10 January 2020

The American Threat to America in the Gulf

By Anthony H. Cordesman

For all the warnings about Iranian retaliation and revenge, the real threat to American interests in the Gulf may well be America itself. Unless Iran grossly overreacts to the killing of Soleimani, the U.S. may either have to withdraw from Iraq and see it become part of Iran’s sphere of influence, or see it become even more divided as a country and see most of Iraq be dominated by Iran. If this happens, and if the U.S. ceases to be the main source of military assistance to Iraq’s regular military forces, the U.S. will lose its last real source of influence over Iraq and its most important current strategic objective in the Gulf.

The last week has seen the United States do an amazing job of undermining its interests in Iraq and in the region. First, the U.S. failed to pay any serious attention to Iraqi concerns over its sovereignty in launching attacks on the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and in killing Soleimani. It seems to have made its decisions in Washington without any serious examination of how its actions would affect Iraqi politics at a time when Iraq is even more divided than usual and has no real government beyond a weak caretaker regime.

Second, even before killing Soleimani, the U.S. reacted to the demonstrations and attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by reducing its remaining personnel to a dysfunctional level and advising all other American civilians to leave the country – potentially crippling key petroleum and other economic development activities at a time when the Iraq economy is in near collapse.

The Hambantota Port Deal: Myths and Realities

By Umesh Moramudali

In an interesting turn of events, newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has raised concerns about the Hambantota port lease agreement with China, signed in 2017 by the previous government. During his very first interview as the newly elected president, Rajapaksa said that he will revisit the Hambantota port lease agreement and renegotiate it.

However, during a meeting with foreign correspondents based on Colombo, Rajapaksa clarified that his government is not hoping to amend the commercial terms of the agreement and is only looking at potential changes regarding the security of the port.

The Chinese government soon welcomed the statement from the Sri Lankan president. Issuing a statement, the Chinese embassy stressed that they respect the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and that the security of the port is in the hands of the Sri Lankan government and navy.

Iran and the United States: What Comes Next

George Friedman

In order to understand the current confrontation between Iran and the United States, we might begin with the Persian-Babylonian wars. Alternatively, we could begin with the decision of the United States to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq after the election of Barack Obama. Efficiency demands the latter.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was carried out without opposition from Iran and indeed with covert support. Iraq and Iran had fought a brutal war during the 1980s, resulting in about 1 million casualties and costing a combined $5 billion. Not long after, Iraq would overestimate its position by invading Kuwait, leading to the first Gulf War. To Iran, the control of Iraq by Sunnis – a minority population and a sectarian rival no less – was an existential threat. Tehran was therefore delighted to see Saddam Hussein fall, since his absence would create an opportunity for it to dominate whatever government came next.

The war went differently. The U.S. blocked Shiite ambitions, fought the Sunnis and wound up in a crossfire between the two. Obama came into office committed to making it stop, planning to withdraw most but not all U.S. troops and to build an Iraqi army consisting of both Sunnis and Shiites that was friendly to the United States. (Iran, naturally, opposed the prospect.) But then came the Islamic State, which forced Washington to maintain troops in Iraq and caused Iran to intervene so as not to let a Sunni power take hold in Baghdad. The U.S. and Iran often cooperated with each other in the ensuing fight.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was founded as an ideological custodian of Iran’s 1979 revolution. Charged with defending the Islamic Republic against internal and external threats, the corps has gained an outsized role in executing Iran’s foreign policy and wields control over vast segments of the economy. The IRGC’s ties to nonstate armed groups in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, help Iran compensate for its relatively weak conventional military forces. Answering directly to the supreme leader, the corps is also influential in domestic politics, and many senior officials have passed through its ranks.

In April 2019, U.S. President Donald J. Trump designated the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization, saying that it “participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.” It was the first such designation of a state security agency, but the IRGC had already been heavily sanctioned.

Guardians of the Revolution

Making of a martyr: how Qassem Suleimani was hunted down

Peter Beaumont

For Qassem Suleimani, the 62-year-old head of Iran’s Quds Force, and one of the most powerful men in the Middle East, the short flight from Damascus to Baghdad late on Thursday was routine. Travelling by private charter, the architect of Tehran’s strategic efforts from Lebanon through Syria and Iraq to Yemen would have avoided all formalities at one of the world’s most securely guarded airports.

As his plane touched down just after midnight on Friday morning after reportedly disappearing from commercial flight trackers shortly before landing, two cars were waiting to greet the burly general at the aircraft steps.

On the tarmac was a familiar face, Suleimani’s long-time associate Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi leader of the Iranian-backed Shia militia Kata’ib Hezbollah, whose supporters had laid siege to the US embassy in Baghdad for two days last week in retaliation for US airstrikes that killed 25 militia fighters on 29 December.

Muhandis and Suleimani had urgent matters to discuss – not least their joint desire to pile pressure on the US. Despite Muhandis ordering his militia away from the American embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, they had been targeted by the Americans in response to a series of attacks on bases where US troops were present.

Petraeus Says Trump May Have Helped ‘Reestablish Deterrence’ by Killing Suleimani

by Lara Seligman 
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After months of a muted U.S. response to Tehran’s repeated lashing out—the downing of a U.S. military drone, a devastating attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, and more—Suleimani’s killing was designed to send a pointed message to the regime that the United States will not tolerate continued provocation, he said.

Petraeus spoke to Foreign Policy on Friday about the implications of an action he called “more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Foreign Policy: What impact will the killing of Gen. Suleimani have on regional tensions?

David Petraeus: It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. It is more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the death of [Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi. Suleimani was the architect and operational commander of the Iranian effort to solidify control of the so-called Shia crescent, stretching from Iran to Iraq through Syria into southern Lebanon. He is responsible for providing explosives, projectiles, and arms and other munitions that killed well over 600 American soldiers and many more of our coalition and Iraqi partners just in Iraq, as well as in many other countries such as Syria. So his death is of enormous significance.

Soleimani’s legacy: The gruesome, advanced IEDs that haunted U.S. troops in Iraq

By Alex Horton
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Brian Castner combed over the armored vehicle, mostly intact aside from entry and exit holes rimmed with molten copper that had since cooled.

The U.S. soldiers who had been inside were medevaced near Kirkuk that summer in 2006, leaving the Air Force bomb technician alone with the vehicle. Pools of blood simmered under the Iraqi sun, near what one soldier left behind.

“There was still one foot left in the Humvee,” Castner said.

The targeted U.S. killing early Friday of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, has heightened tensions between Iran and the United States.

But it also refocused attention on Soleimani’s legacy in Iraq, where sophisticated weapons and tactics he oversaw menaced U.S. troops for years, leaving a trail of dead and wounded service members.

The vehicle that Castner inspected was eviscerated by an explosively formed penetrator (EFP), a weapon of Iranian engineering that was salted across battlefields wherever Iranian-backed Shiite militias and fighters gathered, such as Kirkuk and Baghdad’s Sadr City, he told The Washington Post on Friday.

What Does Suleimani’s Death Change?


TEL AVIV – We no longer live in an era in which wars are officially declared. The US drone strike that killed Qassem Suleimani, the charismatic commander of Iran’s Quds Force, is but one landmark event in a multiyear, multi-front war between the US and its allies and Iran and its many proxies.

Following its targeted killing of Iran's second most powerful leader, the US could well find itself with no alternative but to devote more military resources to the Middle East, a path that could lead to additional Iranian provocations. And that shift would occur at a time of growing challenges to US interests elsewhere in the world.33Add to Bookmarks

Over the course of this undeclared war, the parties have used tactics ranging from targeted killings and cyber attacks to economic sanctions and destruction of infrastructure. In February 2008, a joint Israeli-American operation killed Imad Mughniyeh, the chief of staff and second in command of Hezbollah, Iran’s formidable proxy in Lebanon. (Suleimani was actually standing beside Mughniyeh at the time.) Later, Israel allegedly assassinated four Iranian nuclear scientists, and then targeted Iran’s nuclear facilities with a malicious computer virus (most likely through a joint operation with the US).

The Suleimani Assassination and US Strategic Incoherence


NEW YORK – The United States emerged from the Cold War some three decades ago possessing a historically unprecedented degree of absolute and relative power. What is baffling, and what will surely leave future historians scratching their heads, is why a series of US presidents decided to devote so much of this power to the Middle East and, indeed, squander so much of America’s might on the region.

Following its targeted killing of Iran's second most powerful leader, the US could well find itself with no alternative but to devote more military resources to the Middle East, a path that could lead to additional Iranian provocations. And that shift would occur at a time of growing challenges to US interests elsewhere in the world.33Add to Bookmarks

This pattern can be traced back to George W. Bush’s war of choice against Iraq in 2003. The US did not need to go to war there at that moment; other options for containing Saddam Hussein were available and to a large extent already in place. But in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush decided that he must act, whether to prevent Saddam’s development and use of weapons of mass destruction, to signal that America was no helpless giant, to trigger a region-wide democratic transformation, or some combination of the above.

How Tehran Rolled Donald Trump In Iraq

by Dov S. Zakheim
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On December 29, 2019, in retaliation for a rocket attack two days earlier by the Tehran-backed Kataib Hezbollah (KH) militia on the K-1 military base near Kirkuk that killed an American contractor, Air Force F-15E fighters struck three of the militia’s bases in Iraq and two more in Syria. The attacks left about twenty-five militiamen dead and more than fifty wounded. The targets were KH storage facilities and command posts; Washington asserted that the command posts had masterminded a series of eleven rocket attacks that had culminated with the December 27 KH strike on the K-1 base.

Tehran did not waste much time responding to the American strike. One day later, led by its Iraqi puppets—notably Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al Fayyad, and Hadi al Ameri, leader of the Shia Badr organization—rioters charged the American embassy compound, used makeshift battering rams to break down its outer doors and ransacked the facility’s entrance lobby. 

Petraeus Says Trump May Have Helped ‘Reestablish Deterrence’ by Killing Suleimani

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As a former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and a former CIA director, retired Gen. David Petraeus is keenly familiar with Qassem Suleimani, the powerful chief of Iran’s Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad Friday morning.

After months of a muted U.S. response to Tehran’s repeated lashing out—the downing of a U.S. military drone, a devastating attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, and more—Suleimani’s killing was designed to send a pointed message to the regime that the United States will not tolerate continued provocation, he said.

Petraeus spoke to Foreign Policy on Friday about the implications of an action he called “more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Foreign Policy: What impact will the killing of Gen. Suleimani have on regional tensions?

Donald Trump's Iran Policy Comes Down to One Word: Chaos

by Doug Bandow 
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President Trump’s policy toward Iran continues to bear ill fruit. When he entered the Oval Office, Tehran’s nuclear program was limited by a tight inspections and safeguard system. The Islamic regime faced internal tensions as the young, especially, hoped for greater economic opportunities in the West. With Iran’s nuclear ambitions tamed, the U.S. and allied states could follow up with a challenge to Tehran to moderate its regional behavior in return for additional, appropriate concessions. Now all of that is gone. 

Imagine a neutral Germany carefully balanced between dueling America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and celebrated war hero arrived in Berlin, where he was met by the head of a local pro-U.S. militia. Meetings also were planned with German leaders. As his vehicle left the airport Soviet planes struck the chairman’s party, killing him and his host.

As stunned U.S. officials processed the news, Moscow announced that the action was meant for self-defense and to deescalate the situation. America’s president then called a press conference, telling reporters: “I guess that makes it okay. No hard feelings. Let’s have those negotiations on U.S. disarmament that the Soviets proposed.” The lion laid down with the lamb as Americans and Soviets held mass rallies holding hands while singing Kumbaya.

Did Donald Trump Just Start a War with Iran?

by Ted Galen Carpenter
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The U.S. drone strike that killed Major General Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top military leaders, is an extremely provocative incident. It triggered immediate vows of retaliation from Tehran, and there is every reason to assume that the clerical government intends to fulfill those vows. Soleimani was the commander of the Quds Force, which coordinates military and intelligence operations with Iran’s allies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and other countries, making him an especially crucial figure in the Middle East’s bruising geopolitical struggles.

