FPI Overnight Brief: June 21, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Dick and Liz Cheney: Congress, Obama depleted the military
  • ISIS setting up networks to move terrorists to Europe, Asia
  • Pentagon report highlights Chinese submarine buildup
  • Pentagon: Afghanistan developing new plan vs. Taliban
  • Rogin: Top White House aide likely next US ambassador to India
  • Dennis Ross: Trump is on a collision course with Iran
  • Flynn heard CIA secrets despite concerns about blackmail
  • Senators wrestle with updating AUMF against terror groups
  • US struggles to unite countries in condemning Venezuela

Middle East/North Africa

Iran has increased production and testing of ballistic missiles since the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. while playing permanent host to scientists from North Korea, which has the know-how to build and launch atomic weapons, a leading Iranian opposition group said Tuesday. – Washington Times
Declassified documents released last week shed light on the Central Intelligence Agency’s central role in the 1953 coup that brought down Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh, fueling a surge of nationalism which culminated in the 1979 Iranian Revolution and poisoning U.S.-Iran relations into the 21st century. – Foreign Policy
Josh Rogin reports: The Trump administration has quietly ramped up its involvement in trying to free two Iranian Americans being held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, including one who is in very poor health. The effort is now not only a focus of the administration’s approach to Iran, but also part of an overall increase of attention to the plight of Americans held unjustly abroad. – Washington Post
An American F-15E fighter jet shot down an Iranian-made armed drone that was flying toward American-backed Syrian fighters and their advisers on Tuesday, Pentagon officials said. – New York Times
Tehran’s much-heralded ballistic missile strike against Islamic State targets in Syria came up short, with most of the Iranian missiles either missing their marks inside the terror group’s haven in Deir-e-Zour, or missing Syria altogether and landing inside Iraqi territory. – Washington Times
At least 17 children in eastern Syria have been paralyzed from a recently confirmed outbreak of polio, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, punctuating the health risks to a population ravaged by more than six years of war. – New York Times
The Pentagon is downplaying the rising tensions between the U.S.-led coalition and the Russian-led pro-government forces in Syria, by suggesting that Moscow's angry public statements are more for show than evidence of a serious split. – Washington Examiner
The military activity last month around al-Tanf, a Syrian town on the Iraqi border, was an early sign that as rival forces scrambled to capture Isis territory in eastern Syria, the region risked becoming the flashpoint for international confrontation. – Financial Times
U.S.-backed forces are closing in on Islamic State in Raqqa, but local Syrians who have escaped the battlefield are worried about what comes after the fight. - Reuters
Western-backed Syrian rebels holding a strategic swathe of the desert southeast stretching to the Iraqi border said they came under major attack on Tuesday from government forces and allied Iranian-backed militias backed by Russian air power. - Reuters
Dennis Ross writes: Regrettably, if the Trump administration cannot do more to counter Iran’s actions in Syria, it is not likely to be able to “demolish” ISIS and prevent its return. Iran is using its Shia proxy militias both to fight ISIS and to challenge U.S. efforts to train local forces in southeastern Syria. - Politico
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned Iraq's leader against weakening Shi'ite paramilitary groups and relying on the United States in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on Wednesday began a push towards the mosque in Mosul where Islamic State declared a self-styled caliphate three years ago, military officials said. - Reuters
The Islamic State is setting up networks to support the systematic movement of terrorists from the Middle East to Europe and Asia, according to U.S. defense officials. – Washington Free Beacon
U.S.-led coalition forces said they have killed Turki al-Bin’ali, ISIS' chief cleric, in Syria airstrike last month. – Fox News
Gulf States
The State Department on Tuesday issued a blistering critique of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries for enforcing a two-week embargo against Qatar without giving the tiny country any specific ways to resolve a crisis over accusations of Qatar’s funding of terrorism. – New York Times
King Salman of Saudi Arabia promoted his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, to be next in line to the throne on Wednesday, further empowering a young, activist leader at a time when the kingdom is struggling with low oil prices, a rivalry with Iran and conflicts across the Middle East. – New York Times
Israel would use all its strength from the start in any new war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the chief of the Israeli air force said on Wednesday, sending a firm warning a decade after their last conflict. - Reuters

