FPI Overnight Brief: May 12, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

As supporters of Iran’s president awaited his arrival to fire them up for his May 19 re-election bid, the thoughts of many were with two other men under house arrest for years. “Moussavi, Karroubi must be released!” the crowd of thousands thundered over and over, a reference to the country’s most prominent opposition leaders. – New York Times
Emily Landau and Shimon Stein write: There is no easy path to reversing the negative trends that have been set in motion with the JCPOA, but correctly diagnosing the problem is a first step, and working to restore U.S. deterrence vis-à-vis Iran is also important for changing course. The conclusions of the ninety-day review on Iran policy will be the next stage for assessing the path forward. – The National Interest
Kristina Arriaga writes: What will Iran’s May 19 presidential election mean for the Baha’i, the country’s largest non-Muslim religious group? Given that every candidate was handpicked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s Guardian Council, the answer is simple: Nothing good. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A Kurdish-led military force backed by Washington and now approved by Damascus is closing in on Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa after taking the strategic Tabqa dam nearby. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The sudden collapse of ISIS’s grip on the Syrian city of Tabqa and the dam supporting it was the result of a negotiated settlement between US-backed forces and the militant group, two US defense officials told BuzzFeed News. – Buzz Feed
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Friday their attack to capture Raqqa city from Islamic State would begin soon and the U.S.-led coalition would supply them with weapons including armored vehicles for the assault. - Reuters
Editorial: For now Mr. Trump can make the case that defeating Islamic State should be the top priority for all responsible players in the region, and arming the Syrian Kurds is one of the less bad ways for doing so. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Paul Williams and Trevor Ulbrick write: Some foreign policy experts still argue that the United States does not have a vital interest in Syria’s fate. But the refugee crisis is now radiating far beyond Syria, destabilizing the Middle East and disrupting European society. A smart safe zone policy could stem the flow of refugees by providing pockets of security within Syria. It could also reenergize efforts to reach a negotiated peace settlement, the key to solving Syria’s seemingly intractable refugee crisis. A clear, well-conceived strategy could create safe zones that are both big and beautiful. – Foreign Affairs
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were moving to surround Mosul's Old City on Thursday, a week after launching a fresh push to drive Islamic State militants from areas they still hold, according to an Iraqi officer overseeing the operation. – Associated Press
President Trump said on Thursday that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will hold a "major" press conference next week to talk about the fight against the Islamic State. – Washington Examiner
Arabian Peninsula
After Congress passed a new law allowing Sept. 11 victims' families to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, opponents mounted an expensive political campaign, including paying American military veterans to visit Capitol Hill and warn lawmakers about what they said could be unintended consequences. – Associated Press
The United Nations Committee against Torture on Friday called on Bahrain to release prominent activist Nabeel Rajab from more than nine months of solitary confinement and investigate widespread allegations of ill-treatment and torture of detainees. - Reuters
The Yemeni government on Friday rejected a new council formed by senior tribal, military and political figures that seeks the secession of southern Yemen, saying it would deepen divisions and play into the hands of Iran-backed Houthi rebels. - Reuters
An attack on Yemen's Hodeidah port would displace more than 400,000 people, the U.N. International Organization for Migration said on Friday, doubling its previous minimum estimate. - Reuters
Jonathan Schanzer and Kate Havard write: Qatar doesn’t merely tolerate Hamas—it serves as the group’s financial and political patron. And it is now Hamas’s marketing consultant, too. Doha’s fingerprints are all over the attempted political shift conveyed in the political document Hamas released last week at the Sheraton in Doha. We can expect more Hamas repositioning out of Qatar in the days and weeks to come. - Newsweek
Hamas, the Islamic militant group which controls Gaza, said on Thursday it arrested the person responsible for the mysterious March assassination of one of its top commanders and that the suspect had acted on orders from Israel. – Los Angeles Times
A massive buildup of U.S., British and Jordanian armored vehicles at the Zarqa Jordanian military base near the Syrian border — depicted in photos circulating on social media — is for an annual training exercise called Eager Lion, not an invasion of southern Syria, according to officials at U.S. Central Command. – Military Times
Malaysia deported three Turks back to their homeland, raising concerns that Ankara is enlisting foreign governments to help crush a movement that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed for a failed coup last year. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought Thursday to ease Turkish concerns over the White House decision to arm a Syrian Kurdish group viewed as terrorists by Ankara. – Military.com
Turkey and Russia are haggling over the price for Turkey’s purchase of advanced long-range S-400 anti-air missiles, billed as F-35 killers by Moscow. – Military.com
The Turkish government is about to finalize its efforts to ink two major naval export deals totaling between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, official sources said on condition of strict anonymity. – Defense News


The emerging signs that the Trump administration may send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan are generating a variety of reactions here, including relief at a signal of strong commitment from the new administration in Washington, and worry that it may not be enough to turn around a long, expensive war that the Taliban has fought to a draw. – Washington Post
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress on Thursday that the security environment in Afghanistan will worsen over the next year amid a deadlock in the nation's drawn-out war. – Washington Free Beacon
The Pentagon's intelligence chief says the work of U.S. and NATO forces to stabilize Afghanistan is at risk of being squandered. – Associated Press
South Asia
The sale of a used car is developing into an unusual criminal case and a potential diplomatic sore point between the United Nations and Bangladesh, whose government has frequently bristled at criticism from the international community. – New York Times
Sri Lanka has rejected China's request to dock one of its submarines in Colombo this month, two senior government officials said on Thursday as the Indian prime minister landed in the island nation. - Reuters
North Korea
One of the country’s most scarred veterans of the campaign to contain North Korea says he is now “guardedly optimistic” that China will ratchet up the pressure on Pyongyang in a bid to force its isolated ally back to the negotiating table. – Washington Times
North Korea's nuclear weapons program poses a potentially "existential" threat to the United States, the national intelligence director said in a bleak appraisal to Congress on Thursday. He wouldn't say how close Pyongyang is to being able to strike the U.S. mainland. – Associated Press
North Korea demanded on Friday the extradition of South Korea's spy chief, accusing him of being a mastermind of a plot to assassinate its leader, Kim Jong Un, with a biochemical weapon. - Reuters
South Korea
The leaders of South Korea and China moved on Thursday to mend ties that have been strained by the deployment of an American missile-defense system in South Korea. – New York Times
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, on Friday ordered his government to abolish state-issued history textbooks for middle and high school students, his first move to erase the unpopular legacies of his impeached and ousted predecessor, Park Geun-hye. – New York Times
During the election campaign, Mr. Moon vowed to end that corruption, but he also promised to address other factors that had fueled the revolt: skyrocketing household debt, high youth unemployment and stagnant wages, all of which are hobbling the economy. He faces daunting obstacles as he tries to overhaul entrenched practices and deliver on ambitious campaign promises in a country that has yet to complete the tough transition from tiger economy to developed society – New York Times
President Moon Jae-in has vowed to reform South Korea’s chaebols “gradually, but fully.” How extensive those changes are by the end of his five-year term will be determined in large part by his ability to overcome political challenges and the economic entrenchment of the conglomerates. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
East Asia
When President Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in January, critics said he was leaving a vacuum at the heart of the Asia Pacific, ceding the United States’ role as regional economic leader.  On Sunday, China plans to show how it is filling that vacuum. – Washington Post
After months of bashing China for its trade practices, the Trump administration said it had agreed with Beijing on a broad range of measures aimed at improving the access of American beef producers, electronic-payments providers and natural-gas exporters, among others, to the world’s second-largest economy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Officials in Japan are weighing arming their fleet of guided-missile destroyers with Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to a report in the Japanese press. – USNI News
Taiwan will continue to buy arms from the United States with its purchases boosting employment in at least six U.S. states and narrowing the bilateral trade gap, the government has told the United States, in rare public comment sure to anger China, which claims the island as its own. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
As a political crackdown intensifies in Cambodia ahead of elections, critics of veteran strongman Hun Sen fear a change in U.S. priorities under President Donald Trump will reduce pressure to respect human rights. - Reuters
Facebook Thailand could face legal action next week after Thai authorities warned Facebook Inc to take down content deemed threatening to national security or violating strict lese majeste laws, the telecoms regulator said on Friday. - Reuters
The leader of a powerful Indonesian Islamist organization that led the push to jail Jakarta's Christian governor has laid out plans for a new, racially charged campaign targeting economic inequality and foreign investment. - Reuters
Editorial: On Monday the Indonesian government announced it would ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of the Islamist groups that campaigned against Mr. Purnama. But it could challenge the ban in court or re-form under a new name. The case of Mr. Purnama shows how groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and FPI are driving non-Muslims out of the public square. If Indonesian leaders don’t show some backbone and reverse this trend, it will become harder to contain the Islamist threat. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The F-35 Joint Strike fighter will drive deeper and more useful military connections between Australia, the United States and regional partners such as Japan and Malaysia, the head of Australia’s air force said. – Breaking Defense
China is conducting extensive espionage against Australia, Australia's most senior defense department official said on Friday, in a rare public accusation against its largest trading partner - Reuters


President Trump set his sights on the Navy in a new interview, calling the service’s new electromagnetic catapult to launch planes off aircraft carriers “no good” and saying that the Navy needs to go back to “goddamned steam,” the method used for decades. – Washington Post
The Navy is seriously considering derivatives of foreign designs and the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter for its new frigate, after three years pursuing an upgraded version of its current Littoral Combat Ship. The shift has shaken up the industry, panicking some players, while others quietly reposition: - Breaking Defense
A group of 178 House lawmakers signed a letter last month sent to U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to encourage fielding the service’s key tactical communications capability faster. – Defense News
The Navy's SeaRAM ship-based defensive missile succeeded in attacking and destroying an aerial drone designed to mirror an anti-ship missile target as part of a Littoral Combat Ship's Combat System Qualification Trials, service officials said. – Scout Warrior
Missile Defense
Aegis Ashore could become a model for missile defense against an aggressive North Korea in Japan, Guam and Hawaii, as well as in Europe to counter an Iranian threat, because it is adaptable and capable of carrying mixed load, a defense security expert said Wednesday. – USNI News
Donald Loren writes: The threat to the American people posed by ballistic missile proliferation and increasing capability is real and imminent. We must continue to invest in leading-edge technologies and next-generation capability, but we must also be prepared to quickly counter the immediate ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea, Iran and transnational terrorists. To do so, we must rapidly re-engineer and deploy a redesigned ground-based interceptor kill vehicle to keep the nation safe. – Washington Times
The War
U.S. Homeland Security officials met with major U.S. airlines and a trade group on Thursday to discuss the impact of possibly expanding a ban on large electronic gadgets on planes to flights from some European airports, three sources briefed on the meeting said. - Reuters
President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order on cybersecurity that makes clear that agency heads will be held accountable for protecting their networks, and calls on government and industry to reduce the threat from automated attacks on the Internet. – Washington Post
In one breath, President Donald Trump’s new director of national intelligence told lawmakers that threats to the United States are growing in size and complexity — and in the next, that he is looking for cuts across the entire U.S. intelligence community. – Defense One
James Lewis writes: This order isn’t a plan for cybersecurity. It’s a plan on how to plan. Taking a step back to assess all the work done on cybersecurity in the last 10 years is a good idea. The order is in some ways akin to admiring the problem, but this can be a good thing if we do not admire the problem for too long. Let’s see where we are in 90 days. – The Cipher Brief


Ukrainian police investigating the car-bomb killing of a Belarus-born journalist are sifting through a new documentary film's claims about the unsolved case, including that a current or former Ukrainian security agent was present when the explosive was planted. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
State-led Russian hackers remain a “major threat” to the U.S. government and will keep up their attacks after seeking to influence the 2016 presidential vote, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in an annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment.” – Bloomberg
A Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet flew within 20 feet of a Navy maritime patrol aircraft over the Black Sea on Tuesday, according to the Navy. – Washington Examiner
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for an end to the abuse of gay men in Chechnya and the release of suspected gay men detained by Chechen authorities – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Carl Bildt writes: Putin would certainly liked to be remembered by history as the leader who took Crimea back. That remains to be seen — the Crimea case is open. But Putin has lost everything else. NATO troops are deploying in the three Baltic states and Poland. Defense expenditures are rising throughout Europe. Georgia has just gained visa-free access to the E.U. Even Belarus is starting to be restless. – Washington Post
Christian Caryl writes: The combination of American negligence and European dithering gives Putin plenty of space to explore new realms of mischief-making…Yes, Putin has experienced a few setbacks lately. But that’s no reason for him to give up. After all, what’s stopping him? – Washington Post
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said she wants a continued presence of U.S. troops in her country as Russia builds up its forces in the region and prepares for military exercises in September. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
After years of contesting Britain’s political center ground, the opposition Labour Party agreed Thursday afternoon on what is likely to be its most left-wing election manifesto in more than three decades, complete with some eye-catching policies intended to shore up its core vote. – New York Times
Germany’s embattled defense minister has pledged to reform the country’s armed forces following the arrest of two soldiers alleged to have plotted a terrorist attack they tried to blame on refugees. – Stars and Stripes
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s party on Thursday announced a list of legislative candidates that is heavy on political novices, a sign of France’s reshaped and unsettled landscape ahead of crucial June parliamentary elections. – Washington Post
Centrist French President elect Emmanuel Macron sought to woo conservative members of parliament to his cause on Friday and head off a row with an ally as he bids for victory in elections for parliament next month. - Reuters
Christopher Caldwell writes: Today there are people in politics who can talk your ear off about "synergy" and "inclusion," but if you tell them about patriotism or freedom of speech they will give you a blank look. The torch has been passed to a new generation, the generation of Macron, who at the time the Berlin Wall fell was 11 years old. – The Weekly Standard


United States of America
Several top Trump administration intelligence officials told a Senate panel Thursday they accept the conclusion of a report earlier this year that says Russia undertook data thefts and hacking during the 2016 election—a finding President Donald Trump has questioned. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Senate confirmed Robert Lighthizer to serve as U.S. trade representative, paving the way for the Trump administration to launch a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and accelerate more broadly plans to reorient American trade policy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Trump said on Thursday that he has no investments in Russia and sent a "certified" letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham to prove it. – Washington Examiner
Anne Applebaum writes: Russia would have needed no inducements or collusion to support Trump’s election campaign. His personality is the kind they understand, his cynicism and his dishonesty are familiar, his greed is the same as their greed. Above all, his lack of respect for the law is their lack of respect for the law. Trump fired the FBI director to get him off his television screen; Russian police lock up dissidents to get them out of public view. No, it’s not the same thing. But it’s not that different either. – Washington Post
The acting director of the F.B.I. contradicted the White House on two major issues on Thursday: the support of rank-and-file agents for the fired F.B.I. chief James B. Comey and the importance of its investigation into Russian election interference. – New York Times
President Trump offered on Thursday a new version of his decision to fire James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, saying he would have dismissed him regardless of whether the attorney general and his deputy recommended it. – New York Times
Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief. The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner. – New York Times
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah wants to bring federal judge Merrick Garland back to the Capitol, but this time for hearings as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. – WSJ's Washington Wire (subscription required)
Vice President Mike Pence has once again delivered the White House line, in the face of growing contradictory evidence, on a charged topic related to Russia’s possible connections to the Trump campaign. - Politico
The surprise firing of James Comey was triggered by the ousted FBI director's recent comments on why he chose not to seek the prosecution of Hillary Clinton for using an unsecure email server, according to White House and Trump administration officials. – Washington Free Beacon
At least four people with law enforcement experience are under consideration by President Donald Trump to replace James Comey at the helm of the FBI, according to a White House official, including the congressman who led a two-year investigation of Hillary Clinton. - Bloomberg
Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) is on the list of candidates to replace James Comey, while two confidants of President Donald Trump are seen as unlikely to get the nod, two U.S. government officials said Thursday. - Politico
Two well-connected former FBI employees told The Daily Beast that counterintelligence agents working on Russia desk based at FBI headquarters in downtown Washington met for drinks in the hours after their boss’s firing and shared their concerns: that they would be moved to another division, and that their work on the Russia issue wouldn’t be a priority anymore. – The Daily Beast
President Trump will not make a visit to the FBI headquarters this week after the White House was told Trump would not be well-received after he fired FBI Director James Comey, according to multiple reports Thursday. – Washington Examiner
Editorial: By insisting that FBI staff respected Mr. Comey and that the Russia probe is “highly significant,” he implied by example that a good FBI director should have the confidence to contradict administration spin. Protecting the agency’s independence must be the next director’s mission. – Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer writes: rump had become increasingly agitated with the Russia-election investigation and Comey’s very public part in it. If Trump thought this would kill the inquiry and the story, or perhaps even just derail it somewhat, he’s made the blunder of the decade. Whacking Comey has brought more critical attention to the Russia story than anything imaginable. It won’t stop the FBI investigation. And the confirmation hearings for a successor will become a nationally televised forum for collusion allegations, which up till now have remained a scandal in search of a crime. – Washington Post
Robert Delahunty and John Yoo write: Trump has indeed arrived at a crucial moment in his administration. He will ultimately be judged, not for removing Comey, but for replacing him. It is critically important that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions select a director in whom the American public can place its utmost confidence. – National Review Online
Stephen Hayes writes: President Donald Trump fired James Comey just as the FBI director moved to expand and intensify the bureau's counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the possible collusion of Trump advisers in those efforts. That development alone ought to give pause to Republicans inclined to go to the barricades for the president. But there's more. The White House's after-the-fact explanations of the Comey firing were inconsistent and internally contradictory—and even, at times, demonstrably untrue. – The Weekly Standard
