Week of January 10, 2020

Iran and the United States: Mutual Options


This week, the US killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force, at Baghdad’s Airport.

The Pentagon said it was a defensive action taken with the approval of President Trump because further attacks were planned against American targets soon.  The US also said that Soleimani also had approved the attacks on the US Embassy.

The reactions were predictable.  Iran threatened “severe retaliation” against the “criminals” responsible for killing Soleimani.  The Democrats said the killing only heightened tensions in the Middle East.  Meanwhile, President Trump said that Soleimani “should have been taken out years ago.”

Trump decided to escalate rather than matching Iran tit-for-tat. Trump crossed a red line by killing General Soleimani.  American responses in the past have been against “Iranian proxies” or have been economic in general.

The potential for future violence was made clear as oil prices shot up as investors were worried that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

So, is the Middle East on the verge of plunging into a major conflict?


US Reaction and Options

In many ways, to Trump and hardliners in this administration (like Pompeo and Esper) the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad made sense to Iran.  Two of America’s most humiliating defeats in the Middle East have involved American embassies – the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the storming of the American diplomatic bases in Benghazi in 2012.  Taking over the Baghdad site would have humiliated the US and likely brought about the defeat of Trump in the upcoming elections, just as the 1979 capture of the US embassy in Tehran led to the defeat of President Carter in 1980.

President Trump isn’t like Presidents Carter or Obama.  Within minutes he had ordered 100 US Marines in Kuwait to Baghdad and put US forces around Baghdad on alert.

In this case, however, the US has made it clear that retaliation will not be limited to economic sanctions or attacks on what being labeled “Iranian proxies”.  The US has shown it is willing to carry out strikes on Iranian officials.  Secretary of Defense Esper has also said additional attacks are in the offing.

“If we get word of attacks,” Esper said, “We will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives.  The game has changed.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Esper responded, “Do I think they might do something? Yes, and they will likely regret it…Our aim is to deter further Iranian bad behavior that has been going on now for over 40 years.”

Although most Democrats have condemned the attack, this attack by the US will only improve Trump’s popularity amongst his supporters primely, Trump after seeing scenes of Iraqis attacking the US Embassy,  he thinks Americans favor any action that prevents such attacks in the future – especially in light of the Benghazi attacks that led to the death of the American Ambassador to Libya.


So, what will America’s response be?

The first action was the ordering one brigade (750 soldiers) from the 82nd Airborne to the Middle East.  Unlike previous deployments in the past, which were generally technicians who supported missile systems and such, the 82nd Airborne is a combat unit that is structured to deploy within hours into a hostile environment.  These are troops trained to fight, not repair and operate radar and missiles.

These forces have already arrived in the Middle East.

Additional soldiers from the Immediate Response Force will be deployed soon.  Reports are that an additional 3,500 troops from the 82nd Airborne will be sent and deployed across the region.  Again, they will be combat forces, not support personnel or technicians.

Other official actions are warning Americans (including American oil workers in Iraq) in the region to leave, hardening American targets, and evacuating non-essential Americans from embassies and consulates.

There is also additional security in American cities like New York.

The US Navy in the area of the Strait of Hormuz will also be repositioning itself.  The aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman (CVN 75) will likely move east of the Strait of Hormuz in order to carry out strikes outside the range of Iranian boats or aircraft.

Smaller ships like destroyers or frigates may be readied to carry out convoy escort duties if Iran tries to harass commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

A Marine Expeditionary Unit backed up with the USS Bataan (LHD 5) is currently crossing the Atlantic for a deployment in the region.  Once in place, their Marine contingent can deploy across the region within hours.  And, like the troops of the 82nd Airborne, Marines are combat soldiers, not support personnel or technicians.

US Air Force units in the region will be on heightened alert in case they will be needed to support ground forces or shipping the Gulf being attacked.  Air defense systems will also be on the alert for Iranian aircraft of missiles.

Although future American responses are unknown, we can be sure that they may not limit themselves to strikes against “Iranian proxies”.  The US has made it clear that the Iranian command structure is now fair game.


Iranian Options

It seems clear that Iran was taken aback by the ferocity of America’s response to the embassy attack. If it anticipated this sort of attack, Soleimani never would have appeared in person at the Baghdad Airport.

Iran now must devise a response whose outcome is extremely difficult to calculate. There is a significant probability of a major escalation.

Iran well may decide on a limited, symbolic action. However, if it chooses restraint, its prestige in the region will diminish.

Iran has decades of experience in using asymmetrical warfare to fight the US and its allies.  This makes it the most likely option.

However, Iran has already made it clear that it has increased its readiness for conventional warfare.  American made F-14 fighters are patrolling its airspace and its missile command is ready to attack if ordered.

To American war planners, the F-14 is considered no match to advanced US fighters and they haven’t been able to receive F-14 spare parts from America since 1979.  And, the Iranian missile force is extensive, but not all have arsenal has the precision accuracy guidance.

The biggest threat is an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz – an economic weapon that threatens the energy independent US less that it does Europe and China.

Undoubtedly the US has more forces in the area of the Strait than Iran does, so an overt closure of the Strait would be unlikely.  However, the use of mines (as they did in the 1980s) and covert attacks like those of a few months ago would raise the risk to commercial shipping and create a jump in energy prices that would slow the world economy.

Iran’s regional strategy rests on a combination of irregular warfare based on allies’ fighters in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and strategic deterrence including intermediate-range missiles and cruise missiles.

One option is to carry out missile attacks via their Yemeni allies.  This has been successful in damaging sites on the Saudi peninsula but has had limited impact on American forces.

The most aggressive course of action is to attack an American asset. In the extreme case, Iran could use a combination of intermediate-range missiles, cruise missiles and drones to attack major American bases like the one in Doha.

The September attack on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia exposed the weakness of US air defenses. The Patriot anti-missile system can’t shoot anything flying lower than 60 meters, and Iran has low-flying cruise missiles. A successful strike against Doha certainly figures in American calculations. In late September, US Central Command temporarily moved command and control of the Doha base to a remote facility in Tampa, Florida, because the base is a “sitting duck” for Iranian missiles.

If Iran were to attack Doha, America’s response likely would be extensive. To American military planners, two dozen missiles or bombing sorties could severely damage out Iran’s economy in a matter of hours (a threat implied by Trump statement and Senator Lindsey Gramm). Fewer than a dozen power plants generate 60% of Iran’s electricity, and eight refineries produce 80% of its distillates. A single missile strike could disable each of these facilities, and bunker-buster bombs would destroy them. Without much effort, the US could destroy the Port of Kharg from which Iran exports 90% of its hydrocarbons.

More likely is a limited attack, perhaps on a smaller US naval vessel in the Gulf, or on a smaller US base somewhere in the region. The problem is that Iran would have to inflict enough damage to restore its credibility without inviting massive US retaliation.

Undoubtedly, Iran will respond.  However, their likely response will play to their strengths.  The source of the attacks will be vague enough to cause the US to hesitate about using a military response against Iranian targets.

Of course, not all US and Iranian options are military or economic.  One only must remember the US-Israeli computer viruses used against Iranian nuclear computers to realize that the US can make its response damaging, but hard to respond to.

It seems that US might be miscalculating, they are basing their position on the assumption that when Trump ordered the firing of 50 cruise missiles into Syria, critics said this was a major escalation in the region and threatened the peace.  But nothing serious happened.

Iran enjoys “twisting the Eagle’s tail feathers.” But it doesn’t want events to spiral out of control.  On the other side, President Trump is anxious to pull troops out of the region and isn’t eager to mire the US in another conflict in the region.

Both sides have solid reasons to avoid major escalations to a full-scale war, but no one can guarantee it can be avoided when the missiles start flying.


American Options in the Middle East

So far what looked like the beginning of a full-scale war in the Middle East has suddenly calmed down – except for a few rockets.  A dramatic missile attack by Iran on American bases in Iraq came off according to President Trump without causing a single American casualty, although 22 Iranian missiles were fired.  Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif seemed to signal the end of the current hostilities by calling the attack “proportionate measures in self-defense,” and adding “we do not seek escalation or war but will defend ourselves.”

President Trump also seemed to signal a return to a calmer atmosphere by nearly repeating what Zarif said.  In remarks made at the White House, Trump said, “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

Although the return to calm is hopeful, both sides signaled that other hostilities might occur in the future.  In his speech, Trump declared, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”  That implies that sometime in the future Trump will carry out some operation against Iran.

Trump did offer an olive branch by saying “we should work together on this (ISIS) and other shared priorities…We want you to have a future and a great future.”

In the vein of Trump’s comment on Iranian nuclear weapons, Ayatollah Khamenei also intimated this wasn’t the end by saying, “An important incident has happened.  The question of revenge is another issue…Military actions in this form [referring to the missile attack] are not sufficient for that issue.”

In other words, both sides have kept their options open.

So, what are America’s military options in the Middle East?  A lot depends on what American military presence is in the region and what they can do.


The American Military Presence in the Middle East

The American military presence in the Middle East may seem large, but it’s important to see what types of forces are in the region.  In fact, only a small number are considered combat troops.

To better understand this, the American forces can be broken down into three groups.

Combat Troops.  These are combat trained forces that specialize in small unit tactics and can be used to carry out ground attacks on enemy forces or hold American positions that are under heavy attack (like the American embassy).  Only a small number of combat forces were in the region until about two weeks ago.  And, most of them were in Afghanistan.

Technicians.  These are soldiers that maintain weapons systems like air defense, radar, and aircraft.  They can be called upon to defend a base, but aren’t trained for offensive operations.

Support Troops.  These range from medical personnel to supply and transportation.  They are not trained for combat operation.

While all Army and Marine forces are trained for combat, Air Force technicians aren’t.  Naval personnel are trained in carrying out their mission on board ship.

What this means is that the American presence in the region is primarily designed for maintaining weapons systems; aircraft, missile defense systems, cruise missiles, and drones.  There was a small Marine reaction force in Kuwait, until it was dispatched to Baghdad to protect the US Embassy.

The attack on the embassy changed everything.  A brigade of the 82nd Airborne was immediately dispatched to the region and other units of the 82nd are expected to arrive soon.  These are stationed in Kuwait.

About 2,200 Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were sent to the Middle East from a training exercise in Morocco.  They will remain stationed onboard ships.

In addition, US Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment were sent.  Rangers are considered an elite unit.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team has been earmarked for the region, probably to protect the Embassy in Beirut.

By the time all the units reach the Middle East, the American presence will be about 80,000.  And, a greater percentage will be combat troops.  This gives the US more options in terms of response.

As it stands now, the largest US force is in Afghanistan (14,000 troops). This is followed by Kuwait and Qatar, which has about 13,000 troops each.  There are 7,000 in Bahrain, 6,000 in Iraq, 3,000 in Saudi Arabia, 3,000 in Jordan, and 5,000 in the UAE.

US forces at sea total about 5,000.

Syria, which is seeing a drawdown in US forces likely has about 800 American troops.

This doesn’t mean that the US can’t deploy more forces if necessary.  The 101st Airborne Division is also an airmobile rapid reaction force.  There is also heavy equipment like tanks that are prepositioned in the region if necessary.


American Options

Until a week ago, the major American military response option was the use of air power, combat aircraft, drones, or cruise missiles.  The US Air Force could rely upon locally based combat aircraft or bombers stationed in the US.  The Navy would be responsible for any cruise missile attacks as well as aircraft sorties from aircraft carriers in the region.

These attacks would have generally targeted Iranian backed militias in Iraq or Syria.  The US Navy cruise missiles would have targeted areas with more effective air defense systems like Iranian territory.  It would have been cruise missiles that would have probably been used if President Trump had decided to carry out his threat against the Iranian leadership.

Cyber-attacks against the Iranian infrastructure are possible.  However, an American cyber-attack would probably result in an Iranian retaliation on America’s computers.

The other option would have been more aggressive patrolling of the Strait of Hormuz.  This would have used destroyers, frigates, and helicopters to stop and board Iranian shipping.  Small numbers of Marines would have been used for the boarding.

These options were available before the recent deployments to the region.  So, why is the US sending combat troops to the region?

It appears that the US had intelligence that Iranian backed militias would carry out offensive operations against American facilities besides the US Embassy.

The forces sent to the region are combat trained forces that are specialized in inserting into hostile environments.  They would be ideal for landing into an American military base, which is under attack by Iranian backed militias.  Combined with air support, they could hold off any attack.  At the same time, they can bolster security at American facilities not under threat.

This, in part, explains why the Iranian government limited their response.  Although they could have escalated the attacks, they realized that, in the end, they were more vulnerable to American attack than the US was vulnerable to Iranian attack.

Although the US couldn’t have carried out any invasion of Iran, they can carry out major attacks on the Iranian leadership and its nuclear infrastructure.  Sea launched cruise missiles could have punched holes in the Iranian air defense, while American stealth aircraft could have opened a path through Iranian airspace for bombers to attack Iranian nuclear sites.

Meantime, other cruise missiles or drones would have targeted Iran’s command and control.

This is what the Iranian leadership would have feared the most.  They will tolerate attacks on their militias.  They don’t want America to target Iranian leaders.

Although it seems that calm has been restored in the region, it’s important to remember the first words that came out of Trumps mouth when he addressed the nation on Wednesday.  He said, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”

Unless the US has a method for sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program that implies more military action is to be expected – at some time.

Week of December 20, 2019

Impeaching Trump Threatens Widespread Civil Unrest

The battle for the impeachment, conviction, and removal of Trump from office isn’t only in the Congress.  As the House votes for impeachment, the battle lines are being drawn across the US and the potential for violence is growing.

