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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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Israel strikes Iran-supplied arms depot near Damascus airport

Reuters reports: Israel struck an arms supply hub operated by the Lebanese group Hezbollah near Damascus airport on Thursday, Syrian rebel and regional intelligence sources said, targeting weapons sent from Iran via commercial and military cargo planes.

Video carried on Lebanese TV and shared on social media showed the pre-dawn airstrikes caused a fire around the airport east of the Syrian capital, suggesting fuel sources or weapons containing explosives were hit.

Syrian state media said Israeli missiles hit a military position southwest of the airport, but did not mention arms or fuel. It said “Israeli aggression” had caused explosions and some material losses, but did not expand on the damage.

Israel does not usually comment on action it takes in Syria. But Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, speaking to Army Radio from the United States, appeared to confirm involvement.

“The incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah,” he said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “said that whenever we receive intelligence that indicates an intention to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, we will act”, he added. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS faces exodus of foreign fighters as its ‘caliphate’ crumbles

The Guardian reports: Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic State and trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Stefan Aristidou, from Enfield in north London, his British wife and Kary Paul Kleman, from Florida, last week surrendered to Turkish border police after more than two years in areas controlled by Isis, sources have confirmed to the Guardian.

Dozens more foreigners have fled in recent weeks, most caught as they tried to cross the frontier, as Isis’s capacity to hold ground in Syria and Iraq collapses. Some – it is not known how many – are thought to have evaded capture and made it across the border into Turkey.

Aristidou, who is believed to be in his mid-20s, surrendered at the Kilis crossing in southern Turkey along with his wife – said to be a British woman of Bangladeshi heritage – and Kleman, 46. The American had arrived at the border with a Syrian wife and two Egyptian women, whose spouses had been killed in Syria or Iraq, Turkish officials said.

Aristidou said he had travelled to Syria to settle rather than fight. The officials said he had admitted to having been based in Raqqa and al-Bab, both of which had been Isis strongholds until al-Bab was recaptured by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces earlier this year. He went missing in April 2015 after flying to Larnaca in Cyprus. Neighbours told the Guardian that he had adopted Islamic dress shortly before he disappeared. [Continue reading…]

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The end of foreign aid as we know it

Bryant Harris, Robbie Gramer, and Emily Tamkin write: President Donald Trump’s vow to put “America first” includes a plan to drastically cut assistance to developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID, according to an internal budget document and sources.

The administration’s March budget proposal vowed to slash aid to developing countries by over one-third, but contained few details. According to a detailed 15-page State Department budget document obtained by Foreign Policy, the overhaul also includes rechanneling funding from development assistance into a program that is tied closely to national security objectives.

The document details how the Trump administration’s plans to reduce direct foreign assistance would take place in fiscal year 2018.

Acting USAID Administrator Wade Warren told employees at a recent staff meeting that administration officials are considering folding the agency into the State Department as part of a review mandated by President Trump’s March 13 executive order on streamlining the executive branch, according to a source within USAID. The order instructs the head of each agency to submit a plan to the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, “to reorganize the agency, if appropriate, in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency.”

While the order appears to give USAID’s administrator some discretion in the reorganization plan, the White House’s 2018 budget proposal points to a preference for consolidating the two entities, stating “the need for State and USAID to pursue greater efficiencies through reorganization and consolidation in order to enable effective diplomacy and development.”

Such a move would not be unprecedented. In 1999, the U.S. Information Agency, which funded information and cultural programs abroad, was closed down and many of its programs folded in the State Department. But shutting down, or even just scaling back, an agency dedicated to issues like disease prevention and food security could prove far more polarizing.

“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and cuts in spending as well.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s assault on the Antiquities Act signals trouble for national parks and monuments

Adam Markham writes: Without the Antiquities Act, now under attack by the Trump administration as part of its strategy to roll-back environmental protections and open public lands to increased exploitation for coal, oil and minerals, we might never have had the benefit of the Grand Canyon, Olympic or Acadia national parks.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president of the United States the power to designate lands and waters for permanent protection. Almost every president since Teddy Roosevelt has used the Act to place extraordinary archaeological, historic and natural sites under protection and out of reach of commercial exploitation.

