FPI Overnight Brief: August 11, 2017

The Must-Reads

  • Admin divided on Afghanistan while McCain offers own approach
  • Robert Joseph: Bring back containment, end the Iran Deal
  • Jeffrey: Focus on clear goals to contain Iran in Iraq and Syria
  • Mazza, Cronin, McLaughlin, and Schake on the N. Korean crisis
  • Army short $7-9 billion of needed levels to modernize force
  • Michaela Dodge: US desperately needs to modernize its nukes
  • Trump thanks Putin for expelling US diplomats, infuriating State Dept
  • FBI says ISIS used eBay to send terror cash to US
  • WSJ editorials on terror attacks in Australia and France

Middle East/North Africa

U.S. President Donald Trump once again asserted on August 10 that Iran is not "living up to the spirit" of its 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, and added that it was a "horrible agreement." – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Tehran city council has unanimously elected a prominent reformist as the city’s mayor, ending hardliners’ 14-year hold on the Iranian capital’s top post. – Financial Times
James Jeffrey writes: The Administration needs urgently a comprehensive approach towards Iran, centered in Syria and Iraq, including military means, to restore regional stability.  Otherwise, new disasters, fueling extremism and likely new WMD programs, will emerge. – The Cipher Brief
Robert Joseph writes: The United States cannot impose change from the outside but it can assist internal change and those popular forces that can bring it about. U.S. policy should give hope and sustenance to the opposition forces in Iran that support democracy, human rights, and a secular government focused not on repression, missiles, and nuclear weapons but on the needs and aspirations of its people. – The Weekly Standard
Kelly Jane Torance writes: When asked if they’d like to see America crush the Islamic Republic using bombs and tanks, all three immediately shook their heads and emphatically said no. Iranians can overthrow the theocracy from within, they insist—if the West ends the aid and comfort that allow it to hold onto power…All they’re asking, in other words, is that the West let go of the string that’s holding up the teetering regime. – The Weekly Standard
U.S. "deterrence" patrols have come under fire several times recently in the northern Syria flashpoint town of Manbij near the Turkish border, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday. – Military.com
Syrian government forces and their allies on Thursday captured a key area along the border with Jordan in their latest push against insurgents groups there. – Stars and Stripes
U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters have cleared more than 50 percent of the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, according to military officials – Military Times
U.S.-backed forces now have Islamic State fighters surrounded in central Raqqa, a Syrian Kurdish commander said, but he predicted that driving the militants out could take up to four months. - Reuters
Editorial: Mr. Tice was not a combatant. To those who imprisoned him, we repeat: He is a journalist who went only to record and report on the plight of people in a wretched war. His ambitions were noble, and he has already paid a very steep price for his courage and determination. It is long past time to set Mr. Tice free. – Washington Post
The number of weapons released against the Islamic State in July dropped slightly from the previous month’s all-time record as the battle for Mosul, Iraq, drew to a close. But the 4,313 weapons released by coalition aircraft in July was still the third-highest monthly total since the war against ISIS began, according to statistics posted online this week by U.S. Air Forces Central Command. – Military Times
United Nations children agency UNICEF warned on Wednesday that more than half a million children in Libya need help and called on warring parties to end the violence and negotiate a political solution to the crisis. - Reuters
Arabian Peninsula
Saudi Arabia proposed on Thursday that the United Nations reopen and run the international airport in Yemen’s capital, which has been closed for a year because of a Saudi blockade to pressure the Houthi rebel movement. – New York Times
Israel is building another wall to protect itself from its enemies. But rather than a major eyesore, much of this one will be invisible. In the coming months, military officials say, the army will be accelerating construction of a subterranean barrier around the Gaza Strip, designed to cut off tunnels running beneath the border into Israel like the ones Hamas militants used to ambush Israeli military posts during the summer-long war of 2014. – New York Times
Israel on Thursday released detailed intelligence on how Hamas is using newly constructed residential buildings in the coastal strip to disguise the expansion of underground tunnels and command centers from which the Jewish state says the group plans to wage urban war against it. – Defense News
Turkish police on Friday detained 42 people over suspected militant links in operations across two separate provinces, security sources and media said. - Reuters
Turkish authorities have detained a Russian national and suspected Islamic State group militant for allegedly planning a drone attack on U.S. aircraft at Turkey's Incirlik air base, police said Thursday. - Associated Press