On Tuesday night, tens of thousands of anti-Trump protestors came together across the nation to push for Trump’s impeachment in the House of Representatives.

Groups opposing to Trump had organized more than 600 events ranging from Florida to Alaska.  However, for all the passion, the gatherings were smaller than other mass protests, possibly due to the last-minute nature of the events.

But this isn’t the only side preparing for mass demonstrations in the streets of the nation.

300,000 motorcycle enthusiasts called “Rolling Thunder” have made it clear that they will roll into Washington DC to save Trump if the Senate trial looks bad for the president.

Dale Herndon, National Director of Bikers for Trump said, “We will ride, if and when the president looks as if he is in danger with some senators flipping,” specifically centrist Republicans, which he calls RINOs (Republicans in Name only).

The group has a sign-up page on Facebook, which has 300,000 members.

The threat of civil unrest isn’t limited to pro-Trump bikers.  In an interview with Fox News, Pastor Robert Jeffress said removing Trump from office would cause a civil war fracture in the US that would never heal.

Oath Keepers, considered a militia group by some was also using the words “civil war.”  Stewart Rhodes, head of Oath Keepers tweeted, “we are on the verge of a hot civil war.”  The twitter account also noted, “the militia (that’s us) can be called forth to execute the laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions.”

Representative Louie Gohmert (R. Texas) said a few weeks ago that the Democratic push for impeachment is “about to push this country to a civil war.”  Gohmert spoke right after the vote on the impeachment rules.

“And, if there is one thing I don’t want to see in my lifetime, Gohmert said, “I don’t want to ever have participation in a civil war.  Some historian, I don’t remember who, said guns are only involved in the last phase of a civil war.”

Firearms are a key issue in this debate.  One pro-Trump supporter at a Trump rally in Hersey, PA told CBS News “my .357 Magnum (a heavy caliber revolver) is comfortable with that.  End of story.”

Another person at the same rally said,” There’ll be a lot of mad Americans, possibly 70 to 80 million Americans on the loose – not very happy.”

Since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported last week that Americans own 423 million firearms (about 1.2 per American) and billions of rounds of ammunition, this is a serious threat.  17.7 million of them are modern “assault rifles” like the AR-15 and AK-47 (half of all guns produced in 2017 where these type of firearms).

Given the large number of gun owners in the US and the possibility of civil unrest, any attempt to curb gun ownership is seen as a threat.

In the state of Kentucky, which has a Democratic governor who wants to restrict gun ownership, Harlan County leaders voted to protect gun owners from any attempt by the state or federal government to confiscate firearms.  The measure passed unanimously this week.

Other Kentucky counties are also looking at passing similar laws.

There are also similar anti-gun laws in place in the states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico.  In the State of Washington, there is a petition being circulated that calls for the impeachment of the Governor and Attorney General of the state due to their efforts to restrict firearms.

However, if there is an epicenter for this firearm “pushback,” it is Virginia, which elected a pro-gun control governor and legislature.  They are looking at passing laws restricting the training of people in firearms usage, gun registration, and making many semi-automatic firearms illegal.  This has outraged the majority of the state.

As of this week, 95 counties, cities, or municipalities have passed resolutions to protect what they believe to be Americans constitutional right to own firearms.  90% of the Virginia counties have joined in.  Other locations are still debating their stances.

This isn’t limited to words.  Tazwell County in Southwest Virginia passed a Second Amendment resolution, but they have also officially begun to form a militia.  The vote was unanimous and received a cheer from the crowd.

County Administrator Eric Young explained that the Virginia Constitution reserves the right to “order” militias to the localities.  Therefore, counties, not the state determine the type of arms that may be carried and by whom.  “So we are ordering the militia by making sure everyone can own a weapon.”

He continued, “Thus, if anyone from the state tries to remove the Sheriff from their elected office because they refuse to enforce unjust laws, those state officials will be faced with a lawful militia composed of citizens of the state.”

There will be training in the county for citizens to make sure everyone is acting safely and responsibility.  However, some of the proposed state legislation will prohibit any paramilitary training.

Of course, pro-firearm laws by localities have upset many at the state and federal level.  State Representative Donald MacEachin said that the governor could call up the National Guard to squelch the rebellion.

MacEachin said, “The governor may have to nationalize the National Guard to enforce the law…That’s his call because I don’t know how serious these counties are and how severe the violations of the law will be.  But that’s obviously an option he has.”

When questioned, the Adjutant of the Virginia National Guard, Major General Timothy Williams, responded vaguely in Twitter, “We will not speculate about the possible use of the Virginia National Guard.”

The events in Virginia aren’t isolated.  Social media and many on the internet have called for support of Virginia gun owners, including travelling to Virginia to help protest.  Undoubtedly some private militias from neighboring states have plans if the situation becomes more serious.

A possible flashpoint is January 20th, which the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s Lobby Day, where gun owners will descend on the capital Richmond to lobby against the proposed legislation.  The league, however, has asked militias to stay away and for anyone attending to follow all laws pertaining to carrying a firearm.

What’s Next?

Although it is impossible to predict a flashpoint, the circumstances are creating several possibilities for a civil war.  Not only have many, including national political leaders, predicted it, several states like Virginia, have pushed confrontation to the limit.

A good example is the unplanned flashpoint for the American Revolutionary War.  Although British troops and American militias had had standoffs that ended peacefully before April 19, 1775, it was the event at Lexington Massachusetts that started the war.  It was a British officer, who had orders to go to Concord to capture a militia arsenal, who left the road to challenge an American militia unit on the Lexington Commons.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The state of Virginia and most Virginia localities are headed for a confrontation.  This confrontation, although about firearm ownership, is also made more volatile by the Trump Impeachment.  No one will admit it, but the fact that there is talk about a civil war means that both sides see firearm ownership as critical in any conflict.

Trump supporters see the threat of a coup to remove a duly elected president and the abrogation of the Second Amendment, which guarantees the ownership of guns.  Democrats see a well-armed America upset with the outcome of the Trump impeachment taking up arms.

While it is easy to see any conflict as being short due to the presence of large, well-armed American military, there are two facts to remember.  First, Americans own over 400 million firearms and billions of rounds of ammunition.  There is no way that all of them can be found and confiscated.

Second, a large military doesn’t always guarantee success.  Just ask the Russians and Americans about Afghanistan.

Week of November 15, 2019

Erdogan Visits the White House

Erdogan’s Turkey could best be described as America’s worst friend or best enemy.  Even though they are allies by treaty, the US and Turkey have tended to go separate ways over the last few years.  While the US has sanctioned Iran, Turkey has abetted the sanctions.  Although a NATO partner, Turkey has purchased the Russian air defense system.  And, Turkey and the US stand on different sides when it comes to Syria.

Despite this, on Wednesday, Erdogan made a trip to the White House and spoke with President Trump – a visit that many believed would never take place.  Although a “Frank” discussion, the focus by both presidents afterwards was mostly on positives.

But not all of Washington welcomed Erdogan’s visit.  Congress and a bipartisan majority of lawmakers opposed the trip due to Turkey’s foreign policy and its treatment of minorities, especially the Kurds.  Earlier this week, Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representative sent a letter to Trump asking him to cancel Erdogan’s trip to the White House.

“President Erdogan’s decision to invade northern Syria on October 9 has had disastrous consequences on US national security,” the letter said.  “Turkish forces have killed civilians and members of the Syrian Democratic forces, a critical partner in the US fight against ISIS.”

Despite the criticism from lawmakers and some in his administration, polls show that most American voters support Trump’s attempt to lower the military presence in Syria and the whole region.  However, there were demonstrations by Kurds, dissident Turks, Armenians, and Syrians during the Erdogan visit.  And, there are the attacks by Erdogan’s guards during the last visit that hangs over the whole visit.

According to Senator Rubio, Erdogan has four goals during the visit: Reduce the sanctions that Trump has threatened on Turkey for buying the Russian S-400 air defense system, extradite Gulen back to Turkey, pressure the US to stop patrolling with the Kurds, and make the US aware that Turkey would take action to eliminate General Abdi of the Syrian Democratic forces.

Trump, who honed his negotiation skills in the New York real estate market is more than willing to deal but will expect a tangible concession from Erdogan – something more than the ceasefire (something that wasn’t forthcoming).

The Kissinger Model

So, what is driving the Trump policy that seems in direct conflict with the experts?

One needs to look at Dr. Henry Kissinger, who as we mentioned in the past, has regular visits with Trump and his administration.  Kissinger was frequently criticized for his moves in opening China, negotiating arms treaties with the Soviet Union, and removing US forces from Vietnam.

What Trump is doing appears to be right out of the Kissinger playbook.

In the book, Kissinger laments the foreign policy decisions made by 20th century diplomatic “experts,” which led to two damaging world wars.

Today, Kissinger sees a rising China, a weaker Russia and a US that is powerful, but not supreme.  What is needed is a balance of power.

In the case of the Middle East, Turkey is a key player – not because of its adherence to the concepts of democracy or human rights (remember Kissinger dealt with the USSR and China despite being labeled as totalitarian by American leaders).

Although Erdogan has pushed the limit in terms of its relationships with the US and its European allies, Turkey remains an important nation in the Middle East.  And, despite Erdogan’s dalliances with Iran and Russia, these two nations have been traditional opponents of Turkey in the diplomatic tug of war in the Middle East.

In other words, although Turkey may be working with Russia and Iran now, they will try to prevent either Iran or Russia from becoming the major power in the Middle East.

This points to the most important criteria in balance of power politics.  The national leadership must be flexible enough to shift alliances (despite ethical issues) to maintain the balance of power, and thus, a relative peace in the region.

Supporters of Trump are claiming that the US isn’t giving up its own influence.  By occupying the Syrian oil fields, which aren’t large (but are going to critical for any final peace settlement), to them the US will have an important role in creating the eventual balance of power.

This is where President Trump differs with the Washington establishment.  As a commercial negotiator he is more than willing to make a deal with anyone.

What is Important in a “Balance of Power” meeting?

If Trump is more interested in creating a balance of power in the Middle East, the rules for a successful meeting with Erdogan are different.  Issues like trade agreements are unimportant.  Nor is an agreement locking out Russia or Iran critical.

What is important is that lines of communications are kept open and issues that separate the two nations don’t preclude keeping a balance in the region.  The focus is on common areas of agreement.

This is what happened with the Trump-Erdogan meeting this week.

Although Trump highlighted the Russian sale of the S-400 to Turkey and how that hinders closer relations, Trump made it clear that it wasn’t going to cause a breach in relations.  Trump also focused on positive US-Turkish relations like economic relations and the NATO alliance.

Erdogan also focused on areas of agreement like the possibility that Turkey could purchase some American Patriot missile systems and Christian minorities in Turkey and Syria.  He also asserted that Turkey was the ideal ally to help defeat ISIS.

In the end, what happened was that both nations agreed to keep communication open and to cooperate on policies of mutual interest.

Some experts in Washington are observing that this was not what Iran, America’s opponent in the region, wanted.  They would prefer a hostile relationship between Turkey and America.  They didn’t get that with the Erdogan-Trump meeting.  In fact, the Erdogan-Trump meeting was the last thing Iran or Russia wanted.

In understanding the Trump foreign policy, one must understand the Kissinger approach to diplomacy.  It is not a policy of spreading American values through the occupation of American soldiers – which has been American policy for decades.  The Trump-Kissinger policy is to avoid wars that destabilize regions.

The war on Syria has been a destabilizing factor in the region for the last few years.  By holding on to the Syrian oil fields and allowing Turkey, Russia, and Iran to create a political balance in the area, Trump has prevented a grand alliance of Russia, Turkey, and Iran to oppose America.  This, in turn, allows the US to cut back on its military presence.

Although many in Washington don’t like this policy, it’s important to remember that Kissinger and Nixon faced the same opposition from politicians and experts in the 1960s and 1970s.  Although Trump and Erdogan met this week in Washington, the outrage was nothing compared to when Nixon went to China and toasted Chairman Mao.

Nixon’s move to establish relations with China was critical to minimizing Soviet power and encouraging them to seek friendlier relations with the US.

And, as with the Nixon-Kissinger policy, what happens with the Trump policy will not be known for years.

Week of November 8, 2019


Think Tanks Activity Summary

(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)


The CSIS isn’t optimistic about the end of Islamic radicalism with the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—and his replacement by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurash.  They note, “What factors have contributed to the resurgence of jihadist violence? And what are the implications following the death of al-Baghdadi? In answering these questions, this analysis argues that the jihadist movement has ebbed and flowed during a series of four waves that have occurred between 1988 and today. The persistence of jihadist groups and networks has been caused by structural conditions like the existence of local grievances and weak governments—not individual leaders. Decapitation strategies, in which governments attempt to weaken or destroy a group by capturing or killing its leadership, generally provide only a temporary reprieve. The demise of al-Baghdadi is unlikely to degrade today’s decentralized jihadist movement. Instead, the prevalence of substantial grievances and weak governance in parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia suggests that a fifth wave is likely. And it could come in the form of a revival of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, an offshoot of one or both, or a merger of Islamic State and al-Qaeda networks.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at the changing face of the Iranian protests.  They note, “That vision of a post-theocratic future lies at the core of the protests taking place throughout Iran today. A decade ago, many in the Green Movement still believed that it might be possible to reform the Islamic Republic, and to significantly modify both its domestic and international behavior. Today, few Iranians do. Instead, they see the regime as a closed ideological system – one that is resistant to reform and fundamentally at odds with democracy and individual freedoms. And, they say, since evolution is impossible, a new revolution has become necessary. They have paid an exceedingly high price for those ideas. Most of the signatories of the June 2019 letter…are now in prison, having been rounded up by Iranian authorities and charged with assorted crimes against the state. But their message and their sacrifice have resonated throughout Iranian society, making the so-called “14+14” an inspiration for further anti-regime activism among the diverse strains of dissent now taking place within the Islamic Republic.

