17 September 2019

The Geopolitics of Iran’s Refinery Attack

By George Friedman

A Yemeni rebel group aligned with Iran took credit for a drone attack against Saudi Arabia’s main oil refinery this weekend. The range, payload and accuracy of the attack, as well as the sophistication of the operation, suggest that the Houthis had a lot of help from their patron nation.

The Houthis are a Yemeni faction aligned with Iran. Indeed, Iran’s support runs deep. Last month, the ambassador the Houthis sent to Iran was accredited as a formal ambassador – rare for someone representing a faction outside the country’s formal government. It signaled that Iran regards the Houthis as a nation distinct from Yemen or that Iran recognizes the Houthis as the legitimate government of Yemen. Diplomacy aside, Iran is close to the Houthis, has the capability of fielding the kinds of drones used in the Saudi attack and providing targeting information, and has the motive to act in this way.

Understanding its motivation is critical. Iran is a country under tremendous pressure. It has built a sphere of influence that stretches through Iraq, parts of Syria, Lebanon and parts of Yemen. From Iran’s point of view, it has been constantly on the defensive, constrained as it is by its geography. It will never forget the 10-year war it waged against Iraq in the 1980s that cost Iran about a million casualties. It was a defining moment in Iranian history. The strategy Tehran formed in response to this moment has been to build a coalition of Shiite factions to serve as the foundation of its sphere of influence and to use those factions to shape events to its west. The struggle between Iraq and Iran goes back to the Biblical confrontation between Babylon and Persia. This is an old struggle now being played out in the context of Islamic factionalism.

In Saudi Arabia, World Oil Supplies Are in Flames

By Robin Wright

Before he was elected, President Donald Trump went on Twitter tirades against Saudi Arabia. In 2014, he was enraged that the oil-rich monarchy could not protect itself—and that America was defending the kingdom. “Have you been watching how Saudi Arabia has been taunting our VERY dumb political leaders to protect them from isis. Why aren’t they paying?” he tweeted. A few minutes later, he added, “Saudi Arabia should fight their own wars, which they won’t, or pay us an absolute fortune to protect them and their great wealth—$ trillion!” In 2015, three months before announcing his candidacy, Trump tweeted, “If Saudi Arabia, which has been making one billion dollars a day from oil, wants our help and protection, they must pay dearly! NO FREEBIES.”

Famous last tweets. During the weekend, after a massive, pre-dawn strike on Saudi’s largest oil-processing center, the President called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—the kingdom’s de-facto leader—and vowed support for “Saudi Arabia’s self-defense.” On Sunday night, he tweeted that the United States was “locked and loaded” and ready to act, even amid uncertainty, at the time, about the exact source and method of the attack. The United States was just waiting, he tweeted, to hear from the kingdom “under what terms we would proceed!”

Drone Attack on Saudi Oil Field Seen as Realizing Worst Fears

Alan Levin

(Bloomberg) -- For many of the national security teams that monitor threats on the U.S., the apparent drone strike Saturday on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil production facilities was the realization of their worst fears.

Houthi rebels battling Saudi Arabia in Yemen took responsibility for the attack and said they used drones, though U.S. officials have said Iran was behind the attack and that at least some cruise missiles may have been used.

The attack underscored fears raised by U.S. security officials and experts in terrorism about the rapid evolution of technologies that could have allowed inexpensive devices to pierce Saudi defenses in a way that a traditional air force could not: flying long distances to drop potent bombs that apparently set vast portions of the Saudi petroleum infrastructure ablaze.

“The bottom line is that we are likely to see many more of these sorts of attacks, and in particular, coordinated attacks on multiple targets are likely, possibly in tandem with a cyberattack component,” Milena Rodban, an independent risk consultant based in Washington, said in an email.

How an Aerial Barrage Cut Saudi Oil Production in Half

By Keith Johnson

Over the weekend, Saudi oil facilities were attacked by drones allegedly launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen, knocking off nearly half of Saudi oil production, spooking the Saudi stock market, and raising fears of a spike in both the price of oil and regional tensions. It’s one of the biggest attacks on global energy infrastructure in decades, but it’s still not clear if the damage will be short-lived and easily contained, or if it will weigh on the global economy for weeks to come and lead to further escalation in regional conflict.

