9 October 2018

Trump´s Middle East Policy

8 Oct 2018http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/f3227d95-a826-4865-9a66-8baf5963fced
Jack Thompson argues that Donald Trump’s Middle East policy represents a significant change from that of Barack Obama. For instance, in addition to isolating Iran, the president appears to be supporting the ascendancy of bloc consisting of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. However, this agenda has emerged in piecemeal fashion rather than as part of a coherent strategy – and there are few indications that administration officials have considered the long-term implications of their approach.
This CSS Analyses in Security Policy was originally published in October 2018 by the Center for Security Studies (CSS). It is also available in German and French.
Donald Trump’s Middle East policy represents a significant change from that of Barack Obama. The president is seeking to bolster Israel and Saudi Arabia, in particular, and to isolate Iran. This agenda has emerged in piecemeal fashion rather than as part of a coherent strategy – and there are few indications that administration officials have considered the long-term implications of their approach.
Barack Obama formulated a Middle East strategy designed to repair the damage done during George W. Bush’s presidency. The United States needed to rest an exhausted military, replenish its soft power, and create political space for addressing long-standing challenges. To this end, he reduced troop levels in Iraq, avoided new large-scale military interventions, asked allies to take more responsibility for regional security, and mostly sought to address problems through diplomacy. He used a combination of engagement and sanctions to induce Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program, and sought to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians along lines endorsed by the international community – including a two-state solution, flexibility on the status of East Jerusalem, and pausing the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. To the dismay of allies such as Saudi Arabia, Obama also encouraged democratic reforms in the region, though inconsistently and with little success, and avoided overtly favoring either side of the Sunni-Shia divide.
Just as he promised during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump has taken a different approach. Certainly, there are aspects of continuity. The president has encouraged allies to accept more of the regional security burden, resisted the temptation to send large numbers of troops to Syria and other hotspots, and – like Obama – tolerated Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Yet in key respects, he has departed from the policies of his predecessor. Relations with Riyadh have improved notably, whereas during Obama’s presidency the US and Saudi governments were frequently at odds. Similarly, improving ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which suffered during Obama’s tenure, has been a priority. Trump has withdrawn from the 2015 deal designed to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – and reinstated sanctions on Tehran. Finally, Trump has shown no interest in promoting political reform or bolstering democratic norms – as he demonstrated soon after taking office with his so-called Muslim travel ban.
US President Donald Trump walks with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
US President Donald Trump walks with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to deliver remarks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (21 May 2017). Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
To the extent that there is a discernable pattern, it would appear that the president is promoting a bloc led by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, which seeks to contain Iran and to maintain the status quo vis-à-vis democratic reform and the spread of political Islam. However, there is reason to doubt that this is part of a coherent strategy.
Iran is a top concern of the administration. The 2017 National Security Strategy mentions it 17 times, and lists as a key priority in the region preventing predominance by “any power hostile to the United States” – a clear reference to Tehran. However, the administration is struggling to formulate a realistic policy in the wake of its withdrawal, in May 2018, from the JCPOA. Trump had often criticized the deal. He and other conservatives complained it did nothing to address other problematic aspects of Iranian foreign policy, including its aspirations for regional hegemony and support for radical groups such as Hezbollah. The marginalization or departure of advisers inclined to support the JCPOA – such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster – and the influence of hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton, made withdrawal more likely.
In a May 2018 speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the administration would be willing to restore diplomatic and economic ties in return for: complete denuclearization; cessation of Iran’s ballistic missile program; the release of all prisoners that have citizenship in the US or an allied nation; an end to efforts to extend Iranian influence in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan; and an end to cyberattacks.
As a basis for negotiations, this was a non-starter. Furthermore, other signatories to the JCPOA have indicated that they intend to abide by the agreement and oppose the sanctions regime. Experts have reacted with skepticism to Pompeo’s creation of the Iran Action Group, in August 2018, which the administration has billed as “an elite team of foreign policy specialists” that will seek to implement “a campaign of maximum diplomatic pressure and diplomatic isolation.” They see it as window dressing rather than a serious task force, especially because Brian Hook, a longtime Republican operative, leads it. Hook, who served as the principal deputy to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, discontinued the traditional mission of the department’s Policy Planning Staff – offering the secretary independent, strategic advice. He has also politicized personnel decisions.
CSS Analyses 233 Graphic
The Shia-Sunni Divide
Trump and his advisers have abandoned the longstanding policy of opposing Shia and Sunni extremism, choosing to back Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – and by extension Israel – all of which favor confrontation with Tehran. This decision risks further destabilization in the Middle East. During the 2016 campaign, Trump accused Riyadh of free riding on US security guarantees, but as president, he has given the Saudis carte blanche in the region. Saudi Arabia hosted his first foreign visit and he has ignored Riyadh’s disastrous intervention against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, its crackdown on domestic dissent, its attempts to isolate Qatar, and its attempt to cow Canada after Ottawa criticized the Saudi government’s human rights record.
Most importantly, the administration is in the process of creating the Middle East Strategic Alliance – an “Arab NATO” – a proposal floated by the Saudis in the past. The goal would be to increase overall security and economic cooperation, including a regional anti-missile defense shield, and the confrontation with Iran would assume a principal role in the new alliance’s agenda. It will reportedly be announced this autumn, at a summit in Washington tentatively planned for mid-October 2018.
Analysts have speculated that Trump wants Saudi support for confronting Iran and for a Middle East peace deal. Both expectations rest upon a misunderstanding of Riyadh’s thinking. Saudi Arabia would have been willing to support a tougher line against Iran – which it views as the chief regional threat – regardless of concessions in other areas. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the Saudis would be willing to back the peace deal that Washington is trying to impose upon the Palestinians.
As the Trump administration draws closer to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, regional polarization has increased and some key actors are more distrustful of Washington. Instead of decreasing Iranian influence, US favoritism of Sunni regimes is bolstering ties between Tehran and groups such as Hezbollah and the Houthis. Iraq, which is majority Shia but which also has a substantial Sunni population, and where Iran yields considerable influence, especially among the country’s powerful Shia militias, would prefer to avoid choosing sides. It has reacted warily to overtures from Saudi Arabia and criticized US withdrawal from the JCPOA. Turkey and Qatar have also reacted increased cooperation with Tehran.
Israel and the Peace Process
Israel applauds the confrontation with Tehran, which it views as an existential threat. In fact, Israel is one of the few countries in the region that are pleased with the president’s policies. Even by the standards of previous administrations, all of which treated Israel as a close ally, Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to please Netanyahu. This is largely a product of conservative political culture, where unquestioned support for Israel is an article of faith. The 2016 Republican Party platform called such support “an expression of Americanism” and called for policies that leave “no daylight” between the two countries.
Trump and his advisers have enthusiastically embraced this directive. In addition to withdrawing from the JCPOA, which Netanyahu castigated as a “historic mistake,” Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a move long sought by the Israelis – and notified the Palestinians that their diplomatic mission in Washington will be closed. As ambassador, he sent the lawyer David Friedman, a longtime friend of the president who has been a vocal opponent of the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The administration is also canceling all funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees – another move lauded by Netanyahu – and would like to reduce dramatically the number of Palestinians that are granted refugee status. Doing so would essentially eliminate the right of return for most Palestinians, a notable concession to Israeli hawks. The administration has cut more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the West Bank and Gaza.
