FPI Overnight Brief: March 16, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • US likely to send 1,000 more troops to Syria in Raqqa offensive
  • White House touts defense budget cuts, State to be cut by 30%
  • Tension persists between CIA, Trump White House
  • Mattis, Ricardel clashed over Pentagon appointees
  • Rogin: Trump resets US-Saudi relations in Saudi Arabia’s favor
  • FPI’s James Kirchick discusses The End of Europe at Brookings
  • Ilves: A new kind of war demands new defensive alliances
  • Kara-Murza: How to make sure the Kremlin remembers Nemtsov
  • McLaughlin: Why global leadership is slipping through America’s hands

Middle East/North Africa

A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a historic judicial building in Damascus on Wednesday, Syrian state media said. It was the second mass-casualty attack in five days in the heart of the Syrian capital. – New York Times
The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter. – Washington Post's Checkpoint
The United States is preparing to retake the Islamic State stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, without the participation of Turkey, a NATO ally, and a key partner in the counter-Islamic State fight. While the U.S. is not ruling out a future role for Turkey, discussions with Ankara have continued for months without producing any agreement that would include Turkish forces in the coming offensive. – Washington Examiner
The estimated 400 U.S. Marines sent into Syria earlier this month to set up a firebase near Raqqa have yet to fire their M777 .155mm howitzers in support of Syrian Democratic Forces closing on the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State, a coalition spokesman said Wednesday. – Military.com
Criminal investigators say they have built a case documenting the widespread torture and murder of Syrian detainees by the Assad government, relying on official photos and meticulous documents. - Reuters
Children have suffered the most in Syria's six-year war, and among them the most vulnerable are those separated from their families, a senior Unicef official told Reuters on Wednesday. - Reuters
Interview: March 15 marks the anniversary of Syria’s war—a war that has changed the world. In light of this, Rafik Hariri Center senior fellow Faysal Itani conducts an interview with former Ambassador Frederic C. Hof on how the war has impacted the region and broader international community, with a specific look at how the United States’ position has changed globally as a result of the war. – Atlantic Council
Editorial: Having abandoned feeble attempts to stop the slaughter, Western governments — including the Trump administration — are trying to literally screen it out, blocking the flows of increasingly desperate refugees. Peace talks promoted by Russia and Turkey are going nowhere, while the Assad regime is proclaiming its intention to continue its scorched-earth tactics until it gains control over the entire country. So far, 2017 looks to be another “worst year” for Syrian children. – Washington Post
Michael O’Hanlon writes: [T]he key point is that we need to introduce this kind of broader political-military vision, and logic, into our thinking about Syria—even to achieve the immediate purpose of the liberation of Raqqa. If there is one thing we should have learned by now in the Middle East, it’s that military successes built on weak political foundations won’t last—if they can even be achieved in the first place. – The National Interest
Charles Lister writes: The tension between Syria’s broader opposition and HTS is very real. Lives have been lost, territory taken, weapons stolen, and reputations tarnished due to this fight. But ultimately, Syria’s opposition knows that turning against HTS by force without considerable international support and protection would spell an almost certain death knell to their revolutionary struggle against Assad — even if they succeeded in defeating the group. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
In the battle against Islamic State, the U.S. and Iran have become de facto allies in Iraq, a convergence of interests that permitted both nations to tacitly cooperate and avoid open conflicts. Once Islamic State is defeated, however, Washington’s and Tehran’s interests are likely to diverge, especially if President Donald Trump makes good on his pledge to aggressively contain Iranian power in the region. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Heavy rain slowed Iraqi government forces battling Islamic State on Thursday around Mosul's Old City, where militants holed up in narrow alleyways and homes resisted with sniper fire, suicide attacks and car bombs. - Reuters
North Africa
Armed groups aligned with a Libyan government in Tripoli that is backed by the United Nations took over a compound occupied by the leader of a rival government on Wednesday after heavy fighting that spread to several parts of the city. – New York Times
Libya's eastern parliament said on Wednesday it supported ending a deal to unify the country's National Oil Corporation (NOC), a day after eastern forces recaptured major oil ports from a rival faction. - Reuters
Moroccan King Mohammed VI is replacing Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and will ask another member of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) to form a government after five months of post-election deadlock, a statement from the royal cabinet said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
An American plan to facilitate the urgent entry of food, medicine and commercial goods into Yemen has been halted at least temporarily, U.S. and U.N. officials said, risking the potential worsening of an already dire humanitarian crisis. – Washington Post
An after-action review of the deadly SEAL Team 6 raid of a terrorist compound in Yemen shows that the Jan. 29 mission was not compromised, but it also concludes that the enemy was more ready to fight than expected and that women in one building surprised the commandos by firing weapons. – Washington Times
Bahrain's parliament has invited the U.N. human rights chief to visit and promised him unrestricted access to prisons and Shi'ite villages, local media said on Wednesday, following his criticism of the kingdom's record. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: President Trump’s new deal with Saudi Arabia is really good — for the Saudis. After publicly bashing the kingdom for years, Trump completely reversed course Tuesday and rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi royals. He gave them a huge publicity boost and a highly sought-after U.S. commitment to improve and elevate bilateral relations. And what did Trump get in return? Not much at all. – Washington Post
Bill Gertz reports: Iranian-backed Houthi rebels working to take power in Yemen are using a new weapon that is raising fears of seaborne attacks on both military and commercial shipping in the region. The weapon is an Iranian-designed remotely piloted small boat filled with explosives, a defense official told Inside the Ring. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
A United Nations commission said in a report on Wednesday that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians, a politically explosive assertion that led to furious denunciations by Israel and the United States. – New York Times
Twitter accounts belonging to high-profile news outlets, international brands and politicians were hacked on Wednesday, briefly showing posts in support of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president who is in a bitter standoff with several European Union countries. – New York Times
Turkey has blocked some military training and other work with NATO "partner countries" in an apparent escalation of a diplomatic dispute with EU states, officials and sources said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Members of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party said on Tuesday they were optimistic that a majority of Turks would vote against expanding the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan in an April 16 referendum. - Reuters


