Trump eliminated US funding for UNRWA and the US role as Mideast peacemaker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

In one move, Trump eliminated US funding for UNRWA and the US role as Mideast peacemaker

Hady Amr   Frid

Editor’s Note:Through President Trump’s announcement that his administration would no longer fund UNRWA, America has further written itself out of the process of peacemaking in the Middle East, argues Hady Amr. Trump has sent an unmistakable message to the Palestinian people: He callously disregards their most basic needs. This post is adapted from a piece originally published on The Hill.

As if to boast, in a call to mark the Jewish New Year, President Trump told American Jewish leaders: “I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians.” Trump added he told the Palestinians, “We’re not paying until you make a deal.” On the face of it, such an approach may seem like a typical Trump negotiating tactic, but the decision is so misguided that in addition to having dire immediate consequences, it will haunt the United States for years to come.

Author

Trump was referring to the State Department’s recent abrupt announcement that his administration would no longer fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), reversing a policy of support by every American president—Republican and Democrat—since it was created about 70 years ago as a cornerstone of America’s support for stability in the Middle East and flagship of our values to provide for the most vulnerable.

Indeed, UNRWA is so in-sync with our values that American citizens voluntarily give millions of dollars, collectively, to UNRWA each year via U.S. 501c(3) organizations—more than some whole countries.

But should we really be surprised? We already know that Trump’s actions have been antithetical to refugees at home and abroad, and we also know that in a global economy of over $100 trillion dollars, a meager $300 million cut by the United States should be able to be covered by another country.

That’s true on both counts, but in that truth lies the problem: the problem for America, for Palestinians, and even for Israelis. What is also true is that Trump’s action is based on such a fundamentally flawed misunderstanding of the situation that it may have the opposite of its intended effect.

But before we get to that, let’s look at the immediate impact: UNRWA, which provides vital life-saving services, health care and education to stateless refugees in the Middle East, is now scrambling for funds.

These funds go toward a modern, secular education for 500,000 boys and girls; vaccinations and health clinics that provide services to over three million refugees and a basic level of dignity for millions who otherwise would lead lives of despair.

While some donors like Canada, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are stepping in to offset part of what the United States is cutting, UNRWA will still likely have to reduce services. Those service reductions hurt people who are not even citizens of any nation.

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So when UNRWA cuts back services in the impoverished refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza, what forces on the ground will fill the void? Whoever it is, they are unlikely to be America’s friends. Even the Israeli military knows that cutting funding for basic services to refugees are a recipe for disaster for Israel.

Nowhere are the UNRWA cuts more acute than in the Gaza Strip, where about two million souls inhabit a tiny area twice the size of Washington, DC that few can gain permission to leave. There, UNRWA provides services to 1.3 million people, spending about 40 percent of its overall budget.

Roughly 262,000 boys and girls are enrolled in 267 UNRWA schools there. Twenty-two health clinics provide for millions of patient visits a year. It is unlikely that any agency could provide significantly better quality services for less cost.

Through these moves, America has further written itself out of the process of peacemaking in the Middle East. Trump has sent an unmistakable message to the Palestinian people: He callously disregards their most basic needs.

Trump has also sent that powerful message to their friends and allies across the Middle East and the rest of the world. Trump’s message will engender the opposite of goodwill and will further erode America’s moral leadership in the Middle East.

Indeed, the long-term problem is more profound, and it’s essential to understand because the Trump administration seeks to redefine what it means to be a Palestinian refugee, which in turn could have implications for refugees worldwide.

Underlying the Trump administration’s cuts to UNRWA is the false premise that Palestinian refugees derive their refugee status from UNRWA. They don’t. They derive it from international law. UNRWA’s role is simply to provide social services to these stateless refugees—not determine who is and who isn’t a refugee under international law.

Also underlying Trump’s attack on UNRWA is the false premise that other refugee populations don’t transfer their refugee status to their children. Wrong again. International law conveys refugee status to children of other refugee populations until permanent homes can be found. People from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, and Somalia are but a number of the populations where refugee status has been conveyed to descendants.

Finally, underlying Trump’s decision is the false premise that cutting funds to UNRWA and to development projects in the West Bank and Gaza will somehow pressure the Palestinian Authority. Again, it won’t; others will fill the void. Anyhow, Trump is so unpopular in the West Bank and Gaza that any pressure he applies to the Palestinian leadership only makes them look stronger.

At its core, the century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about two fundamental things: land and people. In particular, it’s about which group of people gets to live on which part of the land. Although Jews and Arabs are about of equal number in the Holy Land, in the past decades, Israel has had full control of roughly 90 percent of the land. The Palestinians have significant—but not full—control of around 5 percent. And around 5 percent is shared control.

What Trump’s actions seem to seek to achieve is to somehow convince the millions of Palestinian refugees to give up their deep and abiding emotional attachment to their homeland. Their homeland is the Holy Land, and their attachment to it won’t just vanish.

Whatever final status agreement is one day achieved, Trump need look no further than the Jewish people’s 2,000-year longing to return to understand that a few meager decades will not diminish the longing of Palestinian refugees to return.

Trump also need look no further than out his own window to the White House lawn, where in September 1993 an agreement was signed between Israeli and Palestinian leaders that many, including myself, passionately hoped would help channel Jewish and Palestinian mutual aspirations for peace, security, sovereignty and prosperity into a lasting agreement.

Although those objectives have not yet been achieved, failing to recognize one group’s attachment to the land—or worse seeking to obliterate their emotional connection—will only serve the opposite of the cause of peace and profoundly damage America in the process.

As with Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, American redemption may require a reversal by a future president. Meanwhile, perhaps direct donations by U.S. citizens can help recuperate a shred of our American dignity when it comes to Mideast peacemaking.

Unresolved recusal issues require a pause in the Kavanaugh hearings

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

REPORT

Unresolved recusal issues require a pause in the Kavanaugh hearings

Laurence H. TribeHon. Timothy K. Lewis, and Norman Eisen

This paper explains why the Constitution as originally designed by the framers requires the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to be put on hold. It takes no view on his ultimate confirmation. But as one of the authors has elsewhere explained,[1] it offends the structure the framers created for a president who is facing mounting personal liability under our Constitution and laws to choose one of the judges in his own case.

Or more likely, multiple cases. Never before in the history of presidential nominations of Supreme Court justices have there been so many matters of the deepest personal impact to the president that may come before the Supreme Court.

Never before in the history of presidential nominations of Supreme Court justices have there been so many matters of the deepest personal impact to the president that may come before the Supreme Court.

