FPI Overnight Brief: June 29, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Pentagon plan to defeat ISIS looks like Obama’s approach
  • ISIS reverts to insurgent roots to pose long-term threat
  • SASC unveils $700 billion NDAA with tools to thwart Russian aggression
  • SASC votes to allow Navy to call at Taiwanese ports
  • Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat
  • Hacks raise fear over NSA’s hold on cyberweapons
  • Natsios: Tillerson’s idea to merge State and USAID is a bad one
  • Congress threatens to cut funds to Kurds if they break w/Iraq
  • Rogin: Turkey wants Twitter’s help in suppressing an American critic

Middle East/North Africa

President Donald Trump decided against killing off the Iran nuclear deal in a Day One spectacular. It may face a lingering death instead. - Bloomberg
President Trump’s national security officials declared on Wednesday that a White House warning this week to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had succeeded in stopping a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government. – New York Times
The parents of Austin Tice, the journalist and former Marine from Texas who was abducted in Syria in August 2012, said on Wednesday that they had reason to believe that their son was alive. – New York Times
It was President Trump's idea to issue a statement this week warning Syrian President Bashar Assad against using chemical weapons on its people, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday. – Washington Examiner
The Trump administration seems confident that a US warning Monday headed off a planned chemical attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but is divided over which part of Syria the government actually planned to attack. – Buzz Feed
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) is predicting "massive" retaliation from the Trump administration if Syria uses chemical weapons. – The Hill
Iraqi forces on Thursday recaptured the remains of a mosque in Mosul that became the symbolic center of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate after the group’s leader gave a sermon there three years ago. – Washington Post
The one thing that isn’t in doubt in Iraqi Kurdistan’s planned independence referendum is the result. It’s virtually certain that an overwhelming majority will back the creation of the world’s newest country. The real question is what practical steps toward the breakup of Iraq will be taken, and how soon after the vote, which is scheduled for Sept. 25. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Congress is threatening to cut funding for Iraq’s vaunted Kurdish peshmerga fighters if the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ends up splitting with Baghdad. – Al Monitor
The Pentagon is putting the final touches on a promised new counter-Islamic State strategy for Syria and Iraq, and it looks very much like the one the Obama administration pursued, according to senior defense officials. – Washington Post
The Islamic State has carried out nearly 1,500 attacks in 16 cities across Iraq and Syria after they were declared freed from the militants’ control in recent months, providing new evidence that the group is reverting to its insurgent roots and foreshadowing long-term security threats. – New York Times
John Bolton writes: As incidents in Syria and Iraq increasingly put American forces at risk, Washington should not get lost in deconfliction negotiations or modest changes in rules of engagement. Instead, the Trump administration should recraft the U.S.-led coalition to ensure that America’s interests, rather than Russia’s or Iran’s, predominate once ISIS is defeated. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Africa
Gunmen opened fired on a United Nations convoy on a coastal road west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Wednesday, an incident that could complicate the gradual return of diplomatic and other international staff to Libya. - Reuters
Gulf States
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is keeping U.S. pressure on feuding Gulf Arab countries, urging negotiations as officials from all sides stream into Washington to make their case. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The recently deposed crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, has been barred from leaving the kingdom and confined to his palace in the coastal city of Jidda, according to four current and former American officials and Saudis close to the royal family. – New York Times
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shifted closer to his ultraorthodox coalition partners on a controversial religious issue, sparking fresh tension with more liberal American Jewish groups that accuse the leader of putting his political survival before their interests. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel who is serving a 27-month sentence for bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust, is expected to be released on Sunday after a parole board cut his sentence by a third. – New York Times
The crackdown was nominally intended to target the plotters of the putsch. But it has also been used as a smoke screen to squeeze other groups and movements that promote narratives deemed problematic by the government. More than 140,000 people have been fired or suspended from their jobs, and up to 50,000 have been arrested. Among them are those who, like Mr. Tantekin, promote the concept of a unique Kurdish culture. – New York Times
Josh Rogin reports: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to extend his campaign to suppress criticism and dissent beyond Turkey’s borders. But now, his government is leaning on the management of Twitter to do his dirty work for him, by demanding that the company silence an American expert in Washington. – Washington Post