South/Central Asia
Afghan officials sharply increased the tally of dead in an attack last week on a military hospital, saying Wednesday that at least 50 people, including patients and staff members, were killed. – New York Times
Judicial authorities in Tajikistan have sentenced prominent human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who is serving a 23-year prison sentence, to an additional two years behind bars. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Many political parties faring as poorly as the Indian National Congress in a bellwether state election would ditch key leaders, if they did not go of their own accord. Not so Rahul Gandhi, scion of India's most famous political dynasty, who remains in charge after his attempts to connect with voters in the country's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh ended in failure. - Reuters
Three suspected members of an Islamist militant group blamed for a deadly cafe attack in Bangladesh last July were killed on Thursday when their suicide vests exploded during a police raid on their hideout, a police official said. - Reuters
President Xi Jinping is reviving the idea of a national civil code as he seeks to remake China’s justice system. His government has embraced the code as a tool to fight corruption and fickleness in the courts, as well as to formalize state power on issues as varied as free speech and parental responsibility. – New York Times
“See you again, if there’s a chance,” Mr. Li said at the end of Wednesday’s news conference, a nationally televised event that concluded China’s annual legislative session. His comment fed public questioning about his political fate, as the ruling Communist Party prepares for a leadership shuffle this fall. Party insiders say a second five-year term for Mr. Li isn’t a sure thing. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Chinese attempts to claim sovereignty over a pair of critical shipping lanes that also hold "significant" oil and gas reserves should provoke economic sanctions from the United States, according to a pair of senators. – Washington Examiner
Sarah Cook and Annie Boyajian write: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first trip to China this week will set the tone for the U.S.-China relationship under the Trump administration. It is critical that he raise human rights as a core U.S. principle, as a matter that directly affects American businesses and nonprofits, and as a strategically important symbol of U.S. resolve, signaling that the administration will not simply acquiesce to the Chinese government’s long-standing insistence that Washington has no right to question the country’s dreadful record of political repression. – The Diplomat
China is increasingly focused on becoming a dominant military and economic power in Asia and is ratcheting up pressure on Taiwan and other neighbors, four experts on international relations agreed Monday. – USNI News
Taiwan is planning to upgrade its F-16 fighter jets and will seek cutting-edge stealth aircraft from the United States in the face of a growing military threat from rival China, the Defense Ministry said Thursday. – Associated Press
Korean Peninsula
At a time of multiplying tensions in Asia, Rex W. Tillerson, the American secretary of state, began his first major foreign trip in Japan and said on Thursday that the United States needed a “different approach” to North Korea’s escalating nuclear threat, though he declined to give specifics. – New York Times
South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday summoned former president Park Geun-hye for questioning over the huge corruption scandal that led to her being impeached from office last week. – Washington Post
East Asia
Colin Willet and Nina Hachigan write: How Tillerson responds to these opposing pressures will be telling. If he visits Japan and China without speaking on maritime issues, that will raise questions about America’s commitment to international law, its longstanding role as security guarantor in the region, and obligations to allies like Japan and the Philippines. But an approach that isn’t grounded in law, and doesn’t take into account the complexities of the competing claims, will only aggravate tensions and weaken the ability of the United States to lead on this consequential issue. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Mike Green writes: Good diplomacy is often about answering the questions that aren’t formally raised. Tillerson will have plenty of work to do on that front the coming week. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Hannah Suh Harry Krejsa, and Mira Rapp-Hooper write: The Trump administration should learn from the failures and build upon the successes of the rebalance. Regardless of the title used to identify these efforts, American force posture, security assistance, military innovation, and new concepts of operation should all support a broader strategy for Asia if the new administration hopes to maintain military access to the seas and skies of the Western Pacific. – War on the Rocks
Southeast Asia
The Malaysian authorities sought on Wednesday to definitively put to rest a nagging question about the brazen assassination of a man in Kuala Lumpur’s international airport last month: They said he was indeed Kim Jong-nam, estranged half brother of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, because they had DNA confirmation from a relative. – New York Times
Opponents of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have launched an effort to impeach him for alleged corruption and abuse of power, less than a year into a term that has shaken up his country and the wider region. – Financial Times
Interpol has issued a red notice, the closest to an international arrest warrant, for four North Koreans wanted in connection with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, Malaysia's police chief said on Thursday. - Reuters
Thailand's military junta on Thursday outlined the 20-year strategy it has said will guide policy long after elections which are now expected next year at the earliest. - Reuters
Since security forces swept into their villages in northwestern Myanmar late last year, around 75,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled across the nearby border to Bangladesh. Many now fear that the authorities in Myanmar could make their displacement permanent. - Reuters
President Trump’s combative phone call with Australia’s prime minister and his rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal have left many Australians wondering whether it is time to pay less attention to the United States and engage more with China. – New York Times



