FPI Overnight Brief: March 15, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa


Tzvi Kahn writes: Only by increasing the costs for Iran’s misbehavior can America deter the regime from engaging in further aggression against American citizens – and send Tehran a message that Washington will no longer turn a blind eye to its revolutionary ambitions. - Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Syrian military airstrikes on rebels were responsible for severing water supplies to 5.5 million people in the Damascus region for weeks starting last December, the United Nations said on Tuesday, rebutting government claims that insurgents were to blame. – New York Times
Syria's civil war began six years ago this week as a popular revolt against the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad. Now a domestic uprising that has left an estimated 500,00 dead and millions homeless has morphed into a global war, sucking major powers into a conflict growing more volatile by the day. – USA Today
The European Union unveiled a plan to support the reconstruction of war-torn Syria on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the first protests against President Bashar al-Assad's government. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Six years since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, he is winning on the battlefield but Syria's civil war is far from over, with his once stable country broken into fiefdoms ruled by rebels and warlords. - Reuters
The top U.N. human rights official called on Tuesday for tens of thousands of detainees to be released from Syria's prisons and for torturers and executioners to be brought to justice as part of a lasting peace. - Reuters
The international community must do more to protect healthcare in Syria as medical services become targets of war, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal on Tuesday. - Reuters
Frederick and Kimberly Kagan write: No single military operation can achieve victory in Syria. But an operation against the enemy’s heartland, freed of the constraints imposed by problematic proxies, would change the assumptions of America’s friends and enemies. President Trump should break through the flawed logic and poor planning that he inherited from his predecessor. He can transform this struggle, but only by transforming America’s approach to it. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Read the report. “America’s Way Ahead in Syria” – American Enterprise Institute/Institute for the Study of War
In the past three years, Mosul’s residents have suffered an Isis takeover, a siege and a brutal campaign to recapture the city, Iraq’s second largest. But through it all, businessmen have sought ways to keep trade moving, reflecting the resilience of local economies in adapting to circumstances imposed by war. – Financial Times
Government forces set their sights on reaching the Grand Mosque in Mosul's Old City on Wednesday and the prime minister said the battle to drive Islamic State from its last urban stronghold in Iraq was reaching its final stages. - Reuters
North Africa
A new Islamic State affiliate is gaining strength in sub-Saharan Africa as part of efforts by the Syrian-based Islamist terror group to take over large parts of the continent. – Washington Free Beacon
Libya's opposition government in the east, which opposes the UN-backed leadership in Tripoli, has requested military aid from Russia and received promises of support, a key official said. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
East Libyan forces said they had regained control on Tuesday of the major oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider from a rival faction that seized them earlier this month and were pursuing their opponents into the desert. - Reuters
Interview: We continue here Brookings’s ongoing interview series with Islamist leaders and activists…. Up next is Sayida Ounissi of Tunisia’s Ennahda party. She is a member of the Tunisian Parliament, where she serves as a member of the Finance Committee. She was the youngest female appointed the head of an electoral list in Tunisia. Raised and educated largely in France, Ounissi holds a master’s degree from the Sorbonne in Paris. – Brookings Institution
Arabian Peninsula
President Trump hosted Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia for lunch at the White House on Tuesday, moving to forge a warmer relationship with the kingdom after a period of tension between the United States and a longstanding ally. – New York Times
A leading human rights group is urging President Trump not to approve pending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. – The Hill
In the first eight weeks in office, the Trump administration has launched dozens of missiles into Yemen, found itself embroiled in controversy over a botched raid into the country, and sought to provide heavier firepower to the Saudi Arabian-led forces fighting there. The real reason for this new interest, experts say, is because of how the country figures into the White House’s plans to counter Iran’s influence – BuzzFeed
Yemen's warring parties are refusing to discuss U.N.-brokered peace efforts, the United Nations' envoy for the country said on Tuesday, amid an escalation in violence that he said was having a "dramatic" impact on the civilian population. - Reuters
President Trump’s new envoy to the Middle East met on Tuesday with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, striving in the administration’s first diplomatic undertaking here to maintain a public evenhandedness amid the deep distrust between the Israelis and Palestinians. – New York Times
A Jordanian woman who served time in Israel for participating in a 2001 suicide attack on a Jerusalem restaurant that killed 15 people is facing fresh U.S. charges for her role in the attack. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The European Union's top officials sharply criticized Turkey on Wednesday for accusing EU states Germany and the Netherlands of fascism, saying the charges were driving Ankara further away from its goal of joining the bloc. - Reuters
