FPI Overnight Brief: May 4, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

A former Iranian president banned by his country’s judiciary from speaking publicly defied the restrictions to endorse President Hassan Rouhani for a second term, warning voters that Iran faces international isolation if a hard-line opponent is elected to power this month. – Washington Post
Peter Huessy writes: In the final analysis, the JCPOA curtailment of its nuclear enrichment capabilities is only temporary and will eventually expire. That end game could leave Iran as an emerging nuclear weapons power. Only a new American Middle East Security Policy will prevent this outcome. – Real Clear Defense
Russia is circulating a draft proposal to Syrian rebel groups and diplomats that envisions pausing the war in Syria through the creation of safe “de-escalation zones,” with outside troops possibly acting as buffers between the antagonists. – New York Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded a diplomatic blitz over the war in Syria on Wednesday, meeting with Turkey’s president as the Kremlin pushes a proposal to create “deconfliction zones” in Syria with what Putin said was U.S. support. – Washington Post
The war of words between Washington and Ankara over the U.S. military’s partnership with Kurdish paramilitaries in Syria escalated Wednesday, when a senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested American troops could be targeted alongside their Kurdish allies in the country’s ongoing air war against the militias. – Washington Times
It’s rare for American forces in the Middle East to fly the Stars and Stripes from their armored vehicles. Usually they try to blend in, with special-operations troops often going as far as donning local uniforms. But now, part of the U.S. mission in northern Syria is to literally show the American flag. The goal is to forestall attacks by America’s NATO ally Turkey on America’s key partner in the fight against Islamic State, the main Syrian Kurdish militia known as YPG. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.S. forces conducting patrols to deter aggression between Turkish forces and Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, both partners in the fight against the Islamic State, were photographed at a funeral April 29 where flags of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a U.S.-designated terror group, could be seen in the crowd. – Military Times
President Trump's discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the creation of safe areas or de-confliction zones in Syria won't require an expansion of the U.S. troop presence there, Pentagon officials say. – Washington Examiner
Iraqi forces opened a front in western Mosul on Thursday in a major shift intended to accelerate an operation that had slowed to a crawl, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped on an urban battlefield. – New York Times
An American contracting company that was paid millions by the U.S. government to secure an Iraqi air base ignored reports of theft, sex trafficking, alcohol smuggling and repeated security breaches before firing the internal investigators that were looking into the violations, according to a report by the Associated Press on Wednesday. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
President Trump on Wednesday expressed confidence that he can help the Israelis and the Palestinians negotiate a peace agreement, declaring as he stood next to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House that “we will get this done.” – Washington Post
A delegation of more than 50 members of Congress is calling on the Trump administration to reverse a longstanding policy that prohibits Americans born in Jerusalem from listing Israel as their birthplace on official documents, according to a letter sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. – Washington Free Beacon
Analysis: Whatever else may be said of him, Mr. Trump does not suffer from a confidence deficit. As he hosted the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Trump proclaimed that he would be the president who finally makes peace in the Middle East. – New York Times
The president’s resolute loyalists ultimately propelled him to a nationwide victory in the referendum, as they have time and again in votes since 2002, defiantly rejecting criticism that the changes doomed Turkey to one-man rule. But the narrow win and the defeat of the measure in places such as Uskudar, as well as in Turkey’s three largest cities, has also prompted an unusual degree of  introspection among some supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) — and even a hint of dissent. – Washington Post
Turkey’s defense and procurement officials are expecting to finalize a large defense export contract with Saudi Arabia, but its contents will be kept top secret. – Defense News