What officially happened?

Houthi rebels in Yemen took credit for the strikes Saturday with multiple drones that damaged Saudi oil fields and Abqaiq, a key oil-processing facility in the eastern part of the country. The attack on the very heart of the global oil industry—Abqaiq processes about 7 million barrels of oil a day, or roughly 7 percent of the world’s crude output—made real what had been long considered by Saudi and Western security planners to be a nightmare scenario.

Saudi officials shut down more than 5 million barrels a day of oil-output capability, about half the kingdom’s daily production, while they put out the fires and assessed the damage; a formal report on the extent of the damage and the duration of any disruption is expected early next week, but Saudi oil officials told Reuters the outages could take weeks to repair.

Growing India-South Korea Strategic Synergy: The Defense Domain

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

In the first week of September, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh was on a five-day tour of Northeast Asia, making South Korea his second stop after Japan. During the visit, the Indian minister met his counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, with the two leaders highlighting the potential for expanding their cooperation in the defense and security sectors.

After undertaking a comprehensive review of the defense relations, the ministers signed two agreements, one to extend logistical support to each other’s navies, and a second one to deepen defense educational exchanges. The agreement on naval logistics sharing is particularly a significant one, given that India has such arrangements so far only with the United States and France. India is currently negotiating such an agreement with Japan.

While it is a clear demonstration of the deepening strategic partnership between India and South Korea, the military logistics agreement will also go a long way in enhancing India’s strategic reach in the Indo-Pacific. India’s limited naval presence in the Pacific can be addressed by the agreement as the Indian military will be in a position – to take just one example – to use the South Korean military facilities if needed.

India’s big military reform unlikely to work


While a key military reform pending for two decades was finally announced last month, its efficacy remains suspect among the country’s top generals.

On India’s 72nd Independence Day, August 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood on the ramparts of the historic Red Fort to deliver his equivalent of the state of the union address. Among the few newsworthy items in the speech was his announcement of a new top post in India’s military, the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS).

“Our forces are India’s pride,” Modi said. “To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision from the Red Fort: India will have a chief of defense staff. This is going to make the forces even more effective.”

The CDS was envisaged nearly 20 years ago as filling a “single-point military advisory role” for the government. It was meant to end the confusion among the three services during a conflict and ensure that the government could get all three to speak in a unified manner.

Taliban negotiators arrive in Moscow days after Trump declares Afghan peace talks 'dead'

By Morgan Phillips 
A Taliban negotiating team arrived in Russia on Friday, less than a week after President Trump announced that peace talks with the Islamic militant group in Afghanistan were essentially "dead."

The trip, led by Mullah Sher Mohammad Stanikzai, was the Taliban's first international visit following the collapse of talks with Washington.

The Russian state news agency Tass, citing the Taliban's Qatari-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, reported that the delegation had met with Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Afghanistan. A Taliban official confirmed the visit to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

A Taliban delegation arrives for talks in Moscow earlier this year. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Al-Qaida today, 18 years after 9/11

Bruce Riedel

Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Zawahiri built the core al-Qaida infrastructure in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1990s with the protection of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan. The group functioned as a de facto state within the Taliban Islamic Emirate. It survived the American assault on Afghanistan after 9/11 by moving its leadership and infrastructure to Pakistan where it thrived until 2009. America took its eye off the ball by invading Iraq.

From Pakistan, the al-Qaida core planned and conducted attacks like the Madrid train bombing in 2004, a wave of attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia in 2003-06, and the civil war in Iraq led by Abu Musaib al Zarqawi, bin Laden’s lieutenant. The results were a wave of violence across the world.

In 2009, President Barack Obama’s so-called AfPak strategy gave top priority to the defeat of the al-Qaida core in Pakistan. A relentless campaign, primarily using drones and highlighted by the 2011 commando raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, gradually wore down the core by 2015.

