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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Plays “Let’s Make a Deal” With China

The Daily Escape:

Georgian Sheep returning for the winter from the high mountains. Mixed among the sheep are Georgian Shepherd dogs who are the same size and color, who protect the flocks from wolves – photo by Amos Chapple

Donald Trump is in China for a two-day visit, and North Korea (NK) is certainly on the agenda. While in Seoul, Trump urged “responsible nations” to unite and stop supporting NK:

You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept…every nation, including China and Russia [must] fully implement recent UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

Trump praised China for taking some steps against NK, but urged them to do more, as administration officials believe the border between China and NK still remains a trade corridor. From Trump:

I want to just say that President Xi — where we will be tomorrow, China — has been very helpful. We’ll find out how helpful soon…But he really has been very, very helpful. So China is out trying very hard to solve the problem with North Korea.

What Trump and his administration need to figure out is a new strategy for NK. It is doubtful that China would cut off NK, because it fears that if the Kim regime collapses, millions of NK refugees will stream across the border into China.

Mike Chinoy, an expert on East Asia policy at the US-China Institute of the University of Southern California thinks that the US has dug a hole with China that is very hard to climb out of:

Trump has mortgaged the whole US-China relationship to get the Chinese on board with the North Korea plan…He is now coming at it from a position of weakness.

Here is another idea. William S. Lind suggests that if we look at the big picture, it is obvious that NK might become a greater threat to China than it is to us:

North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. However, if North Korea retains its nuclear weapons, it is likely to lead South Korea, Japan, and possibly Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam to go nuclear themselves. From the Chinese perspective, that would be a strategic catastrophe.

He makes the point that China has never sought world domination, in fact, it wants to maintain strategic distance from its neighbors. However, maintaining that distance requires a buffer zone around China, which historically China has sought, and is seeking now in the South China Sea.

Lind suggests that if the states on China’s periphery had nuclear weapons, China would be unable to keep a buffer zone of weak neighbors that it can dominate. Even Vietnam could stop China cold if they had nukes. The states bordering China, instead of serving as a buffer, could become existential threats sitting right on her frontier.

Lind’s idea is that Trump should make the case about the need to restrain North Korea’s nuclear program, but instead of threatening with trade or sanctions if China refuses, he should say:

If North Korea retains its nukes and delivery systems, we can no longer advise our allies in Asia not to go nuclear.

However, that would be a transformational change in the bedrock US principle of nuclear non-proliferation.

Lind explains that while Beijing does not care about the threat NK nukes pose to the US, they fully understand the strategic threat of nuclear weapons pose in the hands of America’s regional allies.

Wrongo doesn’t have much time for Mr. Lind, who has advocated that police in the US carry rocket-propelled grenades, and who has said that the “next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil.”

The idea of proposing doubling the membership in the nuclear club goes against American values, despite its source, might give the US some additional leverage with China.

But, China already knows all of this, so would it achieve much?

What China can do is push North Korea to the negotiating table. But, President Trump has not only to be willing to negotiate, he has to give a carrot to China. That would be to partner with them in a South Asia trade deal. China can’t be bullied by Mr. Trump into bullying NK. Trump will need “strategic patience” to get a deal that involves China, Russia, Japan, and, of course, both North and South Korea.

There may be a “deal” to be made, but does the Deal-maker-in-Chief has the ability to make it?

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Why Can’t We Quit Poking Iran?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Eastern Sierras – photo by Deirdre Harb

You may not remember the tangled history the US has with Iran, but you know that Trump decertified the Iran deal that was developed by the US and 5 other major powers (Russia, China, Germany, England and France). In his decertifying speech, Trump said:

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout…

Just three countries publicly support Mr. Trump’s decision: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We all know that Iran calls the US “the great Satan”, but we forget how we earned the title. Here is a quick review from the BBC:

  • In 1953, the US overthrew Iran’s elected government. We (and the UK) were not going to stand by and let their Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The CIA led a military coup, and re-installed the Shah.
  • In 1979, a coup overthrew the Shah, and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the Iran government. In November 1979, Iran took over the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for what was 444 days, until 1981.
  • In 1985-86, the US secretly shipped weapons to Iran in exchange for Tehran’s help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits were channeled to rebels in Nicaragua, creating a political crisis for President Reagan.
  • In 1988, a US warship shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 killing all 290 people on board. We said it was a mistake, and Iran apparently forgave us.
  • In 1999, Iran’s new president Katahimi called for “a dialogue with the American people” that went nowhere.
  • In 2002, GW Bush denounced Iran as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea.