One of the Iraq War’s most explosive criminal cases forced an uncomfortable debate about America’s reliance on private security firms in times of conflict. A decade later, that case is back in the spotlight as senior White House officials look to the founder of one such organization, Blackwater’s Erik Prince, for help extricating the U.S. military from its morass in Afghanistan. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
The United States started to seriously put together the Afghan air force only in the past three years, just as the main contingent of NATO troops in the country was leaving. Now, the fledgling group of pilots and planes is one of the key programs the Pentagon wants to invest in as it considers sending more troops to its longest-running war. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain has announced his own strategy for the war in Afghanistan, he says, because the Trump administration is lagging. – Defense News
Read Senator McCain’s proposed strategy – McCain’s Senate Office
The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is urging against a private contractor’s pitch to take over the war in Afghanistan – The Hill
Peter Boyer reports: A presidential decision on a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, long delayed and the subject of bitter dispute inside the White House, may finally be at hand. Key members of the Trump administration’s war council met with the president on August 10 at the summer White House in Bedminster, N.J., and presented him with a trio of options for the 16-year-old conflict, according to senior government officials. These range from an open-ended mission for a beefed-up American military force to a near-complete withdrawal of American forces. – The Weekly Standard
Thomas Joscelyn writes: If the Taliban is able to resurrect its Islamic emirate in Afghanistan, it will be a momentous victory for al Qaeda’s cause. Jihadists around the globe have sworn their allegiance to Zawahiri and, through him, to the Taliban’s leader. They are trying to build their own caliphate, similar to the one established by the Islamic State, with Kabul as its capital. If they succeed, it will have dire ramifications for international security. – The Weekly Standard
Deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif criticized the country's Supreme Court for disqualifying him from office over undisclosed wealth on the second day of his "caravan of democracy" on August 10. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
With America’s Asian allies unnerved by President Trump’s threat to bring “fire and fury” to North Korea, China sees a chance to capitalize on the fear and confusion and emerge as the sober-minded power in the region, according to analysts who study the Chinese leadership. – New York Times
China sees a war of words between the U.S. and North Korea as frustrating its efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula, leaving it with few palatable options. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong said on Friday that Chinese agents drove staples into his legs after he asked the soccer star Lionel Messi to send a message of support for a jailed Chinese dissident. – New York Times
Even as a global nuclear crisis heats up, there’s scant evidence China is willing to impose the major economic measures necessary to cripple Pyongyang — despite Trump’s insistence Thursday that “it do a lot more.” - Politico
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) writes: I welcome the administration’s use of secondary sanctions authority, and the news that it is preparing further actions to respond to unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft. Far from the histrionic warnings of a trade war, if done right, such measures will be overdue assertions of U.S. interests. If China expects to deal with the United States as an equal, then it must deal fairly. It is time to bring some much-needed reciprocity into our bilateral relationship. – The National Interest
Korean Peninsula
President Trump escalated his war of words with North Korea on Thursday by declaring that his provocative threat to rain down “fire and fury” might not have been harsh enough, as nuclear tensions between the two nations continued to crackle. – New York Times
With the United States and North Korea locked in an escalating exchange of threats, South Korea told its people on Friday that the White House had agreed not to do anything on the Korean Peninsula that would catch the South off guard. – New York Times
China won’t come to North Korea’s help if it launches missiles threatening U.S. soil and there is retaliation, a state-owned newspaper warned on Friday, but it would intervene if Washington strikes first. – Washington Post
North Korea’s vow to ignite an “enveloping fire” of test missiles near the American island of Guam is the first time it has specified a target with so much detail, escalating a showdown between Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and President Trump. – New York Times
Some have urged President Trump to open negotiations with him. But it is unclear whether Mr. Kim is interested in talking, or what if anything he might demand in exchange for freezing or abandoning his nuclear program. He has made building a nuclear arsenal a top priority, arguing that it is the only way the North can guarantee its security and develop its economy. – New York Times
