FPI Overnight Brief: May 31, 2011

Libya

South African President Jacob Zuma's much-anticipated peace meeting Monday with Moammar Kadafi did not appear to move the Libyan government and rebels closer to a cease-fire, and the Kadafi regime suffered a new blow with the defections of eight senior military officers. – Los Angeles Times

Moammar Kadafi faces stepped-up bombardments and the threat of strikes by attack helicopters but seems determined to maintain his grip on power, in part by rallying a diminished roster of allies to counter his regime's isolation. – Los Angeles Times

President Dmitri A. Medvedev on Friday offered to leverage Russia’s relationships in Libya to try to persuade Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to leave power, an act of long-shot diplomacy that for the first time casts Russia as a central player in events unfolding in North Africa. – New York Times

Ann Marlowe writes: About six U.S. C-130 military transport aircraft (capacity: 72,000 pounds each) could deliver nonlethal equipment for 2,000 soldiers, according to an Air Force source. The Libyans have the will, and the National Transitional Council governing Free Libya has offered to repay NATO out of future oil revenues for the means. (Because the U.S. hasn't released frozen Gadhafi assets to the free Libyan government, they have been unable to purchase supplies themselves.) A larger question is why the U.S. doesn't provide the Libyan freedom fighters with assault rifles and heavy weapons that could do real damage to Gadhafi's tanks. The Arab world is watching this war on Al Jazeera every night. They will remember whose support for the emerging Muslim democracies was empty rhetoric, and whose was real. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Syria

U.S. officials say Iran is dispatching increasing numbers of trainers and advisers — including members of its elite Quds Force — into Syria to help crush anti-government demonstrations that are threatening to topple Iran’s most important ally in the region. – Washington Post

Syrian forces attacked several towns Sunday, killing at least nine people as protests continued against the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad, activists said. – Los Angeles Times

In Syria and beyond, the youth’s battered body has cast into shocking relief the terrors wielded by the Syrian state against its people. – New York Times

Interviews with a Syrian woman and two men who said they were detained—as well as accounts from activists, human-rights organizations and others—suggest security forces are arresting not only protesters but others, including men ages 15 to 40, professionals, women and older Syrians. Detainees are held in several cities, these people say, in schools, soccer stadiums, security-force facilities and military hospitals, and subjected to various forms of physical and psychological abuse. – Wall Street Journal

FPI Executive Director Jamie Fly and Policy Advisor Robert Zarate write: U.S. national security and the region itself would be better served with new leadership in Damascus. Otherwise, Washington is sending the message that any criminal regime can slaughter its own people, consort with terrorists, violate international obligations, and pursue nuclear weapons—and face no real consequences. It’s high time to make an example of Assad. - The Weekly Standard

Yemen

Government forces stormed a protest camp in the southern city of Taiz, leaving at least 20 people dead Monday, according to a medical official, and marking a new level of violence in President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s attempts to stamp out the uprising against him. – Washington Post

Yemen's beleaguered government claimed Sunday that the capital of Abyan province in the south had been overrun by the country's Al Qaeda affiliate, while the political opposition and dissident generals blamed the president for losing control of the city. – Los Angeles Times

AEI's Critical Threats Project is monitoring the ongoing developments in Yemen and providing regular analysis reports.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is flexing its financial and diplomatic might across the Middle East in a wide-ranging bid to contain the tide of change, shield other monarchies from popular discontent and avert the overthrow of any more leaders struggling to calm turbulent nations. – New York Times

Egypt

Tens of thousands of mostly liberal protesters again filled Tahrir Square on Friday to press for an assortment of demands in a demonstration billed as “The Revolution Part II, ” but perhaps most notable for the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood. – New York Times

The Arab Spring initially appeared to open a welcoming door to the dwindling number of Christian Arabs who, after years of feeling marginalized, eagerly joined the call for democracy and rule of law. But now many Christians here say they fear that the fall of the police state has allowed long-simmering tensions to explode, potentially threatening the character of Egypt, and the region. – New York Times

Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency last week presented a report to its board that laid out new information on what it calls “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, clarifying the central issue in the long clash between Tehran and the West over nuclear technology. – New York Times

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday as Khamenei looked to resolve a months-long rift among the country's conservative power elite. – Los Angeles Times

Iran is taking steps toward an aggressive new form of censorship: a so-called national Internet that could, in effect, disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh's court hearing concerning the suspension of her legal license was postponed Sunday by the Iran Bar Assn. – Babylon and Beyond