The CSIS looks at military officers in the GCC nations.  The report pays special attention to pilot training in the Gulf and explains why GCC pilots still have a long way to go to approximate the skill level and professionalism of their colleagues in Western air forces. Because being a fighter-pilot – or, in some respect, any kind of pilot at all – is so prestigious, the princes of the large ruling families often aspire to these positions. As from the general application pool, only a small proportion of them are suited for pilot assignment but, because these armies are anything but meritocracies, those princes who want to, usually end up flying. Pilot performance is continued to be influenced by cultural factors: flyers perform adequately in good conditions with no surprises; once something unexpected occurs, they tend to freeze and make mistakes. Attrition rates in pilot training tend to be far lower in Gulf armies than in, say the Israeli Defense Force or the US Air Force. In spite of massive financial investment in these armed forces, from a professional standpoint they remain at best mediocre as their performance in the on-going war in Yemen reminds analysts daily.

The Center for a New American Security looks at America’s maritime shortfall, a critical issue in America’s ability to reinforce Europe or the Middle East.  They note, “For 25 years after the collapse of Soviet Union, the United States and Europe no longer viewed Russia as the substantial military threat of prior decades. U.S. defense posture reflected this reality as it accepted greater risk in Europe to focus forces on the Middle East and the rebalance to Asia. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 upended this status quo, however, and snapped NATO back into a reality that most allies thought had ended with the Cold War. Russia’s actions in Ukraine marked a clear shift in Russian foreign policy with the Kremlin pursuing a more assertive and aggressive approach to Europe and the West. Russia’s resurgence has meant that the United States again must seriously consider a possible conflict in Europe in its military plans and posture—though of a different tenor than the Cold War. Not only has this revitalized threat stressed demands on allied force capacity, but it has tested military muscle memory neglected since the early 1990s.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at Syria and chemical weapon attacks.  They note, “Syria’s continuing use of chemical weapons is an egregious violation of international norms, treaties, and law, a threat to international peace and security, and an affront to humanity. Full accountability for this behavior may be a long time coming, but it’s critical that the U.S. and like-minded partners take steps to deter and, if possible, deny Syria’s future use of chemical weapons. To that end, the Trump administration must publicly keep open the military option for responding to Syria’s possession or use of chemical weapons. That includes the option of striking high-value political targets not related to the regime’s chemical weapons program. The administration should also continue to highlight Syria’s crimes in international venues and forums, including the U.N. Security Council. And it should support international efforts at greater accountability for Mr. Assad. For example, Washington should encourage potential foreign reconstruction providers to withhold aid to Syria until Damascus comes into full compliance with the Chemical Warfare Convention, including verifiable chemical weapon disarmament.”

The Washington Institute looks at the power sharing agreement between Hadi government and the Southern Transitional Council in Yemen.  Despite the difficulties, they conclude, “if the agreement is implemented even partially, it has the potential to create better conditions for UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, since any comprehensive peace talks he is able to convene would now include parties that might otherwise act as spoilers. For example, the Hadi delegation to such talks could plausibly include representatives from the Islah Party (assuming they retain some ministerial positions) and the STC, while the Houthi delegation would continue to include representatives from the General People’s Congress Party. Although Yemen’s increasing fragmentation lends itself to additional spoilers, their impact would be greatly mitigated if the above key players are similarly invested in successful rather than failed talks. Thus, even if the Riyadh agreement suffers the same halting implementation as the Stockholm agreement, it may still be a political win that moves the Yemen war closer to resolution.”


Looking at the Last American Elections until 2020

This week several states held off year elections.  And, though it is easy to try to extrapolate these results into a national trend, it’s important to remember that all these elections revolved around candidates and local issues.

In this case, both Republicans and Democrats have something to be happy about.


Virginia was once a Republican state with a balance of mostly liberal suburbs in the north around Washington DC, Conservative military families around Norfolk, and conservative voters in the rural areas in the southwest.  That has changed.

As the suburbs around Washington DC grew with an influx of government workers and government contractors, the state grew increasingly liberal and friendlier towards the Democratic Party.  In fact, the state has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate for the last three presidential elections.

Now the state has turned fully Democratic as the state now has both a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature, thanks to an election that gave a majority of legislature seats to the Democrats.

Part of the problem was due to a state Republican Party that didn’t even run candidates in about a quarter of the seats in the election – some of which were Republican districts.  Democrats didn’t face a Republican opponent in 10 of the 40 state senate seats and 23 of the 100 House of Delegates seats.  That makes it nearly impossible to stay in control of the legislature.


Kentucky is a conservative Republican state.  That’s why the victory of Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear by a few thousand votes seems to be a dramatic shift in voter sentiment.  But there is more to it.

Beshear is the son of a two-term governor, so he had name recognition.  Meanwhile, Republican incumbent Bevin was unpopular due to cuts in Medicare and pensions.  Bevin also barely won the Republican primary earlier this year.  However, Bevin nearly came back from a 15% deficit thanks to a Trump visit in the last days of the campaign.

However, it appears that the problem was Bevin, not the Republican message.  All the other statewide offices were won by Republicans and the two Kentucky chambers of the legislature have Republican super majorities.


Mississippi wasn’t a surprise as Republican Tate Reeves was elected governor in a generally Republican state.  This was another state, where a Trump campaign visit helped boost the Republican voter turnout.

Other Elections

Democratic Arizona city Tucson overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to become a sanctuary city, where police couldn’t inquire about the immigration status of people they encounter.  The referendum was opposed by both Democrats and Republicans and went down to defeat by over 70%.

Seattle, Washington is a very liberal city that had a socialist on the City Council.  However, the socialist, Kshama Sawant, lost her bid for reelection.  Internet company Amazon, which is based in Seattle, spent millions to defeat anti-business liberals in the last weeks of the campaign.

In liberal Texas city, Houston, the Democratic mayor failed to win a majority of the votes and must go to a runoff against Republican Tony Buzbee.  There will be a runoff election in December.

New Jersey Republicans won key battleground districts for the New Jersey state legislature, although the Democrats still control the state legislature.  These wins were in south New Jersey, which is more conservative.

So, what do these elections mean?  Both sides have something to brag about, but there is no clear trend.  In many cases like New Jersey and Virginia, it was the efforts by the local political parties that were responsible for the results.  In cases like Kentucky, it was the candidate himself that was responsible for the loss.


So, if the election results don’t give us any clear indication of what will happen in 2020, what about the polls?

They will not help either.  There are a lot of polling services today in the US and competing for business has less to do with reliability than the polling company’s willingness to skew the poll results to fit the customer’s wishes.

One good example in the last week was Fox News’s poll on Trump impeachment.  The results showed that 51% of those polled wanted Trump to be impeached – not an overwhelming majority, but a majority, nevertheless.

However, a look at the poll internals showed that the results were seriously skewed.  The internals of the poll showed that 49% of those polled identified themselves as Democrats, when the actual number of self-identified Democrats in the nation is somewhere between 30% to 35 %.  Given the fact that a large majority of Democrats favor a Trump impeachment, no wonder the poll was so skewed, even though the majority of independents and Republicans don’t want Trump impeached.

A Monmouth poll released this week showed that 73% of respondents have little or no trust in the impeachment process.  60% say Democrats are more interested in bringing down Trump than in learning the facts.

Which brings us to the impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives.  If most people don’t favor impeachment, why is the Democratic majority still holding hearings, especially since the presidential elections are in a year?  It would make more sense to focus on beating Trump at the ballot box than through an impeachment process that will divide the nation and probably stall when it reaches the Senate.  In fact, the Monmouth poll said a majority of respondents say people who want Trump out of office should just vote him out of office next year instead of going through the impeachment process.

Although there are a lot of theories, the most logical is that Democrats hope the investigation will turn up some evidence of Trump wrongdoing.  That will weaken Trump enough that the Democratic candidate can win next November.

But, will that strategy work?  Democrats have been trying to find Trump wrongdoing for three years, without any success.  And, the Monmouth poll indicates voters won’t believe the House Democrats anyway.

Then there is a realization amongst Democrats that their slate of presidential candidates is weak.  Biden was the strongest candidate, but his numbers are falling as corruption issues and campaign missteps dog him.  Senator Sanders has lost some of his excitement from 2016 and now appears to be an old candidate with heart problems.

Other candidates like Warren may not escape problems too, the media and other candidates are critical of her Medicare for all plan.  Then there is the number of Democratic candidate debates, which have provided “some radical sound bites” that will be ideal for Trump campaign advertisements.

With such a not too strong candidate list, Democrats hope that they can use the impeachment to weaken Trump’s support.

The problem is that the Trump voters, who helped him win in 2016, are still solidly behind him – a real frustration for the Democrats.  The daily attacks against him are now ignored by his voters as more examples of “fake news.”  They see the impeachment as a political game rather than a real investigation into corruption.

This was seen in this week’s New York Times/Siena College poll that showed Trump doing well in battleground states that will decide the 2020 campaign.   These included Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.  Although former vice President Biden has a narrow lead (2% or less) in these states, the other Democratic candidates are behind Trump.  Trump is also making inroads in traditional Democratic demographics like blue collar white voters and minorities.

Given what the Democrats are facing – weak presidential candidates and firm support for Trump – they can’t rely only upon traditional campaign strategy.  Impeachment appears to be the best course to a 2020 Democratic presidential victory.

There are, however, problems with this strategy.  First, they must find something that will weaken Trump’s support – something they have failed to find in 3 years.

Second, they are failing to use their congressional majority to pass popular legislation that may help win votes.  History shows that elections are won on positive action like legislation, not negative action like impeachment.  That’s one reason why the Republicans lost congressional seats after impeaching Clinton.

Finally, the current congressional impeachment process is far removed from previous impeachment hearings against Nixon and Clinton.  Trump supporters claiming that Americans are accustomed to legal process that gives the defendant certain rights but have been denied to Trump and his lawyers.  This gives the whole process a more political taint that will have an impact next year.

In the end, the 2020 election is still up for grabs.  Trump will have the advantage of incumbency which has given the president in office a reelection victory in every election since World War Two, except for two (Carter and the first Bush).  On the other hand, there is a large “Never Trump” voter bloc that will be energized to vote next November.

We will just have to wait and see.


Syria and Chemical Weapons: The Horror Continues

By Peter Brookes

Heritage Foundation

November 6, 2019

From the demise of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces, Syria has been in the news recently and often. What hasn’t made headlines much is Damascus‘ continuing possession and use of chemical weapons. And that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten. The regime of Bashar Assad has a long history of using chemical weapons — one that started even before the Aug. 21, 2013, attack on Syrians living in the Ghouta district just outside Damascus. The regime’s release of sarin gas — a highly toxic nerve agent — reportedly killed more than 1,400 people and injured thousands more. Mr. Assad still has the capability — and, apparently, the willingness — to use chemical weapons against his fellow Syrians. The U.S. State Department reports that he used another deadly chemical weapon — chlorine gas — this May in an assault on insurgents in Idlib province.

Read more at:


Beyond Baghdadi: The Next Wave of Jihadist Violence

By Seth G. Jones

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 4, 2019

The death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—and his replacement by Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi—is another setback for the jihadist movement that captured the world’s attention beginning in 2014. Following its military defeat along the Hajin-Baghuz corridor in Syria earlier this year, the Islamic State lost its last major area of control in Syria and Iraq, which at its largest point approached the size of Belgium. U.S. military and intelligence units had also decimated the Islamic State’s external operations capability, killing leaders like Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the chief spokesman and head of Islamic State external operations. Yet the death of al-Baghdadi is not the first time the demise of a jihadist leader has led to hope—even expectation—that the movement was on a trajectory to defeat. Nor will it be the last. In March 2003, shortly after the United States captured al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a Washington Post headline trumpeted: “Al Qaeda’s Top Primed to Collapse, U.S. Says.” After the 2006 death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq and a predecessor of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, President George W. Bush remarked that his killing was a “severe blow” to jihadist networks in Iraq.3 Not to be outdone, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked in May 2011 that “the death of Osama bin Laden has put al-Qaeda on the path to defeat.”

Read more at:


Military Officers in the Gulf: Career Trajectories and Determinants

By Zoltan Barany

Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 5, 2019

Relatively little is known about officer corps of the six GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – even though thousands of Western military advisors and instructors have worked with them since they gained independence. The aim of this Burke Chair Report is to analyze the officer corps of the armies of Arabia with special attention to socio-cultural factors. The report demonstrates that the disparities between wealthy – as measured by per capita GDP – Gulf states (Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE) and less affluent ones (Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia) manifest themselves in the divergent socio-economic background and career prospects of their professional military personnel. In the wealthier states individuals from (comparatively) lower income and social-status backgrounds tend to find the military career appealing while their colleagues in the more modestly endowed GCC countries usually come from more prominent socioeconomic environments. Shia Muslim communities are essentially banished from the Bahraini and Saudi armed forces while in Kuwait they suffer no such discrimination.

Week of October 28, 2019

American Military’s Shifting Doctrine

While the world is focused on President Trump’s shifting of military assets out of Syria, the US military is shifting its thinking from a Middle Eastern war to one where they confront “major military powers.”  This new national defense strategy is one reason why there is a sudden focus on countering new military technology like hypersonic missiles from Russia and China.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, US military thought has focused on small scale conflicts, not the major wars.  As a result, the US military evolved away from a major land army and into one that could deploy quickly to small theaters of operations.  The focus moved away from the weapons of conventional war like tanks and towards lighter vehicles like Strykers that could be quickly deployed on transport aircraft, and highly trained Special Forces that could carry out low profile operations in places like Syria.

