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  • Author: Emily Estelle
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Great-power competition and the terrorist threat intersect and interact with one another in Africa and the Middle East. US disengagement from these regions to prepare for great-power competition in other theaters will increase a growing vacuum that is drawing more regional and global actors—states and non-state extremist groups—into a series of vicious cycles that will pose grave threats to American national security in the coming decades. Breaking the vicious cycle will require the US and its allies to separate the Libyan and Syrian conflicts and disentangle and discourage proxy conflict by external players while supporting the development of responsive governance in the two countries. Preventing similar crises will require a proactive strategy to seal off localized conflicts and prevent them from becoming larger competitions between external players while taking action to improve governmental responsiveness in at-risk areas.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, National Security, Power Politics, Violent Extremism, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Rubin
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Iran has embraced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a major pillar of its military strategy. Iranian officials may exaggerate their capabilities, but Western analysts should not dismiss the threat posed by Iranian drones. Iranian authorities have invested in and experimented with drones for 35 years. Iranian authorities use drones for two main purposes: surveillance and attack. Iranian controllers now have the ability to conduct missions over the horizon and in most weather. Attack drones fall in two categories: Those with the ability to drop bombs or launch missiles and return to base and “kamikaze” drones that seek targets of opportunity. Iranian authorities have had more success with the latter. The biggest danger posed by Iranian UAVs, however, in years to come may be the result of Iranian proliferation of its drones to proxy groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and the transfer of the ability to manufacture those drones. This will create some ambiguity in the operational environment as uncertainty about the identity of the drone’s controller can undercut momentum to hold that controlling country or group to account. This ability to escape accountability might actually make the use of drones more likely in surprise and terrorist attacks in the coming years.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Weapons , Drones
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Kenneth Pollack
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: For the first two to three decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” was little more than rhetoric, ascribing greater unity of effort to an amalgam of states, semi-states, and non-state actors that opposed the Middle Eastern status quo than was ever the reality. Because of the events of 2014–16, when key Shi’a groups and governments faced severe threats, there has been a significant shift in the Axis’ composition and effectiveness. Today, the Axis is comprised of an increasingly cohesive coalition of groups functioning more directly under Iranian guidance. Iranian support for these groups has also shifted from covert terrorist collusion, funding, intelligence sharing, rhetorical support, and tacit diplomacy to overt force deployments, joint military operations, economic assistance, deterrence, and alliance solidarity. Nevertheless, Iran’s successes have led to additional problems. The Axis of Resistance strategy was born out of necessity, and it is unclear, especially without Soleimani, whether Iran will be able to adapt moving forward.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Non State Actors, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Katherine Zimmerman
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Sahel-based Salafi-jihadi groups including al Qaeda and the Islamic State coordinate and cooperate across organizational divides united by common objectives, shared histories, and ethnic ties, creating a unique ecosystem of ideology and terror. The Salafi-jihadi ecosystem in the Sahel is strengthening rapidly. The number of attacks will continue to rise and will become deadlier as groups’ capabilities improve. The groups’ coordinated effort to transform Sahelian society and governance into their vision under Islam has helped destabilize the region and has created additional opportunities for Salafi-jihadi growth.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Non State Actors, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Salafism, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Sahel
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan, Nicholas Carl, Marie Donovan
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces are organized around headquarters that are meant to coordinate the operations of Iranian paramilitary forces and support the Quds Force’s use of proxy groups such as Iraqi Shi’a militias abroad. Their basing in Iran indicates a primary focus on suppressing internal unrest and waging irregular warfare in the rear of an invader rather than on defending against an invasion conventionally. Their organizational structure and the pattern of their operations in Syria suggest that they might be challenged to coordinate large-scale (multi-division) operations abroad and possibly at home. The fact that the Iranian leadership has not yet had to use them on a large scale to suppress growing domestic unrest suggests that the regime still has a potent reserve force to ensure its survival even if the unrest grows considerably, as long as it does not also face a requirement for large-scale military operations abroad.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Armed Forces, Qassem Soleimani, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Karen E. Young
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remain heavily reliant on natural resource revenue as a source of government spending and a driver of growth. Diversification efforts now often include new ways to generate revenue through state investments in energy projects abroad (including refining and petrochemical production) and national oil companies. Since 2015, the GCC countries have become more competitive with each other in altering their policy landscapes to streamline fiscal expenditure and attract foreign investment and resident investors. There is significant variation in policy approaches to foreign labor and tax. Each of these governments faces enormous strains on public finances and challenging economic outlooks, due to depressed oil prices, demographic pressures, high unemployment rates, and a lack of economic diversification. Debt has become a tool of choice, but the capacity to repay and the capacity to grow are both beginning to differentiate the GCC states.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Government, Natural Resources, Economy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Katherine Zimmerman
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The US is losing against al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other like-minded groups, which are all part of the Salafi-jihadi movement. US counterterrorism efforts have made Americans safer, but the Salafi-jihadi movement is more than its terrorism threat. That movement now prioritizes developing its relationships with local Sunni communities, from which it draws its strategic strength, to transform the Muslim world. Winning today means adopting a strategy beyond counterterrorism that will defeat the Salafi-jihadi movement, instead of just countering the terrorism threat. The US must reframe its approach against al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other groups. With the help of partners, the US must sever the ties of the Salafi-jihadi movement to local Sunni communities. America and its allies must offer these communities a viable alternative to these terror groups.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Salafism, Islamism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Yemeni al Houthi movement claimed the drone and missile attack on Saudi oil facilities on September 14, 2019, but the attack on Abqaiq was planned and executed by Iran. The al Houthi claim to have conducted the attack diverted the Western discussion away from Iran’s role and focused instead on the war in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia’s misdeeds. The Iranian attack on Abqaiq was part of a pattern of Iranian military escalation in response to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. The US should conduct a military strike to deter continued Iranian military escalation. Refraining from retaliation will embolden Iranian proxies and allies and encourage the regime to stand fast with its nuclear program, regional activities, and repression of its own people.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Houthis
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Jessica Trisko Darden
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Young people serve as a vital source of support for terrorist groups. Extensive youth participation creates an intergenerational terrorism problem and lays the foundation for future conflicts. Youth end up in terrorist groups through forced and voluntary recruitment. They perform a range of roles that vary according to age and gender, with girls and young women often being subject to gendered social roles and sexual and domestic violence. To effectively counter terrorists’ exploitation of youth abroad, governments should adopt a data-based approach to improve the targeting of terrorism prevention programs, move beyond a traditional focus on young men, address the potential for radicalization within the family, and emphasize attitudinal and behavioral change among those most vulnerable to recruitment.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Radicalization, Islamic State, Youth, Boko Haram
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East
  • Author: Karen E. Young
  • Publication Date: 05-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Energy-dependent growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, whether in traditional oil and gas exports or petrochemical production and global refinery operations, will be sensitive to shifts in Asian economies and new technology and efficiency innovation. Without structural reforms to subsidies and labor markets, a reliance on debt finance now kicks the can down the road toward difficult fiscal choices in the future. MENA economies are becoming more integrated into emerging markets not by increased trade but through state-led development partnerships and the use of aid and economic statecraft.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Development, Energy Policy, Economic growth
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Nations