Tag Archives: President Obama

The Implications of America’s Involvement with Afghanistan

According to recent reports the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is currently around 11,000, higher than the previously disclosed number, 8,400, released by the Department of Defense in 2016.

American troops have been deployed to Afghanistan for 16 years.

At peak involvement in 2011, the U.S. had deployed approximately 100,000 troops, as part of President Obama’s surge plan intended to stabilize Afghanistan for a troop withdrawal along a predetermined gradual timetable.

The increase in troops paralleled an increase in the number of U.S. and coalition casualties. 2011 and 2012 also saw an increased number of so-called “Green on Blue” attacks, where Afghan government forces targeted U.S. or Coalition soldiers, with 16 green-on-blue attacks in 2011 and increasing to 44 by 2012.

In 2017 there were 3 “Green-on-Blue” attacks.

Even after the troop surge, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State and variety of smaller Pakistani terrorist groups remain operational in Afghanistan. Tehreek-e-Taliban, Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi and Lashkar-e-Taiba  are just some of the other Afghan and Pakistani terrorist organizations that continue to hold ground throughout Afghanistan.

Twenty of the 98 U.S. designated terrorist groups worldwide operate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and this is the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world.  The Taliban is believed to maintain control of approximately 40% of Afghan territory.

During President Trump’s campaign one of his promises was to get out of the war in Afghanistan. Now several months later President Trump intends to increase both defense spending in Afghanistan, but also deploy more Americans soldiers. The current amount of aid being sent to Afghanistan is around $4 billion. However, over the past 16 years the United States has spent over $117  billion in foreign aid to Afghanistan.

In President Trump’s speech on August 21st, he announced the primary goal as one of targeting terrorist groups, noting, “we are not nation building, but destroying terrorists and preventing weapons from falling into their hands.”

President Trump is seeking to avoid a vacuum in Afghanistan similar to the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq 2011, that led to the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which in turn metastasized into the Islamic State.

The strategy for Afghanistan calls for both increased military involvement as well as seeking support from U.S. allies, most notably India. The President’s invocation of India is likely intended to put pressure on Pakistan.

Part of the Trump plan for Afghanistan involves tackling the role of Pakistan-technically a U.S. ally- in funding and harboring terrorist groups destabilizing Afghanistan. The U.S. has drastically cut aid to Pakistan in recent years, but the South Asian nation still received $383 million in 2016. According to U.S. government data,  $742 million is planned for Pakistan in fiscal year 2017. There is a risk in the plan however, given tensions in the region between Pakistan, India, and neighboring China.

Another aspect of President Trump’s plan is abandoning a fixed timeline, in favor of a conditional approach. President Trump wants to attempt a conditional approach toward eliminating the Taliban and remnants of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates such as IS.

The Afghan Special Operation Command has primarily served as the bulwark against attacks launched by the Taliban and other Islamic jihadis groups. The Afghan government is ramping up their Special Operation Forces to cover more territory so that more missions can be conducted to successfully limit the Taliban’s expansion.

Part of President Trump’s increase in U.S. troops to Afghanistan is intended to train up to 17,000 new members of the Afghan special forces unit, one of the few effective units upon which the Afghan military relies extensively.

Afghanistan’s President Ashrah Ghani, ordered in their four-year roadmap that the increase in their special operations. The Afghan Special Operation command will also attempt to regain territory held by the Taliban and other jihadist groups.

The U.S. has seen a similar program to combat terrorism in Iraq. The estimated 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq has been involved in programs to retrain and reunify the Iraqi army, which relies heavily on Iraq’s elite counter terrorism service. At first the program met difficulties with Iraqis not wanting to join the military, and the resistance from Iraqi officers not sending units to Americans for training. Heavy reliance by the Iraqis on special forces capability has become apparent following the liberation of Mosul where Iraqi special forces suffered heavy casualties are difficult and time consuming to replace.

The Afghan army may be experience something similar in the fight against the Taliban, which should be a concern for U.S. planners. It remains to be seen what effect the Trump policy for Afghanistan will have. But it is likely to succeed only if taking into account previous surge and train efforts and why and how they failed.

Trump is Right: Obama Monitored the Communications of Political Opponents

This article originally published at Conservative HQ

 

Our friend Fred Fleitz, who held national-security jobs for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, Department of State, and House Intelligence Committee staff, reminded us recently that Obama and his thugs have a proven record of using the U.S. intelligence apparatus to monitor political opponents.

Back in December of 2015 Fleitz published an article in National Review explaining how Obama’s National Security Agency provided the White House with intercepted Israeli communications containing details of private discussions between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. lawmakers and American Jewish groups on the Iran nuclear deal.