In spite of this one-sided approach, Trump has promised that he will resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has assembled a team led by his son in law, real estate developer Jared Kushner, and the lawyer Jason Greenblatt, a longtime Trump Organization employee. Even though Kushner and Greenblatt have released no details for the forthcoming initiative, it will be dead on arrival. According to reports, key regional players such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan have rejected fundamental components of the plan. After the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to meet Kushner and Greenblatt, let alone discuss the possibility of a settlement. Even the Israelis are unlikely to accept the type of plan – including the two-state framework and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem – that has any prospect of success.
Egypt and Turkey
Relations with two crucial allies in the region, Egypt and Turkey, have been strained in recent years, due in part to growing authoritarianism in both states. Trump’s affinity for other strongmen would seem to hold out the promise of good working relationships, but that has only been the case when it comes to Egypt.
Ever since the 1979 peace agreement with Israel, the Arab Republic has benefitted from $1.3 billion in annual military aid, largely because Washington is eager to keep relations between these key allies on a strong footing. However, in the wake of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s 2014 seizure of power, Egypt’s crackdown on dissent has been an irritant. The Obama administration briefly froze some military aid after the coup, but relented in 2015. Concerned by continued human rights violations and, more importantly, by Cairo’s facilitation of North Korean arm sales, the Trump administration also temporarily withheld some funding – almost $300 million – but released much of it in July 2018.
Initially, Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan enjoyed strong chemistry. Ankara’s illiberal turn, and tension over Turkey’s purchase of Russian arms, its attacks in Syria on Kurdish fighters – a key US ally – and Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gülen – a cleric accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt against the government – had no apparent impact on the relationship between the two men. In fact, according to reports, Trump fist-bumped the Turkish leader during the NATO meeting in Helsinki in July 2018, praising him for not allowing democratic niceties to prevent decisive action, unlike other European leaders.
While Trump did not object to Erdoğan’s authoritarianism, he drew the line when it came to safeguarding his domestic political interests. Among a group of US citizens incarcerated in Turkey, the administration has focused on Andrew Brunson. The fate of the pastor is of special interest to evangelical Christians – a crucial part of the president’s conservative base – and Vice President Mike Pence often highlights Brunson’s case. The administration expected Brunson’s release in July 2018, per an agreement between Trump and Erdoğan. When Turkey failed to act, Washington imposed sanctions on the ministers of justice and the interior and doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports. Analysts predict that Ankara will eventually retreat, but so far, Erdoğan remains defiant. 
Further Reading
  • Miller, Aaron David and Sokolsky, Richard. “What is Trump Getting for Sucking Up to Saudi Arabia?” Politico, August 29, 2018.
  • Katulis, Brian and Benaim, Daniel. “Trump’s Middle East Policy: The Good(ish), the Bad, and the Ugly.” The New Republic, January 19, 2018.
  • Lynch, Marc. “Obama and the Middle East: Rightsizing the U.S. Role.” Foreign Affairs 94, no. 5 (September/October 2015): 18 – 27.
  • Mohseni, Payam and Nakhjavani, Ammar. “The United States Cannot Afford to Pick a Side in the Shia-Sunni Fight.” The National Interest, June 25, 2018.
  • Nasr, Vali. “Iran Among the Ruins: Tehran’s Advantage in a Turbulent Middle East.” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March/April 2018): 108 – 118.
  • Singh, Michael. “Is Washington too focused on Iran’s Nuclear Program?” Foreign Affairs, May 9, 2018.
Syria, Iraq, and the Islamic State
Trump’s feud with Erdoğan comes at an inopportune moment. Turkey is an influential actor in Syria and the US military uses Incirlik Air Base for airstrikes against the Islamic State. In addition, the administration has struggled to formulate a coherent strategy regarding the Syrian civil war. In early 2018, former Secretary of State Tillerson announced a plan that entailed indefinitely committing troops to Syria in order to counter Iran and secure the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. Then, in April 2018, Trump ordered the military to begin planning for the withdrawal of troops – there are approximately 2200, mainly in eastern Syria – and urged regional allies, such as Saudi Arabia, to assume the costs of reconstructing the parts of the country that have been liberated from the Islamic State. Trump and National Security Adviser Bolton planned to rely on Russia, rather than the presence of US forces, to persuade Tehran to depart.
