Thoughts on the President’s Remarks to the UN General Assembly

I originally did this as a comment to BettyC’s post, but decided I wanted to elevate it to the front page, make a tweak or two, and add a couple of additional points.

The President’s remarks today are clearly a Stephen Miller authored speech. With the exception of the Rocket Man quip. It is Miller channeling all of his own naive, arrested development sense of entitlement, paranoia, pettiness, grievances, anger, rage, and woeful ignorance of foreign and national security policy and strategy, the global system and how it works, and any state and society other than the US. It is also Miller channeling the President’s naive sense of entitlement, paranoia, pettiness, grievances, anger, rage, and woeful ignorance of foreign and national security policy and strategy, the global system and how it works, and any state and society other than the US. The ego fluffing bits about how great things are in the US under the President are Miller making sure his boss’s ego is stroked.

This would have been bad enough and inappropriate at a campaign rally, it is even worse at the UN General Assembly. Threatening to abrogate the P5+1 agreement with Iran is only going to make dealing with the DPRK worse. What Kim really wants is an assurance that the US will 1) not remove him and 2) will negotiate with him in good faith over whatever it is that Kim wants other than reassurance he won’t be removed. The threat to abrogate the agreement with Iran makes that virtually impossible. Moreover, it makes it almost virtually impossible to negotiate anything with any other state or supranational entity as no one will now believe that the US will live up to its commitments under the current administration and president. The President holds a mistaken belief that every agreement the US has entered into that he has not negotiated are bad for the US; should never have been entered into; and as a result should be abrogated. This just happens to be every single one as he and his administration haven’t negotiated any agreements since taking office in January. It demonstrates how little he and Miller understand how any of this works. If I was the governors of Alaska, Louisiana, and Arkansas I would be very worried that their states are going to be handed back to Russia and France respectively. Governor Abbot should also begin learning how to ask President Nieto for things once we give Texas back to Mexico as well. As should Governor Ducey of Arizona and Governor Martinez of New Mexico.

Kori Schake, who has held appointments at the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Department of State, and is currently at the Hoover Institution at Stanford has written an excellent essay explaining just what total destruction means in light of the President’s remarks regarding the DPRK.

President Trump took the exact opposite course in his speech today. Moreover, before the entire world, he threatened the destruction of an entire country. Not only does that draw a red line that will be difficult to walk back from; it is also a much less credible and ethical threat than a pledge to more narrowly target the Kim regime. Waging war against people already enslaved by an authoritarian government punishes them unjustly—that would have been an easy point score in front of a UN audience.

While I highly recommend the whole essay, I want to focus on this portion. When campaign plans are developed there are a list of action words that the planners and those pulled into the operational planning teams (OPTs) use. Total destruction is not one of them. What the President is potentially calling for here is the complete reduction of the DPRK. Reduction of an enemy is a tactical term (Chapter 6, paragraph 18):

The reduction of an encircled enemy force continues without interruption, using the maximum concentration of forces and fires, until the encircled enemy force’s complete destruction or surrender.

There is no way to totally destroy (reduce) the DPRK as a state without destroying the DPRK as a society. This means destroying the North Koreans who make up the DPRK as both state and society. Total destruction doesn’t refer to a strategic strike to decapitate the leadership of the government and the military. Nor was it qualified as a strategic strike to solely and specifically reduce the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, as well as its offensive military capabilities that could be directed at its neighbors. It was a warning that the President of the United States has considered and is willing to authorize the DPRK’s “complete destruction or surrender”. Given that it is unlikely that Kim would surrender… And none of this seems to account for the damage and destruction to the Republic of Korea, Japan, Guam, and the tremendous loss of life that war on the Korean peninsula would engender.