Washington’s strike is the latest move in a dangerous tit-for-tat escalation over the past week that began with an assault by a pro-Iranian Iraqi militia that killed a U.S. “civilian contractor” at a base in Iraq. Washington launched retaliatory attacks on several militia installations in both Iraq and Syria. Demonstrators in Baghdad, egged on by militia leaders, then stormed the U.S. embassy, occupying part of the building and forcing staff members to take refuge in a special safe room. President Trump warned that Iran would “pay a very high price” for the embassy siege. The killing of Soleimani appears to have been that “very high price.”

A 'Forever War' With Iran Is Unlikely. But More Death and Violence Seems Inevitable

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A “Forever War” With Iran Is Unlikely. But More Death and Violence Seems Inevitable
The sudden, shocking killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a U.S. drone at the Baghdad airport is one of those moments when a big door swings violently on a seemingly small hinge.

The sudden, shocking killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a U.S. drone at the Baghdad airport is one of those moments when a big door swings violently on a seemingly small hinge. How can the death of one man, largely unknown to the U.S. public, cause such an extraordinary range of potentially dangerous outcomes? What are the options, both for Iran and the U.S. moving forward?

Suleimani was part Niccoli Machiavelli, part Cardinal Richelieu, and part battle-hardened special forces foot soldier. Revered in Tehran, he was despised throughout much of the region. The hackneyed phrase, “he had blood on his hands” doesn’t begin to describe the level of death and destruction he left in his wake across the Middle East. Taking his piece off the chessboard is a tactical success for the U.S., especially given his talent and devotion to the hardline regime. But what is missing is any sense of a strategic direction forward, either for the U.S. or Iran.

Why the Death of an Iranian Commander Won’t Mean World War III

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Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the forthcoming The Last Shah: Iran, America and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty.

After years of striding across the Middle East seemingly in command of the region, General Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Brigade, was finally killed by American airstrikes early Friday morning. History will not mourn one of the great mass murderers of our time who was responsible for scores of dead, mostly Arab and American. Soleimani was not just the face of Iranian terrorism—he represented its changing dimensions. The Islamic Republic has always been a violent regime, but initially its terror focused most intensely on Israel. In the past decade, Soleimani turned terrorism into an effective instrument of Iran’s imperial expansion by marshaling a transnational Shia expeditionary force that has prevailed in conflicts across the Middle East.

His death will be a blow to the Iranian theocracy but—contrary to what many observers are warning—could very likely temper the clerical oligarchs, who tend to retreat in face of American determination.

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Qassim Suleimani’s Killing Will Unleash Chaos

By Barbara Slavin
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Few tears will be shed in many parts of the world for Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, whose Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ruthlessly spread Iranian influence and contributed to the deaths of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians, as well as hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq, over the past decade and a half.

But revenge is not a strategy, and the killing of General Suleimani is a major — and incredibly risky — escalation with Iran, a pivotal country of some 80 million people that has been largely estranged from the United States for 40 years. It will cause more instability and the loss of more innocent lives. Any chances for American diplomacy with Iran are dead for the duration of the Trump presidency — if not longer. Instead of one nuclear proliferation crisis, with North Korea, there will most likely now be two, as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal completely collapses. The Sunni fundamentalists who killed Americans in their homeland — something Iran has not done so far — will rejoice. Russia and China will be happy to see the United States mired in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

It is important to remember who began this spiral. In May 2018, President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor at a time when Iran was in full compliance with it. When he did so, the Quds Force and its associated militias in Iraq were fighting the Islamic State in indirect coordination with the American military. The Persian Gulf was quiet.

Israelis: Soleimani Intercept Sparked Drone Strike; US Reinforces Region


TEL AVIV: Five days ago, an undisclosed intelligence agency intercepted a telephone call made by the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in which he was heard ordering his proxies in Iraq to attack the U.S embassy in Baghdad, as well as other Israeli and American targets, with the aim of taking hostages, Israeli sources say.

It’s unclear whether this was a lapse in tradecraft on the part of the usually savvy Soleimani or whether the notorious Iranian military leader’s phone calls were being routinely intercepted. Nor is it clear whether it was the US or another foe of Iran that made the intercept. Regardless, the intelligence seems to have led directly to Soleimani’s killing yesterday, which has thrown the Mideast into uproar.

