FPI Overnight Brief: August 1, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Mahmud Ahmadinejad was no stranger to controversy during his two terms as Iran's president. Now he faces possible sentencing for his alleged mishandling of billions of dollars during his time in office. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Iranian opposition figure Mehdi Karrubi has been hospitalized for a second time in a week due to a heart condition, his wife said. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
William Tobey writes: Absent those actions, Trump’s successor will face an Iran only days from the ability to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, unfettered by international sanctions and fortified by renewed oil revenues. Tearing up the deal now would only hasten that perilous day. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Behnam Ben Taleblu writes: While the new administration’s change in rhetoric towards Tehran has yielded some fruit, Iran’s recent Simorgh test is proof that the regime continues to test America’s commitment to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons technology. For that reason, last week’s launch highlights the need for a comprehensive policy to contest the Islamic Republic’s provocations at every turn. – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
The first U.S. pilot to notch an air-to-air kill in nearly 20 years, shooting down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter earlier this summer, recently made his first public comments about the experience, telling British journalists the entire encounter lasted only eight minutes. – Military.com
The U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are on the verge of seizing full control of the southern neighborhoods of Islamic State-held Raqqa, a Kurdish official said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shia cleric, has made his first official visit to Saudi Arabia in more than a decade as Riyadh seeks to bolster its influence in Iraq and counter the role of Iran, its regional rival. – Financial Times
A senior Iraqi general predicted a relatively easy victory for his forces in the upcoming battle for the Islamic State haven of Tal Afar as up 2,000 fighters and their families there are "worn out and demoralised". - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
In their long-running rivalry, the United Arab Emirates has often accused its neighbor Qatar of abetting Islamist militants, citing as one prime example the 2013 opening of a Taliban embassy in the Qatari capital, Doha. Now it turns out that the Emiratis tried to get the Taliban to open an embassy in their own country instead. – New York Times
In a televised execution attended by thousands of Yemenis chanting approval, a man convicted of raping and killing a toddler was placed face down in a public square in Yemen’s capital on Monday and shot with an automatic weapon at point-blank range. – New York Times
The Saudi-backed Yemeni government will not allow its Houthi foes to keep the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the information minister said, underlining its intention to remove the vital aid delivery point from the control of the Iran-aligned group. - Reuters
Hajj Abu Ahmad, a grizzled senior commander with Hezbollah, flashed his laser pointer authoritatively on a large map as he described the intensity of the battle the militant group had waged to neutralize Al Qaeda-affiliated Syrian fighters bunkered in this mountainous area along the border between Lebanon and Syria…His presentation…was another salvo in a media offensive to show that the Lebanese group is not the regional “menace” President Trump called it last week, and that it occupies a pivotal role in the fight against Al Qaeda and Islamic State extremists. – Los Angeles Times
Jordanian activists and an international rights group urged Jordan’s parliament on Tuesday to repeal a provision that allows a rapist to escape punishment if he marries his victim. – Associated Press
Eli Lake reports: Husam Zomlot does not have an easy job. He is the Palestinian Liberation Organization's representative in Donald Trump's Washington….In an interview last week, he gave me his argument for why the Palestinian Authority has budgeted more than $300 million for its next fiscal year to pay the families of terrorists and other prisoners. – Bloomberg View
Elliott Abrams writes: During the Obama years, concerns about Israel’s security situation focused on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Today, the focus is changing: to the growing Iranian military presence in Syria, the growing military strength of Hezbollah, and the possibility of a devastating Israel-Hezbollah conflict. That is the subject of a new article in Strategic Assessment, the magazine of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. – CFR’s Pressure Points
Turkey’s decision to press forward with a multimillion dollar weapons deal with Russia is causing concern within the Pentagon, with U.S. defense officials concerned the Russian-made systems will harm American joint operations with the NATO ally. – Washington Times
Nearly 500 suspects, including a number of generals and military pilots, went on trial in Turkey Tuesday accused of leading last year’s failed coup attempt and carrying out attacks from an air base in Ankara. – Associated Press


The holdup on the submission of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' new strategy for the nation's longest war in Afghanistan has come from the White House, according to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. – Military.com
The Pentagon and White House have yet to land on a definitive strategy for moving forward the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday. – The Hill
