FPI Overnight Brief: May 17, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran’s supreme leader issued an unusual warning on Wednesday, saying there was a chance that state entities might interfere in Friday’s presidential elections. In 2009, widespread allegations of fraud led to street protests that briefly threatened to topple the government. – New York Times
Iranian state media says four ATR 72-600s are being delivered, the first installment of a deal with the French manufacturer to purchase 20 passenger planes following the lifting of sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal. – Associated Press
Reuel Marc Gerecht writes: Opposition to clerical dictatorship will erupt again—the sooner the better given the nuclear deal’s temporary restraints. Mr. Rouhani’s promise is an illusion for those weary of the Middle East. Like a mirage on the desert’s edge, this mullah beckons fools. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Seth Siegel writes: Sooner or later, the music will stop. Mother Nature is forgiving only up to a point. Once aquifers are pumped dry and begin collapsing on themselves, there is no engineering project — corrupt or otherwise — that can save them. The presidential election won’t change any of that. Reining in the IRGC and reallocating the country’s water is, like much else, not in the hands of Iran’s president. The supreme leader will have to take on a system created under his less-than-supreme leadership. – Washington Post
With U.S. and Iraqi officials talking of the imminent defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq, President Trump faces a challenge to swing a deal that President Obama failed to nail down: an agreement with Baghdad to keep U.S. forces in Iraq after the fighting ends. – Washington Times
A top Iraqi Kurdish leader said Tuesday that a referendum on the region’s independence could happen by the end of this year and would also include the population of the multi-ethnic and oil-rich province of Kirkuk. – Washington Times
The Syrian government forcefully rejected on Tuesday accusations by the United States that the bodies of thousands of political prisoners had been disposed of in a crematory at a prison near Damascus, describing the allegations as “lies” to justify American aggression. – New York Times
The House is expected to vote Wednesday evening on bipartisan legislation that would impose new sanctions on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for war crimes and human rights abuses against civilians, sources with the House Foreign Affairs Committee confirmed. – Washington Free Beacon
A new Marine Corps artillery unit is supporting friendly forces in Syria that are isolating Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital, said Army Maj. Josh T. Jacques, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. – Military Times
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told President Trump on Tuesday that the United States' decision to back Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria "will never be accepted," during a joint press conference in which the two leaders otherwise lavished praise on each other. – Washington Examiner
The U.S. Treasury said it imposed sanctions on Tuesday against five people and five entities accused of providing support to Syria's government or linked to those previously sanctioned over the Syrian government's violence against its citizens. - Reuters
Tony Badran writes: As the revelations about Assad’s prison system demonstrate, “ending the war” does not address the machinery of death in the regime’s dungeons. The unspeakable horror of the Assad prison system is a longstanding tradition of the Assad family, dating back to Bashar’s father...But Bashar has managed to surpass his father. You will not find descriptions of crematoria to dispose of thousands of dead detainees in Syrian prison literature. That picture conjures another event in history. - Tablet

Gen. Raymond Thomas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, says his forces aren’t sharing information with Russian forces in Syria or Iraq. – Defense One
Islamic State group militants used armed, commercially available drones to bedevil U.S. and coalition forces fighting in Mosul in 2016, a vexing problem that the four-star head of U.S. Special Operations Command said was the “most daunting” threat his operators faced on the battlefield last year. – Military Times
Gulf States
President Donald Trump is boning up on policy and protocol ahead of an international trip that begins Friday in Saudi Arabia, but he’s already emerged as a peripheral and perhaps unwitting player in a power struggle between two Saudi princes seeking to succeed the aging King Salman. - Politico
Saudi Arabia is expected to announce a deal to invest as much as $40 billion to help build out U.S. infrastructure when President Trump visits the oil-rich kingdom later this week. – Washington Examiner
The United States has signed a new, updated defense accord with the United Arab Emirates that could allow Washington to send more troops and equipment there, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, in the latest sign of deepening ties with the close Gulf ally. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: When President Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he will lay out his vision for a new regional security architecture White House officials call an “Arab NATO,” to guide the fight against terrorism and push back against Iran. As a cornerstone of the plan, Trump will also announce one of the largest arms-sales deals in history. – Washington Post
