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Going Ballistic
The NYT’s North Korea Bombshell

As President Trump’s tweets alleging a wiretap conspiracy fanned a political firestorm this weekend, a much more significant security story fell through the cracks. According to an exclusive New York Times report, the U.S. has been waging a covert cyber campaign against North Korea’s nuclear program for three years—an effort that showed initial success in disrupting missile tests, but which has lately failed to deter Pyongyang’s steady progress toward an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States.

With President Trump now at the helm, he faces a choice among highly imperfect policy responses:

He could order the escalation of the Pentagon’s cyber and electronic warfare effort, but that carries no guarantees. He could open negotiations with the North to freeze its nuclear and missile programs, but that would leave a looming threat in place. He could prepare for direct missile strikes on the launch sites, which Mr. Obama also considered, but there is little chance of hitting every target. He could press the Chinese to cut off trade and support, but Beijing has always stopped short of steps that could lead to the regime’s collapse.

In two meetings of Mr. Trump’s national security deputies in the Situation Room, the most recent on Tuesday, all those options were discussed, along with the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to South Korea as a dramatic warning. Administration officials say those issues will soon go to Mr. Trump and his top national security aides.

The Times reports President Obama concluded some time before 2014 that America’s traditional antimissile systems would not serve as an adequate defense against a North Korean attack; even under ideal conditions, interceptor tests were registering a 56% failure rate, and appeared to not be improving much over time. That conclusion precipitated Obama’s decision to explore cyber options, including “left of launch” strikes to disable missiles before they leave the launchpad. But the resilience of North Korea’s systems suggests that a new tack may be needed, and fast.

Whatever choice Trump makes will be highly risky. Some experts warn that “left of launch” strikes set a dangerous precedent that could make us vulnerable to pre-emptive attack, many South Koreans are already balking at the prospect of reintroducing nukes in their country, and negotiating with Pyongyang could be a dead end. In any case, the Trump administration’s decision to cancel back-channel talks with the North Koreans suggests that direct diplomacy is not forthcoming. Trump has instead suggested he would pressure Pyongyang by tightening the screws on the Chinese, whom he has said “could solve the problem very easily if they want to.”

The past three Presidents kept kicking the North Korean can down the road, but the end of that road may now be in view. Just one day after the Times story, North Korea launched four more missiles off Japan’s northwest coast—not ICBMs, thankfully, but hardly a reassuring development as Pyongyang marches toward that milestone. War in Asia could be closer than anyone likes to think; forestalling that outcome will take a concerted effort by a White House that has lately been more occupied with putting out flames generated by the President’s Twitter account.

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  • Dale Fayda

    The Democrats’ appeasement is “coming home to roost”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreed_Framework.

    How much does anyone want to bet Obama’s Iran “deal” blows up in our faces just like the one Clinton made with the North Koreans?

    • RedWell

      It’s just a thorny problem. NO ONE has good solutions. If the Republicans did, GW had plenty of opportunity to implement them.

      • Eurydice

        Sure, but GW was 8-16 years ago. Time marches on and so does N. Korea.

      • Dale Fayda

        GW had to work within the framework of an already established “deal” between Clinton and the Norks. Can you imagine how apoplectic the Democrats/MSM (redundant, I know) would go if Bush had unilaterally decided to scrap that “deal”? Actually, we don’t need to imagine. We’ll all get to watch the Democrats setting themselves on fire with righteous indignation when Trump bails on or substantially alters the Iran – Obama “agreement”. It should have never come to this state of events, but that’s what both GW and Trump had “inherited” from two Democrat foreign policy nincompoops – Bubba and Captain Transparency.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Perfectly said. I suggest you bookmark your comment here, so when Trump does ‘alter the deal’, we can remember RedWell’s comments…

        • RedWell

          Yes, I can imagine how apoplectic they would be. That was their reaction to the Iraq war. Bush had plenty of latitude to change course, but he doubled down on negotiations. Suggesting that his hands were tied gives Clinton way too much credit.

          I won’t defend Obama’s Iran deal. It is indeed flawed. But I find uncompelling, and possibly childish, these armchair denouncements of politicians of either party who actually have the responsibility of national security on their hands.

          Trump may dump the Iran deal. Fine. What does he do in its place? A stronger deal? Violence? Sanctions? The US had to live with the USSR for decades until it collapsed internally. Until NK and Iran do the same, I find these claims that “my team is better than your team at foreign policy” to be dangerously cavalier.

          • leoj

            The Democrats were apoplectic about the Iraq war? That’s a nice bit of revisionism. The one person who could be been said to have been apoplectic, Howard Dean (in 2004, mind you, not 2002 or early-2003 when it mattered), was dumped because he was ‘unelectable’ and erratic (the primal scream in Iowa).

          • D4x

            TeamTrump, War on BDS at the UN, March 29 2017. Wanted to share that, not today’s news about Knesset law effectively banning boycotters entry or residency. World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ambassador
            Ronald Lauder’s statement is powerful, and aligned with TT. Explains why Gov. Cuomo suddenly scheduled a trip to Israel. The vote to advance David Friedman’s nomination out of committee is Thursday, and Lauder already publicly taking on the rabbi who is challenging Sen. Menendez indicating he would vote yea in committee.