In September 2014, Zawahiri planned his last major international terror plot: to hijack the Pakistani Navy frigate Zulfiqar and use it to sink a U.S. Navy ship in the Indian Ocean, provoking war between the United States and Pakistan. The plot was foiled only at the last moment. It was probably al-Qaida’s most audacious conspiracy ever. It could have changed the world even more than 9/11.

Taliban wanted a deal with the US, but negotiators, leadership at odds even before Camp David meeting called off

By: Kathy Gannon

ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders agreed they wanted a deal with the United States, but some were in more of a hurry than others.

Taliban negotiators were at odds with their Council of Leaders, or shura, about whether to travel to Camp David even before President Donald Trump abruptly canceled the high-stakes meeting planned for last weekend.

According to Taliban officials familiar with the discussions, the shura opposed the trip to Camp David and chastised the negotiators who were eager to attend.

The Taliban have been holding talks with the U.S. for over a year in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the militant Islamic movement maintains a political office under the banner of The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Stakes in Afghanistan Demand Transparency

By Bradley Bowman, Bill Roggio
Source Link

On Monday, President Trump declared talks with the Taliban “dead” following his tweets over the weekend. As Americans mark the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the suspension of talks with the Taliban offers a brief window of opportunity to step back, survey what has transpired, and plot a better path forward. Moving forward, the first principle for negotiations should be that America’s national security interests, as well as the deplorable track record of the Taliban, require the administration to fully disclose to the American people any future agreement with the Taliban before it is implemented.

To be fair, any administration deserves the right to negotiate an agreement in private. It is difficult to reach agreement if every stage of negotiations is subject to public scrutiny. However, once the agreement is reached, and before such a momentous policy is implemented, public disclosure is appropriate.

Unfortunately, initial indications suggested that the Trump administration was not inclined to release the agreement. According to one report, the administration did not even allow the Afghan president to keep the text of the agreement after it was shown to him. One hopes such reporting is not accurate. The courageous and long-suffering Afghan people have endured too much to be treated in such a manner regarding a decision so central to their own security. The American people also deserve better.

The True Power of the Afghan Drug Trade

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It is hard to be optimistic about the ongoing U.S. led peace talks with the Taliban. After nearly 18 years of conflict, the Taliban and its terrorist affiliations have proved to be impressively resilient adversaries. 

Despite significant growth in the capacity of the Afghan Government and its security forces, the Taliban still controls more territory than at any point since 2001. If Afghanistan is to ever prevail against this threat, it is imperative to understand what has enabled the Taliban to not only survive, but flourish against formidable counterinsurgency efforts. One likely source of strength is the drug trade.

The source of nearly 90% of the world’s supply of heroin, Afghanistan’s drug trade is as unique as it is vast. There are few modern examples of narco-states where drugs have become so intertwined in the political, economic and social structures of the nation. 

The Taliban’s links to this trade are undeniable. Despite an inconsistent approach to narcotics when the Taliban held power in Afghanistan, the group has always managed to profit from its cultivation in one form or another. As a conflict crop, the value of this commodity was born out of the Soviet-Afghan war where the Mujahideen taxed local farmers to fund their insurgency. 

In Afghan peace derailment, a wagon of hope

Gautam Mukhopadhaya

In a characteristically mercurial tweet on September 9 morning (Indian Standard Time), U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off ‘peace’ talks with the Taliban — led directly by the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad — citing the killing of an American soldier just days before in a suicide bomb attack for which the Taliban claimed credit. He also revealed that he had secretly invited the Taliban and the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, separately to Camp David over the weekend to clinch a deal personally. The agreement had been in the making over nine rounds of talks, largely in Doha, Qatar, of which the Afghan government was not a part on account of a Taliban veto that the U.S. implicitly accepted, ostensibly to bring peace to Afghanistan.

The tweet capped a turbulent week during which Mr. Khalilzad briefed Mr. Ghani and the Chief Executive Officer of the National Unity Government of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah on the interim agreement over several rounds of talks. They were shown but not given a copy of this. The salient details of the agreement were revealed on a private television channel on the evening of September 2. They centered primarily on an initial timetable for the withdrawal of around 5,400 out of nearly 14,000 U.S. troops from five Afghan bases in 135 days. Also included was a tight timeline of two weeks to kick-start intra-Afghan talks before the Afghan presidential elections scheduled on September 28.

Three Countries That Win From Trade War

Since President Trump fired the opening salvo with new tariffs in January 2018, the trade dispute between the U.S. and China has escalated into a trade war. The two sides are slapping more and more tariffs on each other. After many twists and turns, there’s still no resolution in sight.

The uncertainty and the threat of trade tensions getting even worse have certainly impacted markets lately.

Please share this article - Go to very top of page, right hand side, for social media buttons.

Volatility Rising

Since September 2015, the S&P 500 has fallen 2.5% or worse in a single day 14 times. Eleven of those declines have occurred since the initial January 2018 tariff announcement, including three in the last six weeks. Often the fall has occurred because of deterioration in trade talks.

As an investor, should you sell everything and head for the hills?

As scary as the stock market can be sometimes, it’s important to remember that over time, the market goes up.

Why China's Military Wants to Control These 2 Waterways in East Asia

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait constitute critical chokepoints for Chinese military operations both along and beyond the so-called first island chain.

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the past four years has been stepping up the operational tempo of military exercises around two strategically pivotal waterways—the Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait—that guard the exit from or entry into the China Seas. The two waterways mark the rim of a chain of major archipelagos enclosing the East Asian coastline, beginning with the Kuril Islands off the coast of northern Japan all the way south to the Philippines and Borneo in the extreme southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean.

The Bashi Channel, connecting the South China Sea with the western Pacific Ocean, runs between the Philippines’ northern island of Luzon and the Taiwanese island of Orchid. The Miyako Strait runs between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa and provides a small passageway with international waters and airspace through Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Both waterways constitute principal entryway for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) into the Pacific Ocean.

The past couple of month saw an array of PLA activities in, over, and near the two channels. In June, the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) had to scramble fighter jets to intercept a People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) Shaanxi Y-9JB (GX-8) electronic warfare and surveillance plane in the East China Sea crossing the Miyako Strait.

China Will Rein in Hong Kong Through Its Economy

by Robert Keatley
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In brief, the sometimes-violent troubles in Hong Kong persist and—despite a surprising and long overdue official attempt to calm things down—there is no end in sight to mass demonstrations against the policies of both the local government and the national regime in Beijing. Instead, protesters continue to demand that the Hong Kong administration, headed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, drop charges against some 1,100 arrested demonstrators, stop calling them rioters, hold an independent investigation into alleged police brutality and initiate political reforms leading to election of Lam’s successor and all local legislators by universal suffrage.

It’s possible that some of these eventually will be granted, but nothing is certain.

The basic reason is simple; agreeing to them is beyond the power of Lam and her beleaguered administration. Her government can only offer terms authorized by Chinese president and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, and he has shown no interest in compromising with any form of political dissent anywhere in China. Preserving, let alone strengthening, the civic and political rights demanded by Hong Kong demonstrators would violate his vision of the nation’s national interests—what he calls “the China Dream.”

Are The U.S. And China Headed For A Cold War?


Chinese military delegates arrive for the National People's Congress in Beijing last March. The growing friction between the U.S. and China, combined with the rapid rise of China's economy and its military, has stirred a debate about whether the U.S. and China are headed toward a Cold War.Ng Han Guan/AP

Nearly three decades after the Cold War ended between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, a new debate is stirring: Is the U.S. heading into a new Cold War, this time with China?

"The Chinese military has undergone a substantial program of modernization to the point now where they are a near-peer military in a number of military domains," Neil Wiley, the director of analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an interview with NPR.

Wiley has a top-floor office in Washington, D.C., that's suited for deep reflection on big questions. He looks out over the Potomac River, at the planes coming and going at Reagan National Airport, and toward the top brass over at the Pentagon.