Recently, James Jeffrey, the State Department’s new “representative for Syria engagement,” announced another reboot. According to the former diplomat, US troops will remain as long as necessary. Trump and his advisers have decided to “find ways to achieve our goals” – which will once again focus on blunting Iran’s influence and fostering a stable government acceptable to Syrians and the international community – “that are less reliant on the goodwill of the Russians.” Washington will not insist on Assad’s departure – according to Jeffrey he has “no future” but it is not “the job” of the United States to oust him – but it has warned that there will be significant consequences if Assad uses chemical weapons again or if Syrian and Russian forces kill large numbers of civilians.
Though Trump repeatedly criticized Obama’s Syrian policy before taking office, as president, he confronts the same challenge as his predecessor – a desire to influence the course of the conflict and the post-war order, without committing large numbers of troops. Like Obama, he has adopted a similar approach, which entails focusing on defeating the Islamic State and pressing other nations to take actions that will serve US interests. He has had little success in these efforts. The continued presence of a small number of US troops will not fundamentally change the dynamic, and, when it comes to determining the nature of Syria’s post-conflict political landscape, it is likely that Washington will have less influence than Russia, Iran, or Turkey.
The United States has more influence in Iraq, but even there, in spite of a massive investment of resources over the last fifteen years, and the continued presence of US troops – 5200, according to the Pentagon – Iran enjoys a stronger position. Popular Mobilization Units – state-approved militias – played a crucial role in defeating Islamic State forces, and the administration fears that many of these units are beholden to Tehran. US officials consider Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leading figure in the movement, to be a terrorist, not least because he reportedly has close links to Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the Special Forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that operates abroad. Fatah, the political alliance that represents the militias, took second place in the May 2018 parliamentary elections.
Trump apparently supports the ascendancy of a Saudi-Israeli-UAE axis and the corresponding geopolitical consequences. However, there is no indication that this is the product of careful consideration. The administration’s lone public presentation of its vision for the region, the National Security Strategy, merely mentions vague goals such as promoting stability and a favorable balance of power, and, as other analysts have noted, it bears little relation to the president’s other foreign policy pronouncements.
Instead, his decision-making represents the confluence of a number of largely independent factors. Washington has longstanding alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and doubling down on them is easier than following the trail blazed by Obama, which entailed a complicated balancing act of seeking improved, but still tense, ties with Tehran and accepting less cordial relations with the Saudis and Israelis – an arrangement which satisfied few. It also allowed Trump to visit Riyadh and Jerusalem in triumphant style, and gave his hosts the opportunity to take advantage of the president’s well-known susceptibility to flattery.
Furthermore, siding with the Saudi-Israeli-UAE bloc pleases the president’s political base. It overturns key aspects of his predecessor’s legacy – a personal obsession that also plays well with conservatives – and prioritizes the concerns of evangelical Christians regarding Iran and Israel.
Trump’s leadership style has also played a pivotal role in shaping his Middle East policy. By nature, he governs reactively and instinctively and ignores issues he finds uninteresting. His tendency to prioritize loyalty over competence has led to the sidelining of relative moderates and empowered advisers such as Bolton, who has reinforced the president’s belligerent instincts when it comes to Iran, and steered him toward more hawkish positions on Syria.
Perhaps the biggest concern is that the president and his advisers have given little thought to the implications of their decisions. What will be the consequences of abandoning support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What will happen if the JCPOA implodes and Iran resumes its nuclear weapons program? What if US influence in Iraq continues to ebb and that of Iran grows? Will new security commitments, in the form of the Middle East Strategic Alliance and the plan to indefinitely station troops in Syria, lead to involvement in other regional conflicts? No one knows the answers to these pressing questions, least of all Trump.

