FPI Overnight Brief: May 3, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Trump’s turn to China curtails Navy patrols in disputed zones
  • Wong, Ngo: Stand up for democracy in Hong Kong
  • Eli Lake: Trump’s springtime for despots
  • Iran using US cash to fund unprecedented military buildup
  • US commandos set to counter N. Korean nuclear sites
  • Defectors say Kim Jong Un’s hold on info access is weakening
  • Fishman: Only Congress can solve the N. Korean problem
  • Special Ops commander warns readiness at risk
  • Panetta, Talent: Military needs modern ways to attract talent
  • Hannah: Don’t waste Arab-Israel cooperation on the peace process
  • Aslund and Toro on Venezuela’s deteriorating political situation

Middle East/North Africa

Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince slammed the door Tuesday on the prospect of dialogue with Iran, the kingdom’s regional rival, accusing it of following an “extremist ideology” and seeking to take over the Muslim world. – New York Times
Iran is using the billions in cash resources provided under the landmark nuclear deal to engage in an unprecedented military buildup meant to transform the Islamic Republic's fighting force into an "offensive" juggernaut, according to a largely unreported announcement by Iranian military leaders that has sparked concern among U.S. national security insiders and sources on Capitol Hill. – Washington Free Beacon
Iran’s hardliners are committed to the nuclear deal with world powers even as they use the accord to attack President Hassan Rouhani ahead of elections this month, a senior hardline politician said. – Financial Times
President Trump reopened direct communications with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Tuesday and sought to reignite what he hoped would be a special relationship by agreeing to work together to broker a cease-fire in war-torn Syria. – New York Times
Islamic State militants attacked a checkpoint on Tuesday used by refugees fleeing fighting in Syria and Iraq, killing more than three dozen people, according to local Kurdish militants and monitoring groups. – New York Times
During the most recent deployment of the Marine Corps' Middle East crisis response task force, small elements were quietly deployed to hot spots on the ground in Iraq, some close to the key Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, where a coalition fight to retake the city rages on. – Military.com
An American company that was paid nearly $700 million to secure an Iraqi base for F-16 fighter jets turned a blind eye to alcohol smuggling, theft, security violations, and allegations of sex trafficking — then terminated investigators who uncovered wrongdoing, an Associated Press investigation has found. – Associated Press
North Africa
Since 2011, Libya has become a hot spot of illicit weapons sales, many of which occur through messaging applications and social media networks, according to a report released Tuesday. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Arabian Peninsula
Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince defended a decision to reverse a contentious government austerity program by reinstating perks for state employees, but cautioned more belt-tightening could follow if oil prices dropped. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Saudi Arabia’s finance minister says he will inject billions of dollars into the country’s economy to stimulate growth, while also pledging to push ahead with unpopular reforms after the government’s surprise benefits U-turn last week. – Financial Times
Russia has replaced the US as young Arabs’ most valued international ally, according to an opinion survey, underlining how Vladimir Putin’s Middle East interventions are reshaping attitudes. – Financial Times
Gerald Feierstein writes: Using Omani diplomacy to achieve broader GCC goals in Yemen, and to ensure that the country is not a continuing source of instability and insecurity in the Arabian Peninsula, can thus contribute to reconciling disparate GCC views on managing Iran while bringing Yemen’s two-year old conflict to a peaceful conclusion. – Defense One
As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prepares for his first meeting with President Trump at the White House on Wednesday, the Arab leader and his advisers are expressing a kind of optimism not heard in years. The Palestinians are saying they think Trump might be the one — with the right mix of bombast and unpredictability — to restart peace negotiations with Israel with the aim of securing Palestinian borders, a capital and a state. – Washington Post
As President Trump hosts the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, at the White House on Wednesday for the first time, he faces enormous obstacles to his new peacemaking venture — including pressure from his own party to take a tougher stance on Palestinian terrorism. – New York Times
Now Mr. Meshal is stepping down as the senior leader [of Hamas], ending a 21-year reign during which Hamas grew into a formidable military force and also joined politics to rule Gaza for the past decade. Yet it has become an international pariah for its attacks on civilians. Mr. Meshal’s parting shot is a new political document, released at a luxury hotel in Doha on Monday, that he is pitching as an attempt to pull Hamas from its isolation by presenting a friendlier face to the world. – New York Times
The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization on Tuesday passed a resolution demanding that Israel disavow Jerusalem as its capital. – Washington Free Beacon
John Hannah writes: Trump does indeed have a historic opportunity to assemble an unprecedented coalition that brings together America’s Israeli and Arab allies. He could mobilize that coalition around the strong consensus that already exists to combat the region’s most pressing strategic dangers. Or he could prematurely risk it by trying to bridge the region’s most enduring political divide, where Israelis and Arabs remain at fundamental loggerheads and five decades of U.S. diplomacy has repeatedly foundered. For a hardheaded president who likes winning and is determined to put American interests first, the choice should not be hard. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Douglas Feith and Sander Gerber write: Only when the Palestinians have leaders who actually want to end the conflict through compromise — and improve not only their own lives only but also those of all their people — will there be peace. Passing the Taylor Force Act would be a declaration that the PA should change its nature. Without such a change, no diplomacy will work. – National Review Online
Ilan Berman writes: Qatari largesse brings with it a great deal of strategic leverage, and many have held out hope that Doha might, over time, convince Hamas to moderate. But Qatar’s rulers don’t seem interested in doing anything of the sort. Rather, they have bankrolled Hamas’s radical vision for years, allowing it to survive—and even to thrive—amid significant adversity. And now, they have set the stage for the group to acquire nothing short of a new political lease on life. – The National Interest



South Asia
A suicide bomber struck a U.S. military convoy as it traveled through central Kabul on Wednesday, killing eight Afghan civilians and wounding at least 29 others, including three American troops, Afghan officials and the U.S. military said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Kashefi is one of several dozen women serving in an elite Afghan police force, the Crisis Response Unit, that increasingly finds itself at the center of the country’s long war with Taliban militants. But Kashefi doesn’t just battle the Taliban. She is also up against Afghan traditions, which relegate women to domestic roles and near-invisibility in the body-length garment known as the burqa. – Los Angeles Times
Plans are in motion to bring residents of the restive region along Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan under the umbrella of the central government by ending the old legal system, offering voting rights and greater government representation, and raising living standards. The inclusive approach, in theory, will end FATA's isolation and help lure locals away from joining the various militant groups that thrive there. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
President Trump’s choice to be ambassador to China pledged Tuesday to leverage a personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping to persuade China that it is risking its own security if it fails to prevent a nuclear crisis with North Korea. – Washington Post
Chinese diplomats threw protocol and respect out the window when they loudly disrupted a welcome ceremony at an international conference in Australia, sparking sharp rebuke from other foreign diplomats. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo write: The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — recently introduced in the Senate by Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, along with Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin — has received bipartisan backing at this early stage. American conservatives and liberals alike should support the bill and help uphold their shared values of freedom and democracy for this corner of the world. – New York Times
Korean Peninsula
South Korea is on the brink of electing a liberal president with distinctly different ideas than the Trump administration on how to deal with North Korea — potentially complicating efforts to punish Kim Jong Un’s regime. – Washington Post
North Korea confirmed on Wednesday that it was holding an American citizen, saying the man was being held for committing “hostile criminal acts with an aim to subvert the country.” – New York Times
U.S. special operations forces are set to conduct operations against North Korean nuclear, missile, and other weapons of mass destruction sites in any future conflict, the commander of Special Operations Command told Congress Tuesday. – Washington Free Beacon
North Korea has ramped up its campaign to control outside information in recent years, but several defectors now living in South Korea said the regime's censorship efforts are showing signs of wear amid increased penetration and discontent. – Washington Free Beacon
In the event of all-out war on the Korean peninsula, the United States would be hard-pressed to move troops and weapons to the battle after one month because of an overreliance on commercial air and sea transport, Congress was told Tuesday. – Washington Examiner
North Korea’s nuclear weapons development may be designed to take over archrival South Korea and coerce the United States into abandoning its close ally, a senior White House official said Tuesday, questioning the North’s stated purpose of warding off a U.S. invasion. – Associated Press
Interview: Cipher Brief CEO Suzanne Kelly sat down with former Acting Director of the CIA Michael Morell to explore whether widespread reporting on this issue, that North Korea is several years away, might be flat out wrong. – The Cipher Brief
Edward Fishman writes: There is no magic bullet for Pyongyang’s nuclear belligerence. A military strike against North Korea’s program could lead to devastating retaliation, and even the harshest sanctions may not change Kim Jong-un’s calculus. But as North Korea moves closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon that can hit the United States, we would be remiss not to see if the full weight of our sanctions might make Pyongyang reverse course. – New York Times
Shinzo Abe has for the first time laid out a clear timetable for revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution, slating the landmark change — his most cherished ambition — for the Tokyo Olympic year of 2020. – Financial Times
Southeast Asia
But instead, the Pacific Command request — and two others by the Navy in February — was turned down by top Pentagon officials before they even made it to Mr. Trump’s desk. More than 100 days into the Trump presidency, no American Navy ship has gone within 12 miles of any of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, Defense officials said. – New York Times
He’s no Rodrigo Duterte, but like the more outspoken Philippines president, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha now has a personal invitation to the White House from President Trump and a clear path to come in from the cold with Washington three years after seizing power in a military coup. – Washington Times
A rift between Aung San Suu Kyi and some of her former supporters in the west has deepened after she criticised an international mission tasked with probing alleged Myanmar army abuses against the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. – Financial Times
