Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Slow-Motion Guns Of August

A Duel With Matched Wits

Yesterday, The Washington Post reported an assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency prepared in July concluded that North Korea had achieved the capability to manufacture nuclear warheads small enough to be launched on its MRBMs and ICBMs.

This followed an earlier intelligence assessment in July which placed the number of nuclear weapons manufactured so far by the North Koreans at 60 (a number disputed by independent experts, who believe the total to be much smaller). It's unclear how close the North is to building a warhead which can survive high temperatures of re-entry, or to actually hit its intended target. 

The North Korean government reacted sharply to additional economic sanctions against it, supported by the U.N. in a vote over this past weekend (which the Russians and Chinese did nothing to block). Spokespersons said the U.S. would pay "a thousand times over" for pushing the new sanctions, adding, "There is no bigger mistake than the United States believing that its land is safe across the ocean."

Our Leader, holding a photo-op at his New Jersey golf course (to show he is actually conducting state business and not just a pre-dementia senior with an attention disorder), was asked about the North's reaction and responded:
"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury, like the world has never seen. He [Kim Jong-Un, leader of North Korea's Fun Republik Of Chuckles] has been very threatening, beyond a normal statement; and as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. Thank you. Thank you."
(My Favorite Part: The link above provides a video clip of unser GROFAZ making this statement. Then, the camera pans to Trump's right. At the table was Kellyann Conway, seated at one end in a signature, rumpled Target dress, glancing down and away with an embarrassed expression -- as if confronted by the antics of an insane great-aunt, who likes to suddenly appear at house parties, rave about sin and cheese, and then urinate on the carpet.)

Sin And Cheese And War: Response To The Leader's Remarks (©2017 NYT)

Trump's remarks appeared, as ever, at odds with the tone previously set by Secretary of Oil State Rex Tillerson immediately after passage of the UN-backed sanctions. He made no threats, and suggested the United States would be willing to hold talks with the North Koreans.

North Korea responded to Trump's showing everyone he has big hands, stating they were reviewing plans to strike U.S. military targets on the Pacific island of Guam with "enveloping fire".  Rexy, now aligned with Our Leader, covered his Capo's action: “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has the unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies, and I think it was important that he deliver that message to avoid any miscalculation on their part.” 

The questions everyone asks: how much of this Game 'O Ballistic Chicken is posturing? What are the stakes involved, and how much of the outcome will depend on the personalities of the leaders of each nation? (Though Trump probably wishes he could use antiaircraft guns and dogs on his enemies, too -- well; it's only been seven months.)

Is a 1914-style Sarajevo moment possible, where Kim Jong FatBoy and the Duce face off over their respective military assets until "an incident" occurs that sparks an escalating conflict?  What about the Chinese; do the PLA get involved? Among their generals are those, like our own, who believe a conflict is inevitable; why not seize the opportunity for a pretext which Korea seems to present, and get it over with?

In Asia, a lot closer to the Korean peninsula than Washington, DC, Trump's outburst frightened people. The New York Times quoted Cheng Xiahoe, associate professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing as stating, “We’re going to see a confrontation between the United States and North Korea that will be ferocious and strong and bloody,” He called Trump’s language “explosive,” and said an exchange of threats only resulted in escalating the situation.

Xiaohe was also confused that Trump would make his bellicose comments immediately after the U.N. Security Council's unanimous vote to impose further sanctions on North Korea -- which required Chinese support; a clear foreign policy win for Trump. Since the Chinese have historically backed the North Koreans, our asking for their support and then undermining it with threats of "fire and fury"... all a little confusing.

Since the spring, observers have been comparing the situation between the U.S. and North Korea's development of both nuclear weapons and ICBMs as another Cuban missile crisisThere, an American President was pressured over a period of two weeks by generals who wanted to bomb and invade Cuba; he was able to find a method (blockade) to show the U.S. was not resorting to hostile military action, and negotiate to defuse the crisis and end the immediate possibility of a nuclear war.

