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Woodward Book Says Mattis Feared Trump Would Start Nuclear War With North Korea

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The coronavirus bombshells in Bob Woodward's new book, Rage, due out September 15, are so explosive that they have somewhat overshadowed other important parts of the book — for example, the veteran journalist/author's reporting on President Donald Trump's foreign policy decisions. And Woodward, according to the Guardian's Julian Borger, describes some of the ways in which Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others tried to rein Trump in on foreign policy.

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How North Korea’s Dictator Scammed Trump

Donald Trump had a bad week. He went to West Point to make himself look like a strong leader but raised doubts about his health when he struggled drinking water and descending a ramp. His first Supreme Court appointee wrote the opinion in a case upholding gay and transgender rights.

The court also struck down Trump's effort to deport undocumented foreigners brought here as children. His former national security advisor wrote a book painting the world's most powerful person as an ignorant sleazebag who was guilty of the impeachment charges and more.

Trump had to reschedule a Tulsa rally planned for Juneteenth, but he insisted on holding it the following day — risking lives in a state suffering a surge of the coronavirus. New polls showed him trailing Joe Biden by landslide margins.

In any other week, it would be major news that the North Korean government blew up an office building that had been used for meetings with South Korean officials. Ordinarily, Americans might have taken note that, as The New York Times reported, the regime is threatening "to extinguish the fragile detente with a new cycle of bellicose actions and military provocations."

Attention would have been riveted by disclosure in Bolton's book that Trump's get-togethers with Kim Jong Un were not about eliminating North Korea's nuclear program but merely at making himself look good.

In reference to the first meeting, in Singapore, Bolton says Trump told him "he was prepared to sign a substance-free communique, have his press conference to declare victory, and then get out of town." Though Trump cared little about nukes, making sure that Kim received an Elton John CD "remained a high priority for several months."

Trump has been a failure in many areas, but nowhere else has there been a greater distance between what he claimed to achieve and what he actually did. In his telling, he averted the war that Barack Obama had been on the verge of initiating. "You would, right now, be in a nice, big, fat war in Asia with North Korea if I wasn't elected president," he claimed last year, in one of his hallucinatory episodes.

At the outset, it was Trump who sounded ready to launch an attack. In 2017, the Pyongyang regime carried out a successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The president responded by declaring that if North Korea threatened us, "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." In a speech at the UN, he said, "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

But soon Trump changed his tune. He dispatched CIA Director Mike Pompeo to North Korea, and soon he agreed to travel to Singapore to meet with Kim. He made this concession even though the CIA, according to NBC News, concluded that "North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, but it may be open to allowing a western burger chain to open a franchise in the country."

In June 2018, his first summit with Kim yielded a vague joint communique and Trump's agreement to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea. But he immediately tweeted, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

In fact, Kim never gave up a single nuclear weapon. What he did instead was manipulate Trump with flattery. "He wrote me beautiful letters," the president gushed in 2019. "We fell in love."

But their love affair has not kept Kim from expanding his nuclear arsenal. Nor has he closed any of the reactors that produce weapons fuel. North Korea has gone back to regular missile tests. Last month, Kim convened his military leaders to announce "new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country," according to the government.

In short, Trump held three grand summits with Kim, bragged about eliminating the nuclear threat, expressed his love for the dictator — and has gotten a big fat nothing. Concludes Bolton, "We're now nearly three years into the administration with no visible progress toward getting North Korea to make the strategic decision to stop pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons."

Trump is the political equivalent of the lonely guys who get scammed by dating websites promising to connect them with hot Russian women. The promises he got from his heartthrob didn't pan out. But hey — he'll always have those letters.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

North Korea Dropkicks Trump, Vows To Expand Nuclear Arms

Two years after Donald Trump met with dictator Kim Jong Un in an effort to improve relations with North Korea and work toward its denuclearization, the regime says the diplomacy effort has turned into a "dark nightmare."

In a statement Friday, North Korea's foreign minister, Ri Son Gwon, said the country would expand its nuclear weapons program.

"Even a slim ray of optimism for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula has faded away into a dark nightmare," Ri said.He vowed that North Korea would never again "provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns."

Last year, Trump promised that his relationship with Kim would bring a nuclear deal.

"Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it," he tweeted last May. "He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!"

That was not the only time he talked up his unique ability to improve relations with North Korea.

Last April, he said that his personal relationship with Kim "remains very good, perhaps the term excellent would be even more accurate."

Trump added that he looked "forward to the day, which could be soon, when Nuclear Weapons and Sanctions can be removed, and then watching North Korea become one of the most successful nations of the World!"

In September, he told the press, "I was given a lot of things. I was given North Korea, where, as you know, President Obama said, 'That's going to be the hardest problem.' And he said some very tough things about North Korea, that he thought it was going to be a problem. That hasn't turned out to be that kind of a problem."

In December, Trump defended North Korea's testing of short-range missiles as "not a violation" of their 2018 agreement.

"Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust, there is far too much for North Korea to gain — the potential as a Country, under Kim Jong Un's leadership, is unlimited. Also, there is far too much to lose," he wrote.

As recently as this April, Trump said that, if not for his leadership, the United States would be at war with Kim.

"Look, if I wasn't elected, you would, right now, be at war with North Korea. Okay? I'll tell you, for your people that don't understand the world and they don't understand how life works: If I wasn't elected, you would, right now — maybe the war would be over, hopefully with a victory," he told reporters.

Nuclear proliferation experts have said peace is unlikely as long as Kim remains in power.

"Despite the seeming convergence of political interests between Kim, Moon, and Trump, a fundamental remaking of the Korean Peninsula can happen only if Kim Jong Un makes a strategic decision to save North Korea by dismantling the Kim dynasty," Chung Min Lee, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Asia Program, wrote last November. "So long as he remains in power, however, Kim will never make that choice."

Former National Security Council member Jeff McCausland wrote last March, "One of Trump's biggest mistakes was his assumption that Kim needs the U.S. to dramatically improve its economic situation, and thus the nukes for sanctions trade makes sense. This is not accurate. An improved economy is not an ends for Kim, but rather a means."

Instead, he explained, Kim's "primary goal is to maintain his iron-clad control over the regime."

Trump's relationship with Kim has long been fraught with tension and back-and-forth insults. Trump mocked Barack Obama for not being tough enough with "the man child" in 2013 and derided Kim as "rocket man" in 2017. Kim called Trump a "dotard."

In early 2018, the two threatened each other with nuclear war: After Kim warned that he had a "nuclear button" on his desk, Trump tweeted "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

Later that year, Trump appeared to soften, exchanging letters with Kim and holding in-person meetings. Despite the two signing a document at their June 2018 Singapore summit vaguely promising "to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and to advance a new bilateral relationship based on "peace and prosperity," little changed.

Trump's promised peace deal never materialized and, by December 2019, North Korea was back to threatening to send the United States an ominous "Christmas gift." Trump downplayed the threat, saying the present could also be "a beautiful vase."

Kim announced days later that he would end a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests and that the world would see a new strategic weapon "in the near future."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Faces Crises In Iraq And North Korea — After Alienating Allies

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Two separate crises roiled President Donald Trump on the first day of the year of his re-election campaign.

The U.S embassy in Baghdad is recovering from an assault that grew out of a pro-Iran protest. Some protesters stormed the grounds and set fires. Hundreds came to the facility over two days to protest American airstrikes on the Iran-supported militia group, Kataeb Hezbollah, in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 25 people. That strike came in response to an attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American contractor, according to the U.S.

And now, the Pentagon has announced it is sending 750 troops to Iraq in response to the embassy assault, and thousands more a reportedly preparing to be deployed. It is, apparently, a classic case of escalating tension, and it’s not clear where it will lead.

At the same time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has uncorked a new round of aggressive rhetoric of his own. Kim has said he is ready to take “shocking actual action.” He has promised the release of a “new strategic weapon” in response to unproductive talks with the United States, undermining Trump’s claims that the nuclear threat from North Korea has been eliminated.

“If the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” Kim said, USA Today reported.

It’s never clear how seriously to take North Korea’s rhetoric — it’s often overblown and purposefully provocative. But it is a genuine signal that, as experts have argued since the beginning, Trump’s attempts at diplomacy with the rogue nation have amounted to very little and have done nothing to alter Kim’s strategic interests.

Likewise in Iran, Trump’s failure is also on display. He tore up the Iran deal President Barack Obama had established with no good justification, insisting that being tough on the country could induce it to accept even more punishing terms. But the international community largely rejected Trump’s abandonment of the deal, leaving the United States isolated on the issue. And Trump seems no closer to a new deal with the country than he ever was.

Now we find ourselves in yet another series of escalating punches and counter-punches with Iran, and the body count is rising. When tensions rose with Iran earlier in 2019 over attacks on an oil tanker and a U.S. drone, I feared that then-National Security Adviser could use the situation to engineer a full-scale conflict with Iran. That fate was avoided, and Bolton has since been ousted, but the ratcheting up of violence and provocation on both sides could lead Trump on the path to war even if he genuinely wants to avoid it.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, observed:

So after 3 years of no international crises, @realDonaldTrump is facing one w Iran b/c he has rejected diplomacy & another w N Korea b/c he has asked too much of diplomacy. He will face both w little allied backing, less interagency process, & amidst impeachment. Happy New Year.

— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) December 31, 2019

Some noted that “diplomacy” is too generous to describe Trump’s treatment of North Korea. Laura Rosenberger, the director of Secure Democracy, said that the term “pageantry” is more apt.

But another point in Haass’s tweet is worth paying attention to. He noted that, in Trump’s North Korea and Iran foreign policy, he largely alienated American allies and the interagency staffers who typically shape U.S. diplomacy. As is readily apparent, going his own way hasn’t proved to be a successful method. But it also means it will be much hard to turn to these partners and tested strategies for diplomatic help now because he cut them out at the beginning. Trump has also dramatically undercut his own credibility by prematurely declaring victory in both North Korea and Iran.

“A very predictable consequence of the lack of Trump’s showmanship in place of any policy or strategy on North Korea,” noted Rosenberger of Kim’s aggressive talk. “Buckle up.”

The twin crises, of course, are arising when Trump is uniquely vulnerable.

“The timing of these new challenges is critical,” wrote David Sanger in the New York Times. “Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage.: