FPI Overnight Brief: August 2, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Admin opens broad inquiry into China’s trade practices
  • Tillerson spurns $80 million to counter ISIS, Russia propaganda
  • WSJ: Arming Ukraine would raise costs of Russia’s aggression

Middle East/North Africa

Iran

Furious over new American sanctions, Iran said on Tuesday that it had lodged a complaint with the commission that polices possible violations of the Iranian nuclear agreement. – New York Times

Amnesty International says Iran's judicial and security bodies have waged a vicious clampdown on human rights defenders, vilifying and imprisoning activists who dare to stand up for people’s rights. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged on Tuesday that he and President Donald Trump disagree over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and said the two men discuss how to use the international agreement to advance administration policies. - Reuters

The United States, Britain, France and Germany warned the United Nations on Wednesday that Iran had taken "a threatening and provocative step" by testing a rocket capable of delivering satellites into orbit and asked the U.N. chief to investigate. - Reuters

Carl Bildt writes: With the United States walking out of the Paris climate accord, cutting U.N. funding and sowing doubts about NATO and other trade commitments, the Iran agreement isn’t about Iran alone. It’s about upholding confidence in the international order. So, if Trump pursues a meltdown with Iran, he will also trigger a meltdown with Europe. Another one, to be precise. – Washington Post

Syria

Ten Russian servicemen have been killed fighting in Syria so far this year, according to statements from the Defence Ministry. But based on accounts from families and friends of the dead and local officials, Reuters estimates the actual death toll among Russian soldiers and private contractors was at least 40. - Reuters

Islamic State militants attacked Syrian government forces and their allies in countryside east of Homs and Hama on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. - Reuters

Oubai Shahbandar writes: We cannot relive history, but whitewashing the past to make geopolitical points against allies is a self defeating exercise meant to cover up one’s own tragic mistakes – that have proven beyond costly for everyone involved in Syria. – TRT World

North Africa

Tunisia has long been regarded as a pioneer for women’s rights in the Arab world, but the day-to-day life of many Tunisian women is still one of abuse and harassment. So when Parliament passed a measure last week outlawing violence against women, some burst into ululation and passed around bouquets of jasmine. – New York Times

Six years after the revolution that toppled dictator Moammar Gaddafi, the mood in this volatile capital is a meld of hopelessness and gloom. Diplomatic and military efforts by the United States and its allies have failed to stabilize the nation; its denouement remains far from clear. Most Libyans sense that the worst is yet to come. – Washington Post

Emily Estelle writes: The administration’s interest in Libya is well-placed. The U.S. must look beyond Haftar to develop a comprehensive strategy that will bring the greatest return on investment—a stable Libya that breaks the cycle of continuous intervention. – AEI’s Critical Threats

Arabian Peninsula

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have started using a new route across the Gulf to funnel covert arms shipments to their Houthi allies in Yemen's civil war, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters. - Reuters

Hundreds of people have fled a town in eastern Saudi Arabia where government forces are fighting Shi'ite Muslim gunmen, activists and Saudi media reported on Tuesday. - Reuters

Dennis Ross writes: Unlike Messrs. Kissinger and Baker, Mr. Tillerson can’t count on the White House’s messaging to reinforce his diplomacy. Unless he wants to see his authority slowly erode over time, Mr. Tillerson needs a high-profile diplomatic success—and soon. The standoff with Qatar provides a perfect opportunity. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Levant

Palestinian child terrorists as young as eight years old are increasingly being radicalized and spurred to carry out terror attacks on Israeli citizens, according to a prominent human rights organization that is accusing the United Nations of covering up the recruitment of child terrorists by Palestinian militant groups. – Washington Free Beacon

His sentiments reflect rising tensions between Lebanon’s 4m people and the nearly 1.5m Syrian refugees who fled into their country, a phenomenon that could have broader consequences for the region. Pressure on refugees to return to a nation wracked by conflict could push them to join the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled to Europe — or spark violence in Lebanon, one of the few states in the region not mired in conflict. – Financial Times

Rep. Mike Gallagher and Mark Dubowitz write: Israeli officials now say that pre-emptive strikes may be necessary to destroy these missile capabilities before they’re operational. The result could be a bloody war that would see thousands of Hezbollah missiles hurled into Israeli airspace, with punishing Israeli reprisals and hundreds—if not thousands—of civilian deaths on both sides. It would be more chaos for Washington policy makers scrambling to manage a region already in flames. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Asia

Afghanistan

A suicide attacker burst into a crowded Shiite mosque in the western Afghan city of Herat during evening prayers Tuesday, spraying the worshipers with gunfire and then killing himself, officials said. – Washington Post

The front lines between Afghan forces and the Taliban have moved little over the past half year, despite an increase in security incidences, according to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. – Military Times

A suicide bomber hit a NATO convoy Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, causing an unspecified number of casualties, the U.S. military confirmed. – The Hill

A U.S. government watchdog says Afghan security forces remain "complicit" in the sexual abuse of young boys despite previous warnings and strict penalties for such activities laid out recently by Afghanistan's president. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Attacks on the Iraqi embassy and a Shi'ite mosque in Afghanistan have reinforced fears that Islamic State militants are seeking to bring the group's Middle East conflict to Central Asia, though evidence of fighters relocating from Iraq and Syria remains elusive. - Reuters

Two influential Afghan politicians urged President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday to allow embattled Vice President Rashid Dostum to return home from Turkey, in comments that underlined the tensions threatening the Kabul government. - Reuters

Pakistan

The interim prime minister of Pakistan, picked to temporarily replace his corruption-scarred predecessor, said Tuesday that he had no choice but to take the job but that he was no “bench warmer.” – New York Times

A new push by one of Pakistan's most notorious militant groups to attract female fighters looks like an effort to keep up with Islamic State (IS) and other extremists who have used such appeals to bolster their ranks with women and spread propaganda, close observers of the militants' strategies say. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Pakistan's new prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, began his first full day in office on Wednesday by meeting his ousted former boss Nawaz Sharif, a signal the ex-premier would continue to wield influence after the Supreme Court disqualified him. - Reuters

Pakistan has extended by two months the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, accused by the United States of masterminding 2008 attacks on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai that killed 166 people, a government document reviewed by Reuters showed. - Reuters

India

China on Wednesday stepped up pressure on India to withdraw from a weekslong military standoff that shows how the countries’ contest for leadership in Asia is heightening the risk of conflict. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Indian security forces killed two militants, including a top commander, in a gun battle in the Kashmir Valley on Tuesday morning that also left one civilian dead. – New York Times

China

The Trump administration is preparing a broad move against China over trade, according to people with knowledge of its plans, amid growing worries in the United States over a Chinese government-led effort to make the country a global leader in microchips, electric cars and other crucial technologies of the future. – New York Times

The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, is calling on President Donald Trump to suspend the approval of all Chinese deals facing national security reviews in the U.S. until China acts more aggressively to press North Korea to curtail its nuclear and missile programs. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Moves by business giants Apple and Amazon to stop consumers from using censorship-skirting apps in China have renewed questions about the extent U.S. companies are willing to work with authorities to operate in the vast but tightly controlled Chinese market. – Washington Post

China recently carried out a flight test of a new anti-satellite missile that highlights the growing threat of Beijing's space warfare capabilities. – Washington Free Beacon

China performed a series of missile tests this weekend as all eyes were focused on the intercontinental ballistic missile launched Friday by North Korea, according to a report. – Washington Examiner

Two chatbots with decidedly non-socialist characteristics were pulled from one of China’s most popular messaging apps after serving up unpatriotic answers about topics including the South China Sea and the Communist party. – Financial Times

Editorial: Critics have argued that renaming the street is a largely symbolic gesture. They are right. That doesn’t mean it is not worth doing. Someday, we hope, Chinese officials representing a different sort of government will step out of their embassy onto Liu Xiaobo Plaza and take pride in a compatriot who sacrificed everything for the country they hold so dear. – Washington Post

Jared Genser writes: Ms. Liu has suffered for marrying an extraordinary man. She deserves freedom from fear and to have peace and tranquility for the rest of her life. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Korean Peninsula

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Tuesday for a dialogue with North Korea and acknowledged that U.S. relations with Russia have worsened during the Trump administration. – Washington Post

