FPI Overnight Brief: July 26, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Senator Cotton: Repeal the Budget Control Act
  • DIA: North Korea could cross ICBM threshold next year
  • Jamie Fly: Trump’s China policy must look beyond N. Korea
  • Singh: Russia will overshadow Trump unless he takes action
  • Gerecht on US strategy on Iran, Hof on Syria policy
  • Trump finds reason for US to stay in Afghanistan: minerals
  • Afghan leader struggles to build state amid dysfunction
  • Gertz interviews CIA Director Pompeo, Ignatius on agency’s future
  • Senate Judiciary to turn Russia probe on Fusion GPS, Browder’s prepared remarks

Middle East/North Africa

In testimony before a House committee Tuesday, the youngest son of a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran a decade ago urged greater sanctions on Iran if it does not account for his father and release U.S. citizens imprisoned in the country. – Washington Post
A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired two bursts of machine-gun fire at an Iranian military ship Tuesday as it made an alarmingly fast and close approach in the Persian Gulf, marking the latest aggressive encounter between the two adversaries. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Reuel Marc Gerecht writes: On both the left and the right, there is a consensus in Washington that the United States needs to “push back” against the Islamic Republic’s nefarious actions in the Levant, Iraq, and Yemen….But among Republicans and Democrats, no one really wants to clarify what “push back” means. For cause: Any serious American effort against the Islamic Republic will inevitably risk the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Trump administration has signaled that it will, with increasing reluctance, keep but “rigorously” enforce. – Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas
Russia has stepped up a campaign to get the United Nations to demine Syria’s majestic Roman ruins in Palmyra, but some Western diplomats fear the Kremlin is only seeking to get other countries to help it exploit the city’s rich natural resources. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
U.S. President Donald Trump attacked Iran and the Hizballah militia that it backs in Syria and Lebanon, blaming them for creating a "humanitarian catastrophe" and threatening peace throughout the region. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Syrian rebels and activists are warning that an al-Qaida-linked jihadi group is on the verge of snuffing out what remains of the country’s uprising in northwestern Syria, after the extremists seized control of the opposition-held regional capital, Idlib, last weekend. – Associated Press
Fighting broke out east of Damascus between rebel and government forces on Wednesday for the first time since both sides declared a ceasefire at the weekend, a war monitor said, with air strikes also hitting the besieged, rebel-controlled enclave. - Reuters
President Donald Trump seemed to blow the lid on the cancellation of a covert CIA program in Syria when he tweeted about it this week. But, intelligence agencies still won’t talk about it. – Associated Press
The barren, rocky hilltops that form Hezbollah's new front line with jihadists at the Syrian-Lebanese border were tough to capture and supply. Hezbollah commander Hajj Abu Ali says the experience could prove useful in future battles. - Reuters
Seven months after the army drove rebels from their stronghold in the Syrian city [of Aleppo], the state looks paper thin there, with most services seen by Reuters provided by residents or with help from international aid agencies or local charities. - Reuters
Frederic Hof writes: Recognizing that nothing good can happen in Syria so long as civilians are subjected to collective punishment and mass homicide by their “government” is the beginning of sensible policy planning. Yes, Syria is terribly complicated. But leaving civilians utterly unprotected makes any American national security objective in Syria, no matter how modest, unobtainable. Civilian protection is more than a humanitarian and human rights issue (as if that were not enough). It is the alpha and omega of a decent, lasting, and civilized end to the Syrian crisis. It is the key to the United States and its allies emerging from this catastrophe with anything at all worth having. – Atlantic Council
In the two weeks since Iraqi forces declared victory over ISIS in Mosul, local and international media have told a grim counterstory to the scenes of celebration — a rash of extrajudicial killings of suspected ISIS members at the hands of Iraqi security forces. – Buzz Feed
As people return home to Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq freed from Islamic State, homemade bombs and explosives laid on an industrial scale by the insurgents are claiming hundreds of victims and hampering efforts to bring life back to normal. - Reuters
The city's renaissance could take a generation, if it happens at all, he says, and it is uncertain how Mosul and other Iraqi towns and cities recaptured by government forces will look afterwards. How Mosul's identity is reconstituted will help determine whether Iraqi leaders can pacify a country dogged by jihadists and sectarian bloodshed for the past decade. - Reuters
North Africa
Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and the divided country's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar committed to a conditional ceasefire and to work towards holding elections next spring in talks chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. - Reuters
The Muslim authorities in Jerusalem instructed worshipers to remain outside the Aqsa Mosque compound on Tuesday, even after Israel removed the metal detectors from entrances to the holy site that had prompted days of violent clashes and bloodshed. – New York Times
Democratic senators are thinking twice about the proposed Israel Anti-Boycott Act after an outcry by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which considers it a “serious threat to free speech.” – Roll Call
As their convoy crept toward an entry gate on a sweltering Friday in November, gunshots erupted from a guard post, inciting a shootout that killed three Americans, drove a wedge between crucial allies and ended with a 39-year-old Jordanian soldier sentenced to life in prison for murder….The soldier who survived reviewed the video with a reporter from The New York Times on Monday evening, helping to piece together what took place that day – New York Times
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday rejected the notion that his tiny and diverse country — home to both Sunni and Shia Muslim populations as well as Christians — is jammed in the middle of a growing Middle East power struggle between the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran. – Washington Times
Lebanon has for six years suffered the economic fallout of the Syrian civil war next door. Now, it hopes to benefit from its neighbour’s reconstruction by wooing a powerful new investor: China. – Financial Times


