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Countering Transnational Threats

“America’s geopolitical situation is unique in that we are confronted by the rise of revisionist powers in each of the three regions traditionally seen as crucial to our own peace and prosperity and to the larger goal of global stability: Russia in Europe, China in East Asia, and Iran in the Middle East. To take the revisionist challenge seriously requires the American body politic to relearn the value of American leadership in defending the liberal order it largely created after World War II.”

—Gary J. Schmitt, Resident Scholar; Director, Program on American Citizenship

Borders no longer offer the protection they once did — an urgent and troubling reality. Assaults on American sovereignty have evolved, to include new challenges such as cyberwarfare, cyberespionage, foreign investment in US companies, international organized crime, and social media manipulation. AEI’s work on these issues spans countries, regions, and groups that include al Qaeda, China, Iran, Latin America, North Korea, and Russia. AEI is working to make such transnational threats transparent, bring attention to them, and ultimately develop countervailing strategies.

Understanding the Rise of the Revisionists

The world has slowly begun to fragment into spheres dominated by regional powers, with Russia, China, and Iran at the center of new imperialist areas of political control. What are the implications for the United States? Will we manage our own sphere of influence and slip into an era of “offshore balancing” in which national warlords manage their own hemispheric sectors? Or does this change threaten the way of life and the economic system we have come to know over the past half century? Understanding the new imperialism will be the sine qua non of building a new and effective national security policy.


Gary Schmitt’s new edited volume, Rise of the Revisionists: Russia, China, and Iran (AEI Press, April 2018), examines how these states challenge the US-led global order. In the volume’s four chapters, the authors (Dan Blumenthal, Frederick Kagan, Hudson Institute’s Walter Russell Mead, and Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Reuel Marc Gerecht) examine the strategic objectives of the three states and, in turn, America’s potential response.

To commemorate the book’s release, the authors released a series of “In 60 Seconds” videos on the revisionist countries, as well as a longer “Viewpoint” video. Diplomat Eric Edelman described the country studies as “clear and utterly persuasive” and commented that Schmitt’s and Mead’s contributions provided “invaluable context” for understanding the revisionist powers.


  Members of Congress and the administration relied heavily on Derek Scissors’ work on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) reform. Derek Scissors was influential in steering the debate on CFIUS reform, having worked closely with members of Congress on various versions of the bill. Throughout the spring and summer, members of Congress relied heavily on Scissors’ research and testimonies to respond to the administration’s actions on foreign investment in the United States. His February AEIdeas piece on the negative ramifications of the possible acquisition of Qualcomm by Singapore’s Broadcom was used by senators to engage with the Treasury Department, and the CFIUS committee put the potential acquisition on hold. Scissors testified three times on CFIUS reform between January and July before every House Committee with jurisdiction, privately briefed five members of Congress and the Norwegian finance and trade ministers, and fielded 24 meetings or requests for analysis on CFIUS reform from government officials.

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Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a rare public appearance where he discussed his tenure with the agency.

  AEI hosted then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo at AEI for a rare public appearance. In January, Marc Thiessen welcomed then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo to AEI to reflect on his first year at the CIA. During this highly publicized and unusual public appearance for the director, Pompeo gave insight into the daily briefing process with President Trump and discussed how the CIA views critical security issues, such as denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He also discussed the agency’s focus on Iran, Venezuela, and Africa. The invite-only event filled the AEI auditorium to capacity, complete with seven media crews from major networks. The video of the event has been viewed nearly 15,000 times. The event was referenced in more than 20 major news outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN.

  AEI houses the only fully public accounting of China’s investment and construction activity around the world. In January and July, Derek Scissors released updates to the China Global Investment Tracker. Scissors’ latest findings, which were emailed to more than 1,300 Capitol Hill staffers, concluded that as economic tension between China and the United States continues to worsen, medium-term prospects for Chinese spending are bleak. Scissors shared his findings in testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. He also produced an “In 60 Seconds” video for AEI on alternatives to tariffs to push back on China’s infringement of intellectual property. Visit aei.org/china-tracker to learn more.

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Dan Blumenthal discussed US foreign policy with National Security Adviser John Bolton on C-SPAN.

  Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon called on Dan Blumenthal for insights on how the United States can compete strategically with China. In testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Dan Blumenthal explained what a true competitive strategy with China entails. He also completed a memorandum targeted to relevant policymakers in the US government that inventories existing scholarship on US competitive strategies with China (militarily, economically, and politically) and current US approaches, as well as recommendations for a path forward. The memo concludes that despite China’s economic growth, military modernization, and centralization of power under the Chinese Communist Party, there are serious weaknesses in China’s system that the United States can exploit to its competitive advantage. Blumenthal briefed a number of senior White House and Pentagon officials on the memo’s findings.

  The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission invited Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Scholar and recent Meritorious Service Medal recipient Oriana Skylar Mastro to testify on China’s policy toward contingencies in North Korea. Oriana Skylar Mastro wrote prolifically about the China–North Korea relationship and China’s strategic interests surrounding President Xi Jinping’s meetings in 2018 with Kim Jong Un. Her pieces in the popular press covered why President Xi wants to broker the Trump-Kim deal and what China gained from hosting Kim Jong Un. Her testimony before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission reviewed how many forces China could devote to a North Korean contingency, where they would come from, and what they would be capable of doing.

