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Foreign Affairs

‘Dotard’ vs. ‘Rocket Man’: Will the war of sanctions and words turn real?

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President Trump took a concrete step to contain North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM ambitions Thursday, signing an executive order targeting the North’s trading partners.

“It is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime,” the president said, adding, “Foreign banks will face a clear choice. Do business with the United States, or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea.”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin directed his department to suspend U.S. account access for foreign banks that cooperate with North Korea and facilitate significant transactions with it.

“Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that going forward they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both,” he said.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whom Trump dubbed as “Rocket Man” in his UN speech Tuesday, responded angrily.

As a man representing the DPRK and on behalf of the dignity and honor of my state and people and on my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK.

I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U. S. dotard with fire.

The U.S. has recently stepped up flights near the North Korean border using advanced stealth and 5th generation fighters.


Further reading…

North Korea: Probing for weaknesses? By Benjamin Wilhelm

http://noqreport.com/2017/09/20/north-korea-probing-weaknesses/It is likely that the US military and our allies are taking the necessary steps to be prepared on the intelligence front should military action in North Korea become unavoidable. This is especially prudent in light of tough talk at the UN by both President Trump and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Both of them have recently delivered excellent and stern admonitions that may need to be backed up with actions. Read more…


Perspectives

Russia on North Korea: “We’re witnessing a very dangerous confrontation spiral” | CNN

At the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia foreign minister, said his country condemns North Korea’s “nuclear missile adventures.”

However, “military hysteria is not just an impasse, it’s a disaster,” he said during his speech to the UN.

“We’re witnessing a very dangerous confrontation spiral around [North Korea],” Lavrov said.

5 things to know about Trump’s new North Korea sanctions | TheHill

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/351820-5-things-to-know-about-trumps-new-north-korea-sanctionsPresident Trump signed an executive order Thursday slapping new travel and economic sanctions on North Korea, as the administration seeks to pressure Kim Jong Un in a showdown over the North Korean leader’s nuclear program. Trump signed the order at the United Nations, where he expressed frustration that the international coalition had not done enough to stand up to Kim’s provocations. Earlier this week, the president vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued along the nuclear path. Here are five things to know about the new sanctions: Sanctions seek to cut off North Korean cash In an effort to cut off the North Korean leaders’ money, the new sanctions aim to give financial institutions a choice: Do business with the United States or do business with North Korea.

Reactions

Final thoughts

We’ve never had a president in the modern era with Trump’s flair for public coarse language, name-calling, and blunt speaking. We’ve never had a U.S. president successfully stand up to North Korea in their quest for weapons of mass destruction. Whether Trump will prevail is still an open question. The stakes are still very high, with 11 million people in Seoul living under a daily threat of annihilation (they barely notice).

North Korea would like nothing more than a military response from the United States, so they can escalate at will and have China on their side. The U.S. needs physical restraint, although if North Korea makes a strong enough move that results in deaths, this could quickly escalate into a military skirmish or worse.

I suspect that it will come to some kind of military action, though keeping the Chinese out of it and limiting the scope will be a difficult diplomatic task, one that must be dealt with before a single shot is fired.

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Foreign Affairs

State Department denies claims MBS involved in Khashoggi killing

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State Department denies claims MBS involved in Khashoggi killing

Yesterday, reports were flying across the news wire that the CIA had concluded Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The State Department issued a statement today denying the claim, stating no conclusion has been reached.

My Take

This is a lie. The State Department has seen and heard the mountains of evidence. The various cover stories put forth by the Saudi government have been hollow and debunked. They aren’t investigating further. They’re simply buying time and hoping other stories will help sweep this one under the rug.

Either MBS is so incompetent and disrespected that members of his own team went behind his back to murder someone, or he gave the order. The fact that Saudi Arabia wants us to buy the “rogue killer” is absolutely pitiful.

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Economy

Pacific Rim summit highlights strained China-US relations

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Pacific Rim summit highlights strained China-US relations

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) — A meeting of world leaders in Papua New Guinea has highlighted divisions between global powers the U.S. and China and a growing competition for influence in the usually neglected South Pacific.

The 21 nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Port Moresby struggled to bridge differences on issues such as trade protectionism and reforming the World Trade Organization, making it likely their final statement Sunday will be an anodyne document.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and China’s President Xi Jinping traded barbs in speeches on Saturday. Pence professed respect for Xi and China but also harshly criticized the world’s No. 2 economy for intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and unfair trading practices.

In Port Moresby, the impact of China’s aid and loans is highly visible. But the U.S. and allies are countering with efforts to finance infrastructure in Papua New Guinea and other island states. The U.S. has also said it will be involved in ally Australia’s plan to develop a naval base with Papua New Guinea.

On Sunday, the U.S., New Zealand, Japan and Australia said they’d work with Papua New Guinea’s government to bring electricity to 70 percent of its people by 2030. Less than 20 percent have a reliable electricity supply.

“The commitment of the United States of America to this region of the world has never been stronger,” said Pence at a signing ceremony. A separate statement from his office said other countries are welcome to join the electrification initiative provided they support the U.S. vision of a free and open Pacific.

