Tag: North Korea

Reality bites

It happened in Alabama last night. A favored candidate of the Republican revolt against its traditional establishment lost to a Democrat in a dyed-red state. Black voters turned out in unprecedented numbers while some Republicans stayed home rather than vote for a racist child molester removed twice from the state bench for defying court orders. My compliments to both groups, though it is still disturbing that upwards of 48% of Alabama voters yesterday thought Roy Moore was a tolerable choice. My compliments also to Doug Jones, the successful Democratic candidate, who refused to abandon his pro-choice, pro-integration positions.

It is also happening with American policy towards North Korea. Secretary of State Tillerson has abandoned the pretense that Pyongyang will have to give up its nuclear weapons before Washington will talk. President Trump’s promise that Kim Jong-un would not get a missile that could deliver a nuclear missile to the US has in effect been abandoned. The North has gotten there, though it likely can’t yet marry the missile to the warhead and enable the warhead to survive re-entry into the atmosphere. Its rapid technological progress lately suggests there is no stopping the North from becoming a full-fledged nuclear weapons state.

This means the US no longer has many options. It can attack the North, but that would trigger a massive artillery barrage against Seoul and much of the rest of South Korea. Escalation to a nuclear exchange would be a real possibility. The only other option is containment and deterrence. There is no real issue of containment with North Korea: its hostility to the South is real, but it is mainly concerned with preservation of its own regime. US officials have been insisting that deterrence is not an option, but it is and they know it. There is no reason to believe that Kim Jong-un would be willing to risk a nuclear exchange except in extremis. He thinks of North Korea’s nuclear weapons as deterring the US from an invasion.

Letting Kim keep his nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles is not good. It will encourage other governments to consider getting the same capabilities, not least because of uncertainty about US commitments. This is especially true for South Korea and Japan, but the Iranians will also be watching what happens with North Korea with an eye to the eventual expiration of many of its commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, aka the Iran nuclear deal). Many countries have given up the nuclear option because they felt more secure without than they would with, but that era seems to be coming to a close.

A world with a lot more nuclear weapons states is no more attractive than a world with Roy Moore in the Senate. We need to be doing everything we can to avoid both. But this President supported Roy Moore and mishandled North Korea. His weakness both at home and abroad is little comfort. Trump could issue a tweet tomorrow that would strip Tillerson of any semblance of credibility and put the US on course towards nuclear war. Transformation to a presidency that is more judicious both domestically and internationally is much to be wished, but little to be expected. Reality bites.

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He knows a hawk from a handsaw

What more is there to say? The US President retweeting hate videos is just the latest unprecedented move towards whatever new low he is trying to achieve. He also reportedly claims that the Access Hollywood video in which he advocates sexual assault is falsified, even though he admitted publicly it is real and apologized for it.  To many, these apparent difficulties distinguishing reality from fiction suggest he is crazy.

I don’t think so. I think he knows his followers all too well and is keeping them satisfied. They want a president who dislikes Muslims. They also want one who keeps women in their place, but the Access Hollywood tape demonstrates that he is among those who sexually abuse women. He needs now to deny that because Fox News and others are trying to pin that charge exclusively on Democrats. Never mind Roy Moore, the pedophile Republican candidate for Senate from Alabama.

The Islamophobic tweets also distract press and public attention away from two profound embarrassments:

  • A tax bill that blatantly transfers wealth from the middle class to the very rich, while undermining Obamacare and rewarding states that vote Republican at the expense of states that vote Democratic;
  • A North Korean dictator who has succeeded in developing an intercontinental ballistic that can reach the United States, something the President had said would not happen.

So the craziness is feigned, as in Hamlet: “I am but mad northnorth-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Not that this president bears any serious resemblance to Shakespeare’s tragic hero.

What more can we expect from this purposeful madman? More of the same I suppose:

  • blaming immigrants for falsely claimed increases in crime,
  • ignoring mass murders by white American males while denouncing any hint (true or false) of Islam-related violence,
  • favoring Wall Street over main street,
  • dismantling consumer protection and banking regulation,
  • ignoring attacks on our electoral mechanisms while denigrating minorities and trying to keep them from voting,
  • denying responsibility for reversals abroad,
  • threatening Iran in ways that have unified that country’s many dissenters with its conservative religious establishment,
  • cozying up to dictators,
  • eviscerating the State Department while plumping up the Defense Department,
  • friendliness to Russian President Putin while offending America’s British, German, and other allies.

Many electoral promises are going unfulfilled: 5-6% growth, a trillion dollar infrastructure program, bringing companies and jobs home from abroad, reviving the coal industry, and helping black communities. None of those things are really happening, even if he falsely claims they are.

But who is paying attention? After all, Twitter. This is not craziness. He knows a hawk from a handsaw.

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Putin’s pet president

He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times….Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that…And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.
Why would anyone, never mind the President of the United States, doubt that the Russians meddled in the US election, after ample evidence has become public that they purchased on-line ads and collected and published emails embarrassing to the Democrats?
One explanation is obvious: Trump is concerned that talk of Russian meddling will delegitimize his election, which rests on the shaky foundation of an electoral college victory and a smashing popular vote loss. Nothing bothers this president more than personal slight. His narcissism is his most evident personal characteristic. He can’t admit the obvious, if it reflects badly on himself.
But there is another Trump vice: his passion for money. Trump’s real estate empire is tottering. It depends heavily on Russian money from dubious sources. Putin no doubt controls many of Trump’s Russian investors. Were Moscow to signal, even quietly, that it no longer wanted Russian money flowing to Trump or Kushner real estate, the results would be devastating. To me, this is a much more compelling explanation of Trump’s Russophilia than his concern about legitimacy.
The consequences of Trump’s subservience to Putin include allowing Moscow free rein in Syria, not doing much to push back in Ukraine, and begging for Putin’s help on North Korea. Putin is enjoying his clout: Russian military action in Syria is constrained only by the presence of US troops in the northeast, Russian-supported insurgents in Ukraine remain in control of an important slice of the country, and Putin has made common cause with China on North Korea by asking for the US to suspend its military exercises with South Korea and Japan. I might even think that last idea is a good one if it brings a suspension of North Korean nuclear and missile tests, but so far the Pentagon has prevailed and prevented Trump from giving in.
Trump seems determined to pursue his ill-conceived rapprochement with Putin no matter what. Fortunately there are Republicans in Congress who don’t like that idea and are prepared to make it difficult. The Administration is dragging its feet on implementing sanctions the Congress passed overwhelmingly, but apart from Dana Rohrabacher and a few other members the Russians haven’t yet penetrated deep into the House and very little in the Senate. Influence in the Congress is expensive, compared to Facebook. At $55 dollar per barrel oil, the Russian government doesn’t have deep pockets, even if Putin’s friends are enjoying the luxuries of Trump real estate.
Trump is Putin’s pet president. I can’t wait to see what new tricks he teaches The Donald. This “I believe” one is getting old.
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Peace picks November 6 – 10