Now, nothing in the above excuses Iran’s efforts to destabilize parts of the Middle East, or their deep, abiding hatred of Israel. Nothing excuses Iran’s role in developing and introducing the IED’s that were so lethal to US troops in Iraq.

Time has done little to heal the wounds that each country has inflicted on the other. Mutual enmity remains on full display.

But Trump, like Obama and GW Bush, searched for a way to reduce our presence in the Middle East and shift attention to Russia and China. The solution for all three Presidents was to pit Middle Eastern governments against one another creating a balance of power, attempting to prevent any single country from becoming too influential.

If they make war against each other, that’s an acceptable outcome, as long as Israel remains unscathed.

In that context, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was something that the US and its European allies couldn’t allow. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided a means of halting the program’s progress without risking the outbreak of war. The deal prevented the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb destabilizing the region.

By attempting to reopen the JCPOA by withdrawing, Trump hopes to either rein in Iran’s regional meddling, or persuade Tehran to broaden the deal to include restrictions on its ballistic missile program, and on its support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Neither of Trump’s goals are reachable. Iran gains nothing by agreeing to them. And the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is not complying with the deal. So, as long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, the Europeans plus China and Russia, are unlikely to agree with any US attempt to reinstate broad sanctions.

And Trump is making his negotiations with North Korea more difficult. Walking away from the Iran deal justifies North Korea’s belief that negotiation with the US on nuclear issues is futile. Particularly when one president’s agreement can be so easily torn up by his successor.

The American Right has considered Iran one of the “axis of evil” since 9/11. In that context, Trump’s desire to replace diplomacy with sanctions and eventually regime change, is ideologically consistent. The Right is simply using its electoral victory to advance a long-held policy.

We should remember that most of the GOP presidential candidates in 2016 were against the Iran deal, and probably would have acted similarly to Trump.

We are at a crossroads in our relationship with Iran. With the Iran deal, our long-term antipathy could have been moderated, and ultimately replaced by alignment of goals in the Middle East. Peace might have broken out.

But Trump has insured that will now take decades longer than it might have.

 

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The War of Words with North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Rangdum Monastery, Suru Valley, India. While the monastery is Buddhist, most of the residents of the Suru Valley are Shia Muslims – photo by Sugato Mukherjee

Are you tired of reading about North Korea (NK)? Wrongo is certainly tired of writing about it. Steve Coll had an interesting take on the war between Trump and Kim:

In the history of nuclear diplomacy, no nation-state has ever given up atomic weapons in response to shrill threats.

We all have noted the continuing tit-for-tat between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Pat Lang has described the state of play between them as “Simian Mutual Hostility“, giving a name to the image of monkeys throwing their poo at each other in anger.

On 9/23, the US Airforce flew a bomber mission, closer to NK than at any time in the past 17 years. Although the flight took place in international airspace, NK called it an act of war, threatening to shoot down American aircraft, even in international airspace, if it happens again.

Are we now just one miscalculation away from the collapse of the Korean Armistice? Or worse, the start of the Second Korean War? Can cooler heads on both sides ratchet back the simian hostility?

Possibly. Since Trump’s election, NK representatives have been interested in figuring out Trump’s strategy. The WaPo reports that:

North Korean government officials have been quietly trying to arrange talks with Republican-linked analysts in Washington, in an apparent attempt to make sense of President Trump and his confusing messages to Kim Jong Un’s regime.

WaPo quotes a person with “direct knowledge”:

 Their number one concern is Trump. They can’t figure him out.

