FPI Overnight Brief: July 20, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Trump ends CIA program to arm anti-Assad Syrian rebels
  • Senator John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer
  • Trump’s embrace of Russia makes top advisors wary
  • Trump says he wouldn’t have hired Sessions, citing recusal
  • Tillerson stays close to Trump, but State seems to be benched
  • ISIS readies to continue fight in Iraq and in global provinces
  • Trump has meeting of national security team on Afghanistan
  • Schmitt, Cunningham: How to respond to Russia’s breach of INF Treaty
  • US intel shows N. Korean preparations for new missile test
  • Zimmerman: Win the people to win the war on jihadist ideology
  • Motyl on state of democracy in Ukraine, Francis on reform efforts

Middle East/North Africa

Is the car a public space, where women must clothe themselves modestly in accordance with Islamic laws, or a private space in which Iran’s ruling clerics have tolerated a bit more personal freedom? In this traffic-choked city, private vehicles are the latest battleground in Iran’s ongoing culture wars, which Tehran denizens are watching ever more closely after the May presidential election. – Los Angeles Times
Texas senator Ted Cruz dubbed the Trump administration’s certification that Iran is fully implementing the 2015 nuclear deal a “serious mistake” Wednesday. – The Weekly Standard
The head of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard warned the U.S. that it better move its forces away from his country if Washington imposes new sanctions on his paramilitary group. – Stars and Stripes
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Iran to halt all executions for drug-related offenses while the parliament discusses amendments to reform the country's drug law. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
A group of Iranian lawmakers are looking to scrap a longstanding law that denies citizenship and equal rights to Iranian children born to foreign fathers. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials. – Washington Post
President Trump has ended the clandestine American program to provide arms and supplies to Syrian rebel groups, American officials said, a recognition that the effort was failing and that the administration has given up hope of helping to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The decision came more than a month ago, the officials said, by which time the effort to deliver the arms had slowed to a trickle. – New York Times
Israel made public for the first time Wednesday the extent of its humanitarian aid to the civilian population living just across its northern border in Syria. – Washington Post
The parents of missing American journalist Austin Tice said Thursday they are "fully confident" their son will be released from captivity in Syria, and they urged his captors to contact them ahead of the anniversary of his disappearance near Damascus five years ago. – Washington Post
A Turkish news agency provided a map and details of U.S.-run military outposts in northern Syria, prompting the Pentagon to say Wednesday it had relayed “concerns” about the article to Ankara. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
US officials accused Turkey Wednesday of putting US troops at risk after Turkey’s state-owned news agency published the locations of 10 previously secret US military outposts in Syria. – BuzzFeed
Over the last week videos and pictures posted by Kurdish activists on social media show flatbed trucks delivering U.S.-made MRAP, M-ATVs, and up-armored bulldozers into Syria. – Military Times
Improvised explosive devices set off by motion detection that were used against U.S. forces in Iraq have been employed by ISIS fighters to slow the offensive against Raqqa, the so-called capital of the Islamic State in Syria, according to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. – Military.com
The United Nations is hoping that battles against Islamic State in Syria will calm sufficiently for it to carry out a vaccination drive against polio, starting on Saturday, U.N. agencies said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Among the Iraqis freed in the U.S.-led coalition’s liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State this month was Emad Mshko Tamo, a Yazidi who was separated from his family and trained as a soldier by the terrorist army for the past three years. – Washington Times
Islamic State militants began reinventing themselves months before U.S.-backed Iraqi forces ended their three-year reign of terror in Mosul, putting aside the dream of a modern-day caliphate and preparing the ground for a different fight. - Reuters
Iraqi forces on Thursday regained control over Imam Gharbi, a village south of Mosul, from Islamic State militants who had seized it as their defense of their stronghold in the city crumbled, Iraqi police said. - Reuters
The president of Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan has called a parliamentary and presidential election for November which could help ease a long-running political row as the Kurds push for independence from Baghdad. - Reuters
In the three years since it proclaimed a world-wide caliphate, Islamic State has become a global franchise—which means that the loss of its core in Syria and Iraq won’t pacify the far-flung conflict zones where the group’s affiliates operate. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office is developing several new computer programs for the U.S. military’s air operations center running the bombing campaign against the Islamic State, one of its largest efforts since launching two years ago. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
The Trump administration on Wednesday gave the full Senate an update on its efforts against ISIS, but lawmakers had mixed opinions as to whether the plans represent anything new. – The Hill
