FPI Overnight Brief: June 20, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Saudi Arabia said on Monday its navy had seized three members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards piloting a boat loaded with explosives toward a Saudi offshore oil drilling rig. – New York Times
Former Senators Joseph Lieberman and Mark Kirk write: The FATF is primed to provide a thorough and just assessment of Iran’s efforts in the past year. We hope it does so. The nuclear deal provided the space and opportunity for Iran to demonstrate its commitment to stopping the flow of funds to terror groups and rolling back its money-laundering operations. But Iran squandered this opportunity. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Behnam Ben Taleblu writes: The Senate action builds on a cascade of human rights and ballistic missile sanctions and designations from the Treasury and State Departments in 2017. But the bill’s most important clause is the call to develop a “strategy for deterring conventional and asymmetric Iranian activities and threats.” Absent this clear strategy, the U.S. will once again be forced to react to Iranian provocations as they arise. This bill appears aimed at changing that dynamic. – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Russia on Monday condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane, suspending the use of a military hotline that Washington and Moscow have used to avoid collisions in Syrian airspace and threatening to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies over Syria. – New York Times
America’s top uniformed official said lines of communication remain open with Russia following the shootdown of a Syrian regime jet by an American aircraft. – Defense News
Pentagon officials told The Daily Beast that the U.S. military was reassessing its air war over Syria after Moscow hinted it might shoot down American warplanes there. – The Daily Beast
With tensions escalating between the United States and Russia in Syria, the White House still has no larger strategy on how to deal with fresh conflicts sure to arise in parts of Syria once the Islamic State is pushed out. - Politico
With each swath of land in Syria that falls out of ISIS control, a new battle appears to be emerging, one that potentially has the United States increasingly unable to sidestep the ongoing civil war there. – Buzz Feed
Bolstered by coalition air-power, Kurdish forces in Syria have entered the second week of fighting to seize the city of Raqqa, where nearly 2,000 ISIS fighters are battling to maintain control of their de facto capital in a bloody street-by-street battle. – Military Times
President Donald Trump has ordered stepped-up military operations against Islamic State and delegated more authority to his generals, but without a comprehensive Syria strategy, his approach risks further confrontation with Syria, Iran and even Russia, according to U.S. officials and analysts. - Reuters
Government air and artillery bombardments hit rebel-held areas of the Syrian city of Deraa, on the border with Jordan, on Tuesday after a two-day ceasefire expired, witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said – Reuters
Editorial: As a candidate, Mr. Trump supported “safe zones” for refugees and opposition forces. But he’s also shown no interest in a larger strategic goal than defeating ISIS. Now is the time for thinking through such a strategy because Syria, Russia and Iran know what they want. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: Not only should the United States reject Moscow’s bluffing about Syrian airspace, but also the Trump administration should make clear to Vladi­mir Putin’s regime that if it continues to ally itself with Iran in the region, it will forfeit any chance of resetting relations with Washington. – Washington Post
Iraqi forces are using small, off-the-shelf drones to target Islamic State in the crowded and twisting streets of Mosul’s Old City, where the militants are making a last stand. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The top Iraqi-Kurdish representative to the U.S. said Iranian-backed Shia militias could undermine the security and stability of the Kurdish region once the Islamic State threat to the country is defeated. – Washington Times
On Monday, the European Union joined the United Nations, the United States, Turkey, and Iraq to discourage Iraqi Kurds from holding an independence referendum on Sept. 25. That was to be expected, and won’t deter regional government authorities in Erbil, said Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government representative in Washington. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Gulf States
An organization of American Jews and Christians on Monday announced a campaign to lobby the Trump administration to strongly back a pressure campaign organized by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies against Qatar over its suspected support for Iran and terror groups in the region. – Washington Times
Qatar said the two-week blockade of the country by its Gulf neighbours was tearing apart the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council. – Financial Times
Eli Lake reports: While Obama used Oman's good relations with Iran to advance his diplomacy with Iran, the Trump administration sees its ties to Iran as a problem. This was part of the delicate message Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and Trump's deputy national security adviser, General Ricky Waddell, delivered to Qaboos in a secret visit to Muscat on June 11. – Bloomberg View
