Juan Cole on Trump’s bizarre, stupid and dangerous UN speech

September 20, 2017 at 9:01 am (Asshole, Iran, jerk, nationalism, North Korea, perversity, plutocrats, populism, posted by JD, Saudi Arabia, Trump, UN, United States, war)

Trump blasts Iran for backing Syria, ignores Russia, praises Saudis

By (at Informed Comment) Sep. 20, 2017

Trump more or less threatened to wipe out the 25 million people of North Korea in his speech at the UN.

Then he turned to the Middle East, where he again pledged to undermine the Iranian nuclear deal.

In other words, he put forward a plan to turn Iran into North Korea as a geopolitical problem.

The speech was a weird amalgam of white nationalism and Neoconservatism. It abandoned the isolationism of the former and eschewed the idealism of the latter.

Concerning Iran, Trump said:

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy. It has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. The longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are, in fact, its own people.”

I swear, I thought Trump was talking about his own administration there for a second. He’s the one, not Iran, who called Nazis very fine people and blamed Heather Heyer for being run over by one of Trump’s supporters. I have been critical of the Iranian regime’s human rights record, as well, but Trump doesn’t have a leg to stand on here.

“Rather than use its resources to improve Iranian lives, its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors. This wealth, which rightly belongs to Iran’s people, also goes to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship, fuel Yemen’s civil war, and undermine peace throughout the entire Middle East.”

Hizbullah was formed to get Israel back out of Lebanon. Israel committed a naked act of aggression against little Lebanon in 1982, invading and shelling Beirut indiscriminately. The Israeli army then occupied 10% of Lebanese territory, in the south of the country. The far right Likud party has sticky fingers, and it had no intention of ever leaving. Hizbullah fought a low intensity guerrilla war to get the Israelis to withdraw, which they finally did in 1999. Israel still occupies the Shebaa Farms area that belongs to Lebanon.

The Yemen civil war wasn’t fueled by Iran but by a Saudi air campaign against the government of the north of the country. The Houthis were unwise to make their coup in early 2015 against the interim government, but it was the Saudis who bombed targets from 30,000 feet and with little local knowledge. Iran may have facilitate some training for a handful of Zaydi fighters, but it doesn’t give them very much money. The conflict is indigenous and has its origin in Yemen resentment of Saudi attempts to spread money around and convert people out of Zaydism and into the ultra-rigid Wahhabi form of Islam.

As for Hizbullah backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, so does Trump’s buddy Vladimir Putin, to whom Trump said Syria should be turned over. In other words, Hizbullah’s position on Syria isn’t much different from that of Trump.

It is very odd that you would blame the survival of the al-Assad regime on Iran alone and not bring up Russia. Russia has spent way more in Syria than Iran and has used its Aerospace Forces for intensive bombing over 2 years, a much bigger military impact than Iran’s. And Trump himself keeps saying Arabs need strongmen to rule them.

“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. (Applause.) The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.”

Let’s see. In the Joint Plan of Collective Action, Iran gave up:

1. –its planned heavy water reactor at Arak, concreting it in and abandoning it. Heavy water reactors can be used to gather enough fissile material over time so that you might be able to make a nuclear bomb. That pathway is gone.

2. –all but 6000 of its centrifuges, which aren’t enough to enrich enough uranium on a short timetable to make a bomb

3. –its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.5%. It needs to be enriched to 95% for a proper bomb, but that is easier if you start part of the way there. That stockpile has been recast in a form such that it cannot be used to make a bomb.

4 — its objections to being intensively monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is now under the most stringent inspection regime in history. (Israel refused inspections and then made several hundred nuclear warheads and so did India and Pakistan and Russia and the US. Trump doesn’t condemn the actual proliferators, only Iran, which does not have a nuke).

Iran basically gave up the deterrent effect of being able to construct a nuclear weapon in time to stop an invasion. The United States has invaded 3 neighbors of Iran, so it isn’t an idle fear.

