(CNN) US President Donald Trump has “lit the wick of the war” against North Korea, a Russian state news agency quoted North Korea’s foreign minister as saying on Wednesday.
(CNN) US President Donald Trump has “lit the wick of the war” against North Korea, a Russian state news agency quoted North Korea’s foreign minister as saying on Wednesday.
The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group on Sunday warned Jews living in Israel to leave the country as soon as possible before a destructive war between the Jewish state and his organization takes place.
Hassan Nasrallah, speaking to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, said that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was leading the region toward a devastating war.
Addressing “non-Zionist Jews,” Nasrallah said, “I call on anyone who came to occupied Palestine to leave it and return to the lands you came from, so you will not be the fuel for any war waged by your foolish government.”
He said Hezbollah’s conflict is not with the Jewish people but with the Zionist government of Israel, offering those who do not support the political ideology of Israel as a Jewish homeland the opportunity to flee before armed conflict begins.
Nasrallah warned that “Netanyahu’s government is leading your people to devastation and destruction,” and added that the Israeli prime minister was “trying to lead the region into war in Syria and Lebanon.”
The leader of the terror group, who frequently boasts that his forces are ready for another round of conflict with Israel, said Israel’s military has not correctly assessed Hezbollah’s military might.
“Netanyahu and his government do not know how the war will end if they start one, and they do not have an accurate picture of what to expect should they embark on the folly of war,” Nasrallah said.
Israel last fought a full-scale war with Hezbollah in 2006’s Second Lebanon War, and tensions have remained high even as the northern border has remained relatively quiet since.Israeli officials have warned Hezbollah that it would be devastated if it tests Israel in a war, as tensions have risen over the group establishing a foothold in southern Lebanon and southern Syria along with Iran.
Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 short-, medium- and long-range missiles and a fighting force of some 50,000 soldiers, including reservists.
A Hezbollah commander said last month that the group has more than 10,000 fighters in southern Syria ready to confront Israel.
Israel worries Hezbollah and its backer Iran could launch a war against the Jewish state from southern Syria.
Netanyahu has reportedly been negotiating with his counterparts in the United States and Russia in an attempt to establish an Iran-free area around surrounding the border, but to no avail.
Earlier this month, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers participated in the largest military drill since 1998, simulating war with Hezbollah for 10 days.
On Saturday, Nasrallah accused Israel and the United States of orchestrating a controversial referendum on support for independence in Iraq’s Kurdistan.
Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in the nonbinding, symbolic referendum, which sent regional tensions soaring. Iran, Turkey and Syria have all rejected it.
UNITED NATIONS — North Korea’s top diplomat said Monday that US President Donald Trump’s tweet that leader Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer” was a declaration of war against his country by the United States.
Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters that what he called Trump’s “declaration of war” gives North Korea “every right” under the UN Charter to take countermeasures, “including the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers even [if] they’re not yet inside the airspace border of our country.”
Ri referred to Trump’s tweet Saturday that said: “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at UN. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” Trump also used the derisive reference to Kim in his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 19.
The foreign minister opened his brief remarks in Korean by saying that over the last few days, the UN and the international community have clearly wished “that the war of words between the DPRK and the United States will not turn into real action.”
DPRK refers to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“However, that weekend, Trump claimed that our leadership wouldn’t be around much longer, and … he declared war on our country,” Ri said.
“Given the fact that this comes from someone who is currently holding the seat of (the) United States presidency, this is clearly a declaration of war,” the foreign minister said.
He said all UN members and the world “should clearly remember that it was the US who first declared war on our country.”
Ri then said North Korea now has the right to retaliate against US bombers.
He ended his brief remarks by saying: “The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.”
Despite controversy ahead of his visit, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka appeared at an Israeli counterterrorism conference in Herzliya on Monday, outlining the difficulties faced by the United States in its war on terror.
Gorka was chosen to headline the first day of the 17th annual conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, alongside ex-French prime minister Manuel Valls.
This decision made waves in Jewish media, as throughout his short tenure as deputy adviser, Gorka was dogged by accusations that he had ties to an anti-Semitic Hungarian organization, the Historical Vitezi Rend.
The former adviser has also been critical of “liberal elements” of the American Jewish community, who he said had “basically become anti-Israeli.” He said he believes the left wing has attacked him in the media because of his support for Israel.
Gorka, who has accused the Jewish Forward newspaper of a smear campaign for its reporting on him, did not address the accusations of anti-Semitic links or his attacks on liberal Jews.
His remarks Monday were delivered in a dramatic style — and occasionally accompanied by a provocative aside — though he mostly offered only generalities.A hawk known for his combative style, some of Gorka’s comments would likely be seen as fringe views or contradicting accepted counter-terror orthodoxy.
The London-born Gorka, whose parents had fled there from Hungary, said he had been “accused of many things,” but that he had “never said we’re at war with Islam.”
He did, however, say the West is at war with the “wrong versions of Islam,” which he said are “becoming more popular, while the more modern versions, like the ones in Jordan and Egypt, are being undermined.”
