FPI Overnight Brief: June 28, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is making a quiet appeal to Iran’s leaders to release an elderly American citizen detained on what the U.S. claims are trumped up charges of espionage, according to several officials. – Foreign Policy
President Trump has drawn a new red line for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, with American officials describing preparations at a Syrian air base for a chemical weapons assault as they sought Tuesday to bolster Mr. Trump’s threat to deter an attack. – New York Times
An airstrike in eastern Syria destroyed a house that the Islamic State had turned into a prison, killing dozens of people, Syrian activists said Tuesday, and they blamed the military coalition led by the United States for the attack. – New York Times
U.S. intelligence detected suspicious movements by Syrian government forces at a major air base in recent days, prompting the White House to warn Damascus it would pay a “heavy price” if it launched a chemical weapons attack. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
President Donald Trump’s blunt, public warning to the Syrian regime late Monday night was cobbled together in a series of hurried discussions, squeezed in between meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — and kept among a small, tight circle of top officials. - Politico
Washington scrambled Tuesday to make sense of the White House’s statement that the United States has “identified potential preparations” by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for another chemical attack. – The Hill
The White House on Tuesday insisted all relevant agencies knew about a statement released Monday night by press secretary Sean Spicer warning Syria not to conduct a major chemical weapons attack. – The Hill
U.S. Marines are conducting around-the-clock artillery support for American Kurdish partners battling ISIS in its de facto capital of Raqqa. That support has become vital as Kurdish forces have hit fierce resistance as they inch closer to the city center, according to on the ground fighters. – Military Times
President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to pursue a "common response" to the Assad regime in Syria in the event of another chemical weapons attack, the French government said Tuesday after the two leaders spoke. – Washington Examiner
A warning from the White House to Syrian President Bashar Assad about another possible chemical weapons attack was also aimed at two of Assad’s key backers, Russia and Iran, the U.S ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday. – Associated Press
A Yazidi member of Iraqi’s parliament described some of the horrific atrocities committed by Islamic State terrorists against her people in the war-torn region – Washington Times
Iraqi forces on Tuesday pushed towards the river side of Mosul's Old City, their key target in the eight-month campaign to capture Islamic State's de-facto capital, and Iraq's prime minister predicted victory very soon. - Reuters
Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani writes: After a century of trying, it is time to recognize that the forced inclusion of the Kurds in Iraq has not worked for us or for the Iraqis. We ask that the United States and the international community respect the democratic decision of Kurdistan’s people. In the long run, both Iraq and Kurdistan will be better off. – Washington Post
Gulf States
Players on all sides of the Persian Gulf diplomatic crisis were in Washington on Tuesday, making their cases to a divided administration that has been unable to stop the turmoil in the strategic region. – Washington Post
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Tuesday that a blockade on Qatar will remain in place unless officials meet non-negotiable demands from Gulf nations to end support of terrorism. – The Hill
Saudi Arabia is demolishing centuries-old homes in a Shiite town, leveling a historic district that officials say has become a hideout for local militants. The destruction has sparked shootouts in the streets between Saudi security forces and Shiite gunmen and stoked sectarian tensions that resonate around the region. – Associated Press
John Hannah writes: The United States has far too much at stake to sit on the sidelines and hope for the best. On the upside, the showdown presents a unique opportunity to strike a major blow against a problem — the two-faced nature of the policies of too many of our Arab partners — that has bedeviled America’s war against Islamist extremism since it began on that fateful day in September 2001.  On the downside, simply allowing the crisis to take its own course is an open invitation for our worst enemies to seize significant strategic advantage. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
A new U.S.-Israeli working group — its formation announced this week at a major international cyber event in Israel — aims to devise and employ new methods of identifying cyber enemies and “holding nations accountable” for bad cyber behavior. – Defense News
Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, is setting up an investment fund for high-technology start-ups, in a move that highlights the symbiosis between the country’s business community and its security apparatus. – Financial Times
Philip Gordon writes: The prospect of Israel normalizing its relations with Arab states is an enticing one that anyone who cares about Israel or the region should want to see realized. But the idea of achieving that goal without support from the Palestinians is a fantasy, and even modest steps toward normalization will require Israel to do much more than many Israelis seem to realize. Netanyahu and Trump may not want to admit it, but the road to normalization with the Arab states still passes through the Palestinian issue, and not the other way around. – Washington Post


