FPI Overnight Brief: July 25, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran
 
For millenniums, Iran has prospered as a trading hub linking East and West. Now, that role is set to expand in coming years as China unspools its “One Belt, One Road” project, which promises more than $1 trillion in infrastructure investment — bridges, rails, ports and energy — in over 60 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. Iran, historically a crossroads, is strategically at the center of those plans. – New York Times
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting increased trade with Iran, despite clear opposition to this policy by the Trump White House, according to multiple sources who described the agency's behavior as rogue and part of a lingering effort by the former Obama administration to promote international trade with the Islamic Republic – Washington Free Beacon
 
FPI Board Member Eric Edelman and Charles Wald write: The Trump administration must not abide this untenable and deteriorating situation. The United States now needs what it clearly lacked before: a comprehensive strategy of robust leverage against all of Iran’s destabilizing behaviors. - Politico
 
Syria
 
Cooperation with Russia is becoming a central part of the Trump administration’s counter-Islamic State strategy in Syria, with U.S. military planners counting on Moscow to try to prevent Syrian government forces and their allies on the ground from interfering in coalition-backed operations against the militants. – Washington Post
 
Syria’s anti-Assad rebels and their supporters are disappointed by the patchwork nature of truce agreements and fear they could allow Mr. Assad to further reclaim the approximately 15 percent of Syrian territory held by the opposition after six years of brutal civil war. Mr. Assad and his key backers, Iran and Russia, stand to be the big winners from the truce, they fear. – Washington Times
 
Air strikes killed at least nine people in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus overnight and insurgent shelling from the rebel-held area landed near the Russian embassy on Tuesday, a war monitor reported. - Reuters
 
Russia has deployed military police to monitor the cease-fire in a safe zone in the eastern suburbs of Syria’s Damascus, the chief of the Russian General Staff said on Monday. – Associated Press
 
Iraq
 
Russia and Iraq will "build up [their] cooperation and partnership" on military and economic issues in an effort to expand Soviet-era partnerships between the two countries, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Monday. – Washington Examiner
 
ISIS
 
The State Department's top lawyers are systematically removing the word "genocide" to describe the Islamic State's mass slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria from speeches before they are delivered and other official documents, according to human rights activists and attorneys familiar with the policies. – Washington Free Beacon
 
North Africa
 
Seven civilians, including two young children, were killed by a car bomb that exploded at a security checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula on Monday, Egypt's army spokesman said. - Reuters
 
Libya officials should investigate and dismiss forces involved in atrocities, a human rights group said on Monday, after a video appeared on social media purportedly showing a military unit executing 20 suspected militants. - Reuters
 
Gulf States
 
Just when you thought the Gulf crisis couldn’t get any more absurd, a media outlet linked to the Abu Dhabi ruling family has announced the release of a documentary claiming that Qatar was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
 
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have added nine entities and nine individuals to their individual ban lists because of alleged links to Qatar over terrorism, Saudi's state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday. - Reuters
 
Levant
 
After days of violent protests, bloodshed and a diplomatic crisis with Jordan over the placement of metal detectors at the entrances to the Aqsa Compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Israeli government said early Tuesday it would remove them. – New York Times
 
The White House on Monday worked to defuse tensions between Israel and Jordan after an Israeli security guard at the country’s embassy compound in Amman shot and killed two Jordanians when one attacked the guard with a screwdriver. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Newly released video of the killing of three American Special Forces soldiers in November at the gate of a military base in Jordan shows that the episode, which was initially explained as a split-second mistake by a Jordanian guard firing on Americans who failed to stop, was actually a six-minute gun battle where Americans crouched behind barriers and repeatedly waved their hands in surrender as the gunman closed in and killed them. – New York Times
 
Turkey
 
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is working urgently to defuse a dispute between Turkey and Germany that threatens its operations including counterterrorism missions in the Middle East. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Seventeen journalists and executives of the last prominent independent newspaper in Turkey, Cumhuriyet, went on trial in Istanbul on Monday, accused of aiding terrorist organizations under a government crackdown against opponents since a failed coup last year. – New York Times
 
Turkey has made progress in plans to procure an S-400 missile defense system from Russia and signatures have been signed, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday. - Reuters

Asia

Afghanistan
 
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has sharply criticized Pentagon officials for spending up to $28 million over budget to help the Afghan National Army buy camouflage uniforms because of the sartorial tastes of a single Afghan official. – New York Times
 
The U.S. military in Afghanistan is pushing a plan for American troops to remain in the country so long that they will be, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from native Afghan troops. – The Daily Beast
 
Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators — or ATACs — are proving to be increasingly vital as Taliban forces engage in another brutal fighting season across Afghanistan. – Military Times
 
