FPI Overnight Brief: August 3, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Joined by three Western allies, the United States on Wednesday escalated pressure on Iran over its space launch last week, saying the act disregarded a United Nations Security Council resolution on the use of missiles and was “threatening and provocative.” – New York Times
A heated behind-the-scenes debate is playing out among high-level Trump administration advisers over whether the president should declare Iran in violation of the nuclear accord reached under his predecessor, President Obama. – Washington Times
Iran's supreme leader formally endorsed Hassan Rouhani as president in a ceremony broadcast on state television on Thursday, after Rouhani secured a second term in a landslide election win on May 19. - Reuters
The shuttering of the C.I.A. program, one of the most expensive efforts to arm and train rebels since the agency’s program arming the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s, has forced a reckoning over its successes and failures. – New York Times
Most of the activists who embraced the calls for freedom that resonated across Syria in 2011 were imprisoned, killed or forced into exile before anyone even knew their names. One whose reputation had become known beyond Syria’s borders was Bassel Khartabil Safadi…This week, his family heard confirmation from an undisclosed source in Damascus of the news they long had dreaded: Safadi was executed by the government in October 2015, just days after prison guards came and took him away from his cell, never to be heard from again. – Washington Post
The State Department outlined the administration’s legal justification for engaging the Syrian military in a letter to Sen. Bob Corker Wednesday. Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had written to the department in June to ask if the military had been properly authorized to engage Syrian forces. - The Weekly Standard

Fabrice Balanche writes: In effect, the United States is offering victory to Assad and his allies. The remainder of this year will be devoted to the Syrian army’s return to eastern Syria, while 2018 will likely see the destruction of all remaining rebel pockets in the west—even those in so-called de-escalation areas. As for Raqqa, the SDF will have no choice but to abandon the city to Assad in exchange for informal autonomy for their cantons. – Foreign Affairs
The deputy commander of Iran’s notorious Quds Force bragged at a recent ceremony that his operatives have killed more Americans than U.S. troops have killed Iranian fighters. – Washington Times
Two attackers detonated a car bomb in southern Yemen on Wednesday, killing themselves and five soldiers and injuring several others, residents and a local security official said. - Reuters
More than 100 buses carrying Syrian militants, their relatives and other refugees crossed from Lebanon into Syria on Wednesday, bound for a province in northern Syria that is largely controlled by jihadists. – New York Times
Relations between Israel and Jordan, neighboring states that signed a peace treaty in 1994, have hit rock bottom after twin decisions by the Israeli government that have been widely seen as an affront to Jordan’s King Abdullah II. – Los Angeles Times
Israel’s Defense Ministry and industry developers have begun early work on what could evolve into the Arrow-4, a new missile-intercepting system to defend against much more sophisticated, future threats from Iran. – Defense News
Tony Badran writes: Hariri’s visit with Trump was part of a coordinated, multifaceted information campaign to swindle the U.S. government into continuing its military support and extending political cover for the evolving pro-Iran order in Lebanon and Syria. Everyone—Hariri, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and its supporters and publicists in Washington—is in on the con. Everyone benefits—except, of course, the people who continue to suffer and die in the region. - Tablet
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Wednesday approved new leaders for the army, navy and air force, in the biggest reshuffling since he won new powers for the presidency in a referendum in April. – New York Times


Despite mounting frustrations with the course of the war, President Trump has backed away from an option to pull all remaining U.S. forces from Afghanistan, days after reports claimed the administration was seriously considering the move as part of its pending plan of action for the 16-year-old war. – Washington Times
As President Donald Trump’s administration weighs how to handle Afghanistan’s chronic war, looming large is the question of what is the right lesson of the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from another conflict: Iraq. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A Taliban suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a NATO convoy in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Wednesday, killing two American soldiers, the Pentagon said. – New York Times
President Donald Trump has become increasingly frustrated with his advisers tasked with crafting a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and recently suggested firing the war's top military commander during a tense meeting at the White House, according to senior administration officials. – NBC News
Erik Prince, the former CEO of the private military company known as Blackwater, wants to step up the Afghan air war with a private air force capable of intelligence collection and close-air support, according to a recent proposal submitted to the Afghan government. – Military Times
