Tag: North Korea

Beyond absurd

Others have already picked apart President Trump’s speech on Iran, showing it to be inaccurate, vacuous, mendacious, illogical and just plain dumb. Try Paul Pilar at Lobelog, for what will rank as one of the best critiques.

On the central issue–the Iran nuclear deal–Trump is illogical. The justification the President offered for “decertifying” the nuclear deal to Congress is the assertion that the benefits to the United States are not sufficient to justify the sanctions relief Iran obtained. That is ridiculous. Iran today would have a nuclear weapon (or two) without this deal. Blocking all routes to that end is precisely what Trump claims he wants and would be giving up if he decided to renounce it.

That he did not do. His bark is consistently worse than his bite, unless you are Puerto Rico, a minority, someone who needs health insurance, or otherwise disadvantaged. Instead, Trump threw the hot potato to Congress, without any clear direction on whether he wants it to impose new sanctions (hoping that will cause the deal to collapse) or just let things muddle through. Judging from his past performances (read TPP, DACA, Obamacare, and likely soon NAFTA), he’ll opt for trying to cause collapse.

For now, that is not the case. But this decertification ploy, empty as it is of any substantial diplomatic content, has serious long-term implications.

Trump has stabbed our European allies in the back. They regard the Iran nuclear deal as a big European achievement, for good reason. The EU3 (UK, France and Germany) played important roles in applying the sanctions that made it work, keeping the process moving, and getting it to a successful conclusion. They clearly intend to maintain the deal as long as Iran maintains its side of the bargain, which it is doing. Any move by the US to unilaterally impose new nuclear sanctions or otherwise renounce the deal will not make it collapse, but simply divide Washington further from Brussels and improve Tehran’s standing in Europe.

Trump’s failure to acknowledge the benefits of the nuclear deal undermines US credibility with both Iran and North Korea. In Iran, it hurts President Rouhani, who by all reports had a hard time selling the nuclear deal to the Supreme Leader. How would an Iranian who wanted a follow-on deal that maintained the restrictions on the nuclear program now sell that idea to the Supreme Leader (likely the next one, not this one)? The American President said this one wasn’t worth what he paid for it, so how could the follow-on be? Nor would any other country, let’s say North Korea, be prepared to strike a deal with the United States after it failed to maintain its part of the bargain, at least to the point of acknowledging well-documented compliance with a prior deal.

Trump is a bad negotiator who always considers his own alternative to a negotiated agreement and likes to bluster that he prefers that, hoping to get a better deal. But he never considers the adversary’s alternative, which in this case is to proceed to get nuclear weapons. Trump has already convinced Kim Jung-un that continuing in that direction is his best guarantee of regime security. I’d find it hard to argue otherwise. Yesterday he did a great deal to convince more people in Tehran, and maybe other capitals as well.

The global nonproliferation regime America helped to build has demonstrably slowed the spread of nuclear weapons for decades. If it survives the next three plus years, it will be in spite of the United States. That really is beyond absurd.

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It’s Friday the 13th

The week has already been tumultuous. President Trump has

  • dissed Puerto Rico by suggesting it is not worthy of the Federal assistance Texas and Florida are still getting,
  • thrown the talks about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement into chaos that threatens to cause their collapse,
  • decided to withdraw the US from UNESCO because we owe the organization millions while demonstrating that he does not believe in the First Amendment commitment to press freedom that is a pillar of the organization,
  • continued to threaten to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal while the rest of the world and his principal advisers have concluded that Tehran has met its obligations,
  • issued an executive order designed to further undermine the affordability of health insurance for those Americans who need it the most,
  • gotten into a spat with NATO ally Turkey that has eliminated visas for Turks to come to the US and Americans to go to Turkey, and
  • prompted the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to suggest, believably, that the White House is an adult day care center without proper supervision.

Even for Trump, this is an unusual amount of unmotivated and unjustified chaos. No American administration can manage this level of random acts of spite and provocation.

