FPI Overnight Brief: June 27, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

The White House said late Monday that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack, and warned that he would “pay a heavy price” if one took place. – New York Times
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Washington was implementing a “double standard” for its counterterrorism operations in Syria, allowing groups like Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — the rebranded al Qaeda cell formerly known as Jahbat al Nusra or Nusra Front — to run roughshod over Russian-backed Assad forces on the ground in the country. – Washington Times
As the fight against the Islamic State moves beyond its de facto capital in Raqqa, the Pentagon is readying itself for an increasingly complex battlefield in northern Syria, where U.S.-backed forces, pro-Syrian government troops and Russian jets will likely all be fighting near one another. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
The U.S. will not slide into an expanded role in Syria’s civil war despite recent incidents that led to U.S. warplanes firing on pro-regime forces there, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Monday. – Stars and Stripes
A U.S. Air Force general confirmed American pilots made the call to shoot down Syrian aircraft on three separate missions this month and defended their actions as self-defense. – Military.com
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday left open the possibility of longer-term assistance to Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, saying the U.S. may need to supply them weapons and equipment even after the capture of Raqqa from Islamic State. - Reuters
Frederic Hof writes: In its agonizing, slow-motion campaign against ISIS in Syria, the United States will, in the end, have made the whole country safe for Assad, for Iran, and for whatever forms of resistance arise in response to the triumph of misrule, collective punishment, and humanitarian abomination. For an administration rhetorically committed to pushing back against Iran’s regional expansion, it would be a remarkable reversal and a precipitous climb-down. – Atlantic Council
It has come to be known simply as the "Speicher Massacre." But three years on, families whose loved ones were mercilessly murdered in the Iraq attack are calling on the U.S. to help them find some closure. – Fox News
The battle to wrest full control of the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State will be over in a few days, the Iraqi military said on Monday, as elite counter-terrorism units fought militants among the narrow alleyways of the historic Old City. - Reuters
Gulf States
The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Monday that he was putting a hold on any future American arms sales to a group of Persian Gulf nations in an apparent move to help resolve a bitter dispute between one of those countries, Qatar, and several of its Arab neighbors. – New York Times
Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu write: Turkey chose Qatar in the recent Gulf crisis. Indeed, it would have had little choice to discard such a lucrative partnership at a time of brewing economic crisis at home. But as the intra-Gulf row deepens, the Turkish-Qatari partnership will likely force Ankara to recalibrate its already uneasy relationship with the Saudi-led Sunni bloc. Turkey stands to become further isolated in the region and grow increasingly dependent on Doha for political and financial support. Ankara’s international image is poised only to be further tainted by this move. Erdoğan, aware of all the drawbacks, had already cornered himself into this choice. – The National Interest
Maher Farrukh writes: The U.S. must orient on changing the conditions set by the civil war that AQAP exploits in order to put the group on course to permanent defeat. AQAP will expand its support zones as long as the Yemeni civil war persists. The U.S. must take the lead in shaping the Saudi-led coalition’s policy in order to reach a political settlement to the civil war and focus the coalition on countering AQAP. - AEI's Critical Threats

President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser has announced a new cybersecurity partnership with Israel. – Associated Press
Danielle Pletka writes: Congress can predicate assistance and weapons transfers on clear assurances that Iran and its proxies are not indirect beneficiaries. If it does not, Iraq, like Lebanon before it and others to come, will become yet another pawn in Iran’s Middle East game. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey appeared to faint on Sunday because of what he said were complications with his blood-sugar level and blood pressure. – New York Times


Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for a final assessment on whether to boost U.S. troop levels to counter a nationwide Taliban offensive and increasing terror attacks by the ISIS offshoot called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K. – Military.com
The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill would require the president to give Congress his strategies for United States involvement in Afghanistan and Syria. – The Hill
In Afghanistan's turbulent Helmand province, U.S. Marines are rekindling old relationships and identifying weaknesses in the Afghan forces that the Trump administration hopes to address with a new strategy and the targeted infusion of several thousand American forces. – Associated Press
South Asia
The head of a violent, Kashmir-based terror group fighting for control over the hotly disputed territory in Southwest Asia is the latest addition to the State Department’s terror list. – Washington Times
U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have called on Pakistan to “ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries,” the White House said. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after their first meeting on Monday that they agreed to expand cooperation between their two countries on combating terrorism, stabilizing Afghanistan and overcoming differences on trade. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
In Washington, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is out to answer to one question: “Is India the lynchpin of America’s strategic pivot to the east, or is it merely a helpful acquaintance?” – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Arthur Herman and Husain Haqqani write: For decades, relations between India and the United States have been fraught with tension and misunderstanding, and opportunities for partnership between the world’s two biggest democracies have been allowed to slip away. Today, the Indo-Pacific region cannot afford another missed opportunity. For President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, this may be the moment for creating a new era of security and stability in Asia. – National Review Online
The United States on Tuesday joined calls for the immediate release of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, urging China to set him free so he may receive the medical treatment of his choosing for what is believed to be late-stage liver cancer. – Washington Post
Premier Li Keqiang of China reaffirmed on Tuesday his country’s desire to be seen as the world’s new leader in globalization and free trade, but he offered no specifics on how China might lower its own trade barriers, which are among the steepest of any large country. – New York Times
Since taking office, President Xi Jinping has cultivated an aura of austere probity and stern control. But now a garrulous billionaire living in a lavish apartment in Manhattan, taunting the authorities beyond the easy grasp of Chinese security forces, has muddied that image — and created a political and publicity headache for Mr. Xi just months before a key leadership conference. – New York Times
The United States is expected to label China one of the worst human trafficking offenders, The Associated Press reported on Monday. – The Hill
China's grand plan to revamp trade corridors to Europe involves around 60 countries and hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of new networks of roads, ports, railways, power stations, and energy pipelines. But the so-called One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project doesn't appear to pack many presents for Russia. In fact, analysts say, it largely ignores China's sprawling frenemy to the north and its 11 time zones' worth of aging infrastructure and potential investment. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
A Chinese billionaire who played a central role in the revival of his country’s ties with the Philippines is under investigation by Beijing over corruption allegations. – Financial Times
Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Liu Xiaobo's liver cancer can not be treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, Liu's wife said, as questions increased among his supporters over his treatment by the Chinese authorities. - Reuters
According to a University of Hong Kong survey released on Tuesday that polled 120 youths, only 3.1 percent of those aged between 18 to 29 identify themselves as "broadly Chinese". The figure stood at 31 percent when the regular half-yearly survey started 20 years ago. - Reuters
Editorial: Long after the Communist Party is discarded and current President Xi Jinping is forgotten, Mr. Liu will be remembered as an historic figure in the fight for Chinese freedom. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Issac Stone Fish writes: “Where is China headed in the twenty-first century?” Liu and his co-writers asked in Charter 08, the political manifesto that likely led to Liu’s arrest. “Will it continue with ‘modernization’ under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system?” Economically, China may soon lead “civilized nations.” Politically, Liu’s version looks further and further away. – Washington Post
Korean Peninsula
Moon Jae-in will be going to the White House for what is shaping up to be a challenging summit, with the leaders taking sharply different approaches to dealing with North Korea and a continuing disagreement over an American antimissile system deployed to South Korea. – Washington Post
South Korea’s foreign minister indicated strongly on Monday that her government would honor an agreement to deploy an American missile-defense system despite protests and economic retaliation from China. – New York Times
North Korea’s state media described President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy as “Nazism in the 21st century,” and compared the U.S. president to Adolf Hitler, in the harshest language that Pyongyang has directed at the Trump administration. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
South Korea’s most militant labour group has outlined plans for a big rally on Friday in an attempt to pile pressure on Moon Jae-in, the new president, to keep his election promises on labour reform. – Financial Times
Editorial: Thanks in part to Mr. Hill’s misjudgments while he was in power, the U.S. has few good options to stop North Korea from deploying nuclear-tipped missiles and putting American cities at risk. Mr. Trump can’t afford to make the same mistakes. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
John McLaughlin writes: The new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, visits Washington this Friday at a moment when U.S. diplomatic and military options for dealing with North Korea are tightening. China remains central to Washington’s success or failure, but America faces tough choices in seeking to apply maximum pressure on Pyongyang. - Ozy
Seth Cropsey writes: The U.S. does not seek a return to hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.  But with each new missile and nuclear device test, and with each new demonstration of savage intent, Pyongyang increases the chances for a resumption of hostilities.  Better to deter than be forced into a fight.  A punishing response would deter where negotiations merely raise additional questions about our will.  Strong action would also be an appropriate response to North Korea’s murder of an innocent American. – Real Clear Defense
East Asia
The captain of a cargo ship that hit a U.S. destroyer near Japan earlier this month has told investigators that the ship sent emergency warnings as the American vessel suddenly cut across its path, according to a person with direct knowledge of the testimony. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asia
Troops in Myanmar's northeastern Rakhine state were put on high alert on Tuesday, police and sources said, after nearly 200 Rakhine Buddhist villagers fled the area after a recent spate of killings and amid fears of fresh attacks by Rohingya insurgents. - Reuters
Civilians held hostage by Islamist militants occupying a southern Philippine city have been forced by their captors to loot homes, take up arms against government troops and serve as sex slaves for rebel fighters, the army said on Tuesday. - Reuters


