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The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 169

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 169, November 17, 2022

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. In this week’s headlines: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opens a probe into the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a U.S. intelligence report details the long-standing efforts undertaken by the United Arab Emirates to try and influence American politics, a deadly bombing in the heart of Istanbul kills at least 6 people and injures more than 80 others, and election analysts provide insight into some of the factors that played a key role in determining the outcomes of last week’s U.S. midterms.

FBI Probe into Killing of Abu Akleh

The FBI is launching an investigation into the questionable circumstances surrounding the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. (Photo from AP)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Opens a Probe into the Killing of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

In May of this year, renowned Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by gunfire while covering a news story for Al Jazeera at the Jenin refugee camp in the illegally-occupied West Bank. At the time, Israel attempted to place blame for her death on Palestinian gunmen, but impartial evidence and accounts from observers debunked that regrettable claim. Furthermore, human rights groups from across the world, as well as several prominent U.S. legislators, demanded that the U.S. government launch their own investigation into the events, citing Israel’s egregious track record regarding criminal investigations into their own soldiers’ activities. Ahmad Abuznaid of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights was among those who denounced Israel’s ability to investigate, saying that to allow only an Israeli investigation is to simply let the crime go unpunished. U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, who has penned two letters and passed an amendment through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over this issue, has also called Israel’s ability to hold its soldiers accountable into question. There is considerable evidence to back claims about the lack of legitimacy of Israeli investigations, including the case of American citizen Omar Assad, who was arbitrarily detained by Israeli forces and suffered a stress-induced heart attack back in January. Now, earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced that the FBI will be conducting an investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh.

The decision comes in the wake of months of outrage on the part of Palestinians and human rights activists, and continued investigations from the UN, the New York Times, and other news outlets, which have consistently found that not only was Abu Akleh shot by an Israeli soldier, but may have been intentionally shot as well. According to a June statement from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time of her death submit that they took every caution to convey themselves as a non-threat. They took a side street to avoid areas of gunfire, were wearing their blue jackets that denoted them as media members, and made sure that they were visible to Israeli forces. The group also reported the gunfire as “several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets,” and, as alluded to above, there were seemingly no armed combatants in their vicinity. Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer who used to work in the Justice Department, is under the impression that the U.S.’s decision to investigate must be a result of credible evidence suggesting that the killing was intentional, and moreover, that perhaps the assassin also has American citizenship.

Abu Akleh’s family, Senator Van Hollen, and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib have all applauded the decision, but Van Hollen wrote in a tweet that the fight is far from over. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has announced that Israel not only refuses to participate in the investigation, but will not allow it. Analysts, long-serving U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, and others have pointed out that the U.S. has more than enough leverage on Israel to force their cooperation, considering the four billion dollars in aid that the United States gives Israel annually. The question, then, is whether the U.S. is willing to confront its longtime ally that it has rarely stood up to in the past.

UAE Efforts to Meddle in American Politics

A report has been released that delves into the UAE’s attempts to manipulate the American political system. (Photo from AP)

A U.S. Intelligence Report Details the Long-Standing Efforts Undertaken by the United Arab Emirates to Try and Influence American Politics

A classified United States intelligence report has described the United Arab Emirates’ efforts to try and influence the American political system. The National Intelligence Council, the government agency behind the report, has expressed that it compiled it in order to help guide U.S. policymakers in their decision-making regarding the Middle East and the UAE. Most troubling regarding the development is the fact that it unveils attempts by a close ally of the United States to engage in this behavior, with the report delving into how the UAE tried to exploit vulnerabilities to ensure favorable U.S. foreign policy decisions towards it. The UAE is the third-largest buyer of U.S. weapons, and the United States has sold them over $29.3 billion in military equipment including fighter jets and missiles. The UAE’s armed forces have also fought alongside the United States military in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. These aspects combined with the fact that the two countries partner on a range of issues including defense, trade, and law enforcement has prompted observers to express unease and concern over the UAE’s array of meddling tactics.

