4 February 2024

For Antony Blinken, the War in Gaza Is a Test of U.S. Power


It was 2:15 a.m. on Oct. 16, and Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t figure out how to work the copy machine. Six floors underground, in the Tel Aviv bunker from which Israel’s war cabinet was directing its battle against Hamas, Secretary of State Antony Blinken waited to be handed a sheet of paper outlining the results of a nine-hour negotiating session with the Israeli Prime Minister. Even Blinken’s sleep-deprived advisers had no idea what the two men had agreed to behind closed doors.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Blinken had been in Cairo, preparing to return to Washington after a six-country dash across the Middle East. The visit had started off with a show of U.S. support after the brutal Hamas attack on Oct. 7, followed by talks with Arab allies. But as Israel intensified its bombing campaign in Gaza, Blinken decided to make a U-turn. Cut off from water, food, medicine, and fuel, the enclave was spiraling into a humanitarian crisis. Arriving back in Israel, Blinken conveyed to Netanyahu the anger he had heard from regional leaders and urged him to allow aid into Gaza. In a tense meeting punctuated by an air-raid siren, Netanyahu was intractable. Israel would not tolerate “one drop of water, not one ounce of fuel” across the border, a senior Administration official said. As it grew dark, Blinken and his aides followed Netanyahu from the Kirya, Israel’s version of the Pentagon, to the underground command center. Huddled around two laptops and a mobile printer, in a small room with no cell service, the U.S. team traded proposals with the Israeli cabinet next door. Some came back with Netanyahu’s hand-scribbled edits.

Finally, the Israeli Prime Minister and America’s top diplomat sat down alone. If Israel was going to proceed in its mission to destroy Hamas, it had to allow aid to reach civilians, Blinken told Netanyahu. He also made clear what was hanging in the balance: a visit from President Joe Biden, the prospect of which had leaked to the Israeli media but had yet to be formalized. A visit from Biden represented a critical gesture of support—and significant leverage. 

How China Is Leveraging the Israel-Hamas War

Christina Lu

As global outrage grows over Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, China has focused on harnessing the widening divide between Washington’s and the global south’s stances on the war to boost Beijing’s own foreign-policy ambitions.

U.S. Presses for Long Cease-Fire to Pave Way for End of Gaza War

Summer Said, Jared Malsin and Gordon Lubold

U.S. negotiators are pushing for a cease-fire deal that could stop the war in Gaza long enough to stall Israel’s military momentum and potentially set the stage for a more lasting truce, according to U.S. and Arab officials familiar with the negotiations.

Israel and Hamas are considering a three-part deal that would release hostages in Gaza beginning with a six-week cease-fire, according to a draft of the agreement hashed out this week by international intelligence chiefs in Paris. Subsequent phases also would see fighting stop and more hostages let go.

U.S. negotiators, led by Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, argue that it would be difficult for Israel to resume the war at its current intensity after a long pause, the officials said. The U.S. also has told fellow negotiators that Israel was considering the idea of moving to a phase—once all hostages are released—during which major operations would be more limited, including airstrikes on Gaza, the officials added.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it was considering such a prospect.

“We are looking at an extended pause as the goal,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. “How long, that’s all part of the discussions, but longer than what we saw in November, which was about a week.”

Kirby said “nobody is doing a touchdown dance” yet, but the administration is hopeful of getting all sides to agree to a halt in fighting that would get hostages out of Gaza and more humanitarian assistance in.

The future of Gaza: Netanyahu's strategic gambit unveiled


Stage one involves the creation of a comprehensive Israeli military government in Gaza to oversee humanitarian aid and assume responsibility for the civilian population during a "transition period."

Concurrently, stage two will see the formation of an international Arab coalition, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and others. This coalition is to be part of a broader regional normalization agreement, backing the establishment of "the new Palestinian Authority."

Officials, neither affiliated with Hamas nor directly associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's (Abu Mazen) guard, will inherit Gaza's governance from Israel, concluding the military administration. Israel will maintain the right to conduct security operations in Gaza, mirroring its operations in the West Bank, whenever operational needs to counter terror or terror infrastructures emerge.

The subsequent phase, contingent upon Gaza's stabilization and the success of the new entity ("the new Palestinian Authority"), entails extensive reforms in Judea and Samaria regarding the Palestinian Authority's functionality, educational content, and terror management.

Potential future of a Palestinian state

Should this stage proceed smoothly within a predefined two to four-year timeline, Israel will recognize a delineated Palestinian state within the Palestinian Authority territories and consider transferring additional, non-settlement-requiring lands to that state.