In 1962, the crisis within which JFK had to act lasted 13 days.  In this situation, too much time may have gone by. North Korea was a comprehensible geopolitical entity in a Cold War world. The West saw it as isolated, easy to dismiss, full of Stalinist personality-cult throwback leaders and harsh social controls. Backed diplomatically, militarily and economically by China, it was a hornet's nest the U.S. could afford to ignore. And through the 60's, we still had a sizable military presence in South Korea, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines.

After 1971, the U.S. and China became friendlier; people assumed that playing nice with China would mean they kept an eye on North Korea. And, it kind of worked -- the North, having sought help from Pakistan, had seriously begun to develop nuclear weapons since the 1990's. Then came a flurry of UN economic sanctions, and IAEA cameras; the North refused to cooperate with the West, went back to nuke-building, and finally jump-started its missile technology to create ICBMs. Suddenly, the slow-motion crisis went from 0 to 60, and it's still accelerating.

Kennedy's default position was not a military solution; his personality was not as fragile and diffuse as Our Current Leader's. Trump enjoys being a bully. He has some control over the world's largest and most expensive barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat to intimidate others, and he likes to brandish it, as bullies do. Observers in other countries may be confused by Trump's utterances, but they understand that.

(Note: Curiously, an odd coincidence at this point in time: Trump's two key advisers [Chief of Staff, and National Security], not to mention his Secretary of Defense, just happen to be ex-generals.)

MEHR, VIELLEICHT MIT DIE ZUKUNFT:  Actually, I'm going to go with the Kn@ppster and stare into the Kristol's Balls™, where I also see Open US military operations versus North Korea within ~30 days. as being probable, given everything.  

Without snark or irony, I would suggest being extraordinarily kind to whomever you come across over the next days and weeks (who knows; it might get to be a habit). People -- particularly in our Urban Centers -- are already on edge. No need to, uh, escalate things. And, it's polite.

UND AUCH NOCH IMMER MEHR:  Dogs, ego-driven creatures, quote themselves.

3.)  Distraction, Manufactured Or Otherwise

As the Mueller investigation proceeds, some event in the world causes Trump to increase the Defcon level, start moving aircraft carriers and battle groups, and a manufactured military crisis begins -- North Korea is the most likely candidate, but any situation that would allow Trump to distract everyone's attention in a Wag The Dog effort could serve.

The world is volatile enough that it's also possible an actual crisis, one not engineered, may occur -- but which Trump & Co. will seize upon as a heaven-sent distraction: a regional conflict (India and Pakistan; Russia and Ukraine / The Baltics; China and Japan / Taiwan), or a pandemic disease outbreak (Ebola, H5N1) or Zombie Apocalypse, for example.

UND, MIT DER NEW YORKISCHER ZEITEN:  The Paper of Record Explains all is not what it seems in the halls of Trumplandia's Clown Car government:
“I don’t think there is a single policy at work,” said Ellen L. Frost, a longtime Asia specialist at the East-West Center... “I’m not even sure that Trump cares about having a consistent policy on any subject.” Instead, she said, the president’s fire-and-fury threat was a play to demonstrate toughness to his political base “followed by more nuanced cleanup operations on the part of [Rex] Tillerson and [Jim] Mattis, who are walking a political tightrope.” ...

“Clearly there is not a coordinated messaging strategy,” Evan Medeiros, the managing director at the Eurasia Group and a former Asia adviser to President Barack Obama... “This is being put together incrementally, and of all the countries and all the issues you deal with, North Korea is not the one to be kludging together statements by the president and cabinet secretaries because the risk of miscalculation is so high.” ...

Mr. Medeiros questioned whether Mr. Trump’s warning, combined with sanctions, would prompt North Korea to return to the negotiating table. “That’s the big strategy question here,” he said. “Trump has clearly calculated that it will. But that’s a huge gamble, and it’s one that it’s not clear to me that the Chinese would necessarily agree with.”