptians have suffered through the most intense human rights abuses and terrorism in their recent history in the eight months since the military ousted then president Mohamed Morsi. The extent of this story has been largely obscured from view due to the lack of hard data, but estimates suggest that more than 2,500 Egyptians have been killed, more than 17,000 have been wounded, and more than 16,000 have been arrested in demonstrations and clashes since July 3. Another several hundred have been killed in terrorist attacks.  These numbers exceed those seen even in Egypt’s darkest periods since the 1952 military-led revolution that would bring Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. They reflect a use of violence that is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern political history.

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The fall of Yabroud and the Campaign for the Lebanese Border

By Isabel Nassief

Institute for the Study of War

March 24, 2014

Yabroud is located in the rugged terrain of the Qalamoun Mountains and sits astride the M5 highway which connects Damascus to Homs and the Mediterranean coast. Rebel control of Yabroud had disrupted the regime’s freedom of movement along the M5 highway and created a staging ground for rebel attacks against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. In mid- November 2013, the regime intensified operations to clear the area in order to regain control of the section of the M5 highway running from Qara to Yabroud. Regime forces supported by Hezbollah and National Defense Force (NDF) fighters pushed along the main highway moving from north to south, and seized Qara on November 15th, Deir Attiyah in late November, and an-Nabek in mid-December.1  Pro-regime forces then pressed towards Yabroud where their advance slowed until launching a renewed offensive against the town in February 2014.

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Obama and the Churches of Saudi Arabia

By Nina Shea

Hudson Institute

March 21, 2014

When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia next week, he will have an opportunity to follow through on his inspiring words at the Feb. 6. National Prayer Breakfast. There, he told thousands of Christian leaders that “the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose” is central to “human dignity,” and so “promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.”  The freedom so central to human dignity is denied by the Kingdom. The State Department has long ranked Saudi Arabia among the world’s most religiously repressive governments, designating it a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. Yet the Obama administration, like its predecessors, has not pressed Riyadh to respect religious freedom.

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Egypt‘s New Military Brass

By Gilad Wenig

Washington Institute

March 26, 2014

PolicyWatch 2229

Today, following months of speculation, Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi announced his resignation as Egypt’s defense minister and his candidacy for president. Sedki Sobhi, former chief of staff under Sisi, has been promoted to colonel general — one rank below field marshal — and appointed as the new defense minister, while Mahmoud Hegazy, former director of military intelligence, has been promoted to lieutenant general and will be the new army chief of staff. The resultant restructuring of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will likely put some of Sisi’s closest allies in key positions and should provide him with a strong base of military support and influence once he wins the presidency as expected (click on the image below for a chart illustrating this projected restructuring).

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Nuclear Kingdom: Saudi Arabia’s Atomic Ambitions

By Olli Heinonen and Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

March 27, 2014

PolicyWatch 2230

A major probable consequence of Iran achieving a nuclear weapons capability is that Saudi Arabia will seek to match it. With President Obama currently rating the chances of diplomatic success as 50-50 and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei giving a “zero” probability, this weekend’s U.S.-Saudi summit will be an opportunity to check whether Saudi planning can help the diplomacy rather than hinder it.  In 2009, a Saudi royal decree announced that “the development of atomic energy is essential to meet the kingdom’s growing requirements for energy to generate electricity, produce desalinated water and reduce reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.” In 2011, plans were announced for the construction of sixteen nuclear power reactors over the next twenty years at a cost of more than $80 billion. These would generate about 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s electricity, while other, smaller reactors were envisaged for desalination.

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

Week of March 21th, 2014

Executive Summary


The Washington think tank community remains focused on the Russian moves into Ukraine’s Crimea region, although some papers came out on Egypt and Syria.  One paper also looks at how US failures in turkey and Iran led to the Ukrainian crisis.

Domestic and international affairs have seriously dented Obama’s popularity amongst voters – so much so that many see the US Senate being won by the Republicans in November.  The Monitor analysis looks at the various Senate seats that are vulnerable and the chances for Republican victory.



Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Hudson Institute marks the third anniversary of the Syrian crisis by looking at American foreign policy missteps.  This brutal critique of Obama concludes, “The president has waged a three-year-long strategic messaging campaign full of half-truths and lies because even if he’s convinced that he’s right and he has the American people on his side, he’s still worried. He understands the scope of the humanitarian catastrophe and fears the strategic disaster that may befall American allies and the United States itself. Obama’s messaging campaign, the White House’s disinformation and evasions, is how the president has tried for the past three years to put some distance between him and the Syrian conflict. He’s right to fear that it will forever be a black mark on his legacy.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at non-Islamist parties in Egypt.  A major issue in Egypt’s political transition of the last three years has been the chronic weakness of political parties not associated with Egypt’s Islamists. With crucial elections coming up later in 2014—first a presidential election, probably in late spring, and then a parliamentary election in the fall—questions about the role that non-Islamist parties will play are once again coming to the fore.  In this Q&A, Ahmed Morsy, a nonresident associate at Carnegie, addresses some of the key issues related to these parties. He says that although non-Islamists still face a host of challenges, they might have a chance to win over swing voters who helped bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in 2012.

The Washington Institute looks at Egypt’s growing invisible insurgency.  They note, “To promote these violent efforts, Muslim Brothers appeal to their supporters through social media, establishing violent Facebook groups that have attracted thousands of “likes.” For example, the “Execution Movement” Facebook page, which was founded in early September to call for the deaths of Egypt’s top security officials, urges its roughly 3,000 followers to burn police cars. “There are 34,750 police officers in Egypt…80% of them have cars,” reads a January 26 post that spread across pro-Brotherhood Facebook pages. “If we exploit the current situation of chaos and, during the night…burned 1000 [police] vehicles…Either the government will compensate [the officers] with new cars, which will cause imbalance in the budget and popular anger…or leave them without cars like the rest of the population, and this of course will have a big impact on their morale and their performance.” Indeed, police vehicles appear to be these groups’ most frequent targets.

The CSIS argues the United States does not need to rebuild its alliance with Saudi Arabia as much as build a new form of alliance based on the new realities of the Middle East.  They note, “But, years of alliance and many close U.S. and Saudi friendships scarcely mean that they do not have different values and priorities.  The United States is a secular democracy with Western values and global interests and priorities. It sees democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as global extensions of its own society and values. The United States has no immediate threats on its borders or peer competitors… Saudi Arabia is an Arab, Sunni Islamic monarchy. It has steadily modernized in virtually every dimension, but its royal family gives its own security and that of the Kingdom first priority, and sees the world in terms of its view of Islam and Arab interests.”

The CSIS looks at Islamic theology and how it impacts government actions in the Middle East.  They conclude, “The credibility of state institutions has eroded in part because they are less appealing to younger audiences. Since strengthening state religion requires depoliticizing religion, state-employed preachers are unwilling to address the challenges of daily life which are inherently political: poor governance, economic exclusion, and corruption. By steering to safe topics, state clerics undermine their credibility with young people, who are then more susceptible to violent extremist messages…This ideological struggle poses deep challenges for U.S. policymakers because there is no obvious U.S. role in this debate. Yet, a deeper understanding of the forces at play is crucial. Governments in the region seek to de-radicalize their populations by making them more religious, not less. These messages may not always sound tolerant to American ears. Yet governments in the region are not looking to please the United States in this debate. They are betting that more controlled religious messaging can ultimately produce populations that are less rebellious. It is a gamble whose outcome will help determine the religious values of the next generation in the region.”

The AEI tries to tie the US failure to understand Putin to past attitudes towards leaders in Turkey and Iran.  They note, “Only by studying past mistakes can future diplomats hope to avoid repeating them.  The same holds true with Turkey: Warning signs extend back well over a decade, but the State Department refused to recognize them…about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s money laundering schemes and slush funds…The ambassador at the time blindly accepted the idea that Erdoğan was a reformer; he did not ask who the sources were and upon what the allegations were based… It is wrong to suggest that there were no negotiations with Iran in the decades between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama: There was plenty, but John Kerry and negotiator Wendy Sherman seem intent on reinventing the wheel without consideration to how the same people upon whom they now rely have in the past lied and cheated. That does not mean that history is bound to repeat, but repetition is much more likely if senior American officials do not care to learn from past mistakes.”

