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Washington’s World: December 15th – December 21st, 2014

Even as the Administration seeks to focus attention on what it sees as some of its external successes – fostering the anti-ISIL coalition, bipartisan solidarity against Russia, a strong performance at the Lima climate change conference – it keeps getting drawn back into domestic controversy. The release of the report on CIA detention and interrogation program prepared by the Democratic staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the attempts to get a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to cover the anti-ISIL operations have both stirred up stiff dissent. The result is that Administration officials are forced to send long hours locking horns with their domestic critics – for example the Administration’s nomination for Deputy Secretary of State faces a tough and acrimonious approval process – rather than actually presenting a united foreign policy face to the rest of the world. This trend will certainly intensify in the next Congress so that foreign policy will become the lowest common denominator of what the opposing political dynamics in Washington – and the calculations of the aspiring 2016 presidential candidates, all of whom from both parties will present themselves as more hawkish than President Obama – will allow. There appears to be scant chance that Obama will be able to take advantage of the traditional presidential foreign policy prerogative in his second term. An early test will come over trade, specifically whether the incoming Republican majority in the Senate will smooth the way for Obama to be granted trade promotion authority – without which both the TPP and TTIP negotiations will be doomed. Leading Republicans favor this option, but it is entirely possible that internal feuding will rule that out. Next week’s trade talks with China about the establishment of a bilateral investment treaty are getting off to a rocky start as the continued fall in the price of oil leads to turmoil on the foreign exchange markets.  Administration officials view the price collapse as a decidedly mixed blessing: very positive for the domestic economy and for bringing pressure on Russia and Iran – with which a new round of bilateral and P5+1 talks starts next week – to adopt a more conciliatory approach, but also threatening to the economic vitality of countries like Nigeria. Real concern is building inside the Intelligence Community that Boko Haram is starting to control territory in West Africa much in the manner of the Islamic State.   

Key Judgments

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