Only the Middle East Can Fix the Middle East

Dalia Dassa Kaye and Sanam Vakil

In the early weeks of 2024, as the catastrophic war in the Gaza Strip began to inflame the broader region, the stability of the Middle East appeared to be once again at the center of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. In the initial days after Hamas’s October 7 attacks, the Biden administration moved two aircraft carrier strike groups and a nuclear-powered submarine to the Middle East, while a steady stream of senior U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden, began making high-profile trips to the region. Then, as the conflict became more difficult to contain, the United States went further. In early November, in response to attacks on U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed groups, the United States conducted strikes on weapons sites in Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; in early January, U.S. forces killed a senior commander of one of these groups in Baghdad. And in mid-January, after weeks of attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea by the Houthi movement, which is also supported by Iran, the United States, together with the United Kingdom, initiated a series of strikes on Houthi strongholds in Yemen.

Despite this show of force, it would be unwise to bet on the United States’ committing major diplomatic and security resources to the Middle East over the longer term. Well before Hamas’s October 7 attacks, successive U.S. administrations had signaled their intent to shift away from the region to devote more attention to a rising China. The Biden administration has also been contending with Russia’s war in Ukraine, further limiting its bandwidth for coping with the Middle East. By 2023, U.S. officials had largely given up on a revived nuclear agreement with Iran, seeking instead to reach informal de-escalation arrangements with their Iranian counterparts. At the same time, the administration was bolstering the military capacity of regional partners such as Saudi Arabia in an effort to transfer some of the security burden from Washington. Despite Biden’s early reluctance to do business with Riyadh—whose leadership U.S. intelligence believes was responsible for the 2018 killing of the Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi—the president prioritized a deal to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. In pursuing the deal, the United States was willing to offer significant incentives to both sides while mostly ignoring the Palestinian issue.

How India engages with the polarising global debate on cybersecurity norms

Arindrajit Basu

With brutal military conflict raging in Europe and the Middle East, little global attention has been paid to multilateral meetings of the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on cybersecurity norms. Despite their relative obscurity, however, the discussions taking place at this forum – aiming to lay down rules and norms for a safe and trustworthy cyberspace – are vital today.

Offensive cyber operations are increasingly being deployed against essential digital infrastructure during war and peacetime alike. Yet, the UN processes that were designed to establish rules of the road for cyberspace have been stymied for decades, in large part, due to ideological polarisation between the United States, the European Union, and their allies, often referred to as the “liberal” camp, pitted against China, Russia, and the “authoritarian” camp.

Given this stalemate, India has often been regarded as a crucial “digital decider” that could decisively tilt the ideological debate either in the favor of an “open” internet with limited state control and robust fundamental rights protection or a centralised state-controlled internet modeled on Sino-Russian lines.

How India negotiates cybersecurity

However, thus far, India has refrained from making active overtures toward either block. India’s strategy in the working group has been to selectively acknowledge all perspectives on contentious issues without going into their nuances. While refusing to take a position on those matters, India has actively engaged on specific non-controversial issues that are closely tied to its strategic interests.

For example, India has voted for contradictory resolutions sponsored by both Russia and the US on the format of negotiations and core ideological principles. In its official submissions to the UN processes, it has acknowledged the combative views of both the “liberal” block and “authoritarian” block on whether international law applies to cyberspace. This question has been a long-running dispute as Russia and China want to evolve new rules for cyberspace because they believe that existing international law is both outdated and Western-centric.



Having lost wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the United States would do well to reflect on the root causes of those debacles. To its credit, the War Room has contributed to such reflection through its four-part series on the lessons we may learn from war—not only America’s losses in previous conflicts, but also ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Unfortunately, the last installment in this series, “Ukraine, Gaza, and the U.S. Army’s Counterinsurgency Legacy” by Gian Gentile is marred by the contradictory impulses that have long colored the author’s perspective on what is perhaps the most important military strategy of this century.

The piece claims that the U.S. Army’s field manual on counterinsurgency, FM 3-24, imposed an “intellectual straight jacket” on the Army that prevented “creative thinking” about strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. It does not, sadly, suggest an alternative to the approach that dramatically reduced violence in both countries, and similarly fails to provide a creative way that the United States might have won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either the straight jacket is so powerful that it has constrained even his thinking, or these wars were really hard, and the United States was completely unprepared for them.