In addition to legal and procedural questions surrounding possible impeachment proceedings, there are a staggering array of issues with which the nominee may well be presented owing to the historically unprecedented fact that his patron the president was a named subject and, but for hesitation to indict a sitting president, could well have been a target,[2] in a criminal investigation at the very time that he handpicked the judge—reportedly after White House consideration of the judge’s views on some of these very issues. As detailed below, those issues include:

  • Whether a president can use the pardon power to shield himself from criminal liability;
  • Whether a president can be charged with obstructing justice;
  • Whether a president can defy a subpoena for testimony;
  • Whether a president can be criminally indicted;
  • Whether a president can unilaterally fire a special counsel without cause; and
  • Related civil matters involving a president’s personal interests.

The need for a pause is particularly strong here, where the judge, as we also explain below, holds views that, while formally denying that presidents are above the law, amount to affirming that proposition as a practical matter—and where the deliberate confirmation process needed at a minimum to examine those views has been rushed and, in our view, broken. All of the authors of this paper have either been before the Senate for confirmation, worked on Supreme Court or other confirmations, or both. We have never seen anything like this hurried and defective process for such an important nomination.

In this paper, we advance an additional constitutional ground that strongly counsels that there be a hiatus. Although the Constitution provides no process for making a binding and enforceable determination that a particular Supreme Court Justice take no part in the consideration and decision of a specific case or set of cases, it does not follow that the Constitution, read with fidelity to its structure and its purposes and in light of the precedents construing its implications, has nothing to say on the matter to a justice who was worthy of confirmation in the first instance. On the contrary, we believe the Constitution instructs that a judge nominated to the Court in the situation that currently confronts Judge Kavanaugh recuse himself from the full swath of cases presenting the issues of personal presidential liability this paper identifies—and that precedent demands he do so now, as other nominees have done under far less compelling circumstances. The confirmation hearings should therefore be halted so these issues can be explored and proper recusals agreed to after due deliberation, including full production of the judge’s documents so his views can be thoroughly probed.

Our position is based upon first principles of our system of justice under the law, reinforced by a trio of Supreme Court precedents in the past decade establishing the parameters of constitutionally mandatory recusal—parameters that are triggered by the unique circumstances of Judge Kavanaugh’s situation. Those cases are Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co.Williams v. Pennsylvania, and Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, which we describe in detail below. They have reflected two key constitutional principles that should dictate the outcome of recusal questions: judges must step aside when there is either a “serious risk of actual bias” or where there is an independent and compelling government-wide interest in protecting against the appearance of bias regardless of whether that appearance compromises the particular rights of any litigant. That includes the paramount interest at stake in this case of protecting the public faith in the judicial system as a cornerstone of the legal process as a whole and as a guardian of the rule of law.

While these precedents and the principles they embody have not yet been applied to require a Supreme Court justice to recuse, they plot a trajectory that points unmistakably in that direction. As we explain below, both principles clearly compel recusal here. Bias and the appearance of bias are powerfully implicated by the unique confluence of factors in this case.

If, moreover, we are to believe press reports[3] that Judge Kavanaugh will refuse to commit now to recuse, he will be repudiating the guidance of the Constitution before he ever sits on the Court, inasmuch as recusal is mandatory if our understanding of the Constitution is correct. The seriousness of the matter is highlighted by the fact that other nominees have, as we explain below, committed to the Senate to recuse on substantially lesser grounds. This is after all no routine nomination but a lifetime appointment as one of nine individuals who determine the course of our justice system and the shape of the laws under which all of us will live, and as one who may, among other things, determine the fate of the president who nominated him and potentially of the presidency itself.

If the foregoing press reports are accurate, they further warrant our view that the Kavanaugh nomination should be delayed until the relevant legal issues overhanging the sitting president are resolved—and that the hearings set to begin on September 4, 2018, should not be taking place at this time. That pause must include further production of documents relating to the nominee’s White House service, a process that to date contrasts starkly with the timely and transparent production of documents regarding Justice Elena Kagan’s prior White House service when the Senate was considering her nomination to the Court.[4] To date, only a small fraction of the requested Kavanaugh materials have so far been made available on the hasty schedule gratuitously set by the Senate majority. Unlike with Kagan’s nomination, where no White House documents were withheld on privilege grounds,[5]101,921 of the Kavanaugh documents were abruptly withheld, without adequate explanation of the privilege assertions made in conclusory form, late on the last business eve before the hearings were to begin.[6] The Senate must have adequate time to review those documents as well as the documents that have already been produced, including 42,000 pages produced on the eve of the first day of the hearing.[7]

Download the paper.

Authors

The Hon. Timothy K. Lewis

Hon. Timothy K. Lewis

Counsel – Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 1992-99

FOOTNOTES

  1. 1Laurence H. Tribe, The Founding Fathers Wouldn’t Want Kavanaugh’s Confirmation to ContinueWashington Post, Aug. 24, 2018, available athttps://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-founding-fathers-wouldnt-want-kavanaughs-confirmation-to-continue/2018/08/24/5184ece6-a70b-11e8-8fac-12e98c13528d_story.html.
  2. 2Barry H. Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Norman Eisen, Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump, 2nd Ed., Brookings, Aug. 22, 2018, available at https://www.brookings.edu/research/presidential-obstruction-of-justice-the-case-of-donald-j-trump-2nd-edition/.
  3. 3See Alexander Mallin and Katherine Faulders, Kavanaugh Won’t Commit to Recusal from Trump, Mueller Related MattersABC News, Aug. 31, 2018, available at https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/kavanaugh-commit-recusal-trump-mueller-related-matters/story?id=57534501.
  4. 4See Senator Patrick Leahy, Letter to Senator Jeff Sessions, Jun. 23, 2010, available at https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/leahy-responds-to-republican-requests-for-more-kagan-documents-from-archives (noting that vast majority of requested paper records had been produced to the Committee two weeks before the start of confirmation hearings and the email records were produced one week prior)SCOTUSblog Briefing Paper, Elena Kagan – Privilege and Release of Kagan DocumentsSCOTUSBlog, June 30, 2010, available at: http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Kagan-issues_privilege-June-301.pdf.
  5. 5See Senator Leahy, Jun. 23, 2010 (noting that the Obama Administration had not invoked executive privilege and the Clinton Library had withheld fewer than 2,000 documents on “personal privacy” grounds).
  6. 6Ariane de Vogue, Trump Admin Withholds 100,000-Plus of Kavanaugh DocumentsCNN, Sept. 1, 2018, available at https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/01/politics/trump-kavanaugh-bush-supreme-court-documents/index.html.
  7. 7Fred Barbash and Seung Min Kim, Hours before Kavanaugh nomination hearings, Bush lawyer releases 42,000 pages of documents to Judiciary CommitteeWashington Post, Sept. 3, 2018, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/09/03/hours-before-kavanaugh-nomination-hearings-bush-lawyer-releases-42000-pages-of-documents-to-judiciary-committee/.