David Daoud and David Andrew Weinberg write: Saudi Arabia’s nascent thawing of relations with Israel and the Jewish people is step in a positive direction. However, Riyadh’s permission for its officials to enflame anti-Semitism works at cross-purposes with this objective, and is ultimately bad for American interests. Riyadh understandably wants Israel to acknowledge the Palestinians’ peoplehood and their claim to an independent state. By the same token, Saudis should also stop denying the humanity of Jews and Israelis – and that includes their connection to Jerusalem‘s holy sites. Further, Riyadh should cease its attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel. - The Forward

Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar staged a large military parade on Tuesday for the third anniversary of his campaign to control Benghazi, as his troops fight to secure two last districts in Libya's second city. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: The Palestinian government is “hopeful” that the Trump administration will make real progress on peace between Israel and the Palestinians even though there’s no actual plan for achieving that peace, said the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s new representative in Washington. In fact, he said, Trump’s lack of a real plan might help. – Washington Post
Dov Zakheim writes: No doubt the president is sincere in his desire to, as he put it, “do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement—to mediate, to arbitrate anything they’d like to do.” But it also appears that he has come to recognize that he can only function as a “mediator, arbitrator or facilitator” if he recognizes and responds to the concerns of both sides, not just those of Israel. In that sense, while the trip may not satisfy Israeli conservatives, it may mark the first step toward what is clearly this president’s effort to achieve what none of his predecessors could accomplish: to seal the ultimate “deal.” – The National Interest
President Trump on Tuesday praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey as a stalwart ally in the battle against Islamic extremism, ignoring Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian crackdown on his own people and brushing aside recent tensions between the United States and Turkey over how to wage the military campaign against the Islamic State. – New York Times
President Trump urged the president of Turkey Tuesday to release an American pastor who’s been held behind bars since last October. – Washington Times
Trump offered his administration’s “support” to Turkey in its fight against extremist groups like the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known widely as the PKK. Of the complex and bloody civil war in Syria, Trump said: “We … appreciate Turkey’s leadership in seeking an end to the horrific killing.” And, notably, the new U.S. president also pointed to an issue that defined his unlikely rise to the presidency — trade — as a subject of his talks with his Turkish counterpart. – Roll Call
President Trump appears to have ignored a request from a bipartisan coalition of senators who had asked him to call out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his authoritarian policies and human rights violations. – Washington Examiner
Turkish lawmakers elected seven members to a reshaped judicial authority on Wednesday, pushing through a second of the recently approved constitutional changes that sharply increase President Tayyip Erdogan's powers. - Reuters


Suicide bombers stormed the state television offices in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, officials said, with heavy fighting underway and a large number of casualties feared. – New York Times
The U.S.’s top military officer is huddling with top NATO commanders this week to discuss the way forward for the war in Afghanistan. – Washington Times
Eli Lake reports: A new Afghanistan war strategy approved last month by President Donald Trump's top military and national security advisers would require at least 50,000 U.S. forces to stop the advance of the Taliban and save the government in Kabul, according to a classified U.S. intelligence community assessment. – Bloomberg View
In the name of safeguarding its 1.4 billion people, China has been collecting biometric information from millions of people whom it deems potential threats—among them, Uyghurs, migrant workers, and college students—as part of national DNA database. – Defense One
Korean Peninsula
The American ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday called for stiffening sanctions against North Korea and perhaps even punishing those who continue to help it, even as she acknowledged that there was no consensus yet with the North’s powerful backers in China – New York Times
Now this force of North Korean cyberhacking sleeper cells is under new scrutiny in connection with the ransomware assaults that have roiled much of the world over the past four days. New signs have emerged not only that North Koreans carried out the attacks but also that the targeted victims included China, North Korea’s benefactor and enabler. – New York Times
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for further efforts by China to tackle the North Korean threat and said Pyongyang’s latest missile launch showed it was advancing toward being able to hit the mainland U.S. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
South Korea’s defense minister on Tuesday said North Korea’s ballistic missile program is evolving quicker than previously realized. – The Hill
A trio of Republican senators is urging the U.N. Security Council to take “immediate and additional actions” against North Korea. – The Hill
South Korea urged the North to pick up the phone, saying it’s time for the rivals to reopen communication channels that have been suspended for more than a year amid rising tensions. – Stars and Stripes
