Iran on Edge
|Mehdi Khalaji ||August 10th 2012|
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Action on Iran's domestic brutality can prevent the Islamic Republic from labeling sanctions as something they are not intended to be: an attack on the Iranian public.
With tensions mounting over Iran's nuclear program, the West has dealt the Tehran regime crippling blows on several fronts, including through sanctions, the targeted killing of scientists, and cyber operations such as the Stuxnet virus. Tehran is no doubt reeling, but regime leaders have spotted a silver lining: The West's single-minded focus on the nuclear dossier has permitted them to widen their violations of human rights.
Indeed, since the protests that followed the 2009 election, Iran's human-rights abuses have worsened substantially -- a development that has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. and Europe. This is a tragedy with profound strategic implications for the West.
The Iranian legal system allows numerous human-rights violations, including discrimination against women and ethno-sectarian minorities, and the imposition of brutal penal sentences, such as stoning. Tehran's ruling theocrats view human rights as a Western invention used to undermine Islamic culture and sovereignty as part of what Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei considers a soft war against Iran. They therefore do not believe themselves duty-bound to uphold their basic human-rights obligations, including those under international agreements to which they are party.
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel and John Dunbar||August 9th 2012|
|Missouri senate candidate Representative Todd Akin (R)|
Rep. Todd Akin, a six-term lawmaker and evangelical Christian with the support of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, won a hotly contested Republican U.S. Senate primary in Missouri, meaning he will face incumbent Claire McCaskill, a Democrat the GOP considers beatable. Unlike his two main opponents, Akin was spared from millions of dollars worth of attack ads paid for by outside groups. Super PACs and politically active nonprofits targeted former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, who was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and millionaire businessman John Brunner.
With all precincts reporting, Akin won 36 percent of the vote, Brunner finished second with 30 percent and Steelman was a close third at 29.2 percent, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's offfice. Steelman called Akin to concede a little after 10 p.m., according to news reports.
Brunner, a self-funder who enjoyed favorable advertising paid for by the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was the target of more than $1.1 million in attack ads paid for by Majority PAC, the main super PAC focused on helping Democrats retain control of the Senate. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Robert Maguire||August 8th 2012|
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As of today, spending reported to the Federal Election Commission by groups that aren't required to disclose the sources of their funding has nearly tripled over where it stood at the same point in the 2010 election cycle, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. By Aug. 6, 2010, groups registered as social welfare organizations, or 501(c)(4)s, as well as super PACs funded entirely by them, had reported spending $8.5 million. That figure has soared to $24.9 million in this cycle. In 2008, nondisclosing groups reported spending $8.3 million at this point in the campaign season.
In addition, the numbers show a clear break from those of previous cycles in that independent expenditures
(ads explicitly calling for the election or defeat of a particular candidate) make up the vast majority of the spending reported by nondisclosing groups. Spending for electioneering communications -- "issue ads" that name a federal candidate and are run within a 60-day window before a general election, or 30 days before a primary or a national party nominating convention -- has fallen as a share of the total.
The Edge of Terror
|Matthew Levitt||August 8th 2012|
Early in August, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court rejected Washingtonâ€™s formal request to extradite Hizballah commander Ali Musa Daqduq to the United States to face charges of murder, terrorism, spying, and other offenses filed by a U.S. military commission. Iraqi courts had dropped similar charges against him on May 29 and then again on June 25 when the decision was appealed, seemingly giving the central court cause to reject the extradition request and approve his release. â€œIt is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case,â€ the judges ruled. But the cases are not the same, and the ruling means Baghdad could soon release one of the most senior and dangerous Hizballah commanders ever apprehended. In the words of one former CIA officer, Daqduq is â€œthe worst of the worst. He has American blood on his hands. If released, heâ€™ll go back to shedding more of it.â€
Background: attack in Karbala
In the early evening of January 20, 2007, American and Iraqi military officers met at the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, about thirty miles south of Baghdad, to discuss local security operations. A short time later, a convoy of five black SUVs was waved through three checkpoints and allowed to access the base; the trucks were carrying about a dozen English-speaking militants dressed in U.S. military fatigues and carrying American-type weapons and fake identity cards. Read more ..
The Weaponâ€™s Edge
|Zach Toombs and Aaron Mehta||August 8th 2012|
The Pentagon has pumped billions of dollars into programs to counter the dangers of improvised explosive devices over the last decade but still lacks a way to track whether its initiatives are meeting their goalsâ€”a circumstance that a government watchdog warns could lead to overlap and wasted taxpayer funds. Poor recordkeeping has hindered the Defense Departmentâ€™s ability to monitor more than 1,300 individual anti-IED projects, complicating any effort by outsiders to assess whether the funds have been well spent, an August report by the Government Accountability Office said.