It used to be one of the most coveted jobs in Afghanistan: a position on a sprawling American military base, the biggest in the country…All that has changed over the last year, as the deaths late Monday of eight Afghan guards who worked at Bagram Air Base dramatically demonstrated. And it was yet another indicator that the Taliban have spread their areas of operation to most parts of the country. – New York Times
The Pentagon wasted as much as $28 million over the past decade buying uniforms for the Afghan army with a woodland camouflage pattern appropriate for a tiny fraction of that war-torn country, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. – USA Today
After nearly 16 years of war against the Taliban, the Afghan government is starting to develop a "road map" for breaking a battlefield stalemate that has been prolonged by the insurgents' ability to use Pakistan as a sanctuary, the Pentagon said Tuesday. – Associated Press
South Asia
Pakistani officials say an Air Force fighter jet shot down an unmanned Iranian drone in its southwestern Baluchistan province. – Associated Press
Josh Rogin reports: A senior official in the White House’s National Economic Council will soon be named U.S. ambassador to India, four White House officials confirmed. The move comes as the Indian prime minister plans to visit the Trump White House next week for the first time. – Washington Post
Korean Peninsula
President Trump said on Tuesday that China had not succeeded in getting North Korea to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, an extraordinary admission of failure in his strategy for dealing with the rogue regime of Kim Jong-un. – New York Times
The Trump administration showed little sign of changing its strategy toward North Korea on Tuesday, despite pressure from Capitol Hill for a muscular action following the death of American student Otto F. Warmbier. – Washington Times
Analysts said anger over Mr. Warmbier’s death would dim, if not scuttle, any prospect of a less antagonistic relationship in the near future between Washington and Pyongyang, which is still holding three other Americans. – New York Times
The European Union is in discussions with South Korea and China about taking a potential role as a broker for negotiations with North Korea on ending its nuclear program, according to EU officials involved in the effort. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
About 1,000 American tourists visit North Korea each year, looking for an adventure and a glimpse at the “Hermit Kingdom.” But the death of Otto Warmbier, the American student who had been imprisoned in the country for 17 months, has focused a new light on tourism to North Korea, which the regime has been trying to promote. – Washington Post
United States satellites have detected activity at an underground site in North Korea used to test nuclear weapons, CNN reported Tuesday. – The Hill
Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that Americans who are "stupid" enough to travel to North Korea should be required to sign a waiver that would absolve the U.S. government from blame if the travelers suffer harm while there. – Washington Examiner
Dozens of South Koreans waved American flags and signs with slogans like “Deploy THAAD immediately” and “Strong ROK-US alliance” during a rally Monday to support the 2nd Infantry Division after several musicians boycotted a recent concert celebrating its centennial. – Stars and Stripes
Interview: What happens when a dovish president in Seoul and a hawkish one in Washington disagree on how to contain North Korea? Ahead of Moon’s first visit to White House next week, The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth sought to find out. – Washington Post
East Asia
As the bodies of the seven sailors who died aboard the American destroyer Fitzgerald last weekend were flown back to the United States from Japan on Tuesday, multiple investigations of the fatal collision with a container ship began in earnest. – New York Times
Japan will test its missile interceptor capability on Thursday, following several North Korean missile tests that have shaken the nation, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported. – The Hill
Bill Gertz reports: The large-scale buildup of China’s naval forces is the most visible part of a major rearmament campaign that has been under way for more than a decade. But Chinese development of modern and increasingly quiet submarines poses one of the more serious strategic challenges for the United States and other nations concerned about Beijing’s growing hegemony in Asia. – Asia Times
Southeast Asia
Japan has sent its biggest warship on a mission to tighten ties with Southeast Asian countries it sees as potential allies in an effort to keep China’s regional sea territory claims in check. – Financial Times
The Philippine military said Islamist militants who had holed up in a primary school in the south early on Wednesday had retreated after a gunbattle with troops but were holding some civilians hostage. - Reuters
Indonesia is set to approve a law allowing authorities to jail for up to 15 years citizens coming home after joining militant groups abroad, lawmakers said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Most Australians do not like US president Donald Trump and have less trust in America to “act responsibly” in world affairs, but they continue to support the US-Australian military alliance, a new survey shows. – Financial Times
