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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

North Korea May Not Negotiate With Trump

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii – 2018 photo by Chaebi

North Korea made big news on Wednesday. From the WaPo:

North Korea is rapidly moving the goal posts for next month’s summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, saying the United States must stop insisting it “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear program and stop talking about a Libya-style solution to the standoff.

The latest warning, delivered by former North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan on Wednesday, fits Pyongyang’s well-established pattern of raising the stakes in negotiations by threatening to walk out if it doesn’t get its way.

North Korea (NK) has been a challenge for several presidents, and Donald Trump will be no exception.

NK has nukes, and possibly, the means to deliver them as far as the east coast of the US. South Korea is armed, and our military backs them up. Neither side has a true advantage militarily. Whichever leader best uses diplomacy in the face of a military stalemate will win.

But that leader might not be Donald Trump. Kevin Drum notes this:

The upcoming summit meeting with North Korea has been orchestrated entirely by Kim Jong-un. It started with his outreach at the Olympics. Then he proposed the meeting with Trump. He halted missile testing. He met with South Korea and it was all smiles. He’s implied that he’s in favor of complete denuclearization. He released three American hostages. And he’s now planning a public spectacle of destroying North Korea’s nuclear testing site.

And what did Kim get in return? He got this from John Bolton on Fox last Sunday: (emphasis by Wrongo)

WALLACE: Now, the joint statement from the two Koreas on Friday called for…a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and some people have suggested the North Koreans will give up everything they’ve got. But in return, the U.S. would agree that we are not going to allow any nuclear-armed airplanes or nuclear-armed ships on the Korean peninsula.

Is that acceptable?

BOLTON: Well, we certainly haven’t made that commitment. And again, I’m looking at the Panmunjom declaration as they call it in the context of a series of earlier North-South Korean agreements. And again, looking at the 1992 joint declaration, when they said nuclear-free, they meant with respect to the two Koreas.

WALLACE: So, you don’t view this as involving any kind of commitment from the U.S.?

BOLTON: I don’t think it binds the United States, no.

Personnel is policy, and Trump’s recent personnel moves brought in new wacko hardliners in key positions. Trump seems to be under the impression that the Singapore meet-up is a surrender ceremony, while the NK’s see it as two nuclear equals attempting to negotiate a final peace deal.

And Bolton is playing his usual games. It’s been true since the 1990’s that Republicans have a reflexive need to press for whatever seems more “hawkish” than whatever the Democrats had tried when they were in control.

That includes Republicans saying that “regime change” is the only realistic option when states object to the US, or its objectives in their region. The GOP is always outraged that the feckless, effeminate Democrats haven’t backed regime change since Vietnam. Iran is the GOP’s latest experiment, where throwing away the JCPOA was their goal, and Trump delivered it.

Of course, all foreign policy troubles would be solved if only our Adversaries and Enemies were magically replaced by Friends and Fans, but for some reason, that never happens.

The NK’s are doing what they have always done whenever negotiations get to this point. What Kim is doing is so blindingly obvious and predictable that only pundits and politicians could be surprised by it.

Trump says his strength is that he is unpredictable. But, in the case of NK, he put all his cards on the table, assuming that his strongman tactics would lead to peace and a legacy. Instead, it looks like Kim simply upped the ante on being unpredictable. Kim may think Trump wants the deal more than NK.

Seventeen years ago, Clinton made a deal to give NK aid and trade in return for halting nuclear weapons development, backed by inspections and monitoring. It wasn’t a perfect deal, and NK broke it, at least in spirit. The US decided to break the deal explicitly because the incoming George W Bush administration wanted regime change. The Bushies blamed NK’s breaking the deal in spirit, and wouldn’t give NK the promised aid.

Remember when Trump flattered Kim, calling him “very honorable”? What’s a guy gotta do to unify a peninsula around here?

And Trump was THIS CLOSE to becoming president for a second term based on a foreign policy triumph and a Nobel, too. Such a shame. Well, there’s always Syria.

