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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 17, 2017

The GOP tries to recover from going all in on Roy Moore. They now have the votes to pass their tax cuts, thanks to a few Senators who said they had reservations, but who really have no moral center. The Mueller investigation may be sidelined by the Senate, and the new Star Wars movie hit theaters.

Moore was supposed to be a deal with the devil, but the GOP had nothing left to offer him:

Xmas tax cuts come early for Trump supporters:

Tillerson and Trump try to get on same page about North Korea:

Her Majesty The Queen tries to think of a way to uninvite The Donald to the UK: (hat tip to Gloria G. and Jane T. Gloria says she loves the Corgi in the background)

Muller investigation moves to new phase:

Newest Star Wars movie reminds us of how old we are:

Trump’s scale back of National Monuments shows us his REAL monuments:

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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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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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