A bombshell Wall Street Journal article by Adam Entous and Danny Yadron outed the Obama effort. Fleitz termed it a “stunning” revelation to learn that NSA sent the White House intelligence on private discussions with U.S. congressmen on a major policy dispute between the White House and Congress.

Mr. Fleitz says this suggests major misconduct by the NSA and the White House of a sort not seen since Watergate.

First, said Fleitz intercepts of congressmen’s communications regarding a dispute between Congress and the White House should have been destroyed and never left the NSA building. The Journal article said a 2011 NSA directive requires direct communications between foreign intelligence targets and members of Congress to be destroyed, but gives the NSA director the authority to waive this requirement if he determines the communications contain “significant foreign intelligence.”

Netanyahu’s discussions with members of Congress on a policy dispute between Congress and the president do not qualify as foreign intelligence. Destroying this kind of information should not have been a close call for NSA. Congress should immediately ask NSA director Michael Rogers and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to verify the Journal story and explain why intercepts of private discussions of members of Congress were provided to the White House. If this did happen, both officials should resign.

Second, noted Fleitz the White House bears significant responsibility for this scandal. By encouraging and accepting this intelligence, the White House used the NSA as an illegitimate means to undermine its legislative opponents. This represented a major abuse of presidential power, since it employed the enormous capabilities of an American intelligence service against the U.S. Congress. It also probably violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation-of-powers principles and the Fourth Amendment, since surveillance may have been conducted against U.S. citizens without a warrant.

The claim that Obama officials did not directly instruct the NSA to collect this information but simply accepted what the NSA sent them is preposterous concluded Fleitz.

If the Wall Street Journal article is accurate (and no one has ever disproved it) Obama officials knew they were receiving intelligence on the private conversations of U.S. congressmen on a major policy dispute. These officials knew they were not supposed to have this intelligence but did not cut it off, because they wanted to use it to defeat efforts by Netanyahu and Congress to derail the Iran nuclear deal.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting and Fred Fleitz’s 2015 article applies to the Obama monitoring of President Trump’s campaign and transition officials.

Having been caught in what was a major breach of the laws governing collection of intelligence on what are referred to as “US persons” Obama didn’t cease and desist; he refined his techniques and deployed them against the Trump campaign and transition.

It is now known that in the course of routine monitoring of the Russian ambassador’s communications, conversations between private citizens associated with the Trump campaign and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were intercepted.

It must be stressed that a private citizen speaking to the Russian Ambassador is not a crime. Likewise, criticizing the policies of the Obama administration to the Russian Ambassador is not a crime; it is a right protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Indications are beginning to trickle out that having obtained the information that perfectly legal contacts between private citizens and the Russians were underway, rather than destroying them as should have been done under the law, Obama began a formal investigation of the Trump campaign and transition – and changed the rules governing dissemination of the material to make sure it would be leaked to the media.

In its final days, the Obama administration expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying “minimization” privacy protections.

As our friends Diana West and Andrew C. McCarthy have observed, reporting indicates that, prior to June 2016, the Obama Justice Department and FBI considered a criminal investigation of Trump associates, and perhaps Trump himself, based on concerns about connections to Russian financial institutions.

Preliminary poking around indicated that there was nothing criminal involved. Rather than shut the case down, though, the Obama Justice Department converted it into a national-security investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA allows the government, if it gets court permission, to conduct electronic surveillance (which could include wiretapping, monitoring of e-mail, and the like) against those it alleges are “agents of a foreign power.” FISA applications and the evidence garnered from them are classified – i.e., we would not know about any of this unless someone had leaked classified information to the media, a felony.

As Andy McCarthy documented in his recent article:

In June, the Obama Justice Department submitted an application that apparently “named” Trump in addition to some of his associates. As I have stressed, it is unclear whether “named” in this context indicates that Trump himself was cited as a person the Justice Department was alleging was a Russian agent whom it wanted to surveil. It could instead mean that Trump’s name was merely mentioned in an application that sought to conduct surveillance on other alleged Russian agents. President Trump’s tweets on Saturday claimed that “President Obama . . . tapp[ed] my phones[,]” which makes it more likely that Trump was targeted for surveillance, rather than merely mentioned in the application.

In any event, the FISA court reportedly turned down the Obama Justice Department’s request, which is notable: The FISA court is notoriously solicitous of government requests to conduct national-security surveillance (although, as I’ve noted over the years, the claim by many that it is a rubber-stamp is overblown).

Not taking no for an answer, the Obama Justice Department evidently returned to the FISA court in October 2016, the critical final weeks of the presidential campaign. This time, the Justice Department submitted a narrowly tailored application that did not mention Trump. The court apparently granted it, authorizing surveillance of some Trump associates. It is unknown whether that surveillance is still underway, but the New York Times has identified – again, based on illegal leaks of classified information – at least three of its targets: Paul Manafort (the former Trump campaign chairman who was ousted in August), and two others whose connection to the Trump campaign was loose at best, Manafort’s former political-consulting business partner Roger Stone, and investor Carter Page.

McCarthy observes the Times report (from mid-January) includes a lot of heavy breathing about potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia; but it ultimately concedes that the government’s FISA investigation may have nothing to do with Trump, the campaign, or alleged Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election by hacking e-mail accounts.

Back in 2007, when I served as Director of Communications for Rep. Mac Thornberry (TX-13) Mac was a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was intimately involved in the debate over Democratic efforts to revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Democrats were in the majority in the House and Senate and one of Rep. Thornberry’s chief concerns was the politicization of intelligence gathering. Among the proposals Democrats advanced was one that would have required the intelligence community to create a list of Americans whose communications have been intercepted in a terrorist investigation.

Fearing such a list could be used to smear opponents Mr. Thornberry vigorously opposed the measure saying, “The implications for anyone whose name innocently ends up on such a list are obvious.”

Democrats, and Barack Obama in particular, have a long record of trying to use the government’s intelligence gathering capabilities against political opponents. Evidence of their anti-constitutional targeting of President Trump’s campaign and transition officials, and their efforts to use the information to smear President Trump and other innocent Americans is slowly trickling out. It is time a full-fledged investigation of exactly what happened and who ordered it is conducted and concerns about where it leads be damned.

Intel Community Should Back Trump or Stand Down

The same day that a classified 50-page intelligence report was delivered to President Obama on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, its findings were immediately leaked to the Washington Post by “U.S. officials” – probably senior Obama officials at the National Security Council.  Making this worse, the leakers may have compromised sensitive intelligence sources and methods by revealing that the report was based on intercepted communications.

According to the Post story, the classified intelligence report says senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow.  So-called “actors” involved in providing Democratic emails to WikiLeaks reportedly are identified.  The report also is said to discuss “disparities in the levels of effort Russian intelligence entities devoted to penetrating and exploiting sensitive information stored on Democratic and Republican campaign networks.”

After the Washington Post story was posted online, a senior U.S. intelligence official discussed the classified report with NBC News.  The intelligence official agreed to talk to NBC because he or she disagreed with the focus of the Post story and believes the Post overemphasized alleged Russian celebration of Trump’s win and did not focus on the thrust of the report.

Two other intelligence officials also leaked details of the classified report to NBC.  According to the NBC story, “Two top intelligence officials with direct knowledge told NBC News that the report on Russian hacking also details Russian cyberattacks not just against the Democratic National Committee, but the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and American corporations.”

It’s no surprise that Obamas officials would immediately leak to the news media details about the intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election since they have a history of leaking highly classified intelligence to the press – including sensitive intelligence sources and methods – to advance their political agendas.

For example, in 2012 then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly told the Obama NSC staff to “shut the f— up” after they leaked sensitive details about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound as part of a victory lap for the president’s foreign policy.

Not only do I believe the Obama White House raced to the phone to leak the new intelligence report on Russian hacking to the press, I believe this is why Mr. Obama requested this report in the first place – the president wanted an intelligence assessment undermining Trump’s election that his staff could leak to the news media before he left office.

But as bad as the leaking of classified reports to the press for political reasons by White House officials is, leaks about the Russia report by intelligence officers are far more serious, especially at a time of growing tension between President-elect Donald Trump and the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Trump’s team has attacked the accuracy of intelligence assessments and accused intelligence officers of leaking to the news media against Trump and politicizing intelligence.  Regardless of whether these accusations have merit (I believe they do), press leaks by intelligence officials on the Russia report will only widen the rift between Trump and U.S. intelligence agencies.  Trump tweeted in response to the NBC story:

How did the intelligence officials who leaked to NBC expect Mr. Trump to react?  Did they give any thought to the damage these leaks would cause to relations between their agencies and the president-elect?

President Trump will need and deserve a U.S. Intelligence Community that provides him with hard hitting and objective analysis devoid of politics.  It’s time for Director of National Intelligence Clapper and other intelligence officials to stop complaining about Donald Trump “disparaging” U.S. intelligence agencies and demand that intelligence officers stop trying to undermine our new president.  I am certain that the vast majority of intelligence officers welcome the opportunity to support Mr. Trump.  If the handful of intelligence officers who have been leaking against Trump cannot accept his election and their responsibility to loyally serve the next president, they need to resign immediately.

