The CIA has a long history of helping to kill leaders around the world

According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.

Killer Politicians

What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.

Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slaveowner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: the bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.

.. Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the CIA, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.

.. Many mass killings by presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: by carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.) In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.

.. The mass killings in Iraq under George W. Bush are of course better known, because the US-led war there was made for TV. A supposedly civilized country engaged in “shock and awe” to overthrow another country’s government on utterly false pretenses. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result.

Barack Obama was widely attacked by the right for being too soft, yet he, too, notched up quite a death toll. His administration repeatedly approved drone attacks that killed not only terrorists, but also innocents and US citizens who opposed America’s bloody wars in Muslim countries. He signed the presidential finding authorizing the CIA to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in overthrowing the Syrian government. That “covert” operation (hardly discussed in the polite pages of the New York Times) led to an ongoing civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes. He used NATO airstrikes to overthrow Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, resulting in a failed state and ongoing violence.

.. Under Trump, the US has abetted Saudi Arabia’s mass murder (including of children) in Yemen by selling it bombs and advanced weapons with almost no awareness, oversight, or accountability by the Congress or the public. Murder committed out of view of the media is almost no longer murder at all.

When the curtain slips, as with the Khashoggi killing, we briefly see the world as it is. A Washington Post columnist is lured to a brutal death and dismembered by America’s close “ally.” The American-Israeli-Saudi big lie that Iran is at the center of global terrorism, a claim refuted by the data, is briefly threatened by the embarrassing disclosure of Khashoggi’s grisly end. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ostensibly ordered the operation, is put in charge of the “investigation” of the case; the Saudis duly cashier a few senior officials; and Trump, a master of non-stop lies, parrots official Saudi tall tales about a rogue operation.

A few government and business leaders have postponed visits to Saudi Arabia. The list of announced withdrawals from a glitzy investment conference is a who’s who of America’s military-industrial complex: top Wall Street bankers, CEOs of major media companies, and senior officials of military contractors, such as Airbus’s defense chief.

.. Political scientists should test the following hypothesis: countries led by presidents (as in the US) and non-constitutional monarchs (as in Saudi Arabia), rather than by parliaments and prime ministers, are especially vulnerable to murderous politics. Parliaments provide no guarantees of restraint, but one-man rule in foreign policy, as in the US and Saudi Arabia, almost guarantees massive bloodletting.

More Chaos as Trump Suggests the North Korea Summit May Be Back On

On Friday, after a North Korean official said that Kim was ready to meet Trump “at any time,” Donald Trump, Jr., linked to an Axios story about this statement and crowed, “The Art of The Deal baby!!!”—as if Trump’s decision to cancel the summit had elicited important new concessions from the North Koreans. But that wasn’t the case.

.. Of course, Kim is willing to meet anytime. It was he who requested the summit in the first place.

To sit down one on one with an American President has for decades been a goal of North Korea’s leaders.

.. At the very least, some detailed preparatory work would make it easier to manage expectations in both Washington and Pyongyang.

.. The evidence suggests Trump acted as he did because he didn’t like the tone of North Korea’s statements, particularly those directed at John Bolton, the national-security adviser, and Mike Pence, the Vice-President, after they both suggested that Libya’s disarmament under Muammar Qaddafi would be a good model for the North Koreans to follow.

.. This language suggests the North Koreans have learned the lesson that Pence and many other people around Trump learned a long time ago: the most reliable way to get him to do something you want is to praise him expansively and publicly.

.. the idea that Trump is some sort of master negotiator, or ace business tactician, is a fallacy propagated by himself. Trump’s actual record in doing business deals is one of overpaying, struggling to make them work, and shuffling some of his companies in and out of bankruptcy.

.. The only art he has perfected is promoting himself as a great dealmaker on the basis of such a checkered past.

.. Trump has displayed virtually no regard for the consequences of his actions on American allies, including South Korea and Japan.

.. without giving any advance notice to South Korea, which had worked for months to set up the summit, was shocking even by his standards.