A few Democrats in the House have started to think about articles of impeachment, but that is the least of Trump’s worries right now. No Republicans have demonstrated any real interest in impeachment, or even in supporting a 25th Amendment challenge to Trump’s ability to perform the functions of his office. They are simply too frightened of sinking their own boats along with his.

The world is showing a good deal of maturity in dealing with the madness in Washington. Even Kim Jung-un for now appears ready to stop at childish name calling. The Iranians have indicated they will retaliate against the US if the President decertifies their compliance. But at the same time they appear ready to maintain the nuclear deal with the Europeans. That is smart: it will wean Europe from support for the US and weaken America in its efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, making it harder once the Iran nuclear deal gets ready to expire to extend its terms.

I can’t really think of a lot more things Trump can do to weaken the US, but I’m sure he can. We are all waiting for his noon-time speech on Iran, which will enumerate a long list of its sins, but so far in the White House public affairs preparations there is no sign of anything more substantial. Trump is mostly bark and little bite. But a dog who barks enough will lose a lot of friends.

It’s Friday the 13th, but unlikely to be much worse than the days that immediately preceded it.

 

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Big nuclear danger ahead

Pantelis Ikonomou, a former IAEA safeguards inspector, writes: 

The nuclear threat is at a historical high. The North Korean crisis and US President Trump’s intention to decertify the Iran Nuclear deal are the tip of the iceberg.

Neither the Treaty on Non Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT), nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its safeguards inspectorate nor numerous United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions could stop the world’s nuclear race in recent decades. The number of countries possessing nuclear weapons (NW) increased from five, which are the recognized nuclear weapon states and permanent members of the UNSC, to allegedly nine.

While the rationale for developing and deploying of NW has always been national security through deterrence, hence war prevention, the prospects for maintaining global peace are thinner than ever before.

Just to mention some of the risk factors related to the major nuclear threat:

  • There are currently about 15,000 nuclear warheads in the arsenals of 9 countries (about 14,000 of them possessed by Russia and the US), capable of devastating our globe many times. Additionally, the nuclear material stored under various security conditions in civil and military facilities around the world is estimated to be sufficient to produce 240,000 nuclear devices. As of end 2016, about 204,000 of these are under IAEA safeguards.
  • The NPT is not applied universally. Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not parties to the treaty, thus not legally obliged to its restrictions.
  • The majority of states in the international community are disappointed in NW states for not fulfilling their NPT commitments on nuclear disarmament (NPT Art. VI)
  • The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the continuing North Korean crisis, and the up to 15 years limited Iran deal have revealed glaring non-proliferation shortcomings.
  • The failure of the 2015 NPT Review Conference in New York indicated clearly the international community’s distrust in a fair (without double standards) enforcement of international nuclear law.
  • In July 2017 the UN General Assembly adopted by a vast majority a NW Ban Treaty. It is a legally binding instrument towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons that will enter into force after 50 signatures and ratifications.
  • The 2017 Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to ICAN, a worldwide coalition of NGOs campaigning against NW. Notably, the same award was given in 2005 to the IAEA’s staff and Director General, basically for the Agency’s unbiased and courageous statements failed to deter the invasion of Iraq.

In such an adverse nuclear climate there are two leaders with a finger on the button, Kim Yong-un and Donald Trump, who according to prevailing assessments have dubious nuclear decision capability. This is the fact that creates the highest current risk of major nuclear threat.

Regarding the tough responsibilities of a US president to decide on pushing the nuclear button in a matter of minutes, with no checks and balances by Congress or anyone else, Bob Woodward recalls (The Washington Post, 12 Nov 2016): «In 2008, after then-President-elect Obama was given one sensitive intelligence briefing at a secure facility in Chicago he joked, “It’s good that there are bars on the windows here because if there weren’t, I might be jumping out.”

A historic period not only for US contemporary politics but for the direction of global developments might prove to be the period 15 October to 15 December 2017. President Trump will apparently submit in the next few days to Congress for approval his decision to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal. Congress will either approve it or send it back with no action, for the president to implement, or not.

