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Iran, Mental Health and Jail, Russia: RAND Weekly Recap

January 10, 2020

This week, we discuss insights from RAND experts on Iran, Iraq, and the death of Soleimani; support for people experiencing mental illness in jails; what to expect from China in 2020; giving patients a voice in medical guidelines; forecasting Russia's hostile measures; and the risks of a U.S. troop drawdown in West Africa.

An Iranian mourner holds a picture of late General Qassem Soleimani as people gather to mourn him in Tehran, Iran, January 4, 2020, photo by Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Reuters

A mourner holds a picture of General Qassem Soleimani as people gather to mourn him in Tehran, January 4, 2020

Photo by Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Reuters

Iran, Iraq, and the Death of Soleimani: RAND Experts Weigh In

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump addressed the nation after Iran launched a barrage of missiles at two bases housing American soldiers in Iraq on Tuesday night. The attack was retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq late last Thursday, an operation authorized in response to unspecified signs of an imminent threat. In his address, Trump declared that the United States is “ready to embrace peace,” while vowing to impose further economic sanctions on Iran.

What happens next is unclear. But over the past several days, RAND researchers have provided important context on this crisis. Here's a roundup of the latest commentaries from our experts:

  • Writing with coauthors, Ariane Tabatabai said that Iran's response to Soleimani's death could extend over a lengthy period and explained how rising tensions could force the administration to “choose between a nuclear Iran or the need to start a war to prevent one.”
  • Brian Michael Jenkins outlined the many ways that Iran could retaliate, drawing on evidence from the decades-long “secret war” between Tehran and Washington.
  • Following the Iraqi Parliament's vote to expel U.S. troops, Stacie Pettyjohn broke down the status and rights American troops have in Iraq, the intricacies and history of U.S. basing agreements, and more.
  • Ben Connable highlighted the “far-reaching and damaging” implications of a possible U.S. departure and described the two practical options remaining for Washington in Iraq.
  • Finally, Raphael Cohen wrote about why comparing the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad—which directly preceded Soleimani's killing—with the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, is a problematic analogy.
A woman taking a call in prison, photo by Thinkstock Images/Getty Images

Photo by Thinkstock Images/Getty Images

Support for People Experiencing Mental Health Disorders in Jail

The largest mental health facilities in the United States are now county jails. But could people who are incarcerated receive treatment in the community instead? That's the central question of a new RAND study that assessed the populations of mental health units at Los Angeles County Jail. The study found that an estimated 61 percent of these individuals could be diverted to programs that offer community-based clinical services.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the opening ceremony of the second China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China, November 5, 2019, photo by Aly Song/Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the opening ceremony of the second China International Import Expo, Shanghai, November 5, 2019

Photo by Aly Song/Reuters

What to Expect from China in 2020

From trade tensions with the United States to the crisis in Hong Kong, 2019 was an eventful year for China. What might 2020 hold? RAND experts recently made five predictions. Perhaps most importantly, Beijing will continue to “pose as a champion of the existing international order…all the while avoiding direct embroilment in any of the world's major trouble spots.”

One doctor walking into a room to meet another doctor, illustration by Malte Müller

Illustration by Malte Müller

Giving Patients a Voice in Medical Guidelines

Clinical guidelines can help doctors diagnose and treat conditions, understand what symptoms to watch for, and know what tests to order. But guidelines often lack the perspective of those who care the most about treatment: patients and their caregivers. That's why RAND researchers designed a method to get patients involved. After all, patients dealing with a disease are also experts—they're the ones living with it.

Map depicting Russia's gray zone aggression, images by Harvepino and Serdarbayraktar/Getty Images. Design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Images by Harvepino and Serdarbayraktar/Getty Images. Design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Russia in the Gray Zone: Forecasting the Future

A new RAND report examines Russia's long history of aggression in the “gray zone” between peace and war. The authors conclude that Moscow's use of hostile measures is not infallible. In fact, Russia typically fails to achieve strategic success. And because there are patterns in Russian gray-zone behavior, it's possible to forecast what the Kremlin might do next. These findings could help NATO and other Western powers deter, prevent, and counter Russian aggression.

A French soldier uses a sniffer dog to check for explosives during an area control operation in the Gourma region during the Operation Barkhane in Ndaki, Mali, July 29, 2019, photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters

A French soldier and his sniffer dog check for explosives in the Gourma region in Ndaki, Mali, July 29, 2019

Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Abandoning West Africa Carries Risks

The Pentagon is reportedly considering a major drawdown of U.S. troops in West Africa. This news comes as groups affiliated with al Qaeda and ISIS are spreading violence throughout the region. According to RAND's Michael Shurkin, pulling up U.S. stakes in West Africa has dangerous implications. Territory controlled by extremists could become an incubator for global terrorist attacks. And potentially even more dangerous, an American withdrawal could lead to a destabilizing migration crisis.

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