Or, Israel. Or, Iran. Or, Afghanistan.

So many deals to try, and so few skills.

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Donny and Bibi’s Folly

The Daily Escape:

Hyner View State Park, Hyner, PA – photo by Scott Hafer.

Maybe it’s early to have a full perspective on Trump’s decision to leave the Iran Nuclear Accord, but Wrongo is reminded of this quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, on September 12, 2002:

If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have positive reverberations on the region.

He said this while he was pressing for the US to attack Iraq, who was an Israeli foe in 2002. Naturally, the results were far from positive for the region, and the outcome for the US was catastrophic in both financial and human costs.

Bibi has again been successful in urging another Republican president to start an adventure in the Middle East, this time, by backing out of the Iran deal. Once again, Bibi has set up an opportunity for the US to attack another Israeli foe. This decision is a truly consequential foreign-policy blunder.

Steven Walt in Foreign Policy:

It is important to understand what’s really going on here. Trump’s decision is not based on a desire to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb; if that were the case, it would make much more sense to stay firmly committed to the deal and eventually negotiate to make it permanent.

Walt says that this is what’s really going on:

Abandoning the JCPOA is based on the desire to “keep Iran in the penalty box” and prevent it from establishing normal relations with the outside world. This goal unites Israel, the hard-line wing of the Israel lobby…and hawks including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and many others.

Walt says that the hawks’ great fear was that the US and its Middle East allies might eventually have to acknowledge Iran as a legitimate regional power.

The preferred strategy to keep Iran from becoming a regional power has been regime change. US neo-cons and others in the Middle East have pursued this for decades. The neo-cons see two possible routes to regime change. The first relies on ramping up economic pressure on Tehran in the hope that popular discontent will grow, and that the clerical regime will simply collapse. This is the same strategy that worked so well failed in Cuba. Since the Nuclear Accord would end the sanctions that were keeping Iran weak, it was reason enough for most Republicans and hawks to be against it.

The second option is to provoke Iran into restarting its nuclear program, which would give Washington the excuse to launch a preventive war. The Israelis and Saudis would be happy to watch the US and Iran fight. The thought is that a war would eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and inspire its people to rise up and overturn their leaders.

This scenario shows how little thought these people give to outcomes: If we bomb Iran, their first reaction will not be one of gratitude. Bibi will again be wrong, there will be no “positive reverberations”. Rather, it would trigger fervent Iranian nationalism and the regime would become more popular.

Leaving the deal is another spectacular “own goal” from the Trumpkinhead. They must be dancing in Moscow and Beijing, the two biggest winners of the Trump withdrawal.

Other winners include the Iranian far-right, who will say that Rouhani and the reformists were naive to trust that the Americans would honor any agreement, and the Iranian public should move to the right in the next parliamentary election.

Bibi and his government will now campaign on how every Israeli should be terrified at the prospect of returning Iran back toward the possibility of becoming a nuclear power, something Bibi has worked hard to bring about.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia get closer to a pretext for the direct military confrontation that they want, purchased with the blood of Americans, blood that the American neo-cons will be happy to spill. With friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?

Ultimately, Iran will probably end up getting nukes. But, every other country also wants some atomic insurance. The hawks need to remember that nuclear fission and fusion are 75-year old technologies. Even North Korea, among the poorest countries on earth, has mastered it. The bar just isn’t that high.

So, nuclear proliferation has a natural tailwind, and destroying America’s credibility removes the last wisp of an obstacle to it.

 

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Bibi’s New News Isn’t News

The Daily Escape:

Spring Flowers in the Tejon Pass, as seen from Rt. 5, CA -2018 photo by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel

On Monday, in a presentation in English, Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu attempted to give Donald Trump high altitude air cover for Trump’s pending decision to end the nuclear agreement with Iran. The basis of Netanyahu’s speech was that Israeli intelligence had gathered new and damaging information about the Iranian nuclear weapons program:

In a special address on Monday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he described as shocking, indisputable evidence that Iran had lied about its covert nuclear weapons program in the past and “continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowledge for future use” after signing the 2015 deal with six world powers to halt its nuclear activities.

