Inside Russia’s social media cyberwar on America

Time reports: On March 2, a disturbing report hit the desks of U.S. counterintelligence officials in Washington. For months, American spy hunters had scrambled to uncover details of Russia’s influence operation against the 2016 presidential election. In offices in both D.C. and suburban Virginia, they had created massive wall charts to track the different players in Russia’s multipronged scheme. But the report in early March was something new.

It described how Russia had already moved on from the rudimentary email hacks against politicians it had used in 2016. Now the Russians were running a more sophisticated hack on Twitter. The report said the Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department. Depending on the interests of the targets, the messages offered links to stories on recent sporting events or the Oscars, which had taken place the previous weekend. When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow’s hackers to take control of the victim’s phone or computer–and Twitter account.

As they scrambled to contain the damage from the hack and regain control of any compromised devices, the spy hunters realized they faced a new kind of threat. In 2016, Russia had used thousands of covert human agents and robot computer programs to spread disinformation referencing the stolen campaign emails of Hillary Clinton, amplifying their effect. Now counterintelligence officials wondered: What chaos could Moscow unleash with thousands of Twitter handles that spoke in real time with the authority of the armed forces of the United States? At any given moment, perhaps during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, Pentagon Twitter accounts might send out false information. As each tweet corroborated another, and covert Russian agents amplified the messages even further afield, the result could be panic and confusion.

For many Americans, Russian hacking remains a story about the 2016 election. But there is another story taking shape. Marrying a hundred years of expertise in influence operations to the new world of social media, Russia may finally have gained the ability it long sought but never fully achieved in the Cold War: to alter the course of events in the U.S. by manipulating public opinion. The vast openness and anonymity of social media has cleared a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces. “Using these technologies, it is possible to undermine democratic government, and it’s becoming easier every day,” says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corp., who ran a major Pentagon research program to understand the propaganda threats posed by social media technology. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

U.S. strikes Syria militia threatening U.S.-backed forces

Reuters reports: The U.S. military carried out an air strike on Thursday against militia supported by the Syrian government that posed a threat to U.S. and U.S.-backed Syrian fighters in the country’s south, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.

The militia, who numbered in the dozens and drove a tank and a small number of construction vehicles, ignored warning shots from U.S. aircraft and, according to a U.S.-led coalition statement, even “apparent Russian attempts to dissuade” their advance.

One of the U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, speculated that the group might have been trying to establish a position near the garrison in Syria used by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces around the town of At Tanf.

“They were potentially probing to see how close they could get to At Tanf,” the official said.

A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian rebel forces told Reuters the convoy comprised Syrian and Iranian-backed militias and was headed toward the Tanf base when they clashed with some rebel forces. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

U.S. arms Kurds who are ISIS enemies, Turkey enemies, Assad friends

Citizen journalist Muhammad Noor (a pseudonym) writes from PKK-controlled Manbij: When Islamic State extremists captured Manbij three years ago, they forced the population to pray at mosque, ordered women to wear full chador and they beheaded their opponents in public.

But if you attended their religious courses and agreed to their rules you could get a job and earn enough to sustain your family.

That world turned upside down last August, when a Kurdish-led ground force with U.S. air support ousted ISIS from Manbij. Arabs were among the fighters in the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF, but it was Kurds from outside Syria who suddenly became our new masters.

Local Kurds, who comprise 10 per cent of the population of 100,000, became the privileged class. They now dominate local commerce and they get special treatment from the police. Religious observance shifted 180 degrees. Traditional practice such as covering women is forbidden—not by decree but in practice. Anyone who objects can be arrested and tortured. I know from personal experience.

Since August, all the key positions in the SDF and in the Manbij administration were taken over by Kurds from outside Syria—from the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. We called them Qandilians, those trained in Qandil, Iraq, the PKK’s mountain stronghold.

You knew them from the cars they drive, festooned with posters of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the PKK, who’s now sitting in a Turkish jail near Istanbul. They didn’t use their real names; they operated behind the scenes.

