Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Globe Special: All Quiet on the Western Front

Despite all the threats:

"The modest rebound came at the end of a turbulent week on Wall Street as escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea rattled global markets....."

"Trump says military is ‘locked and loaded’ and North Korea will ‘regret’ threats" by Peter Baker and Javier C. Hern├índez New York Times   August 12, 2017

NEW YORK — President Trump issued yet more provocative warnings of military action against North Korea on Friday as he continued to suggest that he was ready to strike the small, isolated Asian country that has been developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States.

Trump started the morning with a Twitter message saying the US military was “locked and loaded” for conflict, and then followed up in the afternoon by telling reporters that he hoped the North Koreans “fully understand the gravity of what I said.”

He singled out Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, saying that Kim has gotten away with destabilizing the region for too long.

“This man will not get away with what he’s doing,” the president told reporters at his golf club in nearby Bedminster, N.J., where he planned to meet with members of his national security team later in the day.

“If he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat” or takes action against the US territory of Guam or against the United States’ allies, “he will truly regret it and he will regret it fast,” the president said.

Trump dismissed foreign leaders, lawmakers, and national security experts who have called his threats rash and even reckless. “My critics are only saying that because it’s me,” Trump said. “If somebody uttered the exact same words that I uttered, they’d say, ‘What a great statement, what a wonderful statement.’ ”

Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to reconvene the House from its summer recess to consider legislation prohibiting a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea.

Cicilline said Friday that in light of Trump’s ‘‘reckless words’’ threatening North Korea, the House should immediately take up legislation barring a preemptive nuclear strike without prior congressional authorization, the Associated Press reported. 

All of a sudden they want to play peacemaker!

He said Trump’s bellicose language has raised alarms around the world, adding that ‘‘if the president will not defuse this situation, then Congress must.’’ There was no immediate response from Ryan.

Trump’s morning tweet said that “military solutions” were ready “should North Korea act unwisely.”

To reinforce the point, the president later shared a post from the US Pacific Command stating that it was standing by for orders should the need arise. It said Air Force B1B bombers on Guam “stand ready to fulfill’’ a mission.

As a practical matter, Trump’s comments do not necessarily indicate a specific change in military readiness or any imminent action.

What? 

After getting me chomping at the bit and convinced the guy is off the rails I get a may not mean anything?

The motto of US forces based alongside allied troops in South Korea has long been “Ready to Fight Tonight,” mainly a slogan emphasizing preparedness rather than a statement of hostility. There has been little if any sign of mobilization that might suggest preparations for a strike.

Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea has an array of conventional artillery that analysts said could lay waste to Seoul and other parts of South Korea if war were to start, yet no move has been made to begin evacuating the many thousands of American civilians living there.

Trump has spent at least part of his week playing golf and was holding a meeting Friday on workforce development. Vice President Mike Pence was in Indianapolis on Friday talking about anticrime efforts.

In his afternoon comments to reporters, Trump said he planned to call Chinese President Xi Jinping to talk about the deepening crisis.

The Trump administration has repeatedly said its diplomatic initiative to pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program is still in its early phases, with much work remaining to be done.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States is open to talks if North Korea stopped the series of missile tests that have rattled the region in recent weeks.

Most important, the Trump administration hopes to persuade China to use its considerable influence over North Korea’s economy and political leadership to resolve the situation for the United States, but analysts say that nothing of the sort is likely to happen, at the earliest, until this fall’s Party Congress is completed.

Indeed, all China’s leadership is at a seaside conference this weekend, so even getting calls returned in Beijing would be difficult. 

(Blog editor shakes head at the NYT nonsense. Yeah, the Chinese are on vacation and you can't reach them)

But Trump was to meet Friday afternoon with Tillerson, just back from a trip to Asia, and Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations. He also rearranged his schedule to return to Washington on Monday for the day, a brief break in his 17-day escape from the White House. Aides said he would hold meetings on trade and national security, but it was not clear what might come from them.

Why bother coming back for a day?

As before, Trump’s Friday morning statement did not make clear what would constitute an action that would require a US military operation — still, the strident language emerging from New Jersey has set much of the world on edge.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia said his country would support the United States if the ally was attacked by North Korea.

New Zealand, on the other hand, would not commit. Prime Minister Bill English told local news outlet NZN that he was focusing on peace, but if there was military action against North Korea, his country would “consider our contribution on its merits.”

Get Scott Brown on the phone now! 

Where is the loyalty?

Chinese leaders, including Xi, are largely focused on domestic politics. Top officials have gathered at Beidaihe, a seaside retreat more than 170 miles east of Beijing, to map out a once-every-five-years leadership reshuffle of the ruling Communist Party that is to take place this fall.