The Trump administration touts its new proposed budget for the Defense Department as one of the largest ­single-year increases in defense spending in U.S. history, fending off comparisons to earlier spending sprees by saying that they occurred during the country’s largest wars. – Washington Post
President Trump's proposed $54 billion boost in defense spending isn't nearly enough to pay for the military build up he promised during the campaign, analysts said on Wednesday. – Washington Examiner
President Donald Trump will unveil a budget plan Thursday that includes money for his controversial wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and an uptick in funding for nuclear weapons. The spending plan, as outlined last month, would increase defense spending by $54 billion and cut other government agencies by the same amount. – Defense One
To get around spending caps, Congress and the Pentagon have increasingly turned to a warfighting account to pay for items that would normally be in its base budget, and it’s a practice that will likely continue even with a request for a $54 billion increase in defense spending for the coming year. – USNI News
While Congress and the White House often are blamed for the military's aging equipment and shrinking force size, it's really the Pentagon's policies that are to blame. But it's these policies that have strengthened the military's overall readiness, a new report concludes. – Military Times
The Pentagon simultaneously fired two Standard Missile-6 weapons in rapid succession at a single ballistic missile target to asses new seeker technology and solidify the weapon's ability to ensure destruction of approaching enemy targets. – Scout Warrior
The robotic war machines of the future are strangely cute. Here at the Association of the US Army winter conference, BAE Systems is showing off a 12-ton robot mini-tank that looks like a baby M1 Abrams. There’s serious lesson here which the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle effort is taking to heart. Automation, by replacing bulky humans with compact electronics, can make for smaller combat vehicles that are not only cheaper and more fuel-efficient, but harder to hit. – Breaking Defense
Seth Cropsey writes: Serious competitors keep emerging and with them the increasing possibility of conflict. Their growing ability to command or at least deny the world’s key oceanic passages to the United States is sufficient reason to rebuild U.S. sea services and provide the nation with a clear maritime strategy. – The American Interest
Thomas Donnelly writes: Electromagnetic guns, hypersonic projectiles or even directed energy death rays would by themselves not necessarily constitute a revolution in warfare. But these technologies could yield a substantial increase in the capabilities of a wide variety of legacy platforms—and, importantly, again provide U.S. forces with a significant battlefield edge. Most of all, such investments could get the American military back in the habit of continuous modernization and the operational innovation that comes from actually fielding new capabilities – Hoover Institution’s Strategika
Max Boot writes: The pattern of history is clear: Good ideas travel fast, and effective technologies are disseminated quickly. It is doubtful that any future invention will allow the U.S. to dominate the military sphere for long. In fact, it is sobering to realize that despite its recent technological dominance, the U.S. has not been winning wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq against low-tech adversaries. Superior weapons don’t necessarily deliver superior strategic results. While the Pentagon rightly devotes considerable resources to R&D, it should save some mental room for grappling with why the U.S. has not had a better record of achieving its aims by force—and how it can improve in the future. – Hoover Institution’s Strategika
Kiron Skinner writes: As a tool of war rather than one of its causes, technological innovation will have to be paired with the innovation of ideas, strategy, and doctrine. These latter factors have more to do with enhancing credible deterrence, peace, and stability than rapidly-changing exotic technologies. – Hoover Institution’s Strategika
The War
That gap is the subject of a new bipartisan report that warns of a serious flaw in U.S. defenses against homegrown terrorism: the lack of an effective, comprehensive system for finding, redirecting and rehabilitating Americans who may be on a path to violent extremism. Unless such a system is put is put into place, the report says, law-enforcement officials will be left to try to prevent attacks only after the would-be terrorist becomes operational. – Washington Post
Foreign nations including China and Russia along with the Islamic State are conducting information warfare against the United States and the federal government is ill prepared to counter it, information warfare experts told Congress on Wednesday. – Washington Free Beacon
Gigabytes of sensitive Air Force documents have reportedly been discovered after they were left unsecured online, according to The Hill. The documents were left visible and without password protection. – Defense News
Peter Hoekstra writes: In addition to keeping the nation secure, [Coats and Pompeo] need to restore trust between America’s spies and its citizens. A good first step would be teaching intelligence agencies to keep their own secrets—so that Americans must once again merely imagine what their spies can do. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