Make no mistake. We were very happy to be rid of ISIS. But the new order became so oppressive that some Arabs spoke openly about the “good old days of ISIS.” They saw the new Kurdish masters as destroying the social fabric, spoiling centuries of good relations between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump to arm Syrian Kurds, even as Turkey strongly objects

The New York Times reports: President Trump has approved a plan to provide Syrian Kurds with heavier weapons so they can participate in the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

American military commanders have long argued for arming the Y.P.G., a Kurdish militia that contains some of the most experienced fighters among the Syrian force that is battling the Islamic State.

But Turkey has vociferously objected to such a move, insisting that the Kurdish fighters are linked with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K., which both it and the United States regard as a terrorist group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is scheduled to meet with Mr. Trump in Washington this month, and the American decision on arming the Kurds is likely to figure prominently in the discussion. Mr. Erdogan is expected to press Mr. Trump to give Turkey and the Syrian rebels it backs a bigger supporting role in the assault on Raqqa. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump wants a new Afghan surge. That’s a terrible idea

Douglas Wissing writes: Afghanistan today remains the largest U.S. military foreign engagement. From the peak of about 100,000 boots on the ground during the Obama-era surge, there are still almost 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, plus up to 26,000 highly paid contractors for the Department of Defense and other agencies. Each soldier costs about a million dollars a year. Economists estimate the Afghan war has already cost U.S. taxpayers around a trillion dollars. For the 2017 fiscal year, U.S. military and State Department operations in Afghanistan are costing about $50 billion—almost a billion dollars a week. (As a reference, the initial budget request for operations against ISIS in Syria was only $5 billion.)

Now the U.S. military is re-escalating in Afghanistan. The Marines are back in Helmand Province. In April, the Pentagon requested “a few thousand” more troops, since upped to 5,000. The booms are getting bigger, too. On April 15th, U.S. forces dropped the 22,000-pound MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the arsenal, on ISIS fighters in eastern Afghanistan. It is Surge 2.0.

As the Pentagon requests more troops and drops more and bigger bombs, it’s important to assess the dangers of another surge. And to consider whether another U.S. escalation can turn around an unwinnable war. Will Surge 2.0 be consequential, relevant, sustainable? Or will it be another futile chapter in an unwinnable war? [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mark Green withdraws as Trump’s Army secretary nominee, citing ‘false and misleading attacks’

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration’s Army secretary nominee withdrew from consideration Friday, a senior defense official said, amid mounting opposition to past comments he made about Islam, evolution and gender issues.

Mark E. Green, a firebrand Republican state lawmaker in Tennessee and veteran of the Iraq War, blamed “false and misleading attacks against him” in a statement provided to media and confirmed to be legitimate by defense officials. The Pentagon and the White House had no immediate reaction to the move, but it came hours after a Defense Department spokesman declined to say whether Defense Secretary Jim Mattis still supported him for the job.

Green pulled out after a month of growing calls for the Trump administration to choose someone else for the job. Advocacy groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people immediately launched an effort on Capitol Hill to block his nomination after it was announced April 7, saying his history of antagonism toward them made him an unacceptable choice. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Contrary to earlier denial, U.S. did bomb mosque in Syria

CNN reports: A US Central Command investigation found that a March US airstrike in northern Syria did in fact strike a building that was part of a “mosque complex,” two US defense officials told CNN Thursday.

For days following the March 16 strike, the Pentagon adamantly rejected the notion that a mosque was hit and that there were civilian casualties — even as numerous social media reports showed images of bodies being taken out of the rubble.

Instead, in the initial hours following the strike by US drones and aircraft, the Pentagon insisted that it hit only a building some 40 feet away from the mosque, where it said al Qaeda members were holding a meeting.

It is that building that the US unwittingly bombed at the time of the strike, according the defense officials. As a result of the investigation, officials found that the facility had been used for religious purposes in the past.

Typically any religious structure would be on a so-called no-strike list, along with hospitals and schools. There are procedures to move structures off the no-strike list if it is clear they have lost their protected status because terrorists are using them and there are no civilians present.

