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Washington’s World: February 2nd, 2015 – February 8th, 2015

The US is entering the 2016 government budgetary cycle, with Democrats and Republicans occupying their usual adversarial positions, most notably on how to mitigate the unintended impact of “sequestration”. One thing that will not change, however, is the continuing and widening gulf between State Department and Pentagon spending. There will therefore be no change in the current disposition whereby the US international interface is far better resourced on the military than on the diplomatic side. One result of this is that US foreign policy makers tend to focus more on maintaining a competitive unilateral edge in defense capabilities than on building diplomatic alliances. To some extent, President Obama has sought to work against this ingrained tendency, for example by building an anti-IS coalition and in his recent visit to India seeking to draw New Delhi into a potential alliance against China. US officials are expressing quiet optimism that Prime Minister Modi will be open to US views about how the two nations can work together to contain China. In the coming presidential campaign, however, we expect to see a reversion by both Democratic and Republican candidates to a more traditional hawkish approach. This will include looking primarily to NATO to counter Russian actions in Ukraine. With the voices advocating a diplomatic approach losing ground in Washington, a much harder policy is to be expected. In the Middle East Administration analysts continue to draw satisfaction from the smooth transition in Saudi Arabia, being especially pleased with the designation of Mohammed bin Nayef – or MBN as he is affectionately known in Washington – in the line of succession. This accords with the emerging US Middle East policy of playing down democratic reform in favor of a more hardline approach against Islamic extremism. This attitude underpins the discreet US outreach to the Houthi insurgents in Yemen based upon the mutual opposition to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. On Iran, the Administration has gained some temporary relief in the Senate from the threat of new sanctions. Talks are accelerating in the hopes of meeting a late March deadline. Opposition on Capitol Hill remains intense, but Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address the Congress appears to have backfired, even among conservatives.

Key Judgments

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