The Heritage Foundation argues that freeing energy markets is one way to curb Russian power, which is based to a great degree on its energy reserves.  In arguing for lifting regulations that restrict America’s ability to have more of an impact on international energy markets, they conclude, “Increasing domestic energy production and lifting bans on energy exports would help the U.S. economy and Ukraine. And by increasing energy supplies to the global market and diversifying global supplies, these reforms would diminish the ability of any nation, including Russia, to use energy as a weapon to impose its will in the future. For these reasons, Congress should open access to America’s energy resources and allow for the free trade of energy resources.”




Who Will Take Control of the US Senate This Year?


Democrats were shaken last week in a closely watched special election in Florida.  The results weren’t very promising for Democrats and seem to presage the loss of the US Senate to Republicans in November.  If that happens, Obama will find the last two years of his administration even more challenging than the last few weeks.

This was to be a chance for the Democrats to gain a seat.  The Democratic candidate Alex Sink, was the state’s former chief financial officer, a former candidate for governor, and a woman.  Although there is a very slight Republican voter registration advantage, the congressional district voted twice for Obama and had voted for Sink, when she ran for governor.  Sink had also outspent Republican David Jolly in the special election.

That loss was followed the next day by an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that showed Obama approval at historically low numbers and the Democratic Party in trouble.  When the poll asked whether they were more or less likely to support a candidate endorsed by President Obama, respondents turned thumbs down on Obama by 42 percent to 22 percent. Asked whether they would be more likely to back a candidate who was a strong supporter of Obama, the results were worse: 48 percent to 26 percent.

This is bad news for the Democratic Party, which holds about 20 of the seats up for election in November.  The Republicans only need to flip 6 seats to take control and currently there are 11 Democratic seats where there is no incumbent running or where the incumbent is in serious trouble.

Here’s the run down of those vulnerable Democrat seats.  In each case, Obama’s unpopularity makes the race even harder for the Democrats.  Democrats are defending seats in five states — Arkansas, Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia — where Obama’s approval rating was at or below 35 percent in 2013, according to Gallup. In four other states where Democrats hold a Senate seat that’s up in 2014, Obama’s approval rating was well below his national average of 46 percent: Louisiana (40 percent), Colorado and Iowa (42 percent), and North Carolina (43 percent). In New Hampshire and New Mexico the president had a 45 percent job-approval rating, just below his national average. That’s a total of 11 Democratic seats that could potentially be in play this November.

There are two Republican seats that may be lost.  However, Obama’s low popularity ratings make these hard pick ups for the Democrats.  In Georgia, where the GOP must defend an open seat, Obama’s approval rating of 45 percent is below his national average. In Kentucky, where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection, only 35 percent of voters have a favorable view of the president.

When it comes to campaigns for the Senate, Arkansas is probably the one that Democrats are most likely to lose.  Arkansas has changed dramatically since the days of Bill Clinton and the once reliable Democrat state is now Republican.  In fact, it gave Romney a 20% margin of victory in 2012.

Last week, Hickman Analytics, a Democratic polling firm, showed Arkansas Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor behind 51% to 42%, over a lesser-known GOP challenger, Representative Tom Cotton. Since undecided voters usually break for the challenger and Obama and his policies are unpopular in Arkansas, this is the Democrat’s most likely loss.

Another formerly Democratic state, Louisiana, also bodes ill for Democratic chances to retain the Senate.  Once a Democratic bastion in the South, Romney won this state by 17% in 2012 and Obama is very unpopular there.  Democratic Senator Landrieu narrowly won her 1996, 2002 and 2008 elections, and 2014 looks even harder.

