FPI Overnight Brief: April 10, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Following a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base, Iran has sought to buttress ties with a key ally: Russia. On Saturday, several Iranian military officials and diplomats discussed the conflict in Syria with Russian counterparts, after dozens of U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on Thursday targeted the Shayrat Airfield near Homs, Syria. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Hard-line Iranian cleric Ebrahim Raisi announced he would run in the country’s presidential election next month, challenging an incumbent who has tried to engineer an economic turnaround and sought closer ties with the West. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Sunday said a new multi-billion dollar deal between Boeing and an Iranian airline "should be canceled." – Washington Examiner
Reuel Gerecht and Ray Takeyh write: The United States actually has the high ground against the mullahs. Our resources dwarf theirs. Our self-doubt is nothing compared with the insecurity that Khamenei has to suppress with the Revolutionary Guards. It is way past time for Washington to stoke the volcano under Tehran and to challenge the regime on the limes of its Shiite empire. – Washington Post
Emily Landau writes: In fact, there is no other option but to confront nuclear proliferators with determination—they must be deterred from going nuclear, and from using nuclear weapons….In the case of Iran, pressure and deterrence can still get the message across to Iran that it will not be allowed to cross the nuclear threshold. But it depends on the P5+1—and certainly the United States as the global leader—to not only accept the reality that the deal has not stopped Iran, but to be willing to employ the necessary tools in the continued struggle with this very determined and aggressive proliferator. – The National Interest
Marlie Donovan writes: If the Trump administration wants to get serious about cutting off support to the IRGC, it must recognize that the de facto beneficiary of Boeing’s deal with Aseman Airlines is nothing less than the IRGC itself. And act accordingly. – AEI Ideas
The question for the Pentagon, however, is whether this 21st-century equivalent of a shot across the bow will ensure that poisonous gas will no longer be among the many scourges that plague Syria, or whether it will gradually draw the United States in a multisided military tug of war over the future of the Syrian state. – New York Times
What transpired over the next 57 hours was a series of decisions by a new president with no military or elected-office experience, leading to the first U.S. airstrikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the civil war began six years ago. The moment was a searing and potentially game-changing one for Mr. Trump, who has struggled to transform his success as a candidate into governing since he took office in January. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The American-led task force that is battling the Islamic State has sharply reduced airstrikes against the militants in Syria as commanders assess whether Syrian government forces or their Russian allies plan to respond to the United States’ cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield this past week, American officials said. – New York Times
Islamic State militants attacked American forces and their Syrian rebel allies at a base in southern Syria on Saturday, triggering a fierce fight that required coalition airstrikes to repel, U.S. military officials said Sunday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
To hit Bashar Assad’s military in Syria where it hurts, bomb his helicopters, supply depots and anti-aircraft missile defenses. That’s the assessment of Scott Murray, who from 2013 to 2015 had been in charge of intelligence for the Air Force in the Middle East. And strike them with bombs, big ones, not with Tomahawk cruise missiles, if you want to leave a mark. – USA Today
Senior U.S. military officials raised the possibility Friday that Russia might have had a role in the chemical attacks in Syria that killed scores of civilians, and prompted the massive U.S. cruise missile strike against Shayrat Air Base. – Stars and Stripes
Former acting director of the CIA Michael Morell on Sunday said it's not possible to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) without also taking on Syrian President Bashar Assad. – The Hill
Sailing in the eastern Mediterranean, a pair of U.S. destroyers twice rehearsed firing a fusillade of million-dollar missiles toward a Syrian airbase before President Donald Trump signed the order to launch. - Bloomberg
Based on information released by the U.N., the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), nongovernmental organizations, and the U.S. and European governments, it is possible to construct a picture of the Syrian government’s entire chain of command involved in the research, production, weaponization, planning, and delivery of chemical weapons. – Foreign Policy
Russia said it suspended an airspace deconfliction agreement with U.S. forces operating in and around Syria, in a statement deriding the U.S. for its Thursday night attack on a Syrian airfield with 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched from two destroyers operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, but senior U.S. military officials said the deconfliction hotline is still open and Russians are answering their calls. – USNI News
US officials suspect that Russia operated a drone and military aircraft that surveyed and struck a Syrian hospital treating victims of the chemical attack that prompted US airstrikes on a Syrian airfield days later, two US officials told BuzzFeed News on Friday. – Buzz Feed
Josh Rogin reports: The Trump administration’s strike on one of Bashar al-Assad’s air bases was similar in style and objectives to the strike plan that President Barack Obama prepared in 2013 — except that Obama’s attacks were to be several times bigger than President Trump’s. At the time, leading Republicans mocked the Obama administration for what it called “pinprick” strikes, calling them ineffective. Today they praise Trump’s smaller strikes as perfectly calculated. – Washington Post
Rogin also reports: Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on a town in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, prompting President Trump to retaliate with missile strikes, was the opening salvo in what could be a final, epic battle to determine the future of Syria. As that struggle unfolds in Idlib, the United States has a crucial role to play. – Washington Post
Analysis: If Russia once maintained at least a semblance of distance from President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, it rushed to his defense after the American missile strike ordered by President Trump on Thursday. The attack cemented Moscow more closely than ever to the notorious Syrian autocrat. – New York Times
Fallout from Syria Strikes
Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the United States. – Washington Post
The Trump administration said its focus in Syria is the defeat of Islamic State, not pushing President Bashar al-Assad from power. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, in separate interviews on Sunday, said the administration’s decision last week to strike an Assad regime airfield wasn’t a sign that the U.S. is now focused on toppling the Syrian leader. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
More than 80 civilians were killed in what Western analysts called a sarin attack by Syrian forces — a chilling demonstration that the agreement did not succeed. In recent days, former aides have lamented what they considered one of the worst moments of the Obama presidency and privately conceded that his legacy would suffer. – New York Times
With President Xi Jinping safely out of the United States and no longer President Trump’s guest, China’s state-run media on Saturday was free to denounce the missile strike on Syria, which the American president told Mr. Xi about while they were finishing dinner. – New York Times
For Syrians who have withstood years of unbridled assault and deprivation by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, the American missile strike on a military airfield served as a short-term adrenaline shot of vengeful satisfaction, tinged with cynicism and fear. – New York Times
In the wake of President Trump’s strike on a Syrian airfield in retaliation for deadly chemical weapons attacks, U.S. lawmakers want the commander-in-chief to spell out his broader strategy in Syria, and soon. – Defense News
Senior Trump administration officials did not disclose to lawmakers any long-term plans for dealing with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad or the years-old conflict in his country, further complicating President Donald Trump’s relationship with Congress. – Roll Call
Sen. Marco Rubio stepped up his criticisms of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday, saying that the nation’s top diplomat is espousing a Syria policy that might be doomed to failure. - Politico
A former Obama official acknowledged Sunday that the U.S. "always knew" an agreement with Syrian President Bashar Assad did not clear all chemical weapons out of Syria, despite the fact that the administration touted the deal as an unequivocal success at the time – Washington Examiner
Joint Russia-Iranian forces operating in Syria warned the Trump administration over the weekend that further American strikes on the war-torn country will unleash a "lethal response," according to official statements aimed at ratcheting up tension with the United States following a string of fresh airstrikes on Syrian strongholds. – Washington Free Beacon
Josh Rogin reports: President Trump’s decision to take limited military strikes against a Syrian military base Thursday is a potential game-changer for Syria, but only if the Trump administration follows through with a strategy to increase the pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its partners, according to the lead negotiator for the Syrian opposition. – Washington Post
Interview: US missile strikes on a Syrian air base from where a deadly chemical weapons attack is believed to have been launched send a clear message that the United States is now “directly engaged” in addressing the mass homicide perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. – Atlantic Council
Editorial: The administration should, meanwhile, make another effort to draw Russia and Syria’s neighbors into a negotiation on the country’s future, using the new leverage provided by Mr. Trump’s demonstrated willingness to use force. It should seek bipartisan congressional support, including the authorization of military force in the event of further atrocities — even if the White House has, as we believe, the constitutional leeway to act without it. Mr. Trump has created an opportunity for the United States, and for his presidency, in Syria. Its ultimate value will depend on how well he follows up. – Washington Post