Report: The Defense Intelligence Agency Has Found China Is Even More Ready to Invade Taiwan

by Michael Peck
Source Link

China has improved its capabilities to invade Taiwan, according to U.S. intelligence.

And while Taiwan is also boosting its military capacity, it’s not enough to compensate for growing Chinese strength, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) 2019 report to Congress on Chinese military power.

“The PLA continues to prepare for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait to deter, and if necessary, compel Taiwan to abandon moves toward independence,” DIA warned. “The PLA also is likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the mainland by force, while simultaneously deterring, delaying, or denying any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.”

The Chinese army is reorganizing into more powerful and flexible combined arms brigades, as well as creating air assault brigades and expanded helicopter forces. The Chinese air force’s airborne troops have practiced long-range assaults and raids.

Maximum Pressure on Iran Has Failed

by Paul R. Pillar

What neither the Trump administration nor pressure advocates are prepared to acknowledge is that the way out of the current U.S.-Iranian impasse is return to compliance with the JCPOA or something very much like it.

It is a sure sign that the Trump administration’s campaign to squeeze Iran into submission is a failure when those who customarily favor pressuring Iran acknowledge that failure. Take what has become the administration’s go-to rationale for the campaign in the face of other evidence that it is not working: the claim that U.S. sanctions have undercut Iran’s “malign” activity in the Middle East by reducing the funds available for such activity. In a recent op-ed, Dennis Ross and Dana Stroul of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy debunk this notion by describing how and why a financial pinch on Iran does not translate into retrenchment in Iranian regional activity. 

In Syria, for example, Iranian-backed militias “may be suffering from salary cuts, but less take-home pay has not led to a reduction in violence.” The same pattern of reduced cash not leading to reduced armed activity is seen with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. And although the administration has tried to highlight reductions in Iran’s military budget, assertive Iranian activity in the Persian Gulf such as sabotage or the seizure of foreign tankers has gone up, not down, since the start of the administration’s pressure campaign. In short, Ross and Stroul accurately observe, Iran does what it does in the region “on the cheap.” Its regional activity is not determined by the balance in its bank account.

Israel's Power Paradox

by Eyal Tsir Cohen Eliora Katz
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Amid the rat-tat-tat hum of matkot, Israeli paddle ball, two men pause their flailing rackets to ask Netanyahu what he is doing seaside. “Like always,” he answers, “guarding you.” “At sea, air, on dry land. In every place that’s needed.” Intercepting a whirling ball, he adds, “we must be prepared for every scenario . . . only you decide who will keep you safe.”

At the end of the spot, Netanyahu looks at the camera and says, “In the stormy seas of the Middle East, we have proven that we protect Israel as an island of stability and safety.” 

With a masterful metaphor, Netanyahu reveals his keen ability to tap into the cardinal concern of Israeli voters: security. The advertisement’s message is simple: Netanyahu has kept Israel secure, and, needing to be prepared for “every scenario,” the country does not have the luxury of betting on another candidate.

Iran May Be Weak, But Its Strategy Is Working

By Reva Goujon
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Iran's brazenness this summer is paying off: Washington continues to face a massive dilemma in trying to deter Tehran in the Persian Gulf, Iran has exposed U.S. President Donald Trump's extreme reticence toward war and France has offered the Islamic republic financial incentives in return for de-escalating tensions. The removal of national security adviser John Bolton — a hawk on Iran — from Trump's war Cabinet could provide more space for diplomacy, but unless Trump accedes to Iran's demand for some sanctions relief, there is little chance that the two countries will reach a breakthrough at this month's U.N. General Assembly in New York. With political pressures to rise in both Tehran and the White House heading into 2020 and Iran now more confident that Trump is intent on avoiding war, there is still potential for Tehran to resurrect its military threat in the Persian Gulf to break another stalemate.

