FPI Overnight Brief: August 7, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran's Revolutionary Guards clashed with a group of militants in the northwest of the country, killing two of them, the Tasnim news site reported on Sunday. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: There’s a growing push both inside and outside the administration to craft a way to acknowledge what many see as Iran’s violations of the nuclear agreement without precipitating a crisis. Many worry that provoking the deal’s collapse would not only risk an unpredictable and dangerous escalation but also hamper the international effort to confront Iran’s regional expansion, support for terrorism and other mischief. – Washington Post
For six years, an independent United Nations-appointed panel has documented a litany of war atrocities in Syria that have grown increasingly brazen: torture of prisoners, attacks on hospitals, sexual slavery. On Sunday, the panel confirmed that one of its three members — Carla del Ponte, a Swiss prosecutor — had resigned. – New York Times
The Islamic State has begun posting Syrian children outside of car bomb factories as part of an attempt to stave off U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, according to the Pentagon. – Washington Free Beacon
Syrian government and allied forces have taken the last major town in Homs province from Islamic State, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday, as the army advances toward militant strongholds in the east of the country. - Reuters
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey is determined to launch "new moves" akin to its foray into northern Syria last August. "It's clear that the situation in Syria goes beyond a war on a terror organization," Erdogan said, referring to the Islamic State group, and alluding to Kurdish aspirations for statehood. – Associated Press
Mahmoud Mohammed spent days trying to get his daughter and her four children out of an Iraqi camp for people related to jihadis…His story underlines the challenge Iraqi authorities now face as they try to work out what should be done with the thousands of Isis family members, often women or children, that flee the territories once controlled by the group. – Financial Times
Nearly a third of territory reclaimed from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since 2014 has been won in the past six months, due to new policies adopted by the Trump administration, a senior State Department official said Friday. – Washington Post
Western security officials say they expect revenue from looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria to become an increasingly important source of money for ISIS if its other revenue streams, such as oil, continue to dwindle….The Wall Street Journal interviewed Syrian art traders, recent ISIS defectors who worked in antiquities, and law-enforcement officials in the U.S., France, Switzerland, and Bulgaria to piece together how the international antiquities smuggling operation works. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Africa
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is cutting food and fuel subsidies, a program long plagued by waste and corruption, in a high-stakes gamble to aid the stalled economy that none of his predecessors dared execute. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Gulf States
Saudi Arabia is defending its decision to execute 14 minority Shiites — whose verdicts sparked criticism in the United States and Europe — declaring in a rare public statement that their trials were conducted fairly. – Washington Post
Oil-rich and ultraconservative Saudi Arabia is aligning its policies with its smaller and more liberal and economically-diverse neighbor. And the relationship between the two princes, widely known by their initials as MBS and MBZ, is being seen as central to the Saudi shift. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: President Trump steered clear of human rights in his May visit to Saudi Arabia, but the kingdom’s horrors have not vanished. If Saudi leaders really want to embrace modernism, they could start by reversing the barbaric death sentences imposed on 14 Shiite men for taking part in demonstrations. – Washington Post
Thousands of Yemeni troops are conducting a clearing operation aimed at driving Qaeda militants from one of their major strongholds in southern Yemen, according to Arab and American security officials. – New York Times
A contingent of U.S. troops is involved in a Yemeni operation to push al-Qaeda militants from one of their key strongholds in central Yemen, the Pentagon said Friday. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
A top United Nations official in Yemen said reported airstrikes in which at least 12 civilians were killed, including children, were an example of the "disregard" for civilians' safety shown by all the combatants in Yemen's civil war. - Reuters
Israeli Prime ­Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known for being a political survivor, but the revelation this past week that a former top aide will testify against him has led to speculation that his indictment in relation to allegations of corruption is increasingly inevitable. – Washington Post
Fearing the collapse of Israel’s delicate governing coalition, allies of embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday came out in his defense after a former aide agreed to turn state witness in twin police corruption probes. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Israel plans to shut down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem office, stop transmitting its broadcasts and strip the Qatar-based channel’s journalists of their credentials, the country’s communications minister said Sunday. – Washington Post
They are the Hamas generation, raised under the firm hand of an Islamist militant movement. They are the survivors of three wars with Israel and a siege, who find themselves as young adults going absolutely nowhere. – Washington Post
As violence gripped Jerusalem last month, the 36-year-old American heir to a property empire phoned the Jordanian king in a bid to prevent the collapse of the relationship between Israel and its neighbour — and what some feared would be a new intifada. – Financial Times