The top American military officer in the Pacific said Wednesday that North Korea's recent military actions are "a recipe for a disaster" and warned against a sense of complacency in the face of increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. – Associated Press
FPI Policy Fellow Evan Moore writes: The North Korean nuclear crisis requires a fundamental reassessment of America’s approach to the peninsula. Relying on China’s cynical assurances that they will meaningfully pressure their only ally is just as naive a belief that the North will volitionally denuclearize through negotiations.  On the contrary, the United States will have to establish and maintain debilitating, regime-threatening pressure against Pyongyang for years until the regime completely, verifiably, and irreversibly relinquishes its nuclear arsenal. – Foreign Policy Initiative
Michael O’Hanlon writes: So let’s attempt an interim deal that freezes nuclear and long-range missile testing and production. Since Kim Jong-un could keep his existing nuclear deterrent for now as part of the plan, he may well prove amenable. Even if any such deal wouldn’t fundamentally solve the problem of North Korea’s nukes, there is a huge difference between freezing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities where they are now, on the one hand, and seeing them continue to advance qualitatively and quantitatively on the other. – Brookings Institution
Southeast Asia
Change is coming to Myanmar as it transitions to democracy. But when it comes to protecting women from violence, the needle has barely budged. Myanmar lags behind many of its Asian neighbors on the issue, human rights groups say, citing a penal code that does not recognize marital rape and the country’s lack of a domestic violence law. – New York Times
Facebook came under increasing pressure from Thailand’s government on Tuesday to remove dozens of pages from its servers, a few weeks after a video that appears to show the country’s new king walking through a shopping mall in a crop top was widely shared on the site. – New York Times
Singapore has announced it will acquire two more submarines from Germany, adding to the two it acquired in 2013. – Defense News
The jailing for blasphemy this month of Jakarta’s former governor raised fears that the moderate traditions of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation were under siege. Now the government is fighting back with a drive to outlaw a hardline Muslim group linked to the mass protests against him. – Financial Times
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched Australia's long-awaited naval shipbuilding plan on May 16, including the construction of submarines, frigates and offshore patrol vessels, costing A$89 billion (US $66.12 billion), in Australian shipyards. – Defense News


President Donald Trump is expected to propose a $603 billion defense budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 that would add one warship but no more F-35 and Super Hornet jets than the Obama administration had projected, according to officials. - Bloomberg
America needs more warships -- and must build them faster -- to keep up with other countries that are spending heavily on maritime prowess, according to the U.S. Navy's chief of operations. - Bloomberg
Rather than use EMALS, Trump said he told the Navy to return to “goddamned steam” catapult technology to launch aircraft from newly built aircraft carriers, according to an interview he did with Time magazine. But switching the catapult system would cost the Navy millions of dollars extra on a ship already pegged at $12.9 billion, the most expensive vessel in U.S. history, according to defense experts. – The Hill
U.S. Special Operations Command is struggling to develop and implement technology that will help it get a handle on the large amount of information it must sift through to stay informed, make decisions and execute operations. – Defense News
Special Operations Command wants to create super-soldiers through pushing the limits of human performance, and its looking to nutritional supplements and even performance enhancing drugs as options. – Military Times
The War
The United States may broaden its ban on in-flight laptops and large electronics to cover some flights from European countries, a move that highlights the growing concern over the increased sophistication of terrorist bombmakers. – Foreign Policy
A military judge cautioned a 9/11 prosecutor on Tuesday against turning testimony about conditions at this base’s most clandestine prison into a “mini-trial” on Abu Zubaydah. – Miami Herald
Since August, when a mysterious group calling itself the Shadow Brokers announced that it was auctioning off highly classified National Security Agency hacking tools, a low-grade panic has seized the nation’s largest intelligence agency. – New York Times
The failure to keep EternalBlue out of the hands of criminals and other adversaries casts the NSA’s decisions in a harsh new light, prompting critics to question anew whether the agency can be trusted to develop and protect such potent hacking tools. – Washington Post
House lawmakers have passed a bill aimed at helping state and local law enforcement officials combat cyber crime. – The Hill
President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser has a message to those blaming U.S. intelligence agencies for the cyberattack encircling the globe: Don’t point a finger at the NSA. Blame the hackers. – Associated Press
A South Korean cybersecurity expert said Tuesday there is more circumstantial evidence that North Korea may be behind the global "ransomware" attack: the way the hackers took hostage computers and servers across the world was similar to previous cyberattacks attributed to North Korea. – Associated Press