Sources here say that Soleimi flew in the Airbus A-320 plane operated by Cham Wing, Flight 6Q501, which took off from Damascus at 10:30 pm and landed in Baghdad minutes before midnight. Minutes later, what are presumed to have been Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator struck and killed everyone in two cars that had picked up Suleimani and other passengers from the flight.

Around the halls: Experts react to the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani

Madiha Afzal,

In a drone strike authorized by President Trump early Friday, Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed at Baghdad International Airport. Below, Brookings experts provide their brief analyses on this watershed moment for the Middle East — including what it means for U.S.-Iran relations, for America’s overall position in the Middle East, and more.

Madiha Afzal (@MadihaAfzal), David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and the Center for Middle East Policy: What worries me is how much (or little) thought was put into this decision by the Trump administration — and the connection of the strike with it being a re-election year, Trump’s obsession with Barack Obama (and Obama’s killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011), and the beating of war drums to drive American nationalism and distract from his domestic political troubles. This doesn’t require a colorful imagination: In 2011, Trump repeatedly said that Obama would go to war with Iran to get re-elected. Obama obviously didn’t, and the big difference between this strike and the decision that Obama did take in 2011, his bin Laden raid in Pakistan, is that it killed the world’s then-deadliest terrorist and beheaded his organization. And it embarrassed the country that he was found in. It was as clean a decision as a commander-in-chief could have made. Soleimani’s killing, on the other hand, is remarkably messy, because — rightly reviled as he was by many — he represented Iran’s military, and Iran will see this as an action of war. And there will be some form of retaliation. In the end, Trump may end up endangering more American lives through this strike, not fewer.

Iran knows how to bide its time. Don’t expect immediate retaliation for Soleimani.

By Suzanne Maloney 
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The regime wants to stay in power. Escalating the conflict with the U.S. even more would threaten that.Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meets with the family of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq early Friday local time, in a photo released by the Iranian government. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP)

The long, shape-shifting shadow war between the United States and Iran’s Islamic republic has taken a pivotal turn with the death of Qasem Soleimani, an infamous and iconic Iranian military commander, in a U.S. drone strike. By killing the architect of Iran’s expanded influence across the Middle East, the Trump administration has escalated simmering tensions with Tehran from an economic onslaught to an act of war that is likely to instigate a dangerous and unpredictable Iranian backlash.

Killing Iran’s Qassem Suleimani changes the game in the Middle East

Daniel L. Byman

The killing of Qassem Suleimani, the long-time head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force is likely to prove a watershed in Washington’s relations with Iraq and Iran and will substantially affect the overall U.S. position in the Middle East, writes Daniel Byman. This piece originally appeared in Vox.

On Thursday night, the Pentagon announced that the United States killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary forces, in an airstrike in Iraq “at the direction of the President.”

The strike that took out Suleimani also reportedly killed the leader of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy militia in Iraq that has repeatedly attacked US and allied forces and recently launched rockets at a US military base. Those attacks killed an American contractor, which led the United States to respond and kill 25 operatives in attacks in Iraq and Syria. In separate operations, US forces have also captured and arrested leaders of other important Iraqi militias with close ties to Iran.

The killing of Suleimani, the long-time head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) is likely to prove a watershed in Washington’s relations with Iraq and Iran and will substantially affect the overall US position in the Middle East. The blowback may be huge, and much depends on how well prepared the United States is for Iran’s response and that of its many proxies in the Middle East.

Based on the Trump administration’s record in the region, there is reason to be worried.


Murtaza Hussain

UNTIL HIS DEATH last night in an airstrike near Baghdad International Airport, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was the United States’s most formidable adversary in the Middle East. As commander of the Quds Force, the external operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Suleimani fought a decadelong proxy war against the U.S. and its allies across Iraq and the region. It was a conflict in which the Iranian side has largely come out on top, as their own leaked internal documents have shown.

The reported airstrike last night has taken this bitter conflict to an altogether new level. The killing of Suleimani, along with several other top Iraqi Shia militia leaders, is the single most significant lethal operation since the joint U.S.-Israeli assassination of Lebanese Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008.