He added, “And this is not good for Muslims or for humans.”
He offered little insight into specific details of the current administration’s counterterrorism strategies, instead giving a general view of America’s war on terror since September 11, 2001.
He called for the US to focus on attacking the roots of terror, rather than “mowing the grass,” and going after specific terrorists.
“We must stop people from wanting to become terrorists,” he said.
The former White House adviser said the US needs to “engage vigorously and robustly” with terrorist ideologies, not just focus on the “kinetic” or violent aspects of the war on terror, though he said the US was the best in the world at that.
He compared terrorists groups like the Islamic State to the Nazis, as they are both totalitarian. “You cannot negotiate with [Adolf] Hitler, and you cannot negotiate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” he said.
He also called for the US to think more strategically, something he said it hasn’t done since “around 1988,” as American became powerful enough to be “stupid.”
But in addition to statements that reflect the generally agreed upon counterterrorism theories of the day, Gorka also sprinkled in comments that would surely ruffle some feathers.
For instance, he said the Arab Spring of the early 2010s “should more correctly be known as the Christian Winter.” The comment was offered with no context or explanation and appeared to have been designed to be provocative, implying that these movements in Arab countries marked the beginning of a decline in Christian ones.
The former adviser to US President Donald Trump left the White House last month in a shroud of controversy, with conflicting claims about whether he resigned or got the boot.
Gorka denied that he had been fired and said he had resigned. But he did not go into the details of his decision for leaving, beyond what he described as a stifling environment in civil service.
“Something in bureaucracy kills creativity,” he said.
He also complained of a “cynical” environment in the Trump White House.
“I thought that being the child of people who lived under fascist dictatorship… that I had an adequately cynical understanding of the world. I was very naive,” he said.
Gorka personally thanked one of the organizers of the conference, the director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Boaz Ganor.
“When the going gets tough, that’s when you find out who your real friends are, Boaz Ganor included,” he said.
Buckley and his allies opposed the “well-fed right” and the Eisenhower administration and favored the more radical and revanchist elements orbiting around McCarthyism and the burgeoning conservative movement. Then, 25 years later, well into maturity and middle age, the movement Buckley helped birth sent Ronald Reagan to the White House.
The proverbial ink on Bannon’s resignation was barely dry when the media began reporting his plans to mount an insurrection against the “Republican establishment” in Congress and the “globalists” in the White House.
Bannon has now decamped to Breitbart to wage “war” – his words – on the forces in Washington that have prevented Trump from turning the Republican party into a populist movement of economic nationalism, and even on Trump if he strays from the path. A source close to Bannon analogized the coming struggle to the French Revolution.
Since Charlottesville, pundits and historians have wondered whether we’re headed for a civil war. With Bannon’s exit, it’s clear that we are. Only it won’t be between North and South or right and left. It will be within the Republican party itself.
The question is: will it be like the war Buckley launched, a purgative struggle as a prelude to a new era of conservative power and rule? Or will it mark the end of the Reagan regime, unveiling a conservative movement in terminal crisis as it strives to reconcile the irreconcilable?
In his war against the Republican establishment, Buckley repeatedly raised the populist banner, speaking on behalf of the forgotten (white) man besieged by liberalism in the academy, the media, the civil rights movement and the Eisenhower administration.
The founding statement of National Review declared the conservative “out of place.” Buckley wasn’t pleading powerlessness. His was a claim to power, for that badge of exclusion, Buckley shrewdly realized, made the conservative “just about the hottest thing in town.”
So long as the left had the frisson of rebellion and the right the stench of the firm, conservatism was doomed. If conservatives could affirm their identity as “the new radicals,” they could take over the Republican party and transform the country.
For more than a half-century, conservative politicians and movement activists have been reading from Buckley’s playbook. The words have changed – once it was segregation and school prayer; now it’s immigration and Confederate statues – but the script has remained the same: we are the party of the outsider, exiled from our country, trying to take it back from pointy-headed professors and liberal elites.
With the help of that script, conservatives stopped the Equal Rights Amendment and transformed the right to an abortion into a provisional privilege of the geographic few. Schools in the South are today more racially segregated than they were under Richard Nixon, and the United States is more economically unequal than it has been in nearly a century.
Right-wing populism, in other words, has served the cause of privilege. Can it continue to do so, as Bannon and Trump seem to believe? Various signs suggest it cannot.
For starters, right-wing populism isn’t that popular. Richard Nixon, who first rode the hard-right racial populism of the conservative movement into the White House, was reelected with 61% of the popular vote. At the height of their power, Reagan and George W Bush received 59% and 51% of the popular vote, respectively.
Trump came into office with 46% of the popular vote, and his approval ratings in the opening months of his presidency have consistently been the worst of any modern president’s at this moment in his term.
And while the Republican party won five out of six presidential elections between 1968 and 1988, in the last 25 years, it has won only three out of seven presidential elections – twice without the popular vote, something that had not occurred in this country since the 19th century.