President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies. – New York Times
Mr. Ghani faces growing opposition in his fragile unity government and Taliban insurgents are inflicting mounting casualties on civilians and security forces. But he says he is determined to stay focused on building the machinery of a functioning state in a country plagued by chaos and corruption. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Taliban have received improved weaponry in Afghanistan that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government, according to exclusive videos obtained by CNN, adding weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country. - CNN
The head of U.S. oversight for Afghanistan told lawmakers Tuesday that the Pentagon's wasteful purchase of untested camouflage uniforms for Afghan forces is under criminal investigation. – Military.com
Taliban fighters killed 30 soldiers in an attack on an army base in the southern province of Kandahar, an army spokesman said on Wednesday, as heavy fighting raged across the country. - Reuters
A generation after China’s late reformist leader Deng Xiaoping exhorted his fellow citizens to “keep our light hidden and bide our time,” Chinese exceptionalism is on the rise. While some Chinese still believe the country will need to embrace democracy to reach its full potential, many others are convinced the country has reached this point, not in spite of the government’s crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1989, but because of it. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As the global spotlight on the nation’s domestic policies has dimmed, lawyers for dissidents increasingly face a terrible choice: acquiescence or imprisonment. – New York Times Magazine
Beijing accused a U.S. Navy surveillance plane of acting unsafely during a Sunday intercept by People’s Liberation Army Air Force fighters, according to state-controlled press. – USNI News
China has launched a military agency tasked with developing state of the art weapons, the latest step in the country’s ambitions to transform its army into a modern fighting force. – Financial Times
Editorial: The Chinese government can avoid a Japan-style lost decade if it takes the right lesson from this episode. While Beijing may be able to rein in its companies’ foreign deals, that doesn’t mean the danger is over. Their acquisition mania is a symptom of an economy whose fundamentals are out of kilter. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Jamie Fly writes: The United States needs a China policy that is not single-mindedly focused on issues like North Korea, or even economic disputes. Our China policy must address the long-term strategic challenge posed by China’s growing military and economic power. Until we realize that fundamental fact, whatever short-term concessions can be extracted from Beijing in the interim, we will be losing the long-term challenge that will likely define the 21st century. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Korean Peninsula
The U.S. soon will issue new sanctions against Chinese entities for violating United Nations sanctions against North Korea, a senior State Department official said Tuesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Korea will be able to field a reliable, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year, U.S. officials have concluded in a confidential assessment that dramatically shrinks the timeline for when Pyongyang could strike North American cities with atomic weapons. – Washington Post
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday that he’s “increasingly alarmed” at North Korea’s weapons programs after receiving a classified briefing on the pace of Pyongyang’s missile development. – The Hill
U.S. officials said on Tuesday they have seen increased North Korean activity that could be preparations for another missile test within days. - Reuters
The United States is making progress in talks with North Korean ally China on imposing new United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang over its latest missile test, but Russia's engagement will be the "true test," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said. - Reuters
Okinawa prefecture filed suit against Japan’s central government this week in a fresh attempt to block the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a remote part of the island. – Stars and Stripes
The governments of Japan and Germany have signed a defense cooperation pact that could set the stage for new arms transfers between the two nations. – Defense News


