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  • Author: Karen E. Young
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Much energy has focused on China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the debt-trap diplomacy it represents. But there is another set of players on the scene whose growth and influence in this sphere have been largely ignored. Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have increasingly embraced an aggressive growth, investment, and development model for the broader Middle East. This report and the accompanying Gulf Financial Aid and Direct Investment Tracker are an effort to understand the breadth and scope of Gulf aid and financial intervention into a representative set of cases in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and West Asia. The objective is to demonstrate the competitive landscape for foreign investment in the receiving case countries and indicate the growing strength of Gulf capital investment, as it measures against a perception of Chinese capacity in the wider Middle East and emerging markets broadly. Most important, the comparative data here also demonstrate how private capital flows from the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union compete against flows of capital from state capitalism sources such as China and the Gulf.
  • Topic: Foreign Direct Investment, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Investment, Strategic Competition, State Capitalism
  • Political Geography: China, Middle East, Gulf Nations
  • 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
  • Author: Katherine Zimmerman
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Successes on the battlefields against al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other like-minded groups have not led to their defeat or permanently reduced their threat to the United States. The deterioration of conditions in the Muslim world has made communities vulnerable to and created opportunities for the Salafi-jihadi vanguard to develop local ties. The reliance of the Salafi-jihadi movement on its relationship with Sunni communities to strengthen and expand beyond ideological supporters is a key vulnerability. The US should reorient its efforts to focus not only on disrupting and preventing active terror plots as a national security priority but also on severing the relationships the Salafi-jihadi movement has formed with Sunni communities.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Al Qaeda, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Karen E. Young
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Arab Gulf states are expanding their political and economic ties with China as a bridge strategy to create a next-generation energy market in traditional oil and gas products, as well as petrochemical production and future market access in expected areas of consumer growth. China is also a competitor in some areas where Arab Gulf states are investing in infrastructure, ports, and political outreach to secure new security partnerships, particularly in the Horn of Africa. China and the Arab Gulf states share a model and vision of economic development that is state centered and profitable to state-owned enterprises and financial institutions.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Development, Economics
  • Political Geography: China, Middle East, Asia, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Author: Danielle Pletka
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: In connection with an assessment of AEI’s work on the Middle East over the past two decades, I drafted the following survey. The arc of our scholarship in this critical region is fascinating and illuminates the continuity and evolution of the challenges the United States faces in the Middle East. What is ultimately clear is that in the region both the challenge of destructive ideas and the fostering of better ones will shape outcomes.
  • Topic: International Affairs
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Karen E. Young
  • Publication Date: 09-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman—are in a period of profound change, both economic and social. The economic changes are a long overdue reaction to natural resource revenue dependency in their fiscal policies, while the social changes are a reaction to compounded migration and demographic shifts. The resilience of Gulf political economies will be defined by the ability to change both fiscal governance and policies of inclusion. Inclusion, in the context of Gulf political economies, means social protection for vulnerable groups, but it also means access to compete in a rule-based economy. The promise of economic reform, therefore, is a promise to reconfigure relations between citizen and state, and to renegotiate the provision of benefits to citizens in the form of subsidies of fuel, electricity, and water, as well as generous health and education services. And there will be taxes and new fees on everything from toll roads to sugary drinks to tobacco, and employment fees for foreigners. In exchange, citizens are promised—in some way—a retreat of the state from its predatory control over economies, though not its control over the political space and activism. Nonetheless, for many political economies of the GCC, the opening of opportunities in private ownership and investment in the sale of state assets—such as power and water plants, ports, and airports, as well as schools and hospitals—poses a challenge to the state’s track record in the provision of services. These privatizations also pose a risk to a constituency unaccustomed to fees-based service and corporate liability. Will citizens accept services from private entities at cost? Will citizens jump at the opportunity to own new companies that meet the needs of their compatriots for profit? And, perhaps most importantly, who will be left behind? The concept of resilience is often used in the literature on economic development to describe how governments can protect both citizens and their economies from external shocks, whether in the form of natural disasters, black swan events, or dramatic policy shifts. The regulatory environment and the capacity of the state to react and respond to different needs of its population, especially vulnerable groups, are key. For Gulf states, the current reform agenda is not so much a shock as a delayed reaction to a problem identified long ago. Diversification from oil-based revenue is necessary, and population growth has created an oversupply of candidates for public-sector employment that is not very productive. Generating growth has to shift, in its source and its deployment among a larger and more diverse population. The Gulf states have created their own middle-income development trap. This paper offers a wide-ranging analysis of some aspects of the reform agenda underway across the GCC. It explores specific case analyses of challenges facing individual countries (Saudi Arabia and Oman), and the organization of the GCC as a whole. It also addresses subsidy reform, the introduction of taxes and fees, and some experimental policies related to regulating labor markets and encouraging citizens to move out of public-sector employment.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Author: Katherine Zimmerman
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Salafi-jihadi movement shifted to prioritizing local over global objectives during the Arab Spring. Analysts wrongly understood this as a weakening of the groups. Groups have hidden their true nature by hiding their ties to global jihadi groups, such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and by rebranding and reorganizing on the ground. Movement leaders design and execute attacks in ways that create doubt and ambiguity about the responsible party. This new technique exploits US counterterrorism policy, which is not designed to pursue anyone other than the individuals directly responsible for the attack. American officials are countering a dynamic enemy with an irrelevant and outdated strategy.
  • Topic: Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Salafism, Arab Spring, War on Terror, Sunni, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Middle East, Libya, Yemen, Syria, North America, Arabian Peninsula
  • Author: Mike Saidi
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Iran’s protest scene is evolving and has become more complex and demographically encompassing since the late-December 2017 widespread riots known as the Dey Protests. Economic problems, government mismanagement, and ethnic, labor, sectarian, and environmental issues have driven distinct and overlapping demonstrations, but they have not cohered into a unified protest movement capable of overthrowing the regime. Although the Iranian protest movement does not remotely threaten the regime, an evolved protest scene will undoubtedly shorten the life span of the Islamic Republic.
  • Topic: Protests, Revolution, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Katherine Zimmerman
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Yemen is at a pivotal moment today, three years after the outbreak of popular protests, and the future of America's strategy against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is on the line. Yemen is in the midst of a political transition process that will eventually reform and decentralize the government. But the success of the effort is by no means assured. The reforms will not, in any case, address the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions that provide fertile ground for al Qaeda. Moreover, the central state, never fully able to exercise its sovereignty throughout the country, is weaker than it was before 2011. Opposition groups, which have turned to violence in the past, may still seek to form independent states of their own, potentially collapsing the fragile Yemeni state structure entirely. American interests are bound up in this process by the fact that AQAP is among the most virulent al Qaeda affiliates that poses a direct threat to the U.S. homeland. Syria, Iran, and other foreign and domestic policy issues are distracting the United States and its regional partners from sustained engagement in Yemen. Without international support, the country is much less likely to ride this transition process smoothly and our security interests will be severely harmed.
  • Topic: Islam, Terrorism, Armed Struggle, Insurgency, Governance
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Yemen, Arabia
  • Author: Michael Rubin
  • Publication Date: 01-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Since Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, it has been only the world's second Shi'ite-led state after Iran. Azerbaijan respects separation of mosque and state, and despite pressure from its neighbors, remains independent from political domination. Given its strategic importance, safeguarding the country's independence remains a US priority. And the threat from Iranian meddling is particularly acute. From Tehran's perspective, the combination of Azerbaijan's pre-19th-century Iranian past, modern Azerbaijan's embrace of secularism, and its relative economic success challenge Iran's legitimacy. As Iranian authorities have sought to undermine and destabilize Azerbaijan through political, clerical, charitable, and media channels, Azerbaijan's counterstrategy has been both restrained and effective.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Sovereignty, Governance
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Danielle Pletka, Frederick W. Kagan, J. Matthew McInnis
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: A review of the soft-power strategies of both the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Middle East and Afghanistan makes clear a disturbing fact: Tehran has a coherent, if sometimes ineffective strategy to advance its aims in the Middle East and around the world. The United States does not. This project began with two tour d'horizon reviews of Iranian activities throughout areas Iran has, by its actions, defined as its sphere of influence. From the Persian Gulf through the Levant and into neighboring Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic has consistently invested in soft- and hard-power activities designed not only to extend its own influence but also to limit both American and hostile Arab aims. And while the latter part of the Ahmadinejad administration saw waning rewards for Tehran's efforts-a result more of the growing Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East than of changes in strategy-the continued existence of a coherent Iranian strategy to dominate or destabilize the region should not be ignored. This report, the culmination of a process of both examining Iranian actions and surveying American policy, policy responses, and soft-power strategies in the region, focuses on the US side of the equation. Despite the Obama administration's commitment to replace hard power with smart power, what the United States pursues in the Middle East is a set of incoherent, ineffective, and increasingly irrelevant policies.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Islam, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: Iran, Central Asia, Middle East