FPI Overnight Brief: March 10, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • FPI’s Tzvi Kahn: Iran tests Trump in the Persian Gulf
  • Michael Singh: An Iran policy for the Trump administration
  • US split over plan to take Raqqa from ISIS
  • McCormack: Which side is Mattis on in the defense budget debate?
  • South Korea removes President Park from office
  • Trump signals more aggressive use of military w/Yemen bombings
  • Ignatius: Tillerson off to agonizingly slow start at State
  • Huntsman for Russia ambassador, Spencer for Navy Secretary
  • WSJ editorial: How to think about the trade deficit

Middle East/North Africa

Iran recently test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official said Thursday, a move that threatens to further escalate tensions between the Trump administration and Tehran. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Iran’s top leader criticized the pace of national economic growth on Thursday in what appeared to be a rebuke of the president, who had forecast prosperous times after the 2015 accord that lifted international sanctions in exchange for nuclear limits. – New York Times
FPI Senior Policy Analyst Tzvi Kahn writes: Trump should counter Iran’s misbehavior by designating the IRGC, which manages the regime’s ballistic missile program, exports terrorism overseas, and spearheads much of the regime’s naval aggression, as a terrorist organization. Such a move would lay the groundwork for further sanctions against the organization, which controls as much as 20 to 30 percent of Iran’s economy. The White House should also make clear that further Iranian harassment of U.S. naval forces in the Gulf risks triggering a military response against the offending vessels. – Foreign Policy Initiative
Michael Singh writes: The United States should adopt a strategy on Iran that erects daunting defenses to dissuade the Islamic Republic from challenging the interests of the United States and its allies and that imposes sharp, painful costs should Iran do so nonetheless. – Washington Institute for Public Policy
Dan Levinson writes: Our family knows we can’t bring him home by ourselves. The U.N. working group’s opinion was a much-needed, important step, but now the United States must greatly ramp up the pressure. After 10 years, we must stand up to Iran and put Robert Levinson first. We must end my father’s suffering by demanding that he finally be brought home. – Washington Post
U.S. hopes of capturing Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa have become entangled in an intense debate over the offensive that is threatening to delay key decisions for weeks, according to U.S. officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The United States is sending an additional 400 troops to Syria to help prepare for the looming fight for Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, American officials said on Thursday. – New York Times
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday he foresees a “train wreck” in Syria if the Trump administration doesn’t better address tensions between Turkey and Syrian Kurds. – The Hill
A Kurdish-led force fighting the Islamic State group with the support of U.S. troops will close in on the extremists' de facto capital Raqqa within a few weeks, but the battle for the city will be difficult, a U.S. military official said Thursday. – Associated Press
The top U.S. commander in the Middle East signaled Thursday that there will be a larger and longer American military presence in Syria to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State group and quell friction within the complicated mix of warring factions there. – Associated Press
The main Syrian Kurdish force fighting Islamic State militants in northern Syria claimed on Friday that it has enough fighters to take the extremists’ de facto capital of Raqqa with the help of the U.S.-led coalition - remarks that reflected a veiled warning to Ankara and also to rival, Turkey-backed opposition forces making headway toward the city. – Associated Press
Iraqi forces are clearing Islamic State terrorists out of western Mosul ahead of schedule, and coalition forces believe the group's leader has fled. - Washington Free Beacon

