FPI Overnight Brief: April 28, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran’s short, intense presidential campaign kicks off Friday with the first televised debate featuring six candidates in a race widely seen as a referendum on whether Iranians feel they have benefited from the nuclear deal that took effect last year. – Washington Post
A cadre of German companies seeking to engage in business with Iran is remaining silent in the face of calls by an international advocacy group to shun working with the Islamic Republic until it disavows its institutionalized anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. – Washington Free Beacon
Jenna Lifhits writes: Details of the United States' 2016 prisoner swap with Iran continue to surface more than a year later, forming a picture much different from the one the Obama administration presented at the time. The latest revelations are the most shocking yet – The Weekly Standard
Behnam Ben Taleblu writes: The enduring lesson of the diplomacy that led to the JCPOA is that Washington must relearn what was once common-knowledge: that diplomacy and pressure work best when married together. Therefore, to be successful, statesmen must avail themselves of a “combined arms” approach when dealing with adversaries. Any strategy that relies on diplomacy with nothing behind it would leave Washington again with one arm tied behind its back. – War on the Rocks
Tzvi Kahn writes: In the coming months, the administration should increase sanctions on other Iranian human rights abusers, provide robust funding to Iranian human rights organizations, and meet publicly with Iranian dissidents. It should caution international banks and companies about the reputational risks of conducting business with a theocratic dictatorship. It should work to isolate Iran at the United Nations and other international fora by highlighting not only its support for terrorism but also its grim human rights record. – The Hill
John Bolton and Paula DeSutter write: Candidate Trump called the JCPOA “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Now, the State Department personnel who helped John Kerry ensure it was a U.S. diplomatic Waterloo will be free to color the Trump administration’s review of their work. President Trump and his team should urgently address this critical deficiency, or with absolute confidence, we can predict it will return to bite them again. – Washington Times
In a major reversal of Obama administration policy, President Donald Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis broad authority to set troop levels in Iraq and Syria, according to the Pentagon. – Military.com
In a turnabout against the enemy, the Iraqi Security Forces fighting to retake Mosul have stolen a tactic from ISIS and begun using small drones carrying hand-grenade type munitions, the U.S. military confirmed Wednesday. – DOD Buzz
The brutal ground war in Iraq holds vital lessons for sophisticated future operations in the Pacific, Australian Maj. Gen. Roger Noble said today. – Breaking Defense
Frederic Hof writes: The Trump administration has given diplomacy a chance in Syria. But it must persist in preventing Assad from doing his worst to civilians and his best for ISIS. Otherwise Washington will merely perpetuate, in Syria, a disease communicable globally. – Atlantic Council
North Africa
A rift has opened between Libya’s U.N.-backed government and its powerful National Oil Co., threatening the fractured country’s political cohesion and its nascent petroleum-industry recovery. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A thousand-year-old university where Pope Francis will take part in a peace conference on Friday is at the center of a dispute gripping Egypt over how to modernize Islam at a time of terrorist violence. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ratified legal amendments that allow the president to make judicial appointments to its top courts, a move judges said would erode the independence of the judicial system. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
President Donald Trump complained on Thursday that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia was not treating the United States fairly and Washington was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom. - Reuters
After long seeking to distance itself from Yemen's brutal civil war, the United States under Trump now appears increasingly to see the conflict through the Gulf's prism of Iranian meddling, even as Washington prioritizes a parallel fight against al Qaeda. - Reuters
The Palestinian Authority informed Israel on Thursday that it would no longer pay for the electricity that Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip, in an extraordinary push by the authority to reassert some control after years of rule in Gaza by the militant group Hamas. – New York Times
An apparent Israeli missile attack on a Syrian military installation near Damascus International Airport shook the capital early on Thursday morning and raised tensions between the two hostile neighbors. – Associated Press
Israel says it has repelled a large cyberattack on government offices and private citizens. – Associated Press
European Union foreign ministers are meeting in Malta to assess the bloc's relations with candidate Turkey amid a severe deterioration of bilateral ties. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty



Two American service members were killed and a third was wounded Wednesday night in an operation in the same part of Afghanistan where the military dropped its most powerful conventional weapon two weeks ago, the Pentagon said. – New York Times
The Taliban says its annual spring offensive will be a mix of conventional, guerrilla and suicide attacks on Afghan and foreign forces, underlining the challenges facing the U.S. administration as it weighs its options in Afghanistan. - Reuters
As President Donald Trump's administration drafts an Afghanistan policy, U.S. officials are seeking a way to reverse gains by militant groups without wading deeper into a 15-year-long war that has no end in sight. - Reuters
Stephen Hadley, Andrew Wilder, and Scott Worden write: The long-term goal of a prosperous Afghanistan is worthy of U.S. and international support. But that outcome is largely in the hands of the Afghans themselves. The immediate U.S. objective should be to end terrorist threats to the United States and our friends and allies emanating from Afghanistan, help Afghanistan stabilize itself and the region and help initiate a process aimed at achieving a lasting political settlement of the conflict. It’s time to redefine success in Afghanistan from winning the war to winning the peace. – Washington Post
Harsh Pant writes: Without active participation from the U.S., the regional states lack the ability to resist China’s maritime ambitions. The Trump administration will have to think beyond North Korea in crafting policy on the Indo-Pacific. Otherwise, China’s aircraft carrier display will be one more step toward regional maritime dominance by Beijing. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
One of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers was given a suspended three-year prison sentence on Friday after being convicted of subversion charges. – New York Times
While four national security experts were cautiously optimistic about the future of Chinese-American relations, the core problem between the two powers is Beijing’s continuing military expansion is threatening the United States’ ability to operate in the Pacific. – USNI News
An expert on China provided members of Congress a broad overview Wednesday of current Chinese military and strategic thinking, including China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) focus on “informationization” and “informationized warfare.” The expert also outlined the Chinese “integrated” view of cyber, network, electronic, space and kinetic warfare. – Fifth Domain
China's navy has again sailed through the Miyako Strait that lies between two Japanese islands and carried out drills in the Western Pacific, state news agency Xinhua said. - Reuters
North Korea
President Trump warned Thursday of the possibility of a “major, major conflict” with North Korea, in an interview in which he said he was seeking a diplomatic solution to concerns that Pyongyang was preparing to conduct another nuclear test. – New York Times
The Trump administration is willing to bargain directly with North Korea over ending its nuclear weapons program, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday, an apparent shift in policy aimed at strengthening international resolve against what the Trump administration considers a growing menace. – Washington Post
Over a campfire in Mexico two decades ago, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations explained to an American how his country keeps the U.S. military at bay: “We’re more willing to cut off a leg than you are a pinkie.” President Donald Trump appears to be trying to change that perception. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The four-star commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific warned members of the Senate not to underestimate what North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un is capable of, saying he expects the rogue leader will soon have the nuclear power of which he boasts. – Military.com
The Trump administration sees North Korea as the top national security priority for the United States, according to a senior State Department official. – Washington Free Beacon
The top U.S. admiral in the Pacific said Thursday that the current crisis with North Korea is the “worst [he’s] seen.” – The Hill
The top U.S. admiral in the Pacific said Thursday he “wouldn’t bet his farm” on China effectively reining in North Korea. – The Hill
President Donald Trump is well aware that a preemptive strike against North Korea must be a last resort, in large part because of the artillery Kim Jong Un’s regime could unleash to devastate South Korea’s capital, Senator John McCain said. - Bloomberg
The Trump administration has privately asked Jimmy Carter, the former US president who previously served as an envoy between Washington and Pyongyang, not to attempt any rapprochement that could hurt efforts to put pressure on Kim Jong Un’s regime. – Financial Times
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that China has threatened to impose sanctions on North Korea if it conducts further nuclear tests. – Associated Press
The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as soon as next week on legislation to toughen sanctions on North Korea by targeting its shipping industry and companies that do business with the reclusive state, congressional aides said on Thursday. - Reuters
Ethan Epstein writes: The Trump administration has been hinting in recent months and weeks that it is considering striking North Korea—"all options are on the table" is the mantra. This would be a risky move…But the nuclear point is the most salient one: It is precisely because North Korea is now a nuclear power that dealing with it has become so difficult. Preemption works. "Post-emption" is a lot harder. – The Weekly Standard
South Korea
President Trump’s comment that he wants South Korea to pay for a missile defense system being set up in the country jolted its presidential race on Friday and surprised the government, leaving it scrambling to figure out the intentions of a close ally. – New York Times
U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters on Thursday he will either renegotiate or terminate what he called a "horrible" free trade deal with South Korea and said Seoul should pay for a U.S. anti-missile system that he priced at $1 billion. - Reuters
East Asia
President Trump said Thursday that he would not speak directly with Taiwan’s president without first checking with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a striking reversal sure to rile Taipei and please Beijing. – Washington Post
U.S. Pacific Command operations were the focus of House and Senate armed services committee hearings this week, and PACOM commander Adm. Harry Harris’ testimony may have provided a glimpse at what he’d like to see in the Fiscal Year 2018 and beyond budget requests. – USNI News
U.S. President Donald Trump's warm words for Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as a "good man" will reassure Beijing that he finally understands the importance of good ties, but risks leaving America's regional allies puzzling over where they fit into the new order. - Reuters
Yukio Okamoto writes: Japan is now at a historic turning point as it re-examines defence policy in response to very real threats. The number of escort ships deployed by the Maritime Defence Force — which has fallen by 24 per cent over the past 20 years — must be increased. Regardless of likely opposition from China, Japan must upgrade its missile defences with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system. Cyber warfare capability must also be drastically improved. Forcing Mr Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions will not be as easy. But taking such measures will at least be a demonstration of Japan’s resolve. – Financial Times
Southeast Asia
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Thursday he wants more international participation in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. – The Hill
When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hosts a summit of Southeast Asian leaders this weekend, the spotlight will be on him. Just less than a year in power, he faces a mass murder complaint before the International Criminal Court and an impeachment bid at home as bodies continue to pile up in his war on illegal drugs. – Associated Press