As the U.S. administration prepares its new strategy for Afghanistan, the Kabul government and its Western allies are working hard to develop an air force that gives government forces the advantage in their war against Taliban militants. - Reuters
 
Interview: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently sat down for an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Here are edited excerpts – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
South Asia
 
At least 26 people were killed and 58 others were injured Monday afternoon in a suicide explosion that targeted the police in eastern Pakistan, officials said. – New York Times
 
China’s military warned India it would defend its territory “at all costs” and planned to reinforce its position high in the Himalayas, where a stand-off between the Asian powers has stretched into its second month. – Financial Times
 
Two opposition leaders accused soldiers and police in the Maldives of roughing up opposition lawmakers on Monday, using pepper spray to prevent them from entering parliament to take part in an impeachment vote against the speaker. - Reuters
 
Sri Lanka's cabinet cleared a revised agreement for its Chinese-built southern port of Hambantota on Tuesday, the government said, after terms of the first pact sparked widespread public anger in the island nation. - Reuters
 
China
 
A United States Navy spy plane had to take evasive action to avoid crashing into a Chinese fighter jet that suddenly pulled up in front of the American plane in contested skies above the East China Sea on Sunday, the Pentagon said. – New York Times
 
China has been bolstering defenses along its 880-mile frontier with North Korea and realigning forces in surrounding regions to prepare for a potential crisis across their border, including the possibility of a U.S. military strike. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
A proposal to lease part of a new Hong Kong rail terminal to mainland China and to allow Chinese officers to enforce mainland law there has raised concerns the plan would undermine this city’s legal autonomy. – New York Times
 
China's military is more nimble and technologically proficient following reforms to make it more compact and responsive, rather than just relying on strength of numbers, state media on Tuesday cited President Xi Jinping as saying. - Reuters
 
Yukon Huang writes: For the U.S., encouraging more bilateral investment flows and improving market access in high-value services while dealing with legitimate security concerns would benefit both sides. The Trump administration may want to resist any agreement that would encourage U.S. firms to invest more abroad, but a bilateral investment treaty should be high on its agenda, even if it isn’t politically expedient. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Korean Peninsula
 
North Korea’s tiny circle of elite families — among the few people in the country with unfettered access to the Internet — turned out to be strikingly like the rest of the world in their digital habits. They use their smartphones to check Gmail, call up their Facebook accounts and browse for goods at Amazon and Alibaba, a China e-commerce company, according to a report to be released Tuesday and provided in advance to The Washington Post. – Washington Post
 
South Korea’s new government raised its 2017 economic growth forecast to 3 per cent — its highest in three years — and launched a fiscal plan that President Moon Jae-in said marked “a complete paradigm shift” for Asia’s fourth-largest economy. – Financial Times
 
Japan
 
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reversed part of his response to allegations of cronyism and apologized for what he called a mistake, damaging an attempt to pull out of a sharp slump in popularity. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
The United States and Japan said they recognize the need to cooperate against “large-scale” cyber threats, particularly those posed by botnets, at a recent bilateral meeting on cybersecurity. – The Hill
 
East Asia
 
The high-end warfare being practiced by U.S. and Australian forces at a major exercise in Australia has attracted an unwanted visitor in the form of a Chinese intelligence-gathering ship. – Defense News
 
Taiwan is prepared to defend itself against China if necessary, the self-ruled island's defense ministry said on Tuesday, in a strongly worded response to recent flybys by Chinese warplanes near the island China claims as a wayward province. - Reuters
 
Southeast Asia
 
A court in Vietnam jailed a prominent dissident for nine years and gave her five years of probation for spreading propaganda against the state, her lawyer said on Tuesday, in what appeared to be the Communist-ruled country's latest crackdown on critics. - Reuters
 
Thailand's justice ministry froze some of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's bank accounts, the ministry and her legal team said on Monday, in relation to a $1 billion fine imposed by the ruling junta over her administration's rice-subsidy program. - Reuters

Security

Defense
 
Bills moving in the House and Senate would go beyond even the defense buildup pledged by President Donald Trump, providing money for more soldiers, fighter jets, warships and missile defenses than the Pentagon had requested. But those proposals exceed the limits imposed by a 2011 budget law, demanded by Republican budget hawks, that caps spending and requires annual across-the-board cuts to rein in deficits. And that makes the defense budget yet another example of the internal GOP policy divides that have stymied the party on other major issues like health care. - Politico
 
The executive order President Trump signed Friday ordering a government-wide review of America’s defense industry aims to help fulfill Trump’s promise to “rebuild” the military, a top U.S. trade official says. – Defense News
 
The U.S. Navy has put its up-gunned expeditionary strike group concept into practice within a realistic war-fighting scenario, with allied surface combatants joining an amphibious ready group, or ARG, and its embarked Marines for a major exercise off the coast of Australia. – Defense News
 
Saturday’s commissioning of aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) was a celebration of the end of a long and at-times hard road to bring the warship and its many new technologies to the fleet – a path the Navy may not choose to take again. – USNI News
 
The Navy’s futuristic electromagnetic railgun is set to take a major developmental step forward this summer as developers work to increase the number of shots it can fire per minute and the power behind the system. – Military.com
 
The Army has set up a new Cyber Research and Analytics Laboratory to keep pace with rapid technological change in the field and quickly support operational cyber-warrior with the latest upgrades, techniques and threats, service officials said. – Scout Warrior
 
Missile Defense
 
The Pentagon’s next intercept test will incorporate new missile defense technology engineered to improve the likelihood that a Ground-Base Interceptor can succeed in destroying an approaching ICBM nuclear weapons attack. – Scout Warrior
 
A U.S. Missile Defense Agency review of a failed ballistic missile intercept test showed that a mistaken input into the combat system by a sailor on the destroyer John Paul Jones caused the missile to self-destruct before reaching the target. – Defense News
 
The War
 
Mark Moyar writes: Bin Laden’s demise, Mr. Soufan says, deprived al Qaeda of a charismatic leader at its apex. His successor, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al Zawahiri, had the personal magnetism of a falafel. By 2011, however, bin Laden had set the conditions for al Qaeda to survive without his inspirational guidance, by seeding his lieutenants across Africa, the Middle East and Asia and shifting from spectacular terrorism to governance in fragile states. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Cybersecurity
 
The House Homeland Security Committee will consider legislation this week that would reorganize and elevate the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity branch. – The Hill

Russia/Europe

Ukraine
 
The German government says Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine have agreed on a number of "immediate measures" to push forward with a peace deal brokered in 2015 to end the bloody fighting in eastern Ukraine. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Russia
 
The House on Tuesday is poised to pass legislation limiting the president’s ability to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia, which the Trump administration initially opposed. – The Hill
 
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reportedly said on Monday that Congress still has "a lot of work to do" on sanctions legislation targeting Russia. – The Hill
 
A leading Republican senator says a bill toughening sanctions on Russia has not been finalized, despite earlier announcements of a bipartisan agreement. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
A Moscow court has ordered a university instructor accused of trying to stoke mass disorder through anonymous Internet postings and republishing a Kanye West rap video be transferred from prison to house arrest. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Germany is urging the European Union to add up to four more Russian nationals and companies to the bloc's sanctions blacklist over Siemens gas turbines delivered to Moscow-annexed Crimea, two sources in Brussels said. - Reuters
 
Editorial: It has become all too evident that Mr. Trump cannot be trusted to protect vital U.S. interests against persistent Russian aggression. He has shown no interest in stopping Russian cyberattacks, including further assaults on the U.S. electoral system. He appears ready to hand Mr. Putin major concessions for nothing, from the return of the compounds to withdrawal of U.S. support for rebel forces in Syria. Why Mr. Trump pursues these actions remains a mystery. But Congress is right to limit the damage. – Washington Post
 
James Kirchick writes: Are liberals willing to admit the reset was a giant miscalculation from the start? Are they willing to support sending arms to Ukraine? To redeploy missile defense systems to allies in Eastern Europe? Are they willing to concede that Obama’s Syria policy was an epic disaster that paved the way for Russia’s reemergence as a Middle Eastern military power? Are they, in other words, willing to renounce the foreign policy legacy of one of their most popular leaders? Because only that will demonstrate they’re serious about confronting Russia. – Politico
 
Alan Riley writes: Amid allegations that Washington is using the cover of sanctions to advance its own commercial interests, Germany has been furiously lobbying against a Russian sanctions bill that passed the U.S. Senate and goes to vote in the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday….This position confuses U.S. national and commercial interests, and fails to recognize how European gas markets work. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Western Europe
 
Minutes before hundreds of paratroopers landed in a drop zone at Bezmer Air Base in Bulgaria as part of a U.S. annual exercise called Swift Response, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the outgoing U.S. Army Europe commander, defended the need for airborne forces. – Defense News
 
Walter Russell Mead writes: Mr. Trump’s core foreign-policy conviction seems to be that the U.S. has let its allies enjoy a decadeslong free ride. Europeans who worry about Balkan peace need to think about how they can persuade a skeptical White House to engage. The old appeals—to NATO solidarity, defense of freedom, fear of Russia—may not be enough. Mr. Trump thinks in terms of deals, and Berlin needs to think about how to bring him to the table. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Eastern Europe
 
