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Good morning and welcome to The Rundown. If you thought Gates's skewering of the current administration was brutal, just wait for the riposte in Barack Obama's postpresidential autobiography, tentatively titled "Bystander." Best, Your AEI Foreign and Defense Policy Studies team
Tweet of the Week
Michael Auslin @michaelauslin I think CIA has trained Dennis Rodman as dbl agent and he will stab Kim Jong Un in the eye with a chopstick next visit.
In the News
Iran and six world powers reached an accord on Sunday that will temporarily freeze much of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for partial sanctions relief starting next Monday, January 20. In many ways, 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 this afternoon to examine 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 coincides with the release of a new AEI report by Danielle Pletka and Frederick W. Kagan analyzing US soft-power strategies in the region and examining the efficacy of US foreign assistance in checking the advance of the Islamic Republic. Also be sure to watch Danielle Pletka’s AEI Top Three video outlining what you need to know about the competition for the future of the Middle East. With the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in 2011, by default Iran became Iraq’s primary partner. The caricature of Iraq as an Iranian puppet, however, is exaggerated. While both Iran and Iraq might be
overwhelmingly Shi’ite, the ethnic divide between Persians and Arabs is strong, and historical enmity borne of decades of conflict remains present. Michael Rubin examines the battle for paramount economic and political influence in Iraq, concluding that for Iran, it is far from won. J. Matthew McInnis's sixth post in the blog series titled “What is keeping the Ayatollah up at night?” discusses Iran’s Joint Plan of Action (JPA) and President Hassan Rohani’s struggle against the conservatives. McInnis writes, “Despite the hardliners’ push for greater influence over nuclear negotiations, there has been no shift in Iranian (aka the Supreme Leader’s) policy toward nuclear negotiations. However, Khamenei may be worried about the corrosive effects of a long-term debate over Iran’s revolutionary ideology in the face of Rouhani’s agenda and the connection between some of the president’s advisers and the 2009 Green Movement. In the meantime, the growing conflict in the region looms larger in the Supreme Leader’s thoughts.”
Defense and National Security
Skirmishes between Iraqi insurgents and government forces in the city of Fallujah edged closer to Baghdad on Sunday. Iraq is not yet lost, but the victory that the United States, its allies, and its Iraqi friends achieved at such high cost is now at risk. Is Iraq’s mess America’s fault? Danielle Pletka answers that question and more in a quick take for Politico. She writes, “Almost two years ago, I asked Maliki point blank why he wasn’t doing more to help oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After delivering some choice words about Assad, Maliki said that his biggest fear about Syria wasn’t Assad’s ouster, but the stability of Western Iraq and the prospect of al Qaeda’s return. I wish he’d done more—done anything—to help speed Assad’s departure. Perhaps then, the spillover of al Qaeda from Syria into Iraq might have been contained. Then again, if Obama doesn’t care about the broader stability of the Middle East, why should Maliki?” The memoir of former defense secretary Robert M. Gates has landed with a bang. “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” is a lengthy lament that far too few leaders in Washington — civilian or military, Democratic or Republican — understand that the United States was and is at war. Even fewer understand what that means. This critique is important and highlights a great peril to the nation in a dangerous time. In his latest for The Weekly Standard, Frederick W. Kagan argues that war does not end when we bring our troops home — it ends when our enemy loses the will or ability to continue to fight. Kagan concludes, “We must understand that we are still at war. We must understand that inaction is a form of action, indecision a form of decision. Above all, we should remember the mistakes we made in the past, all of them, and remember the price we paid for convincing ourselves that we were not at war when, in fact, we were.” Columnist and television host Fareed Zakaria has advanced the idea that Barack Obama “is like Ike;” that is, the president’s approach to foreign policy broadly and the Middle East in particul ar is an updated version of Dwight Eisenhower’s “strategic restraint." Thomas Donnelly and Mary Habeck take issue with this comparison: “Obama isn’t channeling Ike. Properly understood, the Suez crisis was a declarat ion that, rather than try to restore European power in the Middle East, from then on the United States would be the guarantor of Western interests there, and that strategy would be set in Washington instead of in London and Paris. Obama is reversing Ike and the consistent course of America’s post-World War II policy. The Middle East of 2008, for better and worse, was very much ‘the Middle East America made’ over seven decades. Barack Obama’s strategic restraint is letting it go to rot.”
Chinese investment in the United States doubled in 2013, driven by large-scale acquisitions in food, energy, and real estate. Excluding bond purchases, Chinese investment in the US set a record last year at more than $14 billion, rising more than 50 percent from 2012. Whether more is on the way is largely America’s choice. Derek Scissors breaks down his latest China Global Investment Tracker, the only publicly available and comprehensive dataset of large Chinese (nonbond) investments and contracts worldwide. The tracker keeps a record of more than 500 outward investments of $100 million or more made by the People’s Republic since 2005, worth over $475 billion (plus hundreds of engineering and construction contracts). For a more detailed discussion of the data, check out Scissors’s new AEI Asian Outlook, “ China invests (somewhat) more in the world.” It would be difficult to believe that China's leaders didn't expect a negative reaction from its neighbors and the United States when China announced the creation of an expansive Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea in late November. But that raises the question of why those leaders are behaving the way they are when China has so many domestic problems that need urgent attention, and when China's continued growth and ability to deal with those problems depends on a stable international order. Why pick fights now? Gary Schmitt explains that recent Chinese behavior is linked to American weakness and the ambitions of China’s leaders, who want their nation to have a predominant say in t he region. Read more here. India's national elections, less than six months away, will be keenly watched as the world tries to gauge the direction of Indian politics. Read Sadanand Dhume's interview to get to the bottom of recent assembly elections, Hindu nationalist ideology, and changing voter demographics. Also be sure to check out Dhume’s AEIdeas blog on the US decision to effectively expel Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, explaining how both the US and India have handled the incident poorly.
Intelligence and Surveillance
President Obama will detail his plans to reform the National Security Agency in a speech this Friday. While there is a roaring debate in the US about the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) telephony metadata collection program, less noticed is the dispute taking place between various parties in Europe. In 2006, the European Union Commission directed Internet and communication providers to retain user data for up to two years and to establish mechanisms to give security and police ready access to that information. But in 2010, the German constitutional court declared the German implementation of that directive to be a violation of the German constitution. Now, both Berlin and Brussels await a decision by the European Court of Justice on the matter. Gary Schmitt points out, “I suppose one could take some perverse satisfaction in the fact that US is not the only country having this debate. But that lasts only as long as one ignores the fact that much of the planning for the attacks on 9/11 took place in Germany, where it was it quite safe to do so.” For all those civil libertarians of both the left and the right who think we ought to thank Edward Snowden for his actions in revealing NSA’s secret metadata collection program — or those who at a minimum believe the US government should show leniency toward him should he ever come back to these shores — they might want to just stop for a moment and consider what else Snowden has revealed. Schmitt provides a rundown of Snowden’s other leaks.
Nearly 20 years after the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker has unveiled a new initiative aimed at increasing business with trade partners in Latin America. Roger Noriega takes to the AEIdeas blog to discuss America’s troubled relationship with Ecuador since the election of leftist President Rafael Correa in 2006. What price have we paid for ignoring Correa’s anti American actions and antidemocratic conduct, even after it was clear that Correa had no interest in a positive relationship with the United States? Noriega concludes, “Imagine if we had spent that time actively supporting democrats in Ecuador and holding Correa accountable for his authoritarian abuses and collusion with drug traffickers. That would not have been easy: but, effective diplomacy never is.” Also check out Noriega’s blog post on the disappointing performance of Brazil’s petroleum industry, also covered in July’s AEI Latin America Outlook, “Latin American energy monopolies: Boom or bust? ”
Best of Blogs
Here is the best of what AEI's foreign and defense policy scholars are reading this week: Anna Borshchevskaya in CNN: Russia's growing Middle East influence Jonathan Tobin in Commentary magazine: Kerry's Iranian mosaic of appeasement Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest: 2013: The world's biggest losers Stephen Hayes in The Weekly Standard: Defining al Qaeda down Eli Lake in The Daily Beast: The al-Qaedastan threat Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post: Can Ukraine and India go beyond slogans? Rich Lowry in Politico magazine: Obama's insincere war
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