So, could Trump calling Kim “Rocket Man” be a carefully calculated master stroke of foreign policy? It could, but don’t count on that. Trump did use “Crooked Hillary” to his advantage, but will calling Kim Rocket Man change the world’s perception of Kim in ways beneficial to America?

It seems more like a direct challenge from an older man to a younger one, to put up or shut up. It appears that Trump is trying to goad Kim into an openly hostile reaction that could justify a US attack in “self-defense”.

That would be following the Tonkin Gulf playbook, as used by LBJ in 1964. After the attack, which to this day looks like a fabricated incident, the US had a pretext to escalate its involvement in Vietnam, with disastrous consequences. We wouldn’t leave Vietnam for another 11 years.

An air-zone intrusion near (in) NK waters is a perfect way for Trump to replay the Tonkin Gulf plan. Trump may hope that NK will attempt to shoot down one of our B-1B’s. The issue of whether the attack happens in NK territory or in international waters will be disputed, and will not be really understood by the media.

And what about NK saying “it’s an act of war”? “b” at Moon of Alabama says that NK had declared something an “act of war” or a “war declaration” some 200 times in their press, so, perhaps we shouldn’t take exception quite so strongly.

The landscape is that we have two leaders willing to say anything, hoping that the other guy starts the actual fight.

Let’s remember that China and Russia have asked the US to be patient with NK. China has a mutual defense treaty with NK, and has said it would react if NK were attacked. South Korea’s president said he does not want a war to happen.

Our “missile shield” for the US homeland isn’t reliable, yet our military has based its nuclear deterrence on it. And we revere these Pentagon guys as brilliant “strategists”. The systems do not work effectively, yet we act as if they will, and that the technical problems are solvable before we will need them.

We have no ability in the short run to defend the homeland against Kim’s ICBMs, but Trump’s idea is to goad Kim into a first strike.

The “big stick” mindset is at the core of the Pentagon’s philosophy. However, with China next door, and their stance clear, why does Trump continue to piss on Kim’s boots?

The US has a terribly flawed strategic position. When the monkeys are consumed with throwing the shit, the risk that something happens far down the chain of command increases. The Cuban Missile crisis could have escalated were it not for a level-headed US junior submarine officer.

Let’s leave the last word to Steve Coll:

“To overcome the perils of the present”, the President said at the UN last week, “we must begin with the wisdom of the past.” If only there were some evidence that Trump knew what that was, or how to use the power of his office to forge a less dangerous world.

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America’s Negotiations With North Korea are Similar to Israel’s With Palestine

The Daily Escape:

Lake Waramaug, Litchfield County CT. It is the second largest natural lake in the state.

Our problems with North Korea (NK), and the impossible negotiating position we have with them, brings to mind Israel’s relationship with Palestine. Both NK and Palestine:

  • Had their borders drawn by other powers after WWII
  • Had been invaded many times by their neighbors
  • And they have fought wars with them ever since
  • Are anti-US, and anti-Israel
  • Are allies
  • Have a large benefactor that props them up economically. Iran in the case of the Palestinians, and China in the case of NK

And both countries appear unwilling to negotiate with their sworn enemies towards a peaceful solution. We officially ended the Korean War in 1953. The parties to the Armistice tried to negotiate a withdrawal of foreign forces from the peninsula and settle the question of who would rule a reunited Korea. Talks took place in 1954, but broke down over how to hold fair elections for a unified government.

The Armistice specified that no new weapons would be introduced on the peninsula, but in 1957, the US informed NK that it would no longer abide by that part of the Armistice agreement. In January 1958, the US deployed nuclear missiles capable of reaching Moscow and Beijing, in South Korea.

We kept them there until 1991, and tried to reintroduce them in 2013, but South Korea refused. NK conducted its first underground nuclear test in 2006.

NK has very close relationships with many Arab countries. From the Diplomat:

North Korea…actively supported Arab countries in their military operations against Israel. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War…North Korean pilots staffed Egyptian MIG-21s…During the 1980s, North Korea shifted [to] arms…sales to Israel’s enemies in the Middle East. The DPRK exported missiles to Iran, Syria, and Libya and assisted both Syria and Iran in their attempts to develop nuclear weapon capabilities.

NK’s relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) began in 1966. NK today recognizes the sovereignty of Palestine over all territory held by Israel, except the Golan Heights, which NK considers Syrian Territory. The Diplomat says that NK helped Hezbollah build underground tunnels in Lebanon.

Quartz reports that NK helped Syria build a nuclear facility (that Israel destroyed in an air raid in 2007). In 2014, Syria asked NK to help monitor its presidential elections. In 2016, NK sent two units to fight in the Assad regime’s civil war.

Al-monitor reports that NK also cooperates closely with Iran. Israel believes that Iranian scientists were present at most of NK’s nuclear tests. Iran’s Shahab missiles were developed with the assistance of NK, and are based on the NK Nodong missile.

Where do we go from here? After 63 years, we have failed to successfully negotiate with NK. Even Steve Bannon gets it:

There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it…Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.

KAL’s cartoon captures the problem:

We are stuck in the moment, and we can’t get out of it, just like Israel and Palestine.

Our history with NK tells them that we are not trustworthy. Barack Obama replaced direct engagement with pressure tactics, called “strategic patience.” He also rejected negotiation with NK without a prior commitment to denuclearization.

And here we are. We won’t talk to them unless they give up the bomb. They already have the bomb, so they won’t be giving it up. We can’t move against them without huge damage to Japan and South Korea. Would we sacrifice either country to save the US homeland from a NK nuclear-tipped missile?

What should we do now? Will we accept the fact that NK is a nuclear power? Will we continue to rely on sanctions?

Would we commit to a no-first-strike policy that might reduce tensions with NK?

Would we agree to stop the provocative war games?

What will the Trump administration do to avoid nuclear war?

Nobody knows. Here is U2, live in Boston in 2001 with their Grammy-winning “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” from their 2000 album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”:

As you sing along, remember the song was written to persuade someone that suicide wasn’t the answer.

Takeaway lyric:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better…

Now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

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North Korea and Our Terrible Missile Defense

The Daily Escape:

Near Rocky Creek Bridge, Big Sur CA – 2017 photo by Charlene Renslow

We didn’t attempt to shoot down the Hwasong-12 North Korean (NK) missile on Tuesday. The official reason was that it was clear that the missile wouldn’t hit American soil. Based on the US reasoning, there are at least two things to consider:

  • We have the capability to shoot down NK medium-range missiles, but do not want to give NK and China any free intelligence on our capabilities.
  • We do not have the capability to shoot down NK medium-range (or greater) missiles.

Now, Wrongo has some “expertise” in the missile defense biz. He managed a nuclear missile unit in Germany during the Vietnam era. One mission of the unit was anti-tactical ballistic missile defense. That meant we were supposed to shoot down enemy missiles.

So, when Wrongo hears the US’s reasoning, it makes sense. Why give a potential enemy a free look at your weapons? Why take an aggressive action when we are not threatened? Both are reasonable positions. Shooting down an enemy missile aimed at US territory is logical, but shooting down a missile test aimed at the sea would be considered an act of war by NK. We could adopt a policy to intercept certain types of missiles or those on certain kinds of trajectory. But, we haven’t made that policy choice at this point.

The second possibility is frightening. Since the 1950’s, we have made a huge investment in anti-missile weapons. Today, we have 33 Aegis warships that are designed to hit a mid- or intermediate-range missile like the Hwasong-12. Sixteen of those warships are currently in the Pacific. But, right now we only have eight Japan-based Aegis ships, and two of the eight are out of commission due to the collisions of the Fitzgerald, and the John S. McCain.

But it gets worse. From the NYT: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The allies could do little more than track the [NK] missile Tuesday as it arched over Hokkaido and splashed into the northern Pacific. Analysts said Japan could have tried to shoot it down if its Aegis destroyers, which are armed with SM3 Block I interceptor missiles, happened to be in waters between North Korea and Japan. But because the SM3 is slower than the Hwasong-12, they would have had to make the attempt before the missile passed over the ships.

