FPI Overnight Brief: August 9, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • US: N. Korea now making missile-ready nuclear weapons
  • Trump threatens N. Korea, N.Korea threatens Guam
  • Weekly Standard: Shoot down N. Korea’s next test missile
  • Rogin: Inside Prince’s plan to outsource the Afghan war
  • Peter Rough: Trump’s Syria strategy hinges on Russia
  • Leon Aron: Putin’s goal is revenge and restoration
  • UN accuses Venezuela of excessive force against opposition
  • James Kirchick: Who are you calling a “warmonger?”
  • Whitaker, Strickler: Don’t leave US support for Africa hanging

Middle East/North Africa

An unarmed Iranian drone buzzed an American Super Hornet fighter jet as it circled an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Defense Department officials said on Tuesday. – New York Times
A fresh wave of arrests of alleged Islamic State (IS) militants, while scant on details, is helping build the case that the extremist group's activities in Iran go beyond the recent deadly bombings in Tehran. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has reappointed his foreign and oil ministers to his new cabinet but has disappointed reformers who backed him in this year’s election and expected changes to his government. – Financial Times
For three years, the Syrian city of Raqqa was the Islamic State’s greatest stronghold, featuring heavily in propaganda and providing a launchpad for attacks carried out around the world. But district by district, the city is now emptying out as U.S.-backed forces inch their way through the extremist group’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria. The two sides are locked in a grinding battle of attrition that ranks among the toughest chal­lenges to date for the anti-Islamic State coalition. – Washington Post
On Sunday, the Islamic State released the latest issue of its online magazine Rumiyha. In it, an ISIS military leader in Raqqa, Syria, claims to have secret weapons for use against the coalition forces that are besieging the group’s capital city. – Defense One
Syrian rebels were preparing for an imminent ground assault by the army on the last enclave they hold in Damascus after air strikes and shelling increased on Tuesday, an insurgent spokesman said. - Reuters
Airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State killed at least 29 civilians including children in 24 hours in the jihadists' Syrian capital of Raqqa, a war monitor said late on Tuesday. - Reuters
A Syrian human-rights activist presented the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's research and preservation center on Tuesday with scraps of cloth that fellow prisoners had written their names on while using a chicken bone as a quill and blood from their own gums as ink. – Associated Press
Peter Rough writes: The United States must keep alive the Sunni Arab opposition on the ground and enforce clear red-lines against Assad and Iran. No doubt the Trump administration inherited an awful mess in Syria. But it must now turn Vladimir Putin’s contempt into respect by building-up points of strength and leverage in Syria. Only then can we work toward a settlement that meets America’s basic national security interests. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
The United Nations said on Tuesday that it was bracing to cope with hundreds of thousands of civilians likely to flee their homes as Iraqi security forces begin operations to drive Islamic State forces from their last remaining strongholds in Iraq. – New York Times
The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State on Tuesday denied responsibility for an attack near the Syrian border which killed dozens of members of an Iraqi Shi'ite militia and, that group said, several of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. - Reuters
The US-led coalition campaign to destroy the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria enters its fourth year this week, and the Pentagon believes the jihadists' defeat is inevitable. - AFP
North Africa
Tunisian armed forces killed two Islamist militants including a senior commander in a mountain raid near the western border with Algeria late on Tuesday, security sources said. - Reuters
A protester who fell into a coma after being wounded in protests that have shaken northern Morocco died in hospital on Tuesday, a lawyer and a judicial official said. - Reuters
Gulf States
The tiny nation of Qatar is defiantly weathering a boycott by four of its neighbors in a deepening crisis that has roiled the region and threatened U.S. interests. – Washington Post
For four months, texts from the government pinged into every mobile phone in Saudi Arabia ordering "illegal expatriates" to leave the kingdom before the end of an amnesty that expired in late July…But millions of others have remained, either determined to stay or unable to avail themselves of the offer. Now they are awaiting a pledged crackdown against what Riyadh calls the "reckless people" who defied the order to leave. - Reuters
Airstrikes in Yemen have killed scores of civilians over the past three months, underscoring a troubling pattern that shows no signs of slowdown, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced Tuesday. – Washington Free Beacon
Four soldiers and six suspected al Qaeda attackers were killed and 10 soldiers wounded on Tuesday when a suicide bomber and gunmen tried to storm an army camp in southern Yemen, a local security official said. - Reuters
Fifteen aid groups on Wednesday called on warring parties in Yemen to reopen the country's main airport, saying a year-long closure was hindering aid and preventing thousands of patients from flying abroad for life-saving treatment. - Reuters
Yemen's national blood bank may be forced to close due to a lack of money after an international medical charity decided to end two years of support, the director of the blood bank said. - Reuters
Now, with one of Mr. Netanyahu’s closest former aides having turned state’s witness in two cases involving suspicions of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Israelis across the political spectrum are trying on the idea of the curtain coming down on Mr. Netanyahu’s durable political career. – New York Times
Two U.S.-Israeli industrial teams working on jointly funded missile defense programs are ramping up production of three distinct interceptors that collectively defend against an entire spectrum of threats, from short-range rockets to Iran’s most advanced, medium-range ballistic missiles. – Defense News
An Israeli teenager accused of a wave of bomb threats against dozens of Jewish community centers advertised his services on a now-shuttered online black market, offering to threaten any school for $30, according to U.S. authorities. - Reuters
Michele Dunne writes: Outside powers such as Israel, Egypt, and the UAE can try to promote certain choices (Dahlan), constrain others (Hamas), and prevent still others (Barghouti), but in the end such plans often go awry. Local factors might still prevent Dahlan from gaining dominance, and even if he were to do so, he might prove to be far less tractable than his outside patrons expect. – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


