FPI Overnight Brief: April 21, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

President Donald Trump said Thursday that Iran was “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement reached in 2015. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A council that vets Iran’s political candidates disqualified former two-term president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday — along with hundreds of others — from the presidential election next month. – New York Times
Defense industry leaders in Iran presented the home-built Qaher F-313 stealth fighter jet to military and government officials during a recent unveiling ceremony, according to UPI. – Defense News
Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s centrist president, will face tough competition to hold on to office for a second term after Tehran allowed six candidates — almost equally divided between pro-reform and hardline forces — to run in next month’s presidential election. – Financial Times
Lee Smith writes: Numerous federal agencies are carrying out the review—including law enforcement and the intelligence community, the State Department and various embassies around the world, the Treasury Department, Justice, and the Pentagon. The process is being managed by National Security Council staff. The debate over Iran appears to be between those who want to cut them off at the knees and those who want to knock their block off, with arguments over exactly how badly and when. – The Weekly Standard
The Syrian government has retained an unspecified amount of chemical weapons and dispersed its aircraft following a U.S. cruise missile attack earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Friday. – Washington Post
Italy’s Prime Minster backed President Donald Trump’s retaliatory Tomahawk cruise missiles strike in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and said on Thursday action could provide “new momentum to foster a political solution.” – USNI News
The Islamic State may be on the brink of defeat in Mosul, but the radical Muslim terror group isn't giving in without a bloody -- and blistering -- pushback. – Military.com
Arabian Peninsula
The United States wants new commitments from Saudi Arabia to improve its targeting procedures to minimize civilian casualties in its part in the Yemen civil war as it weighs resuming sales of precision-guided munitions to Riyadh, U.S. officials told Reuters. - Reuters
David Ignatius writes: Two years into his campaign as change agent in this conservative oil kingdom, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be gaining the confidence and political clout to push his agenda of economic and social reform. – Washington Post
North Africa
President Trump said on Thursday that he would not give the American military a direct role in helping stabilize war-ravaged Libya, rejecting years of pleading by Italy for more assistance in stemming African migrant traffic into Europe. – New York Times
A video has emerged that appears to show members of the Egyptian military shooting unarmed detainees to death at point-blank range in the Sinai Peninsula and staging the killings to look as if they had happened in combat. – New York Times
An Egyptian-American charity worker freed after nearly three years of detention in Egypt returned Thursday night to the United States, the White House said. – Associated Press
A 10-year blockade and three wars have hardened the people of the Gaza Strip, but now they face a new challenge: a lone power station without fuel…The solution could be simple: Provide Gazans with fuel for their single power plant. But the problem is caught in the middle of a power struggle between the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the militant rulers of the Gaza Strip. – Washington Post
Even as Mr. Erdogan’s moves have raised concerns over the direction of Turkey’s democracy, some still see him as a fair and strong Muslim leader in a region largely ruled by dynasties and resurgent autocrats. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Turkey's talks with Russia about the purchase of the S-400 air missile defense system have reached a "final stage", although this does not mean a deal will be signed immediately, Defense Minister Fikri Isik said on Friday. - Reuters
FPI Board Member Eric Edelman writes: Erdogan campaigned for a strengthened presidency on the grounds that he alone could provide stability for the country wracked by terror attacks, post-coup jitters, and the blowback of Syrian conflict. Instead, he has thrown into relief the deep divisions of a society riven by ethnic, confessional, and cultural differences. If he pushes too hard and too fast to implement his post-Kemalist vision in the months ahead, he may simply succeed in bringing the country to the brink of civil war. And that would make what is happening next door in Syria seem like a Sunday picnic in the park. – The Weekly Standard
Sohrab Ahmari writes: The domestic opposition is cornered, but the referendum showed that half or more of Turkish society will never accept Mr. Erdogan as an elected sultan. Turkey is still linked to NATO and the West in a way that Iran never was. That’s all the more reason for Turkey’s Western allies to speak up for Mr. Erdogan’s victims and help arrest, if not reverse, Turkey’s transformation into another closed society like the one next door. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