Spending more money now to increase the Navy’s fleet size will signal to potential adversaries their victory at sea is not possible, but accomplishing this is neither cheap nor quick, a quartet of experts told a Senate panel on Tuesday. – USNI News
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was caught on a hot mic Tuesday taking President Trump to task for his handling of the defense budget, questioning whether he knows how the Budget Control Act works or whether it exists. – Washington Examiner
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered a review of all the administrative and training requirements that prevent trigger pullers and pilots alike from focusing on warfighting. – Military Times
The Air Force wants to extend the maximum range of its Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile in response to growing threats in Eastern Europe and the western Pacific. – Defense News
Is the Defense Industrial Base study required by the Trump Administration’s new Executive Order the groundwork for a new Buy America push or a bold strategic act reminiscent of President Eisenhower’s Solarium project, begun just four months after he took office? – Breaking Defense
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) writes: The 112th Congress wasn’t the Constitutional Convention, and the Budget Control Act isn’t the Constitution. It’s a flawed law whose repeal is overdue. It’s time to stop the Kabuki theater, get down to business, and build the military this country needs and the troops deserve. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Jerry Hendrix and Robert C. O’Brien write: We expect that President Trump’s executive order with lead to a true revitalization of America’s defense industrial base – both its physical plant and its skilled workforce. We believe that it will likely lead to the requisite level of redundancy returning to the defense sector. As a result, America will gain strength, which will go a long way to ensuring the peace during this time of crisis and uncertainty in the world. We applaud the President and his team for taking this important step as he joins an elite club of past presidents who had a similar vision. – Breaking Defense
The War
Thomas Donnelly writes: It’s not just the terror war that will continue but a much larger and more important conflict for which we remain unprepared. Even beyond the tactical, operational, and strategic challenges the Middle East war presents, it begs for domestic political leadership. – Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas
Jake Harriman writes: America has the greatest military in the world, but to win the war against violent extremism, we must lead the global community in proactive development efforts as we lead in military strength. By investing in these strategies, we can help defeat one of the greatest threats to humanity and make our nation and the world a safer, more secure place for future generations to come. – The Catalyst
The Central Intelligence Agency under President Trump is giving more authority to field operatives and cutting excessive bureaucracy in a bid to boost intelligence operations, CIA Director Mike Pompeo says. – Washington Free Beacon
Interview: The following are excerpts of an interview with CIA Director Mike Pompeo by Bill Gertz, Washington Free Beacon senior editor and veteran national security reporter. – Washington Free Beacon
David Ignatius writes: If the ghosts who inhabit the walls of the CIA could talk, they would tell Director Mike Pompeo to be careful. The agency is entering a danger zone where a White House in turmoil wants the CIA to take aggressive action overseas but hasn’t developed the clear strategy or political support needed to sustain it. – Washington Post


The new U.S. special envoy for efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Kurt Volker, says Washington is considering sending Kyiv weapons to help government forces defend themselves against Russia-backed separatists. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The House on Tuesday approved a sweeping package of sanctions against Russia, clearing a key hurdle in Congress’s effort — long opposed by the Trump administration — to punish Moscow for its aggression toward its neighbors and its interference in last year’s American presidential election. – New York Times
A top E.U. leader warned Wednesday that a U.S. congressional vote to strip President Trump of the ability to remove sanctions against Russia could backfire, dealing a blow to transatlantic efforts to curb Russian aggression against Ukraine and sparking a trade war between Europe and the United States. – Washington Post
Lawyers for two Kyrgyz-born brothers charged in a deadly bombing on a St. Petersburg subway train in April have asked Russian authorities to investigate their clients' claims that they were tortured at a "secret jail" outside Moscow. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Interview: Benjamin Parker of The Weekly Standard discusses the future of Russia with opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza: (Part One), (Part Two) and (Part Three)
Michael Singh writes: For any administration, dealing with Russia and other emboldened, great-power adversaries would be a tough problem. For the Trump administration, getting ahead of this challenge is particularly important if it hopes to regain control of its foreign policy agenda. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Anne Applebaum writes: An important chunk of the money that pumped up the New York luxury real estate market over the past two decades was money originally siphoned off from the Russian state. That was money that should have been used to build hospitals, schools and roads, but instead enriched officials such as Putin and the billionaires who surround him. In due course, Russian money also enriched Trump and his family – Washington Post
Chinese and Russian warships practiced together in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, in the first joint naval exercise the two countries have held in the area, which has been a focus of heightened tensions between Russia and the West. – New York Times
President Donald Trump said Tuesday his administration was negotiating “to do a major trade deal” with the U.K., aiming to have it kick in soon after Britain completes its exit from the European Union in early 2019. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
In the run-up to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's recent state visit to Georgia, there was a flurry of speculation about whether Mikheil Saakashvili might be extradited from Ukraine to face trial in Tbilisi on charges stemming from his 10 years as Georgia's president. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russia's upper house of parliament has asked President Vladimir Putin to start preparing sanctions on Poland over its plans to demolish Soviet monuments, Russian state media reported on July 25. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The European Commission said on Wednesday it would start legal action against Poland over a law reforming the judiciary that undermines the independence of judges and therefore breaks EU treaty rules. - Reuters


