FPI Overnight Brief: March 20, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran’s conservatives have been vocal in their criticism of President Hassan Rouhani, dismissing his outreach to the West as naive and the nuclear deal he championed as an economic failure. But when it comes to challenging the moderate Rouhani for reelection in May, the hard-liners, who oppose expanding political and social freedoms, are struggling to agree on a message or candidate. – Los Angeles Times
Editorial: Nearly four decades after it was born, the Islamic Republic remains an unbending tyranny. The Trump White House shouldn’t spend energy hunting for moderate negotiating partners in the Islamist regime because there aren’t any. They’re under arrest. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Syrian armed forces fired antiaircraft missiles at Israeli warplanes that had struck targets deep in Syria early Friday, in what appeared to be the most serious clash between the two militaries since the start of the Syrian civil war six years ago. – New York Times
An Israeli aircraft reportedly launched a strike into Syria on Sunday that left one person dead, in what appeared to be the second cross-border attack in three days as tensions between the neighbors escalated over the weekend. – Los Angeles Times
The Pentagon released an aerial photo on Friday of a pulverized building in Syria in an unusual defense of an American airstrike that officials said killed dozens of Al Qaeda operatives at a meeting place — and not civilians at a mosque, as activists and local residents maintain. – New York Times
On Saturday, opposition fighters and their families began leaving the last rebel-held enclave in the city under a Russian-backed deal reached earlier in the week, marking the official end of that moniker. – Los Angeles Times
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton urged the Trump administration to follow through on its plan to scrap troop cap numbers in Iraq and Syria, as the Pentagon looks to boost America's presence in northern Syria in the coming weeks. – Washington Examiner
The U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Syria has evolved in the past couple years from airstrikes and training of local forces to an increasingly complicated mission, which now includes hundreds of American troops on the ground and coordination with a hodgepodge of allies, partners and even rivals engaged in the fight. – Associated Press
Josh Rogin reports: The Syrian defector known as “Caesar,” who brought the world the largest trove of evidence of mass atrocities perpetrated by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, is returning to Washington this weekend. Three years after he helped expose some of the worst war crimes of our generation, the victims of those crimes are still a long way from getting justice. – Washington Post
Frederic Hof writes: Six years of suffering for Syria and its people are six years too many. And those who declare victory now—those chiefly responsible for the wreckage that is Syria—will not escape accountability. But the gap between that which exists and that which is right, is oceanic. The consequences of leaving it unbridged will be dire for all concerned. – Atlantic Council
Tony Badran writes: The Trump Administration, as it considers how to approach the nuclear deal and address Iranian subversion in the region, is reportedly weighing the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization. That’s long overdue. But the Administration would do well to expand its designation of IRGC entities as well. Targeting MCI, as part of countering broader IRGC ventures in Syria, is an obvious place to start. – The Cipher Brief
The fight for the western half of Mosul could the deadliest yet for civilians. Iraqi forces have increasingly turned to airstrikes and artillery to clear heavily populated, dense urban terrain, and residents running out of food and supplies are fleeing their homes at higher rates than previously seen in the Mosul operation. – Associated Press
Christians living in areas controlled by the Islamic State continue to be killed en masse by the radical Muslim group, threatening their existence in the region, according to a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers who are calling on the Trump administration to immediately take steps to end what they describe as genocide. – Washington Free Beacon
ISIS is getting better at making armored vehicles, if one tricked-out Jeep Cherokee is any indication. And that could mean a tougher fight for U.S.-led coalition forces as they evict the so-called Islamic State from Iraq and then begin their long-awaited advance on the militant group’s self-declared “capital” in Ar Raqqa, Syria. – The Daily Beast
Hal Brands writes: This victory, however, will create new dilemmas for the Trump administration. There will be thorny questions about what sort of political endgame to pursue in Syria and whether to leave a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq….Nor will it solve the broader problem of radicalization and extremism in the Muslim world. And so a key question for Trump is what politico-military strategy the administration should pursue in an ongoing struggle against violent jihadist organizations. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Arabian Peninsula
Saudi Arabia expects that the Trump administration will take steps to dismantle a 2016 law allowing U.S. terror victims to sue the kingdom, according to a high-ranking government minister. But chances are remote that Congress will reverse the bill, said people in Washington familiar with discussions on the issue. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A top military general from Saudi Arabia says Riyadh has secured a commitment from the Trump administration to significantly increase U.S. intelligence sharing and defense cooperation against Iran-backed proxy militias and other Iranian meddling across the the Middle East. – Washington Times
Saudi Arabia said on Friday that Iranians would be able to participate in this year’s hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, a rare bright spot in relations between the two regional rivals. – New York Times
An apparent military strike targeted a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of war-battered Yemen, killing dozens of people along a dangerous migrant route that leads to Libya and to smuggling ships heading to Europe, U.N. and Yemeni officials said Friday – Washington Post
[F]or activists at Yesh Din, a small Israeli human rights organization that spearheaded the legal battle on behalf of about 80 Palestinians, victory was never a sure thing and the battle is not over. Those removed from their homes in Amona and their supporters are determined to see a new settlement built at another location in the West Bank, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised on the eve of their eviction. – Washington Post
In the aftermath of Israel’s early Friday morning airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria, the country’s Arrow anti-ballistic missile scored its first operational intercept — but against what, experts here are asking? – Defense News
Elliott Abrams reviews “Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman”: The visible reluctance with which Rabin shook Arafat’s hand on the White House lawn in 1993 showed Rabin’s doubts about the treaty he had just signed and the new path it appeared to signify. In the end, even the warm esteem in which he holds Rabin does not prevent Mr. Rabinovich—a scholar with an abiding commitment to historical accuracy—from presenting a portrait of his friend in full. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Calling Turks the “future of Europe,” Turkey’s president on Friday implored his compatriots living on the Continent to have multiple children as an act of revenge against the West’s “injustices.” – New York Times