China, meanwhile, has promised $4 billion of finance to build the the first national road network in Papua New Guinea, among the least urbanised countries in the world.

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Foreign Affairs

The Saudi predicament requires radical changes in our foreign affairs positions

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Saudi predicament requires radical changes in our foreign affairs positions

The United States is at a foreign affairs crossroads. One of our most important allies in the most important region in the world is being led by a man that U.S. intelligence (and pretty much everybody else) believes ordered the murder of a journalist living in our nation and writing for one of its biggest news outlets. How can we reconcile between what’s right and what’s smart?

Further evidence was leaked today that Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month. The CIA concluded this based on multiple pieces of circumstantial evidence, including phone calls intercepted between Khashoggi and Mohammed’s brother assuring Khashoggi’s safety if he went to the Saudi consulate where was murdered.

CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-concludes-saudi-crown-prince-ordered-jamal-khashoggis-assassination/2018/11/16/98c89fe6-e9b2-11e8-a939-9469f1166f9d_story.html?utm_term=.718b2d26599cThe CIA’s conclusion about Mohammed’s role was also based on the agency’s assessment of the prince as the country’s de facto ruler who oversees even minor affairs in the kingdom. “The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved,” said a U.S. official familiar with the CIA’s conclusions.

Among the intelligence assembled by the CIA is an audio recording from a listening device that the Turks placed inside the Saudi consulate, according to the people familiar with the matter. The Turks gave the CIA a copy of that audio, and the agency’s director, Gina Haspel, has listened to it.

This is much more complicated than deciding whether or not to punish Mohammed. The stakes are unfathomably high, including balance of power in the Middle East, a potential oil crisis that could cripple the world economy, and the future of a peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians.

Unfortunately, what’s right and what’s smart are diametrically opposed in this situation.

What’s right?

Every ounce of evidence points to the near-certainty that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. He was a permanent residence of the United States who lived in Virginia and worked at the Washington Post. While not a citizen, he lawfully earned the right to fall under our nation’s protections.

The right thing to do is to condemn the Crown Prince, even if that will irreversibly damage our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

What’s smart?

Based on the current geopolitical status quo, Saudi Arabia is our best proxy to keep Iran in check in the Middle East. They are also the reason the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency despite efforts by Russia, China, and other nations to change that. This status allows the dollar to maintain artificial stability. There are many factors in play that could cripple the dollar if Saudi Arabia and OPEC started dealing in other currencies, bur national debt alone would be enough to catastrophically collapse our entire economy if the world had the means to turn its collective back on us.

Saudi Arabia and the so-called “petrodollar” is the force that maintains the illusion of stability.

The arms we sell Saudi Arabia account for a substantial chunk of revenue and jobs in the United States, but more importantly it gives them the technological edge they need over Iran. If the Saudis turn to Russia or China, our influence over the region would diminish greatly.

The smart thing to do is to sweep this under the rug. Throw symbolic punishment at some sacrificial Saudi lambs and move on.

Time for change

There is no way to do what’s right and still do what’s smart, so it would seem the White House has to pick between the two.

Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps there’s a third option.

Even if we do the “right” thing by condemning Saudi Arabia Mohammed, ties will not deteriorate immediately. There will be a wind down during which time the Saudis will be looking for other partners and the Americans will be trying to salvage the relationship.

What if we didn’t? What if we acknowledged for the first time that Saudi Arabia is more than just the country that murdered Khashoggi. Their human rights record is atrocious. They have directly or indirectly harmed the United States for years, including a significant role in terrorist attacks. They spread Wahhabism across the world. If you haven’t heard much about Wahhabism, it’s because the radical Islamic sect that drives the House of Saud is protected from media scrutiny. See Network, which only partially satirizes the influence the Saudis have on U.S. media.

Saudi Arabia is a horrible ally. They’re necessary because we’ve made them necessary, but if we drastically cut budgets and spending, the economic ramifications of a break with them would be mitigated. It’s time to make deals with nations that do not smile at us in public and subvert us in private. Nations that do not like us, including Brazil and Venezuela, could be brought under our wing to replace Saudi Arabia on the oil front. It’s unimaginable now, but we live in fast-moving times.

Also, build the Keystone XL pipeline.

As for stability in the Middle East, it’s time we go all-in with Israel. They are the only true democracy and the one nation in the Middle East we can count on to not stab us in the back. They are capable of being the check against Iran. Abandon all talks of a two-state solution, work with Israel as our primary proxy in the Middle East, and make Saudi Arabia turn to others for support.

All of this sounds dangerous because, well, it is. The dominoes that will fall when we take drastic measures against Saudi Arabia will be painful. But there’s one thing to consider before balking at this. We may be heading in this direction already. The difference is it wouldn’t be us initiating (and therefore prepared for) these changes. Saudi Arabia has been quietly seeking a better deal for decades. They haven’t found it yet, but someday they will. When that happens, they’ll pull the rug out from under us.

We should be the ones pulling the rug. If we’re not, the permanent repercussions will be devastating.

Radical change in our foreign affairs stance is long overdue. Saudi Arabia is the worst kind of ally to rely upon, not just because of Khashoggi but because of everything else they’ve done. None of this seems feasible now, but it may be the only path forward.

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