“It’s ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” ~ Mark Twain
Last Tuesday, I wrote about how dangerous a time we are living through — I consider the most dangerous time of my lifetime. Click here for my description of the particular fermenting brew of dangers being stirred by key players: Iran, its ally North Korea and its long time protector, China — all under a shadow posed by their erstwhile ally Russian President Vladimir Putin. I expressed hope that President Trump would make headway in persuading President Xi to throttle back North Korea’s Great Leader Kim Jong Un’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and associated ballistic missile delivery systems. We shall see.
Little did I know that, between the main course and desert of the evening meal two days later, President Trump would inform President Xi of his cruise missile retaliation, then under way, against a Syrian air base near Homs from which was launched an attack using chemical weapons that killed women and children.
Prior to that retaliatory strike, the President had warned the Russians, who had aircraft on and flew missions from that same base. (You might reasonably ask, was Russia supporting its long-time ally, Syria, rather than fighting ISIS as has been alleged? How did they not know about Syria’s chemical weapon attack in advance?) A limited, precisely executed U.S. cruise missile strike sent a clear, unmistakable message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his advisors, including his allies in Russia and Iran — and throughout the world.
The President’s order to execute this mission reinforced Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s warning during his recent trip to the Far East, particularly in the context of dealing with North Korea, that the U.S. policy of “strategic patience” is over and that a military response would be “on the table,” in particular if North Korea threatened U.S. and South Korean forces. This message apparently also applies in countering other threats and other nations beyond North Korea.
Actions speak louder than words — in this case re. Syria, breaking with years of U.S. reluctance to do anything to counter Assad’s butchery, including his prior more extensive use of chemical weapons even after then President Obama warned it would be a “red line” the crossing of which implied a response . . . nothing there.
In contrast, President Trump’s actual rapid retaliation indicates the use of chemical weapons, especially that kills women and children, is in fact a red line for him. And as Ambassador Niki Haley summarized in her address to the United Nations Security Council following the attack: “We are prepared to do more. We hope that won’t be necessary.”
An associated fact that should cause pause among friends and foes was that last week’s events also demonstrated that President Obama’s decision to leave this issue to be managed by Russia and President Vladimir Putin was a dismal failure. In particular, former President Obama’s and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s claims that the Syria had removed its chemical weapons, thanks to his abandonment of the Middle East to Russia, were demonstrably false.
Secretary Tillerson noted on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that Russia was either “complicit or incompetent” in dealing with Syria’s continuing chemical weapons efforts instead of carrying out its commitments to the Obama administration to assure that Syria got rid of its chemical weapons. (I can’t help but note again President Obama’s false claim this objective had been accomplished.) Tillerson’s blunt but accurate pronouncement helps to set the stage for his trip to Moscow, beginning today.
I also wonder how the Moscow discussion about defeating ISIS will go, especially as the Secretary takes into account the ISIS attacks over the weekend in Sweden and Egypt — even while congress and our courts diddle over what our policies should be regarding limiting the flow of refugees into our country when we do not have the ability to properly vet them.
Click here for former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton’s excellent Sunday Times (of London) article that discusses how we should now be thinking about matters in the Middle East. I strongly urge you to read his discussion of the complex issues we must confront, as the post-First World War Middle East order collapses. We must not assume that Syria and Iraq will simply re-emerge as the states they were before the ill-named Arab Spring and the equally ill-fated U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from Iraq, both in 2011.
Ambassador Bolton begins by aptly noting the Obama era of foreign policy is over — a matter widely, explicitly welcomed by our allies around the world. Moreover, he notes that President Trump’s retaliatory strike demonstrated that he will do what he believes is necessary when America’s security is threatened, and that Vladimir Putin and perhaps even U.S. Democrats will now realize there is no puppet of Moscow in this White House.
Bolton also notes that President Trump should not be troubled that his action might upset Assad’s other allies, e.g., the Iranian Mullahs — especially given that President Obama’s terrible unverifiable Nuclear Deal with Iran actually provided Iran with an extra $150 billion for nefarious activities, including to buy nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles from North Korea if Iran’s own robust programs fail to progress as rapidly as the Iranian leaders want.
Bolton rightly points out the challenges going forward, while eliminating the ISIS “caliphate” and managing the resulting political vacuum to minimize upside advantages for the Iran-led coalition that includes the pro-Iran Baghdad regime, Assad’s Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorists. A complicating factor is Iran’s ally, Russia, and its interest in preserving its military presence in Syria, especially its naval base at Tartus and a new airbase at Latakia. As noted previously, Russia’s shadow is over all these troublesome issues.
Bolton concluded his excellent Sunday Times review of the issues by noting that April 6, the day in U.S. time when President Trump ordered the strike against Syria, marked the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the First World War, and observing: “We never asked for global responsibilities, but when it mattered we acted and we acted justly. Let America’s critics around the world think on that. I am particularly proud to be an American today.” Me too.