The U.S. Air Force is increasing the number of bombings and missile firings onto enemy targets in Afghanistan, although you probably haven't been hearing much about it. – Washington Examiner
Three U.S soldiers were shot Sunday in an apparent insider attack at an Afghan military base in Helmand province, raising to at least 15 the number of American personnel wounded in Afghanistan so far this year. – Military Times
Afghan officials say that at least 12 insurgents including two of their commanders have been killed in separate drone attacks in eastern Afghanistan. – Associated Press
South Asia
India’s governing party on Saturday appointed a firebrand Hindu cleric to lead the country’s most populous state, a turning point for a government that has, until now, steered clear of openly embracing far-right Hindu causes. – New York Times
The police in Bangladesh said they foiled an apparent bombing attempt at a checkpoint of Bangladesh’s elite police force on Saturday, less than a day after an attempted suicide attack outside another police facility. – New York Times
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and President Xi Jinping of China cast aside their differences on Sunday with a public display of cooperation, sidestepping areas of disagreement even as North Korea made another defiant statement by showing off a new missile engine. – New York Times
[S]ome critics say Tillerson has bent too far, handing Beijing what Chinese news media reports are calling a “diplomatic victory.” After meeting China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday, Tillerson voiced Chinese catchphrases about the relationship, including the avoidance of conflict and confrontation and the need to build “mutual respect” and strive for “win-win” cooperation. – Washington Post
A senior Chinese official on Sunday defended his country’s push for greater self-sufficiency in computer chips, electric cars and other industries, calling it a necessary strategy in the face of Western countries’ controls of certain high-tech gear. – New York Times
China can expect to come under increasing pressure to restrain North Korea's nuclear weapons program, according to President Trump's ambassador to the United Nations. – Washington Examiner
Korean Peninsula
North Korea conducted a ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust missile engine, the country’s state-run news media said on Sunday, even as Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is in the region discussing tougher strategies to help end the North’s nuclear and missile programs. – New York Times
North Korea’s latest test of a rocket engine showed that the country was making “meaningful progress” in trying to build more powerful rockets and missiles, South Korean officials said on Monday. – New York Times
U.S. officials offered a muted response to North Korea’s assertion over the weekend that it had successfully tested a new high-thrust rocket engine, as the Trump administration worked to determine the accuracy of Pyongyang’s claim. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
In 2013, Mr. Do got hold of what he believed was the first manuscript by a living dissident writer in North Korea that had been smuggled out. Written in meticulous longhand on the coarse brown manuscript paper used in North Korea, the book — a collection of seven short stories — was a fierce indictment of life in the totalitarian North. The author wrote of living “like a machine that talked, a yoked human.” Thanks to Mr. Do’s efforts, the book, “The Accusation,” written under the pseudonym Bandi (“Firefly” in Korean), has found audiences around the world. – New York Times
A Republican lawmaker on the House Intelligence Committee is among those who believe North Korea will soon conduct another nuclear test, which could lead to an international crisis regardless of whether it succeeds or fails. – Washington Examiner
The leading contenders in the race for the South Korean presidency have laid out their corporate reform agendas, vowing to put an end to presidential pardons for convicted top executives and promising to shake up governance at the country’s hulking conglomerates. – Financial Times
Editorial: The White House has several options, such as barring Chinese companies that do business with the North from the U.S. financial system and shooting down the North’s next missile launch. The starting point is recognizing that the world needs to change its failed strategy, and good for Mr. Tillerson for saying so. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
East Asia
After five months in detention without trial, one of the leaders of Okinawa’s movement against the expansion of U.S. military bases in the southern Japanese island prefecture has been released on bail. – Washington Post
The foreign and defense ministers from Japan and Russia met in Tokyo on Monday, with both sides expressing hope that discussions on joint development of islands claimed by both countries might help them move closer to resolving the territorial dispute preventing them from forging a peace treaty. – Associated Press
Maj. Paul Smith writes: Strategies that are not willing to adopt a less adversarial approach to China in the Asia-Pacific feed directly into a growing Chinese nationalism that could spark existing tensions between the U.S. and China into the flames of war. Only a strategy leveraging the U.S. economy and military to build stronger and broader ties between China and America will defeat growing Chinese nationalism and reduce tension in the Asia-Pacific. – Breaking Defense
Southeast Asia
A Chinese official raised the prospect, at least temporarily, that Beijing plans to build on a South China Sea outcrop at the center of a territorial dispute with the Philippines. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required
Malaysia’s centerpiece plan for the restructure and recapitalization of its Navy has also been adversely affected by the country’s budget woes, leaving most of it underfunded or unfunded altogether. – Defense News
New Zealand
New Zealand expelled a U.S. diplomat after the American embassy in Wellington refused to waive his immunity in relation to a police investigation of a potentially serious crime, New Zealand’s government said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