The counterinsurgency critic has been caught in this same conundrum for a very long time. In a Washington Post op-ed in 2004, he argued for a “hard” approach to tactical problems in Iraq without extending his analysis to show how this “hard” approach might be employed at the strategic level of war. The same op-ed described efforts to win the support of the Iraqi people as a “velvet glove” approach but did not explain how the U.S. military operations, bound in an intellectual straight jacket and armed with velvet gloves, resulted in 200,000 civilian deaths. Instead the 2004 article embraced the very counterinsurgency tactics that the War Room article derides, claiming that defeating insurgents “requires a complex and sophisticated strategy that separates the insurgent forces from the Iraqi people, strengthens the rule of law in Iraq, demonstrates the coalition’s will to win, enhances the political legitimacy of the fledgling Iraqi government and uses military force appropriately.”

Pakistan Is on Edge Ahead of 2024 Elections

Noah Berman and Clara Fong

On February 8, Pakistan’s voters will elect a leader tasked with managing one of the country’s worst-ever economic crises, an escalating terrorism problem that has recently kindled tensions with Afghanistan and Iran, and a long-standing border impasse with India. But with former Prime Minister Imran Khan barred from participating and the military maneuvering behind the scenes, international observers say the elections will likely be neither free nor fair.
Who are the contenders for prime minister?

Three major candidates have announced plans to run in the parliamentary elections in the hopes of leading the next governing coalition as prime minister. However, only two are eligible for election.

Nawaz Sharif. The front-runner, Sharif is a three-time former prime minister who recently returned from exile in the United Kingdom, where he fled in 2019 after losing backing from Pakistan’s influential military and being charged with corruption. Experts including Senior Advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace and former CFR Fellow Daniel Markey say Sharif has since mended ties with the military and is now acting as its proxy. Sharif is running on the ticket of a party he founded, the center-right Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The son and grandson of former Pakistani prime ministers, Bhutto is the candidate for the center-left Pakistan People’s Party.

Imran Khan. Khan is by far the most popular politician in Pakistan and was the last elected prime minister, but he will not be on the February ballot. His term ended with a vote of no confidence after he lost the support of the military in 2022 and he was arrested and sentenced to prison on corruption charges, a move that his supporters say are politically motivated. Islamabad’s electoral commission has banned Khan and many other candidates from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from politics.

Cyberattacks on Guam could sap US forces in Indo-Pacific, Nakasone says

Colin Demarest

Successful Chinese cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in Guam or other Indo-Pacific footholds could cripple U.S. military capabilities in the region, the leader of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command said.

Guam is a key outpost for U.S. forces in the increasingly competitive area, where Washington thinks a fight with Beijing could erupt. The island serves as a logistics and munitions hub, as well as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance node.

An assault on the networks and information technology that support Guam’s distribution of electricity, water, food and emergency response could “have a very significant impact” on the options available to military commanders at the time, said Gen. Paul Nakasone.

“Communications, an ability to leverage our most lethal weapon systems — these are all areas that we would rely on,” he said during a Jan. 31 hearing held by the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. “We have to operate every day, we have to have vigilance, we have to have offensive and defensive capabilities.”

The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance — made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. — in May warned a Chinese espionage group slipped past digital defenses in Guam and other locations. Microsoft detected the intrusion and attributed it to a group known as Volt Typhoon.

FBI says Chinese state hacker group targeted US infrastructure

Frances Mao and Will Vernon

The US has managed to dismantle the hacking efforts of a Chinese state-sponsored group that had been targeting key public infrastructure like the power grid and pipelines, says the FBI.

The FBI's director told lawmakers it had executed a campaign to shut down the "Volt Typhoon" group.

That group hacked into hundreds of older office routers to access data on US assets, Christopher Wray alleged.

The Chinese government is yet to respond to the accusations.

However, it has previously denied accusations of state-sponsored cyber warfare against other countries. It has, in the past, also accused the US of being "the world's biggest hacking empire and global cyber thief."

Mr Wray on Wednesday told a US congressional committee that China was deliberately laying groundwork to cripple key US infrastructure systems in the event of a hostile conflict.

The hacking efforts of the "Volt Typhoon" group had first came to light last May in the US, after Microsoft warned the group had targeted several public assets including hacking into government email accounts.

The FBI says the group targeted a broad sweep of the country's critical infrastructure including water treatment systems, the power grid, transportation systems, oil and gas pipelines as well as telecommunication networks.

Mr Wray said the China state-sponsored group had managed to install malware and take over hundreds of old and outdated routers connected to those infrastructure assets.

Chinese Hacking Against U.S. Infrastructure Threatens American Lives, Officials Say

Dustin Volz

The U.S. government said it had disrupted a uniquely dangerous and potentially life-threatening Chinese hacking operation that hijacked hundreds of infected routers and used them to covertly target American and allied critical infrastructure networks.