Editorial: When the Bush Administration failed to find the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was thought to have, opponents used the intelligence failure to discredit the war in Iraq and call George W. Bush a liar. Will there be any even remotely similar accounting after the Obama Administration’s intelligence failure in Syria, where Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons we were told he didn’t have? – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: The larger point for Mr. Trump to recognize is that he is being tested. The world—friend and foe—is watching to see how he responds to Mr. Assad’s war crime. His quick air strike on the evening he was having dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping makes clear that the Obama era is over. If he now follows with action to protect Syrian civilians and construct an anti-Assad coalition, he may find that new strategic possibilities open up to enhance U.S. interests and make the Middle East more stable. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
FPI Board Member Robert Kagan writes: Let’s hope that the Trump administration is prepared for the next move. If it is, then there is a real chance of reversing the course of global retreat that Obama began. A strong U.S. response in Syria would make it clear to the likes of Putin, Xi Jinping, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Kim Jong Un that the days of American passivity are over. – Washington Post
FPI Executive Director Christopher J. Griffin writes: By overturning entrenched assumptions about the war, Trump’s airstrikes have opened the way toward a complete rethinking of the policy he inherited from his predecessor – one which until yesterday, he openly embraced. The great unknown is whether President Trump has either clear outcomes in mind for Syria or a strategy to achieve them. If the president is considering a sustained set of airstrikes, it would be preferable from him to request from Congress a formal authorization for the use of military force. – Foreign Policy Initiative
Frederick Kagan writes: Stopping Assad’s barbarity is as central to defeating ISIS as any direct military action against the group. The U.S. must work to dampen the flames of sectarian war in Syria by pressing extremists on both sides — ISIS and Al Qaeda among the Sunni; Assad and his Iranian allies among the Alawites. Only when the extremists are marginalized and moderates re-empowered can we hope to end the serious threat to America’s security now emanating from Syria. Trump’s actions offer some hope of accomplishing that aim. – New York Daily News
James Rubin writes: While the limited missile strike was a commendable and overdue response to the use of chemical weapons and to countless other war crimes perpetrated by the regime in Damascus, the public performance of President Trump and his team throughout this tragic episode hardly inspires confidence. On the contrary, the administration demonstrated a dangerous degree of incoherence and inconsistency. – New York Times
Peter Feaver writes: Candidate Trump repeatedly promised that he would not simply conduct American foreign policy in the way Obama did. By punishing Assad for his brazen violation of international law and basic human decency, Trump took a significant step forward in fulfilling that campaign promise. But Trump also promised that his approach would produce more lasting success than Obama’s. Whether he fulfills that promise will depend on what comes next, not on what happened Thursday. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Danielle Pletka writes: Let us hope that in the days to come, the new President and his national security team will make clear that the Trump administration has a strategy to defeat our enemies and to renew the American people’s support for decisive US leadership that will keep us safe, begin to end terror’s scourge, start the resolution of the refugee problem and turn around the weakness of the last eight years. Let us hope. - CNN
Thomas Donnelly writes: Whatever the president’s motivation, there’s a good case to be made that, at least in regard to the Middle East, a coherent approach is emerging from the administration. This represents both a reversal from the Iran-first gambit of the Obama years and a reaffirmation of the traditional U.S. strategy that held sway from Jimmy Carter in 1979 through George W. Bush in 2009. – The Weekly Standard
Walter Russell Mead writes: Mr. Trump has passed his first test, but more difficult ones are yet to come. If he is to succeed—and every American and friend of world peace must pray that he does—he will need a team in the White House that commands his full confidence. The extraordinary talents now in charge at the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council need to staff up and surround themselves with the best the country can offer. There is no job in the world more difficult than the U.S. presidency. President Trump will need all the help he can get. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Eli Lake writes: If Trump can hasten the collapse of Assad's foul dictatorship, or at least end his ability to gas his own people, this White House may end up earning strange new respect of the liberal internationalists so disappointed by Obama's careful inaction. You know who I mean -- people like Samantha Power. – Bloomberg View