North Korea’s rapid progress toward a nuclear weapon that could strike the United States, and the escalating war rhetoric in both capitals, has raised fears of atomic annihilation — a sense of dread not experienced since the coldest days of the Cold War. But the nuclear standoff also carries the risk that future, smaller disputes with Pyongyang, however manageable in the past, will become far more consequential. – Washington Post
The CIA and other key U.S. intelligence agencies agree with the assessment that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear weapon to place atop a ballistic missile, U.S. officials told NBC News. – NBC News
The United States and its allies have military options for confronting North Korea — including an all-out invasion, more limited air and missile strikes, cyberattacks or a covert effort to oust the regime of Kim Jong Un. But those scenarios carry enormous risks, including the possibilities of loss of life, loose nukes falling into terrorists’ hands or the conflict spreading to a wider Asian war. - Politico
The Trump administration is asking U.S. allies to cut back on the number of North Korean workers they allow in the country, in a bid to starve North Korea of money it uses to fund its weapons program. – Washington Examiner
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Thursday that North Korea's expanding nuclear weapons program marks a 'failure' on the part of the United States. – The Hill
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said President Trump doesn't need congressional approval for a military strike against North Korea, but he urged his colleagues to give it "as a last resort." – The Hill
South Korea has sought to damp down escalating tensions between North Korea and the US over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, telling its northern neighbour that the door to dialogue is still open. – Financial Times
The escalating threat arising from nuclear-armed North Korea's recent series of missile tests is prompting South Korea to beef up its military muscle and experts warn it could spur an arms buildup elsewhere in Northeast Asia. - Reuters
Interview: The Cipher Brief’s Mackenzie Weinger reached out to former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin for his thoughts on the president’s comment and why he thinks resumed negotiations at some level are still worth a try. – The Cipher Brief
Michael Mazza writes: For too long, the regime has sown terror among its own people and wreaked havoc on the international stage. Bringing about its downfall and, potentially, peaceful unification with Seoul, is the best way to eliminate the North Korean threat once and for all while bringing freedom and prosperity to its long-suffering people. - Forbes
Patrick Cronin writes: The Korean Peninsula has been a dangerous flashpoint ever since the war resulted in an armistice just over sixty-four years ago. North Korea’s latest achievements in weapons of mass destruction make the situation even more dangerous and yet, as with the past, manageable. We have reached a culminating point, and we should brace ourselves for a new level of permanent crisis even if hot war never breaks out. – The National Interest
Kori Schake writes: Stock markets in the U.S., Asia, and Europe unsurprisingly registered their worry in retreat. What is surprising is how little alarm has been expressed so far by the governments of South Korea, Japan, and China. This suggests that governments are beginning to ignore the president’s statements. Disbelief of the president may be a stabilizing factor for foreign governments, but as Eliot Cohen points out, it will be a major liability if the president needs to persuade the American people to go to war against North Korea. – Defense One
Now, as Mr. Trump and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, exchange increasingly fiery words over the North’s nuclear weapons program, Mr. Abe’s relationship with the president is being tested. The North’s accelerating military advances — and Mr. Trump’s volatile response — could complicate Japan’s close alliance with the United States and Mr. Abe’s political future. – New York Times
Southeast Asia
As the Trump administration pressed China to curb North Korea, Beijing issued its own warning over another festering dispute on Friday, saying that American naval operations in the South China Sea would only force it to deepen its military buildup there. – New York Times
Myanmar has sent hundreds of soldiers to beef up security in northwestern Rakhine state after a recent spate of killings, military sources said on Friday, fuelling fears of yet more violence and instability in the troubled region. - Reuters
Indonesian police on Friday arrested an alleged recruiter and fundraiser for pro-Islamic State (IS) militants locked in a bloody battle for control of the southern Philippine city of Marawi. - Reuters
Editorial: The international media paid little attention when Australian police rolled up a terrorist plot in the Sydney suburbs last month, the 13th time in three years the country has dodged a mass-casualty attack. But it has since become clear that Islamic State nearly brought down a large plane without authorities having a clue. That should ring alarm bells across the world. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