Senior officials described the operation in unusually blunt terms as part of an evolving and increasingly worrisome campaign by Beijing to get a foothold in U.S. computer networks responsible for everything from safe drinking water to aviation traffic so it could detonate, at a moment’s notice, damaging cyberattacks during a future conflict, including over Taiwan.

Wednesday’s announcement was part of an effort by senior Biden administration officials to underscore what Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray called the “apocalyptic scenarios” animating their fears about China’s advanced and well-resourced hacking prowess. Western intelligence officials say its skill and sophistication has accelerated over the past decade. Officials have grown particularly alarmed at Beijing’s interest in infiltrating U.S. critical infrastructure networks, which they say poses an unrivaled cybersecurity challenge.

“This is a world where a major crisis halfway across the planet could well endanger the lives of Americans here at home through the disruption of our pipelines, the severing of our telecommunications, the pollution of our water facilities, the crippling of our transportation modes—all to ensure they can incite societal panic and chaos and to deter our ability to marshal military might and civilian will,” said Jen Easterly, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, during congressional testimony Wednesday on Chinese cyber threats.

The activity discovered so far attributed to China, she said, is “likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

The Justice Department and FBI took action in December after obtaining court approval to dismantle a botnet, or network of hacked devices, consisting of small office and home office, or SOHO, routers.

China Says Trump Could Abandon Taiwan If He Wins US Election

China said a victory by Donald Trump in the presidential election later this year could lead to the US abandoning Taiwan, comments intended to sow doubt over Washington’s commitment to the island.

“The US will always pursue America first, and Taiwan can change from a chess piece to a discarded chess piece at any time,” Chen Binhua, spokesman for the office in Beijing that handles matters related to the island, said at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

Chen was responding to a question about an interview Trump gave Fox News in July in which he avoided directly answering a query over whether as president he’d defend Taiwan if China attacked.

“If I answer that question, it’ll put me in a very bad negotiating position,” Trump said at the time. “With that being said, Taiwan did take all of our chip business.”

China frequently suggests that the US isn’t a reliable partner for Taiwan, a line that’s aimed at undermining the island’s confidence that it’ll be able to withstand an invasion. The US has traditionally adopted a policy of strategic ambiguity, acknowledging China’s historical claims to sovereignty over Taiwan, while maintaining only unofficial relations with Taipei and pledging defensive assistance.

To Prevent an AI Apocalypse, the World Needs to Work With China

Jason Zhou, Kwan Yee Ng , and Brian Tse

To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, governance of artificial intelligence (AI) has developed gradually, and then all at once. The second half of 2023 saw dizzying advances in AI governance. These rapid developments have shown that countries all around the world, despite geopolitical and cultural barriers, are coming together to face risks from AI.

At the United Kingdom’s Global AI Safety Summit on November 1, 2023, Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Wu Zhaohui and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo shared the stage at the opening plenary. At the end of the summit, China and the United States, joined by the European Union and 25 other countries, signed the “Bletchley Declaration” to strengthen cooperation on frontier AI risks.

Before the summit, leading scientists from the U.S., U.K., China, Canada, and elsewhere co-authored a consensus paper on risks from advanced AI systems, and some of the same experts held a dialogue that jointly called for safety research and governance policies to prevent similar risks.

Later in November, at the 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leader’s Meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden met in person. Both sides agreed to direct governmental talks on AI, with the Chinese readout referencing increased cooperation and the U.S. readout calling for addressing “risks of advanced AI systems.” A follow-up meeting between U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in January 2024 indicated that the first meeting of the dialogue will occur this spring.

The United Nations has also been active, with Secretary General António Guterres creating a High-Level Advisory Body on AI featuring 38 distinguished experts in October 2023. The body, which has two Chinese members, released an interim report in December 2023 outlining recommendations for AI governance functions that should be undertaken by the international community.

US military launches strikes against Houthi ground station


U.S. forces launched strikes against a Houthi militant drone ground control station and 10 one-way attack drones in the latest action to cripple the Iranian-backed group’s ability to fire on ships in the Red Sea. 

At about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, U.S. forces attacked after identifying the ground control station and drones in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, a U.S. Central Command statement said Thursday. Military officials determined the base and its drones were “an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. ships in the region,” according to CENTCOM, which called the strikes a self-defense measure. 

The strikes were carried out by F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, The Associated Press reported Thursday. The ground control station and drones were destroyed, CENTCOM said. 

Hours earlier, a U.S. Navy destroyer shot down an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by Houthi militants, CENTCOM said. USS Carney destroyed the missile at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and then shot down three Iranian-made aerial drones about 40 minutes later, a statement said. 

U.S. forces subsequently shot down another aerial drone over the sea and conducted strikes that destroyed an unmanned explosive sea drone heading toward the international shipping lane, CENTCOM said in a separate statement, also on Thursday. The strikes destroyed the sea drone, resulting in significant secondary explosions, CENTCOM said. There were no reported injuries or damage. 

Those actions were followed Thursday by militant attacks on a Liberian-flagged container ship in the Red Sea, AP reported, citing an unnamed U.S. Defense Department official. 

Pentagon not taking Iran-backed militia pause declaration seriously

Meghann Myers

A message from an Iran-backed militia to its fighters to suspend attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria hasn’t changed the Pentagon’s calculus for retaliatory strikes following Sunday’s deadly attack on U.S. troops in Jordan, a spokesman told reporters Tuesday.

The statement from Kataib Hezbollah, first reported by Reuters, came within hours of President Joe Biden telling reporters Tuesday that he had decided on a response to the fatal drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers, one the Defense Department said “has the footprints” of a Kataib Hezbollah operation.

“I don’t think we could be any more clear that we have called on the Iranian proxy groups to stop the attacks,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday. “They have not, and so we will respond in a time and manner of our choosing.”

There have been three attacks on troops in the Middle East since Sunday, Ryder added, for a total of more than 160 since October.

Flashpoint For War: The Drone Killings At Tower 22 – OpEd

Binoy Kampmark

The BBC’s characteristically mild-mannered note said it all: What is Tower 22? More to the point, what are US forces doing in Jordan? (To be more precise, a dusty scratching on the Syria-Jordan border.) These questions were posed in the aftermath of yet another drone attack against a US outpost in the Middle East, its location of dubious strategic relevance to Washington, yet seen as indispensable to its global footprint. On this occasion, the attack proved successful, killing three troops and wounding dozens.

The Times of Israel offered a workmanlike description of the site’s role: “Tower 22 is located close enough to US troops at Tanf that it could potentially help support them, while potentially countering Iran-backed militants in the area and allowing troops to keep an eye on remnants of Islamic State in the region.” The paper does not go on to mention the other role: that US forces are also present in the region to protect Israeli interests, acting as a shield against Iran.

While Tower 22 is located more towards Jordan, it is a dozen miles or so to the Syria-based al-Tanf garrison, which retains a US troop presence. Initially, that presence was justified to cope with the formidable threat posed by Islamic State as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. In due course, it became something of a watch post on Iran’s burgeoning military presence in Syria and Iraq, an inflation as much a consequence of Tehran’s successful efforts against the fundamentalist group as it was a product of Washington’s destabilising invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A January 28 press release from US Central Command notes that the attack was inflicted by “a one-way attack UAS [Unmanned Aerial System] that impacted on a base in northeast Jordan, near the Syrian border.” Its description of Tower 22 is suitably vague, described as a “logistics support base” forming the Jordanian Defense Network. “There are approximately 350 US Army and Air Force personnel deployed to the base, conducting a number of key support functions, including support to the coalition for the lasting defeat of ISIS.” No mention is made of Iran or Israel.

Why Help Ukraine: An Open Letter to My Congressional Colleagues

Chrissy Houlahan

In a departure from a largely do-nothing Congress, we may have real votes and many difficult choices to make in the coming weeks. During this time, with respect to Ukraine, I ask my colleagues to remember our collective history, remember who we serve, and be brave.

There is a buzz in the nation and Washington D.C. that we should no longer continue to support the Ukrainians in their battle against Putin’s unlawful invasion. Many of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, say that they hear from their communities and constituents that we should send our resources elsewhere: the southwestern border, Israel, to support childcare or end homelessness, to name a few. The list of our nation’s needs is indeed long and worthy.

I would argue two things, however: 1) it is the responsibility of the elected Members of Congress not simply to hear and reflect in Washington what our constituents might be feeling and saying but also to bring home from Washington and the world what our role as a nation should be, and 2) sometimes it also is a Representative’s fiduciary, rather than elective, job to vote based on the needs of the nation as a whole and over the long term, and it is our job to help our community understand why we voted the way we did.

Last week, I traveled to Lithuania as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I was also there because my home state of Pennsylvania’s Army National Guard partners with Lithuania for their State Partnership Program. The Pennsylvania Guard has worked with Lithuania for over 30 years; we specifically help them with cyber security. In addition, many of our nation’s active duty troops from all over the United States are based in Lithuania as part of our collective forward line of defense of the NATO alliance.