Reading the political winds: The case for Taiwanese discretion

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

Reading the political winds: The case for Taiwanese discretion

Ryan Hass 

Taipei Times

Editor’s Note:Even as Taiwan faces increasing pressure, the realities of U.S. domestic politics mean Taipei should be prudent about appealing publicly to the Trump administration for support. This piece originally appeared in The Taipei Times.

In recent months, global events have unfolded at a dizzying pace. The annual tradition of NATO summits may be suspended. Transatlantic ties are buckling under stress. The G7 has unraveled. The global trading system is undergoing a fundamental reordering, as the United States withdraws from the center and no other country is prepared to take its place. U.S.-China relations are veering in an adversarial direction. And democracies around the world are being buffeted by populist waves and outside interference in electoral processes.

What ties all of these events together? In one way or another, each of these developments reflects the unwinding of the rules-based international order. Increasingly, relative power — not common rules of the road — is defining international relations.

The world has seen this dynamic before. Seventy years ago, in the wake of two catastrophic world wars, Roosevelt, Churchill, and others set out to build structures and systems to maintain global political stability. They diagnosed the conditions that enabled the outbreak of World War I and World War II as unbridled strategic competition between major powers, economic protectionism, and the rise of tyrants.

To forestall the re-emergence of global conflict, these leaders promoted the adoption of democracy, the expansion of trade liberalization, and the emergence of the United Nations as a body to debate and adjudicate interstate disputes. The United States committed to help rebuild Japan and Germany. Washington also planted American troops in Europe and Asia to help keep the peace and prevent any country from pursuing domination.

While the succeeding 70 years continued to be scarred by war, those tragedies were, by and large, limited enough to enable a period of historic human progress. More people in more places — including Taiwan — gained a say in their governance. An unprecedented number of people were lifted out of extreme poverty. And although the world veered close to catastrophe for several weeks in October 1962, there were no world wars. Sustaining conducive conditions for such rapid human progress during this period required a heavy and constant exertion of American power and leadership.

But as the veterans of world wars passed from the scene and the fears of the Cold War faded, the American people became less convinced in the value of sustaining the international system. They began to ask why the United States needed to solve “other people’s” problems. Presidents Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama each in their own way pushed back against such protectionist and isolationist impulses. They warned that disorder abroad would eventually lead to disruption at home, and that it was better to tackle problems at their root than to let them spread to America’s shores. Donald Trump did not share this worldview, though. Instead, he argued that the American people deserved a leader who would put “America first.”

President Trump understood instinctively that many Americans are ambivalent about keeping the peace abroad and more worried about their challenges at home. He recognized that America is going through a period of destabilizing transition, as the demographic profile of the country shifts for the first time toward majority non-Caucasian, the economy whirls through a technological transformation every bit as disruptive as the industrial revolution, and many people are fearful about their own and their children’s job prospects. Against this backdrop of discontent, President Trump promised he would put the interests of Americans ahead of the demands of others. He committed not to send America’s sons and daughters to fight “other people’s” wars. He said he would require allies and partners to contribute more to their own defense. And he vowed to fight for hard-working Americans by renegotiating trade deals that were generating trade deficits and “ripping off” the United States.

While it is reasonable to question the wisdom of President Trump’s actions, it would be a mistake to doubt whether he believes what he says. President Trump has been making similar complaints to anyone who would listen for the past four decades. His views are not poll-tested positions to maximize voter support. Rather, they are authentic grievances about how he believes America has been mistreated in the world.

None of this diminishes the challenge Taiwan faces as pressure intensifies from the mainland. Nor does “America first” mean Taiwan alone. Washington recognizes Beijing’s increased efforts to squeeze Taiwan and is undertaking efforts to push back. Taiwan still enjoys deep support on a bipartisan basis throughout the U.S. government. And the United States maintains a fundamental interest in cross-strait peace and stability, and continues to act accordingly.

But the realities of U.S. domestic politics do mean Taipei should be prudent about appealing publicly to the Trump administration to do more for Taiwan. It would not benefit Taiwan to become associated in parts of the American public consciousness with other “needy” partners who expect the United States to solve their problems.

Taiwan has invested decades in building relationships with American lawmakers and policymakers. Taiwan also has some of the best diplomats in Washington. It should rely on those professional channels to identify ways to strengthen ties where possible, and solve problems when necessary. Now is not the time for Taiwan to employ megaphone diplomacy to press the United States to do more on its behalf. The more Taiwan draws public attention to its appeals, the less it might like the response it receives.

China-U.S. trade war worsens, the trade deficit increases

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

As the trade war worsens, the trade deficit increases

David Dollar

Editor’s Note:David Dollar unpacks the effects of a continued trade war on the economies of China and the United States. If such protectionist measures stay in place long enough, he notes, global value chains will adjust. In that case, U.S. trade deficit will shift away from China and toward the rest of Asia and Europe, but the overall U.S. trade deficit will not change in any significant way. This piece originally appeared on The Hill.

The trade war that the U.S. has unleashed on China continues to ratchet up. The next round of 25-percent tariffs on $16 billion of imports from China will go into effect Aug. 23.

China is committed to retaliate and will implement its own 25-percent tax on $16 billion of imports from the U.S. As the tit-for-tat escalation continues, it is impossible for China to match the U.S. dollar-for-dollar because it imports so much less from the U.S. than it exports.

The next round threatened by the U.S. will cover $200 billion in additional imports. The Chinese announced retaliation will hit a much smaller volume, $60 billion of imports. Still, we are moving toward complete taxation of trade in both directions.

The direct effect of these measures on the Chinese economy is small so far. China’s exports in July were up 12.2 percent over the prior year, ahead of market expectations. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) updated forecast for China’s GDP growth this year is 6.6 percent, above the target for the year.

Indirect effects are harder to measure but are arguably larger. China began the year in a tightening cycle, trying to rein in the excessive credit growth of the recent past. The regulators were determined in particular to reduce the shadow banking sector and to bring more financial activity back into the formal banking system.

Investment growth has been slowing all year, and the stock market peaked and started falling in January, well before the trade war got serious. The protectionism from the U.S. has contributed to the pessimistic mood in China. Investment growth was practically nil in July, and the Shanghai market is now down 24 percent since the January high.

The July data also show some easing of the tight money policy, though no let-up in the campaign against shadow banking. This suggests that the authorities are worried about the impact of the trade war on growth, but it is also a reminder that China has tools at its disposal.

Aside from monetary easing, the government is also pursuing some modest additional fiscal stimulus. China can afford to spend more public money on education, health and environmental clean-up and can use the fiscal adjustment to its advantage.

Another obvious tool is the exchange rate. Since April, the U.S. dollar is up 8 percent against a basket of major currencies. The Chinese yuan has more or less followed the same trend: It is down 9 percent against the dollar over this period.