It’s true that the Republican party controls all the elected branches of the federal government, all the elected branches of 25 state governments and the legislatures of seven other states. Yet less than two years before the election of Reagan and the Republican realignment of 1980, the Democrats also led all the elected branches of the federal government – and by far greater margins in Congress than the Republicans do today – and all the elected branches of government in 27 states and the legislatures of nine other states.
By the standards of modern presidential history, Trump and Bannon have remarkably little to show for their wild ride of revanchism. There’s one supreme court justice, whose ascension owes far more to the savvy maneuvering of Mitch McConnell than to any right-wing populism of Trump or Bannon, and a host of regulatory measures that can be overturned by a Democratic successor.
These measures can do great damage, but as an index of presidential accomplishment, they’re unimpressive. Legislatively, the record is barren, with little sign, thanks in part to Trump’s Charlottesville remarks, of changing any time soon.
With his departure, Bannon claims “the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over”. Trump’s “ability to get anything done – particularly the bigger things, like the wall, the bigger, broader things that we fought for,” he adds, is “gonna be that much harder.”
But that narrative of his exit disguises how pyrrhic Bannon’s victory has been, from the very beginning. Virtually none of the signature elements of the populism Bannon claimed to be fighting for – the border wall, massive infrastructure, higher tax rates on the wealthy, trade wars with China, higher tariffs – is anywhere near coming to fruition.
And while Trump has managed to ramp up hardcore immigration measures (though his deportation rate is nowhere near what Obama’s was, even at its nadir), his legislative proposal to cut immigration in half is, by most accounts, dead on arrival, even among Republicans.
In the wake of the Charlottesville controversy, Bannon laughed at liberals and leftists who called for taking down Confederate statues. “Just give me more,” he told the New York Times. “Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”
As he explained to the American Prospect, “the longer [the Democrats] talk about identity politics, I got ‘em. I want them to take about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Ironically, as the Republicans flounder in their attempt to get anything done – much less enact a program of economic nationalism – Trump emits tweet after plangent tweet about “the removal of our beautiful statues.” It is the Republicans, in other words, and not the Democrats, who are saddled with identity issues, while their economic program (on healthcare, the debt, and taxes) remains stalled.
Before he left, Bannon’s parting words to Trump were to resist the siren calls of so-called moderates, who were pushing him to soften his stance on things like Charlottesville. Moderation would never win over Democrats or independents. The best thing was to appeal to the base: “You’ve got the base,” Bannon said. “And you grow the base by getting” things done.
But appealing to that base is precisely what is preventing things from getting done. As one top Republican strategist told the Wall Street Journal: “By not speak out against” Charlottesville and the white supremacy of the Republican party, “it is bleeding into the party, and that is going to make it far more difficult to pass anything.”
The right-wing racial populism that once served the conservative cause so well is now, as even the most conservative Republicans are acknowledging, getting in its way. Whatever the outcome of the civil war Bannon intends to fight, it’ll be waged against the backdrop of a declining rather than an ascendant movement, with the tools of yesterday rather than tomorrow.
That is why, having had seven months in the White House to prosecute his populist war on the Republican establishment – something Buckley and his minions could only dream of in 1955 – Bannon now finds himself staring into the abyss of a website, hoping to find there a power he couldn’t find in the most powerful office of the world.
Last November, when James Mattis traveled to Bedminster, New Jersey, at the behest of the president-elect, his close friends were shocked. They couldn’t believe Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, would consider working in the new administration as secretary of defense. “Jim,” his friend Peter Robinson asked him, “Donald Trump?”
For three years after leaving the Marines, Mattis had been ensconced at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, padding around campus in sneakers and jeans, a backpack slung over his shoulder, happily working on a book. The man retired Marine Colonel Gary Anderson calls “the finest combat leader our military has produced in decades’’ looked like an “old graduate student,” as Stanford colleague Robinson puts it. And he had little intention of changing that. Until Trump called.
Two other prominent retired generals received similar calls—and they, too, agreed to serve: national security adviser H.R. McMaster and newly appointed chief of staff John Kelly, who first joined the administration as the head of Homeland Security.
Trump calls them “my generals,” a title their colleagues say makes them a bit uncomfortable. And now, six months into a chaotic administration, under an unpredictable president who many fear isn’t fit for the job, the skepticism that many of their friends initially evinced has been replaced by something else: “relief,” says Johns Hopkins military historian Eliot Cohen, a friend of all three. “These are grown-ups in grown-up jobs. God knows this administration needs them.”
It is hard to overstate how widespread that feeling is among key U.S. allies—and even some adversaries, especially now with a mounting nuclear crisis in North Korea and Trump’s use of bellicose rhetoric unnerving friends and foes. One Chinese diplomat who, like many others in this story, would speak to Newsweek only on condition of anonymity, says his government—like many others—had “no idea” what to make of Trump when he won the presidency. But it was “somewhat reassured” by the appointments of Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, all of whom had “reputations as intelligent, reasonable men,” the diplomat says. The ambassador of a key U.S. ally who’s in almost constant communication with the administration about the crisis in North Korea is more blunt. “It’s hard to imagine what things would be like without them.”