American humanitarian agencies that work in North Korea and Americans with relatives there are expressing grave concerns about the new restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to the country. – Washington Post

It may already be too late for sanctions to halt North Korea’s missile program. That’s the view of analysts who have watched Kim Jong Un accelerate progress on North Korea’s decades-long quest for a functioning intercontinental ballistic missile. - Bloomberg

A commercial airplane passed the spot in the Sea of Japan where a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile would make impact 10 minutes before it hit, ABC News reported Tuesday. – The Hill

The Trump administration will allow American journalists, Red Cross employees and other humanitarian workers to apply for exemptions to a ban on travel to North Korea that is set to take effect in early September. – Associated Press

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) writes: The only way to degrade the growing power of Pyongyang is through a coordinated approach that nullifies North Korea’s missile advances, stymies its illicit cash flow and challenges the lies that underpin Kim’s hold on power. This would turn the tables on Pyongyang and give us back the advantage. – Washington Post

Patrick Cronin writes: Engagement and pressure constitute important aspects of the dual-track defense and diplomacy policy described here. Both need to be used to contain North Korea’s growing threat and manage down risks….The administration, working with regional allies to build on existing defense and diplomacy measures, can avoid the military option even as Kim grows his long-range capabilities. As long as the United States does this, it will remain on the ‘blink’ rather than the brink of war. - Politico

David Ignatius writes: Here’s a contrarian thought: President Trump had the right instinct to insist that China help resolve the nightmare problem of North Korea. A peaceful solution is impossible without help from the other great power in East Asia. – Washington Post

East Asia

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will appoint Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to a senior party post, while former defense minister Itsunori Onodera will take up the position again in a Cabinet reshuffle, NHK public television said on Wednesday. - Reuters

Southeast Asia

An American charity that was featured in a recent CNN report on the sex trade in Cambodia was ordered shut down on Tuesday by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who denounced the network and said President Trump was right to criticize it. – New York Times

A crackdown on communist Vietnam's increasingly vocal dissidents has become the biggest in years and activists say authorities have been emboldened by the Trump administration's lack of emphasis on human rights. - Reuters

A Thai court on Wednesday dismissed a case against former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, a brother-in-law of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in a rare victory for the pro-Thaksin, anti-junta movement. - Reuters

The 20 pupils are the sons of Islamic militants, reviled by most Indonesians for killings and other acts of violence that they justified with distorted interpretations of Islam. Nearly half of the boys’ fathers were killed in police raids, and in some cases the children witnessed the deaths. Most of the other fathers are in prison for terrorism offenses. – Associated Press

Southeast Asia’s top diplomats will seek talks “as soon as possible” on a proposed nonaggression pact with China aimed at preventing clashes in the South China Sea and will likely hold back on criticism of China’s aggressive acts in the disputed waters in a weekend summit. – Associated Press

Philippines

Critics of the Philippine government are raising doubts about a weekend police operation that left 15 people dead, including a mayor accused of drug trafficking by President Rodrigo Duterte, suggesting that the bloodshed was a summary execution disguised as legitimate law enforcement. – New York Times

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress for funds to recruit 20,000 new soldiers to battle rising threats from pro-Islamic State militants in the country's restive south, senators said on Wednesday. - Reuters

Security

Defense

The semi-annual Air Force exercise Red Flag marked a historic milestone in July when three different variations of U.S. fifth-generation fighter aircraft trained together, offering insights into what aerial warfare may look like in the not-so-distant future. – Defense Tech

In their latest blast against the Air Force, though, Reps. Mike Rogers and Jim Cooper…argue that the failings of big-ticket programs such as OCX and FAB-T offer ammunition that a Space Corps independent of the Air Force would help fix space acquisition, in addition the other woes they say face the space enterprise. – Breaking Defense

Lawmakers are seething over more program delays for the Air Force — this time for a critical space program: the next-generation GPS operational control system, known as OCX. – DOD Buzz

Lockheed Martin and the Navy have fired 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

Strategic Issues

The Pentagon conducted a test of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday, with the timing expected to be of note in both North Korea, which recently tested its missile arsenal, and in China, which has been urged by the Trump administration to pressure North Korea on its nuclear program. – New York Times