South Asia
The Supreme Court ordered a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption allegations arising from last April’s Panama Papers leak. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Indian Navy is unlikely to meet its long-term plan of infusing modern technologies due to a resource crunch and delays in project execution, according to a Navy official and defense analysts here. – Defense News
India has barred the country’s largest independent public health organisation from receiving foreign funds, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government widens its crackdown on civil society organisations. – Financial Times
Pakistani opposition party lawmakers tore up the agenda and shouted in a parliament session on Friday as they demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down during an investigation into his finances. - Reuters
Ahmed Rashid writes: As a result of the Supreme Court verdict Mr Sharif is not in the clear, but he at least has time to take a breather before the elections, and to address the accusations of incompetence and corruption that have been heaped on his family and inner team of ministers. – Financial Times
China’s vast steel industry is a major target of President Trump. But this hulking shell of a mill here shows why China is likely to keep pumping out more and more steel, inflaming trade tensions between the two countries. – New York Times
A video confession by a detained former spy chief has surfaced in China, countering sensational claims by an exiled businessman as a public tussle over corruption in the financial sector dredges up the ghosts of old deals. – Financial Times
The United States is aware of a higher-than-usual level of activity by Chinese bomber planes, signaling a possible heightened state of readiness, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday, but downplayed concerns and left open a range of possible reasons. - Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced a restructure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to transform it into a leaner fighting force with improved joint operations and cyber capabilities, state media said. - Reuters
Korean Peninsula
Chinese state-backed hackers have recently targeted South Korean entities involved in deploying a U.S. missile-defense system, says an American cybersecurity firm, despite Beijing’s denial of retaliation against Seoul over the issue. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is mulling whether it should restore North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. – The Hill
European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini warned in China Thursday that the current war of words between the United States and North Korea creates “geopolitical unpredictability” not only in Asia but around the globe. But as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un face off, it’s not clear that either sees this as a sign they should back down. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
The civil war in Syria, which began in 2011, has been a tragedy for millions of people, including refugees fleeing the violence and residents caught in the crossfire. But for North Korea’s ruling elite, the conflict has in many ways been a good thing….[E]vidence has emerged suggesting that in one way or another, via front companies and elaborate logistics, war materials from North Korea have ended up in Syria, ultimately enriching the Kim regime. – Defense One
“One of the legacies of the Pearl Harbor attack is that residents of Hawaii feel a stronger sense of vulnerability than people on the United States mainland,” said Denny Roy, a research fellow at the East-West Center who focuses on North Korea and nuclear weapons. “Whenever the mainstream news reprises the issue of North Korea working toward a nuclear [intercontinental ballistic missile] and threatening to use it against the United States, people in Hawaii get nervous.” – The Atlantic
South Korea’s government on Thursday sought to correct President Trump, publicly declaring it was never part of China. – The Hill
The U.N. Security Council threatened new sanctions against North Korea Thursday in a strongly-worded condemnation of its latest missile launch after the U.S. agreed to a Russian request to include a call for “dialogue” with Pyongyang. – Associated Press
South Korea said on Friday it was on heightened alert ahead of another important anniversary in North Korea, with a large concentration of military hardware amassed on both sides of the border amid concerns about a new nuclear test by Pyongyang. - Reuters
North Korean state media warned the United States of a "super-mighty preemptive strike" after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was looking at ways to bring pressure to bear on North Korea over its nuclear programme. - Reuters
Charles Krauthammer writes: The Korea crisis is real and growing. But we are not helpless. We have choices. We have assets. It’s time to deploy them. – Washington Post
East Asia
President Trump will attend three summits in Asia in November, Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday while visiting the headquarters of Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta, Indonesia. – Washington Times
Dozens of Japanese lawmakers, including one cabinet minister, visited a shrine to Japan's war dead on Friday, in a move that could spark protests elsewhere in Asia where the shrine is regarded as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday lauded Indonesia for its "tradition of moderate Islam" and democratic values, The Associated Press reported. – The Hill
U.S. President Donald Trump has invited Vietnam's prime minister to visit the United States, the Southeast Asian nation's government said on its website on Friday. - Reuters
The United States said on Thursday it was troubled by the growing number of extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs and called on Manila to stick to its commitment to investigate them. - Reuters


Defense Secretary James Mattis has privately told Congress the Trump administration's Pentagon budget request isn't sufficient to cover the cost of rebuilding the military as President Donald Trump has vowed to do, four sources familiar with the conversations told CNN. - CNN
The U.S. Air Force ordered Northrop Grumman Corp. to stop work on developing an upgraded war-planning network for air operations after Congress refused to approve more money for a project that’s doubled in cost and fallen more than three years behind on a key deadline. - Bloomberg
The Navy has released its emerging Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from an F/A-18 Super Hornet, marking a new milestone in the development of a next-generation, long range, semi-autonomous weapon designed to track and destroy enemy targets - firing from aircraft and ships. – Scout Warrior
The latest GAO report on the Amphibious Combat Vehicle may reveal more problems with GAO’s approach than with the Marine Corps program. – Breaking Defense
Mackenzie Eaglen and Gary Schmitt write: As things stand, OMB director Mick Mulvaney's attempt to find sufficient "offsets" in the nondefense budgets to match the increase in defense spending dollar for dollar has been a nonstarter with Democrats. Finding that new "golden ratio" will require compromise by House Republicans and Senate Democrats and leadership from a White House that prioritizes national security. Normally, a supplemental appropriations bill is only that. In this case, it could be, and should be, seen as much more. – The Weekly Standard
The War
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis showed distaste Thursday for using body counts to gauge progress and declined to give an estimate on the number of ISIS fighters killed in the MOAB bombing in Afghanistan. – DOD Buzz
Missile Defense
Telling targets apart better is the mission of the $784 million Long-Range Discrimination Radar. Today, contractor Lockheed Martin announced LRDR had passed a major milestone, the Preliminary Design Review. (Critical Design Review is scheduled for September and Final Design Review for December). Lockheed already has a scaled-down LRDR in testing, while the full-size LRDR is on track to be installed at Clear Air Force Station in Alaska in 2020. – Breaking Defense
Federal prosecutors are weighing whether to bring criminal charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, taking a second look at a 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents and investigating whether the group bears criminal responsibility for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cyber-tools, according to people familiar with the case. – Washington Post
Federal law enforcement authorities believe it was a vetted member of the U.S. intelligence community — either an official CIA employee or a contractor — who supplied WikiLeaks with a trove of documents that the anti-secrecy group published last month purporting to expose the agency’s vast clandestine cyberoperations. – Washington Times
The missed target date, one of several blown deadlines in the administration's first months, has resulted in uncertainty as to who is running the cyber review and when it might be completed. The White House insisted Thursday that a plan was in the works but did not offer any timetable. – Defense News
Top U.S. intelligence officials, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and FBI Director James Comey are reportedly heading to New Zealand this weekend for a secret gathering of the Five Eyes spying alliance, according to a report. – Washington Examiner