Iraqi forces aim to dislodge Islamic State militants from west Mosul within a month, despite grueling urban combat in densely populated terrain, the head of the elite Counter Terrorism Service told Reuters on Thursday. - Reuters
As Iraqi forces fight Islamic State militants deeper into western Mosul, they face increasingly stiff resistance, with the jihadists using mortar and sniper fire to try to hold off a U.S.-backed offensive to drive them out of their last major stronghold in the country. - Reuters
Suicide bombers struck a village north of Baghdad as a wedding party gathered in the evening, killing at least 26 people and wounding scores, a government spokesman said on Thursday. – Associated Press
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson will attempt to infuse new energy into the vast international coalition battling the Islamic State later this month by hosting senior officials from the 68 countries in the Trump administration’s first major stab at multinational diplomacy. – Washington Times
The U.S. military is sending an additional 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. – Military Times
Congressional investigators are demanding documents and contacting witnesses in a wide-ranging probe of the Defense Department's troubled anti-propaganda efforts against the Islamic State. – Associated Press
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and a young Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State fighters pushed Iraq on Thursday to allow a United Nations investigation into crimes by the militant group. - Reuters
A U.S. military investigation has determined that an American-led raid in Yemen killed up to a dozen civilians, a senior official said Thursday, the most specific admission yet that the January operation resulted in unintended loss of life. – Washington Post
More broadly, the expanded bombing in Yemen signals a more aggressive use of military force by the Trump administration against Islamist militants, from Syria to Afghanistan. The White House already has approved the deployment of Marines and special operations forces to Syria and a large-scale commando raid in Yemen. On Thursday, a top commander suggested more troops are headed to Afghanistan. – Foreign Policy
A military fact-finding investigation found no evidence of "incompetence or poor decision making" in the Jan. 29 Yemen raid that would require a broader probe as demanded by the father of slain Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, a top commander said Thursday. – Military.com
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, took responsibility for the Yemen raid in January that resulted in the death of U.S. Navy SEAL William Owens. – Military Times
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow on Thursday seeking reassurance from Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country’s presence in Syria would help Israel block arch-nemesis Iran from taking advantage of the chaos to position itself permanently on Israel’s northern border. – Washington Post
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that has governed the Gaza Strip for a decade, is drafting a new platform to present a more pragmatic and cooperative face to the world, Hamas officials confirmed on Thursday. – New York Times
The Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah currently has advanced missiles capable of hitting Israel's nuclear reactor, according to Hassan Nasrallah, the terror group's leader, who boasted in a recent interview that the terror group is prepared to strike the reactor and cause nuclear havoc across the Middle East. - Washington Free Beacon

Now, after an extended period of tension between the two NATO allies, “we have positive opinions of the new administration,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Thursday. President Trump and Erdogan have spoken, and Yildirim met in Europe recently with Vice President Pence. – Washington Post
Turkish prosecutors have launched a probe into scores of personnel at the military electronics specialist Aselsan, Turkey’s biggest defense company. – Defense News
About 2,000 people were killed and entire neighborhoods razed in southeastern Turkey in 18 months of government security operations characterized by massive destruction and serious human rights violations, the United Nations said on Friday. - Reuters
Sohrab Ahmari writes: Mr. Erdogan is warming again to Moscow. He used to call Bashar Assad his “brother” before trying to topple him, and he was always more open to Tehran than many in the West believe. Substitutes for the Incirlik base can be found; northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish zone is one option. At some point the moral price of including Ankara in NATO, an alliance of democracies, will outweigh the strategic benefits. We may have reached that point. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


