- Northern Ireland’s Lesson for Israeli-Palestinian Peace | Monday, March 13 | 1:00- 5:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | When Northern Ireland’s combatants finally made peace in the 1990s, they did so on a broad foundation of grassroots reconciliation and economic development work, built over more than a decade by the International Fund for Ireland. On March 13, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Embassy of Ireland will gather former government officials, peacebuilding practitioners and scholars to examine what worked in advancing peace in Northern Ireland—and what lessons might be applied to the difficult process of peacemaking and peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians. Former Senator George Mitchell, who served as an envoy in both peace processes, will be the keynote speaker. The first panel on the International Fund for Ireland, will include Carol Cunningham of Unheard Voices, Melanie Greenberg of Alliance for Peacebuilding, Professor Brandon Hamber of Ulster University, and Adrian Johnston of the International Fund for Ireland. The second panel, on implications for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, will include Joel Braunold of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen of the United Institute of Peace, Father Josh Thomas of Kids4Peace, and Sarah Yerkes of Brookings.
- Regional Perspectives on US Policy in the Middle East | Monday, March 13 | 3:00- 4:30pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the dust begins to settle after the transition of power in Washington, the spotlight is slowly moving to the administration’s policies toward the Middle East and North Africa. With the region already troubled by one of President Trump’s early executive orders and several phone calls and meetings with regional leaders, many unanswered questions remain about the direction of the relationship with the Middle East. Our distinguished panel will discuss how the region is watching, anticipating, and reacting to shifts in policy, including Kristin Diwan on the Gulf, Haykel Ben Mahfoudh and Karim Mezran on North Africa, A. Hellyer on Egypt, and Nicola Pedde on Iran. Will the Trump administration fulfill its campaign promise to re-assert its role in the Middle East? How will the president and Congress react to ongoing challenges and opportunities in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt? Will the president’s style have a significant impact on the relationship with hardline leaders in Syria, Iran, and others across the region? Please join us for a discussion of these and other issues of concern to the United States in the Middle East.
- Report Launch: “The Other Side of the World” | Tuesday, March 14 | 2:00- 4:00pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | China’s growing interests in the Middle East, and the United States’ enduring interests in the Middle East, create challenges for two of the world’s most powerful nations. Should they seek more active collaboration? Are their goals for the future of the Middle East compatible? To discuss the implications of increasingly robust China-Middle East ties for U.S. interests, CSIS invites you to the launch of its new Brzezinski Institute Report: “The Other Side of the World: China, the United States, and the Struggle for Middle East Security.” The discussion will feature Carol Giacomo of The New York Times as well as CSIS experts Jon B. Alterman, Michael J. Green, Christopher K. Johnson, and Matthew P. Goodman.
- Why Tunisia Should Matter to the New U.S. Administration | Tuesday, March 14 | 3:00- 4:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Tunisia’s peaceful, though difficult, transition since the Arab Spring and its centrality in U.S.-supported efforts to stem terrorism punctuate its role as a major non-NATO ally of the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump “praised Tunisia’s stability and security,” in a Feb. 17 phone call with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, according to a White House statement. Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui will discuss the U.S. partnership and Tunisia’s own development and influence in the region, in a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, March 14.
- America’s Role in the World: Congress and US Foreign Policy | Thursday, March 16 | 9:00-10:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the Trump administration continues to form its foreign policy and national security strategy, Congress has a distinct role of its own to play in shaping how the United States addresses emerging global threats and approaches its leadership role on the international stage. At this early stage, little is defined within the administration’s approach. Congress has an opportunity to help characterize what America’s role in world should be and how it aims to deal with issues in the Middle East, especially ISIS and Iran, China, and Russia. To help think through these issues, two Representatives with military backgrounds, Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), will offer their perspectives on the United States leadership role and national security strategy in an environment of increasing global risks.
- Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s Role in the Middle East and the World | Friday, March 17 | 8:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The United States faces a number of security challenges across the globe as well as increasing questions about what role the Trump Administration believes the United States should play on the international stage. Please join the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East for a conversation with Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s role in the world and in the Middle East in particular, and what we can expect from a Trump presidency in terms of foreign policy and national security. This event is part of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force initiative, co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former US National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley. In November 2016, the co-chairs published their Task Force Report that proposes a pragmatic and actionable Middle East roadmap that emphasizes the efforts of the people of the Middle East themselves supported by the long-term engagement of the international community, with an eye toward harnessing the region’s enormous human potential. The Task Force brought together a broad array of regional stakeholders and international experts to collaborate in identifying ways in which people in the Middle East can build and support governing institutions that offer legitimacy, opportunity, and an alternative to violence.