President Trump's proposed 2018 budget is billed as the initial investment on his planned military buildup, but Pentagon officials are worried about the long-term costs — and whether Congress can be counted on to keep paying. – Defense News
As lawmakers gear up for the next round of changes to how the Defense Department buys weapons, some experts are saying Congress should go easy on a short-staffed Pentagon. – Washington Examiner
If U.S. lawmakers fail to approve a full-year budget and rely on a stopgap measure instead, the Navy will face maintenance backlogs and other shortfalls that will keep its biggest warships from deploying on schedule and leave critical carrier gaps around the world, an official said. – DOD Buzz
Don’t expect the U.S. Air Force to share too much intel about its new stealth bomber. That, at least, seems to be the message coming from senior leaders, who intend to strike a balance between talking openly about the acquisition effort — the Pentagon’s biggest since the F-35 program kicked off in the 1990s — and guarding details about the technology. – Defense Tech
The Navy is expanding the mission portfolio of its emerging submarine-hunting drone ship so that it can conduct surface warfare missions, fire weapons and launch electronic attacks, service developers said. – Scout Warrior
Gary Schmitt and James Cunningham write: The administration must realize that it cannot pay to rebuild the US military by cutting discretionary spending. The budgetary contortions it achieved in this year’s blueprint are not replicable going forward; if Trump is serious about rebuilding the military, he must abandon the animating fiction behind this budget, commit to repealing the Budget Control Act, include entitlement spending as part of the budget package, and embark on a serious, multiyear path of steady, increased funding for the armed forces. - Real Clear Defense