Sen. John McCain will introduce an amendment to the annual defense policy bill to provide a strategy for the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, the Arizona Republican said Monday, ratcheting up his criticism of the Trump administration. – The Hill
The Pentagon paid $458 million to train Afghan intelligence officers since 2010, but a lack of oversight made it difficult to measure whether the effort led to any improvements in the country's operations, according to an inspector general report released Monday. – Washington Examiner
The watchdog tasked with overseeing the spending of U.S. aid in Afghanistan says unprecedented restrictions on the movement of American government employees send a dangerous message to Afghan people and hinder the U.S. work in the country. – Associated Press
A total of 2,531 Afghan security forces were killed and 4,238 wounded in the first four months of the year, according to figures released in a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, a U.S. Congressional watchdog. - Reuters
The authorities told the AP that the children were being taken to Pakistani madrassas to educate a new generation in the ways of the Taliban, with the intention of returning them to Afghanistan to enforce the same rigid interpretation of Islam practiced by the radical religious movement until its ouster by U.S.-led coalition forces in 2001. – Associated Press
After President Trump pilloried China in 48 tweeted words, accusing it of failing to tame its neighbor and longtime ally North Korea, Beijing issued its own rebuke to Mr. Trump — in a cutting editorial of 1,000 Chinese characters from Xinhua, the official news agency. – New York Times
A gauge of China’s manufacturing activity fell more than expected in July, offering a sign of an anticipated slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy after a strong start to the year. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Xi Jinping has warned that China will not tolerate any infringement of its sovereignty or territory, in a speech delivered as the country finds itself embroiled in several territorial disputes with neighbours. – Financial Times
Multinationals in China are bracing to be cut off from the global internet as Beijing begins to shut down their only way of accessing uncensored foreign content. – Financial Times
China has launched a campaign to repatriate and interrogate Uighurs studying overseas, the latest draconian measure against the Muslim minority. – Financial Times
China’s military is "confident, capable and fully prepared" to protect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the state-run China Daily on Tuesday quoted Defence Minister Chang Wanquan as saying in reference to Taiwan. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
China lashed out at the U.S. on Monday over North Korea, saying Washington was ratcheting up tensions with Pyongyang and violating Security Council resolutions calling for restraint and dialogue. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Analysts examining video of North Korea’s launch on Friday of an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States say they saw evidence of a setback the North never mentioned: The mock warhead on the missile shattered into pieces during its fiery re-entry to earth. – New York Times
North Korea's latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch makes it appear possible the nation could hit a majority of the United States, Reuters reported on Monday. – The Hill
The US military has detected "highly unusual and unprecedented levels" of North Korean submarine activity and evidence of an "ejection test" in the days following Pyongyang's second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month, a defense official told CNN on Monday. - CNN
North Korea has been condemned and sanctioned for its nuclear ambitions, yet has still received food, fuel and other aid from its neighbors and adversaries for decades. How does the small, isolated country keep getting what it wants and needs? – Associated Press
Tension is rising in Thailand as former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra enters the final stages of a trial accusing her of mismanaging a multibillion-dollar rice-subsidy program. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Thailand's former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra delivered a tearful closing statement to a Bangkok court on Tuesday, saying she did not act dishonestly in a multi-billion dollar rice subsidy scheme and that she was being politically persecuted. - Reuters
The number of North Koreans slipping illegally into Thailand has surged in recent months, according to immigration bureau officials, as tensions mount on the Korean peninsula because of Pyongyang's weapons programs. - Reuters
An exiled Thai opposition activist and outspoken critic of Thailand's ruling junta has been abducted in Laos, a rights group said on Tuesday, calling on authorities in Thailand and Laos to investigate the disappearance. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
Malaysia’s scandal-hit sovereign wealth fund has missed a July deadline to make about $629 million in payments as part of a settlement with an Abu Dhabi government fund, a setback to efforts to clean up a yearslong financial mess. – New York Times
Newly released stolen emails show a long-running relationship between Mr. Otaiba and Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who U.S. law-enforcement officials say is at the center of the misappropriation of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state development fund. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Vietnam's ruling Communist party said on Monday that a former executive of electricity firm Dien Quang Lamp should be sacked from her current position as a vice-trade minister as it continues a crackdown on corruption. - Reuters
