Trump Is in Denial About North Korea

US President Donald Trump’s insistence that negotiations with North Korea are “going well” is directly contradicted by US intelligence findings about the country’s nuclear program. Trump needs to put substance ahead of spectacle – and US allies ahead of his own fragile ego – before it is too late.

.. the Kim regime has continued to solidify its position as a nuclear-weapons state. The master of the Kremlin is sure to have taken note of this.

..  Reports citing US intelligence officials indicate that the North is pressing ahead with its nuclear-weapons program, by ramping up missile and enriched-uranium production and concealing the size of its nuclear inventory.

.. Anyone who has followed affairs on the Korean Peninsula has seen this movie before. After all, Kim’s father and grandfather wrote the script decades ago.

.. Kim has even reused his father’s special effects. In May, he blew up a nuclear test site with the same cinematic flair that Kim Jong-il displayed when he dynamited a nuclear reactor’s cooling tower ten years ago.

.. Trump made a major concession to Kim by agreeing to attend the summit in June. While there, he demonstrated that neither he nor his administration had a strategy for getting Kim to make good on any deal. Making matters worse, Trump has continued to insist that follow-up talks with the North are “going well,” even though US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last visit to Pyongyang ended with a round of mutual recrimination.

.. Pompeo has already backpedaled on earlier US demands, by softening his language on the fraught issue of inspections and verification. And US officials have hinted that a further softening in the administration’s position is on the way.

.. other White House officials have taken a harder line. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has called for not only denuclearization, but also rapid disarmament of all of North Korea’s unconventional weapons. This month, Bolton even claimed to have a plan for dismantling all of North Korea’s nuclear-, chemical-, and biological-weapons programs within a year.

.. For Japan and South Korea, in particular, the contradictions between Trump’s rhetoric and his own intelligence services’ findings are becoming a source of serious concern.

.. Trump’s silence on the latest North Korea intelligence – to say nothing of his siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies on charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election – will further deepen allies’ anxieties. Ignoring North Korea’s deceptions directly undermines the security of Japan and South Korea.

.. because Japan and South Korea both host US military bases, they are at the top of the North’s nuclear target list.

.. Among other things, the North is accelerating production of solid-fuel rocket engines and an ICBM-armed submarine. Both technologies would bolster the North’s ability to launch a surprise attack, by making its nuclear arsenal more durable, mobile, and easily concealed.

.. White House officials are now suggesting that Trump could use the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September to hold another meeting with Kim, as if rekindling the two leaders’ “bromance” will lead to serious negotiations. It won’t. Instead, Trump needs to put substance before spectacle, above all by confronting Kim with the latest intelligence findings.

.. Platitudes about denuclearization are one thing; serious arms-control efforts to reduce the risks on the Korean Peninsula are quite another.

Trump’s Dream Come True: Trashing Obama and Iran in One Move

Trump, by taking a hard line on Iran, drew some needed attention to Iran’s bad behavior and created an opportunity to improve the nuclear deal. But to do so would have required Trump to admit that there was merit in the deal Obama had forged and to be content with limited, but valuable, fixes that our European allies likely would have embraced.

.. Instead, Trump pushed for the max, torched the whole bridge, separating us from Germany, France and Britain, undermining the forces of moderation in Iran.

.. Color me dubious that a president who has not been able to manage his confrontation with a stripper, or prevent leaks in his White House, can manage a multifront strategy for confronting Iran and North Korea and trade wars with China, Europe and Mexico.

.. Obama’s view of the Middle East was that it was an outlier region, where a toxic brew of religious extremism, tribalism, oil, corruption, climate change and mis-governance made positive change from outside impossible; it had to come from within. By the end of his eight years, Obama was skeptical of all the leaders in the Middle East — Iranian, Arab and Israeli — and of their intentions.

.. It made Obama a policy minimalist on the Middle East: keep it simple and focus on the biggest threat.

.. By lifting sanctions on Iran as part of the deal, Obama hoped Iran would become integrated into the world and moderate the regime.

.. By contrast, Trump’s team is made up of maximalists. They want to limit Iran’s ballistic missile program, reverse its imperialistic reach into the Sunni Arab world, require Iran to accept terms that would ensure it could never ever enrich enough uranium for a nuclear bomb, and, if possible, induce regime change in Tehran.

.. in almost every country the alternative to autocracy turned out not to be democracy, but disorder or military dictatorship. If Iran, a country of 80 million people, was to go the way of Syria, it would destabilize the entire Middle East, and refugees would pour into Europe.