The Ukrainian authorities halted all trade with two Russian-controlled separatist enclaves in the country’s east on Wednesday, using an economic weapon to strike at what has been a long-festering military problem. – New York Times
Journalists who didn't fall into line would either be forced out of work or forced out of Crimea. Semena didn't fall into line. Now he faces a possible five-year prison sentence on charges of calling for "the violation of the territorial integrity of Russia." – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine will impose sanctions on the Ukrainian subsidiaries of Russian state-owned banks, the central bank said on Wednesday, part of a wider crackdown over increased tensions in eastern separatist regions. - Reuters
Michael Carpenter writes: For the future of European security and the liberal international order, the international community needs to ensure that when Kremlin leaders reflect a decade from now on Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, they see it as a strategic blunder that set Ukraine irrevocably on a path towards Western integration and liberal democracy. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Melinda Haring writes: The governor of the National Bank of Ukraine may be diminutive, but she speaks powerfully. “For the previous two decades we were not brave enough,” Valeria Gontareva, 52, said in a March 8 interview. “The real transition from post-USSR to [a] modern competitive economy did not happen when Ukraine gained its independence.” Instead, Ukraine continued to build on the old Soviet edifice. “The longer you wait, the harder it is to construct the proper basics,” she said. – Atlantic Council
The Justice Department charged two Russian intelligence officers on Wednesday with directing a sweeping criminal conspiracy that stole data on 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014, deepening the rift between American and Russian authorities on cybersecurity. – New York Times
The relationship between Mr. Belan and two Russian agents — Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev and Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin — was described in an indictment unsealed on Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco. If true, the allegations offer an extraordinary case study of Russian cyberespionage, and particularly the symbiotic relationship between identity thieves and spammers and Russia’s elite intelligence services. – New York Times
The top Republican and Democrat on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee both said on Wednesday that sanctions imposed on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine must not be lifted without drastic changes by Russia. - Reuters
Vladimir Kara-Murza writes: There will come a day when Russia takes pride in having Boris Nemtsov’s name on its embassy letterhead. It will also be grateful to those who, in difficult times, did not allow it to forget. – Washington Post
Only last week, Philip Hammond, Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, joked about the nickname he has won for dull, technocratic, attention to detail — “Spreadsheet Phil” — as he outlined his budget to lawmakers. On Wednesday, Mr. Hammond was back in Parliament, this time withdrawing some of those financial plans, in an embarrassing about-face that raised questions not just about his carefully crafted image of competence but also that of the government of Prime Minister Theresa May. – New York Times
Three men and a woman were sentenced to prison terms between three and five years Wednesday for forming a far-right terrorist group in Germany with a plan to bomb refugee homes as a tactic to scare migrants into leaving the country. – Associated Press
Video: FPI Fellow James Kirchick discusses The End of Europe – Brookings Institution
Ariel Cohen writes: For the past seventy years, US-German relations have been a cornerstone of transatlantic security and stability. Both countries champion democracy, peace, and human rights. While addressing the necessary trade and security imbalances, the Trump-Merkel summit should strengthen this friendship, which is vital to the world’s peace and prosperity. – Atlantic Council


