Archive for the ‘America First’ category

North Korea’s Ultimatum to America

September 5, 2017

North Korea’s Ultimatum to America, Front Page MagazineCaroline Glick, September 5, 2017

(We should strike North Korea and eliminate it as a nuclear threat. We have first-strike capability which, if used can eliminate the danger to South Korea and Japan as well as to America. Perhaps we should wait — but not long — until North Korea “tests” a missile directed toward Guam. Then we should act immediately and without warning. We can even do it successfully without using our own nukes. On the other hand, we have a new option. Please see also, How to neutralize the North Korea threat. It might, or might not, work. If it works as advertised, great. If it fails, we will have lost very little. –DM)

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

If the US strikes North Korea in a credible manner and successfully diminishes its capacity to physically threaten the US, America will have taken the first step towards rebuilding its alliances in Asia.

On the other hand, if the current round of hostilities does not end with a significant reduction of North Korea’s offensive capabilities, either against the US or its allies, then the US will be hard pressed to maintain its posture as a Pacific power. So long as Pyongyang has the ability to directly threaten the US and its allies, US strategic credibility in East Asia will be shattered.

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The nuclear confrontation between the US and North Korea entered a critical phase Sunday with North Korea’s conduct of an underground test of a thermonuclear bomb.

If the previous round of this confrontation earlier this summer revolved around Pyongyang’s threat to attack the US territory of Guam, Sunday’s test, together with North Korea’s recent tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental US, was a direct threat to US cities.

In other words, the current confrontation isn’t about US superpower status in Asia, and the credibility of US deterrence or the capabilities of US military forces in the Pacific. The confrontation is now about the US’s ability to protect the lives of its citizens.

The distinction tells us a number of important things. All of them are alarming.

First, because this is about the lives of Americans, rather than allied populations like Japan and South Korea, the US cannot be diffident in its response to North Korea’s provocation. While attenuated during the Obama administration, the US’s position has always been that US military forces alone are responsible for guaranteeing the collective security of the American people.

Pyongyang is now directly threatening that security with hydrogen bombs. So if the Trump administration punts North Korea’s direct threat to attack US population centers with nuclear weapons to the UN Security Council, it will communicate profound weakness to its allies and adversaries alike.

Obviously, this limits the options that the Trump administration has. But it also clarifies the challenge it faces.

The second implication of North Korea’s test of their plutonium-based bomb is that the US’s security guarantees, which form the basis of its global power and its alliance system are on the verge of becoming completely discredited.

In an interview Sunday with Fox News’s Trish Regan, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton was asked about the possible repercussions of a US military assault against North Korea for the security of South Korea.

Regan asked, “What are we risking though if we say we’re going to go in with strategic military strength?… Are we going to end up with so many people’s lives gone in South Korea, in Seoul because we make that move?” Bolton responded with brutal honesty.

“Let me ask you this: how do you feel about dead Americans?” In other words, Bolton said that under prevailing conditions, the US faces the painful choice between imperiling its own citizens and imperiling the citizens of an allied nation. And things will only get worse. Bolton warned that if North Korea’s nuclear threat is left unaddressed, US options will only become more problematic and limited in the years to come.

This then brings us to the third lesson of the current round of confrontation between the US and North Korea.

If you appease an enemy on behalf of an ally then you aren’t an ally.

And eventually your alliance become empty of all meaning.

For 25 years, three successive US administrations opted to turn a blind eye to North Korea’s nuclear program in large part out of concern for South Korea.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all sought to appease North Korea’s aggressive nuclear adventurism because they didn’t believe they had a credible military option to deal with it.

In the 1980s, North Korea developed and deployed a conventional arsenal of bombs and artillery along the demilitarized zone capable of vaporizing Seoul.

Any US military strike against North Korea’s nuclear installation it was and continues to be argued, would cause the destruction of Seoul and the murder of millions of South Koreans.