Also published at Newsmax.com

Trump’s Election Was a Win in the Fight to Keep Gitmo Open

President Obama recently signed the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act into law. Like numerous others before it, this NDAA is a densely packed, important piece of legislation, and it contains a provision extending the prohibition on spending federal funds to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States for any reason through December 31, 2017.

Implementing this provision before the end of the calendar year was crucial. The comparable prohibition in the FY 2016 NDAA was set to expire on December 31, 2016, so failing to extend it beyond that date technically would have left the Obama with three weeks to transfer Gitmo detainees to U.S. prisons between December 31 and January 20, his last day in office. The president and his team have expressed frustration that it is now impossible for them to fulfill his 2008 campaign pledge to close detainee operations at Gitmo, which he backed with one of the very first executive orders he signed upon taking office.

The road to this point was long and uncertain. Just months after Obama’s January 2009 executive order was issued, the administration announced that it intended to prosecute 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 co-conspirators in federal court in Manhattan. Bipartisan opposition to this plan was swift and sustained, and the president was forced to abandon it. The administration had also undertaken a parallel initiative to transfer other detainees to a prison facility in Standish, Michigan, but again had to drop those plans in the face of intense opposition from the local community. A similar effort to transfer detainees to a prison facility in Thomson, Illinois was also stymied when then-attorney general Eric Holder, again facing widespread objections from those with security concerns, pledged under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Thomson facility would not be used to house Gitmo detainees.

Not long after Democrats lost their lock on the House and Senate as a result of the 2010 midterm elections, Congress passed the FY 2011 NDAA, prohibiting transfers of Gitmo detainees to the United States for any reason. Congress would pass, and the President would sign into law with objection, similar bans in subsequent NDAAs and related appropriations legislation for the next several years. Over the last two years, Obama seemed to signal a willingness to defy these bans by sending delegations to survey and report on three more possible sites for domestic transfers: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; ADX Florence, the supermax prison in Colorado that houses the most dangerous federal inmates; and the Navy Brig in South Carolina. But these possibilities, too, were met with strong opposition from state and local authorities, and they have yet to be acted upon further.

One would have to assume that a significant reason why such domestic transfers have failed to happen since Obama first looked at the Kansas, Colorado, and South Carolina sites is that U.S. military leadership has stated publicly that the military will play no part in facilitating such transfers under current law. In November of 2015, 16 Members of Congress sent a letter to the Joint Chiefs of Staff encouraging them to seek legal counsel, in light of current bans on transferring Gitmo detainees to the United States, before implementing any orders from President Obama to the contrary. The Joint Chiefs responded to that letter in February of 2016, stating that they would not take any actions that violated the transfer ban. This was a watershed moment in the debate: Since Gitmo is a military facility, it is hard to envision a transfer of detainees to the U.S. without the cooperation of the military.

The fact that Democrats and Republicans within and outside Congress held the line for the past eight years, thwarting the president’s highly misguided plans to transfer detainees stateside, is a testament to the resonance of the arguments against those plans: It remains just as true today as it was eight years ago that bringing detainees here would pose unacceptable security and legal risks for the American people, and would do nothing to abate the jihadist threat against the United States.

That said, there are two things to keep in mind until January 20th, 2017.

First, President Obama is deeply committed to his view that Gitmo has been detrimental to America’s global reputation and has maintained that “under certain circumstances” the domestic-transfer restrictions might be unconstitutional. His signing of the last NDAA of his presidency into law, and the Joint Chiefs’ previous statement regarding military participation in any such detainee transfer, severely limit his options. But it would be a mistake to consider the matter closed until President-elect Trump, who thankfully has so far adopted a very different perspective on Gitmo, assumes office.

Second, Obama has indicated that he will continue trying to transfer remaining detainees to other countries, as he has done already with several very dangerous terrorist suspects. There is less that Congress can do to stop these transfers since they fall squarely within the executive branch’s prerogative as the primary conductor of foreign policy. The recidivism rate for former Gitmo detainees released under both presidents Bush and Obama is 30 percent. So while it remains unlikely that Obama can fulfill his desire to transfer remaining detainees to the U.S. for trial before he leaves office, he can still do grave damage to America’s national security in the few weeks he has left.

With this in mind, President-elect Trump would be well-advised to minimize such damage by 1) reiterating that in his administration, Gitmo will be kept open for detainee operations involving those still there and those who may be captured or re-captured on the battlefield; and 2) announcing that countries who accept detainees for transfer between now and January 20th would be guaranteed an extremely poor start to relations with the new administration.

Infamous United Nations Security Council Resolution on Israel is a Symptom of a Deeper Foreign Policy Crisis That Requires Change

The recent resolution of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) condemning Israel over settlements represents another foreign policy blow for the United States.

