Harry C. Blaney III
Today the first shoe dropped in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments are now public and those involved all have ties to Trump and his campaign. Among the charges are lying, defrauding the government, avoiding taxes, and conspiring against America.
The focus was first on Paul Manafort who was briefly the Chairman of the Trump campaign. The 18 charges focused largely on evasion of taxes and money laundering, but also included the question of Manafort’s years as a political consultant to Viktor F. Yankukovych the pro-Russian former president of the Ukraine.
What may prove equally or more significant the indictment was of George Papadopoulos who it is said to be cooperating with Mueller. He was a volunteer foreign policy advisor to Trump during the campaign. The day after joining the campaign he met the “professor” who had ties to the Kremlin. He to appears to charged with lying to the FBI and has pleaded guilty.
The third person indicted was Rick Gates who is accused lying about transferring $3 million from offshore accounts some in Cyprus. He worked with Manafort.
The media characterized the indictments as “a significant escalation in the special counsel investigation.” But is was more than that as it seemed to be part of a strategy to bring all the threads of possible collusion with Russians together and seems to threaten Trump himself as he attempted today to throw off or deflect the news of the indictments of his associates by saying the government Justice Department should investigate Hillary Clinton, a very tired line from his campaign which given that such action are seen as inappropriate for a president to interfere in any Justice investigation and only showed more his fear of the consequences of the investigation. Trump insisted against all evidence, that no one in his orbit during the campaign colluded with the Russian government. We need to remember that there were indeed undisclosed meetings with Russians by Trump family and staff.
What should we make of these events and news? First, that Mueller appears to be closing in upon the Trump circle and decided to act against the most easily indicted persons with hope in the end of getting at the bottom of Russian efforts to undermine our election and to what degree Trump’s people were involved in illegal activity at high levels.
But in a larger perspective, it shows first that at the moment our laws and democracy works against some great illegal actions to deflect and undercut Mueller and the legal process. What is interesting is that the White House said Trump had no plans to fire Mueller….but my thought is that he may have plans to use another high official to someday carry out that action.
The other question is the future of Trump and of his administration. It gets darker with each day especially as he gets more crazed. What is taking place is a major challenge to the integrity of our justice system, and it is also a test of our political system under stress and especially that of our Congress. This is true for our courts that will have to adjudicate these charges.
All of this will have major international repercussions. First, is it will further undermine foreign confidence in the capability of Trump to act in a rational way with our friends and opponents. Second, it may at last bring light into the public mind the serious nature of what has taken place. And it may move Congress on the full meaning of what Russia has done to undermine our democracy and not least how much the Trump team may have colluded to cooperate in the interference in our political process and elections. Third, it may at last force Congress to rethink their own role in support of Trump’s idiocies and also to act with more authority over our national foreign affairs and national security policies. This is especially true of issues of Western unity, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
Finally, Trump has shown every indication of willingness to act in irresponsible ways when he is put into a cornier or feels threaten. The problem is whether he would think that going to war might be a way out for him. His belligerent words and actions with North Korea and Iran as well as escalation of US forces in the Middle East indicates he has no hesitation, or careful thought or assessment before hand, to enter and initiate conflict that can bring disaster to all sides. This is a challenge for those that serve in the White House, in DOD, the State Department, the courts, and not least in Congress to act, within the law, as a check on catastrophic actions by an unhinged myopic president. We are all in this mess together even if we still do not fully recognize this.
We welcome your comments!! (see box below)
Harry C. Blaney III
If necessary “we will have no choice but totally destroy North Korea.” Donald Trump at the UNGA
I am ashamed as an American citizen of the speech that Donald trump made to the UN on Tuesday. It was threatening, it was contradictory, rude, and it insulted the whole purpose of the United Nations and the common goal of seeking peace and human rights.
It showed America as a selfish, ignorant, and offensive nation rather than the “the leader of the free world.” Trump diminished our nation and did NOT make our nation greater.