The Middle East Institute hosted a conversation Friday, March 3 on the future of Palestinian leadership and the challenges Palestine faces in developing its next generation of leaders. Moderated by Barbara Plett Usher, BBC correspondent, the panel included Omar Shaban, Director at PalThink for Strategic Studies, Yousef Munayyer, MEI Scholar, Gabriel Mitchell, US Representative at The Mitvim Institute, and Sarah Yerkes, nonresident fellow at Brookings.
The panelists discussed the future of Palestine post-Abbas. Shaban saw several challenges to future governance, most notably the age gap between the Palestinian leadership and the population—an average age of 85 as compared to 25. There is no clear way for youth to establish a political party, but the only way to bridge this gap is through elections. The disconnect between the government and the people is not confined to age either. Shaban noted that much of the current Palestinian leadership resides outside the territories and lacks the professionalism to meet the political ambitions of Palestinians.
Palestinian youth frustration largely stems from feeling overlooked in the political dialogue concerning their country and their future. Munayyer asserted that calling the issue the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” gives the illusion of false symmetry, when in reality Palestinians are not represented by a government. Nor do they have institutions to develop political representation for themselves. Without functioning institutions, it is difficult for leadership to gain legitimacy or reach out to the broadest spectrum of stakeholders. This becomes a greater issue hindering peace as public opinion does not capture the full array of Palestinian voices and ignores perspectives from a broad section of Palestinian society. According to Munayyer, part of the problem comes from the international community’s willingness to meet Israel where they are as a nation while shaping a Palestinian partner that suits international purposes and Israeli demands.
Outside actors, especially the United States and Israel, play a big role not only in the regional political context but also in internal Palestinian affairs and the future of government and elections within the territories. Presenting the Israeli viewpoint, Mitchell discussed Palestine’s future from three perspectives—the current government, the security establishment, and the Israeli opposition. The current government endorses a smooth transfer of power after Abbas and wants to influence the process while not appearing to manipulate it. They hope to get the international community involved as intermediaries. The Israeli security establishment hopes to develop a clear path to succession and continue its security cooperation with whoever replaces Abbas. The Israeli opposition does not have a clear idea of who should succeed Abbas and feels frustrated and/or indifferent over the idea of a two-state solution.
Speaking from the perspective of American foreign policy, Yerkes said that while the US is planning for succession because of Abbas’ age, America will pay little attention to Palestinian internal affairs due to its lack of influence or interest in the outcome. What the United States will want in Palestine is a partner for peace that helps combat and condemn incitement, supports economic development, and takes steps towards political reform and democracy. But the Trump administration may well opt for absentee-ism and allow Netanyahu to operate however he chooses.
Building the Programs That Can Better Build Peace | Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | 9:30-11:00 | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here |
On March 7, members of the consortium at USIP will describe their findings, including new tools that can assess and improve the effectiveness of peacebuilding programs. The work of accountability is vital to prove the case for peacebuilding as a strategy—and to sustain support from donors and taxpayers. Several non-government organizations—including Alliance for Peacebuilding, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, Mercy Corps and Search for Common Ground—have formed a Peacebuilding Evaluation Consortium. This group is developing better tools for the design, monitoring and evaluation of programs abroad.
What Both Parties Like: Two-State Solution and Beyond | Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | 12-1:30 | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here |
President Trump expressed an early interest in making “the ultimate deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians, but it remains unclear how the administration plans to engage on this conflict. Polls of Israelis and Palestinians consistently suggest that while support is shrinking for the two-state solution, it remains the preferred outcome. So what are the alternatives, and how politically and logistically feasible are they? The conversation will include Dahlia Scheindlin, who recently proposed a confederal approach as a “Third Way for Israel-Palestine.” She will be joined by Khaled Elgindy, a former advisor on permanent status negotiations to the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, and by USIP’s Mike Yaffe, formerly the senior advisor to the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at the Department of State.
Will Washington and Moscow Work Together in the Middle East? | Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | 12:00-1:30 | Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington | Register Here|
Join AGSIW for a discussion of how the U.S. and Russian Middle East agendas converge and diverge, and how the prospect of a new level of coordination between them is viewed both in Europe and the Gulf.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump advocates greater cooperation with Russia, including in the Middle East. But how compatible are Russian and U.S. regional strategic goals, especially over the long run? Can the new administration simultaneously pursue cooperation with Moscow and confrontation with Tehran, given the close partnership between Russia and Iran? Will Washington identify and exploit differences between Russian and Iranian priorities, particularly in Syria? How can Gulf Arab countries adapt to this complex evolving environment and protect their own interests?
Chasing War: The struggle for journalism in ISIS’ Middle East | Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | 3:00-4:30 | Elliott School |Register Here|
Shaheen Pasha is an Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. She previously worked as the Middle East Regional Editor for The Brief, a legal magazine published by Thomson Reuters. Prior to launching the magazine, Pasha was the Islamic finance correspondent at Thomson Reuters, based in Dubai. She has been an assistant professor of journalism at The American University in Cairo, teaching print and online journalism for undergraduate and graduate students, and has worked at CNNMoney.com as a banking and legal reporter, covering the Supreme Court and the Enron trial. Pasha was also a reporter at Dow Jones Newswires, where she had a daily column in the Wall Street Journal and appeared as a regular correspondent on CNBC Asia, covering the ADR market. Pasha will join us at the Elliott School on March 7 to discuss the challenges for those in the journalism and media industries in covering the war in Syria and the ongoing conflict in Iraq. She will give some background on the conflict, bringing in a discussion of the difficulties journalists are facing on the ground, and ISIS’ own media efforts in the form of their magazine, Dabiq. This event aims specifically to engage journalists and other media specialists, but is open to all.
Prospects for Ending the Civil War in Libya | Thursday, March 9th, 2017 | 10:00-11:30 | Atlantic Council | Register Here |
The situation in Libya today, as a result of increasing fragmentation and polarization among actors, is on the verge of a breaking point. So far, the competing authorities in the country – namely the Presidential Council and Government of National Accord established by a United Nations-backed process, and the eastern-based House of Representatives and head of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar – have failed to come to an agreement to end the conflict. In this environment, it is more important than ever to offer perspectives on ways in which the new US administration can help Libya move toward stability. The Rafik Hariri Center will convene a panel of experts to discuss the current situation in Libya and explore ways forward out of the current conflict.
The View From Israel: A Conversation with Reuven Azar, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Israel | Thursday, March 9th, 2017 | 12-1 | Wilson Center | Register Here |
Israel sits in the middle of a volatile Middle East and at a nexus of issues critical to regional stability, security and American national interests. Join the Wilson Center as a veteran Israeli diplomat, Reuven Azar, offers observations on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, the Iran nuclear deal, the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace, Russia’s role in the region and Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors.
The Syrian Crisis: American Interests and Moral Considerations | Friday, March 10th, 2017 | 11:45-1:30 | Hudson Institute | Register Here |
After nearly six years, Syria remains locked in a bloody civil war while Iran and Russia continue to be President Bashar al-Assad’s primary enablers. Assad’s Syria offers Iran an important supply line to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. The war has taken the lives of more than 400,000 Syrians and has displaced more than 9 million, creating a refugee crisis that has been felt around the world.
U.S. response to the Syrian civil war has been inconsistent. President Obama lacked a coherent strategy for dealing with Syria and infamously chose inaction after Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. President Trump has made it clear that he intends to refocus U.S. efforts abroad and pursue a foreign policy focused primarily on American interests. He has, along with his Secretaries of State and Defense, signaled a willingness to take a very different approach to Syria.
What are the most pressing U.S. interests in the outcome of the Syrian civil war? What moral obligation, if any, does the U.S. have to help the region regain stability and to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people? What options are before the Trump administration, and do those options take into consideration both U.S. security and humanitarian concerns? To address these questions and more, Hudson Institute and Providence Magazine will host a March 10 panel discussion with Marc LiVecche, managing editor of Providence Magazine, and Hudson fellows Michael Doran, Nina Shea, and Rebeccah Heinrichs.
The current furor over the Trump campaign’s links to Moscow is still generating more heat than light. This morning’s news that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court last fall authorized tapping of his phones suggests there is fire as well as smoke. The FISA court would issue a warrant only if the requester demonstrates
probable cause to believe that the “target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power,” that “a significant purpose” of the surveillance is to obtain “foreign intelligence information,” and that appropriate “minimization procedures” are in place.
The original report of the wiretap refers explicitly to FISA authorization.
The vital question is whether there was coordination or cooperation with Russia’s concerted efforts to tilt the election in Trump’s direction. I haven’t seen an answer. Attorney General Sessions’ recusal from any investigation of the Moscow connection is no more than a procedural step in the right direction, one he should have taken even before it was revealed that he lied at his Senate confirmation hearing about contacts with the Russians.
The debate now is over a special prosecutor or an independent commission. I don’t really care which, so long as whoever investigates can collect and see all the intelligence available, without undue influence by the administration. That is no small order: it means independent people with courage, high-level clearances and a year, or more likely two, before we know the results.
That’s a long time to leave people in office who may have collaborated with a foreign power in getting elected. But at the same time it virtually ensures that President Trump will not be able to do anything really harmful with Russia. As Steve Walt tweeted this week, he would have to get a very good deal from President Putin in order to convince even the Republicans in Congress to go along. Presidents Bush and Obama tried hard and failed. Short of giving away Crimea, it is unlikely Putin would make a deal. Republican Senators have already made it clear they won’t put up with that.
Frustrated, Trump is likely to turn his venom on Iran. He won’t tear up the nuclear deal, because even the Israelis have come to believe it is better than no deal at this point, since the Europeans would not agree to reimpose sanctions unless the Iranians violate the agreement. But Trump might well push for more sanctions related to Iran’s missile program or more pushback against its forces and proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain. That however would give Iran good reason to solidify its alliance with Russia, making any attempt at rapprochement with Moscow even more unlikely to succeed.
So Trump’s bromance with Putin is not going to be consummated. Moscow knows and has already toned down its media enthusiasm for its favorite American presidential candidate. Trump is still enamored, but with H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser and James Mattis as Secretary of Defense it will be hard to move the machinery of government into support for a bad deal with Moscow. Rex Tillerson, who might feel differently, is proving a non-entity at the State Department, where he is fighting a rearguard action against giant budget cuts rather than contributing to foreign policy.
The Trump Administration has anyway done little to clarify its distinct foreign policy views other than intensifying drone strikes in Yemen, canning the Trans Pacific Partnership intended to counter increasing Chinese influence in the Asia Pacific, and claiming to have started on design of the wall with Mexico. Mostly Trump has abandoned his previous radical views. He is not moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, nor is he abandoning the NATO Alliance. Even renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement is looking dicey, because Mexico and Canada have made it clear they will come to the table with their own demands. Trump has now reaffirmed the One China policy.
The Administration has not however changed its radical view on the European Union, which Trump regards as disadvantageous to the US. He should consult his friends in Moscow on that subject: they are determined to block expansion of EU membership and influence, which Putin views as an instrument that benefits the US. Trump could learn a lot from Putin, if only he would stop liking the guy (and doing his bidding) and start understanding that an autocratic Moscow is not democratic America’s best friend. That would require Trump to identify as a democratic leader, which he doesn’t. That’s the real Moscow connection.
- Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum: Negotiation Day – Negotiators’ Behavior in the End Game | Monday, February 27 | 9 – 10:30am | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | No analytical work has ever addressed the subject of How Negotiations End. We know that negotiators act differently in the endgame–when they see the end is in sight, good or bad, and they work to that end. This project addresses that situation, examining way in which the endgame ends positively or negatively, and the way in which typical behavioral patterns are encountered on the way. A path breaking study of a neglected topic. The book is now in press with Cambridge University Press, the latest study of the Process of International Negotiation (PIN) Program at Clingendael, Netherlands.