  1. Democratic Deterioration at Home and Abroad | Monday, November 6 | 12:15 – 2:00 pm | New America | Register Here | For the past several decades, our working assumption has been that once firmly established, liberal democracy represents the best and final answer to authoritarianism and the surest guarantor of liberty and equality. Today, however, that assumption is being seriously challenged. Where liberal democracy has taken root, we now see it in retreat in attacks on the press, the judiciary, and on voting rights – the essence of democratic organization. As the United States contends with these challenges, arguably for the first time, what can we learn from other countries that have experienced similar democratic downturns? What were the warning signs and could this deterioration have been stemmed? Are the combination of legal constraints and non-legal norms that undergird our constitutional system enough to keep our democracy on solid footing? What safeguards are currently in place to prevent further deterioration of our democratic values and institutions, and what additional precautions should we consider? In other words, how worried should we be? Join New America, The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School for a discussion about the future of democracy at home and abroad. Speakers include Sheri Berman of Columbia University, Aziz Huq of The University of Chicago Law School, Norman J. Ornstein of The Atlantic and The American Enterprise Institute, and Arturo Valenzuela of Georgetown University. Amanda Taub of The New York Times will moderate.
  2. How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea? | Monday, November 6 | 9:00 am – 12:00 pm | Cato Institute | Register Here | What are the implications of North Korea’s recent gains in nuclear and missile capabilities for the future of U.S. strategy toward North Korea? What is the state of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technologies? What are the prospects of diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang? Should the United States pursue a different strategy toward North Korea in light of Pyongyang’s improving nuclear capabilities, perhaps including revising its alliance with South Korea? The Cato Institute will host two panels and a keynote address by former governor Bill Richardson to examine these critical questions. The first panel, titled “ Pyongyang’s Capabilities and US Policy,” will include Joshua Pollack of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Suzanne DiMaggio of New America, and Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares Fund, and will be moderated by Eric Gomez of the Cato Institute. The second panel, “New Approaches to Solving the North Korea Problem,” will feature Michael Auslin of the Hoover Institution, Rajan Menon of the City College of New York, and Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute. John Glaser of the Cato Institute will moderate.
  3. Re-energizing Nuclear Security | Tuesday, November 7 | 5:00 – 6:30 pm | Stimson Center | Register Here | The nuclear industry is experiencing many dynamic changes. Economic challenges are forcing premature reactor shutdowns in some countries such as the US, while Russia and China are making lucrative deals in energy-starved developing countries. A general expansion in all aspects of nuclear development, such as next-gen reactor technologies, is clouded by an evolving security landscape including emerging cyber vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, nuclear security is out of the spotlight since the end of the Nuclear Security Summit series. What is the future of nuclear development and how can industry, civil society, and international organizations facilitate the outstanding Security Summit commitments? The event will feature Leslie Ireland of the Stimson Center, Maria G. Korsnick of the Nuclear Energy Institute, John Barrett of the Canadian Nuclear Association, and Frank Saunders of Bruce Power. The Stimson Center’s Debra Decker will moderate.  
  4. Iraqi Vice President Al-Nujaifi on His Nation’s Post-ISIS Future | Tuesday, November 7 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Osama al-Nujaifi is one of Iraq’s three vice presidents. Hailing from Mosul, a city recaptured this year from the ISIS extremist group, he is secretary general of the United for Iraq Party, and the leader of the Sunni political coalition Muttahidoon. Vice President al-Nujaifi’s address at USIP will be his only public appearance during his visit to Washington.As one of Iraq’s most prominent leaders and a former speaker of Parliament, Vice President al-Nujaifi has been a key player in Iraqi politics for more than a decade. With Iraq’s leaders confronting the fallout from the Kurdistan region’s independence referendum and the Iraqi army’s retaking of key oil fields from the Kurds, questions about governance after ISIS and the quickly approaching provincial and national elections in 2018 take on even more urgency. Vice President al-Nujaifi will discuss the future of Iraq’s democracy and the federalist system adopted after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Ambassador Bill Taylor of the USIP will moderate the discussion. 
  5. After the Referendum: What Path Forward for Iraq’s Kurds? | Tuesday, November 7 | 3:00 – 4:30 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The September 25 referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan brought a chilling reaction from Iraq’s central government. Baghdad disputed the legitimacy of the process, but especially rejected Erbil’s claim on Kirkuk and other disputed territories implied by staging the vote there. Following days of military action that resulted in deaths and the retaking of Kirkuk by Iraqi national forces, the KRG has proposed to freeze the referendum results and seeks negotiations about the contentious issues. The United States, which opposed the referendum despite its reliance on Kurdish fighters combating ISIS, must now address the deepened rift between Erbil and Baghdad. To consider the path out of this crisis, the Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host Shaswar Abdulwahid (New Generation Movement), Peter Shea (U.S. Department of State), and Amberin Zaman (Al-Monitor). MEI’s director for Turkish Studies, Gonul Tol, will moderate the discussion on how Baghdad and Erbil can move forward with each other and with the United States, Turkey, and Iran, and on how U.S. policy can effectively manage the dynamics between the players.
  6. The Civilian Elements of the New U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan | Wednesday, November 8 | 3:00 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | Despite an overwhelming response to the United States’ new military strategy for Afghanistan announced by President Trump in August 2017, the non-military components of the strategy have received scant attention. As part of its ambitious reform and self-reliance agenda, the Afghan government has made considerable progress towards improving the capacity of civilian management, leadership, human resources, as well as in addressing formal corruption. But challenges remain. Please join the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center for a panel discussion of the civilian elements of the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, including the reform process, internal politics, economics, and how the Afghan government plans to deliver on its pledges. Panelists include Ahmad Nader Nadery, the Chairman of Civil Service Commission of Afghanistan, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution, and Ambassador James B. Cunningham of the Atlantic Council. Javid Ahmad of the Atlantic Council will moderate.
  7. A Strategy for a Brighter Future in Libya: Redefining America’s Role | Wednesday, November 8 | 2:30 – 3:50 pm | American Enterprise Institute | Register Here | Recent terrorist attacks in Berlin and Manchester trace back to Libya, where ISIS relocated operatives from Syria and Iraq. Libya’s ongoing civil war, coupled with weak governance and law enforcement, creates the perfect crucible for ISIS and al Qaeda to extend their operations. How can these groups in Libya be defeated? What can be done to stabilize the country and address humanitarian concerns? Is American leadership essential to combating this threat? Please join AEI for the release of “A Strategy for Success in Libya” by Emily Estelle and a panel discussion on a US strategy to rebuild Libya. Panelists include Emily Estelle of AEI and Karim Mezran of the Atlantic Council. Katherine Zimmerman of AEI will moderate.
  8. Turkey, Europe, and the U.S.: New Challenges and Changing Dynamics | Thursday, November 9 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | Brookings Institution | Register Here | As a Muslim-majority country pursuing EU membership, closer cooperation with trans-Atlantic partners, and a domestic agenda based on securing individual freedoms and strengthening the rule of law, Turkey was deemed a model partner and economic success story. Today, Turkey projects a different image—rolling back democracy, rule of law, individual freedoms, and the separation of powers. The EU accession process, trans-Atlantic commitments, and shared values are in jeopardy. Yet, this is not an isolated incident—it follows an international trend that has seen the emergence of “strongmen leaders,” whose illiberal actions and rhetoric are punctuated by populism and anti-globalism. The EU and the United States are not exempt from elements of this trend. The global economic crisis, terrorism, and migration are closely interrelated with these tendencies. This state of affairs is starkly different from what was envisioned at the end of the Cold War. So, what happened?  Can this common challenge be addressed? On November 9, the Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) will host a panel discussion on this recent drift toward authoritarianism, populism, and religious nationalism, and what the West can do to reverse this trend. Kemal Kirişci, Brookings TÜSİAD senior fellow, will moderate the discussion featuring Brookings scholars Amanda Sloat and Alina Polyakova, and Hakan Yılmaz, professor of political science at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Brookings Vice President for Foreign Policy Bruce Jones and TÜSİAD CEO Bahadır Kaleağası will offer introductory remarks.
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Weak and getting weaker

