FPI Overnight Brief: June 7, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • ISIS claims Iran attacks on parliament, Khomeini’s tomb
  • US, Iran scramble for control in Syria as ISIS retreats
  • Raqqa showdown probably won’t be final battle against ISIS
  • DOD Report (PDF) details China’s global military buildup, militarization of islands
  • The 27 words Trump wouldn’t say on NATO’s Article 5
  • FPI’s Evan Moore: Trump vs. the Allies
  • Rogin: State Department distances itself from Trump
  • Trump picks Christopher Wray to be new FBI Director
  • Sessions offered in recent months to resign as Attorney General
  • Trump asked Coats if he could intervene w/Comey on FBI probe

Middle East/North Africa

At least 12 people were killed and 39 others wounded Wednesday morning in a pair of devastating attacks on two of Iran’s most potent symbols: the national Parliament and the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. – New York Times
The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has recently expanded its campaign to recruit Iranians and disseminate its message to Persian speakers. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
State Department officials determined that Iran hacked their emails and social media accounts during a particularly sensitive week for the nuclear deal in the fall of 2015, according to multiple sources familiar with the details of the cyber attack. – Washington Free Beacon
Iran told the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Tuesday it would ship 20 tonnes of heavy water abroad to avoid breaching a limit on its stock of that substance under a landmark deal with six world powers, officials said. - Reuters
Benjamin Runkle writes: Instead of committing diplomatic capital to grand gestures with little probability of success and significant risks accompanying failure to address an Iranian conventional threat that is deterrable in the near- to mid-term, the Trump administration should focus on improving institution building and interoperability to counter the more immediate threats posed by Iranian asymmetric efforts in cyberwarfare. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Iraqi troops pushed to the edge of Mosul’s historic Old City on Tuesday, as the battle for Islamic State’s other major urban stronghold kicked off in neighboring Syria. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.S. and Iran-backed forces are locked in a race to take Islamic State strongholds in southeastern Syria and seize a stretch of land that will either cement Tehran’s regional ambitions, or stifle them. – Washington Post
U.S.-led aircraft struck a column of pro-Syrian government forces advancing toward a small U.S. outpost in southeastern Syria on Tuesday, the Pentagon said in a statement. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
The Pentagon on Tuesday said “hundreds” of U.S. troops were involved in the military campaign to recapture the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). – The Hill
The US military can no longer say if the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’s stronghold since 2013, is the hub for ISIS planning attacks on the West. Top ISIS leaders have already moved outside of the city, including members of the administration and media team, Pentagon officials have said. It could not even say if Raqqa is still the de facto ISIS capital. And they warned that even if the Syrian city fell out of ISIS control, ISIS still controls several other cities, some of which are also home to planning operations against the West. - Buzz Feed
A military alliance fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday it could hit U.S. positions in Syria, warning that its "self-restraint" over U.S. air strikes on government forces would end if Washington crossed "red lines". - Reuters
The U.S.-backed campaign to capture Raqqa, Islamic State's de-facto capital in Syria, will accelerate, the U.S. envoy to the international coalition fighting the militants told reporters in Baghdad. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
The Trump administration is facing questions after a former CIA analyst and current senior fellow at the Brookings Institution wrote a blog post suggesting President Trump's $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia is a sham. – Washington Examiner
An oil tanker was hit by three rocket-propelled grenades fired from militants in skiffs last week in a little-reported incident, which took place near where U.S warships came under fire from Yemen-based Houthi militants last year, Navy officials told USNI News on Tuesday. – USNI News
President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, claiming credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, which is a major American military partner. – New York Times
For the tiny, oil rich nation of Qatar, Al Udeid Air Base, home to more than 10,000 U.S. service members, has long been something of an insurance policy. Now the Qataris, at odds with their neighbors and under fire from President Trump on Twitter, are anxiously waiting to see if that policy pays off. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar's state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US' closest Gulf allies, according to US officials briefed on the investigation. - CNN
President Trump sided with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries Tuesday in a deepening diplomatic crisis with Qatar, casting a cloud over a $21.1 billion sale Boeing is counting on to keep open its F-15 production line. – Defense News
An outspoken Emirati ruling family member has raised the prospect of a change in leadership in Qatar, which is embroiled in a major diplomatic crisis with its Gulf neighbors. – Associated Press
Kimberly Dozier reports: Qatar’s brand new ambassador to Washington was already bewildered, along with much of the rest of his country, at dramatic moves by several Arab nations in the past 48 hours to cut diplomatic and trade ties with the tiny Gulf nation. The hate tweets by Donald Trump only made things worse. – The Daily Beast
Editorial: If successful in this showdown, the Middle East’s most reactionary rulers will have taken another step toward shutting down domestic political alternatives, whether moderate Islamists or liberal democrats, and blocking the rapprochement with Iran that ultimately will be needed to end the region’s wars. Worst, they will have succeeded with the help of a U.S. president who seems not to comprehend American interests, nor how he is damaging them. – Washington Post
North Africa
Libya's neighbors Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia agreed on Tuesday to push for political dialogue to end the crisis in the North African country and rejected foreign interference or any military solution. - Reuters
Germany said on Wednesday that it would withdraw its forces from a military base in southern Turkey after the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to guarantee visits to forces there by German lawmakers, deepening a rift between the NATO allies. – New York Times
The head of Amnesty International’s Turkey branch has been detained along with nearly two dozen other lawyers on suspicion of links with a terror organization, in a continuing crackdown in the country. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The House on Tuesday formally expressed bipartisan anger against Turkish security forces for violently suppressing demonstrators outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington last month. – The Hill
Turkish authorities detained 60 soldiers on Wednesday and issued detention orders for another 128 people in operations targeting the network of a Muslim cleric the government blames for last year's failed coup, local media reported. - Reuters