The Taliban, making a summer show of force as the Trump administration weighs its options in the nearly 16-year war, has been stymied in earlier efforts to take over major cities. The insurgents are now refocusing their strategy to showcase their wide geographical reach. In the past month alone, there has been a surge of scattered attacks in remote regions, especially the northwestern provinces of Ghowr, Faryab and now Sar-e Pol, as well as in the south and east. – Washington Post
The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project. – USA Today
Erik Prince made a windfall convincing the State Department, military and CIA to hire his mercenary firm, Blackwater. But this time, his plan to win Afghanistan through a new infusion of guns-for-hire has few customers. – The Daily Beast
The U.S. is sending up to 100 additional Marines to Afghanistan to bulk up its advising force in Helmand province, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday. – Military Times
The Taliban released 235 hostages from a remote village in northern Afghanistan where it allegedly massacred as many as 50 mostly Shi'ite civilians in a rare joint assault with Islamic State insurgents, officials said on August 8. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Taliban released 235 villagers held after the insurgents captured a village in the northern province of Sar-e Pul, a senior provincial official said. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: Businessman and Blackwater founder Erik Prince has been shopping around Washington a detailed proposal for replacing thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan with contractors from foreign countries led by a “viceroy” with almost unfettered power over U.S. military and diplomatic policy. – Washington Post
South Asia
Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif warned Tuesday that the country was heading toward “tragedy” if elected leaders keep being removed, as he prepared for a show of strength with a traveling rally from the capital to his hometown. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Family links to Pakistan's powerful military and a cabinet stint championing the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG) will probably help new prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi navigate thorny relations with the army and curb rolling blackouts. - Reuters
A suicide bomber killed four Pakistani soldiers in an attack in the troubled northwest near the border with Afghanistan, the army said on Wednesday, at least the second major attack since Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi came to power a week ago. - Reuters
India's diplomatic efforts to end a seven-week military standoff with China have hit a roadblock, people briefed on the talks said, prompting Chinese state-run media to trumpet rhetoric of "unavoidable countermeasures" on the unmarked border. - Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party has failed in its bid to oust the opposition Congress party's top strategist from the upper house of parliament, in a rare setback to its effort to secure national political supremacy. - Reuters
Central Asia
Tajikistan on August 8 accused Iran of backing high-profile killings in the wake of the Central Asian country's 1990s civil war, including the assassination of former parliament chairman Safarali Kenjaev in 1999. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
US oil producers have been given assurances that their projects in Kazakhstan will not be affected by the new round of sanctions against Moscow, easing fears in the energy industry that the broad restrictions will not hit investments with indirect links to Russia. – Financial Times
A U.S. plan to crack down on Chinese intellectual property policies is delayed as the Trump administration tries to win Beijing’s cooperation on North Korea’s nuclear program, the second time this summer that a White House attempt to impose new trade pressure on China has stalled. – Wall Street Journal (Subscription required)
The Trump administration appears to be granting Chinese banks dealing with North Korea a temporary reprieve from threatened U.S. sanctions to give Beijing time to show it is serious about enforcing new U.N. steps against Pyongyang, U.S. officials said. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment. – Washington Post
President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangers the United States as tensions with the isolated nuclear-armed state grow into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet in his young administration – New York Times
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military to carefully examine a plan for a missile strike on the U.S. military base on Guam, making an unusually explicit threat to attack America. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ramped up pressure Tuesday on Southeast Asian nations to shut down North Korean front companies, seeking cooperation on sanctions enforcement from longtime allies despite recent friction. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear program has prompted politicians in Japan and South Korea to push for the deployment of more powerful weapons, in what could lead to a regional arms race. – New York Times
South Korean President Moon Jae-in discussed the need for a "complete" overhaul of his country's armed forces as North Korea makes progress with its missile weapons capabilities. – Washington Examiner
Americans are “uneasy” about a possible conflict with North Korea, while many Democrats are also not confident in President Donald Trump’s capacity to handle a nuclear crisis with the country, according to a CBS News poll out Tuesday. - Politico
The morning the news broke that North Korea could tip its ICBMs with nuclear warheads, the US general in charge of strategic deterrence said we could a learn a lot from Kim Jong-un. America prides itself on innovation, but today, said Gen. John Hyten, in matters military, our adversaries are innovating faster because they’re less afraid to fail. – Breaking Defense
Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that President Trump should not threaten North Korea with "fire and fury" unless he is prepared to carry out those threats. – Washington Examiner
North Korea says it released a Canadian pastor who has been serving a life sentence since 2015 for anti-state activities over health reasons. – Associated Press
Editorial: North Korea’s steadily advancing nuclear weapons and missile programs are serious…Dealing with that will require patient pressure and skilled diplomacy, perhaps for years. Instead, Mr. Trump has strut into the arena with a jarring rhetorical grenade. – Washington Post
Editorial: Knocking down a North Korean test missile would be “going kinetic,” in military jargon. But after 30 years of failed diplomacy, and with Pyongyang actively assisting Iran and other dangerous states in developing nuclear technology and delivery systems, military confrontation in some form looks more and more likely. Better a confrontation over a test missile today than full-on war over a real one tomorrow. – The Weekly Standard
David Ignatius writes: The North Korean nuclear threat is a “hinge” moment for the United States and China, and for the new international order both nations say they want. If Washington and Beijing manage to stay together in dealing with Pyongyang, the door opens on a new era in which China will play a larger and more responsible role in global affairs, commensurate with its economic power. If the great powers can’t cooperate, the door will slam shut — possibly triggering a catastrophic military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. – Washington Post
Southeast Asia
China is worried it could face fresh criticism over its actions in the South China Sea when Singapore becomes chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations next year, and is putting pressure on the city-state to make sure that doesn't happen, according to people familiar with the situation. - Reuters
Vietnam has won the promise of a visit from a U.S. aircraft carrier and deeper defense cooperation from the United States as strains show with China over the disputed South China Sea. - Reuters
A Thai man was jailed for 18 years on Wednesday for posting six video clips deemed insulting to the monarchy, his lawyer said, the latest conviction in junta-ruled Thailand where authorities have cracked down on critics of the monarchy and military. - Reuters
A senior State Department official on Tuesday pushed back against the assertion by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson minimized human rights concerns in a conversation they had a day earlier. – Washington Post
The Islamic State group’s affiliates in the southern portion of the U.S.-allied nation of the Philippines is a growing threat to U.S. security, a U.S. Army Pacific official said Tuesday at the Global Explosive Ordnance Disposal Symposium & Exhibition. – Defense News
The United States is weighing additional support to the Philippine military as it fights an Islamist insurgency in the south, a US defense official said Tuesday. - AFP