Top Navy leaders continue to insist they need a fleet of 355 ships to carry out contingency operations around the globe. But at the same time, they are looking forward to a near future where the number of gray hulls may not be the best way to measure naval strength. – Military.com
The Navy's new "first-of-its-kind," high-tech stealthy destroyer, armed with the most lethal weapons ever engineered onto a surface ship, is now  beginning what’s called “ship activation" - a process of integrating the major systems and technologies on the ship leading up to an eventual live-fire exercise of its guns and missiles. – Scout Warrior
Global conflicts require global military decisions so the Joint Staff must step up to coordinate operations around the world, said a top aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But, Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told faculty and officer-students at the Army War College here, the Joint Staff can manage this role without new legal authorities and without undermining the authority of the nine Combatant Commands. – Breaking Defense
After months of delays, the newest iteration of the F-35’s logistics system is finally ready to be installed on the aircraft, manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced Wednesday. – Defense News
An unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile has been launched from a U.S. Air Force Base in California on a flight to a target in the Pacific Ocean. – Associated Press
John Lehman writes: President Reagan showed that 90% of the benefits from restoring American command of the seas are reaped immediately. President Trump will learn the same. Russia, with its professional but small one-carrier navy, cannot challenge a rebuilt U.S. Navy. The Chinese are at least two decades away from matching American capabilities. With renewed commitment to naval and military superiority, American diplomacy will instantly regain credibility. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Doug Birkey writes: There comes a point when leaders need to embrace the future and realize that holding onto relics of the past is no longer tenable. That is where we are with America’s fighter force structure—it is time to acknowledge the shortfall and work to fix it as expediently and efficiently as possible. – Breaking Defense
General Norton Schwartz, USAF (Ret.) writes: Equipping soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines for the 21st century fight undoubtedly will require the next generation gun, smarter munitions, and several other incremental and necessary inventions normally displayed at annual defense expos. But the key to keeping ahead of the enemy is the ability to acquire that capability quickly, and then shift to an improved version just as quickly. Or better yet, ahead of the enemy’s next move. – The Catalyst
Strategic Issues
The commander of U.S. Pacific Command said the United States may want to renegotiate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia because the restrictions on conventional land-based weapons are hindering the U.S. military’s ability to keep up with China. – USNI News
As North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un issues specific threats against the U.S. and other nations, the state of Hawaii may need to shore up its defenses, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command told lawmakers Wednesday. – Defense Tech
Marie O'Neill Sciarrone writes: Going forward, many political and military questions will need to be addressed as we determine how to conduct and respond to cyber warfare. Unanimous agreement is unlikely, but an informed dialogue with the public on these issues is essential. That will pave the way for the compromise and support necessary to establish new policies and principles for this complicated subject of cyber warfare. – The Catalyst