All U.S. military officers serve at the pleasure of the president. The same holds true for Mattis, McMaster and Kelly—so at any time, Trump could tell them their services are no longer required, and each would take his leave. But in this White House, the relationship between the president and “his” generals may be more nuanced. The president has no prior experience in politics or national security. Combine that with the widespread respect all three generals bring with them, not to mention their reputations for seriousness and intelligence, and it means they possess something that Donald Trump the dealmaker understands well: leverage—leverage over him.
The incompetence of this administration—from the initial botched “travel ban” (which Kelly as Homeland Security director wasn’t even briefed on before the White House rolled it out) to its failure to date to push through any significant legislation—is striking. But “that stuff would look like small, small potatoes if any of the generals in Trump’s orbit” were to bail, says one former Obama administration Cabinet member who knows each of the men. “It would be a mortal wound,” says this source. “If any of these guys quits for something other than legitimate personal reasons—an illness or some such—it’s going to be really bad news.” The reason: It could mean “that the crazies really are in charge,” he adds, referring to Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and his loyalists.
Today, few are obsessing about Seven Days in May scenarios (the famous Cold War–era film in which a hawkish general plots a coup against a peace-seeking president). Instead, establishment Washington and America’s friends around the world, as Cohen jokes, are now paraphrasing Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: “We want those guys on that wall; we needthose guys on that wall.” That is especially true now, as the administration tries to prevent a disaster in North Korea, where the regime continues its march toward fielding a nuclear weapon it can fit onto an intercontinental missile. As Pyongyang snarls—threatening to fire missiles near Guam—and Trump responds in kind, one East Asian diplomat in Washington praises Mattis and McMaster, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for “their calming presence.” “They don’t get rattled, and their rhetoric—both in public and in private—is precise and matter of fact.”
Mattis, McMaster and their staffs spent early August methodically working through possible military responses to North Korea—including, Newsweek has learned, a possible cyberattack that could disable Pyongyang’s missiles. At the same time, several sources say they’re stressing to Trump the catastrophic risks of a pre-emptive strike. None of them will say whether a past Pentagon estimate of potential casualties in a new Korean war—1 million dead—still holds. “It’s impossible to predict [how many casualties] there’d be,” McMaster says. “War is unpredictable. You just have to assess the risks and figure out how to mitigate them.”
Trump, his generals believe, seems to understand those risks. Though his rhetoric may be “hot” on occasion, as one National Security Council (NSC) staffer says, “the decision-making on this is not going to be impulsive. It’s going to be very, very deliberate.”
Well before Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, retired generals had long wielded power in the White House—from George C. Marshall in the 1950s to Colin Powell at the turn of the century. Never, however, has there been a triumvirate of ex-military men with such clout advising the president. Each has a stellar reputation as a warrior and as a scholar. In 2004, Cohen says he visited Mattis in Iraq and brought him a “particularly well-reviewed copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.” The general accepted the gift and then “spent the next 15 minutes comparing that version to the two other versions…that he owns, one of which he had with him in Ramadi.”
Mattis got a master’s degree in international security from the National War College, but, as his friend Cohen puts it, “he’s someone who has never stopped learning—ever.” His personal library reached some 7,000 volumes before he gave much of it away, and he often gave his Marines reading lists before deployments.
McMaster is the author of Dereliction of Duty, a meticulously researched and withering account of how badly flawed U.S. military decision-making was in Vietnam during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. The book came out of his doctoral thesis at the University of North Carolina, and McMaster says its core lesson—getting the best information to the president at all times, whether he wants to hear it or not—informs his work as national security adviser “practically every day.”
Kelly got a master’s in national security studies from Georgetown University and later, as a lieutenant colonel, spent two years studying at the National War College in Washington, D.C.—something only elite armed service members are chosen to do.
What bonds Trump’s generals and informs the way they see the world is their shared experience in Iraq. Kelly served as Mattis’s assistant division commander there and saw how coldly decisive his superior officer could be. During the initial push toward Baghdad, Kelly had been struggling to get a regiment commander to quickly take the town of Nasiriyah. He asked the commander to visit Mattis, who, after hearing why he was hesitating (he said he was tired, among other things), promptly relieved him of command. Nasiriyah fell, and soon Baghdad did too. Mattis then sent his tanks and artillery home and visited Iraqi military leaders in the area. “I come in peace,” he told them. ”I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”
Mattis and Kelly both came from working-class families and enlisted in the Marines during the Vietnam War. As a young man growing up in Pullman, Washington, Mattis says he took some time to get his act together, and he credits the Marines with helping him focus. Well into his career, he recalls coming home to his parents’ house and reading a newspaper in their living room. His mother, who was sitting with him, began to laugh. “What’s so funny?” Mattis asked. “Oh Jim,” she responded, “I’m just darn glad you didn’t end up in jail.”