Indonesia and encrypted messaging service Telegram have agreed to establish better procedures to stamp out distribution of terrorist propaganda on the platform, the app's founder and the communications minister said on Tuesday. - Reuters


The Pentagon is scheduled to deliver its new acquisition structure to Congress on Tuesday, a major step toward redesigning how the building researches and procures equipment. – Defense News
The Pentagon made a $3.7 billion advance payment to Lockheed Martin late Friday for the 11th batch of F-35 aircraft. – Defense News
A newly completed comprehensive Navy analysis says producing more Virginia-Class attack submarines on a much faster timetable is "achievable" and necessary to ensure future undersea dominance for the US - in an increasingly contested strategic global environment. – Scout Warrior
Gen. Paul Selva was confirmed Monday by a voice vote for a second two-year term as vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. – Defense News
The Navy wants the Army’s help win a future Multi-Domain Battle with China, a senior defense official told me last week, but to get it, the two services have to connect through a simple, robust network using small and rapidly-launched satellites. – Breaking Defense
Adam Lowther writes: Building a new JSTARS, the Air Force can seize an opportunity to meet acquisition challenges, allocate defense resources more efficiently and improve mission accomplishment while also lowering cost and risk. Their selections in the three separate competitions at hand will determine how successfully they manage that opportunity. Whatever decision the service ultimately makes, airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines will benefit from the capability the system provides. – Breaking Defense
Missile Defense
North Korea’s recent tests of long-range, nuclear-capable missiles, which could potentially hit targets as far away as the continental United States, continues to be Washington’s best argument for maintaining a series of controversial anti-missile systems in neighboring South Korea. – Washington Times
The United States and its allies in Europe don’t have enough missile defense capability and still have a long way to go to tie all of the varying systems together into one networked web, according to the outgoing U.S. Army Europe commander. – Defense News
Investigators believe the ShadowBrokers leaks were from a National Security Agency insider, the website CyberScoop reports. – The Hill


The U.S. Pentagon and State Department have devised plans to supply Ukraine with antitank missiles and other weaponry and are seeking White House approval, U.S. officials said, as Kiev battles Russia-backed separatists and ties between Moscow and Washington fray. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Ukrainian Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk denied on Monday an accusation of tax evasion from a lawmaker that has led to an investigation by prosecutors. - Reuters
Maxim Eristavi writes: Many international media would see in this latest grotesque strife between two opportunistic politicians in Ukraine another episode of the usual Eastern European soap opera. But that’s not the real story. Forget the personal intrigues. The bottom line is this: Our democracy is under attack. – Washington Post
Adrian Karatnycky writes: Before the US president issues another inaccurate tweet about this matter, he would be well-served to update himself on his knowledge of Ukraine. A short briefing from his national security advisor, his secretaries of state and defense, or the new US envoy on Ukraine Kurt Volker would be a good place to start. – Atlantic Council
Even as it sought to punish the United States for imposing new sanctions by forcing the mass dismissal of employees from American diplomatic posts in Russia, the Kremlin left the door open on Monday for President Trump to avoid further escalation. Without mentioning the American president directly, Moscow seemed to be appealing to him to resurrect his campaign promise to try to improve Russian-American relations. – New York Times
President Trump said nothing Monday in response to Russia’s planned expulsion of hundreds of American diplomats, announced over the weekend by President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Post
Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War. – New York Times
Vice President Mike Pence issued one of the Trump administration’s toughest attacks to date on Russia, coming to a nation on Russia’s border to warn against aggression from the “unpredictable neighbor to the east.” – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Altogether, the U.S. government employs more than an estimated 1,200 people in Russia. The majority are hired by the State Department, charged with running the U.S. Embassy and consulates, processing visas and handling other diplomatic tasks. But it also includes employees of dozens of governmental agencies and departments….Collectively, this vast enterprise is often referred to as U.S. Mission Russia or just Mission Russia. – Washington Post
As chief of staff for Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s run for the presidency in an election to be held next March, Volkov is the man behind a grass-roots political campaign unlike anything the country has ever seen. It is Navalny’s sensational exposés of high-level corruption that have seized the national and international spotlight. But it’s Volkov’s organizational effort that has given the 41-year-old, Yale-educated lawyer political footholds in regions far from the capital, in towns and cities that will be essential to any attempt to loosen Putin’s almost two-decade-long grip on power. - Politico
The United States began removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow on Tuesday in the first sign of compliance with a Kremlin order to slash its presence in Russia as retaliation for new U.S. sanctions. - Reuters