Interim Pakistani leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi took control of prime ministerial duties on Thursday after a guard of honor amid growing uncertainty that the brother of ousted leader Nawaz Sharif will eventually take over the job as planned. - Reuters
As the Trump administration moves to take on China over intellectual property, Washington will find it has limited firepower. Beijing has a strong grip on American technology companies, and global trade rules could favor China. – New York Times
In targeting China’s voracious pursuit of American intellectual property, the Trump administration is picking a trade fight that unites the ideological spectrum…But behind that broad consensus lies uncertainty about a solution, indicating difficulties ahead for Trump aides as they try to craft a policy that does more to protect the high-tech industry’s future without sacrificing business right now—and without destabilizing the global trading system. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China defended its protection of intellectual property and called on the U.S. to remain cooperative on trade, as the Trump administration considers taking a harder line with Beijing. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Bradley Thayer writes: The successful strategic history of the U.S. tells it what it needs to do.  To maintain strategic stability in Asia, and to preserve and advance its interests in the face of the greatest test of the 21st century, the U.S. needs to commit to a nuclear strategy and force structure that permits it to check China’s ambitions. – Real Clear Defense
Korean Peninsula
In the Trump administration’s first serious attempt at a diplomatic opening to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has offered to open negotiations with Pyongyang by assuring “the security they seek” and a new chance at economic prosperity if the North surrenders its nuclear weapons. – New York Times
White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster in a new interview emphasized the “grave threat” North Korea’s nuclear ambitions pose to the United States. – The Hill
The second North Korean test launch of an ICBM within four weeks should convince South Korea to allow deployment of a full THAAD anti-missile battery, the Pentagon said Monday. – Military.com
Americans hoping to travel to North Korea will soon be required to obtain a special passport validation, the State Department announced Wednesday. – The Hill
As pressure on North Korea grows over its nuclear weapons program, America's most valued Arab allies host thousands of its laborers whose wages help Pyongyang evade sanctions and build the missiles now threatening the U.S. and its Asian partners, officials and analysts say. – Associated Press
Washington is seeking talks on how North Korea can be suspended from Asia's biggest security forum as part of a broader effort to isolate Pyongyang diplomatically and force it to end its missile tests and abandon its nuclear weapons program, U.S. and Philippine officials said. – Associated Press
Editorial: When Mr. Tillerson disavows regime change, he undermines these efforts and signals to Beijing and Pyongyang that the U.S. might be willing to pay another round of nuclear blackmail. Saying that North Korea is not an enemy even as it threatens American cities with its new long-range missiles is obviously false and makes the U.S. look weak. The Trump Administration needs a consistent message that tough action is coming and nothing is ruled out. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
John Bolton writes: For decades the U.S. has opposed attempts by any state without nuclear weapons to develop them. Washington has consistently failed to achieve that objective, and the world has become increasingly nuclearized. Stopping North Korea and Iran may be the last chance to act before nuclear weapons become a global commonplace. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Michael Auslin writes: Acknowledging our diplomatic failures and taking these steps would increase our chances of containing North Korea. The alternative — a misguided and rushed grand bargain with China — would do little to end Pyongyang’s threat, and almost certainly would spell the end of American global primacy, leaving the world a far more uncertain and unstable place. – Los Angeles Times
Aaron Friedberg writes: Beyond the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang’s successful defiance of the United States will inspire others to believe that, with the right combination of audacity and subterfuge, they can do the same. The lessons that Tehran may draw from this drama are especially troubling. Meanwhile, the North’s growing stockpile of fissile material and its increasing expertise in the design and manufacture of weapons and delivery systems will raise the risk of onward proliferation to other states and possibly even to nonstate actors. The second nuclear age is just getting started. – National Bureau of Asian Research
Matthew Kroenig writes: This essay argues that the U.S. will need to work more closely with Japan and South Korea to develop a common and coherent deterrence strategy if Washington hopes to reliably deter North Korea and assure its East Asian allies. – National Bureau of Asian Research
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe named new foreign, defense and other ministers, bidding to shore up plummeting public approval ratings and head off potential unrest within his party by giving cabinet posts to experienced lawmakers from outside his close circle. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asia
Aung San Suu Kyi came to power last year with a laser focus on ending the insurgencies that have dogged Myanmar for decades. The consuming nature of that goal has led to a new problem for the Nobel laureate: falling investor confidence in her ability to manage a fast-opening $67 billion economy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
French prosecutors have filed preliminary criminal charges against a former close aide of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as part of a corruption probe into the purchase of two European submarines, people familiar with the matter said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asian ministers meeting this week are set to avoid tackling the subject of Beijing's arming and building of manmade South China Sea islands, preparing to endorse a framework for a code of conduct that is neither binding nor enforceable. - Reuters


The Pentagon and other security agencies’ outsize consumption of federal research money would grow further under Republican plans, while nondefense research spending would drop, sometimes dramatically, a new congressional report shows. – Roll Call
[Yesterday], the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute rolled out a report on stealth that should put many of those criticisms to bed. The study argues simply that America’s fighters, bombers and, probably, airborne tankers need stealth to remain effective and to perform well against increasingly sophisticated ground- and air-based missile threats. – Breaking Defense
Although the exercises were a new milestone in F-35 flight operations, the U.S. military has decades of practice operating stealth aircraft. That, former Air Force officials said on Wednesday, is a major reason why it will retain an edge against near-peer competitors like Russia and China, who are just now beginning to fly stealth fighters. – Defense News
A brand-new ICBM may cost the nation more than $85 billion, but keeping the geriatric Minuteman will cost even more. That’s according to Boeing, the aerospace giant that began building the original Minuteman I in 1958 and has maintained the much-modified Minuteman III since 1970. – Breaking Defense
The U.S. Navy’s shipboard railgun is moving from the lab to the testing range, a big step for a weapon designed to fire massive bullets at hypersonic speeds. But a separate breakthrough in electrical pulse generation — capacitors that provide a bigger jolt in a smaller package — that may reshape the future of naval power. – Defense One
The Pentagon is fast-tracking new orders of laser-guided precision rockets needed to attack ISIS as US Coalition aircraft maintain an extremely high op-tempo of offensive operations in Iraq and Syria. – Scout Warrior
Bryan McGrath writes: The President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of the Navy have difficult choices to make about the size and shape of the Department of Defense, and the Department of the Navy. Very smart people are working hard to reach these determinations. It is essential that they understand the nature of the “capacity v. capability” argument when it comes to American Seapower and the U.S. Navy. Specifically, that they do not make the mistake of assuming that the relative weight of capacity and capability required of the U.S. Navy for the conduct of war is the same as that required to deter it. In this question, the Navy is different, and size matters. – Real Clear Defense
The War
Cases of homegrown extremism rose modestly over the past three months, posing an ongoing threat to United States security, according to a new House Homeland Security Committee report published Wednesday. – Washington Free Beacon
The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Wednesday urging all countries to eliminate the supply of weapons to the Islamic State extremist group and other "terrorists" including by taking legal action against suppliers and marking arms to improve their traceability. – Associated Press
Strategic Issues
The U.S. Air Force flexed its ability to launch global strikes early Wednesday morning, firing an intercontinental ballistic missile over the Pacific in a routine test amid growing tension between the United States and North Korea. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
A bipartisan group of senators are calling on Congress to adopt security standards for for internet-connected devices bought by the government in a bid to further secure the nation’s computer systems from cyberattacks. – Washington Times
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided cybersecurity assistance to 33 state election offices and 36 local election offices leading up to the 2016 presidential election, according to information released by Democratic congressional staff. – The Hill


The U.S. government has reportedly sought to send Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine. But it’s an idea two years too late for today’s battlefield, an expert on the conflict said. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Although U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly not been briefed on the proposal yet, renewed talk of arming Ukraine is already drawing attention in Moscow, especially over speculation that the proposed delivery includes Javelin missiles. – Defense News