Bibi presented 55,000 pages of documents and 183 CDs. Netanyahu said Iran hid an “atomic archive” of documents on its nuclear program. Reuters said that:

Most of the purported evidence Netanyahu presented dated to the period before the 2015 accord was signed…

Nancy Letourneau offered this: (emphasis by Wrongo)

But if you actually paid attention to the content of Bibi’s presentation two things stood out. First of all, the evidence isn’t so shocking. According to James Acton, the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, “everyone involved in negotiating the JCPOA assumed that Iran was lying when it said that it had never had a nuclear weapons program and the JCPOA was developed on that basis.” He also pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already documented much of what Netanyahu presented.

All Bibi had was old, dated Intel that he presented as new. This was stage-managed so that Trump can announce in 10 days that the US is pulling out of the accord because Iran “lied.”

If you followed the debate about the JCPOA during the Obama administration, you may remember that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said that any nuclear weapons program Iran had was stopped in 2003, and had not been restarted. That was “re-certified” in the US 2011 NIE, with the same conclusion.

During the development of the 2007 NIE, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believed all Iran had was a “feasibility study” which was based on the fear that Saddam Hussein might have a nuclear weapons program. But once the US invaded Iraq in 2003, and handed over control of the country to Iran-backed Iraqi political factions, Iran immediately stopped whatever “studies” they had been doing.

A nation’s files about nuclear weapons technology are among the most sensitive documents in their national security archives. They are extremely tightly controlled. Yet, the Israeli story is that they managed to steal 1,000 pounds of files from a Top Secret facility in Iran.

Apparently, unlike Wrongo, Bibi has never moved an office. A thousand pounds would take about 60 “banker’s boxes”. And you would need a truck, or two trips in a car to haul all that away.

From a top-secret Iranian warehouse.

Just try to imagine the actual logistics involved in removing that many documents, and then loading them on a truck. This isn’t a five minute operation.

Leaving the JCPOA may happen on Trump’s watch. He can reinstate US sanctions, but he can’t change UN Security Council resolution 2231. So if Trump reinstates sanctions against Iran, he will not have pulled the plug on the JCPOA accord.

To reinstate UN Security Council sanctions without Russian and Chinese agreement, Trump must state officially that Iran violated resolution 2231. After a formal investigative process, the “rollback” of UN sanctions would come to a vote where five of the eight signatories of the JCPOA would have to agree that Iran violated the deal.

Given that Trump won’t get the Iranian, Russian and Chinese votes, he must get all four European votes. That seems likely to be an uphill climb. France and the UK may buy in, but convincing the Germans and the EU may be difficult.

In effect, walking out of the deal may work to Iran’s advantage in the long run. In the short run, it may simply move Germany and the EU closer to Russia and Iran.

That surely won’t be a happy outcome for Trump, or America.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 29, 2018

Cosby, Korea, Kanye and Dr. Ronnie made it a great week for cartoons. The Accord signed by the two Koreas has a Nobel Prize buzz, but who is really responsible?

Trump’s deals with our enemies can get confusing:

Bill Cosby’s new show only available on closed circuit TV:

Kanye West admires Trump: gives him advice about tweeting:

Paul Ryan fires House Chaplin. Says his prayers are better:

Trump needs a head of the VA. There’s just one job requirement:

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Saturday Soother – Korean Peace Edition

The Daily Escape:

Haze caused by smoke from a wildfire, Wind River Range, WY – 2018 photo by UtahPictures

Their handshake made history. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met each other at the border, then walked hand in hand into South Korea for a meeting between countries still technically at war.

Whether they can declare an end to the war will be the subject of more negotiations and trust-building over the next few months, perhaps years. They did sign an accord that commits them to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is either a huge step forward, or it is another case of false hope for a peace that has eluded the two Koreas for 65 years. Either way, it is an unprecedented diplomatic initiative between the two Koreas that could reduce global tensions.

South Korea’s peace offensive with the North has taken the US’s threat of military confrontation against North Korea off the table, unless the peace discussions should fail. Their preemptive diplomacy has left the US with no option but to move to the negotiating table without insisting that North Korea relinquish its nuclear weapons as a precondition. Is Trump behind this strategy? Historians will tell us some time in the future.

Strategically, North Korea looks like it is willing to work toward peace. They are in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased, and peace talks move incrementally to a successful conclusion, a process of socio-economic rebirth in the North (a Kim Jong-un priority) can begin.

If Trump can’t agree with Kim Jong-un, we will find ourselves at odds with our South Korean ally. In that case, China might walk away from its sanctions against the North, blaming the US for not making progress in the face of the offer by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in needs to find a middle ground between his cunning enemy to the North and his impulsive ally in the US. And no one should expect that Kim will capitulate on Trump’s key demand of total and immediate nuclear disarmament.

That’s the biggest problem. South Korea’s president favors an “action for action” strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees.

South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.

But Trump’s national security team has insisted that North Korea scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.

Moon’s position is to offer economic benefits and security guarantees incrementally, based on one small agreement after another, until both sides are comfortable. In short, his plan is: Be sensible. No one needs to be humiliated. No one has to win. No one has to lose. Deal with issues one by one. Don’t refuse to talk about anything at all. Talk. That’s what sensible people do.

No one knows where this goes. The two Koreas have struck similar agreements in the past. For example, in 1991, Pyongyang and Seoul promised to end the Korean War, but never did. And in 2005, North Korea and five other countries — including the US and South Korea — struck a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. That deal fell through.

President Moon has acknowledged that there is a limit to what the two Koreas can agree on without American involvement:

Peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved by agreements between South and North Korea alone…It has to have American endorsement.

But, nobody knows how the Trump wild card will play out.

But today’s Saturday. For now, let’s bask in a little hope. It’s spring, and buds and flowers abound. The fields of Wrong have bluebirds in two separate nest boxes sitting on eggs. We’ve over-seeded the whole 3 acres of grass to keep our world green and weed-free. Time to brew up a cup of Red Rooster Coffee’s 4 & 20 French Roast that the roaster says is dark and intense, full of complexity, with lots of spice and chocolate.

Now settle back, and listen to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, performed here by the Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Luke Gilmour, in 2011. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for this work. Here it is performed by a 13-piece orchestra, which Copland scored for the eponymous ballet, choreographed by Martha Graham. Wrongo prefers the chamber version to the full orchestra version:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Trump and Kim: Can Peace Really Break Out?

The Daily Escape:

Photo of TV broadcast by the Korean Broadcasting System, South Korea

We’ve gone from Trump and Kim Jong-un tweeting about who had the bigger nuclear missile button to possibly sitting down together in June. Joe Cirincione writes at Defense One:

Even if you politically oppose President Donald Trump and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, you should welcome Pompeo’s surprise meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un. More than anything else that has happened in the Trump presidency, this trip could bring us closer to resolving one of the most dangerous nuclear crises in the world today.

If the meeting happens, it will be the first meeting between any President Kim and a US president. The highest-level contact between the two nations occurred in 2000 between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il.

Those talks came close to forging a deal to end North Korea’s nuclear program before they had even tested any bombs. Albright’s successor as Secretary of State, Colin Powell, promised in March, 2001 that the GW Bush administration would pick up where the Clinton administration left off.

But Bush identified North Korea as one of the Axis of Evil, and he, along with Dick Cheney, killed the negotiation process. North Korea exploded its first bomb five years later. Jung H. Pak writing for Brookings, picks up the story about Kim the Younger:

For the first seven years of his rule, from December 2011 to December 2017, Kim has gone full force on his version of “maximum pressure.” He has tested nearly 90 ballistic missiles (three times more than that of his father and grandfather combined) and conducted four of North Korea’s six nuclear tests, including the biggest one in September 2017, which had an estimated yield of 150 kilotons.