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said senators left a full chamber briefing on the Islamic State given by top Trump administration officials with more clarity and an impression that more energy was going toward wiping out the extremist group. – Washington Examiner
North Africa
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appointed on Wednesday a new chief for a judicial body that defied him by blocking a controversial border treaty with Saudi Arabia, in what some judges said was an assault on judicial independence - Reuters
Buoyed by the end of a long military campaign in Benghazi and new signs of foreign support, Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar has been signaling his intent to extend his power to the capital, Tripoli. - Reuters
Elissa Miller and Kevin Truitte write: The Trump administration must understand that stability in the Middle East cannot be achieved through counterterrorism operations and military force alone. Absent a solution in Libya, the country will remain a hotbed for anti-Western extremists, a regional exporter of instability, and a failed state. – Foreign Affairs’ Snapshots
Saudi Arabia
The police in Saudi Arabia have released without charge a woman who was arrested after videos appeared online of her strolling through a historic neighborhood in a short skirt and crop top, violating the country’s strict social codes. – New York Times
An inside look at how the drama unfolded—pieced together from interviews with people familiar with the royal court, including people aligned with each prince, and from videos of events—shows the extent to which the Saudi shuffle was a power grab by a self-declared reformer. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The new details about the extraordinary meeting between the king and MbN that touched off the de facto palace coup help to explain the events that are reshaping the leadership of the world's biggest oil exporting nation. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
The seemingly eased demands on Qatar made by the four Arab countries that have severed relations with it are an insincere “face-saving approach” to resolving the Persian Gulf crisis, Qatar’s United Nations ambassador said on Wednesday. – New York Times
The United Nations expressed alarm on Wednesday at a bombing by Saudi-led forces in Yemen that killed at least 20 fleeing civilians, and it criticized restrictions that stop journalists from reaching the country to chronicle the war. – New York Times
A Republican senator is pressing the Trump administration to use its leverage over Saudi Arabia to compel the government to allow humanitarian access into Yemen as famine looms over the country. – Washington Free Beacon
Washington lobbyists are looking to cash in on the standoff between Qatar and a Saudi Arabia-led bloc of countries as the two sides scramble for influence with Congress and the Trump administration. - Politico
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was caught on a hot mic in Budapest today, landing him in hot water. Speaking in the Hungarian capital during a closed-door meeting with the Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian prime ministers, Netanyahu admitted to striking targets in Syria and assailed the European Union for imposing “crazy” conditions on its relationship with Israel. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he believed that a $2 billion submarine deal with Germany will be signed after a police investigation into corruption allegations in the affair is completed. - Reuters
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing whether to remove metal detectors at a Jerusalem holy site whose installation after a deadly attack last week has stoked Palestinian protests, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Thursday. - Reuters
Aaron David Miller writes: It’s unclear what kind of gains the Trump Administration can achieve on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But at least for now, barring some unanticipated, unpredictable, and unforeseen development, the so-called ultimate deal won’t be one of them. – The American Interest
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, pro-Kurdish supporters and free speech advocates gathered Wednesday morning outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence to deliver a message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “We will not be silenced.” – Washington Times
Germany lashed out at Turkey for jailing a German national and suggested the latest escalation in a growing feud between the two countries could cost Turkey billions of euros in European assistance. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Turkey’s education ministry reportedly announced a new school curriculum that excludes lessons on Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution while allowing religious schools to teach the concept of Islamic jihad. – Washington Times


South Asia
President Trump presided over a rare meeting of his full national security team Wednesday in the White House. The subject was the future of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, and hovering over the discussion was a big question: How committed is the president to a long-term and costly American presence in the country? – Washington Post
With the Pentagon poised to announce details of a troop increase for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, the pending decision raises questions about the effect additional boots on the ground will have on the 16-year conflict. – Washington Times
India's single-engine fighter program, worth $12 billion, is unlikely to be "decided before 2019," analysts and officials say, even as the Indian Air Force has decided to hold flight tests of Lockheed's F-16 Block 70 and Sweden's Gripen-E, the two aircraft competing in the program. – Defense News