United States of America
A federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order Wednesday evening blocking President Trump’s ban on travel from parts of the Muslim world, dealing a stinging blow to the White House and signaling that Mr. Trump will have to account in court for his heated rhetoric about Islam. – New York Times
Sen. John McCain on Wednesday accused fellow Sen. Rand Paul of doing Russian President Vladimir Putin's bidding after Paul blocked an attempt to vote on a treaty for NATO membership for Montenegro. - Politico
Donald Trump has backed a plan to boost Saudi Arabian investment in the US, with the White House on Wednesday touting an initiative it said could potentially provide more than $200bn for infrastructure and other sectors. – Financial Times
A group of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would provide an additional 2,500 visas for Afghans who have assisted U.S. forces by working as interpreters or in other support functions, often risking their lives. - Reuters
Reports of sexual assaults increased at two of the three military academies last year and an anonymous survey suggests sexual misconduct rose across the board at the schools, The Associated Press has learned. – Associated Press
State Department
The Trump administration will propose cutting the budgets for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development by about 30%, according to people familiar with the budget discussions. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney is expected to release his 2018 budget blueprint on Thursday, but it is already getting pushback on Capitol Hill.  Analysts say the so-called "skinny budget" and its inclusion of $603 billion for the Pentagon — a $54 billion defense boost paid for by cutting most non-defense accounts, including foreign aid — is one of many items likely to shift before lawmakers can find their way to a bipartisan deal. – Defense News
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the level of State Department spending in the past was "simply not sustainable." – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Foreign policy reporters ripped into the State Department on Wednesday for allowing a single reporter from a conservative media outlet fly with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Asia, after initially telling reporters there was no room on the plane for any press. – Washington Examiner
David McKean and David Wade write: The secretary of state is the fourth-ranking officer in government, but more importantly, for many people and leaders around the world, it’s the face and voice of the United States. The world should hear and see ours — and so should his department and his president. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Trump-Russia Connections
Tensions between congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are rising over Russia, as lawmakers probing alleged ties between the president’s team and the Kremlin accused officials of trying to block their efforts. – Washington Post
Wednesday was a whirlwind day for lawmakers investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election…Here are five things we learned - Politico
Through sheer will, Graham and his subcommittee’s Democratic leader, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, have managed to maneuver their subcommittee to the center of the Russia-Trump investigations. – The Daily Beast
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone says he believes his contacts with a Russian-linked hacker who took credit for breaching the Democratic National Committee may have been obtained through a special warrant that allows the government to collect the communications of people suspected of being agents of a foreign nation. – Associated Press
Carl Levin and John Warner write: As Congress gears up to investigate Russia’s reported interference in American elections, precisely what form that inquiry will take is up for debate. But even at this early stage, one thing is clear: Whether it is done by the Intelligence Committees, a joint or select committee, or some other congressionally created framework, a vital goal of any such investigation must be bipartisanship. - Politico
Trump Tower
In a striking repudiation, Republicans on Wednesday threatened subpoenas and vented openly about the lack of evidence behind President Trump’s tweet that President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. – New York Times
Eli Lake writes: Nonetheless, there may be reason to take the gist of Trump's tweet seriously. At least this is the upshot of the latest turn in the story. On Wednesday Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, and that body's ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff announced they were seeking information on how the identities of American citizens picked up in eavesdropping on foreign targets were unmasked in more widely disseminated intelligence reports. – Bloomberg View
Latin America
Brazil’s political crisis lurched into higher gear Wednesday as an unknown number of top politicians faced the prospect of being snared in a corruption dragnet while labor groups staged nationwide protests against President Michel Temer’s economic policies. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Colombian Vice President German Vargas Lleras resigned on Wednesday, a move widely expected to herald his push for the presidency next year even as he says he is undecided. - Reuters
Jose Cardenas writes: It is precisely a continuation of Obama’s feckless Cuba policy that would help lock the Cuban people into a North Korean–style dynasty. President Trump would do well to explore a different path, a more principled stand, on behalf of democracy and human rights, that would empower the Cuban people and give them more opportunities than merely the opportunity to persevere. – National Review Online


