Russia’s fully weaponized propaganda machine kicks in right before 2018 elections

The Election of Trump by any means necessary was a gambit by Putin, now he’s getting serious!

Some on the right just love this guy

First Russia unleashed a nerve agent. Now it’s unleashing its lie machine.

Maybe he was a drug addict; maybe he was suicidal. Maybe his British handlers decided to get rid of him; maybe it was his mother-in-law. Ever since Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, was poisoned in a provincial English town, Russian state media and Russian officials have worked overtime to provide explanations.

The British government identified the poison as Novichok, a substance made only in Russia. A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry spokesman parried the claim by insisting that the Czechs, the Slovaks, and the Swedes had it, too. And, of course, the British themselves.

One Russian journalist opined that the assassination attempt was a rival’s ploy to undermine Russian President Vladi­mir Putin; another blamed a Ukraine attempt “to frame Russia.” The Russian foreign minister declared the whole story was an attempt to “distract from Brexit.”

For his part, Putin, when asked, said Russia had destroyed all its chemical weapons anyway.

The conspiracy theories came so thick and fast that some had to be retracted. One Russian scientist admitted that the Soviet Union had created Novichok; the interview was removed from the Internet because it contradicted the foreign ministry spokesman, who claims Novichok never existed. So far, the British foreign office has tallied 21 separate explanations for the assassination attempt, with more presumably on the way.

No one was surprised by this barrage of contradictory claims: This was exactly how the Russian media and Russian authorities responded after Russian-backed troops in eastern Ukraine shot down a Malaysian passenger plane in 2014, killing everyone on board. Those explanations were just as varied and far-fetched (the Ukrainians were trying to shoot down Putin and missed; the plane took off from Amsterdam with dead bodies on board), and they had the same aim: to pollute the conversation and make the truth seem unknowable.

Inside Russia, that campaign was a huge success. A Radio Liberty journalist did a series of man-in-the-street interviews in Moscow soon after the crash. Almost everyone he asked told him that not only was it impossible to know what happened but also that nobody would ever know. Even some in the Netherlands (which had many passengers on the doomed flight) have adopted “nobody will ever know” as an explanation for the crash — even though Dutch authorities and others have shown quite convincingly that it was shot down by a Russian Buk missile launched by the Russian-backed “separatists” in eastern Ukraine.

Knowing that there is no point in rebutting each claim — that would simply amplify them further — the British foreign office decided to respond, as one official told me, “by exposing the methodology” of deceit. Its officials created a short video mocking the multiple Russian explanations, and they posted it on Twitter and Facebook with a statement accusing Russia of offering “denial, distraction and threats” instead of explanations. They also sent samples of the Skripals’ blood to a neutral international institution, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for testing to confirm their conclusions.

But the campaign will continue in places that are much harder to see. Trust in the government is very low in large swaths of the British political spectrum. The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has said that he still wants a “definitive answer” about the source of the nerve agent. Russian Internet trolls are working hard on deepening this doubt. While watching the debate about Skripal, Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab noticed an online poll, the creation of a pro-Corbyn blogger with a large social media following. It asked, “Are you satisfied that Theresa May has supplied enough evidence for us to be able to confidently point the finger of blame at Russia?” When Nimmo investigated, he found large numbers of Russian and consistently pro-Russian accounts answering the poll (with an overwhelming “no,” of course) — and then amplifying the result so that it appeared to have even more approval. A minor thing, but it was enough to convince the blogger that “the mood of the public is starting to shift.”

This is an example in miniature of the kinds of efforts that will be repeated again and again, and it’s instructive. Since 2016, we’ve become fixated on the idea that Russian disinformation is something that happens during election campaigns. But it goes on all the time, and coordinators respond to all kinds of circumstances and will evade official attempts to avoid them.

Social media, which makes it easy for anonymous trolls to have influence, makes it easy to invent disinformation. Social divisions, which diminish trust in authorities like the British foreign office, help it spread.

What is needed now is a broader version of Britain’s “expose the methodology” campaign, one ambitious enough to reach below the surface. That will take time and effort. But unless we get started, we’re doomed to live in a world where truth is defined by those who have the least respect for it.

from Anne Applebaum – The Washington Post

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Jared The Great Peacemaker(?) wants his Quid Pro Quo at the end of a gun’s barrel

It’s all about the Money $$$

Javanka with the Ruler of the Saudi Kingdom and Trump attorney Cohen

The real estate firm tied to the family of Trump’s son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.

The 30-minute meeting, according to two sources in the financial industry who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the potential transaction, included aides to both parties, and was held at a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

A follow-up meeting was held the next day in a glass-walled conference room at the Kushner property itself, though Al Emadi did not attend the second gathering in person.

The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.

The Gulf crisis involving Qatar and its neighbors will likely be Kushner’s defining foreign policy legacy. The crisis followed a May visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by Kushner and President Donald Trump, who subsequently took credit for Saudi Arabia and its allies’ efforts against Qatar. The fallout has reshaped geopolitical alliances in the region, splitting the Gulf Cooperation Council and pushing Qatar, home to the Middle East’s largest U.S. military base, closer to Turkey and Iran.

Mohammed Hitme, chief of staff to the Qatari finance minister, did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment. White House Spokesperson Hope Hicks referred questions to Kushner Companies, whose spokesperson Christine Taylor said, “We don’t comment on who Charlie meets with.” She added, “We don’t do business with any sovereign funds.”

The Kushner Companies meetings with the Qataris were held the week of April 24. While Al Emadi was in New York, he appeared on Bloomberg TV to talk about the strategy of the Qatar Investment Authority, or QIA, the nation’s sovereign wealth fund. A host asked Al Emadi about whether the investment fund did business on the basis of geopolitics. Al Emadi answered the only way he could. “I think if you look at what we do in QIA, or in our sovereign wealth fund, it’s purely commercially driven. So we go where we think we’re going to have value,” he said. “We like what we see here. We performed very well in the last two years. The market has been very good to us. And hopefully we can continue the same strategy in the U.S.”

This was not the first time Charles Kushner solicited funds from the Qataris, but it is the first direct pitch known to be made to the minister of finance himself. Notably, the play came after Trump’s election. The Intercept first reported last summer that Charles Kushner had also propositioned Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al Thani, a prominent businessman who previously served as the country’s foreign minister and prime minister. The deal proffered by HBJ, as he is known, was worth $500 million but ultimately fell through when Kushner Companies failed to secure other outside capital. That 2017 effort followed previous entreaties made in the region by Jared Kushner himself.

The news of Kushner Companies’ direct pitch to the Qatari government puts a Wednesday report from the Washington Post into broader context. U.S. intelligence services, the paper reported, had determined that officials in four countries — the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico — had been privately discussing how to use Jared Kushner’s real-estate investments as a way to gain leverage over him in order to influence official U.S. policy.

Kushner has divested from a small portion of Kushner Companies, but has retained substantial ownership. A balloon payment due in 2018 on the badly underwater property at 666 Fifth Avenue has been a ticking clock on the fortunes of the Kushner family, precipitating the global hunt for capital. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that the father-son pair, Jared and Charles Kushner, speak on a daily basis.

The New York Times reported last month that just prior to Jared Kushner’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia in May 2017, his family real estate company “received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim,” described as one of Israel’s largest financial institutions.

https://theintercept.com/2018/03/02/jared-kushner-real-estate-qatar-blockade/

The “princess royal” of the West Wing, is being sucked into the vortex of scandal as well!

Even Ivanka Trump, the “princess royal” of the West Wing, is being sucked into the vortex of scandal that has encompassed her father’s administration. In the past week, her husband, Jared Kushner, lost his security clearance, lost his P.R. guard dog, was revealed as a top intelligence target for foreign spies, and was reported to have met with banking executives in the White House shortly before his family’s company received nearly half a billion dollars in loans. Donald Trump is said to be is “frustrated with Mr. Kushner, whom he now views as a liability” and “another problem to deal with,” and has suggested that both he and Ivanka move back to New York.

Ivanka, too, has her own set of problems. While the First Couple braced for an Intercept story that Kushner’s father had failed to secure a loan from the Qatari government just weeks before Kushner backed a blockade of Qatar, CNN dropped another bombshell: United States counterintelligence officials are probing a Trump Organization real-estate deal in Canada in which Ivanka played a leading role.

The financing and negotiations surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver have come under F.B.I. scrutiny, according to current and former U.S. officials who spoke with CNN. It’s unclear why the F.B.I. is interested in the deal, which dates back to 2013, and in which Ivanka played a key role. But CNN reports that foreign buyers involved, as well as the timing of the $360 million project’s opening in February 2017, may have caught the agency’s attention. Like many Trump Organization deals, the New York-based company does not own the building but rather is paid licensing and marketing fees by the developer, the Holborn Group. Joo Kim Tiah, a member of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families, runs the Canada-based development firm, and said in October 2015 that the First Daughter was closely involved: “Ivanka and myself approved everything, everything in this project,” he said during an interview.