Suddenly parts of the military like main battle tanks, which were forgotten in the post 9-11 era, are back in vogue.  Amphibious vehicles for “island hopping” operations like those carried out in WWII are being used in training.  Other battlefield weapons like long range rocket assisted artillery are being pushed.  And, with the INF treaty constraints out of the way, the US Army is testing a new medium-range conventional missile with a range of from 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

While both Russia and China are mentioned, much of the thinking is directed towards China and the South China Sea.  The US military is working more closely with allies in the region and US tactical doctrine is gearing up for conflict in that theater of operations.

Last month, the US Marine Corps held exercises on the Japanese islet of Tore Shima to practice landings on “hostile” shores and carry out the seizure of landing strips – a military exercise designed to show the ability of the US military to invade a disputed island like those in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon said, “This type of raid gives the commanders in the Indo-Pacific region the ability to project power and conduct expeditionary operations in a potentially contested littoral environment.”  The impetus came directly from the Secretary of Defense according to Military.com.

Although the US Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force are the usual forces for projecting power, this new doctrine applies to all the services.  The Secretary of the Army speaks about changing the “geometry within Southeast Asia.”

“If we can get the appropriate partnerships, expeditionary basing rights with partners in the region, we can change the geometry,” he said.

As proof of the new focus, the major Army exercise in the Indo-Pacific Theater in 2020 will focus on the South China Sea scenario.  It will focus on rapid deployment from the continental United States to the Pacific.  The plan is to bring over a division headquarters and several brigades.

In order to make the objective clear, General Robert Brown said, “We won’t go to Korea.  We will go to a South China Sea scenario where we will be around the South China Sea.  Brown said forces will be in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.

This week US forces held joint training with one of those allies that it is relying upon for bases in case of a conflict; Brunei.  The exercises simulated the securing of a beachhead and conducting jungle warfare.  The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) participated along with ships of the US and Brunei navies.

The US Air Force, which has been carrying over flights of the South China Sea, is tailoring its training for a potential outbreak of hostilities with China.  American F-35s are being transferred to a Nevada flight training facility to mimic Chinese J-20 fighter aircraft.  Like the legendary “Top Gun” School, this will give US pilots practice in combating Chinese aircraft and countering Chinese combat tactics.

However, if conflict breaks out in the South China Sea, it will be the US Navy and Marines that will have the hardest task – invading and holding Chinese islands in the area.

Although the US Navy and Marines have a joint history – carrying out amphibious operations like those in WWII – their doctrine has drifted apart in the last few decades as Marines have been deployed on land much like the US Army.  Even when they operate with the Navy, it is frequently for tasks such as intercepting ships in the Arabian Gulf and inspecting them.

That is okay in environments like the Middle East, but it will not work with a major power like Russia or China.  Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger outlined a new Marine doctrine, where the USMC will be able to operate against major powers in conjunction with the US Navy.

Captain Lance Lesher, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 8 told the US Naval Institute last week, “We’ve been anchored kind of to the Arabian Gulf for quite some time.  Now, and with great power competition, the emphasis is that we are not limited to one specific area…What I’m getting from my bosses consistently is, we are worldwide deployable, and we need to do all those missions.”

This new type of doctrine was seen in an exercise of the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit last week.  It integrates the sailors and marines more like they were in previous decades like the Cold War era.  Although they didn’t go into the specifics of the exercise, they touched on fighting in the Pacific in WWII, specifically Guadalcanal – a strong implication that the US is developing plans and capabilities to be able to invade and take the artificial islands China has built in the South China Sea.

One of the problems with this new doctrine is that conventional war with a major power like China requires larger numbers of soldiers, sailors, and marines.

The US military is much smaller than it was just a few years ago.  The American Army, which was once easy to enlist in during the Cold War, has become one of the most selective employers.  Today, it is a highly professional force with a large Special Forces contingent and technical specialty.

About 75% of American youth are unqualified to be in the US military due to weight, health, educational deficiencies, or drug usage.

Unfortunately, major wars with major powers require larger militaries.  Once the US military could rely upon a small professional military with the skills to operate high tech equipment.  However, the once vaunted technological edge that the American military had over its opponents has been squandered.  Russia and China have caught up with US technology and even surpassed it in some fields.

This manpower shortage has shown up in the new push to have sailors and marines work more closely together.  The 26th MEU is training as firefighters in order to support Navy damage control teams onboard ships.  In the past, naval personnel were able to fill all the damage control teams.  However, as enlistments fail to meet quotas, the marines onboard are being used to fill the manpower holes.

Of course, keeping a ship afloat is also in the marines’ interest too.

The new national defense directive must be more than new tactical doctrine.  It will require new and refurbished equipment and more manpower.  During the Obama years, the focus was on increased numbers of highly trained Special Forces and light, inexpensive equipment.

But a few thousand Special Forces can’t compete with hundreds of thousands of Russian or Chinese troops.  And, the mine resistant vehicles and Strykers in Afghanistan and Iran can’t even stop the bullets of Russian and Chinese heavy machine guns, much less their tanks.

The military will use “patches” in the short term.  Expect “legacy” forces like the American main battle tank, the M-1 Abrams, to be refurbished and redeployed.  Long range artillery and missiles will help keep enemy units at “arm’s length.”

Trump’s decision to redeploy US forces reflects a change in American defense strategy.  Although some forces are being deployed to places like Saudi Arabia, these forces are not designed for combat in a South China Sea scenario.

The new focus is the South China Sea.  While the Middle East is still in the minds of the American military, those forces that can make a difference will be looking to East Asia in the future.

Week of October 25, 2019

Syria: Winners and Losers

In the week since Turkey launched its forces invading Syria in order to establish a buffer or (safe zone), a lot has happened.  Contrary to Washington pundits, the Kurds aren’t facing genocide and the Iranians aren’t poised to control the whole Middle East.

Now there appears to be a 5 day “cease fire” or “pause” depending on which side you believe, with plans for a permanent truce and easing of economic sanctions.  However, given the history of the area, and the circumstances in which this so called “cease fire “announced, we are very skeptical if it will stand or see implementation.

Here are the winners and losers at this point of time.


Although there are Turkish soldiers in northern Syria, things are looking up for Syria and President Assad.

Although Syria has been a Russian (and Soviet) client state for over half a century, Russia has always limited its support.  It has provided advisors, manned air defense systems, and provided arms.  In return, it has established air bases and naval facilities in Syria.

Russia has been careful in its support lest it get involved militarily with one of Syria’s neighbors – namely “Israel”.

That has changed as Russia moved its ground forces to patrol the line between Turkish and Syrian ground forces.  Russian presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentiev said, that Moscow “won’t allow” clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces on the ground.

Clearly president Assad has managed to secure his control of Syria, even though some areas remains outside the control of central government.

Now that president Assad has control of much of Syria and a strong allies in Russia and Iran, he can exercise more freedom in his relation with them and the rest of the world.


Russia invested a lot militarily and diplomatically to assist president Assad in maintaining his power.  It has paid off.  They now have air bases and naval facilities in Syria and a role in determining the future of the Middle East.  With naval facilities in Tartus, Syria and the reduced US naval presence in the Mediterranean, Russia has once again become a major player in control of the Mediterranean.

On the downside, with Russian and Turkish forces facing each other in Syria, the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Russia is going to be tested again. Russia and Turkey have been historical enemies and had competing territorial and diplomatic ambitions.

Since Russian arms could end up being used by the Turks against Russia, don’t be surprised if Russia will modify the software of the S-400 air defense system, to make it easier for Russian aircraft to defeat it if the situation calls for it.


It’s a bit of “good news, bad news” for NATO.  The fact that any tension between Russia and Turkey may strengthen the NATO southern flank a bit.

On the other hand, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland are embargoing the sale of arms to Turkey after its invasion of Syria.  However, the UK decided not to join the arms embargo, although it did join the rest of the EU countries in condemning the Turkish invasion.

Of course, since the UK is expected to leave the EU in less than two weeks, the final position of the EU and the United Kingdom in regard to Turkey is still in flux.

One concern that has come up this week is the status of about 50 American nuclear weapons in Turkey.  Some have called them hostages to Erdogan and claim that the US must avoid annoying Turkey because of the threat to them.

The status of nuclear weapons is a closely held secret, so few are aware of their actual status.  They may be in Turkey.  However, given the fact that Erdogan became an unreliable NATO ally a few years ago, it is also likely that they have been surreptitiously moved from Turkey by American Special Forces.  Since making the movement public doesn’t benefit NATO or America, it will remain secret.


The view in Washington is that Iran supported president Assad and used Syria to “build” a bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean.  They also send Revolutionary Guards to Syria and armed pro-Assad forces.

Some experts are trying to minimize the gains achieved by Iran in Syria and the region, they advance the notion that   Russia is eager to reduce Iran’s influence in Central Asian nations, therefore, undermining their influence in Syria would help do that.

It’s also important to remember that when it comes to retaining influence in Iraq (which is seeing anti-Iranian demonstration) or Syria, Iran will prefer to spend its efforts in keeping its influence in Iraq.  They also have policy priorities on the Saudi Peninsula.


ISIS remains the wild card in the region.  Although many former ISIS fighters and their families have been able to escape confinement in the Turkish invasion, we don’t know if they are eager to rejoin ISIS.  Traditionally, when movements lose, their soldiers are more eager to abandon the cause.  Without a territorial base to return to, many of the fighters will try to head home.

It’s also important to remember that others don’t want to see the reformation of ISIS.  On Wednesday, during a meeting with Italy’s president, Trump remarked that there are forces in the region that have no love for ISIS.

Trump remarked that Russia and Syria, “hate ISIS more than us…They can take care of themselves.”

Trump and his supporters downplay any negative effect on fighting ISIS by the withdrawal of American forces from the region. To them worse comes to worse, American airstrikes are available.


The influence of the Kurdish lobby in America was obvious this week as reports of Turkish atrocities against the Kurds flooded the airwaves.  ABC News even used a video of American gun owners at a shooting range as proof that the Turks were massacring Kurds in a village – a move that forced the network to issue an embarrassing apology hours later.

The Turkish invasion and movement of American forces out of the border area forced the Kurds to sit down with Syrian government representatives – something they were loath to do as long as the US was supporting them.

Trump reacted positively.  “Syria is protecting the Kurds – That’ good.”   Trump also noted that the Syrian Kurds “are no angels, by the way.”

I wish then all a lot of luck,” Trump said of Russia and the Syrians. And, although he has decried the Turkish invasion and instituted economic sanctions, he reiterated it was “not our problem.”


The United States remains split on the issue of Syria.  While polls show that most American voters approve of pulling US troops out of Syria, those in Washington prefer to keep them there. This was evident when the US House passed a motion condemning the withdrawal from Syria (126 Republicans voted for it, while 60 opposed it).  The motion, however, has no force of law.

The vote, however, was hypocritical as the Congress has the Constitutional authority to order US forces into Syria.  By opting to pass a meaningless motion instead, they avoided the political fallout from voters back home.

Expect congressional moves to slow down as the just announced cease fire takes place.

Although the media has made the decision to pull US troops out of Syria look like a decision made solely by President Trump, it appears that something more subtle may be behind the move.

Although the media didn’t report it, Secretary of State Pompeo met with former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger a few weeks ago.  Pompeo’s Twitter account on September 28, said, “Honored to meet again with one of my most esteemed predecessors, Dr. Henry Kissinger.  I’m always grateful for our conversations.”

Dr. Kissinger is considered by both Democrats and Republicans to be one of the most influential Secretaries of State in history.  His diplomatic maneuvers during the Vietnam War, when US diplomatic influence was at its nadir, are legendary.  He opened US relations with China, managed to craft several nuclear deals with the USSR, and by pulling out of Vietnam, helped reignite the historical animosity between China and Vietnam that has allowed Vietnam to become a key American ally in fighting China’s attempt to take over the South China Sea.

While we don’t know what Pompeo and Kissinger talked about, the Syrian situation would have been a logical choice.  What’s interesting is that within days of the Kissinger/Pompeo meeting, Trump was announcing that US forces were pulling back from the Syrian-Turkish border.

While this move seemed to be foolish to critics, those who read Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation “A World Restored; Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace 1812-1822” would see the hand of Kissinger in the latest US moves.

The dissertation is about diplomacy in the post Napoleonic world, dealing with revolutionary powers (like France in 1812 and Turkey in 2019), and how two diplomats, British Foreign Minister Castlereagh and Austro-Hungarian Diplomat Metternich helped shape a Europe that saw relative peace until WWI a century later.

According to Kissinger, Castlereagh’s goal was a balance of power on the Continent.  He realized that a balance of power didn’t prevent conflict but prevented major wars by ensuring that no one power would dominate Europe.  Britain also developed a doctrine of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.  This included even being willing to negotiate with Napoleon if the people of France supported him.

Castlereagh also considered that Britain was an island nation and not directly impacted by events on the European continent.  That meant that his nation wouldn’t be impacted by minor conflicts, if the balance of power remained.

This is far different from modern American foreign policy, which focuses on interfering in internal affairs of nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc.).

By pulling back in Syria, the US is moving towards a non-interference policy in Syria.  At the same time, it is helping create a balance of power in the area.  Turkey, which is the local expansionist power (Kissinger called them “Revolutionary Powers” in his dissertation) is countered by Russia – a traditional enemy – to the north and a Russian client state to the south.  Turkey finds its traditional enemy Greece to the west and Shiite Iran, who also has ambitions to be the major Middle Eastern nation to the east.