South Asia
The interruption of diplomatic ceremonies by border flare-ups is a regular feature of the Indian-Chinese relationship. To Indian analysts, the outburst conveyed Beijing’s dissatisfaction with President Trump’s plans to carry forward the United States-India strategic maritime partnership begun under President Barack Obama. – New York Times
The Ramadan ordeal has brought into sharp relief the chronic water and power shortages plaguing this arid, Muslim-majority country of 180 million. In cities, families had to fill jugs and bottles from public taps at 3 a.m. In villages, long daily electrical outages stopped fans from whirring and tube wells from pumping water to irrigate parched fields. – Washington Post
The Trump administration has approved the $2 billion sale of General Atomics naval surveillance drones to India in another sign of the growing military-to-military cooperation between the two countries. The deal still needs the OK from Congress. – DOD Buzz
Rahmatullah Arman writes: If our future is to improve, today’s children must learn to read. They must learn to write. They must learn to question dominant ways of thinking. They must learn that no child is inherently worth more than another. If we can start down that journey today, we can all have hope for tomorrow. – Defense One
China is among the world’s worst offenders for allowing modern slavery to thrive within its borders, according to a strongly worded State Department report released Tuesday. – New York Times
Mr. Liu’s imprisonment and now his illness have become a grim reflection of the fate of that cause, one born in hope but crushed by China’s intolerance of dissent — and the world’s increasing resignation, even acquiescence, to it, given the country’s diplomatic and economic clout. – New York Times
Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad touted trade as he took the helm of an important diplomatic mission that has been mired in uncertainty under the Trump administration. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The new U.S. ambassador to Beijing said Wednesday that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo should be allowed to receive treatment outside China after being diagnosed with cancer while in prison for advocating democratic reforms. – Associated Press
President Donald Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with China over its inaction on North Korea and bilateral trade issues and is now considering possible trade actions against Beijing, three senior administration officials told Reuters. - Reuters
China's military on Wednesday launched a new type of domestically-built destroyer, state media said, the latest addition to the country's rapidly expanding navy. - Reuters
China's legislature passed a new intelligence law on Tuesday after an unusually brief round of discussions, a draft of which gave new powers to monitor suspects, raid premises and seize vehicles and devices. - Reuters
Editorial: Liu’s case is a signal example of why China lacks the moral capacity to exercise global leadership. By advocating for this dying hero of human rights, Mr. Trump could show that the United States still lives by different values. – Washington Post
Jared Genser and Yang Jianli write: Liu Xiaobo volunteered to be the first signatory of Charter 08, knowing that by symbolizing the Chinese people’s demands for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, he would pose a singular threat to the one-party system. For that courageous stand, he paid with his and his wife’s freedom, and he is about to pay with his life. Now is the time for Trump and the United States to honor his sacrifice and his dying wishes and to implore Chinese authorities to allow him to obtain medical treatment here and live out his remaining days in freedom. – Washington Post
Terry Halliday writes: The China Dream is becoming a deepening China Nightmare. As a now-silenced Chinese legal academic recently said, “to punish by way of trampling all over the law . . . is a process of sowing hatred. You get temporary peace, but sooner or later the volcano will erupt, the flood will drown all.” – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Hong Kong
On Thursday, when Mr. Xi arrives in the city for the first time as China’s leader, he is unlikely to mention the 2014 upheaval that challenged his young administration, but it will lie behind his message of Beijing’s firm control. – New York Times
In the two decades since Britain returned Hong Kong to China, a wave of mainland Chinese immigrants has flooded the former colony, deepening fears that local values—from free markets to the Cantonese language and even basic politeness—will get washed away in a tide of “mainlandization.” But in the teeming immigrant enclaves on Hong Kong’s outskirts, the process under way can sometimes seem more like the “Hong Kongization” of mainlanders than the other way around. Many – Wall Street Journal (Subscription required)
Many Hong Kong residents, worried about growing encroachment by Beijing as the financial hub marks 20 years since its return to China, are rushing to secure British passports as a safety net in the case of social unrest or the erosion of civil liberties. - Reuters
East Asia
President Trump’s campaign to rein in North Korea is about to get a lot more complicated, as a progressive new leader in South Korea and fraying ties with China leave the United States with fewer partners to press Kim Jong-un on his nuclear or missile programs. – New York Times