President Trump said Saturday en route to Asia that

the reason our stock market is so successful is because of me. I’ve always been great with money, I’ve always been great with jobs, that’s what I do.

None of the these claims are true. Job and economic growth under Trump has been a bit slower than they were s under Obama, not faster. The previous presidency is a major factor in any first 6-10 months of any subsequent presidency, so you can blame that on Obama if you like, but there is no credit due to Trump on both grounds. The stock market is up sharply since Trump’s election, but I’ll only give him credit for that if he takes responsibility for when it falls. The factors determining stock prices are obviously unknown. Trump’s aggressive efforts to eliminate Obamacare and environmental regulations may be part of the story, but the inevitable fall may well erase current gains. Then Trump will no doubt stay silent, or blame Congress and the Democrats.

A president who thinks he determines stock prices is a president unaware of the limits on his power. But we knew that. His tweets this week suggested that the sentence handed down to a soldier who pleaded guilty to desertion was inadequate and that the perpetrator of the terrorist attack in New York City should get the death penalty. The judge in the soldier’s case made clear that it was a previous over-reaching presidential tweet that got the soldier off without prison time. No doubt the courts handling the terrorism case will eliminate consideration of the death penalty for the same reason.

Trump has likewise managed to be counterproductive in other areas as well. The failure to repeal and replace Obamacare is his biggest legislative debacle. The failure to pass his proposed tax cut for business and the rich will be the next. It is likely he will head into the second year of his presidency with no serious legislative accomplishments. His executive actions eliminating environmental and other regulations will be his main achievements, dubious as they may be. They certainly will not bring back coal, as he has repeatedly promised both as candidate and president, but they will still dirty the air Americans breath and the water in the nation’s streams and rivers, not to mention hasten the impact of global warming.