South Asia
Pakistani authorities on Wednesday revoked the license of a high profile but controversial news network whose parent company has been dogged by a scandal involving the sale of fake online degrees. – New York Times
Experts disagree over the state of India-U.S. defensive and strategic ties under the Trump administration, with one asserting "the warmth seen under [the] Obama administration is missing," and another claiming that "there is no indication of major deviances from the Obama administration." – Defense News
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords and a former prime minister, has returned to the capital, Kabul, months after signing a peace deal with the government. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
As Afghanistan slides back into chaos, with a resurgent Taliban and dwindling international aid, many fear that the country's women's shelters could be forced to close, leaving those who rely on them at the mercy of an often harshly conservative society. – Associated Press
East Asia
Beneath the bonhomie, Chinese analysts say, fundamental differences of strategic interest are likely to undermine any personal ties Mr. Trump says he has forged with the Chinese leader. The romance, they say, may be more a short marriage of convenience. – New York Times
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan announced on Wednesday a plan to revise a pacifist Constitution that has been in place since it was enacted by American occupiers in 1947. – New York Times
Bill Gertz reports: China is eclipsing the United States in developing high-speed supercomputers used to build advanced weapons, and the loss of American leadership in the field poses a threat to U.S. national security. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
Korean Peninsula
The Trump administration is just at the beginning stages of its campaign to pressure North Korea to give up developing nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told State Department employees Wednesday morning in a wide-ranging discourse on applying “America first” principles to foreign policy. – Washington Post
North Korea is building artificial islands in the Yellow Sea and topping them with what appear to be military installations, satellite images reveal. – Los Angeles Times
North Korea has tailored its spate of ballistic missile tests to defeat the U.S.-stationed defense systems ready to protect the South and Japan from descending warheads, a report to Congress says. – Washington Times
In a rare and surprisingly pointed criticism of China, North Korea’s state-run news agency warned in a commentary that the country would continue its nuclear weapons program even if it risked losing a friendly relationship with its longtime ally. – New York Times
The front-runner in next week’s South Korean presidential election says the U.S. moved too hastily to deploy a major missile defense system here and promises to push a conciliatory policy toward North Korea that might clash with the Trump administration’s bare-knuckle approach. – Washington Times
Congress is expected to level fresh economic sanctions on North Korea this week as the threat of the hermit nation's capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear missile continues to escalate, according to conversations with members of the congressional leadership who told the Washington Free Beacon that the Kim Jong Un regime could have a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States in "only a few years." – Washington Free Beacon
Dan Blumenthal writes: The administration is doing the best it can with the cards it was dealt. The strategy of placing maximum pressure on both China and North Korea, as well as enforcing a global crackdown on trade with North Korea, is anything but strategic patience. And Trump is subtly putting the onus on China to deliver—thereby setting them up for embarrassment if they fail…The United States is clearly showing signs of impatience, and the players that matter know it. – The National Interest
Southeast Asia
President Xi Jinping of China spoke by phone on Wednesday with the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, in what Chinese news media described as a friendly call that came just a few days after President Trump’s amicable conversation with the authoritarian Filipino leader. – New York Times
A prominent Thai human rights lawyer faces a prison term of up to 150 years if convicted on 10 counts of royal defamation under Thailand's harsh royal insult law, the legal watchdog Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said on Thursday. - Reuters
Josh Rogin reports: The Asia expert community in Washington was shocked and largely appalled when the official White House statement on President Trump’s April 29 phone call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that Trump not only had invited him to the White House, but also had praised his anti-drug policy, which according to human rights groups has included thousands of extrajudicial murders. – Washington Post
Ely Ratner writes: Interagency coordination is now underway to execute what U.S. officials are describing as a more comprehensive Asia strategy of “doubling down” on U.S. alliances, including with the Philippines. Particularly with the help of a leader-level rapprochement, this will strengthen pro-American elements in the Philippines government and military, and provide greater opportunities to influence Duterte to curb his excesses. In the meantime, as long as the Philippines is a democratic and loyal ally, the doors of the White House should remain open to its president. - Politico
Michael Fuchs and Nina Hachigan write: The Trump administration is off to a good start on the optics and the box-checking with ASEAN. These steps, and a real commitment to leading and engaging in Asia will instill confidence in regional partners and perhaps begin to steady Trump’s haphazard Asia policy. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government