.. To many people who live in Korea or in nearby countries, it seemed like an American President was behaving erratically on a matter of existential importance.

.. Trump looks impetuous and unreliable.”

.. the Trump Administration is demanding that Kim’s regime agree to scrap its entire nuclear arsenal—which it spent thirty years developing—rapidly and unilaterally.

The North Koreans, in talking about “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” appear to be envisaging a much more gradual process that would involve reciprocal measures on the U.S. side.

.. China, which is also a key player, has proposed an initial “freeze for freeze” deal, in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program and the United States suspends its military exercises with South Korea.

 

Can North Korea Trust Us?

on a few questions there is real consistency across his years as a public eminence.

  1. One is his belief, which may give us new steel tariffs, that America is a big loser from the international trade system.
  2. Another, which may give us a Trumpian tête-à-tête with Kim Jong-un, is his belief that he alone can solve the problem of nuclear proliferation.

In 1984, near the peak of Reagan-era nuclear fears, he told The Washington Post that he should lead nuclear deal-making with the Soviets.

Six years later, he warned Playboy that “the greatest of all stupidities is people’s believing [nuclear war] will never happen.”

In 1999, flirting with a presidential bid, he promised to “negotiate like crazy” to prevent North Korea from going nuclear.

.. But we also have no clear example to offer Pyongyang of a denuclearization that worked out for the authoritarian regime that accepted it.

.. Where denuclearization has happened successfully, it has generally followed a

  • transition from dictatorship to democracy (as in Brazil and Argentina), been
  • part of such a transition (Ukraine) or been
  • a prelude to regime change (as in South Africa).
.. Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear weapons in return for guarantees from Russia and the United States, only to find that guarantee a dead letter in an age of Putinist aggression
.. Then there is the case of Iraq.
.. Any authoritarian regime observing that history might reasonably conclude that nuclear weapons should be sought and never be given up …
.. Especially since our next president decided to tacitly confirm that lesson, by pursing regime change in Libya after the Libyan dictator had agreed to close down his own W.M.D. program. The spectacle of Qaddafi getting murdered by a Libyan mob, however roughly just, was also an object lesson in the downsides of believing that the Americans will care about a W.M.D. deal if the opportunity arises to remove you afterward.

.. Despite our official commitment to nonproliferation, then, the revealed preference of our foreign policy elite is often for other priorities — NATO expansion, humanitarian intervention, regime change.

.. the deal that Kim dearly wants to extract from us — a limited denuclearization in return for our withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula — would probably have disastrous effects for regional security and the larger Pax Americana.

  1. .. persuade Pyongyang that we might attack if they keep raising the nuclear ante and
  2. that we really don’t care about toppling them otherwise.

 

Why Making North Korea Nuclear-Free Will Be So Hard

In the history of nuclear weapons there has been only one country that voluntarily gave up its weapons and the program that produced them, and that is South Africa.

.. The South African program was unusual in several ways. It used a method of enriching uranium that had never been tried on an industrial scale, injecting hexafluoride gas at very high velocity into a tube to separate out the fissile bomb-making isotope, uranium 235.

.. South Africa had managed to manufacture six bombs and had one under construction when, in 1989

.. Libya is often cited as having given up its nuclear program. But it was an entirely different case.

.. Colonel Qaddafi bought a very expensive package of material from the Pakistani nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who ran an illicit nuclear proliferation network.

 

Coreligionists in Kleptocracy

What Russia and Iran have in common is someday their people will say ‘enough.’

.. Vladimir Putin must get a clammy feeling from the logic of Iranians taking to the streets against a corrupt government conducting costly adventures in places like Syria.

.. The average Iranian in the street doesn’t think the benefits of the nuclear deal failed to materialize. He thinks they were hijacked and hoarded by regime cronies.

.. Widely reported was the Obama administration’s shipment of $1.7 billion in untraceable cash, via cargo plane, directly to Iran’s leaders. Of 110 international business deals touted in the Iranian press as the fruit of sanctions relief, a Reuters accounting showed that 90 went to companies controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or other top officials.