Russian-appointed judges at a court in Ukraine's occupied Crimea region are scheduled to conduct a new hearing on August 3 in the trial of Mykola Semena, an RFE/RL contributor who is fighting what he says is a politically motivated separatism charge. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Michael Carpenter writes: All of these steps – providing weapons and military training, pressing Ukraine’s leadership to keep anti-corruption efforts moving forward, and reforming the defense sector to attract foreign investment – would help Ukraine become stronger militarily and economically; more resilient and resistant to Russia’s use of corruption as a political tool; and more united politically. It would increase the odds of Ukraine’s success over the long term, and help keep Moscow’s aggression at bay. But let’s be honest: it will not be enough to resolve the conflict. No peaceful settlement that restores Ukraine’s territorial integrity and leads to the withdrawal of Russian troops is possible without the West – led by the United States – applying much greater leverage over Moscow. – Defense One
A top European Union official said Wednesday he is broadly satisfied that changes made to the U.S. Russia sanctions bill will protect European interests. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Switch on the news in Russia, and the message is clear: Washington is in chaos…The recent passage by Congress of a tough new sanctions bill—which Mr. Trump signed into law on Wednesday—is only the latest sign of Beltway disarray, in the Russian view. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday said President Trump is “showing weakness” for signing Russia sanctions legislation into law, arguing his action amounts to declaring “a full-fledged economic war” on Moscow. – The Hill
A senior Russian diplomatic representative complained that American diplomats have tried to "build democracy in Russia" in recent years rather than engage in other relationship-building efforts. – Washington Examiner
Interview: In October 1986, Soviet authorities ordered a reduction of some 200 employees of the U.S. mission. At the time, the second-in-charge was Richard Combs. Now long retired from U.S. foreign service and a life of diplomacy, Combs recalls in an interview with RFE/RL what happened in October 1986 when diplomats fluent in multiple languages or steeped in Kremlinology found themselves driving school buses or schlepping around crates of fresh milk. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Jim Townsend writes: The rest of the executive can be ready to go, only to be hobbled by indecision at the top. Will President Donald Trump be ready to act quickly and decisively in what will likely be his first major military crisis? With John Kelly as chief of staff, the odds are now better that appropriate and vetted courses of action will be teed up for presidential decisions. But at the end of the day, it will be the president who must decide. Will he be ready to move? – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
With exercise Saber Guardian coming to a close in Eastern Europe and more than 30 exercises still to take place during the remainder of 2017, NATO is continuing to build its readiness. Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, highlighted for Defense News the importance of these exercises from the air perspective of the multi-domain effort. – Defense News
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili says his country’s territorial integrity and its eventual membership in NATO were “clearly defined” during U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's July 31-August 1 visit to the South Caucasus country. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged to help eliminate obstacles to Kosovo becoming a full member of NATO, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said after meeting with Pence on August 2 at the end of his tour of Eastern Europe. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The secretary of state at Poland’s Ministry of National Defence has threatened to break off an impending deal with the U.S. government to buy Patriot air-and-missile defense systems if certain requirements for technology transfers are not met, according to a letter sent July 15 to the director of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency. – Defense News
Andrew Hammond writes: These divisions in Westminster will probably continue unless voters show much greater consensus over the country’s future. Until then, and at a time of growing national urgency with the Brexit negotiations clock ticking, deep public division and confusion on Brexit will remain. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
After shopping around for a defense lawyer this year, a Russian state bank settled on someone who it said had relevant experience, though the bank insists that experience does not include a promotional pitch from the lawyer’s firm: representing “President Donald J. Trump in a wide range of litigation matters for over 15 years.” – New York Times
A premier research organization known for exposing jihadi extremist chatter is expressing vindication for its work to out two California imams who were forced to apologize for their calls for mass violence against Jewish people. – Washington Times
North Korean hackers targeted individuals associated with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign weeks before Russian actors successfully breached its chairman’s email account, according to a new report. – Washington Times
