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Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Center for a New American Security looks at what scenarios may occur in the Strait of Hormuz because of US-Iranian tensions.  They see three possibilities: 1. Increasing US-Iran tensions that ultimately lead to a new “Tanker War” scenario similar to the conflict of the 1980s, in which Iran attacks potentially hundreds of ships in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman over a prolonged period while also launching missiles at Gulf oil infrastructure. 2. An escalation of tensions between Iran and the United States in which Iran significantly increases the scope and severity of missile attacks directed at major oil and energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 3. A major conflict between Iran and the United States that includes damage to Gulf oil infrastructure and a temporary closure of the Strait of Hormuz.

The Heritage Foundation looks at the riots in Iran and how it is hurting Iran and its proxies.  They conclude, “Iraq and Lebanon are on a trajectory to become failed states if Tehran continues on its current course. Like Iran’s radical regime, Lebanese and Iraqi Islamists supported by Iran have been forced to suppress the efforts of reformers, including Shiites whom they claim to champion.  In the short run, the Islamists are likely to retain power through the coercive force of their militias and Revolutionary Guards. But in the long run, Iran’s aging ayatollahs and their Arab proxies have little to offer young Muslims except repression, economic dysfunction, ideological struggle, and endless conflict. The harder Iran’s dictatorship struggles to oppose reforms that threaten its power, the sooner young Iranians and Arabs forced to live under Tehran’s thumb will reach the conclusion that Iran’s Islamist model is bankrupt economically, politically, and morally.”

The CSIS looks at Iranian missiles in Iraq.  They note, “Iran has provided training and lethal aid to IBGs (Iran Backed Groups) since the 1980s. Tehran’s provision of sophisticated missiles to these militias, however, is a more recent and growing concern for the United States. An August 2018 report revealed that Iran had transferred a few dozen short-range ballistic missiles to the IBGs. These shipments included the Zelzal (150-250 km), Fateh-110 (200-300 km), and Zolfaqar (700 km) missiles, complementing the militias’ existing arsenal of unguided 107-mm and 122-mm rockets. These transfers follow and are likely meant to compensate for Iran’s failed efforts to establish forward-deployed bases in Syria. By early May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced trip to Iraq to discuss the danger of Iranian missile transfers. Both Congress and the Trump administration have also issued repeated warnings that the United States would consider any attack by Iranian proxies as an attack by Iran. IBG missile acquisitions have also prompted Israel to launch at least seven airstrikes so far on PMF missile depots in Iraq in 2019, expanding upon Israeli policy of targeting Iranian missile bases in Syria.10Nevertheless, recent news reports have highlighted the prospect of additional Iranian missile transfers into Iraq.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at Russia’s diplomatic balancing act in the Middle East.  They note, “for years, Russia has pursued what could be characterized as an “accidentally Shia” policy in the Middle East; while the overwhelming majority of Russia’s 21 million-person Muslim population is Sunni, its principal strategic partners in the region have long been the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. This state of affairs has long been a point of resentment among Russia’s Muslims. But over the past half-decade, it has turned into a real strategic problem for the Kremlin.
Indeed, Russia’s formal decision to intervene in the Syrian civil war in September 2015 prompted calls by dozens of Saudi clerics to broaden the current jihad to encompass the “Crusader/Shiite alliance” of Russia and Iran. Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and the Islamic State both did the same, calling for terrorist attacks within Russia itself as a retaliatory measure in response to Moscow’s involvement in Syria. For Russia, that sort of rhetoric represents a real threat. Russia’s Muslims today are a growing percentage of the national population of 146 million…Before the collapse of the ISIS caliphate, Russia ranked as the single largest contributor of foreign fighters to the jihad in Syria, and Russian was the third most frequently spoken language among fighters in the Islamic State until its collapse last year.

The Heritage Foundation looks at the concept of America’s “endless wars.”  In defense of American troop deployments across the world they note, “In Asia, China is undergoing an unprecedented military expansion. No one outside of Beijing thinks that’s going to make the world a safer place. There’s no question that the U.S., in concert with its allies, needs to step up and counter this expansion. That’s far from war mongering. Support for that effort is also truly bipartisan, recognizing America has to do more to ensure its future as an Indo-Pacific power. In other places around the world, our troops are deployed in numbers large and small. They aren’t looking for a fight. They aren’t looking to own a square foot of soil. They are there because America is a global power with global responsibilities. They aren’t the world’s policeman, but they are looking after our interests around the world. They are part of America’s most important export a force for peace and stability.”