High-level economic talks between the U.S. and China ended Wednesday without any progress, leaving the Trump administration’s efforts to recast trade ties with Beijing in limbo. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Donald Trump thinks Chinese steel is bad for America. Unfortunately for him, now there’s a whole lot more of it. Chinese steel output hit an all-time high in June, according to data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, with over 73.23 million metric tons produced that month alone. That new number beats the previous record from April, at 72.78 million metric tons. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Chinese policymakers have largely rejected plans to depoliticise state-owned enterprises by governing them through financial holding companies that aim solely to maximise returns. – Financial Times
Hu Chunhua, the Communist Party boss of China's southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong has long been considered a rising political star. Now, the surprise dismissal of a key regional rival may well have bolstered that image. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
North Korea reportedly appears to be taking steps for another potential intercontinental ballistic missile or intermediate-range missile test. – The Hill
A day before South Korea hoped to hold talks aimed at easing border tensions, North Korea’s main newspaper called efforts to improve ties “nonsense” as long as Seoul maintains what it called confrontational policies and a dependence on the United States. – Stars and Stripes
The United States and Russia are waging rival campaigns at the United Nations Security Council over the type of ballistic missile fired by North Korea earlier this month as the U.S. pushes to impose stronger sanctions on Pyongyang over the test. - Reuters
He's young, good-looking and media call him "Japan's Macron", so it is little surprise that lawmakers say Shinjiro Koizumi may be offered a post when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffles his cabinet next month in a bid to revive sagging public support. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
A cease-fire may still be a long way off, but the gesture neatly illustrates how Myanmar, a former military dictatorship that the United States worked hard to press toward democracy, is now depending on China to help solve its problems. – New York Times
While the Trump administration has yet to define its strategic policy in the Pacific, key lawmakers are urging the Pentagon to expand Obama-era security assistance to countries in the Bay of Bengal to counter China’s growing influence. – Stars and Stripes
Thailand's Supreme Court jailed a firebrand opposition leader for a year on Thursday for defaming a former prime minister, overturning two previous court rulings, in 2012 and 2014, that dismissed the charge against him. - Reuters
Officials say Rohingya insurgents are behind this and a slew of killings in the area that has been racked by violence in recent months, with security forces accused of committing atrocities against civilians. - Reuters


Proponents of creating a new branch of the military dedicated to space said Wednesday the “time for study is over” after a House Armed Services Committee briefing on national security in space. – The Hill
A report by the Government Accountability Office analyzing a decade of the federal acquisition database finds that Pentagon’s purchase of commercial items has declined since 2007. – Breaking Defense
BAE Systems is working to address an Army need by testing an emerging helicopter protection technology able to detect, distinguish and destroy approaching enemy fire in a more effective and integrated fashion than existing systems can, industry developers explained. – Scout Warrior
Submarines are traditionally lone wolves, but the rise of robotics is starting to change that. Just yesterday, defense contractor BAE announced a $4.6 million award from DARPA to build an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) to accompany manned submarines, helping them spot targets by sending out active sonar pulses. – Breaking Defense
The War
The number of terrorist attacks worldwide and deaths from such attacks dropped in 2016 for the second straight year, driven by decreases in Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Travelers flying to the U.S. from nearly 300 international airports, including those in Mexico and Canada, are now subject to stepped-up security measures that include stricter screening for electronic devices larger than cellphones. – Associated Press
Katherine Zimmerman writes: Victory will come when the people of the Muslim world no longer seek the guardianship and support of Salafi-jihadis because they have better choices. As we have learned, few love to be led by extremists. We must give them a choice. – The Hill
Strategic Issues
Twenty-two Senate Democrats are calling for a "transparent and inclusive" process in the Trump administration’s ongoing review of the U.S. nuclear weapons policy. – The Hill
Gary Schmitt and James Cunningham writes: The steps outlined above do not require the US to abandon the INF Treaty just yet but do respond to the threat posed by the Russian violation and its theater-related nuclear posturing. This is not to argue that the US should not pull out of the treaty if Russia remains noncompliant. But before it does so, the US and its more willing allies must engage in a great deal of public diplomacy if we are to avoid causing unnecessary and counterproductive fractures within the alliance. – Real Clear Defense
Evidence of a shakeup of cybersecurity authorities at the State Department has some concerned about the future of the U.S. government’s international engagement on internet security and policy. – The Hill
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will host a press conference Thursday morning to announce an "international cybercrime enforcement action." – Washington Examiner
A Democratic lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a resolution emphasizing the need to boost the American cybersecurity workforce by supporting programs that promote “ethical hacking.” – The Hill
Bill Gertz reports: Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate this week that the military is taking steps to improve its capabilities for countering and conducting information warfare — the use of cyberattacks and influence operations. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring


One year to the day after journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed by a car bomb in central Kyiv, dozens of journalists, civil society activists, friends and colleagues gathered at the scene of the crime to commemorate his life and work. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Alexander Motyl writes: Ironically, Vladimir Putin, his odious authoritarian regime and his violence against Ukraine have played key roles in Ukraine’s continuing success with democracy. Russia’s dictator surely did not expect to hasten Ukraine’s transformation into an increasingly Western state when he invaded Crimea in early 2014. And he surely didn’t expect to lose it to democracy when he opposed Ukraine’s democratic transformations. – Washington Post
Diane Francis writes: A June 14 deadline for the court imposed by the IMF was ignored by Ukraine and instead President Petro Poroshenko and others bob and weave to avoid reforms in advance of the next election. But this represents an opportunity lost. – Atlantic Council
Michael Bociurkiw writes: Sometimes in life, with little explanation, we are placed in a situation that is entirely unplanned, where our skills and compassion are put to the test. For me the reunions with the families over the past couple of days closes an enormous circle—a huge circle that started three years ago amid the chaos and painfulness of the crash site—and which ended with the warm embraces from relatives of the victims. It’s a day I will never forget. – Atlantic Council
The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed pessimism on Tuesday that long-stalled Russia sanctions legislation could get done before lawmakers leave Washington for August. – The Hill
Russian officials have engaged in a "disturbing trend" of religious persecution, according to the State Department. – Washington Examiner
National security adviser H.R. McMaster advised President Trump not to have a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, last month, according to a report Wednesday. – Washington Examiner
President Donald Trump's persistent overtures toward Russia are placing him increasingly at odds with his national security and foreign policy advisers, who have long urged a more cautious approach to dealing with the foreign adversary. – Associated Press
Word of a second, lengthy conversation between the president and Putin earlier this month in Germany is adding yet another level of intrigue to Trump’s entanglements with the Russian leader. Not only was the session undisclosed by both countries, but it took place with no aides present, save for a Russian government translator - a risky move, national security experts say. – Associated Press
Western Europe
Theresa May, who succeeded Cameron as prime minister last year, has refused to say whether the report is done or whether it will ever be released to the public. This has fueled frustration and suspicion. Many people suspect that the research ties Saudi Arabia to terrorist attacks in Britain, a finding that could damage an important alliance. – Washington Post
British trade minister Liam Fox said on Thursday a bespoke trade deal between Britain and the European Union should be "one of the easiest in human history" to reach - although his country could manage without one if necessary. - Reuters
Europe's top human rights court ruled on Thursday that online videos considered by a Belgian court to be Islamist hate speech were not protected under free speech provisions. - Reuters
Eastern Europe
NATO allies are worried about expanding Russian intelligence operations in Hungary. - Politico
Tens of thousands of troops are on the move from the Baltic to the Black Sea, as NATO and Russia open up a series of massive military exercises the size of which the continent hasn't seen since the Cold War. – Foreign Policy
Poland and the rest of EU are on a potential collision course after Brussels warned it was “very close” to demanding that member states take unprecedented action against Warsaw for its moves to muzzle the country’s highest courts. – Financial Times
Editorial: It’s hard to find examples in history of independent judiciaries thwarting determined tyrants. What matters more is resistance from citizens demanding democratic rights. By that standard, this week’s peaceful protests—which led to Mr. Duda’s U-turn—show Polish democracy is resisting PiS’s overreach. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee known for his independent streak over more than three decades representing Arizona in the Senate, has brain cancer, his office disclosed Wednesday night in a statement from the Mayo Clinic. – New York Times
The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily upheld broad restrictions against refugees entering the United States but allowed grandparents and other relatives of American residents to come while legal challenges to the Trump administration’s travel ban move forward. – New York Times
The Army has rejected an appeal from a 13-year public affairs sergeant and is kicking him out in a case tied to the Osama bin Laden raid, President Obama’s speech about it and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information. – Washington Times
Rep. Barbara Lee on Wednesday vowed to take her long-time efforts to repeal the current Authorization for Use of Military Force, which dates to 2001 but is used for a wide range of conflicts now, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee after Republican leaders removed it from a spending bill the California Democrat successfully attached the repeal to. – Roll Call
