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Washington’s World: November 30th, 2015 – December 6th, 2015

As President Obama and a high powered team head to Paris next week for the UN climate change conference he expects the US to take a leading position. With decisions on clean coal and much higher automobile fuel efficiency standards and the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline the Administration has positioned the US as one of the top adherents of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) framework on commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whether these actions – which are deeply opposed by Republicans – will bring Obama any relief on his Syria policy – where he is attracting increasingly outspoken criticism from supporters and opponents alike – is entirely another matter. While US officials are working hard to contain the fallout from the shoot down of a Russian bomber by Turkey, where despite unspoken concerns they are avoiding direct criticism of Ankara, the likely British entry into the air war against the Islamic State in Syria indicates that operations conducted by the anti-ISIL coalition are entering a new phase. From our contacts in the Administration, our assessment remains that this higher operational tempo does not change thinking in the White House that, despite the new urgency being injected by his British and French allies, Obama does not believe there is a “quick fix” to the Syria problem. Instead he is of the firm opinion that the campaign will necessarily be a long one. Secretary of State Kerry will defend this line at next week’s NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. Obama is content to leave any decision to replace this strategy with something more ambitious to the next president. The trend line here, including from Hillary Clinton, is unmistakably in the direction of deeper US engagement. Meanwhile in Asia, US officials are keeping a close eye on renewed Chinese construction activities in the South China Sea, but are reluctant to adopt an openly confrontational posture. Instead, the “quad” alliance with Australia, India and Japan is quietly but steadily gaining new definition.

Key Judgments

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