McMaster focused on a military career early on. He attended the elite Valley Forge Military Academy for high school and then went to West Point. As a commander in 1991 during the first Gulf War, his unit of nine tanks destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks in 23 minutes, without suffering a loss. The Battle of 73 Easting, as it’s known, is now taught at West Point. Fifteen years later, McMaster ran a highly effective counterinsurgency in the Iraqi town of Tal Afar—one that became a model for General David Petraeus’s “surge” later in the war.
Kelly culminated his career in the Marines as head of Southern Command, running all U.S. forces south of the border. In this role, he became sensitive to the security risks posed by widespread illegal immigration—an issue that obviously appealed to Trump—and he has thinly disguised contempt for politicians who favor open borders and sanctuary cities.
His career is notable in one other respect as well: He was the senior-most figure in the U.S. military to lose a son in combat in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Robert Kelly, then a 29-year-old Marine officer, stepped on a land mine in Sangin, Afghanistan in 2010 and died instantly. In 2014, his father addressed a meeting of Gold Star parents in California. He spoke of the heroism of two Marines killed in Iraq protecting a police station from a truck bomb. It was a deeply moving ode to the Marines’ warrior ethos, made all the more powerful because the man who delivered it, like those he addressed, was also Gold Star parent.
Of the three generals, Mattis is the senior figure, so when he resigned as chief of Central Command in 2013—he had succeeded Petraeus in that role, which oversees the U.S. military in the Middle East—the move reverberated throughout the armed forces. Many saw it as vote of no confidence in the Obama administration. Mattis had grown increasingly frustrated with the White House because he felt it had caved to Iran on a dangerous nuclear deal. After leaving the Marines, he became a quiet critic of the administration’s foreign policy—and then a more vocal one. He gave a brutally frank account of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., in 2014. “The president and his [foreign policy advisers] have a remarkable ability to absolve themselves of responsibility for anything,” he said of the rise of the Islamic State group (ISIS) that followed in the wake of deteriorating conditions in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
And while Obama’s defenders bristle whenever Trump says he inherited “a mess” abroad, he was hardly first to make that claim; Mattis had done so long before him.
‘He’s Not Going to Do Anything Crazy’
It surprises many people that Mattis is now a central figure trying to sort out that mess. While he was never a Never Trumper, Mattis did, as a matter of courtesy, entertain an entreaty from conservative pundit Bill Kristol to jump into the 2016 Republican primary as it became clear Trump was gaining traction. He demurred, but when he met with the president-elect in Bedminster, says a Mattis friend, the general told Trump, “I had some problems with some of the things you said during the campaign.” Trump waved away his concern. “That’s OK. Don’t worry about it.”
At the Pentagon, Trump has allowed Mattis to gain more and more authority. Early on, he drove the administration’s reset of Middle East policy. He backed bombing a Syrian airfield after Bashar al-Assad’s regime again used chemical weapons on its own citizens, and then—along with McMaster at the NSC—he helped bolster the White House’s relationship with America’s traditional allies in the Middle East: Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab states. All were critical of Obama’s handling of the war in Syria and the nuclear deal with Iran. Trump is also allowing Mattis to set troop levels in Afghanistan—in contrast to the micromanaging of the previous administration. When not focused on North Korea, he and McMaster are now deeply involved in reviewing the U.S. overall strategy in Afghanistan.
From his perch at the Pentagon, Mattis has largely avoided clashing with the White House. But he still gets sideswiped by the impulsive president. When Trump tweeted his enthusiasm for a Saudi economic embargo of Qatar because it allegedly funds groups the U.S. considers terrorists, Mattis quietly let Trump know that the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar is critical to U.S. operations in the region and would be badly hindered by the Saudi embargo. That was the end of the administration’s enthusiasm for isolating the Qataris.
Mattis was similarly taken aback when Trump said the U.S. military would no longer accept transgender volunteers. The former Marine general had accepted the Obama administration’s position on the matter. And though Trump claimed he had consulted with “my generals” before making the decision, Mattis made it clear he hadn’t. The Pentagon, his spokesman said, would await formal instructions from the commander in chief, rather than act on his tweet. (Aides say Mattis would follow orders on this issue if Trump insists, but privately may push back.)
McMaster has not been as fortunate as Mattis in avoiding the White House’s internecine squabbles. In early August, he was forced to fight off an effort to undercut his authority by Bannon, who supporters say is protecting the president’s campaign promises: On economics, he’s a protectionist (which McMaster sees as a stance that poses problems with key allies), and on foreign policy, he’s a nationalist who is deeply skeptical of America’s involvement in a place like Afghanistan. (In McMaster’s, Mattis’s and Kelly’s view, abandoning the country risks a return of the alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that led to the September 11 attacks.)