President Donald Trump pledged Thursday to increase defense spending by “billions of dollars,” while hinting that a plan to increase spending on missile defense may come as soon as next week. – Defense News
The U.S. Army is roughly $7-to-$9 billion short of the funds needed to begin modernizing the force, which has seen several of its capabilities outmatched by Russia in recent years, according to a new report by the Center for Security and International Studies. – Washington Free Beacon
The new Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, says that the Navy needs more ships and that 355 ships is the right number to target. – Military Times
The 2nd US Navy Ford-Class high-tech aircraft carrier has grown 70-feet longer and is now 50-percent structurally complete with the addition of the lower stern, Huntington Ingalls Industries announced. – Scout Warrior
The Navy is acquiring early materials, working on systems engineering and starting detailed design work for a new America-Class Amphibious Assault ship which re-introduces “well-deck” surface attack technology to prepare the service for future amphibious warfare. – Scout Warrior
The Nov. 9, 2016, collision, which incredibly resulted in only minor injuries for the pilots, was caused by both pilots failing to recognize that they were on a collision course until it was too late, a command investigation obtained by Military.com found. Investigators point to insufficient hours in the cockpit -- an endemic problem for Marine Corps Hornet squadrons in recent years -- as a key causal factor. – Military.com
Editorial: When Mr. McCain cast his vote on the Senate floor, he was greeted by hugs and huzzahs from Democrats, and no wonder. They understood that the Senator had preserved their entitlement-state priorities at the expense of Senator McCain’s military buildup. We doubt this is the result and legacy that the patriot and former Navy pilot intended, but we regret to say there it is. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The War
U.S. investigators uncovered a global financial network run by a senior Islamic State official that funneled money to an alleged ISIS operative in the U.S. through fake eBay transactions, according to a recently unsealed FBI affidavit. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The value of the shadowy digital currency known as bitcoin has jumped to record highs this month, sending shock waves through America’s defense and intelligence agencies, which fear its growth signals a surge in use by terrorists, drug kingpins, white-collar criminals and Russian cybercriminals who don’t want to be tracked by the world’s governments. – Washington Times
The Islamic State extremist group is still capable of sending funds to supporters and motivating attacks in Europe and elsewhere despite military pressure and falling revenue - and al-Qaida remains resilient especially in West Africa, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, U.N. experts said in a report circulated Thursday. – Associated Press
Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes: I propose that the next item of cross-party business should be for Congress to convene hearings on the ideological threat of radical Islam. “Who wants America on offense, with a coherent and intelligible strategy?” Newt Gingrich asked in 2015, he called for such hearings. Then as now, if the executive branch isn’t willing—if the president has forgotten his campaign commitments—lawmakers can and should step up to the plate. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Strategic Issues
President Trump on Thursday said his administration could unveil a plan as early as next week to add billions for anti-missile defenses in response to recent North Korean threats. – The Hill
President Trump told reporters on Thursday of his desire to rid the planet of nuclear weapons, even as his rhetoric against North Korean aggression intensifies – Washington Examiner
Michaela Dodge writes: U.S. nuclear weapons policy must evolve as the nuclear threat evolves. Making changes to the U.S. nuclear posture as the threat environment grows more challenging will ultimately put the United States and its allies in a better strategic position. Congress and the Trump administration must not waver in their support for the U.S. nuclear modernization program. – The Hill
The Department of Homeland Security is clearing the way for state election officials to apply for security clearances so they can review classified information about cyberthreats to their election systems, federal and state authorities said in interviews this week. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A project called Hack the Air Force is paying “white hack” hackers over $130,000 for finding weak points in its websites, the service announced this morning. It’s the Defense Department’s third “bug bounty” – a high-profile initiative of Obama’s last Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, that’s survived under Trump. – Breaking Defense


