FPI Overnight Brief: May 25, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

The U.S. Treasury chief told Congress on May 24 that he is looking for ways to increase sanctions on Iran, including by reviewing licenses the Treasury previously granted to Boeing and Airbus to sell aircraft to Iran. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
With more than one in three university-educated Iranian women unemployed, an international rights group says females face widespread discrimination and other obstacles in the workplace as Iran continues to lag in gender-equality reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Marie Donovan writes: Iran is no real democracy, but high voter turnout is proof positive many Iranians are willing to work inside the system on its own terms. Rouhani won hands down as the better candidate to fix the economy and begin a cautious rehabilitation of reformists. The question is, will he do it? Stay tuned. – AEI’s Critical Threats
Tzvi Kahn writes: Tehran’s persecution of the Baha’i represents an implicit attack on the United States, the putative hidden hand behind the Baha’i’s perceived heresy. A robust effort to raise the costs for Tehran’s repression can advance U.S. values and interests by combating the anti-Western ideology that guides it. – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
The U.S. military and Russia have stepped up their communication about operations over Syria to include dialogue between U.S. and Russian generals in the Middle East, said the top Air Force general in the region. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
A U.S. air raid against Iranian-backed fighters in southern Syria last week represents a volatile new phase of the conflict that could trigger a wider confrontation between the United States and Iran — and their allies on the ground. – Foreign Policy
U.S. and Russian forces operating in Syria have increased the use of the deconfliction hotline — a communication line opened to avoid midair collisions and reduce the potential for miscalculation by forces operating in Syria, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. – Military Times
The top U.S. general running the air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria says Russian-declared no-fly zones are not restricting where the U.S.-led coalition can fly its warplanes as it targets the terror group. – Washington Examiner
An elite Iraqi police unit participating in the campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State is being investigated for alleged abuses that include rape, torture and targeted killings, an Iraqi official said. – Stars and Stripes
Alberto Fernandez writes: It is entirely reasonable for the United States to encourage its partners to take steps to restore as much of the ethnic and religious diversity as possible in areas that were under the Islamic State’s control. Now is the time to start. – Washington Post
Gulf States
Saudi Arabia has emerged from President Donald Trump’s visit with a geopolitical coup: The trip’s elaborate choreography validated the kingdom’s longstanding—and controversial—desire to be seen as the leader of the Muslim world. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The White House is describing President Donald Trump’s first dose of Middle East diplomacy as a “historic” success, but some lawmakers are skeptical that optimistic rhetoric will become policy, and at least one is looking to block a major announcement from the trip. – Roll Call
Qatar complained that its state news agency had been hacked in a mischievous attempt to misrepresent its emir as a backer of Islamist groups. But, despite the Qatari entreaties, media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have continued to cite the supposed comments by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. – Financial Times
Newt Gingrich writes: Journalists and Washington bureaucrats, who are so deeply embedded in the establishment that they can’t see out of it, may see Trump’s call to action as a distracting sideshow from a status quo they can’t imagine changing. And yet this week, it already has. Foreign leaders and the American people alike can see in this trip the core of a new, reality-based foreign policy. – Washington Post
Donald Trump disclosure of top secret Israeli intelligence to top Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office is not without repercussions. On Wednesday, Israeli Defense chief Avigdor Lieberman said his country tweaked its intelligence-sharing protocols with the United States after Trump’s off-script remarks. – Foreign Policy


South Asia
As the Trump administration contemplates sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a bipartisan group in Congress has demanded a floor debate on the war's endgame and whether it remains in America's interest to remain engaged there militarily. – Military Times
Just when its production was about to take off, the Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighter aircraft appears to be "lost" because Russians are demanding an "unaffordable price for the aircraft," according to a senior Indian Air Force official. – Defense News
East Asia
China’s central bank is effectively anchoring the yuan to the dollar, a policy twist that has helped stabilize the currency in a year of political transition and market jitters about China’s economic management. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart revealed that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. – Buzz Feed
