Fdd's overnight brief

October 10, 2018

In The News


Of all the issues dividing Europe and the Trump administration, Iran has become the sharpest, with the Europeans actively working against United States policy, placing them in league with Russia, China and Iran. – New York Times

Criminal networks are using Iran as a transit point for illicit Somali charcoal exports that earn Islamist militants al Shabaab millions of dollars annually in tax, U.N. sanctions monitors said in a report seen by Reuters. Reuters

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday predicted Iran’s economy will sink deep in the red due to renewed US sanctions but forecast increased Saudi growth on the back of higher oil production. – Agence France-Presse

Less than a month before another round of US sanctions against Iran take effect, analysts say hundred-dollar oil could be on the horizon. The Trump administration has called on buyers to cut off oil imports from Iran in efforts to pressure the third-largest OPEC producer to change its behavior, a move that could squeeze global supply and pressure prices that are already at four-year highs. – Business Insider

Michael Rubin writes: Iraq has a real problem, and has worked with Washington diligently to resolve it. Rather than a precipitous move that will bolster the pro-Iran camp during government formation, perhaps it would be wiser to help Iraq wean itself off Iran and solidify its moderation and independence. – Washington Examiner

Michael Rubin writes: But being an independent force underscores how important it is in Washington to recognize that the problem lies not in religion, but rather with those in Tehran or southern Lebanon who would seek to pervert it for the cause of corruption or power. Indeed, supporting religious freedom and independence among Shi’ites in Iraq and elsewhere is probably the best defense against Iranian government encroachment. – Washington Examiner


The Syrian government said Tuesday that it would grant amnesty to civilian men who have been avoiding military conscription, framing the move as a way to encourage refugees to return to a war-battered homeland. – Washington Post

Jihadists and Turkish-backed rebels in Syria’s last major opposition stronghold have withdrawn heavy weapons from nearly all of a planned buffer zone, a monitor said Tuesday, a day ahead of deadline. – Agence France-Presse

Russia and Syria have discussed the possible reconstruction of gas transportation infrastructure, underground gas storage facilities, oil and gas production and oil refineries in Syria, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak was quoted as saying. – Reuters

Jordan said on Tuesday more talks with Syria were needed before an important border crossing shut for three years as a result of its neighbor’s war could reopen to serve regional trade. – Reuters

After seven long years, Bashar al-Assad has almost clinched victory in Syria. Just one province remains beyond his grasp, but as his Russian and Iranian allies step away from the last stages of the war they leave behind a Syrian army too weak to finish the job on its own. – The Guardian

A senior Iranian official on Monday said Israel would be hard-pressed to conduct airstrikes in Syria after Russia provided the country with the advanced S-300 air defense system. – Times of Israel


Two trucks brought fuel across Israel’s border into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in a Qatari- and U.N.-backed effort to ease conditions in the enclave and stem any escalation in Palestinian-Israeli violence. – Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Nikki Haley, the outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations, for her support of Israel and said she had fought hypocrisy at the organization. – Reuters

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who rose to notoriety in 2013 for leaking classified information from the US National Security Agency (NSA), will speak via video conference to an Israeli audience at a closed event on November 6th, according to a statement to the press released Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

Tovah Lazaroff writes: US Nikki Haley is a modern version of a Western style sheriff, defending Israel in every verbal shootout at the United Nations. […]The Trump Administration is likely to continue its strong pro-Israel stance at the UN in her absence, but it is hard to imagine another ambassador that could turn a defense of Israel into the same glamorous high noon drama. – Jerusalem Post

Saudi Arabia

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that authorities will search the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as part of an investigation into the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last week. – Washington Post

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Tuesday that he would attempt to force a vote to reject arms sales to Saudi Arabia following reports that a Washington Post contributor was murdered in the kingdom’s consulate after criticizing the royal family. – Washington Examiner

The disappearance of journalist and Riyadh critic Jamal Khashoggi from Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate has rattled already brittle ties between two powerful rivals vying for influence in the Muslim world, analysts say. – Agence France-Presse

The United Nations (U.N.) on Tuesday called on Turkey and Saudi Arabia to investigate the disappearance of prominent Saudi Arabian journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. – The Hill

Simon Henderson writes: Washington clearly wishes Khashoggi had not disappeared and wants to diminish any negative fallout on the kingdom while trying to triage an emerging rift between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, regional competitors with very different views of the role of political Islam[…]. This could be a turbulent week for U.S. relations with the Middle East. We retain some hope for Khashoggi to emerge, somewhere, alive and well. But don’t count on it. – The Hill

Gonul Tol writes: If Erdogan chooses to make that evidence public, the Turkish government will have to consider its next move, which could include expulsions of Saudi diplomats, the consul general, or even the ambassador. But Erdogan may very well choose not to[…]. An inflection point is rapidly approaching in Turkish foreign policy. How Erdogan will navigate this minefield remains to be seen. – Middle East Institute

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen have killed almost 80 Huthi rebel fighters over 48 hours in the western province of Hodeida, military and medical sources said Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

In health centers across Yemen, children are weighed and measured for signs of severe malnutrition. At checkpoints from Sanaa to the port city of Hodeida, child soldiers stand guard, knowing full well it is American bombs that are falling from the skies. – Foreign Policy

Hal Brands writes: For those who think Washington can simply turn over the management of Middle Eastern geopolitics to the countries of the region, Khashoggi’s disappearance is one more reminder that things are not so simple. A post-American Middle East will not be stable and peaceful. It will be even nastier and more turbulent than it is today. – Bloomberg

Korean Peninsula

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he made “real progress” on his most recent trip to North Korea, where he met with Kim Jong Un and other officials to discuss denuclearization and plans for a second summit with President Trump. – Wall Street Journal

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited Pope Francis to Pyongyang, South Korea’s presidential office said Tuesday, in a new diplomatic outreach by the repressive regime as it negotiates a nuclear-disarmament deal with Washington. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump said Tuesday that his next summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not happen until after next month’s midterm elections. – Washington Post

North Korean defector Ji Seong Ho in January raised his crutches triumphantly during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, symbolizing his journey from near starvation to a place of honor in the US Capitol. – Agence France-Presse

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that planning for his next summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is advanced and that “three or four locations” have been short-listed. – Agence France-Presse

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that Russia, China and North Korea had agreed on the need for five-way talks including the United States and South Korea to end tensions on the Korean peninsula. – Reuters

Seoul is considering lifting some of its unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang to create more momentum for diplomacy aimed at improving relations and defusing the nuclear crisis, South Korea’s foreign minister said Wednesday. – Associated Press

South Korea on Wednesday kicked off an international fleet review involving 13 nations, after Japan bowed out in protest at Seoul’s demand it remove a controversial ‘Rising Sun’ naval flag from Tokyo’s warship. – Agence France-Presse

Peter Brookes writes: All of these possible scenarios serve as good reasons to wait on a peace declaration (or a peace treaty) until the conditions for stability and security on the Korean Peninsula are a reality[…] long-standing military tradition must also apply to diplomacy, too, where the United States and South Korea are stronger when in step on policy than not. – Heritage Foundation

Robert E. Kelly writes: Moon has yet to really tackle these issues. Despite months of talking this up, he has yet to give a programmatic speech on what precisely this declaration would mean[…]. If it is just a signal of intent, then sure, sign it. But if it is to be a real treaty, America and South Korea should pursue concessions for it, given that North Korea wants it far more than we do. – National Interest


President Donald Trump on Tuesday repeated his threat to slap tariffs on an additional $267 billion of Chinese imports if Beijing retaliates for the recent levies and other measures the United States has imposed in an escalating trade war between the economic giants. – Reuters

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called on China Wednesday not to be a “source of conflict” and pledged to boost the island’s defenses against Beijing’s military threats. – Associated Press

Editorial: The case shows that hardline Chinese officials who staff Beijing’s Liaison Office are calling the shots in Hong Kong. President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian crackdown is spreading from the mainland to wherever China can dominate or exert influence. The trend is one reason world opinion is building against China as a threat to democracy and freedom. – Wall Street Journal