â€œDOD has not determined, and does not have a ready means for determining,â€ just how many anti-IED projects it is currently funding, the report said. Although GAO accounted for $4.8 billion in Pentagon spending, it called that estimate â€œunderstated,â€ because many anti-IED initiatives werenâ€™t properly recorded. â€œDOD has funded hundreds of C-IED initiatives but has not developed a comprehensive database of these initiatives or the organizations conducting them,â€ the report stated. The report is a follow up to a February 2012 GAO study that concluded DOD does not have â€œfull visibilityâ€ over its anti-IED projects. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Baker Spring||August 7th 2012|
The Heritage Foundation
On July 27, President Obama signed into law the United Statesâ€“Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which is designed to strengthen the qualitative edge of Israeli military forces over its current and future enemies. While the law serves to strengthen this edge in a variety of areas, it pays special attention to improving Israelâ€™s capabilities for defending its civilian population against rocket and missile attacks.
Not coincidentally, this special focus has come on the heels of the demonstrated success of the Israeli Iron Dome system for countering rockets and short-range missiles against attacks with such weapons launched by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Accordingly, Congress needs to take additional actions to expand cooperation with Israel in the area of missile defense.The act is accompanied by still incomplete actions by Congress regarding U.S.â€“Israeli missile defense cooperation. The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House on May 18, includes a provision to provide an additional $168 million to general missile defense cooperation with Israel above the Administrationâ€™s roughly $100 million request.
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The Edge of Crime
|Vanda Felbab-Brown||August 7th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Policies that focus on suppressing drug flows are often ineffective in suppressing organized crime. Under the worst circumstances, such as in Mexico or Afghanistan, policing policies, such as high-value targeting or eradication of illicit crops, can trigger intense criminal violence or strengthen insurgencies. But neither is legalization an effective shortcut to law enforcement. On its own, it is unlikely to address a host of problems associated with organized crime.
Illicit economies exist in some form virtually everywhere. For example, some part of the illegal drug economy â€“ production, trafficking, or distribution â€“ is present in almost every country. Although the drug trade is widely believed to be the most profitable illicit economy, dwarfing others such as the illegal trade in wildlife or logging, its impact on society and the intensity of violence and corruption it generates vary in different regions and over time.
Like Colombia in the 1980s, Mexico today is blighted by violence. But although many of the same drug trafficking groups operate in both Mexico and the United States, their behaviour is strikingly different north of the border where their capacity to corrupt state institutions is limited and the level of violence they generate is small. Read more ..
The Race for Natural Gas
|Barry Rabe||August 7th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
The ink was barely dry on far-reaching new Pennsylvania legislation to regulate hydraulic fracking practices before a state appellate court recently overturned key provisions as an unconstitutional encroachment on traditional land-use policies.
This ruling serves as a reminder that few governance issues are as contentious as governmental battles over land-use decisions. Federal and state policies that restrict land-use preferences have routinely been assaulted by waves of litigation, many aiming to return authority to private and local hands.
But many of the very organizations so outraged by top-down governmental control have been remarkably quiet as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted far-reaching legislation that dramatically shifted one major form of land-use from local to near-total state control. This is why last weekâ€™s decision by the Commonwealth Court to overturn key legislative provisions will only serve to draw more attention to this issue, as a larger national debate likely begins on all facets of governance related to fracking. Read more ..
Mali on Edge
|Jacques Neriah||August 5th 2012|
Mali, like other sub-Saharan countries, has been facing growing attacks from al-Qaedaâ€™s North African branch â€“ Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Islamists are involved in a multi-million-dollar ransom industry fuelled by kidnapping Westerners and drug-trafficking in Northern Mali, where al-Qaeda militants and other Islamist combatants share ground with the Tuareg, a minority of perhaps 1 million of Maliâ€™s 15 million people and about a third of the population of Northern Mali.
In March 2012 the country collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled the rebels to take control of the northern part of Mali, approximately two-thirds of the country. This is the fourth rebellion led by Tuareg nomads since independence in 1960. The last ended only in 2008.
In October 2011 the Tuareg fighters gathered in the oasis settlement of Zakak in the hills by the border of Algeria. They were joined by career rebels, Malian army deserters, and young activists in a conclave that gave birth to the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad). Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Eric Trager||August 5th 2012|
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With its initial attempts at building bridges in Cairo having backfired, the Obama administration is looking for new ways to improve America's image in Egypt.