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka’s ethics counsel, dismissed the idea that there was anything untoward about the deal. “CNN is wrong that any hurdle, obstacle, concern, red flag, or problem has been raised with respect to Ms. Trump or her clearance application,” he said in a statement. He also denied that the investigation would impact Ivanka’s security clearance in any way: “Nothing in the new White House policy has changed Ms. Trump’s ability to do the same work she has been doing since she joined the Administration.” Alan Garten, executive vice president and chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, similarly played down the report, saying that “the company’s role was and is limited to licensing its brand and managing the hotel. Accordingly, the company would have had no involvement in the financing of the project or the sale of units.”

Though it’s unclear whether special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in Ivanka’s involvement in the Vancouver deal, her husband’s contacts with foreign entities has certainly garnered his attention. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that at least four foreign governments have discussed how they can use the Kushner Cos.’s financial woes and entanglements as leverage over the president’s son-in-law, The New York Times reported that Kushner Cos. received roughly $500 million in financing from two U.S. firms after Jared met with executives from the companies at the White House. (Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kushner Cos., said in a statement that the Times story represented an “attempt to make insinuating connections that do not exist to disparage the financial institutions and companies involved.”)

The cascade of negative headlines has complicated matters for the duo in the White House. Amid an internal struggle with Kelly, who was responsible for altering the White House security-clearance policy—a move some saw as a targeted attack on Kushner—some aides have reportedly “expressed frustration that Mr. Kushner and his wife . . . have remained at the White House, despite Mr. Trump at times saying they never should have come to the White House and should leave.” The president, meanwhile, is reportedly mulling options to sideline them. Per the Times, while he has outwardly encouraged Jared and Ivanka to remain in their West Wing posts, he has also “privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out.”

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/03/ivanka-trump-organization-vancouver

Is Trump ready to fight Iran by using Israel as his surrogate?

Trump in the past gave the green light to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister to go after Iran

Yesterday Israel launched air attacks  that reportedly hit an airport on the outskirts of al-Suwayda, in southern Syria, and a weapons depot near the capital, Damascus.

Netanyahu has described his country’s most significant air attacks on Syria in decades as a heavy blow to Syria and Iran. 

Is this beginning of a more serious conflict with Iran, with Israel acting as the surrogate for Trump?

Israeli soldiers on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the border with Syria, February 10, 2018. Syrian air defenses repelled an Israeli raid on a military base in the center of the country, hitting more than one warplane, state media said. The report came after the Israeli military said one of its fighter jets had crashed during strikes against ‘Iranian targets’ in Syria after intercepting a drone. JALAA MAREY/AFP/GETTY

Here’s an opinion piece from Newsweek on the topic:

If you were an Israeli living in Northern Israel, you were awakened yesterday morning by sirens and sounds of explosions.

If you were in the rest of the country, you learned of attacks as you woke up, to news reports and notifications on your phones of missile warning in the North.

This morning Israeli intelligence spotted an Iranian drone taking off from an Iranian base T-4, near Tadmor Syria. Israel tracked the drone as it approached Israel’s border. Waiting at the border was a group of Israeli Apache attack helicopters that swiftly downed the drone.

The Iranian action was not totally unexpected and the Israeli Air Force was ready with a quick response — a response that included attacking the Iranian base, as well as destroying the command and control vehicle that sent the drone.

According to some Israeli sources, the attacks took place using stand-off advanced weaponry that did not require Israeli planes having to actually enter Syria.

The Syrians fired an unprecedented number of anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli aircraft. One of the Israeli planes, an F-16i flying over Northern Israel, was struck by a missile. It tried to reach the Israeli air base in the Galilee, but the crew realized they would not make it and ejected.

The plane crashed into an empty field. The pilot was seriously injured, seemingly from the missile attack on the plane, and the navigator was only slightly injured. It was the first Israeli fighter aircraft that has been shot down since 1982.

Israel responded with a much larger strike in Syria, attacking 12 targets including 4 Iranian targets, and at least four Syrian missile emplacements destroying all of the sites that fired on the Israeli planes. According to Israeli sources, it was the largest and most successful attack on the missile system in Syria since the Lebanon War of 1982.

Israelis are now asking themselves whether we have been living in a period of false peace? Have things fundamentally changed? The answer seems to be yes.

The major change is the fact that the Iranians directly sent a drone into Israel. It is not clear if the drone was on an attack mission, or merely an intelligence mission — but the nature of the mission is not really relevant. The Iranians have taken a strategic decision to confront Israel directly, and that constitutes a change.

Israel has made it clear that it will not allow the Iranians to establish advanced bases in Syria and the Iranians are determined to establish those bases. Additional confrontations can be expected.

The downing of an Israeli F-16i came as a surprise. While the Israeli Air Force never believed that its planes were untouchable, the fact that the plane was hit, while over Israel, clearly came as a surprise. Clearly some of the built-in advance defensive systems of the F-16 failed to work.

In reality, one should not be shocked, as no systems work 100 percent of the time. Still, the Syrians are celebrating the downing of the first Israeli planes in decades.

It should be noted that according to Israeli sources, the Iranian drone was one with an advanced semi-stealth design, based on the technology of the American RQ-170 drone, captured by the Iranians in 2011. The fact that this drone has been recovered mostly intact, should provide important intelligence about the Iranian abilities.

An additional lesson learned today was the complete absence of the United States. Not since the 1950s has America been such an irrelevant actor in events in this part of the Middle East.

Yesterday morning, the President of the United States was busy with irrelevant tweets. In an unusual move the Department of Defense was the department issuing a statement- defending Israel’s right to defend itself.

Marc Schulman Newsweek

Radioactive fallout from Trump’s arrogance?

The fallout from an atmospheric test would most likely be picked up by the wind currents and end up affecting the west coast of the United States

If North Korea follows through on its threat to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test, it would be a far more dangerous step than anything Kim Jong-un, its leader, has attempted — and poses a host of hard decisions for the Trump administration because attempting to stop the test could be as dangerous as letting it go ahead.

All six of the North’s nuclear tests have been underground, containing the radioactive fallout. But an atmospheric test — perhaps with a warhead shot over the Pacific on a North Korean missile, or set off from a ship or barge — would put the populations below at the mercy of the North’s accuracy and at the winds that sweep up the radioactive cloud.

That is why the United States and the Soviet Union banned such tests in their first nuclear test-ban treaty, more than a half-century ago.

It is exactly that fear of an environmental or humanitarian calamity that Mr. Kim appears eager to foster as he looks for ways to strike back at the United States, Japan and others seeking to choke off his money and trade. But experts who have been through the uncertainties of nuclear testing say there are risks all around, for Mr. Kim as well as his foes.

“It is not clear North Korea has that capability yet,’’ said Siegfried S. Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the nuclear weapons expert the North Koreans let in to see their uranium enrichment plants years ago, when they wanted to make clear to the Obama administration that their atomic weapons program was moving ahead, unimpeded by sanctions.

“Besides,” said Dr. Hecker, now a professor at Stanford University, “a live missile test — one loaded with an H-bomb — poses enormous risk.” He recalled that when the United States performed such tests in the early days of the Cold War, “one blew up on the launchpad and one had to be destroyed right after launch, creating significant radioactive contamination.”

The North Koreans have studied this history, too, according to current and former American intelligence officials. But the appeal of an atmospheric test is obvious: It would create a sense of fear that an explosion deep inside a tunnel in North Korea does not. The underground tests are detected on a Richter scale; an atmospheric test, like the kind the United States conducted at Bikini Atoll starting in 1948, creates a terrifying mushroom cloud.

The largest of those, a 1954 test code-named Castle Bravo, turned out to be roughly three times larger than American bomb designers anticipated. They had made a mathematical miscalculation about the power of one of the nuclear fuels contained in the weapon, and the explosion spread radioactive material across the globe. Ultimately, Castle Bravo helped fuel the call for a ban on atmospheric tests.

No one knows what kind of test the North Koreans have in mind; the country’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, did not specify when he raised the possibility when talking to reporters at the United Nations on Thursday. “This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “Regarding which measures to take, I don’t really know since it is what Kim Jong-un does.”

But the presumption is that if Mr. Kim decided to go ahead, the North would attempt to conduct the test by firing it on a missile, presumably to an empty spot in the Pacific. The goal would be to demonstrate that it had solved all the technological issues involved in delivering a nuclear weapon to an American city.

But that form of testing — putting a live weapon on a missile — is particularly risky. Other countries have blanched at the potential for disaster, Dr. Hecker noted, including the Chinese, who conducted one missile launch with a live nuclear weapon in the warhead. It worked as planned, he said, but “the Chinese considered the risks unacceptable” and never tried it again. In the hands of the North Koreans, some say, it would be even riskier.

“This would be a regional nightmare” for East Asia, said Heather Conley, a former senior State Department official, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

It is possible the threat will never come to fruition. Detonating a weapon inside a missile warhead, or even from a ship or barge, would be far more difficult for the North than setting one off inside a mountain, where engineers have months to wire up the weapon, and no time pressure. It would require what experts call a “weaponized device” that could survive shocks, stresses and, if launched from a missile, the heat of re-entry into the atmosphere, something North Korea has never demonstrated it can handle.

“The DPRK would be taking a big risk — missile tests fail,” said Philip E. Coyle III, a nuclear scientist and former head of the Pentagon’s weapons testing. The live nuclear warhead could come down on a neighboring country, or if the missile blew up on the launchpad — as has been known to happen — set off the nuclear warhead in North Korea.

The transportation risks would be enormous, including the chance of an accidental detonation before the nuclear device reached the target zone. And while the world’s best missiles fail roughly once in every 100 flights, the failure rate for the North’s missiles is much higher. Last year, one type of missile failed seven out of eight times, perhaps in part because it had been targeted by a series of cyber attacks ordered by President Barack Obama. Since then, the North has ceased testing that type of missile and been more successful with others.

And even if one of the North’s missiles succeeded in lofting a nuclear weapon, the bigger challenge would be bringing it back down during the fiery re-entry. The heat, pressures and forces of deceleration are enormous. To date, evidence from the North’s test launches suggests it is still in the beginning stages of learning how to build a survivable warhead.

It would be far easier for the North to entrust a nuclear weapon to a plane or a boat. But it has few with the long-range capability for the job, and the chances that the United States or its allies would detect it in transit are considerable.

It would also break a taboo. It has been 37 years since any nation tested a nuclear weapon in the planet’s atmosphere. And given what is now known about the effects that radioactive fallout from such tests has on human health and the environment, one now would only intensify the international opprobrium Mr. Kim already faces.

According to one estimate by a physicians group opposed to nuclear weapons, 2.4 million people could die from cancer caused by the radioactivity from the more than 2,000 known tests that have already taken place.

The last atmospheric test took place on Oct. 16, 1980, when China fired what experts believed to be a nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles into a desert salt flat along what was once the Silk Road, more than 1,300 miles west of Beijing.

The United States attempted a missile-launched nuclear test so only once — on May 6, 1962 — during a frenzy of Cold War tests. A submerged submarine, the Ethan Allen, fired a Polaris A-2 missile in the direction of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. After traveling more than 1,200 miles, its warhead exploded at an altitude exceeding 10,000 feet.

That test helped spur negotiations that ultimately led to a treaty banning tests in the atmosphere, outer space or underwater. It was in signed in 1963 by the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain.

In 1996, a far broader agreement to ban all nuclear testing, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, was adopted at the United Nations and has been ratified by 166 states. The United States, China and North Korea are among the holdouts, along with Egypt, India, Israel, Iran and Pakistan.

An effort by the Clinton administration to ratify the treaty failed; Mr. Obama promised to resubmit it for ratification but never did, fearing a second defeat. The United States and China have adhered to its restrictions, even if neither has ratified it.

 

Nuclear war or Trade war?…..hmmmmm

Trump on Sunday floated cutting off all US trade with any country that maintains economic ties to North Korea, a not-so-veiled threat to the country’s primary trading partner, China.

“The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

It could be an empty threat. China remains a major US trade partner — according to the US Trade Representative, US goods and services traded with China in 2016 alone totaled an estimated $648.2 billion. Other US trade partners like India, Thailand, and the Philippines also maintain some economic ties with North Korea.

I Trump’s comments came several hours after US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called for an additional round of sanctions on North Korea on Sunday following the test of the country’s most powerful weapon yet.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin said North Korea’s test of what it claims was a hydrogen bomb was “completely unacceptable behavior.”

“We’ve already started with sanctions against North Korea, but I’m going to draft a sanctions package to send to the president for his strong consideration,” Mnuchin said.

He added: “People need to cut off North Korea economically.”

Mnuchin also did not rule out implementing stronger regulations on Chinese companies and financial institutions that regularly interact with North Korea.

“China has a lot of trade with them, there’s a lot that we can do to cut them off economically, much more than we’ve done already,” Mnuchin said.

North Korea claimed that Kim Jong Un on Sunday inspected a hydrogen bomb that could eventually be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Following news of the test, Trump chided China for refusing to cut economic ties with Noth Korea, and reiterated his hints at using potential military force to eliminate North Korea’s weapons.

Korea Gives Trump the Middle Finger With Bomb Test

The test is apparently Kim’s answer to Washington’s recent overtures. On August 22, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Pyongyang had “demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past” and raised the possibility of talks. “Perhaps,” he said at the time, “we’re seeing a pathway to, sometime in the near future, to having some dialogue.”

Kim Yong Nam, president of the DPRK Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly reacts during a meeting with Hassan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran during their meeting in Teheran in this undated photo released on August 7, 2017 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang.

On that same day, President Trump said he believed Kim was “starting to respect us.”

Kim’s initial response was to launch a salvo of three ballistic missiles on August 26 and one on August 29. The second part of the response was Sunday’s test of a nuclear bomb of some sort.

North Korea’s next step, to prove it is able to integrate its new capabilities, could be to land one or more missiles in waters near Guam, as the regime threatened to do on August 10. When Pyongyang first made that threat, it said its missiles would fly over Japan on their way to the American territory in the Pacific Ocean.

Last Saturday, Pyongyang flew a Hwasong-12 missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, thereby fulfilling the first part of the August 10 threat. Because the North usually carries through on specific threats—at least eventually—it is possible that Kim will send missiles to Guam soon.

The second thing Kim could do is load a nuclear device onto a ballistic missile and conduct an atmospheric test. After all, state media has twice suggested it can mate a thermonuclear device to a missile.

What now? As Bechtol, the author of North Korea and Regional Security in the Kim Jong-un Era, noted, the North Korean regime has just put President Trump on the spot. “The political fallout from the detonation will be immense,” he said in e-mail comments Sunday.

In a few days, therefore, the focus of attention will be on what the U.S. should do about Kim’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Many, if not most analysts, say Washington’s sanctions policy has been a failure. They are obviously correct. Observers then jump to the conclusion that the administration should begin efforts to talk to the North Koreans.

In view of Pyongyang’s harsh responses to Trump’s and Tillerson’s overtures, talking to the regime, even if possible, is unlikely to produce a constructive result at this moment. Kim is feeling particularly bold now, and he may have picked this weekend to carry through on the long-awaited test because he felt the Trump team is not in a position to respond effectively.

The U.S., despite what most analysts believe, has the leverage to peacefully disarm Kim. Washington can, for instance, use its overwhelming leverage over China so that China uses its overwhelming leverage over North Korea.

What the administration should do is demand that Beijing and Moscow accept a complete embargo on North Korea. If they do not comply, the administration should threaten to impose severe costs on them. For instance, Trump could hand down what are essentially death sentences on the largest Chinese banks, like Bank of China, for laundering money for the Kim regime. The president can do that by designating them “primary money laundering concerns” under Section 311 of the Patriot Act. Such designations would deny these institutions the ability to transact in dollars.

Sanctioning the largest Chinese banks in such a manner could throw the Chinese financial and political systems into turmoil, and Beijing knows it. Therefore, the White House has the means to persuade China’s leaders to disarm the Kim regime.

Fortunately, Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, is particularly vulnerable at this moment. The 19th Communist Party Congress, which begins on October 18, is when Xi must consolidate his power if he is to continue strongman rule. He will be blamed by his many adversaries if relations with the U.S. are disrupted before the meeting.

Going after Chinese banks would mirror what the U.S. did to bring Iran to the bargaining table during the Obama administration, which levied stiff fines on banks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday, in her weekly podcast, talked about employing the Iran model to get the North Koreans to agree to denuclearization.

That’s what Trump should do. As important, there is something Trump should not do. The president in comments on Saturday hinted he will this coming week give Seoul notice of termination of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement. Withdrawal was never a good idea for strategic reasons, and next week would be absolutely the worst time to do so. The U.S. needs all its friends and allies on board as it confronts North Korea and its backers.

In the meantime, Kim is stocking up on oil, presumably in anticipation of sanctions. So now is a particularly good time to pre-emptively hit him before he can fill up his storage tanks.

There is a window for Trump to act, and it could close soon.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/north-korea-says-it-successfully-tested-hydrogen-bombits-time-to-nuke-the-north-korean-economy?via=newsletter&source=Weekend

The march toward full Republican acceptance of a Trump Dictatorship 

52 percent said that they would support postponing the 2020 election, and 56 percent said they would do so if both Trump and Republicans in Congress were behind this.

Moreover, nearly half of Republicans (47 percent) believe that Trump won the popular vote, which is similar to this finding. Larger fractions believe that millions of illegal immigrants voted (68 percent) and that voter fraud happens somewhat or very often (73 percent). Again, this is similar to previous polls.

Not surprisingly, beliefs about the 2016 election and voter fraud were correlated with support for postponement. People who believed that Trump won the popular vote, that there were millions of illegal votes in 2016, or that voter fraud is not rare were more likely to support postponing the election. This support was also more prevalent among Republicans who were younger, were less educated, had less factual knowledge of politics and strongly identified with the party.

Of course, our survey is only measuring reactions to a hypothetical situation. Were Trump to seriously propose postponing the election, there would be a torrent of opposition, which would most likely include prominent Republicans. Financial markets would presumably react negatively to the potential for political instability. And this is to say nothing of the various legal and constitutional complications that would immediately become clear. Citizens would almost certainly form their opinions amid such tumult, which does not at all resemble the context in which our survey was conducted.

Washington Post

Bernie Sanders and William J Perry talk about how to avoid war with North Korea  

 

Bernie Sanders talks to the former secretary of defense William J Perry, who served in the Clinton administration. The subject of their chat?  How to avoid war North Korea!


Sanders
 Welcome everyone. This show has a tendency to focus on domestic issues. On the economy, healthcare, education, the environment. We are delighted to be talking about a topic that deserves a lot more discussion: foreign policy. Former secretary Perry, thank you so much for joining us today.

Perry Senator Sanders, the problems you have to face every day are healthcare, budget, education and so on. But there is a real existential danger we face with nuclear weapons.

Sanders There are no ifs, buts or maybes. In a world where many countries have nuclear weapons, this is an issue that we have got to deal with.

Mr Secretary, you and a number of retired senior security officials released a letter recently urging President Trump to begin negotiations – without preconditions – with North Korea over its nuclear program.

In your judgment, why is that the best course of action? Haven’t we tried negotiation with North Korea in the past?

Perry North Korea today has a real nuclear weapons arsenal. That’s very dangerous. But North Korea is not a crazy nation. They are reckless, ruthless, but they are not crazy. They are open to logic and reason.

Their main objective is to sustain their regime. If we can find a way of dealing with them that they can see gives them an opportunity to stay in the regime, we can get results.

Sanders But do you think Kim Jong-un is a leader with whom we can seriously negotiate?

Perry He is a leader with whom we must negotiate. He is working on getting an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. In all probability, he will achieve that goal within a few years.

Sanders An ICBM capable of reaching the United States?

Perry Yes.

In the meantime, he already has medium-range missiles capable of reaching Tokyo and Seoul. The problem is here and now. We can do things to stop that and slow him down, and we should be doing those things for our own security.

Sanders You mentioned that Kim Jong-un is not crazy. What do we know about this very secretive regime?

Perry Everything we know suggests that he is just an extension of the Kim family. All of the leaders they’ve had in the past have been ruthless. All of them have been reckless. All of them have pursued a nuclear weapon program.

His main objective is to stay in power. We have to understand, that’s what he’s trying to achieve. Our understanding and our goal would be to lower the danger from the nuclear weapons and, eventually, to eliminate them.

I think its possible to achieve that. It will require some teaming with China. With China, we can put together both the carrots and sticks. We cannot simply point to China and say: “You solve the problem.” We have to work together with them.

Sanders Do you have confidence that China is prepared to do what it takes to develop a nuclear agreement with North Korea?

Perry China is more concerned about the nuclear weapons program in the North than they were a decade ago. But they have to be convinced that the negotiating path that we put together is not designed to overthrow the regime. They are opposed to doing that.

As long as they think that’s the objective, they will not team up with us. If we can convince them that we have the same objective, which is to lower the nuclear danger, then we can put together a [negotiation] package with China.

Sanders If China were seriously involved in that effort, what might that nuclear agreement look like?

Perry We’d have to look at it in two stages.

The first-stage agreement would be to lower the dangers. We’d do that by freezing their missile testing, and by freezing their nuclear testing.

That is an objective in and of itself worth achieving because it would keep them from getting an ICBM. It would also keep them from getting a hydrogen bomb. That objective is worth achieving.

Using that as a platform, we could then work to get them to roll back the nuclear platform. So we’d have to see it, I believe, as a two-stage program.

Sanders And what does one offer them to achieve that?

Perry We need to offer both carrots and sticks.

We and our allies, Japan and South Korea, have many carrots to offer. South Korea and Japan have both offered economic incentives in the past, and would be willing to offer them again. The US could offer security assurances. That doesn’t cost anything, but it’s something we could offer.

The sticks would have to come from China, which would be cutting off the trade they have. They would not do that by themselves. As part of a package, we might be able to persuade them to do it.

Sanders From your perspective, the main goal of the regime is to maintain their power?

Perry That is their goal: to sustain the regime in power. If they see a package that allows them to do that, they may be willing to cut back the nuclear weapons.

Sanders This is a country that has in the past allowed its people to literally starve to death in order to fund a nuclear program. Is that correct?

Perry This is an abhorrent regime. It’s a regime that we rightly detest. But they do have nuclear weapons. We cannot ignore that fact. We have to deal with that fact. Those nuclear weapons pose a threat to South Korea, Japan and, in time, will pose a threat to us –

Sanders Right – and to the whole world.

Perry We have to separate out the variables here. There are the things they are doing that we don’t like, and then there are the things that could cause nuclear catastrophe.

Sanders Right, I get that. But what I’m suggesting is that a country with severe economic problems in a rational situation [might be willing to] accept some carrots that might be offered, at least in terms of economic aid –

Perry We’ve offered them carrots in the past. They are not enough. They’ve demonstrated over and over again that they are willing to suffer economic hardship, they are willing to let their people starve in order to keep the nuclear program. We must learn from that lesson.

Sanders Well, if there’s anybody who knows about that, it’s you. Could you review for us the work you did and what happened?

Perry I was involved first of all as a secretary of defense in the 90s. The first crisis I faced as secretary was a crisis with North Korea. That was in 1994. We nearly went to war with North Korea.

Sanders Remind us, as not everybody remembers that.

Perry North Korea had a nuclear facility at a place called Yongbyon. They were processing plutonium. Had they completed that processing, they would have had enough plutonium to build six nuclear bombs.

We were determined that they should not do that. We confronted them and we threatened them with military action. We offered them economic incentives. A combination of that led to the agreement known as the Agreed Framework which, for at least a period of seven to eight years, stopped the program.

Sanders It did stop the program?

Perry Yes, it did stop the program at Yongbyon. It did not stop their aspirations for nuclear weapons, but it did stop that program.

Had we not had the Agreed Framework, which was signed in 1994, by the year 2000 they could have had as many as 50 nuclear weapons. That bought us time. It didn’t solve the fundamental problem of how they provide for their security. That had to be done in future negotiation.

Sanders Do you have optimism that the approach you are suggesting can succeed?

Perry I have optimism that it can succeed if we take the opportunity. But I do not have optimism that we are going to take the opportunity.

That involves some very sophisticated diplomacy. First and foremost, in forming some sort of a team with China, where we agree on what the objectives are, we agree on what the carrots and sticks we are going to offer them.

If we can put together that diplomatic package, then we have a great chance at succeeding.

But there is a big “if”, there. It requires us dealing constructively and intelligently with China, to make them see we have the same objectives and are trying to achieve the same thing.

Sanders Is there anything that we can learn from the Iran nuclear agreement that could give us some lessons for North Korea?

Perry Yes, I believe so. The Iran agreement successfully – as a minimum – put off the program for a decade or so. That in itself was worth achieving. It also gives us a platform for which we can go further than that.

With North Korea, we should use that as a model. We should use it as a way to delay the nuclear program, and their long-range missile program. I think we can do that. Then we may be able to go further and get the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons in North Korea.

We have to understand, though, that they have regime survival very strongly in mind. They see the nuclear weapons program as a key to that. So they may look to ways to evade the agreement – as they have done in the past – so we should be very wary of dealing with North Korea. But the alternative is very, very stark.

The option of a pre-emptive strike, which we had considered in 1994, is not really there today. A pre-emptive strike has very few upsides, and very many, and very great downsides. So I would not recommend that. I considered it in the past, but I would not recommend it today.

Sanders We have, to say the least, a very, very difficult situation.

Perry Very difficult and very dangerous. It’s not dangerous because North Korea is going to launch nuclear weapons at Seoul or Japan or the United States in an unprovoked way.

They are not crazy. They know that if they did that, the regime would be destroyed. Deterrence does work with North Korea. But the actions they take and the actions we take could lead to some sort of a military conflict. That could well escalate into full-scale war.

In a full-scale war, North Korea would lose. The military power of the United States and South Korea is far superior to theirs. But as they lost, they might use their nuclear weapons.

That’s what’s dangerous. Not that we deliberately enter into a nuclear war, but that we would blunder into a nuclear war. That would be truly catastrophic.

Sanders It truly would.

https://www.sanders.senate.gov/bernies-podcast

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/19/bernie-sanders-show-podcast-william-j-perry-north-korea