Many sites originally designated as national monuments were later upgraded by Congress to become national parks, including Bryce Canyon, Saguaro and Death Valley. In many cases in the past, the Antiquities Act allowed presidents to protect vital natural and cultural resources when congressional leaders, often compromised by their ties to special interests representing coal, oil, timber and mining industries, were reluctant or unwilling to act.

A new Executive Order signed by President Trump on April 26th, 2017 puts this important regulatory tool for conservation and historic preservation at risk. The clear intention of the Executive Order is to lay the groundwork for shrinking national monuments or rescinding their designation entirely, in order to open currently protected public lands for untrammeled growth in coal, oil and minerals extraction. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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Critics in Turkey question credibility of judges who oversaw vote

The New York Times reports: The credibility of the judges who oversaw Turkey’s referendum last week is being called into question because most of them were hastily appointed when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purged the judiciary after last summer’s failed coup.

A narrow majority of Turks voted on April 16 to change the Constitution in a poll that formally granted vast new powers to the office of the Turkish presidency beginning in 2019 and informally validated the already-authoritarian mind-set of Mr. Erdogan.

But the legitimacy of Mr. Erdogan’s victory has been tainted by accusations of voter fraud at polling stations across the country — and by an odd series of erratic decisions on the day of the vote by the judges who head the electoral commission. Eight of the 11 judges on the panel had been recently replaced.

The opposition has questioned the results of thousands of ballot boxes, after videos showed evidence of ballot-box stuffing and voter intimidation on the day of the vote, and opposition campaigners faced prolonged intimidation during the campaign that preceded it.

But the single biggest controversy was the last-minute decision by the electoral commission to override electoral law and allow officials to count what the opposition says are millions of votes that lacked an official stamp proving their authenticity. [Continue reading…]

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Obama accepts $400,000 fee for a speech

The New York Times reports: Former President Barack Obama has agreed to accept $400,000 to speak at a health care conference this year sponsored by Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment bank.

The lucrative engagement, reported earlier by Fox, was confirmed by a person familiar with the speaking agreement. A spokesman for Mr. Obama declined to comment on the speech.

Out of office for about three months, Mr. Obama has begun the process of cashing in. In February, he and his wife, Michelle, each signed book deals worth tens of millions of dollars. And Mr. Obama’s spokesman confirmed last week that he is beginning the paid-speech circuit.

A $400,000 speaking fee for addressing the Cantor Fitzgerald conference is a sharp increase from the amounts typically paid to his predecessors. Former President Bill Clinton averaged about $200,000 per speech while former President George W. Bush is reportedly paid $100,000 to $175,000 for each appearance.

Mr. Obama, who was paid $400,000 a year as president, frequently criticized big banks and warned against what he said was a growing inequality in the country that was undermining civic life and the economic fortunes of the middle class. He also pushed for the Dodd-Frank law that regulated Wall Street. [Continue reading…]

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New study claims hominids were in North America 130,000 years ago

Ed Yong writes: In the winter of 1992, a construction crew in San Diego, California started cutting into the rocks that flanked the State 54 Highway, in a bid to widen the road. Those rocks hailed from the Pleistocene period and were rich in Ice Age fossils, so scientists from the San Diego Museum of Natural History accompanied the crew to recover whatever they unearthed. Among bits of horse, camel, dire wolf, and ground sloth, they found the remains of a single mastodon—an extinct mammoth-like animal. “And we noticed there was something different about it,” says Thomas Deméré, who was part of the team.

Based on several lines of evidence—the way the bones are broken, the way they lay, the presence of large stones that show curious patterns of wear and are out-of-place in the surrounding sediment—the team think that early humans used rocks to hammer their way into the mastodon’s bones. That wouldn’t have been contentious in itself, but the team also claims that the bones from the “Cerruti Mastodon” are 130,000 years old. That would push back the earliest archaeological evidence for humans in North America by a whopping 115,000 years.

To put that in perspective, for decades, the first American settlers were thought to be the Clovis people, who arrived 13,000 years ago. But by discovering older sites with strong evidence of human activity, archaeologists confirmed that the continent had a pre-Clovis presence that dates back 14,600 years—or perhaps even further. Genetic studies have also suggested that modern humans entered America from Asia even earlier, around 23,000 years ago. [Continue reading…]

 

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Scientists keep increasing their projections for how much the oceans will rise this century

The Washington Post reports: A report by a leading research body monitoring the Arctic has found that previous projections of global sea level rise for the end of the century could be too low, thanks in part to the pace of ice loss of Arctic glaciers and the vast ice sheet of Greenland.