A unilateral decision to scrap the deal would mean that the US would not keep its commitments under an agreement reached not only with Iran but with China, Russia, UK, France and Germany and finally adopted by the EU and endorsed by the UNSC Resolution 2231 on 20 July 2015. Moreover, decertifying the Iran deal will mean that the US disrespects and disagrees with the assessments of the responsible UN organization, the IAEA, that Iran is in compliance with the agreement since implementation day 16 January 2016.

Such a decision will open Pandora’s box. Some negative consequences are obvious. It will cloud Iran’s nuclear and political future, worsen the North Korea crisis, degrade political and economic relations of the US with the other five agreement parties and the EU, and increase the international community’s distrust of the UN system, international law, and justice. It will also severely damage the authority of the world’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.

Mitigation and finally elimination of the highest risk factor related to the current major nuclear threat is the topmost task in any comprehensive nuclear security plan. It is therefore now a chief challenge to get the US to preserve global peace, in accordance with its leadership responsibilities.

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Peace picks October 9 – 13

  1. The Kurdish Crisis: Baghdad, Erbil, and Institutional Reform in Iraq | Tuesday, October 10 | 11:00 am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The ongoing tension between the Kurdistan regional government and the federal government in Baghdad are generating new concerns about the long-term stability of Iraq. Critical issues relating to energy, security, and institutions must be addressed in order to prevent further conflicts and promote economic development. Please join us for a discussion on these topics. The panelists will address the energy aspects of the crisis, the security dimensions, the prospects for institutional reform, and the role the United States should play to help resolve the conflict. Panelists include Dr. Harith Hasan Al Qarawee of the Atlantic Council, Amb. Stuart Jones of the US Department of State, Dr. Denise Natali of the National Defense University, and will be moderated by Amb. Frederic C. Hof of the Atlantic Council.
  2. The Path Forward for Dealing with North Korea | Tuesday, October 10 | 10:00 – 1:30 pm | Brookings Institution | Register Here | On October 10, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies and the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings will host leading U.S. experts and former officials to identify actionable policy steps the White House and Congress should take to address the growing threat from North Korea. Panel presentations will focus on Kim Jong Un’s outlook and objectives, the history of negotiations with North Korea, and comparative case studies, including the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and recent negotiations with Iran. Former Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines will deliver a keynote address, sharing insights from her experiences and offering thoughts on the path forward for dealing with North Korea. The first panel, “Who is Kim Jong Un?” will feature moderator Ryan Hass of the John L. Thornton China Center, as well as panelists Jung H. Pak of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Evan Osnos of the John L. Thornton China Center, and Jean H. Lee of the Wilson International Center for Scholars. The second panel, titled, “Lessons From Historical Case Studies,” will be moderated by Jung H. Pak and will feature Jake Sullivan of Yale Law School, David S. Cohen of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Jonathan D. Pollack of the John L. Thornton China Center, and Author and Journalist Michael Dobbs.
  3. Drones Under Trump | Wednesday, October 11 | 2:00 – 3:30 pm | Stimson Center | Register Here | The use of armed drones and the expansive authority to use lethal force claimed by the U.S. government remain some of the most controversial aspects of U.S. counterterrorism policy. Though the Obama administration introduced limited policy constraints on the use of force aimed at increased protection of civilians, and reforms designed to increase transparency near the end of its tenure, the Trump administration appears to be rolling back these policies. Thus far, the Trump administration has expanded operations outside “hot battlefields” and delegated more strike authority to the military. Reports suggest that the new administration is proposing to go even further by loosening the limited policy constraints on the use of force and may seek to broaden the CIA’s role in conducting lethal strikes. These actions and proposals raise renewed concerns about the prospect of endless war and increased secrecy, and underscore the need for meaningful accountability and oversight of U.S. lethal operations abroad.  Please join the Stimson Center and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic for a panel event on issues surrounding U.S. drone policy under the Trump administration. The panel will discuss and evaluate past U.S. practice, analyze recent developments, and assess the Trump administration’s approach to the use of force, transparency, and accountability.  Panelists include Waleed Alhariri of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, Alex Moorehead of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, Luke Hartig of the National Journal’s Network Science Initiative, and Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center.  
  4. From Mosul to Brain Science to Tech: Creating Peace in a Violent World | Wednesday, October 11 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | As violent conflict erupts across the globe and the institutions that have kept peace for 70 years strain under the pressure, the demand for sustainable peace and security only grows. The Iraqi city of Mosul searches for a way to recover from the brutal rule of ISIS. Half a world away, Colombia is exploring ways to finance the terms of its historic peace accord. Technology, people power, and brain science are part of an array of possible solutions. Join the first day of the 2017 conference of the Alliance for Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Oct. 11, as experts explore new ideas for preventing and resolving violent conflict. The event will consist of a keynote address and seven panels, which include “Next Steps for Peace in Mosul,” “Innovative Approaches for Financing Peace,” “Transforming Violent Conflict: Where People Power Meets Peacebuilding,” and Stabilizing Conflict-Affected Areas: Policy Challenges, New Opportunities, and Lessons from the Past.”
  5. Where Are U.S.-Pakistan Relations Headed? | Wednesday, October 11 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | For decades the United States and Pakistan have worked as strategic partners despite differences in priorities, but today this relationship is at a crossroads. The Trump administration seems poised for a confrontation with Pakistan over its alleged protection of Taliban and Haqqani Network insurgents. China’s support of Pakistan, increased Russian and Iranian engagement in the region, and India’s apparent deeper involvement in Afghanistan further complicate Washington’s bilateral relationship with Islamabad. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host an expert panel to examine these developments and the stakes for the United States and Pakistan in preserving their relationship. MEI’s director for Afghanistan and Pakistan studies, Marvin Weinbaum, will moderate the event featuring Daniel Markey, Shuja Nawaz, Joshua White, and Moeed Yusuf.
  6. How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West | Wednesday, October 11 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | Hudson Institute | Register Here | Recent global events show that the post-Cold War flow of money and values was not a one-way affair. The West is witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own democratic system. This destructive import of corrupt practices comes not only from post-Soviet kleptocratic regimes like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, but also from China and other countries around the world whose ruling elites now possess far-reaching financial and political interests in the West. Join Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative for a discussion of Ilya Zaslavskiy’s report, “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West.” After opening remarks by Mr. Zaslavskiy and responses by Jeffrey Gedmin and David Kramer, two expert panels will explore the development of corrupt norms and the true nature of contemporary kleptocratic regimes, as well as the methods they deploy to undermine Western democracy – and what can be done to fight back. Panelists will include Louise Shelley of George Mason University, Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ambassador Richard D. Kauzlarich of the Center for Energy Science and Policy and George Mason University, and Paul Massaro of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Charles Davidson of the Kleptocracy Initiative will moderate.
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Peace picks October 2 – 6