Army leaders said Thursday that if Congress does not end spending caps under sequestration the service will fall behind adversaries in modernization and struggle to meet commitments around the globe. – Military.com
The Pentagon should aim for interdependency, not just interoperability, in assessing its future warfighting requirements, three national security experts told the Senate Armed Services Air/Land subcommittee this week. – USNI News
The Army plans to fire an upgraded, all-weather, precision-guided, ground-fired rocket which will pinpoint enemy targets at distances up to 70 or more kilometers – while removing the prospect of leaving dangerous unexploded ordnance behind, service and industry officials said. – Scout Warrior
The War
President Trump is shifting more authority over military operations to the Pentagon, according to White House officials, reversing what his aides and some generals say was a tendency by the Obama White House to micromanage issues better left to military commanders. – New York Times
From Yemen to Syria to here in Central Africa, the Trump administration is relying on Special Operations forces to intensify its promised fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups as senior officials embrace an Obama-era strategy to minimize the American military’s footprint overseas. – New York Times
Nearly a decade after C.I.A. interrogators tortured a Saudi man suspected of involvement in Al Qaeda’s bombing of the American destroyer Cole in 2000, the prisoner continued to experience lingering psychological consequences, including “nightmares that invoked being chained, naked and waterboarded,” newly declassified documents show. – New York Times
President Trump’s newly proposed budget cuts would strip New York City of critical funding and cripple its counterterrorism efforts, the city’s top police officer said – Washington Times
The expansion of Internet access across the Middle East and North Africa will open communications channels for marginalized social and political groups, including those that criticize the Islamic faith, potentially sparking a culture war across the Muslim world, according to a new report. – Washington Free Beacon
Nuclear Weapons
President Donald Trump wants the United States to be at the “top of the pack” with nuclear weapons. But his goal already hit a snag: The infrastructure that supports the country’s nuclear weapons is crumbling to “alarming” levels, a Congressional panel warned. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
The Air Force is quietly shrinking its deployed force of land-based nuclear missiles as part of a holdover Obama administration plan to comply with an arms control treaty with Russia. The reductions are nearing completion despite President Donald Trump's argument that the treaty gives Moscow an unfair advantage in nuclear firepower. – Associated Press
Will Wiley writes: The B-21 coupled with the LRSO provides the nation with an operationally flexible platform with the stealth capability to penetrate enemy air defense systems or deliver a standoff cruise missile if aircraft cannot penetrate those systems. These upgraded air assets and associated weapons, when paired with the capabilities of the other two legs of the nuclear triad, will provide the nation with a sound strategic deterrent for the majority of the twenty-first century. – The National Interest
A grand jury investigation convened following WikiLeaks‘ publication of classified U.S. government material in 2010 has been broadened to encompass its recent receipt of CIA hacking documents, Reuters reported Friday. – Washington Times
The federal government should adopt a policy clearly defining what constitutes an act of cyberwar, lawmakers in the House said Thursday. – Washington Times
An unusual amount of highly suspicious cellphone activity in the Washington, D.C., region is fueling concerns that a rogue entity is surveying the communications of numerous individuals, likely including U.S. government officials and foreign diplomats, according to documents viewed by the Washington Free Beacon and conversations with security insiders. – Washington Free Beacon


Jackson Diehl writes: Last week Kara-Murza met me in Washington, visibly frail and short of breath, but alive. He believes he somehow survived two attempts to murder him with a sophisticated and virtually untraceable poison — the same kind of attack that has killed a host of other Putin opponents in the past decade. He was also pretty sure why he was targeted: because of his work on the Magnitsky sanctions. – Washington Post
Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: A Europe “whole and free” will only become a reality once Europe’s two largest nations—Russia and Ukraine—take their places within it. That day will come. Such is the logic of history. But those who are entrusted with political responsibility in the current – World Affairs Journal
Lilia Shevtsova writes: If the west resists Russia’s policy of being “with the west and against the west”, Moscow will up the ante. True, any assertiveness on the Kremlin’s part would have the aim not of provoking confrontation, but of persuading the west to engage on its terms and to decide that it is safer to play along with the grumpy nuclear power’s game of “let’s pretend”. After all, this is what the west has been doing for decades. – Financial Times
Western Europe
ETA, the Basque separatist group, is expected to turn over its remaining weapons next month, the Basque regional leader and a Basque activist said Friday, a development that brought a cautious response by the Spanish government as the organization has not followed through on similar pledges in the past. – New York Times
So after drawing down 10,000 soldiers and closing posts in places like Bamberg and Heidelberg, the Army is stepping up its game — again — in Europe. – Military Times
The Army is using heel-to-toe rotational deployments of armored brigade combat teams and combat aviation brigades in Europe to practice rapidly massing equipment and troops in countries near the Russian border. – Defense News