The Trump administration plans on reviving talks toward a bilateral investment treaty that would give U.S. firms broader access to the Chinese market, but only after Washington makes progress on other trade issues, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China faces growing pressure to release three labor activists detained for investigating conditions at factories that make Ivanka Trump’s shoe brand, as experts warned that the detentions could make it more difficult for other Western companies to take a clear look at the practices of their Chinese suppliers. – New York Times
China's construction of a military outpost in Djibouti is just the first of what will likely be an ongoing expansion in friendly foreign ports around the world to support distant deployments, a new Pentagon report concludes, predicting that Pakistan may be another potential location. – Associated Press
Read the 2017 report to Congress on China’s military power – Department of Defense (PDF)
Three labor activists in China who scrutinized a company making Ivanka Trump-branded shoes are being investigated on suspicion of providing industrial secrets to a foreign organization for money, state media reported on Wednesday. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, has suspended the deployment of an American missile defense system, an apparent concession to China and a significant break with the United States on policy toward North Korea. – New York Times
Bill Gertz reports: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last weekend outlined the Trump administration’s new policy toward Asia, one that gives higher priority to pressuring North Korea than China. – Asia Times
Southeast Asia
China is militarizing disputed islands in the South China Sea and is using non-military coercion in a bid to control strategic waters in Asia, the Pentagon said in its latest annual report on the Chinese military. – Washington Free Beacon
China will be able to house up to three fighter-jet regiments on three disputed islets it’s built up in the South China Sea, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday. – Stars and Stripes
More than 100 reporters in Myanmar are preparing to protest against laws seen as curbing free speech when two senior journalists go on trial on Thursday, after the military sued them for defamation over a satirical article in their journal. - Reuters
Philippines troops thwarted an original plan drawn up by the Islamist militants now holed up in Marawi City to "spread terror" in a rampage of violence that would have given them full control of the southern town, the military said on Wednesday. - Reuters