Lithuania borders Russia and Belarus. Belarus has proven itself to be nothing more than a puppet state of Russia throughout the war in Ukraine; recently, one might recall it housed and harbored the Russian merciless mercenary Wagner Group.

The U.S. Public Has Never Been More Anti-War. Biden Isn’t Taking Note


The U.S. is creeping toward war in the Middle East. A drone attack at a U.S. base on Sunday killed 3 American troops and injured 34 others. The attack—claimed by Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which opposes Washington’s support for Israel—has prompted President Joe Biden to vow retaliation. His Administration is readying retaliatory strikes “over the course of several days” that mark a dangerous escalation that could spiral out of control.

Are Americans ready for war? Not at all.

Pro-Israel sentiments aside, the U.S. public and its leaders are deeply divided today about Middle East policy. War will not only lead to recession and drain U.S. resources to the benefit of China, but divisions at home could do harm to U.S. foreign policy for years to come. It’s time, then, for Biden to de-escalate tension and push Israel toward peace.

Each major U.S. war since 1900 was buoyed at its outset by a big story that research shows galvanized national consensus and buy-in to the costs of war. A story about the existential danger of Soviet expansion and stopping communism brought robust initial support for Korea and Vietnam. In the 2000s and 2010s, the big story was about Sept. 11 and defeating terrorism. This “war on terror” narrative helped generate strong initial public support for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (88% in 2001) and Iraq (70% in 2003).

So, where is the U.S. national story today? Well, there is none. The anti-terrorism narrative disappeared with the decline of al-Qaeda and Islamic State in the late 2010s, and no other transnational group group has taken their place. Americans have also grown tired of Middle East wars, like the one the U.S. is walking into now. By 2019, 59% said Afghanistan “was not worth fighting” and only 27% said interventions in other countries made the U.S. safer. In short, with terrorism down, U.S. energy independence up, and Iran more a nuisance than existential threat, the U.S. is left today with no big, unifying story for deep Middle East engagement, especially war.

The absence of a big story is showing up today in debates about the Middle East. Polls show that 84% of Americans worry about getting pulled into war. Some 65% want a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza, not U.S. military action. Biden’s efforts to rally the nation with eloquent statements haven’t worked either (as other presidents attest, that happens with no big story). Only 33% approve of Biden’s handling of today’s crisis.

Ukraine: Through the Gloom


Neil Hauer, in an assessment for War on the Rocks of how the Russo-Ukraine War has been covered, identifies a phenomenon which anyone following events closely will recognise – the tendency for narratives of either a Russian or a Ukrainian victory to grip the commentariat, only to be followed by a swing in the other direction as a breakthrough fails to materialise and the supposedly losing side turns out to be more resilient than expected:

‘Both Ukraine and Russia have regularly been seen as the conflict’s inevitable victor — only to fall back down to earth when the expectations created failed to live up to reality.’

Not surprisingly Hauer urges that more attention be paid to the more cautious and careful analysts who emphasise ‘that anything with as many inputs and moving parts as the 21st century’s largest interstate conflict are exceedingly difficult to predict.‘ He also observes that recently the pendulum has swung back toward pessimism on behalf of Ukraine as Russia failed to collapse and kept on going. This has led to proposals for a peace deal combined with warnings that otherwise Ukraine is headed for certain defeat, with the credibility of Western foreign policy part of the collateral damage.

Why Gloom?

A good example of the narrative of Russian ascendancy comes from a story in the New York Times on 13 January (not the only one from that source), with the heading ‘Russia Regains Upper Hand in Ukraine’s East as Kyiv’s Troops Flag’. It contains the three key themes of the recent gloom: the ‘failed’ Ukrainian offensive of the summer; ammunition shortages; and waning international support. Ukrainians troops are described as ‘weary, short of ammunition and outnumbered, and their prospects look bleak.’ Their ranks are depleted by casualties, with replacements poorly trained and often old or drunk. They are reaching their limits.

‘And now, Russian troops are on the attack, especially in the country’s east. The town of Marinka has all but fallen. Avdiivka is being slowly encircled. A push on Chasiv Yar, near Bakhmut, is expected. Farther north, outside Kupiansk, the fighting has barely slowed since the fall.’

With Fate of Ukraine’s Top General in Question, All Eyes Turn to Zelensky

Andrew E. Kramer

He deftly defended his country in Europe’s largest ground war in decades, stalling Russia’s invasion and then pushing it back with everything at hand: natural barriers like rivers, aging weapons and lethal drones, trickery and elements of surprise.