President Trump criticized Germany on Saturday for paying too little to both NATO and the United States for security support, a day after he held a chilly meeting at the White House with Chancellor Angela Merkel that showcased the two leaders’ disagreements. – New York Times
Worlds apart in style and policy, Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel made a show of working together, as they stood side by side in the East Room of the White House. But they could not disguise the gulf that separates them on trade, immigration and a host of other thorny issues. – New York Times
A strong relationship with the United States is a bedrock of German foreign policy, so when Chancellor Angela Merkel met President Trump on Friday, German journalists and analysts scrutinized their body language and the tone of their remarks for clues about how they might work together. – New York Times
Coming off a week where both their governments met with representatives of President Donald Trump’s administration, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared together on Sunday night, praising the strong bonds between the two countries and calling for nations to resist protectionist impulses. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
On Sunday, Martin Schulz was anointed leader of the Social Democrats, Europe’s oldest democratic party, with 100 percent of the valid votes cast at a special convention. The result places Mr. Schulz, 61, a former president of the European Parliament, in pole position to unseat the world’s most powerful woman, Chancellor Angela Merkel, when the two face off on Sept. 24 in the national election, in which Ms. Merkel is seeking a fourth term. – New York Times
United Kingdom
President Trump provoked a rare public dispute with America’s closest ally on Friday after his White House aired an explosive and unsubstantiated claim that Britain’s spy agency had secretly eavesdropped on him at the behest of President Barack Obama during last year’s campaign. – New York Times
The U.S. has assured the U.K. that it won’t repeat allegations that the country’s GCHQ intelligence agency helped the previous presidential administration eavesdrop on President Donald Trump, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Britain and Germany are set to sign a new defence co-operation deal after the UK launches Brexit, as Theresa May attempts to reinforce claims that she is not turning her back on Europe. – Financial Times
An attack on a soldier at Orly Airport near here on Saturday is being treated as a possible act of terrorism, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. The assailant, the prosecutor said, had carried out a burst of violence over a period of two hours before being fatally shot. – New York Times
The attack Saturday at Paris’s second-largest airport, in which a man seized a soldier’s gun before being shot dead, comes at a time of heightened security concerns at such departure points for international travelers and repeated attacks on air travel. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
It has long been accepted wisdom that Ms. Le Pen and her far-right party can make it through the first round of the presidential voting on April 23, when she and four other candidates will be on the ballot, but that she will never capture the majority needed to win in a runoff in May. But a visit to this southeastern National Front stronghold suggests that Ms. Le Pen may be succeeding in broadening her appeal to the point where a victory is more plausible, even if the odds are still stacked against her. – New York Times
Blood tests determined Sunday that a suspected Islamic extremist consumed drugs and alcohol before a frenzied spree of violence that ended when he took a soldier hostage at Paris' Orly Airport and was shot dead by her fellow patrolmen. – Associated Press
Eastern Europe

An RFE/RL contributing correspondent is set to go on trial in Russia-annexed Crimea on separatism-related charges for an article he wrote criticizing Moscow's seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula and expressing support for a blockade of the territory initiated by Ukrainian activists. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Authorities in Belarus on March 19 detained at least three organizers of protests against a controversial tax on the unemployed, as hundreds took to the streets in the latest in a series of demonstrations against the levy in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Sputnik’s arrival in Serbia in late 2014 attracted little more than quizzical glances from neighbours on the quiet Belgrade back street. But more than two years later, Serbia’s top politicians are beating a path to the pro-Russian news agency’s door, which — thanks to generous funding from the Kremlin — has become a major force in a polarised media landscape. – Financial Times
Open Letter: Think tanks and NGOs assist governments, including that of Hungary, in their efforts to reduce poverty, improve access to education and economic opportunity, and to promote tolerance. Many follow approaches that are different from that of the government, but such experimentation is a necessary part of any vibrant, healthy society. Crippling civil-society organizations for political purposes, as Hungary’s government is intent on doing, will make Hungary a poorer and sadder place, at odds with the conservative ideals of a free, self-governing society of responsible individuals. - Open Letter