Two Taliban groups that recently switched allegiance to the Islamic State have overrun an embattled district in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 government fighters and a large number of civilians, according to Afghan officials in the area. – New York Times
NATO allies agreed Thursday to send more troops to Afghanistan in the hopes of aiding security forces stuck in a "stalemate" with Taliban insurgents, the alliance’s top official said. – Stars and Stripes
European allies will tell U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Thursday they are willing to help step up NATO's mission in Afghanistan - but only if the United States is clear on its strategy, diplomats said. - Reuters
Three undercover investigators who were seeking evidence of abusive labor practices in the manufacture of Ivanka Trump-branded shoes have been released on bail from a detention center in southeastern China pending a trial, the activist group that employed the investigators said on Wednesday. – New York Times
Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to “ensure that One Country, Two Systems can be upheld” after arriving in Hong Kong amid heightened fears that Beijing is encroaching on the autonomy and freedoms guaranteed to the territory until 2047. – Financial Times
Saturday marks 20 years since Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain. In that time, the city of 7m people has changed in countless ways, with many new opportunities and problems. The disruptions riling Hong Kong underline just how much China is changing the world. – Financial Times
Fred Hu writes: Despite missed opportunities and significant challenges, Hong Kong has been an unqualified success since its handover 20 years ago. Provided politics doesn’t get in the way, the city is capable of reinventing itself and thriving. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Korean Peninsula
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump are set to meet in Washington on Thursday for the first time, a highly anticipated summit that will serve as an early test of the new leaders’ relationship following several differences over key policies. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As President Trump prepares to meet with new South Korean President Moon Jae-in for the first time, the White House said Wednesday that the U.S. has only begun to exert serious pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program and faulted the Obama administration for not imposing stronger sanctions against Pyongyang. – Washington Times
North Korea issued standing orders on Wednesday for the “miserable dog’s death” execution of South Korea’s imprisoned former president and her spy chief, and improbably demanded that its southern adversary extradite them. – New York Times
As world powers focus on North Korea’s emerging nuclear capabilities, its drone program is raising concerns about espionage and aggravating already tense relations with its southern neighbor. – Los Angeles Times
North Korea recently tested a small rocket engine, a monitoring group said Wednesday, after a US official had reportedly suggested the test could be a step to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. - AFP
North Korea's U.N. ambassador warned the United States and the rest of the world Wednesday that his country will keep building up its nuclear arsenal regardless of sanctions, pressure or military attack. – Associated Press
South Korea's new leader vowed Wednesday to stand firmly with President Donald Trump against North Korea, playing down his past advocacy of a softer approach toward the nuclear-armed nation as he made his first visit as president to Washington. – Associated Press
Michael Auslin writes: Where the Korean peninsula is concerned, America’s national security policy stands at a crossroads. Its commitment to Seoul cannot simply be asserted as an ordinary foreign policy, or upheld solely on the account of tradition. Policymakers will have to convince the American public why they should be put at risk, if their involvement in the intra-Korean dispute is what puts them in that position. – The Atlantic
East Asia
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a major change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan as part of an annual defense-policy measure, voting to allow regular stops by U.S. naval vessels in a move that is likely to anger China. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A Chinese surprise attack tomorrow could annihilate US forces and bases in Japan, two Navy officers found. But deploying more missile defenses — Army THAAD and Navy Aegis — would protect most targets north of Okinawa, Commanders Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez found in simulations. Such a stronger defense, in turn, would reduce the temptation for Beijing to strike first in a crisis. – Breaking Defense
An ally of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied on Thursday receiving secret political donations from an educational institution at the core of a scandal over suspected favoritism that has sliced Abe's support ratings ahead of a key local poll. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
The Philippine military said on Wednesday that troops had found the mutilated bodies of 17 civilians in the besieged southern city of Marawi, where government forces have been struggling to dislodge militants who have entrenched themselves for the last month. – New York Times
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is ending his first year in power the same way he began it: with a call for crackdowns at any cost. – Washington Post
President Rodrigo Duterte took office pledging to bring peace to Mindanao, the predominantly Muslim island in the southern Philippines where he was raised. But a year later, his goal of reconciling with the island’s many militant and separatist groups is in danger of slipping away. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The United States plans to sell four Black Hawk helicopters to Thailand after initially suspending their sale following a 2014 military coup. - Reuters
In his third trip to Australia in just over a half-year, the head of U.S. Pacific Command on Wednesday reiterated America’s commitment to the longtime alliance between the two nations, describing it as key to preventing the spread of jihadi terrorist groups in the region. – Stars and Stripes