But the fate of Ukraine’s top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, now appears to be hanging by a thread — not over his standing in the army, where he is well regarded, but over tensions with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

The president’s frustrations have mounted since it became clear in the fall that Ukraine’s southern counteroffensive, a push that started with high hopes for Ukraine and its backers, had failed. The fighting has since bogged down in bloody, static trench warfare.

Should Mr. Zelensky dismiss the general, it could create a host of problems for him both in the war and at home. Although Mr. Zelensky embodies his country’s resistance to Russian aggression to many of his supporters abroad, the general is widely hailed as a hero in Ukraine.

His portrait hangs in coffee shops and bars. Online, he is the subject of countless patriotic memes. Public opinion polls over the fall showed his popularity exceeded Mr. Zelensky’s — a reason, analysts and opposition politicians have said, for the men’s increasingly strained relationship, though the general has never voiced political ambitions.

Military analysts have credited the general with preparing the army in the weeks and days before the invasion, even as Mr. Zelensky’s government publicly downplayed the odds of a Russian attack. General Zaluzhny oversaw not only the defense of the capital, Kyiv, but also the campaigns that thwarted the initial invasion and retook hundreds of square miles.

Is Washington Serious About Leaving Iraq?

Adnan Nasser

So much has been reported on what the United States aims to do in the recent collision of interests between itself and Iraq. Washington’s approval in the region is at an all-time low as it continues to provide Israel with military support in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, drawing outrage from much of the world.

Hezbollah from Lebanon has intensified its military strikes on Israel in support of Hamas. Groups aligned with the Gaza-based Palestinian militia are taking potshots at U.S. military targets, including a recent drone strike in Jordan that killed three American soldiers and left over forty injured.

The U.S. Central Command issued a press release confirming the attack and loss of American service personnel on a U.S. military base, “Tower 22” located in northern Jordan. This strike marked the first death blow America experienced since the start of the Hamas-Israel war on October 7. There have been over 150 attacks on U.S.-stationed positions stretching from Iraq, Syria, and now Jordan. President Joe Biden publicly mourned the loss of the three soldiers and told the American people that the government is committed to fighting terrorism—while declaring, “We will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing.”

Some hawks on Capitol Hill are calling for blood by suggesting hitting Iran directly as an appropriate form of retaliation. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a statement on X that previous U.S. retaliations on Iranian proxies were insufficient and “will not deter Iranian aggression.” He advocated “strik[ing] targets of significance inside Iran.”

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), also Republican, posted on X “Target Tehran” in response to the attack. These remarks come from an emboldened hard-right opposition that wishes to “show strength” while not being in a position to pull the trigger.

Naval Special Warfare Will Have to Fight Differently

Seth Cropsey

Naval Special Warfare is a crucial strategic tool for the U.S. military. Yet there has been remarkably little public thinking on the role special operations forces might play in a large-scale strategic confrontation. The War of 2026 scenario helps clarify the requirements for Naval Special Warfare (NSW) in such a conflict.

Two points need articulation. First, the revisionist coalition the United States and its allies face, primarily in Eurasia, has weak points; second, special operations forces (SOF) are the best tool to stress these weak points while ensuring high-end conventional assets are available for traditional engagements. These two arguments indicate a third, more profound reality: SOF can demonstrate the necessary link between the operational and the geopolitical in great power war—assuming it is properly resourced. This is true not only for NSW, but also for the broader SOF community.

SOF and Strategic Objectives

Romanian, Ukrainian, and U.S. special operations personnel conduct close-quarters battle training in Romania in May 2021. The most pervasive peacetime SOF mission today is training with U.S. allies and partners globally. DOD Courtesy 

Special warfare is, by definition, odd. Anglo- American strategic historian Colin Gray once argued that special operations does not fit well into the United States’ political-military taxonomy. It is culturally, strategically, operationally, and tactically distinct from the traditional warfighting arms of any service. While NSW may fall under the Navy Department’s organizational chart, for example, SOF are naturally ground forces, and there will be friction between them and the traditional mechanized and armored forces that predominate.

Twenty years of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism transformed U.S. special operations from a niche discipline within a conventional military into a well-known, near-celebrity, almost standalone component of U.S. power. Joint Special Operations Command completely retooled itself during the 2000s and 2010s, becoming a force capable of prosecuting a strategic campaign against a mobile, adaptable, tenacious network of conventional and unconventional forces.

Holistic examination of the next iteration of US Cyber Command underway


U.S. Cyber Command is in the midst of a holistic top-to-bottom review to reshape its organization and forces and ensure it’s best postured to deal with threats in a highly dynamic environment.

Officials are dubbing the review Cybercom 2.0.