Michael Fullilove and Alex Oliver write: No one likes being taken for granted, not even the oldest and easiest of friends. The 2017 Lowy Institute Poll reveals that fewer Australians than ever see the U.S. as our “best friend.” That should be a warning for all of us who support this alliance. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Defense Budget
The House Armed Services Committee’s defense bill for 2018 would allow the Navy to buy 15 Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers and 13 Virginia-class attack submarines over the next five years instead of the 10 each the Navy wanted, would urge the Navy to buy aircraft carriers every three years, and would force the destroyer shipbuilders to make quicker progress upgrading to the Flight III ship design that boasts a more impressive radar, HASC aides told reporters – USNI News
A House Armed Services subcommittee is hinting at support for a budget that is larger than what President Trump has requested. – The Hill
The House Armed Services Committee would add 17,000 soldiers to the Army in its annual defense policy bill, committee aides told reporters Tuesday. – The Hill
A House subcommittee is advancing language to support the Trump administration’s $12.3 billion funding request for America’s most elite military forces. – Defense News
A House panel is recommending a “full” 2.4 percent pay raise for service members next year, bucking President Trump’s plans for a slightly smaller paycheck boost. – Military Times
A House Armed Services Committee subpanel is silent on the issue of future base closures, a committee aide said Tuesday. – The Hill
“To counter our near-peer adversaries” — read Russia and China — US Pacific Command wants $530 million of unfunded priorities that didn’t fit in the 2018 budget request, from better bases to more torpedoes. The top item: $49 million more for “multi-domain battle exercises,” wargames testing a new Army-led concept for future warfare against high-tech adversaries that Navy-dominated PACOM, led by Adm. Harry Harris, has been quick to embrace. – Breaking Defense
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) write: Providing for the defense of America is the most sacred constitutional obligation of the U.S. Congress. If Congress fails in this, no balanced budget, no health-care reform, no tax reform, no entitlement reform will matter. If lawmakers fail to provide the resources necessary for the defense of the nation, nothing else they do will matter. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Air Force has provided the House a classified report on restarting the F-22 Raptor fighter jet program, congressional staff said Tuesday. – Washington Examiner
The U.S. Navy might not have to conduct shock trials on its new aircraft carrier. That means the Ford could be on deployment much sooner, easing the burden on the Navy’s overstretched carrier fleet. – Defense News
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday that the F-35 is “not just a better F-18” but a “transformational” aircraft that will change the way the U.S. conducts war. – DOD Buzz
Congress wants the Army to get its tanks in gear. Today, the House Armed Services Committee released its draft of the 2018 defense policy bill, which all but begged the Army to accelerate its air-deployable Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle. MPF would fill a void in light tanks that’s existed since the M551 Sheridan was retired in 1996. A separate provision would order the Army to report on its plans for modernizing its heavy armored forces across the board, including “the development of a next generation infantry fighting vehicle and main battle tank” to replace the M2 Bradley and M1 Abrams respectively. – Breaking Defense
By releasing a GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition from a MQ-9 Reaper in a live weapons exercise, the Air Force made history and vastly widened the attack envelope, target set and mission scope for its workhorse drone. – Scout Warrior
The War
Fifteen years after he helped devise the brutal interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects in secret C.I.A. prisons, John Bruce Jessen, a former military psychologist, expressed ambivalence about the program. He described himself and a fellow military psychologist, James Mitchell, as reluctant participants in using the techniques, some of which are widely viewed as torture, but also justified the practices as effective in getting resistant detainees to cooperate. – New York Times
The House Armed Services Committee will seek to increase oversight of the military’s cyber operations and partnerships with allies on cyber capabilities in this year’s annual defense policy bill. – The Hill
Interview: The Cipher Brief’s Levi Maxey spoke with James Clapper, the former U.S. Director of National Intelligence, about how the U.S. approaches cybersecurity information sharing and why there continues to be obstacles for both government and private sector when sharing data on virtual risks with real world consequences. – The Cipher Brief
A House Armed Services panel intends to create a new fighting force called Space Corps within the Air Force to improve the U.S. military’s ability to address threats in space, according to a summary of the Strategic Forces panel’s forthcoming fiscal 2018 mark. – Roll Call


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has extolled his country's commitment to democracy and ongoing reforms as he pushed U.S. President Donald Trump for support in a meeting hailed by Kyiv but downplayed by the U.S. administration. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Trump administration ratcheted up pressure on Russia on Tuesday, unveiling sanctions on more than three dozen additional individuals and organizations that have participated in the country’s incursion in Ukraine. – New York Times
The Kremlin said Wednesday that it was formulating “various options” to respond to fresh U.S. sanctions over its military interventions in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
At a time when public anger over government corruption has led to Russia’s most widespread protests in years, fewer than half of Russians are confident in President Vladi­mir Putin’s efforts to rein in crooked officials, according to a survey released Tuesday. – Washington Post
Bots airing pro-Kremlin views have flooded the Russian-language portion of the social media platform Twitter, in what researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute say is an effort to scuttle political discussion and opposition coordination in Russia. – Washington Post
Probes into the Trump administration’s alleged dealings with Russia are creating a vacuum in U.S. foreign policy and preventing relations from thawing between the two countries, the head of Russia’s second-largest bank said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As a former Soviet factory director, Vladimir Melikhov survived the brutal business turf wars of the 1990s to make a fortune in construction. Now he devotes his energy and money to what, in the Russia of President Vladimir V. Putin, has become a truly risky enterprise: digging into Russian history. – New York Times
A Russian fighter jet came “within several feet” of an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea and lingered by the side of the U.S. plane for several minutes on Monday, U.S. military officials said. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
U.S. Senate leaders have called on the House of Representatives to vote on the Senate's bill to impose new sanctions on Russia and Iran even as the legislation hit a roadblock in the House. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
What may be a small procedural obstacle has some senior Democrats crying foul over the House’s plans for new sanctions against Iran and Russia. – Roll Call
Russia’s military industries are struggling to meet the challenges of reduced state support that is forcing them into developing dual-use products for a civilian and export market they don’t understand, an expert on Moscow’s industrial policy said Tuesday. – USNI News
A man detonated a bomb in the Brussels Central train station on Tuesday, officials said, leading the police and military to evacuate a popular tourist area of the Belgian capital months after coordinated terrorist attacks in the city killed more than 30 people. – New York Times
A man who triggered a suitcase bomb in a failed attack at a busy Brussels train station was a 36-year-old Moroccan citizen who was known to the police but was not wanted for any terrorism offenses, the Belgian authorities said on Wednesday. – New York Times
A suitcase bomb packed with nails and gas bottles could have caused heavy casualties, Belgium's prime minister said on Wednesday, a day after a soldier shot dead a Moroccan national attempting an attack on Brussels' central station. - Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time sketched out the outlines of a bargain with France on fixing the governance of Europe’s single currency, in the clearest sign yet that the two biggest eurozone countries are inching toward reconciling sharply different views on the matter. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Struggling to secure support for a minority government, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain put forward a scaled-down legislative program on Wednesday that would prioritize the country’s withdrawal from the European Union and would jettison policies likely to struggle to pass in Parliament. – New York Times
Meeting the 2 percent NATO defense spending target isn’t just about allies bringing tanks and artillery to the table, U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, said Tuesday. – Defense News
American allies across Europe want used F-16 fighter jets, but there might not be enough planes to go around, U.S. Air Force officials say. – Defense One
Andrew Hammond writes: Political support in the U.K. for a softer Brexit is growing. The big question is whether Mrs. May’s government can be resilient enough to survive the course of negotiations or have sufficient political capital to make the tough decisions needed to reach such an agreement. Without strong, constructive leadership from all sides, the odds are growing that the U.K. could crash out the EU with the hardest of hard Brexits. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

United States of America
Senators from both parties agreed on Tuesday that it was long past time for Congress to enact a new law authorizing the evolving war against Islamist terrorist groups, while also raising questions about the legal basis for the Trump administration’s escalating direct military confrontations with Syrian government forces. – New York Times
President Donald Trump’s travel ban remains on hold due to court rulings, but his administration is resuming a global review of nations that may lead to far more sweeping travel restrictions. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Senior officials across the government became convinced in January that the incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had become vulnerable to Russian blackmail…Yet nearly every day for three weeks, the new C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation’s most sensitive intelligence — with Mr. Flynn listening. – New York Times
A new Unisys Security Index reveals that national security is the top security concern for Americans, overtaking financial security. – The Hill
A leaked Department of Defense report shows officials expected Chelsea Manning's 2009 release of war documents to Wikileaks to cause less harm to national security than  initially claimed. – Military Times
Drastic reductions to the U.S. foreign aid budget would be “a bad thing” because the relatively small amount of money is well-spent, former President Bill Clinton told a coalition of U.S. humanitarian and development groups on Tuesday. – Associated Press
John Podesta and Brian Katulis write: The United States needs to work with partners to defeat terrorist groups and counter destabilizing policies from countries such as Iran. But in five months, the Trump administration has exposed the country to greater risks without a clear strategy. Drowned out by real concerns about Russia and the daily grind of Trump’s erratic politics at home, the United States is lurching closer to the heart of the complicated crossfire in the Middle East without sufficient scrutiny. It’s time for Congress to step up. – Washington Post
Russian Election Interference
President Obama’s claim that he confronted President Vladimir Putin and shut down Russian hacking efforts late in the 2016 election campaign will face sharp scrutiny when Jeh Johnson, Mr. Obama’s homeland security chief, faces lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. – Washington Times
Members of the House intelligence committee huddled Tuesday with Robert Mueller — the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election — to ensure their parallel investigations don’t conflict with one another. – Politico
Lawmakers are focusing on the security of election systems amid rising concerns that Russia could use cyberattacks to disrupt future elections. – The Hill
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says the Russian government at President Vladimir Putin’s direction clearly conducted cyberattacks on the United States to influence the presidential election, but the assault did not change ballots, the final count or the reporting of election results. – Associated Press
United Nations
The United Nations secretary general warned on Tuesday that an American retreat from the world posed great risks on many issues, including climate change, international conflicts and the refugee crisis, as he announced a visit to Washington to urge members of Congress to support the United Nations. – New York Times
Latin America
The United States has failed to muster regional support for condemnation of Venezuela despite basic agreements that the government of President Nicolas Maduro has overstepped democratic bounds. – Los Angeles Times
Venezuela’s Supreme Court said Tuesday that it had begun an investigation that could lead to the removal of the country’s attorney general from office, a step that was widely viewed as an effort to silence the most outspoken government critic of President Nicolás Maduro. – New York Times
After reports this week that sophisticated government-owned surveillance software was used to spy on some of Mexico’s most prominent journalists and activists, victims and others have demanded an independent inquiry into the allegations. – New York Times
President Michel Temer of Brazil probably benefited from a bribery scheme aimed at helping a conglomerate with a business project, according to a preliminary Federal Police report released on Tuesday that has already intensified pressure on the beleaguered leader as he struggles to push austerity measures through Congress amid a political crisis. – New York Times

The top United Nations human rights official on Tuesday accused a militia linked to the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo of atrocities, including mass killings, pregnant women cut open and infants hacked with machetes. – New York Times
The killings reflect the unraveling of a complex network of power trading and patronage, backed by amateur fighters unchecked by the official security apparatus, that has helped secure Mr. Kabila’s rule for the past 16 years. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo has accused security forces and local militias of killing almost 3,400 people and destroying 20 villages in the central Kasai region. – Financial Times
A change of tone in Angola's relationship with longtime ally Congo has left Congolese President Joseph Kabila more isolated than ever as he clings to power in his vast central African country. - Reuters
Nigerian refugees who fled Islamist militants are returning from Cameroon into a country that is still not equipped to support them, and they risk creating a new humanitarian crisis, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said on Wednesday. - Reuters

Trump Administration

President Trump’s choice to take the No. 2 job at the Pentagon had a rocky confirmation hearing Tuesday, with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) at one point threatening to withhold his nomination from a vote and other lawmakers questioning how he will overcome his lack of experience in the Defense Department. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint

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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