- Potential Negotiations in the Upcoming Year | Monday, February 27 | 11 am – 12:30 pm | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | We are faced today with an international situation filled with challenges for negotiation. These represent opportunities open for pursuit; others represent situations looking for an opportunity. In this situation, what are the prospects for pursuing and developing negotiations as a means of managing conflict and of furthering US policy goals.Speakers:Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and JordanPrinceton Lyman, former US Ambassador to Nigerial and South Africa
Galia Golan, Professor at the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya
Vali Nasr, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS
I WIlliam Zartman, Jacob Blaustein Professor Emeritus of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, SAIS – Moderator
Location Kenney Herter Auditorium, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW
- Crude Strategy: Rethinking the U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil | Monday, February 27 | 11 – 12:30pm | Cato Institute | Register Here | Should the United States continue to use its military to guarantee the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf? For more than 30 years, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by a commitment to safeguard the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Yet profound changes in international oil markets, growth in domestic U.S. energy production, and dramatic shifts in the Middle Eastern balance of power suggest that it may be time to reconsider whether this commitment is still warranted. In Crude Strategy, a multidisciplinary team of political scientists, economists, and historians set out to explore the links between Persian Gulf oil and U.S. national security. Their essays explore key questions such as the potential economic cost of disruption in oil supply, whether disruptions can be blunted with nonmilitary tools, the potential for instability in Saudi Arabia, and the most effective U.S. military posture for the region. By clarifying the assumptions underlying the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, the authors conclude that the case for revising America’s grand strategy towards the region is far stronger than is commonly assumed.
- The Trump Administration and the Future of the Kurds | Monday February 27 | 2 – 3:30pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The Kurdish issue in the Middle East is at an important juncture. The Iraqi Kurds, faced with an unsettled Iraq, are itching to declare their independence. The Syrian Kurds have managed to affiliate themselves with the United States against ISIS but face a hostile reaction from Turkey, their northern neighbor, intent on rolling back their successes. The Turkish Kurds have to contend with the effects of government attempts at suppressing their legal political representatives and the war between the Turkish state and the PKK, which are challenging the country’s stability. Our panel will discuss these and other issues pertaining to the future Kurdish political landscape.
- U.S. – Turkey Cooperation in Syria and the Role of the U.S. in the Middle East | Monday February 27 | 3 – 4:30pm | Turkish Heritage Organization | Register Here | The Trump administration has inherited numerous, complex challenges in the Middle East. Regional instability caused by the Syrian civil war continues to have a profound impact on one of the U.S.’s most strategic NATO allies – Turkey – and on the bilateral relationship between Washington and Ankara. As the Trump administration prepares to tackle these issues and re-shape America’s role in the region, experts will discuss the choices and challenges facing the U.S. and Turkey.
- The Impact of Shifting Geopolitics on MENA Energy | Tuesday February 28 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Changes in the energy market, new entrants, and conflicting economic and national security interests at the regional and global level have altered the market power of Middle Eastern oil and gas producers. Industry developments and new policies under the Trump administration are likely to lead to the expansion of U.S. shale oil and gas production and increased exports. Russia vies daily with Saudi Arabia to be the world’s largest producer, while prices remain far below levels of a few years ago. How are Middle Eastern states coping politically and economically with the challenges of a global energy market in an historic transition?
- Obama’s Legacy, Trump’s Inheritance in the Middle East (Annual Kuwait Chair Lecture) | Tuesday February 28 | 6:30 – 7:45pm | Elliott School of International Affairs | Register Here | Join us as Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm examines the environment in the Middle East that President Trump inherits from his predecessor and explores the parameters for action by the new administration.
- Food for Humanity | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute’s Arts & Culture Program is pleased to host a conversation about the political, emotional and symbolic significance of food for displaced and diaspora communities. The panel will explore the unifying role of food, its ability to generate empathy, and its power to build community among diverse peoples through the ritual sharing of a meal. The panel will also discuss how food can serve as a source of income, a form of cultural resistance, and as a means of preserving identity and heritage for refugee communities in the face of loss.
- How People Become Terrorists | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:45pm | New America | Register Here | In the years since 9/11 the scope and nature of the global neo-jihadi threat to the West has changed radically, prompting reassessments from those following the threat. In his latest book Misunderstanding Terrorism, Marc Sageman examines the current threat and articulates a new model of how people become terrorists, which has strong implications for the fight against terrorists that go against the conventional wisdom. New America welcomes Dr. Sageman for a discussion of what is driving the current generation of jihadists to become terrorists and how the U.S. should adapt to the threat. Marc Sageman is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the author of Misunderstanding Terrorism and two other critically acclaimed books: Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and Leaderless Jihad (UPP, 2007).