So US efforts to appease Pyongyang on behalf of Seoul emptied the US-South Korean alliance of meaning. The US can only serve as the protector of its allies, and so assert its great power status in the Pacific and worldwide, if it prevents its allies from being held hostage by its enemies.

And now, not only does the US lack a clear means of defending South Korea, and Japan, America itself is threatened by the criminal regime it demurred from effectively confronting.

Regardless of the means US President Donald Trump decides to use to respond to North Korea’s provocative actions and threats to America’s national security, given the nature of the situation, it is clear that the balance of forces on the ground cannot and will not remain as they have been.

If the US strikes North Korea in a credible manner and successfully diminishes its capacity to physically threaten the US, America will have taken the first step towards rebuilding its alliances in Asia.

On the other hand, if the current round of hostilities does not end with a significant reduction of North Korea’s offensive capabilities, either against the US or its allies, then the US will be hard pressed to maintain its posture as a Pacific power. So long as Pyongyang has the ability to directly threaten the US and its allies, US strategic credibility in East Asia will be shattered.

This then brings us to China.

China has been the main beneficiary of North Korea’s conventional and nuclear aggression and brinksmanship.

This state of affairs was laid bare in a critical way last month.

In mid-August, Trump’s then chief strategist Steve Bannon was preparing a speech Trump was set to deliver that would have effectively declared a trade war against China in retaliation for its predatory trade practices against US companies and technology. The speech was placed in the deep freeze – and Bannon was forced to resign his position – when North Korea threatened to attack the US territory of Guam with nuclear weapons. The US, Trump’s other senior advisers argued, couldn’t declare a trade war against China when it needed China’s help to restrain North Korea.

So by enabling North Korea’s aggression against the US and its allies, China has created a situation where the US has become neutralized as a strategic competitor.

Rather than advance its bilateral interests – like curbing China’s naval aggression in the South China Sea – in its contacts with China, the US is forced into the position of supplicant, begging China to restrain North Korea in order to avert war.

If the US does not act to significantly downgrade North Korea’s offensive capabilities now, when its own territory is being threatened, it is difficult to see how the US will be able to develop an effective strategy for coping with China’s rise as an economic and strategic rival in Asia and beyond. That is, the US’s actions now in response to North Korea’s threat to its national security will determine whether or not the US will be in a position to develop and implement a wider strategy for maintaining its capacity to project its economic and military power in the Pacific in the near and long term.

Finally, part of the considerations that need to inform US action now involve what North Korea’s success in developing a nuclear arsenal under the noses of successive US administrations means for the future of nuclear proliferation.

In all likelihood, unless the North Korean nuclear arsenal is obliterated, Pyongyang’s nuclear triumphalism will precipitate a spasm of nuclear proliferation in Asia and in the Middle East. The implications of this for the US and its allies will be far reaching.

Not only can Japan and South Korea be reasonably expected to develop nuclear arsenals. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other inherently unstable Arab states can be expected to develop or purchase nuclear arsenals in response to concerns over North Korea and its ally Iran with its nuclear weapons program linked to Pyongyang’s.

In other words, if the US does not respond in a strategically profound way to Pyongyang now, it will not only lose its alliance system in Asia, it will see the rapid collapse of its alliance system and superpower status in the Middle East.

Israel, for one, will be imperiled by the sudden diffusion of nuclear power.

Monday morning, North Korea followed up its thermonuclear bomb test with a spate of threats to destroy the United States. These threats are deadly even if North Korea doesn’t attack the US with its nuclear weapons. If the US does not directly defeat North Korea in a clear-cut way now, its position as a superpower in Asia and worldwide will be destroyed and its ability to defend its own citizens will be called into question with increasing frequency and lethality.

Trump Has a Foreign Policy Strategy

April 21, 2017

Trump Has a Foreign Policy Strategy, National InterestJames Jay Carafano, April 20, 2017

Trump is an arch nationalist in the positive sense of the term. America will never be safe in the world if the world doesn’t have an America that is free, safe and prosperous.

