FPI Overnight Brief: May 10, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, has delivered rare rebukes in recent days to the country’s powerful Shiite clergy and allied security forces, lashing out at rivals and their hard-line backers ahead of his reelection bid next week. – Washington Post
Iran is preparing to launch two new domestic satellites into space, according to a new announcement by Iranian military leaders that is stirring discussion among U.S. national security insiders who say the move is likely cover for the test firing of advanced intercontinental ballistic missile technology that could be used as part of Iran's nuclear program. – Washington Free Beacon
Less than two weeks before voting in Iran's presidential election, incumbent Hassan Rohani has risked crossing the political establishment's "red lines" in an unusually blunt attack against two conservative rivals. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Determined to protect a dominant security role and vast economic interests, Iran's Revolutionary Guards military force is quietly backing a hardliner in May 19 presidential polls, with an eye toward a bigger prize: the succession of the supreme leader. - Reuters
Max Singer writes: President Trump does not have to solve the Iranian nuclear-weapon threat during his first term. The deadline for building the coalition with the strength and determination to stop Iran will come after 2020. But he would be wise to use the term to develop the American and international understanding and policies that can create the will and power to stop Iran. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Trump has approved a plan to provide Syrian Kurds with heavier weapons so they can participate in the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. – New York Times
James Jeffrey writes: Nothing is certain with the increasingly unpredictable Turkish president. But if Trump convinces him, that he has a regional containment strategy against what Erdogan recently called “Persian expansionism”; that his administration’s collaboration with the PYD is limited by time, mission, and quality; and that Turkey will have a role in liberating Raqqa — as the local tribes desire — then a crisis with Ankara might be avoided, and a common effort against the greater regional threat initiated. – Foreign Policy
Max Boot writes: The real issue here is less the impact of this decision on U.S.-Turkish relations, which are already poor, but, rather, its effect on Syria’s future. What exactly does the administration seek to accomplish in Syria beyond defeating ISIS? At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then-Major General David Petraeus asked a prophetic question: Tell me how this ends? The same question should now be applied to the U.S. campaign in Syria: How will it end? - Commentary
Fly-blown corpses of Islamic State militants (IS) littered the streets of a district in Mosul on Tuesday as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces chipped away at the last remaining handful of districts under the jihadists' control. - Reuters
Members the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plan to press National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster on the administration’s anti-Islamic State strategy in an informal meeting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. – Defense News
They made the captive children, weak from hunger, fight over a single tomato. Then the Islamic State militants told them that in paradise they could eat to their hearts delight, but they could only get there by blowing themselves up. The lesson was part of the indoctrination inflicted by the militants on boys from Iraq's Yazidi religious minority after the extremist group overran the community's towns and villages in northern Iraq. The group forced hundreds of boys, some as young as 7 or 8, into training to become fighters and suicide bombers, infusing them with its murderous ideology. – Associated Press
Arabian Peninsula
Cholera, a waterborne disease that can quickly explode into a public health disaster, has begun to spread in Yemen, a war-ravaged country ill equipped to fight it. – New York Times
The criticism of Prince Mohammed and his plans underlines the challenges the powerful young leader faces as he tries to push through bold reforms intended to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy. The initial public offering of Aramco, which would be the world’s biggest IPO, is core to his plans. He hopes to raise $100bn through the sale, which is supposed to take place in 2018. – Financial Times
Just an hour after Dalia Dorner, the head of Israel’s Press Council warned that media freedom in the country was “at risk,” the government shut down the state broadcaster’s venerable nightly news show. – Washington Post
Truth in the Middle East often boils down to what side you are on. To Fadwa Barghouti, the video that Israeli officials released this week was clearly fake: the one the Israelis said showed her husband, Marwan, the leader of a Palestinian hunger strike, furtively snacking in solitary confinement. – New York Times


The Pentagon is pushing for more than 3,000 additional American troops and new authority to give commanders more control, in an attempt to accelerate the fight against the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Donald Trump faces a stark choice as his security advisers and military commanders push him to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan — a step that would escalate a conflict he spent years deriding and threaten to violate his “America first” campaign pledge. - Politico