Russia, in turn, is limited by NATO in Europe and Israel in the Middle East.

Although conflict in the region will continue, we are already seeing some overriding stability taking place.  The Kurds are finally working with Syria after years of animosity.  Turkey is finding itself limited by Russian forces in Syria.  There is a promise of an ongoing truce.  And, Assad now has a chance to regain the legitimacy that was denied him for the last few years.

Although Trump is still being criticized for his move, in the long run, his pulling back will help his reelection campaign.  And, by taking one major power out of the region, the chances for stability have increased.


In the world of Kissingerian diplomacy, Turkey is a classic “Revolutionary Power.”

To quote Kissinger’s dissertation, “It is the essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions,, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion…it tends to erode, if not the legitimacy of the international order, at least the restraint with which such an order operates.”

That clearly defines Erdogan, who is ignoring the international order and is trying to expand his borders.  In referring to Revolutionary Powers, Kissinger wrote, “Diplomacy is replaced either by war or an armaments race.”

It appears that Kissinger is right on both accounts.

Since traditional diplomacy doesn’t work with “Revolutionary Powers,” who have unlimited objectives, a balance of power creates a general stability, but not an end of conflict.

While Erdogan still has unlimited objectives like a rebirth of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey as the major player in the region, he has been checked by a balance of power.  His desire to rebuild the Ottoman Empire by gaining territory and influence in Syria has been checked by Russia, the Kurds, and a reinvigorated president Assad.  He still faces opposition to the west with Greece, and to the East with Iran (who has its own influence in the region).  International economic sanctions will only further isolate Erdogan.  These limitations may explain why Erdogan has agreed to a truce.

As long as Turkey remains a “Revolutionary Power,” it remains isolated and unable to expand.  Although this doesn’t eliminate Erdogan, it limits his ability to create international unrest.  And, it gives time for the anti-Erdogan forces that are already winning elections to find a way to push him out of power.

The value of the Kissinger approach is that it means that it shows the way to deal with nations like Turkey.

 Given past history, the current truce will not hold as Erdogan wants what Kissinger called “Neutralization of the opponent.”  In that case, Kissinger notes, “Diplomacy, the art of restraining the exercise of power cannot function in such an environment… Diplomats can still meet but they cannot persuade, for they have ceased to speak the same language.”

This is where the implied threat of the balance of power creates stability.  Russian presidential envoy Lavrentiev’s threat that Moscow “won’t allow” clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces on the ground told Erdogan more than all the diplomats.

Erdogan may want to continue expansion but is faced with containment.  While diplomatic initiatives to bring Turkey into an agreement on the status of Syria can continue, in the end, it will be the containment of Erdogan that will bring stability to Syria and hopefully make all sides – except the Israelis- appreciate such outcome.

Week of October 18, 2019

House Democrats Call for Impeachment Proceedings against Trump

Although the calls to impeach Trump have become a regular Democratic talking point since Trump was elected president, last week the impeachment process took a step forward when the Speaker of the House Pelosi announced that Congress was going to launch a formal “Impeachment Inquiry” against Trump ten days ago.

But, the chances of an impeachment of Trump and a conviction are very remote.  First, although Pelosi has instituted an “impeachment inquiry,” the House hasn’t voted to open impeachment proceedings.  Pelosi has also chosen the intelligence committee instead of the Judicial Committee to head the investigation.  This could cause procedural issues later.  In addition, a bipartisan majority quashed papers of impeachment a few months ago.

There is also the fact that the Senate is controlled by the Republicans and even though a couple of anti-Trump Republican senators like former presidential candidate Mitt Romney are calling the current issue “very troubling,” there is little or no chance a 2/3 majority of senators would vote to convict President Trump.

The Senate Republicans have made their position clear and are vowing to quickly quash any articles of impeachment that pass the House and warn that Democrats will feel a political backlash if they go forward and impeach President Trump.

 “My response to them is go hard or go home,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over impeachment. “If you want to impeach him, stop talking. Do it. Do it. Go to Amazon, buy a spine and do it. And let’s get after it.”

Nor are all congressional Democrats for impeachment.  Democratic presidential candidate and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “I believe that impeachment at this juncture would be terribly divisive for the country at a time when we are already extremely divided.”

She continued to say the 2020 election, not impeachment is the way to make sure Trump leaves office.

Undoubtedly, Democratic congressmen in swing districts that voted for Trump will think hard about voting for impeachment despite political pressure being placed on them.

Breitbart reported, “Democrats are already in disarray less than a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an “official” impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Some “moderate” Democrats who came out in support of impeachment and put their careers on the line are now questioning what is new or different from before.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), one of the House’s most vulnerable Democrats, came out with six other moderate colleagues to back an impeachment inquiry in an op-ed that was a watershed moment in impeachment efforts. But after a Democrat caucus meeting with Pelosi , Slotkin reportedly said to Democrat colleagues: “If you are asking us to stay on message, give us a g-ddamn message to stay on.”

The Issue Surrounding the Impeachment Talk

The issue is a recent phone call where Trump asked Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky to probe the dealings of former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.  Democrats say Trump’s request for an investigation is inappropriate since Biden was officially running for president at the time of the call.

Democrats fail to mention that the Obama Administration and Democrat Senators Durbin and Leahy had asked the Ukrainians for dirt on Trump in May 2016.  Nor do they mention that Vice President Biden bragged that he had forced the Ukraine to remove its prosecutor, who was looking into illegal activities of a company that VP Biden’s son was on, by threatening to withhold $1 billion in aid.

The charges were serious enough that both parties in the House and Senate called for the release of a transcript of the conversation.

Trump released the transcript that confirmed the mention of Biden, but no quid pro quo.  Trump then referred to videotaped comments in which Joe Biden describes how he forced the termination of a top Ukrainian prosecutor by withholding loans. The prosecutor was allegedly investigating Burisma, the gas company where Hunter Biden served on the board of directors earning $50k monthly.

“The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump said.

“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

Is this enough of a smoking gun to impeach and convict Trump?  The Wall Street Journal looked at the transcript and said no.  Biden was a government official, who had publicly bragged about how he had intimidated a foreign government who was investigating his son.

An irony is that those who claimed that President Trump was a Russian spy are now insisting that he’s working with the Ukrainians, whose country was “invaded” and partially annexed by Russia.

Republican Congressman Mark Meadows tweeted, “I’ve read the transcript and the Democrat spin was wrong… again – President Zelensky initiated the Giuliani convo and asked the WH to send him to Ukraine – ZERO discussion of foreign aid quid pro quo That’s it? THAT’S what Democrats are impeaching on? Give me a break.”

As the Wall Street Journal noted, “Good luck persuading Americans that this is an impeachable offense.”

So, if these allegations seem thin and the House has refused, in a bipartisan vote, to proceed with impeachment a few months ago, why are they so eager to go ahead now?

The answer is politics.

Behind the scenes, Democrats are in the middle of a civil war over the future of the party. The Democrat leadership wants to defeat President Trump by winning an election, but its activists will settle for nothing less than impeachment even if it means four more years of Trump.

Speaker Pelosi opposes impeachment because she’s seen the numbers. Impeachment polls badly with independents, would increase turnout among Republicans, and doesn’t even score well with Democrats. The impeachment obsession has led to the perception among many voters that the House is focused on going after President Trump to the exclusion of passing legislation.

This is clear in recent polling on impeachment.  Several polls show a growing interest in investigating the issue, but a desire to impeach Trump is still falling below 50%, which will make any politician up for reelection uneasy about voting against Trump.

That means the decision to proceed with impeachment could possibly help the Republicans regain the majority in the House next year.

Democrat Senators from red states have also expressed concern that the impeachment process started by Nancy Pelosi “may spin out of control and destroy any chance their party might have of winning back the majority next year,” according to a report from The Hill. These Democrats believe that if their party doesn’t act quickly, Trump could “turn the tables on them.” “It’s really incumbent on the House to really be laser-focused. The president is a master of pivoting and deflecting and I think it’s really important to stay focused,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who narrowly won re-election

The real appeal of impeachment is more emotional than strategic.  While moderate Democrats want to win elections, Democratic activists want to delegitimize the 2016 election by impeaching Trump.

It’s easier to understand this by looking at the history of the Trump candidacy, the Trump victory, and the Trump presidency.  The push to impeach President Trump did not begin with a crime allegedly committed in office, but began before he even took office and, in some elements of the media, before he even won. The premise of impeachment has always been about Trump’s inherent unfitness to be president.  That’s one reason why the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which refers to the removal of an unfit president, is regularly mentioned.

That means the trial isn’t of Trump, but the voters who voted for him – and for the process that allowed him to become president – the Electoral College.

In other words, it appears that the Democrats prefer impeaching Trump and denouncing his voters, to winning in 2020.

The fact is that the Democrats will have problems beating Trump if he managed to wither the impeachment momentum that currently generated.  A recent survey of top business shows that 2/3 of them believe Trump will be reelected.  This belief is backed up by popularity polls which show him almost with a level of  popularity like Obama at this time in his presidency, campaign enthusiasm (he has raised more money than all of his Democratic opponents combined), and a potential unformidable candidate (whoever the Democrats pick).

Even Minnesota, a traditional Democratic stronghold that hasn’t voted Republican since Nixon is turning to Trump according to CNN polling.

We can expect a lot of gamesmanship in the next few months.  Don’t let headlines mislead you.

Civil War?

Talk of civil war occurring in the US is growing.  In fact, a TV network has announced that they will produce a TV series based on a new American civil war.  An upcoming HBO Max series will depict the United States in the grips of a second American Civil War, with the federal government battling secessionist forces called the Free State armies.

The push for impeachment and the inflammatory rhetoric is threatening the civil unrest that we have predicted in past Monitor reports.  President Trump has called Democratic attempts to impeach him a “coup d’état” that threatens to overthrow the legally elected government.

Rush Limbaugh, who is America’s most popular talk radio host has this week referred to the political atmosphere as a “cold Civil War” and “French Revolution.”

The other side is just as inflammatory.   MSNBC’s Morning Joe’s Willie Geist claimed that there’s no one around the table or watching at home who thinks that President Trump will “go quietly” if he’s impeached or defeated at the polls.  Geist seemed to be suggesting that President Trump is speaking of coups and civil war as a predicate for refusing to leave office.

Geist claimed, “That’s the context in which you hear this coup talk, and you hear this civil war talk.”

On Tuesday, anchor Craig Melvin on MSNBC suggested that “heavily armed” Trump supporters would march on Washington “to protect their president.”

On Sunday, President Trump tweeted a quote from Pastor Robert Jeffress, who on Fox News had said that the removal of Trump from office would “cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation.” Jeffress seemed to be envisioning a political “fracture,” not an actual civil war.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough added fuel to the fire on Tuesday’s Morning Joe, interpreting Jeffress’ statement and Trump’s tweet of it in the most inflammatory possible manner. Scarborough alleged that President Trump was making “calls for civil war.”

Democrat Representative Maxine Waters (CA) took her ‘impeach Trump’ rhetoric to the next level on Tuesday morning and said, “Impeachment is not good enough for Trump. He needs to be imprisoned & placed in solitary confinement.”

So, will all this heated rhetoric be limited to “hot air?”  Or, can this lead to civil unrest and even a real civil war?

Yes, it’s possible.  In the past, we’ve covered incidents like Ferguson and the Bundy Ranch, where America has seemed to stand on the precipice of civil war limited scenes.

Although there are many potential flashpoints like anti-Trump ANTIFA protests, one pro-Trump event could be a threat by the biker group “Rolling Thunder” to come to Washington if Trump is impeached.

In 2018, tens of thousands Rolling Thunder participants converged on Washington DC on Memorial Day weekend.  Many of its members are veterans.

Rolling Thunder co-founder Artie Muller first floated the idea in May, and it generated intense social media attention over the weekend after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed an official impeachment inquiry.

“We are all supporting him,” Muller said. “The Democratic Party is really out of line … all they have been trying to do is destroy him.”

Dale Herndon, the director of Bikers for Trump, said Monday the group considers timing critical. With Democrats in control of the House an impeachment could come as early as this year, followed by a trial in the GOP-held Senate.

Bill Williamson, a Maryland native who organized the 2 Million Bikers to D.C. rally in 2013, which brought thousands of bikers to counter protest a 9/11 event, told the Washington Examiner in May that he “most certainly will” be involved in anti-impeachment planning.

Ski Bischof, who organized a pro-Trump rally in Washington’s Dupont Circle in January 2017, said Monday, “If the call is put out to ride, I’ll be there, along with many like-minded brothers and sisters.”

In Virginia, Rolling Thunder chapter President Francis “Mac” MacDonald said in May he “and most of our chapter” would ride in Trump’s defense but stressed it would be in a personal capacity.

One Twitter user wrote, “I am not rich, don’t have a ton of extra money BUT I do have an earmark account for tickets/hotel for just such an occurrence. WE WILL DESCEND ON DC!!!”

Although talk is cheaper than action, given the size of Rolling Thunder events in Washington every May, the potential for civil unrest is there.  The only question is if those who want to impeach Trump and those who want him to stay in office will step back.

In the meantime, try to carefully digest the breathless headlines we will see every day predicting Trump’s impending impeachment and conviction. But the panic

and angry reactions by Trump and his principals around him like Pompeo, Barr, Pence and his private attorney Giuliani, are indications of potential shift in the winds toward more damaged presidency.

more surprises.