In order to hit the NK missiles, Aegis destroyers would have to be dangerously close to the NK coast to get a chance to strike an ICBM in the “boost” phase, before it gained altitude. If our ships were that close to NK, they would be vulnerable to North Korean submarines.

And the SM-3 anti-missile interceptors on the Aegis ships have a testing record that includes many failures. Between January 2002 and August 2017, the DOD attempted 37 intercepts of a mid-range missile and hit the target 29 times with an SM-3. On Wednesday, we conducted a successful intercept test using a newer generation SM-6 missile against a medium-range ballistic missile target:

The USS John Paul Jones detected and tracked a target missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii with its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar…

This is the second time an SM-6 missile has intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile target.

Our problem is that, while the Obama administration pushed for a ship-based defense against mid-range NK missiles aimed at Japan or Guam, we now know that we have a better chance of hitting missiles that can’t fly so high. From Defense One:

The highest probability of success is to hit the enemy missile closer to the ground, during the so-called boost phase. That’s what America’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is aiming for in the future.

Decoding all this: If we attempt a shoot-down, and it fails, all of those Aegis ships are worthless, and Russia, China and NK will know it.

We also have the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system deployed in South Korea. There have been 15 intercepts in 15 tests for the THAAD system, according to the MDA. Now, there is talk of deploying them in Japan. THAADs are currently also deployed in Guam and Hawaii.

Finally, there is the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD). GMD, like THAAD, is a hit-to-kill system. Unlike THAAD which intercepts missiles during their terminal phase, GMD is aimed at destroying them in midcourse. It is the only system the US has that could be capable of destroying an ICBM launched at the US by NK. There are 40 GMD interceptors deployed in Alaska at Fort Greely, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The GMD has a troubled history, with many failed, or incomplete tests.

The military’s next anti-missile solution won’t even begin testing until 2023.

Until then, every time an NK missile heads toward Japan, Guam, or anywhere else, the president will have to decide whether attempting to shoot it down is worth the costs of probably missing it.

And without a missile defense, our next best alternative is massive nuclear retaliation on the NK homeland.

That’s a ticket for the destruction of South Korea and Japan.

And a likely war with China.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 13, 2017

This just in from PBS shows how badly Democrats have hurt themselves since 2008:

After high-profile candidates lost decisively in the last two elections…the party now finds itself in unprecedented territory for the 2018 ballot: with no major candidate to run. Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying.

Ann Richards, elected in 1990, was the last Texas Democratic governor. And now, no major Dem candidate will run for governor. This is despite a booming Hispanic population and Democratic dominance in the state’s largest cities.

Democrats have expanded their advantage in California and New York. Combined, these states gave Clinton a 6 million vote edge, more than twice her national margin. But those two states elect only 4% of the Senate.

We once thought that there was an “Obama coalition” that would only grow because of demographics: Left-leaning populations were growing, America was becoming less white, and this alone would guarantee Democrat majorities well into the future. This idea has failed. Is it time for the DNC establishment to accept the awful truth that they are no longer a national party?

The Cook Political Report says that even if Democrats won every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats in districts that Hillary Clinton won, or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points, they would still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats. Some permanent majority. Time for a few new Democrats to lead.

On to cartoons. Many people pointed out that there were some similarities between Trump and Kim:

Strategic thinking, Trump-style:

Uncle Rex tells America a bedtime story:

Trump said that his North Korea comments were similar to a few other guys:

Foxconn gets $3 billion in tax breaks in exchange for building a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin. It will take 20 years for the state to break even:

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Can We Rein in North Korea?

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker, Litchfield County Connecticut – photo by J Clery

On Independence Day, North Korea (NK) launched what looks to be its first intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of hitting Alaska. Pundits, including Wrongo have been saying that the US has no viable military option to blunt NK’s growing threat, because any attempt to do so would cause a brutal counterattack against South Korea that our military thinks is too bloody and damaging to risk.

Here is the NYT’s analysis: Nearly half of South Korea’s population lives within 50 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, including 10 million people in Seoul, its capital. NK has positioned 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. That means it can inflict tremendous damage without resorting to weapons of mass destruction. The NYT quotes Robert E. Kelly a professor at South Korea’s Pusan University:

You have this massive agglomeration of everything that is important in South Korea — government, business and the huge population — and all of it is in this gigantic megalopolis that starts 30 miles from the border and ends 70 miles from the border… In terms of national security, it’s just nuts.

Not all of the NK’s weapons can reach Seoul. Most of its artillery has a range of three to six miles, but it has about 1,000 weapons that could hit Seoul, most hidden in caves and tunnels. But under a traditional artillery strategy, the North would never fire them all at once. Instead, it would hold some in reserve to avoid giving their positions away and to conserve munitions.

A study published by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability in 2012, accounting for these and other factors such as population density, concluded that the initial hours of an artillery barrage by the North focused on military targets would result in nearly 3,000 fatalities, while one targeting civilians would kill nearly 30,000 people. That’s without NK using any of its small nuclear weapons.

Regardless of how this plays out, unless there is a durable peace, it will end very badly for South Korea.

So, America has few strategic options, and none have a high probability of success. Questions remain about whether the North can miniaturize a nuclear weapon to fit within an ICBM missile nosecone, or if it has mastered the technology needed to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Trump thought he could count on China to rein in NK, but that isn’t occurring. Trump held out hope that China would see that a nuclear-armed North Korea isn’t in its interests. But Beijing’s behavior suggests that it hopes the North Korean nuclear threat can be used to drive the US out of North Asia.

China remains very sensitive about what happened in Korea in 1950, when US forces moved into NK stopping at the Yalu River that marks the NK-Chinese border. The Chinese lost close to a million men repulsing that invasion. That was only 67 years ago, a blink in China’s history.

Trump now has some hard decisions to make. More sanctions could increase the pressure on the Kim regime, but NK is already the most-sanctioned nation, and they haven’t worked so far to disarm the North.

We shouldn’t rule out a pre-emptive US attack, but there is a risk of a nuclear counterstrike on South Korea (and/or Japan) should even one NK nuclear missile survive.

We can return to the negotiating table, but three US administrations have tried that, and failed. The NK freeze might be phony, and if the NK demands were not being met, they could leave the table and resume weapons development like they have in the past.

We can work for regime change, but there is no guarantee that what comes next will be easier to work with. And our track record with regime change is terrible.

We can work for reunification of the two Koreas, and let them get on with partaking in the Asian Century. The story would become less about US needs or perceptions of the North. We would have to admit that we are not competent to control the history of this region.

Let’s see what the world’s greatest negotiator, he who alone can fix things, the smartest man with the highest IQ, comes up with. So far all he has done is what he always does, pass the blame. In this case, its China’s fault. Thinking that China will help is a dream; they love the situation we are in.

NK will not become another Iran, with a 20-year freeze on nuclear weapons development. Time to think Reunification.

Here is a nuclear musical interlude with Randy Newman’s “Political Science” from 1972:

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

Takeaway lyric:

We give them money, but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one, pulverize them

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Trump’s Dangerous Game: Regime Change in Iran

The Daily Escape:

Engelberg, Switzerland – photo by miracolei

Politico reports that the Trump administration is thinking about regime change in Iran:

As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said just that in testimony to Congress about the State Department’s budget:

Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.

As a member of Congress, Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo last year called for congressional action to:

Change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime…

All of this may have gone unnoticed in Washington, but it was heard in Iran. Iran’s ambassador to the UN filed a formal protest over Tillerson’s statement, saying it revealed:

A brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law…

Critics of regime change say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew a democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners. That’s why President Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the UN, that “we are not seeking regime change.”

Then there is the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration worked with the international community to put in place a program that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It’s important that this program work not just because Iran is an adversary, but it’s also key for preventing other countries in the region from developing their own nuclear weapons.

We can debate how rational the Iranian regime is, and whether or not their religious beliefs might make them less prone to act responsibly with a nuclear arsenal. The safer course is not to get distracted by regime change arguments, but instead, hold to a policy based on anti-proliferation and avoidance of a regional nuclear arms race.

But the Iran hawks want to change the status quo, because they say America can’t be safe this way.

They are blind to the fact that Iran is changing. It has now twice elected a (relatively) progressive president. Their young people are progressive. Obama understood that, and that it was likely that within the ten year life of the Nuclear Deal, progressivism and the desire of Iran’s young people to be part of the outside secular would prevail.

We can agree that Iran’s government poses some risk to the US, but we should also be clear that this has been true for decades, and it has been manageable. We have suffered more from the terroristic Sunni-based ideology exported by Saudi Arabia. Nothing comparable can be said about Iran. In fact, Iran’s primary effort at destabilization has been their support for Palestine vs. Israel.

So, our regional “allies” are working to make us less safe than is Iran.

We can’t disentangle ourselves from the region, but we should refuse to take actions that are sure to inflame things. From Booman:

It would seem our only compelling national interests in the middle east are nonproliferation, and humanitarian conflict-reduction both for its own sake and to reduce the attendant population flows and contagious violence.

Wikipedia lists 19 US efforts at regime change just since WWII. If there is one thing we should all know by now, it is that whatever takes the place of a toppled regime is frequently no better and often even worse than the government that has been overthrown. Let’s learn from history!

An attempt to overthrow the government in Iran is sure to fail, and the political fallout could be catastrophic. Iran’s current theocratic government exists because we overthrew their last democratically elected government, replacing it with the Shah. That sowed the seeds for the Iranian Revolution.

Calling for regime change in Iran is a fundamental error in strategy that endangers us, inflames the region, and will be catastrophic if we act on it.

Here’s a tune for Tuesday, Sam Cooke 1960’s hit “What a Wonderful World”, with a line that expresses Republican thought about Iran: “Don’t know much about history”:

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

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The US/Russian Confrontation in Syria

The Daily Escape:

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

They told Wrongo that if he voted for Hillary, we’d be at war in Syria. He voted for Hillary, and sure enough, looks like we could get into a war with Syria! Particularly after this:

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.

According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.

The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.

Russia was displeased. They announced that they could possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria:

In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.

Treating US and allied planes as “targets” does not mean the Russians will shoot at them. What they’re saying is that they will track the planes as they would track any target, they will send their own planes to observe the targets, and possibly escort the targets out of the area.

This gets tricky: what happens if the “target” refuses to be escorted away? Do the Russians then shoot at the target? They haven’t said. But until they do start shooting, we’re not in a hot war. We’ve just moved a step closer to one possibly occurring soon.

And this would be the most dangerous confrontation between the US and Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wrongo remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis very well. He was in college. We sat around thinking that DC (where we lived) would be taken out by nuclear missiles launched by the Russkies.

This is one outcome of Trump’s outsourcing full control of military action on the ground to the generals.

One miscalculation, and Trump’s generals are making new foreign policy. Clemenceau was correct when he said that “war is too important to be left to the generals”. Who we decide to fight is one of our most important national decisions. From the American Conservative:

There has never been a Congressional vote authorizing US military operations in Syria against anyone, and there has been scant debate over any of the goals that the US claims to be pursuing there. The US launches attacks inside Syria with no legal authority from the UN or Congress, and it strains credulity that any of these operations have anything to do with individual or collective self-defense.

The US says we are in Syria to fight ISIS and evict them from Raqqa. But we have also been arming the Syrian opposition for at least three years. And we have been a party to the Syrian civil war for at least a year before that. But the underlying assumption, that it is in our interest to be fighting in Syria, has not been seriously questioned by most members of Congress.

Americans are so accustomed to fighting wars on foreign soil that we barely notice that the policy has never really been debated or put to a vote. If this Syrian confrontation leads us into a larger conflict with Russia, will it finally be time to notice what’s happening?  

Shooting down a Syrian jet shows the dangers that come from conducting a foreign policy unmoored from both the national interest and representative government.