United States of America
American cities have long prepared for a terrorist attack, even one involving nuclear weapons or a “dirty bomb,” but North Korea’s long-range missile and weapons programs have now heightened concerns along the West Coast over increasing vulnerability to a strike. – Los Angeles Times
House lawmakers in both parties agree Congress needs to pass new legislation authorizing the use of military force against terrorists, but it's not clear they can agree on the details. – Washington Examiner
A group of House conservatives has filed an amendment asking the Justice Department for information related to former FBI Director James Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email case. – Washington Examiner
Report: Ultimately, putting American interests first means leading abroad. Any mission for U.S. foreign assistance should support the broader national security strategy to ensure that it maximizes its foreign policy impact and puts American interests first. The best, most effective foreign assistance has always been driven by a combination of enlightened self-interest and a desire to effect positive change in the world. The Trump administration is well-positioned to achieve these goals while increasing efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. – Center for Strategic and International Studies
William Inboden writes: The president gets the executive branch that he wants, and the effectiveness of American national security policy depends less on its organizational chart than on the wisdom, convictions, and skill of the people who run it. In that sense, looking back over 70 years the original National Security Act has served us well. – War on the Rocks
Russian Election Interference
President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, met with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators on Tuesday to discuss the June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Mr. Trump’s inner circle that was set up for the campaign to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to a spokesman for Mr. Manafort. – New York Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said a meeting between President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and the head of a Russian bank on a U.S. sanctions list was “not on behalf of the Kremlin,” as new U.S. legislation advances that would punish Russia for alleged interference in the 2016 election. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Josh Rogin reports: In his testimony, Browder will accuse Fusion GPS and its founder Glenn Simpson of running a smear campaign against Magnitsky, in conjunction with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin. They were all allegedly working with the law firm Baker Hostetler to defend the Russian company Prevezon from charges it laundered funds stolen in the fraud Magnitsky uncovered. – Washington Post
Read the full text of Browder’s prepared statement – The Atlantic
Damir Marusic and Karina Orlova write: Thankfully, our institutions have thus far held up and appear to be checking the President’s worst instincts. Still, there’s little to celebrate—and not just because of President Trump’s clear affinity for a more personalistic brand of politics. It’s hard to re-embrace ideals once they have started to seem hollow to both a substantial segment of the electorate, and the man they have chosen to lead them. – The American Interest
Military Issues
Vice President Mike Pence and his staff have been working quietly to get Congress to roll back the Defense Department’s year-old policy covering medical procedures for transitioning service members, according to sources. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen called on Congress Tuesday to resist dictating policy to the Pentagon on how to treat transgender troops. – USA Today
President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening promised to triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice” in coming months as part of an ongoing, ambitious reform plan at the Department of Veterans Affairs. – Military Times
More than one in five veterans receiving federal disability payouts suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a figure that has spiked in the last decade. – Military Times
Lawmakers are looking to reinstate a cap on the Defense Department’s service contract spending next year, amid concerns the Pentagon has unduly outsourced federal work. – Defense One
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday it was “absolutely essential” that a revised North American Free Trade Agreement contain a dispute-resolution panel, setting the stage for a showdown between Ottawa and the Trump administration ahead of trilateral talks next month. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Venezuela's foreign minister doubled down Tuesday on his government's accusation that the United States is working with Mexico and Colombia to oust President Nicolás Maduro. – The Hill
While the cause of the protests that have swept across Venezuela is president Nicolás Maduro’s plan to rewrite the country’s constitution, the clashes come against a backdrop of collapsing living standards, medicine shortages, increasing international isolation and ballooning corruption. – Financial Times
President Nicolas Maduro's adversaries are to stage a two-day national strike from Wednesday in a final push to pressure him into abandoning a weekend election for a super-congress they say will institutionalize autocracy in Venezuela. - Reuters
Two more people named to an alternative Supreme Court in defiance of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government were arrested on Tuesday by intelligence agents during a fast-escalating political showdown, the opposition said. - Reuters


