FPI Overnight Brief: May 8, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Each of Iran’s six presidential candidates committed Friday to uphold a nuclear deal with world powers should he win the May 19 election, a vote widely seen as a potential referendum on the accord’s benefits for average Iranians. – Washington Post
Iran's supreme leader on Sunday criticized the government of President Hassan Rouhani for promoting a "Western-influenced" United Nations education plan which his hardline allies have said contradicts Islamic principles. - Reuters
United States and allied aircraft will be banned from flying over much of Syria as part of a deal struck by Iran, Russia and Turkey to foster a cease-fire in the Syrian war, a senior Russian diplomat said Friday. But a State Department spokesman later said that the agreement, which the United States did not sign, does not “preclude anyone from going after terrorists wherever they may be in Syria.” The spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, said Russian officials’ interpretation of their own agreement “makes no sense.” – New York Times
The Trump administration is ready to press ahead with a U.S.-backed military offensive to evict the Islamic State from its last remaining urban stronghold in the Syrian city of Raqqa over strong objections from Turkey. President Donald Trump is expected to inform his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of the U.S. plans when he visits the White House later this month. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Syrian Kurdish fighters are newly armed with sophisticated American combat equipment as they close in on the Islamic State's stronghold in Raqqa, Military Times has learned, weaponry the Pentagon says it is barred from providing to those forces. – Military Times
Israeli satellite imagery confirms redeployment of at least one Russian A-50 Aerial Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) in Syria. – Military Times
The U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, and Russia's military chief of staff affirmed their commitment to avoid clashes in the crowded airspace over Syria, the Pentagon said Saturday. – Fox News
Hundreds of rebels and their families began boarding buses to leave the besieged Damascus suburb of Barzeh on May 8 under a deal agreed with the government, according to state media and a monitoring group. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Syrian army seized control of the village of al-Zalakiyat north of Hama on Sunday amid a heavy bombardment, a war monitor reported, despite a deal brokered by Russia, Syria's main foreign backer, to reduce fighting. - Reuters
A group of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by the United States captured a district of the town of Tabqa from Islamic State on Monday, they said in a statement, a step towards the capture of Syria's largest dam. - Reuters
Islamic State militants attacked a base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Sunday, killing two soldiers before U.S.-led forces launched a wave of airstrikes to repel the assault, officials said. – Associated Press
Iraqi forces faced stiff resistance from Islamic State in northwest Mosul on Sunday after opening a new front against the militants there in a push to rout them from the city after seven months of fighting. - Reuters
An embattled U.S. contractor, accused of failing to promptly disclose sex trafficking, alcohol smuggling and security violations on a nearly $700 million contract to secure an Iraqi air base, is denying many of the charges. An attorney for investigators, who were fired by the company, says the explanations don't stand up. – Associated Press
Ken Pollack writes: The United States remains the only external power with the potential willingness and ability to push and help Iraq to take the steps that it otherwise won’t...What’s more, U.S. influence has grown very significantly as a result of America’s invaluable military and economic assistance over the past two years. Thus, the potential is there for Washington to lend such support. The only question is whether the Trump administration is willing to do so, a question that remains unanswered at this point in time. – Brookings Institution
The Islamic State is being slowly pushed out of towns in Iraq and Syria, but its hold on social media is continuing with new directives to followers on new ways for “slaughtering” non-Muslims. – Washington Times
North Africa
In recent months, many poor Egyptians have had to increase their reliance on government-subsidised bread as they grapple with crippling food price inflation that topped 41 per cent in March. It is a phenomenon that underlines how poorer Egyptians are feeling the pain of reforms the government implemented to secure a $12bn loan package from the International Monetary Fund. – Financial Times
Nadwa Al-Dawsari writes: While many agree the war must end, this paper argues this will only be achievable through a political solution. It is encouraging that U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently said while in Saudi Arabia “our main objective is to reach negotiations sponsored by the United Nations to find a political solution as soon as possible,” but this paper argues that the United Nations–led negotiations are flawed and will not succeed unless they are broadened to address additional underlying issues that initially gave rise to the unrest. – Project on Middle East Democracy
As Mr. Trump embarks on what he vows will be a historic effort to do what no president has done before and make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, he finds himself under pressure from his hard-line pro-Israel supporters. They worry that he and his aides are listening too closely to Arab and Palestinian arguments and diluting what they hoped would be uncompromising support for the current Israeli government. – New York Times
President Donald Trump came under increased pressure from the Israeli government to follow through on foreign policy pledges he made during the election campaign, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, just days before he embarks on his inaugural trip to the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Sunday endorsed a controversial bill to enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state despite criticism that it would leave the country’s one-fifth Arab minority as second-class citizens. – Los Angeles Times
Western countries are pressuring Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to end such payments, which are extended to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails for any crime and to families of those killed while attacking Israelis or resisting Israel’s control of the Palestinian territories. Israel has long publicly complained about the payments but has amplified its criticism ahead of a potential new peace push by the Trump administration, using it as a test of the Palestinians’ willingness to make compromises Israel sees as needed for talks. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Ismail Haniya, a longtime leader of Hamas in Gaza, was on Saturday officially named the senior leader of the militant group, which has been trying to soften its public image as it jockeys for influence in the Palestinian territories and internationally. – New York Times
As Palestinian prisoners ended the third week of a mass hunger strike, Israel released videos that it said showed the strike leader, Marwan Barghouti, sneaking snacks in his cell. – New York Times
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday symbolically tossed into a bin a Hamas policy paper published last week that set out an apparent softening of the Palestinian Islamist group's stance toward Israel. - Reuters
Dov Zakheim writes: There may come a time, when both Abbas and Netanyahu have left the scene, that an “outside in” strategy may yet prove to be feasible….President Trump, who has begun to recognize that governing the United States is not as simple as he thought, may reach the same conclusion after he returns home from his visit to the intractable and chaotic Middle East. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room


The leader of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan who orchestrated audacious attacks that further upended the country’s deteriorating security situation was killed in a special forces raid last month, the president of Afghanistan said in a statement on Sunday. – New York Times
Capitalizing on the death of a top Islamic State commander in a raid late last month, Afghan forces are surging through districts in eastern Afghanistan long held by the radical group, officials said Monday. – Washington Post
The Taliban have expanded their military fight against Afghanistan’s government into a drive to administer villages across the country, deepening the formidable challenge U.S.-backed forces face in trying to uproot the insurgency. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As the Trump administration weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, the 16-year war grinds on in bloody stalemate. – Associated Press
Pakistan claimed Sunday to have killed 50 Afghan border troops, wounded 100 and destroyed five of their posts in sporadic clashes since Friday near a major border crossing. Afghan officials called the high death toll “baseless” but said that several days of cross-border skirmishes had left two Afghan troops dead. – Washington Post
The head of the Iranian armed forces warned Islamabad on Monday that Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government does not confront Sunni militants who carry out cross-border attacks. - Reuters
Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa. – Washington Post
China has mandated the use of body cameras or other video recorders by a law-enforcement agency often accused of thuggish behavior, in a bid to mute criticism with an unusual embrace of transparency. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, after a friendly confirmation hearing last week, will head to China soon as President Trump's envoy with an important to-do list on cyber issues. – Washington Examiner
China will further tighten its internet regulations with a pledge on Sunday to strengthen controls over search engines and online news portals, the latest step in President Xi Jinping's push to maintain strict Communist Party control over content. - Reuters
Fred Hiatt writes: China is bent on world domination — not with its missiles and aircraft carriers, but by controlling solar energy, cloud computing and other industries of the future. That is an only slightly exaggerated version of a warning coming from the American chamber of commerce in China. – Washington Post
Korean Peninsula
For most of the past decade, a Chinese state-owned company had a joint venture with a North Korean company under sanctions for involvement in Pyongyang’s atomic-weapons program, Chinese corporate and government records show. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Korea has detained another American citizen on charges of committing “hostile acts” against the country, the North’s official news agency reported on Sunday. – New York Times
Though Ms. Park has been living in the Seoul Detention Center since she was arrested on March 31, her name still stirs raw emotions among both her critics and supporters as the country prepares to vote Tuesday to elect her successor. – New York Times
The left-leaning candidate projected by polls to win Tuesday’s snap presidential election frequently says South Korea needs to learn to say no to the United States. – Stars and Stripes
Weapons tests like last month’s failed missile launch in Sinpo aren’t cheap. By one estimate, North Korea spent $1.3 billion on missile tests in 2012 alone. That may explain why the escalation in North Korea’s nuclear provocations has been accompanied by a spree of attempted and actual online bank heists that trace right back to Pyongyang. – The Daily Beast
Anthony Ruggiero writes: Ratcheting up the financial and military pressure on Pyongyang is a peaceful means for changing the regime’s behavior—and a much preferable alternative to war. A meeting with an American president could play an important role in such a strategy, but the timing must be right and should not be used to validate North Korea’s status as a nuclear state. A summit between the leaders of the decades-long foes could one day happen, but it would have to be with a very different North Korea. - Politico
East Asia
The Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Josh Rogin reports: For almost four decades, the United States has upheld its commitment to help Taiwan provide for its own self-defense against China — but the Trump administration has yet to affirm it. As a planned arms-sales package lingers in limbo, officials, lawmakers and experts worry that President Trump may be granting yet another unreciprocated concession to Beijing. – Washington Post
Southeast Asia
Hard-line Islamist groups have gained stature; their ability to mobilize huge crowds was considered crucial to securing Baswedan’s lopsided victory. But a strong backlash also has emerged, led by moderate Muslims who worry that conservative Islamists are wrecking Indonesia’s tradition of religious tolerance. – Washington Post
Philippine and U.S. troops kicked off Monday their annual joint exercises that are smaller in scale than in years past, focusing on disaster response and counterterrorism while excluding territorial defense operations and maritime security. – Associated Press
There has been no new wave of killings prompted by the Philippines' war on drugs, and reports to the contrary are "alternative facts", an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday. - Reuters


Marine Corps leadership is pleased with the sum of money Congress gave the service in this week’s spending bill agreement and says the 2017 funding levels set them on a healthy path to reach their goals for 2018 and beyond. – USNI News
To win the fast-paced and brutal battles of the future, Army generals must let their subordinates off the leash, the Chief of Staff said – Breaking Defense
The Air Force has added the Joint Direct Attack Munition (GBU-38)  a GPS-guided bomb, to the Reaper drone force, dropping the first one in a combat strike in Operation Inherent Resolve on Thursday. – Breaking Defense
The Senate this week passed a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that would keep the government funded through September. The bill next heads to President Donald Trump. Within the measure, Congress gave one particular Air Force effort a boost — the UH-1N Huey helicopter replacement program. – DOD Buzz


Pro-Western liberals, hard-line nationalists, gay-rights activists and other Kremlin opponents gathered in central Moscow on Saturday, seeking to revive a broad-based protest movement against President Vladimir V. Putin that was snuffed out five years ago by mass arrests and stiff jail sentences. The demonstrators chanted the one demand that unites their disparate causes: “Russia Without Putin!” – New York Times
Getting people to rally around the orange and black is something that comes straight from the top. The Soviet victory in World War II — called the Great Patriotic War here — is central to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to portray his regime as the logical outcome of the country’s history. – Washington Post
Exxon Mobil Corp. is suffering from sanctions on Russia. The same can’t be said for other big Western energy companies, or for Russia’s oil production. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Western Europe
The top leaders of the European Union will meet with President Donald Trump during his visit to Brussels this month, officials from the bloc announced. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
At the core of the French president-elect’s program is a double overhaul: of France’s sluggish economy and of the eurozone, with all its shortcomings. To get what he wants, Mr. Macron needs Europe’s dominant economic power, Germany, to accept a rethink. His proposals, including for a common eurozone budget, go against firmly held German views that eurozone countries should follow common rules but keep their taxpayers’ money separate. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Germans in the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein voted on Sunday in the first of two state elections that are widely viewed as harbingers of the national race this fall, in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term. – New York Times
British Prime Minister Theresa May maintained her strong lead in opinion polls ahead of next month's national election, with one analyst saying she was on course for the kind of huge success Margaret Thatcher enjoyed over 30 years ago. - Reuters
Emmanuel Macron, a youthful former investment banker, handily won France’s presidential election on Sunday, defeating the staunch nationalist Marine Le Pen after voters firmly rejected her far-right message and backed his call for centrist change, according to partial returns. – New York Times
Emmanuel Macron will take office as France’s next president on May 14, President François Hollande announced on Monday, a day after the independent centrist candidate defeated Marine Le Pen in a battle for the country’s leadership. – New York Times
After months of trying to move the political needle in favor of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, American far-right activists on Saturday threw their weight behind a hacking attack against her rival, Emmanuel Macron, hoping to cast doubt on an election that is pivotal to France and the wider world. – New York Times
The same Putin-backed hacking group that targeted the DNC last year been targeting Macron according to multiple cyber security groups. – Defense One
Editorial: French voters chose a centrist reformer over the nationalist right on Sunday by electing Emmanuel Macron as their next President. The question now is whether Mr. Macron can deliver on his promise to reform France’s sclerotic economy and diminish the Islamist terror threat. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: The defeat of Ms. Le Pen may help constrain the more radical impulses of President Trump, who has hinted at his sympathy for her. But unless the new government in France, and one to be elected later this year in Germany, can mitigate the negative effects of globalization and make E.U. institutions more democratic and accountable, the reprieve may be short-lived. – Washington Post
Anne Applebaum writes: Macron can only succeed if he accepts that this is now the essence of politics in Western democracies: An open fight against the toxic appeal of false promises and divisive, nativist nostalgia… They are here to stay, and they will only be defeated through open confrontation, a growing economy and better security, not censorship and shocked faces. – Washington Post
Bret Stephens writes: What has failed in France is an idea — an idea about the role of the state. Macron’s challenge, should he win, is to show the French there’s a better one. – New York Times
Robert Colville writes: The new president may turn out to be the savior of France—the man who finally persuades that prickly country to love, or at least tolerate, the market. But his promises, from this side of the Channel, look wearily familiar: all the gain of reform, with none of the pain. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Eastern Europe
Could NATO, drones, F-35s and US Special Operations Forces deter further Russian aggression and potentially stop an invasion of the Baltics?  That clearly seems to be part of the calculus motivating current SOF deployments and F-35 training operations in Eastern Europe, US officials said. – Scout Warrior
Tens of thousands of Poles took part in an opposition protest in Warsaw on Saturday, accusing the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party of curtailing freedoms in the biggest show of popular discontent so far this year. – Financial Times


United States of America
On Monday, Yates is to testify before a Senate subcommittee about her discussions with the White House, testimony that was delayed for more than a month after a previously scheduled appearance before a House committee was canceled amid a legal dispute over whether she would even be allowed to discuss the subject. – Washington Post
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was warned by senior members of President Trump’s transition team about the risks of his contacts with the Russian ambassador weeks before the December call that led to Flynn’s forced resignation, current and former U.S. officials said. – Washington Post
The Senate Intelligence Committee has sent letters to at least four former associates of the Trump campaign asking for information and records about their activities before and after the 2016 election, a sign that the committee’s probe into alleged Russian campaign interference is heating up. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Carter Page, an energy investor under scrutiny by the FBI in the Trump-Russia probe, is asking the Senate intelligence committee to provide information from Obama administration-ordered wiretaps and surveillance on him. – Washington Times
Sputnik, a news service owned and operated by the Russian government, has lost its bid to be permanently credentialed on Capitol Hill over its direct ties to Moscow. – Washington Times
The Trump administration’s second Army secretary nominee withdrew from consideration Friday amid mounting opposition to past comments he made about Islam, evolution and gender issues. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Faced with a wave of deadly attacks against journalists, the president of Mexico has vowed to take concrete steps to ensure the safety of journalists in his country, including removing the lead prosecutor responsible for investigating crimes against the freedom of expression. – New York Times
For more than 80 years, the governor’s office in the State of Mexico has been under the control of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or P.R.I…But this year, the race is shaping up to be perhaps the closest ever, possibly foreshadowing a similarly tight contest next year in the race to succeed President Enrique Peña Nieto, a member of Institutional Revolutionary Party. – New York Times
The Mexican army says its fight against surging opium production that feeds U.S demand is increasingly complicated by the rise of smaller gangs disputing wild, ungoverned lands planted with ever-stronger poppy strains. - Reuters
Latin America
National security adviser H.R. McMaster discussed the "ongoing crisis" in Venezuela with opposition leader Julio Borges at the White House on Friday, according to the Trump administration. – Washington Times
Jailed opposition Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopez is well and is urging street demonstrators to keep up massive anti-government protests, his wife said on Sunday after her first visit with the former presidential hopeful in over a month, putting to rest rumors of his ill health. - Reuters
A 20-year-old Venezuelan protester died on Friday after being shot in the head, authorities said, taking fatalities from a month of anti-government unrest to at least 37 as the opposition geared up for more demonstrations. - Reuters


