FPI Overnight Brief: May 5, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Mattis in talks to keep thousands of US troops in Iraq
  • Congress eyes crackdown on terror-tied Iranian airline
  • Dozier: Trump joins Arab leaders for possible anti-Iran alliance
  • Lake: Trump looks for opportunities in the Mideast crisis
  • FPI’s Ellen Bork on the state of democracy in Hong Kong
  • Mead reviews Condi Rice’s new book, “Democracy”
  • Targeting ISIS operatives who plot foreign attacks online
  • Pentagon to submit new Afghan strategy next week
  • SOCOM commander: More troops would aid Afghan fight
  • WSJ editorial: A Korean election nail-biter

Middle East/North Africa

Iran responded angrily on Thursday to criticisms by Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, accusing him of acts that violate the United Nations Charter and calling his kingdom an instigator of “dangerous ambitions in the region and beyond.” – New York Times
Congress is considering new methods to crack down on and expose a state-controlled Iranian airline company that routinely uses commercial flights to ferry weapons and terrorist fighters to regional hotspots, according to a copy of new bipartisan legislation circulating through the Senate and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. – Washington Free Beacon
Iran's main pro-reform opposition leaders plan to speak out from their confinement under house arrest this month to publicly back President Hassan Rouhani for re-election, aides say, helping win over voters disillusioned with the slow pace of change. - Reuters
John McLaughlin writes: Trump’s labeling of the accord as the “worst deal ever” and U.S. threats to rip it up are playing into the hands of Iran’s hard-liners, who accuse Rouhani of selling out Iranian interests to the hated U.S. But the accord substantially reduces Iran’s enrichment capability and its stockpile of uranium for at least a decade. Selling it to a host of hard-line skeptics and to Supreme Leader Khamenei required a great deal of maneuvering and subtlety by Rouhani. A bit more subtlety on Washington’s part might be in order if the administration does not want to see Rouhani replaced by an Iranian politician just as skeptical and suspicious of the nuclear agreement as some of its American critics. - Ozy
Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum on Thursday to create four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, to reduce bloodshed in a war now in its seventh year, but many questions remained about the plan. – New York Times
A Russian diplomat has emphasized that safe zones that would be established in Syria under a deal reached by Russia, Turkey, and Iran would be closed to warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Putin deployed an unprecedented Russian weapon to Syria: several units of Chechen and Ingush commandos hailing from Russia’s restive North Caucasus region. – Foreign Policy
A video posted online by the Islamic State-linked Amaq News Agency on Thursday appears to show the aftermath of an airstrike that killed an unknown number of civilians, including several children, in the Iraqi city of Mosul. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is in talks with the Trump administration to keep American troops in Iraq after the fight against the Islamic State group in the country is concluded, according to a U.S. official and an official from the Iraqi government. – Associated Press
Iraqi forces pushed further into Mosul from the north on the second day of a new push to speed up the nearly seven-month attempt to dislodge Islamic State, commanders said on Friday. - Reuters
Mosul's wrecked roads, bridges and broader economy will take at least five years to repair and need billions of dollars of development that Iraq's government will struggle to afford, officials returning to the battle-scarred city said. - Reuters
As Islamic State steadily loses ground in Iraq and Syria, its ability to sponsor and inspire headline-grabbing attacks abroad looms larger than ever — providing the militants the appearance of lethal viability despite the caliphate’s collapsing borders. – Los Angeles Times
Arabian Peninsula
Leaders of the Muslim world have been reaching out to President Trump seeking closer cooperation to combat radical Islam, setting the stage for the president’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, senior administration officials said Thursday. – Washington Times
Kimberly Dozier writes: President Donald Trump is answering critics who call him “anti-Islamic” by making his first trip overseas to Saudi Arabia, to meet with Arab leaders to talk about fighting the so-called Islamic State. – The Daily Beast
North Africa
Algerian voters looked set to hand the ruling FLN and its allies another five-year mandate in a parliamentary election on Thursday overshadowed by low oil prices and concerns over the health of the country's elderly president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. - Reuters


A decision to send additional American troops to Afghanistan, a possibility now being considered by the Trump White House, would provide a welcome boost to Special Operations activities there, a senior military official said Thursday. – Washington Post
On Thursday, Mr. Hekmatyar returned to Kabul, after decades of allying with and then fighting against almost every faction in Afghanistan, backed by a peace deal with President Ashraf Ghani. The deal gives Mr. Hekmatyar immunity for past crimes, releases dozens of political prisoners linked to him, and allows him to lead his party, the Hizb-e-Islami, back into Afghan politics. – New York Times
The Defense Department will deliver an updated Afghanistan strategy proposal to the White House within the next week detailing the military's tactics in the region, senior leaders of the force told Congress on Thursday. – Washington Free Beacon
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command defended Thursday the decision to drop the Pentagon’s largest non-nuclear bomb — nicknamed the "mother of all bombs"  — in Afghanistan last month. – The Hill
Thousands of supporters of Afghan former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rallied in Kabul's main football stadium on Friday, making a stark demonstration of force in the city his fighters helped destroy during civil war two decades ago. - Reuters
Sadanand Dhume writes: Today, more than 14% of Indians are Muslim, terrorism is a global problem and Islamists are ascendant in much of the Muslim world. Secularists need to be tough on both terrorism and Islamism while nonetheless striving to ensure that Muslims are treated fairly as equal citizens. Unless they can find a way to do this, they should expect to give up more ground to the likes of Mr. Adityanath. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
East Asia
China’s booming economy has increasingly allowed more of its young men and women to seek a college education in the West; 329,000 now study in the United States, more than five times the number recorded a decade ago…But those students often bring to campus something else from home: the watchful eyes and occasionally heavy hand of the Chinese government, manifested through its ties to many of the 150-odd chapters of the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations. – New York Times
China’s economy, after chugging along in recent months, is likely losing some steam, with some economists expecting indicators for April to show weaker industrial production, softer overall credit and cooler export growth. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Japan has inked an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deepen cyber information sharing between the governments of the two nations, officials said Thursday. – The Hill
Korean Peninsula
A hostile, nuclear-armed neighbor with heavy artillery aimed at their capital. Cronyism in government. Corruption in business. These issues and more are weighing on South Koreans as they head to a presidential election on Tuesday. But much of the campaign has revolved around a wild card, one the candidates are fighting to prove they are uniquely equipped to handle: President Trump. – New York Times
North Korea accused the U.S. and South Korean intelligences agencies on Friday of plotting to kill the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un, using “biochemical agents." – Washington Post
North Korea’s leader ordered frontline artillery forces to be prepared to “break the backbone” of enemy forces, showing defiance days before voters in the South choose a new president. – Stars and Stripes
North Korea has vented its frustrations with China as tensions on the Korean peninsula subside, highlighting the diverging interests of the countries even as Washington tries to use Beijing to control Pyongyang. – Financial Times
Determined to exert greater economic pressure on North Korea, the Republican-led House on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang targeting its shipping industry and use of slave labor. – Associated Press
Editorial: The latest polls show conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo, backed by the Liberty Korea Party, surging with about 17% support. Centrist Ahn is polling around 21% but is fading after poor debate performances. About 20% of the electorate is still undecided. At least until the South Korean election is decided, is it too much to ask that Mr. Trump stay quiet? – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asia
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Thursday to do more to help cut funding streams for North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and to minimize diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. - Reuters
Myanmar's government has warned the public that false news and rumors are being spread by unidentified people wishing to cause "political instability" during the tenure of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, state-run media said on Friday. - Reuters
President Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia on Thursday played down the testy phone exchange that began their working relationship as they met face to face aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid in Manhattan. – New York Times


The head of U.S. Special Operations Command said his troops are highly skilled, but they can’t do everything. – Military Times
Some special operations units have found themselves in an “unsustainable” deployment tempo, with warfighters deployed for six months, home for six months and then heading back out the door again, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee today. – USNI News
The Navy’s decision to slow down its LCS frigate program is “reassuring,” the chairman of the House seapower subcommittee said yesterday evening. Delaying contract award from 2019 to 2020 gives the service more time to do “due diligence” on the designs, Rep. Rob Wittman told reporters after a hearing on the Littoral Combat Ship. – Breaking Defense
The first known glitch in a $126 billion nuclear-armed submarine program -- overheating of a prototype motor -- was disclosed by a key U.S. lawmaker this week and confirmed by the Navy, which said it has fixed the problem. - Bloomberg
The Navy has recently advanced development of a new class of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to be used as undersea strategic deterrents -- by signing a deal to being the manufacture of 17 new tactical missile tubes able to fire nuclear-armed Trident II D5 missiles. – Scout Warrior
The Department of Homeland Security has sent Congress a study warning of security threats to mobile devices used by the federal government. – The Hill


RFE/RL has obtained a video via an official Ukrainian source that shows the moment a vehicle carrying OSCE monitors was struck by an explosion during a patrol in eastern Ukraine's conflict zone, killing an American and injuring a German and a Czech. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Five Russian aircraft, including two bombers, flew across international airspace near Alaska on Wednesday, the latest in a series of such incidents in the area amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Alexei Navalny, the man currently running for president of Russia even though election officials say his criminal record means he’s barred from doing so, is wearing an eyepatch. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
The leader of a radical pro-Kremlin group says police plan to question him and his colleagues over an attack on Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny that has impaired his eyesight. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Peter Dickinson writes: The Kremlin has no alternative messages capable of energizing domestic audiences in anything like the same manner as World War II. In the absence of recent national achievements, the defeat of Hitler looks set to remain the lodestar of the Putinist state for the foreseeable future. As a result, the Russian public appears doomed to continue obsessing over phantom fascists until their country can compete with the modern world. – Atlantic Council
The Pentagon has deployed its newest combat plane, the stealthy F-35A fighter, to Europe for a first overseas training mission in a show of allied strength intended in part to deter Russian aggression. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party made significant gains Friday in local elections, making inroads into territory long held by the main opposition Labour Party and pointing to a potentially big win for the ruling party in next month’s nationwide vote. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Anticorruption campaigners in Romania on Thursday claimed a pair of victories in their continuing struggle to hold public officials accountable in what many experts consider to be one of the European Union’s most corrupt countries. – New York Times
Macedonia's parliament speaker has asked the country's president to recognize a majority of Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian members of parliament so they can form a new government. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Michael Doran and Peter Rough writes: If a trusting partnership does develop, the United States is uniquely placed to help the Europeans overcome their own divisions and realize their aspirations. Europeans leaders recognize their dilemmas, in general terms, but they have difficulty expressing that recognition loudly and unambiguously. If there is one thing that Trump does well, it is getting people to air what they actually think but are too afraid to say. – The American Interest
Rosemary Righter writes: Mrs. May’s ambition to make Britain “a country that works for everyone” and promote social mobility isn’t that far off from Mrs. Thatcher’s pitch. Yet she has overtly positioned herself in the opposite ideological corner. For her, “markets are broken” and need “strong” government action to tackle “burning injustices” that blight the life chances of the children of poor families, to transform the prospects of the “just-about-managing” income bracket and at the top, to rein in corporate excess. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
French prosecutors opened a probe Thursday into a suspected attempt to tar French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron after anonymous files ricocheted across the internet suggesting he had created a shell company on the Caribbean island of Nevis, where officials said they have no record of any such entity. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Emmanuel Macron was the clear winner in a televised debate against his far-right rival for the French presidency, Marine Le Pen, on Wednesday evening in a broadcast that was richer in insults than policy discussions, according to a snap poll. – Financial Times
Over the past several years, the Russian leader and the far-right politician, who share a similar nationalist outlook, have developed close ties. These links have been cemented by complex financial arrangements and overwhelmingly positive coverage of Ms Le Pen in the Russian state-backed media. – Financial Times
Sohrab Ahmari writes: Whether a President Macron turns out to be the reformer France needs remains to be seen. His platform is if anything too modest, and he has a tendency to speak to both sides of every issue. But give Mr. Macron and his supporters this: They don’t peddle dangerous illusions. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
The Trump administration moved to toughen U.S. vetting of foreigners Thursday, proposing new rules that would let the State Department ask visa applicants more-intrusive questions. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday that the White House needs to stick with a consistent message when it comes to foreign policy. – Washington Times
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson kicks off a restructuring effort, he has enlisted a consulting firm to ask thousands of State Department employees to help craft “word clouds,” rank their proudest accomplishments and suggest things the department should stop doing. – WSJ’s Washington Wire (subscription required)
The Trump’s administration’s approach to border security starts 1,500 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Thursday. In a 20-minute talk at the Atlantic Council, Kelly offered a distilled version of his approach. The former commander of U.S. Southern Command said he told President Donald Trump that getting a handle on undocumented immigration must begin long before a migrant reaches the United States. – USNI News
The Defense Department has lifted its hiring freeze, several weeks after President Trump ended the moratorium across government, but the Pentagon is still taking a cautious approach to bringing in new employees as it prepares to reshape its operations. – Defense One
The U.S. Senate has approved the funding of 2,500 additional immigrant visas for Afghan interpreters and support staff who have helped U.S. troops and government officials in Afghanistan. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russian Election Interference
The intelligence community’s authorization bill includes a revived section that would establish a new committee to “counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence over peoples and governments,” according to the final text passed on Wednesday evening. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers were quizzed for more than two hours behind closed doors on Thursday by members of the House intelligence committee investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election. – Associated Press
United Nations
John Negroponte and Thomas Pickering write: We agree with the new U.S. ambassador. This is a mission of profound importance — one that can only be achieved by the United States’ steadfast commitment to international cooperation and strong partnership with the United Nations. Doing so, we believe, would be the best way to honor Michael, Zaida, and the hundreds of other UN staff who have voluntarily given their lives in the service of peace and security. – The Hill
Latin America
A member of a U.N. team working on a project in Colombia to substitute illegal crops was kidnapped by dissident former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels who have rejected the peace process, the United Nations and the government said on Thursday. - Reuters
Supporters of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez held a vigil outside his prison demanding to see him on Thursday after rumors about his health rattled the protest-hit country where the death toll from anti-government unrest rose to 36. - Reuters
Editorial: On Thursday Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro said on social media that he too wants to visit Mr. López. If the United Nations and the Vatican wish to remain relevant in Venezuela, they will work to let someone besides his jailers see Leopoldo López. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Somalia’s minister of public works, a 31-year-old former refugee who was the youngest cabinet member in the country’s fragile government, was shot to death by armed soldiers on Wednesday, officials said. – New York Times
The Ethiopian government is putting more than a decade of economic development at risk by banning meaningful political opposition, muzzling the media and suppressing civil society, the UN’s human rights chief has warned. – Financial Times
Unknown assailants attacked a U.N. operating base in northern South Sudan overnight, showing "callous disregard" for civilians and aid workers, the head of the U.N. mission said. - Reuters
South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) accused the judiciary of pandering to the opposition in ordering President Jacob Zuma to explain why he fired finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a cabinet reshuffle. - Reuters

Trump Administration

When President Trump announced Thursday that he would visit the centers of three great religions on his first foreign trip, his advisers presented it as a sign that the United States planned to marshal a powerful coalition against the forces of intolerance. But Mr. Trump’s stops — in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome — are equally revealing as a contrast to the first trip to the Middle East made by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. The stark differences between that trip, in June 2009, and Mr. Trump’s later this month speak to how the world has changed in the last eight years and how this new president plans to confront it. – New York Times
President Trump’s coming swing through Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican is a signal that the United States is moving away from “disengagement” in world affairs, a senior administration official said Thursday. – Roll Call
The growing public opposition to President Trump's Army secretary nominee has picked up two Democratic members from the first panel that would vote on his confirmation. – Washington Examiner
Cindy McCain, the wife of Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, is expected to be offered a prominent role in the Trump administration’s State Department, two individuals familiar with the discussions said Thursday. – Associated Press

Eli Lake reports: As Donald Trump prepares for his first foreign trip as president later this month, he has big plans. Beginning May 19, Trump will travel to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Rome. He hopes to find a path to peace for Israel and the Palestinians. In the Middle East's crisis, Trump sees an opportunity. - Bloomberg View

Democracy and Human Rights

Anne Applebaum writes: During a televised meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, one Western leader publicly asked him to stop religious repression and the torture of gay men in Russian prisons. That’s the kind of language we were once accustomed to hearing from the “leader of the free world” — and, of course, that’s the language we can expect now only from the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. – Washington Post
Walter Russell Mead reviews Condoleezza Rice’s new book, “Democracy”: There are areas where democracy-promotion efforts touch directly on important American interests so that even the most hard-nosed practitioners of “America First” realpolitik are likely to see an advantage….But where such a clear and direct connection to an obvious national security challenge is lacking, these policies may be harder to defend as American voters reassess their commitment to the global agenda that the first President Bush laid out so many years ago. One must hope that those who engage in the debates about to take place will think carefully about the ideas and the examples Rice describes. Both supporters and skeptics of democracy promotion will come away from this book wiser and better informed. – New York Times

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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