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic says his country must resolve its differences with its former province of Kosovo to establish a “permanent” solution to benefit the entire region. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Chinese warships started exercises in the Baltic Sea for the first time on Tuesday, conducting a joint drill with Russia in a further sign of how the two countries are expanding their global reach through ever-closer military co-operation. – Financial Times
 
Few allies of Jaroslaw Kaczynski have defied the combative ideologue who heads Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party and casts a long shadow over the country’s political scene. Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, is now one of the exceptions. – Financial Times
 
Serbia's new chief war crimes prosecutor has filed a request to resume the landmark trial of eight former Bosnian Serb police officers charged with taking part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. – Associated Press

Americas

United States of America
 
House Democrats and a handful of Republicans on Monday blocked the passage of the annual authorization for intelligence agencies under an expedited process, looking instead to bring it up in a way that allows for more debate. – The Hill
 
A senior Republican on the House Rules Committee said Monday that Speaker Paul Ryan personally asked him to block legislation that would have repealed the U.S. war authorization for the wars in Iraq, Syria Afghanistan and elsewhere. – Washington Examiner
 
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is fighting back at Republican efforts to quell her push for a speedy new war authorization bill. – The Hill
 
Daniel Runde writes: There is a broad consensus of development, diplomacy, and defense experts who support a strengthened approach to foreign assistance. The administration should work with Congress to craft a more durable, bipartisan, foreign assistance agenda. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
 
Russian Election Interference
 
President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, emerged Monday from a private, two-hour-long meeting with congressional investigators and said his meetings last year with Russians were not part of any attempt by Moscow to disrupt the presidential election. – New York Times
 
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., defended Robert Mueller, special counsel leading the Russia investigation, on Monday and argued he is "anything but" a partisan amid ongoing concerns from the Trump administration about the direction of his investigation. – Washington Examiner
 
Editorial: Lying to Congress is a crime, so this statement and its details involve some risk for Mr. Kushner if some other meetings or Russian connections turn up. But if this is all there is, the collusion narrative will have to find another protagonist. The President and other campaign officials could save themselves and the country much grief with similar disclosures. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Julia Ioffe writes: Though we are still missing big pieces of the puzzle, and though Kushner and Trump Jr. have proven themselves to be unreliable narrators when it comes to the extent of their involvement with the Russians, these two documents together give us a hint of how Russians went about trying to establish a connection with the Trumps, whom they were heavily advertising on state television as the way to restart U.S.-Russian relations. – The Atlantic
 
Latin America
 
A US subsidiary of Venezuela’s PDVSA that has been used as collateral for a Russian loan has emerged as a stumbling block to Washington’s moves to impose additional sanctions on Caracas, including a possible ban on US imports of Venezuelan oil. – Financial Times
 
Venezuela's opposition plastered election centers with slogans and rallied in honor of dead protesters on Monday in a final week-long push to force President Nicolas Maduro into aborting a controversial congress. - Reuters
 
Colombia's Marxist FARC rebel group will officially launch its new political party on Sept. 1, part of a peace deal with the government under which former guerrilla fighters will serve in congress. - Reuters
 
Roger Noriega writes: This urgent rescue mission to help a South American neighbor may be a rare opportunity for broad-based international and bipartisan cooperation. Like-minded democratic allies in the Americas and beyond must not wait for Venezuela’s tragic collapse to deepen further. Nor should they hesitate in telling Russia, China and Cuba to get on the right side of the Venezuelan people or stay out of their way. – Miami Herald

 

Africa

Kenyan opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga on Monday fielded questions alone on stage after his rival, President Uhuru Kenyatta, failed to show up for a debate between the two. - Reuters

Trump Administration

President Trump and his advisers are privately discussing the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and some confidants are floating prospects who could take his place were he to resign or be fired, according to people familiar with the talks. – Washington Post
 
President Trump is so unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he has raised the possibility of bringing back Rudolph Giuliani to head the Justice Department, according to West Wing confidants. - Axios
 
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is growing increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration and could quit before the year is through, according to reports. – Newsweek
 
After an intense battle with the White House over his first choice to become the top US diplomat to Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering a new candidate with a deep resumé in business and economics but little diplomatic experience, BuzzFeed News has learned. – Buzz Feed
 
Lee Smith interviews John Bolton: I spoke to Bolton recently about the Iran deal, North Korea, and other foreign-policy and national-security issues facing the administration, and the United States. – Tablet

Ideas

Maxim Eristavi writes: Journalists and activists in Eastern Europe have been fighting modern propaganda for years. It is time to deploy the lessons of those battles to newsrooms in Washington and beyond. – Atlantic Council

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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