The Washington Institute says the US must stop the use of Russian mercenaries in Libya.  They note, “The idea of permitting Russian interference in Libya contradicts the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and the National Security Council’s Africa Strategy, which all focus on great power rivalry and countering Russian (and Chinese) influence. Libya is a test case for these strategies. If Russia tilts the war in Haftar’s favor, it will strip the West of influence in Libya either by ensuring pervasive instability or ending hopes of a peaceful political transition. The U.S. has managed to keep a lid on terrorism emanating from Libya after the 2016 defeat of ISIS in Sirte through targeted strikes against Al Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated groups. If the U.S. Africa Command is no longer able to strike targets in Libya and leaves counter-terrorism action to Russia, ISIS will likely reemerge. See Syria for Russia’s track record. The Nov. 14 statement issued by the State Department condemned the “LNA’s offensive” and Russian interference. Yet skepticism remains about the administration’s seriousness and willingness to act. Since the statement was released, Haftar’s forces have perpetrated a mass-casualty attack on a civilian target in Tripoli and a suspected military target in Misrata.”


Impeachment Heads to Senate
Barring some unusual circumstances, the articles of impeachment will be heading to the US Senate within a week or so.  However, that doesn’t mean that it will lead to the conviction of President Trump in the Senate.
In fact, it appears that most congressmen and senators are anxious to get this whole proceeding out of the way.
Despite months of accusations about wrongdoing by Trump, the articles of impeachment are surprisingly thin.  In fact, the Democratic House only came up with two articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  Other charges were dropped, possible because they were a potential embarrassment to presidential candidate, former VP Biden.
The articles are skating on thin ice, which is evidenced by the fact that some Democratic congressmen are indicating that they may vote against them.  For instance, one of the charges say that Trump, “ignored and injured the interests of the nation,” even though he hadn’t violated the law.  After all, who is to say what the national interest is?  Republicans and Democrats regularly disagree on that.
Then, there is the obstruction of justice charge.  This is because Trump withheld documents and refused to let administration officials to testify under the principle of “Executive Privilege.”  However, Congress didn’t go to the courts to get a legal ruling, which is the constitutional way to force the president to release documents or force testimony.
It’s quite possible that Democrats were worried that a conservative Supreme Court would have ruled in Trump’s favor.
The shaky impeachment articles are making some Democratic congressmen uneasy because 31 Democrat congressmen are from districts where Trump won the vote in 2016.  If half of them defect and vote against impeachment, the articles will not even get out of the House of Representatives.
This possibility worries the House Democratic leadership.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is rushing the impeachment vote to the floor of the House before Christmas recess in order to keep wavering Democratic congressmen in key battleground districts away from their constituents, the majority of whom are potentially against impeaching the president.
Two Democratic congressmen have indicated that they are leaning against voting for impeachment.  And there are about 10 who have indicated that they would prefer to not impeach, but to censure Trump.
This means that Pelosi has few votes to work with.  And, given the weaknesses of the charges and the polling that shows the public mood shifting against impeachment, Pelosi may be eager to vote now because there is no guarantee that she will have the votes when Congress returns in January.
The process has also raised questions of fairness in the minds of the voters.  Trump and the White House have denied the accusations, and Trump has blasted the investigation as a “witch hunt.”
The inquiry process has roiled Republicans, who complained that Trump and the GOP have not been afforded due process. Democrats retained the right to block the testimony of witnesses requested by Republicans, including Hunter Biden and Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The president’s counsel refused to participate in the Judiciary Committee hearings.
“They’re desperate to have an impeachment vote on this president,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking House Judiciary Republican, said of Democrats.
Next Stop – the Senate
If the articles of impeachment are passed by the House, the trial is held in the Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans, who have made it clear that they do not take the Democratic written impeachment articles as serious.
Normally, the impeachment trial, which was last held during the Clinton presidency, is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with the senators acting as the jury.
However, it appears that neither the Republicans nor Democrats are interested in a full-fledged trial in the Senate.  Senate Republicans appear to have little interest in calling witnesses to investigate the Ukrainian corruption issue – possibly because some Senators may be found to also have questionable ties to the Ukrainian government.
According to the Washington Examiner, the GOP-controlled Senate has no plans to call key witnesses to testify in an impeachment trial.  This means Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, John Kerry’s stepson, Alexandra Chalupa and Ukrainian prosecutors involved in the Burisma case won’t set foot in the Senate.
Their reasoning? Senate Republicans have “no appetite” for it.
According to the Washington Examiner, “Senate impeachment rules require a majority vote to call witnesses, and with just two out of 53 votes to spare, there is no “appetite” among Republicans to pursue testimony from people that Democrats blocked Republicans from subpoenaing during the House investigation. Indeed, Republicans might forgo calling witnesses altogether, saying minds are made up on Trump’s guilt or innocence and that testimony at trial on the Senate floor would draw out the proceedings unnecessarily.”
Instead, top Senate Republicans are leaning towards calling a quick vote to acquit Trump once House Democrats and the White House have delivered their arguments.
“At that point, I would expect that most members would be ready to vote and wouldn’t need more information,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming – the #3 ranked Senate Republican. “Many people have their minds pretty well made up.”
“Here’s what I want to avoid: this thing going on longer than it needs to,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “I want to end this.”
The fact is that the president is not in danger of being removed from office by the Senate, a move that requires 67 votes.
Although Trump may want a trial to exonerate himself, both Democratic and Republican senators may want to avoid embarrassing witnesses.  And given the narrow Republican majority, the Democrats may force the inclusion of witnesses like former National Security advisor John Bolton, if the Republicans try to subpoena former VP Biden or his son.
“It becomes endless motions to call people, and I’m not sure what anybody gains from all that,” said #2 Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota.
Another reason for a quick vote to acquit is that several Democratic senators are running for president and a Senate trial would keep them in Washington rather than campaigning in the critical early primaries coming up in the next few months.
Of course, the Democrats also have the problem that some of their caucus represents Republican states and a vote for conviction could hurt them in the next election.
Senator Joe Manchin (D., WV) said on Wednesday that he was “torn” regarding whether he would vote to convict President Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors once the impeachment proceedings reach the Senate.
“I’m very much torn on it,” Manchin told CNN. “I think it weighs on everybody.”
Manchin is a moderate Democrat whose home state of West Virginia gave Trump 68.5 percent of the vote in the 2016 elections, the largest margin of any state in the U.S.
There are other Democratic senators in Republican states who may vote to acquit in order to retain their seat in the next election.
What to Expect
Although anything could happen, it appears that the Senate trial on the article of impeachment will be short.
The fact is that minds have been made up in the Senate and a trial will note have any impact.  The charges are too thin to reach the 67 vote super majority needed to convict.
Nor are senators on either side of the aisle interested in a drawn out process of calling witnesses and hearing testimony.  Not only are some Democratic senators running for president, there are also senators from both parties who also must run for reelection next year.  None of them want to be tied down to a long trial back in Washington – especially if the results could end up costing them their seat in the Senate.
A vote for acquittal is the cleanest option.  It can be done before the trial on the Senate floor.  Although the vote will likely follow party lines, it gives the Republicans and Trump an acquittal.  It also gives the Democrats the ability to say that Trump was barely acquitted.
However, in the end, it will have little impact on next year’s election.  Polls show that voters generally saw the impeachment proceedings as political, which means that acquittal will have little impact either way.
In the meantime, polls show Trump leading in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – states that the Democratic nominee for president must win to even have a chance to win in the Electoral College.
In the end, the fate of President Trump will rest on the votes in these three states more than on the vote in the Senate.