It’s just the latest in a string of cases in which scientists have published numbers that suggest a grimmer picture than the one presented in 2013 by an influential United Nations body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The new Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic report presents minimum estimates for global sea level rise by the end of the century, but not a maximum. This reflects the fact that scientists keep uncovering new insights that force them to increase their sea level estimates further, said William Colgan, a glaciologist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, who contributed to the sea level rise section.

“Because of emerging processes, especially related to the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet, it now looks like the uncertainties are all biased positive,” Colgan said.

The assessment found that under a relatively moderate global warming scenario — one that slightly exceeds the temperature targets contained in the Paris climate agreement — seas could be expected to rise “at least” 52 centimeters, or 1.7 feet, by the year 2100. Under a more extreme, “business as usual” warming scenario, meanwhile, the minimum rise would be 74 centimeters, or 2.43 feet. [Continue reading…]

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France says analysis shows Syria regime behind sarin attack

The Associated Press reports: France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that the chemical analysis of samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria earlier this month “bears the signature” of President Bashar Assad’s government and shows it was responsible for the deadly assault.

According to Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, France came to this conclusion after comparing samples from a sarin attack in Syria from 2013 that matched the new ones. The findings came in a 6-page report published Wednesday.

The Kremlin promptly denounced the French report, saying the samples and the fact the nerve agent was used are not enough to prove who was behind it. Assad has repeatedly denied that his forces used chemical weapons and claimed that myriad evidence of a poison gas attack is made up.

But Ayrault said France knows “from sure sources” that “the manufacturing process of the sarin that was sampled is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories.”

“This method bears the signature of the regime and that is what allows us to establish its responsibility in this attack,” the top French diplomat added, saying that France is working to bring those behind the “criminal” atrocities to international justice.

France’s Foreign Ministry said blood samples were taken from a victim in Syria on the day of the April 4 attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in which more than 80 people were killed.

Environmental samples, the French ministry said, show the weapons were made “according to the same production process as the one used in the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqeb” on April 29, 2013.

Ayrault also said that French intelligence services showed that only Syrian government forces could have launched such an attack — by a bomber taking off from the Sharyat airbase. “The regime’s Air Force…. is the only one with these aerial capabilities,” Ayrault said. [Continue reading…]

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Senate confirms Rosenstein as deputy attorney general

Politico reports: Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as the second-ranking official at the Justice Department on Tuesday, giving him the reins of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal last month.

The Senate backed the veteran federal prosecutor as the nation’s deputy attorney general with a 94-6 vote. The chief complaint among the small group of Democrats who opposed Rosenstein was his reluctance to promise to appoint an independent prosecutor to lead the Russia probe.

“He is, in some senses, what we value in the Department of Justice: someone committed to the rule of law,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the most vocal critic of Rosenstein’s nomination. “That’s why I have been surprised and disappointed that he has failed to heed my request.”

Though the duties of the deputy attorney general are broad, Rosenstein was catapulted into the spotlight after Sessions — a top ally of President Donald Trump — stepped aside from any federal probe of Trump’s campaign. Sessions had not disclosed previous communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak despite testifying that he “did not have communications with the Russians” during his confirmation hearing in January. [Continue reading…]

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EU Ankara negotiator calls for suspension of Turkey accession talks

Reuters reports: The European Union should formally suspend Turkey’s long-stalled talks on membership if it adopts constitutional changes backed at a referendum last week, a leading member of the EU parliament responsible for dealings with Ankara said on Wednesday.

Kati Piri said ahead of a plenary debate on the matter that if President Tayyip Erdogan implemented his new charter, giving him even more powers, Turkey would close the door on membership.

Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey would not wait forever to join the bloc, just a day after the EU executive’s top official for membership talks asked Europe’s foreign ministers to consider other types of ties with Turkey when they meet on Friday.

Ties between EU states and their NATO ally Turkey soured in the aftermath of a failed coup last July as the bloc was taken aback by Erdogan’s sweeping security crackdown that followed. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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