At the same time, he refused attempts by the US, South Korea, and China to engage, refusing to meet with any foreign head of state. Until now. Back to Joe Cirincione:

The Pompeo trip is an effort to correct the mistakes of the past. His talks with Kim, and the high-level talks between North and South Korea in preparation for their own summit, clearly establishes new, serious momentum towards deals with Pyongyang.

And now, Republicans and a few neo-cons are offering strong support for the very negotiations they slammed when Democrats (and Powell) tried them. Now that the GOP has the presidency, negotiation with North Korea is no longer appeasement. Cirincione concludes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

This is why Republicans do arms control better than Democrats. They are not smarter nor do they strike better deals. But when a Republican president supports arms reductions or peace talks, he takes three-quarters of the party with him and the Democrats swing solidly in support. That delivers the bipartisan consensus needed for sustained national security policy. Republican presidents have led the way in nuclear reductions.

Will Trump and Kim meet? Probably, but where is a big question. The NYT reports that Kim doesn’t have a plane that can travel more than 3,000 miles. The Times quotes Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who worked on Korea issues:

We know he has a plane, but it’s an old plane….No one really knows if it works.

Imagine: His missiles can fly for 8,000-12,000 miles, but his plane can’t.

Should we have any faith that Trump can work with South Korea to finally end the Korean War and de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula? Lots could go wrong, and the summit won’t take place until June. That is years away in Trump time.

It is difficult to imagine that North Korea will give up its nukes any time soon. What assurances can Trump give Kim that North Korea would not be sacrificing its security if it denuclearized? Is the US credible if Trump says he’ll guarantee North Korea’s security? Of course not.

Maybe both win just by having a meeting, even if it fails. Kim can be seen as continuing to call the tune in North Asia, while Trump can say that he tried a bold move to achieve a lasting peace, without losing anything strategically.

Would the two sides agree to a verifiable freeze of North Korea nuclear programs? And what would the US give in return? Remove its troops from South Korea?

A grand bargain may be impossible, but isn’t walking towards disarmament better than running toward nuclear war?

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Saturday Soother – March 31, 2018

The Daily Escape:

 

Zion National Park – 2001 photo by Wrongo

From Alastair Crooke:

At the beating heart of Trump’s Presidency lies the notion of the “Art of the Deal”.  It is said that Trump has few convictions, but his notion of how to negotiate – with a big stick, maximum leverage, and with credible, fear-inducing ‘threats’ –  is central to his whole Presidency.

Crooke continues:

This underlying notion of the ‘deal’ is transactional in essence, best practiced as a one-to-one operation, rather than in a multilateral context.  But in the sphere of geo-politics this is not so easy….in May… Trump will put his negotiating theory to the test in a very different ambit to that of New York real estate. The North Korean summit should be held; the verdict on the nuclear agreement with Iran is due to be pronounced then; the US Israeli-Palestinian determination is scheduled to be ‘handed down’ in May; the Sunni states’ Iran containment roles [are] to be set; and any punitive tariffs on China will be decided, and enacted.

May will be an important month for America. We could see success in all, some, or none of these negotiations.

Crooke posits that the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and the Russians all have read and understand the concepts behind the Art of the Deal. They also know that the US is not really in a position to make good on the bluff, and particularly, not in each negotiation, in each part of the globe.

And despite John Bolton’s best efforts to reinforce Trump’s desire to show America as the strongest, baddest version of LeRoy Brown, all of these competitors and would-be adversaries won’t necessarily blink if Trump threatens them.

There are other problems with Trump’s Art of the Deal strategy. He’s not the only one who knows how to play high-stakes poker:  Putin and Xi did not become the undisputed leaders of Russian and China without knowing a bit about strategy and risk-taking.

And the leaders on the other side of each of these Trump initiatives are being told by their own “hawks” that one option is to out-Trump Trump, and win.

This raises the question of a diplomatic “off-ramp”. When Trump warns North Korea that the alternative to accepting America’s demands is military action, what will Trump do if Kim Jong-Un just says “no”? Or, what if Kim answers “yes, but only if America withdraws its nuclear shield from the Korean Peninsula”, or insists that American forces leave northeast Asia altogether?