The Foreign Ministry is on summer break from its daily news conferences and posted a written statement Friday with a typical plea for restraint and dialogue.

Can't have that.

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Related:

"Intercepting a missile over the open ocean has the added benefit of not being a direct attack on North Korea itself. It would send a very strong message but leave more room for deescalation than a preemptive strike against military facilities or other targets on the ground. A big problem is that failure would not only be humiliating, but could actually weaken the US position more than doing nothing at all. The United States has pumped billions of dollars into its missile defense systems and sold hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth to its allies, including the deployment of THAAD, a state-of-the-art system, in South Korea. One THAAD system is based at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, which also has Patriot missile batteries. THAAD, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, can track the launches of the North Korean missiles. It is is not designed to hit them as they climb into space but could do it as they descend. The US military has conducted two ICBM interceptor tests since May. Officials called them successes, but critics say they don’t replicate actual conditions close enough to be a fair gauge. If his missiles prove no match for US interceptors, Kim might be chastened into thinking twice....."

"China’s president urges Trump to use restraint over North Korea" by Simon Denyer Washington Post  August 12, 2017

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping urged President Trump to exercise restraint over tensions with North Korea during a phone call Saturday, while also prevailing on the North to avoid escalating the conflict.

After a week of threats and counterthreats between Washington and Pyongyang, Xi urged both sides not to say or do anything that would aggravate tensions, China’s CGTN state television network reported, but North Korea continued to fuel tension Saturday, with the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reporting that almost 3.5 million people, including students and retired soldiers, have asked to join or rejoin the North Korean military to fight against the United States over the latest sanctions it encouraged through the UN Security Council.

‘‘All the people are rising up across the country to retaliate against the US thousands of times,’’ said the newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party. The report was almost certainly exaggerated, but it showed that the North Korean regime is not backing down in the face of Trump’s threats.

Pot, kettle, black, and the pre$$ would be calling it patriotism here.

Meanwhile, Japan finished installing surface-to-air missile interceptors in the western prefectures that North Korea said would be in the flight path of any missiles launched toward Guam, where North Korea is threatening an ‘‘enveloping strike.’’

In South Korea, the government began the environmental survey needed to complete deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system — a sign that the liberal government is now trying to expedite the deployment.

In his phone call with Trump, Xi said China hoped the parties concerned would exercise restraint and refrain from taking any action that will aggravate tensions on the peninsula, according to CGTN.

Dialogue, negotiations, and a political settlement are the fundamental ways of solving the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue, Xi said during the call.

‘‘The Chinese leader expressed Beijing’s willingness to maintain communication with the US to appropriately resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue,’’ the network reported.

Trump, who is scheduled to visit China later this year, threatened Tuesday to respond to further threats from North Korea by unleashing ‘‘fire and fury like the world has never seen.’’

Pyongyang in turn said it could strike the US territory of Guam in the Western Pacific with ballistic missiles. In his latest salvos in the war of words, Trump said Friday that the US military was ‘‘locked and loaded’’ and that North Korea would ‘‘truly regret it’’ if it attacked Guam.

During a phone call Friday with Eddie Baza Calvo, the Republican governor of Guam, Trump said that the attention would boost tourism ‘‘tenfold.’’ That prompted Margaret Metcalfe, director of Calvo’s Washington office, to say, ‘‘None of this is good publicity.’’

Huh?

China has repeatedly urged dialogue to lower tensions. Although it supported stiffer United Nations sanctions after repeated North Korean missile tests, Chinese officials also want a restart of six-party talks, which stalled in 2009. Those talks would involve North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

Problem is the North Koreans want a one-on-one with the U.S. The U.S. says no and that's why we are where we are.

The war of words has given China the chance to project itself as the voice of reason and restraint while others lose their heads. It argues that Washington’s long-standing belligerence toward North Korea helps explain why the regime has chosen to develop a nuclear weapons program — dodging its own responsibility for propping up the North Korean government.

Bar is pretty low on that, and they are.

Xi ‘‘stressed that China and the US share the same interests on the denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula,’’ CGTN said, but China is deeply resistant to doing anything that could destabilize or topple the regime in Pyongyang, which could lead to the reunification of Korea and put US troops on China’s doorstep.

The Chinese government has worked to prevent a unified Korean state allied to the United States, going all the way back to the 1950-1953 Korean War that saw hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers die. China remains North Korea’s major trading partner, providing the regime’s economic lifeline.

!!!!!!!!!! 

The U.S. government has certainly worked towards preventing the same thing fearing that we will be asked to leave, and the blind spot from the Post undercuts any notion of evenhandedness regarding the propaganda.