It’s a cruel irony: Africa’s wealthiest and most populous country, an energy superpower, is having trouble feeding its own people. Children like Isiaka have come to symbolize Nigeria’s plight as chronic corruption, declining oil production and falling global prices, and the fight against Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram and other militants and separatist movements exacerbate the country’s year-old recession. – Washington Times
Suspected Boko Haram insurgents have kidnapped 10 members of a university research team prospecting for oil in northeast Nigeria, the state oil company, which contracted the work, said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Zimbabwe's parliament on Tuesday changed the constitution to give back to President Robert Mugabe sole power to appoint the country's top three judges, a move the main opposition said could undermine the independence of the judiciary. - Reuters
Interview: In April, President and Mrs. Bush led their seventh Bush Center delegation to Africa since leaving office. After their return from Botswana and Namibia, they spoke with Catalyst Editor William McKenzie about the roots of their shared commitment to Africa, the challenges they see in developing democracy and a strong middle class across the continent, and the reasons they are bullish about Africa’s future. – The Catalyst
Holly Kuzmich writes: Continued investments in global health, economic growth, and increased trade with Africa are vital. What happens overseas matters more than ever here in the United States, especially to our security and stability. – The Catalyst

Trump Administration

Personnel and Policy
The State Department under Secretary Rex Tillerson has been locked in a growing power struggle with the White House that has angered officials in the West Wing and sparked claims that the Trump administration's top diplomatic organ is now in "open war" with the White House on a range of critical issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, Iran, the crisis with Qatar, and other matters, according to multiple sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the situation. – Washington Free Beacon
Wrapping his sixth month on the job, Secretary Rex Tillerson's restructuring of the State Department is taking root. But numerous vacancies within the department's leadership have created what some State employees characterize as a leadership vacuum that is diminishing the department's impact and productivity. – CBS News
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is "taking a little time off" for vacation following an extended trip to Europe and the Middle East, his spokeswoman said. – Washington Examiner
Robert C. O’Brien writes: As Generals Mattis and Spencer—two great U.S. Marines—ready themselves for the challenge of implementing President Trump’s impressive shipbuilding plan, they would be well-served to have a distinguished sailor such as Hendrix as the Navy’s undersecretary. His experience in the Navy, his post-service advocacy for the fleet President Trump wants to build, and his willingness to shake up the status quo for the benefit of America’s sailors and taxpayers makes him the right man for the job. – The National Interest
President Trump continued his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, reviving his campaign call to investigate Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” as he criticized Mr. Sessions’s inaction. – New York Times
The public standoff between the White House and the nation’s senior law enforcement official took another strange turn Tuesday as President Trump escalated his verbal attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was urged by fellow conservatives to stand his ground. – Washington Post
Editorial: What’s at stake is much more than the careers of a particular attorney general or special counsel. The United States has been a role model for the world, and a source of pride for Americans, because it has strived to implement the law fairly. When he attacks that process and seeks revenge on his opponents, Mr. Trump betrays bedrock American values. It’s crucial that other political leaders say so. – Washington Post
Editorial: Donald Trump won’t let even success intrude on his presidential ego, so naturally he couldn’t let the Senate’s health-care victory stand as the story of Tuesday. Instead he continued to demean Jeff Sessions, and in the process he is harming himself, alienating allies, and crossing dangerous legal and political lines. – 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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