South/Central Asia
Afghans who worked for the American military and government are being told that they cannot apply for special visas to the United States, even though Afghanistan is not among the countries listed in President Trump’s new travel ban, according to advocates for Afghan refugees. – New York Times
The general in charge of U.S. Central Command said Thursday that he anticipates more U.S. forces being sent to Afghanistan to break what he and others say is a stalemate in the more-than-15-year-old war there. – The Hill
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed constitutional amendments transferring some powers from the president to government ministers and lawmakers. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Pakistan’s parliament was poised to adopt a bill on Friday that would legalize trials before military courts for another two years, a measure human rights activists say negates the basic principles of justice and denies those on trial the chance for a fair defense. – Associated Press
The United States and India were at loggerheads on Thursday over Compassion International, a Colorado-based Christian charity that was forced to shut its Indian operations after 48 years over accusations that it had converted Indians to Christianity. – New York Times
Backed by a rare majority government, Mr. Modi, 66 years old, has emerged as India’s most powerful leader in a generation. He is changing the way the country is governed, keeping cabinet ministers on a tight leash and micromanaging the stubbornly independent bureaucracy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia are affecting Indian weapons procurement because Moscow is unable to furnish bank guarantees required by Indian law, according to a source in the Ministry of Defence, who spoke on condition of anonymity. – Defense News
Chinese lawmakers are making fresh efforts to resolve one of their most enduring frustrations: an inability to put together a unified civil code of law. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A wave of anti-South Korean sentiment has broken out across China after the South’s embrace of an American missile defense system Washington began shipping this week that China says can be used to spy on its territory. – New York Times
Beijing is restricting access to foreign books and publications as it opens a new front in its battle to limit outside influence on Chinese society. – Financial Times
China said it would "resolutely strike" against the "Dalai Lama clique's separatist activities" as protesters planned demonstrations in major world cities on Friday to mark the anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. - Reuters
China has put into service its new generation J-20 stealth fighter, a warplane it hopes will narrow the military gap with the United States, as senior naval officers said the country was building a "first class" navy and developing a marine corps. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
A South Korean court removed the president on Friday, a first in the nation’s history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time. – New York Times
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner said Thursday it may be time for the global community to consider a "total and complete" economic embargo on North Korea. – Washington Examiner
Clashes erupted outside South Korea’s constitutional court on Friday after a landmark decision to strip Park Geun-hye of her presidency, with police saying at least two people had died. – Financial Times
Jeffrey Lewis writes: North Korea is developing an offensive doctrine for the large-scale use of nuclear weapons in the early stages of a conflict. When combined with what we know about U.S. and South Korean war plans, this fact raises troubling questions about whether a crisis on the Korean peninsula might erupt into nuclear war before President Donald Trump has time to tweet about it. – Foreign Policy
Henry Sokolski writes: Having installed the Thaad missile-defense system in South Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to decide soon whether to take another dramatic step—the return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, withdrawn in 1991, to the peninsula. The intention is to show America’s commitment to protect against North Korean military aggression….But South Korean officials this week made it clear that they are anything but eager to see these weapons redeployed. The U.S. would be foolish to ignore their concerns. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Patrick Cronin writes: Missile tests will continue to garner major headlines, and missile defenses are certainly part of the means to shore up deterrence. But the ultimate missile shield against North Korea is the U.S.-ROK alliance itself. – The National Interest
Dennis Halpin writes: The fact that Kim Jong-un was willing to risk even further international condemnation and isolation by eliminating his already-marginalized playboy half-brother suggests that his hold on power in Pyongyang might not be as airtight as many outsiders assume. – The Weekly Standard
East Asia
Japan has denied reports speculating that it had test-fired a new supersonic air-launched anti-ship missile last week, although a test-firing is still on the cards for later this year. – Defense News
North Korean missiles now pose a “real threat”, Japan’s government said on Thursday as it stepped up its search for countermeasures, including potentially acquiring the capability for a first strike against Pyongyang’s missile bases. – Financial Times
Taiwan authorities detained a Chinese student on Friday on suspicion of breaching national security laws, a court official said, in an unusual espionage case involving a Chinese student on the self-ruled island. - Reuters
China will formulate "new language" towards relations with self-ruled Taiwan when the ruling Communist Party holds a key congress later this year, a senior Chinese official said on Friday, holding out hope for an improvement in strained ties. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
This week, an Indonesian court sentenced him to a five-year prison term, and gave two other leading figures of Milah Abraham, the religious sect he established, prison terms as well. The sentences, delivered on Tuesday, were the latest in a continuing crackdown on new religious movements across Indonesia that has alarmed human rights groups. – New York Times
Vietnam's prime minister says he is ready to visit the United States to promote ties between the two countries and work with President Donald Trump's new administration, particularly over trade. - Reuters
Reuters spoke to around a dozen Rohingya from villages in the conflict zone about the activities of the group in their area, as well as a police officer who led the interrogations of several captured insurgents and a military intelligence officer. Their accounts, which could not be independently verified, shed new light on how the group prepared for its campaign. They describe how a small group of leaders, including one born to Rohingya parents in Pakistan, recruited several hundred young men, training them clandestinely for months in fields and forests. - Reuters
Editorial: The prospect of a return to Marcos-era corruption and authoritarianism is likely to turn public opinion against the President. Turnout at a recent pro-government rally to demand “revolutionary powers” for Mr. Duterte fell far short of expectations. Opposition legislators are preparing a push for impeachment. Mr. Duterte portrays himself as a strongman, but his powers may have peaked. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Interview: Barring an about-face from Washington, the TPP as negotiated may now be dead. However, the deal includes 11 other Asia-Pacific economies, including Japan and Canada, which may be interested in forging ahead with a revised TPP agreement that does not include the United States. As the remaining signatories prepare to meet in Vina del Mar, Chile, The Cipher Brief’s Fritz Lodge spoke with Jeffrey Schott, Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. – The Cipher Brief
Interview: The Cipher Brief spoke with Matthew Goodman, Senior Adviser for Asian Economies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to see where TPP 11 might go from here and what the U.S. retreat from TPP will mean for the region. – The Cipher Brief