Anthony Blinken writes: NATO itself is more than a coalition of common interests — it’s an alliance of shared values. Mr. Trump seems more at home with Middle Eastern autocrats than he does with European democrats. Interests change and diverge; values do not. In their absence, an “Arab NATO” will prove to be a hollow enterprise. – New York Times
Walter Russell Mead writes: If the Trump administration wants to restore tranquillity, it should think holistically about Saudi Arabia’s economic and security problems—and creatively about how this American alliance, a pillar of Middle East stability since World War II, can be renewed. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The US is facing strong resistance as it presses Israel to ease its controls on the Palestinian economy as part of Washington’s efforts to revive the moribund peace process, according to Palestinian and US officials. – Financial Times


In recent months, the government has quietly provided the breakaway faction — popularly known as the Renouncers — with weapons, safe passage and intelligence support in their fight against the mainstream Taliban. The result has been a series of successes in areas where the government has otherwise suffered repeated defeats, particularly in Helmand, a southern province where the mainstream Taliban still control 90 percent of the territory. – New York Times
Drug addiction in Afghanistan, once mostly limited to men who spent years as laborers or war refugees in Iran, has exploded into a nationwide scourge that affects millions of people, including a growing number of women and children. – Washington Post
As the U.S. readies to send 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain hammered the Trump administration for failing to produce a strategy for America’s longest war. – Defense News
At least eight Afghan security guards were killed when gunmen opened fire on them in the country's northern Parwan province, a provincial official said Tuesday. The Taliban later claimed the attack. – Associated Press
President Donald Trump's administration appears ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based militants launching attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, U.S. officials tell Reuters. - Reuters
Pakistani separatists riding motorcycles killed two naval officers in the restive southwestern province of Baluchistan, police officials said on Tuesday, near the site of a major Chinese-funded project. - Reuters
The U.S. will press China to ramp up pressure on North Korea in a round of high-level talks on Wednesday, hoping for action on what Washington sees as a pre-eminent threat, a senior U.S. diplomat said Monday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Greece’s recent veto of a European Union statement condemning Chinese human-rights violations shows the return Beijing is getting on its multibillion-dollar investments in the bloc’s cash-strapped periphery. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The United States wants China to become more involved in supporting the global fight against terrorism and efforts to defeat Islamic State, including in Iraq, a senior U.S. official said on Monday ahead of high-level security talks with Beijing. - Reuters
Zalmay Khalilzad writes: A congagement strategy would provide the flexibility to adjust the balance between engagement and containment, depending on the state of Chinese capabilities, objectives, policies and actions. Chinese cooperation on security and economic issues would invite more engagement. Conversely, inadequate cooperation on, say, North Korea, aggressiveness in the South China Sea and bellicosity on Taiwan would trigger a tilt toward containment. – The National Interest
Korean Peninsula
Two U.S. supersonic bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula while a guided-missile destroyer visited a southern island Tuesday in the latest shows of force against a defiant North Korea. – Stars and Stripes
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is reportedly so terrified of being targeted for assassination that he travels incognito inside the Hermit Kingdom, and there’s growing evidence his paranoia may be well-founded. – Fox News
Sen. John McCain said Monday night that Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student detained by North Korea for more than a year, was "murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime." – Washington Examiner
Christian Caryl writes: My heart goes out to Warmbier’s family. Neither he nor they deserved any of this. But at least — miserable consolation that it is — he will be remembered. The same cannot be said for the legions of North Koreans who populate their country’s mass graves, faceless and forgotten. As we mourn the fate of this poor American, let’s spare a thought for them as well. – Washington Post
Rebeccah Heinrichs writes: Secretary JIm Mattis was right when he said a military solution in North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.” To avoid this, North Korea — and its Chinese enablers—must be made to understand that, with the repeated nuclear and missile tests, and now with the murder of Otto Warmbier, the United States is officially out of patience. – Breaking Defense
East Asia
The Japanese Coast Guard said on Monday that a deadly collision between a container ship and a United States Navy destroyer had occurred nearly an hour earlier than previously believed, adding that it was investigating whether there had been a delay in reporting the crash. – New York Times
Japan has finally done enough to stimulate its economy and simply needs to keep policy loose until inflation rises, according to an upbeat verdict by the International Monetary Fund. – Financial Times
