Donald Trump continues to score goals against his own and America’s interests. Just a few examples from the last couple of days:
- He announced the building of the border wall shortly before the planned visit of Mexican President Peña Nieto. This has put the visit in doubt and makes it nigh on impossible for Peña Nieto to cooperate with the effort in any way, least of all by paying a dime for the unnecessary and expensive project. Trump continues to claim the Mexicans will pay, but he doesn’t say how and admits it may be complicated. More likely done with smoke and mirrors, not a clear and verifiable transfer of resources.
- Trump continues to say that the US should have “taken” Iraq’s oil, has returned to claiming that torture works, and is considering an executive order reviving the “black sites” abroad in which much of it was done. Torture of course does work in the sense that it gets most people to talk, but the information they provide is mostly useless. The draft executive order on “black sites” reportedly denies access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is required by the Geneva Conventions. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda will welcome all three of these points, as they help with extremist recruitment and put Americans serving abroad (military and civilian) at heightened risk.
- He has revived the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the US. This will benefit Canada but put excessive amounts of crude into an already oversupplied US market. My bet is that it won’t be built, even if the permits are forthcoming, both because of environmental opposition in Canada and because the economics just don’t work at current oil prices in the mid-$50 range.
- He intends to block Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely as well as refugees from several other countries temporarily. Blocking carefully vetted Syrians when Europe is taking in many more will strain relations with the European Union, especially as he paired this announcement with repeat of his pledge to create a safe zone in Syria for which there are currently no clear plans. The other countries to be blocked temporarily from sending refugees (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) have produced few terrorists operating in the US, so this will be seen in those countries as arbitrary discrimination. Countries that have produced more terrorists, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, are unaffected, presumably because their governments are friendly to the US.
- The Administration is preparing to cut UN funding dramatically. Press reports . say the overall cut will be 40%, which would save at most $2.8 billion, or much less than 1% of the defense budget. Such a cut will reduce US influence in the world organization and its specialized agencies, which are a relatively efficient way of dealing with issues the US does not want to handle on its own. The UN currently has over 117,000 troops in 16 peacekeeping operations, for which the US pays 22% of the total costs.
- Trump has pledged an investigation of fraudulent voting in the US. He is citing as evidence for his claim that millions voted illegally a story he says was told him by a non-citizen [sic] who stood in line to vote with people he doubted were citizens. He has also emphasized his concern with people who are registered to vote in two states. Both Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon and his daughter Tiffany are reported to fall in this category. Trump has failed to object to laws and practices intended to suppress voting, mostly by people unlikely to vote for him.
Anyone expecting Trump to moderate once in power should by now be admitting that this is a radical administration that intends to pursue all the bad ideas it campaigned on. There will be no maturation until he is blocked, and even then he is less likely to mature than simply retreat in order to fight another day. He is governing to please his supporters, whose adulation he craves. The rest of us are consigned to opposition. The next big anti-Trump demonstrations will be April 15. I think this time I’ll plan to be in the US.
1. Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge | Monday, August 3rd | 11:30 – 2:00 | Hudson Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The U.S. government has established an arsenal of economic warfare tools aimed at weakening rogue actors, isolating illicit finance, and protecting the global economy. Washington’s playbook is filled with asset freezes, sanctions, trade embargoes, and blacklists. At the same time, the Information Age has led to a transformative development in the realm of economic warfare: the potential use of cyberattacks to cause the U.S. substantial economic harm and weaken its national security capacity. With the exception of cyberterrorism, cyberattacks on U.S. economic targets have been treated as vexing nuisances and a cost of doing business, but have not been viewed as a strategic national security threat. The changing nature and increased volume of cybercrime, espionage, hacking, and sabotage raises the question: Is there lurking a new type of action aimed specifically at undermining American economic power, destabilizing the global economic system, and threatening U.S. allies? What are America’s vulnerabilities and how can the U.S. government and private sector recognize, monitor, deter, defend against, and defeat such warfare? A new report, Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge, edited by Dr. Samantha Ravich seeks to address these questions. Leading experts will come together on August 3rd to discuss and debate the report’s critical findings in an event hosted by Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance. Speakers include: The Honorable Juan C. Zarate, Chairman & Senior Counselor, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Congressman Mike Rogers, Distinguished Fellow, Hudson Institute, Former U.S. Representative, Michigan, and Former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Steven Chabinsky, General Counsel & Chief Risk Officer, CrowdStrike, Dr. Michael Hsieh, Program Manager, DARPA, Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director, Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Director, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Mark Tucker, CEO, Temporal Defense Systems. Dr. Samantha Ravich, Editor, Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare: An Evolving Challenge and Board of Advisors Member, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, Foundation for Defense of Democracies will moderate.