.. Iran has projected its power deep into the Arab world. But that was not because of money it got from the nuclear deal and sanctions relief, as argued by Trump & friends. It was because of the weakness of the Sunni Arab states and their internecine fighting, which created power vacuums that Iran has filled

.. Israel gets censured for implanting settlements deep into the West Bank. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates get censured for contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. But the Iranians have gotten away with murder, mass murder, at home and abroad — with virtually no censure.

.. In Syria, Iran’s special forces and its mercenary recruits — Hezbollah militiamen from Lebanon and Shiite hired guns from Central Asia — have helped President Bashar al-Assad perpetrate a ruthless genocide against Syrian Sunnis, including the use of poison gas, in order to maintain a pro-Shiite, pro-Iranian dictatorship in Damascus.

.. “The aim … is changing the demography” of Syria by settling Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen “from Afghanistan, Lebanon and other countries in the region … to fill the demographic vacuum” left by the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled their civil war.

.. Rather than scrapping the deal, he should have told the Europeans that all he wanted to stay in the deal were three fixes:

1. Extend the ban on Iran’s enriching of uranium to weapons grade from the original 15 years Obama negotiated to 25 years.

2. Europe and the U.S. agree to impose sanctions if Iran ever attempts to build a missile with a range that could hit Europe or America.

3. The U.S. and Europe use diplomacy to spotlight and censure Iran’s “occupations” of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

The nerve agent poisoning in England was a message to the rest of the world

‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain’

The nerve agent attack on former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter sends a powerful message to the rest of the world: the assassins aren’t playing by the rules.

.. Still, if the Russian government really was responsible, why use a nerve agent that could so easily be traced back to them? “They’ve had plenty of opportunities to kill Skripal,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the nonprofit research organization CNA. “And there are, frankly, a myriad of much simpler and more practical ways of doing it.”

But using chemical weapons is about more than just killing. These taboo weapons are instruments of terror, and their use is designed to send a message to the world: that the power behind the attack — Russia, according to the UK — doesn’t think anyone else is ruthless enough to retaliate effectively. And to others who might consider betraying Russia to foreign powers, it’s that snitches get more than stitches — they get murdered.

.. Using Novichok as a calling card could be a way of saying that Russia doesn’t care about looking guilty because whatever retaliation the UK and the West might muster isn’t frightening enough. After all, an in-kind response is off the table

.. If only one side is willing to be ruthless, it changes the rules of the game. This “etiquette of espionage,” for example, held that former spies were off limits for assassination attempts

.. And there’s an international treaty against using chemical weapons, so using them for assassination attempts on foreign soil are beyond the pale. “They do things like this intentionally to show that they in no way will be limited by what are considered to be established rules and norms of behavior,”

.. That message is also aimed at anyone considering telling Russia’s secrets to foreign powers, Kimmage says. “One very clear message is ‘If you betray us, we will kill you’ to put it into blunt, mafia-like terms,” he says. “‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain.’” The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal made an example out of him, and the theatrical method ensured that the press picked up the message and distributed it around the globe.

.. The threat of chemical weapons not only endures in the 21st century, but is spreading.” In the last few years, the Assad regime unleashed chemical weapons on civilians in Syria; ISIS used mustard gas in Syria and Iraq; state-sponsored assassins used the nerve agent VX to kill Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. And now, a chemical weapon made for the battlefield was used in a UK cathedral town, in the attempted murder of a UK citizen.

Vestergaard writes: “It seems the chemical peace is not just broken; it is shattered.”

It’s Chicken or Fish

.. are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?

.. But we already know the answer: No.

The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes.

.. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.

.. Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current G.O.P. majority in the House and maybe the Senate?

Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.

.. they enjoy, exercising raw power against their opponents.

.. Democrats and independents should not be deluded or distracted by marches on Washington, clever tweets or “Saturday Night Live” skits lampooning Trump. They need power.

.. they have power and are not afraid to use it, no matter what the polls say.

.. they will use that power to cut taxes for wealthy people, strip health care from poor people and turn climate policy over to the fossil fuel industry until someone else checks that power

.. The party has lost its moral compass.

.. Just think about that picture of Trump laughing it up with Russia’s foreign minister in the Oval Office, a foreign minister who covered up Syria’s use of poison gas. Trump reportedly shared with him sensitive intelligence on ISIS, and Trump refused to allow any U.S. press in the room. The picture came from Russia’s official photographer. In our White House!

.. it is a threat to the rule of law,

freedom of the press,

ethics in government,

the integrity of our institutions,

the values our kids need to learn from their president and

America’s longstanding role as the respected leader of the free world.