On July 30 MDA conducted a successful missile defense test using the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. This follows a successful shoot-down of a ballistic missile this spring. These recent wins could help build momentum behind MDA’s effort to win congressional funding for a variety of sensors and other technologies related to missile defense. – Defense News

LTG Dan Leaf, USAF (Ret.) writes: If North Korea’s Kim Jung-un decides to use his all-but-inevitable nuclear ICBM to strike the United States, his target might be Hawai’i. While the U.S. must continue to develop its continental anti-missile systems, it is past time to focus on improving the defenses of America’s 50th state. – Defense One

Russia/Europe

Ukraine

The Pentagon and State Department have proposed to the White House a plan to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles and other arms, according to Defense Department officials. – New York Times

Editorial: Bolstering Ukraine’s defenses would also send a message to Mr. Putin that Mr. Trump wants to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength. This could help the U.S. position in Syria, where Mr. Trump has been too willing to accept Russian and Iranian dominance after the fall of Islamic State. Mr. Putin took advantage of Mr. Obama after concluding the American was weak and would never push back. Selling lethal weapons to Ukraine would show the Kremlin those days are over. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Russia

President Trump signed legislation on Wednesday imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting his own authority to lift them, but asserted that the measure included “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” and left open the possibility that he might choose not to enforce them as lawmakers intended. – New York Times

NATO jets were sent to intercept three Russian military aircraft near Estonian airspace on Tuesday. – The Hill

Prominent Russian punk rocker Fyodor Chistyakov says he has decided not to return from the United States, citing Russia's new ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The popular mayor of one of Russia’s largest cities has warned the Kremlin not to block opposition politician Alexei Navalny from running for president next year, suggesting Moscow risks triggering a public backlash over its manipulation of elections. – Financial Times

Russian authorities on Wednesday took over a summer-house compound in Moscow leased by the U.S. embassy, five days after the Kremlin ordered Washington to slash its diplomatic presence in Russia. - Reuters

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is unlikely to risk an escalating round of tit-for-tat sanctions with Washington because the only measures that would hurt the United States would also endanger Russia's fragile economic recovery. - Reuters

Edward Fishman writes: Without question, Congress has strengthened the Trump administration’s hand vis-à-vis Moscow by passing this bill with overwhelming support. The message is loud and clear: America will push back against Russian aggression regardless of political dysfunction in Washington. Even if the administration’s implementation is less than ideal, the law will preclude the type of catastrophic US-Russian deal that Trump has often flirted with. But anything short of proactive implementation would be a major missed opportunity to advance vital US interests. – Atlantic Council

Max Boot writes: Trump’s fondness for Putin is the big mystery of global politics….Whatever the case, Trump’s unwillingness to get tough with Russia saps his credibility, strengthens suspicions of collusion with the Kremlin, worries our Eastern European allies and undermines America’s standing in the world. That is a high price to pay for trying to remain in the good graces of an anti-American dictator. – Los Angeles Times

Europe

Vice President Mike Pence told leaders of eight Balkan nations on Wednesday that “the future of the western Balkans is in the West,” a signal of the United States’ commitment to southeastern Europe and a warning against Russian encroachment in the region. – New York Times

Teenagers have participated in nearly a quarter of all Islamist terror plots across Europe since 2014, with an alarming uptick in adolescent involvement recorded over the past year, according to a new Heritage Foundation report published Tuesday. – Washington Free Beacon

The Moldovan government has declared Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to be persona non grata. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Mari Dugas writes: President Trump has made US natural gas a focal point of his administration. The New Geopolitics of Natural Gas should be required reading for those policymakers hoping to understand its implications on policy and the international order. – Atlantic Council

Americas

United States of America

The Air Force is close to awarding a contract to purchase two Boeing 747’s once destined for Russia to serve as the future Air Force One presidential airplane. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint

Christopher Wray on Tuesday was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate to head the FBI, winning bipartisan support for his commitment to remain fiercely independent from any political pressure. - Politico

Special counsel Robert Mueller has hired Greg Andres, a former Justice Department official, as the newest member of his team investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election, according to a report Tuesday night. – Washington Examiner