2. The Role of IGAD: A Regional Approach to the Crisis in South Sudan | Tuesday, August 4st | 2:00-3:30 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Soon after it achieved independence in 2011, South Sudan erupted into civil war resulting in thousands of people killed and another 2.2 million displaced. There have been several international and national mediation efforts have done little to stem the violence and arrive at a viable solutions. One of the key actors in these efforts has been the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is one of the African Union’s eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs). This session will assess IGAD’s role in mediating the crisis in South Sudan, the challenges that IGAD has faced (including how regional dynamics and interests have impacted IGAD’s mediating efforts), and offer recommendatios and options for international actors and IGAD for more effective mediation of the South Sudan crisis. Speakers include: Southern Voices Network Scholar Dr. Getachew Zeru Gebrekidan, Lecturer at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia and Mr. John Prendergast, Founding Director, the Enough Project.
3. The State of Afghanistan and Prospects for the Future: A Discussion with General John Campbell | Tuesday, August 4st | 3:00 – 4:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | While the combat mission in Afghanistan concluded in late 2014, U.S. involvement remains significant and critical to security in the country. In recent weeks, talk of a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government has gained momentum. At the same time, however, increased U.S. air strikes against insurgents have taken place, and Afghan soldiers continue to take their heaviest losses of the war as intense fighting continues in a number of Afghan provinces. Additionally, concerns over ISIS moving into the region are also mounting. General John F. Campbell, commander of Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, will discuss the country’s security landscape. Michael O’Hanlon, co-director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, will moderate.
4. The Future of Naval Capabilities | Tuesday, July 21st | 10:00-11:00 | CSIS | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Please join us for a discussion with Admirals Aucoin and Winter on the U.S. Navy’s efforts to develop new capabilities above, on, and under the sea. Speakers include: Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems and Rear Admiral Mathias W. Winter, USN, Chief of Naval Research, Director, Innovation, Technology Requirements, and Test & Evaluation. Moderated by: Andrew P. Hunter, Director, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, Senior Fellow, International Security Program, CSIS. The Maritime Security Dialogue brings together CSIS and U.S. Naval Institute, two of the nation’s most respected non-partisan institutions. The series is intended to highlight the particular challenges facing the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, from national level maritime policy to naval concept development and program design. Given budgetary challenges, technological opportunities, and ongoing strategic adjustments, the nature and employment of U.S. maritime forces are likely to undergo significant change over the next ten to fifteen years. The Maritime Security Dialogue provides an unmatched forum for discussion of these issues with the nation’s maritime leaders.
5. After the Deal: A Veteran Journalist’s View from Tehran | Wednesday, August 5th | 12:00-1:00 | Johns Hopkins SAIS – Rome Building | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Roy Gutman, Middle East bureau chief of the McClatchy newspapers, will share his insights from Tehran, after which respondent Joyce Karam, Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an international Arabic daily based in London, will comment on reaction to the deal in the Arab press and concern about increased regional turmoil. SAIS faculty member and MEI scholar Daniel Serwer will moderate the conversation.
6. Beyond Afghanistan’s Dangerous Summer | Wednesday, August 5th | 1:3o-2:30 | USIP | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As the one-year anniversary approaches for the inauguration of Afghanistan’s national unity government, the country is in the midst of a dangerous summer as its security forces battle an intensified insurgency. Despite these risks, the government in some ways has been transformative. President Ashraf Ghani’s outreach towards Pakistan has offered the possibility of a relationship based on mutual benefit rather than mistrust. Significant progress has been made by the Afghan government in its effort to open peace talks with the Taliban, after years of stalled attempts. Internal governance reforms have begun. Yet in an increasingly complex security environment, the government seems to be in a race against time. Ambassador Dan Feldman will discuss these developments and what the United States can do to help ensure these transformations lead to a stable Afghanistan that can act as a strategic partner for the United States in the region. Comments will also be provided by Stephen J. Hadley and Andrew Wilder, and then the discussion will be opened up to the audience. Opening remarks by Nancy Lindborg, President, USIP. Speakers include: Ambassador Dan Feldman, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, Stephen J. Hadley, Chairman, Board of Directors, USIP and Dr. Andrew Wilder, Vice President for South and Central Asia, USIP.
7. Managing Tensions in Asia | Thursday, August 6th | 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm | PS21 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As a rising China becomes ever more assertive over its claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea and beyond, regional tensions are rising faster than ever before in recent history. PS21 brings together a great panel of Washington-based experts to discuss how conflict can be avoided and where the risks really lie. Panelists include: Ali Wyne, Member of the Adjunct Staff, RAND Corporation, PS21 Global Fellow, Harry Kazianis, Executive Editor, The National Interest, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Center for the National Interest and Scott Cheney-Peters, Chairman, Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).
Mark Leon Goldberg wrote just before Christmas that 2015 might be one of those rare years that shakes up the international system, he thought for the better. His hopes are based on
- adoption next September of the Sustainable Development Goals and
- conclusion of a treaty on climate change before the end of the year.
I’m not optimistic, even if both these hopes are realized.
Mark is correct that the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, have been a significant success. But unfortunately that is unlikely to be repeated with the follow-on Sustainable Development Goals. Success has encouraged overreach. The MDGs were restrained and reachable. There were only eight of them:
The current draft of the SDGs is ridiculously over-ambitious and unrealistic. They start with “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” They repeat that sweeping over-ambition for hunger, health, education, gender equality, water, energy, economic growth, employment, infrastructure, inequality (within and between countries), cities, oceans, terrestrial ecosystems, justice and sustainable development. Seventeen goals in all. This is a catalog of the developed world’s current concerns, not a set of achievable goals for countries and organizations with limited capacity and even more limited resources.
Unless a real effort is made to prune and prioritize, the SDGs risk irrelevance or worse. There is certainly no risk they will be achieved if they remain in their current formulation. A real effort should be made in the next few months to pare them back, both in number and ambition. A tighter and shorter set of goals would bode much better for implementation.
I too am optimistic about a climate change treaty concluded in 2015. But unfortunately there is no hope it will be strong enough to avoid truly serious impacts of global warming. We are well on our way to breaching the 2 degrees centigrade rise over pre-industrial levels that is generally regarded as a benchmark, albeit an arbitrary one, signalling serious problems due to irreversible melting of major ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The way I read this World Bank report, we are likely to double that figure before the end of the century. You have to believe that countries will all meet their current pledges and tight new ones will be made in order to avoid it.
I’m not a climate disaster monger. But I do have a long memory. What I remember is that the “greenhouse effect” (which is what causes the fossil fuel contribution to global warming) was already an issue at the 1972 (first) UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. I was a young staffer on the secretariat and amazed that human activity could affect the entire planet. Our collective failure to do anything serious about it in the more than forty years since suggests that we will need some real disasters before acting. New York City is building up its coastal defenses, in response to the massive flooding that occurred due to Hurricane Sandy, and other big cities have invested heavily (London has floodgates, Venice is getting them). The Netherlands has its dikes. But much of Asia is at serious risk, as are lots of islands. Bangladesh, Mauritius and Vietnam can’t afford the defenses that New York and the Dutch build.
We’ve likely already seen some of the disasters and their consequences. Climate variation caused heightened conflict between pastoralists and agriculturalists in Darfur and drought in Syria, where an influx of farmers into urban areas was contributed to the rebellion against Bashar al Assad. We are going to see a lot more such climate-induced violent conflicts as competition for resources–especially water–grows and productive land area shrinks. The United Arab Emirates can afford to desalinate sea water. Egypt much less so, but its needs will soon exceed what the Nile will provide.
So no, I am not sanguine. Even good things won’t make 2015 a good year.
This year’s Council on Foreign Relations Preventive Priorities Survey was published this morning. It annually surveys the globe for a total of 30 Tier 1, 2 and 3 priorities for the United States. Tier 1s have a high or moderate impact on US interests or a high or moderate likelihood (above 50-50). Tier 2s can have low likelihood but high impact on US interests, moderate (50-50) likelihood and moderate impact on US interests, or high likelihood and low impact on US interests. Tier 3s are all the rest. Data is crowdsourced from a gaggle of experts, including me.
We aren’t going to be telling you anything you don’t know this year, but the exercise is still instructive. The two new Tier 1 contingencies are Russian intervention in Ukraine and heightened tensions in Israel/Palestine. A new Tier 2 priority is Kurdish violence within Turkey. I don’t believe I voted for that one. Ebola made it only to Tier 3, as did political unrest in China and possible succession problems in Thailand. I had Ebola higher than that.
Not surprisingly, the top slot (high likelihood and high impact) goes to ISIS. Military confrontation in the South China Sea moved up to Tier 1. Internal instability in Pakistan moved down, as did political instability in Jordan. Six issues fell off the list: conflict in Somalia, a China/India clash, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo Bangladesh and conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.
Remaining in Tier 1 are a mass casualty attack on the US homeland (hard to remove that one), a serious cyberattack (that’s likely to be perennial too), a North Korea crisis, and an Israeli attack on Iran. Syria and Afghanistan remain in Tier 2 (I think I had Syria higher than that).
The Greater Middle East looms large in this list. Tier 2 is all Greater Middle East, including Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey and Yemen (in addition to Tier 1 priorities Israel/Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine). That makes 11 out of 30, all in the top two tiers. Saudi monarchy succession is not even mentioned. Nor is Bahrain.
Sub-Saharan Africa makes it only into Tier 3. Latin America and much of Southeast Asia escape mention.
There is a question in my mind whether the exclusively country-by-country approach of this survey makes sense. It is true of course that problems in the Middle East vary from country to country, but there are also some common threads: Islamic extremism, weak and fragile states, exclusionary governance, demographic challenges and economic failure. From a policy response perspective, it may make more sense to focus on those than to try to define “contingencies” country by country. If you really wanted to prevent some of these things from happening, you would surely have to broaden the focus beyond national borders. Russian expansionism into Russian-speaking territories on its periphery might be another more thematic way of defining contingencies.
One of the key factors in foreign policy is entirely missing from this list: domestic American politics and the difficulties it creates for a concerted posture in international affairs. Just to offer a couple of examples: failure to continue to pay Afghanistan’s security sector bills, Congressional passage of new Iran sanctions before the P5+1 negotiations are completed, or a decision by President Obama to abandon entirely support for the Syrian opposition. The survey ignores American “agency” in determining whether contingencies happen, or not. That isn’t the world I live in.
For my Balkans readers: no, you are not on the list, and you haven’t been for a long time so far as I can tell. In fact, it is hard to picture how any contingency today in the Balkans could make it even to Tier 3. That’s the good news. But it also means you should not be looking to Washington for solutions to your problems. Brussels and your own capitals are the places to start.
For most Muslims, today marks the begining of Eid al Fitr, the feast thats end the month of Ramadan. It won’t be an Eid Mubarak (Blessed Eid) for lots of people: there is war in Syria, Iraq, Gaza/Israel, Sudan and Libya, renewed repression in Egypt and Iran, instability in Yemen. The hopes of the Arab spring have turned to fear and even loathing, not only between Muslims and non-Muslims but also among Shia, Sunni and sometimes Sufi. Extremism is thriving. Moderate reform is holding its own only in Tunisia, Morocco and maybe Jordan. Absolutism still rules most of the Gulf.
The issues are not primarily religious. They are political. Power, not theology, is at stake. As Greg Gause puts it, the weakening of Arab states has created a vacuum that Saudi Arabia and Iran are trying to fill, each seeking advantage in their own regional rivalry. He sees it as a cold war, but it is clearly one in which violence by surrogates plays an important role, even if Riyadh and Tehran never come directly to blows. And it is complicated by the Sunni world’s own divisions, with Turkey and Qatar supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia opposing it.
The consequences for Arab civilians are dramatic. Well over 100,000 are now dead in Syria, half the population is displaced, uncounted more are dead in Iraq and millions more displaced. Egypt has largely reversed the liberation of its aborted 2011 revolution but still faces more violence than before it. Libya has been unable to tame or dissolve its militias, which are endangering its population and blocking its transition. While the total numbers killed in the Gaza war are far smaller than in Syria or Iraq, the percentage of civilians among the victims–and the broader impact on the civilian population–is causing anti-Israel revulsion worldwide.
Greg wants the United States to favor order over chaos. The trouble is it is hard to know which policies will do what. Will support for Iraq Prime Minister Maliki block the Islamic State, or will it incentivize extremist recruitment and make matters worse, perhaps even causing partition? The military government in Egypt, with which Greg thinks we should continue to engage, is arguably creating more problems with extremists in Sinai and the western desert than it is solving with its arbitrary and draconian crackdown against liberals as well as Islamists. The Obama administration is inclined to support America’s traditional allies in the Gulf, as Greg suggest, but what is it to do when Qatar and Turkey are at swordpoints with Saudi Arabia ?
Many Arab states as currently constituted lack what every state needs in order to govern: legitimacy. The grand failure of the Arab spring is a failure to discover new sources of legitimacy after decades of dictators wielding military power. The “people” have proven insufficient. Liberal democracy is, ideologically and organizationally, too weak. Political Islam is still a contender, especially in Syria, Iraq and Libya, but if it succeeds it will likely be in one of its more extreme forms. In Gaza, where Hamas has governed for seven years, political Islam was quite literally bankrupt even before the war. Their monarchies’ ability to maintain order as neighbors descend into chaos is helping to sustain order in Jordan and Morocco. Oil wealth and tribal loyalties are propping up monarchies in the Gulf, but the demography there (youth bulge and unemployment) poses serious threats.
The likelihood is that we are in for more instability, not less. Iran and Saudi Arabia show no sign of willingness to end their competition. They will continue to seek competitive advantage, undermining states they see as loyal to their opponent and jumping in wherever they can to fill the vacuums that are likely to be created. Any American commitment to order will be a minor factor. This will not, I’m afraid, be the last unhappy Eid.
2013 has been a so-so vintage in the peace vineyard.
The Balkans saw improved relations between Serbia and Kosovo, progress by both towards the European Union and Croatian membership. Albania managed a peaceful alternation in power. But Bosnia and Macedonia remain enmired in long-running constitutional and nominal difficulties, respectively. Slovenia, already a NATO and EU member, ran into financial problems, as did Cyprus. Turkey‘s long-serving and still politically dominant prime minister managed to get himself into trouble over a shopping center and corruption.
The former Soviet space has likewise seen contradictory developments: Moldova‘s courageous push towards the EU, Ukraine‘s ongoing, nonviolent rebellion against tighter ties to Russia, and terrorist challenges to the Sochi Winter Olympics. Read more