What did Iran get in return? The GOP Congress tightened sanctions, and has scared off a lot of European investors.

Iran got bupkes.

This deal is not between the US and Iran but between Iran and the UN Security Council plus Germany (representing the EU). The deal has deeply disadvantaged Iran and has not affected the US at all. In fact the US has already reneged on the spirit of it.

If what Trump is saying is that Iran was left with some elements of what is called ‘nuclear latency’– the knowledge of how to make a bomb, then that is correct. But the only way to wipe out Iranian nuclear latency would be to invade it and occupy it and put in a puppet government.

And that is what Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Bin Salman want Trump to do. We have to see if he is so foolish.

Iran is 2.5 times as populous as Iran and 3 times bigger geographically, and the Iraq War did not go well for the US.

“The Iranian regime’s support for terror is in stark contrast to the recent commitments of many of its neighbors to fight terrorism and halt its financing.

In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them. ”

As or Saudi Arabia being the good guy, give me a break. They were backing anti-minority fanatics like Jaysh al-isalm who wanted to ethnically cleanse all Syrian non-Salafis (i.e. almost everyone). They had recognized the Taliban in the 1990s. They spread around an intolerant form of Islam that forbids Muslims to so much as have a friendly meal with Christians and Jews.

Trump’s remarks were apocalyptically stupid.

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Related video:

France 24: “Donald Trump at the UN: The Iran Deal is “an embarrassment to the United States”

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Trump’s North Korea threat: ‘unnecessary, scary, irresponsible’

August 10, 2017 at 2:18 pm (nationalism, North Korea, nuclear war, posted by JD, stalinism, Trump, war)

Robert E Kelly is widely recognised as one of the few genuine experts on North Korea. His reaction to Trump’s golf club tirade against North Korea on Tuesday (that any threat to the US would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before”) was to call it “unnecessary, scary, irresponsible.”

Kelly, a professor at Pusan National University (South Korea) spoke to The Washington Post about what he meant, and what could happen in the near future.

Interview conducted by Herman Wong:

POST: Let’s address Trump’s comments. Your tweet said they were “unnecessary, scary, irresponsible.” How so?

KELLY: “Unnecessary” in the sense that the North Koreans already know that we dislike them, that we want them to act differently and so on and so on. And just a few days before, Secretary Tillerson was on TV saying “we’re not your enemy” and Trump goes off and says this.

He just undercut his own secretary of state. So that’s what I meant by unnecessary.

“Scary” because what he said sounds like Old Testament-style rhetoric. “Fire and fury.” He’s like some prophet from the Old Testament talking about fire and brimstone.

And “irresponsible” because it sounds like Trump shooting his mouth off again. Maybe his national security team approved of that kind of language, but it sounds a lot like what Trump does on Twitter, which is shooting his mouth off and saying stuff and his national security people have to walk it back in the next couple of days.

POST: You’ve said before that “much of the overheated rhetoric coming from Trump administration about North Korea” is actually to pressure China. Who is the audience for Trump’s warnings?

KELLY: My sense is that there are two ways to read these things.

The optimistic one is that Trump got this cleared by his national security staff and he’s sounding a little unhinged or angry because he’s playing the madman role. And the point of this role — not that he’s actually a madman, but to pressure the Chinese into coming around.

He plays this sort of game and the Chinese are like: “Oh, my God, he might actually start a war and kill us all; let’s go pressure North Korea.”

This is a way of Trump signaling to China to get serious about North Korea — which, to defend the president, is not necessarily a bad idea because I do think China still has a lot of leverage over North Korea. The best way to resolve the North Korean issue peacefully is to get the Chinese to push the North Koreans harder. I know that’s pretty disputed today. A lot of people just don’t think the Chinese have that weight. But I do.

The negative interpretation is that Trump just shot his mouth off. And now the whole world is like: “Oh, my God, Trump is as unpredictable as Kim Jong Un, and we’re going to have nuclear conflict between these two schoolyard bullies who don’t know how to back down.”