India’s strategic landscape: An assessment

Dhruva Jaishankar

In trying to assess the strategic environment in which India finds itself in 2018, it may be useful to make eight broad observations.

One, the Indian economy is growing. In 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund, India surpassed France to have the world’s sixth largest gross domestic product (GDP). In the coming year, India is expected to overtake the United Kingdom to have the fifth largest GDP. Even assuming a slowdown in annual growth, India is on track to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030 or thereabouts. This is not to suggest that India’s economic future will be seamless. According to its own government’s Economic Survey, India faces daunting challenges when it comes to the quality of its human capital, including healthcare, education and employability; agricultural productivity and modernisation; and administrative reforms including law and order. Nonetheless, despite these challenges, the difference between a $1 trillion economy, which India was in 2007, a $2.5 trillion economy today and a $4.5 trillion economy by 2030-2035 will have significant strategic implications.

CENTCOM Commander: Erik Prince’s Plan For Afghanistan Isn’t Happening

By Jeff Schogol

Neither the Afghan government nor the U.S. military believes in Erik Prince’s plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan, the commander of U.S. Central Command said on Thursday.

Erik Prince, founder of the company that used to be known as “Blackwater,” has argued that 3,600 private security contractors could do a better job than U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Moreover, Prince claims that his private army could completely change the strategic situation in Afghanistan in six months.

But Army Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters on Thursday that he doesn’t buy Prince’s sales pitch. Citing Defense Secretary Mattis’ previous comments on the subject, Votel said it would not be a good strategy to turn over U.S. national interest to contractors.



Since 2015, Beijing has insisted that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the showcase project of President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, is purely an economic programme – as its name suggests.

Apparently, the new Pakistani administration of Prime Minister Imran Khan did not receive the memo. In the space of a couple of weeks, it has taken two decisions which have cast the CPEC as a bargaining chip in Pakistan’s complicated, ill-managed relationships with other key partners.

First, it has suddenly reduced the potential value of the CPEC programme to US$50 billion by 2030, down from US$62 billion. In one fell swoop, it decided to starve the western overland route from Xinjiang to the Chinese-operated Arabian Sea port of Gwadar of funding.

Afghanistan Signs Major Mining Deals Despite Legal Concerns

By Mujib Mashal

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government on Friday signed two contracts for the exploration of copper and gold deposits in the north, in a bid to move away from the country’s dependence on foreign aid by tapping its mineral wealth.

But watchdog groups say aspects of the contracts may violate the law and aggravate questionable practices that have marred the mining sector for years. Strongmen and political elites have long profited from the country’s riches, and mineral wealth could turn into another source of instability in a country mired in decades of war.

The contracts, which had been stalled for years, were signed in Washington between the Afghan ministers of finance and mining, and executives from Centar Ltd., an investment company founded by Ian Hannam, a former J.P. Morgan banker who partnered with local Afghan firms to bid for the mines.

Myanmar-International Pressure and Consequent China’s Gains:

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

Of late, the media in Myanmar is full of articles of possible Coup, failure of the Government, the international pressure on the Rohingya Issue and consequent bad relations between the Tatmadaw and the Civilian Government. The inference being made out is that if the Government does not act, the possibility of a coup cannot be ruled out! 

What is missed is that, even now the Army has the upper hand under the 2008 Constitution and can afford to wait till the situation worsens. The Army did not fail to play a 40 minute version of the events of the violence and the riots that followed the 1998 uprising that started with the students from the Yangon University. What was hidden again was the massacre that followed when thousands of innocents were killed particularly in the area around Sule Pagoda. The man who was responsible for the massacre Gen. Khin Nyuint is said to be happily running an antique shop and his book on “those days” is being quoted even now!


‘Made in China 2025’: how new technologies could help Beijing achieve its dream of becoming a semiconductor giant

The third instalment of a series on China’s hi-tech industry development master plan looks at semiconductors, and how the country’s rapid embrace of new technologies could help it close the gap with advanced makers

A year ago, Chinese government departments across the country received an order from the general office of the Communist Party to hand in a timeline detailing how soon they could replace existing computer hardware and software programmes with domestic substitutes.

As US turns up heat on China, trade war moves beyond tariffs to new battlefronts

Owen Churchill
Beijing struck back, as expected, with tariffs on US$60 billion worth of American imports, yet there has been no sign that Trump is preparing to make good on his threat, despite a passing remark on Monday that “we could go US$267 billion more”.

The lull in what has otherwise been an incendiary and fast-moving trade war suggests a directional shift in US strategy, analysts said, as the administration weighs other non-tariff options that would avoid domestic resistance ahead of pivotal midterm elections.

These include military action, including sanctions on the Chinese military and an increase in naval exercises around China’s territorial waters; economic sanctions to counter religious suppression; and a rise in anti-China rhetoric, including accusations of Chinese interference in US elections.