Governments turned their attention to a possible new wave of cyber threats on Tuesday after the group that leaked U.S. hacking tools used to launch the global WannaCry "ransomware" attack warned it would release more malicious code. - Reuters


Representatives of the European Parliament and the European Council are due to sign a document in Strasbourg formalizing a long-awaited visa-liberalization deal with Ukraine. After the signing on May 17, the visa-free regime is due to enter into force on June 11. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine accused Russia on Tuesday of carrying out an organized cyber attack on President Petro Poroshenko's website in response to Kiev's decision to impose sanctions against a number of major Russian internet businesses. - Reuters
President Trump’s acknowledgment that he shared intelligence on terrorism with Russia was something of a coup for President Vladimir V. Putin, whose mantra about forging a global alliance to fight violent extremists never gained much traction in the West. – New York Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump had not passed on any secrets to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting in Washington last week and that he could prove it. - Reuters
Julia Ioffe writes: The point is, when Russia says it wants to cooperate with America on fighting terrorism, it is making a complex, and largely cynical, self-serving argument. But to realize that, one would have to understand the history and origins of this argument. The Obama administration mostly did, and it angered the Russians to no end. In Trump, the Russians have finally found an American president who will take their offer at face value and not ask too many questions. They also found an American president who simply wouldn’t know that, since 2014, counterterrorism cooperation with the Russians has been a one-way street. – The Atlantic
Its election manifesto already leaked, Britain’s opposition Labour Party sought on Tuesday to explain how its pledges would be financed and in the process slew another sacred cow of the party’s recent, centrist past: low taxes for the moderately wealthy, as well as for the rich. – New York Times
EU ministers have rounded on Poland and demanded that Warsaw reopen talks with Brussels over reforms to its justice system. – Financial Times
In less than two years in power Poland’s conservative Law and Justice government has earned EU rebukes for bringing the constitutional court and public media under political control. Now it is accused of training its sights on another target: the military. – Financial Times
The German Air Force this month sent the U.S. military a written request for classified data on the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet as it gears up to replace its current fleet of fighter jets from 2025 to 2035. - Reuters
Dalibor Rohac writes: Emmanuel Macron spent much of his visit to Germany on Monday confirming his support for the European project. He announced, alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel, that their two countries would be open to changes to the European Union’s treaties. And that’s a good thing, considering that French voters’ alternative to Mr. Macron would have pulled France out of the EU entirely. But much depends on the tenor of the changes to come. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Following the Marine Corps' lead, the Navy on Tuesday announced a new policy requiring sailors found guilty of sharing "intimate images" without consent to be processed for separation from the service. – Military.com
The top government watchdog said Tuesday that nearly a quarter of U.S. troops discharged for misconduct were given other-than-honorable discharges despite previously being diagnosed with a mental health condition. – The Hill
The Trump administration's top trade officials hope to keep the North American Free Trade Agreement as a trilateral deal in negotiations with Canada and Mexico to revamp the 23-year-old pact, senators said on Tuesday. - Reuters
President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. – New York Times
Former FBI director James B. Comey’s allegation that President Trump pressed him to shut down the bureau’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn provides the strongest support yet for a criminal obstruction-of-justice case against Trump, legal analysts say, though even more evidence would probably be required to warrant action. – Washington Post
A leading candidate to be the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), withdrew from consideration Tuesday, providing another sign that a partisan figure might have a hard time winning confirmation to the influential law-enforcement post. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Donald Trump’s enduring loyalty to former national security adviser Michael Flynn has come back to bite him. - Politico
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday on the Senate floor that the "country is being tested in unprecedented ways" following an explosive new report that said President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. – The Hill
Trump and Classified Information
The classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed in a meeting last week with Russian officials at the White House was provided by Israel, according to a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information. The revelation adds a potential diplomatic complication to an episode that has renewed questions about how the White House handles sensitive intelligence. – New York Times