A series of normally dry budget hearings on Capitol Hill this week will draw out the yawning gap between lawmakers and the White House on how much to spend on defense, and where that money to go. Few lawmakers have come out in favor of the Trump budget, while many ran to the nearest microphone to declare it dead on arrival. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson says that President Trump’s slow movement on Pentagon nominations is making her job more “difficult.” – The Hill
The Navy now plans to use electromagnetic force to launch an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet up into the sky off of the deck of its new next-generation aircraft carrier next year – the USS Gerald R. Ford. – Scout Warrior
The Air Force’s troubled KC-46 fuel tanker will probably be delayed “a couple of months” more, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told the Senate. An Air Force spokesperson confirmed to Breaking Defense that this means they expect contractor Boeing to miss the December deadline to deliver the first aircraft — but a Boeing spokesperson insisted that they’d meet the schedule. – Breaking Defense
The Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle is on track for testing this year and a down-select and contract award a year from now, the Program Executive Officer for Land Systems told lawmakers and reporters. – USNI News
In the year since Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth took command at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, the only place the Marine Corps trains female recruits, he has eliminated a large swath of previously gender-segregated training events and challenges, from the combat endurance course to the famous final test known as The Crucible. – Military.com
The War
In one of his duties as commander-in-chief, President Trump notified Congress Tuesday that the U.S. is deploying about 20,000 troops around the world in counter-terrorism operations. – Washington Times
More than a decade and a half later, the threat and fear have proved real and lasting. But the death tolls in individual attacks in the West have remained relatively modest, partly because the assailants have learned that they do not need anthrax or dirty bombs to disrupt capitals, terrify tourists, rivet the attention of governments and impress potential recruits. – New York Times


Born in the shadowy reaches of the internet, most fake news stories prove impossible to trace to their origin. But researchers at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, excavated the root of one such fake story, involving an incident in the Black Sea in which a Russian warplane repeatedly buzzed a United States Navy destroyer, the Donald Cook. – New York Times
A Russian fighter jet intercepted a U.S. B-52 bomber over the Baltic Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry told Russian media outlets Tuesday. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will "deal with" Russia this month, including potentially slapping new financial sanctions on Moscow. – The Hill
Senate Democrats may use floor debate this week on an Iran sanctions measure to try to force a vote on legislation that would impose harsh sanctions on Moscow as punishment for its alleged interference in last year’s presidential elections. – Roll Call
The chief of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's campaign office in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk has been detained. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
David Ignatius writes: As the investigation of Russian hacking rolls forward, we shouldn’t lose perspective: Russia isn’t a demonic, all-powerful presence. It’s a sophisticated, increasingly modern country. But it’s also the rare nation run by a former intelligence officer, who sees the world through a very particular lens. – Washington Post
United Kingdom
U.K. and other Western security agencies were seeking to nail down international connections of the attackers in London’s weekend rampage, as it emerged that one of them had tried to go to Syria from Italy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
What has become clear since the Saturday night assault is that again and again, the young men who killed seven people before they were shot to death by the police had been reported to law enforcement authorities, bumping into what should have been the country’s security net, only for those signals to be played down, ignored or missed. – New York Times
Theresa May, the Conservative prime minister, and Donald Trump, the Republican president, have been thrust together on the world stage. It is not a partnership that charms British voters, even as they recognize the importance of their country’s association with the colony-turned-superpower that helped bring peace to Europe after 1945. – Washington Post
British Prime Minister said Tuesday she would alter human rights laws if they hamper counterterrorism efforts. – The Hill
British Prime Minister Theresa May is on track to win a 64-seat majority in Thursday's national election, a model by businessman and former Conservative Party donor Michael Ashcroft showed on Tuesday. - Reuters
Editorial: [May’s] challenge if she wins will be to negotiate a Brexit deal that sets Britain up for success, and then pursue domestic policies that capitalize on the opportunity. She hasn’t offered the right formula, but voters can at least dispense with Mr. Corbyn’s guarantee of decline. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Joseph Sternberg writes: The main political insight of Thatcher and Reagan was that parties of the center-right must be parties of economic growth. Having wavered since, those parties now risk losing their way entirely. Some centrists will argue, quirks of this campaign notwithstanding, that Mrs. May shows how to win an election. The important question for conservatives to ask is: To what end? – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

An assailant wielding a hammer attacked Paris police guarding Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday, crying “This is for Syria!” before being shot and wounded by officers outside one of France’s most popular tourist sites. – Associated Press
France created a new counter-terrorism task force on Wednesday comprised of all intelligence services that will coordinate responses to attacks, a day after a man carrying Algerian papers attacked police officers outside the Notre Dame cathedral. - Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron's party is on course to win a commanding majority in this month's parliamentary election, an IFOP poll showed on Wednesday, reinforcing the trend seen in other surveys also pointing to a victory for Macron's camp. - Reuters
The European Commission will propose options for boosting joint defense capabilities of the EU’s 27 nations, including a fully fledged security union that could overlap with responsibilities currently endowed to NATO, amid a growing rift between the continent and the U.S. administration. - Bloomberg
Ten years after the European Union created its battle groups, they might finally get the funding that would allow them to fight. That’s according to the defense minister of Estonia, which takes over the rotating EU presidency next month. – Defense One
Richard Boucher writes: In the end, the U.S. and Europe are bound together, not just in institutions and values but in interests and fate.  Together, we face digitization, automation, terrorism, Middle East turmoil, Russian belligerence, and Chinese resurgence.  From ISIS to cod to laptop bans to data privacy, neither the U.S. nor Europe can make policy alone.  Whether we like it or not, we will find each other back together at every turn and every issue.  “Go it alone” won’t work for either Americans or Europeans and the sooner we accept our fate and mollify our pretensions to independence, the better off we’ll be. – The Cipher Brief
Roland Freudenstein. Federico Ottavio Reho, and Dalibor Rohac write: America should not side with forces who want to dismantle the institutional infrastructure generations of Europeans have built to prevent the geopolitical calamities of the first half of the 20th century from repeating themselves. The Trump administration ought to cut ties with populists, and reach out instead to Europe’s Christian Democrats and conservatives. They must work to reorient the European project so as to preserve the unity of Europe, and respond to the legitimate demand for protection and collective belonging in our political communities. – The American Interest
“We face many threats, but I stand here before you with a clear message: the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance and to Article 5 is unwavering.” This was what President Donald Trump was supposed to say in his May 25 address to NATO leaders in Brussels as a way of reassuring them about his evolving views toward the European collective-security pact that he once dismissed as “obsolete.” - Politico
Vice President Mike Pence has reassured NATO allies that the United States will live up to its commitment under Article Five, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all. Again. This time, he did it during a speech Monday night, a week after President Donald Trump failed to mentioned Article Five at a NATO summit in Brussels. Trump’s omission surprised even those within his own administration. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
FPI Policy Fellow Evan Moore writes: It remains to be seen if Mr. Trump has truly learned the lesson that Reagan articulated and his Vice President and cabinet officials understand. And while these officials can reassure both domestic and international audiences, there is no substitute for the president clearly making the commitment himself—and upholding it. – Foreign Policy Initiative


United States of America
Days later, she would mail the file to a reporter at the national-security news outlet The Intercept. By the time the site published the document on Monday, Ms. Winner was already under arrest — undone by a trail of clues that quickly led investigators to her. Ms. Winner, who the F.B.I. said confessed when confronted, is now the defendant in the first criminal leak case of the Trump era. – New York Times
James Clapper, the former director of US National Intelligence, said he believes the Watergate scandal during the 1970s “pales” in comparison to the assault on US institutions currently being perpetrated by Russia and President Donald Trump. – Financial Times
Russian Election Interference
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee told USA TODAY on Tuesday that Russian attacks on election systems were broader and targeted more states than those detailed in an explosive intelligence report leaked to the website The Intercept. – USA Today
Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants the Senate Rules Committee to get a classified briefing on allegations that Russia hacked a U.S. voting systems manufacturer ahead of the 2016 election. – The Hill
The bipartisan leadership of the House Intelligence Committee said Tuesday they will summon former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to testify both publicly and privately about Russian attempts to hack into the U.S. election system. – Washington Examiner
Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent President Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, according to five sources familiar with discussions about the matter. - Yahoo
President Donald Trump’s decision to rely on an outside lawyer as he confronts multiple Russia probes may help him avoid a political trap that befell President Bill Clinton during the investigations of the 1990s: being forced to hand over notes or provide testimony about meetings that took place in the White House. - Politico
A leaked intelligence document outlining alleged attempts by Russian military intelligence to hack into U.S. election systems is the latest evidence suggesting a broad and sophisticated foreign attack on the integrity of the nation’s elections. And it underscores the contention of security experts and computer scientists that the highly decentralized, often ramshackle U.S. election system remains profoundly vulnerable to trickery or sabotage – Associated Press
President Trump said Wednesday that he had selected the former federal prosecutor Christopher Wray, a partner at the Washington law firm King & Spalding, to be his new F.B.I. director. – New York Times
Top national security officials are set to testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday morning in a session likely to touch on a range of high-profile topics, from the continuing investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election to President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials. – Washington Post
The day after President Trump asked James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, to end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Mr. Comey confronted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and said he did not want to be left alone again with the president, according to current and former law enforcement officials. – New York Times
There will be much in former FBI Director James Comey’s upcoming congressional testimony that will make the White House uncomfortable, but he will stop short of saying the president interfered with the agency's probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a source familiar with Comey's thinking told ABC News. – ABC News
Editorial: The point of this Congressional oversight is to help the public understand how Russia tried to meddle with American democracy, and Mr. Comey’s duty didn’t end with his dismissal. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Four current and former Pentagon officials told The Daily Beast that during Michael Flynn’s brief White House tenure, the retired general advocated for the expansion of a relatively narrow military communications channel—one meant to keep U.S. and Russian pilots safe from one another—to see if the two nations could jointly fight the so-called Islamic State. – The Daily Beast
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn turned over about 600 pages of documents Tuesday to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to a congressional aide. – Associated Press
United Nations
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, took a swipe on Tuesday at Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, criticized the United Nations for what she called its anti-Israel bias and insisted that the Trump administration would champion human rights – New York Times
Canada intends to make “a substantial investment” in its military because it can no longer rely on the United States for leadership in the face of threats posed by terrorist groups or countries like Russia and North Korea, the Canadian foreign minister said Tuesday. – Washington Post
Venezuela’s defense minister is urging the country’s national guardsmen to refrain from using excessive force as they confront protesters after more than two months of anti-government demonstrations. – Associated Press
Venezuelan opposition leaders on Tuesday accused security forces of assaulting and robbing demonstrators who participate in protests against President Nicolas Maduro. - Reuters
The United States denounced the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday for suppressing protests and called for free elections, saying that he must not be allowed to follow a "dictatorship" path like Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. - Reuters 


South Africa plunged into its second recession in eight years in the first three months of the year, even before a political crisis in the ruling African National Congress triggered rating cuts to junk status. – Financial Times
France on Tuesday proposed that the United Nations Security Council back a West African force to combat terrorism, drug and human trafficking by "eradicating the actions" of Islamist militants and organized crime groups in the Sahel region. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Few Republicans were quicker to embrace President Trump’s campaign last year than Jeff Sessions, and his reward was one of the most prestigious jobs in America. But more than four months into his presidency, Mr. Trump has grown sour on Mr. Sessions, now his attorney general, blaming him for various troubles that have plagued the White House. – New York Times
Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign at one point in recent months after his relationship with President Trump grew increasingly tense, according to two people close to the White House. – Washington Post
Trump's aides are quickly learning they speak for the president at their own peril. The president seems to shrug off these incidents, several of which have occurred since he took office, and he has made clear that ultimately only he speaks for his administration, all while rejecting efforts to curtail his use of Twitter. – Washington Post
Josh Rogin reports: Listening to Tuesday’s first ever State Department briefing by new spokeswoman Heather Nauert, one might get the impression that the United States is conducting traditional, balanced and even somewhat nuanced foreign policy on the world stage. The problem is, of course, that President Trump’s own statements on foreign policy destroy that image and there’s no effort by either side to address the resulting  contradictions. – Washington Post
President Donald Trump officially nominated former Army Ranger Ryan McCarthy as under secretary of the Army on Tuesday, putting him in line for the service’s second ranking post and a possible temporary promotion to the top job. – Defense News
The Air Force has seven politically-appointed leaders that must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Only one — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson — is in office, but more could be on the way soon, Wilson said Tuesday. – Defense News


Charles Davidson and Kate Bateman write: Sessions’ statement and the White House letter on Global Magnitsky suggest there are forces within the administration that could continue to push the anti-corruption agenda forward. The G20 Summit in July is a key opportunity for doing so. The administration should use this forum to publicly throw its support behind the global fight against corruption and kleptocracy. – The Hill

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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