At the time of the strike, the US still believed the building was being used by al Qaeda, according to the officials. But neither would say if the building had ever been on a no-strike list, or had been removed from such a list.

It is also not clear if the building was listed as a religious site on a database that the mission planners were unaware of.

One official said the investigation found that “religious use” was a primary function of the building at times. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

South Korea’s likely next president asks the U.S. to respect its democracy

The Washington Post reports: South Korea is on the brink of electing a liberal president with distinctly different ideas than the Trump administration on how to deal with North Korea — potentially complicating efforts to punish Kim Jong Un’s regime.

He is also a candidate who fears that the U.S. government has been acting to box him in on a controversial American missile defense system and circumvent South Korea’s democratic process.

“I don’t believe the U.S. has the intention [to influence our election], but I do have some reservations,” Moon Jae-in told The Washington Post in an interview.

Barring a major upset, Moon will become South Korea’s president Tuesday, replacing Park ­Geun-hye, who was impeached in March and is on trial on bribery charges. Because Park was dismissed from office, Moon will immediately become president if elected, without the usual transition period.

With Moon pledging to review the Park government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system, the U.S. military has acted swiftly to get it up and running. This has sparked widespread criticism here that the United States is trying to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Moon to reverse it. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: The anger is palpable on a narrow road that cuts through a South Korean village where about 170 people live between green hills dotted with cottages and melon fields. It’s an unlikely trouble spot in the world’s last Cold War standoff.

Aging farmers in this corner of Seongju county, more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital Seoul, spend the day sitting by the asphalt in tents or on plastic stools, watching vehicles coming and going from a former golf course where military workers are setting up an advanced U.S. missile-defense system.

“Just suddenly one day, Seongju has become the frontline,” said a tearful Park Soo-gyu, a 54-year-old strawberry farmer. “Wars today aren’t just fought with guns. Missiles will be flying and where would they aim first? Right here, where the THAAD radar is.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump pick for Army secretary says citizens should be able to possess any weapon in the government’s arsenal

Huffington Post reports: Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green (R), President Donald Trump’s nominee for Army secretary, strongly believes that citizens should be armed ― and not just with any ol’ guns. They should be able to possess whatever weapons the military has, because an armed citizenry is the “ultimate checks and balances” against the federal government.

“The Second Amendment, while it allows citizens to protect themselves from other citizens, goes well beyond just allowing us to defend ourselves from a criminal,” Green said at a pro-gun rally in 2013.

“The men who penned and ratified this document gave us the right to keep and bear arms as an ultimate checks and balances against the federal government,” he added. “When considering magazine size and weapon type, comments like, ‘You don’t need a 10-round magazine to hunt deer’ completely misses the point of the Second Amendment.”

There are plenty of other checks and balances in the Constitution, which are spelled out far more explicitly. Citizens can amend the Constitution, Congress can impeach the president and lawmakers have to stand for re-election.

Green did not return a request for comment on when it would be appropriate for a citizen to take up arms against a federal official.

The Tennessee state senator also said that “the citizenry should be allowed to maintain whatever weapon the federal government has. If they can have an aircraft carrier, I ought to be able to have an aircraft carrier.”

Members of the general public then, presumably, would be allowed to possess nuclear weapons as well. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘Mark Green’s naked bigotry disqualifies him for the job of Army Secretary’

The Hill reports: A prominent Muslim civil rights group is joining the growing opposition to President Trump’s Army secretary nominee, Mark Green.

Muslim Advocates on Monday issued a statement calling past rhetoric from Green, a Tennessee state senator, against Muslims and the LGBT community “deplorable.”

“You can’t lead a diverse Army while having contempt for diversity,” said Scott Simpson, the group’s public advocacy director.

“Our armed forces are filled with patriotic Americans of all faiths, races, sexual orientations and gender identities, and Mark Green’s naked bigotry disqualifies him for the job of Army Secretary.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Top Pentagon watchdog launches investigation into foreign payments Michael Flynn received

The Washington Post reports: The Pentagon’s top watchdog has launched an investigation into money that former national security adviser and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn received from foreign groups and whether he failed to obtain proper approval to do so, lawmakers and defense officials said Thursday.