What does Trump do then?

Does he go to war? The Donald can go to the well too many times with the Art of the Deal strategy.

Over the past 17 years in the Middle East and elsewhere, America’s military might has been shown to have serious limitations, despite our substantial capabilities.

Will Trump be able to bluff his way through May? And if he can’t, then what?

Relax! The good news is that we have a couple of months to figure this out.

Sounds like we need to enjoy the spring, now that it’s finally arrived. Here, the fields of Wrong have finally given up their snow. The birds are returning, and our thoughts turn to a spring clean-up of the damage brought by winter.

So, let’s procrastinate a bit by brewing up a vente cup of Dragonfly Coffee Roasters Ninety Plus Gesha Estates Panama Limited Batch #238, made with the Jose Alfredo Process. ($165/8oz.) Dragonfly claims that the taste is astounding and original, including deeply arousing notes of caramelized green apple surrounding lavish fruit notes that delicately transition the finish into rich cocoa.

Who writes this stuff?

Now, settle back and contemplate the arrival of spring by watching and listening to a video of a Bobolink, by the great Lang Elliott. The Bobolink is a member of the Blackbird family:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – March 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

There are marches today. Get involved if you can.

The Dow looks like it might take a year to recover. But the weekend looks to be a rollicking good time, with marches by high schoolers and their adult supporters, Stormy Daniels on 60 Minutes, and the Sweet Sixteen college basketball tournament.

And don’t forget John Bolton, also known as the “Mustache of War”.

Bolton, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs from 2001 to 2005, was a prime mover behind the Bush II war on Iraq. As you can read here, Bolton rejected intelligence that conflicted with his desire that the US government use the phony claim that Iraq had WMD to justify the war. In fact, senior British officials accurately showed what was happening in their secret “Downing Street” memo to Tony Blair in July 2002 when they reported that:

The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.

Throughout that fall, Bolton knew how the administration was misrepresenting the details of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s WMD to the public. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also documented these distortions in a series of bipartisan reports following the 2003 invasion. Lawfare gives a first-person analysis of Bolton:

First, he’s a masterful bureaucratic tactician. Unlike his predecessors, Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster, Bolton is a very experienced and adept creature of Washington institutions. Similar to former Vice President Dick Cheney, he knows the levers and knobs of the vast national security and foreign policy machinery: how they work, who works them, and how to exert control over them.

That’s also mixed in with the fact that Trump likes to defer to people who can dominate a room, another formidable trait of Bolton’s:

Third, he’s thorough and methodical. Most senior policymakers simply cannot keep up with the details across so many issues….Expect the same diligent readiness from him on issues like Iran and North Korea, but with the added advantage that he’ll face less pushback than he might otherwise because of the fact that so many senior diplomatic posts remain unfilled. His ability to be meticulous and bombastic will probably serve him very well in this White House.

The key takeaway is that Bolton brings to the president’s national security agenda a competence that this White House has lacked. I generally agree with Benjamin Wittes that some of the president’s worst instincts have often been tempered by sheer ineptitude. What makes Bolton dangerous is his capacity to implement those instincts effectively.

He has the ability to put loyalists in key positions while marginalizing those he distrusts. From Booman:

This is the most dangerous moment for humanity since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There’s nothing Congress or the public can do directly to prevent Bolton from taking his post, but all means for resisting his influence must be employed.

Those who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis know that we barely avoided going nuclear, in part because JFK stood up to General Curtis Lemay, and because tactical commanders on both sides failed to follow their respective militaries’ rules of engagement.

Trump may not act like JFK if a similar issue comes up. He once asked three times (in a national security briefing) why we have nuclear weapons if we can’t use them.

Maybe this isn’t a good time to bring up that many Democrats and independents thought that Hillary Clinton was a greater threat to world peace than the Donald. Kinda makes a person long for some good old Obama-style gridlock.