This is one reason that China’s exports were buoyant in July. Too much depreciation could set off financial panic, but depreciating against the dollar in line with the other major currencies in the world makes sense in the current environment.

China’s Ministry of Commerce announced this week that Vice Minister Wang Shouwen will visit Washington, D.C. in late August for talks with Treasury Under Secretary David Malpass. It is good that the two sides are talking, but there is not likely to be a negotiated settlement anytime soon.

The Chinese side is confused about what the U.S. wants. It feels that near-agreements were reached twice before only to have the U.S. pull back. What China is ready to offer is clear:

  • It will agree to some big headline numbers for purchases of agricultural products and energy, which is more of a publicity stunt than a policy change;
  • it is already committed to opening some important markets in China, such as automobiles and financial services; and
  • it would agree to some general language about improving intellectual property rights protection and avoiding forced technology transfer.

These talks at the vice minister level should clarify positions, but an end to the trade war will likely require higher-level talks and ultimately a meeting between Presidents Trump and Xi. The next time that the two will meet, barring an exceptional summit, would be at the Group of 20 summit at the end of November in Buenos Aries.

An important obstacle to reaching a settlement is that the U.S. administration has put a big focus on trade balances, and those are very hard to change.

Because of the large fiscal stimulus, the U.S. economy is growing rapidly. Interest rates are rising, as is the value of the dollar. It is natural in this situation for the U.S. trade deficit to widen.

In the first half of the year, the overall U.S. deficit in goods was up 7 percent. The deficit with China was up 9 percent and 16 percent with Europe. Those trends will almost certainly continue in the second half of the year. Protectionism aimed at China will not have any big effect on the overall U.S. deficit.

The protectionism should eventually reduce imports from China, but it will also reduce U.S. exports and increase U.S. imports from other locations. Much of what the U.S. imports from China are intermediate products used by U.S. firms to be more competitive.

Taxing these will naturally result in some lost business for U.S. firms, both in the domestic market and in export markets. If the protection stays in place long enough, global value chains will adjust. Some labor-intensive final assembly will shift to countries like Vietnam in order to avoid the 25-percent tax.

Suppliers such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will retain more production at home rather than off-shoring to China. China is likely to remain the center of the Asian production hub, but will concentrate even more than it does now on intermediates and less on final goods for the U.S. markets.

All of this will shift some of the trade deficit away from U.S.-China toward larger trade deficits with the rest of Asia and Europe. But the overall U.S. trade deficit will not change in any significant way.

Rebuilding the employment security system for the Rust Belt that created it

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

Rebuilding the employment security system for the Rust Belt that created it

John C. Austin and Richard Kazis

Industrial transformation, brought on by global trade, new digital technologies, and changes in the structure of work, have hit Rust Belt communities hard. Some places, such as Pittsburgh and Kalamazoo, have gone through painful transitions and come out the other side. However, the majority of the Rust Belt’s older industrial cities continue to struggle with job loss and weak economic growth.

Authors

The collapse of the region’s labor-intensive manufacturing-based economy took its toll on the employment-based safety net protections that Midwestern employers and unions forged after World War II. Today, employer-based systems of health insurance, pensions, and unemployment insurance serve fewer and fewer Midwestern workers.

For Rust Belt workers and communities today and in the future, economic security policies must become more flexible and suited to a fast-changing economy. This will require balancing support for technological innovation with concerted efforts to reduce the costs of dislocation for people and places bearing the brunt of change.

THE MIDWEST BUILT AMERICA’S EMPLOYMENT-BASED SECURITY SYSTEM

In the years following World War II, the manufacturing industries of the industrial Midwest, together with their unions, hammered out a set of economic rules and policies that became the foundation for America’s subsequent economic prosperity and security.

Wage controls imposed during World War II set the stage for this system. Unable to increase worker pay, employers began to offer pensions and health insurance to attract and retain workers. The federal government assisted by exempting health insurance benefits from taxation for companies and individuals.

The transformation accelerated in the wake of the 1950 General Motors-United Auto Workers contract. Dubbed the “Treaty of Detroit,” it traded labor peace for wage gains based on productivity and cost-of-living increases. Large employers shared prosperity with their workers by providing them with health insurance, pensions, and other benefits. State and federal unemployment insurance policies that took shape during the Great Depression worked well for an economy in which periodic layoffs were temporary and skills were fairly transferable from one labor-intensive manufacturing sector to another.

The resulting system spread across the nation, in both union and non-union settings. The percentage of Americans covered by private pensions jumped from 3.7 million in 1940 to 19 million in 1960—nearly 30 percent of the labor force. By 1975, 40 million Americans were covered by private pension plans. The pattern of employer-provided health insurance coverage forged in Midwest industries became almost universal, rising from 10 percent in 1940 to just under 30 percent in 1946, reaching 80 percent of all workers by 1964.

Public sector employment systems, too, began to copy the agreements negotiated in the region’s private industries. In 1951, Wisconsin created the nation’s first stable statewide pension system for public employees and became the first state to allow public workers to participate in Social Security. Other states soon followed suit.

THE MIDWEST’S ECONOMIC DECLINE ERODED EMPLOYMENT-BASED ECONOMIC SECURITY

By the 1970s, global competition facilitated by technology-based innovations in communications and transportation began to challenge U.S. manufacturing dominance—and the employment-based safety net that had matured with it. In successive waves of industrial restructuring, employers shuttered inefficient factories, moved production to cheaper locales, automated where possible, and pushed costs and risks onto employees and suppliers.

Across the Rust Belt, between 2000 and 2010, this trend turned into a tsunami. Across six Great Lakes states, manufacturing employment dropped by 35 percent in 10 years—a more dramatic decline than during the Great Depression—eliminating 1.6 million jobs.

By 2015, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 firms offered defined benefit pension plans, down from 50 percent in 1998.

The wider impact on employer-provided benefits and the safety net protecting workers was devastating. The number of working-age Americans without health insurance jumped from 24 million to 37 million between 2001 and 2010, before the Affordable Care Act. Employer-provided defined benefit pension plans largely disappeared in the private sector, replaced by defined contribution 401(k) plans that shifted the burden for funding retirement onto workers. By 2015, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 firms offered defined benefit pension plans, down from 50 percent in 1998. Public employee agreements were harder to dismantle, but the underfunding of these state and local plans hit $1.4 trillion in 2016. Access to unemployment insurance (UI) diminished: In 2016, only 27 percent of all unemployed workers qualified for and received UI benefits, the lowest proportion in 40 years.

THE DISRUPTION WILL CONTINUE

As employers adapted to survive, their strategies to cut costs, enhance productivity, and shift risk heightened the instability of many Americans’ employment arrangements. They also set the stage for more disruption in the years ahead—change that will continue to hit Midwestern workers and communities particularly hard.