President Trump offered gratitude rather than outrage on Thursday for Russia’s decision to force the United States Embassy in Moscow to slash its personnel by 755 people, despite bipartisan condemnation from other American leaders who protested the Cold War-style move. – New York Times
President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia on the grounds that “we’re going to save a lot of money,” prompting dismay among many of the rank-and-file at the State Department. - Politico
A Russian court has sentenced a journalist from a respected business daily to 3 1/2 years in prison after convicting him on extremism charges in a case denounced by rights activists and scores of fellow journalists. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Russia’s most prominent leftwing opposition politician has called for a boycott of next year’s presidential contest in protest at the “manipulation” of the electoral system. – Financial Times
A former British spy chief said on Friday that encryption of online communications was "very positive" for the country's national security interests despite the difficulties that it poses for security services attempting to tackle militants. - Reuters
Editorial: Time was when an alleged terror attack such as that in a Paris suburb on Wednesday would have been major news. A car plowed into six soldiers in what an official described as a “deliberate act.” Yet this type of attack is now common in France, and fortunately at least this time no one was killed. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


United States of America
A federal judge has ordered the State Department to search its email systems for any messages sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s top aides during her stint as secretary for any correspondence concerning the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. – Washington Times
Congressional investigators want to question President Donald Trump’s longtime personal secretary as part of their ongoing probe into a controversial meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, ABC News has learned. – ABC News
President Donald Trump would have you believe that Paul Manafort wasn’t all that involved with his campaign, and for good reason: Behind the scenes, Trump’s aides fume that the former campaign chairman is at least partially responsible for the president’s deepening legal woes. – The Daily Beast
Two top aides to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have resigned, Bloomberg reported. – The Hill
A woman aiming to become the first female Navy SEAL officer quit about a week into the initial training, Task and Purpose reported Thursday. – Washington Examiner
Latin America
Populism in Latin America is being edged out by a new brand of managerial leaders responding to fatigue over “illogical” platforms and quixotic promises, according to the political guru who masterminded the rise to power of Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri. – Financial Times
A move by Mexico's ruling party to allow an outsider to run for president strengthens the hand of beleaguered leader Enrique Pena Nieto, granting him more power to pick his own candidate and opening a path for his finance minister, Jose Antonio Meade. - Reuters
Argentina's leftist ex-President Cristina Fernandez leads the candidate for President Mauricio Macri's coalition in the Senate race for politically-crucial Buenos Aires province, a poll showed on Thursday. - Reuters
State Department officials are investigating health-related incidents that caused some American diplomats and their families to leave Cuba, but they refused on Thursday to identify any particular country or cause as a source for the ailments. – New York Times
Key House and Senate Committees, as well as individual lawmakers, want to know why they were caught flat-footed by media reports of incidents in Cuba late last year that left a group of U.S. diplomats ill and reportedly suffering from hearing loss attributed to covert sonic devices. – Washington Free Beacon
Cuban dictator Raul Castro has been making public and private overtures to American adversaries over the last several weeks, particularly Russia, at the same time the U.S. was investigating how U.S. officials stationed in Cuba mysteriously fell ill. – Washington Examiner
A group of Republican senators are asking President Trump to hold off on hitting Venezuelan oil companies with sanctions, claiming the restrictions could hurt U.S. oil refiners and drive Venezuela closer to U.S. adversaries. – The Hill
Credit Suisse is banning its traders from dealing with a batch of Venezuelan bonds, fearing any potential reputational fallout from being seen to support the increasingly autocratic government of Nicolás Maduro. – Financial Times
Venezuela's ousted chief prosecutor said on Thursday she fears for her life and is on the run, but will keep fighting for democracy and freedom in the country after being fired by a controversial new legislative superbody. - Reuters
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recognized the Socialist Party-dominated constituent assembly as the country's most powerful institution on Thursday in his first appearance at the highly criticized legislative body that was inaugurated six days ago. - Reuters


East Africa
A day before Kenya is due to announce the official outcome of its recent presidential election, the country’s longtime opposition leader on Thursday reasserted his conviction that the results have been rigged. – Washington Post
John Phillips, a Washington-based election consultant, had been working with Kenya’s opposition during a tense election when he was seized by a dozen plainclothes police Friday night, just days after the murder and torture of a key election official. – Los Angeles Times
Kenyan police took security precautions on Friday ahead of an expected announcement that President Uhuru Kenyatta has won re-election despite allegations of vote rigging by opposition leader Raila Odinga. - Reuters
The U.S. military has announced two new airstrikes against al-Shabab extremists in Somalia, and Somalia’s president says the joint operation killed a high-level leader of the group. – Associated Press
Central/Southern Africa
At least 27 people, including three police officers, were killed in clashes between protesters and police in Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this week, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. - Reuters
Police in Zambia freed an opposition leader on Thursday after holding him in detention for a week on accusations of defaming President Edgar Lungu, an offence that carries a maximum five-year prison term. - Reuters

Trump Administration

The memo at the heart of the latest blowup at the National Security Council paints a dark picture of media, academics, the “deep state,” and other enemies allegedly working to subvert U.S. President Donald Trump, according to a copy of the document obtained by Foreign Policy. – Foreign Policy
President Donald Trump said Thursday he remains confident in national security adviser H.R. McMaster, despite escalating critiques of the adviser from some conservatives. - Politico
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Thursday he believes President Trump likes to intake intelligence reports on "a selective basis" and that his opinion of the intelligence community has improved because the "Nazis" have been removed from it. – Washington Examiner
The State Department pushed back on Thursday against White House deputy adviser Sebastian Gorka's assertion that it was "nonsensical" for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak on military matters. – The Hill
James Jay Carafano writes: Tillerson’s methods might be debatable, but his goal seems right. If he perseveres, the results will speak for themselves. But many in the department are determined to resist new directions, and the clock is ticking against Tillerson. Far too many policy posts—up to and including the assistant secretary level—remain unfilled or still in the hands of those who do not share his vision. Tillerson needs to get his own team on board, sooner rather than later. And, he has to get the department’s policies aligned with the president’s agenda. – The National Interest


Jake Palmer writes: Center-right parties should follow Angela Merkel’s lead in rejecting the radical positions espoused by populist parties. It will not be easy, and parties might initially shed some voters, but only a firm renunciation of populism on both sides of the political spectrum can ensure the security of democratic institutions in the long term. – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue

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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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