Louisiana is an energy-producing state that has suffered from Obama administration “clean energy” policy.  Recent polling shows Representative Bill Cassidy (R.) leading Democratic senator Mary Landrieu (D.) by 46 percent to 42 percent among likely voters and a full 49 percent to 40 percent among definite voters. Cassidy is only half as well known as Landrieu but, as a physician critical of Obamacare, is an effective messenger on health care.

In North Carolina, incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is doing everything she can to avoid being associated with Obama.  Although she leads GOP candidate Thom Tillis 45 percent to 41 percent among likely voters, being under 50% is a dangerous sign for an incumbent.

In Colorado, which President Obama carried twice, a Rasmussen poll shows Democratic incumbent Mark Udall with a lead of only 42 percent to 41 percent over Republican representative Cory Gardner. Again the incumbent is underperforming where he should be at this point in the race.  This had been considered a safe Democratic seat until Gardner announced he was running.  Udall has also been plagued by a scandal concerning the bullying of Obamacare exchange employees.

In Alaska, Democratic Senator Begich is in big trouble. He is trailing both major Republican candidates in recent polling and Alaskan anger regarding Obamacare is strong.  Romney received 55% of the vote here in 2012 and this is a likely Republican pickup.

Although Montana has become more of a swing state in the recent past, Republicans have a shot at the Senate seat thanks to the resignation of Democratic Senator Max Baucus to become Obama’s new Ambassador to China.  Former Lt. Gov. John Walsh was appointed to replace him in the Senate, but the Democrat faces multiple sexual harassment and wrongful termination lawsuits. He may not be tied to a vote for Obamacare, but questions of his ethics will make the voters of Montana wonder if he can be trusted.  Romney received 55% of the vote and, with Walsh’s personal issues, Republican candidate Daines is polling over 10% ahead of the Democrat and can take this seat from him.

The once Democratic state of West Virginia has been trending Republican and in 2012 Romney won the state by nearly 30% thanks to Obama’s attempt to close coal mines – a major industry in the state.  With Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller retiring, this is an open seat and a potential Republican pickup.  GOP Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito has a record in Congress of fighting the EPA on coal mining rules and polling shows her ahead of possible Democratic candidate Natalie Tennant by double digits.

In South Dakota, Romney won 58% of the vote, which may be why Democratic Senator Tim Johnson is retiring.  Republican candidate, Governor Mike Rounds, is leading Democratic candidate, Rick Weiland by 20%.  Baring a major upset, this is a probable win for the Republicans.

Iowa is losing retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Democratic Senate hopeful Congressman Bruce Braley is polling 6% ahead of all of the announced Republicans.  However, these numbers are giving him 40% – 41%, which indicates some softness in his support.   The poor polling of Obama (42%) and how well the Republican challenger (as yet, undecided) campaigns will determine if this seat remains Democratic.

One of the surprise states is Michigan, which voted for Obama in 2012.  Democrat Senator Carl Levin is retiring and the GOP is looking surprisingly strong in 2014.  Republican Governor Rick Snyder is polling very strong and that should help the Republican nominee. Although Obama did particularly well here in 2012, the Republican Senate nominee, probably former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, can win with a good campaign.  Polls of likely voters show Land running 2% to 5% ahead of probably Democratic candidate Gary Peters.

Obama has a 45% approval rating in New Hampshire, which makes it harder for Democratic Senator Shaheen, who is polling a little below 50% in most polls.  Her biggest threat may be former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who is moving to New Hampshire and challenging her.  Some pollsters find a Brown versus Shaheen Senate race competitive. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, had Shaheen ahead by just 3 points in January. The bipartisan Purple Strategies had the race tied. But more recent polls, such as one conducted by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald, show Shaheen ahead by 13 points with Brown getting less than 40 percent of the vote.  However, Brown has shown a knack of winning in Democratic territory, so he can’t be discounted.  However, in the long run, this state will probably stay in Democratic hands.

In the end, what may be just as important will be the ability of the Republicans to hold their seats in Georgia and Kentucky – Senate seats the Democrats feel they can pick up.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is barely ahead of his Democratic challenger Alison Grimes.  He has been hurt by a primary challenge by the more conservative Matt Bevins, who is far behind in the polls, but is undoubtedly hurting the senator amongst more conservative voters.

