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Good morning and welcome to The Rundown. When you're getting rid of all of your decorative fake snow, consider donating it to the Winter Olympics in tropical Sochi. They could use it. Best, Your AEI Foreign and Defense Policy Studies team

Tweet of the Week
Ahmad Majidyar @majidyar So Ahmed Rashid again blames Karzai and Washington for reconciliation failure, not the Taliban. Really?

In the News
President Putin reversed a ban on political protests during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but any demonstrations will require approval in advance from authorities. Every Olympiad is a complex and, until the very end, uncertain endeavor. In the case of the 2014 Winter Games, which begin on February 7 in Sochi, Russia, the challenges and vulnerabilities are far larger and more numerous than usual. It will be the first (and almost certainly the last) Winter Games in the subtropics. Virtually the entire infrastructure had to be built from scratch and in haste with shoddy labor practices and corruption overhead likely further compromising the construction. While every Olympiad is exploited by various interest groups to draw international attention to their causes, protests in Sochi could be particularly intense. Finally, and most ominously, Sochi is next door to a fundamentalist uprising in which terrorism claims victims almost daily. As February 7 draws near, keep an eye out on for Leon Aron's Russian Outlook on the Sochi Olympics.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Iran might play a role in negotiations to end the conflict in Syria. Some part of the future of the Middle East hangs in the balance between Iran and the US. Iran has crafted its soft- and hard-power strategies to not only expand its power and influence in the Levant and Persian Gulf, but to also limit American aims. How has the US responded to Iran’s competing ambitions? AEI will host an event on January 13 to look at the US-Iran competition, the new nuclear deal, the future direction new governments will take, and how changing regional dynamics will impact US national security. This event will coincide with the release of a new AEI report analyzing US soft-power strategies in the region and examining the efficacy of US foreign assistance in checking the advance of the Islamic Republic.

Terrorism and National Security
Iraqi security forces and their tribal allies reclaimed parts of a key city from Sunni militants aligned with al Qaeda. The recent crisis in Syria has driven the growth of al Qaeda groups in that country; in Iraq, al Qaeda has killed dozens at a time in coordinated car bombings. The broad network of al Qaeda affiliates now threatens the US from safe havens across the Middle East and North Africa, and is much more resilient than before. Critical Threats Project Senior Analyst Katherine Zimmerman writes for the December 31 edition of National Review magazine: “America’s strategy to counter al-Qaeda has failed to prevent its expansion in the region. It is now sharing finances, fighters, and tactics across large geographic areas. Not all members of the al-Qaeda network have announced an intention to attack the United States. Not all will. But the entire network is stronger, including groups with both the intent and the capabilities to kill Americans. The fight against terror, by whatever name, is not over, and we must develop a new strategy to counter the new alQaeda.” A brief excerpt of Zimmerman’s piece is available on the AEI website; available in full on the National Review website (by subscription). As South Sudan’s conflict escalates rapidly toward outright civil war, President Obama has shown little interest. He has dispatched military forces to protect and extract US citizens, but evacuation hardly constitutes a strategy. Isolated troop deployments, however justifiable, merely underline the broader US retreat across North Africa. John Bolton asks, “Where is America? The contrast between Obama’s disengagement in, say, Sudan, and George W. Bush’s active engagement is striking. Bush’s diplomacy produced a cease-fire in the decades-long conflict between Arab Islamists in Khartoum, and southern, largely Christian populations, followed by a 2011 referendum allowing South Sudan to become independent.” Last month, a judge nominated to the federal bench by “originalist” President George W. Bush summarily swept aside longstanding precedent and the accumulated and numerous judgments of his colleagues, declaring the National Security Agency’s collection of telephony metadata as not only “likely unconstitutional” but also “Orwellian” in character. A little less than two weeks later, however, another federal judge — this one appointed by President Bill Clinton, a graduate of that bastion of “progressive” legal theory, Yale Law School — found the program not only in accord with Fourth Amendment prescriptions and existing case law but also acting as an essential “counter -punch” to the terrorists who brought us 9/11. Gary Schmitt takes a closer look at "the tale of two judges" and the constitutionality of the NSA's data collection

program. Read more here.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel urged Japan to improve relations with neighboring countries after Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s visit to a controversial war shrine. Abe's more forward-leaning foreign and national security policies have led to renewed interest in the potential for a US-India-Japan trilateral relationship. At an AEI public event on Thursday, experts will explore the rationales behind and roadblocks to greater cooperation. Are there opportunities for enhanced trade and investment relationships? Will shared security concerns lead to greater defense collaboration? And how will stronger US-India-Japan ties influence China's posture in the region? With the so-called Khobragade affair involving the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York and stretching into its third week with little sign of resolution, it looks increasingly likely that the damage to US-India ties will be long term. Widely held assumptions in Washington and New Delhi that both countries had found a way to forge a stable, mutually beneficial partnership turn out to have been premature. Sadanand Dhume takes a closer look at “the end of the US-India honeymoon,” concluding that New Delhi's overwrought reaction to a diplomatic kerfuffle jeopardizes ties that had been strengthening. Twenty years ago this month, the People’s Republic of China devalued its currency, the yuan, against the dollar. For the last 20 years, there have been claims that Chinese currency manipulation has cost millions of American jobs. These claims were nonsense in 1994, 2004, and today. Derek Scissors takes to the AEIdeas blog to explain why: “The value of the yuan against the dollar has gone up, down, and sideways and jobs here remain almost entirely a function of what the U.S. does, not what the PRC does. Our sound budget and welfare reform policies in the 1990’s cut unem ployment while our fiscal and monetary excesses starting in the middle of the 2000’s caused it to rise. Our policies, not Beijing’s.”

More than 150 House of Representatives members and 35 senators have signed onto efforts to repeal the cuts to military pensions included in the budget deal signed last month. ICYMI: Mackenzie Eaglen looks at five lessons for the Pentagon from 2013. Number One? Sequestration's slow burn will continue, even with the recent budget deal. Eaglen writes for US News & World Report, “The ‘fix’ to the military's portion of sequestration's bill in 2014 will surely cause ma ny policymakers to pat themselves on the back for saving the Pentagon. But the additional infusion of cash as part of the deal should really highlight how steep the defense budget cuts were that the president proposed and Congress approved over the past four years, long before the ax of sequestration fell. These challenges are not going away.”
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