In an editorial on Friday, China’s state owned Global Times newspaper warned that China won’t come to North Korea’s aid if it launches missiles threatening US soil and there is retaliation — but that China would intervene if Washington strikes first.

Two events could provide triggers for another missile launch.

North Korea on Tuesday will celebrate Liberation Day, marking Japan’s defeat in World War II and the end of its colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Then the United States and South Korea on Aug. 21 will begin joint military exercises, drills that North Korea considers preparation for an invasion.....

What would be the harm in postponing those as a gesture of good will? 

We are the goddamn United States, fer Christ's sake, and we will still be here, there, and everywhere.

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Now the NYT tells me it is only Trump's tough negotiation tactics:

"Trump takes negotiating approach to the extreme" by Glenn Thrush New York Times   August 12, 2017

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — After a four-day fusillade of apocalyptic threats against North Korea, President Trump left many in Washington and capitals throughout the Pacific wondering whether it was more method or madness. Among those wondering were members of Trump’s own administration.

It was not the first time in his unconventional presidency that Trump had unnerved friend and foe alike, but never before had it seemed so consequential.

Unrestrained attacks on uncooperative members of his own party, the “dishonest media,” and the cast of “Saturday Night Live” generally do not raise fears of nuclear war. But as with so much with Trump, the line between calculation and impulse can be blurry.

In the broadest sense, Trump’s “fire and fury” and “locked and loaded” warnings fit the strategic imperatives of the advisers who gave him classified briefings at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., over the past week.

It's the Nixon theory all over again?

The president showed resolve in the face of Pyongyang’s defiance, as his aides had counseled, while increasing pressure on China to broker some kind of deal to denuclearize the tinderbox Korean Peninsula, but Trump, who bridles at being stage-managed, ignored their advice to project dignified steadfastness.

Carefully calibrated briefings for the president by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis came out through a Trump bullhorn, magnified and maximized for effect.

For perhaps the first time in generations, an American leader became the wild card in a conflict typically driven by a brutal, secretive despot in Pyongyang, and it remains to be seen whether the don’t-mess-with-me attitude that cowed Republican primary rivals like Jeb Bush will have a similar effect on a regime that has managed to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States while making progress toward miniaturizing a nuclear warhead that would fit on top.

You have to hand it to them, they never tire of shoveling slop.

In this case, Trump has told people around him that he thinks Kim Jong Un, the unpredictable North Korean leader, will ultimately be prodded to cut a deal, and that the bluntness of his language is intended to create a crisis that drives him to negotiate before North Korea perfects a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland.

Unlike other presidents, who rejected direct contact with their North Korean counterparts, Trump has even suggested that he would meet with Kim if the circumstances were right, perhaps for a hamburger.

“If Kim were to respond positively, Trump might end up as his best friend,” said Scott Snyder, director of the program on US-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think it is as plausible that we could end up with a ‘hamburger summit’ between Trump and Kim as that we will end up in a second Korean War.”

To much of the foreign policy establishment in both parties, however, the approach is alarming.

“When I was watching the president talk, I thought, ‘Oh, my god, why is he doing this?’ ” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, former chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Anybody who knows anything about this young Korean leader knows it’s going to promote an even more aggressive response.”

“I just wished he’d stop it, with the tweeting one day and the next day, it’s something else,” Feinstein added. “Why isn’t the secretary of state the one making the statements? Why didn’t he at least make it at the White House and not some golf course, or wherever he was? He speaks for the whole country, not just for his feelings at the moment. It’s just dangerous.”

She vote to authorize the Iraq War?

Yeah, I thought I heard some background chatter.

Mattis has advised Trump to project strength and resolve. But he has quietly lamented to lawmakers from both parties the absence of military options against North Korea that would not imperil the lives of millions of civilians in South Korea and Japan, and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has complained privately about the lack of coordination between the White House and his department, which has often been blindsided by the president’s statements.

Aides know that after a lifetime in the real estate business, Trump starts a negotiation with an extreme position intended to ensure that the other side meets him not just in the middle but closer to his side.

While he has little experience in translating that into international diplomacy, Trump has shown that he is not so wedded to any particular position on almost any issue, meaning he might be more likely to accept a compromise that would seem unthinkable judging by the stark language he uses at the start.....

Sigh.

Setting him up as some sort of peacemaker now after a deal is struck?

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Is that what they are calling propaganda now? Analysis?

Time to staple this all together:

"The bizarre episode has heightened concerns about the erosion of the rule of law in Hong Kong....."

SeeNuclear-trigger happy

The NYT fomenting it, too, which is why you'll need the sunglasses and have to cancel the trip.