Japan's Cabinet revised an ordinance revision Tuesday aimed at introducing a so-called "catch-all" regulation that enables Japan to seize all cargo items possibly linked to North Korea's nuclear and missile development. – Japan News
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, its ratings slipping over suspicions of favoritism, has suffered a fresh embarrassment when his defense minister made politically sensitive remarks just days ahead of a key local election. - Reuters
Scott Snyder writes: The U.S.-ROK alliance is under new management, with Trump and Moon at the helm. An unlikely combination of leaders has emerged to carry the alliance forward on the basis of deeply held enduring interests and rising regional threats. The task before them is to develop the chemistry and commitment necessary to work together to meet increasingly serious, shared challenges. – National Bureau of Asian Research
Southeast Asia
Islamic State-aligned militants’ onslaught in the southern Philippines should be a wake-up call to Asia that battle-hardened jihadists returning from the Middle East are seeking to open new fronts in the region, the commander of U.S. Pacific forces said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required
Filipinos would be required to sing the national anthem when it is played in public — and to do so with enthusiasm — under a bill that the House of Representatives of the Philippines approved on Monday. – New York Times
The decapitated bodies of five civilians have been found in a Philippine city occupied by Islamist rebels, the military said on Wednesday, warning the number of residents killed by rebel "atrocities" could rise sharply as troops retake more ground. - Reuters
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an investigation on Wednesday into The Situation Room, a consortium of rights groups which criticized local elections this month that handed a victory to Hun Sen's ruling party. - Reuters
Myanmar's military has engaged in deadly clashes with ethnic minority rebels in the northeast in the past week, state media reported on Wednesday, as concern grows for three reporters detained by the military in the region. - Reuters
“Palau is indispensable to our national security and funding the compact is key to our strategic presence in the region.” That’s what the Defense Department’s 2018 budget request says — but the House Armed Services Committee disagrees, defunding a $123.9 million payment that gains us access to the islands. – Breaking Defense


Defense Budget
President Donald Trump's defense budget is insufficient to begin substantially rebuilding the military as pledged on the 2016 campaign trail and merely represents a "more muscular status quo," according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute. – Washington Free Beacon
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry confirmed Tuesday he secured a commitment from House GOP leaders for 15 percent defense budget growth over three years as part of an emerging budget deal. – Defense News
The House Armed Services Committee has taken its first steps toward preserving three A-10 Warthog squadrons that, without funding for new wings, could begin retiring as early as the mid-2020s. – Defense News
Senate Armed Services Committee members are holding all of their defense budget deliberations behind closed doors this year, a move that outside watchdogs are calling upsetting and against public interest. – Military Times
A group of House Democrats wants to boost military pay by almost 3 percent next year, arguing that annual trims to troops’ planned raises have left a troubling gap between their wages and private-sector paychecks. – Military Times
An Army analysis of battlefield networks will likely closely assess the extent to which its flagship combat Satcom and radio network can be “hardened” and made more resilient against the kinds of electronic warfare and cyberattacks likely to occur in a major-power, near-peer type mechanized war. – Scout Warrior
The U.S. military needs to overhaul the way it buys and manages its larger drones, according to a new report from a retired general who used to oversee Air Force intelligence. – Defense One
Missile Defense
Military leaders would have to give Congress a plan to protect Hawaii against North Korean missiles before spending additional money for new defensive radar, according to a new bill unveiled in the House this week. – Washington Examiner
The intelligence community is seeking permanent authority for a contested surveillance program at a time when senators in both parties are increasingly frustrated in their attempts to learn how much information spy agencies collect on American citizens — and even on senators themselves. – Washington Post
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pressed intelligence agency officials if conversations he may have had with foreign officials were surveilled, and if his name was "unmasked" — but still could not get a straight answer. – Washington Examiner
Computer systems from Ukraine to the United States were struck on Tuesday in an international cyberattack that was similar to a recent assault that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide. – New York Times
Companies worldwide struggled to recover Wednesday after wave of powerful cyberattacks crippled computer systems in Europe, Asia and the United States with a virus similar to the global ransomware assault in May that infected computers. – Washington Post