The State Department has suspended a program that fast-tracks top recruits, sparking outrage from students and graduates who planned on joining the diplomatic corps. – Foreign Policy
Two key senators have renewed a more than 30-year-old United States call to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty in order to have a seat at the table involving the Arctic’s future. – USNI News
Donald Trump is one of a new breed of leaders around the world who seek to use their democratic mandate to undermine the rule of law, the head of a legal and human rights watchdog said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Russian Election Interference
President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.” – New York Times
Three top Trump campaign aides—Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr.—are expected to speak with Senate committees next week as part of the congressional inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016. – New York Times
Former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power's involvement in the unmasking by former Obama administration officials of sensitive national security information is raising red flags over what insiders view was an attempt by the former administration to undermine President Donald Trump and key figures on his team, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the situation. – Washington Free Beacon
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday said that he would be limiting his trips to the White House while the committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is ongoing. – The Hill
The decision over whether Jared Kushner will be stripped of his security clearance could ultimately be made by one man — his father-in-law, President Donald Trump. - Politico
Paul Behrends, the operative who set up that previously unreported Moscow meeting, has worked in security and foreign policy circles in Washington for decades while keeping a low profile, but he has never been far from intrigue. – Politico
Rosie Gray reports: Paul Behrends, a top aide to Representative Dana Rohrabacher, has been ousted from his role as staff director for the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that Rohrabacher chairs, after stories appeared in the press highlighting his relationships with pro-Russia lobbyists. – The Atlantic
Editorial: Mr. Trump often calls investigations of his Russia ties a “witch hunt.” But the fact is that he created the swirl of suspicion. Only he can clear it up — and until he does, there will be reason for concern about any contact he has with Mr. Putin. – Washington Post
Latin America
Mexico missed a pivotal deadline on a stalled anticorruption drive that is the centerpiece of the government’s promise to crack down on widespread wrongdoing by public officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
United Nations human rights experts called on Mexico’s government on Wednesday to establish an independent investigation into smartphone surveillance of human rights lawyers, journalists and social activists. – New York Times
Hundreds of Haitians lined up in the blazing sun for a chance to join the country's newly formed military this week, looking past concerns about a lack of funding for the force and a history of bloody coups. - Reuters
Foes of Venezuela's unpopular President Nicolas Maduro are calling for a national shutdown on Thursday to demand a presidential election and the abandonment of a new congress they fear would cement dictatorship. - Reuters
Venezuela's severe economic crisis will worsen if President Nicolas Maduro presses ahead with a controversial new congress that would further undermine investor confidence in the OPEC nation, the head of the country's biggest business guild said. - Reuters


Six months into office, the Trump administration's policy toward Africa has been left to drift, observers say. They cite vacant diplomatic posts and a lack of strategic thinking on multiple issues, including extremist threats in East and West Africa and civil war in South Sudan. – Associated Press
Cameroonian forces have been torturing suspects in their campaign against Islamist group Boko Haram, with much of the torture happening at a base that has also been used by American and French troops, Amnesty International said on Thursday. - Reuters
Nigeria is to deploy troops and police to reduce violence in the northern state of Kaduna, the acting president's spokesman said on Wednesday, as ethnically charged violence pressures a government already fighting Boko Haram in the northeast. - Reuters
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara replaced ministers in charge of defence, budget and the interior on Wednesday in a reshuffle of key cabinet positions following months of unrest, a government official announced in a statement. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Trump is his administration’s loudest and most-watched voice on foreign policy and has consolidated decision-making among a small group of trusted aides and family members at the White House. – Washington Post
President Trump will nominate Mark Esper, a top lobbyist for Raytheon and a former Army officer, as the next secretary of the Army in the coming week, a U.S. military official confirmed Wednesday. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Candidates for top Trump administration jobs are increasingly frustrated by the high cost and huge time commitment required to meet the government’s ethics and conflict-of-interest rules, complicating White House efforts to fill hundreds of crucial posts. - Politico


Major John Spencer, USA writes: The city is the battlefield of the future, whether the U.S. military trains for it or not. Failing to invest in urban warfare only means American soldiers will be sent into combat in environments they have never seen. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

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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