Editorial: As a candidate Mr. Trump promised to talk to America’s adversaries, which is fine in theory. But a President needs to prepare for realpolitik engagement. Face time with a U.S. President is a reward to be doled out carefully, and the U.S. should get something in return. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Defense Budget
The $1.16 trillion spending plan for the remainder of fiscal 2017 — expected to be passed by the House and Senate later this week — includes a $15 billion boost in defense spending for the final five months of the budget year, delivered through temporary war funding lines. It also appears to go against past Democratic demands that increases in military spending be accompanied by similar non-military budget hikes, to ensure that defense costs aren’t overwhelming other domestic priorities. – Military Times
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is touting this week’s budget deal for breaking the rule that Democrats enforced under President Obama: Every dollar in increased defense spending had to be matched by a dollar increase for nondefense discretionary programs. – The Hill
The government funding bill unveiled this week marked a “significant achievement” in uncoupling defense and nondefense dollars even though the defense increase was not as much as hoped for, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday. – The Hill
The chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee believes the Navy can reach a 355-ship fleet in the 25- to 30-year timeframe, given industrial base capacity and expected funding levels. – USNI News
The Fiscal Year 2017 compromise spending bill has “shortfalls” in ship maintenance funding, but the House Armed Services Committee will look to increase funding for maintenance and modernization availabilities in 2018, two top committee members said – USNI News
America's special operations forces on the front lines in the war on terrorism are unable to retool and recharge because the elite commando units are in constant demand, a situation that is risking serious readiness challenges for the future, a top commander told Congress Tuesday. – Washington Examiner
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he will reveal the week of May 16 new legislation aimed at reforming how the Pentagon buys major weapons systems. – The Hill
Believe it or not, the global command responsible for getting weapons, fuel, and food to troops had, until recently, never used a war game for planning. Nor did Transportation Command factor into its plans the possibility that transport ships would be sunk and transport planes would be shot down . On top of that, TRANSCOM doesn’t have enough ships, airborne tankers or cargo aircraft to get a large number of troops to a battlefield and sustain them. – Breaking Defense
Citing continuing requirements changes that would mean giving ships a less-capable weapon than those carried by aircraft, Boeing said Tuesday it would drop out of a U.S. Navy effort to buy an over-the-horizon (OTH) cruise missile for littoral combat ships (LCS) and frigates. – Defense News
The Army is integrating an emerging software product for its Warfighter Information Network – Tactical Satcom communications system that adds a key interface between otherwise less-connected nodes on the network. – Scout Warrior
In a future Multi-Domain Battle, the Army wants to fight in small units that can disperse, hide, and keep on the move. That’s not possible while tethered to traditional supply lines. So what the Army calls “demand reduction” isn’t a nice-to-have administrative efficiency, it’s a battlefield necessity. – Breaking Defense
Future soldiers may enter a battlefield alongside autonomous fighting vehicles on the ground and a "ghost fleet" of unmanned ships at sea, as swarms of miniature drones buzz overhead…But for that to happen, several speakers at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Armament Systems Forum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, said Tuesday that much has to change about how the military acquires and implements new gear. – Military Times
Leon Panetta and Jim Talent write: As Congress considers a military buildup, it should include in its agenda bipartisan defense personnel reform to create a 21st century force. To strengthen our military, we must focus not only on new ships, planes and tanks, but also on those who sail, fly and drive them. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Missile Defense
The Pentagon will attempt a new test by the end of this month of whether it can intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile like the ones North Korea is seeking to develop, according to the deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. - Bloomberg
Public and private organizations globally are getting slower at detecting and responding to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks as they become larger and more complex, new research shows. – The Hill
Government officials requested to know the identities of more than 1,900 Americans whose information was swept up in National Security Agency surveillance programs last year, according to an intelligence report issued Tuesday. – Associated Press
Interview: The Cipher Brief spoke with General Michael Hayden, the former director of the NSA, about what the changes are, why they were made, and what they mean for both intelligence efforts and privacy-conscience Americans. – The Cipher Brief