A vulnerability within an obscure piece of Ukrainian accounting software is the root cause of the massive cyber attack that swept the globe Tuesday, according to the Ukrainian law enforcement. The attack hit Ukrainian utilities and airline services, U.S. based pharmaceutical company Merck, Russian oil giant Rosneft and even forced operators at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to switch to manual radiation monitoring of the site. – Defense One


Molly McKew writes: Shapoval’s death is a painful loss for Ukraine. The Ukrainian identity that has emerged from the fires of the Maidan and the trenches in the East will remember these men and women who stepped into the void and did what everyone had always told them would be impossible: to fight Russia, and maybe even win. To reinvigorate our own understanding of what is possible in the face of a broad and shadowy Russian threat, we would do well to stand beside them and help them develop the capabilities we all need to defend our people and societies from new kinds of warfare. – Washington Post
Moscow’s mercurial U.S. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — a central character in the Russian election meddling saga — will soon leave Washington, but his replacement might prove problematic in his own way as the Trump administration tries to find a working relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. – Washington Times
The Russian military has been accused of harassing a U.S.-flagged cargo ship carrying equipment for an annual military exercise in the Baltic region that wrapped up Friday. – Defense News
The jury in the trial of five men who are charged in connection with the 2015 killing of former Russian Deputy Prime Minister and opposition politician Boris Nemtsov is continuing deliberations for a second day. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
John Sipher writes: The U.S. and Russia have fundamentally conflicting views of the world and their place in it. Even in the area of terrorism, there is only a narrow intersection of interests.  Ultimately, working together on anything of value takes trust. Even if we have a shared enemy, it is hard to see how the U.S. can work effectively with a country bent on destroying the U.S.-led world order. It may be worth a try, but watch out you don’t lose your face. – The Cipher Brief
Karina Orlova writes: Does Vladimir Putin know the real state of the country’s economy? Does Vladimir Putin know his real approval ratings? Does Vladimir Putin know the real capabilities of the Russian Army? A funny little episode about a YouTube clip conceals a much deeper rot in the system. – The American Interest
A Dutch court ruled on Tuesday that the government was partly liable for the deaths of about 350 Muslim men in 1995 in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, the site of Europe’s worst mass murder since World War II. – New York Times
Poland’s plan to buy Patriot air-and-missile defense systems from the U.S. Army could be headed toward derailment following recent discussions between the two governments on how much technology can actually be shared with Poland and when the Eastern European country can expect delivery of the systems it wants. – Defense News
Brexit risks stretching the EU’s common budget to breaking point, Brussels is warning as it braces for a clash with member states by setting out ideas to plug the financial gap. – Financial Times
Editorial: After losing seats in the election, Mrs. May’s Tories needed to find some way to govern so that Labour and its far-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, don’t. But to have a shot at winning the next election, the Tories must again become the party of economic growth. The DUP deal’s entitlement surrender is a poor start and the Tories have limited time to do better. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
John Vinocur writes: Three months before her likely re-election, Ms. Merkel is a chancellor whose projection of calm precludes dealing with casualties, discussing Russia in military terms or saying “for shame” to a single quivering voter. It doesn’t have to be this way. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
NATO allies of the United States plan to boost their defense spending by 4.3 percent this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, a response in part to intense pressure from President Trump that the nations invest more in their militaries. – Washington Post
The House overwhelmingly passed a measure on Tuesday reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the NATO’s mutual defense clause after President Trump declined to in a speech abroad last month. – The Hill


United States of America
The House Armed Services Committee is likely to take up Wednesday an amendment to address the Pentagon’s plans to open the ranks to transgender recruits, as troop training on issues such as how to react to male genitalia in the women’s shower is ongoing. – Washington Times
The head of the House Armed Services Committee is interested in setting up timelines for foreign weapon sales in an effort to speed up the process. – Defense News
Editorial: The right approach is to enhance business conditions generally — especially through corporate tax reform — so that the United States remains competitive with all the other places in the world where capital may freely locate. Mr. Ross seemed to concede this, noting that after Ford’s move, German and Japanese automakers will be attracted to this country by Mr. Trump’s “reforms.” So we’re wondering: What was the point of all that protectionist fuss? – Washington Post
Russian Election Interference
