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Good morning and welcome to The Rundown. The Iranian hostage crisis started 44 years ago. It lasted 444 days. Barack Obama is president number 44. What do these numbers mean? We don't know, but we welcome your conspiracy theories. Best, Your AEI Foreign and Defense Policy Studies team

Tweet of the Week
Ahmad Majidyar @majidyar Mehsud was behind Times Square bombing, killing of CIA officers in Khost, and thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans—yet Pak condemns US attack?

In the News
Defense
America’s national security debate needs to rise above the trees — important but tactical and divisive issues — and focus on the forest. What are America’s strategic goals? What is the United States trying to protect? AEI visiting fellow Jon Kyl and Jim Talent of the Heritage Foundation have partnered up to explore these and other issues in their newly released report, “ A strong and focused national security strategy.” They argue that in the absence of strategic clarity, the tools of national power have atrophied. The gradual decline of American power has become an unprecedented rush to reduce the defense budget, with little long-term analysis of the impact on military strategy or national security. AEI’s Charles Morrison will have a piece on AEI.org later this week, examining why the Pentagon should not restructure the Office of Net Assessment (ONA). He concludes, "In a town where straight talk is hard to come by, ONA has, for the past 40 years, cut through the red tape and dared to speak plainly and dared to challenge the conventional wisdom. While shooting one’s self in the foot—or head—has become a frequent theme in Washington lately, ONA is an easy case to rectify. Keep Net Assessment as it is, and appreciate the fact that there is a Pentagon organization dedicated to thinking on its own."

American Internationalism
The recent budget paralysis in Washington underscores the profound risk of managing from crisis to crisis. But even though the shutdown and the debt-ceiling battle are barely behind us, there is another crisis in the offing: the next round of automatic budget cuts mandated under sequestration, and the devastating economic consequences they will bring. In their latest piece for POLITICO, AEI’s American Internationalism Project (AIP) cochairs Jon Kyl and Joseph Lieberman explain: “[At Bretton Woods], as now, the strength and global presence of the American military promised that what was agreed upon would be implemented and that the stability necessary for economic investment would be guaranteed. The enormous growth since then shows how closely American prosperity is tied to American military strength and global leadership. All that is now at risk.” Read the oped, then visit AEI’s YouTube page for an AEI Top Three video featuring the AIP cochairs. Thomas Donnelly writes for The Weekly Standard on the distinguishing features of President Obama's national security policy: "What is most striking about the Obama approach is its failure to understand the global nature of American power. The United States does not really have the luxury of ‘pivoting’ away from unpleasant but essential elements of international balance of power. . . .Obama’s attempt to 'reconceive' America’s role in the Middle East is, inevitably, a measure that will unbalance the int ernational system." In other words, the Obama administration has unceasingly tried to turn retreat into a virtue.

Pakistan
Pakistani Taliban commanders are continuing discussions to determine their next leader after Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike on Friday. Keep an eye on AEI.org for Critical Threats Project (CTP) analyst Reza Jan's examination of the impact of Mehsud's death. What will this mean for the future of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)? Will his death sabotage peace talks between the militants and Pakistan's leaders? Who is next in line to the TTP throne? Don't forget to also subscribe to CTP's daily Pakistan Security Brief for the latest roundup of news coming out of Pakistan.

Middle East
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that he is not optimistic about ongoing negotiations to peacefully resolve his country’s controversial nuclear program. Whether wielding nuclear or chemical weapons, sponsoring truck bombs, or taking hostages, rogue regimes and terrorist groups continue to threaten the United States and its allies. How should America address the rogue threat? Highlighting research from his new book, “Dancing with the Devil” (Encounter Books, February 2014), Michael Rubin will describe not only lessons Americans have learned from decades of engaging Iran, North Korea, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Taliban, but also what rogue regimes and terrorists have concluded about dialogue with Americans. RSVP for the December 2 Bradley Lecture here.

Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has not been seen in public for three weeks, and rumors swirl that he has suffered a relapse of a chronic illness. Read Michael Rubin's AEIdeas blog post on what will happen in Iran post-Khamenei. Why is this important? "Because power within the Islamic Republic is vested in the Supreme Leader—in theory he acts as the deputy of the Messiah on Earth —his death and what comes next is far more consequential than a presidential election. Simply put, in the Islamic Republic, the president is about style but the Supreme Leader is about substance." On October 17, Saudi Arabia was elected by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) to a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council. The next day, Riyadh made a stunning announcement: it was declining the seat because of the council’s longstanding “inability to perform its duties and responsibilities” because of “the manner, mechanisms of action and double standards existing in the council.” In his latest op-ed for The Weekly Standard, John Bolton argues that Saudi Arabia has just fired a diplomatic cruise missile into the UN's engine room : "The Saudis have done us a favor with their unexpected frankness, and the Obama administration in particular would do well to remember their admonitions."

Latin America
As the US spends billions of dollars on antidrug enforcement and border security, several small Central American and Caribbean countries are attempting to counter deadly narcotraffickers who smuggle cocaine and other drugs to the voracious US market. With elections approaching in Honduras, El Salvador, and elsewhere in Latin America, self-interested candidates from the left and the right — some with well-known ties to criminals — seek to wield power at their countries’ expense. AEI has convened a panel to expose this problem and to propose remedies. RSVP for the event on November 6, and don’t forget to read AEI’s latest Latin American Outlook, “Honduras under siege.”

Best of Blogs
Here is the best of what AEI's foreign and defense policy scholars are reading this week: Eli Lake in The Daily Beast: Iran's nuclear black box Roger Cohen in The New York Times: Fury in the Kingdom Max Boot in Commentary magazine: Iraq's violence: What can be done? Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post: Foreign policy based on fantasy Sarah Cook in CNN's Global Public Square: How Chinese censorship is reaching overseas Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times: Turning away from the Mideast Harry Kazianis in The Washington Times: China's carrier-killer missile
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