It is consistent with this administration’s policy to appease enemies that do not deserve it (e,g Iran and Cuba) , spit in the face of allies, and thus weakening the image of the United States worldwide.

What is the meaning of this security council resolution for Israel and the settlements?

Let us start with the basics. The resolution fails to distinguish between ‘settlements blocs’ and settlements in areas where a Palestinian state is supposed to be created. Former U.S President George W. Bush accepted construction in a set of Jewish settlements next to the 1967 border as long as the scope of settlements does not expand well into the West Bank.

However, the UNSC resolution, supported and initiated by Obama, defines settlements as every piece of territory that was taken by Israel in the war of June 1967. This includes the Western Wall (the holiest site in Judaism), neighborhoods that have been in existence for decades and had no previous Arab presence, and even the Golan Heights. The latter, having nothing to do with the future of a Palestinian state, was taken from Syria during June 1967, and was used by the Syrians before that date to bomb Israeli civilian targets. Nowadays, if Israel withdraws from the Golan, the territory is likely to fall in the hands of the Iran-backed murderous Bashar Al Assad, or worse, in the hands of the radical Islamist group Al Nusra (now controlling Syrian territory next to the Golan).

On the other hand, the resolution demands nothing from the Palestinians. In the past, peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians failed not because of settlements but because the Palestinian leadership refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state by requiring the so –called “right of return” of three million Palestinians to Israel proper. That proposal is not a formula for peace but a formula for the continuation of war.

Very much in contrast to the Palestinians, Israel offered solutions in the past by offering generous concessions that included withdrawal from most of the West Bank, the creation of a Palestinian state, and agreement to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians. Israel also unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and dismantled the Jewish settlements in the area.

This unbalanced resolution ignores these past painful and risky Israeli concessions, contemptuously rejected by the Palestinian leadership. Furthermore, the resolution failed to include the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and abandon the “right of return.”

After Egypt backed off from introducing the resolution at the request of the U.S, Vice-President Joe Biden proceeded to recruit other sponsors. He called the Ukraine first, a country that still has serious problems recognizing its population’s collaboration with the anti-Semitic Nazi murderous machine and has even honored a Ukrainian militia that murdered Jews during WWII. The other three were New Zealand, Malaysia, and Venezuela. Malaysia is a country that has refused to recognize Israel and whose former president made statements supporting theories of a Jewish conspiracy. Venezuela has adopted an open anti-American ideology, has cooperated with Iran and Hezbollah and its political and military elite are heavily involved in drug trafficking. Moreover, Venezuela is a massive violator of human rights whose policies have led to the starvation of its population

What kind of message is the United States sending to its enemies when we it makes alliances against its own ally?

This kind of resolution has been long supported by France. France’s foreign policy towards the Middle East is mainly motivated by the desire to diminish the status and influence of the United States and increase its own. Israel is considered to be a U.S ally and an easy political target.

As an example, for France, that resolution constitutes a tremendous political victory from their narrow point of view. However, as they face serious terrorist attacks in their own soil, the French have weakened themselves by voting against the country that is at the forefront of the fight against the kind of terrorism that now they themselves are facing.

However, despite the stupidity displayed by the French, their weakness is our problem too. A defenseless West also exposes America and its citizens to danger and risk. If our western allies are not strong enough, we will collapse and be hung with them.

The Russians and the Chinese provide political backing to their allies such as Syria, Iran or even North Korea. The West does not.

What is now needed is a strong American leadership that can provide a sense of common purpose to the West as a whole. The U.S needs to set the tone as well as take the initiative and leadership in the West, in order to defeat ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas and reduce the power of rogue states such as Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela. Such leadership needs to be expanded to other countries including Latin American countries with significant potential such as Brazil and Argentina.

The anti-Israel UNSC resolution is a problem that transcends Israel. The challenge ahead for President–elect Donald Trump is huge, but the opportunity to make substantial change happen is there too.

A Final Insult to Israel

Many Americans and Israelis are outraged at President Obama for betraying the state of Israel yesterday by refusing to veto a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and calling Israel’s settlements and continuing construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem a “flagrant violation of international law.”

By allowing this resolution to pass, Obama broke with a long tradition of the United States standing with Israel on council resolutions concerning the Israel–Palestinian conflict and ignored a plea by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to veto the resolution.

What is the significance of this resolution for Middle East security and U.S.–Israel relations?  Absolutely nothing.

The world knows this resolution was approved because a U.S. president with just a few weeks left in office chose to abandon Israel. They know this president’s positions — especially his hostility to Israel — are not shared by a majority of Americans and will be quickly reversed by President Trump.