Intelligence officials say President Trump might have damaged relations with allies, who will now be more cautious in sharing sensitive information with the United States. Democrats say he’s a hypocrite, having lambasted Hillary Clinton for her own handling of classified information. But when Trump spoke about highly classified information with Russian officials in a White House meeting last week, he did not break the law, legal analysts say. – Washington Post
Some of America’s allies reacted with alarm and befuddlement to reports that U.S. President Donald Trump shared intelligence from an allied country with Russia, though officials—speaking before the source of the information was publicly revealed—hesitated to conclude that his actions would hinder intelligence-sharing between the U.S. and its closest partners. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The life of a spy placed by Israel inside ISIS is at risk tonight, according to current and former U.S. officials, after President Donald Trump reportedly disclosed classified information in a meeting with Russian officials last week. – ABC News
The intelligence behind the US ban on laptops and other electronics is considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of US government officials, withheld key details from a March 31 story on the travel restrictions. - CNN
The real danger behind President Donald Trump’s decision to shared classified information with Russian officials isn’t that he did something illegal but that foreign partners will now be reluctant to share sensitive information, endangering the U.S. government’s ability to track security threats, former administration and intelligence officials told Foreign Policy. – Foreign Policy
The intelligence community will not be doing a damage assessment into President Donald Trump’s disclosures of classified intelligence to Russian officials, Foreign Policy has learned. – Foreign Policy
The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee want a meeting with White House officials who were in the room during President Trump's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, when he reportedly revealed classified information that could risk allies' intelligence capabilities. – The Hill
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he isn't concerned about President Trump's handling of classified information amid allegations that he shared it with top Russian officials. – The Hill
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that allegations President Trump shared highly classified information with top Russian officials are "deeply disturbing," becoming the latest GOP lawmaker to raise concerns over the meeting. – The Hill
President Donald Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russian officials isn’t the first time his team’s handling of secrets has raised alarm bells. In the weeks before Trump took office, Obama administration officials were so concerned by the Trump transition team’s handling of classified documents that they moved swiftly to exert more control over the sensitive materials, according to two former U.S. officials. – Associated Press
The White House on Tuesday defended President Donald Trump's disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials as "wholly appropriate," as Trump tried to beat back criticism from fellow Republicans and calm international allies increasingly wary about sharing their secrets with the new president. – Associated Press
Analysis: For months, U.S. allies have anxiously wondered if President Donald Trump could be trusted with some of the world's most sensitive national security secrets. Now, just a few days before Trump's debut on the international stage, he's giving allies new reasons to worry, and potentially putting crucial intelligence-sharing agreements at risk. – Associated Press
Editorial: Millions of Americans recognized Mr. Trump’s flaws but decided he was a risk worth taking. They assumed, or at least hoped, that he’d rise to the occasion and the demands of the job. If he cannot, he’ll betray their hopes as his Presidency sinks before his eyes. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) aptly described Mr. Trump’s presidency on Monday as “in a downward spiral.” Arresting the fall would require a thorough revamping of White House staffing and function, one that replaces disorder and ignorance with discipline and competence. That, in turn, would require corrective action by Mr. Trump — for which the nation can only hope. – Washington Post
General Michael Hayden, USAF (Ret.) writes: The administration will probably try to hunt down some of those folks, at least those who talked to The Post. Leaks are leaks, after all. But one hopes they also turn considerable attention to making our president more knowledgeable and prepared — and more open to the processes and protocols that have governed the behavior of others who have held that high office. – Washington Post
Michael Leiter writes: Increasingly we face a more foundational national security crisis that is of our own making: the breakdown of trust between the president and our critical national security agencies — the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and others. This crisis of distrust and dysfunction will weaken our ability to protect U.S. interests around the globe and put vital international cooperation at risk. – Washington Post