Editorial: To the many international businesses that operate out of Hong Kong, the treatment of Mr. Mallet is in effect a threat to Hong Kong’s identity and role[…]. The United States, Britain and the European Union have likewise sounded alarms. These should continue, loudly and clearly. – New York Times

Marco Rubio and Chris Smith write: China’s government and Communist Party have become more repressive in domestic politics, more mercantilist in trade and economic policy, increasingly dismissive of international norms, and more assertive in spreading their model of authoritarian governance globally. These developments pose real challenges to the U.S. and its allies[…]. – Wall Street Journal

Sophie Richardson writes: In the past week, reports of Chinese authorities’ latest audacious move — forcibly detaining Meng Hongwei, then the president of the international police organization Interpol — has made clear Chinese President Xi Jinping’s deep disdain for the rule of law. But some of Xi’s aspirations could be thwarted if global organizations responded with more-robust opposition to his abuses of power. – Washington Post

Adam Minter writes: China has clearly demonstrated its lack of respect for international standards of governance. Global organizations will be understandably wary of putting another Chinese into a leadership position, and the Chinese government — rarely willing to admit a wrong — is unlikely to offer assurances that it will respect international norms in the future. That’s a setback for China, and a tragedy for international organizations that depend on global cooperation to manage or solve issues that impact us all. – Bloomberg


Faced with international pressure and mounting calls for accountability over their atrocities against the Rohingya, Myanmar has mounted a defense of denial and defiance. Among the collateral damage is the reputation of Suu Kyi, which many see as tarnished and compromised. – Washington Post

A suicide bomber on Tuesday struck the home of a candidate in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections later this month, killing the candidate and seven other people, a provincial official said. – Associated Press

A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced 19 people to death over a 2004 grenade attack on the current prime minister, although a top opposition leader escaped with a life sentence. – Agence France-Presse


One of the two suspects in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain was an intelligence operative who was personally decorated as a hero by President Vladimir Putin after conducting covert operations in Ukraine, investigative group Bellingcat said on Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

The office of a Russian internet troll farm linked to election interference efforts by Russia’s government during the 2016 presidential election was set on fire in an arson attack early Tuesday morning, according to reports. – The Hill

As the Russians blitzed the contested eastern region of Ukraine with cyberattacks, electromagnetic jamming and unmanned aerial systems, the U.S. military closely monitored the battle tactics, according to officials speaking Oct. 8 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting. What Pentagon officials observed sparked change. – Fifth Domain

Russia’s military leaders have reportedly called its intelligence service “deeply incompetent” after Western investigators accused its agents of being behind the nerve agent poisoning in England and an attempted hack into the global chemical weapons watchdog. – Business Insider

David Ignatius writes: The CIA and its foreign allies don’t normally like to divulge secrets like these, because they reveal how much they know about their adversary. The revelations are a public warning to Putin: Knock it off; you’re more vulnerable than you think. – Washington Post

James J. Coyle writes: East or West, Russian influence is growing at America’s expense. The United States needs to actively re-engage with the world community before Russian overtakes English as the language of commerce. – The Hill

Heather A. Conley and Holly Geffs write: This troll intervention also serves as an example of how Russian trolls attempt to shift the public debate through their online behavior[…]. This is just one brief snapshot of how malign Russian influence can alter public discourse and amplify divisions in democratic societies. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The presidency of Emmanuel Macron has reached a tipping point. Viewed from abroad, the 40-year-old former investment banker is a poster boy for international cooperation. […]At home, however, Mr. Macron is increasingly isolated. – Wall Street Journal

United States officials say they intercepted communications in June showing that Mr. Savvidis was working as Russia’s conduit to undermine an agreement between Greece and Macedonia that would have paved the way for Macedonia to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. – New York Times

U.S. and NATO ships are focused on conducting freedom of navigation operations in Europe to push back against a Russia that is increasingly harassing commercial shipping and introducing new anti-access weapons into the theater, according to the head of U.S. naval forces in Europe. – USNI News

A complaint has been filed at the Hague-based International Criminal Court against France for alleged crimes against humanity over nuclear tests conducted in the South Pacific, a French Polynesian opposition leader said on Tuesday. – Agence France-Presse

Footage from the race in Sochi showed Putin wishing Dodik “great success” in the Bosnian election and the Serb presenting Putin with a Republika Srpska pin[…]. The video was a blatant display of Russia influence in one of Europe’s most sensitive regions — the fragile Balkans — where the West has sought to encourage reconciliation and reform after a brutal ethnic war in the 1990s. – Associated Press

Sebastian Mallaby writes: For onlookers outside Britain, the radicalization of a once sensible and moderate political culture should stand as a warning. Globalization and technological change, which are about to intensify thanks to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, generate similar insecurities across the mature democracies. What Britain teaches is that when centrists fail to address these challenges, populists of left and right will fill the void. – Washington Post

Beppe Severgnini writes: For the moment, none of this has been followed up with major foreign policy shifts. Still, Italy’s traditional allies worry. […]As things stand now, Eastern Europe’s authoritarians and Russia are mentioned, esteemed, admired and defended by Italy’s leaders at every turn. – New York Times

Leonid Bershidsky writes: Despite news reports of a “pro-Russian” party’s victory in last Saturday’s parliamentary election in Latvia, the election provides evidence that if Russian President Vladimir Putin makes any inroads in the Baltic states, it won’t be through their democratic institutions. – Bloomberg

Sergey V. Chapnin writes: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political and military clash with Ukraine has brought about a schism on a spiritual level: The Ukrainian part of the Orthodox Church is on the verge of breaking away from its Russian overseer — a move that would undermine Moscow’s central role in eastern Christianity. There’s a real danger that the rift could lead to bloodshed, an outcome that all sides must act decisively to prevent. – Bloomberg

Theodore R. Bromund writes: But even if Britain chooses well, the EU’s decline holds perils for the United States[…]. This danger is the result of a European preference for stability over change. But by seeking to avoid economic change, the EU will find that political change is thrust upon it. For Europe, the path to decline is the path to instability. And from bitter experience, we in the United States know the dangers of that. – Heritage Foundation


There has been a recent spike in violence in this volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a shadowy armed group rooted in Ugandan Islamism. – Agence France-Presse

Two Kenyan teachers were killed on Wednesday when suspected al Shabaab militants threw an explosive device at a teacher’s house in Mandera county near the Somali border, police said. – Reuters

Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamists on Tuesday shot five men in a public execution, including a Somali British citizen accused of spying, a sign of the insurgents’ control of southern swathes of the country, even as authorities step up efforts to combat them. – Reuters

Judd Devermont writes: Ideally, the U.S. strategy will expand on traditional U.S. priorities and update its programmatic focus in recognition that sub-Saharan Africa is becoming more youthful, urban, educated, and networked. Below are three recommendations to capitalize on Mrs. Trump’s trip and to formulate a more forward-looking approach to the continent. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Cyber Security

A major U.S. telecommunications company discovered manipulated hardware from Super Micro Computer Inc. in its network and removed it in August, fresh evidence of tampering in China of critical technology components bound for the U.S., according to a security expert working for the telecom company. – Bloomberg

The top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee has asked Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Super Micro Computer Inc for staff briefings about a Bloomberg report that the Chinese government implanted malicious hardware into server motherboards provided by Super Micro. – Reuters

In cyberspace there is no sanctuary. This means network defenders must maintain a mentality of constant conflict, according to the military’s top cyber official. – Fifth Domain

Google says it won’t compete for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing contract to help the U.S. military better leverage artificial intelligence capabilities because the project might conflict with corporate limits on the use of its technologies. – Washington Examiner

Viewed from a certain perspective, the 50 million accounts breached at Facebook in late September seem insignificant: They represent only a fraction of the platform’s 1.47 billion daily users. […]The breach, while already patched, occurred amid growing scrutiny of the kinds of information that American businesses — particularly those in the multi-billion-dollar technology industry — gather, how they use it and how well they protect it. – Washington Examiner

From the president on down, leading members of the Trump administration suggest their work on cybersecurity has been a rescue mission from the Obama days. Yet President Trump’s new strategy is earning high marks — along with a few inevitable brickbats — from veterans of the previous administration. – Washington Examiner