Week of October 11, 2019

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


The Heritage Foundation looks at the Turkish invasion of Syria and American policy.  They note, “So the question is, does the Turkish operation, if conducted in the manner in which the Turkish government claims, threaten any of the U.S. interests in Syria? Arguably not. The U.S. maintains a footprint in Syria for specific purposes [Keep Iran at bay, prevent another ISIS, and stop the refugee problem].. If the Turkish military messed with that, there might be a reason for the administration to panic. Right now, this doesn’t look to be the case. As a Pentagon spokesman pointed out, “In conversations between the Department and the Turkish military, we have consistently stressed that coordination and cooperation were the best path toward security in the area.” In this respect, it is good that the Turks told us what they were doing to minimize the possibility of putting U.S. forces or assets at risk. Beyond that, what the administration has done has make clear to the Turks that they’re responsible for their actions.”

The CSIS looks at the implications of the Turkish invasion of Syria.  They note, “For months, U.S. diplomats and military officials have been seeking ways to reduce tensions between Turkey and the SDF. In August, the two sides agreed to jointly administer the border zone. The United States implemented a series of confidence-building measures with Turkey, including joint patrols and reconnaissance flights in the border area. The U.S. government also convinced the SDF to dismantle its defenses in the border area. The Turkish have been unhappy with the implementation of the agreement, and President Erdogan announced the completion of preparations for a military incursion into northeast Syria on October 5. Although President Trump stated that the United States does not support a Turkish intervention and will not be involved in it, by withdrawing U.S. troops from the area, the United States has removed the last obstacle to the move.”

The CSIS says Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are destabilizing forces in the region.  The analysis warns that these same structural problems are likely to shape many new civil conflicts and outbreaks of extremism, terrorism, and civil conflict in the MENA region, South Asia, and Central Asia. It also warns that there will be powerful and enduring destabilizing forces regardless of how successful the U.S., its partners, and the host country are in terms of defeating terrorist movements and insurgencies.  Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen — and many of their neighbors — not only have extremely poor governance, and high levels of corruption, they are under intense pressure from increases in population, urbanization, and social change that go far beyond their current problems with any given groups of extremists. These problems are so serious that they are likely to lead to further extremism, and civil conflict for at least the next decade.

The Washington Institute has produced a Syria Study Group report.  In this report, the members of the Syria Study Group make the case for why Syria matters for U.S. security and why the American public should care. While some argue that it is too late for a reinvigorated U.S. approach to Syria, the study group’s members conclude that the United States can still influence the outcome of the war in a manner that protects U.S. interests. They argue that the United States has meaningful tools of leverage to prevent the reemergence of ISIS and counter other terrorist groups, stop Iran from turning Syria into a forward operating base, provide relief to displaced Syrians and hard-pressed neighbors, and advance a political outcome that stops Syrian territory from serving as a net exporter of terrorism and instability. Achieving these outcomes will require a long-term commitment to a sound strategy, the careful balancing of ends and means, and—most important—political support at the highest levels.

The American Foreign Policy council looks at the unrest in Iraq and Iranian involvement in its neighbor.  They note, “This paralysis underscores a larger problem now facing the Iranian regime: in a very real sense, Iran is losing Iraq. A survey of Iraqi public opinion carried out last year by the Alustakilla Group, a private research firm, found that the Islamic Republic’s favorability rating among Iraqi Shiites had plummeted from 88 percent in 2015 to 47 percent last fall. During the same period, the study found, unfavorable attitudes toward Iran among this constituency rose from six percent to 51 percent. This means, according to Alustakilla’s president, Mungith al-Dagher, that “the majority of Iraqi Shiites currently have negative attitudes toward Iran.” That represents a real change. Following the start of the Iraq War in 2003, Iran stepped into the vacuum created by Saddam Hussein’s ouster to create an extensive network of proxies, political clients and subservient politicians. And although it was actively opposed by the country’s Sunnis and Kurds, this state of affairs prevailed for more than a decade. But in recent years, more and more Iraqis – including Iraqi Shia – have come to view Iran not as a reliable partner but a threat to their sovereignty.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at creating a collective alliance in the Middle East.  They conclude, “The attack on Saudi Arabia also demonstrated the practical utility to a more coherent approach to regional collective security. The region needs an integrated air defense architecture. It also needs integrated, persistent maritime security. And there is every reason to go bold. After all, the Gulf States, Israel, and Egypt all have the same fundamental security interests. They all ought to partner with the United States in this security enterprise. The United States doesn’t want to be parked in the Middle East, nor can it afford to walk away and leave a mess it will live to regret. An agreement creating a Middle East security architecture may well be the best way forward.”

The Washington Institute looks at Russia’s growing role in the Middle East.  In September 2015, Moscow made its first push outside former Soviet borders when it authorized airstrikes in Syria. More pertinently, the move—and Russia’s broader intervention in Syria—constituted a step toward reshaping the whole regional balance of power, taking advantage of a diminishing U.S. footprint. According to the Russian defense minister, the military has since learned to fight in an entirely new way. Establishing long-term bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast has made the Kremlin’s regional bid more credible still, and arms sales are fortifying its position. In this study, Russia expert Anna Borshchevskaya interweaves rich historical context with detailed military knowledge to explore Moscow’s aspirations, capabilities, and constraints in an area stretching from Turkey to Libya. She makes clear that the United States and the West still hold the edge in this vital strategic region. But without a coherent policy to counter Russia, Washington will flounder in safeguarding its interests, values, and credibility.


America’s Love – Hate
Relationship with Turkey

America’s On-Off relationship with Turkey once again took a 180 degree turn as President Trump moved several dozen US Special Forces from the Turkish-Kurdish controlled Syrian border so Turkish military forces could enter Syria in what Turkey calls “Operation Peace Spring.”

The Kurds, key US allies in defeating ISIS in Syria, guard thousands of ISIS fighters and their relatives in prisons and camps in areas under their control and it is unclear whether they will continue to be safely detained.

Although the fog of war is clouding what is happening, it appears that Turkey moved military units into Syria early Wednesday morning and Kurdish forces are fighting back.

In the politically supercharged atmosphere of Washington DC, politicians took sides, but not always down party lines.  However, most of the Washington based politicians opposed Trump, while polls showed that American voters, including Democrats, favored Trump’s move to limit military operations in Syria.

Much of the Democratic response was less about policy and more about politics.  The new face of the Democratic Party, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attacked President Donald Trump’s proposal to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Syria, tweeting Tuesday that a pullout could have “catastrophic consequences.” Ocasio-Cortez’s stance is a complete reversal of her earlier position on the war in Syria and other “endless wars” overseas. She ran in 2018 on a pledge to end the war in Syria and elsewhere: “Alexandria believes that we must end the “forever war” by bringing our troops home, and ending the air strikes that perpetuate the cycle of terrorism throughout the world,” her 2018 campaign website said:

In addition to the Democratic opposition, this move also found Republican opposition too.  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s supporters, on Tuesday demanded a senators-only briefing on the Syria move, which he said betrayed the Kurds and would make it tougher for the U.S. to build alliances going forward.

“The President’s decision will have severe consequences for our strategic national interests and reduce American influence in the region while strengthening Turkey, Russia, and Iran,” Graham wrote in a letter also signed by Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.). “The decision also dramatically increases the threat to our Kurdish allies, who helped destroy ISIS’s territorial caliphate, and will impair our ability to build strategic alliances in the future.”

Trump has indicated he will support Senator Graham’s economic sanctions if Erdogan doesn’t abide by his prior commitment – which is looking more likely as the invasion progresses.

Other Republican opposition came from Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House GOP leader, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

The broad-based backlash left some in the GOP hoping Trump would reverse himself, something Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on Tuesday raised as a possibility.

“I understand he’s reconsidering. I do not think we should abandon the Kurds,” he told a reporter for Politico.

Trump did find support amongst some Democratic politicians.  Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is a veteran and says, “Honor our servicemen and women by only sending them on missions that are worthy of their sacrifice.”  This is a controversial view within her party.

Gabbard blames both parties. “I call out leaders in my own party and leaders in the Republican Party (and all) who are heavily influenced by the military-industrial complex that profits heavily off of us continuing to wage these counterproductive wars.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) strongly supports the president’s move, even if the “neocon war caucus of the Senate” — Paul’s words — does not.

“We haven’t been able to find peace for 18 years in Afghanistan,” Paul told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto in a telephone interview on Monday. “So, I certainly don’t think we’re going to find peace in Syria. But I do think a couple of hundred people there is simply a trip wire for a bigger war or for a calamity for our soldiers.”

“You know, I’m kind of the belief go big — go big or go home. You know, 200 or 300 people are just a trip wire to get us drawn into something and a tragedy probably, but they aren’t enough to do anything.”

Despite Senator Paul and Representative Gabbard, most of Washington opposed Trump’s Syrian move.  However, in another sign that Washington is out of step with the rest of the country, most American voters prefer to get out of Syria.

A Rasmussen Poll taken this week showed 58% of likely American voters agreed with Trump’s statement, “It is time for us to get out of those ridiculous endless wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.  We will fight where it is to our benefit and only fight to win.”  Only 20% of those polled disagreed with that statement.

Even 55% of Democrats agreed with the Trump statement, although the poll didn’t identify the statement as a Trump quote.  69% of Republicans and 50% of independents also agreed.

Forty-four percent (44%) of all voters believe that their political leaders send American soldiers into harm’s way too often.  Only 4% disagree with that statement.  Those who believe that US soldiers are sent into harm’s way about the right amount of the time was 38%.

This reflects the average American’s historical isolationist view.

What’s Next?

What happens next depends on the understanding between presidents Trump and Erdogan.  Trump has made it clear that if the Turks go too far, the US will impose heavy economic sanctions, something Turkey can’t afford.

On Thursday, Trump said he’s prepared to “wipe out” Turkey’s economy if the Kurds were targeted.  He also called Turkey’s operations a “bad idea” and said he hoped Erdogan would “act rationally.”

Although Washington politicians have made much of Trump abandoning the Kurds, there is still the covert American support, some of which goes through Israel.

The Kurds have been receiving US training and equipment for about 30 years.  The American Special forces have developed a warm relationship with them and respect them as accomplished fighters.

The fact that Trump only redeployed a few dozen Special Forces soldiers from the Turkish border means that most of the security is already in Kurdish hands.

No doubt, there are US Special Forces working with the Kurds elsewhere in the Middle East.

The US will undoubtedly continue to send arms to the Kurds.  And, although they may not be able to go “head to head” with the Turkish Army, they can still hurt the Turks if Erdogan pushes too far.  This has been proven when Turkey carried out operations against Turkish Kurds or Kurds in Iraq.

The US has also trained Kurds in calling in tactical air support.  That means if Erdogan goes too far, the Kurds can ask for American air power to support their operations.

It’s also important to remember that the Turkish Army, despite its size has many problems.  A Washington Institute analysis published in March 2019 looked at Turkish operations in Syria and found many operational problems.  These included lack of discipline, obsolete equipment like tanks, inability to disrupt of Kurdish forces west of the Euphrates, and the inability to generate “desired operational outcomes.”

Although Turkey can push back Kurdish forces in Syria, the question is if they can control the territory for an indefinite period.  Past performance says no.

Political Ramifications

Polling shows that Trump has a better measure of American voters outside the Washington area than most politicians or media analysts.  He opposed the invasion of Iraq and during his campaign made a quick victory over ISIS and withdrawal of forces from Syria a campaign promise.

The biggest problem for Trump would be if the move would allow the resurgence of ISIS – an unlikely event given the fact that there are still US forces in Syria that could quickly respond to such a situation.

Don’t be surprised if the Erdogan visit to Washington suddenly gets cancelled.  It appears at this early stage that Erdogan and Turkey may be exceeding what they promised Trump.  In that case, expect more economic sanctions too.

However, in the world of presidential politics, troops in Syria fall far below other considerations like the economy, illegal immigration, gun rights, impeachment, etc.  Most Americans don’t know who the Kurds are and are more concerned about their sons and daughters in the military that may have to go to war to defend them.

Trump can point to the defeat of ISIS and withdrawing forces out of danger in Syria – a political promise kept (Something of a political rarity in America).

It’s not enough to win reelection, but it will not hurt.


Is Trump Serious About Syria? Here’s What You Must Always remember

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

October 10, 2019

Can anything President Trump touches not become an occasion for beating our breasts and rending our garments? Voices in Washington on the right and left are hyperventilating over the president allegedly giving a green light to military operations in Syria. Maybe they should catch their breath first. It is always a bad idea to measure U.S. foreign policy based on Trump’s tweets, on speculative reporting, or on imaginative interpretation of what the president meant. For starters, why not start with the actual policy? As a Department of Defense statement clarified, “The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the President — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria. The U.S. Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.” So, for starters, let’s be clear about the fact that the United States didn’t do anything.

Read more at:


Time for a Collective Defense in the Middle East

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

September 23, 2019

Trump has delivered on most of his foreign-policy initiatives, but there is one big exception: his proposal for a Middle East security architecture. The idea never got off the ground. If it had, then the recent attack on Saudi oil production might never have happened. Iran could have been deterred from messing with its neighbors. Perhaps the time has come to put the initiative back on the agenda. The Middle East desperately needs a sustainable framework to ensure long term peace and stability. When the fledgling Trump administration suggested something that sounded like a NATO for the Middle East, there was plenty of skepticism. The last time a president tried anything like that—Eisenhower, during the height of the Cold War—it did not end well. But times have changed. Trump came into office with the right instincts. The United States can’t babysit the Middle East. On the other hand, American cannot turn its back on the region.

For one thing, there’s oil. Sure, the United States has plenty of energy, and the whole world is enjoying cheap oil. But, Middle East oil is pivotal to global energy markets. Major disruptions of production there will hurt our friends, allies, and trading and business partners around the globe.

Read more at:


The Implications of a Turkish Intervention in Northeastern Syria

By Will Todman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

October 7, 2019

Late on October 6, President Donald Trump spoke to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and said he would no longer oppose a Turkish military incursion into northeastern Syria against the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The estimated 100 to 150 U.S. military personnel who were deployed to the area have begun to withdraw from U.S. military facilities near the Turkish border, although some U.S. troops are expected to remain in eastern Syria. The White House announced that Turkey would assume responsibility for all Islamic State group (ISG) fighters in the area. Late on October 7, Turkish shelling reportedly hit a Syrian border town.

Read more at:


Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

October 4, 2019

The current crisis in Iraq is partly the result of the failures by its current leadership and political figures, the legacy of the fighting against ISIS, and the result of short-term policy decisions. It is also driven, however, by a range of civil forces that are the result of long-term structural problems that have led to major political upheavals and conflicts throughout the region, that lead to the rise of extremism and terrorism, and that affect every aspect of Iraq’s present and future. Iraq is scarcely the only case in point. The same long-term civil challenges have limited U.S. success in its other “long wars” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria — as well as in more limited involvements in nations like Libya and Yemen.

Read more at:


Iraq Pushes Back Against Iranian Influence

By Ilan I. Berman

American Foreign Policy Council

October 8, 2019

Suddenly, Iran’s clerical regime doesn’t seem quite so powerful. In recent weeks, Iran’s increasingly aggressive regional behavior (including its involvement in the September 14th attack on Saudi oil facilities), and the tepid response to this activity from the United States and its allies, has conveyed the unmistakable impression that Tehran is on the march. But now, Iranian leaders are experiencing some unexpected problems closer to home, in neighboring Iraq. Over the past week, mass protests have spread throughout Iraq, with thousands of citizens taking to the streets in a widening – and increasingly bloody – grassroots revolt. The fury of the protestors is directed at a lot of things. It is a response to the notorious mismanagement and disfunction of the Iraqi government, which current Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has failed to tackle resolutely. It is likewise about the country’s endemic corruption and graft, which watchdog groups like Transparency International have ranked as among the worst in the world. But the protests are about something else as well: Iran’s pervasive political interference on the territory of its western neighbor. The spark that ignited the current ferment was the Iraqi government’s decision, in late September, to sack the country’s deputy counterterrorism chief, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi. A decorated military commander, al-Saadi had become a folk hero of sorts for his leading role in the Iraqi fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

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Syria Study Group 2019:Final Report and Recommendations

By Michael Singh and Dana Stroul

Washington Institute

September 2019

In this report, the members of the Syria Study Group (co-chaired by Washington Institute fellows Michael Singh and Dana Stroul) make the case for why Syria matters for U.S. security and why the American public should care. While some argue that it is too late for a reinvigorated U.S. approach to Syria, the study group’s members conclude that the United States can still influence the outcome of the war in a manner that protects U.S. interests. They argue that the United States has meaningful tools of leverage to prevent the reemergence of ISIS and counter other terrorist groups, stop Iran from turning Syria into a forward operating base, provide relief to displaced Syrians and hard-pressed neighbors, and advance a political outcome that stops Syrian territory from serving as a net exporter of terrorism and instability. Achieving these outcomes will require a long-term commitment to a sound strategy, the careful balancing of ends and means, and—most important—political support at the highest levels.

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Shifting Landscape: Russia’s Military Role in the Middle East

By Anna Borshchevskaya

Washington Institute

September 2019


In September 2015, Moscow made its first push outside former Soviet borders when it authorized airstrikes in Syria. More pertinently, the move—and Russia’s broader intervention in Syria—constituted a step toward reshaping the whole regional balance of power, taking advantage of a diminishing U.S. footprint. According to the Russian defense minister, the military has since learned to fight in an entirely new way. Establishing long-term bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast has made the Kremlin’s regional bid more credible still, and arms sales are fortifying its position. In this study, Russia expert Anna Borshchevskaya interweaves rich historical context with detailed military knowledge to explore Moscow’s aspirations, capabilities, and constraints in an area stretching from Turkey to Libya. She makes clear that the United States and the West still hold the edge in this vital strategic region. But without a coherent policy to counter Russia, Washington will flounder in safeguarding its interests, values, and credibility.

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Week of October 4, 2019

CENTCOM relocates operations from Qatar fearing a new Pearl Harbor attack
While the people of a nation revel in their country’s military victories, it is the military disasters that impact the country’s military leaders.
This is true for the United States, which remembers its worst military loss – Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  On that day the Japanese killed over 3,000 American sailors, soldiers and Marines, while sinking a major part of the US Pacific Fleet.
The American defeat allowed the Japanese to run rampant over Asia, conquering a large swath of the continent from Burma to the Solomon Islands.  The Dutch, British, Australian, and American ships available couldn’t stop the Imperial Japanese fleet.
It wasn’t until seven months later at the Battle of Midway, that the US regained the initiative.
The specter of that defeat still resonates in the American military and the words “Pearl Harbor” still means a sudden, devastating military attack on the US.
That’s why the US recently temporarily moved operations from the American base in Qatar to a command center in South Carolina, USA.
The alleged Iranian attack on the Saudi oil refinery was an eye opener for the US military.  While the US had made use of low flying cruise missiles, they were unprepared to defend themselves from such an attack.  The Saudis had a sophisticated air defense system that is much like what the US and NATO has – one that can stop high altitude ballistic missiles and aircraft.  It had American Patriot missile defense, German Skyguard air defense cannons, and French Shahine mobile air defense.
While the alleged Iranian-made cruise missile flew under the operational envelope of the Patriot, the French Shahine and German Skyguard radar have a limited detection range for low flying missiles.  There is also a question about the competency of Saudi soldiers manning the air defense systems.  Are they able to react fast enough to defeat low flying missiles?
Ironically, for a country that spends more than all but two nations on defense (China and the US surpass Saudi Arabia), the Saudi air defense system needs a multi-layered air-defense system.
That flaw in its air defense system isn’t limited to Saudi Arabia.  The US is also vulnerable to low flying missiles, which forced the Americans to look at its CENTCOM command in Qatar.
The US Middle Eastern Central Command in Al Udeid Air Base, Doha, Qatar is within range of Iran’s missile inventory.  This operational headquarters is where daily combat operations for Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the entire Gulf region are controlled.  On a regular day, the command is controlling as many as 300 US warplanes.
Suddenly after the alleged Iranian missile strike on the Saudi refinery, US officials realized that CENTCOM’s command facilities in Qatar were vulnerable to a “Pearly Harbor” style attack by Iranian missiles.
Without the Qatar based command center, America’s ability to control operations in the Middle East would fall apart, leaving Iran an opening to carry out attacks across the region without any American intervention.
In response, the US decided to practice switching operational control of US military operations from Qatar to a facility in South Carolina that has never been used before.  Last Saturday, was the first test and the South Carolina command handled American operations for a 24-hour period before handing operations back to the command center in Qatar.
Current plans are for the South Carolina command center to take control for one day a month.  It will then expand control to 8 hours a day.  The alternate command center will always be manned in case of an attack in Qatar by the Iranians.
According to military analysts here in Washington, “with an operational command center in the US, American forces in the Middle East will be prepared for a regional conflict, especially one that involves Iranian attacks on US command and control centers”.
The plan is that any missile strike against the operational command in Qatar would bring the South Carolina command immediately online.  The switch would be seamless and wouldn’t interfere with any combat operations taking place.
This shift shouldn’t be a reduction in the commitment to American allies in the region.  Rather, it’s a recognition that Iran might strike US bases and the US wants to be able to quickly retaliate.
Although Al Udeid Air Base still is home to thousands of Americans, the ability to carry out command and control functions from South Carolina means that the chances of a “Pearl Harbor” type of strike by the Iranians on Al Udeid Air Base is limited but not completely avoidable.  It also perceived that it won’t take the US seven months to regain the initiative as it did in WWII.

Week of September 20, 2019

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


The American Foreign Policy Council says the attack on the Saudi refineries is a major test for Trump.  They say he must stabilize global markets, secure oil trade routes, and deter Iran.  They conclude by noting, “The stakes are exceptionally high. A cogent, hard-hitting response to the Saudi attacks could go a long way toward reassuring America’s Middle Eastern partners that it remains committed to repelling Iranian aggression and safeguarding their security. A lackluster U.S. reply, on the other hand, would inevitably result in a massive loss of confidence in the Trump administration among the countries of the region. That, in turn, raises the risks of a wider conflict, as the Saudis (and perhaps others) are prompted to take matters into their own hands.”


The CSIS says the world dodged a bullet when Iran attacked the Saudi refinery.  They conclude, “Traders and pricing complacency suggest that the oil market is currently well-supplied. Tankers that left Ras Tanura last Friday are en route to their planned destinations and will still unload their cargoes in the coming weeks, so no physical shortage exists just yet. But challenges remain. Restarting complex facilities is a tricky business, geopolitical tensions in the region remain unabated, and the brazen assault on what is arguably the most significant oil facility in the world represents a most worrisome development—and one for which there is seemingly no guaranteed near-term solution.”


The Washington Institute also looks at the Saudi refinery strike and the reasons for Iran’s actions.  They note, “One possibility is that Iranian security officials have decided they can keep testing U.S. and Saudi resolve without major consequences, perhaps with the goal of shaking or shattering both their trust in each other and their determination to confront Tehran. After all, the regime’s gradually escalating thrusts have all been issued with no real riposte, from the May 12 Fujairah attacks to the May 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s East-West Pipeline, the June 14 daylight attack on two tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, and the June 20 shootdown of a U.S. drone. More immediately, Tehran may aim to compel the West into granting it sanctions relief in exchange for reducing such attacks and freezing its recent acceleration of nuclear activities. If so, it may believe that Abqaiq will merely strengthen its leverage rather than changing the game altogether.”


The CSIS looks at the Saudi refinery attack and the changing nature of warfare.  They conclude, “As Iran may well have already demonstrated, cruise missiles and UCAVs can also be used to counter or supplement economic warfare and deal with sanctions. They reinforce the fact that the ability to escalate in some military ways is not producing some new form of mutually assured destruction, but is integrating political, economic, and military warfare. Seen from a broader perspective, they are a warning that the only rules to future warfare are that there are no rules, and that the only fully predictable aspect of the future of warfare is that it will be at least as unpredictable as in the past.”



The Cato Institute argues that President Trump deserves to pick the National Security Advisor he wants.  They conclude, “More broadly, however, the next national security adviser can perform an invaluable service by bending U.S. foreign policy to conform with modern realities — including the wishes of the American people. America’s ability to police the world, while others watch from the sidelines, was waning long before Donald Trump took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Indeed, we should welcome the fact that the world is now populated by many like-minded actors who are able to defend themselves from harm. The United States should be working diligently to reduce its permanent overseas military presence, stop intervening in the affairs of sovereign states, and shed some of the burdens of being the world’s sole superpower, so that it can attend to more urgent problems here at home.”


The Heritage Foundation says that Iran has been boxed in by Trump and their policy towards Trump is hoping that he is replaced in the 2020 election.  They conclude, “So has Tehran really broken the back of the U.S. pressure campaign? All this “sturm und drang” from Tehran may amount to much less than headlines suggest. Indeed, unless the regime starts cutting a new and better deal with Washington pretty darn quickly, Iran may be facing 2021 in no better shape than it is in right now.”


The Cato Institute looks at why the US can’t seem to reduce its military footprint around the world – specifically Afghanistan.  They look at America’s continued military presence in Europe 80 years after WWII started and conclude, “Unfortunately, that is the likely scenario for the Afghanistan mission as well. The United States does not practice the old-style imperialism of conquest, the establishment of colonies, and the use of direct rule. Instead, U.S. imperialism consists of creating patron-client relationships with security dependents and enforcing that policy through a global network of military bases. Nevertheless, it is an imperial policy, and the U.S. military footprint in a client state becomes as permanent as if it were encased in concrete. Afghanistan is merely the latest arena in which that model is being used.”


The Heritage Foundation looks at policy towards Yemen.  The three key points are: 1. The U.S. has an interest in shoring up Yemeni cooperation to combat threats posed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Houthis, and Iran. 2. The U.S. can play a supporting role in facilitating negotiations—but ultimately the prospects for peace will be up to the Yemenis and their Arab allies. 3. The U.S. should encourage negotiations that give as many Yemeni factions as possible a stake in a stable peace.




Trump Picks Robert O’Brien as New National Security Advisor

Looking into the mind and policies of O’Brian

In an interesting convergence of events, President Trump picked Robert O’Brien as his National Security Advisor at the same time Secretary of State Pompeo called the Iranian missile attack on the Saudi refinery an “Act of War.”

Pompeo said after arriving in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, “We were blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack, but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always risk that that could happen…This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”

Although the military option remains a possibility, it appears that the US will push for additional economic sanctions on Iran – something made easier by the attack as European leaders were loath to sanction Iran before.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he and Trump had talked to each other by phone and discussed the need for a “united diplomatic response from international partners” after the Aramco attacks.

As for the claims that the Houthis had carried out the attack, Pompeo said the US has “high confidence” that they do not have the advanced weapons to carry out the attack.  “These line attack cruise missiles we have never seen there and we think we have seen most everything…We also know that these are systems that the Iranians have not deployed anyplace else, that they have not deployed outside of their country to the best of our knowledge.”

On Wednesday, the Saudis also held a press conference showing the debris gathered from the weapons.  According to them, there were 18 UAVs and 7 cruise missiles.  They included advanced GPS guidance and data indicates they were launched from the North, not the south, where Yemen is.

The Foreign Policy Philosophy of Robert O’Brien

Although this Iranian affair is being handled by Pompeo, the question is how O’Brien will handle similar situations in the future.

The new National Security Advisor is a lawyer who has considerable international expertise.  He has been alternate representative to the UN and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs under President Bush.  He was a legal officer with the United Nations Security Council.  He was Co-Chairman for the State Department’s Public Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan.  Trump also considered him as a possible Secretary of the Navy in 2017.

O’Brien has also been a national security advisor for three presidential candidates – Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, and Ted Cruz.

O’Brien is also the author of the book “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis.  It is a compilation of articles he has written for publications in the past.  Most of the articles were written before Trump even became a candidate, so it reflects his own views.  Although it isn’t a scholarly tome like Kissinger’s “A World Restored,” it is excellent review of his foreign policy views.

In it, O’Brien outlines his belief in American Exceptionalism, peace through strength, being a reliable ally to its friends, a respect for the rule of law, and a belief that there are “bad” nations.

Although not written for the Trump Administration, it clearly hews close to Trump’s foreign policy views.

Those who want to know what O’Brien’s views of Iran and its leadership are don’t have long to wait.  A chapter in section one, is titled, “Obama’s folly: the Iran Deal Disaster.”

O’Brien makes it clear where the US and Iran stand in relation to each other.  The book states, “Iran is a sworn enemy of the United States.  It is a revolutionary regime committed to changing the contours of the entire Middle East and destroying America’s key regional ally, Israel…There is simply no evidence to support the idea that we can trust revolutionary Iran to give up its long term goal of developing a nuclear weapon and a delivery system.”

Although he distrusts Iran, he has made it clear that war with Iran isn’t the only option.  He supports widespread economic sanctions by the US and as many nations as the US can bring into the fold.

As a warning, O’Brien ends his chapter on Iran with a reference to WWII and the Munich Accords that UK Prime Minister Chamberlain made with Hitler.  He wrote of Winston Churchill’s warning that the British people “should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war.”  He ends the chapter saying, “Sadly, his prophetic warning in 1938 appears to be applicable to us today.”

O’Brien sees a dangerous world.  “Vladimir Putin invaded and annexed Crimea – the first territorial conquest by force in Europe since World War II…China claims almost the entire South China Sea and plans to dot the Paracel and Spratly Islands with airstrips, lighthouses, and oil rigs.  In the East Chain Sea, Beijing is in a dangerous standoff with Japan as it seeks to wrest the Senkaku Islands away from Tokyo…Nuclear North Korea lurks in the background and Iran gets closer to breakout each day that it strings the West along in negotiations over its enrichment program.

Continuing on the issue of China, he notes, “China has not undertaken military action as dramatic as the Russian invasion of Crimea, but it has staked a claim to almost the entirety of the South China Sea…In the process, China’s Navy and Coast Guard have expelled the Philippines from the Scarborough Shoal, a reef just under 150 miles from the Philippines but almost 550 miles from Hainan Island, the nearest Chinese port.”

We can expect O’Brien to be an advocate of hard negotiating with China.  In the preface, he notes, “I have negotiated in Beijing with senior Chinese government officials.  They appear entirely confident that America and the West are in decline and that the Twenty-first Century will be theirs.”

Some of the areas of concern with China is its growing influence in Africa (O’Brien has lived in South Africa for a time), Chinese Air Identification Zones over Japanese islands, technological and personal data theft, and its human rights problems

It appears that O’Brien will not be an advocate of quick withdrawals from the Middle East – especially Afghanistan.  In addition to noting the “fiascos in Libya, Egypt, and Syria,” he notes the lack of a “clear exit plan in Afghanistan.”

As can be expected of someone considered for Secretary of the Navy, O’Brien sees the Navy, especially the American carriers, as the key to projecting power and keeping the peace.  He wrote, “Ever since Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” the US Navy has been how the country’s leaders have projected power on the world stage – but it’s clear from years of cutbacks, sequestration, and an aging fleet, that we’re going to be doing less of that power projection in the years ahead.”

He continues, “I can say with certainty that the shortcut to connecting with voters on national security is via a discussion of the strength of the United States navy.  The American voter knows that we cannot protect the seas and our interests overseas unless we have ships that can fight and deliver marines and carrier-based fighter jets to the world’s hot spots.”

O’Brien will not give the State Department a blank check and is suspicious of many in the State Department.  He writes, “Rather than create another bureaucracy in a foreign policy and national security arena, the conservative approach would be to bring strong leadership to bear in refocusing State. Defense, the CIA, and their sister departments on their roles in implementing US smart power initiatives.”

O’Brien appears to be a supporter of the UK as he finds fault with Obama’s treatment of the “special relationship” partner.  He noted, that Obama, “has made the United States an unreliable ally for our closest friends, Britain has been a stalwart ally of the United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan, notwithstanding the tremendous domestic political pressure on Labor and Conservative governments.”

He also points to Poland, the Czech Republic, Gulf States, Taiwan, and the Baltic nations, who deserve better attention than they received from Obama.

So, what will O’Brien recommend to Trump?  He made that clear in his introduction, when he concluded, “In the face of Russian aggression, Chinese expansionism, and Islamic extremism from both ISIS and the Islamic Republic of Iran, this is a lesion that Obama refuses to learn.  His successor will inherit a world in crisis that will require robust and strategic American leadership.  The good news is that while America slept during the Obama years, a new president, willing to lead can usher in another “morning in America.” That is good for our country and for the world.”

Apparently, O’Brien is in tune with Trump’s foreign policy.  While there may be some disagreements with Pompeo, in general, we can expect Trump, Pompeo, and O’Brien to speak with the same voice.



About that Counter-Iran Coalition

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 30, 2019

What if the United States threw a party and no one came? It is finding out in the Persian Gulf, where Trump administration’s calls to unite to counter Iranian aggression are being met with caution, circumspection and shrugs.  The reason is not fear of the Iranians. Instead, it is a calculus by Washington’s allies and partners that they may be safer staying far away from whatever the United States really intends and what they might be drawn into.  The Iranian government seems to be pursuing a policy that keeps tensions in the Gulf simmering but not boiling. The goal is to create a crisis but not a war. Iran is trying to force the world to engage with it and seeking to thumb its nose at the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign that threatens any multinational that does business with the Islamic Republic.

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Can Iran Break Out of Trump’s Box?

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

September 11, 2019

In the Middle East, looking weak is the equivalent of wearing a “kick me” sign. And that’s now a problem for Tehran. Iran has hit a headwind in the person of Donald Trump. The president has basically taken back all the benefits the regime gained from the deal it cut with Barack Obama. Trump has made the mullahs look smaller on the global stage, crimped their economy, and messed with Tehran’s surrogates. Teheran’s top policy option now appears to be praying that Trump loses in 2020 and is replaced by a more pliant president. Still, the last thing they want to do is sit around meekly absorbing insults and injuries until January 2021 rolls around. To shake off the growing signs of weakness, Iran flexed its muscles by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. That hasn’t worked out so well. They almost prompted a retaliatory military strike from Washington. Now, the U.S. and others are committing resources to protect freedom of navigation in the gulf. That issue seems to be fizzling.

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A Way Forward in Yemen

By James Phillips and Nicole Robinson

Heritage Foundation

August 27, 2019

Yemen, a failed state destabilized by multiple civil wars, has become the world’s foremost humanitarian disaster, an arena for a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia and a hotbed for clashing Sunni and Shiite Islamist extremists. Yemen’s brutal civil war has reached a stalemate. The unwieldy anti-Houthi coalition, which in recent years clawed back considerable territory seized by the Houthis, is disintegrating. Southern secessionists have ejected Yemeni government forces from some parts of the south, and the United Arab Emirates, a key contributor to the Arab coalition that intervened to fight the Houthis, has pulled back many of its forces. The U.S. has a supporting role to play in encouraging peace in the region.

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Trump Deserves a National Security Adviser Who Agrees with Him and Can Translate His ‘America First’ Vision into Concrete Action

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

September 11, 2019

For those who argued that Donald Trump’s foreign policy views were dramatically different from those of his predecessors, the skeptics always had a ready answer: John Bolton. Now that Trump has unceremoniously dismissed his hawkish national security adviser, that could pave the way for the change that Trump had promised and that the public anxiously wants. Over the course of his presidential campaign, Trump was rewarded for his willingness to challenge the policy elite. He even railed against the Iraq War, initiated by a Republican president, in a Republican debate in South Carolina — and won the primary there. Unlike nearly all of his rivals, Trump correctly sensed that Americans were disinclined to spend vast sums, and risk the lives of American troops, on regime-change wars and costly, open-ended nation-building projects abroad. In a major foreign policy speech delivered as he was closing in on the GOP nomination, Trump explained that “foolishness and arrogance [had] led to one foreign-policy disaster after another.” And he pledged “to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy” and “invite new voices and new visions into the fold.” But, once elected, he did nothing of the sort.

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Empire America: Why Washington Can’t Reduce Its Military Footprint

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Cato Institute

September 3, 2019

As negotiations between the United States and the Taliban continue, it is increasingly clear that even if an agreement emerges, any U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will be partial, not total. President Donald Trump recently confirmed that point. “Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News radio. “We’re going to keep a presence there.” He did indicate that the current troop level of more than 14,000 was being reduced to 8,600. Further reductions might take place if a final accord could be reached, but a sizable contingent of Special Forces personnel, intelligence operatives, and military contractors would remain indefinitely. Disappointed advocates of a complete withdrawal from America’s longest war believed that, once again, the president listened to military leaders and congenital hawks such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and backed away from his intention to extricate the United States from the seemingly interminable conflict. A similar pattern had emerged in the summer of 2017, when National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and other advisers successfully prevailed on Trump to abandon the pledge he made during the 2016 presidential campaign to terminate the Afghanistan mission.

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Saudi Strikes Are A Critical Test For Trump

By Ilan I. Berman

American Foreign Policy Council

September 18, 2019

On Saturday, two of Saudi Arabia’s most important oil facilities became the targets of the most significant attack on world energy infrastructure in more than a quarter-century. The coordinated strikes on Abqaiq and Khurais in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province — which appear to have been carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels as well as by Iran directly — were devastating, taking roughly 60 percent of total Saudi daily oil production — an estimated 5.7 million barrels from the 9.8 million total — offline and at least temporarily jeopardizing the country’s position as a global energy power. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Trump administration has pinned the blame squarely on Tehran. But it has also made clear that it isn’t eager for a military confrontation with the Iranian regime (though the Pentagon is still actively planning for some sort of response). Yet how Washington responds to the incident will have profound implications, both for its continued credibility in the region and for the future of its relations with Iran.

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Attack on Saudi Oil Infrastructure: We May Have Dodged a Bullet, at Least for Now . . .

By Frank A. Verrastro and Andrew J. Stanley

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 18, 2019

This weekend’s attack on Saudi oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq represents the single largest daily oil supply disruption in history—larger than the maximum daily output loss resulting from the Iranian Revolution, the invasion of Iraq, the Venezuelan oil strike of 2002-2003, or any of the Gulf coast hurricanes and almost twice as large as the combined outages produced by U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. The attacks targeted two critical Saudi facilities: one of the nation’s largest producing fields, Khurais, and the crown jewel of the Saudi oil system, the massive stabilization and processing facility at Abqaiq. The total supply loss from taking these facilities offline amounted to some 5.7 million barrels per day (b/d) in oil output—more than half of Saudi Arabia’s recent output and about 6 percent of global supply—as well as 2 billion cubic feet per day of associated gas.

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Iran, Yemen, and the Strikes on Saudi Arabia: The Changing Nature of Warfare

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

September 18, 2019

The history of warfare has never been filled with good predictions of how warfare would evolve in the future. Aside from the odd science fiction writer, no one predicted the technical, tactical, and strategic nature of World War I. World War II began with gross exaggerations of the threat posed by poison gas and the air forces of the day. Navies that still emphasized battleships in a war that became dominated by submarines and carriers. The uncertain efforts to reshape land forces evolved into blitzkrieg, after armored offensives that initially involved German field commanders that disobeyed order from their high command. After World War II, massive efforts to restructure land, air, and sea forces for nuclear warfighting ended in the fear of mutual assured destruction and the practice of small conventional wars and insurgencies outside the key areas of NATO and Warsaw Pact confrontation. The first Gulf War in 1990 saw major advances in precision strike air power, but it also saw armored exchanges that were far more favorable to the U.S.-led coalition than most military planners and analysts predicted before the actual battles.

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A Credibility Test for U.S.-Saudi Defense Relations and Iran Deterrence

By Michael Knights

Washington Institute

September 16, 2019


The September 14 attack on Saudi targets in Abqaiq and Khurais—one of the world’s largest oil refinery complexes and the kingdom’s third-largest oil field, respectively—could take up to 5.7 million barrels per day off the global market for the next several months. This makes it the most comprehensive blow against the global energy sector since Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent destruction of both countries’ energy infrastructures. Now, as then, U.S. and international commitment to the security of global energy supplies is being tested. The strike was highly effective from a military perspective. The weapons hit at around 4 a.m. local time and appear to have struck from a northerly or northwesterly direction. This fits with a string of reporting that suggests related air defense alerts and engine sounds were concentrated in areas of the northern Persian Gulf, as opposed to an ingress route from Yemen. Strong U.S. government statements have ruled out Yemen (on September 14) and Iraq (on September 16), so the focus is narrowing to a direct strike originating from Iran.

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