Ukrainian authorities detained a former lawmaker and the deputy chief of state energy firm Naftogaz in a case related to the embezzlement of $17.3 million through selling uranium concentrate at inflated prices, prosecutors and the anti-corruption bureau said on Friday. - Reuters
A Kremlin-controlled research organization that Western critics accuse of subversive propaganda in other countries, including possible election meddling, is known in Russia as a semiretirement refuge for former intelligence officers. – New York Times
When President Donald Trump picked Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp., to be his secretary of state, some oil analysts assumed the appointment signaled a potential revival of the firm’s halted partnership with Russia. Four months later, with Exxon now seeking a waiver from U.S. sanctions to allow it to drill with Russian state-oil giant PAO Rosneft in the Black Sea, the political path for such an opportunity appears to be narrowing significantly. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants. – New York Times
The truckers in this recent rally in Dagestan were part of a nationwide strike by thousands of drivers who say that a road tax, which the Russian government just increased, is making it impossible for them to earn a living. The drivers, who stopped working on March 27, complain that the tax is ineffective at best and suspicious, given that it’s collected by a private company with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Post
President Trump's team must deny a request from Exxon Mobil to proceed with a major energy deal in Russia, according to a top Democrat. – Washington Examiner
The video shown in Vladimir, and another slickly produced one anonymously posted on YouTube, suggest also that Russian authorities are opening another line of attack against Navalny. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Kremlin says it will not comment on media reports that say Russia has been moving heavy military equipment toward its border with North Korea amid tension between Pyongyang and the United States. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russian authorities say a woman who was injured in the April 3 bombing on a St. Petersburg subway train has died, bringing the toll to 16. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Editorial: Journalists in authoritarian states are some of the bravest people on Earth, and often they pay with their lives. The latest is Russian Nikolai Andrushchenko, who died this week in St. Petersburg after a beating by unknown assailants last month. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Donald Trump on Thursday welcomed Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to the White House, calling Italy a “key partner” in the fight against terrorism and saying the two nations would together address the challenges of “large-scale migration” and international smuggling. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Germany’s elite antiterrorism unit has arrested a 28-year-old German-Russian man who is suspected of trying to blow up the Borussia Dortmund team bus, with the apparent aim of driving down the price of the club’s stock so he could profit through a speculation scheme, federal prosecutors said Friday. – New York Times
Romania has requested to buy Patriot air-and-missile defense systems from the U.S. government, but details are scant. – Defense News
Editorial: For now, Ms. May remains carefully vague about the terms of an exit agreement. Apart from saying in a January speech that control over migration and escape from the European Court of Justice were priorities, and a departure from the single market and customs union a consequence, the prime minister has been unclear on a range of issues, such as whether Britain will consent to pay the huge exit bill that some E.U. officials say it will owe. No doubt she will be pressed during the campaign to tell her supporters more clearly what they are voting for; but for the same reasons she decided to call an election, Ms. May will likely demur. – Washington Post
Christopher Caldwell writes: May appears to want a soft Brexit on trade and a hard Brexit on everything else. It is against her fellow hardliners, though, that she requires the protection of a large majority. Otherwise she will risk seeing an orderly Brexit hung up by purists the way Republicans saw the repeal of Obamacare hung up last month. – The Weekly Standard
A gunman wielding an assault rifle on Thursday night killed a police officer on the Champs-Élysées in central Paris, stirring fears in France of a terrorist attack that could tip voting in a hotly contested presidential election that starts on Sunday. – New York Times
The gunman who killed a police officer on the Champs-Élysées was questioned by police as recently as February on suspicion he was a threat to public security, police officers said Friday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Slipping in polls in the final days before the start of France’s presidential voting on Sunday, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen is rallying her base by hardening a line — already very hard — on her principal campaign theme: immigration. – New York Times
President Trump said Friday morning that this week's "terrorist attack in Paris" will have "a big effect" on the country's presidential election set for Sunday. – The Hill
Fears about Russia interfering in democratic election processes are shifting to France, which hosts the first round of its presidential contest on Sunday. – The Hill
France has launched an anti-terror investigation after a policeman was killed and two other officers injured in a suspected Islamist attack in Paris on Thursday that threatens to disrupt the country’s presidential election. – Financial Times
Editorial: Whatever the immediate effect of Thursday’s shooting in the heart of Paris, there is no avoiding the blunt reality at the heart of France’s momentous election, which is the general sense among the population that the nation’s elites—in politics and the French media—have become disconnected from the realities of the nation’s problems. It will be a pity if one shooting tips Sunday’s results, but it would not be a surprise. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Instead of simply achieving tactical objectives, the timing of their actions surprised their bosses at the Pentagon, upset edgy allies and caught the White House flat-footed. Taken together, the episodes illustrate how even the military’s most seasoned four-star field commanders can fail to consider the broader political or strategic ramifications of their operational decisions, and some current and former senior officials suggested that President Trump’s decision to unshackle the military from Obama-era constraints to intensify the fight against terrorists risked even more miscues. – New York Times
The Obama administration left the government’s deportation force in disarray, according to a new report Thursday from the Homeland Security inspector general. The report said deportation officers are so overloaded that they lose track of important cases, leaving illegal immigrants roaming communities when they could have been kicked out. – Washington Times
Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum, the U.S.-based refinery company, was among the top donors to Donald Trump’s inauguration during a time of crippling economic crisis in Venezuela. The firm paid $500,000 to help fund President Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a U.S. Federal Election Commission filing released Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A poll released Thursday suggests that most voters might not have wanted a dramatic change to U.S. foreign policy after all. In fact, many seem to hold views that place them fairly close to the same foreign policy establishment derided by many of Trump's most vocal supporters - Washington Post's World Views