Google on Tuesday appealed the biggest ever anti-trust fine by the EU, which imposed a 4.34 billion euro ($5 billion) penalty on the US tech giant for illegally abusing the dominance of its operating system for mobile devices. – Agence France-Presse

One of the top Republicans in Congress wants Amazon, Apple and information technology company Super Micro to hold a congressional briefing over concerns about a hardware hack reportedly carried out against them by the Chinese government. – The Hill

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) weapon systems feature cyber vulnerabilities that leave them susceptible to attack, according to a new government report released Tuesday. – The Hill

An independent auditing firm signed off on Google’s privacy practices earlier this year after the internet giant had discovered a software bug that exposed private information on potentially hundreds of thousands of users. – The Hill

A U.S. telecommunications company has reportedly discovered “manipulated” hardware from chip maker Super Micro. The revelation comes days after a report said that motherboards made by the company were modified to let Chinese hackers into the computer systems that installed the chips. – The Hill

William A. Carter writes: Procurement is a critical component of the larger challenge of rethinking federal government cybersecurity. At the federal level, security is traditionally viewed as a problem that is solved from headquarters looking outwards with the goal of securing a fixed network and perimeter. In today’s changing IT environment, that is no longer sufficient. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Pentagon leadership has set an aggressive timeline to improve the health of the Navy’s strike fighter force, according to a new directive from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis obtained by USNI News. – USNI News

The Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon are working more closely together on how to neutralize border security threats such as weaponized drones, improvised explosive devices, and malware, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced Tuesday afternoon. – Washington Examiner

Sales of U.S. military equipment to foreign governments rose 33 percent to $55.6 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, as looser restrictions on sales have begun to increase arms deals. – Reuters

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has ordered the Air Force and Navy to get mission capable rates for four key tactical aircraft up above 80 percent by the end of next September, a daunting challenge given the current readiness rates of America’s fighter fleets. – Defense News

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ point man on the Pentagon’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force said Tuesday that the effort to boost combat power at the squad level suffers from a lack of research and development funding. – DOD Buzz

The head of the US Army’s new four-star command for the development of next-generation weapons identified Russian and Chinese advances in weapons as motivations for some of its projects in the works, including a long-range cannon that could strike targets nearly 40 miles away. – Business Insider

John Dale Grover writes: There are two things the government can do to reduce the cost of the Space Force. First, make full use of international space law to avoid another arms race reminiscent of the Cold War. Second, make sure that the Space Force has a clear and narrow mission. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who abruptly announced her departure Tuesday, will leave behind a job she helped elevate to one of the most influential in the Trump administration, raising the stakes for her successor and fueling speculation about her future. – Washington Post

Nikki Haley’s abrupt and unexpected resignation from President Trump’s administration secured her membership in a singular club — the rare former White House official who leaves Trump’s orbit as a political force who could pose a potential threat to the president. – Washington Post

Less clear is whether Haley’s departure marks any change in Trump’s increasingly combative and unilateralist foreign policy. There were moments when Haley, who often represented an alternative power center in the administration, seemed out of step with the White House and more in line with the sort of traditional Republican foreign policy that Trump spurned. – Washington Post

First daughter and White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump shut down any speculation that she might be chosen to replace outgoing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley with a tweet Tuesday. – Washington Examiner

The surprise resignation of Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has triggered a scramble to find a replacement as the public face of the Trump administration at the world body. […]Here are 10 potential replacements for Haley who are already getting buzz in the hours after Haley stepped down. – Washington Examiner

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would consider selecting Goldman Sachs executive and former White House adviser Dina Powell as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he shot down speculation he would tap his daughter Ivanka for the post. – Reuters

Editorial: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, one of Team Trump’s shining stars, will leave at year’s end. We hope she’ll return to government service in due course, because she’s exactly the kind of leader this nation needs. – New York Post

Adam Taylor writes: Whatever made Haley decide to “take a little time off,” the consequences of that decision will be watched closely around the world. But when it comes to actual changes in U.S. foreign policy, the difference may be more in the style than the substance. – Washington Post