Defense Budget
Senate lawmakers introduced a $700 billion defense authorization bill on Wednesday that sets the stage for another financial showdown with House budget planners and White House officials over the right target for national defense planning. – Defense News
The House Armed Services Committee voted 60-1 to authorize $696.5 billion in defense spending for 2018, which adds $21 billion of $31 billion of DoD-requested weapons programs left unfunded by the Trump budget request. – Defense News
The Senate Armed Services Committee version of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act piles on more ships and aircraft over the Pentagon’s request in a plan that spends more than $20 billion above the Trump administration’s request, according to an executive summary of the legislation that the SASC issued on Wednesday night. – USNI News
The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to cut a littoral combat ship from its annual defense policy bill, leaving three of the ships for the Navy despite lingering questions over its warfighting capabilities. – Washington Examiner
Alex Wagner writes: With its widely-panned budget request, the White House marginalized itself and undermined its seriousness when it comes to the 2018 defense authorization and appropriations process. Now is the time for the the real leaders in OSD, the military departments, and Congress to step up and fill the void; taking the steps necessary to ensure our military remains the strongest, most lethal, and technologically adroit force the world has ever known. – Defense One
The Senate Armed Service Committee called Wednesday for new measures to counter adversarial Russian actions abroad, including the establishment of new offensive ground-based missile program, a prohibition on the Defense Department using a Russian company’s computer software, and a requirement that the Pentagon report to lawmakers about Russian hybrid warfare. – Washington Post
House defense lawmakers are demanding U.S. special operations command and the head of the Pentagon’s special operations directorate conduct an accountability review of the military’s elite units, amid reports of heavy drug abuse within the teams. – Washington Times
Costs to operate and support Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 will balloon unless the deteriorating reliability of the Pentagon’s costliest program improves, according to an assessment from the Defense Department’s own testing office. - Bloomberg
The Army failed to provide “effective administration and oversight” of commercial providers of heavy lift of cargo, equipment and personnel in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria, the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General said in a report released Wednesday. – DOD Buzz
A House proposal to create a Space Corps in the Air Force moved forward Wednesday despite an effort by some members of the Armed Services Committee to study the issue instead. – Washington Examiner
The Air Force is engineering and testing a new air-dropped weapon able to destroy moving targets in all kinds of weather conditions at ranges greater than 40-miles, Air Force and Raytheon officials said. – Scout Warrior
The War
Passengers flying to the United States from foreign airports will undergo more rigorous screening of their baggage and electronic devices, but they will be allowed to bring laptops and tablets onto planes in their carry-on bags, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday. – New York Times
Experts recommended the United States take heed of the recent surge of terror attacks in Europe to learn how to more effectively combat ISIS at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. – Washington Free Beacon
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty against a Guantanamo Bay detainee accused of orchestrating the deadly 2002 Bali nightclub bombings in Indonesia and other attacks, a U.S. military official said Wednesday. – Associated Press
The N.S.A. has kept quiet, not acknowledging its role in developing the weapons…But the silence is wearing thin for victims of the assaults, as a series of escalating attacks using N.S.A. cyberweapons have hit hospitals, a nuclear site and American businesses. Now there is growing concern that United States intelligence agencies have rushed to create digital weapons that they cannot keep safe from adversaries or disable once they fall into the wrong hands. – New York Times
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) is calling on the National Security Agency to release what it knows about a massive ransomware attack that surged across the globe this week. – The Hill
The day after a particularly virulent strain of ransomware burst across the globe, the mysterious Shadow Brokers group has re-emerged to taunt the U.S. National Security Agency. – Associated Press
A computer virus wreaked havoc on firms around the globe on Wednesday as it spread to more than 60 countries, disrupting ports from Mumbai to Los Angeles and halting work at a chocolate factory in Australia. - Reuters