The charge for McMaster is to craft a strategy that addresses these contradictory impulses — a desire to simultaneously do more and less in the world — and define the president’s “America first” vision. – Washington Post
Dozens of civilians and militia forces were killed in northern Afghanistan in what officials on Sunday described as an attack by Taliban fighters teamed up with a commander claiming allegiance to the Islamic State. If true, the open cooperation between the militant groups, which have sometimes fought turf battles in the past, could be further trouble for the struggling Afghan government. – New York Times
The assault, coordinated with attacks on several other cities, was part of the Taliban’s most ambitious attempt since 2001 to retake power. But it was also a piece of an accelerating Iranian campaign to step into a vacuum left by departing American forces — Iran’s biggest push into Afghanistan in decades. – New York Times
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani likes to say that he has the world’s most difficult job, and no one doubts that he is at least in the running. But amid the plethora of problems he faces, it might come as a surprise that his first vice president, whom he selected, is one of the biggest. – Washington Post
A relentless air-and-ground campaign against the Islamic State (IS) affiliate in Afghanistan does not appear to have radically diminished that militant group’s ability to inflict deadly attacks or prevented it from expanding its geographical reach in the war-torn country, analysts asked to assess progress against such radicals' fighting capacity in Afghanistan told RFE/RL. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Erik Prince’s proposal to bridge the Afghanistan air force’s capability gaps with his own private air force faces a mountain of legal hurdles, government oversight, and raises  new questions about private military companies operating in roles typically in the purview of nation states. – Military Times
More than a dozen interviews with current and former U.S. officials familiar with the discussions reveal a president deeply frustrated with the lack of options to win the 16-year-old war, described internally as "an eroding stalemate." - Reuters
Pakistan’s ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, sharply criticized the Supreme Court verdict that forced him to step down last week and said he was planning a big rally in his hometown, Lahore, to galvanize public support for his political party and his future. – New York Times
When a Pakistani lawmaker said this past week that she had received “inappropriate text messages” from a male colleague, she was met with a wave of vitriol on social media. The episode has attracted widespread attention, as the man she accused is Imran Khan, the former cricket star who is now one of Pakistan’s leading politicians, with a large social media following. – New York Times
Pakistan’s deposed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has changed his mind about installing his younger brother in his place over fears that such a move would loosen the family’s grip on its Punjab power base before the next national election. – Financial Times
The confession of a Pakistani teenager who was captured moments before carrying out a suicide attack has given police a rare glimpse into a militant network they say is behind the recent surge in sectarian violence. – Reuters
Jackson Diehl writes: Political attention here has been focused this summer in two very different directions. There is the Himalayan plateau where Indian and Chinese troops are engaged in the most tense and potentially explosive standoff since a 1962 border war. And there is the din emanating from the Trump administration, which has managed to frighten and confound just about every nation that counts on U.S. global engagement. – Washington Post
North Korea
The United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution to impose the most punishing sanctions yet against North Korea over its repeated defiance of a ban on testing missiles and nuclear bombs. – New York Times
A Southeast Asian diplomatic meeting quietly turned into the first real multiparty bargaining session in eight years to tackle North Korea’s nuclear program, as the country’s top diplomat held a rare round of talks with his counterparts from China, South Korea and Russia. – New York Times
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday that North Korea could show it is ready for negotiations by stopping missile launches, and said he told Russian diplomats that the Kremlin’s meddling in U.S. elections had created “serious mistrust” of them among Americans. – Washington Post
China delivered frank advice to North Korea, its outcast neighbor, on Sunday, telling Pyongyang to make a “smart decision” and stop conducting missile launches and nuclear tests. – Washington Post
The U.N. Security Council’s move to block countries from buying North Korean coal plugs a large loophole that allowed Chinese companies to import more North Korean coal after the first U.N. ban in 2016. – Washington Post
The United Nations Security Council passed the toughest-ever economic sanctions against North Korea over the weekend. Now comes the hard part: making them stick, and fast. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Korea's latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile had outside experts warning that major U.S. cities are now within striking range. But the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Paul Selva, has painted a less certain picture of the regime's capabilities. – Washington Examiner
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster is stressing that it is “impossible to overstate the danger” posed by North Korea – Associated Press
Joseph Bosco writes: Beijing’s interests and values may have more in common with Pyongyang’s than with the international community’s. If so, it is time for the West to recognize that reality and end the addictive and dangerous wishful thinking that has characterized policy toward China for 40 years. – The Diplomat
East Asia
Every year in early August, Japanese politicians and peace activists converge on Hiroshima to commemorate the day when the city was devastated by an American atomic bomb…But there was no hiding the tensions straining Japan’s postwar pacifism, as fears over the fast-advancing nuclear program in neighboring North Korea — and political disagreements over how to respond — rose jarringly to the surface. – New York Times
North Korea is one of the world’s most politically repressive countries. No matter. Mr. Kwon says he has grown disillusioned with life in the capitalist South, where he says North Korean defectors like him are treated like second-class citizens. – New York Times
South Korea’s spy agency has determined that some of its agents tampered with the 2012 election that put now-disgraced conservative President Park Geun-hye into the top job over liberal Moon Jae-in. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Southeast Asia
Vietnam appears to have retreated in a high-stakes maritime gambit against China, suspending a gas-drilling project that it had approved in the South China Sea but that was said to have irritated Beijing. – New York Times
Southeast Asian foreign ministers ended an impasse on Sunday over how to address disputes with China in the South China Sea, issuing a communique that called for militarization to be avoided and noting concern about island-building. - Reuters
The Myanmar government's inquiry into violence in northern Rakhine state last year that forced tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and led to U.N. accusations of crimes against humanity by the army has concluded that no such crimes happened. – Associated Press