West Africa
Dozens of the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants just over three years ago in the Nigerian village of Chibok have been released as part of an exchange for detained suspects from the militant group, a statement from Nigeria’s president said early Sunday. – New York Times
Muhammadu Buhari’s continued absence from public life in Nigeria has intensified speculation about the president’s health and added to worries over the impact on the day-to-day business of running the government. – Financial Times
Nigeria has almost tripled the budget for an amnesty program for militants in its oil-producing heartland, the presidency said on Saturday, a key factor in maintaining a tenuous peace in the Niger Delta and supporting crude production. - Reuters
Demobilized rebel fighters seized control of main roads leading into Ivory Coast's second city, Bouake, on Monday, demanding the payment of bonuses and their integration into the army and state institutions, a spokesman for the group said. - Reuters
East Africa
A member of the Navy SEALs was killed and two other American service members were wounded in a raid in Somalia on Friday, the first American combat fatality there since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” battle. – New York Times
A regional leader of the al-Shabab extremist group has been killed in a raid by Somalia's military, the government announced Sunday, as the country's new offensive against the fighters moves ahead. – Associated Press
War and famine have forced more than 2 million children in South Sudan to flee their homes, creating the most worrying refugee crisis in the world, the United Nations said on Monday. - Reuters
South Africa
Former president Thabo Mbeki has called on South Africans to put the constitution first in a thinly-veiled attack on Jacob Zuma. Mr Mbeki spoke out alongside other former heads of state on Friday to warn of a deepening national crisis. – Financial Times

Trump Administration

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis enjoys talking to the news media, he just doesn't like being quoted. The retired Marine general and legendary battlefield commander is known to be a fearless and intrepid leader, and unlike his boss, the commander in chief, he does not consider the press the enemy. – Washington Examiner
Pressure is building on President Trump to fill key Pentagon posts after his Army secretary nominee withdrew from consideration late Friday, the latest setback in his efforts. – The Hill
Editorial: Keeping human rights and democracy at the forefront of diplomacy, along with economics and security, does not create “obstacles,” as Mr. Tillerson put it. Rather, it is an enduring source of American strength, a source that no totalitarian or authoritarian system can ever match. – Washington Post
Richard Boucher writes: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the State Department staff last week that our policy must ensure American security and economic interests first but also reflect American values. He said our relationships needed rebalancing and then toured the globe to describe how we should be active everywhere. He’s also going to survey staff for ideas on improvements. All well and good, but something was missing: foreign policy is more than geographies and practices; it’s national standing and purpose. – The Cipher Brief

Democracy and Human Rights

Leon Willems and Arch Puddington write: If we lose the United States and Europe as champions of press freedom, we are bound to lose our orientation for human rights and dignity, or even worse—we may find ourselves with governments that oppose the rights of their own citizens. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue


Hal Brands writes: Even as NATO heads of state prepare to discuss Russia and global terror at their annual summit this month, a deeper issue is haunting America’s allies around the globe: their relative military and economic decline over the past two decades — and the increasingly sharp geopolitical challenges this poses for the United States. – Defense One

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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