The Pentagon has in the past advised retiring officers that because they can be recalled to military service, they are subject to the Constitution’s rarely enforced emoluments clause, which prohibits top officials from receiving payments or favors from foreign governments.

On Thursday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, released an Oct. 8, 2014, letter in which a Defense Department lawyer warned Flynn upon his retirement from military service that he was forbidden from receiving payments from foreign sources without receiving permission from the U.S. government first.

Flynn received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization. He also worked as a foreign agent representing Turkish interests for a Netherlands-based company, Inovo BV, which paid his company $530,000 in the fall. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

White House discovers ‘there are no good military options’ on North Korea

Fred Kaplan writes: If you had started to think that President Trump and his team might know something about diplomacy after all, that their firm talk and shows of strength might finally prod the Chinese and North Koreans to get rid of Kim Jung-un’s nuclear weapons, well, think again. Trump’s holsters are empty, and so is his brain trust. They’ve got nothing, up and down.

In recent days, Trump has sent an aircraft carrier battle group and a guided-missile submarine toward North Korea’s shores. Vice President Mike Pence has gone to the Demilitarized Zone and squinted through the binoculars at the North Korean guards, so they can see his resolve. Pence also declared, “The era of ‘strategic patience’ ”—President Obama’s policy of containment, as opposed to action, toward North Korea—“is over.” To lay the message on thick, Trump summoned all 100 U.S. senators to the Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, on Wednesday, for an urgent briefing on the subject from the secretaries of defense and state, the director of national intelligence, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State. Buses were even chartered to take the lawmakers on their unusual field trip.

And what did these top advisers and cabinet secretaries say? Apparently, nothing.

Here’s Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when asked by a reporter about the briefing: “It was an OK briefing.” The reporter asked, “What do you mean, you didn’t really learn much?” Corker replied, “I—it was OK.”

Other senators, from both parties, told reporters the same thing: They learned nothing new, they wondered what the big deal was, why they were dragged down Pennsylvania Avenue for such a waste of time. [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast reports: It’s not a sonic boom or bunker buster Pyongyang should most fear from the Trump administration. It’s the sound of cash registers falling silent, and doors to the outside world shutting, as the U.S. works to convince China and other allies to cut off the oil, access to money and perhaps even communication links to the outside world.

That was the word from Trump administration officials Wednesday, explaining a multipronged strategy to defang Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program to lawmakers at the White House and on Capitol Hill. Administration officials made clear that open military confrontation or toppling the Kim regime are the least desirable of all possible options—even as China appeared to hint that it wouldn’t oppose certain American military measures against Pyongyang.

“We want to solve this through political or economic measures,” a senior administration official told The Daily Beast. “There are no good military options.” The official said any unilateral strike would likely lead to a North Korean counter-strike on U.S. allies South Korea and Japan—both within artillery or missile range of North Korea—as well as threatening tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in the Pacific.

“We want to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not to his knees,” said Adm. Harry Harris, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday. He repeated the administration mantra that “all options are on the table,” but the tone had decidedly shifted from President Donald Trump’s earlier provocative tweets. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Kim Jong Un is a survivor, not a madman

Andrei Lankov writes: Everyone loves thinking of North Korea as crazy. It threatens to consume the United States in nuclear fire on a semi-weekly basis, its leader brutally executes his own generals and had his brother murdered, and it wastes huge amount of money on nuclear weapons while sticking to a failed economic model. Tales of North Korean lunacy are never far from the front pages.

The problem is it’s not just the media that delights in depicting Pyongyang and Kim Jong Un, as irrational — U.S. policymakers indulge in the same behavior. In April, U.S. Congressman Bradley Burne (R-Ala.) said “I don’t believe the leadership in North Korea is rational. How do you deal with someone that is irrational?” He echoed prior remarks by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley who said, “We are not dealing with a rational person,” since, she claimed, Kim is a person “who has not had rational acts, who is not thinking clearly.”