As investigations intensify into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign, at least 10 White House officials and former aides have retained lawyers in conjunction with the probes, or are moving to do so. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Senate Judiciary Committee will attempt during a closed-door hearing Wednesday to get to the bottom of the alleged “unmasking” of Trump campaign and transition officials by the Obama White House — furthering a potentially explosive counter-narrative coursing beneath the various congressional probes into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. – Washington Times
The House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday afternoon interviewed former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in its investigation into Russian interference in the election. – The Hill
Special counsel Robert Mueller has only just begun investigating whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in last year’s election and whether Trump himself obstructed justice, but there are already fears that he’ll face pressure to reveal his conclusions before the 2018 midterms. - Politico
Eli Lake writes: Rather than asking why Obama didn't do more to stop Russian meddling, the better question is why President Vladimir Putin thought he could get away with this interference in the first place…The answer is that Obama spent the first six years of his presidency turning a blind eye to Russian aggression. – Bloomberg View
Paul Manafort, who was forced out as President Trump’s campaign chairman last summer after five months of infighting and criticism about his business dealings with pro-Russian interests, disclosed Tuesday that his consulting firm had received more than $17 million over two years from a Ukrainian political party with links to the Kremlin. – New York Times
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort registered Tuesday as an agent of a foreign government, acknowledging for the first time that a small part of his lobbying work for Ukraine’s former president was aimed at influencing U.S. policy makers and journalists. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Latin America
Even as the United Nations expresses growing alarm over a cholera outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen, the organization is increasingly worried about the fallout from a stubborn cholera scourge in Haiti that was caused by its own peacekeepers more than six years ago. – New York Times
A rogue faction of the Venezuelan police attacked the country’s Supreme Court in Caracas on Tuesday, dropping grenades from a helicopter, government officials said. It was a rare uprising by government personnel in a country that has been on edge from mass protests and economic crises. – New York Times
As United Nations inspectors slammed shut a shipping container filled with rifles, fighters from Colombia’s largest rebel group cheered on Tuesday morning when their leader declared that they had laid down their arms after 52 years of guerrilla war. – New York Times
Colombia’s top anticorruption prosecutor was arrested Tuesday in his country’s capital after Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Miami said they had recorded him in South Florida at meetings where a former Colombian governor was asked to pay bribes in exchange for favorable treatment and names of witnesses. – New York Times
Brazilian President Michel Temer on Tuesday vowed to stay in power and fight the bribery charges filed against him, inflaming a bitter political divide in a country battered by successive corruption scandals. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Argentina’s treasury minister has warned the government will make no progress with its economic reform programme until after midterm elections in October, as a paralysed Congress puts the brakes on change. – Financial Times


Hundreds of fighters from Chad and Sudan's Darfur region are feeding off instability in Libya, battling for rival factions, seeking to build rebel movements and engaging in banditry and arms trafficking, Geneva-based researchers said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Liberia’s future as a stable democracy hinges on successful presidential and legislative elections in October and broad acceptance that they are free and fair followed by a smooth transfer of power, the U.N. envoy to the West African nation said Tuesday. – Associated Press
A Zimbabwean pastor at the heart of a protest movement against President Robert Mugabe last year is set to appear in court on Wednesday after he was arrested for addressing students demonstrating over fees, his lawyer said. - Reuters

Trump Administration

President Donald Trump has shaken this staid capital city by making policy pronouncements over Twitter. Far from the social media spotlight, however, Trump’s National Security Council, led by warrior-intellectual H.R. McMaster, is coordinating a comprehensive series of policy reviews that are deliberative, collegial and strategic, NSC staffer Christopher Ford said – Breaking Defense
The White House announced Tuesday its intent to nominate Ellen Lord, the CEO of Textron Systems, as the undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. – Defense News
The slow pace of selecting key American representatives abroad is hurting the U.S. diplomatically, as foreign leaders try to suss out the administration’s worldview and their place within it, according to interviews with more than a dozen foreign policy experts, current and former ambassadors, and sources familiar with the hiring process. - Politico

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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