Going to be a lot of dead Japanese.

Hope you found a bunker because we are all going to burn in fire.

Maybe it's a diversion for the real use of force that will also provide an example to Kim?

"Venezuela assails Trump’s talk of military intervention" by Joshua Goodman Associated Press  August 12, 2017

CARACAS — Venezuela’s government energetically rejected President Trump’s talk of a potential ‘‘military option’’ to resolve the country’s political crisis on Saturday, calling it the most egregious act of belligerence against Venezuela in a century and a threat to stability in the region.

The stinging rebuke came in a statement read by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in a meeting with foreign diplomats, including Lee McClenny, the top diplomat at the US Embassy in Caracas.

Calling Trump the ‘‘boss of the empire,’’ Arreaza said the latest comments fit a pattern of aggression against Venezuelan sovereignty and constitute a violation of international law and the UN charter.

Never stopped the U.S. before.

He said they were particularly menacing given President Nicolas Maduro’s renewed call this week for closer ties and request for a meeting with Trump at the UN General Assembly next month.

The White House responded to that request by saying Trump would ‘‘gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.’’

Speaking to reporters Friday at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump bemoaned the South American nation’s growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table — including a potential military intervention.

‘‘We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option,’’ Trump volunteered, adding that ‘‘a military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.’’

The comment marked a serious escalation in rhetoric for the United States and threatened to undermine Washington’s efforts to rally regional support to isolate Maduro.

Vice President Mike Pence will kick off a four-nation tour of Latin America on Sunday with a stop in Colombia, whose government — the closest US ally in South America — distanced itself from Trump’s remarks while reiterating its concerns about a breakdown of democracy in Venezuela.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry condemned ‘‘military measures and the use of force’’ and said all efforts to resolve Venezuela’s crisis should be peaceful and respect its sovereignty.

What you get from the leaders down there, be they allies or not, is a closing of the ranks regarding U.S. imperialism and military action because who knows, it could be them next!

Meeting Saturday, delegates to the constitutional assembly denounced Trump and shouted anti-American slogans. Loyalists warned of another Vietnam if Trump were to dare send Marines to Venezuela, as the United States last did in the late 19th century during an earlier period of political unrest.

‘‘If the impossible scenario of tarnishing our fatherland were ever to occur, our guns would arrive to New York, Mr. Trump, and we would take the White House,’’ said Nicolas Maduro, the president’s son.

Korean bluster.

Almost from day one since taking office in 2013, the elder Maduro has been warning of US military designs on Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves. But most Venezuelans tended to shrug the accusations off as the diversionary tactics of an unpopular leader.

Now those claims are likely to be validated in the eyes of many government supporters.

The threat of military intervention would seem to contradict the advice of Trump’s top national security adviser.

Citing the resentment stirred in Latin America by the long US history of military interventions in the region, General H.R. McMaster said recently that he didn’t want to give Maduro any ammunition to blame the ‘‘Yankees’’ for the ‘‘tragedy’’ that has befallen the oil-producing nation.....

I'm starting to like McMaster. He fired all the Iran war hawks and now he is counseling against action in Venezuela. I'm beginning to think the hatchet jobs are because he does put American interests first.

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Brief tour of other hot spots:

"A US F-18 fighter jet that developed an engine problem crash landed Saturday at Bahrain International Airport and its pilot ejected from the aircraft as it ran off the runway, authorities said. The pilot was not hurt. The crash disrupted flights to and from the island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia that is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. The F-18 took off from the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf (AP)."

Combined with the Osprey crash in Australia, one wonders if the U.S. is ready to go to war with anyone.

"Flash floods triggered by heavy rains killed 12 people in northeast Iran, state TV reported Saturday. The national disaster agency said the deaths were reported in three northeastern provinces: Golestan, Khorasan, and Khorasan Razavi. Iran’s Red Crescent said 38 people were missing in Khorasan Razavi province, and the death toll could rise (AP)."

"An international chemical weapons delegation will visit Syria in the coming days, and Damascus said it will facilitate its mission to uncover who used chemical weapons in the country earlier this year. The Foreign Ministry said the delegation of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and UN investigators will visit Syria. The government has denied being behind the April 4 attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed nearly 100 people (AP)."

"Ten Nobel Peace Prize winners appealed to Saudi Arabia’s king and crown prince to show mercy and halt the executions of 14 young people sentenced to death for participating in protests in 2012. In a letter released Friday, the laureates said the 14 were convicted in a mass trial ‘‘based on the actions of the worst defendant,’’ arguing that several don’t warrant the death penalty. They also accused authorities of coercing confessions (AP)."