- Women of the Caliphate: Gender Dynamics in State-Building Jihadi Organizations | Thursday March 2 | 5:30 – 7pm | American University | Register Here | A Talk with Hamoon Khelghat-Doost, from the National University of Singapore. Hamoon Khelghat-Doost looks at gender dynamics within jihadi organizations by examining their standpoint on the state-building process. His talk will explore the reasons for jihadi organizations, such as ISIS, to incorporate a relatively high number of women. Khelghat-Doost has conducted fieldwork in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and along Syrian borders in southern Turkey.
- Prospects for the Next Generation of Palestinian Leadership | Friday March 3 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | President Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution shines a spotlight on the Palestinians’ looming leadership crisis. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now 81, has yet to cultivate a successor, and his administration faces growing concerns about its credibility twelve years after the last national elections. How should the next generation of Palestinian leaders approach such complex issues as Israeli settlement expansion, a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, economic troubles, and engagement on the international stage?
The appointment of H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser is one more step in trying to hem in President Trump on national security policy. He remains in charge of immigration, health care, trade and many other subjects, but the Washington establishment (aka “the blob”) is trying to reassert control of some important foreign policy issues:
- Vice President Pence has been in Europe reassuring the NATO allies of the Administration’s wholehearted commitment to the Alliance and openness to partnership with the European Union, despite the President’s often expressed skepticism of both.
- Defense Secretary Mattis has done likewise with NATO and also visited Baghdad, in part to reassure the Iraqis that we are not, as the President has suggested we would, going to “keep” their oil (whatever that means).
- H.R. is well-known for his book criticizing the generals for not objecting to escalation of the Vietnam War–he isn’t likely to stand by idly if Trump pursues courses of action that can’t be justified or sustained. Nor is he likely to ignore or denigrate the intelligence community.
- Secretary of State Tillerson has been reassuring Ukraine of America’s support, including on Crimea, and calling out the Russians for failure to implement the Minsk 2 agreement.
- Republican Senator McCain has trashed Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin, with Senator Lindsey Graham and other Republicans cheering him on amidst growing pressure for serious investigations of the White House’s Russian connections.
With those holes plugged, the main thrust of White House thinking about foreign and national security policy still has two major outlets: Iran and North Korea.
The nuclear deal with Iran is safe because the Europeans have made it clear they will not reimpose sanctions if Trump undermines it and the Israelis have told Trump they prefer the current restraints to none at all. But Tehran’s support for Bashar al Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, and Shiite militias in Iraq gives people in Washington heartburn. Despite the nuclear deal, Tehran has few friends in DC because it has been far so aggressive in pursuing its regional interests.
The May 19 Iranian presidential election is already raising the political temperature in Tehran. The Revolutionary Guard is doing military exercises and shooting off missiles, though it is not clear whether any of them since General Flynn’s “notice” violate UN Security Council resolution 1929:
Iran is prohibited from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons and States…
President Rouhani is feeling the heat, both from the Iranian right wing and from the Americans. Reformists have no one else to vote for, so he will likely to tilt towards the hawks in an effort to improve his prospects, which are good but by no means unassailable. He is also trying to improve relations with the Gulf Arabs, which would solidify his claim to restoring Iran’s influence and prestige in the region.
North Korea is the far easier and more worthy target. Let’s not even consider North Korea’s assassinations, human rights abuses against its own population, and oppression. Kim Jong-un is well on his way to getting missiles that can reach US bases in the Pacific and eventually the US West coast. The Chinese appear to be at their wits’ end with him. The problem is this: no one knows what, if anything, will bring the North Koreans to heel. If we were to try and fail, Pyongyang can retaliate with massive artillery barrages against Seoul. He could even use a few of his nuclear weapons.
If the establishment professionals succeed in their effort to hem Trump in with respect to Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and Iraq’s oil, he still has the opportunity to make a giant hash of things. The President is in charge. Getting Iran and North Korea right will not be easy, especially if the President decides he is better off listening to Steve Bannon than H.R. McMaster. Bad judgment is Trump’s consistent vice. He can get the United States into a lot of trouble.