Israelis and the American people know what a cowardly act this Security Council vote was by President Obama since it was deliberately delayed until after the presidential election to ensure Hillary Clinton and congressional Democrats would not pay a political price. The vote also took place on Friday afternoon two days before Christmas to limit negative press coverage.

President-elect Trump called on the Obama administration to veto the resolution and indicated he will ignore it when he tweeted: “Things Will Be Different After Jan. 20.”  Democratic and Republican congressmen are already siding with Trump on the vote.

In an unprecedented statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office directly condemned the Obama administration in response to the passage of the anti-Israel resolution and expressed its eagerness to work with President Trump:

The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes. Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.

With one of the worst relationships with Israel of any U.S. president in history, and after ramming through a disastrous nuclear agreement with Iran over Israel’s strong objections, President Obama dealt a final insult to Israel today.

This is an insult that will be soon forgotten: This anti-Israel resolution will be reversed like the Iran deal, the Paris environmental agreement, Obamacare, and other radical and unpopular initiatives foisted on the American people by President Obama. Obama’s refusal to block this resolution only succeeded in reiterating his hostility to the state of Israeli and reaffirmed that his foreign policy will go down in the history books as an aberration.

Now is the Time for a Fix. A Bad U.S.-Cuba Policy With a Good U.S.-Latin American Policy

Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor warned President –elect Donald Trump that reversing the normalization process with Cuba could have harmful consequences.

Mr. Rhodes gave a number of reasons including that the death of Fidel Castro  offers an opportunity for a political transition as  Raul Castro, the current president announced he will retire in 2018. He also added that closing off Cuba now is likely to embolden the hardliners. In addition, Rhodes believes that closing the doors to Cuba at this juncture could harm relations between the United States and other Latin American countries.

Interestingly enough, President –elect Trump never spoke of stopping the normalization process or specifically returning to the situation before December 17, 2014. Mr. Trump, through his spokesman pointed out that he will demand religious and political liberalization for the island including liberation of political prisoners.  However, Rhodes suggested that insistence on demanding respect for human rights in Cuba has only led to more repression.

The arguments brought by the Obama Administration are difficult to sustain.  According to Pedro Roig, a Cuba expert, who published a detailed report in 2014, there is an entire structure in place aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the regime even after Raul Castro leaves office or dies.

The regime secured key supporters in the armed forces and in the government bureaucracy. The armed forces control 65% of the economy. More than half of the 14 members of the Politburo are military men. Furthermore, there is a younger generation of people in high office that are also part of the central committee of the Communist Party. By the same token, Fidel and Raul’s children as well as members of their extended family and children of other high officers, occupy important positions. Many of them are in their fifties. As such they are likely to keep the regime in place for many years, if not decades to come.

Therefore, neither Raul’s retirement nor his eventual death can secure a transition as the Obama Administration asserts.

By the same token, Obama’s contention that relations with countries in Latin America would be at risk if the normalization process changes course is false.

For more than a decade and a half the left dominated the political scene in Latin America and indeed they pressured to de-isolate Cuba and reintegrate it into the family of the Americas. However, the political scene has now changed.

Most recently, Cuba’s strongest ally in the region, Venezuela, was suspended from MERCOSUR, the South American common market trade block.

The suspension was due to Venezuela’s lack of compliance with MERCOSUR’s rules and violations of human rights and democratic governance.

In two other key countries, Brazil and Argentina, the left is no longer in power. In Uruguay a moderate left-wing government also voted to suspend Venezuela.

The bottom line is that Venezuela has become isolated after 16 years of stealing the limelight. Therefore, it is logical that Cuba may no longer enjoy the regional status it once did. The MERCOSUR decision on Venezuela is a powerful sign of this development. The countries that still remain zealous supporters of Cuba are Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, all part of the Bolivarian Alliance and led by authoritarian leaders.

A Trump Administration is in a position now to take the upper hand in relation to Cuba as well as to Venezuela and their allies. This is a perfect moment to apply pressure on Cuba to change human rights policy. It is also a great moment to develop an overall new strategy aimed at neutralizing countries that still maintain the legacy of Castro and Chavez. Such a legacy is still highly problematic, to say the least, as these countries maintain relations with Iran, with terrorist elements and with drug cartels.

Trump’s appointment of General John Kelly as head of the Department of Homeland Security is an encouraging sign. Kelly has denounced a Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards presence in Latin America which are mostly harbored by countries associated with Cuba and Venezuela. He also understands very well that ISIS can take advantage of the vulnerable American Southern border. Most recently Southern Command confirmed the infiltration of Sunni Arabs to the U.S. through that border.

A new policy in the Western Hemisphere will require a strong diplomatic effort and cooperation from Latin American countries.