That belief is at the heart of Trump’s policies designed to spark an economic revival, rollback the administrative state and rebuild the military. It lies at the core of his mantra: make America great again.

Even the strongest America, however, can’t be a global power without the willingness to act globally. And that’s where Trump’s declaration of “America First” comes in.

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For two weeks, the White House has unleashed a foreign-policy blitzkrieg, and Washington’s chattering classes are shocked and, if not awed, at least perplexed.

CNN calls Trump’s actions a “u-turn.” Bloomberg opts for the more mathematical “180 degree turn,” while the Washington Post goes with “flipflop.” Meanwhile, pundits switched from decrying the president as an isolationist to lambasting him as a tool of the neocons. Amid all the relabeling, explanations of an “emerging Trump Doctrine” have proliferated faster than North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Here’s my take on what’s going on:

• Yes, there is a method to Trump’s “madness.”

• No, there has been no big change in Trump’s strategy.

The actions that flustered those who thought they had pigeon-holed Donald Trump simply reflect the impulses that have driven the direction of this presidency since before the convention in Cleveland.

At the Center of the Storm

Where is the head and heart of the president’s national-security team? Ask that question a year ago, and the answer would have been simple: General Mike Flynn, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Senator Jeff Sessions.

Today, Flynn is gone. Giuliani never went in. Sessions is still a crucial voice in the administration, but his duties as Attorney General deal only partially with foreign policy and national-security matters.

The new team centers round Jim Mattis at the Defense Department, Rex Tillerson at the State Department, John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security and H. R. McMaster in the West Wing—ably assisted by Nikki Haley at the United Nations. Trump barely knew these people before the election.

There is little question that the new team’s character and competence affected the White House response to the recent string of high profile events and activities—from presidential meetings with Egypt and China and Tillerson’s tête-à-tête with Putin, to the ominous developments in Syria and North Korea. Though on the job for only about dozen weeks, the new administration handled a lot of action on multiple fronts quite deftly. Much of that can be credited to the maturity and experience of Trump’s senior national-security team.

But how the administration responded was purely Trumpian—reflecting an impulse that transcends the makeup of his foreign team or other White House advisors.

Decoding Trumpian Strategy

Since the early days of the campaign, one thing has been clear: trying stitch together an understanding of Trump’s foreign and defense policy based on Trump’s tweets and other off-hand comments is a fool’s errand. That has not changed since the Donald took over the Oval Office.

That is not to say that none of Trump’s rhetoric matters. He has given some serious speeches and commentary. But pundits err when they give every presidential utterance equal merit. A joint address to Congress ought to carry a lot more weight than a 3 a.m. tweet about the Terminator.

But especially with this presidency, one needs to focus on White House actions rather than words to gain a clearer understanding of where security and foreign policy is headed. Do that, and one sees emerging a foreign and defense policy more conventional and more consistent than what we got from Bush or Obama. Still, a deeper dive is necessary to get at the root of Trump’s take on the world and how it fits with recent actions like the tomahawk strikes in Syria and the armada steaming toward North Korea.

I briefed Candidate Trump and his policy advisors during the campaign. I organized workshops for the ambassadorial corps during the Cleveland Convention and worked with the presidential team through the inauguration. Those experiences let me observe how the policies from the future fledgling administration were unfolding. Here are some observations that might be helpful in understanding the Trumpian way.

At the core of Trump’s view of the world are his views on the global liberal order. Trump is no isolationist. He recognizes that America is a global power with global interests and that it can’t promote and protect those interests by sitting at home on its hands. Freedom of the commons, engaging and cooperating with like-minded nations, working to blunt problems “over there” before they get over here—these are things every modern president has pursued. Trump is no different.

What distinguishes Trump—and what marks a particularly sharp departure from Obama—is his perception of what enabled post–World War America and the rest of the free world to rise above the chaos of a half century of global depression and open war.