Defense Budget
The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee thinks President Trump’s 2018 spending plan is dead on arrival and has already gone to the Budget Committee to get a much bigger defense budget. Mac Thornberry also doesn’t want defense increases offset by steep cuts to the Coast Guard or State Department, as Trump proposed. – Breaking Defense
House lawmakers on Thursday pressed appropriators to increase spending on military aircraft as they prepare to work on the fiscal 2018 appropriations bill. – Washington Examiner
U.S. Army generals told lawmakers Wednesday that besides needing more soldiers, a shortage of missiles and the federal hiring freeze create readiness headaches. – Military.com
John McCormack reports: A debate over the military's budget is emerging between defense hawks on Capitol Hill and fiscal hawks in the Trump administration….What's unknown—and has sparked a certain amount of concern among defense hawks in Congress—is what one very important voice, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, may have to say about the debate. "I don't know. I don't know yet," McCain said when asked about Mattis's position on the budget. – The Weekly Standard
Brian Riedel writes: The President and Congress have an obligation to adequately protect our national security and to finance the best technology available to keep our troops safe in the field. A $54 billion increase— which Congress should offset within the entitlement programs that are driving nearly 100 percent of Washington’s long-term budget deficits—would merely increase 2018 defense spending from 3.0 percent of the economy to 3.3 percent, one-third below the 50-year average level. – E21
One month into the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military conducted the longest combat air assault in history, with roughly 4,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division going deep into enemy territory at night in Mosul…Today, many are questioning whether operations of that magnitude could be conducted after budget cuts have stripped the nation's premier air assault division of its helicopters. – Fox News
If the Navy wants to pursue the key tenets of three recently completed Future Fleet Architecture studies – a distributed and networked fleet that relies on unmanned vehicles and electromagnetic warfare tools to survive and win in a highly contested environment – it will need to quickly invest in technologies that allow U.S. forces to complete a targeting faster and stop the enemy from doing so at all, lead participants from the three studies told lawmakers. – USNI News
U.S. Army leaders recently told lawmakers that the plan to equip Black Hawks and Apaches with the Improved Turbine Engine Program, or ITEP, remains in the service’s top 10 modernization priorities. – DOD Buzz
The Air Force is performing key maintenance on the F-22 Raptor's stealth materials and upgrading the stealth fighter with new attack weapons to include improved air-to-air and air-to-surface strike technology, service officials said. – Scout Warrior
The War
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said he is in favor of bringing new enemy combatants to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reversing eight years of Obama administration policy aimed at shrinking the population at the military detention facility in the hopes of eventually closing it. – Washington Post
The Trump administration has invoked executive powers in a bid to block the testimony of several top C.I.A. officials in a federal lawsuit against two psychologists who helped run the agency’s harsh interrogation program, along with portions of 172 internal agency documents – New York Times
Strategic Issues
As U.S. leaders debate how to deal with Russia's latest arms treaty violation, a key lawmaker said he's open to exploring ways to hasten deployment of new nuclear weapons. – Military.com
Keith Payne and Franklin Miller write: The Trump Administration would be ill-advised to seek to negotiate new arms control treaties with Moscow until the Russian Federation complies with the treaties it has signed and demonstrates that it is a worthy negotiating partner.  To date, it has proven the opposite. – National Institute for Public Policy
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, said on Thursday that the anti-secrecy organization would work with Apple, Google and other technology companies to fix flaws that have allowed the C.I.A. to hack into the phones, computers and other devices they produce. – New York Times
Vice President Pence on Thursday vowed that the Trump administration would "use the full force of the law" to go after those involved in WikiLeaks' latest document dump if the materials they released are shown to be valid CIA documents. – The Hill
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on Thursday asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to weigh in on whether the Department of Justice believes WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has broken any laws and if his department is pursuing prosecution. – The Hill
Kimberly Dozier reports: As Friday evening draws to a close around Washington, D.C., the city’s tight-knit and secretive national security clan goes to sleep with a new unease. It’s not Syria or Iran or even North Korea they’re most worried about. They’re uncertain just what President Donald Trump may tweet in the wee hours before they wake, and what they’ll have to do to manage the fallout. – The Daily Beast
Gary Schmitt writes: There is no complete solution to this counterintelligence problem. But one would hope that these most recent leaks will drive both the intelligence community and the oversight committees of Congress to ask why we seem to do such a poor job of keeping these invaluable techniques secret. – The Hill
Critical American infrastructure like the electric grid will remain vulnerable to catastrophic cyber attacks from Russia and China for at least 10 years, according to a Pentagon study. - Washington Free Beacon