China ‘developing electromagnetic rocket with greater fire range’

Liu Zhen 

China is developing the world’s first electromagnetic surface-to-surface rocket that offers greater fire range and could give its military an advantage in high-altitude regions like the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau, according to state media.

Details of the rocket system – such as its precise range and deployment schedule – remain unclear. But the programme’s lead scientist Han Junli told the state-run Science and Technology Daily that “substantial progress” had been made on the rocket.

Conventional rockets rely on explosive powder for the initial push, but the new rockets will be launched using additional electromagnetic force, similar to the catapult launchers that China and the United States are developing for their next-generation aircraft carriers. The same technology is also used to develop rail guns.

Why So Many Underestimate China’s True Economic Power

China’s economy is so large – and growing so rapidly – that it’s difficult to get a true read on the size of its influence on the world stage, according to this opinion piece by David Erickson, a senior fellow and lecturer in finance at Wharton. Before he taught at Wharton, Erickson was on Wall Street for more than 25 years, working with private and public companies to raise equity strategically.

Some of the rhetoric out of Washington recently has been suggesting that the U.S. is “winning” the trade war because the U.S. stock market is near all-time highs as China’s domestic equity markets have declined significantly. While the domestic Chinese equity markets have suffered since the trade tensions started earlier this year, I think that premise underestimates the economic power of the rapidly growing number-two economy in the world and really needs a bit of context.

Is the Trade War About to Become a Currency War?


Long before he became U.S. president, Donald Trump railed against what he called China’s manipulation of its currency for economic advantage, even when that wasn’t quite true. Now, thanks to Trump’s escalating trade war, China is increasingly tempted to let its currency further slide in value—precisely what the president and the rest of his administration have warned Beijing not to do.

China so far has responded to the Trump administration’s trade war, especially tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, with tariffs of its own on U.S. goods, especially agricultural products. But China is running out of tit for tat responses, as it imports much less from the United States than it exports, leaving Beijing looking at other ways to get back at Washington such as throwing up fresh barriers to U.S. businesses and undermining U.S. foreign-policy goals.

‘Made in China 2025’: how new technologies could help Beijing achieve its dream of becoming a semiconductor giant

The third instalment of a series on China’s hi-tech industry development master plan looks at semiconductors, and how the country’s rapid embrace of new technologies could help it close the gap with advanced makers

A year ago, Chinese government departments across the country received an order from the general office of the Communist Party to hand in a timeline detailing how soon they could replace existing computer hardware and software programmes with domestic substitutes.

Under the guise of ensuring information security, the central government’s intent was to reduce use of computers, servers, semiconductor chips and software made by Western firms, as it looked to build its own core technologies, lessen its dependency on imports and become a big player on the global tech stage.

Iran Strike's Message to Region: "Borders Don't Matter"

by Seth Frantzman

Originally published under the headline "Strike Shows Middle East That Borders Don’t Matter"

On September 22, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired six ballistic missiles at areas in Syria “east of the Euphrates” in retaliation for an attack on them in Ahvaz.

The attack was a major escalation and showed Iran’s reach throughout the region. It also showed that Tehran is willing to strike wherever it pleases and knows that air defense systems in Iraq and eastern Syria will not interdict it.

On Monday, Iranian media said the IRGC’s Aerospace Force had fired missiles at terrorists it blames for the Ahvaz attack. IRGC members painted “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” and “Death to al-Saud,” (a reference to Saudi Arabia) on the missiles.

Yemen Control Map & Report - September 2018

In the three months since our previous Yemen control map report, anti-Houthi forces have continued chipping away at Houthi control near the port city of Hodeida and along the border with Saudi Arabia. This comes even as sharp divisions remain in Aden between Saudi-backed Hadi loyalists and UAE-backed southern separatists, both of whom are formally members of the coalition.

Is Anyone Actually Winning the War in Yemen?


A regular survey of experts on matters relating to Middle Eastern and North African politics and security.

