FPI Overnight Brief: July 13, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Liu Xiaobo, imprisoned Chinese dissident, dies at 61
  • Russian officials overheard discussing Trump associates before campaign
  • Ash Carter: How to make the Islamic State’s defeat last
  • Cohn, McMaster: The Trump vision for America abroad
  • White House knocks NDAA’s Crimea, INF Treaty provisions
  • Washington Post interviews former top moneymaker for N. Korea
  • Auslin: Trump gives Beijing a lesson in the art of the deal
  • Russian, NATO planes play risky game over the Baltic Sea
  • Thoburn: Kyiv assassinations a new Russian front in Ukraine
  • Lagon: Trump is wrong to retreat from the global fight against AIDS

Middle East/North Africa

While the Trump administration is still formulating its Iran and Syria policies, a series of international events have combined to bolster Iran’s influence, at least for now. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Human Rights Watch has accused Iraqi security forces of forcibly relocating at least 170 families of alleged Islamic State members to a closed "rehabilitation camp" as a form of collective punishment. - Reuters
Bernard-Henri Levy writes: For me, having spent two years crisscrossing these lands of strife and hope, the right answer is as clear as day. Far from destabilizing the region, the emergence of a free Kurdistan would be a potent force for stability and peace. The conclusion of the battle of Mosul challenges us all to make this heartfelt choice for justice and reason. - Tablet
Iran is said to be building new long-range ballistic missiles at a Syrian weapons factory identified by the United States as developing non-conventional weaponry, according to regional reports alleging that Russia and North Korea are aiding in the endeavor. – Washington Free Beacon
U.S. allies in the Middle East want President Trump to continue "engagement with Russia," according to a top counter-Islamic State official at the State Department – Washington Examiner
The U.N. said Wednesday it is using newly opened land routes in Syria to expand food deliveries to areas around the northern city of Raqqa, where U.S.-backed forces are battling Islamic State militants in their self-declared capital. – Associated Press
Syria's government and opposition negotiators could soon hold face-to-face talks for the first time, U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said on Thursday, the penultimate day of a round of peace talks in Geneva. - Reuters
A suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a gathering of jihadist rebels near the rebel-held northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on Wednesday, killing and injuring scores, rebel sources said. - Reuters
The top American commander in the fight against the Islamic State said Tuesday that the elusive leader of the terrorist group, who has been hunted for years, may finally appear to be, well, no longer alive. - Politico
Ash Carter writes: We will need to maintain our resolve to achieve a lasting defeat of the Islamic State. But for now let’s thank our troops and their commanders. Let’s thank the Iraqis and the Syrian forces taking on the terrorist group. The world should note that no country but the United States could have led such a coalition to victory. That’s a fitting rejoinder to anyone who believes our internal disarray and partisan politics are reason to doubt U.S. staying power. – Washington Post
A series of military victories over extremist Islamic groups along Libya’s Mediterranean coastline has forced hundreds of militants, including Islamic State fighters, to seek refuge in the vast deserts of the North African nation, already home to militias from neighboring countries, cross-border criminal gangs and mercenaries. – Associated Press
Arabian Peninsula
A cholera outbreak in Yemen that has infected more than 300,000 people and caused more than 1,700 deaths in the last few months is propelling the war-ravaged nation to the brink of catastrophe, health and humanitarian officials say. – Los Angeles Times
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s quest to mend a squabble among Persian Gulf countries will continue Thursday in Qatar after a day of talks with Arab diplomats in Saudi Arabia ended with no signs of an imminent breakthrough. – Washington Post
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pursuing a high-risk campaign in the Gaza Strip to squeeze his own people so hard that they might force the Islamist militant movement Hamas to surrender control of the isolated coastal enclave. – Washington Post
Turkish police have detained 44 suspects in anti-terrorist operations, including the planners of two suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul last year, the city's governor said on Thursday. - Reuters


South Asia
Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he is working on an amendment that would add an Afghanistan strategy to the annual defense policy bill, after complaining that the Trump administration has yet to develop any new approaches to America's longest running conflict. – Washington Examiner
Nawaz Sharif is one of Pakistan’s great political survivors, having rebounded from a military coup, graft allegations and exile in Saudi Arabia to serve three stints as the country’s prime minister. But the latest corruption claims against Mr Sharif and his family are threatening the prime minister’s hopes of extending his three decades at the apex of Pakistani politics. – Financial Times
Islamist gunmen on Thursday killed a senior police official and three other policemen guarding him in the Pakistani city of Quetta, police said, in an attack claimed by both the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State. - Reuters
Jeff Smith writes: Control over the Doklam plateau constitutes a “win-win” for the PLA; both a knife to India’s jugular and shield to blunt its sharpest spear. With existential stakes for Delhi, and Beijing posturing growing more uncompromising by the day, there’s no end in sight to the longest standoff at the China-India border in over three decades. – War on the Rocks
China’s central bank injected $53bn into the banking system on Thursday, the latest sign that policymakers have eased up on a fierce deleveraging campaign that has caused turmoil among lenders in recent months. – Financial Times
As the hospital treating Liu Xiaobo says his organs and breathing have begun to fail from cancer, few in China outside a small circle of dissidents know about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and his lifetime pursuit of liberal democratic reform. - Reuters
Michael Auslin writes: Mr. Trump has made clear that he means what he says about deal-making. China said it would help and did not. That’s enough for Mr. Trump to put the world’s two most powerful countries on a potential collision course. He might be bluffing or he might be in earnest. Either way, the American president’s sharp dose of realism has the potential to reshape the world’s most important relationship. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Derek Scissors writes: China’s investment around the world grew 9 percent in the first half of 2017, nearing $100 billion. However, much of this was due to a single transaction. Otherwise, investment would have dropped. – American Enterprise Institute
East Asia
China’s imports from North Korea dropped sharply in the first half of this year, according to figures published Thursday that suggest Beijing is more serious about cracking down on Pyongyang than President Trump has recently claimed. – Washington Post
American and multilateral efforts to sanction North Korea into submission won’t work because there are too many ways around them, Ri Jong Ho says…For about three decades, Ri was a top moneymaker for the Kim regime, sending millions of dollars a year back to Pyongyang even as round after round of sanctions was imposed to try to punish North Korea for its nuclear defiance. – Washington Post
There was no evidence that North Korea had diverted wages paid to its workers by South Korean companies operating in now-suspended industrial park on their border to its weapons programs, a South Korean official said on Thursday. - Reuters
Editorial: Shinzo Abe’s popularity has fallen to new lows according to three polls this week, and in response the Japanese Prime Minister is promising to reshuffle his cabinet next month. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party was routed in Tokyo’s local elections this month, winning a mere 23 out of 127 seats on the municipal assembly, down from 57. But the bad news for Mr. Abe could be good news for Japan if it forces him to refocus his attention on the economy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Southeast Asia
Indonesia’s central government announced a decree on Wednesday that will make it easier for the president to disband religious and civil society organizations, in an apparent effort to challenge hard-line Islamist groups who oppose President Joko Widodo’s pluralist administration. – New York Times
Civil organizations in Indonesia on Wednesday decried a move by the government to disband certain groups deemed to be in conflict with state's secular ideology. - Reuters
Myanmar pledged on Wednesday "no restrictions" on journalists visiting the troubled state of Rakhine this week, in the first official trip to include foreign reporters to mostly Rohingya Muslim villages affected by violence since October. - Reuters


The Trump administration on Wednesday took issue with a number of provisions in the House version of the annual defense policy bill, but generally commended lawmakers for bulking up military spending. – The Hill
The Trump administration is registering more than two dozen objections to the House’s 2018 defense policy bill, including a new space-focused branch of the military, it announced in a policy statement Wednesday. – Defense News
There's one less hurdle for a new military branch focused on space after an amendment meant to derail it failed Wednesday to get approval from the House Rules Committee for a public floor debate. – Defense News
The White House has said it "strongly objects" to a House proposal that keeps the military from closing billions of dollars worth of unused facilities around the country in 2018. – Washington Examiner
General John Raymond, USAF writes: An amendment in the House version of the defense authorization bill calls for a separate Space Corps by 2019. While I applaud the leadership of Congress and the welcomed focus on national security in space, which I view as a national imperative, our approach is to normalize, elevate, and integrate space as a war-fighting domain. It’s an approach that’s already paying dividends. – Defense One
Special operations forces, stretched thin by 15 years of war and a perception that they’re the silver bullet for any security problem, can’t go on this way — even if it means re-evaluating how they fit into the U.S.’s various missions around the globe, the nominee for assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict told senators during his confirmation hearing Wednesday. – Defense One
The US Navy seeks a new combat-capable Frigate able to destroy swarming small boat attacks, support carrier strike groups, conduct disaggregated operations, attack enemies with an over-the-horizon missile and engage in advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare, according to a recently completed service requirements review. – Scout Warrior
The Army may be in a readiness crisis, Sen. John McCain said Wednesday, but the Senate is reluctant to pour more money into the service as it blows billions of dollars on failed acquisitions programs. – Military Times
The Navy’s hunt for a solution to its top aviation safety issue -- oxygen deprivation and loss of cockpit cabin pressure in its training aircraft and fighters -- is hampered by communications breakdowns between engineers and pilots, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee. - Bloomberg
Two Republican lawmakers questioned the Air Force's top civilian official on Wednesday about alleged improprieties in the way it acquires multimillion-dollar aircraft. – Associated Press
President Donald Trump will preside over the commissioning of the nation's newest aircraft carrier. – Associated Press
General David Deptula, USAF (Ret.) writes: The aircraft systems that we have today and procure over the next few years will be the force in the next major war that will make the difference between success and failure. It is time to acknowledge the significance of the current air superiority gap relative to our national security expectations and take action now to rapidly eliminate that disparity. – Breaking Defense
Strategic Issues
North Korea’s ballistic missile test is shining an intense spotlight on the Pentagon’s missile defenses, systems installed to protect South Korea and now the U.S. mainland. Recent results have been promising, but U.S. officials acknowledge that Pyongyang’s stunning advances this month are providing a real-world test much sooner than they had expected. – Washington Times
President Trump’s pick for the No. 2 policy job in the Pentagon, David Trachtenberg, endorsed new nuclear delivery systems, praised NATO and allies in general and took a hard line towards the Kremlin in his confirmation hearing today. Responding to senators’ questions, Trachtenberg said Russia should pay “a cost” for meddling in the 2016 elections and twice said he disagreed with pro-Russia statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. – Breaking Defense
Charles Djou writes: Missile defense is a complicated issue, but ensuring the safety of the American people who live and serve in Hawaii is not. Join me in urging Congress to appropriate the funds we need to make sure we deploy a missile defense system to Hawaii immediately.  The cost of anything less could be devastating. – Real Clear Defense
The War
Lawyers for the widow of a U.S. soldier slain in Afghanistan have filed court papers in Canada formally seeking to take millions of dollars away from a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who pleaded guilty to killing the soldier. – Associated Press
Hackers are actively targeting nuclear facilities in the United States, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said, and federal authorities “are doing everything possible” to protect the nation’s power grid. – Washington Times
The Trump administration has moved to restrict government agencies from using products produced by the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. – The Hill


