Wednesday, September 18, 2019


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Latest on the close Israeli elections here.

THE ATTACK AGAINST SAUDI ARABIA

The New York Times’ main story has very smart summaries of where the key players stand.

These are longish quotes for a newsletter, but don’t skim!

Read them closely because they will give you the lay of the land faster than anything else you could digest:

U.S.:

“A big concern is to ensure that any strikes be proportional and not escalate the conflict, particularly with world leaders gathering next week in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Officials also voiced worry about the cost of doing nothing, at least openly, in response to attacks that have cut in half the oil production of one of Washington’s main allies in the Middle East.”

Saudi Arabia:

“The rulers of Saudi Arabia appear in no rush to pinpoint the source of the attack or call for any specific response.  A Saudi military spokesman said Monday that the kingdom’s initial investigation had indicated that the weapons were Iranian-made and that the attack was not launched from Yemen. But so far the Saudis have lagged American officials in their willingness to openly blame Iran for carrying out the attack. Underscoring its go-slow approach, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it intended to invite the United Nations and other international experts to visit the site of the attacks and participate in the investigations. ‘The kingdom will take appropriate measures based on the results of the investigation,’ the statement said, suggesting that the Saudis would wait a prolonged period before taking action.”

Iran:

“If Iran is proved to be behind the attacks, it may be because it is looking for increased diplomatic and economic leverage, said current and former officials. Tehran has been pressed by the tough economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Although an attack by Iran would represent a sharp escalation, Iranian officials may be counting that Mr. Trump’s reluctance to start a war in the Middle East will restrain the American response. Iran may believe that by committing a dramatic strike, the current and former officials said, it could improve its negotiating position before the United Nations meeting.”

The New York Times’ David Sanger calls the choice Donald Trump faces on how to respond to the attack on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities “one of the most critical national security decisions of his presidency,” and says Trump’s limited credibility with the American people, Europe, and the world complicates his ability to pin the blame on Iran and to build support for a response.

Both the Washington Post and Politico lean into the notion that Trump might be locked and loaded, but he is also backing down and backing off.

My take: The Saudis have long felt threatened by Iran, but they also have a history of playing down or covering up Iranian hostile acts to avoid the escalation of conflict.

Trump has long railed against Iran’s insidious influence in the region and around the world, but also has a history of wanting to avoid doing anything that would escalate open conflict. 

Iran is being crushed by economic sanctions, but has a history of getting away with provocative actions because overt military reactions by the U.S. and others are difficult to effectively execute without risking unintended consequences. 

Secretary of State Pompeo meets with the Saudis in this news cycle. 

Don’t believe anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen, but a combination of some small public show of force, more sanctions, and a series of largely unilateral covert responses by the U.S. (with Saudi backing, and maybe Israeli help) is more likely than the matter being settled by the United Nations.

THE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION CONTEST

In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that has Biden 31, Warren 25, and Sanders 14, there is also this: “Only 9 percent of all Democratic respondents say their minds are definitely made up.”

My take: Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg are now facing a path back into the narrative that isn’t much easier than that of Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, and Cory Booker. There is, however, still time for a candidate to get hot on the ground in Iowa and/or New Hampshire and become part of the endgame fight.

—-

High fives all around in Wilmington: Joe Biden finally gets a long, (somewhat) positive story – a Wall Street Journal piece about his positioning as more centrist than his two chief rivals, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

My take: Unlike Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Team Biden is largely comfortable being to the center of his chief threats on major issues, betting that the voting electorate will be more moderate than your typical Twitter obsessive.  In both the nomination fight and the general election, trade appears to be one of Biden’s biggest vulnerabilities.

—-

Just a hideous story for Sanders in Politico, suggesting disarray, dissent, and disorganization being felt and shouted about by his supporters nationally and in New Hampshire.

My take: Sanders’ current bout with a scratchy voice is a metaphor for where his effort stands. He is out there fighting the Sanders fight, but he is being drowned out by Elizabeth Warren and her massive crowds.  If Sanders switched his scheduling up and started spending a lot more time in Iowa and New Hampshire, would that make a difference? Or is 2020 just not his time?  Is he just powerless to stop the Warren Express?  I don’t know.

—-

Warren’s large crowds get the Washington Post treatment, at least the third major article this week basically foreshadowing a Trump-Warren general election. Stephen Colbert pressed her on middle class taxes and her health care proposal, but she pretty much slipped away.

My take: If Biden or Sanders have a plan to halt the rise of Warren, they are still hiding it. 

It is too early to assume a Biden-Warren one-on-one contest by March 1, but it isn’t too early to speculate about it. 

They would bring different strengths to such a battle, to be sure. As we sit here today, Biden’s centrist, establishment support would likely be overpowered by Warren’s grassroots momentum, money, and message. Unless, I say for neither the first nor last time, Warren poorly handles her coming time in the barrel.   

Biden’s best bet for stopping Warren is a crowded field of progressives that balkanizes her share of the vote.  But that is a situation that is largely beyond his control.

—-

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