More than 140 Republican lawmakers have delivered a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calling for a vote to repeal budget caps on defense spending imposed in the 2011 sequester. – The Hill
The Air Force’s secretive B-21 bomber took a hit in the fiscal 2017 omnibus spending bill, with congressional appropriators stripping about $20 million from the program, budget documents show. – Defense News
The U.S. Army is authorizing $5,000 bonuses to woo top-performing troops into a new training brigade as the service once famous for shouldering the burden of America's wars works to meet the growing demand for advisers in places ranging from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan and Africa. – Associated Press
Thomas Donnelly and James Cunningham write: When defense experts talk of “strategic insolvency” or generals chart “an ends-means mismatch,” they’re describing day-to-day life for Col. Gardner and the soldiers of the Dagger Brigade. They’re tough people. They know their trade and are too busy to whine. But our country is not giving them the support they need to do their job. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Navy has slowed its frigate procurement timeline, looking at awarding a detail design and construction contract in Fiscal Year 2020 to allow more time to understand what it needs the ship to do and how it might affordably meet those requirements. – USNI News
Lawmakers are happy with the Navy’s progress developing unmanned systems and directed energy weapons but would like to see more effort operationalizing and fielding these technologies, the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee said this week. – USNI News
The Navy's second next-generation America-Class amphibious assault ship, the future USS Tripoli, has now launched into the water from the dry dock to float for the first time, service leaders said. – Scout Warrior
Lockheed Martin and the Navy will soon fire a high-tech Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from a new deck-mounted launcher as a way to expand options for the weapon, increase possible deployments and widen the range of potential targets, industry officials said. – Scout Warrior
The War
The threat from self-radicalized, homegrown terrorists has eclipsed the potential threat of foreign fighters coming to the U.S. to carry out attacks, the top U.S. counterterrorism official said Wednesday. – Washington Times
The National Counterterrorism Center is incentivizing technology companies by sharing intelligence with them to battle terrorist-recruiting strategies on the web, NCTC Director Nicholas Rasmussen said Wednesday. – Washington Times
The U.S. intelligence community collected more than 151 million records of Americans’ phone calls last year in spite of newly implemented measures limiting government surveillance, according to a new report. – Washington Times
Ever since the day of its creation, critics have slammed the Office of Director of National Intelligence as an expensive and unnecessary bureaucracy, a threat to the longtime primacy of the Director of Central Intelligence and a toothless tiger. Much of that changed during the joint tenures of DNI Mike McConnell and SecDef Bob Gates (former DCI) when they agreed to give the DNI budgetary teeth in a March 21, 2008 memo.,,But some Republicans have continued to press for a diminution or dissolution of the DNI. – Breaking Defense
Strategic Issues
A global coalition of former military leaders and diplomats who had responsibility over nuclear weapons is launching a "shadow security council" to offer advice to world leaders on how to reduce what they consider to be the growing danger of a nuclear conflict fueled by the rhetoric of President Donald Trump and destabilizing moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin. - Politico
A petition to block President Trump from being able to launch nuclear weapons was presented to Congress on Wednesday after garnering nearly a half-million signatures. – The Hill
An unarmed missile capable of sending a nuclear bomb across the world was launched Wednesday from a coastal California military base amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. – Associated Press


Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is being tried in absentia on high-treason charges in Kyiv. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Diane Francis interview Mikheil Saakashvili: He is unusually forthcoming as an interviewee. “By my own standards, I failed on every account in Odesa. We proved that it was possible to operate customs without corruption. Some people miss this. But we only accomplished 5 percent of what we wanted to do.” – Atlantic Council
Given the spotlight focused on Russia during the American presidential campaign and Donald J. Trump’s warm words as candidate for President Vladimir V. Putin, the Kremlin anticipated a starring role as foreign policy partner No. 1 under the Trump administration. – New York Times
The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard issued a stark warning on Wednesday that Russia was leagues ahead of Washington in the Arctic. And while the warming Arctic opens up, the United States could be caught flat-footed while other geopolitical rivals swiftly step in. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
A Russian court has upheld an embezzlement verdict against opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, a politically charged ruling that will strengthen the government's case for keeping him out of next year's presidential election if President Vladimir Putin doesn't want him to run. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and his supporters have accused a notorious Russian nationalist group of assaulting him with a green antiseptic -- known in Russian as "zelyonka" -- in an attack that could leave him with permanent eye damage. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The debate on Wednesday night between France’s two presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and the centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, was more like an angry American-style television shoutfest than the reasoned discussion of issues the French have become accustomed to – New York Times
On this day 226 years ago, Europe’s first modern constitution was written, penned not by the boulevards of Paris but in the Polish Sejm. On this day today, Polish President Andrzej Duda called for a constitutional referendum, which many immediately understood as being more about politics than principles. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
After months of harsh rhetoric and threatening tweets, some NATO allies are preparing to spend big on defense. The Romanian government — already uneasy over Russian activities in the Black Sea — announced it will spend tens of millions of dollars on advanced weaponry to join just five other NATO countries that have reached an elusive spending goal that Trump has used as a cudgel to criticize the alliance. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Russia no longer owns the airwaves in Eastern Europe. Two decades after the US Army unilaterally disarmed its electronic warfare branch, two years after Russian jamming crippled Ukrainian units, the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment is field-testing new EW gear. – Breaking Defense
The United States is urging authorities in Azerbaijan to conduct a transparent investigation into the death of an Azerbaijani blogger following his arrest on drug-trafficking charges that rights activists contend were fabricated. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Diplomats believe last week’s attack was designed to intimidate the [Macedonian] opposition and carried out in collusion with security services. It has added to fears that a violent political faction has captured state institutions in the small Balkan country once seen as a model candidate for EU membership. – Financial Times
Dalibor Rohac and Mate Hajba write: Ultimately, the future of Hungary is in the hands of Hungarian voters, not policymakers in Washington. However, staying silent while a government of an allied nation dismantles democratic institutions, cracks down on civil society and chases a U.S. university out of the country would leave a shameful blemish on the United States’ reputation. – Washington Post
United Kingdom
Prime Minister Theresa May kicked off the formal start of the British election campaign on Wednesday by accusing some in the European Union bureaucracy of misrepresenting the British position on exiting the bloc and even of trying to influence the election itself. – New York Times
Prince Philip, the 95-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II, will step back from his royal duties and stop carrying out public engagements this autumn, Buckingham Palace said in a statement on Thursday, although the role of the queen will be unchanged. – New York Times
The trend of young men arming themselves with knives has become an enormous concern for the Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest police force, which last month reported a 24 percent increase in knife crimes over the last year, bringing knife-related offenses to a five-year high. – New York Times
Editorial: Mrs. May’s approach has opened up the Tory Party to criticism that its economic stewardship represents a “threat to living standards,” as the Labor Party’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell recently put it. Mrs. May is lucky that Labour’s prescriptions for higher taxes, more spending and more regulation would be worse, and the Tories have a large lead in the election polls. But Mrs. May’s main political vulnerability is slow growth amid the uncertainty of Brexit, and her election manifesto needs proposals to do better. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Advocates of foreign aid say programs backed by U.S. funding help feed the needy, promote social and economic progress, and foster political stability. Critics, on the other hand, point to fraud and the misuse of aid, inadequate tracking of provisions, and the prospect of nations becoming dependent on U.S. handouts. So what’s true and what’s false about one of politics’ most contentious issues? – Los Angeles Times
The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved spending legislation through September that is expected to sail though the Senate to the president’s desk. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it before government funding runs out Friday night. – Defense News
The Pentagon this week suspended the security clearance of a White House National Security Council analyst that U.S. officials say was the target of political retribution by government bureaucrats opposed to President Trump's appointees. – Washington Free Beacon
“If you do not have presence to exert sovereignty, you’re a paper lion,” the Coast Guard commandant said in explaining why the United States needs to build three heavy and two medium icebreakers to operate in polar regions. – USNI News
The Department of Homeland Security uncovered more than 60 cross-border tunnels along the southwest border that were used to smuggle people and illicit drugs into the United States over a five-year period, according to a new government report. – Washington Free Beacon
Claude Barfield writes: No matter what the illusions of the Trump team, make no mistake, if the US miscalculates and provokes a trade war with Canada and Mexico, they will suffer. The US economy will, however, also take a big hit through a huge increase in border tariffs and the disruption or even destruction of vital supply chains in sectors such as autos, chemicals, electronics and livestock. It would run to billions of dollars of lost income — and lost jobs. Hardly the path to “Make America Great Again.” - AEI Ideas