Obama and his ilk chalked it all up to international infrastructure—the UN, IMF, World Bank, EU, et al. For Trump, it was the sovereign states rather than the global bureaucracies that made things better. The international superstructure has to stand on a firm foundation—and the foundation is the sovereign state. Without strong, vibrant, free and wealthy states, the whole thing collapses like a Ponzi scheme.

Trump is an arch nationalist in the positive sense of the term. America will never be safe in the world if the world doesn’t have an America that is free, safe and prosperous.

That belief is at the heart of Trump’s policies designed to spark an economic revival, rollback the administrative state and rebuild the military. It lies at the core of his mantra: make America great again.

Even the strongest America, however, can’t be a global power without the willingness to act globally. And that’s where Trump’s declaration of “America First” comes in.

What it means for foreign policy is that the president will put the vital interests of the United States above the maintenance of global institutions. That is not an abandonment of universal values. Every American president deals with the challenge of protecting interests and promoting values. Trump will focus on American interests and American values, and that poses no threat to friends and allies. In many cases, we share the same values. In many cases, what’s in America’s vital interest is also in their interest—and best achieved through joint partnership.

Here is how those animating ideas are currently manifesting themselves in Trump’s strategy:

A strategy includes ends (what you are trying to accomplish), means (the capabilities you will use to do that) and ways (how you are going to do it). The ends of Trump’s strategy are pretty clear. In both talk and action in the Trump world, it boils down to three parts of the world: Europe, Asia and the Middle East. That makes sense. Peace and stability in these regions are vital to U.S. interests and are under assault. The United States wants all three parts of the world to settle. It is unrealistic to think all the problems can be made to disappear, but it is not unrealistic to significantly reduce the potential for region-wide conflict.

The means are more than just a strong military. Trump believes in using all the instruments of power, hard and soft. He has unleashed Nikki Haley on the United Nations. He has ordered Rex Tillerson to revamp the State Department so that it is focused on the core tasks of statecraft and the effective and appropriate use of foreign assistance. He wants an intelligence community that delivers intelligence and doesn’t just cater to what the White House wants to hear. And he has ordered Homeland Security to shift from being politically correct to operationally effective. Further, it’s clear that Tillerson, Kelly, Mattis and Sessions are all trying to pull in the same direction.

The ways of the Trump strategy are not the engagement and enlargement of Clinton, the rearranging of the world by Bush, or the disengagement of Obama. The world is filled with intractable problems. Trump is less interested in trying to solve all of them in a New-York minute and more concerned about reducing those problems so that they give the United States and its friends and allies less and less trouble.

Trump is traveling a path between running away and invading. It might be called persistent presence. The United States plans to engage and use its influence in key parts of the world consistently over time to protect our interests. Done consistently, it will not only protect our interests; it will also expand the global safe space by causing bad influences to fade.

Recent activities in the Middle East are a good example. The bomb strike on Syria was not a prelude to regime change or nation-building in Syria. It was a warning shot to Assad to cut it out and stop interfering in U.S. efforts to finish off ISIS, stabilize refugee populations and keep Iraq from falling apart. Engagement with Egypt was to signal America is back working with partners to stabilize the region and counter the twin threats of Islamist extremism and Iran. Neither is a kick-ass-and-withdraw operation. These are signs of long, serious engagement, shrinking the space in which bad actors can operate.

The U.S. regional strategies for Europe and Asia are the same, and it seems clear that Chinese and Russian leaders have gotten the message. In the wake of recent meetings, both countries have reacted by treating Trump with the seriousness he has demanded. Others get it too. I’ve talked to many foreign officials who have come through Washington, DC this year and they have all told me that they got the same impression: this administration is about resolve and persistence. Still, no strategy is without risks and pitfalls. This one is no different. Here is how Trump might screw up or be upended by a smarter or luckier enemy:

Pop goes political will. A strategy of persistent presence can work only if the United States persists. It took past presidents over a decade to screw things up. It is going to take at least eight years of reassuring friends and wearing down adversaries to fix it. Trump will have to get reelected.