Egypt's President Mohammed Morsy is trying to get down to business, but the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) isn't making things easy. The Muslim Brotherhood leader's newly appointed cabinet keeps holdovers from the previous cabinet in top positions, which suggests that the military junta is preventing Morsy from radically reshaping Egyptian policy, at least for the time being. Indeed, the power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF continues to define Egypt's post-Mubarak transition -- and it could be years before either emerges victorious.
This is a messy political environment for the United States to try to improve its relationship with the Egyptian people, and it is not going well. Just last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's motorcade was showered with rotten vegetables upon her visit to Egypt, and thousands-strong crowds protested her appearances in both Cairo and Alexandria.
Economy on Edge
|Gary Burtless, Michael Greenstone, Adam Looney||August 3rd 2012|
The Brookings Institution
Employer payrolls climbed faster in July than in any month since February, but households reported that fewer members were at work in July than in June. The mixed employment report reinforces the message from earlier reports that the economy continues to grow modestly. Since January labor market gains have been fast enough to keep pace with population growth, but not fast enough to put a dent in the nationâ€™s unemployment rate. The number of unemployed and the unemployment rate were essentially the same in July as they were in January.
The employer survey offers a brighter picture of job gains than the household survey. Private sector employment grew for the 29th straight month in June. It increased 172,000, far faster than the rate of growth in the previous three months. Since January private payrolls have climbed 141,000 a month. A wide variety of industries saw job gains in July, including manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, finance, professional and business services, and education and health. The temporary help services industry continued to add to payrolls in July. Since the start of the year, employment in the temporary help industry has climbed 6 percent. Read more ..
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's recent visit to the U.S.-Mexican border was less than admirable when she accused local officials and others of exaggerating the danger and violence within border states such as Arizona, California and New Mexico, according to several lawmakers and enforcement officials on Monday.
Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL) responded to Napolitano's comments with outrage, calling for an all-encompassing strategy to provide for U.S. national security through what he termed "bold steps and bold solutions." Mack believes that U.S. foreign policy has neglected this reality and now must reestablish its authority of the United States over illegal organizations which threaten U.S. security at the Mexican border.
Mack stated, "A counterinsurgency strategy from our government that includes civil society, law enforcement, civil authorities and military personnel at the U.S. border is urgently needed. Repeated calls on the Administration have not gotten ahead of this plague and the lives of more U.S. citizens have been taken in the meantime, adding to the tens of thousands of people who have been killed in a drug war, [while]expanding the influence of terrorists." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|George Friedman||August 1st 2012|
The American presidency is designed to disappoint. Each candidate must promise things that are beyond his power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him. So candidates promise great, transformative programs. What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him. Though the gap between promises and realities destroys immodest candidates, from the founding fathers' point of view, it protects the republic. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular.
Congress, the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve Board all circumscribe the president's power over domestic life. This and the authority of the states greatly limit the president's power, just as the country's founders intended. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government. Yet at the same time -- and this is the main paradox of American political culture -- the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
The Commission to Examine the Status of Building in Judea and Samaria (the "Levy report") has drawn a flurry of overwrought criticism due to its inclusion of a section concerning the lawfulness of Israeli settlement activity. But the reportâ€™s argument is surprisingly modest in substance; it does little more than endorse the traditional official Israeli position that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank, and in any event does not bar Israeli settlements. Some have argued that the Levy report is foolish politically, arguing that by asserting its legal rights, Israel will signal that it is unwilling to entertain "land for peace" compromises. This seems a doubtful thesis. Israel has asserted its legal rights to Jerusalem for decades, but yet repeatedly offered compromises on its rights in the city. What the Levy report has done is to reinvigorate the discussion of the legitimacy of Israelâ€™s position under international law after many years in which Israel has been silent about its legal rights. That is a welcome development.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was presented with the report of the Commission to Examine the Status of Building in Judea and Samaria, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy (the "Levy report"). The report has drawn a flurry of overwrought criticism due to its inclusion of a section concerning the lawfulness of Israeli settlement activity.
Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Pinhas Inbari||August 1st 2012|
Israel Behind the News
|Palestinian Refugee Camp|
The fate of the Assad regime in Syria has been the main focus of media attention in recent months. Yet, another crisis has quietly developed on the sidelines of the Syrian calamity which may greatly affect the Palestinian refugees and the coveted â€œright of returnâ€.
Over the past year, the Palestinians have challenged Israel by organizing mass marches of refugees to the Jewish stateâ€™s northern borders in order to breach its defenses and â€œreturnâ€ to their homes. These attempts ended in a debacle, prompting the angry marchers, who felt betrayed by PLO organizers, to storm and set fire to the headquarters of Ahmad Jibril â€“ one of the founders of the PLO â€“ located in the Syrian Palestinian capital refugee camp of al-Yarmuk, situated in Damascus. The collapse of the "return marches" became the precursor of a process accelerated by the Syrian crisis, whereby the destruction of the refugee camps is leading to the dissolution of the right of return.
Reports indicate that the Yarmuk camp lies in ruins and its Palestinian inhabitants have joined the convoy of an estimated one million Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, no longer concerned with forcing their way to Israel. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jonathan Spyer||August 1st 2012|
The Syrian regime is pouring all available resources into its defense of the two main cities of Syria: Damascus and Aleppo.
While simultaneously constructing an Alawi enclave in the northwest, the Assads understand that maintaining control of these central urban areas is vital to maintain their claim to constitute the government of Syria. Lose the cities, and Bashar Assadâ€™s regime will come to constitute just another sectarian force in a Syrian civil war.
As of now, the dictatorâ€™s forces appear to have largely succeeded in their mission in Damascus. In Aleppo, the battle is still on. Those who began last week to prepare eulogies for the Assad regime have once again spoken too soon. This is because while the balance of power in Syria is slowly shifting in the rebelsâ€™ favor, the essential cause of the stalemate between the sides remains.
The rebels are now far too numerous and powerful for the regime to entertain hopes of re-imposing its authority throughout the entirety of the country in the foreseeable future. Assad simply does not have sufficient manpower to carry out an effective campaign of counter-insurgency throughout the country. Read more ..
Afganistan on Edge
|Zach Toombs||July 31st 2012|
In the Nangarhar province near Afghanistanâ€™s eastern border sits an abandoned police base, built with $4.5 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars and completed just 13 months ago. The base, known as Lal Por 2, is badly needed but remains empty because it lacks any viable water supply. No efforts are underway to add one.
A neighboring base on the border, also built with U.S. funds, has some Afghan police, but lacks a fully-functioning septic system or air conditioning. Those shortcomings, along with drainage problems in the main buildings, put the base at risk for abandonment as well, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
John Sopko, a former deputy director at Homeland Security and prosecutor who just filled the inspector general role July 2, says in his quarterly report published Monday that these two bases are prime examples of rampant waste throughout the Afghan reconstruction effort. Costing a total of $19 million, the bases, along with two others in the Nangahar province facing their own problems, are meant to give Afghan police a watchful eye along the nationâ€™s militarily-significant border with Pakistan. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Niall Stanage||July 30th 2012|
President Obama has an overall edge in the 12 decisive battleground states that is measurably greater than his advantage in national polling. The dynamic, which may reflect a combination of lower swing-state unemployment rates and demographic advantages for the president, is causing stirrings of unease among Republicans, even as they emphasize that it is important not to read too much into the state of the race right now.
â€œObama is concentrating his considerable early resources and messaging in the swing states, and itâ€™s had an impact,â€ said Mark McKinnon, who served as a media adviser for President George W. Bushâ€™s presidential campaigns.
But McKinnon added that Republican candidate Mitt Romney was â€œraising and saving his money to ensure he wonâ€™t be out-punched in the final rounds.â€ The crucial battleground states number about a dozen: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Read more ..
Europe on Edge
|Michael Whine||July 29th 2012|
The rise in radical-right social and populist movements over the past ten years has been remarkable. While once these were on the political fringes, they now carry political weight in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Latvia, and Slovakia among others, as well as in the European Parliament.
These groups oppose ethnic and cultural diversity. They foment public disorder with marches and rallies to harass and intimidate Muslims and other migrants, and there is growing liaison and even coordination among them. Their street violence provokes reactions from Muslims, especially Islamists, and an escalating spiral of action and counteraction is emerging.
The radicals do not target Jews, and several even profess to be pro-Israel. The reality, though, is that their members are sometimes former neo-Nazis. It is important not to exaggerate these groupsâ€™ successes. So far, the radical right is represented in only a minority of national parliaments, and some researchers believe that their share of the vote may even have peaked in some countries. Read more ..
State governors are eyeing the federal tax reform debate closely, as potential reforms to broaden the income tax base could curtail a set of subsidies they currently enjoy -- the deductibility of state and local taxes. But there is another policy debate underway that would have the opposite effect for states -- permitting the collection of sales tax on out-of-state Internet and catalog sales just as they are collected on goods from brick-and-mortar retailers. Combining these two ideas could improve the U.S. tax system on both the state and federal level by creating a level playing field for state and local governments, businesses and taxpayers.