A Russian naval intelligence ship sank Thursday after colliding with a merchant freighter in foggy conditions on the Black Sea near Istanbul, the Turkish coast guard said. All 78 crew members on the Russian vessel were rescued. – Washington Post
The sinking of the Russian signals intelligence ship Liman after a collision with a Togo-flagged freighter bound for Jordan puts the spotlight back on a Russian Navy that is increasingly active in the maritime domain in and around Europe and a Black Sea region that continues to be tense in the wake of the 2014 Ukraine crisis when Russia annexed Crimea. – USNI News
Analysis: A decision by the Russian prosecutor-general to blacklist three foreign-registered organizations tied to former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky could restrict the opposition's options in looming elections. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Mark Schneider writes: As a result of U.S. policy, President Putin and the men around him, who are aggressive, have little understanding of the world and are paranoid, have nuclear superiority. These foolish U.S. policies do not even save much money. The elimination by the Obama administration of the requirement to maintain nuclear parity should be seriously reviewed in the 2017 Nuclear Posture Review. – Real Clear Defense
Western Europe
A German army officer posed for months as a Syrian with the aim of carrying out a violent attack he hoped would be blamed on refugees, prosecutors said after the 28-year-old’s arrest on Thursday. – Los Angeles Times
A 27-year-old man carrying knives was arrested Thursday afternoon near Parliament by the London police, who charged him with planning a terrorist attack. – New York Times
Nearly half of Scottish voters do not want another referendum on independence and the issue appears to be driving up support for the Conservatives ahead of a June election, according to a YouGov poll published in The Times newspaper on Friday. - Reuters
The head of NATO praised Italy Thursday for increasing its defense spending last year, an acknowledgement that came days after U.S. President Donald Trump said he had joked with Italy's prime minister about the need for Rome to "pay up." – Associated Press
Charles Krauthammer writes: If the populist threat turns out to have frightened the existing powers out of their arrogant complacency, it should be deemed a success. But make no mistake: The French election wasn’t a victory for the status quo. It was a reprieve. For now, the populist wave is not in retreat. It’s on pause. – Washington Post
Guy Sorman writes: Not only in Hungary and Poland, but also in Catalonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Scotland, openly populist governments with no clear agenda are seeking to transcend the traditional left-right divide in the name of the nation. The choice on May 7 is therefore simple: an open or a closed society, along with the open society’s representatives’ duty to do a better job of managing their legacy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Eastern Europe
A long-simmering political crisis in Macedonia erupted late on Thursday when a mob of angry nationalists attacked lawmakers inside Parliament, bloodying Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democrats, and injuring at least three others. – New York Times
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) writes: After two world wars, the United States made a commitment to a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. We did so because a generation of statesmen recognized that American leadership was essential to achieving peace and prosperity in Europe, which was and still is in the national security interests of United States. Over the past seven decades, we have made the choices and the sacrifices to uphold that commitment: throughout Europe during the Cold War, in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and today in the nations on NATO’s eastern flank. We must be prepared to uphold this commitment again in southeastern Europe, for the lessons of history are clear: We ignore this region at our own peril. – Washington Post