Report: This paper examines the evolution from a hub-and-spokes alliance system in Asia toward a growing network of intra-Asian security ties, and then explores alternative regional network models. While a number of countries, including India and Singapore, represent important nodes in such a network, this report focuses on Japan and Australia as two natural hubs. – Center for a New American Security
Southeast Asia
Singapore’s prime minister has apologised to the country for the extraordinary public dispute with his siblings, which has grown into a conflict over the integrity of the city-state’s administration. – Financial Times
Philippine aircraft and troops launched a renewed push against Islamist militants in a southern city on Tuesday and a military spokesman said the aim was to clear the area by the weekend Eid festival, although there was no deadline. - Reuters
A 61-year-old man arrested in connection with a bomb blast at a military-run hospital in Bangkok claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday saying he objected to unelected military rulers. - Reuters
Vietnamese human rights bloggers and activists are being beaten and intimidated, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday, as it urged the Communist government to end attacks and hold those responsible accountable. - Reuters
Editorial: The Journal has reported that U.S. investigators are preparing to charge at least one of Mr. Najib’s associates. Since Malaysian authorities have concluded that there’s nothing worth investigating in the 1MDB matter, civil and criminal cases in other jurisdictions are the best hope Malaysians have of finding out whether their country has become a kleptocracy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


The American military faces a two-front war it can’t afford to fight on current budgets, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said today. On the one hand, the US must keep the pressure on not only the Islamic State but its inevitable successors in a “long term” — even “generational” — conflict, Gen. Joseph Dunford said. At the same time, he said, the US must invest in modernizing its nuclear and conventional arsenal to deter growing threats from four nation-states: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. But the US, Dunford said, can’t afford to do both under Budget Control Act spending caps and an absence of appropriations bills. – Breaking Defense
The House Armed Services subcommittees will all meet this week to approve their slices of the annual Pentagon policy bill, the first formal step in the months-long negotiations to move the massive measure through Congress and to the president’s desk. The Senate Armed Services panels will follow suit soon. – Roll Call
Forty-five leading defense experts, think tank leaders and advocacy group officials are calling on Congress to allow the Pentagon to close excess military bases. – The Hill
Lockheed Martin is hammering out the details on a F-35 block buy proposal that could shave $2 billion off the total cost of the purchase, the company’s F-35 program manager said. – Defense News
The Navy is acquiring early materials, working on systems engineering and starting detailed design work for a new America-Class Amphibious Assault ship which re-introduces “well-deck” surface attack technology to prepare the service for future amphibious warfare. – Scout Warrior
Raytheon expects to grow Standard Missile-2 business well beyond the initial $650 million program that spurred a restart of the production line, said CEO Tom Kennedy. – Defense News
Strategic Issues
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that additional spending on missile defense against the North Korean threat awaits a strategy review. – DOD Buzz
Frank Rose writes: Of all the arguments offered by opponents of the LRSO, the most credible appears to be that the current strategic modernization program as a whole is unaffordable. They very well may be right. However, cancelling the LRSO is unlikely to reap the cost savings that they seek. Therefore, other tradeoffs will likely need to be made in order to make the program affordable over the long-term. This will certainly be one of the key issues addressed in the on-going Nuclear Posture Review. However, based on its military capabilities, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness, it is critical that the LRSO remains a key part the strategic modernization program. – War on the Rocks
The War
Seventy percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the U.S. government to protect its citizens from future acts of terrorism, according to a new Gallup poll released Monday. – Washington Times
Google and YouTube announced new steps the platforms are taking to combat the spread of terrorist material online. – Washington Examiner
The commander of the U.S. Southern Command has ordered an investigation into claims that somebody was illegally recording attorney-client meetings at Guantanamo from September 2015 to April 2017, a discovery that prompted a general to warn war court defense attorneys that their privileged communications were at risk. – Miami Herald


The head of Ukraine’s state energy company cheered the U.S. Senate’s decision to take aim at a Russian gas pipeline to Germany in sanctions legislation last week and urged the Trump administration to penalize companies helping Russia execute the project. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is set to meet President Donald Trump in Washington on June 20, an event hailed by Kyiv as a crucial development in Ukraine's relations with the new U.S. administration. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Maria Repko writes: The Ukrainian government and the IMF agree on the major points. But the main battle will be in parliament, where the opposition will do its best to show off and secure its image as the people’s defenders, even two years ahead of scheduled elections. – Atlantic Council
The former Texas oilman, who worked extensively with Kremlin officials as CEO of Exxon Mobil, has crafted a three-point framework for future US-Russia relations that takes a narrow view of what can be achieved between the former Cold War adversaries, but seeks a constructive working relationship with Putin on a limited set of issues. – Buzz Feed
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that a Russian law banning the promotion of homosexuality breaches European treaty rules on freedom of expression and is discriminatory against gay people. - Reuters
United Kingdom
The family of the man suspected of ramming a van into Muslim worshipers offered public condolences Tuesday in statements that sought outreach but gave little hint of possible motives behind the latest terrorist strike in London. – Washington Post
Britain and the European Union began talks Monday to sever their 43-year partnership, kicking off unprecedented divorce negotiations that will shape future relations between them. – Washington Post
After deadly terrorist attacks and a nationwide election, Britain is once again focusing on a controversial plan: to regulate the internet. Lawmakers from across the political spectrum are promoting some of the widest-ranging plans anywhere in the western world to rein in the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter, setting up a likely standoff. – New York Times
London may be the most diverse and tolerant city in the world and is home to more than one million Muslims from dozens of countries…When Britain voted to leave the European Union, London voted to stay. But this proudly cosmopolitan city is now confronted with the tensions and ugliness that have been simmering on the fringes for years and are boiling to the surface. – New York Times
For years, Finsbury Park was considered a hotbed of Islamist extremism…But like many of its surrounding neighborhoods, the area has rapidly gentrified in recent years, arguably becoming both more diverse and tolerant at the same time….Yet it was in this contemporary Finsbury Park that a van plowed into a group of Muslim worshipers in the early hours of Monday morning, leaving one dead and injuring 10 others outside the nearby Muslim Welfare House. – Washington Post
BuzzFeed News can reveal that Puncher is among at least 14 people US intelligence officials suspect were killed in the UK by Russian mafia groups or secret services, two forces that sometimes work together, since Putin’s rise to power. – Buzz Feed
An armed man was killed in Paris on Monday afternoon after he rammed a car into a police convoy on the Champs-Élysées, the French authorities said. – New York Times
A little more than a month ago, France’s far-right seemed on the cusp of power. But the populist fervor that swept Britain and the United States never reached the same pitch in France, and the National Front fell into disarray when Emmanuel Macron crushed Marine Le Pen in May’s presidential election. Now, the party is facing the reality that it will have minimal representation in Parliament. – Washington Post
Editorial: Mr. Macron’s big test will come when labor unions and the left hit the streets to paralyze the country as he moves his reform agenda in the assembly. Recent Presidents have wilted under that assault, and if Mr. Macron does the same he will fail too. Reform opportunities like Mr. Macron’s come once in a generation. This one would be a terrible thing to waste. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
An international controversy over nonprofits funded by progressive Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros has created a vulnerability in the NATO alliance, the State Department warned. – Washington Examiner
Jeffrey Gedmin writes: Care packages, the Marshall Plan and the Berlin airlift may have been part of the past, but for Kohl, these things were vivid examples of the United States’ willingness to stand up for liberal democracy and against authoritarianism. NATO meant the very same thing. The emotional bonds between the United States and Germany have faded. But Kohl’s vision and “values thing” would be dearly needed today. – Washington Post
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization brought two battle groups together Tuesday in a drill meant to demonstrate the alliance’s ability to keep open vital supply lines between Poland and Lithuania, shoring up what military planners have identified as an alliance weakness. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said its deterrent force is fully in place in the Baltic area with the addition of a Canadian-led battle group in Latvia, enhancing deployments criticized by Russia. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A month after President Donald Trump scolded NATO in an address to the alliance and claimed partner countries lean too much on the United States for defense funding, a panel of senior Air Force officials struck a more positive note, reasserting the U.S. military’s commitment to the organization. – Defense Tech


United States of America
Otto F. Warmbier, the University of Virginia honors student who was released from a North Korean prison last week after spending 17 months in captivity and more than a year in a coma, died on Monday at the Cincinnati hospital where he had been receiving treatment, his family said. – New York Times
America’s European allies are campaigning to stop President Donald Trump from using national security grounds to slap restrictions on foreign steel imports. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
House Democrats are continuing to block testimony from about a dozen witnesses who sought to appear before the intelligence oversight panel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. – Washington Free Beacon
Two top House Democrats are questioning whether Michael Flynn failed to report a 2015 trip to the Middle East to federal security clearance investigators, a potential omission that could add to the legal jeopardy President Donald Trump's former national security adviser faces over the truthfulness of his statements to authorities and on government documents. – Associated Press
Stephen Krasner writes: In our own self-interest, we should be providing more foreign aid, not less, as we refine our approaches to the many serious challenges that development aid, along with other policy instruments, addresses. Cutting the budgets of the State Department and USAID in such a massive way would both crush morale and cripple crucial capabilities, making the United States less secure. – The American Interest
Cuba’s foreign minister on Monday delivered a searing rebuke of President Trump’s new policy toward the island nation by calling it a “grotesque spectacle” and vowed that his country “will never negotiate under pressure or under threat.” – New York Times
The Trump administration considered severing diplomatic relations with Cuba before deciding on narrower changes to former President Barack Obama’s policy, according to documents obtained exclusively by The Hill. – The Hill
Executives of the nonprofit advocacy group Engage Cuba, one of whom has taken credit for leading an "under-the-radar" $3 million national campaign to convince the Obama administration "to reform" U.S.-Cuba relations, are listed as registered agents of a for-profit travel service that shares the initials of the non-profit firm. – Washington Free Beacon
Mary O’Grady writes: Mr. Trump has taken a first step toward moral clarity on Cuba. But real progress requires an honest look at the historical record that acknowledges the regime’s many crimes against humanity. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
South America
Brazil’s political establishment was captivated on Monday by the apparently casual revelation of the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency official in the capital, Brasília, by the office of Gen. Sérgio Westphalen Etchegoyen, the country’s top intelligence official. – New York Times
Diplomats from the Western Hemisphere began meeting in Mexico on Monday, attempting to pressure Venezuela to restore democracy and ease the political chaos and repression tearing apart the oil-rich country whose citizens are on starvation diets. – Washington Post
Venezuelan opposition activists battled security forces in Caracas on Monday at one of the largest demonstrations in recent weeks, aiming to dispel doubts about the movement's stamina after over two months of almost daily street clashes. - Reuters


A new alliance of Islamist militant groups linked to al Qaeda on Monday claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least five people at a Mali luxury resort popular with Western expatriates just outside the capital Bamako. - Reuters
South Sudan’s civil war has mutated from a two-way fight between the president and his ousted former deputy to a fragmented conflict, making it harder to put it back together and peace more elusive, the top U.N. peacekeeper in the country said. - Reuters
The United Nations called on South Sudan's leaders to take more responsibility for stemming the world's fastest growing refugee crisis, as it said the number of people displaced worldwide had risen to a record 65.6 million. - Reuters
Democratic Republic of Congo's justice minister said on Monday that his government would not admit an independent investigation into violence in its Kasai region which has been called for by a top U.N. human rights official. - Reuters
The government of the Central African Republic and 13 of the 14 armed groups in the country on Monday signed an accord aimed at ending an ethic and religious conflict that has killed thousands of people. - Reuters

Trump Administration

James Mattis is quickly becoming one of the most powerful Defense secretaries in recent memory, with access to President Trump that few can match. – The Hill
Through the first five months of the Trump administration, the Pentagon remains thin on political appointees, with roughly 29 percent of spots filled. – Defense News
Interview: Syria, North Korea, the South China Sea, Ukraine—Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sees problems that could get out of hand all over the planet. And he hasn’t seen any kind of a plan or hint of a plan for any of them from an administration that worries him both for its understaffing and for being run by a president he says acts in ways that are “very irrational, against U.S. interests, and unpredictable.” - Politico
Douglas Lute writes: Without our national security team and process in place, we are living on borrowed time before we confront a significant national security crisis that overnight becomes our first priority. Opponents deliberately will test us, friends will move on in their own interests, natural disasters will happen. No one will wait for us to get our act together. We cannot afford 2017 to be a year of endless transition. This issue is our top national security priority today. - Politico

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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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