For the first time in more than a quarter-century, a majority of Mexicans hold negative views of the United States, according to polling data collected by the Mexico-based firm Buendia & Laredo in collaboration with the Chicago Council of Global Affairs and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that will be released Thursday. - Washington Post
The leftist front-runner in Mexico's presidential election is making light of allegations by his opponents and a top U.S. official that his campaign may have backing from the Kremlin. - Radio Free Europe
‘China pursuing missile defenses; Indian nukes are main worry’
BY DOUG TSURUOKA EDITOR AT LARGE
US expert says Beijing’s efforts will be modest and fueled by national pride and domestic politics, as well as being a cover for anti-satellite testing
China’s new missiles likely to threaten all of Taiwan
BY ASIA TIMES STAFF
The S-400 batteries, now being delivered, will also allow China to shoot down planes near the Diaoyu Islands
India-Israel relations: from obscurity to certainty
M SHAMSUR RABB KHAN
In 1968, the year when the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the premier external intelligence agency of India, was founded, the powerful prime minister Indira Gandhi instructed its head, Rameshwar Nath Kao, to imitate the working culture of Mossad. Indira Gandhi was a woman of substance, a diehard nationalist who aspired to take India to a greater plane, and she aimed to ensure the security of India. Kao, or Ramji as he was known among...
Modi govt saddling India’s military with more bureaucracy
Recent media reports indicate that India's Ministry of Defense (MoD) has decided to allow private companies to manage and operate all Army Base Workshops (ABWs) and station workshops in eight cities across six states. The scheme is called GOCO (Government Owned, Contractor Managed). Ostensibly, the move is part of a major restructuring by the government of India to modernize the military. It claims that this will sharpen the teeth (fighting units), while shortening the tail...
Tensions soared along the volatile frontier between India and Pakistan in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir as soldiers of the rivals continued shelling villages and border posts for third day Friday. - Associated Press
India successfully launched a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday. The nuclear-capable Agni-V ICBM was fired from Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha. - CNBC
A troubling scenario for Kazakhstan
Paul Stronski | American Enterprise Institute
Russian military intervention in Kazakhstan
Dmitry Gorenburg | American Enterprise Institute
Two Forms Of Violent Extremism Pushing Democracies To War
quoting Larry Diamond via Daily Nation (Kenya)
Last year tested Africa’s emerging democracies to the limits, but revealed their resilience. But democracy is everywhere haemorrhaging from two forms of violent extremism — one linked to international terrorism and the other to rising opposition authoritarianism — now turning Africa’s rapidly growing young generation into cannon-fodder in post-election disputes.
Suspected Boko Haram fighters have killed at least four soldiers and a civilian in an attack on a military post in Niger’s southeastern Diffa region, local officials and two security sources said on Thursday. - Reuters
A group of Cameroonian activists demanding secession from the French-speaking regions says it’s considering attacks on foreign companies operating in the central African nation. - Bloomberg
Somalia’s Islamist militant group al Shabaab on Thursday denied that it was threatening and abducting civilians to hand over their children for indoctrination and military training. - Reuters
Cracks in the ground under Germany’s coalition negotiations
BY ASIA TIMES STAFF
German politics shifts towards the right
German Social Democratic Leaders Beg Members To Back Deal With Merkel
quoting Josef Joffe via Reuters
German Social Democratic (SPD) leaders appealed to party members on Friday to swallow their doubts and endorse an overnight deal to renew a “grand coalition” with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives for another four years
A plan to create a new American-backed, Kurdish-led border force in northeastern Syria has raised alarms in the region that the United States may be helping to cement an autonomous Kurdish enclave that could further divide the country. - New York Times
Turkey warned the U.S. that the deployment of an American-backed, Kurdish-led force in northern Syria along the Turkish border could cause irreparable harm to the countries’ ties. - Bloomberg
The death of a leading Syrian opposition figure who was wounded in a hit-and-run outside his Damascus home has left his allies shaken and appears to have poisoned an already fractious peace process. - Washington Post
A military bases race is underway between Russia and the U.S. as each nation seeks to expand its presence in Syria and counter asymmetric threats. The U.S. has a military presence in several key locations, but there are two areas with heavy U.S. troop presence that are being transformed to military bases, according to a military source. - Defense News
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the United States "does not want to keep Syria as a state in its current borders", accusing Washington of seeking to establish a Kurdish-controlled entity along Turkish and Iraqi border zones. - Al Jazeera
Iranian protests give America chance to advance freedom
Frederick W. Kagan | The Hill
Don’t be fooled: The Iran protests won’t overthrow the regime
Frederick W. Kagan and Marie Donovan | The National Interest
Don't Oversimplify The Protests In Iran
by Abbas Milani via NPR
For years, Washington's thinking on Iran has fallen into two oversimplified opposing camps. Regime apologists insist the Islamic Republic is strategically invulnerable and the United States must not only accept, but appease, the status quo. On the other side are American jingoists who rightly point to the Iranian regime's egregious behavior — human rights abuses at home and proxy bating of the U.S. and its allies regionally — and then wrongly conclude that no negotiation with the regime is warranted and that the only prudent policy is regime change in Iran.
How To Support Iran's Protesters
by Abbas Milani via NY Daily News
Iran is in the throes of arguably the most serious challenge faced by its clerical regime. What to do about it?
“The Secular Republic of Iran,” Reuel Marc Gerecht, The Wall Street Journal
“The Crack-up of Theocracy,” Reuel Marc Gerecht, The Weekly Standard
Iranian exiles wrestle with fear, foreboding and coded messages.
NYT’s Bret Stephens: Finding the way forward on Iran.
Iran’s supreme leader blames ‘triangle’ of enemies for unrest
In his first major remarks regarding the unrest in Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today appeared to both recognize some of the protesters’ demands while blaming acts of violence on hostile foreign powers. At a gathering today commemorating the 1979 revolution, Khamenei said, "There is a correct point commonly made: that is separating people's honest and rightful demands from the violent and vandalizing moves by a certain group; these two must be separated.” Khamenei went on to blame the past 10 days of protests on a “triangle” of actors made up of the United States and Israel; Arab Gulf funders; and the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), an outlawed group that supports regime change from its exile in Europe and the United States.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s attack on “fraudulent institutions” controlled by hard-line clerics in a speech to parliament Dec. 10 has provoked a backlash against him by both conservative political opponents and street protesters fed up with the poor state of governance and the economy.
Narges Bajoghli reports, “The protests that began on Dec. 28 in Mashhad were a response to Rouhani from hard-liners for his remarks on the budget as well as his other attempts to curtail hard-line forces. Much of the analysis on the reasons behind the sudden outpouring of protests points to its origin in hard-liners' attempts to organize anti-Rouhani rallies in the lead-up to the annual pro-regime 9 Dey rally, established by the supreme leader in 2009 to celebrate the suppression of the Green Movement. Indeed, Mashhad is notably home to two of Rouhani’s main rivals in the 2017 presidential elections, Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. The intent was for the protests to culminate in a large 9 Dey rally [Dec. 30], but despite the hard-liners’ intentions, once people went into the streets, they eventually began to chant slogans against the supreme leader and the regime as a whole.”
The demonstrations have come as seemingly “independent” television stations linked to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to place Khamenei above the widespread frustration with Iran’s dismal economy, despite the sanctions relief offered by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed in 2015.
These pro-Khamenei TV producers, according to Bajoghli, “quickly realized that they might once again lose control of the narrative if it continued in the direction it appeared to be headed. Regime production studios have thus begun to create videos that highlight economic anxieties and attack Rouhani’s handling of the government. These slick new productions are meant to look critical, but in the end, they reinforce a belief in the virtues and the leadership of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Avant TV is only the latest example of the ways in which factionalism within the Islamic Republic and opposition to the regime play out in the media landscape.”
Saeid Jafari reports, “As protests continue in various Iranian cities, Reformists are asking people to show restraint in expressing their discontent. The protests, originally economic in nature and later expanded to include other grievances, have not been welcomed by Reformists inside Iran."
“These reactions,” Jafari writes, “prompted some online users, especially those outside of Iran, to criticize the Reformists and call them opportunistic and power-hungry individuals who want to stay in power no matter what. However, the truth is that the Reformists’ ideology is in opposition to regime change and radical shifts. Just as the Reformists were not looking to overthrow the government following the disputed 2009 presidential elections and were only demanding the revocation of the election results, they are not looking for sudden and radical solutions today and instead prefer to solve challenges through gradual reform.”
Mohammad Ali Shabani writes that there is still a chance for Rouhani to capitalize on the protests to advance his reform agenda. “Rather than allowing the protests to become a tool for his domestic opponents and an opportunity for radicals to reassert their relevance,” Shabani writes, “Rouhani must engage with the supreme leader to convince him of the need to tackle unaccountable centers of power and money. The president fired an important salvo in this game when he published details of budget allocations and through his recent revelations about the undue influence of opaque actors on financial markets. In the view of some, that very salvo is what helped mobilize the current protests. But in the long run, if the opportunity before him is seized, Rouhani could have in his hands his perhaps greatest chance to confront the vested interests that are preventing his agenda for reform.”
The demonstrations have not had an impact on Iran’s regional agenda or influence. “The protests will not affect the situation in Iraq and will not make any major change in the near future because of the ongoing Iranian influence in Iraq through different mechanisms,” writes Ali Mamouri. “However, what is happening in Iran will undermine the Iranian position and that of its allies in Iraq in the long run. … One ought to mention that the recent protests blemished the bright image of Iran as a developed, ever-growing and powerful state in the eyes of Iraqi Shiites. The protests showed the people’s anger and discontent due to poverty, deprivation and resentment toward the Iranian intervention in the region at the expense of the well-being of Iranians.”
In Turkey, Mustafa Akyol writes, “Many Turks chose to interpret the events based less on facts and more on their own ideological blueprints. And as usual, for the government and its supporters, this ideological blueprint involves something nefarious: an American-Zionist conspiracy to destabilize Iran.”
He adds, “Turkey’s pro-government commentators seemed so certain about their interpretation of events in Iran that one of them criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for being too naive to see the conspiracy.”
Prior to the demonstrations, Iran had given priority to rebuilding its ties with Hamas via Hezbollah. Ali Hashem reports, “Since the Syrian uprising, Iran and Hezbollah shifted priorities for what they saw as the existential threat they were facing in Syria, and later in Iraq. This came amid a rift with Hamas on their polar positions over the regime in Syria, which the movement did not support. This didn’t mean halting all the support to the movement and other allied movements, such as Islamic Jihad, but support was limited in the case of Hamas to its military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which later played a main role in bridging the gaps between the two sides. The brigades lobbied for change in Hamas leadership, and pressured the Iranian side to halt the media campaigns launched by allied outlets.”
He continues, “In fact, Hezbollah is openly supporting a third “intifada” in Palestine, which would lead to mounting pressure on Israel and a new challenge and threat to Netanyahu’s government. To the group, Israel had in recent years been dealing with minimum threats, which gave it the chance to take advantage of the Palestinians, and even of Hezbollah itself. Israel launched airstrikes in Syria on targets affiliated with the group, whose participation in the Syrian war limited its options to respond, hence providing Israel with the luxury of setting its rules of the game in Syria.”
“Now that the war in Syria is no longer the main challenge for the resistance axis, Hezbollah is looking forward to re-emerging as a main player inside the Palestinian territories and creating new rules of engagement,” Hashem adds. “Thus, it would revive its priority of resisting Israel, after more than five years in the role of a nonstate regional player with the mandate of keeping defiant Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, besides fighting or assisting in the fight against radical Sunni movements in both Syria and Iraq.”
He concludes, “In this regard, Hezbollah will have to invest on the political and media levels to achieve its goal. Besides, the group’s rhetoric is probably going to change to emphasize Islamic unity, after it was dominated in previous years by politically driven sectarian incitements, given the nature of the battle in Syria. … Yet this isn't all, as the axis is anticipating that Israel will launch a war on Hezbollah once the Syrian war ends. On several occasions, Nasrallah has discussed a strategy for a different path of confrontation: He wants to make use of all the groups that fought with the axis in Syria. This means he wants to engage Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi and Pakistani fighters with the Lebanese in the expected war.”
The Problem With America's New Nuclear Missile Sub
By Dave Majumdar, The National Interest: “The Government Accountability Office is raising concerns about the technological maturity of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.”
EDWARD LUTTWAK ON THE IRANIAN REGIME, IRANIAN PROTESTS, THE OIL MARKETS & THE TRAJECTORY OF THE CLERICAL REGIME
The Trajectory of the Iranian Military
By Alex Vatanka, Middle East Institute: “There can be no doubt that despite much speculation about Washington’s long-term intentions, the United States remains the most powerful political-military actor in the Middle East. In that context, the most powerful adversary of the U.S. in the region is the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
CSIS’ Edward Luttwak: The Ayatollah empire is rotting away
Trump in Asia: The Year in Review
Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that included fundamental changes in the US posture toward Asia. He cast doubt on the utility of the alliances with Japan and South Korea and questioned the One China policy, and thus the longstanding policy of "strategic ambiguity" over Taiwan.
Pay attention to Latin America and Africa before controversies erupt
John R. Bolton | The Hill
Al Qaeda maintains operational tempo in West Africa in 2017
At least 276 attacks in Mali and its neighboring countries were linked al Qaeda in 2017. This includes a significant shift of violence to central Mali, as well as northern Burkina Faso.
Trump’s National Security Strategy a Timely Counter to China’s Expansionism
By Don Tse & Larry Ong, RealClearDefense: “A confident America that can discern its true competitor would not find a rising China frightening, and could instead devise a permanent solution to the CCP threat.”
Coming to Grips With a Rising China
By Ramon Marks, RealClearDefense: “The strategic implications of China’s rising power have prompted ambivalent reactions from the U.S. and western democracies. Unlike the quick coalescence on the containment strategy for the Soviet Union after World War II, there is still no real consensus on how the United States should deal with China in the 21st century.”
US strikes Shabaab outside Somali capital
In the first strike of 2018, US forces have again halted an imminent car bomb attack intended for Somalia's capital.
2017: A record year for US counterterrorism strikes
The pattern of operations in 2017 in what the Obama administration used to call areas outside of active hostilities indicates that the US will continue the reinvigorated air campaign in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya in the coming year.