Former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power is believed to have made "hundreds" of unmasking requests to identify individuals named in classified intelligence community reports related to Trump and his presidential transition team, according to multiple sources who said the behavior is unprecedented for an official in her position. – Washington Free Beacon
Lawmakers are getting mixed signals from the Trump administration on war authorization. On Wednesday top Trump administration officials indicated that there was no need for a new war authorization bill but would not oppose the creation of one. – The Hill
Donald Trump won the US presidency vowing to rip up decades of trade policy and drain the Washington “swamp” of lobbyists and “globalists” as part of his America First push to bring back manufacturing jobs. Yet six months into his administration, the swamp seems not only undiminished but to be swallowing up his strategy on trade. – Financial Times
Josh Rogin reports: The State Department is supposed to host a major international conference next month, bringing leaders from more than 100 democracies together in Washington. But as of now, nobody involved knows how or if the conference will take place because for several months Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hasn’t signed off on the plans. – Washington Post
Military Issues
It’s been a week since President Donald Trump signaled by tweet he intends to stop transgender personnel from serving in the military. But so far, the Pentagon hasn’t seen any actual policy from the president. – Military Times
The Pentagon’s announcement of two U.S. service members killed in an attack in southern Afghanistan is highlighting a disagreement over how the military should handle information about American casualties. – Associated Press
Latin America
The lower house of Brazil’s Congress voted Wednesday to block a corruption trial against Michel Temer, a victory for the embattled president that occurred just 15 months after his predecessor was suspended for financial irregularities. – Washington Post
Corruption in Venezuela is a key factor in the surge in cocaine production in neighboring Colombia, complicating U.S. efforts to aid Bogota as it struggles to recover from a half-century of civil war, the State Department’s point man on illegal drug trafficking told a Senate hearing Tuesday. – Washington Times
If Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro believes his new constituent assembly will free him from the constraints of a democratic Congress and allow him to strike international deals for much-needed cash, he might be disappointed.  The body will allow him to amend the constitution, alter the rules on oil ventures, issue debt and change energy tax and royalty regimes to his liking. However, analysts say that, in practice, very few foreign governments will recognise the laws that he and the assembly approve. – Financial Times
Venezuela's president rejected accusations on Wednesday that his government inflated turnout figures from its constituent assembly election, branding them part of an effort to stain what he called a clean and transparent vote. - Reuters


A Boko Haram faction with ties to Islamic State and responsible for the kidnapping of a Nigerian oil prospecting team which led to at least 37 people being killed has become a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organized attacks. - Reuters
Kenya's ruling party cannot win next week's national elections without rigging the result, opposition leader Raila Odinga said on Wednesday, adopting a hard-line stance likely to stoke public fears of violence. - Reuters
Rwanda's Frank Habineza, the only registered opposition leader competing against President Paul Kagame in Friday's elections, pledged on Wednesday to retry political prisoners if he's elected. - Reuters
Gunmen ambushed a convoy of buses traveling on a major highway in South Sudan on Wednesday, killing at least four passengers and wounding 10 others, police said. - Reuters
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, prayed on Wednesday with South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda, home to a nearly million fugitives from a four-year civil war in the world's youngest nation. - Reuters

Trump Administration

National security adviser H.R. McMaster on Wednesday removed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, his senior intelligence director, from his position in the White House more than four months after he initially tried to get him out of the job. – Washington Post
General John Kelly may be trying to institute military-style discipline in the West Wing, but that hasn’t put a stop to the civil war happening over President Donald Trump’s National Security Council. If anything, the dawning of the Kelly era may have accelerated that war. – The Weekly Standard
James Mattis received permission from the US military after retiring from the Marine Corps to work as a military adviser to the United Arab Emirates, newly disclosed Pentagon records show. – The Hill
Rosie Gray reports: A top official of the National Security Council was fired last month after arguing in a memo that President Trump is under sustained attack from subversive forces both within and outside the government who are deploying Maoist tactics to defeat President Trump’s nationalist agenda. – The Atlantic

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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