It is also perhaps the most reckless foreign policy action by President Donald Trump since he took office. Unlike Mughniyeh or other nonstate militants that the United States has killed over the years, Suleimani was a ranking official of a foreign government. He was a popular figure among Iranian nationalists whose reputation as a battlefield commander in Iraq and Syria had been publicly promoted by a regime looking to boost its flagging domestic popularity. His killing seems to mark the beginning of direct hostilities between the United States and Iran, with top officials apparently not off-limits for violence. Late last night, the Department of Defense issued a statement claiming responsibility for Suleimani’s killing, saying that he and the Quds Force were “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

Adapt or Perish

By ​​​​​​​Alice Hill and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz

Ever since climate change became a concern for policymakers and laypeople alike, the focus of public debate has largely been on mitigation: limiting greenhouse gas emissions, capturing carbon, and transitioning to renewable energy. Those efforts must continue if we hope to keep the planet hospitable. But it is also time to acknowledge that—no matter what we do—some measure of climate change is here to stay. The phenomenon has already affected the U.S. economy, U.S. national security, and human health. Such costs will only grow over time. The United States must build resilience and overhaul key systems, including those governing infrastructure, the use of climate data, and finance. 

Otherwise, the blow to the U.S. economy will be staggering. Assuming that current trends continue, coastal damage, increased spending on electricity, and lost productivity due to climate-related illness are projected to consume an estimated $500 billion per year by the time a child born today has settled into retirement. Other estimates suggest that the U.S. economy will lose about 1.2 percent of GDP per year for every degree Celsius of warming, effectively halving the country’s annual growth.

Gas Line, Q4 2019

Gas Line is a quarterly publication that looks at major news stories in global gas—ranging from project development to markets and geopolitics. My goal is not to cover every story but to draw connections between stories across time and space in order to shed light on the major themes that will drive global gas markets in the years ahead. My main takeaways from this quarter:

Crisis Averted—Sort of

The bottom line: These past few months have shown that European gas security, in the old sense, is now largely a Washington obsession and a transatlantic issue. Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement before December 31, thus averting another gas crisis. At the same time, the United States imposed sanctions on Nord Stream 2, and Allseas, the contractor laying the pipeline for the project, suspended its operations. Yet prices at TTF, the main European hub in the Netherlands, averaged 37 percent lower in December 2019 than in December 2018—which did not exactly signal a crisis.

Hypersonic Missiles Are a Game Changer

By Steven Simon

Last week, President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced the deployment of the Avangard, among the first in a new class of missiles capable of reaching hypersonic velocity — something no missile can currently achieve, aside from an ICBM during re-entry.

Such weapons have long been an object of desire by Russian, Chinese and American military leaders, for obvious reasons: Launched from any of these countries, they could reach any other within minutes. No existing defenses, in the United States or elsewhere, can intercept a missile that can move so fast while maneuvering unpredictably.

Whether or not the Avangard can do what Mr. Putin says, the United States is rushing to match it. We could soon find ourselves in a new arms race as deadly as the Cold War — and at a time when the world’s arms control efforts look like relics of an inscrutable past and the effort to renew the most important of them, a new START agreement, is foundering.

Hypersonics represent an apotheosis of sorts for many warfare theorists and practitioners, who have long contended that air power alone can have a decisive effect in a conflict. They have always been wrong. The allies lost about 100,000 aircrew members in an attempt to destroy German industry and the popular will to fight during World War II, but the war in Europe was won with boots on the ground.

Don’t Hold Your Breath for Democratic Change in the Middle East

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There were a number of major developments in the Middle East over the last 12 months: the bombing of Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil facility, Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria, the election of a new Tunisian president, the United Arab Emirates’ decision to withdraw from Yemen, and the U.S. affirmation that Israeli settlements are not “inherently illegal.” But something more important happened in the Middle East in 2019. Just as everyone was getting used to the idea that the so-called Arab Spring was dead, street demonstrations swept through the region. The fact that protests erupted is not as interesting as whether people power will shape politics in the Arab world into 2020. That seems likely, but not necessarily in ways that some analysts expect and many Arabs hope.

With so much international media focused on the demonstrations in Hong Kong, one might be excused for forgetting that people in Sudan, Algeria, and Morocco were out in the streets months before Hong Kongers began venting their anger at Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Beijing. There were also protests in Egypt, though they were quite small, and larger demonstrations that are ongoing in Iraq and Lebanon.