We do not need to treat the Western Hemisphere as a battlefield. Latin America is about more than this. However, treating the hemisphere only in commercial terms, ignoring all the issues mentioned above, or making a reconciliation policy with Cuba a centerpiece of what requires a much larger approach, should not continue to be our official policy.

Congress Deals Obama Defeat on Iran Sanctions

In a major defeat for President Obama, Congress overwhelmingly ignored the Obama administration’s plea to not extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 because Obama officials claimed this could lead Tehran to back out of the president’s legacy nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).  Yesterday, the Senate voted to reapprove the Act by a vote of 99-0.  The House vote was nearly unanimous.

These veto-proof votes against President Obama did not just reflect his lame duck status.  Most members of Congress realize the JCPOA is a dangerous agreement that has worsened international security.  It has not stopped Iran from conducting nuclear weapons-related work and there are several reports of Iranian cheating on the deal.

Moreover, almost every member of Congress – even the minority who still support the nuclear deal –recognize that despite President Obama’s claim that the JCPOA would improve Iranian behavior and U.S.-Iran relations, both have significantly worsened since the agreement was announced in July 2015.

The Iran Sanctions Act targets non-nuclear Iranian WMD programs and Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. Extending it will send a message to Iran that the United States demands that it cease its sponsorship of terrorism and not develop ballistic missiles, chemical weapons or biological weapons.

The Iran Sanctions Act also has nuclear sanctions that were suspended under the JCPOA but theoretically can be “snapped back” if Iran violates the agreement.  Iran has already violated the agreement and this law could give the Trump administration leverage to renegotiate or dismantle the JCPOA.

Predictably, Iranian officials are claiming the extension of these sanctions violates the JCPOA and threatened to retaliate.  The truth is that the JCPOA was negotiated to keep laws like the Iran Sanctions Act in place.  It’s also unlikely that Iran will pull out of the JCPOA over the extension of the Act since it is so favorable to Iran.

The extension of the Iran Sanctions Act does not solve the problem of how the Trump administration should deal with the JCPOA which Mr. Trump has called a disaster and one of the worst international agreements ever negotiated.  The Trump administration needs to decide whether to renegotiate the agreement, tear it up, or stick with the deal in hope that Iran will withdraw.  (I strongly recommend the first two options.)

Whatever Mr. Trump decides to do on the Iran deal, the overwhelming congressional votes extending the Iran Sanctions indicate strong bipartisan concerns about the threat from Iran that probably will translate into bipartisan congressional support for a significant change in policy toward the JCPOA by the Trump administration.

Fidel’s Death Is Not As Important As Change In U.S. and Regional Policy Towards Cuba

November 25th marked the day many people and opponents of the 58-year-old Cuban regime had long waited for: the death of the 90 year old, Fidel Castro who lead the longest dictatorship in the history of human kind. Not only has Castro’s dictatorship been the longest but will hold that record long after his death.

Even with his demise, Cuba’s democratic transition is not on the horizon and, in fact there are no signs that the long established dictatorship is receding. Furthermore, the international context and the way the normalization process with Cuba was carried out by the Obama presidency have been counterproductive and ineffectual if not enabling.

If we compare Cuba with the Eastern European regimes that experienced a transition from communism almost three decades ago, Cuba is far behind.

In Poland, as uprisings and protests increased, the government privatized 80% of the agriculture and the Catholic Church kept a level of independence that enabled a certain degree of intellectual pluralism. Universities were granted certain degrees of autonomy and professors were allowed to travel abroad. After 1980, strikes by labor succeeded in creating independent trade unions with more than one third of workers becoming members. Later, the Polish government agreed to negotiate economic reforms. Finally, a round table was formed that led to limited political reforms that eventually led to full political participation as the Soviet Union lost its imperial influence.

In Hungary, the totalitarian regime began to slowly give up in 1962. In1968, Hungary began to open part of its market. A second economy was installed. In the early 1980’s property rights were legalized. Beginning in1988 civil organizations began to emerge aimed at promoting freedom of expression. The creation of political parties ensued. Hungarian citizens began to demand respect and implementation of the reformed laws that the state enacted. The state responded to that demand and finally agreed to negotiate with the opposition.

In Cuba, the opposition has been co-opted or repressed. Political parties were formed but ultimately squashed and persecuted by the regime as it happened with the Cuban Council, a coalition of opposition political parties. Likewise, since the 1990’s there have been active organizations that created independent libraries and a network of independent journalists. They were all repressed and outlawed. Initiatives such as the Varela Project, a proposal of law aimed at institutionalizing reforms in Cuba like freedom of association, freedom of the press and free elections was dismantled in 2003 and its leader, Osvaldo Paya, died in “mysterious” circumstances in 2012.