Peter Feaver writes: Why did Bossert do damage control? When will the full transcript be released (something that should be easy to do if nothing sensitive or inappropriate transpired)? Will the director of national intelligence and director of the CIA back the White House account on the record? And so on. Unfortunately for the White House, this story has legs.  And if new revelations undermine the White House pushback, the consequences for all involved will be much graver. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Eliot Cohen writes: What will be of lasting importance, and the only possibly redemptive part of this wretched tale, is if it motivates some Republican legislators to take a stand against their own party and for the law and the Constitution….They should denounce his misconduct for what it is. And all of us should begin contemplating the conditions under which—not now, maybe not even a year from now—the constitutional remedies for dealing with a president utterly incapable of fulfilling his duties with elementary probity and competence will have to be implemented. – The Atlantic
Stephen Hayes writes: The alleged details of this high-level diplomacy have been splashed across front pages worldwide. And, as the president tweeted this morning ultimate declassifying authority, he has the "absolute right" to release them as the ultimate declassification authority. He should do so immediately. – The Weekly Standard
Gary Schmitt writes: To be clear, the president hasn't done anything strictly illegal. As he and his defenders have argued, he does have the authority to declassify intelligence. Yet the president also has a duty, under his oath, to "faithfully execute the office of president." And while that may entail many things, it certainly covers avoiding regular and continuing car wrecks. – The Weekly Standard
Ana, who along with others cited in this article asked that her last name not be used for fear of official retribution, is one of about 100,000 Venezuelan security officers, mostly in their 20s, shielding the government of increasingly unpopular President Nicolás Maduro from escalating unrest. She and many of her exhausted colleagues say they are wavering as protests enter a seventh week with no end in sight. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The death toll in Venezuela's six-week wave of anti-government unrest has risen to at least 42, according to the state prosecutor's office, which announced three deaths on Tuesday. - Reuters


Sudan’s president, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes including genocide, has been invited to a summit in Saudi Arabia alongside President Trump, a Sudanese government spokesman said Tuesday. – New York Times
Rebels attacked the South Sudanese town of Yei on Tuesday, killing at least four government soldiers, the state governor said. - Reuters
Red Cross workers have found 115 bodies in Central African Republic's diamond-mining town of Bangassou after several days of militia attacks, the president of the aid group's local branch said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Supporters of a jailed Christian sect leader attacked the prison holding him in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, freeing him and about 50 other inmates early on Wednesday, the government said. - Reuters

Report: Boko Haram is reeling under the pressure of Nigerian military operations, but its mobility and relatively low-cost operations in poorly governed territory will likely allow it to mount attacks despite dwindling resources. - Foundation for Defense of Democracies (PDF)

Trump Administration

For months, President Trump’s senior advisers had planned his first foreign trip with hopes of investing it with historic grandeur: a tour of the world’s three great monotheistic religions, capped by an address to the Muslim world in Saudi Arabia that will serve as Mr. Trump’s answer to the speech former President Barack Obama gave in Cairo in 2009. Now, though, a cascade of damaging disclosures about the president and his relationship with Russia has shredded the White House’s narrative. – New York Times
The president’s appetite for chaos, coupled with his disregard for the self-protective conventions of the presidency, has left his staff confused and squabbling. And his own mood, according to two advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as “incompetent,” according to one of those advisers. – New York Times
On Tuesday, McMaster took on a different role: He strode into the White House briefing room to defend an embattled President Trump amid allegations that the latter had revealed highly classified information in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador…For McMaster, who has kept a relatively low public profile since taking the job, the moment marked a critical test. – Washington Post
For the second time in two weeks, the president has used his Twitter account and interviews to undercut the comments of his senior aides. It is a pattern, established in the earliest days of the Trump administration when aides were forced to defend the size of the inauguration crowd, that risks undermining the White House’s standing with political allies on Capitol Hill and the public. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Defense Secretary James Mattis began to fill out his staff last week, announcing his choices for three key positions at the department. Experts said the appointees seem well qualified and broadly in line with that of his predecessors. – Defense One
Rosie Gray reports: Donald Trump campaigned against the “swamp” and the establishment — but as president, it is respected professionals with government experience to whom he’s turned in times of crisis. The latest well-regarded official to find his credibility pulled into Trump’s maelstrom of scandal is National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. – The Atlantic
David Ignatius writes: Think of the intelligence community and its fragile array of secret relationships as a china shop. Think of President Trump as a bull, restless and undisciplined. For months, we’ve been watching the disastrous collision of the two. – Washington Post

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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