Under current law, taxpayers who itemize their deductions can deduct their state and local income taxes and property taxes. (A temporary provision set to expire this year permits taxpayers to deduct their sales taxes instead of their income taxes if they choose.) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that the "deduction for state and local taxes is effectively a federal subsidy to state and local governments. As such, it indirectly finances spending by those governments at the expense of other uses of federal revenues."
But the policy is worse than just a subsidy to states; it also distorts decision-making by state governments by inducing states to finance activities through higher income-tax rates on high-income individuals (those most likely to itemize). As CBO notes, "The deductibility of taxes could deter states and localities from financing services with nondeductible fees, which could be more efficient." Read more ..
Economy on Edge
|Gary Burtless||July 28th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
When unemployment rose during the Great Recession, so did long-term unemployment â€“ defined here as joblessness lasting at least six months. This is the norm in recessions, but the gravity of the problem after 2008 was unprecedented.
In the 11 recessions since World War II, unemployment reached 9 percent in just three (1974-75, 1981-82, 2008-9). Only in the most recent slump, though, did the rate of longterm unemployment exceed 3 percent. Indeed, it reached 4.5 percent in April 2010, almost two percentage points higher than the peak in any previous postwar business cycle. And the problem is worryingly persistent: by April 2012, the long-term rate had exceeded 3 percent of the labor force for 34 successive months.
Between 2007 and 2011, the fraction of the nation's unemployed who were unemployed six months or longer increased from 18 percent to 44 percent. Whatâ€™s going on here â€“ and what can we do about it? Read more ..
The RGA Right Direction PAC is a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC, registered with federal regulators to make independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates. So what is it doing giving $1 million directly to the Republican running for governor of Indiana?
The donation to Mike Pence, the largest to his campaign, appears to be a way around state laws limiting corporate contributions to candidates. â€œIn one way, itâ€™s legal,â€ said Andrew Downs of the Center for Indiana Politics, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. â€œBut if you say this is a way to give in excess of corporate limits, thatâ€™s also absolutely true.â€
Right Direction is funded entirely by the Republican Governors Association, a so-called 527 organization dedicated to electing as many Republicans to governorships as possibleâ€”a mission fueled by contributions from some of the largest corporations in the country. In Indiana, candidates can accept unlimited donations from individuals and political action committees but only $5,000 from corporations and unions. Corporations and unions can also give to PACs, but only in small sums. Whether the check to Pence was drawn on a bank account that contained corporate money is not a matter of public record. Read more ..
|Zachary Lichaa||July 27th 2012|
According to Israelâ€™s channel 10 news, â€œmany U.S. officialsâ€ believe that Israel is tired of diplomacy with Iran, and in the estimation of the officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already decided on an Israeli attack on Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities in the fall, right at the conclusion of the summer.
The report, by journalists Emmanuel Rosen, Or Heller and Omri Nehemias adds that Israelâ€™s â€˜Octetâ€™ -the name given to the Prime Ministerâ€™s inner cabinet that would be responsible for the initial decision over an Iran strike â€“ has not met in two months, which they say raises the possibility that Netanyahu and Barak are working alone, and will adopt a decision on the matter with limited consultation.
According to the report, it is still unclear whether the talk of action in the near future will materialize or whether Netanyahu and Barak are only interested in creating such an impression. â€œOnly the future will tell whether this is a diplomatic game or a real option,â€ they conclude. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||July 26th 2012|
Republican-aligned super PACs have benefited from far more corporate cash than their Democratic counterpartsca revenue stream created in the wake of the controversial Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago.
The top two super PACsâ€”the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future and Karl Roveâ€™s American Crossroadsâ€”have raised nearly $24 million in contributions from companies so far this election cycle, an analysis has found. Donors include hedge funds, energy companies, dietary supplement makers, and even a popcorn manufacturer.
The list includes a handful of Fortune 500 and other publicly traded corporations, but donors are more likely to be privately held businesses, often organized as limited partnerships or limited liability companies. Read more ..
Saudi Arabia on Edge
|Simon Henderson||July 25th 2012|
The Washington Institute
Saudi Arabia is bringing back its most talented operator to manage the Arab Spring. But can Bandar stem the rot in Riyadh?
On July 19, the eve of the Saudi weekend and the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi government orchestrated its equivalent of Washington's Friday afternoon news dump: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, son of the late crown prince and defense minister, Sultan, was appointed the new intelligence chief.