Editorial: Since President Trump took office, the State Department has been largely silent about Turkey’s downward spiral. While the 2016 human rights report was filled with detail about the crackdowns, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t attend the March 3 release of the report. Mr. Tillerson has asserted that he cares about protecting human rights abroad, but what will he do about it? – Washington Post



South Asia
Narendra Modi, son of a humble Gujarati tea-seller, now fills the space in the public imagination once held by the dynasty whose founder Jawaharlal Nehru led India for 17 years after the end of British rule. – Financial Times
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday ordered that "blasphemous" content on social media websites be removed or blocked and those posting such material "strictly punished." - Reuters
Fast-growing Pakistan, estimated to be the sixth-largest country by population, kicked off its first national census in 19 years on Wednesday, a delay caused by a lack of funds, political squabbling and too few available troops to oversee security. - Reuters
The closure of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is more than inconvenient; it is costly. Officials on both sides of the border say in just one month, the closure has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost trade, and tons of perishable goods have rotted in stranded trucks. – Associated Press
General John Allen, USMC (Ret.) and Michael O’Hanlon write: So yes, it is probably logical that along with other initiatives, U.S. troop numbers and costs in Afghanistan should increase by one-third to one-half. And yes, casualties could rise somewhat too. But the deployment would still be quite modest compared with its earlier phases—and the added capabilities could well spell the difference between stalemate and a gradual trend toward something resembling victory. – Brookings Institution
When President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China sit down for their first meeting next month in Palm Beach, Fla., they may benefit from the balmy breezes and tranquil views at the Mar-a-Lago resort: Relations between the United States and China are as complex and chilly as they have been since the early days of the Reagan administration. – New York Times
President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. trade representative said he would work with Congress to deploy potent new tools to hold China and other trading partners accountable for alleged trade violations. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will warn China’s leaders that the United States is prepared to step up missile defenses and pressure on Chinese financial institutions if they fail to use their influence to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, according to several officials involved in planning his first mission to Asia. – New York Times
The Trump administration is considering increasing financial penalties on Chinese companies in response to growing evidence of their support for North Korea’s weapons programs, according to U.S. and Asian officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China’s premier told the United States on Wednesday: We don’t want a trade war with you, but if one breaks out, your companies would bear the brunt. Yet despite tensions over jobs, currency rates and “security matters,” Li Keqiang told a news conference in Beijing ahead of the first visit by the new U.S. secretary of state that he remained optimistic about the future of China’s relationship with the United States. – Washington Post
Korean Peninsula
The threat from North Korea — nuclear-armed, impoverished and deeply suspicious of a potential U.S. attack — is the centerpiece of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Asia beginning Wednesday. It was also the main topic for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s Asia trip last month — his first as the Pentagon chief. – Washington Post
South Koreans will go to the polls in May to elect a successor to Park Geun-hye, whose presidency ended last week in a historic court ruling, the government announced on Wednesday. – New York Times
American and Korean captains of industry gathered on Wednesday in a convention center here to ​mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-South Korean trade pact. But it was a nervous celebration. Many were worried the U.S. will try to renegotiate or even abrogate the hard-fought agreement, which many tout as “the gold standard,” after U.S. President Donald Trump deemed it detrimental to American interests. Mr. Trump already scrapped American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was structured on the Korean deal. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) deployed to South Korea earlier this month and while the missile-muting shield is meant to keep North Korean nuclear ambitions in check it is also driving the Chinese to distraction. – Scout Warrior
Anthony Blinken writes: What, if anything, can change his strategic calculus? The answer is a comprehensive, sustained and relentless international pressure campaign, led by the United States, South Korea, Japan and China, that raises the price of Mr. Kim’s obstinacy to the point that he believes his survival is in jeopardy. – New York Times
Joel Wit and Richard Sokolsky write: Fair or not, Secretary Tillerson has been pilloried by the press and pundits as missing in action. This sensitive diplomatic mission offers him an opportunity to show his mettle. The last thing Washington needs, at a time when America’s global leadership and position in Asia is under challenge, is for Secretary Tillerson to leave the region empty-handed, or in worse shape than he found it. – The National Interest