The U.S. cannot fall into the trap of focusing on warfighting domains when debating responses to an adversary, Gen. John Hyten, the head of United States Strategic Command, said Tuesday. – Defense News
The U.S. Air Force is actively pursuing the recovery of funds from Northrop Grumman Corp. in a dispute over upkeep of its Joint Stars surveillance aircraft, including damage to a radar during maintenance, according to a service spokesman. - Bloomberg
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is engineering a multi-functional RF system for small drones able to converge previously disparate radar, electronic warfare and communications functions into an integrated, flexible architecture. – Scout Warrior
General Dynamics Land Systems has unveiled a new missile-armed Stryker able to destroy enemy drones, aircraft and incoming attacks with vehicle-mounted Hellfire weapons. – Scout Warrior
Lockheed Martin Corp, the Pentagon's No. 1 weapons supplier, said on Tuesday its customers want to defend themselves against possible incoming missile attacks and are increasingly asking about missile defense systems. - Reuters
Thomas Karako writes: By implementing and building upon better networking, and by adapting principles of dispersal like distributed lethality, a more distributed approach to AMD would reinvigorate old concepts, spark a few new ones, improve resilience and move closer to the ever-elusive vision of integrated air and missile defense. – Defense News
The War
It’s tough for humans to spot explosives and other signs that deadly roadside bombs may lie ahead, but the Pentagon’s lead IED-hunters think computers might be able to help, using the same kind of technology being developed to sift through hours of drone video. – Defense One
The National Security Council (NSC) will fill a vacancy in its cybersecurity directorate with a veteran of federal information systems security. – The Hill