Bannon’s minions at Breitbart News and other sites catering to the “alt-right” white nationalist movement began accusing McMaster of undermining the very policies that got Trump elected: avoiding messy, unending foreign wars, getting tough on trade partners and getting out of the Iran deal. The Iran smear of McMaster is particularly specious: Bannonites say he favors staying in the deal, allegedly a sign that he’s pro-Iran. But McMaster echoes Trump in saying “that in many ways the nuclear deal with Tehran was the worst deal ever,” and he makes it a point to say that Iran’s influence in the Middle East is “malign and destabilizing.” In three months, the administration must decide whether to yet again certify Iran’s compliance with the deal. McMaster is acutely aware that key allies in Europe do not want the U.S. to pull out of the agreement, and that if the president does, it will take a lot of diplomatic hand-holding among those allies. “Von Clausewitz,” says a friend of McMaster’s, referring sarcastically to Bannon, “is apparently unaware of that.”
This contretemps may not last long. The combination of Kelly’s appointment as chief of staff and the increasing urgency of the North Korean nuclear program are cementing the generals’ authority. That was plainly on display in late July, when Kelly insisted that Anthony Scaramucci, the newly appointed communications director, be fired after an obscenity- laden rant to a reporter. “Kelly viewed him as someone who was unqualified for the job and who had embarrassed the president and the presidency,” says a White House source. His message to Trump was straightforward: “Look, this is the kind of stuff that has to end. I’m going to run things my way, or I’m not taking the job.” Trump agreed, and the “Mooch,’’ his erstwhile New York City buddy, was escorted from the White House.
Kelly also told the president that McMaster and Mattis had to be allowed to make their own hiring and firing decisions. The next day, McMaster was finally able to get rid of four staffers loyal to Bannon who had previously been protected by Trump. Among them: the senior director of intelligence at the NSC, 31-year-old Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom colleagues at the other intelligence agencies viewed with barely concealed contempt, in part due to his inexperience. “The day John Kelly became chief of staff,” says one official, “was not a good day for Steve Bannon and was absolutely a good day for General McMaster.”
As if to emphasize the point, Trump issued a statement aimed at getting Bannon and the alt-right to call off the attack. “General McMaster and I are working very well together,” the president said. “I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”
There are good days in Trumpland for the three generals, but there are still not so good days. After North Korea condemned U.N. sanctions imposed on August 5, saying the United States “would pay dearly,” and then threatened more nuclear and missile tests, Trump exploded. On August 8, he said that if North Korea continued to threaten the U.S., it would be met with “fire and fury.” Such over-the-top rhetoric stunned everyone—including McMaster, Mattis and Kelly, who was with Trump in Bedminster at the time. None had any idea a statement like that was coming, according to several White House aides. McMaster and Mattis, along with Tillerson, tried to assuage nervous allies that, no, war was not imminent, and that they were still committed diplomacy, even if Pyongyang says it’s not.
“We know by now there’s going to be some outbursts from this president,” says a person close to McMaster. “The good news is, he does really listen to these guys, almost all of the time. And that means he may say some crazy stuff, but he’s not going to do anything crazy.”
Asked if he thinks Trump will always listen to “his” generals when he needs to the most, however, the source just shrugs.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Senior American officials sent mixed signals on North Korea on Wednesday as President Trump’s “fire and fury” warning rattled allies and adversaries alike, a sign of his administration’s deep divisions as the outcast state once again threatened to wage nuclear war on the United States.
The president’s advisers calibrated his dire warning with statements that, if not directly contradictory, emphasized different points. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stressed diplomacy and reassured Americans that they could “sleep well at night,” while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said North Korea risked “the end of its regime and the destruction of its people” if it did not “stand down.”
North Korea gave no indication that it would do so. In a statement late Wednesday, the North Korean military dismissed Mr. Trump’s fire-and-fury warning on Tuesday as a “load of nonsense” and said only “absolute force” would work on someone so “bereft of reason.” The military threatened to “turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war” and added that any American strike on North Korean missile and nuclear targets would be “mercilessly repelled.”
The statement also said that the North Korean military would finalize a plan by mid-August to fire four midrange missiles into the waters off the Pacific island of Guam, a United States territory used as a strategic base, to create a “historic enveloping fire.”
The spiral of fighting words left the Trump administration debating how to handle a standoff that has defied three presidents and only grown more ominous in recent weeks as North Korea successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles for the first time. Neither Mr. Tillerson nor Mr. Mattis had reviewed in advance Mr. Trump’s threat on Tuesday, when he said North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” And the dissonance in their own follow-up statements reflected the struggle inside the Trump administration.
“I don’t think there is a single policy at work,” said Ellen L. Frost, a longtime Asia specialist at the East-West Center, a Honolulu-based research organization. “I’m not even sure that Trump cares about having a consistent policy on any subject.” Instead, she said, the president’s fire-and-fury threat was a play to demonstrate toughness to his political base “followed by more nuanced cleanup operations on the part of Tillerson and Mattis, who are walking a political tightrope.”
Mr. Trump remained out of public sight on Wednesday at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending most of a 17-day working vacation. But he posted a link on Twitter to a news report on his threat, and followed up by boasting that he had ordered the modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal.
“Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” he wrote, “but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”
American allies in Japan and South Korea were caught off guard by Mr. Trump’s threat, as were other regional players like China and Russia. Analysts reported deep anxiety in the region over the prospect that a war of words could easily turn into a real one.
But some discounted Mr. Trump’s comments as the sort of bombast they have become accustomed to from a president who has publicly assailed not just enemies, but even allies like Germany, Canada and Mexico. The difference is that Germany is unlikely to respond to a presidential tirade with an attack on Guam, as North Korea threatened after Mr. Trump’s warning.
Mr. Tillerson took on the role of soother, telling reporters as he returned from a trip to Asia that he saw no reason to believe that war was imminent. He urged North Korea to engage in talks about its nuclear program.
“I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” Mr. Tillerson said as his plane stopped to refuel in Guam, the very island that North Korea threatened to target. He added, “Nothing I have seen and nothing I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”
Mr. Tillerson said Mr. Trump simply chose the sort of attention-grabbing words that Mr. Kim would use. “What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong-un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Mr. Tillerson said.
Hours later, Mr. Mattis issued a written statement that, while not as florid as Mr. Trump’s comments on Tuesday, still held out the possibility of a massive retaliation that could destroy much of North Korea.
“While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth,” Mr. Mattis said. North Korea’s military, he added, “will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”
At the urging of the Trump administration, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved new sanctions against North Korea last Saturday. But even as China and Russia supported the measure, it was unclear how hard they would work to enforce it. Some saw Mr. Trump’s message as aimed at providing an incentive to Beijing to do more to avoid war, although it also risked disrupting the very alignment he had been trying to forge.
Mr. Mattis, in his statement, stressed the international solidarity against North Korea: “Kim Jong-un should take heed of the United Nations Security Council’s unified voice and statements from governments the world over, who agree the D.P.R.K. poses a threat to global security and stability. The D.P.R.K. must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
While the State Department insisted that the administration was speaking with “one voice,” analysts said that voice was not necessarily a consistent one.
“Clearly there is not a coordinated messaging strategy,” Evan Medeiros, the managing director at the Eurasia Group and a former Asia adviser to President Barack Obama, said by telephone from Tokyo. “This is being put together incrementally and of all the countries and all the issues you deal with, North Korea is not the one to be kludging together statements by the president and cabinet secretaries because the risk of miscalculation is so high.”
Alexander Vershbow, a former ambassador to South Korea, said the Trump administration “policy seems incoherent” and the threat of military action “will likely harden the North Koreans’ stance” and make it more difficult to get China to follow through on its support for the United Nations sanctions.
“If denuclearization is still the goal, the only way to get there is through increased Chinese pressure,” Mr. Vershbow said. “Since there is no viable military option, the only other course of action is to develop a long-term deterrence and containment strategy — but that means accepting the unacceptable,” North Korea as a nuclear power.
That, so far, is one thing Mr. Trump has made clear he would not accept. His administration has sent conflicting signals about whether it would entertain direct talks with the North Korean government. Vice President Mike Pence has said no such talks are being considered, while Mr. Tillerson has said they could happen as long as the North Koreans demonstrate their sincerity by pausing their missile tests. How long such a pause needs to last, he has refused to say.
Mr. Tillerson said that his strategy of gradually increasing the diplomatic and economic costs for the North Korean government is working. “I think in fact the pressure is starting to show,” he said. “I think that’s why the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang has gotten louder and more threatening.”
Mr. Medeiros questioned whether Mr. Trump’s warning, combined with sanctions, would prompt North Korea to return to the negotiating table. “That’s the big strategy question here,” he said. “Trump has clearly calculated that it will. But that’s a huge gamble, and it’s one that it’s not clear to me that the Chinese would necessarily agree with.”
Renegade Editor’s Note: As long as the poppy production continues to grow, it doesn’t matter who guards the fields. Enjoy your opioids, America.
As President Donald Trump vents his frustration with the United States’ “losing” strategy in Afghanistan, the “notorious mercenary” and Blackwater founder Erik Prince has seized the moment to offer his favored alternative: privatize the war.
According to a report by Katrina Manson of the Financial Times on Monday, Prince has drafted a proposal—dated August 2017—that would hand the longest war in American history over to a private “band of experienced sergeants,” who would fight alongside U.S.-trained Afghan forces.
Prince, Manson writes, “proposes a two-year plan for fewer than 5,000 global guns for hire and under 100 aircraft, bringing the total cost of the U.S. effort to turn round a failing war to less than $10 billion a year.
Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, argues that Trump should “restructure” the war—a process he suggests would resemble “bankruptcy reorganization”—by “aligning U.S. efforts under a presidential envoy,” which in a previous op-ed he called a “viceroy.”
Following the publication of his most recent piece, Prince appeared on CNN and noted that Steven Bannon, “some folks” at the National Security Council, and “quite a few” members of Congress have been receptive to his plan to privatize the war. The Financial Times further noted that “Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo visited Afghanistan last week to assess U.S. strategy and in part to consider how Prince’s proposal might fit into it.”
Critics have warned that while Prince’s plan may save money, it will potentially open the door to deadly abuses by unaccountable forces, like those seen in Iraq.