Russia still runs a versatile spying campaign against the United States despite sanctions and daily publicity about Moscow's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the top U.S. counter-intelligence official said in an interview. - Reuters
Levashov’s April 7 arrest was one in a series of American-initiated operations over the past year to seize alleged Russian cybercriminals outside their homeland, which has no extradition agreement with the United States. – Associated Press
Editorial: We have long believed that U.S.-Russian engagement is essential to avert miscalculation, and it remains important for both Washington and Moscow to keep talking. But Mr. Putin should not expect the West to suddenly forgive or forget his bad choices. He would be wiser to deal with the underlying source of tension than to sit around plotting new ways to escalate it. – Washington Post
Western Europe
France has announced it will shutter its first and only deradicalization center for Islamic extremists, saying its “experimentation” of the center operating on a purely voluntary basis was unsuccessful. – Washington Times
Germany’s economics minister on July 31 urged the European Union to fight back against new sanctions by the United States that could penalize Western companies doing business with Russia. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Orde Kittrie writes: Congress and the executive branch should spotlight, and vigorously oppose, ally and partner government boycotts that target the defense industrial base of the U.S. and key allies such as Israel and the U.K. Governments must know that such boycotts, if continued, will subject them and their companies to commensurate penalties. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
John Vinocur writes: Is there a kind of German complicity or reflexive softness involving Russia that permits Moscow’s blatant (and strategic) lying without anything resembling serious retaliation? Or a German relationship with Russia that leads to near-hysterical criticism of the latest bill passed by U.S. Congress approving sanctions against Russia? – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Eastern Europe
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged Washington's support to Georgian leaders as he met with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tbilisi. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Monday strongly pledged America’s commitment to protecting NATO allies against attacks, including the Baltic states, which have anxiously watched a growing Russian military presence in the region. – Associated Press


United States of America
The White House has reached out to the Pentagon to begin drafting official guidance to ban transgender people from serving in the military, a Department of Defense (DOD) spokesman confirmed. – The Hill
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross writes: The Trump administration believes in free and fair trade and will use every available tool to counter the protectionism of those who pledge allegiance to free trade while violating its core principles. The U.S. is working to restore a level playing field, and under President Trump’s leadership, we will do so. This is a true free-trade agenda. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
State Department
Foreign service officers see this expansion as a “parallel department” that could effectively shut off the secretary and his advisors from the career employees in the rest of the building. The new hires, several State officials told Foreign Policy, will be working for the policy planning staff, a small office set up in 1947 to provide strategic advice to the secretary that typically has about 20-25 people on its payroll. – Foreign Policy
Josh Rogin reports: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has ordered his department to redefine its mission and issue a new statement of purpose to the world. The draft statements under review right now are similar to the old mission statement, except for one thing — any mention of promoting democracy is being eliminated. – Washington Post
Russian Election Interference
Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations…The claims were later shown to be misleading. – Washington Post
Donald Trump’s election team could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other, according to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top White House advisor. – Foreign Policy
The Republican National Committee counsel's office asked employees last week to preserve all documents regarding the 2016 presidential election. – The Hill
Julia Ioffe writes: There is another problem for the United States: Putin insists, and most Russians believe, that Russia played no role in the American presidential election, despite the unanimous conclusion of the American intelligence community. The fact that the American president and the right-wing media continue to insist the same means the legitimacy of the sanctions will be easy for the Russians to undermine. It also allows Russia to continue being a wedge issue, ripping apart the American political landscape. – Atlantic Council
Latin America
Mexico appointed its chief negotiator in coming talks to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement, giving the role to a career bureaucrat with 20 years of experience in trade negotiations who heads the trade office at Mexico’s embassy in Washington, D.C. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Luciano Rivera Salgado, who covered crime for a Baja California television channel and published a news website called El Dictamen, is at least the eighth journalist to be killed this year in a country that ranks among the most dangerous for members of the media. – Los Angeles Times
