Political Violence at a Glance
This week the New York Times reported on complaints that the military is altering intelligence estimates in the war against ISIS. According to the Times, civilian analysts in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) claim that officials in U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) have been “improperly reworking” their conclusions in order to present a picture of optimism and progress. While the report is does not contain much detail, critics have already concluded that it is a clear case of politicization. Administration supporters are whitewashing intelligence, they say, rather than face the fact that the administration’s strategy is failing.
Politicization has serious consequences. It skews current intelligence reports and inhibits later reassessment. Episodes of politicization also poison relations between policymakers and intelligence agencies for years after the fact, as happened after a major intelligence-policy breakdown during the Vietnam War. So the claim about doctoring intelligence on ISIS is a serious allegation. Is it true? READ MORE
War on the Rocks
Originally Posted: August 7, 2015
Vladimir Putin is a bad strategist: He does not understand the relationship between military violence and political objectives. In the last two years, he has all but ruined his aspiration to return Russia to the ranks of the great powers. His ham-fisted annexation of Crimea, along with his transparent support for secessionists in the ongoing civil war in East Ukraine, has been disastrous for Russian interests. Putin’s adventurism led to stock market chaos, a major currency crisis, and staggering levels of capital flight — all of which have compounded the problem of collapsing oil prices. The loss of revenue is damaging Russia’s conventional military power because the government will struggle mightily to modernize its forces. Meanwhile, Putin has breathed new life into NATO, an alliance that had been searching for common purpose and sagging under the weight of the war in Afghanistan. READ MORE
Originally Posted: July 15, 2015
The White House announced Tuesday, July 14, that the United States and other nations had struck a deal with Iran to limit its nuclear programs in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions.
Joshua Rovner, the John G. Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security at SMU, says:
As a nonproliferation agreement, there is a lot to like. The deal significantly reduces Iran’s current nuclear capabilities and enhances international monitoring, which will make it easier for inspectors and intelligence agencies to spot cheating.
But in terms of regional politics, the deal is neither as transformative as advocates hope nor as terrible as critics fear. Some advocates believe that it will signal a new era of stability and better relations between the United States and Iran. This is unlikely. Past arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, Libya, and North Korea had little effect on their relations with the United States. Better political relations can lead to more durable arms control deals, not vice versa. So while there is reason to celebrate the announcement, we should not exaggerate what it means for the Middle East or for U.S.-Iranian relations.
Meanwhile, some critics of the deal fear that offers Iran a pathway to regional hegemony. This ignores profound problems in Iran. Its economy is in shambles and its conventional military capabilities are very limited. It also suffers from political dysfunction at home, and large segments of its young population are clearly disillusioned with the clerical regime. The agreement alleviates some of the economic stress on Iran, but it does not solve these problems. Regardless of the deal, Iran will remain a struggling regional power that uses proxies to extend its influence, but not the kind of country that could make a serious bid for regional hegemony. READ MORE
DALLAS (SMU) – Before he became diplomat-in-residence and adjunct professor of political science with SMU’s John G. Tower Center for Political Studies, Robert Jordan served from 2001-03 as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. When Jordan was first nominated to the posting, it was a time of peace. By the time he assumed the job, terrorists had struck the twin towers on 9/11 and the world had changed. READ MORE
Originally Posted: MAy 15, 2015
By Robert W. Jordan
King Salman of Saudi Arabia has declined an invitation to participate in President Barack Obama’s Gulf summit meeting in Camp David this week. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia are working to minimize the fallout from this decision, but from the Saudi standpoint, this summit does not hold much attraction. Only two other heads of the Gulf states are attending. Two are in poor health, but the other non-attendees may be following Riyadh’s lead. Some of this reticence may derive from a festering series of policy disagreements that contribute to seriously frayed relations with the Gulf monarchies.
In their view, Obama was surprisingly willing to promote the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, declaring that it was time for him to go and insisting on being on the “right side of history.” Arab monarchs began to wonder whether, if this could happen to Mubarak, would this administration decide that they, too, were on the wrong side of history? They then witnessed the president’s about-face on Syria, backing away from even minimal military action against Bashar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Most worrisome is the impending agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, which portends a closer American relationship with the perceived archenemy of the Gulf Arabs. Removing sanctions against Iran and freeing up billions in funds raises the threat level perceived by the Saudis and their neighbors, who fear a growing encirclement by Iran and its proxies, to say nothing of the prospect of a nuclear capable Iran that would dramatically change the balance of power in the Middle East. READ MORE
Watch the discussion on nuclear weapons and national security, featuring the Tower Center’s own Joshua Rovner as moderator. http://cs.pn/1I0FEOy
(CNN)There seem to be two prerequisites for the modern U.S. presidency.