A growing number of people in Germany, South Korea and Japan, all hubs for U.S. forces overseas, regard American power as a “major threat” on a par with traditional adversaries China and Russia, according to a new poll. – Stars and Stripes

The Coast Guard commandant warned that his service’s presence in the Arctic may not be enough to ward off Chinese and Russian encroachment unless the U.S. signs the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – and that even if the U.S. signed the treaty now, it might be too little, too late. – USNI News

The Commandant of the Coast Guard is “very confident” US shipyards can build the country’s first icebreaker in 20 years for less than the standard eye-watering $1 billion estimate. – Breaking Defense

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is investigating Labor Department whistleblower complaints that government officials purposefully thwarted ill nuclear workers' or their widows' claims for compensation required by law. – Washington Free Beacon

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday asked a U.S. judge to dismiss 25 lawsuits claiming that it helped plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and should pay damages to victims. - Reuters

State Department

The foreign policy of the United States is being tested around the world: in Russia, North Korea and across the Middle East. But an important element of advancing it – the State Department press briefing – is at its most infrequent levels in decades under President Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. – NYT’s Upshot

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is resisting the pleas of State Department officials to spend nearly $80 million allocated by Congress for fighting terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation. - Politico

Military Issues

More than a dozen retired generals and admirals have signed a letter to President Trump thanking him for his announced policy to ban transgender people from the armed forces. – Washington Times

Fifty-six retired generals and admirals are coming out against President Trump’s ban on transgender troops, arguing it would be disruptive and degrade military readiness, rather than improve it as the president asserted. – The Hill

Latin America

Lawyers representing the families of murder victims in a case many believe is connected to a former Mexican governor were targeted by militarized spyware only sold to governments, according to a new report released Wednesday. – The Hill

Venezuela

President Trump warned Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday night to release two opposition leaders seized by masked government agents and denounced his regime as a “dictatorship.” – Washington Times

The Venezuelan government altered the turnout for its contentious election over the weekend by at least one million votes, a software company involved in setting up voting systems for the country said on Wednesday. – New York Times

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arrested two opposition leaders to send a message of defiance to President Trump, according to Sen. Marco Rubio. – Washington Examiner

Venezuela's opposition on Wednesday readied itself for massive protests against a freshly elected legislative superbody that is expected to hand President Nicolas Maduro vast new powers. - Reuters

President Nicolas Maduro’s government says it is close to convening a special assembly endowed with powers to rewrite the constitution, override other branches of government and punish opposition leaders. – Associated Press

Only 3.7 million people had voted by 5.30 p.m. in Venezuela's controversial Constitutional Assembly election on Sunday, according to internal electoral council data reviewed by Reuters, casting doubt on the 8.1 million people authorities said had voted that day. - Reuters

Africa

Asked to explain this remarkable recovery, many Rwandans point to one man — President Paul Kagame — and in a vote set for Friday, they will almost surely reelect him for a third seven-year term. Others, though, voice profound concern, arguing that behind their country’s dramatic socioeconomic gains lies a climate of suspicion and evidence of a creeping authoritarianism. – Washington Post

Kenya's years of strong economic growth -- a key factor in President Uhuru Kenyatta's reelection campaign -- has created jobs. But they are mostly low-paying, informal and coming at a rate economists say is too low to absorb the rapidly growing population. - Reuters

Fred Muvunyi writes: Kagame is smart. He knows how to turn his country’s dark history to his own advantage. When westerners try to criticize him for his failure to uphold human rights, Kagame points out that their countries either failed to prevent the genocide or actively abetted it, skillfully using their own feelings of guilt to silence them. So far it’s been a highly effective strategy. But that doesn’t change the reality that Rwanda is a country where fear reigns supreme. – Washington Post

Trump Administration

Mike Bell, a retired Army colonel who served in the Iraq War, has been promoted to be President Trump's top Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, according to reports Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

Two of President Trump's top advisers reportedly agreed in the early days of the administration that they would not leave the United States at the same time, in order to ensure they could monitor orders coming from the White House. – The Hill

The Senate today confirmed eight Defense Department nominees, providing a sizable staffing boost to the Pentagon after a protracted congressional stalemate. – Defense News

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