Over the past three months, the U.S.-Iran conflict has gone from Washington's campaign of "maximum pressure" against Tehran to Iranian provocations that called the White House's bluff (and brought the region to the brink of war in the process) to a French-tailored diplomatic opening. Bloodied but unbowed, Tehran has endured Washington's sanctions, demonstrating to U.S. President Donald Trump that it has no intention of entertaining any of the United States' demands until it receives sanctions relief. The question now is whether, amid the glimmer of possible negotiations, the White House actually relents on sanctions or chooses to double down on its maximum pressure campaign to force through what it wants. That, however, is only likely to return the two foes to a stalemate — and lead the Islamic republic to kick off a new cycle of tensions in the hopes of finding succor for its ailing economy.

The Big Picture

New Cyber Warning: ISIS Or Al-Qaeda Could Attack Using ‘Dirty Bomb’

Zak Doffman

The most serious cyber warfare threats facing the West come from China and Russia, that much is undebatable, with Iran and North Korea a step or two behind. Those CRINK nation states occupy most of the strategic mindshare within the defense and intelligence agencies charged with keeping us safe. But now Lt.-Gen Vincent Stewart, former deputy chief of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, has warned that we need to urgently broaden our thinking.

Much of the cyber threat focused on military, critical infrastructure and commercial targets in the West is developed by so-called Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups allied with and funded by nation state agencies, but not embedded within them. We have seen these often arms-length entities double-hat their activities, conducting likely state-mandated operations while freelancing for personal gain as well.

Will a Re-Elected Donald Trump Withdraw the U.S. Military from South Korea?

by Robert E. Kelly

Would he really do it? And would Moon actually welcome it? 

It is now pretty widely accepted that the United States and South Korea are drifting apart on the central security issues of Northeast Asia. Much of this is motivated by the unique leadership configuration of the two countries – an unconventional U.S. president prone to see U.S. allies as free-riders, coupled with a South Korean president deeply ambivalent about the U.S. role in South Korea.

Their varying initiatives - sometimes coincidentally aligned, other times at cross-purposes – are pushing toward a reckoning.

I keep hearing at conferences in East Asia, that the big break may occur if U.S. President Donald Trump is re-elected. He may then feel free to go where he seems to wish to go: a U.S. retrenchment from South Korea. And South Korean President Moon Jae-In, unable to gather much alliance enthusiasm among his own leftist electoral coalition, may offer little resistance. The U.S. structure in South Korea may end more with a whimper than a bang.

How did the Syrian Civil War Become a Proxy War?

by Olivia Giles

And will it ever end?

If we were to compare Syria’s condition ten years ago to its current state, one would be shocked at the stark contrast. The idea of how once-bustling souks and ornate mosques became just piles of grey rubble is difficult to comprehend. Civil wars like the one in Syria between the Assad regime and Sunni rebels are destructive, but the intensity of this conflict is unparalleled in the contemporary period, save for the disaster in Yemen.

This is by far the worst war in modern Syrian history with over 550,000 people believed to be dead and twelve million people displaced.

What made this war into the monstrosity that it is today was Syria’s foreign policy, including its relationship with Hezbollah and its animosity for the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to these factors, the participation of foreign actors was another central issue that allowed for the civil war to develop into today’s highly destructive proxy war. The main international players in the proxy war are Saudi Arabia, who is supporting the Sunni rebels, and Russia and Iran, who are allying with the Assad regime. The United States, Turkey, and Qatar also have varying degrees of involvement in the conflict.

Trump Must Not Give Israel a Blank Check in the Middle East

by Dalia Dassa Kaye

Israel has a right to defend itself, but not at the expense of regional stability and American interests.

Israel’s military campaign against Iranian-aligned forces in Syria, Lebanon, and reportedly Iraq might seem like an appealing way to subcontract parts of the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against Iran, but it may be time to ask whether these attacks are serving the interests of the United States—especially in Iraq.

There is little debate among external powers about Israeli attacks in Syria, where Israel is one of many actors vying to protect or promote their interests in the war-torn country. For Israel, Iran’s growing presence in Syria—which, like Russia’s presence, bolsters the Assad regime—has been the primary focus of its concern. Israel is less worried about Assad’s fate than about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and Hezbollah moving weaponry and producing missiles that could threaten its borders, potentially creating a second front beyond Hezbollah’s well-established position in Lebanon. 