1. Being fabulously rich.
2. Successfully pretending you’re not.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tried his hand at No. 2 last week as he announced his bid for the White House. With his back awkwardly turned to the TV cameras, and a drive-through-worker style microphone clipped to his ear, Cruz relayed a version of his life story, often in third person, to a student crowd at Liberty University in Virginia.
“Imagine another teenage boy being raised in Houston … experiencing challenges at home … heading off to school over 1,000 miles away from home in a place where he knew nobody. Where he was alone and scared. And his parents going through bankruptcy meant there was no financial support at home — so at the age of 17 he went to get two jobs to help pay his way through school. He took over $100,000 in school loans, loans I suspect a lot of y’all can relate to. Loans, that I’ll point out, I just paid off a few years ago.”
All those loans.
Good thing he’s estimated to be worth $1.8 million to $3.5 million.
And he’s not the wealthiest person whose name has been thrown into the hat as a potential candidate for 2016, according to estimates compiled by Crowdpac, a nonpartisan website that aggregates stats about potential political candidates.
Crowdpac estimates Hillary Clinton’s net worth to be $21.5 million (more if you include Bill). Jeb Bush’s: $10 million. Even Elizabeth Warren, enemy of Wall Street, champion of populist financial-sector reform, is estimated to be worth $3.7 million to $10 million, according to CNN Money. READ MORE
Last week U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) gave a remarkably detailed press briefing about its intended late spring offensive to drive the Islamic State out of the critical Iraqi city of Mosul. Critics immediately jumped on CENTCOM and the Obama administration for telegraphing its intended operations to the enemy. In an open letter to the president, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) warned that the “disclosures not only risk the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces.”
Whether one agrees with McCain and Graham or not, the CENTCOM disclosures certainly were odd. Military officers are typically loathe to provide specific details of future campaigns. So why did CENTCOM broadcast its plans?
According to one report, U.S. officials wanted to warn the estimated 1,500-2,000 Islamic State fighters in Mosul that they would soon face an onslaught from 25,000 or more coalition personnel, including five Iraqi army brigades and three Kurdish Pershmerga brigades, all backed by U.S. airpower, intelligence, and advising. Perhaps Islamic State fighters would retreat rather than stand and defend their de facto capital in Iraq, thereby saving a great deal of blood and treasure for everyone concerned. READ MORE
Originally Posted: Feb. 8, 2015
The Foreign Policy Essay: Hidden Victories
By Joshua Rovner
Editor’s Note: U.S. foreign policy is a disaster. This lament is heard about every administration, but rarely is it true. Joshua Rovner, a professor at Southern Methodist University, points out that the judgment of history is often kinder than the critics of the day. Failures seem to abound, but in reality most presidents have numerous foreign policy successes that have kept America in a strong position. The greater danger, he writes, is failing to recognize what has worked in the first place.
President Obama fails all the time. That is the verdict of the op-ed pages, at least. His foreign policy is a muddle. His decisions to exit from Afghanistan and Iraq were disastrously premature. His responses to terrorism, Syria, Iran, and Russia revealed weakness. His response to the rise of China is a massive failure based on wishful thinking. America’s standing in the world is in steep decline because of all these errors.
Of course, the situation was no better in the last administration. Our summary judgment about President Bush is more or less summarized in the titles of two popular books from the time: Hubris and Fiasco. Our summary judgment of President Clinton was that he lacked any conception of grand strategy, concentrated on domestic policy at the expense of foreign affairs, and otherwise took a “holiday from history.” And we can go back much further. Indeed, read the news from any era and you may get the feeling that the United States is incapable of coherent foreign policy, that it is devoid of serious strategic thinkers, and that its whole history is a depressing catalog of blunders. Yet somehow we ended up as the world’s most prosperous and powerful country.
To be clear, the United States is certainly capable of blunders. Americans frequently misunderstand foreign crises but plow into them nonetheless. They are also capable of nationalist back-slapping and heroic myth-making that obscure the limits of American power. And sometimes they throw good money after bad in foolhardy attempts to rescue ill-conceived policies. We should not ignore these errors, however tragic and demoralizing. Exploring the causes and consequences of strategic failure is a necessary antidote to hubris. READ MORE
Originally Posted: Jan 29, 2015
Scams promising bitcoin riches have netted swindlers at least $11m in the last four years, researchers have found.
Some 13,000 victims handed over their money unwittingly in 42 different scams over that time period, their data suggests.
However, the total amount of funds cheated from victims over this period is almost certainly higher than the estimated $11m the research identified.
A co-author of the research, Marie Vasek, said:
“There are a lot of scams that we couldn’t measure at all. There were scams we couldn’t find or verify … We think presenting our findings as they are, a lower bound, makes a lot of room for us and others to further quantify scams in this space.”
Vasek, who researches computer security at Southern Methodist University, co-wrote the paper with Tyler Moore, an assistant professor in computer science at the same institution. READ MORE