The delivery of turbines made by the German company Siemens to Crimea shows the limits of policing European Union sanctions on Russia as no EU enforcement authority exists, officials and experts said. - Reuters
Two more gas turbines appear to have been delivered to Russian-controlled Crimea, according to two Reuters reporters who saw the equipment at the port of Feodosia, potentially deepening a row over sanctions compliance in which Germany's Siemens has become embroiled. - Reuters
Malaysia hopes that suspects in the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 to face charges in the Netherlands should be known by the end of the year, its transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, said on Thursday. - Reuters
Hannah Thoburn writes: It is this weakness that the perpetrators of the killings—all are almost certainly done by or linked to agents of the Russian government—hope to highlight. With such growing uncertainty, no wonder then that my Ukrainian contacts tell me that nearly anyone who is someone in Kyiv now carries a firearm. – World Affairs Journal
Maxim Eristavi writes: My friends in the United States and Western Europe who assume that those of us in poor nations aren’t educated about the evils of unrestricted consumerism are horribly patronizing. Yes, of course, there are undoubtedly some multinationals that abuse their market power in developing countries. But if you live in a developed country, you can always choose to boycott their services or goods. You have the luxury of choice. People in places such as Ukraine don’t. For us, the entry of foreign companies offers the possibility of freedom from the oligarch-imposed version of slavery. – Washington Post
Ilan Berman writes: Crimea shows what it looks like to be part of the new Russia—and provides yet another reminder of why, having fought so hard to gain their independence from Moscow a quarter century ago, those nations should want nothing of the sort – Foreign Affairs
CIA Director Mike Pompeo reportedly said late Tuesday that the Russians have been meddling in elections for "a hell of a long time." – The Hill
House Democrats on Wednesday were trying to force the GOP’s hand in a bid to break the logjam over a bipartisan Senate-passed package of Russia sanctions. - Politico
Three House Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday prohibiting the U.S. from forming a collaborative cybersecurity initiative with Russia. – The Hill
A Russian court sentenced a man convicted of murdering opposition leader Boris Nemtsov to 20 years in jail on Thursday and handed terms of between 11 and 19 years to four other men convicted of being his accomplices. - Reuters
Bill Gertz reports: Russia and China are working against the United States around the world, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report…The military intelligence agency stated in the report made public last month that defense cooperation between Russia and China is slowly expanding along with economic ties. Russian officials, according to the report, frequently praise Russia’s ties with China, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Beijing-Moscow ties are the closest in a decade. – Washington Times’ Inside the Ring
Eastern Europe
NATO and Russian pilots are reviving a Cold War contest of nerves, increasing the risk that airborne close encounters could accidentally spark a conflict. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Just before President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin’s tête-à-tête at the G-20 on July 7, Russia quietly annexed “about 10 hectares” of Georgian territory on behalf of the Republic of South Ossetia, a polity recognized by just four countries (including Russia). – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
An anti-migrant billboard campaign by the Hungarian government that features the image of U.S. financier George Soros will come to an end on Saturday, the government spokesman said on Thursday. - Reuters
Western Europe
Europe’s top intelligence and counterterrorism officials are bracing for a surge of battle-hardened Islamic State foreign fighters returning home to the continent as the jihadi group loses its territorial base in the Middle East, the head of the European Union’s main law enforcement agency says. – Washington Times
President Trump will be in Europe on Thursday for the second time in less than a week, having accepted a rare outstretched hand from a leader on the Continent, where he is deeply unpopular. – New York Times
The British government’s plan to withdraw from a seminal European treaty governing the movement of nuclear material is generating alarm that it might hobble Britain’s nuclear industry, destroy thousands of jobs and even deny cancer patients treatments that rely heavily on nuclear isotopes. – New York Times
Europol Director Rob Wainwright, who began his career in the British intelligence service, finds himself running the EU’s top intelligence and law enforcement apparatus at a moment when his home country is in the process of negotiating its divorce from the EU following last summer’s Brexit vote. It’s an irony that is not lost on Mr. Wainwright. – Washington Times
The number of terrorist attacks resulting in fatalities in western Europe increased in 2016, despite an overall drop in the number of incidents taking place, according to data released by the Global Terrorism Database. - Reuters
Editorial: The real lesson is that Britain should avoid the labor trap into which so many other European economies have fallen, in which high taxes on labor coupled with onerous legal obligations stifle entrepreneurship and job creation. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
Christopher A. Wray, President Trump’s nominee to be F.B.I. director, sought at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday to show lawmakers that he could protect the bureau’s independence and resist pressure from the White House. – New York Times
At the urging of President Donald Trump, U.S. officials have reversed course and decided to allow into the United States a group of Afghan girls hoping to participate in an international robotics competition next week, senior administration officials told POLITICO on Wednesday. - Politico
An Iranian medical researcher who was prevented from entering the United States to work at a Boston hospital is believed to have been an active member of the Basij force used in Iran as a tool of state repression. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Editorial: It’s too early to draw conclusions about what caused the transport plane to suffer a catastrophic failure on its flight from North Carolina to California, reportedly at cruising altitude. But such tragedies are becoming more routine and deserve some attention. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
State Department/Foreign Aid
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday proposed a spending bill that would cut 14 percent at the State Department in fiscal 2018 from current levels. – The Hill
Mark Lagon writes: U.S. leadership has brought us to a tipping point in efforts to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in the next 15 years. But if we slow down on key investments, the large youth population in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions will see the diseases resurge again. Our transformative past efforts would be squandered. – Foreign Policy’s Elephants in the Room
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) met Wednesday afternoon to hash out a possible new war authorization to replace a 2001 law that gives the president power to wage war on terrorist groups in the Middle East. – The Hill
Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are pushing for action on legislation to authorize the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), despite limited interest so far from the White House. – The Hill
In the last six months, the United States has hurled itself off the chessboard that is international trade, leaving the Trans Pacific Partnership, threatening to leave or drastically rewrite NAFTA, and leaving a U.S.-EU trade pact to wither on the vine, all while hoping to fill the gap with bilateral trade deals. All the other pieces on the board, meanwhile, are taking advantage — and continuing to move. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Once touted by US officials as the “gold standard” of trade deals, the South Korea-US free trade pact is facing an uncertain future after the US notified Seoul of its intentions to review the deal, possibly as soon as August. – Financial Times
Frank Lavin writes: President Trump has a tough set of decisions in front of him. Can he push back against illegal subsidies while avoiding collateral damage to the U.S. and other economies? Knowing when to throw a punch might be part of the solution, but knowing when to hold a punch might be even more important. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Russian Election Interference
U.S. intelligence agencies starting in the spring of 2015 detected conversations in which Russian government officials discussed associates of Donald Trump, several months before he declared his candidacy for president, according to current and former U.S. officials. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A Senate committee is asking President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman to testify about a meeting he attended last year between Trump confidants and a Russian lawyer who was said to have information from the Kremlin intended to boost Mr. Trump’s candidacy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Kremlin said Wednesday the release of an email chain by Donald Trump Jr. was part of a “long-running TV drama,” dismissing an alleged Russian government offer to pass on information to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
President Trump’s onetime Russian business partner sought Wednesday to distance himself from political fallout as the Trump administration struggles with a growing scandal over an apparent attempt to seek Russian-brokered election dirt. – Washington Post
The Russian lawyer who penetrated Donald Trump’s inner circle was initially cleared into the United States by the Justice Department under “extraordinary circumstances” before she embarked on a lobbying campaign last year that ensnared the president’s eldest son, members of Congress, journalists and State Department officials, according to court and Justice Department documents and interviews. – The Hill
Democratic congressmen on the House Judiciary Committee want to know why Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly settled a money laundering case in May involving the same Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the presidential election to offer “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. – Foreign Policy
The House and Senate intelligence committees must do more to coordinate their parallel Russia investigations or risk reaching conflicting conclusions, the House’s top Russia investigator, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), said Wednesday. - Politico
Jen Palmieri, a top adviser to Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 campaign, said she and another top aide tried to convince the press to give Russia's meddling more focus and time, but claims those efforts were widely ignored. – Washington Examiner
Analysis: The Russia story has become the brier patch from which the president seemingly cannot escape. It dominated his trip to Europe last week and, after he leaves on Wednesday night for a couple of days in France, it may dominate that trip as well. Every time Mr. Trump tries to put the furor behind him, more disclosures thrust it back onto the Washington agenda. – New York Times
Editorial: So while the younger Mr. Trump may have seen advantage in accepting Russia’s help, Russia certainly would have seen an advantage in proffering it. Mr. Putin’s values are antithetical to American values, but the Russian dictator had good reason to hope that they would not be antithetical to the values of a Trump administration. – Washington Post
Eli Lake writes: As someone who has written columns pointing out that many claims against Trump and his advisers have been speculative and unsubstantiated, I see this supposed nothing burger as a tipping point. From now on, it strains credulity to give the president and his aides any benefit of the doubt when it comes to Russia. – Bloomberg View
Latin America
The former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was found guilty of corruption and money laundering on Wednesday and sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison, a stunning setback for a politician who has wielded enormous influence across Latin America for decades. – New York Times
Venezuela’s opposition plans to hold a vote Sunday in the hope of rejecting President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to dissolve the national legislature and possibly rewrite the constitution, giving him what critics say would be near-dictatorial powers. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