Editorial: This month’s tests mean advances in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs are coming much faster than analysts thought possible. If the U.S. and its allies don’t take steps to stop it now, the world will soon wake up to a nuclear North Korea far more dangerous and disruptive than the one we have today. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Sarah Cook writes: China’s new Cybersecurity Law takes effect on June 1. Together with regulations issued over the past month by the Cyber Administration of China (CAC) — including on news reporting and commentary — the new legal landscape threatens to tighten what is already one of the world’s most restrictive online environments. What happens next will depend on a combination of Chinese government actions, citizen pushback, and international readiness. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue
Southeast Asia
Philippine troops engaged Islamic State-linked militants in pitched clashes on Thursday around the southern city of Marawi as the military deployed tanks to secure vital installations in a battle that has become a major test for President Rodrigo Duterte’s government. – New York Times
Two suicide bombers set off explosives at one of Jakarta’s busiest transit hubs on Wednesday night, killing three police officers and wounding at least 10 other people, the police said. – New York Times
A United States Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island claimed by China in the South China Sea on Wednesday, an operation that showed a new firmness by the Trump administration in its dealings with Beijing. – New York Times
Beijing complained to Washington on Thursday after the US Navy conducted its first freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea under the Trump administration. – Financial Times
Big social media companies are under siege in Southeast Asia, where Thailand’s new king, Vietnam’s communist government and religious tensions in Indonesia are feeding a clampdown on content. – Financial Times


Defense Budget
The Trump administration's 2018 defense budget proposal will likely extend sequestration into next year and lawmakers have no strategy to end it despite the severe impact on U.S. military readiness, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said on Wednesday. – Washington Free Beacon
In some cases, there are no FYDP numbers. In other cases, those numbers are essentially placeholder figures that the Pentagon’s top budget expert says should, essentially, be ignored. – Defense News
The Air Force wants to boost funding for next-generation technologies such as a potential sixth-generation fighter and a nuclear cruise missile. – Military.com
The government agency in charge of upkeep and modernization of America’s nuclear warheads is in line for a big funding boost, thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request. – Defense News
The big news on the 2018 Air Force space budget: it grew at least $1.5 billion. That’s a large increase considering the total budget request is $10.4 billion. – Breaking Defense
Jim Talent writes: I will spare the reader a recitation of the threats currently facing the United States. They are large and growing, all over the globe; and whatever else the Trump administration does, the threats will continue to grow, unless and until America’s leaders resolve that, whatever it takes, America must once again become strong. – National Review Online
Mackenzie Eaglen writes: President Trump’s first defense budget is a more muscular version of former president Obama’s plans. It is a budget that begins to repair—but does not rebuild—the U.S. military. – The National Interest
Presidents propose; Congress disposes. President Trump’s shipbuilding budget for 2018 is a placeholder that legislators can increase, the chairman of the Senate seapower subcommittee told me this morning. – Breaking Defense
The acting Navy secretary on Wednesday denied that the White House cut plans to build more new ships from the service's budget plan released Tuesday – Washington Examiner
The Navy plans to buy a second Virginia-class attack submarine in Fiscal Year 2021 to keep the industrial base building two SSNs a year even during Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine procurement, several Navy officials confirmed – USNI News
The Trump Administration is “supportive” of buying two Littoral Combat Ships in Fiscal Year 2018 despite the federal budget request containing funding for only one, the Navy’s acting acquisition chief said. – USNI News
U.S. shipbuilding industry could support the Navy’s ambitious plan to quickly grow the fleet to 355 ships, but would need help through stable and predictable funding, including more use of multi-year and block-buy contracts and advanced procurement funding, three top industry executives said on Wednesday. – USNI News
The Navy is moving ahead with electromagnetic launchers on its new aircraft carriers despite President Trump's assertion that the service return to "goddamned steam" catapults, the service's acting secretary said Wednesday. – Washington Examiner