“If contractors are replacing soldiers and they are on the frontline they could kill or be killed, there could be kidnaps or insider attacks—what happens if they commit a crime or bodies have to be sent back; there would be a large number of legal complications,” one official told the Financial Times.
Ronald Neumann, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, echoed these concerns in an interview with the Navy Times.
“There’s a bad record of contractors and human rights abuses,” Neumann said. “There’s no legal structure to govern this.”
Others have offered a more scathing assessment of Prince’s proposals, likening them to “literal colonialism” and arguing that the plan is primarily driven by his desire to profit from the 16-year conflict.
As Common Dreams reported last week, Trump recently fumed in a meeting with generals and high-ranking national security officials that the U.S. is not “winning” the war. He also complained that businesses are not working quickly enough to secure a share of Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which has been valued at around $1 trillion.
Prince appears eager to capitalize on the strategic conflict within the administration, and his recent moves indicate that he sees a significant business opportunity in Afghanistan.
Last week, the Military Times reported that Prince submitted a “business proposal” to the Afghan government, which included a plan to supplement the country’s military capacities with a “private air force.”
“The aircraft offered in the proposal includes fixed-wing planes, attack helicopters, and drones capable of providing close-air support to maneuvering ground forces,” the Military Times reported after viewing a draft of the plan.
Prince’s plan also reportedly includes the use of “an iPhone application called Safe Strike,” which is presented as a “tool for air tactical controllers to safely and accurately call in precision airstrikes or indirect fire.”
A private air force and bombing app! From the people who brought you blackwater; an even more disturbing idea. https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/2017/08/02/blackwater-founder-wants-to-run-the-afghan-air-war-with-his-private-air-force/#.WYNZ6M2vVdU.twitter …
Blackwater founder wants to boost the Afghan air war with his private air force
Erik Prince, the former CEO of the private military company formerly known as Blackwater, wants to run the Afghan air war with a private air force capable of intelligence collection and close-air…
This article originally appeared on Common Dreams.
Murder and suicide are far deadlier than war in the Middle East, according to a study by the International Journal of Public Health.
The study – which surveyed 22 eastern Mediterranean countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Syria – reported that murder and suicide were responsible for 1.4 million deaths in 2015.
Wars in this region, however, accounted for 144,000 deaths; only one-tenth of the number that occurred due to other violent acts.
“Intractable and endemic violence is creating a lost generation of children and young adults. The future of the Middle East is grim unless we can find a way to bring stability to the region,” said Ali Mokdad, director for the Middle Eastern Initiatives at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Mental health conditions in the eastern Mediterranean – such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – have increased sharply, according to the same research.
“In 2015, nearly 30,000 people in the region committed suicide and another 35,000 died from interpersonal violence, representing increases of 100% and 152%, respectively, over the past 25 years,” the report stated.
This is a much larger increase than in other regions of the world during the same time period, where increases of 19% in suicides and 12% in violent crimes were reported.
An overwhelming majority of Americans — 76 percent — are worried that the United States will become engaged in a major war in the next four years, according to a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey National Security Poll out Tuesday.
The number has jumped 10 points since February, when 66 percent of Americans said they were worried about military conflict.
Although Americans are concerned about a number of national security threats, a strong plurality (41 percent) believe that North Korea currently poses the greatest immediate danger to the United States, emerging as a more urgent concern than ISIS (28 percent) or Russia (18 percent), according to the poll, which was conducted online from July 10 through July 14.
While concerns about Russian meddling in the 2016 election have divided the country in recent months, Democrats and Republicans agree that North Korea is the most urgent threat. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaners, 42 percent say North Korea is the most immediate threat, and a similar number of Republicans and Republican-leaners (45 percent) agree.
North Korea has emerged as a flashpoint for the current administration, as tensions have rapidly escalated since President Donald Trump took office. In the past few months, North Korea has conducted multiple missile tests — with the most recent provocation involving a ballistic missile with the range to reach Alaska.
Americans also are feeling much more concerned about North Korea compared to just a year ago. Three in 5 Americans (59 percent) say they currently feel less safe from the North Korea threat compared to how they felt the previous year.
As the administration continues to weigh its options, a majority of Americans (59 percent) believe the United States should mostly use diplomacy over military force. In an April interview, Trump said the United States would “love to solve things diplomatically, but it’s very difficult.”
“There is a chance we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” Trump said.
The administration has said all options remain on the table.
Opinions about how the United States should deal with North Korea differ sharply by party, the poll found.
Democrats and Democratic-leaners are the most likely group to favor a diplomatic route (76 percent), and a strong majority of independents would also prefer diplomacy over military action (65 percent). Republicans and Republican-leaners are slightly more split, but a majority say the United States should mostly use military action (56 percent).
Of those who say North Korea poses the greatest immediate threat, 80 percent are very or somewhat worried that the United States will become engaged in a major war within the next four years.
The NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll was conducted online from July 10 through July 14, 2017, among a national sample of 5,347 adults. Respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Results have an error estimate of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points. For full results and methodology, click here.