Georgia, another Republican seat, is in danger as Saxby Chambliss is retiring.  Michelle Nunn is the likely Democratic candidate and she is consistently holding a 2% – 4% lead over her potential Republican opponents.

What may save the Republicans in both of these states is that the mid term election is usually a referendum on the sitting president.  Both of these states went comfortably for Romney in 2012 and although polling shows them potential Democratic wins, history indicates that the Republican candidate will likely squeak out a win, especially if disheartened Democrats stay home on election day.

If the Republicans can hold Georgia and Kentucky, the math for them to win control of the Senate is great.  Arkansas, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia are currently leaning towards the Republicans.   That means they need only win one of the current toss up states, Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana, or Michigan.

If, however, Georgia and Kentucky are won by the Democrats, the battle to control the Senate becomes considerably harder for the Republicans.

What a Republican Senate Would Mean

In the current climate of deadlock in Washington, a Republican Senate will not mean a great change.  Legislation might be passed by the Republican House and Senate, but end up being vetoed by Obama.  The only difference is that now, legislation passed by the House dies in the Senate rather than at the White House.

The biggest change might be with Obama’s nominations.  Without a majority to count on, Obama might be forced to either leave some positions unfilled or put forth nominees that have a better chance of being confirmed by the Republican Senate.

This problem has already been considered and many Democrats are pressuring Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to retire at the end of this SCOTUS term so Obama can nominate and the Senate can confirm a replacement before the Republicans can take charge.




Free Ukraine by Freeing Energy Markets

By Nicolas Loris and Jack Spencer

Heritage Foundation

March 13, 2014

Issue Brief #4170

Whether military, diplomatic, economic, or otherwise, the U.S. government has an array of policy options to bring to bear in response to Russia’s unacceptable aggression against Ukraine. However, one must not discount the impact that free markets and free trade can ultimately have on the situation.  Much of Russia’s power in the region is the result of its control over energy supplies and distribution systems. Diminishing Russia’s economic leverage over the region should be a key component of America’s response. This could be largely accomplished simply by liberalizing global energy markets. The U.S. has antiquated and unnecessary restrictions on exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) and crude oil, and Congress should make lifting these restrictions a priority.

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Middle East Notes and Comment: Traditional Remedies

By Haim Malka

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 14, 2014


In the decade after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government promoted democracy as an antidote to al Qaeda’s violent ideology. Whether or not U.S. democracy promotion had much to do with it, the revolts and revolutions of 2011 recast Arab politics. To many U.S. allies, the principal product of casting aside dictatorships was not more democratic governance, but instead weakened security structures. As they see it, the new environment provided public space for violent extremist ideology to spread and reignited a debate over how to fight it. This time around, U.S. voices will be much less relevant to the debate.  Rather than promoting Western values, which can imply separating religion and state, governments in the region are doing the opposite. They see controlling religious space, both physical and ideological, as the key to combating extremism. Their strategies are not about creating “moderate Islam,” as some Americans have advocated, but strengthening an interpretation of Islam that accepts state authority. In North Africa, defining a “traditional” or “national” Islam is at the core of this effort. The outcome of this struggle and whether governments can create viable religious alternatives to extremist narratives will shape the next generation of Islamic values across the region.

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The Need for a New “Realism” in the US-Saudi Alliance

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 17, 2014


The United States does not need to rebuild its alliance with Saudi Arabia as much as build a new form of alliance based on the new realities of the Middle East. Both sides need to recognize these changing realities, and the uncertainties involved, and develop a new level of cooperation. At the same time, they need to be more tolerant of the other side’s positions.  The United States and Saudi Arabia have many common interests, but often have different values and priorities. This requires the leaders of both countries to face facts in private that they may not be able to face in public, and to build a more functional partnership based on the new realities that shape the region.

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Were mistakes made on Russia, Turkey, and Iran?

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute