Steve Bannon, Unrepentant

“In Kim, Trump has met his match,” I wrote. “The risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange is more serious than at any time since October 1962.” Maybe Bannon wanted to scream at me?

.. “We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”

.. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.

.. Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

.. “To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we‘re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.

Bannon’s plan of attack includes: a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. “We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.”

.. “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”

But can Bannon really win that fight internally?

“That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said.

.. He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

.. I came away from the conversation with a sense both of his savvy and his recklessness. The waters around him are rising, but he is going about his business of infighting, and attempting to cultivate improbable outside allies, to promote his China strategy.

Trump has been making ominous threats his whole life

The crisis we now find ourselves in has been exaggerated and mishandled by the Trump administration to a degree that is deeply worrying and dangerous.

From the start, the White House has wanted to look tough on North Korea.

.. In the early months of President Trump’s administration, before there could possibly have been a serious policy review, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the era of strategic patience with North Korea was over.

.. Last week, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that North Korea’s potential to hit the United States with nuclear weapons was an “intolerable” threat. Not North Korea’s use of weapons, mind you; just the potential.

.. So why do it? Because it’s Trump’s basic mode of action. For his entire life, Trump has made grandiose promises and ominous threats — and rarely delivered on any.

When he was in business, Reuters found,

  • he frequently threatened to sue news organizations for libel, but the last time he followed through was 33 years ago, in 1984.
  • Trump says that he never settles cases out of court. In fact, he has settled at least 100 times, according to USA Today.

..In his political life, he has followed the same strategy of bluster.

  • In 2011, he said that he had investigators who “cannot believe what they’re finding” about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and that he would at some point “be revealing some interesting things.” He had nothing.
  •  During the campaign, he vowed that he would label China a currency manipulator,
  • move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,
  • make Mexico pay for a border wall and
  • initiate an investigation into Hillary Clinton. So far, nada.
  • After being elected, he signaled to China that he might recognize Taiwan. Within weeks of taking office, he folded.
  • He implied that he had tapes of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey. Of course, he had none.

Does he think the North Koreans don’t know this?

.. The secretary of state seems to have been telling Americans — and the world — to ignore the rhetoric, not of the North Korean dictator, but of his own boss, the president of the United States. It is probably what Trump’s associates have done for him all his life. They know that the guiding mantra for him has been not the art of the deal, but the art of the bluff.

As Washington Churns, the World Grows More Dangerous

North Korea, China and Russia pose growing tests for a beleaguered administration

When a president appears weak, distracted or in trouble, as President Donald Trump does right now, the effects on international affairs can play out on many fronts. First, adversaries may feel more emboldened to challenge a besieged American leader. That may be a miscalculation, but the odds of miscalculation go up at such times.

.. Second, there always is the suspicion that a president embattled at home is looking for a distraction abroad. Even if there’s a real crisis, there would be charges the White House is pumping it up to divert attention. “Wag the Dog” suspicions are never far beneath the surface.

.. Third, when a president is thought to be distracted or in trouble, Congress steps in to fill what it perceives to be a void. That’s what happened during Watergate, when lawmakers voted to cut funding for the war in Vietnam and passed the War Powers Act to limit a president’s hand in military operations abroad.
.. Mr. Trump is right when he says China hasn’t done what it could to curb North Korea: At this point, Beijing’s true intentions have to be considered suspect. The grim reality, though, is that China’s balkiness leaves few options, and no good ones, for dealing with the threat.

The West need not fear China’s war games with Russia

In fact, America’s navy should co-operate more with China’s, too

RARELY in times of peace has a country acquired naval power at such a rate as China has in recent years. Three decades ago its warships were clapped out, capable of operating only close to shore. Now its shipyards are churning out state-of-the-art combat vessels at a furious pace. Some experts believe it could have as many warships as America within a few years. China’s navy is also developing global range: this week three of its ships have been staging war games in the Baltic Sea with the Russian navy, the first joint exercises by the two countries in those waters. The intended message to the West is clear. China and Russia, united in their resentment of American power, are thumbing their noses at NATO on its doorstep.

.. This week’s exercises with Russia in the Baltic, meanwhile, suggest not only a shared enmity towards the West but also mutual admiration of each other’s thuggish political systems. President Xi Jinping has turned a blind eye to Russia’s land-grab in Ukraine, and President Vladimir Putin to China’s in the South China Sea.

 .. Yet there is far less to the Russia-China relationship than meets the eye (see article). Russian officials worry about China’s growing economic and military might almost as much as their American counterparts do. Russia sells China a lot of weapons, but sells similar stuff to India, China’s rival. True, Mr Xi ignores the West’s sanctions on Russia—but that is mainly because he wants a stable relationship with a huge neighbour which China has come close to fighting in living memory.
.. As for China’s naval muscle-flexing in the Baltic, that is a development that should, in several respects, be welcomed rather than feared. If China wants to show that its warships can operate in distant seas, there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it is entirely right that China, as a global economic power, should play a larger part in providing the maritime security on which global trade depends. It is already taking part in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden—something for which its base in Djibouti will play a useful supporting role.

Deploying its navy far beyond its own waters might also help China understand that America, too, has good reasons for doing so. China frequently huffs about American warships in the western Pacific, refusing to accept one of the Pentagon’s main reasons for deploying there: that America has a vital stake in the security of Asian trade.

..  the biennial multi-country RIMPAC manoeuvres, to be held off Hawaii next year. In May the Pentagon invited China to join in, for what would be the third time. Some American politicians grumble about the involvement of a navy so unfriendly to the West. But they are wrong to do so. Such exercises are an important way to prevent confrontation triggered by misunderstanding. And China’s inclusion would help ensure that its increasing naval assertiveness bolsters global security, rather than threatens it.