FPI Overnight Brief: August 8, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

The French carmaker Renault signed a multimillion-dollar deal in Tehran on Monday, agreeing to raise vehicle production in Iran just days after President Trump signed into law new sanctions against the country. – New York Times
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani presented his cabinet to parliament for a vote of confidence on Tuesday, keeping in place the chief architect of Tehran's nuclear accord with global powers. - Reuters
Iranian security forces have broken up a group linked to Islamic State which was planning attacks in religious centers in the country and trying to hide weapons in home appliances, state news agency IRNA reported on Monday - Reuters
Shahram Ahmadi Nasab Emran writes: Ultimately, it is up to the Iranian people to produce fundamental and long-lasting change. The international community should support them by ending the policy of engagement toward Tehran. – The Hill
As U.S.-backed forces in Syria inch their way through Raqqa, once the Islamic State’s de facto capital and staunchest stronghold, their battle has become one of grinding attrition, and the toughest they have faced to date. – Washington Post
U.S.-backed Kurdish militants released footage of its forces striking Turkish-backed rebels with heavy weapons in northern Syria. – Military Times
The Syrian army stepped up shelling and air strikes on the last rebel-held enclaves in the Syrian capital on Monday, its heaviest bombardment in a two-month campaign, rebels and witnesses said. - Reuters
Days after a reshuffle of Turkey's top military commanders, President Tayyip Erdogan has revived warnings of military action against Kurdish fighters in Syria that could set back the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State. - Reuters
Frederic Hof writes: Mitigating and perhaps reversing the consequences of bad policy choices made by the Obama administration and its predecessor in the Levant and Mesopotamia will not be a twenty-minute project. It may be more than a twenty-year undertaking. The time to begin is now. – Atlantic Council
General John Allen, USMC (Ret.) and Michael O’Hanlon write: By formally changing the removal of Assad into a second-order issue, and one to be achieved through financial suasion over time rather than direct military action, the strategic use of economic power can help achieve most or all of our main objectives in Syria today. – The National Interest
David Adesnik writes: Negotiating with Russia can only be successful if the U.S. creates leverage by strengthening the military position of U.S.-backed forces on the ground. To negotiate without that leverage is to repeat the crucial mistake of the Obama administration, whose legacy in Syria is the spread of Iranian and Russian influence as well as a humanitarian catastrophe. – Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Naftali Bennett writes: There are many possible courses of action against Iran. Yet the free world—led by the U.S.—has yet to take the first and most important step: declaring that it cannot abide an Iranian empire from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi writes: Simply cutting off the CIA program with no thought as to an alternative is a mistake. In the south, management of relations with the rebel groups through the Pentagon, as has now become the new status quo, is the way forward. Rebel-held Idlib on the other hand is likely going to be subject to a major offensive by the regime and its allies. If the desire is simultaneously to counter Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s influence while preventing a new humanitarian crisis and more large scale refugee flows into Turkey and Europe, then a Turkish intervention on the model of the “Euphrates Shield” project in the north Aleppo countryside pocket is the only viable option at this stage. – The American Spectator
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson needs to clarify whether he believes the Islamic State's mass slaughter and persecution of Yazidis, Christians, and other minorities in Iraq will spur more U.S. action or further limit it, Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and human rights activists say. – Washington Free Beacon
Residents of Derna in east Libya say they are facing critical shortages after Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) tightened its longstanding siege around the city last week. - Reuters
Saudi Arabia
Interview: Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to Washington is son of the current king and the brother of the new crown prince. Having only recently presented his credentials to President Trump, Saudi Prince Khaled bin Salman talked with The Post’s Lally Weymouth last week – Washington Post
After 11 years running the region’s most powerful and economically dynamic nation, the reign of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suffered a major blow in recent days as mounting legal pressure enveloping him, his wife and close associates on charges of corruption and fraud have some Israelis pondering the prospect of a post-Netanyahu future. – Washington Times
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently the subject of a corruption probe, must disclose phone logs with U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson. – The Hill
King Abdullah II of Jordan made the short trip to Ramallah on Monday for a highly symbolic visit with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, against the backdrop of the recent crisis over the Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem and tensions with Israel. – New York Times
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley urged the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon on Monday to step up efforts to prevent the spread of illegal arms in the south, which she said "are almost entirely in the hands of Hezbollah terrorists." – Associated Press
Lebanon’s U.S.-backed military is gearing up for a long-awaited assault to dislodge hundreds of Islamic State militants from a remote corner near Syrian border, seeking to end a years-long threat posed to neighboring towns and villages by the extremists. – Associated Press
Islamic State may have fired seven Grad rockets into Lebanon on Monday from its enclave on the border with Syria, without causing any injuries, a Lebanese security source said. - Reuters


The district’s brief fall and recapture offer a window into how this long war is being fought now: The ungoverned space across the county continues to grow as each side — the government and the militants — rallies resources and wrests control of an individual area for a short time. Neither side, though, seems capable of holding on to territory it gains. – New York Times
The U.S. is sending dozens more Marines to Afghanistan, according to three U.S. defense officials. – NBC News
Afghan authorities are tightening security in the central area of Kabul housing foreign embassies and government offices after a string of suicide attacks that have caused hundreds of casualties and hit confidence in the Western-backed government. - Reuters
South/Central Asia
A bomb blast on Monday wounded at least 22 people in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, a government official said, with no one immediately claiming responsibility. - Reuters
A Pakistani charity that the United States accuses of being a front for anti-India militant group that staged the 2008 Mumbai attacks has entered politics by forming a new party, charity officials said on Monday. - Reuters
Ilan Berman writes: Historically, the United States has tended to view Central Asia as a buffer zone for transnational security threats (like narcotrafficking and Islamic fundamentalism), a bargaining chip in relations with Russia, or an arena of competition with both Moscow and Beijing over energy resources. The developments now taking place in the region, however, suggest that it’s not too early for the United States to begin thinking about the post-Soviet space as a geopolitical center in its own right, and to begin exploring what kind of relationship America might want to have with it in the not-too-distant future. – Foreign Affairs
Korean Peninsula
North Korea spurned harsh new U.N. sanctions Monday and threatened to defend itself with nuclear weapons if necessary, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated an offer to bargain with the outcast nation under the right circumstances. – Washington Post
North Korea escalated its criticism of the United States, as well as its neighboring allies, on Tuesday by warning that it will mobilize all its resources to take “physical action” in retaliation against the latest round of United Nations sanctions. – New York Times
The Trump administration has hailed the latest United Nations sanctions against nuclear-armed North Korea as the most severe yet, and the North’s fury over the penalties suggested they carried some sting…But it is unclear at best, experts on sanctions say, whether the measures will hinder North Korea’s nuclear militarization or even crimp its economy. – New York Times
The Pentagon is weighing whether or not to amend weapons development guidelines with South Korea, to allow the country to create ballistic missiles that can fly further and hit harder than any current weapon in the country’s nuclear arsenal. – Washington Times
President Donald Trump has vowed a "very severe" response to North Korea's escalating development of missiles and nuclear weapons. But behind closed doors, the Trump administration is pursuing a strategy that's not all that different from Barack Obama’s. - Politico
Despite the United States' insistence that North Korea halt its missile tests, U.S. spy agencies detected the rogue communist regime loading two anti-ship cruise missiles on a patrol boat on the country’s east coast just days ago. – Fox News
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Monday praised the U.N. Security Council for unanimously supporting sanctions on North Korea, noting that Pyongyang’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile tests pushed the Security Council to act. – The Hill
Analysis: The strongest sanctions yet against North Korea could still prove no match for the communist country’s relentless nuclear weapons ambitions. – Associated Press
Editorial: President Trump seems to grasp the dangers of North Korea’s expanding nuclear and missile programs, but it is not clear what he intends to do, aside from his tweeted broadsides at China. Beijing’s role in any solution is large but not singular. This is the kind of security problem that requires deft diplomacy and alliance-building — not the forte of this administration, at least so far. – Washington Post
Editorial: The Trump Administration and the United Nations Security Council are heralding Saturday’s Resolution 2371, which imposes new sanctions on North Korea. But as Pyongyang sprints to the ICBM finish line, the insistence that this resolution will succeed when others failed is—let’s be kind here—hard to believe. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
East Asia
Japan has upgraded its official warning on North Korea, saying that the threat had entered a “new stage” and that the regime may have already acquired the ability to miniaturise nuclear weapons. – Financial Times
China’s capital flow turned positive in the first half of 2017, a reversal from unprecedented outflows during the previous two years that sparked worries over financial stability. – Financial Times
The U.S. Army has ordered its members to stop using drones made by Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd because of "cyber vulnerabilities" in the products. - Reuters
Graham Allison writes: As Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis keeps saying, North Korea is a “clear and present” threat. Events there could drag the U.S. and China into a major war neither wants. Especially in the context of Thucydides’ Trap ― the dangerous dynamic when a rising power threatens to displace the ruling one ― once military machines are in motion, misunderstandings and miscalculations could escalate all too easily to a catastrophic conflict no one intended. – Los Angeles Times
Southeast Asia
Malaysia’s government on Tuesday launched an inquiry into massive foreign-exchange losses by the central bank more than two decades ago, in a probe that could lead to criminal prosecution of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Pentagon is considering a plan that allows the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in the Philippines, two defense officials told NBC News. – NBC News
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met Monday with America’s top diplomat, where he voiced solidarity with the U.S. amid global concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program and angrily dismissed media questions about human rights abuses by his government. – Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday pressed Thai leaders for more action on North Korea during the highest level visit to Thailand by a U.S. official since a military coup in 2014 soured relations with the United States. - Reuters
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi told villagers at the heart of the country on Monday that talks with ethnic rebels must be a priority, after putting peace negotiations ahead of economic reforms in her first months in power. - Reuters
Justin Nankivell writes: Chinese and Russian coordinated policy on the law of the sea regime may deliver the result that freedom of navigation becomes threatened as a matter of principle, not geography. This state of affairs is the logical extension of China’s, Russia’s, and Canada’s insistence on consent-based transit regimes in their historic waters. Under such an eventuality, the entire global sweep of contentious international legal claims involving history may be subject to renewed scrutiny. – Maritime Awareness Project


President Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending for 2018, but deep divisions on Capitol Hill are making any significant hike uncertain, according to Katherine Blakeley, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. – Washington Examiner
The Pentagon’s acquisition restructuring report, delivered to Congress Aug. 1 and released to the public the next day, shows a focus on innovation and a reliance on the military services to handle day-to-day sustainment, but the restructure needs to work through personnel issues to be successful, analysts say. – Defense News
Yes, the Navy has cut short its Littoral Combat Ship program and started work on a bigger, tougher, better-armed frigate. But the small ships will still be big part of the future fleet, experts we spoke to agreed, and the frigate will carry on much of the LCS legacy. – Breaking Defense
The question of if the U.S. Navy will achieve its goal of building a 355-ship fleet will largely rest on if the U.S. Congress can repeal the Budget Control Act of 2011. Moreover, that goal might only be achieved if the Pentagon is able to move funding for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine out of the Navy’s ship construction accounts. – The National Interest
Air Force
Interview: The Cipher Brief’s Will Edwards spoke to former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to learn more about the B-21’s mission in nuclear deterrence and advanced capabilities as well as the balance between transparency and security in the oversight of a top-secret program such as the B-21. – The Cipher Brief
Interview: The LRSO will also increase the versatility of more advanced aircraft, such as the B-2, F-35, and the forthcoming B-21. Though the LRSO would add more capabilities, critics warn these capabilities and associated costs are unnecessary, and the LRSO could instead compel adversaries to develop new weapons or countermeasures of their own. The Cipher Brief’s Will Edwards asked Air Force Lt. Gen. (ret) David Deptula to weigh the pros and cons about the value of the LRSO to America’s nuclear triad. – The Cipher Brief
General Larry Spencer, USAF (Ret.) writes: This is a pivotal year for our nation’s Air Force. America needs and deserves a dominant Air Force. The Air Force Association understands how the pilot shortage undermines that goal and is committed to seeking solutions to assist the Air Force in resolving it. – Defense News
The War
Seth Jones writes: Al Qaeda today is a different organization from what it was even a decade ago. The movement is less centralized, less focused on terrorist operations in the West for the moment, and less popular. Based on these challenges, it is unclear whether al Qaeda or other Salafi jihadists will be able to rebound…But the Islamist extremism that al Qaeda represents will not go away soon. The ideology will survive in some form as wars in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East continue to rage. – Foreign Affairs
Strategic Issues
Mark Schneider writes: Failure to react to Russia’s violations of its arms control commitments will significantly enhance the risk of war...The failure of all administrations after George H.W. Bush to punish Russia for arms control violations has contributed to the situation we now face. – Real Clear Defense
Tim Cahill writes: To protect national security, to expand our global leadership, to inspire innovation and to grow our economy, we must continue to sustain and build on our investments in missile defense. As current global tensions plainly reveal, we cannot afford to become complacent. – Real Clear Defense