The story is similar in foreign policy, where a president in theory wields more unconstrained power, but Trump has managed to cripple himself by eviscerating the State Department and trying to do everything himself:

Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has undermined the American position in Asia, where the president will visit for the next 10 days. He is demanding that Russia and China help in stopping North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions, something he has given neither one much reason to do. His bravado talk of how strong America is in front of our troops in Japan contrasts sharply with his inability to counter North Korea in any meaningful way, including militarily. No doubt he will pronounce his meetings with Chinese President Xi and Russian President Putin great successes, but the fact remains that neither is willing to do much to restrain Pyongyang.

The President has talked a strong line against Iran but done little or nothing to limit its rise. His decertification of the Iran nuclear deal has so far had no consequences, because everyone understands that we are far better off with the deal than without it. The only serious concerns about it are its “sunset” (expiration) and access to Iranian military sites. To get fixed, both these issues will require major concessions from the US that Trump will be unwilling to make. Trump has done nothing against Iran’s surrogate, Hizbollah, in Syria. Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation strengthens Hizbollah’s position there. Not to mention that the war against the Houthis in Yemen is not going well. Iran is far stronger regionally than it was when Trump took office.

The one country in which Trump seems to have a serious impact is Saudi Arabia. His appeal to the Saudis to stop terrorist financing led to Riyadh’s blockade of Qatar, driving it closer to Iran and splitting the Gulf Cooperation Council. That is not the Washington’s advantage. Now he seems to have greenlighted the Kingdom’s crackdown on corruption, leading to the arrest of princes uncomfortable with the meteoric rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Kingdom knows how to turn every phone call from the President into an instrument of royal advantage.

The net effect is clear: the US is weak and getting weaker. This will no doubt continue so long as the president fails to understand the limits on his power.

 

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Apologize and resign

John Kelly’s lied about Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks at an FBI building dedication. He claimed she bragged about calling President Obama to get funding for the building and that she ignored the FBI agents whose deaths led to their names being inscribed on the building. Both points were demonstrably untrue.

The White House thinks we shouldn’t quarrel with Kelly because he is a four-star general. The non-Trump world has begged to differ: he is a civilian now, but even as a general there would be no reason not to question his veracity. There is only reason to expect Kelly to measure himself by military standards of honor. He has dishonored himself and needs to fix it.

He should either apologize, publicly and unequivocally, or resign. An apology won’t do much good for Congresswoman Wilson or the family of the slain soldier whose reaction to President Trump’s phone call she accurately described: he seemed insensitive to them, which should have been enough to keep Kelly’s mouth shut on the subject. But an apology would at least demonstrate Kelly’s ability to evaluate himself against an objective standard of truth.

The other possibility is that he resign. Many people will hesitate to call for that, since they see Kelly as a bulwark against Trump’s worst instincts. I doubt that. He has let his own reactionary views be known: he is anti-feminist, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant. His behavior towards a black Congresswoman, without ever mentioning her name, also suggests that he is a racist (call it white supremacist or white nationalist if you prefer). Kelly is more likely an enabler of Trump’s worst instincts than a bulwark against them.

I’d prefer he resign, thus restoring a modicum of personal honor and stripping Trump of a prime advocate. Only when this Administration starts collapsing will we be able to forge a way out of the cul-de-sac it has taken America into. The departures so far have helped to strip a veneer of legitimacy from this president. But far more is needed to show it rotten to the core.

The fish rots from the head. Trump is an autocrat wannabe under the control of extremist donors: the radical tax plan intended to make the rich richer, the insistence on dismantling healthcare insurance for millions of people, the withdrawal from international agreements that benefit the United States, the threats of war and regime change against Iran and North Korea. These are not mainstream propositions. The speeches by President Obama and George W. Bush this week made clear that Trump is in no way heir to a genuine American tradition.

If Kelly continues to serve without apologizing, he will condemn himself to eternal association with Trump’s mendacity and radicalism. He should do himself, his reputation, and the nation a favor: apologize and resign.

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