U.S. Tariff Wars Penalize Chinese Development And African Futures

Dan Steinbock

In the coming months, some of the worst collateral damage of US tariff wars will occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The adverse impact is likely to be aggravated by US protectionism, which shuns economic integration in Africa.

The New US Strategy to Remove Maduro in Venezuela

By Allison Fedirka
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After months of little progress, it seems the United States may be getting closer to removing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from office. Until relatively recently, Washington had been pushing to unseat Maduro by throwing its support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido, hoping that he could inspire an uprising that could overthrow the president. So far, that strategy hasn’t worked. So Washington has come up with a new plan: negotiate a transition directly with the Maduro government. It’s been able to do this only because the sanctions imposed on Venezuela have weakened the government enough to force it to the negotiating table. Maduro’s departure now seems to be a question of when, not if.

How We Got Here

Removing Maduro from office has proved to be more difficult than Washington initially anticipated. Its initial strategy was to get the international community to support the Venezuelan opposition and recognize Guaido as the country’s interim leader, thereby delegitimizing Maduro. But to be successful, the strategy required two things. First, the opposition needed to get the military on its side. But despite its best efforts, the military has remained loyal to the government, as its members are dependent on benefits allotted through Venezuela’s patronage system. Second, the opposition needed to sustain a high level of support for public protests and anti-government demonstrations. It managed to achieve this for a while, but eventually, many Venezuelans decided to either flee the country or focus on their own survival rather than spend their time at rallies. Both of these requirements posed a high risk for participants, and the opposition ultimately didn’t inspire enough confidence to convince enough people that assuming this risk was worth it.

How Bolton's Removal as U.S. National Security Adviser Will Shape U.S. Foreign Policy

John Bolton's departure as national security adviser may open the door wider to diplomacy in the Trump administration's handling of Iran, but only if the White House relents and allows some sanctions easing. With Bolton out of the picture, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may face fewer obstacles in trying to get negotiations back on track to secure an Afghan peace deal.
Even without Bolton's hard-line opposition to legacy arms control frameworks, negotiations for New START may still be in trouble. Bolton was already largely sidelined on White House policy on North Korea, but his removal will send an important signal to Pyongyang that the White House may be more willing to compromise.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Sept. 10 that he had informed national security adviser John Bolton that his services were no longer needed. Trump added, "I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation." Bolton's removal raises questions about several foreign policy issues marked by either policy inconsistencies or disagreements among Trump administration officials. The decision to dismiss Bolton comes as Trump is struggling to remove political distractions, avoid military confrontation and demonstrate some foreign policy wins as he heads into the 2020 U.S. presidential race.

North Korea’s Sanctions-Busting Gets More Sophisticated—and More Lucrative

Neil Bhatiya 
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As a United Nations report revealed earlier this month, North Korea continues to dodge international sanctions and raise money for its nuclear weapons program, despite attempts to bar it from the global financial system. The report from the panel of experts charged by the U.N. Security Council with overseeing enforcement of U.N. sanctions on North Korea conclusively shows how Pyongyang capitalizes on an old method of sanctions-busting—smuggling—and a much newer one: hacking. In both cases, its tactics are getting more innovative.

When it comes to smuggling, North Korea’s use of ship-to-ship transfers continues to circumvent sanctions “unabated,” including through previously unreported methods. North Korea has been so successful in importing refined petroleum that the U.N. report said there are no current shortages of gasoline or diesel fuel within the country. Meanwhile, Pyongyang has used increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks “to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges,” the report warned, allowing it “to evade financial sanctions and generate income in ways that are harder to trace.” In both cases, North Korea relies on jurisdictions that lack either the will or the ability to stop it.