While Russia lashes out against the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has adopted a subdued tone on bilateral relations, saying on Monday that Washington wouldn’t sever ties with Moscow after the mass expulsion of U.S. diplomatic staff, and stressing that the two countries need to find ways to work together. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Lawmakers may mandate a specific strategy for countering Russian disinformation if the State Department does not, a senior House Democrat warned. – Washington Examiner
Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine's Odesa region who was stripped last month of his Ukrainian citizenship, says Russian President Vladimir Putin will eventually face "full international isolation" as a result of tensions between Moscow and the West. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russia will speed up efforts to reduce dependence on the U.S. dollar and credit-card system in the wake of tough new sanctions imposed by Washington, a top diplomat says. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
A Russian appeals court has halted the deportation of journalist Ali Feruz to Uzbekistan, where rights groups fear he could face torture, imprisonment, or death at the hands of the authorities. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Sergei Udaltsov, a prominent Russian opposition activist imprisoned over a May 2012 protest against Vladimir Putin and his government, has been released after serving a 4 1/2-year term. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
As Mr Navalny emerges as a potentially genuine challenger in the elections — even if his chances remain slim — he is coming under a scrutiny he is not always prepared for. And while some in the west are asking if his strong support is the sign of a different kind of politics emerging in Russia, many of the liberals who might be regarded as his natural allies fear that his evolving persona could make him just another Putin. – Financial Times
The U.S. and NATO have been building up forces in Eastern Europe and stepping up training exercises ahead of massive Russian war games on the borders of NATO members next month. – Military.com
Britain's negotiations over leaving the European Union have not begun well due to disagreements among Prime Minister Theresa May's team of ministers about the kind of deal they should be seeking, a former top British diplomat said. - Reuters
Charles Kupchan writes: The conflict in Ukraine promises to poison Russia’s relations with the West until a diplomatic resolution is reached. But sending lethal weapons to Ukraine is a recipe for military escalation and transatlantic discord. The best way to bring peace to Ukraine is through transatlantic unity aimed at maintaining Russia’s political and economic isolation until it makes a deal at the negotiating table. – Washington Post


United States of America
Defense Department health care providers do a good job of screening for suicide risk, but they fail to provide critical and effective follow-up treatment to servicemembers identified as suicidal, according to a Rand Corp. report released Monday. – Stars and Stripes
Canada on Monday played down the prospect of a resolution with the U.S. over a trade spat on lumber imports before the start of talks to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement, denting enthusiasm raised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month for such an outcome. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Latin America
The head of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said on Monday that the PRI's method for choosing its presidential candidate needs a shakeup, ahead of a key gathering this week when PRI members will decide on changing the rules. - Reuters
The Cuban government said on Monday the freeze on new licenses for some private-sector occupations would not last years, in an attempt to reassure citizens worried about an apparent pause in the liberalization of the economy. - Reuters
Venezuela´s defense minister said Monday that authorities were still looking for a small group of rebels—including active military officers—who raided an army base and stole weapons early Sunday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
As Venezuela reels from a crippling economic crisis and deadly street protests, the military has often served as the guarantor of President Nicolás Maduro’s continued power over the country. But daring challenges to his rule in recent weeks have laid bare a split within the military that could ultimately determine the nation’s fate: a growing number of officers are openly breaking ranks with the president and taking up weapons. – New York Times
The U.S. is preparing to expand sanctions against Venezuela by freezing assets of 10 to 20 additional people tied to the government of President Nicolas Maduro, according to two people familiar with the matter. - Bloomberg
Venezuelan security forces have wielded excessive force to suppress protests, killing dozens, and have arbitrarily detained 5,000 people since April, including 1,000 still in custody, the United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Venezuela appears to be sliding toward a more volatile stage of unrest after anti-government forces looted weapons during a weekend raid on a military base and frustration over what some see as an ineffectual opposition leadership boils over. - Reuters


East Africa
Kenyan voters waited in line for hours Tuesday to decide a bitterly close race for president that some worry could again divide the country along volatile tribal lines even as Kenya has built an image of relative stability in a turbulent region. – Washington Post
Former President Barack Obama, emerging from partial seclusion more than six months after leaving office, weighed in on Monday about the tense political situation — not in the United States, but in his father’s home country, Kenya. – New York Times
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Monday rejected calls from some of his supporters to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limit of two, five-year terms, bucking a trend in the region. - Reuters
Central/Southern Africa
South African President Jacob Zuma is set to learn Tuesday whether he still enjoys the loyalty of his African National Congress as Parliament geared up for an unprecedented secret ballot on whether it still has confidence in his rule. – Washington Post
Congolese security forces killed at least 14 members of separatist sect Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) on Monday during clashes in the capital Kinshasa and southwestern city of Matadi. - Reuters

Trump Administration

All C.I.A. directors must balance the political demands of the president they serve with the agency’s avowedly apolitical idea of itself. Yet rarely has a director had to straddle so wide a breach as has Mr. Pompeo, perhaps the most openly political spy chief in a generation — and one of President Trump’s favorite cabinet members. – New York Times
A long-simmering dispute between two top White House aides has boiled into a public battle over the direction of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, with a cadre of conservative groups pushing for the ouster of national security adviser H.R. McMaster. – Associated Press

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