But in Ukraine’s case, a more sinister motive — paralysis of the country’s vital computer systems — may have been the motive, cybersecurity experts said on Wednesday. And many Ukrainians cast their suspicions on Russia. – New York Times
President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary has endorsed providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, a reversal from past U.S. policy and from his refusal to offer his thoughts on the issue at his Senate confirmation hearing. - Bloomberg
Melinda Haring writes: Russia is targeting the most capable and dedicated parts of the Ukrainian military…Kozak, a Canadian defense and security expert, said that the world needs to pay attention before the situation deteriorates even further, and hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable. – Atlantic Council
As President Donald Trump lashes out at former President Barack Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia for election meddling, Trump's own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials. - CNN
On the issue of Russia and its meddling in other countries’ elections, McMaster made the intriguing announcement that countering this “is a big part of the National Security Strategy we are developing for the president.” He didn’t really offer any details but said the new strategy would offer a “broad range of tools.” – Breaking Defense
Russian President Vladmir Putin is driving his country's interference in both United States and European elections, according to four experts. – Washington Examiner
A bill slapping new financial penalties on Russia ran into what one lawmaker called a "three word" roadblock on Wednesday amid back-and-forth negotiations between Senate Democrats and top House Republicans. – The Hill
Russia's foreign ministry on Wednesday said that Moscow is preparing retaliatory measures in response to former President Obama's decision in December to seize two Russian diplomatic compounds, Reuters reported. – The Hill
Respected Russian defense attorney and legal scholar Genri Reznik has resigned from the faculty of the Moscow State Law Academy to protest the installation there of a plaque commemorating a 1924 speech by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Jurors in the trial of five men charged in connection with the 2015 killing of Russian opposition politician and former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov began a third day of deliberations on June 29. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Kremlin leaders are convinced America is intent on regime change in Russia, a fear that is feeding rising tension and military competition between the former Cold War foes, the Pentagon's intelligence arm has assessed. – Associated Press
President Trump, the self-styled rebel who wants to sweep out an ancien regime, will travel to Paris on July 14 to commemorate revolutionaries who actually did it — with bloodshed and barricade-storming — 228 years ago in France. – New York Times
When President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia nominated Ana Brnabic to the powerful post of prime minister this month, the West hailed it as a landmark decision that put her on course to become the country’s first female and first openly gay premier. But some deeply conservative politicians called her nomination part of a degenerate Western plot, and critics on the left and some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Serbs dismissed her as Mr. Vucic’s puppet. – New York Times
Nathan Stormont writes: With freedom of the press under assault around the world, Poland’s friends and allies should redouble their efforts on behalf of media independence in the country, before any further damage is done. The PiS government’s moves to capture the media sector should be included in the larger EU-Poland dialogue on the rule of law, as well as in bilateral discussions between Poland and the United States. Media freedom is a central pillar of any democratic society, and a major breakdown in Poland’s democracy would deal a serious blow to the peace and freedom of Europe as a whole. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue
National security adviser H.R. McMaster defended President Trump’s strained relations with America’s European allies Wednesday as “tough love” that is making the NATO alliance “stronger.” – Washington Post
National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Wednesday criticism of President Trump's failure to affirm the United States' commitment to NATO's Article 5 in a speech last month was a "manufactured controversy." – Washington Examiner
Julianne Smith and Rachel Rizzo write: Now that President Donald Trump finally has endorsed Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, putting minds on both sides of the Atlantic more at ease, it’s time for the alliance to get to work. In addition to focusing on defense spending, counterterrorism, and enhanced deterrence against Russia, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his counterparts gather in Brussels this week NATO should shift its focus to a region largely ignored since the end of the Cold War: The North Atlantic. – Defense One