Enough! We gotta just get away, relax and get soothed. Wrongo says this every week, but this weekend, he really, really means it. The daffodils are poking up through the snow, and it is time to brew up a hot vente cup of something caffeinated. This week, Wrongo recommends Hula Daddy Coffee’s Kona Sweet blend ($94.50/lb.), with its silky mouthfeel, and very sweet taste which suggests subtle milk chocolate, according to the roaster. Don’t worry, the stock market is so bad, you might as well blow what you have left on one cuppa joe.

Now, settle in and listen to a selection from George Winston’s “Winter into Spring”, recorded in 1982. This video adds terrific sights and sounds of spring in northern Idaho to Winston’s soundtrack. Some might think it distorts Winston’s art. You be the judge:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Trump’s Cabinet Moves Signal Danger Ahead

The Daily Escape:

Impalas sharing a drink – Via

A few additional thoughts about the falling dominoes in Trump’s cabinet that were triggered by Tillerson’s firing. There are rumors that Gary Cohn will be replaced by Larry Kudlow, and that National Security Advisor HR McMaster may be replaced by John Bolton.

So, think about the new line-up. Kudlow is economic czar. CIA Director Pompeo becomes Secretary of State. Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand is promoted to Director of the CIA, and John Bolton turns up as National Security Advisor. These people, along with Nikki Haley at the UN, who this week threatened another cruise missile attack inside Syria, are among the worst possible choices for their respective jobs.

Unless we exhume and reinstate Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Wrongo had direct experience with Kudlow during the Reagan administration, when Kudlow was associate director for economics and planning in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under David Stockman. Wrongo was at the big NY bank, and was lobbying for approval of a new line of business that was a stretch under the Glass-Steagall regulations at the time. In our one meeting, Kudlow was a pompous asshat. He lectured us about “trickle-down” economics, and how the country was in the midst of a conservative cultural revolution led by St. Ronnie.

We couldn’t get away from him fast enough. BTW, we did get the exception to the regulations, without any help from Kudlow. Perhaps it is useful to remember that Kudlow has no training in economics, although he plays one on TV. Also, he was fired from Bear Stearns for his $100,000 per month cocaine habit. And that’s in 1994 dollars. Real economist Brad DeLong says appointing Kudlow is like appointing William Shatner commander of the 7th Fleet.

If all of these moves come to pass, Trump will be surrounded only by true believers. Any Generals that are left, except for Mattis at Defense, may act as if they are true believers, as well.

Think of these moves as the first step in a new neo-con takeover of our national security strategy:

  • There will be no normalization of our relations with Russia
  • There will be a confrontation with Iran
  • The effort to destabilize Syria will continue
  • China will be confronted, first on trade, and second, on their growing regional aspirations
  • Nothing will come from any discussions with North Korea

Trump’s neocon cabinet now will have the means both to support Israel’s ambitions in the Middle East, as well as their own desire for Washington’s military hegemony in the world. They will use the “Russian threat” as a justification of more defense spending and even more militaristic actions abroad.

This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons as announced by Putin last week seem to suggest that they may have some military superiority over the US. Certainly, that may embolden China and Iran to move closer to the Russians.

If the administration persists in making charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and China, those nations must eventually react. They may become allied militarily, anticipating a possible war against the current US regime.

If, as Haley has threatened, the US were to again strike Syria, Russia has to choose whether to let it pass (as it did when Trump fired 50 cruise missiles previously), or to respond. If the US misjudges its attack, and Russia responds with actions that kill US military personnel, then the US regime faces the same choice, to let it pass, or not.

Any time we (or the Russians) are forced to consider retaliation, there is a clear cost to not retaliating, as well as a strong inclination to not just turn the other cheek.

Trump’s new cabinet line-up can lead us into a profoundly dangerous situation.

And it will be driven by a tiny minority: A neocon cabinet. Plus the Israelis who ardently desire the US to take on Iran. And elements of the US military/security complex, who feel we must be the biggest, baddest asshats in town.

We are sitting in the middle of the most reckless behavior in modern history.

Where are the voices against this?

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