United States of America
U.S. House Republicans introduced a stopgap spending resolution late Wednesday to avert a partial government shutdown through May 5 as leadership continues negotiations on a larger budget deal. – Defense News
A bipartisan group of senators is pushing for a robust International Affairs Budget, calling the alternative “shortsighted, counterproductive and even dangerous.” – The Hill
Six Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee are demanding President Trump nominate people to fill national security positions that have been empty since his inauguration. – The Hill
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said Thursday that Russian meddling in U.S. elections could become “normalized” if the government does not further respond to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential contest. – The Hill
Lawmakers on Thursday faced some hard-truths about the U.S. government’s work to counter cyber-enabled propaganda efforts by nations such as Russia. – The Hill
The government’s failure thus far to fix long delays and dangerous imprecision in the government’s security clearance and vetting system is one of James Clapper’s greatest regrets from his time in office, the former Director of National Intelligence said Wednesday. – Defense One
The US has launched a national security investigation into imports of aluminium, warning that its capacity to domestically produce the metal needed for fighter jets and armour plating has collapsed in recent years. – Financial Times
Those conversations, along with a flood of calls to the White House from business executives, helped steer Mr. Trump away from an idea that some of his own advisers feared was a rash and unnecessary threat to two trading partners who fully expected to renegotiate the agreement anyway. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Donald Trump on Thursday warned that the US could still “terminate” its two-decade-old free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada if it did not get a “fair deal” from a renegotiation of the pact, only hours after dropping a plan to pull out. – Financial Times
Editorial: Mr. Trump has his reasons for disliking Nafta, none of which are good. And if he isn’t careful, he could do great damage to much of the U.S. economy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, is under investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general to determine whether he failed to get permission to receive payment from a foreign government, as he was explicitly told to do, according to documents released on Thursday by the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. – New York Times
Eli Lake writes: It's strange that Flynn would not consistently disclose his payment by RT, and that he did not ask permission in the first place to be paid. That showed poor judgment on his part. Agreeing to speak at a Russian propaganda network's annual gala is also evidence of poor judgment. But bad judgment is not evidence of collusion. Bad judgment is also not the same as treason. Just ask the investigators who approved Flynn's security clearance a year ago. – Bloomberg View
United Nations
All 100 U.S. senators signed a letter Thursday asking U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to address what the lawmakers call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body. – Washington Post
Latin America
The U.S. Coast Guard says Cuban migrants are less likely to use homemade rafts to try to reach Florida since the end of a policy granting residency to Cubans arriving on American soil. – Associated Press
The son of Venezuela's pro-government human rights ombudsman has surprised the country amid major protests against the leftist administration by publicly urging his father to "end the injustice." - Reuters
Luis Fleischman writes: The U.S needs to demand the resignation of Mr. Maduro and apply heavy sanctions on the corrupt and murderous elite that governs the country.  If we don’t do it in the name of human rights, we have to do it in the name of regional, and our own, national security. – The Americas Report
Luis Almargo said: There is one thing of which I am certain. The people of Venezuela will work through this crisis, and once again we will see Venezuela return to the path towards democracy and prosperity. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue

A coalition of opposition parties announced Thursday that Raila Odinga, a three-time presidential candidate and former prime minister, would be its standard-bearer in elections in August. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, has often been the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues, on everything from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia and how to approach human rights. – New York Times
James Jeffrey writes: No president has faced challenges like this since Reagan, and the patterns of the last 30 years are no longer a guide. Outside advisors and Trump himself will have to chart new courses, which those steeped in traditional policy could hardly imagine. – The Cipher Brief

Democracy and Human Rights

The U.S.-based democracy monitor Freedom House says only 13 percent of the world’s population live in countries with a free press. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


Gary Schmitt writes: Liberal internationalism must rely on the very exercise of national power that it hopes to moderate and direct. In turn, this means living for the foreseeable future with presidents and administrations who understand that the United States remains "the indispensible nation," mistakes and all. – The Weekly Standard

Mission Statement

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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