First, improvements in process automation, robotics, and machine learning are destabilizing employment. The McKinsey Global Institute projectsthat as many as one-third of U.S. workers may need to change occupations and acquire new skills by 2030, as robotics and artificial intelligence eliminate routine and repetitive jobs and create new jobs that require more and different skills.

The Midwest is at the epicenter of these shifts. Auto manufacturing uses half of all industrial robots in this country. Robots on the shop floor are concentrated in about 10 Midwestern and Southern states, led by Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.

Where the robots are

Second, low educational attainment among the region’s industrial workforce could exacerbate employment dislocation due to automation and digitalization. A comparatively high proportion of Rust Belt working-age adults have only a high school diploma. Such workers may face greater difficulty making the transition to new kinds of occupations that demand higher-order cognitive skills.

A third destabilizing shift is the movement away from long-term, stable, full-time jobs toward contingent, alternative work arrangements. According to one study, nearly all net employment growth between 2005 and 2015 came from contingent work. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office estimated that contingent workers, including independent contractors and freelancers, part-time workers, on-call workers, temp firm employees, and self-employed workers, accounted for 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, up from 30 percent 10 years earlier.

The growth of more flexible work arrangements is a welcome development for many, particularly those working at the higher end of the labor market who have more skills and greater control over their work. But for Midwest workers with relatively low levels of formal postsecondary education and training, part-time work, being subcontracted out and paid as a “1099 worker,” or working in the “gig economy” have increased insecurity and reduced access to benefits and protections.

TOWARD A MODERNIZED ECONOMIC SECURITY SYSTEM

As our colleagues Mark Muro and Robert Maxim have outlined, America needs a new economic security system that is de-coupled from the once-dominant model of full-time, long-term employment with a single employer. This is particularly the case for Rust Belt workers. Policymakers seeking to rebuild economic security in the Midwest and across the nation should follow these principles:

  • Design for an era of economic instability and disruption—of frequent job and career switches—by increasing benefit portability.
  • Promote innovation, technological change, and risk-taking, but also prioritize effective supports for those who bear the brunt of the resulting changes.
  • Extend benefits to serve part-time workers, contractors, and those employed in multiple jobs.
  • Provide support not only during temporary dislocations, but also help individuals adapt and advance in the new economy, with both a safety net and a trampoline that accelerates return to the workforce and expands access to higher-skill, higher-paid jobs.

Policymakers and advocates are advancing a number of proposals that could be scaled to build a modern economic security regime:

Portability: Health care and pension benefits should be portable, universal, tied to individual employees, and delinked from full-time work and single employers. Benefits should be pro-rated for part-time employees based on hours worked. To finance this, some have suggested a Social Security-like mechanism of payroll deductions. Others have proposed more modest multi-employer or sectoral plans like those in the construction industry. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has proposed legislation to fund a set of pilots testing different approaches with different mechanisms.

Pro-ration of benefits: Too many benefits are tied to full or almost full-time work with a single employer. Work-related benefits that can reduce family stress and keep people in the workforce—including paid sick leave, family leave, and vacation days—should be extended to part-time employees on a pro-rated basis based on hours worked for a given employer.

Unemployment insurance reform: Eligibility requirements should be made more flexible so that more individuals can access unemployment insurance, including intermittent workers, those with low and variable wages, part-time workers not working enough hours, and entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. Experiments should combine benefit receipt with training, work preparation, and support for pursuing postsecondary credentials.

More aggressive adjustment assistance: Current Trade Adjustment Assistance is too modest, short-term, and tied to specific industries affected by trade. It is not nearly as strategic and proactive as labor market adjustment policies in other advanced industrial countries. More generous relocation assistance can support worker mobility and help people go where the jobs are. Retraining opportunities and support for programs with proven labor market value can help those needing to make significant mid-career changes.

The growth of more flexible work arrangements is a welcome development for many, particularly those working at the higher end of the labor market.

Rust Belt communities, industries, and workers created and benefited greatly from the old system in its prime—and they have arguably suffered the most from its collapse. In turn, they have the most to gain from a needed remaking of employment security and safety net policies that recognize and respond to today’s economic realities. To the degree that these new policies put solid ground beneath more people in Rust Belt communities, they can help shift the political conversation in these places from one based on nostalgia, anxiety, and resentment to one lifted up by greater hope and optimism.

Turkey: Can The People Force The Tyrant/Murderer Erdogan Out Of Office?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

After 15 years in government—particularly since a failed coup attempt in July 2016 crowned him with extraordinary executive authority—Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has never been more powerful.

Authors

Yet as the June 24 snap elections called by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) approach, there are growing signs that the political dexterity that has long allowed Erdoğan to determine the course of Turkish politics could be waning. While Turkish polls need to be read cautiously, many of them now suggest a high likelihood that the upcoming presidential election will be decided in a run-off, and that Erdoğan’s AKP will fail to retain its majority in parliament. This would create a completely novel and challenging political picture in which the opposition could have a greater say in policymaking than it has had for at least a decade.

CHALLENGES MOUNTING

Many thought that the decision to move the elections forward by over 16 months was a pre-emptive move by Erdoğan to avoid the damage an increasingly volatile Turkish economy is likely to inflict on his popular support. Both inflation and unemployment are over 10 percent and on the rise, the budget deficit saw a 58 percent increase in the past year, and the lira has lost more than 20 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar this year alone. (The dollar-to-lira rate is now 4.6 to 1; it was 3.75 to 1 in January, and around 2 to 1 as recently as mid-2013.) Nor is the Turkish government able to stem the tide: To the contrary, Erdoğan’s frequent and ideologically charged declarations against high interest rates as well as his recent promise to intervene more directly in the policymaking of Turkey’s Central Bank after the elections are increasingly perceived as contributing to the lira’s plunge.

Amid these economic worries, Erdoğan also faces the most diverse and rigorous pool of opposition candidates since he came to power in 2003. A new electoral alliance hoping to unseat Erdoğan includes not only the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the new center-right İyi (Good) Party, but also an Islamist faction, represented by the small yet influential Felicity Party—ironically, Erdoğan’s own political home during his rise to political stardom in the 1990s.

The allied opposition parties have each fielded their own candidates, but promise to unite behind whichever candidate makes it to a run-off against Erdoğan. The CHP’s presidential candidate is Muharrem İnce, a fiery orator who was once known for his staunch secularism and perceived as insensitive to the needs of Turkey’s pious Muslims and large Kurdish minority. Recently, however, he has struck a remarkably conciliatory tone on the campaign trail, adopting a narrative embracing Turkey’s ethnic and social diversity, promoting teaching Kurdish in government schools, and declaring that he has no intention to resurrect Turkey’s once-infamous headscarf ban. İyi Party leader Meral Akşener, the only woman in the race, is the first serious right-wing challenger to Erdoğan in over a decade. Finally, the conservative Felicity Party candidate, the British-educated party head Temel Karamollaoğlu, is easing into his role as an elder statesman and is dishing out intense moral criticism of the ruling AKP. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP)—which the government has heavily stigmatized—was left outside of the opposition alliance, but its party head and candidate Selahattin Demirtaş remains a charismatic leader for much of Turkey’s Kurds and secular youth. This diversity of options available to Turks of all political and ideological persuasions means that Erdoğan is now challenged from multiple sides and that there is likely to be increased opposition turnout at the polls.

ERDOĞAN’S VULNERABILITY

Indeed, such a widened political battleground was exactly what Erdoğan hoped to avoid in calling for the snap vote. Turkey’s opposition parties were outraged at what they took as an attempt to prevent Akşener’s newly-founded İyi Party from participating on a legal technicality. This was circumvented when CHP—shrewdly and unexpectedly—allowed 15 of its members of parliament to be transferred to İyi Party, allowing it to attain the minimum number of sitting MPs to qualify to participate in the snap elections.

Erdoğan himself, in what many perceived as a slip that only proved foul play by the government, criticized Turkey’s High Electoral Commission for not pre-empting what he called an “immoral” opposition strategy. Perhaps even more strikingly, HDP’s Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been jailed since late 2016 with multiple charges but still no indictment (let alone a verdict), is forced to run from behind bars while opposition candidates from Turkey’s right and left continue to call for his immediate release.

The AKP’s apparent heavy-handedness is paired with considerable hubris in the lead-up to the elections. The government casually postponed Turkey’s massively important university entrance exams—the culmination of a multi-year process, exhausting for students and financially draining for parents—once it became apparent that they coincided with the planned election date. In a similarly self-assured move, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek has noted that Turkey’s troubled markets will see normalization and reform “after the elections,” rejecting out of hand the possibility that the elections may disturb his own policymaking mandate.

But even as the ruling AKP is dismissive of the possibility that Turkey’s next president could be decided in a run-off, Erdoğan himself has been providing much of the fodder for Turkey’s reinvigorated opposition. Phrases lifted cheekily from awkward moments in Erdoğan’s own recent speeches have become humorous opposition slogans. Erdoğan once said he and his party would leave power if and when the electorate said “Tamam” (roughly meaning “okay,” or “that’s enough” in Turkish)—on Twitter, opposition activists have said “T A M A M” in over two million tweets, and the phrase has seeped into daily conversations. Similarly, “Sıkıldık mı?” (“Are we bored yet?” as employed somewhat sheepishly by the president mid-way through a lengthy address to an AKP youth congress) is a phrase that has caught on. İnce, Akşener, and Koramollaoğlu joined in, using the catchphrases both on and off social media often. Indeed, “T A M A M” and “Sıkıldık mı?” represent more than Turkey’s latest social media fad: Their easy and cheerful spread suggests an opposition that is increasingly able to unite around common themes and is rediscovering the tone of youthful irreverence that last befuddled and outraged the AKP government during the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Indeed, a growing number of Turkish commentators opine that it is increasingly the opposition that determines the tone and course of political debate in the country, with AKP officials adopting a clumsily defensive tenor.

Related Books

And ironically, it may have been the AKP government itself that has exposed Erdoğan’s Achilles heel. In pushing for the constitutional change that concentrated most executive powers in the person of the president but retained certain lawmaking and veto rights in the parliament, AKP lawmakers do not seem to have considered the possibility that the president’s party may not always hold a majority in parliament. Before the constitutional amendment, the fact that the AKP polled significantly higher than its individual competitors meant that it easily dominated the National Assembly; but the multi-party alliances officiated under the new system, as well as a widened political arena, change electoral math in such a way as to make an AKP parliamentary majority harder to achieve.

Precisely because the creators of last year’s constitutional amendment thought that the AKP was invincible at the polls and that Turkey’s diverse opposition was fundamentally incapable of achieving any internal harmony, then, an opposition parliament under an Erdoğan presidency is a real likelihood. The new system makes little provision for such a cohabitation, and an aggressive opposition could effectively cripple much of Erdoğan’s policymaking. Indeed, if the AKP were to lose its parliamentary majority in the first round of elections, Erdoğan would be entering the presidential run-off election with his aura of invincibility and traditional mastery over Turkish politics severely weakened.

WINNING VOTES, FAIRLY

To gain the upper hand, both sides will have to come up with more concrete policy proposals to remedy an ailing economy, prove their willingness to diffuse the country’s suffocating political polarization, and stir the hearts and minds of an increasingly young and well-educated electorate, 1.5 million of whom will vote for the first time in June.

Opposition parties are just starting to roll out their election programs. These programs, in particular, must convince the electorate that their vision is one that goes beyond unseating Erdoğan: It remains unclear, for example, how a politically and legally cumbersome return to the parliamentary system, which all opposition candidates promise, would be achieved. On the question of the economy, İnce in particular is making waves with talk of moving emphasis from an increasingly unwieldy construction sector to boosting high-tech industrial production, and Akşener with a thoughtful critique of youth unemployment. But a thorough and convincing roadmap for much-needed macroeconomic reform has not been forthcoming from either Erdoğan or his opponents. On foreign policy, İnce is unequivocally advocating improved relations with trans-Atlantic allies and the EU. Akşener, while stressing the need for a strong European-Turkish partnership, is critical of the EU for driving Turkey’s membership talks into a dead end, and not surprisingly emphasizes the importance of relations with the Turkic and Muslim world.

But perhaps most critically, all parties—government and opposition alike—should ensure that controversial new election laws should be applied conscientiously, and that the June 24 elections are free and fair without the slightest shadow of a doubt. Any domestic and international perception that the elections have been tampered with would only aggravate Turkey’s mounting social and economic woes. If the worst fears of some commentators are confirmed and incidents of coercion and violence sully the elections or their aftermath, Turkey’s already heated political scene could be brought to the brink.

To go back to the question we pose in the title: Yes, both Erdoğan and his challengers do have a real chance at victory in what may become Turkey’s most contested electoral race in recent history, and the AKP’s own mistakes should show that there is little to be gained by looking at Turkish politics dismissively.

Brooking’s Institute looks at the human side of medical cannabis policy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

FIXGOV

In a new documentary short, Brooking’s looks at the human side of medical cannabis policy

John Hudak and George Burroughs

Medical cannabis is an increasingly available, alternative medicine that tens of thousands of Americans are turning to in an effort to get relief from their symptoms. Jennifer Collins is one such patient. On Wednesday, Brookings released “The Life She Deserves,” a documentary short profiling Jennifer’s struggle with an epilepsy disorder and with the public policies that have stood between her and the medical intervention her doctors recommended. In Brookings’s first use of this medium, the film tells both a personal and a policy story, highlighting the human side of a public policy failure.