This speech is a good example of the limits of the abilities of the reasonable advisors and staffers to constrain and contain the President, his worst impulses, and the worst impulses of his advisors such as Miller. I think it is highly likely that there was originally a draft speech prepared and vetted through the Interagency with inputs from Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson, LTG McMaster, Ambassador Haley, Gary Cohn, and others which was then handed to Stephen Miller by the President with instructions to MAGA it up. And MAGA it up he did. Eventually the bad reviews will filter up to the President’s attention, whether tonight when he’s back in the residence this evening on his own watching cable TV or tomorrow morning when he’s watching Morning Joe. At that point expect the usual tweetstorm.



Open Thread: Criminally Stupid, Too

President Trump’s legal team is wrestling with how much to cooperate with the special counsel looking into Russian election interference, an internal debate that led to an angry confrontation last week between two White House lawyers and that could shape the course of the investigation…

The debate in Mr. Trump’s West Wing has pitted Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, against Ty Cobb, a lawyer brought in to manage the response to the investigation. Mr. Cobb has argued for turning over as many of the emails and documents requested by the special counsel as possible in hopes of quickly ending the investigation — or at least its focus on Mr. Trump…

The friction escalated in recent days after Mr. Cobb was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing the dispute during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying Mr. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out,” meaning Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been a previous source of dispute for the legal team.

After The Times contacted the White House about the situation, Mr. McGahn privately erupted at Mr. Cobb, according to people informed about the confrontation who asked not to be named describing internal matters. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, sharply reprimanded Mr. Cobb for his indiscretion, the people said…

Mr. Trump’s legal team has been a caldron of rivalry and intrigue since the beginning. His first private lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, grew alienated from the White House in part over friction with Mr. Kushner. The lawyer was unhappy that Mr. Kushner was talking with his father-in-law about the investigation without involving the legal team.

Mr. Kasowitz was eventually pushed to the side, and Mr. Trump elevated John Dowd, a Washington lawyer with extensive experience in high-profile political cases, to take the lead as his personal lawyer. At the same time, Mr. Trump decided he needed someone inside the White House to manage the official response since Mr. McGahn, whose professional experience is mostly in election law, already handles a vast array of issues from executive orders to judicial appointments.

Mr. McGahn’s first choices turned down the job, in part out of concern that Mr. Trump would not follow legal advice…



Russiagate Open Thread: The Facebook Conundrum(s)


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Until Adam or Cheryl can post more expert information, I’m just gonna toss out some links that seem like they might be important. Per CNN:

Facebook did not give copies of the ads to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees when it met with them last week on the grounds that doing so would violate their privacy policy, sources with knowledge of the briefings said. Facebook’s policy states that, in accordance with the federal Stored Communications Act, it can only turn over the stored contents of an account in response to a search warrant.

“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

In those briefings, Facebook spoke only in generalities about the ad buys, leaving some committee members feeling frustrated with Facebook’s level of cooperation.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN last week that Facebook had not turned over the ads to Congress. Warner has also called Facebook’s review “the tip of the iceberg,” and suggested that more work needs to be done in order to ascertain the full scope of Russia’s use of social media…

Are those “contents” significant? This guy — “Former federal prosecutor. Legal expert for TV and print”thinks so:


Read more



Wednesday Morning Open Thread: What Happened

I know some of you are already reading your copies of What Happened, because you’re Amazon Prime customers or Kindle readers or just motivated enough to have gotten to a book store already. (My copy, according to Amazon, won’t ship until Monday.)

Question: Is it worth doing a Book Club around this new memoir? The reviews so far — even the most grudging — have been favorable. But I’m half-dreading starting to read it myself, because I’ll get pissed off all over again at all the malign idiots and criminals who gave their collective tiny souls to install Anybody But Her in the White House…

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Apart from trudging onward & upwards (if Hillary could weather that shitestorm, then by goddess so can we), what’s on the agenda for the day?
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Strategic Effects Versus Tactical Realities: Trade Deals

As pretty much anyone who has been paying any attention to the news today is aware it appears that the DPRK has tested a much larger nuclear device. With estimates of yield around the 100 kiloton range. I’m going to leave the technical write up to Cheryl as this is her area of expertise (no pressure…), but I want to talk about some of the strategic issues that we are now facing because of the test. Specifically those involved with trade relations with South Korea.