Jennifer Cafarella and Genevieve Cassagrande write: The U.S strike against an Assad regime base in northern Syria on April 6, 2017 opened the door to a reorientation of American strategy in the Middle East. President Trump’s action could reset the terms of America’s confrontation of other hostile states, such as North Korea. President Trump may be shifting away from a narrow focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) as the strategic priority in Syria and toward a new approach. – Institute for the Study of War
Brian Katulis writes: [N]ow that the United States has taken action, it should take robust steps to ensure that these strikes, which come at a time of operational and tactical military escalations in Iraq and Yemen, are nested in a wider regional strategy that places a high premium on working closely with our partners in the region to prevent a wider escalation. This requires an investment in diplomatic tools — which Trump has proposed undercutting in his budget — and it requires an integrated strategy to make sure that America is not just adding fuel to a fire that has led to the collapse of states across the region. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas Heras writes: If the United States is to turn the limited tactical strikes in Syria into a real strategic gain, the Trump team will have to change its approach, and focus not only on winning the war but also on winning the peace. – Washington Post
Colin Kahl writes: As the afterglow and applause of the missile strikes fade, finding a way to advance American interests in Syria while avoiding a war with Russia is the urgent task at hand. After all, sinking into a Syrian quagmire would be bad enough. World War III would be far worse. – Washington Post
U.S. military strikes in Syria are pushing Iraq’s pro-American prime minister into an awkward balancing act between two crucial allies helping Baghdad drive Islamic State from its last significant stronghold in his country. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Islamic State militants this week executed scores of civilians trying to flee west Mosul and hanged some of their bodies from utility poles, Iraqi officials said Friday. – Stars and Stripes
Rattling a country already wrestling with a faltering economy and deepening political malaise, two suicide bombings that killed 44 people at Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday raised the specter of increased sectarian bloodshed led by Islamic State militants. – New York Times
Editorial: The attacks also cast doubt on Mr. Sisi’s ability to protect Pope Francis when he visits Egypt later this month. The pope is a prime target as Islamists attempt to foment sectarian religious conflict. President Trump welcomed Mr. Sisi to the White House last week as a partner in the war against Islamic extremism, but that partnership needs to include protecting Egypt’s Christian minority. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Dov Zakheim writes: In short, Sisi’s Egypt needs a boost in both military and economic assistance, not a cutback. There is some consolation for Cairo in that it is highly probable that in the economic sphere, costly human rights initiatives, whose efficacy is open to question, will no longer take away from whatever Egypt does receive. Still, if Trump is serious about developing the kind of tight relationship he described after meetings with his Egyptian counterpart, he needs to do more, not less, for Sisi in the realm of economic aid, while preserving the longstanding level of American military assistance. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Eric Trager writes: President Donald Trump’s warm welcome of Sisi at the White House last week provides a rare opening for an important conversation. Having demonstrated that he is a sincere partner and friend, President Trump can now approach Sisi for a serious conversation about how Washington can help Cairo improve its performance against jihadis in the Sinai. And part of that discussion should examine how the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid might be redirected to assist in those efforts to prevent today’s horror from repeating itself, rather than equipping Egypt for the conventional wars of the distant past. – The Cipher Brief
A political cartoon of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stretched out on a psychologist’s couch and clutching TV sets, radios and newspapers to his chest might be the best depiction of a crisis that threatened to bring down the Israeli government…On one level, the cartoon represented what many Israelis see as Netanyahu’s fantastical obsession with the media. In a deeper sense, however, it denotes what critics say appears to be his determination to weaken and ultimately control Israel’s small, Hebrew-language news industry. – Washington Post
Interview: King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke to The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth about the key role he expects to play with the president in reviving the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He also talked about the need for the United States to engage with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and perhaps make some concessions to solve the crisis in Syria. – Washington Post
David Makovsky, Ghaith al-Omari and Lia Weiner write: For progress to happen, Palestinians and Israelis need to show commitment to peace not only by their words but also by taking action — even difficult action — that demonstrates their resolve to their own publics and to the other side. – Washington Post


With large swaths of the Afghan countryside under Taliban control and several cities threatened, American and NATO leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of security reforms that they see as necessary to battle the insurgency. – New York Times
Halfway through a presidency that promised to bring reform and modernization, the country is still struggling with the same problems that have plagued it through 16 years of flawed democratic rule, subsidized by billions in foreign aid: a determined Taliban insurgency; pervasive public corruption; desperate poverty; and leaders consumed by political quarrels. – Washington Post
An American Special Forces soldier was killed in eastern Afghanistan during a joint operation with Afghan forces against affiliates of the Islamic State, officials said on Sunday. – New York Times
Insurgents have killed at least 13 Afghan security forces in separate attacks, officials said Sunday, as the country struggles to contain a long-running Taliban insurgency and combat a growing threat from a local Islamic State affiliate. – Associated Press
A China-backed trade deal meant to cement the Beijing’s dominance in Asia has veered off course because India is hesitant to open its borders to cheap Chinese goods. – Foreign Policy
The United States and China wrapped up a two-day presidential summit here by announcing a 100-day plan to improve strained trade ties and boost cooperation between the rival nations. – Washington Post
The American attack on Syria on Thursday unraveled China’s well laid plans for a summit meeting that would present President Xi Jinping as a global leader on par with President Trump, at once stealing the spotlight from Mr. Xi and putting him in a difficult position: choosing between condoning the kind of unilateral military action that China has long opposed, or rebuking his host. – New York Times
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the U.S. wants to see “tangible results”—and soon—on its trading relationship with China. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
China’s anti-corruption investigators are targeting the country’s top insurance regulator, throwing doubt over an industry that has been behind a wave of blockbuster global deals but has raised concerns about financial risk in the world’s second-largest economy. – New York Times
China will offer the Trump administration better market access for financial sector investments and US beef exports to help avert a trade war, according to Chinese and US officials involved in talks between the two governments. – Financial Times
The wife of a Taiwanese pro-democracy activist detained in China said Monday that she was prevented from flying to the mainland to seek a visit with her husband, whose case has inflamed tensions between the sides that have already sunk to their lowest level in years. – Associated Press
East Asia
A U.S. Navy strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was making its way toward the Korean Peninsula on Sunday “to maintain readiness” as Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea prepared to mark key anniversaries in the coming weeks. – Washington Post
The National Security Council has presented President Donald Trump with options to respond to North Korea's nuclear program — including putting American nukes in South Korea or killing dictator Kim Jong-un, multiple top-ranking intelligence and military officials told NBC News. – NBC News
North Korea is pledging to boost its defenses following President Trump’s decision to strike a Syrian airfield, calling the move “absolutely unpardonable.” – The Hill
Taiwan is short five critical pieces of submarine technology that it needs to achieve its aim of building a new class of indigenous submarines, according to a Taiwanese defense analyst. – Defense News
William Tobey writes: For decades we have lived with a relatively small North Korean nuclear threat. The United States and its allies tried policies ranging from bribes to coercion, but under China’s aegis, the North has flouted international law with impunity. As Pyongyang’s fissile material stocks grow, the urgency and nature of the threat is changing. Patience, strategic or otherwise, is no longer a viable option for Presidents Trump and Xi. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
Southeast Asia
No one expected governing to be easy for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who became the country’s de facto leader a year ago after her party won a landslide election that ended more than a half-century of military rule. Even so, her first year has been a disappointment to many. She made it a top priority to end the long-running ethnic insurgencies that have torn the country apart, but her anemic peace effort has proved fruitless so far, and fighting between government forces and ethnic groups has increased. – New York Times
The Philippine government on Saturday walked back comments by President Rodrigo Duterte ordering the armed forces to occupy uninhabited islands in the disputed South China Sea after the comments caused tensions to spike with China. – New York Times


President Trump's military options for any new strikes on Bashar Assad in Syria could be limited if Congress punts on a defense budget this month, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee said – Washington Examiner