Jennifer’s Story

At a young age, Jennifer was diagnosed with Jeavons Syndrome, an epilepsy disorder characterized by frequent seizures that often present as a fluttering of the eyes. During these seizures, Jennifer loses awareness of her surroundings. Those smaller seizures—which can number in the hundreds per day—can also cluster into a more serious and dangerous grand mal seizure, of which Jennifer has suffered many.

With the diagnosis, Jennifer’s doctors began a standard pharmaceutical regimen that ultimately culminated in more than a dozen pills daily and maximum adult doses of powerful anti-seizure medications. Those medicines came with side effects that included mania and suicidal ideation. Ultimately, pharmaceuticals were unable to help with Jennifer’s seizures and the side effects became overwhelming. Desperate for a solution, Jennifer’s parents read online about children moving to Colorado to access non-intoxicating, cannabis-based medicines to treat conditions like hers.

“The Life She Deserves” profiles the difficult choices the Collins family faced and explores what many patients and families sacrifice in order to get medical relief. Whether it is for a child with epilepsy, a young woman battling breast cancer, an Iraq War veteran with PTSD, or an elderly woman with chronic arthritis, accessing medical cannabis often requires weighing steep costs against the benefits.

Jennifer is a unique individual who has bravely fought both a chronic condition and a dysfunctional public policy system from a young age. Her story tells us as much about a strong young woman from Virginia facing a significant, ongoing health challenge as it does about a system of laws in which federal policy contradicts both itself and numerous state laws. Her story is one that is relatable to patients and the family members, friends, and colleagues of patients who see what Jennifer and her family have seen: cannabis-based medicines can provide relief in some patients. However, Jennifer’s story is not a unique one.

“The Life She Deserves” shows the overwhelming challenges that government can pose when it comes between doctors and patients, researchers and science. The film also highlights what has become a new normal in this country: the medical cannabis industry. Cannabis growers and sellers are not a group of sinister drug peddlers, operating in the shadows. The film highlights how a husband-wife duo responsibly cultivate cannabis in a heavily regulated system. And the seller is a rabbi who, inspired by his father-in-law’s decades-long battle with MS, opened a family business where he dispenses cannabis to a wide variety of patients—just a stone’s throw from the same institutions of government that label him a narco-trafficker.

Remarkably, in 2018, the idea of medical cannabis has become normal and mainstream. But as we explore in “The Life She Deserves,” the health challenges that draw people to it are devastating and the failure to implement effective policies forces them to make major sacrifices in order to access treatment they need.

A new format for Brookings analysis

It was clear that Brookings needed to explore a new medium beyond the white paper in order to peel back the stigma that continually cloaks medical cannabis. By producing a documentary, we were able to sit across the kitchen table from Beth and Pat Collins, at their home as they shared their difficult journey. We learned what the viewers of this film quickly learn: they’re just two parents who want to give their daughter a normal life. Because of this medium’s ability to create intimacy, the viewer gets see how government policy and the human experience collide to tell a compelling story. And Brookings is in a unique position for storytelling. The institution delivers in-depth analysis that can be presented with the human experience, positive or negative. What Brookings needed was a vehicle for such work. The documentary is precisely that vehicle.

In addition to home videos of Jen’s childhood and footage of Beth Collins testifying at the state legislature, maybe the most poignant moments in the film are of silence. In “The Life She Deserves” Jen reflects on the long road she’s traveled and where she is headed. When she pauses to collect her thoughts, in that silence we can see the severity of what she has been through—an emotion that words could not capture. At that moment we get a rigorously honest look at the pain she has experienced and the strength and courage it took to survive and talk about it. This is the power of storytelling and this is the power of the documentary. We live in a time when many in our country—on both sides of the aisle—see many areas of public policy as broken. Like Jen, millions of Americans feel the effects of those policy failures every day. The opportunity for effective policy storytelling has never been greater, and at Brookings we’re looking forward to telling many more.

Medical Cannabis: A Broken Policy

Authors

To those familiar with the world of medical cannabis, it is no secret that public policy in this area is broken. We have written extensively at Brookings about the numerous policy problems including banking, taxes, interstate access, and others. “The Life She Deserves” focuses on some of the most glaring issues facing patients themselves—an often-overlooked area. And the main issue that impacts patients, even more than access, is how little is known about how to maximize the benefits of cannabis to treat different conditions effectively. The U.S. government has made expanding that knowledge extraordinarily difficult.

Beyond the U.S. government declaring that the cannabis is illegal, federal policy also adds layers of bureaucracy that make research into the medical value of cannabis much harder. In fact, researching cannabis is more bureaucratically challenging than researching any other substance designated Schedule I—the nation’s highest level of drug control.

There is no excuse for a government that makes research more difficult to conduct. Those efforts are anti-science and ensure that politics influences the pursuit of scientific answers. Compounding the problem is that as more states pass reforms that label cannabis as medicine, there is increased demand for answers about the substance’s medical value. There is an ever-present and growing need to ask more questions about cannabis, not fewer. As more patients use this substance in an effort to relieve symptoms, the federal government should be committed to helping understand this area of science.

After all, what could the federal government fear from more research? In fact, no one in the nation—regardless of views on cannabis—should oppose expanded research. As we have written before, if you are an avowed opponent of cannabis and believe it is dangerous, it has no medical value, is highly addicting, and is a gateway drug, you should encourage more research that will demonstrate those findings. Those findings would be a wakeup call to many patients and, more importantly, to policy makers at the state level. For those who support medical cannabis and believe it is a miracle drug that can cure everything from a cough to cancer, you, too, should demand more research to demonstrate not simply medical value, but the precise ways in which cannabis interacts with bodily systems to provide relief and cures. Finally, if you don’t really care about cannabis, the current policy should bother you. Federal government intervention in science should terrify you.

When government impedes researchers from asking the questions they believe are important and conducting research in ways that their expertise and medical literature suggest are critical, the substance should not matter. The principle matters. In a time of an unpopular president, an embarrassingly unpopular Congress, and trust in government at near-historic lows, who should you trust to steer the ship of science: a physician and medical researcher from Michigan or a guy who happens to represent Kalamazoo in Congress?

As Patrick and Beth Collins note in “The Life She Deserves,” one of the biggest challenges facing medical cannabis patients is a lack of understanding about exactly which cannabis-based products assist with which conditions. There is also a deficit of information about dosing, interactions, side effects, and a host of other characteristics that patients are used to knowing about medicines that they take. Part of the blame rests with states moving forward to bring to market cannabis-based medicines without their enduring the normal regulatory processes we expect in the United States. However, much of the blame rests with a federal government that has allowed a racially-motivated, institutionally perpetuated policy overwhelm a commonsense approach that would remove unnecessary bureaucracy from blocking research.