The Pentagon is having a communications problem. On two separate occasions this month, the military has sent out information that was either misleading or unauthorized. – The Hill
When Congress returns from recess, U.S. President Donald Trump will face a push from some lawmakers who say he should ask for their authorization to wage an extended war in Syria and Iraq. – Defense News

The Trump administration has opened a wide-ranging probe into whether to curb steel imports in the name of national security, ramping up its campaign to give a more economic nationalist tinge to American trade policy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Trump added a new name Thursday to the list of countries he accuses of preying on American workers and exploiting naïve American trade policies: Canada. – New York Times

Latin America
Venezuela was once among the most lucrative markets in Latin America for foreign businesses, a country oozing in oil and blessed with an emerging middle class hungry for everything modern, from new cars to snug-fitting disposable diapers. But the good times are long gone, and on Thursday, General Motors became the latest in a wave of international companies that have shut their doors voluntarily or under duress. – New York Times
More than a dozen retired military officers are urging the Trump administration to keep normalizing relations with Cuba to strengthen U.S. national security interests. – The Hill
Venezuela's opposition renewed nationwide protests on Thursday to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to hold elections and improve a collapsing economy, and vowed to keep up pressure by staging three more protests in the next four days. – Reuters


Uganda began withdrawing its entire contingent of 1,500 soldiers from the Central African Republic this week, effectively ending the hunt for the warlord Joseph Kony and his guerrilla group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. – New York Times
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni urged western officials on Thursday not to let China overrun Africa, and said more needs to be done by America and Europe to help the continent develop. – Washington Examiner
Mali succeeded in restoring interim authorities to its northern cities of Timbuktu and Menaka on Thursday, ending a standoff with armed Tuareg factions that had prevented the transfer of power. - Reuters

Trump Administration

A third group backing transgender rights has come out against Mark Green, President Trump's pick to be secretary of the Army, which could further complicate his Senate confirmation. – Washington Examiner
FPI Board Member William Kristol writes: Thanks to Barack Obama, the flagstones today lie broken beneath our feet. Whatever judgment we'll eventually make on the Trump presidency, we should bear in mind the unenviable situation he inherited. And hope against hope that he rises to the occasion. – The Weekly Standard

Democracy and Human Rights

Arch Puddington writes: Demagogues like Chávez and autocrats like Putin invariably need to find new enemies to blame for the failures of the system, whether they be opposition parties, anticorruption campaigners, “color revolutions” in nearby countries, intellectuals who are insufficiently patriotic, or universities that teach liberal values. The lesson here is to never underestimate the ambitions of political leaders who embrace the vocabulary of populism and the goals of illiberalism. They will push and push and push until they are stopped. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue

Carl Gershman writes: The short answer to the question of whether democracy matters is that of course it does for many reasons having to do with human well-being, international peace and security, and our fundamental national interests.  The fact that people are asking this question today, and that it so nrgently needs to be answered with convincing arguments, is a disturbing sign of the times. - National Endowment for Democracy

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