The kingdom may want minimal coverage and analysis of Bandar's appointment, but it is bound to be disappointed. Bandar used to be one of Saudi Arabia's flashiest diplomats, a longtime ambassador to the United States renowned for manipulating people and policy in the kingdom's favor, and sometimes also in favor of the U.S. government. At the very least, his appointment is a reflection of King Abdullah's concerns about developments in the Middle East, particularly Syria, and the limited talent pool in the House of Saud to meet the challenges. Frankly, it suggests panic in Riyadh. Read more ..
Middle East on Edge
|Aaron Y. Zelin||July 25th 2012|
One of Saudi Arabia's most popular hardline clerics has embraced democracy. Should we worry, or applaud?
The Muslim Brotherhood has so far emerged as the clear political winner from the popular uprisings that have seized the Arab world. In Egypt and Tunisia, its affiliated political parties have each won power outright in democratic elections. But the Brotherhood isn't the only movement mixing faith and politics in the new Middle East: Salafisâ€”hardline conservatives who model their lives on Prophet Mohamed and the first three generation of Muslim leaders following his deathâ€”are setting aside years of theological opposition to democracy to participate in the political game.
This sea change was driven home earlier this week when Saudi Salafi heavyweight Sheikh Salman al-Awdah took to his Twitter feed and Facebook page to proclaim: â€œDemocracy might not be an ideal system, but it is the least harmful, and it can be developed and adapted to respond to local needs and circumstances.â€ Although Awdah notably made his announcement on his Englishâ€”not Arabicâ€”social media platforms, where his audience numbers in the millions rather than the tens of thousands, the sentiment is still positively Churchillianâ€”echoing as it does the late British prime minister's maxim: â€œIt has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.â€ Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Elizabeth Ferris||July 25th 2012|
The Brookings Institution
An estimated 19,000 people have died in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. But well over a million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and the number is increasing. In fact, people are reportedly being displaced multiple times within Syria as they search for safety. If history is any guide, the displacement crisis in Syria is likely to create further tensions and to last much longer than anyone now anticipates.
The United Nations refugee agency reports that it has registered over 117,000 Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. These numbers probably underestimate the number of Syrian refugees in the region as many are staying with family or friends and simply do not register. While the largest number of registered refugees are in Turkey, it is telling that over 7,000 Syrians have sought safety in Iraq; the two countries only normalized relations in early 2011 and it wasnâ€™t that long ago that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis sought protection from their countryâ€™s violence by moving to Syria. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Eli E. Hertz||July 24th 2012|
Israelis and friends of the Jewish State alike are accustomed to the never-ending scorn the United Nations heaps on the Middle East's only free democracy, never mind its desire for peace with all of its Arab neighbors. It may seem unfathomable that the very same institution was ultimately responsible for the creation of Israel nearly 65 years ago.
Today marks the 90th anniversary of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN, that published the legally binding document the "Mandate for Palestine." The Mandate's roots can be traced to the founding of modern Zionism in August 1897 and the Balfour Declaration of November 1917.
After witnessing the spread of anti-Semitism around the world, Theodor Herzl felt compelled to create a political movement with the goal of establishing a Jewish National Home in historic Palestine, and assembled the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. During World War I, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour simply expressed Great Britain's view with favor for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|George Friedman||July 24th 2012|
We have entered the endgame in Syria. That doesn't mean that we have reached the end by any means, but it does mean that the precondition has been met for the fall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. We have argued that so long as the military and security apparatus remain intact and effective, the regime could endure. Although they continue to function, neither appears intact any longer; their control of key areas such as Damascus and Aleppo is in doubt, and the reliability of their personnel, given defections, is no longer certain. We had thought that there was a reasonable chance of the al Assad regime surviving completely. That is no longer the case. At a certain point -- in our view, after the defection of a Syrian pilot June 21 and then the defection of the Tlass clan -- key members of the regime began to recalculate the probability of survival and their interests. The regime has not unraveled, but it is unraveling.
The speculation over al Assad's whereabouts and heavy fighting in Damascus is simply part of the regime's problems. Rumors, whether true or not, create uncertainty that the regime cannot afford right now. The outcome is unclear. On the one hand, a new regime might emerge that could exercise control. On the other hand, Syria could collapse into a Lebanon situation in which it disintegrates into regions held by various factions, with no effective central government. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jonathan Spyer||July 23rd 2012|
For most of the past 16 months, the insurgency against the regime of President Bashar Assad has been confined to certain specific areas of the country. Assad has also managed to keep the top levels of his own elite intact, and largely loyal.
The regime has done its utmost to preserve this situation, and above all to maintain quiet in the two largest cities of the country, the capital Damascus, and Aleppo.