As a guide for understanding North Korea, this analysis is just plain wrong. As a guide for crafting policy toward Pyongyang, it may be catastrophic. North Korea’s system might look bizarre to us from the outside, but the Kims are the ultimate political survivors, hard-edged rationalists whose actions have always had a clear purpose: keeping the family in power. Seeing them as madmen is not only wrong, but also dangerous; any successful policy should be based on understanding the logic of the opposite side, not on discarding it as “irrational” Seeing the Kim family as lunatics with nukes makes them more threatening, and raises the risk of war, but it can also promote unrealistic expectations of compromise — if only the North “comes to its senses.”

Back in the 1980s the Kim family was laughed at even inside the Eastern Bloc as an embodiment of Stalinist irrationality. They were mocked for clinging to their outdated personality cult and failed economics and it was suggested that they should follow the dynamic leaders of Eastern Europe, like the reformist communist leader Karoly Grosz of Hungary. Today, these leaders are in the waste bin of history — overthrown, disgraced, and forgotten — while the Kim family still enjoys not only power, but the luxury that goes with it and remains in full control of their country. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Pentagon expands rebuke of Turkey over Iraq, Syria strikes

The Washington Post reports: The Turkish government gave the United States less than an hour’s notice before conducting strikes on partner forces in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. military said on Wednesday, stepping up its criticism of airstrikes the United States said endangered American personnel.

Col. John Dorrian, a U.S. military spokesman, said the lead time failed to provide adequate notice to reposition American forces or warn Kurdish groups with whom the United States is partnering against the Islamic States.

“That’s not enough time. And this was notification, certainly not coordination as you would expect from a partner and an ally in the fight against ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

American officials expressed indignation at the Turkish bombing, which killed as many as 20 Kurdish fighters in Syria and, according to the U.S. military, five Kurdish peshmerga troops in a coordinated attack across the border in northern Iraq. According to the Turkish government, both attacks targeted members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington consider a terrorist group.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operations, described the assault as a “massive, highly coordinated attack” involving more than 25 strike aircraft.

In Syria, the Turkish jets targeted leadership sites used by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-dominated force that has emerged as the United States’ primary military partner in Syria, according to a second U.S. official. Turkey has objected to that alliance because, it says, the SDF’s largest component, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), is a PKK affiliate.

Despite the Turkish position, Dorrian signaled the United States would continue its support for the SDF, as it would for Iraqi government troops across the border.

“These are forces that have been integral in fighting ISIS. They’ve been reliable in making progress against ISIS fighters under very difficult and dangerous conditions,” he said. “They have made many, many sacrifices to help defeat ISIS and that keeps the whole world safer. So that is our position on that.” [Continue reading…]

Kom News reports: Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) spokeswoman, Nesrin Abdullah, has said that the group’s forces will withdraw from the operation to capture the Islamic State’s stronghold, Raqqa, if the US doesn’t take concrete action against Turkish airstrikes targeting Kurdish forces in Syria.

“The is unacceptable in international law. If the USA or coalition or the US [State Dept.] spokesperson can only say, ‘We are concerned or we are unhappy’ [about Turkey’s airstrikes] then we will not accept this. If this is the reaction, we do not accept it. It means they accept what was done to us,” Abdullah told Sputnik Turkish on Wednesday.

The spokeswoman for the all female YPJ, which is part of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a leading force in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that has encircled Raqqa, went on to say that unless the US gave a concrete response they would withdraw from the operation. [Continue reading…]

AFP reports: Fighting erupted on Wednesday along Syria’s northeastern border between Turkish forces and Kurdish militiamen, as tensions boiled over in the aftermath of deadly Turkish air strikes the previous day.

The strikes against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have thrown the complexity of Syria’s war into sharp relief and even sparked calls for a no-fly zone in the country’s north.