Mark Green’s nomination for Army secretary is going downhill fast, with comments from his past fomenting opposition to him. – The Hill
A day after rumors swirled that he would drop out of consideration for Army secretary, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and ten other representatives have sent a letter to the Senate in support of Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green. – Military Times
The U.S. Senate will vote on Heather Wilson, President Donald Trump’s pick to be the next secretary of the Air Force, by early next week, a Senate official told Military.com on Wednesday. – Military.com
Russian Election Interference
James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, sharply defended his decision to notify Congress about new emails in the Hillary Clinton investigation just before Election Day, reopening on Wednesday the still-raw debate over whether he cost her the presidency. – New York Times
A top Democrat has nixed a plan to invite former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice to testify in front of a Senate panel next week on the topic of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election. – WSJ's Washington Wire (subscription required)
On Tuesday, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee boarded a bus to Langley, Virginia, as part of their probe into Russian election meddling. Many facets of the congressional probe into Russian election meddling are unusual, but these field trips are part of yet another “first” for the intelligence panel: access to raw intelligence. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
United Nations
Sheba Crocker writes: For now, it seems like we’re back to the old, with a bit of new packaging here and there. But given the president’s proclivity to shift positions from one day to the next, there’s no guarantee this analysis will hold for the next 100 days. That puts a lot of pressure on Haley and her U.N. diplomatic colleagues to do great things … whatever that means. – Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government
Latin America
Venezuela’s top prosecutor, already under pressure for criticizing the authoritarian government she serves, on Wednesday condemned state violence against protesters, decried the stratospheric inflation racking her country, and praised the constitution President Nicolás Maduro wants to eliminate. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
If Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro thought his plan for a new political body would convince opponents that he wanted a negotiated solution to the country’s political crisis, he was woefully wrong. – Financial Times
An Argentine prosecutor in charge of a probe into police corruption in Buenos Aires province was found tied up by an attacker who apparently entered and escaped through a window, local officials said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Editorial: It is not clear what can now stop Mr. Maduro, but a bill introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Senate by a broad bipartisan coalition offers a way forward, including $10 million to seed a U.S.-led humanitarian aid initiative, strengthened sanctions on senior officials and the compilation of a public report on those officials’ involvement in drug trafficking and corruption. U.S. efforts to rescue Venezuela have long been sporadic and halfhearted; this is the moment to step them up. – Washington Post


Nigeria's security forces have succeeded in recapturing most of the territory once held by Boko Haram Islamist militants after years of an insurgency in which civilians were often the targets. But instead of bringing a joyous end to the conflict, the victories have revealed communities gripped by hunger. - Reuters

Trump Administration

In his first address laying out his vision as secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson said Wednesday that the United States had been far too accommodating to emerging nations and longtime allies and that “things have gotten out of balance.” – New York Times
Read the text of the Secretary’s remarks – State Department
Fifty-five House Democrats signed a letter Tuesday asking President Trump to fire Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant in the White House. – Washington Examiner

Democracy and Human Rights

Wednesday marks World Press Freedom Day, an annual date to honor journalists imprisoned or killed in the line of duty, and to take stock on press freedom around the world. And this year, there’s an especially awful lot to take stock of. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable


FPI Fellow James Kirchick writes: What many defenders of the liberal world order would rather ignore is that this order was unraveling long before Donald Trump descended the escalator in his gaudy Manhattan tower. When exactly its collapse began will be something for future historians to decide, but the Obama presidency weakened it substantially—perhaps even fatally. – The American Interest

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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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