The U.S. Navy is taking a hard look at upgrading its future frigates to protect other ships from anti-air threats in addition to defending against undersea and surface enemies. The move would be a significant enhancement in the effort to develop a frigate from existing littoral combat ship (LCS) designs. – Defense News
The head of naval aviation has extended a three-day grounding of all the Navy's T-45 training jets indefinitely after a group of instructor pilots refused to fly the aircraft. – Military Times
For years, the U.S. military has been fretting about the return of conflicts in which air defenses play a big role. If tensions escalate in Syria, high-end American fighter jets might face off against Russia’s top-of-the-line anti-aircraft missiles — and both sides will quickly learn who has the edge. – Defense One
The global proliferation of Russian and Chinese weapons massively increases the likelihood that US Army forces will confront tanks, drones, electronic warfare systems, precision munitions, armored vehicles and artillery made by near-peer competitors. – Scout Warrior
With more technologically advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) buzzing about than ever, some military leaders are starting to rethink the way they look at air superiority. That is especially true for the U.S. Marine Corps – often the first U.S. force to face UAV threats on foreign soil. – Scout Warrior
Nuclear Weapons
Ash Carter writes: Thus, although nuclear weapons do not get the same amount or kind of media attention they did when I started my career at the Defense Department three decades ago, they will remain critically important to the nation’s security for years to come. To ensure our deterrence in light of changes in technology and in the nuclear security environment, the Defense Department must continue to take the necessary steps—and make the critical innovations and investments—to ensure safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrence for decades to come. – The American Interest
Wikileaks on Friday released its fourth round of documents purportedly leaked from a secure CIA server. And for a fourth time, experts largely agreed the leaks were more smoke than fire. – The Hill


Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson is taking a hard line against Russia on the eve of his first diplomatic trip to Moscow, calling the country “incompetent” for allowing Syria to hold on to chemical weapons and accusing Russia of trying to influence elections in Europe using the same methods it employed in the United States. – New York Times
Even before President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against Russia’s leading ally in the Middle East, Moscow had reasons to think that his campaign promise of a new dawn in U.S.-Russia relations was fading. – Washington Post
In a surprise announcement on Saturday, Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said that because of the situation in Syria, he had canceled a long-delayed official visit to Moscow that was to begin on Monday. – New York Times
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday that he would be open to passing new sanctions against Russia if they get bipartisan support. – The Hill
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Friday that he will expand a Russia sanctions bill to include penalizing Russian President Vladimir Putin's assistance to the Assad regime in Syria. – The Hill
Editorial: Mr. Putin either is fearful of Mr. Kadyrov or appreciates his approach, but either way, the result is to allow this violent ruffian to act with impunity. His latest victims surely now fear for their lives, those who are still alive. Mr. Putin, who so often insists that Russia be treated respectfully in the world, should display some backbone in response to the latest reported atrocity, facing down Mr. Kadyrov, releasing the terrified gay detainees and investigating how such frightful intimidation was allowed to happen. – Washington Post
Molly McKew writes: Strength requires strategy. And it’s time that we have one again on Russia, and for all the many wars the Kremlin is waging against us and our interests. But this requires seeing through the Kremlin’s fairytales and accepting the truth of their actions. - Politico
Western Europe
The Uzbek man arrested in the terrorism rampage in central Stockholm last week was an asylum seeker whose application was rejected and who in December was given four weeks to leave the country, the Swedish police said on Sunday. – New York Times
The Uzbek nationality of the suspected terrorist in a truck attack that killed four here has Western security officials focusing on a geopolitically knotty source of extremists: the former Soviet states of Central Asia. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The French police on Saturday collected weapons, ammunition and explosives from the Basque separatist group ETA in a step toward the group’s disarmament, a development that prompted a wary response from the Spanish government. – New York Times
Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is pressing Finland and other liberal-minded EU member states to speak up for liberal economic policies as the UK, their traditional standard-bearer, prepares for Brexit. – Financial Times
Eastern Europe