A bipartisan group of 18 U.S. lawmakers are leaping to the defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, countering President Donald Trump’s attacks that the six-decade-old military alliance is obsolete. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable


United States of America
The United States broke with other large industrial nations over trade on Saturday as the Trump administration rejected concerns among allies about spreading protectionism and made clear that it would seek new approaches to managing global commerce. – New York Times
The Trump administration filed court papers Friday hoping to salvage its second version of a travel ban after two judges in separate cases this week found that it probably violated the Constitution. – Washington Post
Former national security adviser Mike Flynn interacted with a graduate student with dual Russian and British nationalities at a 2014 U.K. security conference, a contact that came to the notice of U.S. intelligence but that Mr. Flynn, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, didn’t disclose, according to people familiar with the matter. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The congressional staffers thought they were going to see a whiz-bang encrypted communications technology when they traveled to Old Town, Alexandria, for a presentation by the now-shuttered Flynn Intel Group. It’s what came after that gave them pause: a half-baked, conspiracy theory-laden briefing alleging that Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen is leading an Islamic extremist cultural invasion of the United States. – The Daily Beast
The commandant is looking to increase the Coast Guard active-duty force by 5,000 over the next five years, restore 1,100 billets in its reserves that were cut by sequestration, and modernize its “geriatric class of cutters” working inland waterways. – USNI News
A pinhole leak in a coolant supply line caused an MQ-1B Predator to crash Oct. 19, 2015, while supporting the war against the Islamic State, according to an accident investigation board report released by Air Combat Command Friday. – Defense News
Trump, Russia, and Wiretaps
Russia’s campaign to disrupt last year’s presidential election has spawned a tangle of inquiries with competing agendas and timetables, and with little agreement on the most important things that should be investigated. – New York Times
The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that new documents provided to Congress by the Justice Department provided no proof to support President Trump’s claim that his predecessor had ordered wiretaps of Trump Tower. – Washington Post
FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency head Michael S. Rogers are set to testify on Monday on the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and they will also face questions about possible collusion between associates of President Trump and the Kremlin. – Washington Post
Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a member of the House GOP leadership, said that President Donald Trump should either produce compelling evidence of his claim that he was wiretapped by the previous administration or else apologize to his predecessor Barack Obama for the unsubstantiated allegation. – WSJ’s Washington Wire
FBI Director James Comey is set to face probing questions Monday about Russia’s involvement in the presidential election at a highly anticipated public appearance before the House Intelligence Committee. He's expected to be asked to confirm or deny the existence of criminal investigations into Trump or his campaign aides over ties to Moscow, though several committee members said Comey will likely decline to comment because doing so could undermine active probes. - Politico
[I]n the United States, members of the Russian elite have invested in Trump buildings. A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records. - Reuters
Eli Lake writes: Monday will be a moment of truth for the assortment of President Donald Trump's critics who like to call themselves "the resistance." FBI director James Comey and National Security Agency head Admiral Michael Rogers are scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Russia's influence of the 2016 election. Let's hope we get some much-needed answers on what the government knows about Trump's associates and their ties to the Russian government. – Bloomberg View
State Department/Foreign Aid
Rex W. Tillerson, the new secretary of state, offered the diplomatic understatement of the month on Saturday when he told the sole reporter he permitted on his airplane: “I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it.” – New York Times
He’s the first former oil executive to run Foggy Bottom, but Rex W. Tillerson also is proving to be an unconventional Cabinet pick in another way — as the guy who doesn’t mind having his department’s budget slashed. – Washington Times
FPI Fellow Mark Moyar writes: Effective foreign assistance requires a unified strategy that addresses development, governance and security in unison. USAID will need to collaborate more extensively with the rest of the government. Its guiding principle should be that the primary purpose of American foreign policy is safeguarding the interest of America’s citizens. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Bill Gates writes: Protecting Americans, preventing epidemics, strengthening markets, saving lives: aid delivers phenomenal benefits, and for a bargain. It represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget, not even a penny out of every dollar. It is some of the best return on investment anywhere in government. This money is well spent, it has an enormous impact, and it ought to be maintained. - TIME
Marine Corps
Almost two weeks after a report revealed that active duty Marines were soliciting and sharing nude photos of their female colleagues on a closed Facebook group, Navy investigators have identified 1,200 names from the group who might have been involved. – Washington Post's Checkpoint
Fresh out of a closed-door briefing with lawyers and military brass on a nude photo-sharing social media scandal that is roiling the Marines Corps, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said he believes the thorny problems at the heart of the scandal have yet to be fully grasped by the service. – Military.com
The latest push for change is targeting the Corps’ culture. It comes in response to revelations that hundreds, maybe thousands, of male Marines have been posting and viewing online photographs of naked female Marines without their consent. The scandal is shining a public spotlight on secretive online networks where Marines and others traffic in “revenge porn,” and make jokes about domestic violence and sexual assault. – Military Times
Battered by a nude photo-sharing scandal, the Marine Corps has issued a longer and more detailed social media policy that lays out the professional and legal ramifications for service members culpable of online misconduct. Among the coming changes: a requirement that all Marines sign a statement acknowledging they have read and understand the new guidelines. – Associated Press
United Nations
Diplomats and officials at the United Nations warned that President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts in U.S. spending on U.N. programs risked hampering institutional reforms and leaving a financial void that will be difficult to fill. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The top official of a United Nations commission that published a report describing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as apartheid quit on Friday, saying the organization’s leader insisted that she withdraw it. The report provoked outrage from Israel and the United States. – New York Times
Latin America
For much of their history, the United States and Mexico had a wary relationship and security cooperation was limited…But over the past two decades, as the countries’ economies have become more inter-dependent, they also have developed an extraordinary level of collaboration in addressing terrorist threats and capturing dangerous criminals. Today, that partnership is facing the most serious risk in decades. – Washington Post
Editorial: Suspension would require a two-thirds majority on the OAS council, and Venezuela has leverage over a number of small states that it supplies with oil at a discounted price. But a strong stand by the Trump administration could make a difference. Mr. Trump should align himself with the OAS chief — and with the cause of democracy in Latin America. – Washington Post