The skies over northern Syria are increasingly congested, with the Syrian government, Turkey, Russia and the US-led international coalition all carrying out bombing raids across the region. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

North Korea’s Special Operations forces are numerous, mysterious and formidable

The Washington Post reports: Dozens of Special Operations troops marched in North Korea’s military parade this month, covered from head to toe in green, brown and black camouflage. Carrying variants of the Kalashnikov rifle with high-capacity “helical” magazines, they shouted slogans in support of Kim Jong Un, seemingly delighting the North Korean leader as he watched.

The scene underscored a long-held understanding about Pyongyang’s military: Special Operations troops have an outsize role. An assessment of those forces will likely come up Wednesday when the Trump administration hosts an unusual White House briefing for lawmakers about North Korea’s military capabilities, as Washington pressures Pyongyang to halt its advancing nuclear weapons program.

In the past few years, national security analysts and senior defense officials have suggested that it may not be North Korea’s ballistic missiles or artillery that are used to launch a large-scale attack on South Korea or U.S. installations, but North Korean commandos potentially armed with chemical or biological weapons. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

North Korea is a long-term threat, not an immediate one. Trump’s belligerence could change that

Fred Kaplan writes: North Korea is a knotty problem, but there’s no cause for the hysteria that President Trump and his aides have been pumping up in recent days, and it’s time to turn down the heat and the noise, before someone gets hurt.

The worry (and it’s a legitimate worry) is that, sometime soon, the North Koreans will test another ballistic missile or nuclear weapon, which would, yet again, violate a U.N. resolution and put them one step closer to threatening American troops and allies in East Asia—and maybe, years from now, the United States itself. But there is no immediate crisis, no threat that must be staved off now or never. And yet President Trump is sending an aircraft-carrier task force and a guided-missile submarine toward North Korean shores. At the same time, he has summoned all 100 U.S. senators to a classified briefing on the subject, to be conducted on Wednesday, at the White House, by the secretaries of defense and state, the director of national intelligence, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. military exercises in the region are routine, as are top-secret briefings to select lawmakers. But to hold a briefing for all senators, by the administration’s top security officials, is unusual. To hold it at the White House (or, more precisely, the Executive Office Building next door to the White House), instead of in the Capitol, is unprecedented. And to do all this while the deadliest warships in the U.S. Navy’s non-nuclear fleet dart toward the country in question—well, the leaders in the region needn’t be paranoid to infer that Trump might be preparing to launch an attack on North Korea.

Still, it’s unlikely that Trump actually intends to launch an attack. By all accounts, his top advisers, U.S. allies in the region (especially the leaders of South Korea and Japan), and his new best friend, Chinese President Xi Jinping, are counseling against military action. But who knows what Trump is thinking from one moment to the next? His unpredictability and impulsiveness might have a deterring effect, as in an accidental version of Richard Nixon’s “madman theory.” Precisely because he doesn’t know how Trump will react, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might tone down his provocative ways, even adopt a certain caution.

But let’s say Kim ignores Trump’s unwitting stab at the ploy and risks another missile or nuclear test. Will Trump—riled by Kim’s persistence or feeling a need to display “resolve” and “credibility”—launch a volley of cruise missiles and more at the test sites, at some nuclear facilities, or even at Kim’s hangouts in Pyongyang?

Most North Korea–watchers are convinced that, in this scenario, Kim would retaliate with an attack—possibly a bring-them-all-down-with-me attack—on U.S. bases and allies, not necessarily with nuclear weapons but with a barrage of artillery shells. North Korea’s military has thousands of these shells deployed on the border with South Korea (whose capital, Seoul, sits only 35 miles away) as well as on its eastern shore (within firing range of Japan). North Korea’s live-fire long-range artillery drills on Tuesday were no doubt meant as a “signal” of what Trump should expect if he follows through on his own threat.

No one could possibly want a military conflict, with hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of casualties on both sides. But a mix of mutual bluff, bluster, ego, and insecurity—fueled by heavy firepower and an itchy trigger-finger or two—makes for a potentially lethal concoction. In the annals of history, wars have erupted from less combustive kindling. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail