Iran is the First Threat

Security Studies Group (SSG) – July 26, 2017:

Executive Summary

The United States faces many dangers, but Iran should be first on the list for action. We need a comprehensive strategy to stop their ongoing efforts to become a nuclear power, oppose their play for regional hegemony and address their support for terrorism. It is time to accept there is no accommodation with the current authoritarian theocratic government and return to a policy of supporting the Iranian people in seeking a new form of government.

The Iranian regime exerts influence using the following threat vectors:

  • Nuclear Weapons & Missile Programs
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps & Quds Force
  • Terror financing and ideological indoctrination
  • Weapons and Narco-trafficking\

The main geographic areas where their influence is a concern:

  • Iraq
  • Syria
  • Afghanistan
  • Qatar
  • Yemen

Issues where US and Iranian goals are in direct conflict:

  • Iran Nuclear Deal
  • Iraq/Syria End Game
  • Qatar Blockade
  • Yemen proxy war
  • Afghanistan

These issues are all interconnected, and US decisions and actions on each will cause Iranian reactions that could be aimed at affecting any of the others. US policy should be aimed at containing Iranian expansion, rolling back Iranian influence, stopping improper economic partnerships and most importantly ensuring it does not achieve nuclear weapons capabilities. The ideal end state is a new form of government in Iran that ends these policies.

The first step should be a refusal to recertify the Iran Nuclear Deal for non-compliance packaged with the toughest sanctions possible. The other immediate need is to limit Iranian influence on the post-ISIS plans for Iraq and Syria. These will create tremendous challenges, but failure to act could be catastrophically worse.

Iranian Threat Vectors

Nuclear Weapons & Missile Programs

The premier threat posed by Iran is their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development program. There is a wide array of opinion on how serious Iran is about obtaining a nuclear device and the progress of the program. There is less argument about the ballistic missile program, as the Iranians seem to go out of their way to show it off.

Security Studies Group (SSG) believes the regime is set on acquiring nuclear weapons and cannot be trusted to refrain from using them if they are successful. As evidence, the ballistic missiles they are so intent on developing are characterized by relatively small payloads and limited accuracy. Only with nuclear warheads would such missiles be worth the investment Iran is making in them. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did much less than promised to slow this down, and in some ways acted as an accelerant by providing economic relief and a renewed capacity for the smuggling of foreign technology.

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) & Quds Force

These paramilitary forces are tools of the Iranian theocracy, and their primary mission is to protect the Islamic revolution in Iran. Though this mission is characterized as defensive, they have frequently carried it out offensively through expansionist efforts.  These include the development of Shi’a militias loyal to Iran throughout the region, and the defense of dependent proxy states such as Syria and Yemen. The IRGC has extensive business operations to finance and provide cover for their illicit activities and also runs a large criminal network. The IRGC is involved in almost all aggressive activities Iran conducts.

Terror financing and ideological indoctrination

The Iranian regime funds many of the worst terror groups in the world. Some of these, like Hezbollah and Hamas, also have social outreach and assistance programs. The Iranians use these as a way to conduct Islamist indoctrination. The infusions of cash and return of the regime to the international banking system from the Iran Deal have facilitated and increased their funding activities. Also important to recruitment and ideological development is Iran’s commitment to defending Shi’a Islamic holy sites, and Shi’ite Islam in general, against alleged threats. Many of these come from Sunni forces like ISIS, or Sunni states like Saudi Arabia. They also claim the United States is a threat to these as well.

Weapons and Narco-trafficking

The IRGC produces much of the conventional weaponry manufactured in Iran and uses this as a source of cash generation as well as a method to gain allies. The weapons find their way to terror groups and others who help them destabilize adversaries. It is a major player in international opium smuggling and uses this illicit cash to fund its other operations. They also provide transshipment of opium from Afghanistan to Lebanese Hezbollah, which uses it to create heroin for the international drug market. This gives Iranian terror networks direct access to drug cartels operating in the Americas.

Geographic areas of influence

The Core

Iraq

Iran has always had strong ties with the Shi’ite population in Iraq. Their status as members of that sect and their direct proximity to Iraq allowed them to host Shi’ite refugees during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Many of those who sheltered in Iran are now leading figures in Iraq. The precipitous US withdrawal during the Obama administration’s first term both allowed Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership to act on its worst impulses toward minority groups, and also provided Iran unrestricted opportunities to dominate Iraq.

That has only increased during the counter-ISIS operations. The Iranians have nurtured Shi’a militias who have been a major part of this clearing mission. They have had advisors and even direct command and control from the IRGC’s Quds Force. They have conducted sectarian reprisals against the Sunni populace. The militias have shown little regard for civilian casualties. They also openly declare support for Iran’s theocracy instead of Iraq’s secular government, ensuring that Iran has a capacity to control Iraq even when Iraq’s government would prefer to act independently.

The support Iran has given to Shi’a militias across much of Iraq will greatly complicate de-militarization as the counter-ISIS campaign winds down.

Syria

Russian and Iranian support has kept their proxy, Bashar al-Assad, in power. Iran has backed Hezbollah’s combat operations in support of the Assad regime, providing IRGC troops and advisers and raising auxiliary units of volunteers from Afghanistan and other areas.

Iran has long sought to dominate a road to the Mediterranean Sea. The demise of ISIS will create a vacuum they will try to use to fulfill this goal.

Geographic areas of influence

The Edge

Afghanistan

Iran has been supplying and assisting the Taliban for years and continues to do so in order to keep the United States bogged down there. They also have a substantial commitment to Shi’a populations in Afghanistan. The IRGC’s criminal aspect is a key smuggler of opium from Afghanistan into the Middle East.

Iran’s assistance to America’s enemies in Afghanistan not only advances their own interests, but those of other authoritarian regimes. America’s ground lines of communication, through which our forces in Afghanistan are supplied and kept fed, are under the physical control of Russia and Pakistan. The larger the American deployment in Afghanistan, the more of our forces must be fed and supplied, and thus the greater the pressure Russia and Pakistan can put on America by closing our supply lines. Iran’s efforts in Afghanistan thus make America subject to increased pressure from authoritarian regimes.

Qatar

President Trump gave a jump start to the Saudi and United Arab Emirate (UAE) move against Qatar when he forged a counterterrorism alliance at the summit in Riyadh. Iran’s relationship with Qatar is a key motivator of the Gulf Arab blockade and Iran has been supporting Qatar in attempts to end it.

This conflict puts two US allies —both Qatar and Turkey, which has fallen into authoritarianism under President Erdogan —on the side of Iran, and against the Gulf Arab states that President Trump has pledged to support. US treaty obligations to both Qatar and Turkey will be troublesome if the conflict escalates between the Saudi-led Gulf Arabs and the Turkey, Iran, Qatar coalition. There is a danger of significant stress on American treaty networks, as well as the danger that Iran will succeed in peeling both Qatar and Turkey away from the United States.

Yemen

Iranian support for Houthi rebels against Saudi and UAE backed forces in Yemen has been a potential flashpoint for a while. Currently, it is mostly proxies fighting. However, the Gulf States have put troops on the ground; and, the Houthi have access to Iranian missiles and rockets which they have fired against Gulf States and US Navy ships. The Qatar crisis adds another potential collision with Iranian-backed forces or potentially IRGC forces. This is part of a larger battle for regional dominance between the Iranians and the Gulf Arabs.

Direct conflicts between US and Iranian goal

The danger zones for US interactions with Iran are numerous with great potential for trouble.  Since 1979, Iran’s government has been marked by a preference for escalation so US policy should be built around an expectation they will act forcefully in response to our moves.

Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA)

US policy should be to disengage from this deal in the most expeditious manner possible. The justification must be well publicized. There will be a withering public information counterattack by the Iran lobby, the institutional left in the US and abroad, and Obama loyalists. Exposing the misinformation, lies, and malfeasance that allowed this deal to ever be made will be a strong antidote to this.

There are a number of tactics the President can use to end our participation:

  • Submit JCPOA to the Senate as a treaty
  • Refuse to recertify based on serial non-compliance
  • Move via executive order to withdraw based ion Iranian violations
  • Renegotiate with Iran

The last option is the least likely to succeed as the Iranians have no reason to negotiate in good faith because the existing deal front-loaded the benefits to Iran, leaving them with nothing to lose by being difficult.  Submitting the deal to the Senate as a treaty has a certain elegance, and would actually remedy a major attack by President Obama on Constitutional Separation of Powers. The other two options are versions of the same valid complaint that the Iranians have not meaningfully complied with the deal.

Any move to take away this deal, which Iran rightly considers a victory, will certainly be met with a flurry of public protestations but also activation of proxies and other Iranian assets to cause problems for the US. They can present these anywhere the US has interests and create considerable havoc. Contingency plans to protect US assets must be prepared and plans to preempt the Iranian plans or retaliate must be ready for immediate action.

Iraq/Syria End Game

The end of kinetic operations against ISIS is a milestone that comes with significant challenges to meet or a year or two down the road Sunni Insurgency Mark III will be in effect (I. al Qaeda in Iraq, II. ISIS). These include reintegrating the Sunni regions ISIS destroyed into the states of Iraq and Syria.  SSG believes success is unlikely and recommends a protectorate for these areas until rebuilding and some self-determination for the people can occur.

Iran has been in the forefront of the counter-ISIS operations both directly with the Iraqi government and military and as supplier, adviser and often in command of Shi’a militias. They have done much the same in Syria, and the IRGC has lost more than 1000 personnel in these conflicts. Iran will not want to give up what was gained in blood by disbanding local militias trained to be more loyal to Tehran than to Baghdad or Damascus.

The goal of a Shi’ite Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea is not merely a fantasy to the Mullahs of Iran and their IRGC and Quds Force. They have seeded the path to the Mediterranean with these Shi’a militias, and demilitarizing them will be difficult if even possible at all. Any successful reconstruction and reintegration of Iraq’s Sunni areas will have to deal with the massive sectarian slaughter and looting conducted by these militias. The Sunni populace will hold the Baghdad government and its Iranian allies responsible for this. They may also hold the United States to blame, given the precipitous withdrawal of US forces that exposed them to the Iranians and their militias; and, US participation in the clearing operations.

Changing the balance of influence with the Iraqi government from Iran’s favor to the United States will be a major challenge. The belief in Baghdad that US policy is turning against Iran after 8 years of promoting it will be helpful in this regard. But Iran has been building its alliances for 40 years. They do not have the reputation for abandoning allies for political purposes, which the United States did by removing combat forces at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Iran’s ability to disrupt any effort to create stability or peace is strong in both Syria and Iraq and this may be their area of choice if pressured by US rejection of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Conclusion

The US needs a new approach to Iran which recognizes them as an active antagonist not a potential partner for peace.

The Iran Deal recertification process offers an opportunity to cite Iranian provocations in the 90-day window before the next certification. Iran’s response to an American declaration that they have not been compliant has the potential to be violent. American military forces must start preparing immediately for the consequences Iran is already threatening.

Iran must be stopped at all costs from establishing the land bridge to the Levant. The counter-ISIS end game, and the end of the civil war in Syria, must be built around a clear strategy of denying Iran either direct control, or control through proxy states, of any straight line from its borders to and across Syria.

Iranian militias within Syria and Iraq will need to be isolated in order to provide Iraq’s government any capacity for independence from Iran. This will require the presence of counterpoised forces, either Coalition or peacekeepers from governments that are not friendly to Iran.

The United States should also begin working to facilitate replacement of the Iranian regime in the longer term. This should not be conceived as a military operation, but as a whole of government approach built first and foremost around diplomacy and intelligence work. The Security Studies Group has a strategy to offer under separate cover for professionals working in classified environments.

SSG focuses on defending the value of American power against the true threats we face. Both the legislative and executive branches need rapid access to concise and factual data to inform strategic re-orientation in counterterrorism and national security policy. That’s what Security Studies Group is all about.  @SecStudiesGrp 

WINNING: Five Pentagon Successes Under President Trump

Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg

Breitbart, by Kristina Wong, July 19, 2017:

President Trump has placed a high priority on rebuilding the U.S. military and allowing his commanders to make more calls. So far, in the administration’s first six months, successes have been piling up.

Here are the top five:

1. Islamic State Defeat in Mosul

The U.S.-led coalition assisted Iraqi security forces in uprooting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from its stronghold in Iraq, a major strategic and symbolic victory. ISIS had stormed into Iraq the summer of 2014, seizing large swaths of land and establishing Mosul as its de facto capital in Iraq.

Iraqi forces are now moving to clear other pockets of Iraq where there are still ISIS holdouts, with Tal Afar, just west of Mosul, being the next target.

Although the Mosul offensive began under former President Obama, President Trump called for a review of the ISIS war and made two significant changes. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced the changes on May 19 during a Pentagon briefing:

First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.

Secondly, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS. The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.

The fight for Raqqa, the capital of its “caliphate,” is also underway, beginning last month. U.S.-led coalition forces are assisting local Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces on the ground, who now have the city encircled.

2. Diminished Islamic State Presence in Afghanistan

The U.S. military has been keeping ISIS on its back foot in Afghanistan after declaring its presence there in 2015. The U.S. military killed the emir of the terrorist group’s Afghanistan branch, ISIS-Khorasan, last week. Abu Sayed was killed in a U.S. strike in the group’s headquarters in Kunar province on July 11.

“The raid also killed other ISIS-K members and will significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White said.

The military also took out two previous ISIS-K leaders: Abdul Hasib in late April and Hafiz Sayed Khan last July.

White said Afghan and U.S. forces launched a counter-ISIS-K offensive in early March 2017 to drive ISIS from their presence in Nangarhar. In April, the military dropped its largest conventional bomb on ISIS there.

A Pentagon report in June said ISIS-K has declined “in size, capability, and ability to hold territory” between December and May.

3. U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Fleet to Officially Boast Eleven Vessels Again

The USS Gerald R. Ford will join the aircraft carrier fleet – the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier – this month.

It is the first aircraft carrier of a new class in forty years, since the Nimitz-class carriers were commissioned in the 1970s, and will bring the Navy’s carrier count back up to 11 for the first time in five years, in accordance with the law.

Trump has pledged to build a twelve-carrier Navy and this milestone is a big step towards that. It is also symbolic of the president’s plans to rebuild the military.

“After years of endless budget cuts that have impaired our defenses, I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history,” Trump said on the Ford in March.

The administration has proposed a $603 billion defense budget for 2018, $19 billion over what former President Obama had planned.

4. Trump Installing His Team at the Pentagon

The Senate signed off on Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, this week, with an overwhelmingly bipartisan 92-7 vote.

Six Democrats and one independent opposed his nomination: Sens. Corey Booker (NJ), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Ed Markey (MA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The confirmation fills a key policy-making role at the Pentagon. He last served as senior vice president of supply chain and operations at Boeing Company.

Shanahan is taking over for Bob Work, an Obama holdover who had agreed to stay until his replacement could be found.

Normally, his confirmation would be a normal thing, but in this charged political atmosphere, nothing is normal. In addition, Democrats have been stalling confirmation of Trump’s nominees.

His confirmation brings the number of Senate-confirmed appointees at the Pentagon to six, out of 22 nominations so far.

5. Trump Challenging China in the South China Sea

President Trump has begun to challenge China in the South China Sea, sending the U.S. military to sail or fly within 12 nautical miles of land features claimed by China.

The purpose of these operations, called “Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FONOPs), is to make sure China knows the waters remain open to the international community, despite China and other countries’ claims of ownership.

Former President Obama had set a moratorium on such operations in the South China Seabetween 2012 and 2015 out of concern it would upset China.

But Trump has authorized three of these operations so far since May, the same number that Obama conducted in all of 2016.

The first FONOP occurred on May 24 when the destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef.

The second one occurred on July 2 when the USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands.

The third one occurred on July 7 when two B-1B Lancer bombers flew over the South China Sea shortly before Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Victory Over ISIS In Mosul ‘Will Be Taught For Years To Come’

A member of Iraqi Federal Police waves an Iraqi flag as they celebrate victory of military operations against the Islamic State militants in West Mosul, Iraq July 2, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTS19ICT

Daily Caller, by Saajar Enjeti, July 13, 2017:

Iraqi generals defended their conduct throughout the U.S. backed campaign to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State in a Pentagon press conference Thursday.

Iraqi Security Force Brigadier General Yahya Rasool highlighted the intense combat and barbaric tactics of ISIS throughout the nearly nine month battle. Rasool particularly recalled the extremely narrow alleys in the western half of the city, where he said that two people could not even walk side by side, thereby limiting the use of armored vehicles to defend against suicide bombers.

Amidst this dense urban combat environment, the panel of Iraqi and Kurdish generals explained the limits on their ability to defeat the enemy. They described how the Iraqi Security Forces were barred from the use of heavy weaponry and U.S. air support was limited to targets that could be hit without civilian casualties. ISIS exploited any opening they could find in the battle, frequently employing suicide bombers “of both genders.”

“This was one of the most difficult military operations since World War II,” U.S. special envoy to the counter-ISIL coalition Brett McGurk told reporters at the State Department Thursday.

McGurk highlighted the nearly 2 million civilians in the city at the beginning of the battle and the painstaking methods the Iraqi Security Forces took to preserve civilian life. “One of the reasons the liberation was delayed was because ISIS was holed up in a building with civilians in the basement,” McGurk said, recalling ISIS’s use of civilian shields.

“[ISIS] slaughtered, starved, and raped everything in that city. I don’t have words to describe this,” Rasool said. The Iraqi Security Forces battle for Mosul is “something that’s going to be taught in war colleges for years to come,” he added.

Despite the declaration of victory from the Iraqi Security Forces, pockets of ISIS fighters remain in some parts of Mosul and control some smaller cities. “There’s a lot of mopping up and back clearing to be done, Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters Tuesday. Townsend expects ISIS to revert to a terrorist insurgency in some parts of Iraq and to continue to put up a fierce fight in cities that remain under its control.

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Also see:

It’s Time for the United States to Support Kurdish Independence

French President Francois Hollande receives the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani for talks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on February 21, 2017. Photo by Christian Liewig/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

PJ Media, by Joseph Pruder, July 13, 2017:

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence on September 25, 2017. By all accounts, the majority of Iraqi Kurds under the umbrella of the KRG would vote for independence.

This would make Iraqi Kurdistan the 196th sovereign state. In terms of fairness and justice, it is long overdue, given the lack of self-determination for 40 million Kurds in the wider region, and the approximately 5.5 million Iraqi Kurds.

Naturally, all of the neighboring states — Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey — have had a pact among them to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state. They fear that any Kurdish independence would inspire their own restless Kurdish minorities to join the newly establish Kurdish state. The Kurds in Turkey account for about 20% of Turkey’s 80 million plus people. In Iran, the Kurdish population is the third largest component after the Persians and the Azeris. The Kurds comprise 10% of Iran’s population of over 79 million. In Syria, Kurds number approximately 2.5 million out of a total population of 17.6 million. In all of the countries listed above, the governments are known to have deliberately undercounted the Kurdish population.

Sadly, U.S. administrations have hung on to the erroneous policy that Iraq must be maintained in its current form as a “united” Iraq. Yet Iraq, like neighboring Syria, is a fractured entity that combines ethnic and religious groups that do not wish to stay together. The U.S. policy has been wedded to a non-existent reality.

The colonial powers of Britain and France concocted — under the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916) — the outrageously mismatched entities/states of Iraq and Syria. They did not take into consideration the interests of the local populations, but rather sought to advance their own political and economic interests. It put under the same roof Sunni-Muslim Arabs (led by the Hashemite King Feisal of the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia), who ruled over a Shiite-Muslim Arab majority, and added into the mix the Northern Kurdish area with its oil deposits in Kirkuk. Although most Kurds are Sunnis, they are not Arabs, and they have always been discriminated against by the Arab regimes in Iraq and Syria.

It is incomprehensible why the previous U.S. administrations would side with the regime in Baghdad, and not with the pro-American and pro-Western Kurdistan Regional Government. For all intents and purposes, it is already an independent entity with its own government ensconced in the capital of Erbil, with its own parliament, flag, and army.

The Baghdad government, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is doing Iran’s bidding, and its powerful Shiite militias are more loyal to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, than to the Iraq government. They are more likely to side with Iran rather than the U.S. if and when an open conflict between the U.S. and Iran occurs.

To understand the advantages for the U.S. and its allies should an independent Kurdish state arise in northern Iraq, this reporter asked Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly, to explain them:

An independent Kurdistan will bring to a halt the creeping Shia Crescent. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states have recently started to view an independent Kurdistan in a positive light. They view it as a way to confront Iranian aggression in the Middle East. These Sunni-Arab states are willing to accept a divided Iraq and Syria, becoming a buffer against Iran and the new emerging neo-Ottoman threat from Turkey, which seeks to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Muslim world.

In the past, U.S. Congress would remind us of the vital economic interests the U.S. has with 21 Arab nations, not to mention Turkey as a NATO ally. However, the new developments in the Arab world should convince many in the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration that supporting an independent Kurdistan would bring stability to the region, and reduce two major threats from Iran and Turkey. Moreover, the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have been and continue to be the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State.

Two years ago, the Arab world opposed the idea of splitting the “Arab lands” of Iraq and Syria. Now however, they know that if they keep these two countries whole, it would disadvantage and undermine the Saudi kingdom and benefit Iran. It is for this reason that the moderate Sunni states think it is good to let the people of these nations (Iraq and Syria) go their own way.

It is also important to note that the U.S. does not need American boots on the ground in order to confront Iranian aggression in the Middle East. A good portion of Iran’s Islamic Republic is comprised of large minority groups such as the Azeris, Balochis, Kurds, and Ahwazi Arabs. These groups are capable of waging an uprising against the Iranian regime, and could help collapse it from within. As the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds unite to form an independent state, the U.S. will be able to use an independent Kurdistan as its Middle East base in the struggle against international terrorism. Finally, America should support an independent Kurdistan because it is the right and moral thing to do.

Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Russia appear to have agreed upon crushing Kurdish aspirations, while at the same time undermining the U.S. and its allies in the region. It is therefore time for the U.S. to support an independent Kurdistan and a confederation of Iraqi and Syrian Kurds.

The Treaty of Sevres (August 1920), signed by the Ottoman government, provided for a Kurdish state. It was then superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. All the promises to the Kurds were nullified. Kemal Ataturk annexed the Kurdish area. The Soviets, for their own reasons and interests, helped the Kurds in Iran establish an independent entity called the Republic of Mahabad in 1946, but less than a year later it was crushed by the Shah of Iran. Iraqi Kurds have been struggling for autonomy since the 1930s.

In March 1970, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi-Kurdish parties agreed to a peace accord. It granted the Kurds autonomy. The accord also recognized Kurdish as an official language and amended the Iraqi constitution to state: “The Iraqi people is made of two nationalities, an Arab nationality and a Kurdish nationality.”

On March 16, 1988, over 6,800 Kurdish civilians died in a poison gas attack on the town of Halabjah. The attack was initiated by the Iraqi-Arab dictator Saddam Hussein. A Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein in March 1991, encouraged by the U.S. administration, ended up with Saddam Hussein unleashing his army against the Kurds. The U.S.-led forces refused to intervene to support the rebels, resulting in 1.5 million Kurds fleeing before the Iraqi onslaught.

The Kurds, unlike the Palestinians, have not been coddled by the United Nations or the European Union, nor do Western leftists groups wage demonstrations on behalf of their self-determination. Yet, unlike the Palestinians, they are a distinct people with their own language and culture. Also, the Kurds, unlike the Palestinians, have supported the U.S. fight against Islamic terror.

The Kurdish people have earned the right to self-determination and an independent state.

Also see:

The terrorist diaspora: After the fall of the caliphate

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, July 13, 2017:

[Editor’s Note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry into the United States. The hearing is titled, “The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate.” A version with footnotes will also be posted.]

Chairman Gallagher, Ranking Member Watson Coleman, and other distinguished Committee Members, thank you for inviting me to testify today concerning foreign fighters and the threat some of them pose to the U.S. and Europe.

The fall of Mosul and the likely fall of Raqqa won’t be the end of the Islamic State. The group has already reverted to its insurgent roots in some of the areas that have been lost. It also still controls some territory. The Islamic State will continue to function as a guerrilla army, despite suffering significant losses. In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed that even though it was losing significant ground, the Islamic State “will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists [sic] attacks in the region and internationally” going forward. Unfortunately, I think ODNI’s assessment is accurate for a number of reasons, some of which I outline below. I also discuss some hypothetical scenarios, especially with respect to returning foreign fighters or other supporters already living in Europe or the U.S.

Recent history. The Islamic State’s predecessor quickly recovered from its losses during the American-led “surge,” capitalizing on the war in Syria and a politically poisonous environment in Iraq to rebound. Indeed, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization grew into an international phenomenon by the end of 2014, just three years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was completed. Baghdadi’s men did this while defying al Qaeda’s leaders and competing with rival jihadist groups. This recent history should give us pause any time we hear rhetoric that sounds too optimistic about the end of the Islamic State’s caliphate. The enterprise has had enough resources at its disposal to challenge multiple actors for more than three years. There is no question that the Islamic State’s finances, senior personnel, and other assets have been hit hard. But it is premature to say its losses amount to a deathblow.

Uncertainty regarding size of total membership. While it is no longer at the peak of its power, the Islamic State likely still has thousands of dedicated members. We don’t even really know how many members it has Iraq and Syria, let alone around the globe. Previous U.S. estimates almost certainly undercounted the group’s ranks. In September 2014, at the beginning of the US-led air campaign, the CIA reportedly estimated that the Islamic State could “muster” between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. This figure was “more than three times the previous estimates,” CNN noted. By December 2016, the U.S. military was estimating that 50,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed. By February 2017, U.S. Special Operations command concluded that more than 60,000 jihadists had perished. Two months later, in April 2017, the Pentagon reportedly estimated that 70,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed.

Taken at face value, these figures (beginning with the September 2014 approximation) would suggest that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise was able to replace its entire force structure more than two times over, while fighting multiple enemies on numerous fronts. This is, of course, highly unlikely. Even with its prolific recruiting campaign, it would be impossible for any cohesive fighting organization, let alone one under the sustained pressure faced by the Islamic State, to train, equip and deploy fighters this quickly. It is far more likely that the U.S. never had a good handle on how many jihadists are in its ranks and the casualty figures are guesstimates. The purpose of citing these figures is not to re-litigate the past, but instead to sound a cautionary alarm regarding the near-future: We likely do not even know how many members the Islamic State has in Iraq and Syria today.

The Islamic State is an international organization. Since November 2014, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi first announced the establishment of “provinces” around the globe, the Islamic State’s membership grew outside of Iraq and Syria. This further complicates any effort to estimate its overall size. Some of these “provinces” were nothing more than small terror networks, while others evolved into capable insurgency organizations in their own right. The Libyan branch of the caliphate temporarily controlled the city of Sirte. Although the jihadists were ejected from their Mediterranean abode by the end of 2016, they still have some forces inside the country. Similarly, Wilayah Khorasan (or Khorasan province), which represents the “caliphate” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, seized upwards of ten districts in Afghanistan as of early 2016, but has since lost ground. More recently, jihadists in the Philippines seized much of Marawi, hoisting the Islamic State’s black banner over the city. Wilayah Sinai controls at least some turf, and is able launch spectacular attacks on security forces. It was responsible for downing a Russian airliner in October 2015. Other “provinces” exist in East Africa, West Africa, Yemen and elsewhere.

In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that the so-called caliphate “is seeking to foster interconnectedness among its global branches and networks, align their efforts to ISIS’s strategy, and withstand counter-ISIS efforts.” Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, has said that Wilayah Khorasan went through an “application process” and the Islamic State mothership provided it with “advice,” “publicity,” and “some financial support.” Although it is impossible to judge the extent of the Islamic State’s cohesion, as much of the data is not available, there is at least some connectivity between the group’s leadership and its “provinces” elsewhere. This is best seen on the media side, as the organization is particularly adept at disseminating messages from around the globe in multiple languages, despite some recent hiccups in this regard.

While their fortunes may rise or fall at any given time, this global network of Islamic State “provinces” will remain a formidable problem for the foreseeable future. Not only are they capable of killing large numbers of people in the countries they operate in, this structure also makes tracking international terrorist travel more difficult. For instance, counterterrorism officials have tied plots in Europe to operatives in Libya. This indicates that some of the Islamic State’s “external plotters,” who are responsible for targeting the West, are not stationed in Iraq and Syria. The U.S.-led air campaign has disrupted the Islamic State’s “external operations” capacity by killing a number of jihadists in this wing of the organization. But others live.

The cult of martyrdom has grown. A disturbingly large number of people are willing to kill themselves for the Islamic State’s cause. The number of suicide bombings claimed by the so-called caliphate dwarfs all other jihadist groups, including al Qaeda. In 2016, for instance, the Islamic State claimed 1,112 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria alone. Through the first six months of 2017, the organization claimed another 527 such bombings (nearly three-fourths of them using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs) in those two countries. These figures do not include suicide attacks in other nations where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists are known to operate.

To put the Islamic State’s current “martyrdom operations” in perspective, consider data published by the Washington Post in 2008. According to the Post, there were just 54 suicide attacks in all of 2001, when al Qaeda’s “martyrs” launched the most devastating terrorist airline hijackings in history. The Islamic State currently eclipses that figure every month in Iraq and Syria, averaging 93 suicide bombings per month in 2016 and 88 per month so far in 2017. Many of these operations are carried out by foreign fighters.

These suicide bombers have been mainly used to defend Islamic State positions, including the city of Mosul, which was one of the self-declared caliphate’s two capitals. For instance, half of the “martyrdom operations” carried out in Iraq and Syria this year (265 of the 527 claimed) took place in the Nineveh province, which is home to Mosul. The “martyrs” were dispatched with increasing frequency after the campaign to retake the city began in October 2016, with 501 claimed suicide bombings in and around Mosul between then and the end of June 2017.

Some caveats are in order. It is impossible to verify the Islamic State’s figures with any precision. The fog of war makes all reporting spotty and not every suicide bombing attempt is recorded in published accounts. Some of the claimed “martyrdom operations” likely failed to hit their targets, but were counted by the Islamic State as attacks anyway. The U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces have routinely taken out VBIEDs before drivers could reach their mark. Not all “martyrs” are truly willing recruits. For instance, the Islamic State’s figures include numerous children who were pressed into service by Baghdadi’s goons.

Still, even taking into account these caveats, it is reasonable to conclude that the number of people willing to die for the sake of the so-called caliphate is disturbingly high – much higher than the number of willing martyrs in 2001 or even much more recently. Even though most of these people have been deployed in war zones, it is possible that more will be used outside of Iraq and Syria if they survive the fight and are able to travel to other countries. The Islamic State has already had some success in instigating would-be recruits to die for its cause in the West after they failed to emigrate to the lands of the caliphate. It is certainly possible that more will be sent into Europe or the U.S. in the future.

Children used in suicide attacks, executions and other operations. The Islamic State has a robust program, named “Cubs of the Caliphate,” for indoctrinating children. It is one of the most disturbing aspects of the organization’s operations. Not only does the Islamic State’s propaganda frequently feature children attending classes, its videos have proudly displayed the jihadists’ use of children as executioners.

Earlier this month, for instance, the group’s Wilayah Jazirah disseminated a video entitled, “They Left Their Beds Empty.” Four children are shown beheading Islamic State captives. The same production is laced with footage of the terrorists responsible for the November 2015 Paris attacks, as well as other plots in Europe. Indeed, the children are made to reenact some of the same execution scenes that the Paris attackers carried out before being deployed. The Islamic State’s message is clear: A new generation of jihadists is being raised to replace those who have fallen, including those who have already struck inside Europe.

The “Cubs of the Caliphate” program is not confined to Iraq and Syria, but also operates in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This means that numerous children who have been indoctrinated in the Islamic State’s ways will pose a disturbing challenge for authorities going forward. As I noted above, some have already been used in “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria. It is possible that others could be used in a similar fashion outside of the group’s battlefields, in Europe or the U.S. One purpose behind making children or adults commit heinous acts is to shock their conscience into thinking there is no way back, that they have crossed a threshold and there is no return. There are no easy answers for how to best deal with this problem.

Diversity of terrorist plots. There are legitimate concerns about the possibility of well-trained fighters leaving Iraq and Syria for the West now that the Islamic State is losing its grip on some of its most important locales. We saw the damage that a team of Islamic State operatives can do in November 2015, when multiple locations in Paris were assaulted. Trained operatives have had a hand in other plots as well. This concern was succinctly expressed by EUROPOL in a recent report. “The number of returnees is expected to rise, if IS [Islamic State], as seems likely, is defeated militarily or collapses. An increasing number of returnees will likely strengthen domestic jihadist movements and consequently magnify the threat they pose to the EU.” While a true military defeat will be elusive, the central point stated here has merit, even though the number of arrests of returnees across Europe has recently declined. According to EUROPOL, “[a]rrests for travelling to conflict zones for terrorist purposes…decreased: from 141 in 2015 to 77 in 2016.” And there was a similar “decrease in numbers of arrests of people returning from the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq: from 41 in 2015 to 22 in 2016.”

However, the overall number of arrests “related to jihadist terrorism” rose from 687 in 2015 to 718 in 2015, meaning that most of these terror-related arrests do not involve returnees.

Still, returnees and the logistical support networks that facilitate travel to Iraq and Syria were prominently represented in court cases tried by EUROPOL member states. “As evidenced in the past couple of years, the majority of the verdicts for jihadist terrorism concerned offences related to the conflict in Syria and Iraq,” EUROPOL reported in its statistical review for 2016. “They involved persons who had prepared to leave for or have returned from the conflict zone, as well as persons who have recruited, indoctrinated, financed or facilitated others to travel to Syria and/or Iraq to join the terrorist groups fighting there.” In addition, “[i]ndividuals and cells preparing attacks in Europe and beyond were also brought before courts.”

These data show that while the threat posed by returnees is real, it is just one part of the overall threat picture. The Islamic State has encouraged supporters in the West to lash out in their home countries instead of traveling abroad, directed plots via “remote-control” guides, and otherwise inspired individuals to act on their own. These tactics often don’t require professional terrorists to be dispatched from abroad. The Islamic State has also lowered the bar for what is considered a successful attack, amplifying concepts first espoused by others, especially al Qaeda. A crude knife or machete attack that kills few people is trumpeted as the work of an Islamic State “soldier” or “fighter.” On Bastille Day in Nice, France last year, an Islamic State supporter killed more than 80 people simply by running them over with a lorry. Other Islamic State supporters have utilized this simple technique, repeatedly advocated by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s propagandists, as well.

However, I would urge caution. While the amateurs or individual actors have become more lethal over time, the risk of professionally-trained jihadists carrying out a mass casualty attack remains distinct. On average, the professionals can still do more damage than their amateur counterparts – if they are not stopped beforehand. The threat to aviation demonstrates the point. In October 2015, the Islamic State’s Wilayah Sinai downed a Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board. Although the jihadists claim to have used a crude improvised explosive device, the plot required that well-placed personnel implant it at an optimal location within the aircraft. U.S. officials are attempting to stop even more sophisticated devices, built by either the Islamic State or al Qaeda, from being placed on board flights bound for Europe or America. Other professionally-planned attacks could involve bombing commuter trains, Mumbai-style sieges, or multi-pronged assaults. Therefore, if the professionals are able to evade security measures, they could easily kill more people than the average amateur.

Counterterrorism services in Europe and the U.S. have stopped a number of professional plots through the years. Some of those foiled in the past year may have been more serious than realized at the time. However, there is a risk that as counterterrorism authorities deal with a large number of individual or amateur plots, the professional terrorists will be able to find another window of opportunity. The various threats posed by the Islamic State have placed great strains on our defenses.

The Islamic State could seek to exploit refugee flows once again. “The influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from existing and new conflict zones is expected to continue,” EUROPOL reported in its review of 2016. The Islamic State “has already exploited the flow of refugees and migrants to send individuals to Europe to commit acts of terrorism, which became evident in the 2015 Paris attacks.” The so-called caliphate and “possibly other jihadist terrorist organizations may continue to do so.” While the overwhelming majority of migrants are seeking to better their lives, some will continue to pose a terrorist threat. European nations are dealing with this, in part, by deploying more “investigators” to “migration hotspots in Greece and soon also to Italy.” These “guest officers” will rotate “at key points on the external borders of the EU to strengthen security checks on the inward flows of migrants, in order to identify suspected terrorists and criminals, establishing a second line of defense.”

This makes it imperative that U.S. authorities share intelligence with their European counterparts and receive information in return to better track potential threats. The U.S. has led efforts to disrupt the Islamic State’s “external attack” arm and probably has the best intelligence available on its activities. But European nations have vital intelligence as well, and only by combining data can officials get a better sense of the overall picture. Recent setbacks with respect to this intelligence sharing, after details of British investigations were leaked in the American press, are troubling. But we can hope that these relationships have been repaired, or will be soon.

It should be noted that would-be jihadists who are already citizens of European countries could have an easier route into the U.S. than migrants fleeing the battlefields. It is much easier for a British citizen to get on a plane headed for the U.S. than for an Islamic State operative posing as a Syrian refugee to enter the U.S. clandestinely through Europe. Given recent events in the UK, and the overall scale of the jihadist threat inside Britain, this makes intelligence sharing on potential terrorists all the more crucial. British officials have said that they are investigating 500 possible plots involving 3,000 people on the “top list” of suspects at any given time. In addition, 20,000 people have been on the counterterrorism radar for one reason or another and are still considered potentially problematic.

Exporting terror know-how. It is possible that more of the Islamic State’s terrorist inventions will be exported from abroad into Europe or the U.S. As the self-declared caliphate sought to defend its lands, it devised all sorts of new means for waging war. It modified drones with small explosives and built its own small arms, rockets, bombs and the like. Al Qaeda first started to publish ideas for backpack bombs and other IEDs in its online manuals. The Islamic State has done this as well, but we shouldn’t be surprised if some of its other inventions migrate out of the war zones. The group could do this by publishing technical details in its propaganda, or in-person, with experienced operatives carrying this knowledge with them.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

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(Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony begins at 1:35:22 in the video)

Who Will Replace ISIS’ Caliph When He Goes to Hell?

Indian Shiite Muslims burn an effigy of ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi after an ISIS attack (PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/GettyImages)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, July 12, 2017:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a source that Western media outlets regularly rely upon, claims it has “confirmed” the death of ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Whether the report ends up being true or not, it begs the question of what names are being suggested as his likeliest replacement.

The organization indicates it has at least three sources inside ISIS confirming Baghdadi’s death, including a “first-line commander” and at least two second-ranking commanders in the Deir Ezzor area of Syria. The sources said that Baghdadi was hiding in Deir Ezzor as recently as three months ago.

An Iraqi news outlet then reported that ISIS confirmed the death at some kind of event in Tal Afar and ended the ban on discussing it, which was supposedly punishable by 50 lashes.

The Iraqi outlet’s source, however, was a “local source in Nineveh” and no further information was provided. It was then reported that ISIS was plagued by in-fighting in Tal Afar following the confirmation of his death.

It is not explained why ISIS wouldn’t formally announce the death in its outlets and no public communications from ISIS members confirming Baghdadi’s death have been reported on anywhere. Another Syrian outlet known for having sources in Raqqa said its sources denied that Baghdadi died.

It is very unlikely that Baghdadi will escape justice for years and years as Osama Bin Laden did. He is not protected by any intelligence services, does not have a country to safely flee to as Bin Laden had with Pakistan, and ISIS is significantly more unpopular in the Muslim world than Bin Laden.

A suitable successor to Baghdadi must have experience in jihad, strong religious credentials to qualify as a caliph, the respect of ISIS’ ranks and leadership qualities like charisma and an aura of power, mystery and divine blessing. Most importantly, the replacement must be seen as successful—and soon.

The most logical replacement was the “Grand Mufti” of the ISIS caliphate, Turki al-Binali, but he was killed in a U.S. airstrike on May 31.

Another likely successor, intelligence/security chief Ayad al-Jumaili, was killed on March 31 near the Syrian border in the area of Al-Qaim (a likely hiding spot for Baghdadi).

The top contender is Iyad al-Obaidi, ISIS’ war minister. He was in Saddam Hussein’s security service; a brutal organization that kept Hussein in power.

Apparently, serving in the Iraqi military that Islamists label as apostates is not a disqualifier. The prominent role of personnel from Saddam’s regime in ISIS and its Al-Qaeda predecessor should prompt a revisiting of just how “secular” and “moderate” the Iraqi Baathist regime supposedly was.

However, Obaidi lacks religious credentials and ISIS’ losing streak is happening on his watch as the war minister. ISIS’ eight-member shura council that must approve a successor (if it can even meet or communicate) will be hard pressed to justify Obaidi’s appointment to skeptics. A point in his favor, on the other hand, is his status as a member of the Obaidi tribe.

One report in April says the shura council already chose a deputy commander in Nineveh named Abu Hafsa al-Mousali (or al-Mosuli) as Baghdadi’s replacement. The report claims that the selection sparked in-fighting.

Al-Mousali is described by one Iraqi outlet as “one of the most barbaric and bloodiest” leaders in ISIS. He is said to have held several positions related to governance and military operations.

Neither of the two names commonly suggested as successors to Baghdadi measure up. And even if they did, it would still be hard to keep the group together and morale high.

ISIS’ rapid growth came after the declaring of a caliphate and a blitz across Iraq that enthused supporters, attracted jihadists looking for a new kid on the block to supplant Al-Qaeda and inspired new supporters as the group’s march appeared as an Allah-ordained fulfillment of prophecy.

All that has changed and ISIS is now in deep trouble.

Commentators have every incentive to minimize the impact of Baghdadi’s potential death. It is safer to predict further bloodshed — a prediction that will inevitably be fulfilled — than to point out that Baghdadi’s shoes will be very difficult, if not impossible, for a successor to fill. Plus, pessimism gets higher ratings and clicks.

Regardless, ISIS will not disappear if Baghdadi dies. Acts of terrorism in the name of ISIS are likely to continue because it’s still the hottest brand for jihadists to attach themselves to.

But killing Baghdadi would still be of momentous consequence for ISIS, as the group is so centered around having a caliph leading an actual governing caliphate.

If Baghdadi’s successor does have the confidence of the group after his name is announced, it still won’t solve the group’s key problem: It is losing. And losing badly.

If the new “caliph” doesn’t have dramatic success in regaining territory and/or orchestrating and inspiring terrorist attacks in the West, then ISIS and its new leader will always seem to be a shadow of itself.

For many jihadists, it will appear to have lost the approval of Allah and may even be suffering judgement.

We should not only be looking at a successor to Baghdadi but how to defeat a successor to ISIS. As memories of ISIS’ peak fade, another group will arise to eclipse it, just as ISIS eclipsed Al-Qaeda.

John Bolton: Trump Administration Needs to Declare Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Guard as Terrorist Groups

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, July 12, 2017:

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton talked on Wednesday’sBreitbart News Daily with Sirius XM host Alex Marlow about victory in Mosul, strategy for a post-Islamic State Middle East, the diplomatic crisis in Qatar, and the North Korean nuclear problem.

“I don’t think it’s quite over in Mosul, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that ISIS is ultimately going to be defeated there, and ultimately, it will be defeated elsewhere in Syria and Iraq,” Bolton said.

“Remember, this is the signal battle. Over two-and-a-half years ago when ISIS burst out of Syria, burst out of nowhere, the Iraqi Army confronted them before Mosul and collapsed completely, just disintegrated,” he recalled. “This is the army that Obama and the Bush administration had been arming and training for years, and they just completely collapsed.”

Although victory in Mosul is an important milestone in the improvement of the Iraqi military, Bolton feared it is “a hollow victory for the United States.”

“Obviously, we want to destroy ISIS. Obama’s slow-roll policy allowed them to continue to recruit terrorists far longer than was necessary and allowed many of the top leaders, I think, to get out of the Middle East, to go somewhere else – to go to Libya, to go to Yemen, and to live to fight another day,” he explained. “But I think the worst part of it – and this will be even more manifest when Raqqa, the capital of the so-called ISIS caliphate, is taken hopefully in the near future – we have not prepared for the strategic situation after ISIS is defeated.”

“Or I could put it a different way and say Obama did prepare for it, and he was happy to have Iran and its surrogates fill the vacuum that ISIS is going to leave,” Bolton added. “That’s what is happening in Mosul now. The Iraqi government is, to all intents and purposes, under the control of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Not entirely, but I’d liken the situation to Eastern Europe in the late 1940s as the Soviet Union tightened its grip on the countries that were soon to become satellites. That’s what Iran is doing to Iraq.”

“What Iran’s objective is, when we collapse ISIS at the last stages, it wants to link up from Iran, through the Baghdad government in Iraq, to the Assad regime’s regular forces in Syria and the Hezbollah terrorists who are there in Lebanon,” Bolton warned. “There are press reports already that some Shiite militias from Iraq have already linked up with Assad’s forces.”

“The Iranians are trying to create an arc of control that lays the foundation for the next struggle in the Middle East, against the Sunni coalition led by the Saudis,” he said. “Barack Obama was entirely comfortable with that. I think that’s consistent with his view that, you know, Iran’s really basically a normal kind of nation, we’ll just talk them out of their nuclear weapons and then everything will be fine.”