Sarah Leah Whitson | Executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch

The war in Yemen drags on, but there are actually some winners. In terms of human costs, the Yemen war is a picture of unmitigated loss: millions of Yemenis facing starvation; over 17,000 killed or wounded; an infrastructure in ruins, with hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, homes, and even universities bombed; indiscriminate aerial attacks and artillery shelling of civilians, exposing commanders of warring parties to criminal liability; and Saudi Arabia’s global reputation—despite an army of public relations firms working feverishly on its behalf—in tatters.


by Matthew RJ Brodsky and Bassam Barabandi 

As the civil-war aspect of the Syrian conflict winds down, the great power struggle among states is intensifying. It appears the Trump team has discovered that its ability to help solve the former will determine how it fares in the latter.

To that end, the president’s team is fine-tuning an approach to Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, freeze the conflict elsewhere in the country, and reinvigorate the peace process according to UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

To achieve these objectives, the administration is relying on a combination of public messaging and behind-the-scenes diplomacy, but perhaps most important, they are backing it up with a forward-leaning military posture. If recent developments are an indication of future results, the U.S. may finally have a foundation it can build upon. And that’s not just bad news for Russia but for Iran as well.

How Europe and Russia Are Fighting U.S. Sanctions

by Nikolas K. Gvosdev

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini announced this past week that the EU, working in conjunction with Russia and China, would create a mechanism to allow Iran to continue trade with the other nuclear deal signatories despite the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran. As she announced on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, “In practical terms, this means that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran, and this will allow European companies to continue trade with Iran.”

Most of the reactions of the American foreign-policy community have fallen into one of two categories: derision and incredulity. Americans believe that Europe cannot hope to pull this special payments vehicle proposal off or that there is no way for that mechanism to be practical. Moreover, Americans believe Europeans will not risk their corporate and financial interests in the United States. All this may be true—but the United States needs to seriously consider the threat the EU proposal poses to America’s economic leverage.

The Trade Deficit Isn’t the Boogeyman

By John Mauldin 

I have to confess something: I run a huge trade deficit. It’s not with China or Mexico, but with Amazon. I buy all sorts of goods from them and Jeff Bezos has yet to spend a penny with me. It’s just not fair.

Sound ridiculous? That’s exactly what it is. Totally absurd. I like Amazon. I’m happy with the items the company ships to me and (I presume) Amazon is happy to receive my money. We both win.

The same kind of relationship exists between the US and China, although with a few twists we’ll discuss below. That’s not to say China is a trade policy choirboy, but the trade deficit is not the key problem. Trying to “fix” it won’t accomplish what we want and could have serious side effects.

A Tale Of Two Economies: Farmers Struggle Despite Strong U.S. Economy

At a time when the overall U.S. economy continues to boom, the U.S. agricultural sector has continued to struggle amid falling farm income and deteriorating agricultural credit conditions.

Over the past five years, U.S. economic growth has continued to strengthen. The growth in U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) has averaged 2.4 percent per quarter since 2013.

Down on the farm, though, conditions have been far from robust. From 2013 to 2017, net farm income - considered to be a broad measure of farm profitability - fell 39 percent, from $123.8 billion to $75.5 billion.

The farm economy does not always run counter to the rest of the overall economy, but unique conditions this past year - amplified in the Midwest - continue to curb agricultural growth.

A New, More Aggressive U.S. Cybersecurity Policy Complements Traditional Methods

Recent moves by the Trump administration appear to loosen previous restrictions on U.S. offensive cyber operations.

A more offensive policy will complement, not replace, the traditional U.S. methods of maintaining cybersecurity: regulation, cooperation with the private sector and the legal process.

A best-case scenario for a U.S. cyberattack would be disabling computer systems and networks being used against U.S. interests to prevent an attack from happening or to disrupt an attack that is in progress.

Perhaps the main challenge to U.S. engagement in tit-for-tat cyberattacks is that the United States is by far the biggest target for such attacks.


Threats to the international order from near-peer competitors and from rogue regimes, terrorists, and the proliferation of cyber weapons and weapons of mass destruction all challenge whether the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) will be able to fulfill its mission. It is unclear whether the IC is prepared to provide decisionmakers and warfighters with the intelligence they need and expect.