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz write: Sanctions are too often ineffective because they run counter to our pecuniary motivations, but an Iranian-oil-free zone wouldn't be. It would bring cheaper Iranian oil to those who want it, and it would punish the Iranian regime—perhaps more so than any existing sanctions effort—for its transgressions. That's a win-win for everyone. – Wall Street Journal

Iraq

One of Iraq's three vice presidents has quit the post, his political party said Monday, amid growing public frustration with the government's performance nearly six months after most of its ministers were sworn in. – Los Angeles Times

Israel

Elliott Abrams writes: The week of dueling speeches by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu was great political drama, but a key character was missing from the scene: Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. While Abbas was absent, it was in fact his creation on April 27 of a unity government with the terrorist group Hamas that provided the backdrop for what we saw in Washington. So an analysis of what happened last week must begin not with Bibi’s calculations or Obama’s, but those of Abbas. – The Weekly Standard

Sudan

The northern Sudanese Army is threatening to seize two more areas along the combustible north-south border, risking war just weeks before southern Sudan is due to split off as a new country, Western and Sudanese officials said Sunday. – New York Times

Western diplomats and African leaders are pressing for a new strategy to defuse Sudan’s bitterly contested Abyei area: bringing in Ethiopian peacekeepers as a buffer between opposing forces. – New York Times

[Thousands] fled their homes in the contested north-south border region of Abyei a little more than a week ago, as the Sudanese government began bombing the area, and most are dehydrated and hungry after days in the bush. Despite an enormous U.N. humanitarian presence in southern Sudan, basic necessities such as food and shelter are not yet reaching most of the displaced. – Washington Post

George Clooney and John Prendergast write: We are not advocating military intervention. But the evidence shows that incentives alone are insufficient to change Khartoum’s calculations. International support should be sought immediately for denying debt relief, expanding the ICC indictments, diplomatically isolating the regime, suspending all non-humanitarian aid, obstructing state-controlled bank transactions and freezing accounts holding oil wealth diverted by senior regime officials. We must proceed before Abyei ignites the next Darfur. – Washington Post

Douglas Johnson writes: A referendum is still the best way to confirm the will of Abyei’s permanent residents, but a fair vote is impossible today, given Mr. Bashir’s efforts to tip the region’s demographic balance by driving out Ngok Dinka and replacing them with Northerners. The international community could and should oversee a future vote, but only after ensuring the return of Abyei’s original inhabitants and guaranteeing the free and fair exercise of their democratic rights. – New York Times

Afghanistan

Of all the statistics that President Obama’s national security team will consider when it debates the size of forthcoming troop reductions in Afghanistan, the most influential number probably will not be how many insurgents have been killed or the amount of territory wrested from the Taliban, according to aides to those who will participate. It will be the cost of the war. – Washington Post

President Hamid Karzai demanded Tuesday that the NATO force refrain from airstrikes on residential compounds, marking a sharp escalation in his long-running feud with Western commanders over the issue of civilian casualties. – Los Angeles Times

The Taliban launched an unusual attack on targets in the western Afghan city of Herat on Monday, including a NATO base, and the police said at least 4 people had been killed and 38 wounded. – New York Times

A commission appointed by President Hamid Karzai to assess responsibility for the massive fraud at Kabul Bank issued its report on Sunday, absolving the president’s brother of any blame. – New York Times

The governor of Afghanistan’s Central Bank angrily responded Monday to a presidential panel’s criticism of his agency in connection with a scandal at the nation’s largest private bank. – New York Times

Outnumbered by the Taliban and less famous than al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network nevertheless poses an intractable problem for U.S. troops, particularly as the focus of the war shifts toward the Pakistani border. – Washington Post

Russia has signed a contract with the U.S. Army to deliver 21 MI-17 helicopters to Afghanistan, new agencies quoted the defense ministry's arms oversight service as saying May 27. - AFP

Pakistan

A former Pakistan Navy commando has been arrested in a sweep by Pakistani intelligence agents in connection with the audacious attack last week on the naval base in the southern port city of Karachi that apparently was planned with inside information about the facility, security officials said Monday. – New York Times

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beseeched Pakistan to take "decisive steps" against Islamist militants in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, at what she called a turning point for the fraying alliance's effort to fight terrorism and bring stability to Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal

Pakistani officials angered by the secret U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden declared they would conduct a full review of operations by U.S. drone aircraft over the country and rebuffed an appeal by visiting U.S. officials not to close military intelligence liaison centers, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. – Los Angeles Times

Embarrassed by the Osama bin Laden raid and by a series of insurgent attacks on high-security sites, top Pakistani military officials are increasingly concerned that their ranks are penetrated by Islamists who are aiding militants in a campaign against the state. – Washington Post

China

Authorities in Inner Mongolia sought to calm some of the worst ethnic strife in two decades by pledging to address concerns of the local Mongol population about the environmental costs of mining in the resource-rich region, and by announcing that a Han Chinese will be tried for murder over the death of a young Mongol man. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

China’s economy is starting to slow, after two years of torrid growth achieved following the global downturn. – New York Times

China's military has set up an elite Internet security task force tasked with fending off cyber attacks, state media reported May 27, denying that the initiative is intended to create a "hacker army." - AFP

Korean Peninsula

With relations between North and South Korea still tense and limited, the North threatened Monday to abandon a military hot line with the South and close a jointly operated office where officials from both Koreas interact. – New York Times

Japan

Opposition lawmakers Monday continued to pressure Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down, despite an opinion poll suggesting the public largely doesn't support attempts to oust the premier in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Josh Rogin reports: President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan had a message today for three senators who want to rethink the plan to reorganize U.S. troop presence in Japan: Thanks, but no thanks. – The Cable

Sources here confirmed that Japan is actively considering allowing the export of SM-3 Block IIA missiles to third-party countries following repeated requests by the U.S. government that the next-generation missile defense system, which is being co-developed by Japan and the U.S., be made available to protect other U.S. allies. – Defense News

Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the most high-profile dissident in Myanmar, signaled on Monday that she would be seeking to broaden her audience in her country since being released from house arrest. – New York Times

Fred Hiatt writes: The United States can affect the date of their demise only at the margins, just as it took the Egyptian people to bring about Mubarak’s fall. But what America does now could affect the results when Pew conducts its first survey in democratic Burma. – Washington Post

India

Michael Auslin writes: On the foreign policy side, the U.S. faces a tougher challenge as long as Washington remains embroiled with Pakistan. Thus, U.S. policy makers should focus on India as part of the eastern-facing Indo-Pacific and attempt to draw it into a larger regional role on issues like enhanced maritime security, promotion of democracy throughout the region, information sharing, joint training among regional military officers and participation in grassroots civil society gatherings (especially with neighboring Bangladesh and in southeast Asia). – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Russia

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that the prosecution of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire Russian oil tycoon who was jailed after clashing with the Kremlin, was not politically motivated. – New York Times

Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday that prosecutors had cleared a police investigator of any wrongdoing in the case of Sergei L. Magnitsky, whose death in pre-trial detention is viewed as a test of country’s law enforcement and judicial systems. – New York Times

President Obama has decided to send the architect of his so-called Russia reset policy to Moscow as the next United States ambassador there, seeking to further bolster an improved relationship as both countries head into a potentially volatile election season. – New York Times

Investment money is pouring out of Russia, despite the high price of oil and the strengthening ruble. It’s a combination that hasn’t been seen before, and it threatens to do lasting damage to the economy and to President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernization efforts. – Washington Post

A jailed former Russian oil tycoon kept up his fight against the Kremlin on Monday, filing for parole following last week's court decision to keep him in jail for 13 years. - Reuters

Interview: Moscow lawyer and blogger Alexei Navalny has been singlehandedly taking on Russia's state-controlled energy giants, accusing them of large-scale embezzlement and corruption…In an interview, Navalny spoke about his campaign and the government's action against him. – Los Angeles Times

Belarus

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to fire his prime minister and the head of the country's central bank if they don't find a way to stop runaway growth in consumer prices, Belarus' state news agency reported Friday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

U.S. President Barack Obama, on his way to Poland to meet presidents from 20 countries of central and eastern Europe, condemned recent prison sentences courts in Belarus gave to former presidential candidates in the country. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe

Italy

Italy’s ruling center-right coalition was resoundingly beaten in runoff administrative elections on Monday, a defeat that further weakened Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been besieged by growing dissent within his razor-thin majority and faces criminal charges in court. – New York Times

Germany

Germany on Monday said it would close all of its 17 nuclear reactors by 2022, a sharp policy reversal that will make it the first major economy to quit atomic power in the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan. – Wall Street Journal

Africa

As President Robert Mugabe, 87, pushes for an election this year, the harassment of independent churches seen as hostile to his government has intensified. – New York Times

While the United States has turned its back on some authoritarian rulers in North Africa and the Middle East, its attitude toward strategically placed autocrats in less restive corners of Africa is more ambiguous, and perhaps nowhere more so than in this oil-rich speck of a nation in the Gulf of Guinea. – New York Times

Christians call a proposed religious law a sly attempt to favor Muslims in this predominantly Christian country and warn that it could promote Islamic fundamentalism. Muslims say the reaction to the bill just shows Islamophobia. – Washington Times

United States of America

Hacking incidents at defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. and broadcaster PBS that surfaced over the past few days show how widespread corporate breaches have become and underline how any organization can become a victim. – Wall Street Journal

Michael Goldfarb writes: The Republican candidates for president need to be honest with the American people, too. The military has done everything Obama has asked of it, including killing Osama bin Laden in a daring raid that relied on capabilities that were previously undisclosed or only rumored, like stealth-modified helicopters and stealth drones. American aircraft are flying missions over Libya, American soldiers and Marines are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and American ships are supporting combat and relief missions all over the world. Republicans are well positioned to seize the opportunity and make a compelling case that Obama’s defense proposals are irresponsible and dangerous. It’s not just good politics, it’s good policy. – The Weekly Standard

Mexico

When hundreds of Mexican police crashed through the doors into a warren of mysterious warehouses and humming laboratories, they uncovered one of the largest illegal manufacturing centers of pirated movies and music ever found in Latin America. – Washington Post

Honduras

Manuel Zelaya, the president of Honduras ousted in a military-led coup nearly two years ago, returned home from exile Saturday, greeted by a large, heated crowd and a nation still bitterly divided by tension and violence. – Los Angeles Times

Defense

President Obama nominated Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and promoted two other senior military leaders Monday, completing an overhaul of his national security team in advance of the 2012 election. – Washington Post

In recent weeks, the cerebral but introverted general, who goes by the nickname “Hoss,” became the casualty of a concerted lobbying campaign by critics inside the Pentagon who persuaded the president to bypass him. – Washington Post

The U.S. Navy is sailing into politically correct waters, sometimes at a speed too fast for the Obama administration to keep up. Whether it is policies on gays and women, or naming ships after social activists, the Navy is charting a course that has some “old salts” worried. – Washington Times

The U.S. Senate has quietly confirmed Lt. Gen. Michael Hostage as the next commander of Air Combat Command. – Defense News

Editorial: "More perhaps than any other Secretary of Defense, I have been a strong advocate of soft power—of the critical importance of diplomacy and development as fundamental components of our foreign policy and national security," Mr. Gates said at Notre Dame. "But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power—the size, strength and global reach of the United States military." That's a crucial message for Republican deficit hawks, and especially for a Commander in Chief who inherited the capability to capture Osama bin Laden half way around the world but is on track to leave America militarily weaker than he found it. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: Even if all of the Pentagon’s inefficiencies and sacred cows are tackled, the defense cuts proposed by Mr. Obama pose a fundamental dilemma. Said Mr. Gates: “The tough choices ahead are really about the kind of role the American people — accustomed to unquestioned military dominance for the last two decades — want their country to play in the world.” Mr. Obama outlined an ambitious vision of that role in London. If he means it, he will have to work with Mr. Gates’s successor to ensure that the Pentagon is able to retain enough forces and build enough planes and ships to make it possible. – Washington Post

Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly write: Through the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bob Gates has seen the thin line that separates “too few” from “just enough.” He knows how hard it is to turn defeat into a chance for victory. When he says “enough,” conservatives—and all Americans—should listen. – The Weekly Standard

Mackenzie Eaglen and Bryan McGrath write: America is a maritime nation, and our Navy is the most visible and effective symbol of our national power and strength overseas. Washington decision-makers should recognize the impact and influence of forces that are as useful in peacetime in deterring conflict as they are in wartime while pursuing it. And they need to recognize it before it’s too late. – The Weekly Standard

Kenneth Anderson writes: These “intelligence-driven” covert operations are not going away. Integration of military and civilian assets will make them easier and more effective. The United States will conduct such operations more frequently and more visibly than anyone else. A consistent and unapologetic public stance on the basic principles of their legality by counselors to the United States government​—​including lawyers in the CIA​—​is an important mechanism to defend their legitimacy within this country and abroad, and on something more than merely their functional utility. It is hard to imagine that Director Petraeus would settle for less. – The Weekly Standard

Democracy and Human Rights

Lee Smith writes: Given the Obama administration’s ambiguous statements regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and other regional Islamist movements, it seems Washington is preparing for the likelihood of a region entirely remade in the image of political Islam, its Shia as well as its Sunni versions. Whether the White House is prepared to do anything to protect American interests and allies against a political current that is anti-American at its core is another question. Netanyahu’s speeches, Saudi diplomacy, and Egyptian brinksmanship are evidence that traditional U.S. allies do not believe Obama is up to the task. – The Weekly Standard

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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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