Lockheed Martin, frustrated by changing requirements the company feels are skewed to a particular competitor, is dropping out of the U.S. Navy’s over-the-horizon missile program intended to give a lethal capability to littoral combat ships and frigates. – Defense News
The Air Force is accelerating development of a special, high-tech, on-board threat library for the F-35 designed to precisely identify enemy aircraft operating in different high-risk areas around the globe - such as a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA 5th Gen fighter, service leaders said. – Scout Warrior
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. selected Boeing to design its Experimental Spaceplane, or XS-1, a new class of hypersonic aircraft that would can launch to low Earth orbit in days, rather than months or years, the agency announced Wednesday. – Defense News
The War
The CIA added eight stars to its Memorial Wall in a ceremony Monday, honoring eight people who died in the line of duty over the last year. – Washington Examiner
Katherine Zimmerman writes: Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the global Salafi-jihadi movement — all of which share the same base ideology — strengthen through their ability to generate popular support. Conditions in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world are facilitating that support and thereby strengthening al Qaeda, ISIS, and the movement. Counterterrorism actions disrupt active threats, but will not defeat the movement. It is time to find a new way to fight this war. – The Hill
Missile Defense
Josh Rogin reports: President Trump reportedly told his Filipino counterpart that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a “madman with nuclear weapons.” As Kim gets closer to having the missiles to deliver those weapons, Congress is launching a new push to dramatically expand missile defense inside the United States. – Washington Post
President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal boosts cyber defense funding at the Homeland Security Department and commits new money to help law enforcement fight cyber criminals and ferret out the communications of terrorists and criminals using cop-proof encryption. – Defense One
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is hoping to see a key cyber reorganization bill introduced as soon as next week. – The Hill
Senators are seeking expanded powers for law enforcement to go after botnets, the networks of infected Internet-connected devices leveraged by cyber criminals and other malicious actors. – The Hill
The Defense Department as well as the individual services have slowly but surely provided details regarding their offensive efforts in cyberspace, most notably the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. – Defense News
Moving qualified service members through the security clearance process to be part of the rapidly expanding cyber mission force has been a challenge for the military, a key Senate panel was told on Tuesday. – USNI News


United Kingdom
The police accelerated their hunt Wednesday for co-plotters of the Manchester concert bombing, making at least a half-dozen arrests in Britain, searching for a possible clandestine bomb factory and extending the investigation to Libya, where two of the bomber’s relatives were detained. – New York Times
The investigation into a suicide blast that killed at least 22 people at a Manchester pop concert widened Thursday, with security services carrying out raids and rounding up suspects amid fears that the bombmaker who devised the bolt-spewing source of the carnage remains at large. – Washington Post
The bomber in the Manchester terrorist attack appeared to have carried a powerful explosive in a lightweight metal container concealed either within a black vest or a blue Karrimor backpack, and may have held a small switch in his left hand, according to preliminary information gathered by British authorities. – New York Times
As British investigators seek clues to potential accomplices and motives of Salman Abedi, the bomber who killed at least 22 at a Manchester pop concert, they are also focusing increasingly on Libya — and the Islamic State’s presence here. – Washington Post
Salman Abedi’s acquaintances were stunned to learn that he had carried out a suicide bombing at a concert hall this week, killing 22 people. But there were signs that he was troubled — and he was not the only one in his family who caused concern, friends and officials said Wednesday. – Washington Post
British indignation over alleged American leaks of investigative material related to the Manchester bombing will likely create a charged environment Thursday when the British Prime Minister Theresa May meets later with President Trump. – Washington Post
Officials in Washington are scrambling to account for the leaked identity of Britain’s deadliest suicide bomber in a decade after British authorities accused the United States of revealing the sensitive information — the latest instance of unauthorized disclosures undermining American credibility around the world. – Washington Times
Monday’s terrorist attack has changed the narrative of Britain’s election, just two weeks away — and in her favor. As the incumbent prime minister, Mrs. May inevitably speaks both to and for the nation from 10 Downing Street. And having been home secretary for six years before becoming prime minister, she is knowledgeable and comfortable with the issues of security, policing and terrorism. – New York Times