Some analysts have speculated regarding the type of effect that the revelations may have on U.S.-Emirati relations moving forward, particularly since the report goes into the variety of legal and illegal measures undertaken by the UAE to try and influence the United States’ foreign policy decisions in its favor. The UAE worked through different administrations to take advantage of the United States’ vulnerabilities including the reliance on campaign contributions, the use of lobbying firms, and using law enforcement to disclose laws that are designed to prevent foreign interference in American affairs.

The UAE has spent millions in donations to American universities, lobbyists, and think tanks in return for favorable coverage and positioning. Some of their recent attempts at meddling consist of hiring former U.S. intelligence officials to surveil American leaders, politicians, journalists, and U.S. companies. This also includes hundreds of retired U.S. military officers such as former generals and admirals. A Washington Post investigation uncovered how there are notable former military and security personnel who now work as contractors or consultants for the UAE. While foreign governments often spend copious amounts of money in Washington to fund their interests with lobbyists, consultants, and others, the UAE has even taken this to another level by directly hiring former officials to their payroll – in many cases for salaries in the six and seven figures.

Under U.S. federal law, retired military personnel are not allowed to receive anything of value from foreign governments that would compromise their allegiance to the United States. The Washington Post reports, however, that there is no criminal penalty for violating this law and the enforcement of it is virtually nonexistent. These recent revelations raise legitimate questions about national security, if former U.S. military and security officers are able to work with foreign governments to no avail and with no consequences. National security staff are often aware of the activities of these former military personnel, but these operations remain in effect because the federal government has yet to reform its foreign policy laws and has not provided enough resources to the U.S. Justice Department to combat the issue.

It remains to be seen whether or not the report spurs the United States to re-evaluate its alliance with the UAE and reform laws to ensure that former officials are not able to work in such a manner with foreign governments.

Deadly Bombing in Istanbul

The incident has elicited grim memories of similar suspected terror attacks in Turkey between 2015 and 2017. (Photo from AP)

A Deadly Bombing in the Heart of Istanbul Kills at Least 6 People and Injures More than 80 Others

A deadly explosion shook a busy street of Istanbul this past weekend, killing at least 6 people and injuring more than 80 others. The attack occurred in the Beyoglu district of Turkey’s largest city on Istiklal Avenue, as the streets were, as per usual, crowded with families and tourists strolling, shopping, and watching street musicians. Particularly troubling with respect to the timing of the attack was the fact that the area was even more crowded than usual, due to a soccer match in the nearby proximity. The incident has been deemed as an act of terror by Turkish officials, with the nation’s interior minister expressing the belief that Kurdish separatists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Democratic Union Party were most likely behind the deadly explosion. The suspect in the case has been apprehended, with police stating that she was trained by Kurdish fighters in Syria and entered Turkey through northwest Syria’s Afrin region. This recent attack has drawn flashbacks of similar suspected terror attacks in Turkey, most notably from between 2015 and 2017, when the country was plagued by a string of these during that span of time.

Security cameras saw a woman sitting on a bench for more than 40 minutes before getting up minutes prior to the explosion, leaving behind a bag. Officials commented that they believe there was the possibility that the bag had some mechanism in it, and that it could have either detonated on its own or been detonated from afar. The investigation into the attack is still ongoing, with Turkish authorities strongly suspecting that there is a link to Kurdish militant groups, but they have also not ruled out ties to ISIS as well.

Turkey’s contentions with Kurdish separatist groups have spanned four decades and claimed tens of thousands of lives. The conflict began in 1984 when the Kurdish separatists began engaging in insurgency against Turkish authorities for greater cultural and political rights with the objective of establishing an independent Kurdish state. A ceasefire was established but in 2015, it was violated when a suicide bombing by suspected self-proclaimed ISIS militants killed nearly 30 Kurds near the Syrian borders. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, otherwise known as the PKK, seeks an independent state in Turkey. Syrian Kurdish fighters have also been battling ISIS as part of the alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by the United States. The PKK themselves are deemed a designated terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

The international community has rallied together to uniformly condemn the attack, with French President Emmanuel Macron being particularly vocal in sharing sympathies with Turkey. From the NATO secretary general to the European Council president, a host of entities have expressed solidarity with the Turkish people. This includes the White House press secretary sharing U.S. sentiments of condemnation for the attack, although some Turkish officials have accused the United States of complicity for it.

This recent bombing broke a five-year spell where Turkey was free from these types of deadly terror attacks, and thus, it has sparked fears among some of the potential for a re-emergence of them. As of now, no group has claimed direct responsibility for the attack, with the PKK denying involvement and claiming that they do not target civilians in any way. Despite this, Turkish officials are looking into the PKK and believe that they were involved in some capacity.

Insight into U.S. Midterm Election Results

Democrats surprised pundits by overperforming expectations and retaining control of the Senate, while also significantly minimizing Republican gains in the House. (Photo from AP)

Election Analysts Provide Insight into Some of the Factors that Played a Key Role in Determining the Outcomes of Last Week’s U.S. Midterms

Over a week after Election Day, all of the races may not be called, but control of the House and Senate have been determined. Last weekend, incumbent U.S. Senator from Nevada Catherine Cortez Masto was projected to defeat GOP challenger Adam Laxalt, giving Democrats 50 Senate seats and allowing them to retain control of the upper chamber of Congress – due to the tie-breaking vote held by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Georgia’s runoff race for senator taking place on December 6th will give Democrats the opportunity to earn a 51st member of the Senate. Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Herschel Walker in a tight race, but failed to gain the majority needed to avoid a runoff. As for the House, slim control of the lower chamber of Congress has been won by Republicans, with the GOP earning the 218+ seats needed for this. The decisive call came last night after Republican Mike Garcia was declared the winner in his re-election bid in California’s 27th district over Democratic challenger Christy Smith.

The narrative dominating election coverage is the overall failure of the expected “red wave.” In the face of eight percent inflation, a 41 percent Biden approval rating, concerns about crime and immigration, and midterm historical precedent, the most conservative of estimates predicted that Republicans would gain between eight and twenty seats in the House, with hopeful Republicans assuming that they would win more than 20. Instead, Republicans failed to reach or exceed that marker of expectations for House seat pick-ups. Of the 27 seats expected by Politico to “lean Democrat” before the election, Democrats have won 24 of 27, with two uncalled. More importantly, though, Democrats have managed to win 18 of the 26 seats deemed “toss-ups,” with three still up in the air.

Naturally, finger pointing is well underway. Republicans have blamed their disappointing cycle on a continued trend of failing to turn out voters. Democrats, on the other hand, are largely attributing their success to an alleged high turnout of young voters energized by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Most analysts, though, have focused on the effect that former President Donald Trump seemed to have on the results. By and large, candidates affiliated with Trump struggled. Despite significant health issues, Democrat John Fetterman defeated Trump-supported Mehmet Oz for a Pennsylvania senate seat. Even in states in which Republicans generally posted good performances, election deniers and other Trump-backed candidates did poorly. In Georgia, incumbent Governor Brian Kemp soundly defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams, but Trump-backed senate candidate Herschel Walker was forced into a runoff. In New Hampshire, Republican hopeful and election denier Don Bolduc was defeated by Democrat Maggie Hassan despite an easy win for Republican Governor Sununu in the same state. Similar instances were reported nationwide, and notably, Kemp and Sununu have both been heavy critics of Trump in the past.

Additionally, some experts are suggesting that MAGA politics are keeping the Democratic base invested, while others, like Ipsos Senior Vice President Chris Jackson, are similarly suggesting that Republicans would have seen far greater success in this election if they had focused more strongly on the state of the economy, which ranked as the number one most important issue to voters. Jackson also commented that because the economy is still seeing growth and avoiding mass unemployment, the issue may have taken more of a backseat than predicted, and although it is early to say, Political Science Chair Dr. John Taylor at the University of Texas at San Antonio indicates that Democrats are right in believing that abortion and other social issues were larger factors than anticipated.