West Africa
West African forces freed 5,000 people being held in villages by Boko Haram, in an operation that killed more than 60 fighters and destroyed the Islamist group's hideout along the Nigeria-Cameroon border, Cameroon said on Wednesday. - Reuters
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
East Africa
Uganda acknowledged on Wednesday that its security forces killed more than 100 people in an assault on a tribal leader's palace last year, revising the death toll upwards by dozens, but denied a rights group's accusation that children were among the dead. - Reuters
A volatile buildup of weapons and resentment along the northern Somali coast culminated in the hijack of an oil freighter this week, the first such seizure by Somali pirates since 2012, experts and locals told Reuters on Wednesday. - Reuters
Maritime police in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland said on Thursday they would attack hijackers holding an oil tanker to free the vessel if efforts by local elders to get them to surrender did not work. - Reuters
Central Africa
Two United Nations officials and four Congolese citizens have disappeared in a conflict-ridden region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where army soldiers have been accused of murdering civilians, the United Nations mission there has said. – New York Times

Trump Administration

Dina Powell, President Trump’s senior counselor for economic initiatives, has been named as a deputy national security adviser for strategy, Trump administration officials said Wednesday. – New York Times
The recent removal, and reinstatement, of the National Security Council’s senior intelligence director is a telling illustration of the ongoing animosity between at least some sectors of the Trump White House and the CIA and may be an early sign of problems for new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. – Washington Post
President Trump has picked the head of the National Security Agency’s elite hacking division to be the next White House cybersecurity coordinator, his administration said Wednesday. – Washington Times
Two months into the Trump administration, the top jobs at the U.S. Department of Defense remain largely empty. But supporters of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are quietly expressing hope that a top Trump aide whom they see as a roadblock for nominees will soon move on to a new role, which could speed up the nominee process nearly two months after Mattis took office. – Defense News
Former Army flight surgeon and Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green is the leading pick to take over as President Donald Trump's Army Secretary, according to sources close to the process. – Military Times
The Senate has voted 86-10 to let Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster keep his rank as national security adviser to President Trump. – Defense News
Former Sen. Dan Coats can formally say goodbye to his brief retirement. His former Senate colleagues confirmed the Hoosier, 85-12, to be President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence Wednesday afternoon, in one of their last actions before a long St. Patrick’s Day weekend. – Roll Call
Lee Smith writes: The main point is this: While the Trump cabinet is at daggers drawn, while it can’t hire the staff to implement the policies the president campaigned on—to destroy ISIS, to reign in Iran and crash the nuclear deal, to protect American citizens and interests, and to realign with allies like Israel that Obama made vulnerable—there are much more decisive and deadly conflicts going on almost everywhere around the world. The people who are handling key elements of those conflicts now are the same people who handled those areas under Obama, despite the results of the last election. No wonder the results look equally awful. - Tablet


Toomas Hendrik Ilves writes: Security cooperation evolves to meet shared threats. In the past, these tended to be organized by geography, due the the physical nature and contraints of kinetic threats. We need a new form of defense organization, based not on geography but on a shared and true dedication to democracy. – Defense One
John McLaughlin writes: The United States’ geopolitical stature is based on much more than military power — although might is one of its foundational components. One by one, the administration is allowing the other elements of leadership, reputational and institutional alike, to slip away. The United States can regain them only if the administration develops a more disciplined communication and policy process — and only if the president comes to understand that giving in to impulsive and fact-challenged anger is the opposite of “presidential.” - Ozy

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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