FPI Overnight Brief: June 1, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • US begins arming Syrian Kurds for final assault on Raqqa
  • Peter Feaver and Brian McKeon on the effort against ISIS
  • Trump considers rolling back Obama’s opening with Cuba
  • Open Letter: The Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal
  • Admin moves to return Russian compounds in MD, NY
  • Russia escalates spy games after years of US neglect
  • Senators announce plan to bolster sanctions against Russia
  • South Korean leader raises concerns over US military alliance
  • Trump hosts Vietnam’s PM, announces trade deals
  • Karako: The future of missile defense in the Asia-Pacific

Middle East/North Africa

When Iran’s scientists sent a monkey into space in 2013, the country’s president volunteered to be the first Iranian to blast aloft in a domestically built rocket, possibly as early as 2018. But the term of that president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also expired in 2013. And now, apparently, so have Iran’s ambitions for homegrown human spaceflight. – New York Times
The United States has started arming Syrian Kurds with heavy machine guns, antitank weapons and other arms, a critical step in preparing a pivotal part of the force that will carry out the final assault on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Pentagon officials said. – New York Times
Forces backing the Syrian government haven't left a protected area near Syria's southern border with Jordan despite repeated warnings from the U.S.-led coalition, American military officials said Wednesday. – Associated Press
Russia said on Thursday it was systematically bombing any Islamic State militants trying to flee Syria's Raqqa and had carried out two such bombing runs in the last week. - Reuters
About a dozen civilians were wounded on Thursday by Islamic State mortar shells as they tried to escape from the Zanjili district held by the militants in Mosul, Iraqi police said. - Reuters
An air strike by the U.S.-led coalition has killed the founder of the Islamic State propaganda media outlet Amaq in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor, his brother said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. - Reuters
Peter Feaver writes: The United States is not to blame for the rise of the Islamic State. Nor is the United States all-powerful, capable of preventing any evil in the world. Far from it. But different U.S. policies might have better positioned it in the fight against the Islamic State. Learning how may not make it easier to defeat the Islamic State now, but it may help policymakers make the best choices among the array of alternatives they will face once the Islamic State is dealt with. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Brian McKeon writes: From the start, the generals never said the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria would be easy or quick. But it has yielded results, with steady gains of territory once controlled by the Islamic State. Let’s hope the president has the patience to stick with the plan he has now embraced. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Gulf States
A Bahraini court on Wednesday ordered the dissolution of the main secular opposition group which the government accuses of supporting terrorism, a ruling that human rights campaigners said was aimed at silencing peaceful dissent. - Reuters
Eli Lake writes: As Muslim leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia this month to meet with Trump, he put the onus on their countries to drive out the extremists who have too often enjoyed safe haven and financing from the Gulf kingdoms. One of the first tests of this new policy will be whether Qatar shows initiative in rooting out the terror supporters inside its own kingdom. – Bloomberg View
North Africa
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was quick to launch air strikes on militants in Libya in response to a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt - but the attacks do not seem to be targeting those responsible. - Reuters
President Trump is likely to keep the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv for the time being, CNN reported Wednesday. – The Hill
Israel's finance minister has met the Palestinian prime minister, Israeli officials said on Thursday, in a rare visit by an Israeli cabinet member to the occupied West Bank as part of a U.S. peace push. - Reuters
Turkey is expanding efforts abroad to capture opponents by canceling their passports to force foreign governments to send them back, Turkish officials said, describing a strategy that nearly netted an NBA player this month. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Russia said on Wednesday it was lifting most of the sanctions it had imposed on Ankara after the Turkish military shot down a Russian fighter jet over the border with Syria 18 months ago. – Financial Times
Turkey's military killed six members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in air strikes in northern Iraq on Thursday, the army said in a statement. - Reuters


