RealClearWorld Articles

Donald Trump Has a Coherent, Radical Foreign Policy Doctrine

George Friedman - January 20, 2017

During the campaign for the American presidency, Donald Trump promised that in his administration only good things would happen. He was somewhat vague about what precisely was good and what was bad. In this, he was exactly like any other American presidential candidate. Unlike many, however, he provided some details of the specific issues that worried him, and a broader strategic vision. This vision was embedded in his unique rhetoric, but if we extract it, we have a clear roadmap. Trump’s rhetoric is a problem, but so is conventionally clear political rhetoric that clearly says nothing. I say this because I think that observers tend too readily to dismiss what he says. This is an attempt to decode it.

Trump’s core strategic argument is that the United States is overextended. The core reason for this overextension is that the United States has substituted a system of multilateral relationships for a careful analysis of the national interest. In this reading, Washington is entangled in complex relationships that place risks and burdens on the United States to come to the aid of some countries. However, its commitments are not matched by those countries in capability, nor in intent.

Overextension by Alliance

NATO is the obvious case. The United States has been involved in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Islamic world. NATO has not provided decisive strategic support to these efforts. Many have provided what support they could or what support they wanted, but that level of support was far below the abilities of NATO members.

A Latin America To-Do List for Trump

Jose Cardenas - January 20, 2017

It appears safe to say that Donald Trump’s approach to the world will oscillate short of the poles of interventionism or retrenchment championed respectively by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The president-elect -- whose early cabinet picks suggest a preference for policymakers with an “America First” worldview -- will most likely approach each foreign policy question and crisis he faces with more doctrinal flexibility than his two predecessors.  

Fortunately, no one in the nascent Trump administration is calling for any major U.S. intervention in the Western Hemisphere. But that doesn’t mean the United States does not have important national interests that need addressing in our neighborhood. The Obama administration believed it had checked its “Latin America” policy box with its controversial opening to Cuba, but it left other problems to fester. An incoming Trump administration would do well to focus on four issues right out of the gate: Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, and transnational crime.

A Mexican Reset

During the presidential campaign, Mexico became a scapegoat for voters’ concerns about a U.S. immigration policy run amok, even though Mexicans crossing the border contribute little to an immigration crisis fueled more by Central Americans and by visa overstays. Still, “The Wall” resonated, but it is more a metaphor for lackluster enforcement of U.S. immigration laws and Washington’s indifference to their impact on Americans’ way of life.

The Threat From Kaliningrad Is Real

Jorge Benitez - January 19, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been deploying more and more forces in a strategic piece of Russian territory that lies in a vulnerable area of NATO geography. How President-elect Donald Trump responds to this challenge will be one of the first tests of his new administration.

Since then, the situation has gotten even worse. In addition to the advanced S-400 missiles with a 250-mile range already stationed in this area, in October the Russians deployed Iskander-M nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad. These missiles have a range of more than 300 miles, which means they are capable of reaching six NATO capitals: Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, Copenhagen, and Berlin. Also in October, the Russians announced that they deployed Bastion land-based coastal defense missile launchers in Kaliningrad. These supersonic missiles have a range of about 190 miles and cover the heart of the Baltic Sea, threatening maritime access to NATO’s Baltic members.

As if this arsenal of Russian missiles wasn’t cause enough for concern, Putin’s most recent act was to move two missile corvettes (the Serpukhov and the Zeleny Dol) from their base in the Black Sea to Kaliningrad. These Russian warships are equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles, which Putin used to demonstrate his ability to strike inside Syria from as far away as the Caspian Sea. In fact, the Kalibr missiles have a range of more than 900 miles and from Kaliningrad can reach most NATO capitals.

It is no wonder that the former commander of U.S. and allied air forces in Europe, retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, warned that NATO needs to come to "the realization that we don't have complete air dominance," and that in a crisis, significant parts of NATO territory would be “contested airspace.”

Trump's Foreign Policy Trilemma

Fabio Rafael Fiallo - January 19, 2017

It has become fashionable to assert that Donald Trump’s promises in the field of foreign policy are menaces to the global order. His critics, for instance, worry that the president-elect’s vows to get tough on China, seek an entente with Russian President Vladimir Putin, trim U.S. military and financial support to NATO, and shrink U.S. objectives and involvement in the Middle East spell the end of the U.S.-led, rules-based international order, and for that matter of the post-Cold War Pax Americana. Critics expect this may propel conflicts with dire worldwide consequences.

That assessment, however, underestimates a crucial point: The international order and Pax Americana have been unravelling already for quite a while. George W. Bush’s nation-building woes in Iraq, Barack Obama’s lead-from-behind retrenchment, and not the least the latter’s failure to make true his red-line warning on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, have exacerbated tensions in more than one arc of crisis and have eroded the weight and ascendancy of the United States in international political relations to the benefit of contending powers.

Seen from this perspective, Trump’s election will not be the cause of the decay of the postwar international order and of Pax Americana. Instead, it was a reaction to such decay.

The new administration will thus inherit a world based not on the rule of international law or on American supremacy, but on crude balance-of-power relations and competition between spheres of influence -- a point that the foreign-policy pundit par excellence, Henry Kissinger, has persuasively made.

Rethinking Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock

Ronald Tiersky - January 19, 2017

As fury dies down over the Obama administrations abstention on Resolution 2334 and Donald Trump’s inauguration dawns, here’s a suggestion on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian deadlock.  

Various solutions are in the mix: One-state, two-state, three-state, no-state outcomes. Envisioning two Palestinian states rather than one might make good sense.

The first state would be built in the West Bank, the second in Gaza. Not West Palestine and East Palestine, i.e. not two halves of one state, but separate states, perhaps autonomous republics, with the question of merger deferred until circumstances change, if ever indeed they do. 

It has long been understood that any Palestinian state entity would be autonomous but not fully sovereign, with control over internal affairs but limited sovereignty in defense and security arrangements. Security would be guaranteed by outside powers, including Israel first of all. A Palestinian state would be launched with substantial economic aid from outside and would be embedded in new transnational economic structures.

Invading China, One Trade Dispute at a Time

Matthew Bey - January 18, 2017

The divide between domestic politics and geopolitics can be a hard one to bridge. Partisan politics and pageantry can get in the way of a country's underlying geopolitical imperatives, driving policies that undermine or contradict them outright. The tension between national and international politics is on full display as the United States prepares to inaugurate Donald Trump as its 45th president. Throughout Trump's campaign and subsequent transition, voters, commentators and observers in the United States and beyond have scrambled to square his proposed policies with the geopolitical constraints they will encounter. Many of Trump's campaign pledges centered on retooling the United States' trade partnerships, for instance by renegotiating NAFTA or scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. The United States' trade ties with China have been the object of Trump's most vehement criticisms; the president-elect has even proposed a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese goods to correct the apparent disparity in the bilateral relationship.

Although Trump is unlikely to follow through with such a drastic measure, he is nonetheless poised to take a much harder line on trade with China. The next four years will almost certainly bring more investigations into China's export and domestic policies and more aggressive interpretations of World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations and U.S. law over Beijing's practices. But China and the United States are on diverging paths. While the United States is turning its focus inward, Beijing is trying to exert its influence as a global leader. In fact, on Jan. 17, President Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to address the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. To achieve its desired results with China, the Trump administration will have to pry into and challenge Beijing's own economic policies.

Taking a More Aggressive Approach

In a 2010 testimony before a congressional commission, Robert Lighthizer, Trump's pick for U.S. trade representative, outlined broad criticisms of the U.S. trade relationship with China. Lighthizer disparaged China's export practices as well as the United States' response, calling for a "significantly more aggressive approach" to Beijing. As trade representative, Lighthizer will have the opportunity to redress the deficiencies he identified in Washington's policies. Under his guidance, the United States will more actively enforce existing trade rules and regulations to crack down on China's dumping activities, impose countervailing tariffs on the country's exports and investigate its efforts to circumvent country of origin provisions. (Washington launched a probe in November to investigate whether Beijing was skirting duties and anti-dumping regulations by sending steel to Vietnam for minimal processing before exporting it to the United States.) The Trump administration may empower U.S. institutions to more easily conduct investigations into Beijing's trade practices, increasing their oversight and budgetary allowances. In addition, it will likely continue to refuse China market economy status under WTO rules, thereby facilitating anti-dumping cases against the country. But these measures would merely represent a continuation of President Barack Obama's policies.

Trump Must Make a Long-Term Investment in the Mideast

Jessica Ashooh - January 17, 2017

This past November, a crowd of more than two thousand young Saudis gathered in Riyadh, the buttoned-up capital of the ultraconservative Saudi kingdom. Uniformly dressed in traditional white kandouras for the men and enveloping black abayas for the women, they sat, rapt, as they listened to an older, bearded man hold forth. Although softly spoken, his words carried a passionate intensity.

The man who so captivated his youthful audience was not an Islamic cleric, or mufti as they are known, many of whom achieve a kind of pious rock star status in the Kingdom. He wasn’t a Saudi, or even a Muslim at all. It was Alvy Ray Smith, the co-founder of Pixar, recounting the story of how the groundbreaking animation studio almost never was, having been turned down for financing dozens of times. The gathering was the MiSK Global Forum, an initiative of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to provide support and resources to young Saudi entrepreneurs -- women and men -- who are seeking to found startups in Saudi Arabia’s underdeveloped private sector.

The Saudi startup drive emerges out of a number of current trends in the Middle East that are typically seen as liabilities. A youth demographic bulge means that 70 percent of the Saudi population is under the age of thirty. Yet dramatically lower oil prices mean that the government can no longer afford to absorb them into the public sector, which employs about two-thirds of working Saudis.

In the past, such structural realities would have presented a dangerous story and not much else. But with technological advances that are only a few years old -- including the smartphone revolution -- there is more potential than ever to move these young people into the private sector. The Saudi government is starting to recognize that potential and has made tech-enabled entrepreneurship a backbone of its Vision 2030 reform plans. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and its success is not certain. But in an economic and demographic environment where there are few good options other than empowering these young people, it represents a bold step in the right direction that is worthy of U.S. support for clear national security reasons.

A Chinese Model for the Global Economy

Xi Jinping - January 17, 2017

I’m delighted to come to beautiful Davos. Though just a small town in the Alps, Davos is an important window for taking the pulse of the global economy. People from around the world come here to exchange ideas and insights, which broaden their vision. This makes the WEF annual meeting a cost-effective brainstorming event, which I would call “Schwab economics”.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These are the words used by the English writer Charles Dickens to describe the world after the Industrial Revolution. Today, we also live in a world of contradictions. On the one hand, with growing material wealth and advances in science and technology, human civilization has developed as never before. On the other hand, frequent regional conflicts, global challenges like terrorism and refugees, as well as poverty, unemployment and widening income gap have all added to the uncertainties of the world.

Many people feel bewildered and wonder: What has gone wrong with the world?

To answer this question, one must first track the source of the problem. Some blame economic globalization for the chaos in the world. Economic globalization was once viewed as the treasure cave found by Ali Baba in The Arabian Nights, but it has now become the Pandora’s box in the eyes of many. The international community finds itself in a heated debate on economic globalization.

How the Democratic Tide Rolled Back

Alexander Cooley - January 17, 2017

Twenty-five years ago the world entered a new era. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, the United States had assumed the leadership of a proclaimed new world order, and liberal democratic capitalism no longer had a viable global challenger. The expectations these changes heralded now appear unfulfilled. Illiberalism is surging around the world, and the post-Cold War era is rapidly giving way to a post-liberal order. Moreover, the very post-Communist states that seemingly were at the epicenter of a liberal transformation have pioneered the counter-norms and tactics that now spread to the West itself.

What went wrong?

Fast Change Isn’t Real Change

In retrospect, the post-Communist transitions were remarkable in their scope, speed, and ambition. Idealized democratic standards and benchmarks were projected on the post-Communist states as they built democratic institutions and adopted market-based reforms. Internationally, democratic norms were embedded in regional institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe. Indeed, the prospect of entering the European Union and NATO and of “undividing Europe” drove aspirant post-Communist countries to undertake comprehensive reforms across almost all spheres of political, social, and economic life. Their future political orientation seemed irreversible.

Is the Search for a Palestinian State Over?

Matthew Duss - January 13, 2017

Any attempt to examine how the Israeli-Palestinian peace process might fare under the presidency of Donald Trump must acknowledge one thing: The peace process did not survive the presidency of Barack Obama -- at least not in the form in which it has existed over the two decades since the signing of the Oslo agreement, in which the United States served as broker of bilateral talks between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at negotiating a Palestinian state.

The Obama administration’s decision on Dec. 23 to abstain from vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory marked the end of the longstanding U.S. monopoly over the negotiations process, and the acceptance of greater international ownership of a solution.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims to support a two-state agreement, his government has enacted a set of policies in the occupied West Bank that are clearly designed to entrench Israeli control over the territory rather than end it to make way for a Palestinian state. His closest rival for power, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, welcomed the election of Trump by declaring that “the era of the Palestinian state is over.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also serves as head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, seems to have given up on the prospect of negotiating with an Israeli government that seems determined to prevent actual Palestinian liberation. In the wake of the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2013-2014 peace effort, Abbas shifted toward a more aggressive effort to achieve recognition through advancing the Palestinian cause in various multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, UNESCO, and the International Criminal Court.   

The Real Situation of Arab Citizens of Israel

Robert Cherry - January 12, 2017

The liberal press has two staples in its coverage of Israeli politics. It consistently stresses that the major obstacle to settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the behavior of anti-Arab right-wing politicians, led by Naftali Bennett, who promote more Jewish settlements in the West Bank. We are also told incessantly that Jewish anti-Arab attitudes, nourished by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric, threaten the civil rights of and the opportunities available to Israel’s Arab citizens. Sprinkle in stories about the pending government destruction of Bedouin towns and its mistreatment of African refugees, and it is no wonder that many college students now consider Israel among the most racist countries in the world. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement of his proposed ambassador to Israel has only further intensified criticism. 

What has been happening to the Israeli Arab population defies these demonizing narratives. In the past decade, the Netanyahu government has initiated efforts that have dramatically improved the occupational and educational attainment of its Arab citizens. Today, Israeli Arabs comprise 21 percent of the Israeli population and 23 percent of Israeli doctors. More generally, Arabs comprise 16 percent of first-year students in higher education, compared to 8 percent a decade earlier.

Between 2005 and 2011, inflation-adjusted Arab net family income increased by 7.4 percent. As a result, the share of Arab families that were “very satisfied” with their economic conditions rose from 40 percent in 2004-2005 to 60 percent in 2010-2011.  Indeed, recent surveys show Arab families have virtually the same level of satisfaction with their lives as Jewish families.  

These gains have made integration into Israeli society a realistic goal for many within the Arab populace. Three-quarters of Israeli Arabs consider “Israeli” a part of their identity. They demand that their elected officials -- the Joint List -- pursue reforms that better their lives rather than those that promote solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. As a result, 73 percent disagreed with the decision of the Joint List not to attend the funeral of Shimon Peres.

A Turning Point for The Gambia?

Sophie Gallop - January 12, 2017

The Gambia’s presidential election crisis has been of particular personal interest for me. Between 2013 and 2014 I lived in the country as a law lecturer at the University of The Gambia. The experience was a fantastic one and helped me to understand why the country and its inhabitants are affectionately referred to as the “smiling face of Africa”.

It was a year that moulded and shaped me, but also in some respects shocked me. During one of my lectures I looked up to see an unfamiliar face. Students later informed me that the individual was a member of the national intelligence agency detailed to monitor anti-government sentiment.

This, however, is barely the tip of the iceberg of the ways in which Yahya Jammeh, defeated finally in the December 2016 presidential elections, behaved towards The Gambia and its citizens. Since Jammeh came into power in 1994, human rights violations have become a commonplace tool the regime uses to stay in power.

Violations highlighted by international observers include numerous incidents of alleged torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and deprivation of freedom of speech. After an attempted coup in 2014, a number of alleged plotters were held incommunicado. Three later died in suspicious circumstances after being captured.

The CIA’s Trump Challenge

John McLaughlin - January 11, 2017

The beginning of a new presidency is always a challenging time for the CIA, but it is likely to be even more so in the Trump era. One obvious alarm bell, of course, is the president-elect’s struggle to accept the U.S. intelligence community’s "high confidence” judgment that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential election. Then there is the long list of global crises that the incoming administration will inherit and the frequent disputes between the Trump team and its critics over the very nature of “facts.” These are all indications that the next four years could prove especially challenging for America’s intelligence professionals.

First, what does the CIA actually do in the transition and the early days of an administration? Since 2004 -- when Congress created the position of director of national intelligence, or DNI -- the CIA has seen improved coordination with the broader U.S. intelligence community, playing a key role in the review of the international initiatives that every new administration launches. It conducts briefings on major issues and contributes its officers to the cadre of daily intelligence briefers the DNI assembles to serve a fair number of senior figures.  

Along the way, the CIA and the DNI spend a good deal of time explaining the intelligence field to newcomers in the group and laying out what they can expect intelligence to do and not do. An enduring aspect of this entails making sure that fledgling officials understand that intelligence is there to inform policy, and not to make it. Not all countries operate that way, but the U.S. system assumes that staying out of policymaking is one way to ensure that intelligence remains as objective as possible.

So this role inevitably casts intelligence, and most often the CIA, in the role of what might be called the “fact witness” in foreign policy deliberations. It is supposed to look at the issues dispassionately, almost clinically, and enumerate what is actually known, what is not, and offer assessments -- combinations of evidence and inference -- on where things might be headed. I once heard Gen. Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor for President George H.W. Bush, sum it up as follows: “The role of intelligence is to narrow the range of uncertainty when difficult decisions must be made.”

North Korea: A Problem Without a Solution

Rodger Baker - January 11, 2017

Since the end of the Cold War, paradox has characterized the United States' perception of North Korea. Pyongyang is at once a constant threat and a continual joke, its leaders a source of as much fear for the American public as derision. North Korea's missile and nuclear program is presented simultaneously as a dangerous example of the failure of nonproliferation regimes and as a duct-tape-and-bailing-wire operation, notwithstanding the flurry of missile tests and accomplishments that Pyongyang has touted recently. In his latest New Year's address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un described the achievements that the country's nuclear and missile program had made over the past year and those that it would make in the year to come. His remarks proclaimed a country that had attained the status of a nuclear power in 2016 and was now prepared to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Yet the dual view of North Korea as fearsome and farcical — as a present danger and a recalcitrant remnant of a bygone era — endures. More and more, this contradictory assessment seems to reflect the lack of viable options that Washington has for dealing with Pyongyang. Despite the power disparity between the United States and North Korea, Washington has little ability to alter Pyongyang's behavior without accepting significant political or military repercussions in return. And because of this disparity, North Korea does not feel that it can abandon its nuclear and missile program and still be secure from the United States' whims. Each side has its own viewpoint and its own legitimate concerns, making compromise difficult if not impossible. Herein lies one of the dirty secrets of international relations: Rarely do countries achieve all their imperatives, and when interests clash, the solution is often managing the reality, not resolving the conflict.

An Evolving Situation

During the Cold War, the "problem" of North Korea was tied to the overall balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union. Like the plains of Germany in the West, North Korea was a potential (and for a time, actual) front line in the East. The Cold War dynamic constrained North Korea's actions as well as the United States' responses. Faced with North Korean acts of terrorism abroad, the United States did not respond with punitive military action. The risk of escalation into another world war gave North Korea a buffer of security and limited the United States' aims in dispatching troops to fight the Korean War in 1950. But with the end of the Cold War, things began to change.

Reordering Europe?

Jeremy Shapiro - January 11, 2017

Donald Trump has a starkly different view of Russia than previous American presidents. Trump’s mysterious relationship with the Kremlin and its leader has already created massive upsets in U.S. politics and in global affairs. But the president-elect’s more benign view of Russia does offer at least one intriguing opportunity. Maybe Washington and Moscow can finally agree on a new European security order and end the various frozen and not-so-frozen conflicts on Russia’s periphery.

This is an important task and a golden opportunity to bring peace and stability to a region that has suffered greatly from U.S.-Russia competition in recent years. Alas, contrary to indications, there is considerable reason to believe that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are precisely the wrong people to bring about such a change.

It Sucks to Be in the Middle

The last 10 years have seen a dramatic deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations. This has not been good for the United States, Russia, or the world at large. But it has perhaps been worst for the “countries in between,” those states sandwiched between Russia and the West. These countries have increasingly become geopolitical pawns of the Russian-Western confrontation. Their political and economic futures are held hostage to a larger struggle.

Rafsanjani's Death Could Increase the IRGC's Succession Role

Mehdi Khalaji - January 10, 2017

Unlike in 1989, the Revolutionary Guards and other powerful Iranian institutions will probably play an outsize role in determining and influencing the next Supreme Leader, especially now that another major revolutionary figure has passed away.

The unexpected death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani could be the first scene in Iran's nascent leadership transition theater, whose subsequent acts are probably yet to be written. The former president played a unique role in consolidating the power of both the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Later, he paved the way for the rise of Mohammad Khatami as a "reformist" president after his own two terms in that office. And in 2013, his well-known protege Hassan Rouhani won the presidency due in large part to Rafsanjani's vital support. It is therefore important to consider how Iran's upcoming transitions -- the June 2017 presidential election and the eventual task of determining the elderly Khamenei's successor -- will play out in the absence of a man whose fingerprints can be found on most every such moment in the regime's four-decade history, and who embraced his role as a major irritant to Khamenei in his later years.

In practical terms, Rafsanjani's positions as head of the Expediency Council and a key member in the Assembly of Experts will presumably be filled by a figure who is more loyal to Khamenei and the regime's hardcore military camp -- no surprise given his advocacy for replacing the position of Supreme Leader with a leadership council. Yet such an appointment would not necessarily produce a more united hardliner front. If regime "moderates" become even more marginalized following the death of one of their main boosters, new divisions will likely emerge in the radical camp as various figures jockey for position in order to take power post-Khamenei.

The legal procedure for appointing the Supreme Leader's successor is clearly stated in the constitution, but neither Khomeini nor Khamenei came to office through that process. The Experts Assembly and its eighty-eight ayatollahs are the sole legal institution in charge of naming his successor. In the event that the Supreme Leader dies and the assembly needs more time to fill the position, the country is to be run by a provisional council consisting of the president, the judiciary chief, and a Guardian Council member selected by the Expediency Council.

The Age of Great Expectations and the Great Void

Andrew Bacevich - January 9, 2017

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us.

Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the “post-Cold War” era. Now that it’s over, a more descriptive name might be in order.  My suggestion: America’s Age of Great Expectations. 

Forgive and Forget

The end of the Cold War caught the United States completely by surprise.  During the 1980s, even with Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin, few in Washington questioned the prevailing conviction that the Soviet-American rivalry was and would remain a defining feature of international politics more or less in perpetuity. Indeed, endorsing such an assumption was among the prerequisites for gaining entrée to official circles. Virtually no one in the American establishment gave serious thought to the here-today, gone-tomorrow possibility that the Soviet threat, the Soviet empire, and the Soviet Union itself might someday vanish. Washington had plans aplenty for what to do should a Third World War erupt, but none for what to do if the prospect of such a climactic conflict simply disappeared.

In Iran, Part of the Revolution Passes On

Stratfor - January 9, 2017


Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who ruled from 1989 to 1997, passed away on Jan. 8 at the age of 82. For the past four decades, Rafsanjani has been one of the most powerful figures in Iranian politics, surpassed only by Iran's first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His passing comes at a critical time in Iranian politics as the country prepares for an important presidential election in May.

With former reformist President Mohammed Khatami under a media ban and other notable reformist leaders such as Mehdi Karroubi under house arrest, Rafsanjani emerged in recent years as the ideological leader of the country's more moderate camp. Moreover, he was able to challenge the Iranian political establishment's views in ways no one else could, in part because he helped to create it as one of the Islamic Republic's founding fathers. Iran's moderate leaders will no doubt struggle to fill the hole he leaves behind.


The CIA, Russia and the American Election

George Friedman - January 9, 2017

The CIA’s report on the Russian attempt to influence the American presidential election has been issued. The report asserts that the Russians stole emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta to embarrass Hillary Clinton and cause her defeat. In addition, it says that the Russians engaged in propaganda and disinformation and had access to several state and local electoral boards, but did not tamper with the votes. Also according to the report, the Russians favored Donald Trump for president

The report may or may not create a controversy, but if it does, it has the potential to cause significant turbulence in the American system. It is useful to look at it from that perspective, as it reveals some of the deeper vulnerabilities of the American political system at this moment.

The report is potentially politically explosive in a number of ways. First, implicit in the CIA assertions is the idea that, except for Russian involvement, Trump would not be president. The CIA carefully avoids making this conclusion, but those who regard Trump as an inappropriate president will likely use this to further delegitimize him. His opponents already see him as illegitimate partly because he lost the popular vote and won the Electoral College only by narrow margins in the Rust Belt. 

The report could create a constitutional crisis. There is no constitutional provision for overriding a presidential election. The president can be impeached, but nothing in the CIA report implies that Trump was guilty of any high crime or misdemeanor necessary for impeachment. The fact that Trump had kind words for Russian President Vladimir Putin and wanted better relations with Russia indicates nothing. President Barack Obama wanted better relations in the Islamic world and sometimes spoke of adversaries in ways others disapproved of. However, the president not only has the right but the duty to frame his policies as he thinks best. 

Rafsanjani, Iran Leader Whose Life Mirrored Nation's, Dies

Nasser Karimi - January 8, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died Sunday after a decades-long career in the ruling elite, where his moderate views were not always welcome but his cunning guided him through revolution, war and the country's turbulent politics.

The political survivor's life spanned the trials of Iran's modern history, from serving as a close aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the 1979 Islamic Revolution to acting as a go-between in the Iran-Contra deal. He helped found Iran's contested nuclear program, but later backed the accord with world powers to limit it in exchange for sanctions relief.

Rafsanjani, who showed ruthlessness while in power but later pushed for reforms, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack, state media reported. He was 82.

Iranian media said he was hospitalized north of Tehran earlier Sunday, where doctors performed CPR in vain for nearly an hour and a half before declaring him dead.