Strength for the fight. Trump has to deliver guns and butter: a rebounding economy at home and a strong face abroad. That means a combination of growth and fiscally responsible federal spending—a challenge that eluded the last two presidents.

Mission creep. Presence can lapse into ambition, which can become overreach, or certainly taking on more than make sense to handle. There might always be temptation to deal with a North Korea, Syria or Iran once for all.

Blindsided. There are other parts of the world. An administration can’t be indifferent to effective engagement in Latin America and Africa.

Distractions. Persistence is boring. There is always the temptation to follow the bright foreign-policy object.

Enemy gets a vote. The United States has to be strong in three theaters at the same time, so there will always be a temptation for its competitors to coordinate efforts or seize opportunities to give the United States multiple problems to solve, straining its capability to persist in each theater.

Black Swans. Competitors might get tired of the long war and risk throwing in a game changer. For example, rolling the dice on an Electromagnetic Pulse attack. Effective persistence requires a measure of paranoia. Competitors are never inanimate entities to be pushed around. They have agency, and they are always looking for a way to make a bad day for the other guy.

It remains to be seen if Trump can become a strategic leader capable of steering America past all these obstacles, but certainly he sees the path forward much more clearly than his domestic opponents are willing to recognize or acknowledge.

Putting ‘America first’ in the Mideast

April 14, 2017

Putting ‘America first’ in the Mideast, Israel Hayom, Ruthie Blum, April 14, 2017

Their argument now goes that Trump’s latest military moves — and shift in attitude toward NATO — are examples of policy “flip-flopping” from the “isolationism” expressed in his inaugural address to a newfound global interventionism. They contend that a president who so drastically and swiftly shifts gears is perfectly capable of performing yet another about-face when the mood arises.

Those who consider the Trump doctrine spelled out [in his inaugural address] as contradictory to the president’s performance in office so far seem to have lost something in translation.

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America’s surgical strike on Syrian regime targets last Thursday night — and this Thursday’s “mother of all non-nuclear bomb” attack on Sunni terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan — garnered surprisingly widespread bipartisan support, but put some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s critics in a bit of a rhetorical quandary. How could they word their defense of Trump’s bold yet not extreme warning shots without putting a dent in their distrust of the new occupant of the Oval Office?

Coming up with a solution to this problem turned out not to be so difficult for those pundits and politicians who have been paying close attention both to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s slaughter of his own people — most recently with chemical weapons — and to every syllable of Trump’s Twitter feed.

Their argument now goes that Trump’s latest military moves — and shift in attitude toward NATO — are examples of policy “flip-flopping” from the “isolationism” expressed in his inaugural address to a newfound global interventionism. They contend that a president who so drastically and swiftly shifts gears is perfectly capable of performing yet another about-face when the mood arises.

The trouble is that this assertion is both overly simplistic and inaccurate.

In the first place, Trump himself openly acknowledged that though he had said he was not going to intervene in Syria, he “changed his mind” when it was established that Assad was killing babies with sarin gas — after lying about having rid his country of chemical weapons. He has also openly declared war on the Islamic State group. This hardly constitutes a flip-flop. Instead, it indicates flexibility of thought and action on the part of a leader faced with a set of circumstances that warrants both.

The same goes for his statements on NATO, which he originally called “obsolete” and has since deemed necessary. His initial attack on the organization was that its members were not pulling their weight. This spurred them to make at least symbolic gestures, such as slightly increasing their budgets, to persuade him to reconsider. This is no small thing.

Secondly, Trump’s inaugural speech was not, in fact, an ode to isolationism; it was a reassertion of American greatness and power both domestically and on the world stage. Take the following excerpt, for example:

“For many decades, we’ve … subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own. … From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on … America will start winning again, winning like never before.”

And this: “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth. …

“It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”

The speech concludes: “So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. Together, we will make America strong again. We will make wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together, we will make America great again.”

Those who consider the Trump doctrine spelled out above as contradictory to the president’s performance in office so far seem to have lost something in translation.