Legislators received a lukewarm assessment of the federal government’s cooperation with the private sector on cybersecurity at a hearing on Thursday. – The Hill
New research shows that security vulnerabilities governments and malicious hackers use to attack systems last, on average, nearly seven years without the public finding out about them. – The Hill


Yulia Marushevska writes: The politicians who were lifted into power by the revolutionary ideals of 2014 must answer for their failures. By tolerating corruption, they have helped preserve the old system of oligarchs, elites and post-Soviet politicians. To those of us who stood on the barricades at the Maidan, Ukraine’s current leaders are becoming as corrupt as the government they replaced. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Taras Shevchenko writes: Ukrainian society and the international community should pay the utmost attention to the formation of the Supreme Court in the coming months. The future of the judicial system, and indeed the entire country, depends on it. – Atlantic Council
The Moldovan government has warned its officials not to travel to Russia, citing what it calls "humiliating" abuse and harassment by officials from Moscow's security apparatus. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reports that Jon Huntsman will become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia stirred anxiety in Moscow on Thursday, with one politician calling him a hawk and pro-Kremlin media recalling what they said was his worrying history of hostile rhetoric. - Reuters
Police in Moscow detained prominent anti-Kremlin activist Ildar Dadin on Friday, less than two weeks after he was released from prison, when he staged a one-man demonstration outside Russia's prison service. - Reuters
Editorial: The Trump administration, which has been backed up by Russian propaganda outlets in denouncing reports on its own activities as “fake news,” can hardly be expected to assist courageous dissidents such as Mr. Navalny in exposing truths about the Kremlin. But other Western governments and nongovernmental organizations should do what they can to help. Disseminating evidence of Mr. Putin’s corruption would be an appropriate response to Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the West. – Washington Post
Western Europe
Donald Tusk was appointed on Thursday to a second term as president of the European Council, one of the European Union’s governing bodies, despite objections from the government of his own country, Poland, that had created an unprecedented confrontation in Brussels. – New York Times
A bill to allow the government to start its formal notice of resignation from the European Union, known as Brexit, is wending its way through Parliament. With noisy bouts of disagreement from the House of Lords, pressure is growing on Mrs. May, of the Conservative Party, to call an early general election to solidify her narrow majority in the House of Commons while the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats remain in disarray – New York Times
François Fillon has appointed a new campaign team for the French presidential race as the embattled centre-right candidate attempts to mend fences with senior party figures after surviving an internal power struggle. – Financial Times
Robbin Laird writes: Norway faces the challenge of crafting a national defense strategy for the 21st strategy in the face of Vlad Putin’s more aggressive Russia. Because Putin thinks through his use of military power and designs limited objectives to achieve what he considers in the best interest of Russia, Norway faces a double challenge: how to defend itself against the Russian threat and how to work with allies who are not very good at designing limited objectives for the use of military power. – Breaking Defense
Eastern Europe
Fears are growing in Europe that political stability is unraveling in the western Balkans after years of quiet progress. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The United Nations’ highest court on Thursday denied a request by Bosnia to reopen a 2007 case that cleared Serbia of playing an active role in the genocide committed during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s. – New York Times
The former president of Estonia predicted Thursday that Europe will be the "main battlefield" for Russian disinformation campaigns to influence Western elections this year. - Washington Free Beacon

