The Soufan Group Morning Brief

The Soufan Group Morning Brief, May 22, 2017
MONDAY, MAY 22, 2017

In his first headline address during his first trip abroad, President Trump on Sunday pivoted away from his more strident and controversial assessment of Islam as a religion equated with radical Islamic terrorism and attempted to rally the Muslim world to join the U.S. in a renewed campaign against religious extremism. Addressing dozens of heads of state from across the Muslim world in Riyadh, Trump rejected the idea that terrorism is a struggle between religions, and he promised not to scold them about human rights in their countries. But he challenged Muslim leaders to step up their efforts to counter a “wicked ideology” and purge the “foot soldiers of evil” from their societies.

“We are not here to lecture,” Trump said. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values.”

Iran was singled out. Trump called for unity in confronting Iran over its funding of terrorists and promotion of a “craven ideology.” He called on the Muslim world to help isolate Iran and, just days after Iranians reelected a moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, to “pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve.” New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News, Los Angeles Times

The Saudi king echoed Trump’s assessment of Iran, saying the country represents the “tip of the spear” of global terrorism. Reuters

On Monday, Trump heads to Israel, where preparations for his visit have exposed political rifts, and where locals have little hope that the new president can break any new ground for a possible peace settlement.

Wall Street Journal editorial: Trump’s Middle East Reset
Washington Post: Trump Embraces the Saudi Vision for the Middle East
The Atlantic: Trump’s Speech on Islam, Annotated
Washington Post: In Trump’s Speech to the Muslim World, Some See a Businessman’s Focus on the Bottom Line
Bloomberg: The Worst-Case Scenario for Trump in Israel
Politico: Israeli Officers to Trump: You’re Doing ISIS Wrong
The Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward, the New York Times reported this weekend. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the CIA’s sources; others were thrown in prison. The intelligence breach, which had not been previously reported, set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the CIA had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the CIA used to communicate with its foreign sources. The debate remains unresolved today. New York Times

Guantánamo’s parole board has rejected an offer by the prison’s oldest war-on-terror captive, a 69-year-old once wealthy Pakistani businessman, to retire upon release from 14 years of U.S. detention. Saifullah Paracha got to Guantánamo in 2004, more than a year after he was seized by U.S. forces. Last year, he offered through his attorney to close his businesses upon his release to assure the U.S. government he had no evil intent. He has never been charged with a crime. But in a decision last week, the board cited his “continued refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaida” as a reason for his continued detention. Miami Herald

The Syrian government says its forces have regained total control of the central city of Homs after rebels left the last district under their control. Hundreds of Syrian rebels and their families left the last opposition-held district of Homs on Sunday, completing a deal that brought the whole city back under President Bashar al-Assad's control for the first time since the start of the war. BBC News, Reuters
The Atlantic: The Scramble for Post-ISIS Syria Has Already Begun

Taliban militants launched surprise attacks against multiple police checkpoints in southern Afghanistan over the weekend, killing at least 25 officers. Los Angeles Times

Mosul fight: The last handful of neighborhoods held by ISIS in Mosul will likely be the most difficult to retake despite nearly eight months of street-by-street fighting, the U.S. officer in charge of advising Iraqi forces in the area predicted over the weekend. It’s going to be “extremely violent,” Col. Patrick Work, commanding officer of the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, said. Washington Post

Moderates won big at the ballot box in Iran on Friday, as moderate President Hassan Rouhani decisively won a second term as president, and reformist candidates swept municipal elections in Iran’s capital, taking all 21 seats in Tehran. The win marks the first time reformists have totally controlled Tehran’s municipal council since such votes began in 1999. Iranian media also reported similar big gains for reformists in other major cities, signaling a groundswell of support for slowly changing governance in the Islamic Republic.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent. In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air. ABC News, BBC News, Reuters

Egypt and ISIS: Egypt referred 48 people to the country’s military judiciary on Sunday for suspected involvement in three deadly church bombings and accused them of joining the militant group Islamic State. Reuters
Donald of Arabia: “He didn’t do anything embarrassing,” writes Blake Hounshell in Politico Magazine. “But he did commit the United States to a deeper alliance with the very leaders who are part of the problem.”

The scope of the Mueller probe: Will the public learn what was uncovered? “Must Mueller focus on legal matters—criminal violations—only, and not fundamental questions of national security and public integrity? And related to that, can information discovered by Mueller be made available to the public? I think the answers are (1) no and (2) maybe yes,” writes Andrew Kent in Lawfare. “But we have good cause to worry, and a lot will depend on choices Mueller makes.”

America’s dangerous internet delusion: “We are aiding and abetting our adversaries,” writes Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post. “We are addicted to the Internet and refuse to recognize how our addiction subtracts from our security. The more we connect our devices and instruments to the Internet, the more we create paths for others to use against us, either by shutting down websites or by controlling what they do. Put differently, we are — incredibly — inviting trouble. Our commercial interests and our national security diverge.”

Why Trump must learn the art of stalemate diplomacy: “By sitting on the sidelines in the diplomatic process to end the Syrian Civil War, President Trump diminishes his ability to influence outcomes,” write Raymond Tanter and Edward Stafford in the National Interest. “He should authorize American diplomats to engage with Turkish and Russian counterparts to craft an accord excluding Iran.”

More die in bathtubs than in terrorism. It’s still worth spending billions to fight it: So long as human nature yields a reaction to terrorism that shakes domestic politics, redirects foreign policy, and upends regional stability, terrorism demands our attention,” write Jennie Glazer and Joshua Geltzer in
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: Iran's Presidential Election Sets Back Hardliners

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