As I wrote about in regard to NATO and the EU, their real value isn’t at the tactical level, but at the strategic. Yes, the tactical and operational effects of deterring the Soviet Union and post 9-11 anti and counter-terrorism operations are very important. Especially the role they play in running NATO Training Mission Afghanistan. As is the role they’re playing today in attempting to deter Putin’s revanchism. But it is the geo-strategic effect of breaking the cycle of a major war on the European continent every 35 years that demonstrates NATO’s and the EU’s true value. While the US may not always get the best out of the NATO Alliance at the tactical end – though the only time Article V was invoked was after 9-11 on behalf of the US – nor from our trade agreement with the EU, both institutions and our arrangements/agreements with them are strategically priceless. Significant amounts of Americans have not had to go and die on the European continent since 1945. Nor have we had to spend significant financial resources to rebuild the continent a second time.

These important strategic effects are in the US’s interest, and they benefit the US, because the US is either the primary rule maker involved with them or one of the principle rule makers within the global system. This is why, for all its warts – and there were plenty – the Trans-Pacific Partnership made strategic sense. Yes, at the nickel and dime (tactical) level the US, and more specifically Americans, may not have done as well as the other signatories. And yes there were significant challenges to state sovereignty, such as the horrible corporate arbitration rules, but at the strategic level the effect was significant. The US would not only have reinforced its role as primary rule maker within the Asia-Pacific region, but also have blocked the PRC from emerging as a rival rule maker for the foreseeable future. While pulling the US out of the TPP may have made for a good photo-op and good messaging when playing to the domestic political base in the US, it was terrible strategic decision making. The result of the US just walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Peoples Republic of China has begun to assemble its own Asia-Pacific free trade agreement without the US.  The US has ceded the strategic power of economic rule making in the Asia-Pacific region to China because of the President’s America First focused tactical thinking. Which will, in time, have both a negative strategic and tactical effect on the US economy. And other American interests as well.

This is important because the President is considering pulling the US out of another trade agreement this week. Specifically the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

On Saturday, before the nuclear test, senior administration officials confirmed that they were considering withdrawing from a major trade agreement with South Korea over what they believe is Seoul’s pursuit of unfair protectionist policies that have led to huge United States trade deficits.

On trade, the president’s top economic advisers remain deeply divided over a possible withdrawal from the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, as negotiators from both countries struggle to rewrite the five-year-old deal.

In recent days, a frustrated Mr. Trump has pushed his staff to take bold action against a host of governments, including the one in Seoul, that he has accused of unfair trade practices. But many of his more moderate advisers, including the chairman of the National Economic Council, Gary D. Cohn, believe that such a move could prompt a trade war that could hurt the United States economy.

The possibility of abandoning the agreement has alarmed economists and some members of the president’s own party who fear that such a move would force South Korea to block American manufacturers and farmers from a lucrative market.

While the NY Times and other reporting about what may happen with the US-Korean Trade Agreement largely focuses on the economic issues, specifically the tactical effects felt in both countries’ economies, the bigger concern here is the strategic. The Republic of Korea has a new President who was elected on a platform that included attempting new diplomatic talks with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. This morning part of the President’s initial flurry of communications about the DPRK’s latest test was to slam President Moon for appeasing Kim Jung-Un.

Unlike the vast majority of the US, until/unless Kim’s engineers and scientists resolve their outstanding missile development technology issues, the ROK is directly threatened by the DPRK’s conventional forces. President Moon’s intent to try to keep a military response from becoming necessary is born out of the very real concern for survival. For all that Kim has threatened Guam or even LA, it is Seoul that is within spitting distance of the Demilitarized Zone. And it is Seoul, the ROK’s military and civilians, the bulk of US Forces Korea, and hundreds of thousands of American and other expatriates working and living in Seoul  that would initially bear the brunt and pay the price for military escalation with the DPRK.