  1. All Jihad is Local: Lessons from ISIS in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula | Monday, October 2 | 12:15 – 1:45 pm | New America | Register Here | In “All Jihad is Local: Inside ISIS Recruitment in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula”, a forthcoming paper from New America, Nate Rosenblatt and David Sterman examine thousands of ISIS’ own entry records, finding that ISIS benefitted from different factors that enabled its mobilization of fighters in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In addition to providing the first subnational examination of ISIS recruitment in these regions based on ISIS’ own records, the paper argues that addressing terrorist recruitment will require moving from asking “what theory explains why people become terrorists” to asking “where does a theory explain why people become terrorists.”  To discuss these issues and present initial findings from the forthcoming report, New America welcomes the authors of the report: Nate Rosenblatt, a fellow with New America’s International Security program, Oxford doctoral student, an independent Middle East/North Africa consultant, who has lived, worked, and conducted field research in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and David Sterman, a policy analyst with New America’s International Security program. New America also welcomes Douglas Ollivant, ASU Future of War Senior Fellow at New America. He is a managing partner of the strategic consulting firm Mantid International, a retired Army officer, and was Director for Iraq at the National Security Council during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
  2. Defense Cooperation in the West Pacific: Countering Chinese and North Korean Threats | Monday, October 6 | 12:00 – 2:00 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | The western Pacific faces growing threats from a rising China and an increasingly bellicose North Korea. American policy is in the midst of change and Japan, too, is responding to the rise in regional tensions. Exactly what is the threat? What are the options for addressing it? What possibilities exist for greater cooperation? On October 2, Hudson Institute will host a distinguished panel of experts to examine these and related questions in light of growing challenges to regional and national security. Seth Cropsey, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, will moderate a discussion with Richard D. Fisher, Jr. of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Paul Giarra of Global Strategies & Transformation, Jun Isomura of Hudson Institute, and Kanji Ishimaru of ShinMaywa Industries, Ltd.
  3. Russia: Time to Contain? | Tuesday, October 3 | 6:00 – 8:00 pm | McCain Institute for International Leadership | Register Here | Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has become an increasingly authoritarian regime that also flexes its muscles aggressively abroad, most notably in Ukraine and Syria. Indeed, Putin’s Russia has invaded neighboring states; imprisoned, poisoned or killed government opponents and critics; increasingly violated its own population’s human rights; and launched unprecedented interference into other countries’ elections and internal affairs. The challenges facing the Trump administration when it comes to dealing with Putin’s Russia are mounting. What should the U.S. strategy be toward Russia? Hear leading experts debate “Russia: Time for Containment?” – the latest in the Debate and Decision Series at the McCain Institute. Joining the panel are Evelyn N. Farkas of the Atlantic Council and NBC/MSNBC, Thomas Graham of Kissinger Associates, David J. Kramer of the McCain Institute and Florida International University, and Matthew Rojansky of the Woodrow Wilson Center. The event will be moderated by Elise Labott of CNN. The first 100 guests to register for this debate will receive a free copy of “Back to Containment: Dealing with Putin’s Regime” by David Kramer.
  4. What Path Forward for Libya? | Thursday, October 5 | 1:30 – 4:30 pm | Middle East Institute (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here | Libya occupies a sensitive position for the security of Arab and European neighbors, including many U.S. allies, and in managing the region’s destabilizing migration flows. The country’s fractious politics and armed insurgencies are depriving Libyans of security, basic services, and economic stability, and leave the country vulnerable to jihadi terrorism. The United Nations has proposed a roadmap for rethinking the embattled government of national accord and binding Libya’s rival parliaments and militia commander Khalifa Haftar into the negotiation of a consensus path forward. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to present a two-panel symposium that will examine opportunities for the United States and the international community to advance Libya’s security and mobilize to meet the humanitarian challenges. The first panel, titled “How Can the International Community Promote Libya’s Stability and Security” features H.E. Wafa Bugaighis of the Embassy of Libya to the United States, Nigel Lea of GardaWorld Federal Services, Inc., Jason Pack of the US-Libya Business Association, Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and will be moderated by Jonathan Winer of the Middle East Institute. The second panel, titled “ Improving Humanitarian Relief and Advancing Development” will include Tamim Baiou, a development & international relations advisor, Maria do Valle Ribeiro, United Nations deputy special representative, humanitarian & development coordinator in Libya, Jean-Louis Romanet Perroux  of the  EU Delegation to Libya, Hasan Tuluy of the World Bank, and will be moderated by James Bays of Al Jazeera English.
  5. Sixteen Years and Counting in Afghanistan: What’s Next for America’s Longest War? | Thursday, October 5 | 10:30 am – 12:00 pm | Woodrow Wilson Center | Register Here | October marks 16 years since a U.S.-led troop mission entered Afghanistan to eliminate sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and to remove its Taliban hosts from power. Those initial goals were achieved fairly quickly, and yet more than a decade and a half later, American soldiers are still in Afghanistan fighting a seemingly unending war. This event will address how we got to where we are today; what the best and worst policies would be moving forward; whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy can turn the tide of such a long and complicated war, and what the regional ramifications of this strategy could be — particularly in terms of implications for India and Pakistan. Panelists include Hamdullah Mohib, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, Christopher Kolenda of the Center for a New American Security, Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation, and Shamila Chaudhary of Johns Hopkins SAIS. The event will be moderated by Abraham Denmark of the Wilson Center.
  6. Middle East Crises and Conflicts – The Way Ahead | Thursday, October 5 | 1:00 – 2:30 pm | Brookings Institution | Register Here | With ISIS potentially nearing battlefield defeat, and the six-year civil war in Syria at least temporarily easing, it may be tempting to assume concerns in the Middle East are waning. In reality, both Iraq and Syria still have serious challenges ahead—among them, managing the huge displacements of populations. Elsewhere, conflicts persist. Libya has struggled in the years after Gadhafi, and while internal conflict may have diminished somewhat there lately, competing leaders and groups still struggle over power. Saudi Arabia is enjoying generally good relations with the Trump administration, but remains bogged down in a bloody conflict in Yemen that has contributed to some of the planet’s worst food and health tragedies. On October 5, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings will host an event examining the crises across the Middle East and North Africa. Panelists include Brookings experts John Allen, Daniel Byman, Mara Karlin, and Federica Saini Fasanotti. Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings senior fellow, will moderate the discussion.
  7. Iraq After the Kurdistan Referendum: What Next? | Thursday, October 5 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | The fight against ISIS helped to bring parts of Iraq’s deeply fractured society closer together, but that fragile unity is now under pressure. While the Kurds are expected to vote in a historic popular referendum on September 25 to pursue independence, the lack of political inclusion and security for Sunni Arabs—which facilitated ISIS’s rapid expansion—remains unsolved. Meanwhile, Iran’s growing influence in Baghdad and its support of militias throughout Iraq has added to the sectarian divide and the country’s political dysfunction. On October 5, Hudson Institute will host a panel discussion on the implications of the referendum and the way forward. Hudson Senior Fellows Eric Brown and Jonas Parello-Plesner, having recently returned from Kurdistan, will examine how the scheduled referendum is likely to impact stability and political reconstruction after ISIS, as well as discussions both between Erbil and Baghdad and among Kurdistan, Turkey, and Iran, which all have independent interests in the referendum’s outcome. Hudson Adjunct Fellow Michael Pregent visited Mosul after it was liberated from ISIS and will assess Iran’s positions and influence throughout Iraq and what it means for unity and for U.S. national interests.
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Tillerson should undo his undoer