The trial of Mykola Semena, a Crimean journalist who is fighting what he says is a politically motivated separatism charge on the Russian-controlled peninsula, is due to resume on May 3 in the Crimean capital, Simferopol. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, said on Tuesday that a doctor told him he had lost 80 percent of the sight in one eye after suffering a chemical burn when an assailant threw a green liquid in his face last week. – New York Times
A regional court in Russia has upheld an embezzlement verdict for opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and his co-defendant, Pyotr Ofitserov. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is pledging to try to attach a stalled Russia sanctions proposal to a separate bill tightening financial penalties against Iran. – The Hill
Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel struggled to conceal their differences at a meeting in Russia on Tuesday, straining to remain courteous despite tensions being evident. – Financial Times
Jeffrey Gedmin writes: Let RT editor Simonyan, in the name of free speech, persuade her bosses in the Kremlin to take a first small step: open the Russian market and level the playing field. Allow us the same rights as we afford RT. If Moscow refuses, boot from the US Kremlin pawns masquerading as journalists. This is the new kind of war. It's time we fight to win. – Atlantic Council
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator on Wednesday set out tough demands for a divorce deal with Britain, including ensuring that EU citizens in the U.K. keep their welfare benefits and residency rights for their lifetimes. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The European Union won’t impose visas on American travelers in retaliation for the U.S. continuing to exclude five EU countries from its no-visa regime, the bloc’s executive branch said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Czech Republic’s prime minister offered his resignation on Tuesday, saying he could no longer work with his finance minister and political rival, a populist billionaire whose party is favored in elections set for October. – New York Times
The general in charge of U.S. military operations in Europe said Tuesday that the United States needs more troops in Europe to deter an increasingly aggressive Russia. – The Hill
Matthew Elliott and Kory Swanson write: Now is a time of great change, but also great opportunity. The British general election will be a major step toward achieving the kind of open Brexit that provides maximum benefits to the U.K., U.S., and the E.U. itself. If Britain and America can set the new standard for international trade after Brexit, the rest of the world will follow. – National Review Online
Francesco Ronchi writes: France’s growing dislike for globalization can’t be discounted. Mr. Macron should pay heed, otherwise he’ll find himself the wrong man to lead the country during turbulent times. That would be very bad news for France, and for Europe too. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Lawmakers will announce a major effort Wednesday to explore ways to keep terrorists from reaching America’s shores, warning that Islamists from hotbeds of fundamentalist activity in Europe are able to enter the United States visa-free if they manage to slip through the cracks of the nation’s vast immigration enforcement bureaucracy. – Washington Times
The Trump administration, swept into office by its inward-focused “America First” message, is rattling its saber. President Donald Trump’s tough talk about North Korea and missile strikes in Syria get most of the attention, but his team is suddenly openly discussing what it would take to put key U.S. industries on a war footing. – Roll Call
The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released State Department documents on Tuesday revealing 29 email correspondences between Hillary Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin containing classified information. – Washington Free Beacon
Months before the nude Marine photo-sharing scandal erupted, service members were complaining about a similar issue in an anonymous Defense Department survey on sexual assault and harassment. – Associated Press
George Melloan writes: What are the lessons for the Trump team? Tell Mr. Bannon to hit the showers. Revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, which Mr. Trump injudiciously scuttled. Also pursue the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiation with Europe. Trade agreements are not only good economic policy but good foreign policy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Army secretary nominee Mark Green could withdraw his name from consideration from the Pentagon post as early as this week, according to sources speaking to CNN. – Military Times
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called past comments from Army Secretary nominee Mark Green “very concerning” and said he’s heard from both Democrats and Republicans on the issue. – The Hill
A Democratic senator has a hold on U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee for Air Force secretary, and legislators need to "work through" questions before she can receive a confirmation vote, according to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. – Defense News
Trump-Russia Connections
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, is expected to be grilled Wednesday by lawmakers in both parties who have sharply questioned his judgment on the investigations into both Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and Russian meddling in the presidential election. – New York Times
Former acting attorney general Sally Yates is expected to testify to Congress next week that she expressed alarm to the White House about President Donald Trump’s national security adviser’s contacts with the Russian ambassador, which could contradict how the administration has characterized her counsel. – Associated Press
Latin America
One of the successors to captured drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was arrested in a high-rise tower in a wealthy neighborhood here on Tuesday morning, in another blow to a drug-running cartel that has been fighting to maintain its dominance. – Washington Post
Already reeling from massive antigovernment marches in recent weeks, Venezuela is bracing for more demonstrations Wednesday as increasingly vocal activists protest the surprise plan by President Nicolas Maduro to draft a new constitution. Opposition leaders condemned the proposal as an antidemocratic move that will only aggravate the country’s ongoing political crisis. – Los Angeles Times
Anders Aslund writes: The collapse of the Maduro regime will not be pretty, but it is difficult to see how it can be avoided. While the politics might be difficult to predict, the main features of a severe economic crisis are quite predictable. The key question is how fast a new government will manage to do the right things. – Foreign Policy
Francisco Toro writes: Venezuela’s long-running political crisis is coming to a head. Our embattled pro-democracy movement has proved its staying power, pushing back bravely again and again against authoritarian encroachment by a ruthless and determined regime. Venezuela’s democracy activists now need all the friends that we can get — in Venezuela and beyond. Is the region listening? Is the United States? Are you? – Washington Post