Terry Eastland writes: Rosenstein is an institutionalist, meaning, in the context of the Justice Department, someone who defends the department's traditions against dubious innovations and seeks their restoration when they are violated. Rosenstein's institutionalism is evident in his memorandum. It concerns a subject—investigations and prosecutions—that is at the heart of the department's and the bureau's work, and thus of deep interest to institutionalists. And in his memorandum, as befits an institutionalist, Rosenstein makes clear that his views are thoroughly mainstream. – The Weekly Standard
Fred Barnes writes: Among the swirling parts of the controversy over President Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey, there's one that matters most….It's the lack of any known evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia in a plot to defeat Hillary Clinton in last year's election. Unless such evidence—incriminating evidence—comes to light, Trump is likely to be off the hook, at least for now, and the uproar over canning Comey will begin to fade. – The Weekly Standard
United Nations
The Russian diplomat responsible for triggering President Trump’s former national security advisor to resign from office is poised to leave his job in Washington for a new role in New York City. – Washington Times
Latin America
The questioning of Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by an investigative judge over allegations of corruption has polarized this country between those who want to see him jailed and those who want him back in the presidency. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro replaced his top health official just days after her ministry reported a severe worsening in public health in a rare release of government statistics. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
At least 65 members of Venezuela's military, ranking from officers to the captain of an important border region unit, have been detained, raising questions about whether a fissure exists within the nation’s armed forces, according to an attorney representing several of those arrested. – Associated Press
Venezuela's opposition is asking other Latin American countries to pressure President Nicolas Maduro's government into implementing a "democratic agenda," opposition leader Julio Borges said on Thursday. - Reuters
A Brazilian strategist was paid $20 million under-the-table for the 2012 re-election campaign of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, much of it handed over in cash by the man who now leads Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro, according to a plea bargain statement made public on Thursday. - Reuters


West Africa
The Trump administration, which is already fighting the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria and weighing whether to send several thousand more American troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, has been only too eager to continue Obama-era policies of providing financial, logistical and intelligence support to France in this region. By doing so, it hopes to avoid having to put American combat forces on the ground in yet another global hot spot. – New York Times
Gunfire erupted on Friday in several locations in Ivory Coast, including the military headquarters in the commercial capital Abidjan, as anger spread following a decision by some leaders of a group of mutineers to drop demands for bonuses. - Reuters
The two institutions embody a contest for influence in Senegal, and more widely in Africa, between Iran-backed Shi'ites and Saudi-funded Sunnis. It's one strand of a broad power struggle in which each side is spending millions of dollars to win converts. At stake is huge political influence, on a resource-rich continent that has often served as the theater for rivalries between world powers. - Reuters
East Africa
Campaigns are kicking off for the August balloting, and many Kenyans worry that this race will be a rerun of the divisive 2007-2008 elections. Accusations of vote-rigging, ethnic and tribal strife and economic duress created a pressure cooker that claimed 1,300 lives and displaced 600,000 people — the worst violence in the country since independence in 1963. According to polls, 70 percent of Kenyans say they are worried about a repeat of that violence. – Washington Times
The Trump administration would consider deploying additional U.S. troops to Somalia should the troubled African nation request greater military aid to combat al-Qaida loyalists there, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis indicated Thursday. – Military Times
Somalia's government and its foreign backers on Thursday signed a security pact which they presented as a road map toward building a functional national army capable of taking on the fight against al Shabaab militants. - Reuters
Sudanese Prime Minister Hassan Saleh announced a new government on Thursday, with changes to economic ministers including the oil, investment and finance chiefs. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Mark A. Green serves as a rebuttal to the hyper-partisanship of Washington. From across the ideological spectrum came effusive praise for the Trump administration’s announcement Wednesday that it will nominate the former Republican congressman from Wisconsin and ex-ambassador to Tanzania to head the U.S. Agency for International Development. – Washington Post
Eliot Cohen writes: Acheson’s erudition, tempered eloquence, and passionate belief in the connection between what the United States stands for and how it acts in the world is a model for any American secretary of state. He was no naif, and he was no crusader, but rather a deeply and widely read man who understood his country, the tides of world politics, and America’s moment in history, which is why his accomplishments endured and his reputation shines. Of Secretary Tillerson, as he contemplates a chaotic collection of seemingly unrelated crises, and meekly prepares to savage the budget and organization of the department confided to his care, that will probably not be said. – The Atlantic

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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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