Bolton Was Trump’s Best Match, Until He Wasn’t

By Ivo H. Daalder and I. M. Destler 

In less than three years, U.S. President Donald Trump has had three wildly different national security advisers: a campaign aide with a checkered past, a respected general, and an ideologue with strong views apparently consonant with his own. All ultimately failed. John Bolton’s firing is just the latest and most dramatic episode in Trump’s national security travails. Though the outgoing adviser drove tough policies on Iran and other issues, his peremptory, no-compromise style proved, over time, unacceptable to the president, who “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.” His firing underscores the difficulty in filling this particular role, whether with an honest broker or a straightforward adviser, for a president who disdains process and tends to follow his “gut.”

The job of national security adviser is a presidential creation, neither established in legislation nor requiring Senate confirmation. Ideally, the adviser connects the president to other senior officials, assures that he hears all relevant viewpoints, and sees that his policy decisions are translated into action. In practice, the ability of advisers to function effectively depends less on the process they establish than on the proclivities and preferences of the president they serve.

Globalization’s Wrong Turn And How It Hurt America

By Dani Rodrik 

Globalization is in trouble. A populist backlash, personified by U.S. President Donald Trump, is in full swing. A simmering trade war between China and the United States could easily boil over. Countries across Europe are shutting their borders to immigrants. Even globalization’s biggest boosters now concede that it has produced lopsided benefits and that something will have to change.

Today’s woes have their roots in the 1990s, when policymakers set the world on its current, hyperglobalist path, requiring domestic economies to be put in the service of the world economy instead of the other way around. In trade, the transformation was signaled by the creation of the World Trade Organization, in 1995. The WTO not only made it harder for countries to shield themselves from international competition but also reached into policy areas that international trade rules had not previously touched: agriculture, services, intellectual property, industrial policy, and health and sanitary regulations. Even more ambitious regional trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, took off around the same time.

South Africa’s Xenophobic Turn Against Other Africans Is a National Failure

Howard W. French 

When I landed in Johannesburg early last week, the newspapers that greeted me all carried alarming, front-page spreads about a fresh spree of violence against foreigners in South Africa’s biggest cities. There were shocking photos of foreign-owned shops that had been looted, and accounts of how non-South Africans were accosted and beaten. To capture it all, the bold headline of one tabloid simply screamed, “Anarchy.”

News like this, of course, can never be welcome, but the timing of this wave of xenophobic violence seemed particularly awful for a country that is badly struggling both economically and politically. This was all happening just as two major global gatherings were kicking off in South Africa: the World Economic Forum and an inaugural festival of ideas called Africa in the World. ...

Making time management the organization’s priority

By Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet

When a critical strategic initiative at a major multinational stalled recently, company leaders targeted a talented, up-and-coming executive to take over the project. There was just one problem: she was already working 18-hour days, five days a week. When the leaders put this to the CEO, he matter-of-factly remarked that by his count she still had “30 more hours Monday to Friday, plus 48 more on the weekend.”

Extreme as this case may seem, the perennial time-scarcity problem that underlies it has become more acute in recent years. The impact of always-on communications, the growing complexity of global organizations,1 and the pressures imposed by profound economic uncertainty have all added to a feeling among executives that there are simply not enough hours in the day to get things done.

Our research and experience suggest that leaders who are serious about addressing this challenge must stop thinking about time management as primarily an individual problem and start addressing it institutionally. Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control; it has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.

Data has paralleled oil in becoming an intensely political national security issue


If oil was the black gold of the 20th century, data has taken over that mantle in the 21st. And just like oil in the last century, data is becoming intensely political. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “whoever acquires and controls” data will attain “hegemony.” How did Information come to run our world? The analogy with the geopolitics of oil is suggestive. 

Oil as an industry began in the mid-19th century when kerosene became a cheap fuel to light homes, and gasoline to run cars. It flourished once Ford produced affordable cars. But it was the worldwide war that established oil as the key determining factor in global politics.

Data followed a parallel path. It began as a by-product of the internet. Yet, the invention of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep machine learning turned data into the key factor for innovation.

Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks opened the window on what data could be accessed. That drove Europe to try to close those opportunities, but also had the second-order effect of demonstrating to many nations how far behind they were in getting access to data with national security implications.