The President’s tactical focus, whether it is on the nickels and dimes gained or lost through free trade agreements or resources to be taken during military operations, even if that is a strategically and realistically foolish position to hold, is actually heightening the strategic threat. Right now we need the ROK, as well as Japan, the PRC, and our other regional allies and partners to be pulling together. Instead we seem to be actively pulling them apart because the current National Command Authority has lost sight of, or doesn’t understand, the strategically important components of the free trade and security agreements the US enters into (being the rule setter within the global system) while focusing on the tactical minutiae of the financial bottom line. Bellicosity and intimidation may have worked when the President was driving deals, but they don’t work for international diplomacy. And regardless of what the President may think of diplomacy, trying to get one’s allies, partners, and peer competitors to do what you want is diplomacy.

Right now the US needs strategic leadership. As in leadership that understands what is strategically important, clearly articulates the necessary policies, and develops effective strategy to achieve the effects and objectives of those policies. The President and everyone else needs to realize that the DPRK is a nuclear weapon state. Non-proliferation has failed. The US policy, and that of our allies, partners, and peer competitors with whom we have common cause on this issue, such as the PRC, need to shift their focus to containment and deterrence of the DPRK in regard to its potential use of nuclear weapons. How to do this is the strategically important discussion that needs to be had now.

Now more than ever the US needs to live up to its post World War II role as the global rule maker and enforcer, not down to the nativist, isolationist tendencies that seem to seize it every so often. To do that we need a President who thinks strategically, not tactically. And who understands that sometimes one must cede tactical advantage to achieve strategic victory.



I Have Now Seen It All: The Crying NAZI And His Cosplaying Attorney Go To Court

Oy vey!

Chris Cantwell, the Crying NAZI, had his first court appearance today. It was a doozy!

Cantwell’s attorney is Elmer Woodard, who appeared in court wearing an early-1800s-style red waistcoat with gold buttons, bowtie, white muttonchop whiskers, black velcro shoes, and a a 1910s-style straw boater hat. Cantwell said Woodard was his fourth choice for legal counsel after three other lawyers declined to take his case. (Woodard previously attempted to defend a client accused of sexual assault by a 15-year-old girl by claiming that the man’s sleepwalking caused him to rape her.)

This is the good barrister as he appeared in court today:

So what did Woodard put forward as a defense of Cantwell?

Christopher Cantwell’s lawyer says his client’s comments disparaging blacks and Jews is just a comedic act of a “shock jock,” comparing him to the Jewish comedian Jackie Mason.

The claim was made during a four-hour bail hearing for Cantwell on Thursday night. Cantwell faces three felony charges stemming from an incident at the University of Virginia on Aug. 11, in which he pepper-sprayed at least two people during a torchlight procession of hundreds of white supremacists who chanted Nazi slogans. The conflict was captured on camera and broadcast in a now-famous Vice News documentary.

Woodard said it was all a “shock jock” act.

But when Tracci asked Cantwell to describe what he does for a living, he answered: “I do a racist podcast.”

When Tracci quoted Cantwell’s statement praising the murder of Heyer, Woodard objected to the use of the word “murder.”

Much more at the link.

You’ll be happy to know that Cantwell has been denied bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for 9 November. There is no word if Mr. Woodard is back in custodial care, resting comfortably, and enjoying a pudding cup.

I have been researching, first scholarly and then applied, extremists, insurgents, terrorists, and revolutionaries – domestic and foreign, ideological, religious, ethno-national – since I was 24 years old. I started presenting my research at the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in 1995. My first panel presentation was comparing Israeli and Palestinian religious extremists with domestic American ones. The individuals and groups, domestic and foreign, I was studying back then would have eaten Cantwell for lunch.

We can be thankful that they don’t make fascists like they used to.



I Have a Dream: 54 Years Later

Today is the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech.

On this 54th anniversary the Anne Frank Center brings the heat:

Here’s the video of the speech:

ETA at 11:05 PM

Lest we forget, today is the 62nd anniversary of Emmet Till’s murder. The date for the March on Washington was specifically chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Till’s murder.