This Perspective presents five distinct discussions of changes the IC can make to meet these challenges in the areas of strategic warning; tasking, collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TCPED); security, counterintelligence, and insider threats; open-source information; and surging for crises.

Each of the five discussions in this Perspective provides analysis and recommendations that may be read, acted on, and implemented alone—but the authors believe that the IC has an opportunity to make a major leap forward by acting in a coordinated manner on all five of the topics together.

Hypersonic Weapons Could Transform Warfare. The U.S. Is Behind.

Dave Deptula

In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows the Avangard hypersonic vehicle maneuvering to bypass missile defenses en route to target. President Vladimir Putin declared Thursday that Russia has developed a range of new nuclear weapons, claiming they can't be intercepted by enemy. (RU-RTR Russian Television via AP)

Machine guns. Fighter jets. Nuclear weapons. When a new facet of military technology gains operational capability, sometimes it changes the rules of the game. Hypersonic weapons—that travel over five times the speed of sound—are difficult to detect and harder to intercept, offer that potential.

Why Pentagon Cloud-Computing Contract Is a Huge Deal

By Naomi Nix

The U.S. Defense Department is running a winner-take-all competition to choose a cloud-computing company to host its trove of information, perhaps including top national-security secrets, so that warfighters and military leaders can make data-driven decisions at "mission-speed." Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. are among those vying for the multibillion-dollar contract. The Pentagon’s intention to award such a massive project to just one bidder has raised objections, and the prospect of a foreign country spying on the U.S. through the cloud, using manipulated hardware, stirs security worries.

1. What’s the prize?

The Most Valuable Commodity in Cyberwar: Real Information

Eric Newcomer

Since revelations that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign received support from Russian hackers, there’s been a growing appreciation for the failure of social media companies to crack down on misinformation and fake news. Yesterday, we got a reminder, however, that foreign governments and partisan operatives spend a lot of time trying to vacuum up very real information.

In a hack that required not just insane technical expertise but the manipulation of obscure manufacturing supply chains, Chinese spies achieved the ultimate dystopian nightmare: planting tiny microchips smaller than a sharpened pencil tip inside server motherboards. The feat was reported in this week’s stunning Bloomberg Businessweek cover storywritten by Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley. The investigation shows that Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., along with some two-dozen other companies, were exposed to the scheme by buying servers from Super Micro Computer Inc., which were implanted with the surveillance chips at subcontractors’ factories in China. All three companies disputed the story. Supermicro’s shares fell 41 percent Thursday.

How the Pentagon can help improve supply chain cybersecurity

By: Mike Gruss 

Nary a speech from Pentagon senior leadership passes without mention of the importance of cybersecurity. But many of the details of that broad strategy fall to Thomas Michelli, the acting deputy chief information officer for cybersecurity within the Defense Department.

Michelli is responsible for coordinating cybersecurity standards, policies and procedures with federal agencies, coalition partners and industry. He spoke recently with C4ISRNET’s Mike Gruss.

C4ISRNET: Tell me about the projects you’ve been working on and how we might measure change in the next year.

THOMAS MICHELLI: The secretary really is focused on near-term, which is the coming year and making sure that the dollars that we’ve gotten and the resources, the people we’ve gotten directly, move the needle.

5G Devices Are about to Change Your Life

By David Pogue

You’re probably used to the periodic upgrades in our cell-phone networks. There was 2G, which came along in 1991, replaced with 3G in 2001, followed by 4G in 2009. Now we’re hearing about the coming of 5G.

But 5G is a much bigger leap than what’s come before. Qualcomm’s Web site, in fact, calls it “as transformative as the automobile and electricity.” (One of the world’s leading makers of phone-networking chips, Qualcomm was a key player in the development of the 5G standard—and stands to profit handsomely from its success.)

Of course, 5G is much faster than 4G—in the real world, a 5G phone in a 5G city will enjoy Internet speeds between nine and 20 times as fast. The latency of 5G (the delay before those fast data begin pouring in) is one tenth as long.