Minxin Pei writes: Unless the upcoming summit reaches a grand bargain that stabilizes U.S.-China relations across the board, the risks that the Trump administration will push back against China on trade and security will remain high and China will have little incentive to help America out where North Korea is concerned. If anything, the unfolding crisis in North Korea could get far more dangerous – The Atlantic
East Asia
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Asia on Wednesday for his first foreign trip with almost no fanfare. He’s traveling on a “small plane” with “a modest footprint,” says a spokesman. He’s bringing along just one reporter and will hold only one brief press conference during his planned stops in Japan, South Korea and China. - Politico
The Obama administration’s Pacific rebalance effort — also known as the Pivot to the Pacific — effort is officially dead, according to a top State Department official. – Defense News
Two decommissioned U.S. Navy frigates reserved for Taiwan were handed over last week; however, analysts say Taiwan needs to put into place an ambitious plan to boost its naval capabilities against China’s increasingly powerful forces. – Defense News
China's accelerated military development and recent activity by its military aircraft and ships around Taiwan pose an increased threat to the self-ruled island, according to a Taiwanese government defense report draft reviewed by Reuters. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines defiantly rebuked human rights groups and international organizations on Tuesday, pledging to continue his deadly antidrug crackdown despite mounting calls for a criminal investigation into his actions. – New York Times
Malaysia’s open-border policy has long helped lend it notoriety as a way station for conspirators to plot terror attacks abroad. Now, many people worry that two major terror-linked plots on Malaysia’s own soil show that the Muslim-majority nation is increasingly becoming a host to other people’s deadly conflicts. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Malaysia has confirmed the identity of Kim Jong Nam's body based on a DNA sample taken from one of his children, the deputy prime minister said on Wednesday. - Reuters
The vice president of the Philippines has issued a strong rebuke of President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs, describing it in a video sent to the United Nations as an issue of public health that cannot be solved "with bullets alone". - Reuters
China has started fresh construction work in the disputed South China Sea, new satellite images show, a sign that Beijing is continuing to strengthen its military reach across the vital trade waterway. - Reuters


The years of unpredictable funding and the threat of its continuation is the biggest threat to the U.S. forces, Karl Schneider, acting deputy undersecretary of the Army, said Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium. – Defense News
Even as the U.S. Army prepares to grow, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson still worries about units not having enough time to recover between deployments amid a rising demand for the service to take on more missions. – Military.com
2022 will be the year of decision for the Army’s nascent Next Generation Combat Vehicle, officials told the Association of the US Army conference here today. That’s when “at least two” NGCV demonstrators get field-tested by real troops. Those soldiers’ feedback, in turn, will inform Army leaders’ decision: whether to fund a full-up program to field a new armored vehicle by 2035, or put off a fresh start — again — and just keep updating 1970s designs. – Breaking Defense
Thomas Spoehr writes: The Pentagon has sustained year after year of budget cuts without corresponding reductions in commitments and missions. The resulted is a “meatless skeleton”: a military deprived of the ability to repair what gets broken, to train to critical levels of proficiency, or to maintain the supporting structures needed to sustain operations while still having to carry out those operations. Budget deliberations should start from a fact-based understanding of this situation and then explore options to fix it. – Real Clear Defense
Media are reporting that U.S. authorities will shortly issue criminal indictments against four people, three of them in Russia, in connection with massive hacking attacks on Yahoo that were the largest ever reported. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Privately organized cyber criminals are closing the capability gap with nation-state actors, launching more sophisticated attacks that are more difficult to trace, according to a new analysis released by cybersecurity firm FireEye. – The Hill
The Trump administration balked at signing an executive order on cybersecurity in its initial days but now seems to be getting back to the issue with the appointment of a White House Cyber Czar. – Defense News
Rep. Ruben Gallego proposed the idea of a cybersecurity reserve system, like a National Guard for the digital world, during a talk at the South by Southwest conference, according to CNN. – Defense News
David Ignatius writes: The real shocker in the WikiLeaks scoop is the demonstration, once again, that the U.S. government can’t keep secrets. It makes little sense for the CIA to argue against disclosing its cyber-tricks to computer companies if this valuable information is going to get leaked to adversaries or the hacker underground anyway. Unilateral disarmament sounds like a bad idea. But so is the assumption that this information is safely protected. – Washington Post


Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday halted all cargo traffic with separatist-held territory in the east of the country and demanded that pro-Russian rebels hand back businesses they have seized - Reuters
A year and a half after Russia's only state-run Ukrainian language library, Moscow's Library of Ukrainian Literature, was dragged into a political dispute between the two countries, Reuters has learnt that authorities are quietly winding it down. - Reuters
Anastasia Krasnosilska writes: It’s up to Ukraine’s ruling elite to persuade the world of its commitment to target major political corruption. Although the Nasirov case may take years to bring to fruition, Ukraine can demonstrate this commitment now by establishing an anticorruption court and appointing independent NABU auditors. – Atlantic Council
Western Europe
Elections in the Netherlands on Wednesday are being watched especially closely across Europe and beyond as a key gauge of whether formerly strong barriers to the far right still stand on a continent with painful memories of fascism, but also with a growing number of aspiring nationalist leaders. – New York Times
François Fillon, the leading French conservative candidate for president, was formally placed under investigation Tuesday on suspicion of embezzling and misusing public funds in the latest blow to a struggling campaign he refuses to abandon. – Washington Post
German authorities on Tuesday banned an organization that they said was a "hot spot" for Islamic extremists and searched a mosque that the group runs. – Associated Press
Video: FPI Fellow James Kirchick discussed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s upcoming visit with President Trump – Wall Street Journal
Sam van der Staak writes: With populists neutralized, Frexit, Nexit or withdrawals from the euro are off the table. But the large coalitions under weaker leadership in the Netherlands, France and Germany – three of the founding members of the European Union – will further paralyze E.U. decision-making. In the months to come, observers should focus not on the doings of Europe’s populists, but on the maneuverings of the political mainstream. – Washington Post
United Kingdom
The European Parliament will demand that Britain continue to obey European courts as a condition of a smooth transition out of the EU, according to drafts of its first official response to the UK triggering Brexit talks. – Financial Times
Support for Scottish independence is at its highest ever but it might not be the best time for Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to hold a new referendum, a survey by ScotCen's Scottish Social Attitudes said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Editorial: This echoes the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian intelligence defector who died in London after being poisoned with polonium, along with the more recent case of Vladimir Kara-Murza, the opposition activist who recently survived his second poisoning in as many years. Perepilichny’s family, not to mention the British public, deserve to know whether Russian authorities have perpetrated a second such crime. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: A thriving economy based on greater economic freedom and global competitiveness will always be the best answer to Scottish (or Northern Irish) separatism. That’s an option available to Mrs. May, provided she has the courage of free-market convictions and the will to make Brexit a success everywhere from Penzance to Aberdeen. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Eastern Europe
A former prime minister of Montenegro has appealed to the European Union to curb Russia's "destructive" influence in the Balkans. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The United States and the United Nations have voiced concern about what human rights groups say is the Belarusian government's biggest crackdown on protesters in years. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered his officials to seal an agreement which will, in effect, incorporate the armed forces of Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region into the Russian military's command structure. - Reuters
Kosovo's president has called on NATO to support the transformation of its security force into a regular army with heavy weaponry. – Associated Press
FPI Fellow James Kirchick writes: Had the nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán not spent the previous four years conducting a campaign of historical distortion regarding the country’s Holocaust history, one might be more charitable about its motives for constructing this monument. Through a set of government-sponsored historical institutes, publicly funded documentaries, revisions to school curricula, bestowal of state honors to extreme right-wing figures, and erections of public monuments and museum exhibitions, the Orbán administration has disseminated a narrative that minimizes Hungarian culpability in the extermination of some half-million Jews and rehabilitates Horthy’s reputation from that of opportunistic Nazi ally to selfless defender of national independence. - Tablet


United States of America
No president in recent history has worked harder to publicly associate himself with the U.S. military than Donald Trump…But the president’s embrace has provoked equal parts excitement and unease among officers still struggling to make sense of an unconventional commander in chief whose “America First” approach to governance seems built in part on shows of strength and military power. – Washington Post
Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow will introduce legislation to reopen a special immigration program for Afghans who supported U.S. forces now that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has officially stopped scheduling applicant interviews, POLITICO has learned. - Politico
Republicans in Congress will introduce a new war authorization on Wednesday that could put the fight against the Islamic State on firmer legal ground. – Washington Examiner
A group of leading senators is calling on newly installed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to immediately launch an investigation into efforts by the Obama administration to sway foreign elections by sending taxpayer funds to "extreme and sometimes violent political activists" that promote leftist causes, according to a copy of the letter. – Washington Free Beacon
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said Tuesday she is hoping to tackle the shortage of visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops in the upcoming Department of Defense spending bill. – The Hill
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) announced Tuesday that she is introducing legislation to bolster the Department of Justice's (DOJ) ability to investigate RT America, part of the Kremlin-backed news network RT. – The Hill
Lindsey Graham lacks the resources and access that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have to investigate Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. But his Senate Judiciary subcommittee has something the intelligence panels don’t: a Republican chairman viewed not as a Donald Trump ally but as a fierce critic, who has no qualms with bucking party leaders to unravel the mystery of Russia’s interference in the election. - Politico
What did Trump’s team know about Michael Flynn’s Turkish lobbying gig and when did they know it? White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday said that President Donald Trump had no idea Flynn, his former national security adviser and campaign trail confidant, was working for a shadowy man named Kamil Ekim Alptekin with deep ties to the Turkish government. – Defense One
Monica Crowley was once U.S. President Donald Trump’s top pick for a top White House national security role. After being caught up in a plagiarism scandal, she backed out of the job. But now she has a new one: lobbying for Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk. – Foreign Policy
A three-judge panel in an Army appeals court has upheld a decision not to toss out Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s case over comments made by President Trump during the election campaign. – The Hill
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is traveling to Asia this week accompanied by only one reporter, a White House correspondent from the Independent Journal Review (IJR), a digital news outlet founded in 2012 by former Republican political operatives. - Reuters
Phil Levy writes: Rest assured, though, that whether the Trump administration pursues a sensible trade policy or a damaging and misguided one, U.S. sovereignty will remain untouched. And the Statue of Liberty will remain in New York harbor. - Forbes
Navy/Marine Corps
In what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called a “sad day for the Marine Corps,” the service’s top officer, Gen. Robert B. Neller, told senators Tuesday that he intended to fix the misogynistic culture of his branch in the wake of a nude-photo-sharing scandal that has roiled the military. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
The Navy is now knee-deep in the nude online photo-sharing scandal that started with the Marine Corps last week and senior admirals are acting quickly to crack down on a problem that is starting to look like a cyber variation of the Navy's notorious 1991 Tailhook debacle. – Military Times
Officials with Naval Criminal Investigative Service have determined that about 500 members of the Marines United Facebook group followed a link to a drive containing nude and compromising photos of female Marines and other women, the commandant of the Marine Corps said Tuesday. – Military.com
State Department/United Nations
White House instructions to the State Department to look for cuts totaling more than a third of its budget include orders for what potentially are even higher reductions in U.S. payments to the United Nations. – Washington Post
The Trump administration is threatening a withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council if it does not undertake “considerable reform,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned a group of nine non-profit organizations in a letter this week. – Foreign Policy
State Department officials are using foreign aid to support "left-leaning political groups" around the world, to the annoyance of foreign officials, according to a group of Republican senators. – Washington Examiner
Suzanne Nossel writes: While Israel is the only country openly arguing for the United States to leave the Human Rights Council, it would hardly be the only one happy to see Washington’s back. While some conservatives seem to look at a withdrawal as a good way to punish the world body, a U.S. exit would be a gift to Washington’s antagonists, ceding the playing field to those who put little stock in human rights. – Foreign Policy
Trump Tower
President Trump is “extremely confident” that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will produce evidence that former President Obama wiretapped him last year, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. – The Hill
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is firing a warning shot at the FBI following his request that the agency hand over any evidence relating to wire taps of President Trump. – The Hill
Latin America
A mass grave discovered in the Mexican state of Veracruz contained more than 250 human skulls, most likely the victims of criminal drug cartels, the state’s attorney general said on Tuesday. – New York Times
The Venezuelan government is investigating alleged corruption in a $1.3 billion contract between the state oil company and a private contractor co-founded by a Saudi prince, according to law-enforcement officials and related documents. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The head of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Tuesday said that crisis-wrought Venezuela should be suspended from the regional diplomatic body if it does not hold general elections "as quickly as possible." - Reuters
The mid-morning fracas in a working-class district of Caracas is the latest of near-weekly "surprise" protests by the opposition this year intended to embarrass Maduro, galvanize street action and highlight Venezuela's litany of problems. - Reuters
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday acknowledged that his 2010 election campaign received illegal payments from Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht SA and asked the country's forgiveness. - Reuters


West Africa
Four female teenage suicide bombers killed two people and injured 16 others in a residential area in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, a disaster agency spokesman said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Islamist militant sect Boko Haram on Tuesday released a video purporting to show the execution of three men the group accused of being Nigerian military spies. - Reuters
East Africa
The U.S. has increasing security concerns about China’s first overseas military base close to the hub of operations for U.S. Africa Command in Djibouti, a U.S. commander told Congress – Military.com
The African Union is making itself complicit in South Sudan's bloodshed by failing to set up a court to try atrocities, members of a U.N. human rights investigation said on Tuesday. - Reuters
Pirates off the coast of Somalia, who hijacked an oil tanker with eight Sri Lankan crew on board, are demanding a ransom for the release of the vessel, the EU Naval Force said. - Reuters
Interview: Mr. Kagame sat down with Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker to discuss, among other things, the move toward populism in the U.S. and Europe and what it might mean for Africa as a whole and for Rwanda. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Continent
Since 2015 about a dozen African countries have had wide-ranging internet shutdowns, often during elections. Rights defenders say the blackouts are conducive to carrying out serious abuses. The internet outages also can inflict serious damage on the economies of African countries that desperately seek growth, according to research by the Brookings Institution think tank. – Associated Press
Interview: Neanda Salvaterra, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, discussed plans and concerns about African power development with Jay Ireland, president and chief executive of GE Africa, and Elizabeth L. Littlefield, former president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the U.S. government’s development-finance agency. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Trump Administration

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has withdrawn retired senior diplomat Anne W. Patterson as his choice for undersecretary for policy after the White House indicated unwillingness to fight what it said would be a battle for Senate confirmation. – Washington Post
Every president sweeps into office with a coterie of friends and hangers-on who sometimes have minimal experience in the arcana of the federal government. But few have arrived with a contingent more colorful and controversial than that of Mr. Trump, whose White House is peppered with assistants and advisers whose principal qualification is their long friendship with Mr. Trump and his family. – New York Times
President Donald Trump has overruled a decision by his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, to sideline a key intelligence operative who fell out of favor with some at the Central Intelligence Agency, two sources told POLITICO. - Politico
Will Inboden writes: [W]hile the structural impediments he faces and early missteps he has made are serious, at this point they are neither dispositive nor determinative. Nor should it be forgotten that Tillerson has succeeded in every previous job he has held, and brings a formidable combination of experience, intelligence, and ability to the position. All I am saying is: Give Rex a chance. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Ivo Daalder writes: Even if Mr Tillerson emerges as a strong voice in foreign policy, his ability to make an impact on the world depends crucially on having sufficient resources and a strong leadership team in place. George Shultz, one of his most effective predecessors, likened diplomacy to gardening — the need to tend to US relations abroad with care and continuity, so they may flourish. In this effort, America’s diplomats and foreign service officers are the gardeners, and given the dangers of an increasingly complex world, this is no time to do without them. – Financial Times
Intelligence Community Criticism
In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to President Donald Trump are trying to undermine him, and even that a “deep state” of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them. - Politico
John Sipher writes: For those who care about the health of our system and institutions, it is important to be skeptical of this deep state narrative…The attack against the fictitious deep state appears part and parcel of a calculated effort to attack and delegitimize the very institutions that can hold the powerful accountable – the FBI, Intelligence Community, press, and judiciary.  We could pay a long-term price for short-term partisan gain. – The Cipher Brief


FPI Board Member Eric Edelman and Whitney McNamara write: The Middle East presents an enormous set of difficulties for policymakers against a backdrop of long-lived conflict and turmoil that is likely to persist for a generation—or perhaps longer. The United States has historically been successful in accomplishing its strategic objectives in the region, and it can be again if it develops a clear strategy that aligns ways, means, and ends and builds up capable partners in the region to contain Iran’s ambitions and defeat violent jihadists; both powers otherwise threaten the governments of America and its partners. – Real Clear Defense
General Raymond Odierno, USA (Ret.) and Michael O’Hanlon write: [W]e need a zero-based review of the country’s domestic urban security just as much as another Pentagon review of overseas threats. In fact, the whole domestic-overseas distinction is losing much of its traditional meaning in today’s world. No priority should be higher than this one for the Trump administration and the 115th Congress. – The National Interest

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.
Read More