In the Tank: The Shutdown Amplifies Obama's Mideast Problems

This week’s best research and commentary on the latest in national security and foreign policy issues from top think tanks around the world. By Kedar Pavgi

Welcome to “In the Tank,” Defense One’s weekly think tank roundup. Every week, we’ll present the latest research and commentary published by think tanks from around the world on defense, national security, foreign policy, technology, and management. If you’d like to submit your latest research, email Kedar Pavgi at

The Shutdown Amplifies Obama’s Middle East Problems
Nikolas K. Gvosdev
The National Interest

If President Obama can’t work with Congress on a spending bill, how is he going to be able to help bring stability to the Middle East? That’s the question posed by Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Obama’s to-do list in the Middle East is long: end the civil war in Syria, negotiate a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians and get Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. “The government shutdown, however, imperils all of these initiatives, by exposing the President's political weakness vis-a-vis the Congress,” writes Gvosdev. “It also communicates to other countries that if the U.S. government is so dysfunctional that it cannot get a basic measure for simply funding government operations through the legislature, how in the world is President Obama going to shepherd the legislation that would be required for the United States to be able to move forward on the president's Middle East agenda?”

Can Israel Prevent a Nuclear Deal Between the U.S. and Iran?
By Elliott Abrams
Foreign Affairs

Just how much leverage does Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu have when it comes to the new thawed relationship between the United States and Iran? Not much, argues Elliott Abrams, who says “Israelis find themselves in a far worse position now than they have been for several years.” Attacking Iran over its nuclear threat when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president “would have been more defensible in the court of global public opinion,” Abrams writes. “Now they must fix bleak smiles to their lips and say that they hope for the best -- all the while wringing their hands about the likely terms of the deal. Given that Israel may have little ability to persuade the Western negotiators to be tough, its best path for now is to appeal to Americans, especially in Congress, to refuse to lift sanctions until Iran makes significant concessions.”

Remember Cairo?
By Shadi Hamid and Peter Mandaville
Truman National Security Project

“Much to the relief of the generals in Cairo — and likely also some members of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy team — the United States appears to be kicking another difficult regional policy decision down the road,” writes Shadi Hamid and Peter Mandaville for the Truman Project. With the Syrian crisis, a possible détente with Iran and now a government shutdown, it’s not surprising that the Obama administration hasn’t focused on Egypt in the months since the July 3 military coup. The authors lay out why this is a mistake and use the Algerian civil war as a cautionary tale: “The conflict spiraled into full-scale violence not right after the military’s January 1992 coup, but at least seven months later.”