Across Central and Eastern Europe — in Macedonia, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia, and Hungary — governments and political forces are cracking down on nonprofit organizations, and particularly against those groups and movements seen as tied to Hungarian billionaire George Soros. – Foreign Policy's The Cable
Eduard Kokoity, who served from 2001-2011 as de facto president of Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, has declared his intention of appealing the regional Central Election Commission's refusal to register him as a candidate for the presidential election scheduled for April 9. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Rebeka Foley writes: As the European Union prepares to increase its energy dependence on Baku by connecting to a new gas pipeline network in 2019, democratic governments and regional institutions should redouble their defenses against corrupt influence and consider the possible consequences of allowing an important “strategic partner” to drift so far from democratic norms. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue


United States of America
If President Donald Trump wants to “start winning wars again,” he would do well to fund the State Department’s non-military work in the Middle East and Africa and plan for long-term political solutions, the two top U.S. commanders leading the fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups those regions told Congress . – Defense One
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller will brief lawmakers in a pair of events next week on the investigation into the nude photos scandal which has raised questions about the service’s attitudes towards female colleagues. – Military Times
Editorial: Perhaps the best way to think about the U.S. trade deficit is not to think about it. Way back in 1978 a group of economic eminences tasked with looking at the U.S. balance of payments noted that “the words ‘surplus’ and ‘deficit’ should be avoided insofar as possible.” They added that “these words are frequently taken to mean that the developments are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ respectively,” but “that interpretation is often incorrect.” – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: Something larger is at stake here than Mr. Comey completing his tenure. The decisions he made as director during the election damaged the credibility of the FBI in the eyes of the American public. The bureau’s institutional integrity needs to be repaired. He should step down now so that the nation does not have to wait 6-1/2 years to begin the process of getting unstuck from the Comey years. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Trump-Russia Connections
The FBI is still investigating whether there was a computer server connection between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization, CNN reported Thursday. - The Hill
What is the real story of Donald Trump and Russia? The answer is still unclear, and Democrats in Congress want to get to the bottom of it with an investigation. But there’s no doubt that a spider web of connections—some public, some private, some clear, some murky—exists between Trump, his associates and Russian President Vladimir Putin. - Politico
Eli Lake writes: Trump has not paid much of a political price for his fabulism. It's working out well for him. This time his wild accusation inadvertently prompted an Obama senior intelligence official to puncture a narrative that was consuming his presidency. Economists call this kind of thing a moral hazard. In politics we call it dumb luck. – Bloomberg View
Trump Tower
President Trump’s weekend Twitter message asserting that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones forced the White House into ever more verbal contortions on Thursday as aides struggled to defend the president’s charge. In the latest iteration, the Justice Department declined to comment on whether Mr. Trump is — or is not — the subject of an investigation. “No comment,” a department official said. – New York Times
A former foreign policy adviser to President Trump’s election campaign says his phone may have been tapped in 2016, apparently implying that such action would support claims that Trump Tower was under surveillance. – The Hill
FBI Director James Comey briefed congressional leaders Thursday on Capitol Hill amid an outcry over President Donald Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in the runup to the election. - Politico
Charles Krauthammer writes: There is no evidence for either the collusion or the wiretap charge. We are headed down a rabbit hole. An enormous amount of heat and energy will be expended, ending — my guess — roughly where we started. What a waste. There is a major national agenda waiting to be debated and enacted. And there is trouble beyond the cozy confines of the capital that needs to be confronted. Self-created crisis can leave us distracted, spent and unprepared when the real thing hits – Washington Post