Peter Dickinson writes: The odds appear stacked against any Russian revival in Ukraine. In the short term, this will mean a continuation of the low-level fighting in eastern Ukraine. In the longer term, the eclipse of Russian domination offers Ukraine the opportunity to reach its true potential as a sovereign nation. Russia may have lost the war of Ukrainian independence, but Ukraine has yet to win. – Atlantic Council
A former FBI special agent-turned disinformation expert says a propaganda tracking tool he helped develop took less than a week to pinpoint evidence of Kremlin efforts to exploit current White House political divisions at the highest levels of national security. – Washington Times
It is a case that highlights the tensions between Mr. Putin’s aspirations for a dynamic private sector and his determination to enhance the powers of Russia’s security apparatus…The situation has outraged fellow scientists, would-be entrepreneurs and others in Akademgorodok, a freethinking settlement of broad avenues and forested pathways built around 35 Soviet-era research institutes near the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. They see it as the Russian government undermining its own stated economic goal — to nurture enterprises that harness Russian brain power instead of just sucking oil, gas and minerals out of the ground. – New York Times
Leon Aron writes: The West’s best option, the only one that has a chance of forcing Mr. Putin to abandon his zero-sum game of revenge and restoration, is to engineer for him unambiguous setbacks and reversals—in Ukraine, Syria and wherever else he chooses to go next. If only the West can muster the will. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The police were on the hunt Wednesday for a driver who plowed a dark BMW into soldiers in a Paris suburb, injuring six of them in what the town’s mayor called an act of “despicable aggression.” – New York Times
Proposals to make official the role of France’s first lady ran aground after a public outcry over suggestions by the French president that it was time to consider enshrining in law the role of presidential spouse. – New York Times
On Tuesday, the ninth anniversary of the war between Russia and Georgia, Russian President Vladimir Putin took time off from shirtless fishing in Siberia to pay a visit to Abkhazia. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable


United States of America
Robert S. Mueller III left a $3.4 million partner job in the white-shoe law firm WilmerHale, where he worked for clients such as Facebook, Apple, Sony and the NFL, to serve as the special counsel overseeing the law enforcement investigation into whether the Kremlin and the Trump campaign coordinated to impact the 2016 election, according to documents released Tuesday. – Washington Post
The Trump administration and Congress face a trio of high-priority budget items when lawmakers return from recess in September. If they stumble, it could lead to a partial government shutdown. – Defense News
The U.S. Marine Corps for the first time is eyeing a plan to let women attend what has been male-only combat training in Southern California, as officials work to quash recurring problems with sexism and other bad behavior among Marines, according to Marine Corps officials. – Military Times
President Trump has expressed appreciation to special counsel Robert Mueller while he investigates whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. – Washington Examiner
The State Department's No. 2 official assured staffers Tuesday that plans to restructure the department would take their concerns into full account, comparing the process to U.S. military reforms following the Vietnam War. - Politico
Rukmani Bhatia writes: For now, the department’s official mission remains to “create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” But formal messages from the United States’ chief diplomat already seem to reflect a new mandate, according to which democracy promotion is not a fundamental public good that serves the interests of America and the world. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue
Venezuela’s Supreme Court sentenced on Tuesday an opposition mayor to 15 months in jail, as the government continued its crackdown on the opposition. – New York Times
United Nations human rights officials Tuesday held Venezuela’s government responsible for the use of excessive force on opposition demonstrators in clashes that since March have claimed 132 lives. – Los Angeles Times
In a move that may have significant economic repercussions, a group of 12 countries from across the Americas refused on Tuesday to recognise Venezuela’s new constituent assembly or any laws that it passes governing future oil joint ventures or debt issues. – Financial Times
Foreign ministers from 14 nations are meeting in Peru on Tuesday in hopes of finding consensus on a regional response to Venezuela’s growing political crisis, while President Nicolas Maduro’s all-powerful constitutional assembly is forging ahead on promises to punish the embattled leader’s foes. – Associated Press
Joseph Kennedy writes: Our two countries have stood together since our own revolution close to 250 years ago, when Francisco de Miranda, a hero of Venezuelan independence, fought on the side of our patriots in America’s struggle for freedom. Today, we must stand on the side of the patriots in Venezuela who represent the aspirations of every Venezuelan, rich or poor, for democracy and prosperity. – Washington Post


The Continent
South African President Jacob Zuma survived a parliamentary vote Tuesday that could have pushed him from office, hanging on to sufficient backing within his African National Congress party amid growing claims of corruption and worries about a stumbling economy. – Washington Post
Boko Haram militants killed at least 30 fishermen in raids on communities around Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria, the governor of Borno state, residents and military sources said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Rosa Whitaker and Gail Strickler write: For well over a decade, it has been increasingly difficult to find issues on which Republicans and Democrats can agree, but this is one: Since 2000, there has been a strong bipartisan consensus — in Congress and the White House — that increasing economic engagement with Africa furthers our country’s strategic, financial, political and humanitarian objectives. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
East Africa
The Kenyan opposition leader, Raila Odinga, threw early results of the country’s presidential election into doubt on Wednesday, claiming that the electoral commission’s servers had been hacked to award the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, a significant lead. – New York Times
About 120 Rwandan peacekeepers have arrived in South Sudan, United Nations said on Tuesday, the first detachment of 4,000 extra troops approved by the U.N. last year to help protect the capital of Africa's newest country. - Reuters

Trump Administration

Editorial: Mr. Trump may worry about the damage Mr. Bannon and his allies could do to his Administration if he is no longer part of the White House team. But if his minions continue to vilify his colleagues inside the White House, how can anyone tell the difference? – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


James Kirchick writes: Calling someone a “warmonger” is, then, a politicized form of the psychological phenomenon known as “projection,” whereby one ascribes his own nefarious conduct and motives onto others. By flinging the term at anyone who advocates a muscular response to terrorism and dictatorship, those who lob “warmonger” are faithfully carrying on the tradition of fascists and communists. – Los Angeles Times

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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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