“As we’re trying to look at the future of U.S. Cyber Command, I want to have a bold move forward,” Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of Cybercom and director of the NSA, told reporters during a media roundtable at Fort Meade. Nakasone is set to retire Friday following a change-of-command ceremony where he will pass the torch to Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, who will pin on his fourth star.

The command, now just north of 10 years old, was built on many principles of its time a decade ago. The domain it operates in is so dynamic that many of these tenets are now outdated.

For example, the cyber mission force — the teams each service provides to Cybercom to conduct offensive and defensive operations — was designed around 2012, built from 2013 to 2016, and reached full operational capability in 2018.

At the time, according to declassified task orders that were unearthed via the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the priority was to get the teams formed, built quickly and rely as much as possible on NSA support.

“Given the increasing threats to our nation’s critical infrastructure and DoD networks, it is imperative that we establish, train, and employ equipped cyber mission forces as expeditiously as possible. We must get these forces in position now—these teams will be prepared to defend the nation, provide support to combatant commanders, and to provide active defense of key terrain on critical networks,” a task order from March 2013 read. “We will establish immediate operational capability during FY13 by effectively task organizing our available personnel into [REDACTED] effective, combat-ready teams, positioned in the best locations for mission success, and with a command and control structure in place to direct successful operations.”

Ukraine’s survival: Three scenarios for the war in 2024

Gustav Gressel 

Last year, I sketched out how Russia’s war on Ukraine might unfold during the course of 2023. Since that time, the conflict has drifted towards the more negative end of expectations. Over the past year, Ukraine was unable to reverse many of Russia’s territorial gains, and by the winter Moscow had regained the strategic initiative.

At the end of 2022, Russia was in a worse predicament than Ukraine is now, but after hitting this low it found ways to fix its main problems. It began to innovate in terms of its military tactics in order to use its forces more effectively, used innovative recruitment tactics to fill its ranks, and transitioned towards a war economy to increase production of much-needed equipment.

In contrast, the West failed to enact the policies necessary to ease Ukraine’s materiel shortages. Over 2023, there was no concerted defence-industrial effort to resupply Ukraine with armoured fighting vehicles of various kinds. Even the production of ammunition is a long way behind schedule, particularly in Europe: of the 2.3 million shells used by Ukraine in 2023, only 300,000 were European. Joint European procurement initiatives on ammunition only became a reality in late 2023, and similar initiatives for military equipment will get going by 2024 at the earliest.

The time this takes to materialise exacerbates Ukraine’s dependency on American support, with the US presidential election in November likely to determine the country’s fate. While current budgetary battles in the United States and partisan fights over military assistance have kicked in earlier than expected, Europeans nevertheless failed to use the last 12 months to prepare for this turn of events. The European Union’s much-vaunted strategic autonomy goal is a mirage.

Space, the final (construction) frontier

Scott Cannon

The commercial real estate construction landscape today is an uncertain one. The post-pandemic return to in-person work has slowed, leaving cities with vast, unoccupied office spaces. The retail sector, meanwhile, continues to grapple with a prolonged lack of new construction and even industrial construction — a corner of the industry that was red-hot for several years — is experiencing a reported slowdown as developers contend with high interest rates and dwindling warehouse leasing activity. Though some reports predict a rebound for those willing to take the long view of commercial real estate, the industry should in the meantime look seriously to a new horizon for the next construction boom: space.

Over the last decade, funding for the space economy has grown tremendously, with investors eyeing massive future payouts from projects related to the final frontier. Morgan Stanley has estimated that the global space industry could generate, “revenue of more than $1 trillion or more in 2040, up from $350 billion.” However, for the commercialization of space to well and truly take flight, the industry will need support from Earth in the form of more — and more modern — infrastructure. Off-planet industry expertise will also be needed to take the next step in engineering and construction in space.

While the space economy’s construction landscape already has seasoned incumbents such as Momentus Space, Astrotech Space Operations and Texas Sterling-Banicki, its rapid expansion and growing demand also offers a prime opportunity for new entrants. As the sector grows and evolves, there’s an opening for newcomers to learn and make an impact, and for industry leaders to expand their footprint. Here are three compelling reasons for the construction industry to focus on space to infinity, and beyond.

Empowering innovation and future-proofing the construction industry

Throughout history, the construction industry has exhibited remarkable adaptability and resilience, evolving alongside technological advancements to ensure its continued relevance. The sector has also been instrumental in fostering innovation by building crucial infrastructure for emerging industries, one such example being cloud computing. Over the years, construction companies have become experts in designing, building and equipping cloud computing centers to be cost effective, energy efficient and capable of meeting growing data demands, empowering cloud computing companies to build new products and offer customers new services.