  US policymakers praised Leon Aron’s book on Putin’s interventionist foreign policy as “required reading.” Just days before the Russian presidential elections on March 18, Leon Aron released an edited volume titled To Have and to Hold: Putin’s Quest for Control in the Former Soviet Empire (AEI, March 2018), which details the military, political, economic, and social vulnerabilities of six of Russia’s neighboring countries. Former US Under Secretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky commended the monograph for its methodology and labeled the book a “must read for policymakers.” To mark the publication, Aron was joined by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) for a conversation about the book, followed by a panel discussion with four of the volume’s authors, who included a wide range of experts from American universities and think tanks, as well as in-country analysts and experts. Rep. Moulton praised the work and called it “required reading.” To read the essays from the volume, visit aei.org/putins-quest.

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Oriana Skylar Mastro discussed on BBC’s ‘World News Today’ the implications of US sanctions on companies and individuals trading with North Korea and the possible effects it can have on China-US relations.

  In a new blog series, Kenneth Pollack proposed specific policy recommendations to limit Iran’s influence. Kenneth Pollack published a six-part blog series, “Pushback: Countering Iran in an Evolving Middle East.” In the series, Pollack explains why the United States needs a comprehensive strategy to stand up to Iran and proposes specific policy prescriptions to limit Iran’s influence in the region. To read the full series, visit aei.org/countering-iran.

    Nicholas Eberstadt’s essay explaining North Korea’s triumph of statecraft was praised as the “most valuable piece of journalism in 2018.” In a major piece in National Review in June, Nicholas Eberstadt explained how Kim Jong Un “won” in the Singapore summit. He explains that North Korea has determined both the tempo of events and the details of international diplomacy, right down to the conference agendas: what parties would meet, when and where the meetings would take place, and even what would be discussed. Like it or not, according to Eberstadt, this is a triumph of statecraft. A prominent political commentator and journalist called it the most valuable piece of journalism in 2018.

  Officials and practitioners in the military, government, and intelligence services relied on Katherine Zimmerman’s scholarship on the Salafi-jihadi movement. Katherine Zimmerman met numerous times with senior military leaders, administration officials, intelligence services leaders, and staff and members on Capitol Hill, briefing them on her research on the Salafi-jihadi groups in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. She also briefed a deploying military unit at the invitation of the Joint Special Operations Command and learned that her July 2017 report, America’s Real Enemy: The Salafi-Jihadi Movement, is required reading for one Command member’s team. Her May 2018 Foreign Affairs piece argued that the United States has not won the war on terror because it has been focused on groups — in the most recent case, on the Islamic State — and not the broader Salafi-jihadi movement.

  The nation’s top news programs relied on Danielle Pletka for her analysis and commentary on major challenges from rogue regimes. Danielle Pletka is a prolific voice on top-rated television news programs and radio shows. Over the past year, she appeared on MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, NBC’s Meet the Press, the BBC’s Beyond 100 Days, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Planet America, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Between the Lines, National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and iHeart Radio on issues such as President Trump’s summit with President Putin, the meaning and purpose of NATO, the trade war, the Iran deal, US foreign policy, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the US–North Korean summit, and the Assad regime.

  Military, congressional, and intelligence community leaders relied on Michael Rubin’s expertise on rogue regimes. In June, Michael Rubin briefed various high-level administration officials and staff members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, discussing, in particular, American security in a post-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (known as the Iran deal) order. He also taught a course on Middle East politics aboard the USS Essex to a Marine expeditionary unit.

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Danielle Pletka on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

  Sadanand Dhume warned of instability in Pakistan following its flawed election. Sadanand Dhume produced a body of work surrounding the July election of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s prime minister. His Wall Street Journal op-ed explained that the flawed election and a divided populace threaten Pakistan’s stability. His corresponding “In 60 Seconds” video (with more than 7,000 views), produced just before the election, argued that Khan’s ascent to power backed by the army would weaken Pakistan’s nascent democracy. Dhume also interviewed Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States and the Hudson Institute’s director for South and Central Asia, for an episode of AEI’s “Viewpoint” video series to discuss Haqqani’s vision for Pakistan.

  Attracting overseas attention, a new report from Kenneth Pollack explained the steps the United States can take to work with the Iraqi government. In a July AEI reportKenneth Pollack detailed the most troublesome elements in the Iraqi political sphere — including election fraud this past May and economic woes — and provided valuable analysis on the kinds of initiatives the Iraqi and US governments can implement to improve the lives of Iraqi citizens and restore their faith in government. Pollack’s work attracted attention overseas and was subsequently translated in Arabic and Kurdish.

  Clay Fuller briefed senior administration officials and members of Congress on how to dismantle the authoritarian-corruption nexus embodied by states such as Russia and China. Clay Fuller testified on the topic of illicit finance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and discussed his work with the House Financial Services Committee in private meetings with policymakers. In early 2019, Fuller plans to release a major report, “Dismantling the Authoritarian Corruption Nexus,” which argues that the United States lacks a strategy for dealing with interstate political competition and must do more to disentangle itself from the politics and economies of powerful authoritarian states such as Russia and China.

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