The Evening CSIS May 29 2015

Good Evening,

Welcome to The Evening CSIS—my daily guide to key insights CSIS brings to the events of the day plus HIGHLY RECOMMENDED content from around the world. To subscribe, please click here and if you want to view this in your browser, click here.

Iran Too Far Away...
Secretary of State John Kerry and other members of the Obama administration took to Capitol Hill today to seek backing on the Iran deal where it faces significant opposition, NBC News reports.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told lawmakers that a successful Iran deal is preferable to a military strike , as the Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile, as the Economist reports, “Saudi Arabia is pleased to see Iran shelve its nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief. But behind that thin veil lurks alarm about the potential empowerment of the Sunni kingdom’s long-standing Shia rival."

Dive Deeper: CSIS’s Jon Alterman testified today before the House Armed Services Committee on the Iran deal. Dr. Alterman’s statement to the committee and full testimony are available for download.

Mullah Omar
Officials in Afghanistan today said that Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in 2013 in Karachi, Pakistan, as Rod Norland and Joseph Goldstein of the New York Times report.

Dive Deeper: The only interview of Mullah Omar ever published is by our late CSIS colleague Arnaud de Borchgrave, three months before 9/11.

Cyber Wars
The Financial Times’s Sam Jones reports today in a fascinating article “West eyes Dr. Strangelove tactics in cyber wars.” Amid remarks Tuesday about Iran and China, US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper said that cyber-attacks are going to get worse “until such times as we create both the substance and psychology of deterrents."

Dive Deeper: CSIS’ Strategic Technologies program has an excellent resource in its interactive “Cyber Incident Timeline."

In that Number
968 million
The number of active daily users on Facebook.
Source: Business Insider

Critical Question

Asked: What will the likely impact be on Iran’s economy if a nuclear deal passes?

Answered: Jon Alterman, SVP, Brzezinksi Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, Middle East program director:

If this agreement goes through, and if Iran complies with the requirements of the initial phase, Iran will receive something on the order of $100 billion through repatriating Iranian funds currently held overseas, and perhaps another $40 billion annually from the export of oil and gas. This sounds like a massive amount, but it still probably keeps Iranian oil earnings below the level they were at just five years ago, when sanctions bit less sharply and oil prices were more than double what they are now. Rather than leaving Iran flush with cash, sanctions relief may still be insufficient to get Iran back to where it was just a few years ago.

Malign actors in Iran will certainly try to reap a windfall from increased funds flowing into the country. How the government will divide those funds between current consumption, infrastructure investment, and foreign policy objectives is anyone’s guess. There will also be skirmishes internally in Iran to preserve financial empires built up in the shadow of sanctions, and in particular to lock in benefits that flow to para-statal foundations and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-owned businesses that are either protected from competition by sanctions or which profit through circumventing sanctions. I can imagine this working out several ways, but it seems certain that there will be vicious political competition to capture additional revenues. As Congressional veterans who remember the Peace Dividend at the end of the Cold War can tell you, there will be powerful political reasons to invest the maximum amount in domestic consumption.

From today’s Congressional testimony, available here.

One to Watch

Chris Johnson is our Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS. Chris has brought a wealth of experience and insight in to the inner workings of the Chinese political system. Just yesterday he broke down the complexities of Xi Jinping’s rule for the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog. It’s a must read.


CSIS’s Jon Alterman fields questions today before the House Armed Services Committee on the implications of the Iran deal.

Highly Recommended
The Diplomat talks with CSIS Pac Forum’s Brad Glosserman and CFR’s Scott A. Snyder about Japan-Korea relations.

CSIS Today
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard joined CSI today, speaking on emerging threats and challenges to US foreign policy. You can catch her remarks here.

CSIS also hosted David O’Sullivan, ambassador of the European Union to the US, and Pham Quang Vinh, ambassador of Vietnam to the US, along with several State Department officials. Their discussion centered around strengthening Southeast Asian cooperation; you can find the recap here.

This Town Tomorrow
At 10:30am tomorrow, Stimson Center will host a discussion on the expansion of ISIS and the grave risks posed to Iraq and the broader Middle East. Scholars from Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq will also be joining through video link. Watch the panel live here.

CSIS on Demand
What are the tools being used in the international financial system to confront terrorism, organized crime, and other criminal activity? Watch as Juan Zarate sits down with Rene Brulhart to discuss current efforts to reform Vatican financial processes and the Financial Information Authority.

We round up the latest Asia news and discuss the governing strategy of Xi Jinping on this week’s Cogitasia podcast.

I Like It Like That
Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab today discusses how ProPublica and the New York Times are pioneering user experience research within their organizations.

CSIS’s superb head of Congressional relations, Louis Lauter, sent me a clip this weekend that made me smile. This stunning performance you are about to see is taken from the CBS “This Morning” show on Saturday. It introduced me to an extraordinary group of musicians called the Watkins Family Hour, some of whom I have known of individually, but as a group had never heard perform collectively.

The Watkins Family Hour was started by singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalists Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins, who are neo-folk musicians. The Watkins’s sound reminds me of the first music I discovered as a child while pouring through my parent’s record collection—the timeless music of Pete Seeger and the Weavers.

With the Watkins Family Hour, Sara and Sean have assembled an American roots music super-group which includes the supremely talented pop singer Fiona Apple, the earthy piano man Benmont Tench (best known as the backbone of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and the pedal steel/dobro player Greg Leisz (whose sound is unmistakable and has been featured in the recordings of Eric Clapton, the Eagles and Lucinda Williams among scores of others).

Last weekend, the Watkins Family Hour released their debut album which is comprised of sublime cover songs originally penned by the likes of Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia.

They debuted their sound last weekend at the Newport Folk Festival—just like Pete Seeger back in the day. And it is so good. Watch this beautiful performance of the Grateful Dead’s “Brokedown Palace” and listen to the river sing sweet songs that will rock your soul.

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