Civil society in Cuba is in a situation of subordination to the state. Associations and NGO’s are controlled by the state apparatus and the communist party. Recognition of NGO’s or civil associations was dependent on the degree of loyalty to the state.

Organizations such as The Ladies in White, the Patriotic Union, the Lawton Foundation and others that promoted free elections, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and other civil rights have no power to accomplish anything or secure any government concession. Therefore, they remain highly ineffective and unable to mobilize public opinion. The Cuban government, contrary to the Polish communist government, has made sure that these organizations and movements never moved one inch forward.

Likewise, unlike the Hungarian government, the Cuban market reforms that began in 1993 were never codified into law. Property rights were never enacted. Cubans were not allowed to invest or hire workers (only foreigners were allowed) or form associations.

Only the Cuban military benefitted from reforms. The military began to manage the tourism industry and also established partnerships with foreign companies. The idea was not to develop the economy but to secure the loyalty of the military to perpetuate and strengthen the Castro regime.

For example, Cuba allowed remittances from the U.S. to be received by individuals in Cuba. However, the Cuban government forced people to sell their dollars for local currency. In that way, the Cuban government benefited from millions of dollars in revenue. In contrast to the Hungarian government that conceded gradual property rights, the Cuban government used concessions to extract more from its own people.

Raul Castro, who has been in charge of Cuba for the last 10 years, made some market reforms as part of the “Upgrade of the Socialist Model”, which include some expansion of private activity under strict government control and some reduction of public expenditure.

But even with these reforms there has not been meaningful upgrading of Cubans’ civil, economic and political rights. Even the few private economic activities have not been codified into law. The state is still authoritarian and paternalistic.

Unfortunately, the international context is not helpful. The communist regimes of Eastern Europe faced the collapse of the Soviet Union on the one hand, and on the other hand their closeness to Western Europe represented a stimulus to move towards a democratic transition. By contrast, the Latin American countries dominated by the left reaffirmed the Cuban revolution. They view Cuba as a symbol of continental independence and its isolation as a reflection of American imperialism.

Furthermore, countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador established an alliance with Cuba (ALBA) vindicating and following its totalitarian socialist model, more than 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, whose leftist regimes were sympathetic to Cuba, also demanded accommodation with Cuba to undo what was seen as an “historical injustice” towards the Castro regime.

Barack Obama’s normalization policy resulted from this desire to go along with Latin American countries. That became the main pillar of Obama’s foreign policy in the region without further nuances.

In exchange for the enormous benefits Obama’s diplomacy bestowed on this highly repressive regime, the president never demanded that Cuba put forth meaningful domestic reforms or expansion of rights, or substantial openness. Thus, as a recent Washington Post editorial rightly pointed out “(The Obama) initiative has brought in more U.S. dollars and tourists but no relief from stifling and frequently violent repression of speech, assembly and other basic human rights”.

The Obama Administration gambled with the idea that trade with the U.S. and minimal economic liberalization would lead to political democracy as a matter of natural historical evolution. This assumption is based on speculation. Worse, Obama never demanded Cuba stop supporting the Venezuelan government that imprisons and starves its population.

Meanwhile, Cuba also continued to train and provide material support to Venezuela’s ultra-authoritarian regime and strengthen Venezuela’s agenda of expanding repression throughout the region.

A Trump presidency can now reevaluate this misguided and counterproductive policy by demanding changes in human rights policy and an end to supporting dangerous regimes such as Venezuela that promote drug trafficking, relations with countries like Iran and other rogue elements.

A Trump Administration now has an opportunity to adopt a tougher stand towards Cuba on domestic and foreign policy and demand what is in the security interests of the United States, the freedom of the Cuban people and the stability and security of the region.

Our Appeaser in Chief vs Donald Trump on the Death of Fidel Castro

President Obama’s statement on the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro said nothing about how he made Cuba into one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships.  Mr. Obama did not mention the country’s abysmal human rights record and thousands of political prisoners.  The president also left out how Castro ruined the Cuban economy and teamed up with other dictatorships and rogue states against the United States. Instead, Mr. Obama said:

“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him. “

This crafty doublespeak is typical of President Obama’s world view that sees states like Cuba as victims of unjust and exploitative policies by the United States.  In his heart, our radical president sympathized with Castro just like he sympathized and appeased the mullahs of Iran.  Obama saw Castro as a freedom fighter, not a genocidal dictator and an enemy of the United States.

By contrast, President-elect Trump’s statement about Castro’s passing got it exactly right.  Trump said: “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

Bravo, Mr. Trump.  This is the kind of plain-spoken honesty and leadership our nation desperately needs after eight years of Barack Obama’s incompetent, dishonest and radical foreign policy.