The National Interest Foundation Newsletter
Issue 163, October 7, 2022
Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. This week, we recap Thursday’s lunch discussion event with former U.S. Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Senator, The Honorable Chuck Hagel, regarding American Engagement in the Middle East and on the international stage. Meanwhile, in our news headlines: failure to extend the truce in Yemen prompts fears of renewed violence and humanitarian disaster, rights groups outline the alarming number of Palestinians held by Israel without trial or charge, and OPEC+ gives the United States the cold shoulder as they agree to the most drastic oil production cut since the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to prop up prices.
This week, the National Interest Foundation (NIF) hosted a lunch discussion event with former U.S. Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Senator, The Honorable Chuck Hagel, regarding the direction of American engagement in the Middle East and on the international stage. The discussion was moderated by Bruce Fein, President of the Law Offices of Bruce Fein. Secretary Hagel discussed topics such as changes in foreign policy and party collaboration. He also answered questions on OPEC, Russian relations, defense strategy, and much more.
Despite the high volume of international crises facing the world and the United States, Secretary Hagel began the conversation on the direction of the U.S. on a positive note. Though admitting that the United States has made more than its fair share of foreign policy mistakes, he challenged anyone to name a country as powerful as the United States that has been as generous with its resources. He also emphasized that young people have the loudest and most important voice in government decisions because they “know right from wrong” whereas older people have had to compromise their values as their number of responsibilities has increased.
After his opening statements, the conversation briefly turned to OPEC+ before transitioning to the main theme of the event, that being the direction of U.S. foreign policy. Secretary Hagel was reluctant to answer questions having to do with the future of foreign policy, stating that he no longer has access to the kind of insider information that would allow him to accurately answer such questions. Moreover, as a direct answer to whether or not U.S. foreign policy has a direction at the moment, Hagel appeared to believe that the answer was no, despite hopes for the future. He did, however, discuss at length the different factors he believes have directed U.S. foreign policy to where it is today. He especially focused on issues with party cooperation, the loss of the “North Star” moral compass of WW2 veterans in the Senate, and the negative effects of 9/11.
In addition, Secretary Hagel was asked many questions, each of which seemed to focus on a different geographical area. Countries that were brought up include China, Syria, Russia, and Ukraine, among others. In regards to China, Hagel made a distinction between who we view as a competitor versus an enemy. He said that he considers China a competitor, whereas the Iranian government is an enemy, although the people of Iran are not. When it came to Syria, Hagel was asked if he thought the U.S. had “sacrificed” Syria to Iran in order to make a nuclear deal in 2015. Hagel denied any form of sacrifice, but passionately stated his personal view that the United States should have gotten involved in Syria to block Russian influence from entering the Middle East. In speaking about Russia and Ukraine, the former Secretary of Defense was again forthcoming with his thoughts. He said he believed that President Biden’s foreign policy strategy relating to the Russia-Ukraine conflict was a good one overall. In response to a question, Hagel said he was confident that diplomatic solutions were being discussed alongside the now $16.5 billion that the U.S. has sent to aid Ukraine. Secretary Hagel also repeatedly expressed his agreement with President Biden that Russia cannot be allowed to get away with their actions.
To watch the entire event on our YouTube page, please click here.
Failure to Extend the Truce in Yemen Prompts Concerns
Days after the Sunday deadline for an extension of the UN-backed ceasefire came and went in Yemen without an agreement, Hans Grunberg, UN envoy to Yemen, and rights groups continue to implore both sides to reach a deal – citing humanitarian benefits that the truce has allowed for in recent months. However, despite strong efforts so far, a revival of the respite seems to be a major challenge. One important source of contention is compensation for public servants, many of whom have not been paid in years by the Houthis. But the reasons for the truce collapse go further than that, and much of the evidence officials involved have referenced point to the Houthis being largely responsible. In a statement lamenting the possibility of newfound violence, Grunberg all but blamed the Houthis by instead praising the efforts of the internationally-recognized government during the negotiations. In more direct remarks, Mareike Transfeld, co-founder of the Yemen Policy Center, accused the Houthi camp of using their control of Sanaa and the vital Hodeidah Red Sea port as a means of getting what they want.
Despite saying publicly that they fully support reopening the air and sea ports they control, the Houthis appear to be unwilling to do so without aggressive concessions made by the opposition. Additionally, the Houthis have not ended the Taiz blockade, which was part of the terms when the truce was first agreed upon back in April. Experts believe that the Houthis feel as though they currently have the upper hand, and are therefore unwilling to make compromises. Reports indicate that they remain organized, resolved, and have increasingly advanced weaponry at their disposal. On the other hand, infighting has broken out amongst the Saudi and UAE-backed government forces, even as the Houthis have threatened more violence, especially against private oil companies that refuse to evacuate their oil fields. In fact, some critics have spoken out against the truce, citing its usefulness in allowing the Houthis to bolster their weaponry and numbers. Others have criticized the effectiveness of the ceasefire by pointing out that the Houthis still have not allowed the unrestricted usage of most roads.
That being said, the truce agreement has created a state of temporary “peace” and a lull in fighting. This is the first time since the war broke out about eight years ago that the fighting has mostly ceased. The number of civilians killed and injured in Yemen has dropped more than 50% since the start of the truce agreement. In the month before the truce, around 213 people alone were killed. The following month, that number was reduced by 95%. The nationwide two-month truce started the 2nd of April after an agreement between the warring parties to pause the conflict, which has lasted for more than seven years. The reprieve from fighting has since been renewed twice – once in early June and again in early August. The data shows that since the truce, there has been a significant decrease in the number of casualties from airstrikes, shellfire, and shootings. It has also improved humanitarian aid access to people in need, which is especially helpful to those in hard-to-reach areas.
The truce has also significantly improved the flow of fuel into Yemen’s red sea port, and led to the opening of Sanaa airport to commercial flights. Thousands of people have been able to travel on commercial flights, and critically ill individuals have been able to seek treatment abroad. In the six months since the first announcement, the number of displaced civilians has dramatically decreased by 76% as well. The United States and others have urged the Houthis to continue negotiations in good faith, and to work with the UN to come to an agreement to extend the truce and keep Yemen on the path to durable peace.
Israel’s Unlawful Detention of Palestinians
Rights groups have recently outlined the troubling number of Palestinian detainees being held by Israeli authorities without charge or trial – the highest such figure since 2008. Nearly 800 Palestinians are currently imprisoned via Israel’s widely criticized policy of so-called “administrative detention,” with the number having risen steadily this year as a result of arrest raids in the illegally-occupied West Bank. Under the method, which is used to target Palestinians, detainees are arrested based on secret supposed evidence and can be held indefinitely, as they are not aware of the accusations against them and are denied the ability to defend themselves in court. Social justice activists point out the abusive nature of the system which blocks individuals from the right to due process. Experts estimate that there are more than 4,400 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, and several of those in administrative detention have gone on hunger strikes in protest against their unlawful imprisonment. These prolonged strikes have left many with serious health issues and without access to independent lawyers.
The millions of Palestinians residing in the illegally Israeli-occupied West Bank are subjected to Israel’s military justice system, while unlawful settlers on the land are rarely dealt with and are done so via civilian courts. Israeli courts also subject Palestinians to severe prison policies such as medical neglect and isolation as punishment. Israel claims this procedure allows authorities to hold suspects while they continue to gather evidence, however the international community condemns this behavior as they hold prisoners for years with no trial or charge to stand on. Jessica Montrell, the director of HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization, has stated that nothing justifies the detainment of hundreds of people for months and years without charge. In addition to HaMoked, Amnesty International has collected evidence over many years indicating that administrative detention is used regularly by the Israeli authorities as a form of political imprisonment, enabling them to arbitrarily detain prisoners, including prisoners of conscience. This kind of imprisonment can last indefinitely without having to disclose any supposed evidence against the victims, offering authorities an excuse for engaging in this type of egregious and repressive behavior.
Some Palestinians are served with the administrative detention order directly upon their arrest, while others are interrogated after arrest, tortured, or were subjected to other ill-treatments during their interrogations. The majority of administrative detainees are held in one of three prisons: Ofer in the illegally-occupied West Bank near Ramallah; Ketziot/Ansar 3 in the Negev Desert; and Megiddo in northern Israel near Haifa. All three facilities were previously controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), but are now managed by the Israel Prison Service. Families of the detainees are unable to visit unless they are granted a special permit from Israel. If provided this permit, which is done so on rare occasions, members of the detainee’s families are made to visit their relative on unspecific security grounds.
A few administrative detainees have been released if they agree to leave and go into exile abroad. Ultimately, administrative detention and other forms of continuing discrimination against Palestinians are destructive and only serve to further exacerbate ongoing injustices and potentially inflame tensions.
OPEC+ Gives the United States the Cold Shoulder
OPEC+ Gives the United States the Cold Shoulder as They Agree to the Most Drastic Oil Production Cut Since the COVID-19 Pandemic in an Attempt to Prop Up Prices
On Wednesday of this week, OPEC+ representatives convened in Vienna for their first in-person meeting in over two years. Ahead of the conference, it had been highly speculated that the group may agree to cut oil production by as much as 1 million barrels per day (bpd). Instead, the group grabbed headlines by approving a 2 million bpd cut, about 2% of global supply. The move follows a previous cut of 100,000 bpd last month, which many experts correctly predicted would be an indicator of larger cuts to come. The contentious maneuver by OPEC+ will foster indignation amidst many international actors. Countries such as the United States and many in Europe are already suffering from inflation due to energy crises. In fact, President Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia recently in an effort to convince the leading oil exporter to produce even more oil, but to no avail. Some analysts are confused as to why OPEC+ would vote to reduce supply within an economy that is already experiencing an oil shortage. Additionally, demand is expected to decrease as global recession deepens, so many fail to understand why OPEC+ would not want to increase their output while they still can. It is expected that the U.S. may take some action in the face of the OPEC+ decision, such as releasing more oil stocks and revamping conversations around a NOPEC bill, an antitrust bill against OPEC. In response, several Democratic members of the United States Congress have also rallied against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over the major cuts and urged President Biden to pressure for a reversal of the decision.
OPEC+ and leading business and banking experts have defended OPEC+’s decision by arguing that dissenters are failing to recognize the difficulty of quickly upscaling supply as the U.S. requested. Saudi Aramco’s Chief Executive and the CEO of Shell, among others, have stated that such a process is sometimes laid out a decade or more in advance. OPEC+ has expressed that they are not concerned so much about a specific price for their oil, but rather that the price is steady. CIO of Pickering Energy Partners, Dan Pickering, agreed that OPEC+’s goal seems to be preventing volatility, adding that OPEC+ is far less concerned about the demand for their product, despite the encroachment of recession. Prices have fallen by over $30 a barrel since June. Since it became known at the beginning of this week that OPEC+ planned to raise prices, the price of oil has risen substantially, increasing by over 4% on Monday, almost 3% on Tuesday, and yet further on Wednesday.
As far as the expected impact on the market, there is again disagreement. There were some experts who believed that OPEC+ would only vote to cut oil production by half a million bpd, which high-profile banks, including JPMorgan & Chase, thought would be enough to prevent prices from tumbling further. Forecasters at Goldman Sachs predicted that a cut of the expected 1 million bpd would cause international oil prices to surpass $100 per barrel by the end of January. They also estimated that such an increase in price would compel investors to re-enter the oil market despite climbing interest rates, thus boosting the market, but making oil much more difficult for consumers to afford. Being that the cut that was approved was twice as large as anyone predicted, we can expect all of this and more. There are some, however, who believe that the cut will not be as significant as many are assuming. Ole Hansen of Saxo Bank, for example, among others, has pointed out that OPEC+ is already failing to meet their quotas by a substantial margin, thereby softening the blow.
Further, it is important that the effect of the war in Ukraine on the oil market is not discounted. In addition to being largely responsible for the worldwide energy crisis that has damaged the oil market, Russia’s actions have also provoked the G7 and the EU to place stiff sanctions – and most likely a cap – on Russian oil beginning on December 5th. Sanctions on Russia and an OPEC+ cut, in addition to China’s re-entry into the oil market and the end of the U.S.’s deployment of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), are collectively expected to significantly raise the price of oil. The OPEC+ cut, the Russia sanctions, and the end of the SPR will all lower supply, whereas China will increase demand, but the result is the same in all cases: higher prices and more dependence on OPEC+. “Despite everything going on with the war in Ukraine, OPEC+ has never been this strong” said Edward Moya, OANDA’s Senior Analyst for the Americas to Reuters. And they know it.