            Off to ponder whether Hollywood will boycott Lauder, the publicly traded corporation…

            http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/226296

            [on March, 29]. “…US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, the first US governor to sign into law anti-BDS legislation, will address the conference participants in the General Assembly Hall. Since assuming her post as ambassador, Haley has come out strongly against the UN’s biases and prejudices and has expressed her unequivocal support for Israel. …”

            (North Korea became part of the Israel story when IAF bombed the Gaza tunnels used to transfer NorK precision missiles from the Sinai. )

          • D4x

            Sen. Corker’s Committee voted 12-9 to advance Friedman’s nomination for the Senate vote. Sen. Menendez voted yea. Ranking Sen. Cardin, d, MD, voted no. Cardin was a win for J-Street, openly lobbying for the neoDem Party to vote no.

            Four days before any possible full Senate vote.

            SecState Tillerson will be in Japan on March 15, SKorea, then China, end Mar. 19. North Korea is the topic.

            “The Trump administration has invited more than 60 nations and international organizations to Washington…March 22-23 for a strategy session on how to counter the Islamic State after a widely expected U.S.-backed military assault on the extremists’ home base. …”

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-administration-inviting-more-than-60-countries-for-strategy-session-on-countering-isis/2017/03/08/80ea2468-0452-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.ddc7f13a8fd3

            Very interesting news report, especially about Raqqa, and how Russia fits, not being part of that coalition.

            Another stimulating read is Peter Van Burren on the Dep’t of State, focused on what could be cut:

            http://www.reuters.com/article/us-100days-state-department-commentary-idUSKBN16G23K

            That’s more than enough for now.

          • leoj

            Thanks! I saw the news about Friedman. I’m happy that Corker voted for him, I heard some of the questioning from him and I thought there might be some problems. As for J-Street, I guess when you call them kappos they don’t take it well. They have it coming for getting into bed with the progs, imo. Hadn’t heard about the meeting in Washington (been avoiding TImes and Post and now mostly reading foreign news which isn’t as good with stories like these, at least in advance). The Anton LIO piece was very interesting as well.

          • D4x

            Know you meant Menendez, on the vote. Have also been avoiding NYT and WaPo, but WaPo may be partly redeemable, at least in reporting on State Dep’t, as SecState Tillerson seems to be perceived as Normal enough. 🙂

            Awaiting the header “Let them eat steak” after reading this:

            “HOUSTON — Peter Thiel, the technology investor and advisor to President Donald Trump, questioned the global push toward restricting carbon emissions as “group think” while speaking Tuesday at an international energy conference here.

            “I’m not sure I’m an extreme skeptic of climate change, but I have my doubts about the extreme ways that people try to push it through,” he said. “Even if climate change is quite as bad as people think it is, if we group think we’re more likely to misdiagnose the problem. Maybe it’s methane emissions, and the real problem is eating steak.”

            http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Trump-adviser-Peter-Thiel-questions-restricting-10985006.php
            Hope you comment on the Purim feature. Too many syllables for me today.

          • leoj

            Ha! No I meant Corker: ‘”You’re here today having to recant every single strongly held belief that you’ve expressed, almost,” the committee’s Republican chairman, Bob Corker, noted.’ Still suspicious of him (perhaps too suspicious), since he found a way to shepherd the Iran deal past Congress.

            Just finished the Nate Silver piece mentioned in the post today. From the end:
            That’s because a position that seems to have deep backing from the evidence may really just be a reflection from the echo chamber. You should be looking toward how much evidence there is for a particular position as opposed to how many people hold that position: Having 20 independent pieces of evidence that mostly point in the same direction might indeed reflect a powerful consensus, while having 20 like-minded people citing the same warmed-over evidence is much less powerful.

            This immediately brought to mind the 97% of scientists statistic that is used to support anthro caused warming. Even for a fake stat it is not very compelling

          • D4x

            When Corker said that in the Friedman hearing/inquisition, I thought it was to emphasize the inquisition by the Dems, especially Menendez.

            JCPOA was a fait accompli without the Senate. Corker got ForRelCmte Dems on the record, several becoming hypocrites when they cast their vote, especially Coons.

            My memory of the Senate on JCPOA still fixed on the end of floor ‘debate’, when Sen. Whitehouse pivoted to the perils of climate change. All other memories blocked by my RUFKM! And that the negotiation team included Wendy Sherman, with a lot of Twizzlers.

            “Echo chamber” very popular this week.

          • leoj

            Yeah ‘recant’ is a funny word. I think you may be right.

  • Disappeared4x

    It is not covert when the NYT “exclusively” publishes the leak on the front page of a Sunday edition. Yes, I read the NYT, very detailed, much research, but why March 4, 2017? Surprised the NYT did not blame it all on Russia and Israel, a NYT two-fer.

  • Nevis07

    If I were Trump, I’d start tweeting and talking in front of the camera about how lavishly he’d reward an enterprising young NK General if they happen to depose Kim and the regime… And I’d be putting troops in SK on an active alert status…

  • Matt Book

    If the writer thinks that the flames are simply generated by Trump’s tweets then he is a moron. Otherwise it’s petty schoolchild sniping that does not impress anybody. Go take a walk around the block and come back to write like an adult.

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