East Africa
The Trump administration’s move to delay a decision to permanantly lift sanctions on this African nation leaves the country an international pariah and could hinder efforts to cooperate on intelligence, counterterrorism and aid to South Sudan. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The White House announced this week it would put off any decision on Sudanese sanctions by an additional three months, a delay that former officials and Africa experts say reflects internal chaos inside the U.S. government. – Foreign Policy
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has sacked several judges who had been on strike over poor pay and living conditions for the last two months, officials said on Thursday. - Reuters
Central/Southern Africa
The IMF has told the Democratic Republic of Congo that it will probably be unable to help bail out the economy unless the government moves to end the political impasse. – Financial Times
The United Nations has identified an additional 38 probable mass graves in Democratic Republic of Congo's central Kasai region, it said on Wednesday, bringing the total to at least 80 since the outbreak of an insurrection last August. - Reuters
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday criticized the corruption that has damaged the ruling party under President Jacob Zuma, opening a divide in the African National Congress months ahead of a leadership contest. - Reuters

Trump Administration

The Senate Armed Services Committee is poised to push five top defense nominees out of committee and toward a Senate-wide confirmation vote, in a move Chairman John McCain acknowledged may result in a “confrontation” with Democrats on the Senate floor. – Defense News
Gary Cohn and LTG H.R. McMaster, USA write: America First is rooted in confidence that our values are worth defending and promoting. This is a time of great challenge for our friends and allies around the globe — but it is also a moment of extraordinary opportunity. The American delegation returned from the trip with tremendous optimism about the future and what the United States, our allies and our partners can achieve together. – New York Times

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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