President Trump in two tweets this morning yanked the rug out from under Secretary of State Tillerson’s efforts to negotiate with the North Koreans:

Anyone who doubts the power of social media should consider this example. Never before has a Secretary of State been undone so quickly and with fewer words.

Some will say Tillerson was trying to do the right thing and should stay, to act as a bulwark with Secretary of Defense Mattis and National Security Adviser McMaster against the worst instincts of the president.

But the bulwark just collapsed. No foreign leader would now have any confidence in what Tillerson says. Kim Jung-un already had good reasons for skepticism, since the President, claiming to be “locked and loaded,” had threatened “fire and fury.” Now Kim has confirmation from Trump himself that talks would be useless and that North Korea should move as quickly as possible to gain the nuclear capability that will prevent an American attack. Pyongyang’s options for survival have been reduced to threatening nuclear war.

The only real reason for Tillerson to stay at this point is to join an effort by the Vice President to trigger Amendment 25 (section 4) of the constitution:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

The President gets to appeal, but the process is time-limited and does not require impeachment in the House or a trial in the Senate:

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

There is, to my knowledge, no such vice-presidential effort to trigger the “inability” clause of the constitution, which would be risky at best and suicidal at worst. But if the Republicans continue to back a harebrained president, we will soon find ourselves in a war with North Korea that could escalate to a nuclear exchange. We’ll “win,” but only with horrendous consequences for South Korea, Japan, and US troops in the Asia Pacific.

The time to stop this president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” is now. Some will argue that Pence could be worse, as he is far more conservative in the conventional sense than Trump. But Pence has respect for American institutions and values that Trump lacks. He would do things I wouldn’t like, including undermining Obamacare and pursuing a “fatten the rich” tax cut. But he would be far more judicious about North Korea, Iran, and America’s other big challenges. Tillerson can still prove his worth by undoing his undoer.

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