How Protests Undermine Iran and Its Proxies in Iraq and Lebanon
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
Dec. 4, 2019

Iran’s Islamist dictatorship has been challenged and rebuked in recent weeks by massive political protests—not only at home, but also in the spheres of influence that the regime carved out in Iraq and in Lebanon. In all three countries, the popular protests reportedly erupted spontaneously and initially focused on economic issues, particularly high prices, lack of jobs, and corruption. But gradually, the protests evolved into full-blown anti-government movements, as unaccountable and corrupt regimes blocked any progress toward reforms that would address the protesters’ legitimate demands. In Iran, the biggest demonstrations since the 2009 Green Movement protests over Iran’s rigged presidential election were triggered by the regime’s decision to abruptly raise gasoline prices by roughly 50%.  Hit hard by U.S. sanctions, Tehran was forced to reduce its heavy subsidies for domestic fuel prices. Rather than having the sanctions lifted through diplomatic engagement and compromise, the regime chose to continue on its path of confrontation with the United States, intimidation of its neighbors, and lavish support for terrorist proxies.
Read more at:

Be Thankful America Is Not Fighting “Endless Wars”
By James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation
Dec 3, 2019

Thank you for your service.” Our troops hear that often from their fellow Americans, and not just during the holiday season. Well, our gratitude can go even deeper. We can also be thankful that they are not fighting “endless wars.” Calls for “no more endless wars” may be catchy, but they’re a bumper-stick excuse for a serious foreign policy. Sure, there are many intractable conflicts around the world. But that’s not what defines America’s military deployments. And if the president’s critics could look at the facts on the ground, free from political bias, they would see that his administration has done an excellent job aligning America’s global footprint with U.S. national interests. The White House has drawn the most criticism for its operations in Syria, which without question will remain a fractured country plagued with instability and conflict for years to come. This, simply put, is not our war. That didn’t stop critics from assailing the president. Nor did they retract their criticism when it became clear that while we aren’t planning on being a party to the conflict, we aren’t walking away from our responsibility, either.
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Moscow’s Middle East Balancing Act
By Ilan I. Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
November 20, 2019

Suddenly, Russia has emerged as the Middle East’s indispensable nation. Over the last few weeks, via a series of shrewd strategic moves, the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to exploit new – and unexpected – geopolitical openings in the region, greatly strengthening its regional presence in the process. Most conspicuously, the Trump administration’s surprise decision last month to pull forces out of Syria’s north was a boon for the Kremlin, allowing Russia to position itself as a mediator between the Kurds and the Syrian government, to strengthen the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and to improve its attractiveness as a dependable strategic partner to other Middle Eastern countries. Unsurprisingly, Russian analysts characterized the U.S. administration’s decision as an “unexpected gift for Putin.” Russia’s president wasted no time seizing the opportunity. Just days after Turkey’s October 9th incursion into Syria, he met in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the evolving regional picture. The product was a new power-sharing agreement between Moscow and Ankara – one which effectively sidelines the U.S. in the evolving regional strategic picture.
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Iranian Missiles in Iraq
By Shaan Shaikh
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 11, 2019

In discussions of Iran’s regional missile proliferation, Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels tend to dominate the conversation. This focus is for good reason: Hezbollah today possesses an estimated 130,000 rockets and short-range missiles, and the Houthis have fired over 250 projectiles into Saudi Arabia since 2015. Yet Iran’s strategy of arming proxies with rockets to harass, distract, and deter its regional adversaries has expanded to include factions of a third group. Collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, these militias have taken on increasing importance. The PMF is a semi-autonomous umbrella group composed of an estimated 75,000-145,000 fighters, split among 50-plus militias. It was formally established in 2014 to help Iraq’s armed forces defeat ISIS. Given its complex bureaucracy and history, the organization as a whole should not be considered an Iranian proxy. Each group varies in its politics and interests, with only some loyal to Tehran. However, those groups and PMF leaders that do maintain strong ties to Tehran have steadily risen in size and stature. This report designates these factions of the PMF as “Iran-backed Groups,” or “IBGs,” to focus the scope of its analysis.
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In Dire Straits? Implications of U.S.-Iran Tensions for the Global Oil Market
By Ilan Goldenberg, Kaleigh Thomas and Jessica Schwed
Center for a New American Security
November 21, 2019

In recent months, Iran has responded to rising tensions with the United States—particularly the US launch of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran—by attacking oil tankers and infrastructure in the Persian Gulf region around the Strait of Hormuz (the Strait). These actions have been designed to signal to the United States, the Gulf states, and the international community that the American strategy of strangling Iran economically will not be cost-free, and to Saudi Arabia in particular that it is highly vulnerable to Iranian retaliation. As the Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most critical energy chokepoints, the implications of Iran’s efforts merit close scrutiny and analysis. This study was designed to examine three scenarios for military conflict between Iran and the United States and assess the potential impacts on global oil prices—as one specific representation of the immediate economic impact of conflict—as well as broader strategic implications.
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The U.S. Must Blunt Russia’s Adventurism in Libya
By Ben Fishman
Washington Institute
November 25, 2019

Until recently, very little had changed in Libya since April, when General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the self-styled “Libya National Army,” attacked Tripoli. Now, two high-profile stories have highlighted the presence of Russian mercenaries on the front lines of the war and their impact on the fight over Libya’s capital. For the first time, a spokesperson from the U.S. Africa Command confirmed the presence of “Russian private military companies” in the west of Libya (Russia’s presence in the east, away from the fighting, has long been suspect). And in an unusual step, a U.S.-Libya dialogue decried “Russia’s attempts to exploit the conflict against the will of the Libyan people.” After seven months of equivocating about Libya’s third civil war in nearly nine years, the Trump administration has an opportunity to play a meaningful role in stopping it. To do that, however, the administration would have to engage in uncharacteristically aggressive, and disruptive, regional diplomacy. Neither it nor the Obama administration before it has ever given Libya the U.S. attention it deserves.
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Mounzer A. Sleiman, Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor

Source: Center for American and Arab Studies

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One comment

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