Officials in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region say the speaker of the de facto parliament, Anatoly Bibilov, has won a presidential election condemned by Tbilisi and the West as illegitimate. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Hungarians rose up on Sunday in one of the largest protests against the seven-year rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, dismayed by legislation that could force one of Hungary’s top international universities out of the country. - Reuters
Hannah Thoburn writes: There is perhaps little that the international community can do to help save EP as Russia has become both increasingly closed off and hostile to foreign concerns about their governance choices. Should either university be closed, Western institutions should be quick and thorough with efforts to assist any stranded undergraduate and graduate students by providing new homes that will allow them to complete their studies. It is an opportunity for Western academic institutions to make a stand for the academy’s independence from political interference. It is an opportunity not to be missed. – World Affairs Journal


United States of America
Sen. Rand Paul sounded one of the more discordant notes last week after President Trump’s retaliatory missile strike against the Syrian regime, suggesting it was ill-advised and illegal, and insisting Congress needs to get involved. – Washington Times
Two Marines have been disciplined for posting derogatory comments on social media, marking the first time the Marine Corps has officially punished members for online misconduct following last month’s revelations that hundreds of service members shared illicit photos of their female counterparts on a Facebook group, Marine officials said Friday. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
The Coast Guard recently avoided a potentially massive budget cut but still struggles to cope with inflation, and the problem is only getting worse, officials said. – Military.com
State Department/Foreign Aid
Half a century after the United States led a global expansion of international efforts to combat infectious disease and promote family planning, the Trump administration has embarked on a historic retrenchment that many fear threatens the health of millions and jeopardizes America’s standing in the world. – Los Angeles Times
Conversations with more than a dozen people in and outside of State who are involved in or monitoring the administration's plans suggest some broad outlines are emerging about State's future, including from proposed budget cuts accepted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and from a 2016 Heritage Foundation report that laid out some dramatic ways to reshape the department. - Politico
Trump-Russia Connections
With Nunes stepping aside from the Russia probe, Trump has lost the latest in a string of allies — real or perceived — who occupy positions that could have been used to shield him from scrutiny over his and his aides’ ties to Russia. - Politico
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on Sunday rejected a call for him to recuse himself from the panel's investigation of Russian meddling in last year's presidential campaign. - Politico
Eli Lake writes: Well it looks like the media won't have Representative Devin Nunes to kick around anymore. This is the latest twist in the dueling investigations around alleged Russian ties to President Donald Trump's associates and the Obama administration's alleged politicization of the surveillance state. – Bloomberg View
Latin America
A Venezuelan politician seen as a main contender to challenge President Nicolás Maduro in next year’s election has been barred by the government from holding public office for 15 years. – New York Times
Senior U.S. officials fear that the Colombian government is losing control of the landmark peace process initiated last year with leftist FARC rebels, with questions of whether the rebels are honoring promises to disarm while their illicit drug trade grows. – Washington Times
Three decades after this tiny Central American nation became the prize in a Cold War battle with Washington, Russia is once again planting its flag in Nicaragua. Over the past two years, the Russian government has added muscle to its security partnership here, selling tanks and weapons, sending troops, and building facilities intended to train Central American forces to fight drug trafficking. – Washington Post
After years of worrying that Latin Americans might join ISIS in Iraq and Syria and return home battle-hardened, regional commanders are now more concerned about the self-radicalization of people who never left home. – Defense One


The Continent
At least 10 people were killed in the capital of Somalia on Sunday when a suicide bomber tried to assassinate the newly installed commander of the country’s army, witnesses and officials said. – New York Times
As Congress heads for a bruising showdown over funding this month, Mr. Bush was in Africa this past week to publicize a $6.8 billion assistance program that has done much to save this continent’s future and more than a little to rehabilitate his image. – New York Times
The Trump administration will move forward with the sale of high-tech aircraft to Nigeria for its campaign against Boko Haram Islamic extremists despite concerns over abuses committed by the African nation's security forces, according to U.S. officials. – Associated Press
Former President George W. Bush writes: Saving nearly 12 million lives is proof that PEPFAR works, and I urge our government to fully fund it. We are on the verge of an AIDS-free generation, but the people of Africa still need our help. The American people deserve credit for this tremendous success and should keep going until the job is done. – Washington Post