The threat by Donald Trump that he would “totally destroy North Korea” was one of the most stupid and dangerous statements ever to emulate from an American Preside not just at the UN General Assembly but ever. It was filled with public unnecessary threats, indifference to others, even advocating for others the narrow nationalistic and isolationist policies he thinks works for him to others as if that kind of stance would make our world more safe and prosperous. It makes our world clearly less safe and more dangerous as the US urges other to be selfish and nationalistic as their only main concern. It does not get them to act in the larger interest.
The UN Trump speech was the largest verbal disaster I have ever known in my many decades as a professional in foreign affairs. His words makes America appear selfish, nationalistic, and to be feared. It was through and through disingenuous on many levels.
Further it was hypocritical as well, with its many contradictions. Like supporting human rights when we (Trump) supports the likes of brutal dictators in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Poland, Philippines, etc. All along never saying what is happening in Russia or what they did in Ukraine and Syria. Russian actions undermining democracy and unity in America and Europe yet were only vaguely alluded to. His moves to leave the Iran deal and the Paris climate change accord show even more his indifference to our global threats. Selfishness has not been a core American value and contrary to our values is inciting others to be equally selfish and self-centered. This ends only in war, conflict and “beggar my neighbor “ policies worldwide. It encourages genocide, it promotes authoritarian nationalism which is dangerous to our nation and other democracies.
It was for me the a sad moment seeing a person, our so-called president, undemanding all of our values, traditions, insulting the sacrifices of Americans who died to protect our nation and freedom worldwide. It was an insult to our constitution’s proclamation on universal equality liberty, and human rights.
One of the strange revelations is the very weak even often apologetic reviews the Trump UN speech has received from much of the mainline press, including op-eds, and editorials. There are exceptions, but one of the strangest is that of David Ignatius of the Washington Post entitled “A Welcome Flirtation with the U.N.” that almost was overflowing with his praise of the speech for its so called more moderate tone and the fluffy and empty and contradictory platitudes that it contained. He did helpfully cite some contradictions in the talk. He however downplayed the Trump threats and the stupid North Korea nuclear “war play” with language that did not help American goals. Did it help to call Kim “Rocket Man” when one day we may need to sit down together to save off catastrophe?
Trump was like a bully on the playing field trying to intimidate his opponent, in this case Kim Jong Un, to react with a crazy attack to perhaps justify war with the NK? There is little doubt in my mind that he was sassing on Kim without concern for the outcome and to further undermine ideas of a diplomatic solution. (I hope I am wrong and thought his words would help make a “deal.”) The result was predictable with Kim and his people sassing him back saying Trump was a dog barking.
The larger problem was neither Trump nor Kim seem able to pay the cooperative diplomatic game of mutual “win-win,” but with the daily cry in NK that America will attack is reinforced now by Trump’s “totally destroy North Korea.” We now can only hope both will see the self-destruction cliff before them embodied in their words and threats. I have never in over four decades of foreign policy work and following presidential speeches and helping to shape some, such crude and foolish words uttered by a president. Already there is some effort by the concerned nations to try to walk back this confrontational stances by both sides.
The contrast finally was the tone of such leaders as French president Macron who did not talk of nationalism but of global cooperation and integration to address the worlds ills. We have a very serious problem of many high risks and we need not add to them but solve them and this speech only set that goal back.
We welcome your comments!!
Harry C. Blaney III
On Friday North Korea sent another missile over Japan with a range of about 2,300 miles. The Trump administration’s response was that they had “military options.” There was considerable “tough” military talk coming from all of the key national security actors. One pithy remark by NSC head McMaster was “For those ….who have been commenting on a lack of military option, there is a military option” ….adding that it would not be the Trump’s preferred choice. To add another quote: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is “begging for war,” US ambassador Haley said at an emergency UN Security Council meeting.
No kidding, all of this silly bullying along with outcome of millions of deaths!!! We must remember that Trump promised not to allow North Korea to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile. Already we have had the “threat, and just the “threat” by NK, which has been on going for a decade.
On the other side, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, as quoted by the NK news agency KCNA, saying “it aims to reach an equilibrium” of military force with the United States. his actual quote: “Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military option.”
Clearly, the picture is very gloomy and one has to hope, in time, clearer heads everywhere will prevail, but that will take good and massive efforts by all and a change of tone and substance and actions. But that means that there is a need for a systemic change in the landscape and in leader’s minds. Let me add a “military” option by either side is collective mass suicide.
We and nobody else has found a neat and risk free answer to the nuclear threats from North Korea. Everyone is playing the most disastrous game possible named “chicken racing” where each car races at high speed at the other waiting for the other to blink and get out of the way!! The result of this game we all know.
This topic is on the minds of many of our global leaders from Putin, May, Merkel, Xi, Abe and Kim. Of course Trump has it in his gun sights but it seems has little understanding so far of paths which both sides can accept and live with. The hope is this will, in time, change before we end in a nuclear cataclysm.
While the landscape is dangerous and complex solutions exist that both sides can accept and would be a “Win-win” for all providing they are seeking mutual security, not aggression against others and willingness to get rid of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and accept third party inspection.
The main problems are that most analysts think that Kim is committed to having a large arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles so that they can powerfully threaten and make other nations fear him and gain benefits especially goods, investments, and recognition as a major player in the region if not the world. The great irony is making peace could achieve many key rational goals!
The problem is compounded in America with the instability of Trump and his blindness to reality, but we don’t know if Trump fears war less than the distraction of our citizens by being a war president, and perhaps free himself from the danger of losing his office.
One approach which has been put forth argues as a more realistic policy, is on deterring Pyongyang from using its nuclear weapons rather than pursuing unlikely attempts to denuclearize the peninsula. The problem with this is that is what we are trying to do now, but the reaction has been more aggressive behavior. It has risks of error and craziness of Kim, and it all means added continued uncertain high risk for the entire world.
What are the key “change elements” that just might redirect this massive disastrous trajectory that makes our globe a very ugly place to survive no mater where we may be?
The first is for Trump to see this challenge not an opportunity for conflict or via mutual threats but via a sustainable true long-term strategy and the gains of bringing stability to all of Korea. That means using all the tools of diplomacy.
The second, is for China to see that a nuclear war on their border is more dangerous to their national interests and for their population and economy, than gains from continued support for the Kim dynasty and all their madness and threats. They need to recognize the ensuing instability and that a better option is a negotiated solution that likely they and all could easily live with. That means negotiations while NK nuclear program is hopefully at least in a “standstill”…something NK is strongly against now. But there is US talk of a true ban on Chinese trade if they do not cease trade with NK and fully implement the UN sanctions. The same goes for Putin’s Russia which right now has an ambiguous stance, agreeing to limited UN sanctions but continuing to secretly trade with North Korea. They would too be harmed by a nuclear war in the region.
The third, is for the international community including the United Nations Security Council, our European allies, Japan and other Asian nations, and other key actors to agree on a package of “carrots” that could be put on offer to North Korea that might tempt them to put away their nuke for a model of a normal and decent and prosperous nation.
Forth, is acknowledging that there should be a nuclear free zone in all of Korea, that NK withdraw its artillery and conventional missiles well beyond range of hitting SK cities and especial the capital, and most important there would be a dismantlement of the nuclear weapons and long range missiles in the NK verified by the IAEA similar but beyond to the ”deal” with Iran. Further, the border between NK and SK be policed by UN armed troops to keep both side apart and as a deterrence to armed action. We would recognize SK under any agreement and we would have a peace treaty to end the Korean war. We and our allies would pledge non-aggression to a NK that acts peacefully.
Fifth, is a consensus “verboten” idea, simply at some point of “regime change,” either internally or externally but not engendered by America. But the outcome of such a change would have to be rational leaders that would see both prosperity and external help as a positive and not make nuclear weapons the fundamental requirement of their nation. This option most likely would be discarded absent major changes/crisis in NK.
One condition that would help which is rare in our new “Trumpain” age is return to the quality of sanity, search for common ground, thoughtful judgement, sense of proportion, of seeing ahead and, not least, decency and caring for all the planet.
We welcome your comments (see “Leave reply” box below).
Harry C. Blaney III
Donald Trump at press event today in while on vacation in NJ: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.” “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
This is an very scary preview of Trump’s view of how to “deal” with a contending and critical conflict situation that may escalate the trajectory towards catastrophic destruction rather than moving toward de-escalation. Words matter on both sides as do threats especially by those that have the power of nuclear weapons.
The background is of a long history of negotiations by the U.S. with North Korea whose formal name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Past negotiations and short lived agreements failing, have resulted with a dangerous stalemate created by both sides. Past administrations trying to open new talks with North Korea rejecting the pre-condition of stopping building and testing of these weapons.
Recent intelligence reports indicate North Korea is more advanced in both nuclear weapons and ICBM’s than assessed earlier. Thus indicating that North Korea was getting close to having its long range intercontinental missiles reaching mainland U.S. Most recently after a series of missile tests and threatening statements from North Korea President Kim Jong Un Kim, the United Nations Security Council acted this last weekend with new sanctions after North Korea carried out recently two intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The new sanctions it is predicted would reduce North Korea’s annual export revenue by about a third and hopefully hindering its ability to raise resources for added developing nuclear weapons and missiles.
Just after the threatening statement by Trump, North Korea President Kim replied by threatening the ability to strike the U.S. territory of Guam. What each side needs is to avoid being drawn into a very stupid tit-for-tat escalation – the last thing anyone with sense would want to see. We now have late tonight an added threat by President Kim.
Almost all experts, who are not dire war hawks on this issue, are saying this is an unnecessary escalation now which would be best approached by intensive diplomacy. Not by bluster and threats on either side. This means the need by top leaders to work to tone down that harsh rhetoric by all sides. For America, if neither the White House Chief-of-Staff General Kelly or the head of the NSC General McMaster, can tone down Trump. If on China’s side, they can’t accomplish that end, our already fragile world will be in even deeper perilous trouble. The last thing China wants is a war on their borders.
We need to work closely with South Korea as they have the most to lose with total destruction, given the alignment of North Korea forces on their border. This is not often understood by Trump.
What then are the paths forward? Alternative options include a preemptive strike, a response second strike….all of these would be catastrophic given any normal fairly known scenario for all sides and even for the world. It would be reckless beyond imagination. We can again try direct contact and direct negotiations which would be our first likely option if both sides were sane.
That is sadly not a sure thing. North Korea has said they will not give up their nuclear weapons of missiles under any conditions. We have said we would not talk unless they stood down on their nuclear and missile program. Thus our existing stalemate. Their goal is to get American forces out of South Korea. We are committed to staying and defending South Korea – and for that matter Japan. Yet there have been innovative diplomacy ideas, like we have worked on in the Middle East, to find some way to decelerate the conflict and create a more stable situation. Whatever outcome, both sides would need to see that this diplomacy would achieve better security and peace than the status quo.
My own thought should these options not work, is we try what is called close “indirect mediation or negotiations”close in the same hotel or city, via a third neutral but very able person(s) that both sides can trust. We have used this mechanism, as have others in talks, for example between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Henry Kissinger also has used a version of this approach. There is also the more clumsy long distant bilateral mediation or “good offices” where a mediator would fly from one capital to another back and forth trying different solutions, seeking common ground and some level of agreement. One other related inducement for both sides may be for North Korea to offer to temporarily “stand down” on any new work on weapons and the other interested parties to temporarily to not enforce the new sanctions that were recently imposed. We need perhaps also a “sticks and carrots” approach.
In any case, the sad part is that the first truly existential challenge Trump has faced has shown a level of recklessness, stupidity, and created greater danger to peace. All in a critical region that requires the greatest attention, patience, deep knowledge and expertise Trump is wholly lacking and unwilling to consult and use. Sad for us!
We welcome your comments!
TRUMP AND A NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA AND THE LARGER STRATEGIC PICTURE:
Harry C. Blaney IIi
After the statements about what Trump might do to North Korea if it does not stand down on its nuclear weapon programs, there seems to be a great debate about Donald Trump’s foreign policy strategy and even if there is one. As with his missile strakes on Syrian the question is what is next and is there any strategic vision or even reflection?
As best we can discern is it remains just based on “transactional” and “intuitive” feelings. We need to remember this is the man who said he knew more than the generals and who is cutting by about 30% our diplomacy and global assistance budget.
Among the key issues we face we still do not have a clue what ends he want including dealing with China, confronting North Korean nuclear ambitions, fixing the middle East conflicts, keeping our alliances intact, and dealing with Putin’s Russia.
We do know that on climate change he has cut the budget for almost all US programs in to address this existential and disastrous reality. He would take us out of the Paris Accord the only effective instrument we have to gain global cooperation.
An editorial in the New York Times on May 17th entitled “Mr. Trump’s lose talk on Korea” noted that Trump’s approach is more likely to endanger some peaceful solution than solve peaceably the conflict with North Korea. There is real reason to question where are we going with this and to what end?
Both nuclear weapons and the idea of a “preemptive strike” and harsh threats on both sides are dangerous elements.. This is especially true when both side are led by somewhat unhinged leaders who like to demonstrate their powers and egoism. The time has come to bring us back to a more rational approach before we start a game of “chicken.”
Surely at some point the leaders of China, North Korea and America must recognize in this option for an aggressive “game” the only end is destruction of all sides This is the worst case outcome when in reality there is a “win-win” outcome if only we all can recognize the harsh reality of nuclear conflict. There should be a point where all sides can accept gains for all sides with a diplomatic solution where Kim Jong Un, president, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump control their fears and their egos. Any leader must look closely at the risks of mistakes and stupidity by the other..
The path of a better outcome is North Korea gains a de-nuclearize North and South Korea, food to feed his people. China gains added stability and security on its borders and eliminates the danger of a war that would be a total disaster for it and removal of nuclear weapons North and South. America gets rid of a nuclear threat to allies like Japan and South Korea and not least to America. Trump gets to enlarge his ego.
East Asia Security Meeting in London: Anxiety Grows in Region?
Harry C. Blaney III
On Thursday, November 14th Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) held an interesting meeting on “The Strategic Environment in East Asia.” The question addressed was first an assessment of the region’s key strategic issues and specifically the problem of North Korea, the relationship between China and America, and the strategic policy of the Japanese Prime Minister Abe. The second part of the meeting focused on the issue of the conflict over maritime conflict in the region especially in the South China Sea.
The perspectives were varied and the attendance of a strong contingent from Japan give the conference a good idea of the Japanese perspective and how that country viewed their security risks and their likely approach towards these risks. The Japanese government representative and those from a key “think tank” the Institute of International Affairs, noted a number of likely Japanese new initiatives related to foreign and security policy as well as strengthening existing alliances.
There appears to be a move towards altering the Japanese Constitution giving greater leeway for the Japanese government to undertake a more pro-active stance towards threats and future confrontations than is permitted by the strict “defense only” provisions in the constitution. Another question that will be coming up is what are the appropriate resources to allocate for their own defense forces. As with other nations there are limited funds and demands by sea, land, and air arms for added equipment and personnel. Nor least, is the indication that they want to reinforce their alliance with the United States and to get European powers like the U.K. to be more supportive of their ocean jurisdictional claims. The key phrase was that the U.S.- Japan alliance is a “core policy.” In many ways it was an affirmation of President Obama’s initiative of the “pivot to Asia.” But an “assertive” Japan still posses other problems for actors in the region.
The focus of the Japanese experts was the recognition that their security landscape has some major rising risks which need to be better addressed than has been the case up-to-now. They saw North Korea as a key unsettling force with a growing stock of nuclear weapons and also they were concerned with their relations with South Korea, which has to be a key partner on any solution to the future of the Korean Peninsula conundrum.
Yet the uncertainty of the direction and behavior of North Korea was seen as a serious problem and danger. They saw the U.S. bases in Japan as essential for the defense of South Korea. Another disturbing element was cooperation between North Korea, Iran, Israel, perhaps others, in military and nuclear equipment and arms. The conclusion was that in the current negotiations, “time was on the North Korean side” thus there was urgency in finding a solution.
From the South they saw the rise of China and its increased more capable military forces as well as the growth of a new nationalism and assertive and even dangerous behavior or confrontation in this maritime disputed area. One presenter showed a chart of the number and types of Chinese navel vessels and comparted them to weaker or smaller forces of other key nations in the Pacific including the U.S.
There was considerable discussion of how to make a bridge or rapprochement with China and find a way not only to find a solution to the South China Sea differences, but more importantly, over the long run to seek a more fundamental arrangement with China over the next decade seeking a peaceful and cooperative relationship. Several speakers said that economic ties would be key between the second and third largest global economies.
One issue that was raised was the concept of ‘the inevitable confrontation/war between the U.S. and China.” This is another myopic and ideological driven idea by the war hawks of the “Chicago School” and neo-cons in America and also fueled in China by some of its military. It is a concept that was rejected by one wise speaker and certainly by this writer and has the danger of being a “self-fulfilling” prophesy. It serves only those who make a living from conflict.
One question that was raised by this writer, was how could the collective nations of the Pacific region work in a better concerted way to point the path not only to a productive and peaceful regional and global role for China, but create key incentives for China to be a responsible partner and see a deep and lasting stake in collective security and prosperity for the whole region and a sense of joint interest in maintaining peace.
Frankly, the meeting only reinforced the need for a more concerted and focused effort by regional actors to see a common interests. But to do that it is necessary to get the North Korean threat resolved favorably as it is a systemic dangerous disruption to an area wide reconciliation and understanding. Also some accommodation on Taiwan by all sides, an acceptable deal perhaps on some kind of joint exploitation of resources in the South China Sea, and not least a major expansion of trade between all Pacific powers. Helpful would be an agreement of restraint on military/nuclear weapons growth and competition.
What is interesting is that the Japanese have reorganized their national security decision making along the lines of the U.S. modal with even a process of policy papers called National Security Studies (NSS) much along lines established by Henry Kissinger for our NSC in the Nixon administration. But this is aimed for a whole new look at their security position and aimed at a more active security role in the region.
Not surprising, the Chinese have also just announced a reorganization of their own national security decision making machinery, making it more streamlined and tightknit. And it is clear that also they are having a major debate on their own future global role and new threat assessment. One would hope it will give the more calm and wiser heads more say over the militant military types that sometime have dominated the Chinese decision making in this area in the past.
But, America, as this blog has noted, is doing a “re-think” on both resources and strategic threats and options for a complex and changing environment. At the same time the British here in London carrying out a major re-examination of their strategic posture, force alignments, resources, and risks. The problem, as we will look at more in time here, is that it is being carried out when there is a forced major cut in funding which will necessitate some hard decision on personnel and equipment – not the wisest way to make strategic decisions, as we know in the U.S. with the Republican created “sequester”cuts. It is time for a more collective “re-think” rather than isolated limited studies as joint efforts, compatibility, and interoperability in tactics, communication, and training would help in a time of joint enforced “austerity” but a time of security uncertainty.
We welcome your comments!