But the regime has failed.
The clashes in Damascus this week, the growing stream of defections and yesterdayâ€™s bomb attack on the National Security Building in the capital, set the seal on the failure. The deaths of Defense Minister Daoud Rajiha, Assadâ€™s brother-in- law Assef Shawkat and former chief of staff Hassan Turkmani in a bomb attack on a meeting of senior officials in Damascus exemplify the sharp erosion in the regimeâ€™s position in recent weeks.
The intelligence required for such an operation indicates that individuals close to the Assad regimeâ€™s inner sanctum are now providing information to its enemies. Read more ..
|Michael Barone||July 23rd 2012|
This is a tale of two cities. No, not Dickens' phlegmatic London and passionate Paris. Nor the two neighborhoods Charles Murray contrasted in his recent best-seller "Coming Apart," prosperous but isolated Belmont (actually, Mitt Romney's home for decades) and needy and disorganized Fishtown.
These two cities have names you may not recognize but which you have probably read about in the last few years: Fremont and Williston. Fremont is the southernmost city in California's East Bay, just around the corner from (well, a few freeway exits from) Silicon Valley.
It's not as upscale as Palo Alto or Cupertino but has its own distinctions. It was the site of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant where General Motors and Toyota collaborated for years but which closed in April 2010. It's the site of the California School for the Deaf. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
Looking back over the last two weeks, what appeared to hit a raw nerve with critics of the report of Justice Edmond Levy's committee was not what it had to say about the specific issues for which it was appointed, like zoning and planning in the West Bank, but rather with how it dealt with the broader narrative for describing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This became evident in how the reaction focused on the report's conclusion that "the classical laws of 'occupation' as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to â€¦ Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria."
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How did Justice Levy, who recently retired from Israel's Supreme Court, reach this conclusion along with his two colleagues? They argued that the Israeli presence in the West Bank was unique, sui generis, because there was no previously recognized sovereign there when it was captured by the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War in 1967. The Jordanian declaration of sovereignty in 1950 had been rejected by the Arab states and the international community, as a whole, except for Britain and Pakistan.
The Battle for Syria
|Jeff Neumann||July 22nd 2012|
As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's grip on power becomes increasingly tenuous, a sense of unease is growing among some of his staunchest regional allies. And even though they have dwindled in number since the start of the anti-government uprising in Syria 16 months ago, some are still betting on his survival. In Lebanon, regime loyalists are digging in and if Assad were to fall, the political landscape here could be altered dramatically.
Hours after a suspected bomb attack purportedly killed four of Assad's top security officials, including his brother-in-law, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech marking the 2006 war with Israel, "These martyr leaders were comrades-in-arms on the path of the conflict with the Israeli enemy." He added, "We are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which managed to overcome the unbearable, has enough resolve to be able to go on and crush the hopes of the enemies." Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall||July 21st 2012|
On July 2-4, 2012, the Aerospace Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) conducted a missile exercise, dubbed Great Prophet 7, which involved firing dozens of missiles at a target that resembled a U.S. airbase situated in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia.
Iran is signaling that it is prepared for a military clash with the West and Israel, and possesses a devastating â€œsecond-strikeâ€ response capability against any attack on its nuclear sites. IRGC Aerospace Force commander Brig.-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh claimed Iran had already amassed information on 35 U.S. bases in the region and had deployed missiles to destroy them within minutes of an attack on its soil.
Hand-in-hand with continued progress toward advancing its nuclear program amid the recently renewed nuclear talks, Iran is well into the process of developing a deterrence doctrine toward its main adversaries in the region, namely Israel and the United States, while upgrading R&D for its missiles in a way that could eventually enable it to mount a nuclear bomb on a ballistic missile. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi||July 21st 2012|
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The Free Syrian Army has shifted to an offensive in Damascus and Aleppo.
Over the last three days the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella body of the rebel forces, has changed its approach in fighting Bashar al-Assadâ€™s regime. From a campaign of attritionâ€”aimed at siphoning off troops from the Syrian army, eroding its power by attacking its armored forces, and taking over positions and bases while damaging moraleâ€”the Free Syrian Army has shifted to an offensive whose aim is no less than a military victory.
In his instructions to the rebel forces, Free Syrian Army commander Riad al-Asaad outlined the main points of his battle plan. In a video uploaded to YouTube on Monday, Asaad ordered the rebel forces in southern Syria and in the rural part of Damascus to make their way to the neighborhoods of Damascus and wage the final battle against Assadâ€™s forces there. As for the rebel forces in the northern and eastern parts of the country, Asaad told them to go to Aleppo, the economic capital of Syria, in an effort to defeat the Syrian army in that city.
Egypt on Edge
|Jacques Neriah||July 20th 2012|
In an unprecedented reversal of fortunes, the son of a peasant farmer from the Nile Delta, an Islamist jailed several times by Hosni Mubarak, has succeeded him as president of the largest Arab nation in a victory at the ballot box â€“ thus inaugurating Egyptâ€™s Second Republic.
U.S.-trained engineer Mohamed Morsiâ€™s victory breaks a tradition of domination by men from the armed forces, which have provided every Egyptian leader since 1952, and instead installs the Muslim Brotherhood â€“ a group that drew on eighty-four years of grassroots activism to propel Morsi into the presidency.
That Egypt will evolve into something resembling todayâ€™s Turkey is hardly guaranteed. To do so, the Brotherhood must give up its longtime dream of imposing shariâ€™a and instead strike a moderate course. Protecting the rights of women and religious minorities in the new state will require a constant struggle. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Desmond Lachman||July 20th 2012|
On Tuesday November 6, a highly divided U.S. electorate will go to the polls to choose a president and a new Congress. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this election for both the U.S. and the global economic outlook. Since two very different visions are being offered to the electorate as to how the United States should address the very difficult economic challenges with which the country is now confronted. And these different visions are being offered at a time of renewed economic weakness at home and of mounting electorate concern about the impact of globalization on U.S. job creation. Read more ..
Broken Energy Policy
The Brookings Institution
A recent wave of government regulations mandates the energy efficiency levels of a wide range of consumer and business products, including passenger cars and commercial vehicles, clothes dryers, air conditioners, and light bulbs. The ostensible purpose of these regulations is to reduce pollution, notably greenhouse-gas emissions. But our recent examination of a number of these regulations reveals that, by the agenciesâ€™ own analyses, the regulations have only a negligible effect on greenhouse gases, and the environmental benefits are vastly outweighed by the costs of compliance.
The agencies attempt to mask this finding by claiming that the regulations save consumers and firms money, by forcing them to buy more expensive energy-efficient products. By asserting, with little to no supporting evidence, that consumers and firms are making irrational decisions in their purchases of energy-intensive products, the agencies can then claim that energy-efficiency regulations provide private benefits by correcting for this irrationality, and they then use these benefits to justify the expensive regulations that yield minimal environmental gains. Read more ..
One hundred years ago this week, five Italian torpedo boats conducted a raid in the Straits of Dardanelles, a long, narrow body of water connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara -- then the world's most important shipping passage. It was the height of the Italo-Turkish War, a precursor to World War I, and the Young Turks in Constantinople responded by playing their trump card: They closed the strait to international shipping intermittently for a few weeks by deploying their warships. But instead of aiding the war effort -- the Turks eventually lost control of their Libyan provinces -- the closure had disastrous consequences for the Ottoman Empire.
At the time, the Russians sent 90 percent of their grain exports through the Turkish Straits out into the Mediterranean. Closure of the Dardanelles thus meant that millions of tons of grain were spoiled, bringing ruin to Russia's agricultural economy and reducing its export revenues for the year by 30 percent. The lesson for Tsar Nicholas II: never allow a foreign power to hold the key to your prosperity. From that point onward, Russia's foreign policy in the lead-up to World War I was laser-focused on one objective: accelerating the demise of the Ottoman Empire and inheriting control over Constantinople and the Straits. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Robert Satloff||July 19th 2012|
The apparent assassination of top military officials in Syria marks a new and possibly decisive phase in the civil war between Bashar al-Assadâ€™s regime and the broad, loosely coordinated, but clearly potent opposition. For the United States, this turn of events should shift the policy discussion from a UN debate over renewal of the ineffectual Annan peacekeeping mission to ways of exploiting the disarray, namely by pressing Assad to leave power while avoiding outcomes such as chaos, ethnic bloodbath, or jihadist takeover.
With at least three of the eight targeted military leaders apparently dead, the Damascus bombing will almost certainly be a major blow to the regimeâ€™s ability to conduct its war against the Syrian people. The impact will be felt both operationally and psychologically, with the potential for cascading problems in conducting military actions across the country.
The surviving leadership will have to rebuild a command structure in an environment where increasing numbers of military officers and civilian supporters are likely to see the assassinations as the writing on the wall for the regime and begin to seek alternatives for their own survival. Depending on whether the regime is able to steady itself quickly, the incident could also provide an opportunity for opposition forces to press ahead with creating safe zones in various parts of the country, or even to take decisive action against Assad. Read more ..
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