It was shot down because it was threatening rebels opposed to the Syrian government, and the US supports those rebels, apparently up to and including destroying Syrian regime forces that attack them. We say we are there to fight ISIS. That has sufficient support by the people and the Congress. If we are also fighting to oust Assad, we are doing something that requires a full debate.

Without that debate, when we shoot down a Syrian plane inside its own country, we have committed an act of war against another state.

A bit of music. Here is Paramore with “Hard Times”:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

All that I want Is to wake up fine
Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die
All that I want
Is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright
For me to come out

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Russia’s Growing Influence With North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Lanterns lit last week for Buddha’s Birthday, Samgwangsa Temple, Busan, South Korea – photo by Jason Teale

Yesterday, Wrongo mentioned that Russia might prove helpful to Donald Trump in his efforts to deal with a nuclear-capable North Korea (NK). Today, Stratfor has a column about Russia’s relationship with NK. Rather than quote extensively from a long article, Wrongo has condensed from it, particularly about the history of Russia/North Korean relations.

History gives perspective: The Soviet Union and the US were the actors that split North and South Korea at the end of WWII. In the 1950s, both Koreas became a proxy battleground, pitting the communist North against the US-aligned South. After China and North Korea agreed to an Armistice with the UN and South Korea in 1953, the Soviets helped to build up the military and security forces in NK, ensuring its stability. Some Soviet-era military equipment is still in use today.

The Soviets were a key NK economic partner throughout the Cold War. They accounted for nearly half of NK’s foreign trade in the 1970s and 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, trade dropped off. China now accounts for 90% of NK’s imports, but about a third of that is Russian-sourced.

Putin saw the strategic value of good relations with NK, including how Russia could manipulate its influence in the region to pressure NK, or to put pressure the US and South Korea. Russia has criticized NK’s nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile programs, and participated in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks along with China, the US, Japan and North Korea and South Korea.

In 2014, Russia joined in levying sanctions against NK, halting supplies of ships, helicopters and minerals in response to its continued nuclear tests. But, neither China nor Russia has cut their economic or military ties with NK. And both governments have opposed expanded sanctions or regime change.

Russia and NK have improved ties since the breakdown in Russia’s relations with the West over Crimea and Ukraine. In 2014, Moscow officially settled NK’s Soviet-era debt of $11 billion, forgiving most of it. NK granted Russian business executives long-term multiple-entry visas for the first time. In addition, Russia has provided millions of dollars’ worth of food aid to NK in recent years, including nearly half of the country’s grain imports.

One way that the two countries have expanded their cooperation is through the employment of temporary NK workers in Russia. Nearly 50,000 North Koreans were granted Russian work permits in 2015. In April, Russia’s parliament passed a bill allowing NK workers to travel visa-free to Vladivostok. Russia estimates that North Korea receives $170 million in remittances from its workers in Russia.

No doubt, Russia sees its relationship with NK as small potatoes. But Russia is not small potatoes for NK. While it will not replace China as NK’s primary partner, Russia has the capacity to play spoiler to the US plans to control NK’s nuclear ambitions. Today, Russia has its hands full with Syria, Crimea and Ukraine. But, its influence on the North Koreans can give it leverage, in the event that America’s Orange Negotiator needs help making a deal on the Korean peninsula.

Putin could add weight to China’s effort to lean on NK, forcing NK to come to the table. In return, His Orangeness might be persuaded to go easy on Putin’s goals in Ukraine or Syria, in addition to whatever he will owe China, if the pressure succeeded.

Russia can’t solve our problem with NK, but it might be able to move the dial enough either to play the spoiler, or to be an ally in any American efforts to defuse the Korean problem.

Here is a martial song from North Korea: “Leader, Just Give Us Your Order!” Don’t you just wonder what that order will be?

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

Warning! Don’t scroll through the comments, it weakens the mind. A recent one says:

“Comrade Kim Jong Un, just give us the order to wipe out all imperialists and to reunificate Korea!”

Reunificate!

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