On Wednesday, Congress is scheduled to begin voting on whether to put President Michel Temer on trial for alleged graft, as the far-reaching inquiry reaches the highest levels of government. The embattled leader is widely expected to muster enough support from lawmakers, many of whom are also under investigation, to avoid the courts. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The government of Mauricio Macri sees a path to victory in midterm elections in October along the 600km of unpaved bus routes in the sprawling shanty towns around Buenos Aires, the poorest part of Argentina and a stronghold of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, its former president. – Financial Times
The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro, after an election that critics called a tipping point toward dictatorship. But even with international pressure building and Venezuela’s economy collapsing, beleaguered opposition activists here were facing a stark new challenge. How could they confront a socialist machine that now controls all branches of government? – Washington Post
Just a year and a half ago, Venezuela’s opposition was riding high, at the apex of its power…But with one contentious vote on Sunday, President Nicolás Maduro effectively liquidated any political challenge that the opposition might present for him for years to come. – New York Times
Masked security forces staged middle-of-night raids Tuesday to haul away two leading Venezuelan opposition leaders already under house arrest, possibly signaling an expanded crackdown on dissent after widely denounced elections to boost the authoritarian government. – Washington Post
Editorial: Some will say that oil sanctions can only hurt the Venezuelan people, but they are already suffering extreme deprivation. Some are starving. The U.S. and the willing members of the Organization of American States need to form a united front not to recognize this vote or the regime it has produced. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
John Londegran writes: What comes next? Will Venezuela become another Cuba, with other countries in the region disapproving the brutal actions of its government, while taking only token measures to intervene? Will what is left of the Venezuelan military join the public to put an end to Maduro and to restore democracy? Will the other countries provide more than a show of disapprobation? One thing is clear, the criminal Nicolas Maduro negotiates in bad faith, and he will not cease his usurpation save at gunpoint – The Weekly Standard


West Africa
Prominent community leaders in Nigeria's restive Niger Delta oil hub threatened on Monday to pull out of peace talks with the government unless their demands were met by Nov. 1. - Reuters
Senegal President Macky Sall's ruling coalition was set on Monday to retain a commanding majority in parliament after a weekend election, a presidential aide said, but the opposition claimed the results were tainted by fraud. - Reuters
East Africa
A senior election official in Kenya was found dead Monday, intensifying anxiety over whether the country can hold a fair and peaceful vote next week in a tightly contested presidential election. – New York Times
The U.S. military said Monday it carried out a drone strike in Somalia that killed a member of the al-Shabab extremist group, while Somalia's government said it believes the strike killed a high-level al-Shabab commander responsible for several deadly bombings in the capital. – Associated Press
China formally opened its first overseas military base on Tuesday with a flag raising ceremony in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the same day as the People's Liberation Army marks its 90th birthday, state media said. - Reuters
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, already in power for 17 years, predicted on Monday he would win overwhelming popular backing for a third term in elections this week, brushing off accusations of stifling political debate. - Reuters
Malawi has issued an arrest warrant for its former President Joyce Banda over alleged abuse of office and money laundering offences over a two-year period when she was in office, a police spokesman said on Monday. - Reuters

Trump Administration

John F. Kelly, President Trump’s new chief of staff, firmly asserted his authority on his first day in the White House on Monday, telling aides he will impose military discipline on a free-for-all West Wing and underscoring his intent by firing Anthony Scaramucci, the bombastic communications director, 10 days after he was hired. – New York Times
Almost the first thing White House chief of staff John Kelly did after being sworn in Monday was dismiss communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who he believed had become a distraction in the aftermath of a profanity laced-tirade to a reporter. - Politico
Eliot Cohen writes: The Marines live by a hard code, and John Kelly has endured tests of character more difficult than most of us can conceive. But his hardest tests lie ahead, and neither he nor anyone else can be sure that he will pass them. – Defense One
Hal Brands writes: Since World War II, what has set America apart from other great powers is not that it has behaved in altruistic fashion. What has set America apart is something subtler but more important: its willingness to set aside short-term calculations of unilateral advantage from time to time, in order to realize the higher self-interest of creating a world in which so many countries — America included — could flourish. Under Trump, however, the United States appears to be discarding that calculus, as it is also walking back from so many of the qualities and practices that have characterized America’s four-generation run as a remarkably successful superpower. – War on the Rocks

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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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