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said on Friday he will need more rest and medical tests, leaving his deputy Yemi Osinbajo to run the country's affairs, after coming home following nearly two months of medical leave in Britain. - Reuters
Somaliland pleaded with the administration on Thursday to carve the territory out of President Trump’s new extreme vetting policy, but stopped short of agreeing to the kinds of changes that helped get Iraq off the target list. – Washington Times
The international community’s response to the threat of famine in Somalia is repeating some of the mistakes of the last such crisis six years ago, the aid agency Save the Children has warned. – Financial Times
South Sudan
South Sudan is wracked by unfettered violence, ethnic cleansing, and famine. But now the government wants to charge aid workers $10,000 to operate in the country. Officials in Juba say it’s a way for well-off Western and international aid organizations to shore up the cash-starved government. But aid organizations say the unprecedented move will choke off access to those in dire need of aid — and could have deadly consequences. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
International humanitarian agencies have condemned South Sudan’s decision to raise work permit fees for foreign professionals 100-fold to $10,000 at a time when the conflict and famine-hit country is in urgent need of external aid and expertise. – Financial Times
Japan's Self Defense Force will withdraw from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan when its troops return home around the end of May, closing a controversial episode in the prime minister's push to expand the military's overseas role. - Reuters
George Clooney and John Prendergast write: A steep price should be paid for creating famine and benefiting from war. Even while the world responds to the famine, it’s time also to address root causes and make those responsible pay for their crimes. – Washington Post
South Africa
South Africa has revoked its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, citing in a letter submitted to the United Nations a recent court ruling that declared the withdrawal “unconstitutional and invalid.” – New York Times
Editorial: Nelson Mandela had the wisdom to understand the danger of some of the ANC’s far-left economic notions. Mr. Zuma hasn’t often shown such wisdom, but a turn toward Mugabe-like expropriation could set back the South African economy for decades. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Trump Administration

Jon M. Huntsman Jr. has accepted President Trump’s offer to be ambassador to Russia, people with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday, taking on a diplomatic assignment that would be challenging in the best of times but is more so now, given the questions swirling around the Trump campaign and its links to Russia. – New York Times
A former Marine aviator and investment banker is the top pick to be the next nominee for Secretary of the Navy, three defense officials familiar with the decision confirmed to USNI News today. – USNI News
President Donald Trump is reportedly set to nominate Fox News contributor and former government spokesman Richard Grenell to serve as U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). - Washington Free Beacon

President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired from his prominent White House job last month, has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day that may have aided the Turkish government. – Associated Press
President Donald Trump was not aware that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had worked to further the interests of the government of Turkey before appointing him, the White House says. – Associated Press
David Ignatius writes: Rex Tillerson is off to an agonizingly slow start as secretary of state. That matters, because if Tillerson doesn’t develop a stronger voice, control of foreign policy is likely to move increasingly toward Stephen K. Bannon, the insurgent populist who is chief White House strategist. – 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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