How did a sewage tank truck packed with explosives penetrate a heavily fortified area of the Afghan capital and carry out the deadliest attack in Kabul since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001? That is the question angry Afghans want the government to answer, and provide some explanation for the security lapse that resulted in the deaths of at least 90 people and more than 400 wounded. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
One day after a massive truck bombing that killed at least 90 people and wounded more than 400 in Kabul's diplomatic quarter, no group has stepped forward to claim responsibility. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Editorial: A terrorist triumph in Afghanistan would provide a new safe haven for jihadists in the region, without bases for the U.S. forces on the ground to counter it. At the very least a decision on U.S. troops should be made mindful of the large strategic stakes, not as an overreaction to a single truck bomb. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Erik Prince writes: Mr. Trump must not lose sight of the reason we became involved in Afghanistan: to deny sanctuary to those who want to destroy our way of life. The largest attack in U.S. history originated in Afghanistan. The terrorists killed 3,000 that day because they lacked the means to kill three million. The U.S. should adjust course from the past 15-plus years of nation building and focus on pounding the Taliban and other terrorists so hard that they plead for negotiation. Until they feel real pressure and know the U.S. has staying power, they will win. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
After one year of deadlock in India over the issuance of industrial licenses to private sector defense companies, the government has reverted back to a previous arrangement in which the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, or DIPP, will grant licenses, in place of the Ministry of Home Affairs, according to a senior Ministry of Defence official. – Defense News
Derek Scissors writes: GDP growth was put at 7.9% the previous year. If GDP had continued to race ahead while jobs and other indicators were this weak, it would reveal deep structural problems — GDP growth doing little for most people. Though seemingly poor, 6.1% is a good signal that the economy has further potential. GDP growth can go higher and it can still signify truly greater prosperity. – AEI Ideas
Since Chairman Mao’s days, China’s most-powerful leaders have been exalted as its greatest thinkers. Today, President Xi Jinping appears primed to join those elite ranks, a sign of his rising clout ahead of a pivotal Communist Party leadership shuffle this fall. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Chinese courts sentenced an unusually large number of senior officials on corruption charges this week—a visible stepping up of the government’s yearslong antigraft campaign ahead of a leadership transition. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China has responded to the U.S. president’s promises of “America first” protectionism with cross-continental overtures and an effort to present itself globally as a champion of free trade and openness. If the transatlantic tide is to recede, China wants to be able to take advantage of the vacuum. - Politico
China is beginning to implement a controversial cybersecurity law over the vocal objections of international business groups who contend it could hamper their operations in the country. – The Hill
Bill Gertz reports: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson spoke recently about the need to protect American military advantages, but appears unconcerned by Chinese spying on naval exercises. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
Editorial: The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, has a legitimate complaint against China on aluminum. The best way to prosecute its case, however, would be through a broad coalition of countries in support of the U.S. position. Sideswiping Canada through the invocation of Section 232 actually works in the opposite direction. That’s not hard-nosed; it’s shortsighted. – Washington Post
East Asia
South Korean President Moon Jae-in raised concerns with a visiting U.S. delegation about whether President Donald Trump would press Seoul to pay more for the American military presence here, and questioned how a controversial U.S. missile-defense system was deployed. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
One of the most notorious figures in the corruption scandal in South Korea that led to the impeachment and ouster of former President Park Geun-hye was extradited home from Denmark on Wednesday. – New York Times
The U.S. Navy has begun dual-carrier operations with the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) in the Sea of Japan, a service official told USNI News on Wednesday. – USNI News
Southeast Asia
An airstrike by the Philippine military killed 11 of the country’s own soldiers and injured seven others as the government struggled to take back the southern city of Marawi from insurgents loyal to the Islamic State, officials said on Thursday. – New York Times
A battle between Isis-aligned militants and the Philippine army is a show of extremist strength — and a blow to President Rodrigo Duterte’s self-styled image as both hard man and peacemaker. – Financial Times
Surprisingly, the state within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations that until recently had an ill-defined role in the One Belt script is Myanmar. Yet this is the country that could make some of the greatest gains from the infrastructure connectivity promised by the latter-day Silk Road. – Financial Times
President Trump welcomed the prime minister of Vietnam to the Oval Office on Wednesday, cutting business deals not long after transferring a Coast Guard cutter to a onetime enemy that the United States now views as a front-line defender against an expansionist China. – New York Times
International trade experts say Mr. Phuc hopes to start talks to replace TPP with one of the bilateral, country-to-country deals that the Trump administration says it prefers over multinational accords. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.S. companies signed business deals with Vietnam worth over $8 billion on Wednesday, including power projects and jet engines from General Electric Co and diesel generator technology from Caterpillar, the Commerce Department said. - Reuters