Central/Southern Africa
President Joseph Kabila of Congo has named a former leading member of the main opposition coalition as his prime minister, but the appointment seems unlikely to resolve the country’s political crisis or satisfy the opposition, analysts say. – New York Times
In the largest protest in years, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in South Africa’s major cities on Friday to demand the resignation of President Jacob Zuma after his dismissal of a well-respected finance minister intensified concerns about government corruption. – New York Times
Editorial: For now, however, it looks as if Mr. Zuma may succeed in entrenching his sleaze-tinged power structure in what was once the party of Nelson Mandela. That would be a tragedy not only for South Africa but also for the cause of democracy across the continent. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

As he confronted a series of international challenges from the Middle East to Asia last week, President Trump made certain that nothing was certain about his foreign policy. To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging, it seems to be this: don’t get roped in by doctrine. – New York Times
In the weeks after his election, Donald Trump considered former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for secretary of state, tapped Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser, and pondered appointing John Bolton to a senior foreign policy post. But the advisers briefing Trump last week ahead of his first military strike represented a much more mainstream bunch…. The shift in the people Trump surrounds himself with is being cheered by Washington's foreign policy establishment. - Politico
Jeffrey Goldberg writes: The curious thing is that Donald Trump is also not interested in having his own Iraq. And yet here he is. Obama was known for an overly cerebral commitment to the notion of strategic patience. Trump seems more committed to a policy of glandular, non-strategic impatience. Obama may have been paralyzed by a phobic reaction to the threat posed by the slippery slope. Donald Trump now finds himself dancing at the edge of the slippery slope his predecessor so assiduously avoided. – The Atlantic
Anne Applebaum writes: It’s time to go back to the original story: a dysfunctional White House, a president who is mixing his business interests with politics, and a campaign whose relationship to Russian trolls and hackers has yet to be elucidated. Let’s get to the bottom of those stories before we move on to a new one. – Washington Post
Jim Hoagland writes: Most of what President Trump has done and said in his brief time in office has bordered on squalid, incompetent or unbalanced. The bold moral clarity of his missile attack against a Syrian air base involved in chemical warfare deepens rather than resolves the mystery of the real character of this president. – Washington Post
For an administration that has lurched from crisis to crisis, often seeming to make things up as it goes along, this was a chance for Mr. Tillerson and Mr. McMaster to offer a forceful explanation of Mr. Trump’s thinking. For both men, who have struggled with personnel upheavals at their agencies and doubts about their place in Mr. Trump’s turbulent orbit, it was a chance to show that they were wielding influence over critical national security decisions. – New York Times
In the past week, Ms. Haley has made it increasingly clear that she has no intention of being sidelined. To the contrary, as diplomats at the United Nations saw it, she managed to elbow herself into a leading, outspoken role in the Trump administration. – New York Times
President Donald Trump is considering a major shake-up of his staff, a senior administration official said Friday, as he looks to build a more cohesive operation after a tumultuous start in the White House. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The same President Trump who can be gruff and erratic in public tweets is a commander in chief who is deferential and attentive when he talks to a star-studded cast of his closest military advisers. People familiar with the budding relationships portray Mr. Trump as often in listening mode among his generals and as accessible as the next phone call. – Washington Times
President Trump intends to nominate former Army lieutenant colonel and current Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green (R) as Army secretary, the White House confirmed Friday. – The Hill
A top national security adviser to President Donald Trump is the latest official heading out in an ongoing shuffle within the National Security Council. – Associated Press

Democracy and Human Rights

Interview: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia in 1969, is Islam’s most eloquent apostate. She has just published a slim book that seeks to add a new four-letter word—dawa—to the West’s vocabulary. It describes the ceaseless, world-wide ideological campaign waged by Islamists as a complement to jihad. It is, she says, the greatest threat facing the West and “could well bring about the end of the European Union as we know it.” America is far from immune, and her book, “The Challenge of Dawa,” is an explicit attempt to persuade the Trump administration to adopt “a comprehensive anti-dawa strategy before it is too late.” – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

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