The President’s Speech on Iran and the JCPOA: Live Stream

Regardless of what the President says, Iran is in formal or technical compliance with the agreement. The result of today’s remarks will be to further muddle US strategic communication, to further irk and annoy US allies who are parties to this agreements, to irritate Iran, and to punt the whole thing to Congress. It will be up to Congress to decide if they impose new sanctions that force Iran out of the deal. Or if they just change the law so the President doesn’t get upset that he has to recertify that Iran is in compliance every 90 days. This last one is the real issue. The President just doesn’t want to do it. And it makes him upset and angry when he has to do so. Whether Congress would do so or is even able to do so give the dysfunction within the GOP majorities in both chambers is another matter entirely.

Open thread!

The Nuclear Chain of Command

Donald Trump has been musing about nuclear war since the 1980s, and now he’s bringing our fears to life with his tweets against North Korea. Also, playing the role of a decisive and serious executive, he told the military back in July that he wanted to increase the US’s arsenal of nuclear weapons back to the maximum we had during the Cold War. That seems to have been the trigger for Rex Tillerson to call him a moron. Tillerson wasn’t wrong.

As always with Trump, it’s a good idea to have the facts before us. So here are some.

A president launches nuclear missiles via an electronic briefcase (“the football”) that is always at his side, carried by a service member at the O4-O5 level. That’s a major – lieutenant colonel or lieutenant commander – commander. The services rotate, and both male and female service members have been in this role. One of them made the news back in the spring of this year when he allowed Mar-a-Lago patrons to take selfies with him. Their role is to be unobtrusive and to follow orders.

Some of us have been discussing the chain of command since the election. This article contains a nice graphic that explains how a president would order a nuclear strike. Unfortunately, it’s too big to steal and insert into this post. One of the questions we had was whether the Secretary of Defense is a necessary part of the decision chain. Alex Wellerstein found documents that clearly say no: the President is the sole decider, although he may consult with others. Read more

Paul Pillar Lets Loose On Nikki Haley

Paul Pillar is a former CIA analyst whose articles on current events are usually calm, measured, and logical. He brings his analytical skills to clarifying the issues. I highly recommend reading him regularly. I occasionally disagree with him, although I can’t recall a time when I thought he had something substantively wrong.

Nikki Haley’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute yesterday on the nuclear agreement with Iran produced a reaction from him the likes of which I’ve never seen.

Nikki Haley, whose foreign policy experience has consisted of these past few months as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, has assumed the role of chief public trasher of the JCPOA for the administration.

Laura Rozen, whom you should follow on Twitter, says that the State Department experts on the subject were not consulted for the speech. I’d like to know who wrote it. Stephen Miller seems like a candidate, with help from some think-tank people you may see me jousting with on Twitter. (Changed from Steve)

Pillar gives the background facts of the agreement while destroying Haley’s lies.

Haley lied when she said that the JCPOA “gave Iran what it wanted up-front, in exchange for temporary promises to deliver what we want.”  The truth is that Iran had to fulfill most of its obligations first—including disposing of excess enriched uranium, disassembling enrichment cascades, gutting its heavy water reactor, and much else—before the agreement was fully implemented and Iran got even a whiff of additional sanctions relief.  There is no correspondence between reality and Haley’s assertion that the agreement was a great deal for Iran but “what we get from the deal is much less clear.”  What we get is a cementing closed (even literally, in the case of the disabling of a reactor that otherwise could have produced plutonium) of all possible pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapon.  This isn’t just a promise; this is major, material, already implemented change.

As they say, read the whole thing. It’s short, to the point, and accurate.




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.

The Best Words (Open Thread)

First Kim Jong-Un said…

Then Kim Jong-Orange said…

As I mentioned on Twitter, wolves, lacking thumbs, are uniquely unsuited to the task of performing strangulation, whereas nuclear warfare is all about unleashing fire and fury. To be fair, Kim Jong-Un could be the victim of poor translation or may be employing some obscure local idiom that doesn’t resonate in another language (Americans who are temporarily plagued by phlegm, try telling foreigners you have “a frog in my throat” — you’ll get quizzical looks!). But let’s say Twitler wins this round of blood-curdling threats issued by nuclear-armed narcissists with bad hairdos.

One phrase in Twitler’s full statement (such as it is) troubles me even more than the fire and fury part: “frankly power.” Thanks to his father’s industrious bigotry and avarice, Trump has felt powerful all his life. His increasingly unhinged behavior since he was sworn in strikes me as the steady decompensation of a walking collection of untreated personality disorders who is confronted for the first time, at age 70, with intolerable limits on his power. Let’s hope he doesn’t fixate on ICBMs as unnatural male enhancement.

Open thread!

Breaking News: The DPRK Has Miniaturized A Nuclear Warhead

The DPRK has now managed to successfully test, in a launch and forget kind of way, an ICBM and to miniaturize a warhead. If they crack controlled reentry on their ICBMs they’ll be in business. And remember, regardless of what was said in the Hewitt/McMaster interview, there are no good military options to resolve this. As in none that will get the job done without catastrophic effects and results. The real tools that need to be used here are diplomatic, economic, and informational national power.

Also, the President has, apparently and likely unintentionally, declassified and confirmed leaked information about US surveillance satellite capabilities.

And it’s not even 1:30 PM EDT on Thursday.

Stay frosty!

Interviewed By a Warmonger!

As in LTG McMaster was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt for his Saturday AM MSNBC show. I’m going to embed the videos, but you have to actually read the transcript that Hewitt provided on his website, read the words on the page, to really see just how much Hewitt wants the US to attack the DPRK. Or, failing that, Iran. And how gleefully unhinged he is by the idea of the US getting involved in a third and/or fourth war in under 20 years. The transcript follows the videos. Pay close attention to LTG McMaster’s answers if you want to see what the current national security strategy and policy thinking is.

The transcript is after the jump.

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