Defense Budget
The House Armed Services defense policy bill unveiled its $696.5 billion defense policy bill on Monday, which reflects an emerging deal among House Republican leaders but falls short what pro-defense lawmakers sought. – Defense News
The House Armed Services Committee released its Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act language this evening, in a bill that spends billions more than the Navy had asked for on five additional ships and more than two dozen additional aircraft. – USNI News
A key Republican in the House on Monday recommended a 2.4 percent pay raise for military personnel in 2018 as opposed to the 2.1 percent in President Donald Trump's proposed defense budget. – Military.com
The U.S. Navy Reserve's F/A-18A+ Hornets are relics of the Reagan era, but the fleet still uses them to play the bad guy in air-to-air combat simulations. Now the House Armed Services Committee wants the U.S. Navy to plan on replacing them, according to a version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act released Monday. – Defense News
Todd Harrison writes: Several key members of Congress have expressed some support for BRAC this year, including Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. There finally appears to be real momentum to implement a new BRAC commission. Congress should seize it. - Politico
The Navy awarded Austal USA up to $584.2 million for one Littoral Combat Ship, while the service is still negotiating with Lockheed Martin for the second ship and weighs its options for the third ship, USNI News understands. – USNI News
The House version of the defense authorization bill contains a provision that would allow the U.S. Defense Department to sole source a contract for the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1N Huey replacement helicopter. – Defense News
The U.S. Navy took delivery in the final day of May of the most advanced aircraft carrier ever designed or built – the CVN 78 USS Gerald R. Ford. Now the tough part begins. – Scout Warrior
Strategic Issues
The House Armed Services Committee's $696.5 billion defense policy bill includes several provisions aimed at curtailing rising Russian aggression, including the possible suspension of the long-held nuclear treaty between the two countries. – The Hill
U.S. military researchers "are on the cusp of some pretty major breakthroughs" in missile defense that are necessary to win potential wars with China and Russia, according to a leading Republican lawmaker. – Washington Examiner
Richard Weitz writes: The sheer number and diversity of these recent tests have forced U.S. and South Korean planners to raise expectations of Pyongyang’s destructive capabilities. Keeping ahead of the North Korean threat requires addressing near-term gaps by building on recent achievements while investing in emerging technologies. – National Review Online
The National Security Agency has been lobbying a key senator amid debates about whether to reauthorize the NSA’s foreign intelligence programs when the law sunsets on December 31, 2017. Two congressional sources confirmed a May meeting, where Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Tex.), a vocal supporter of the intelligence community, got a private audience with the NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable


A colonel in Ukraine's military intelligence was killed by a car bomb in central Kiev on Tuesday, the defense ministry said, describing the incident as a "terrorist act". - Reuters
Further peace talks over the Ukrainian crisis will be held in the coming days, French president Emmanuel Macron said Monday, following a meeting in Paris with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko. – Associated Press
Andreas Umland writes: It is in the core national interests of all Western states to send louder, clearer, and bolder signals to both the embattled Central and East European nations and to Moscow. – Atlantic Council
Russia’s powerful state security agency said Monday that terrorists used the encrypted messenger app Telegram to plan a deadly attack on the St. Petersburg metro, a disclosure that buttressed lawmakers’ efforts to curb the anonymous use of encoded chat programs popular among jihadists, opposition activists and government officials alike. – Washington Post
Russian athletes are in trouble for doping, again. And Russian officials continue to vigorously defend them. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Jury deliberations in the trial of five men who are charged in connection with the 2015 killing of opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov are set to resume in Moscow. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. – Associated Press
The Russian military says it has successfully test-fired a submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile. – Associated Press
Interview: Congressional Republicans face an actual legislative test of whether their loyalty to their leader outweighs their fealty to their philosophy. Leading the forces for the latter is Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who says in a new interview with The Global Politico that he is prepared to wage a rebellion and raise “holy hell” in the face of new efforts by the White House and its allies to water down a bill enshrining into law tough sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s government. - Politico
Stephen Blank writes: Historians write that Nicholas I’s regime was a mistake, and that Stalin’s reign was a catastrophe for the Soviet people. What verdict will historians give of a would-be Tsar who has shown that he is prepared to inflict a strategy of last resort upon his citizens? If the collapse of the USSR was a major catastrophe of the twentieth century, what can we say about what looks to be the increasingly inevitable collapse of Putinism? – Atlantic Council
Nearly 20 years after the British government first decided to build two large aircraft carriers to revive the Royal Navy’s global air strike capability, the first of those warships, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has left the dock at Rosyth, Scotland, to start sea trials. – Defense News
In the best soap-opera tradition, the ongoing process of constitutional reform in Georgia has yielded drama aplenty over the past week. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Carl Bildt writes: When a fairly unknown politician from Rhineland-Palatinate took over leadership of Germany’s then-opposition Christian Democratic Union party in 1973, few expected him to last long or to achieve much. But today, there is wide consensus that Helmut Kohl was one of the most consequential leaders of Europe during the past half century or so. – Washington Post