The number of troops that the United States will add to the fight in Afghanistan will depend on how many additional forces NATO supplies to expand the battle against terrorists there, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday. – Stars and Stripes
Reports of a proposed significant increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan brought praise from critics of the drawdown of forces in the region but renewed concerns from Democrats unsure of the president’s strategy for the war. – Military Times
President Donald Trump wants the Pentagon to come up with a new plan to win in Afghanistan before authorizing the deployment of thousands more U.S. troops to the 15-year-old war, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. – Military.com
Afghan security forces are battling Taliban insurgents blocking a main route into the northern city of Kunduz with improvised explosives, officials said on Tuesday, as fears grew local residents could be forced to flee the city. - Reuters
The White House’s pick to be the No. 2 official at the State Department assured Congress Tuesday that U.S.-Sino relations were on a positive track, despite Washington and Beijing remaining at odds over dealing with North Korea. – Washington Times
China Daily, a state-controlled media organization that aims primarily at an international audience, began releasing English-language videos this week describing a huge spending and infrastructure push called the Belt and Road Initiative, in the form of a child’s bedtime story. – New York Times
Top U.S. lawmakers delivered a blunt message to China on Wednesday that they would not relent in their campaign to protect human rights in Tibet, calling for legislative and trade steps to press home their point. - Reuters
China has recently tested a new type of guided missile in a northeastern sea near the Korean peninsula, the defense ministry said Tuesday, hours after South Korean elections held amid regional tensions. - AFP
Prominent Chinese rights lawyer Li Heping has returned to his Beijing home after being held for nearly two years amid a sweeping clamp-down on civil society, his former lawyer said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) writes: We must use all of the considerable tools at our disposal to relentlessly and ceaselessly defend the Asia -- and the world -- that we helped to shape. If we stand proud and act confidently in service of our interests and our values, we will ensure that the world for which our forefathers fought for will endure long after we are gone. - CNN
North Korea
The State Department has long advised Americans to avoid North Korea, but every year hundreds visit. Not all of those get to leave. The announcement Sunday that a man identified as Kim Hak-song had been arrested brings the total to four American citizens now held in North Korea. At a time when tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been elevated by North Korea’s missile launches, a potential nuclear test and threats of armed conflict, the detentions add another complication. – New York Times
A North Korean delegation will attend a large multilateral economic summit in Beijing next week, China's foreign ministry announced Tuesday, underlining its reluctance to join American efforts to isolate the regime in Pyongyang. – Washington Post
The North Korean regime headed by Kim Jong-Un seems rattled by the presence of the USS Michigan near the Korean peninsula. – Defense Tech
Elizabeth Rosenberg writes: Notwithstanding the risks associated with secondary sanctions on North Korea, they are a leading strategy to change Pyongyang’s calculus in a shrinking window of opportunity. The U.S. Congress understands this and is moving a bill to toughen sanctions on North Korea. The administration must follow suit and immediately implement secondary sanctions, integrating them into the maximum pressure plan. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Yeonmi Park and Thor Halvossen write: The fate of the North Korean people depends in large part on the action—or inaction—of the South Korean government. So while we celebrate the South’s democracy, we despair at its lack of interest in the suffering in the North. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
South Korea
South Korea elected Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer who favors dialogue with North Korea, as president on Tuesday, returning the nation’s liberals to power after nearly a decade in the political wilderness and setting up a potential rift with the United States over the North’s nuclear weapons program. – New York Times
President Trump finds himself on a collision course with Mr. Moon, who has hinted at a “Sunshine II” approach that is in direct contradiction to the path Mr. Trump has set to fulfill his vow to “solve” the North Korean nuclear problem, one way or another. – New York Times
Editorial: The good news is that Mr. Moon is for now striking a conciliatory note. He told Ms. Fifield that “President Trump is more reasonable than he is generally perceived” and that he agrees with the U.S. strategy of “applying sanctions and pressure” to Pyongyang if it leads to negotiations. This is a relationship that can be saved and even strengthened — if Mr. Trump handles it with care. – Washington Post
Editorial: Mr. Moon says the U.S.-Korea alliance will remain the cornerstone of his country’s security. That’s good to hear, but Mr. Trump will have to be clear that a return to appeasement is unacceptable. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Michael Breen writes: Mr. Trump needs to take note of this and avoid repeating the mistake of former President George W. Bush, who treated then-President Kim Dae-jung as a liberal annoyance undermining U.S. efforts to denuclearize North Korea. Instead, he should work together with Mr. Moon to find a resolution to the Korean problem. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asia
An Indonesian court found the Christian governor of the country’s capital, Jakarta, guilty of blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday, sentencing him to two years in prison in a case widely seen as a test of religious tolerance and free speech. – New York Times


He wanted more, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was satisfied with the military spending increase approved last week by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. – DOD Buzz
The Army is now performing concept modeling and early design work for a new mobile, lethal, high-tech future lightweight tank platform able to detect and destroy a wider range of targets from farther distances, cross bridges, incinerate drones with lasers and destroy incoming enemy artillery fire –  all for the 2030s and beyond. – Scout Warrior
David Norquist, the brother of long-time Republican tax foe Grover Norquist, vowed Tuesday that if the Senate confirms he to be the Pentagon comptroller that he will finally audit the department by ratcheting up pressure on employees. – Washington Examiner
Over two days of briefings here by everyone from pilots to maintainers to the commander of the 432nd Wing, one message rang out loud and clear: the Reaper has grown into a key Close Air Support (CAS) tool for the US military and should not be viewed primarily as an Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance (ISR) asset. – Breaking Defense
The U.S. Air Force plans to allow a defense company to pick its new electronic-attack jet, an unprecedented move that just might herald the end of an era for the most prominent maker of large intelligence aircraft. – Defense One
Lockheed Martin Corp.’s new King Stallion helicopter for the U.S. Marine Corps is likely to cost $144 million each, 4 percent more than projected by the service, and be ready to deploy a year later than planned, according to the Pentagon’s cost assessment office. - Bloomberg
Sandra Erwin writes: The first and second offset strategies were less strategies than the ability to advance existing technologies into what became the Atomic Bomb in the first, and the advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance along with advanced battle management in the second offset.  To achieve the third, exploiting COTS to our advantage may be the best chance of hedging against emerging near-peer competitors such as Russia and China. – Real Clear Defense
Missile Defense
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) will introduce legislation as early as next week to authorize the deployment of dozens of additional ballistic missile interceptors in the U.S. Pacific as part of an effort to confront an increasingly aggressive North Korea. – Washington Free Beacon
The War
A United Nations agency has launched an effort to craft global guidance for the use of laptops and other portable electronics in passenger aircraft cabins after selective bans by the United States and Britain upset airline passengers as well as Middle Eastern carriers. - Reuters
Foreign nations' cyber intrusions into key infrastructure network are preparation for damaging attacks in a future conflict, the commander of Cyber Command told Congress Tuesday. – Washington Free Beacon
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that he is done waiting for President Trump to develop a cyber warfare policy. – The Hill
Researchers discovered three distinct hacker groups using similar, previously unknown security flaws in Microsoft Office to attack victims. – The Hill


Hannah Thoburn writes: Meaningful change that makes a positive impact on the lives of Ukrainians is possible, but the tale of these two cities makes it clear that the competent management of domestic and international resources, the willingness to make hard choices, and perhaps a little political support is a winning formula in Ukraine. – World Affairs Journal
John Sullivan, the Trump administration’s nominee to become deputy secretary of state, told a Senate committee Tuesday that Russian interference in elections in the United States and Europe requires a “robust” response. – Washington Post
Russia rolled out a rather subdued version of its annual Victory Day parade on Tuesday, with President Vladimir V. Putin calling for international cooperation in fighting terrorism even though foreign leaders had mostly stayed away. – New York Times
The official tone from the Kremlin on Monday, the day after the pro-Europe Emmanuel Macron was elected France’s president, was that Russia can work with anybody. But the snow falling on Moscow was perhaps more reflective of the damp chill in the Kremlin’s relations with Europe after yet another fruitless attempt to influence an election abroad. – New York Times
The U.S. military will increase its ability observe Russian troop movements near the Baltic states during a large military exercise planned by Moscow this summer, U.S. defense officials said. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
When Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov arrives in Washington today for talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—and an Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump—the moment will hardly be ripe for diplomacy between Russia and the United States. - Politico
How does the U.S. fight the Kremlin’s strategy of hacking political targets’ private communications and dumping the material online through third parties such as Wikileaks? The head of U.S. Cyber Command has an answer: call out the behavior for what it is. That may seem as simple as it is obvious, yet that’s not the tactic President Donald Trump is taking. Rather, his recent statements have tried to call into question the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections. – Defense One
The United States needs to make it clear it is unacceptable and there is a price to pay if any adversary takes action like manipulating voter registration rolls, the head of U.S. Cyber Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. – USNI News
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis traveled to the eastern edge of the NATO alliance on Wednesday to pledge American solidarity with the Baltic nations, but he stopped short of giving his hosts in Lithuania what they wanted: a commitment to base Patriot missile-defense systems in the region. – New York Times
Germany’s top prosecutor Tuesday said two soldiers and an accomplice plotted high-profile assassinations that would be blamed on a migrant, escalating a controversy over right-wing extremism in the military that is weighing on the German government. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Jeremy Corbyn vowed to carry on leading Britain's opposition Labour Party if he loses a national election on June 8, defying polls showing he is on course for defeat and concerns from within his party that his leadership threatens its future. - Reuters
Constanze Stelzenmüller writes: Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential elections and a conservative upset win in a bellwether German regional election, both on Sunday, have produced an unexpected third winner: Angela Merkel. – Washington Post
The U.S. warned France’s security services before last weekend’s presidential election that Russian cyber actors were carrying out operations that had penetrated some of the French campaign infrastructure, the director of the U.S. National Security Agency said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The story told by American officials, cyberexperts and Mr. Macron’s own campaign aides of how a hacking attack intended to disrupt the most consequential election in France in decades ended up a dud was a useful reminder that as effective as cyberattacks can be in disabling Iranian nuclear plants, or Ukrainian power grids, they are no silver bullet. The kind of information warfare favored by Russia can be defeated by early warning and rapid exposure. – New York Times
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron wants to reconcile his country with globalization. The modest economic changes he is proposing to do so are already provoking resistance. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Alexandra Hall writes: International exchange programs are one of those rare cases where a dollar spent may be many dollars saved down the road: a genuine win-win policy. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarks on a major review and potential restructuring of the State Department, this is one element of its budget he should fight to preserve. – Atlantic Council
President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the law enforcement official leading a wide-ranging criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. – New York Times
The White House on Tuesday dismissed questions about why President Trump waited 18 days to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn after learning that Flynn had lied about contacts with the Russian ambassador, saying the person who delivered that message — then-Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates — was considered a “political opponent” of the president. – Washington Post
President Trump’s sudden removal of James B. Comey as director of the FBI sparked immediate fears among legislators and others that the bureau’s probe into possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign might be upended now that Trump himself can handpick its new supervisor. – Washington Post
President Donald Trump’s decision to fire the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the midst of the bureau’s probe into his campaign associates’ possible links to Russia added impetus to calls for a special counsel to handle the case – Wall Street Journal
President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn't call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters. - Politico
After years of charting his own course in a city that prides itself on loyalty, after marching to the beat of his own drum in a political culture that’s increasingly divided into teams, after making up the rules as he went along in a Justice Department that prides itself on precedent and tradition, the FBI director found this week that he had run out of time and run out of friends. - Politico
The firing on Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey eliminated one of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s most critical allies in investigating President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, potentially knocking the probe into turmoil. - Politico
Rep. Justin Amash said his office is looking into legislation that would create an independent commission to review Russia's role in the 2016 election, including allegations that President Trump's campaign colluded with the Russian government. – Washington Examiner
Rosie Gray reports: Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday he is not up for consideration to replace FBI Director James Comey, whose firing by President Trump set off a political maelstrom on Tuesday. – The Atlantic
Interview: To get an IC perspective on Comey’s dismissal by the Trump Administration, The Cipher Brief’s Leone Lakhani talked with Michael Hayden, who has served as Director of both the NSA and CIA. – The Cipher Brief
Interview: The Cipher Brief’s Mackenzie Weinger spoke with James Jeffrey, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, for a diplomatic perspective on the fallout from the firing. – The Cipher Brief
Editorial: A new FBI Director who looks at the Russia evidence with fresh eyes and without the political baggage of the last year will have a better chance of being credible to the American people. Mr. Trump should now devote himself to nominating someone of integrity who can meet that standard. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
United Nations
Putting money into U.N. agencies, where the Trump administration has just cut U.S. funding by $640 million, is as important to global peace and security as defense spending — "and sometimes even more," a top European Union official said Tuesday. – Associated Press
Latin America
Venezuela’s public health worsened sharply last year, with infant mortality jumping 30%, maternal mortality shooting up 66% and cases of malaria climbing 76%, according to the country’s health ministry. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


West Africa
Only days after securing the release of dozens of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, the Nigerian government is going back to the negotiating table, using captured militant commanders as bargaining chips to free the rest of the abducted girls. – New York Times
East Africa
The member of the Navy SEALs who was killed last week in Somalia was moving alongside — not behind, as the Pentagon initially said — Somali security forces approaching a complex inhabited by Shabab militants when the insurgents opened fire, American military officials said on Tuesday. – New York Times
Several sub-Saharan African economies will grow at more than 6 per cent this year but the rest of the continent will drag growth back to 2.5 per cent, highlighting the emergence of a “two-speed Africa”. – Financial Times
The president of South Sudan has replaced army chief Paul Malong with a general who is a member of an ethnic minority, the defense minister said on Tuesday, after a slew of resignations by senior generals alleging tribal bias and war crimes. - Reuters
Central/Southern Africa
Thousands of people have fled fighting in Democratic Republic of Congo over the past month and sought refuge in neighboring Angola, a provincial governor said, an exodus that is straining resources in villages along the border. - Reuters
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila on Tuesday named a new transitional government, state television said, defying opponents who rejected the cabinet, saying it violated a previous agreement. - Reuters
Police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at protesters in southern townships of Johannesburg on Tuesday to quell the latest violence over lack of housing and jobs, piling pressure on President Jacob Zuma's government. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Inside the White House, opponents of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s second national security advisor, want him out. This week, they’ve made their campaign against him public, leaking to reporters details about the rocky relationship he has with his boss and trying to paint him as someone hellbent on overseas nation-building projects that are doomed to fail. The timing isn’t accidental. The effort to damage McMaster comes as the Trump administration decides what its policy should be in Afghanistan, a debate that’s pitting McMaster against Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist. – Foreign Policy
That continued loyalty from Trump has given Flynn a lingering influence over policy in the White House, where staffers initially hired by Flynn, including his deputy K.T. McFarland, remain on the National Security Council and in other positions. Senior administration officials, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, also remain loyal to Flynn and have worked to undermine his successor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, according to several people familiar with the situation. - Politico

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.
Read More