Top commanders of U.S. Africa Command paid a rare visit to Somalia over the weekend for meetings with political and military officials on bolstering security in the region, where local forces have been engaged in a multiyear battle with the extremist al-Shabab group. – Stars and Stripes
As many as one in four young Africans, or 66m pupils, could be enrolled in some form of private education by 2021, furthering what has been a surge of private schooling across the continent, according to a new report. – Financial Times

Trump Administration

In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders, one after another, in an effort to reset relations following an era of ostracism and public shaming by Obama and his predecessors. – Washington Post
Rex Tillerson has some serious explaining to do. Morale is plunging among the U.S. diplomats and civil servants who work for the secretary of state. Many are aghast at President Donald Trump’s desire to dramatically slash the State Department’s budget and Tillerson’s apparent agreement. Some State staffers are eyeing the exits as malaise grips the department—and before expected organizational restructuring. And just about everyone is seeking clarity from the new administration about its foreign policy objectives. - Politico
Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is reportedly the leading candidate to serve as the U.S. ambassador to NATO. – The Hill
Will Inboden writes: Meanwhile, now that the first 100 days and its artifice of significance are behind us, the more enduring questions are what the next four years will hold – or the next 1357 days to be more precise. All transitions must come to an end, even protracted ones like the Trump transition. Now the time for governing begins. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Paul Miller writes: Trump is not the first nationalist or the first populist demagogue in American history (although he is the first to win the presidency since Andrew Jackson). His type will recur and his ideas will endure. And the next nationalist champion, perhaps one with more polish, less baggage, and a more likeable demeanor, may find that the Trump presidency prepared the ground for a revolutionary redefinition of the American soul. – The American Interest
Eli Lake writes: Are you a foreign despot who has just purged his opposition or authorized a deadly war against your nation's drug dealers? Normally, you would expect at least a mild rebuke from the leader of the free world. Depending on how egregious your violations, maybe even a tough speech from the Rose Garden or a U.S.-sponsored United Nations resolution. Not anymore. In the Donald Trump era, it's springtime for the world's authoritarians. Or at least that's how it seems. – Bloomberg View

Democracy and Human Rights

Michael Abramowitz and Arch Puddington write: When political figures in the United States deride the media for helping citizens hold their government accountable, they encourage foreign leaders with autocratic goals to do the same. When U.S. officials step back from promoting democracy and press freedom, journalists beyond American shores feel the chill. A weakening of press freedom in the United States would be a setback for freedom everywhere. – Washington Post
Tyler Roylance writes: If anything motivates democracies to find a solution, perhaps it will be the fact that they are now under digital assault—by means of propaganda, disinformation, and cyberespionage—from authoritarian powers like Putin’s Russia. Democratic citizens may have increasingly polarized political views, but they have a common interest in protecting their hard-won freedoms from genuine foreign threats. – World Affairs Journal

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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