“That’s not how the ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards Corps see it,” Bolton argued. “Now there are even stories in places like the Washington Post and the New York Times saying we could have some trouble here in Mosul and Western Iraq because of what I’ve just described.”

“I wish I could say the Trump administration had a strategy to deal with it,” he sighed. “I think the president’s probably in the right place on this, but I don’t think his bureaucracy has produced that kind of strategy yet. In the kind of strategic vacuum that may be developing, I think we’re going to have trouble in the not-too-distant future.”

Bolton said the “complex multi-party conflict” in the Middle East leaves the United States with “several objectives which are not always entirely consistent with one another.”

“The only good news is our adversaries have inconsistent objectives too,” he added.

“Our first objective – and what we’ve been pursuing in a far too relaxed pace under Obama; it speeded up under Trump – is to defeat and destroy the ISIS caliphate. It doesn’t end the ISIS problem, but it takes their territorial base away from them and forces them to go to places that are a lot less hospitable, like Libya, and gives us a chance to pursue them elsewhere,” he said.

“But then the question is, ‘What do you do with the vacuum, the political vacuum that exists once ISIS is defeated?’” Bolton asked. “The Sunni Arabs do not want to go under the control of the Baghdad government, for the reason I just said: it’s dominated by the ayatollahs. Nor do the Sunni Arabs of Syria want to happily resume being oppressed by the Assad regime, with both Assad and Iran obviously being backed by Russia. So you need a solution to the Sunni problem there in that hole that used to be the ISIS caliphate. We do not have a strategy.”

“I propose creating a new state, a secular but demographically Sunni state that the Saudis could help pay for, to provide some measure of stability and to prevent Iran from achieving that arc of control that I mentioned a few moments ago,” Bolton recommended.

“Really, this is part of the bigger picture of how we deal with Iran, which is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons along with its friends in North Korea and continuing to support terrorism around the world,” he explained. “That struggle with Iran is something that was just absent from the radar screen in the Obama administration, but it’s going to come to the fore again once ISIS is defeated.”

“We’ve got to be thinking ahead,” he urged. “It’s not enough to kind of wake up every day and say, ‘Well, gee, what problem do we have now?’ You have to have a strategy, and the strategy I think is critical is defeating radical Islamic terrorism and dealing with the threat of the world’s principal state sponsor of terrorism, which is Iran.”

Marlow asked Bolton how the diplomatic conflict between Qatar and the other Sunni nations fits into the Middle Eastern puzzle.

“Across the Gulf, the oil-producing monarchies of the Arabian peninsula, there’s a lot of financial support for terrorism,” Bolton replied. “Some of it comes directly from governments. Some of it comes from royal families, which is in many senses the same thing. Some of it comes from other wealthy people; the government gives them a wink and a nod and away they go. It comes from a lot of places.”

“The Saudis have picked on Qatar in particular because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but I think also they’re worried about Qatar’s tilt toward Iran,” he continued. “They want a united Sunni Arab community here, in preparation for the coming conflict. Qatar’s response is, ‘Well, what are you picking on us for? Because of the Muslim Brotherhood? The United States hasn’t declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, and neither have we, so why are we any different from you?’”

“It’s not entirely accurate, the way they put it, but they’ve raised a fair point,” Bolton conceded. “My reaction is, ‘Great, let’s take this opportunity and do what we should have done anyway. Let’s declare the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.’ Having done that, we turn back to Qatar and say, ‘Now, you follow suit.’”

“I think we ought to use the president’s summit meeting in Riyadh a couple of weeks ago, where they created this pan-Arab, pan-Muslim center for combating extremism and give all these governments the cover they need to cut off the sources of terrorist financing,” he said. “Cut it off from Qatar and the Qatari royal family, cut it off from Saudi Arabia, cut it off from all of the Arab countries that have so much excess cash flowing around because of the oil revenues.”

“There’s a way to me here to advance American objectives and get Arab unity back, which we do need as we look at the coming problem with Iran,” Bolton judged.

He suggested adding Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps to the designated terrorist list because “that’s fundamentally what it is,” but he acknowledged that applying that designation to the Muslim Brotherhood has proven surprisingly difficult.

“There’s been an amazing campaign. It’s always amazing to me how these stories and op-eds and lines of chatter appear simultaneously, all very well-coordinated,” said Bolton. “The argument being the Muslim Brotherhood is a complicated organization, not every part of it is devoted to the support of terrorism. Some of them do humanitarian work and so on; a declaration that the entire Brotherhood is a foreign terrorist organization would actually buttress the cause of the jihadis; so, therefore, don’t do anything.”

“Let’s take the notion inherent in that argument as having some validity, that there are pieces of the Muslim Brotherhood that don’t qualify under the statutory definition we have of a foreign terrorist organization,” he allowed. “My response to that is, ‘Okay, we need some careful drafting based on the evidence we have now that excludes some affiliates, some components of the Muslim Brotherhood from the designation.’ I’m prepared to live with that, of course, until we get more complete information.”

“But the argument of the proponents of the Brotherhood is because things are complicated, do nothing. Do not declare any part of it a terrorist organization. That’s the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is, things are complicated? Okay, fine. Just declare part of it a terrorist organization. We’ll deal with the rest of it later,” he said.

“It’s not an argument to do nothing,” Bolton insisted. “It’s an argument to be precise in designating what is a foreign terrorist organization. I think good lawyers, good counterterrorism experts could do this without a huge amount of difficulty, and I really think it’s the right thing to do in terms of policy. And as you say, I think it’s the right thing to do politically for the Trump administration as well.”

Marlow concluded by bringing up another extremely complex situation: North Korea’s nuclear missile program and the odds that China will take meaningful action to halt it. “Is China increasingly belligerent to the United States, and are they doing enough on North Korea at this point in time?” he asked.

“I think they’re increasingly belligerent all around their frontier and in the world as a whole,” Bolton replied. “Take trying to take over the South China Sea as just one example of it.”

“On North Korea, they’ve said for 25 years they don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons because it will cause instability in East Asia, and that’s a bad thing for their economic growth. That’s what they say, but they never deliver on that,” he noted.

“I personally think they’ve been playing a double game. They appear to tighten sanctions on North Korea until our attention wanders and we look at something else, and then we’re back to business as usual. They’ve done it to Donald Trump. He’s already noted that in his famous tweet. But that’s been a pattern they’ve followed for a long, long time on North Korea,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to call them on it because I think the North Korean threat is getting increasingly dangerous, increasingly risky for the United States, and our options are limited. Fiddling around with China as we have for 25 years is not going to solve the problem,” Bolton advised.

John Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and head of his own political action committee, BoltonPAC.