Many patients will tell you that there is no question that cannabis helps them (although there are a number of patients who will also say that it does little for them). The biggest question that remains, however, is whether the federal government will stop politicizing research and help facilitate answers to the questions that patients are demanding.

The human cost of leaving patients and families to fend for themselves is clear, in Jen’s case as we see in “The Life She Deserves,” and in countless other households.

Iran Is Going To Strike Israel The Only Question Is How And When

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

Will Iran attack Israel over the Syrian conflict? It’s only a matter of time

Dror Michman and Yael Mizrahi-Arnaud

As the dust settles following last weekend’s U.S.-French-British attack on Syrian chemical weapons facilities, the countdown to the next round of military conflict between Israel and Iran has begun. Last week, Israel once again targeted the T-4 (Tiyas) base in Syria, which houses Iranian drone forces, killing 7 Iranians and apparently destroying a drone infrastructure project. This is the same base from which an Iranian drone was launched in February, which the Israeli air force intercepted. Israel then hit the T-4 base and an Israeli aircraft downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Authors

An Iranian retaliatory strike against Israel is likely in the works. Where and how Tehran chooses to carry out its attack is still unclear, but for reasons that we describe below, it is most likely to be a rocket or missile attack launched from Syria. The choice will define what to expect for the future of Iranian and Israeli confrontations.

THE “WHY” QUESTION

There are very clear signals that this time Iran would indeed retaliate. Iranian media gave extensive coverage to the Israeli attack on T-4 last week. Iranian leaders, most noticeably Ali Akbar Velayati, the top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, issued direct threats of retaliation. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, also warned Israel that this time there would be a steep price to pay; the highly publicized funerals of Quds forces personnel was the latest such indication. Iran is now both deeply and publicly committed to retaliate. The stage is set.

Iran is determined to cash in on its huge investment in Syria, by improving its military presence and the means with which to pressure Israel. Ultimately, its aim is to firmly establish itself as a regional power. Meanwhile, Israel is determined not to repeat the mistake it made in Lebanon—watching from the sidelines as the Iranian threat from Hezbollah intensified. Israel has made clear its intention to combat the threat from the start, while it remains manageable.

In Israel’s view, the time to act is ripe due to both geopolitical and strategic factors. First, Russia’s desire to keep the situation in Syria relatively stable puts Israel in the unique position of acting as a potential disrupter. Israel thus has leverage over the larger, and more powerful Russian state. Second, Israel’s freedom to operate in Syria’s skies may be limited in the future by improved Iranian or Syrian anti-aircraft capabilities, or by an international accord.

THE “HOW” QUESTION

While the intentions are clear, there remains considerable debate over what form the retaliation would take. In the Middle East, these nuances matter. There are several possibilities and each carries a different prospect for an Israeli counter-response.

A missile salvo appears to be the most appropriate Iranian response, both in terms of capabilities and risk calculation (and mirroring the Israeli missiles launched at T-4). However, the more crucial question is what target they will choose.

A military target appears to be the more appropriate response. A quid-pro-quo attack, aiming to deal a lethal blow to the Israel Defense Force’s reputation—or even better, the Israeli air force, since an F-16 fighter-jet (an emblem of Israel’s prowess), was downed in February. But a more effective deterrent may lie in targeting a big city—thereby eliciting a panic effect, even if it is intercepted by Israeli defense systems. The goal from the Iranian perspective may be to create public pressure that in turn would work to alter Israel’s risk calculation in Syria. On the down side, civilian centers are a less legitimate target, and might put Iran in an uncomfortable position internationally, when such a spotlight is the last thing Iran needs as worldwide concern over Iran’s intervention in the region crescendos.

The second dilemma facing the Iranians is from where to launch the missiles, the options being Iran, Syria, or Lebanon.

Launching from Iran will naturally send a strong message to Israel, both in terms of capabilities and determination. The clear disadvantage of this choice would be the legitimization of an Israeli counter-response in Iran, and yet another unnecessary escalation, for the time being, from the Iranian perspective.

Lebanon is well equipped with a variety of missiles, in both range and size, and therefore a convenient location for the Iranians. However, an escalation in Lebanon is far more damaging for all parties involved. It has the possibility to ignite a war between Israel and Hezbollah, and to harm crucial Hezbollah arsenals and infrastructure, serving neither Iranian nor Hezbollah’s interests.

Hezbollah is not interested in war at the moment, as its leaders are preoccupied with solidifying its image as the “protector” ahead of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections in May. The numerous casualties in Syria, and the fact the group still has close to 7,000 troops on the ground there, complicate this picture.

The most sensible option remains Syria, the arena with the least risk for the Iranians, and the relevant stage of the recent skirmishes. Yet, there are two main challenges that remain to be mitigated: the delicate relationship with the Russians and the risk of further damaging Iranians assets and capabilities in Syria, in case Israel will be forced to respond.

In order to avoid putting stress on the Russians, the Iranians would retaliate in a fashion the Russians would find tolerable and containable. Russia expressed its anger after the last Israeli attack, and therefore will most likely tolerate some sort of measured Iranian response. The question is: What does Russia consider measured? Possibly anything that doesn’t pose a substantial threat to stability in Syria and wouldn’t provoke an Israeli escalated response.

This appears to be an impossible equation to solve. Iran wants to buttress its deterrence capability after Israel proved willing to pay a steep price in order to prevent Iran from establishing another front in Syria (from where they could threaten Israeli security, as they have done in Lebanon with Hezbollah in the past).

After outlining the possible scenarios, an Iranian strike will most likely be a missile strike from Syria, aimed at a significant Israeli military target. In order to hit the target, it will have to be substantial in size. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the target is hit and Israel’s response will be contained, unless the damage—both in lives and in capabilities—is negligible.

Israel understands that it can’t afford to blink.

Predicting the long-term prospects and evolution of this conflict is more difficult, since both parties are willing to pay a high price for their strategic interests.

An Israeli response to an Iranian retaliation depends on the extent of the damage; nonetheless, Israel understands that it can’t afford to blink. The determination and willingness to take risks has been clearly demonstrated—both by statements by senior officials and by attacks in recent months. For the time being, Israel will push back against Iran, at any cost, until either significant international pressure or diplomatic efforts work to inhibit Iranian strength in Syria. The Russians serve as a partial restrainer, but have limited motivation, and even more limited capabilities to actually enforce a solution on either party. Even if there were a simple solution, in light of Israeli and Iranian determination to inflict damage on each other, even at a high cost, Russian efforts would most likely prove unsuccessful.