Police investigating the Manchester Arena bomb attack have stopped sharing information with the US after leaks to the media, the BBC understands. - BBC
Anne Applebaum writes: These are policies and actions that work: They keep communities united, increase solidarity, discourage future bombers. But they won’t satisfy the egos of people who need to prove to the world that their emotions are stronger than yours. – Washington Post
Many of Russia’s leading cultural figures were up in arms on Wednesday after investigators raided an acclaimed theater in Moscow and took its renowned artistic director in for questioning as part of a corruption investigation. – New York Times
Russian authorities say the chief editor of a newspaper in the Siberian city of Minusinsk has been shot dead in a killing they believe may be connected to his work. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russia's defense minister says the military has received a steady flow of new weapons, allowing it to maintain a "strategic parity" with NATO. – Associated Press
President Trump is expected to publicly endorse NATO’s mutual defense commitment at a ceremony on Thursday at the alliance’s headquarters, an administration official said, breaking months of silence about whether the United States would automatically come to the aid of an ally under attack. – New York Times
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization got a surprise as the U.S. military detailed plans to increase its own military spending in Europe by $1.4 billion, supporting new NATO initiatives to fill military gaps. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Montenegro will become the 29th member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on June 5, the alliance announced Thursday in what some officials say will serve as a check on Russia. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
NATO leaders will agree to join the U.S.-led military coalition against the Islamic State group at a summit on Thursday as well as establish a new counterterrorism cell to better share intelligence on foreign fighters, the alliance’s top official said. – Stars and Stripes
NATO’s top diplomats endorsed a plan Wednesday to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, signaling the transatlantic military alliance is poised to wade into the battle in Iraq and Syria. – Stars and Stripes
After stops in the Middle East and at the Vatican allowed Trump to escape some questions about Russian influence over his campaign and White House, the U.S. leader will meet in Brussels Thursday with NATO and European Union officials who remain deeply uneasy about his intentions towards Putin weeks before an expected July meeting between the two men. - Politico
The alliance is so anxious about pleasing the US president that it tailored its first major meeting with him around topics that touch on his long-standing criticisms of the 28-member organization rather than the Kremlin’s latest provocations. – Buzz Feed
Rosie Gray reports: At a time when his administration is mired in scandals at home, his journey abroad has been mostly incident-free, including meetings with world leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Rome. But on Thursday, Trump enters a more complicated world of multilateral diplomacy at the NATO leaders’ summit here. – The Atlantic
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg writes: Terrorism affects every NATO ally. It is a long-term threat to our values, freedom and way of life. And the alliance is ready to do more to counter this threat. The unique bond between Europe and North America has delivered unprecedented peace for almost seven decades, and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism is an important chapter in that story. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Ivo Daalder writes: This is what Nato is all about: solidarity in mutual defence. More spending will provide for greater capabilities, and the security situation demands an increase in spending by all the allies. But such spending is meaningless unless it is tied to a clear sense of what Nato is for. – Financial Times
Julie Smith and Jim Townsend write: Allies who once were looking forward to Thursday’s summit for reassurance that the U.S. president supported a U.S. role in Europe will instead come just to see firsthand the spectacle that Trump has become. Whispers of obstruction of justice and impeachment have badly battered the credibility of the president and weakened him. Allies look to the United States for strong leadership. The summit will showcase instead a U.S. leadership in doubt. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Jerry Hendrix writes: As NATO members move to fulfill their defense-spending commitments and keep the alliance relevant, more frigates, submarines, and maritime-patrol aircraft have to be part of their plans. The Russian bear has awoken and begun to roam again. We should be ready to meet it from a position of strength if and when the time comes. – National Review Online


United States of America
American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence. – New York Times
A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake, according to people familiar with its contents. – Washington Post
Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not reveal meetings with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance to serve as the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official. – Washington Post
Months after the FBI began examining Paul Manafort as part of a probe into ties between President Donald Trump’s team and Russia, Manafort called Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus to push back against the mounting controversy, according to four people familiar with the call. - Politico
President Donald Trump is seeking new candidates to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, broadening the search after at least two rounds of interviews with more than ten contenders for the post, a senior administration official said Wednesday. - Politico
Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., plan to introduce a bipartisan authorization for use of military force on Thursday. – Washington Examiner
House lawmakers Wednesday overwhelmingly passed new rules making the secret recording or unauthorized sharing of nude photos a crime under military law, in response to the Marine Corps United scandal earlier this year. – Military Times
A Democratic lawmaker introduced legislation in the House on Wednesday to keep Congress informed when top-secret information is shared with a nation considered hostile to the U.S. following President Trump's meeting with Russian officials this month. – The Hill
The US steel industry is pushing the Trump administration to take a sweeping view of what constitutes national security, as it seeks a crackdown on imports from China, South Korea and other countries. – Financial Times
Colin Powell writes: Throughout my career, I learned plenty about war on the battlefield, but I learned even more about the importance of finding peace. And that is what the State Department and U.S.A.I.D. do: prevent the wars that we can avoid, so that we fight only the ones we must. For our service members and citizens, it’s an investment we must make. – New York Times
United Nations
The United Nations said on Wednesday that the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts would “simply make it impossible” for the global organization to maintain essential operations. – New York Times
Anne Bayefsky writes: Belonging to, and paying for, the U.N. Human Rights Council legitimizes those fighting to delegitimize Israel. Equal rights for some cannot be built on unequal rights for Jews. Reform from the inside has failed. America should choose its own partners and methods for making the world a better place. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Latin America
Lenin Moreno was sworn in as Ecuador’s president on Wednesday and promised to maintain Rafael Correa’s leftist policies while ending his predecessor’s sharp attacks on critics, including the press. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The death toll from nearly eight weeks of Venezuelan street protests rose to 56 on Wednesday after three opponents of President Nicolas Maduro were reported killed by gunfire in Barinas state, the birthplace of late President Hugo Chavez. – Los Angeles Times
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor further distanced herself from the socialist administration Wednesday, deepening the widest rift in a government that has otherwise presented a united front against six weeks of protests. – Associated Press


Half of Somalia’s population, about 6 million people, is now dependent on humanitarian aid. The United Nations and a constellation of international and local aid agencies and donors think they are better prepared to address the crisis…But the rapid coalescence of squalid camps has complicated the picture. More than 20,000 cases of cholera or related waterborne illnesses have been registered in the Baidoa region since January. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

European officials have tried for months to learn whether to take seriously a euroskeptic American who presented himself as President Donald Trump’s preferred pick for ambassador to the European Union. Now officials in Washington say that he is not and never was a candidate. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Senate on Wednesday easily confirmed John Sullivan as deputy secretary of state, filling out a top tier of the leadership team of a department that's already engaged in a series of high-profile talks. – Washington Examiner
Bill Gertz reports: John Rood, a veteran national security policymaker, has emerged as the leading candidate of Defense Secretary James Mattis to be the next undersecretary of defense for policy, the key policymaking post at the Pentagon, according to U.S. defense officials. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
Elliott Abrams writes: The Trump administration and the president himself appear to be wrestling with human rights policy and so far, human rights policy is losing. The administration’s key policymakers are paying too much attention to the arguments and assurances of rulers and too little to their opponents (who are often tomorrow’s government officials), and American officials appear to be adopting a transactional approach to foreign policy that systematically underweights the value of America’s association with and support for liberty. - 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