Then there’s Iran’s rogue state ally, North Korea, which has been pursuing major nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development programs for decades. Click here for an April 7, 2017 Foreign Policy article by a friend, Will Tobey of Harvard’s Belfer Center, which discusses how “The North Korea Nuclear Threat Is Getting Worse By The Day.”
Will argues that North Korea through 2015 probably had only enough fissile material for fewer than 20 nuclear weapons, which would “constrain their nuclear options” — and that they are reaching a critical stage in seeking more. He argues that, if left unchecked, North Korea’s arsenal could approach 100 nuclear weapons by 2024; in any case, it would be substantially larger than it is today. He discusses how that increased capability might improve North Korea’s military flexibility while worsening the threat of the possibility of an accidental or unauthorized launch of nuclear armed ballistic missiles or from aiding nuclear proliferation by theft or sales—e.g. to Iran.
He concludes by arguing for China’s intercession because of the previous failed attempts to block North Korea’s steady march to nuclear armed ballistic missiles over the past three decades, without their serious involvement, and by noting, “Patience, strategic or otherwise, is no longer a viable option for Presidents Trump and Xi.”
While I support Will’s urgent argument that President Trump should apply his “Art of the Deal” skills to gain China’s support in throttling North Korea’s Great Leader, I would argue that my friend is a bit too optimistic in his statement of North Korea’s existing threat and capabilities already to do us great harm.
I believe that North Korea has enough nuclear weapons and the means of delivery to pose an existential threat to all Americans. And its ally Iran is not far behind, if at all.
I refer to using nuclear weapons to detonate a few high over the United States and produce an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would today shut down our electric power grid for an indefinite time — and without electricity to fuel our “just-in-time” critical infrastructure, most Americans would die within months from a lack of food, water, medicine, transportation, etc. and the consequent societal collapse.
Now, folks who ought to know better have had and continue to have their eyes closed to this threat — others, for whatever the reasons, simply prefer to sweep it under the rug rather than to deal with it seriously, often by exaggeration, poor scholarship and simply misquoting the experts who tell them differently.
For example, Click here for a May 31, 2017 Popular Mechanics article by Kyle Mizokami, “No, North Korea Can’t Kill 90-Percent of All Americans,” which knowingly asserts, “Pyongyang isn’t going to knock out the electrical grid and cause riots at the supermarket.” Mizokami took issue with former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and the Executive Director of the EMP Commission, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, in their March 29 article in The Hill. Click here for their article that, among other important facts, correctly noted that up to 9-out-of-10 Americans could die following a High Altitude EMP attack — as the Chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission testified in 2008. Click here for Dr. Pry’s letter to the editor of Popular Mechanics — as yet without a response.
North Korea is indeed a serious problem, because — as Woolsey and Pry point out and further defended and elaborated by Pry’s letter to the editor — North Korea no doubt can pose that existential threat to the American people today. After all, they years ago orbited two satellites at altitudes that would be just fine for detonating a nuclear weapon to produce an EMP over the entire continental United States, creating the effects claimed in the Roll Call article by Woolsey and Pry.
With such information rampant in the press, I welcome the reports that the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is headed to waters off the Korean peninsula. Click here for more information on the battle group which departed Singapore on April 8. It includes a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and an embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2; Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112); and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57)—all to operate in the Western Pacific rather than executing previously planned port visits to Australia.
In case you missed the meaning of the “end of strategic patience,” this is a strong follow-up message — at least to North Korea. However, the whole world should and probably will actually take note that President Trump means business. Moreover, if the crews of the several Aegis BMD destroyers and cruisers are properly deployed and their crews are trained, they can shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles or satellites launched to attack the United States.
So . . . who do you believe as our leaders begin to restructure our dealings with today’s dangerous new world disorder? I do believe that President Trump has laid down an important new marker — that hopefully will lead to more stability and mores security for America.
With instabilities on all sides, we must remember Mark Twain’s advice: “It’s ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Whatever else is accomplished by these ongoing activities, President Trump should not forget his campaign promise in Philadelphia:
“We propose to rebuild the key tools of missile defense, starting with the Navy cruisers that are the foundation of our missile defense capabilities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As we expand our Navy toward the goal of 350 ships, we will also procure additional modern destroyers that are designed to handle the missile defense mission in the coming years.”
He is right to emphasize making Aegis BMD all it can be — especially to counter North Korea and Iran. He also should reinstate Ronald Reagan’s “streamlined” SDI program and charge it with building the most cost-effective BMD systems as quickly as possible, beginning with a modern Brilliant Pebbles system within five years.
We made significant progress toward that end during the Cold War, thanks to President Ronald Reagan’s personal support and political courage—coupled with serious negotiations based on a demonstrated “Peace Through Strength” agenda.
President Trump seems to be adopting this Reagan pattern. Stay tuned.
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