United States of America
President Trump has alarmed citizens of the nation’s closest allies and others worldwide, diminishing the standing of the United States in their eyes, according to a wide-ranging international study released Monday. – Washington Post
A new wave of leaks targeting the Trump administration has actively endangered ongoing intelligence and military operations being conducted by the United States and its allies, sparking anger and concern inside and outside the White House, according to multiple conversations with senior U.S. officials intimately familiar with the situation. – Washington Free Beacon
More than two years ago, two men started visiting Washington to push Turkey’s agenda in the capital. They dined with dignitaries and enlisted prominent lobbying firms from both sides of the aisle. It was an unremarkable Washington story, except for one thing: the last lobbyist one of the men hired was Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s campaign adviser at the time, who was later fired as national security adviser for lying about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador. - Politico
A USS Shiloh sailor who sparked a massive three-day search after appearing to have fallen off the ship only to be later found in the ship's engine room is now facing court-martial. – Stars and Stripes
Daniel Runde writes: U.S. assistance is a vehicle for helping nations plug into the liberal international order set up by the Washington and its allies after World War II. Can aid be more effective? Yes. Can it be managed better? Yes. But is U.S. foreign assistance still needed? Yes. As we remember the Marshall Plan — that incredible act of enlightened self-interest — let us also recall that our charity of 70 years ago still contributes to U.S. peace and prosperity today. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Russian Election Interference
FBI agents have repeatedly questioned former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page about his contacts with Russians and his interactions with the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the investigation. – Washington Post
President Donald Trump lashed out on Monday at his predecessor over his handling of Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. election and denied any collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee criticized Barack Obama for the president’s response to intelligence reports that the Russian president was working to elect Donald Trump. - Politico
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said on Monday he's still involved with the panel's Russia probe and can "take the investigation over" after recusing himself from it, according to CNN. – Washington Examiner
Latin America
Brazil’s top prosecutor filed criminal charges against President Michel Temer on Monday, marking a critical new phase for the corruption purge that has roiled Latin America’s largest country for the past three years. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Leftist rebels in Colombia have turned over almost all of their fighters’ individual weapons as part of a historic peace deal reached with the government last year to end a half century of conflict, the United Nations said Monday. – Associated Press


Over the last decade, American donations to fight malaria in Africa have saved the lives of nearly two million children, according to a new analysis of mortality rates in 32 countries there. – New York Times
Suicide bombers killed nine people and wounded 13 others in multiple blasts in northeast Nigeria's Maiduguri, police said on Monday, the latest in a spate of attacks in the city worst hit by the Islamist militant Boko Haram insurgency. - Reuters
A huge explosion was heard from a ship off the coast of Somalia's Puntland region late on Monday and flames were seen rising from what might be a foreign vessel, an official in a nearby port said. - Reuters
Congolese authorities have identified 10 more mass graves in a region where the military and militia fighters accuse each other of summary executions and burials. - Reuters

Obama Administration

Kimberly Dozier reports: Like a palace court, those closest to President Donald Trump’s ear have the power to sway him, overruling the advice he gets from the political outsiders-turned-Cabinet-members he hired to for their expertise. – The Daily Beast

Democracy and Human Rights

Ivanka Trump will join Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday to unveil the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, which is being released amid disputes over its listing of countries where child soldiers can be found. - Politico
Arch Puddington writes: The United States and other democracies need not accept modern authoritarians’ repressive features as immutable. We could, for example, impose trade sanctions on China for its restrictions on U.S. technology firms. But as we take action to advance our values, we should recognize that today’s autocrats understand that pluralism and dissenting ideas pose as serious a threat to their rule as they did to the one-party state of the previous century. – The American Interest


To get a better grasp as to what “The History” might mean in the 21st century, I talked to two prominent Thucydides experts who, conveniently, happen to be married: Frederick W. and Kimberly Kagan. – Bloomberg View

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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