.. the average Russian has seen his real income continue to shrink, no end to sanctions

.. Nor can the Kremlin shield him from the growing phenomenon of internet-based reporting on the absurd luxuries enjoyed by such regime favorites as Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, much less the astonishing offshore wealth of Mr. Putin’s personal “friend,” the cellist Sergei Roldugin.

.. In both countries, normal, patriotic feeling has clearly begun leaching away from leaders whose defining quality is hypocrisy.

.. Under current leadership, 100% of everything is gobbled up in the corrupt power rivalries and overseas adventures of the leadership class (e.g., the Syrian war).

.. Nobody predicted the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian revolution that overthrew his ally Viktor Yanukovych, or the roadside execution of Gadhafi, an omen that Mr. Putin reportedly dwells on.

.. He was angry at Hillary Clinton for what he considers her efforts to foment a coup against him personally.

.. What the U.S. has over such countries is stable institutions in which to contain unpredictable events and forces.

Remote Diagnoses

But as ominous or unprecedented as it might seem, Trump’s outburst is far less dangerous than the way we understand it. The opposition between rationality and irrationality has long undergirded the foreign policy doctrine the United States has relied on for dealing with the DPRK. Now it has been applied to our own President. What I have in mind here is not an elaborate Foucauldian construct, although its popularity certainly has something to do with the way post-Enlightenment Western society has conceived of the relationship between sanity and insanity. This opposition is far blunter, more soundbite-friendly—and thus more seductive. And its greatest partisans are the members of the national security establishment that stand to gain the most from the removal of this troubled President.

.. English-speaking analysts are prone to understanding the behavior of the DPRK through the lens of Richard Nixon’s “madman theory,” a strategy the President adopted in 1969 as he sought an advantageous end to the Vietnam War. Following the theories of the Cold War economist Thomas Schelling, Nixon adopted an approach called Giant Lance, aiming to convince the Soviet Union that an American nuclear strike on Moscow or Hanoi was imminent. By demonstrating that his behavior was not subject to ordinary rational calculation, Nixon hoped to achieve a superior bargaining position: “I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I’ve reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war,” he told H. R. Haldeman. But the Soviets were not fooled: it was not easy to convince them that a world leader would truly be willing to act beyond material motivations and constraints.2

Instead it is American foreign policy doctrine that continues to divide the world into rational actors, typically NATO countries, and irrational ones, typically not long for this world: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, the Kims. In this worldview it is not a set of threats or behaviors that makes a leader a madmanit is the determination to maintain independence from American empire, often through the pursuit of nuclear weapons. In such a framework it is always the advocates of continual pressure, threats, and sanctions that appear the most rational, for they are the ones that maintain vigilance against uncontrollable madmen.

.. National security types believe their supreme goal is the prevention of nuclear Armageddon through non-proliferation. But their behavior demonstrates an utter lack at least of means-end rationality, for their policies have made proliferation inevitable.

.. George W. Bush not only invaded Iraq; arguing that he could not negotiate with such an evil regime, he unilaterally renounced the United States’s commitments in the Agreed Framework, justifying North Korea’s weapons program and its skepticism about American dealmaking.

.. Above all, it is the sheer reach and relentlessness of American empire that has set us on knife-edges all over the world. We are constantly told that we have rivals in all corners of the globe—places most Americans, when surveyed, have proven unable to identify on a map.

.. If we are on the brink of nuclear apocalypse, it is because the reasonable people, the Pences and the Frums and the Obamas and the Clintons, have put us and kept us there.

The idle blather of a Trump is nothing in comparison to this threat; if anything, it is a flamboyant extension of it. As a historian I struggle to think of even one instance in which careless words alone started a real conflict. The most grimly absurd adventures of the American military machine—Korea, Vietnam, Libya—were launched by people who were celebrated as the best and the brightest, working from doctrines developed by experts and scholars. To achieve a North Korea policy that does not menace us with nuclear annihilation, we first need to be able to escape their grip.