President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the United Nations, which runs agencies such as the World Food Program and UNICEF, come at a time when famine is reaching a crisis point in parts of Africa, and children in some countries are dying of starvation. The timing of the proposed cuts has sent chills through the international aid community, which fears that a retreat by the U.S. in relief funding could make a bad situation worse. – Los Angeles Times
Seven Congolese Army officers have been arrested and charged with war crimes after a video surfaced last month that appeared to show uniformed soldiers opening fire on a group of civilians in a massacre that left at least 13 people dead, the military’s auditor general said on Saturday. – New York Times

Trump Administration

The brief exchange between the president and his national security adviser highlights one of the early conundrums of Trump’s presidency and his foreign policy. In his first budget blueprint, released Thursday, and in speeches, Trump has preached “America First,” an approach that involves bolstering U.S. military might, strengthening the country’s borders and slashing foreign aid. In practice, though, Trump has pursued a foreign policy that looks a lot like that of his Republican internationalist predecessors. – Washington Post
Most members of President Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration. – Washington Post
Josh Rogin reports: [T]here’s an emerging theory about Trump’s foreign policy doctrine that squares both statements. The administration may be ramping up U.S. involvement in the short term in crisis zones as a means of finding an exit strategy. – Washington Post


Richard Fontaine writes: The liberal international order is under pressure, at home and abroad, and requires enlightened American support. That order is imperfect, to be sure, and has its downsides as well as its benefits. But it remains better than any of the realistic alternatives. Now is the time for the United States to direct its energies to renewing the liberal order. Otherwise, we will all miss it when it’s gone. – Columbia’s Journal of International Affairs

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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