United States of America
A young asylum seeker who was tortured in his native Venezuela no longer faces deportation after an immigration judge in Miami ended removal proceedings against him this week. – New York Times
Three lawmakers are pressing President Trump and the Pentagon to intervene on a proposal to cancel enlistment contracts for 1,000 immigrant military recruits in a bid to shield them from deportation. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Republicans railed against the Pentagon’s transgender policy on Wednesday, but ultimately did not move to reverse the policy during a debate on the annual defense policy bill. – The Hill
House lawmakers on Wednesday turned aside a new attempt to require women to register with the Selective Service, arguing that any changes should wait on a review of the entire draft system. – Military Times
The White House has not ruled out providing government support for Westinghouse, the bankrupt US nuclear group, as the Trump administration works to ensure that the US remains a force in the nuclear industry. – Financial Times
Visa applicants from six Muslim-majority countries must have a close U.S. family relationship or formal ties to a U.S. entity to be admitted to the United States under guidance distributed by the U.S. State Department on Wednesday. - Reuters
Andrew Natsios writes: The United States needs to invest in foreign aid to protect itself from the chaos spreading across the world. We should be strengthening our aid programs and infrastructure, not weakening them. The State Department should focus on conducting diplomacy, which is what it excels at, and USAID should do its job as development professionals with more independence, not less – Washington Post
Russian Election Interference
National Security Agency (NSA) Director Mike Rogers is frustrated that he has not yet convinced President Trump that U.S. intelligence indicates Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, CNN reported Wednesday. – The Hill
The Senate panel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election aims to finish its work by the end of this year and plans to double the number of witness interviews to nearly 90 before lawmakers break for the August recess, the Republican leader of the investigation said Wednesday. - Politico
Evan McMullin writes: Republican leaders and the party are at a crossroads. They will either choose liberty in an independent America or to serve a distant, foreign master who seeks no more than to enrich and empower himself at the expense of free society everywhere. If Republican leaders choose the latter, the majority of Americans will have no choice but to hold them accountable as opponents to the cause of freedom. – Washington Post
United Nations
The Trump administration’s tough line on the need for reform at the United Nations has effectively put the world body “on notice,” U.S. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Wednesday, telling a Capitol Hill hearing that President Trump’s unpredictability is an asset because other countries can no longer take American help and American money for granted. – Washington Times
Latin America
A rogue helicopter that buzzed Venezuela’s supreme court building and possibly dropped grenades became a strange centerpiece Wednesday in the country’s meltdown — with some suspecting it was a ruse by President Nicolás Maduro to further clamp down on the opposition. – Washington Post
The Venezuelan government hunted on Wednesday for rogue policemen who attacked key installations by helicopter, but critics of President Nicolas Maduro suspected the raid may have been staged to justify repression. - Reuters


Over the past few months, at least 5,000 Nigerian refugees were rounded up in Cameroonian villages and refugee camps and expelled to a region under frequent attack by insurgents, according to U.N. officials. Some aid officials think the actual number of those forcibly returned is over 10,000, including people evicted in sporadic operations since 2013. The Cameroonian government has denied driving out the Nigerians. – Washington Post
Lobbyists for the Democratic Republic of Congo are courting Washington insiders with a dinner at the Capitol Hill Club on Wednesday, a private Republican enclave across the street from congressional office buildings. – The Hill

Trump Administration

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly took out his frustrations on a White House official Friday after facing negative news reports and delays in getting appointments approved. – The Hill
The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday approved the nomination of Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan for the post of deputy defense secretary after he clarified his position on providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine. – DOD Buzz
As the Trump administration vows to strengthen Washington's counterterrorism tactics, President Donald Trump plans to nominate a former George W. Bush administration official and architect of the Patriot Act to be the top lawyer at the State Department, three current and former US officials told BuzzFeed News. – Buzz Feed

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.
Read More