The search for the Pentagon’s new technology head is getting close to the “end game,” according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. – Defense News
A US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet took off from the flight deck of the USS Ford using an electromagnetic catapult for the first time, marking historic movement into the future of carrier-strike aviation. – Scout Warrior
The U.S. Air Force has quietly inserted itself into the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program with a request of 140 units in fiscal 2018, but the service is poised to buy hundreds — and perhaps even thousands — more vehicles if it can find the funding in future years. – Defense News
Known for an ability to keep flying after taking multiple rounds of enemy machine gun fire, land and operate in rugged terrain, destroy groups of enemy fighters with a 30mm cannon and unleash a wide arsenal of attack weapons, the A-10 is described by pilots as a “flying tank” in the sky -- able to hover over ground war and provide life-saving close air support in high-threat combat environments. – Scout Warrior
The War
Dozens of convicts serving time in U.S. prisons for terrorism-related offenses are due to be released in the next several years, raising the question of whether that’s something Americans should fear. – Associated Press
Missile Defense
The Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Review is underway and lawmakers, through both the House and Senate defense policy bills, are signalling the direction they want to go when it comes to developing the future defense architecture against both regional and homeland missile threats. – Defense News
In their version of the 2018 defense policy bill, House lawmakers are putting pressure on the Army, to figure out a path forward to acquire a radar for the service’s future Integrated Air and Missile Defense System by threatening to withhold funds or transfer the responsibility to the Missile Defense Agency if progress isn’t made. But the White House is opposed to the pressure, objecting to the bill’s provision in its Statement of Administration Policy last month. – Defense News



The European Union Friday slapped sanctions on Russian officials and firms connected to the illegal transfer of gas turbines to the annexed peninsula of Crimea. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Kremlin is using diplomatic channels to calm unease among leaders in Nordic and Baltic states in the wake of first-ever joint exercises by Russian and Chinese forces in the Baltic Sea. – Defense News
Legislation signed into law by a reluctant U.S. President Donald Trump hits hard at Russia, cementing existing sanctions and adding on a few more for good measure to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, Syria, and allegedly cyberspace. Buried in the bill’s dry legislative language, however, is arguably something more important: a road map, and a signal, for what might follow if Moscow doesn’t change its behavior more toward Washington's liking. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday he believes Washington and Russia can find a way to ease tension, saying it wouldn't be useful to cut ties over the single issue of suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. election. - Reuters
The Trump administration has yet to decide how to respond to Russia's move to expel hundreds of American diplomats, but plans to deliver a response to Moscow by Sept. 1, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday. – Associated Press
Russia’s top diplomat said Sunday his country was ready for more engagement with the United States on North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and other pressing matters, even as Moscow braced for new sanctions from the Trump administration. – Associated Press
After more than a decade spent fighting Islamic insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States Army is scrambling to relearn Cold War-era skills to confront potential threats from Russia here in Eastern Europe, territory formerly defended by the Soviet Army. – New York Times
Intelligence officials here are on high alert, bracing for a wave of cyberattacks, embarrassing information leaks and fake news stories spread on social media as part of an expected Russian campaign to sow political discord ahead of next month’s German federal elections. – Washington Times
Gina Lentine writes: Civil society in Moldova and the international community must continue to emphasize that this draft law, in its current form, could imperil Moldovan democracy. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue
French prosecutors opened a counterterrorism investigation on Sunday after a knife-wielding man attempted to force his way into the Eiffel Tower. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Three months later, many across the continent have begun wondering whether Macron really is the drum major for European unity he says he is or whether he will become another French president out to defend national interests above all else. – Washington Post
It is France’s infamous, almost indecipherable labor code, the Code du Travail, both revered and reviled…France’s energetic young president, Emmanuel Macron, has made lightening the code — a touchstone of French economic life for over a century — the centerpiece of his promise to revitalize the economy. – New York Times
France has seen 271 jihadi militants return from war zones in Iraq and Syria and all of them are subject to investigation by public prosecutors, the country's interior minister said in a newspaper interview. - Reuters



United States of America
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Sunday that the expanding investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is continuing apace, even as President Trump dismissed the probe as "a total fabrication." – Washington Post
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday that the Justice Department has more than tripled the number of leak investigations compared with the number that were ongoing at the end of the last administration, offering the first public confirmation of the breadth of the department’s efforts to crack down on unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information. – Washington Post
The commander in chief is one step closer to stomping in his Air Force Ones after the Air Force on Friday awarded Boeing a contract for the two 747s that will be converted into presidential airlifters. – Defense News
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, aspires to be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee if the GOP maintains its hold on the chamber in the future. – Washington Examiner
The Senate cleared the way for a Global War on Terrorism memorial in Washington – unanimously passing the first bill in recent history approving a national war memorial before the fighting is over. – Stars and Stripes
Donald Trump is being warned by lawmakers that if he fired Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian election interference, Congress could strike back by reinstating him. – Financial Times
State Department
Byron York reports: As part of what he calls a "redesign" of the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has surveyed more than 35,000 State employees on the most fundamental questions facing the organization. And Tillerson -- or, more accurately, a consulting firm hired by the secretary -- has found that large blocs of State workers do not agree on what the department's mission should be. – Washington Examiner
Karen Attiah writes: Long story short, a sleepwalking State Department isn’t calculated to “Make America Great Again” any time soon. The reality is that we are asking for disaster if the United States doesn’t get  its act together in a hurry. – Washington Post
A POLITICO analysis found that the 11 other TPP countries are now involved in a whopping 27 separate trade negotiations with each other, other major trading powers in the region like China and massive blocs like the EU. Those efforts range from exploratory conversations to deals already signed and awaiting ratification. Seven of the most significant deals for U.S. farmers were either launched or concluded in the five months since the United States withdrew from the TPP. - Politico
Editorial: Veterans of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Mr. Trump reviled, noted similarities between the approach sketched in the July 17 paper and what had been accomplished in the TPP talks. But if hypocrisy, or reinventing the wheel, is the worst sin Mr. Trump commits on trade, the world will breathe a sigh of relief. – Washington Post
Desmond Lachman writes: Hopefully the Trump administration will heed the IMF’s advice on how to cure today’s global trade imbalances and will take seriously the IMF’s warning that the drift toward protectionism now constitutes the greatest risk to the global economy. However, judging by how important the “America First” plank was in Donald Trump’s election campaign, I would not suggest holding one’s breath for that to happen. – The Hill
Latin America
Just a week into his presidency, Donald Trump raised the specter of using U.S. military might to crush “tough hombres”: the Mexican drug cartels bedeviling the country in a historic year of gangland murders. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
More than 3,500 Brazilian soldiers are occupying slum communities in northern Rio de Janeiro as part of efforts to combat a spike in violence. – Associated Press
Venezuela’s army said two people died Sunday in what it described as a “paramilitary” attack on an important military base by former army officers and civilians, only days after embattled President Nicolás Maduro installed an all-powerful assembly tasked with consolidating his authoritarian reign. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Venezuela’s dissident attorney general sped away from her headquarters on a motorbike on Saturday as she was being ousted by the country’s new all-powerful assembly, which moved toward a swift consolidation of its power. – New York Times
Members of President Nicolás Maduro’s governing party marched triumphantly into Venezuela’s Capitol building on Friday, calling to order a 545-member body with plans to rewrite the Constitution and consolidate their power over the nation. – New York Times
The country’s most popular politician, Leopoldo Lopez, returned home Saturday night after a stint in a military prison, said family members. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Venezuelan opposition is seeking to join forces with the growing number of socialists who are disillusioned with President Nicolás Maduro in a bid to weaken his hold on power. – Financial Times
Interview: What’s it like to watch a country implode? To see a democracy destroyed and an economy crater? Since 2014, American journalist Hannah Dreier has documented just that in Venezuela, once one of the world’s wealthiest nations and still home to what are believed to be the planet’s largest oil reserves. - Politico


West Africa
Gunmen killed 11 people and wounded 18 others in a church in southeastern Nigeria on Sunday in an attack arising from a feud between members of the local community, officials said. - Reuters
A suicide bomber has killed at least seven people in a small town in northern Cameroon near the Nigeria border, a local official and a military source said on Sunday. - Reuters
East Africa
The re-election of Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s longtime president, had never been in question. But opponents and rights advocates say his nearly 99 percent margin of victory reflects what they call an oppressive political environment that stifles dissent in the central African nation. – New York Times
A concrete bridge and a narrow, garbage-filled river divide the slum of Mathare into two parts, a space between ethnic groups and voting blocs that are competing fiercely — and many say dangerously — over Kenya’s presidential elections scheduled for Tuesday. – Washington Post
China’s relationship with Africa — for decades defined by resource-for-infrastructure deals — is evolving, as Africa becomes wealthier and China’s foreign policy objectives grow more ambitious. – Los Angeles Times
Two foreign advisers to Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, who were expelled from the country days before Tuesday's election, said they had been seized from their homes by plainclothes policemen who also confiscated their computers. - Reuters
South Sudan's army has captured the main rebel stronghold of Pagak near the Ethiopian border, forcing thousands of people to flee, the rebels said on Monday. - Reuters
Central Africa
More than 50 people have been killed in clashes between ethnic groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, three local aid workers said on Sunday, the largest death toll in fighting between the two groups for months. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Even skeptics of Mr. Tillerson’s foreign policy credentials thought the State Department, an agency of 75,000 employees, could use some of the management skills he had picked up as the head of a major corporation. Mr. Tillerson was supposed to know that leaders of large organizations should quickly pick a trusted team, focus on big issues, delegate small ones and ask for help from staff members when needed. He has done none of those things, his critics contend. – New York Times
Derek Chollet writes: Watching Tillerson’s first six months, one wonders whether Trump picked him as a way to diminish the State Department, similar to how Richard Nixon chose William Rogers for the express purpose of ensuring that the department remained weak. As Henry Kissinger recalled of Rogers, “few secretaries of state can have been selected because of their president’s confidence in their ignorance of foreign policy.” – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
President Trump defended Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, his embattled national security adviser, on Friday in the face of a full-bore campaign by the nationalist wing of his political coalition accusing him of undermining the president’s agenda and calling for his dismissal. – New York Times
The disclosure that White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster sought to preserve former Obama administration adviser Susan Rice's top secret clearance has provided fresh grist for internal foes of McMaster’s to push for the general’s ouster from the Trump administration, according to multiple administration insiders who view the situation as the latest front in a long brewing civil war between divided factions inside the White House. – Washington Free Beacon
An internal White House enemies list of alleged Obama loyalists to be fired early in the Trump administration is a key contributor to a long-running feud between the National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, two senior administration officials tell The Daily Beast. – The Daily Beast
White House aides said they do not know if the purge list represented a genuine plan by a newly-empowered McMaster to root out more staffers or a ruse by pro-Trump activists designed to sound the alarm about McMaster’s perceived intent to clean house. Either way, the aides said, the sense of uncertainty is palpable. – Buzz Feed
Rosie Gray reports: Long-simmering tensions within the White House burst into public view [last] week after the firings of three National Security Council officials, resulting in National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster becoming Public Enemy No. 1 of the pro-Trump online brigades. – The Atlantic

Democracy and Human Rights

Joshua Muravchik writes: Slogans aside, every American president has naturally put America first. But our wisest and most effective leaders have recognized that a more democratic world does not merely gratify our ideals but also admirably serves our national interests. – Washington Post
Nicole Bibbins Sedaca writes: Removing democracy promotion from the State Department’s mandate and objectives will not only undermine American security and economic interests, but also deepen our country’s shift away from our national values and responsibility, undermine American leadership and influence, and ultimately make the world a more dangerous place. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room


Anne Applebaum writes: We don’t have a president, and therefore we don’t have a secretary of state, who wants to stop conspiracy theories, promote democracy, bolster alliances and defend America’s reputation abroad. Instead of a president who identifies foreign disinformation as a problem that needs a solution, we have a president who thinks it serves his interests. If this were the Cold War, in other words, we would be poised to lose. – Washington Post

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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