The Defense Department's fiscal 2018 budget request continues the program of training and equipping vetted Syrian partners in the fight against ISIS, and the proposal includes funds for U.S. AT-4 anti-tank rockets or Russian SPG-9 recoilless rifles, and several thousand RPG-7s, a move likely to irk U.S. NATO ally Turkey. – Military Times
A key Republican is promising to use this year's annual defense policy bill to “double down” on the message sent to North Korea by Tuesday's successful missile intercept test. – The Hill
Pratt & Whitney is pitching a souped up version of the F-35’s engine that would add thrust and cut down fuel consumption, company officials disclosed on Wednesday. – Defense News
The Air Force is in the early phases of designing new sensors for its stealthy 5th-generation F-22 Raptor as it proceeds with software upgrades, hardware adjustments, new antennas and data link improvements designed to better enable to connect the F-22 and F-35 sensor packages to one another, industry officials explained. – Scout Warrior
The A-10 is a Cold War-era ground-attack plane known for its iconic gun designed to shred tanks and for its tough titanium armor designed to take hits and keep flying. That durability is noticeable not only on the battlefield, but also increasingly on Capitol Hill, where supporters of the Thunderbolt II, popularly known as the Warthog or simply Hog, have seemingly succeeded in dissuading Air Force officials from renewing attempts to retire the snub-nosed plane. – Military.com
The Navy has reached a tentative agreement with Huntington Ingalls Industries for the shipbuilder to build the first Flight III Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer (DDG-51) in its Mississippi yard, the Navy’s acting acquisition chief Allison Stiller told a House Armed Services panel last week. – USNI News
Missile Defense
The successful test of U.S. missile defenses ensures that the Pentagon can protect the country against increasing threats posed by countries like North Korea and Iran, the military said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
On the heels of a successful intercept test of its homeland missile defense system against an intercontinental ballistic missile target, Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring detailed plans to continue to challenge the system to ensure it is ready to go up against threats from North Korea and Iran, not just now, but against what is anticipated in the future. – Defense News
[The] $244 million missile defense test didn’t just hit an IBCM-like target for the first time in the history of the system: It hit a cutting-edge IBCM modeled on future North Korean weapons, complete with decoys to confuse defenders. – Breaking Defense
Thomas Karako writes: Articulating a new approach to missile defense in the Asia-Pacific, complete with a concrete set of milestones or goals, could be one useful means to unify several partner nations and better leverage existing tools and capabilities. The path forward will almost certainly include an assessment of the current means available, increasing partner and U.S. missile defense capacity, increasing cooperation, better integrating homeland and regional missile defense efforts, and exploring new technological possibilities. – Foreign Policy Initiative
A hacker group responsible for leaking cyber weapons stolen from the National Security Agency and enabling the recent, wide-scale WannaCry ransomware attack detailed its plans Tuesday to unload its next batch of exploits through a monthly subscription service. – Washington Times


Ukraine has claimed a key victory in a three-year $80bn legal battle with Russia over gas supplies between the two countries’ state-controlled energy conglomerates – Financial Times
The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, from which its officials were ejected in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. – Washington Post
The United States has reached no agreements with Russia, the State Department said Wednesday night in response to reports that the Trump administration was considering returning two Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States that the Obama administration shut down last year. – NBC News
The top lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee are introducing a plan to bolster sanctions against Russia, Bloomberg reported Wednesday – The Hill
In the throes of the 2016 campaign, the FBI found itself with an escalating problem: Russian diplomats, whose travel was supposed to be tracked by the State Department, were going missing…It’s a trend that has led intelligence officials to conclude the Kremlin is waging a quiet effort to map the United States’ telecommunications infrastructure, perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it. - Politico
Russia's interference in Ukraine is just one sign of a broad attempt to destabilize democracies around the world, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (Democrat-New Jersey) has told RFE/RL. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
A Russian court ruled on Wednesday against Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in a defamation lawsuit brought by one of Russia's richest businessmen, ordering a popular online video detailing the offending allegations to be redacted. - Reuters
Twitter has failed to meet European standards for removing hate speech online, figures to be published Thursday show, as pressure mounts, particularly on the Continent, for tech companies to do more to tackle such harmful material. – New York Times
A French government spokesman Wednesday said fighters who travel overseas to join Islamic State are taking risks, as he responded to a question regarding a Wall Street Journal article on secret French operations to kill French jihadists. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Soon after President Donald Trump took office, his top trade advisor, Peter Navarro, pledged to kill the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a potential free trade deal between the United States and Europe. Now, five months into his presidency, Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, has brought it back from the dead. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
An independent Azeri journalist has been abducted in Georgia and forcibly taken to neighboring Azerbaijan where he was detained in custody, his lawyer said on Wednesday, in a case condemned by rights activists. - Reuters
United Kingdom
The man who detonated explosives at a pop concert in Manchester, England, last week, killing 22 people and wounding dozens, mainly acted alone in the days leading up to the attack, the British police said late Tuesday. – New York Times
While Mrs. May is still expected to win, the previously yawning gap between her and the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has narrowed, reflecting, experts say, a growing consensus that her campaign has stumbled badly. A more limited win could potentially undermine her authority as she negotiates Britain’s torturous departure from the European Union. – New York Times
British Prime Minister Theresa May's gamble on a snap election was under question on Thursday after a YouGov opinion poll showed her Conservative party's lead had fallen to a fresh low of 3 percentage points just a week before voting begins. - Reuters
NATO elected to join the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group at its meeting in Brussels last week, but "this doesn’t mean it will become a NATO mission or that NATO forces will engage in operations in combat,” according to the alliance's deputy secretary general. – Defense News
NATO plans to bolster its ability to respond to cyberattacks and cybercrime by developing tools that can deter attacks on critical military and civilian network infrastructure. – Defense News
NATO will not rule out invoking Article 5 of its charter should one or more member nations find themselves under a serious cyberattack that threatens critical military and civilian infrastructure. – Defense News


United States of America
Former FBI director James B. Comey is preparing to testify to Congress as early as next week about his private conversations with President Trump leading up to his abrupt firing, according to an associate of Comey’s. – Washington Post
Congressional investigators are examining whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had an additional private meeting with Russia's ambassador during the presidential campaign, according to Republican and Democratic Hill sources and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation. - CNN
The House Intelligence Committee Wednesday issued seven subpoenas as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, including one seeking information about former President Barack Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice and her activities related to intelligence documents that named members of the Trump campaign. – Washington Examiner
The top members of the House Intelligence Committee say they'll interview witnesses in their Russia investigation in a manner that they dictate, not in response to requests from third parties, in this case, Carter Page. – Washington Examiner
Interview: Allegations that involve Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner persist, following U.S. media reports over the weekend. According to the Washington Post and New York Times, Kushner and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak discussed setting up  backchannel communications between Washington and Moscow, during the transition period in December…How unusual are backchannels? What are standard procedures for transition teams? The Cipher Brief’s Leone Lakhani asked four-star General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. – The Cipher Brief
Editorial: Congress will be asked by the end of this year to reauthorize programs such as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows for spying on bad guys and is a vital terror-fighting tool. Even Mr. Obama endorsed 702’s necessity. Congress needs to keep the program going, but it has every right to know first if Team Obama eavesdropped on political opponents. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Latin America
President Trump is considering reversing major pieces of the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba and reinstating limits on travel and commerce, citing human rights abuses by the Castro government as justification for a more punitive approach. – New York Times
The “Trump effect” at the ballot box will get a critical test this weekend — in Mexico, where polling suggests the opposition party of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a sharp critic of the U.S. president, may capture a key state-level gubernatorial race and provide a dramatic boost for the leftist leader’s chances in next year’s presidential race. – Washington Times
Venezuelan security forces used water cannons and teargas to disperse tens of thousands of opposition protesters heading toward the foreign ministry on Wednesday as the Organization of American States held another meeting on the crisis. - Reuters
Eric Farnsworth writes: [Noriega’s] efforts to erode and effectively dismantle democratic institutions, had they gone on for much longer, could easily have turned Panama into a one-party dictatorship and cult of personality, using the proceeds from the canal as a personal piggy bank to fuel politically motivated spending and massive corruption without transparency or a commitment to the public good. It offers a cautionary reminder of what Panama’s alternative course could have been if its corrupt, drug-trafficking dictator had continued to rule. – Washington Post


Authorities in Ivory Coast have questioned two senior military officers close to parliamentary speaker Guillaume Soro, one of his spokesmen said on Wednesday, after an arms cache was found recently in the home of an aide. - Reuters
Leaked documents released by the South African media on Thursday alleging improper dealings in government contracts will open President Jacob Zuma up to renewed scrutiny and may deepen divides in the ruling African National Congress. - Reuters

Trump Administration

President Trump’s evolving foreign policy stresses that U.S. interests come first. His manner of seeing to that, however, is having mixed and perhaps counterproductive results. – Los Angeles Times

Democracy and Human Rights

The survival and strength of American democracy has always depended on U.S. support for freedom beyond the country’s shores. A global coalition of democracies with strong American participation remains essential if free societies are to be protected, including in the United States. Because that coalition now faces grave threats, both from authoritarian regimes abroad and from illiberal forces at home, Freedom House president Michael J. Abramowitz has joined other leading human rights advocates in signing the Prague Appeal for Democratic Renewal, adopted on May 26, 2017 – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue

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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