North Koreans didn’t waste any time at all. One hour after that comment they were talking about nuking Guam.

This is just bickering. This is all rhetoric. This is not going to happen.

North Koreans are not going to nuke the Americans out of the blue. The North Koreans don’t have offensive intentions. Attacking the United States would be suicidal. The Americans would respond with so much force, North Korea would just be wiped off the map. We know this.

The North Koreans know this. They’re not apocalyptic ideologues like Osama bin Laden, willing to risk everything on some suicide gamble. The North Koreans are pretty rational. They are pretty tactical. They’ve been smart over the years. It would be very out of character for the North Koreans to suddenly launch a weapon at San Francisco. So I don’t buy that at all.

POST: Trump’s “fire and fury” statement echoes North Korea’s own threats, and some supporters have suggested that nuanced statements in the past have been ineffective and Trump is speaking in a way the North Koreans would understand. What do you make of that?

KELLY: The thing I don’t like about that though is that the United States isn’t some pesky, rogue country with a history of doing crazy stuff and dealing drugs and counterfeiting like North Korea.

North Korea has a reputation as a rogue. We don’t expect it to act any better and it’s a small part of the global economy that’s not really that relevant for global rules.

When the Americans act that way, when the Americans start talking like that, it sends signals to everybody. The center isn’t holding. The Americans are expected to be better than this. We don’t talk this way, in the same way we don’t expect the South Koreans to talk the same was as the North Koreans do. We expect more from democracies, we expect more from liberal countries.

I think it’s one of the reasons people like you and I are having this conversation, because it’s so uncharacteristic for American leaders to talk like this. Maybe it’s going to work. Honestly I haven’t thought that far. But it’s risky, it’s really risky. Because it sends a signal to everybody else out there that: Hey, you can’t trust the Americans, they might launch a nuclear war.

POST: How do you think Trump’s comments will be received in North Korea? How about in Japan or South Korea?

KELLY: We already know how North Koreans are going to take it. An hour or two later they threatened Guam. That’s how North Koreans always respond to threats. They always reach for the most outlandish rhetoric: Really aggressive, personal insults against the president of South Korea and the United States, the racism and all that.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that the North Koreans immediately went over the top by threatening a nuclear strike on American territory. That’s why we shouldn’t get into these kinds of war of words with the North Koreans. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to lead us anywhere.

The South Koreans and the Japanese will sort of roll their eyes and say “what is going on over there.” This is just Trump the unhinged. That’s what I’m really worried about — that our allies in Asia are increasingly thinking we are unreliable because the president’s kind of off his rocker.

POST: You tweeted Tuesday, in all-caps, “WE DON’T HAVE TO BOMB NORTH KOREA.” What are America’s options? How likely are China and Russia to stick to sanctions?

KELLY: Sanctions are the most likely, peaceful way to resolve this. Chinese economic pressure through sanctions, enforcement that leads to pressure on the elite bottom line in North Korea, not the popular bottom line. When you get factions in North Korea to start fighting over diminishing resources, that’s the kind of pressure we’re looking for. That can only come around if China plays ball.

If that doesn’t happen, and that hasn’t happened for 15 years, then my sense is missile defense. But you get a lot of push back on this, too. A lot of tech people say missile defense is a boondoggle, it doesn’t work, THAAD is overrated. My own sense from the briefings I’ve seen over the years about missile defense is that THAAD is at least reasonably effective. It’s a start.

POST: What next?

KELLY: I think the North Koreans will not stop the missile testing program. The Americans will slowly adapt to that in the same way it adapted to the Russia, China and Pakistani nuclear weapons. We’ve learned to adapt and live with those, and we’ll do the same with the North Korean ones as well. We will adapt even if Trump doesn’t admit it.

In the next three or four days, my guess is that the Trump national security staff will go out and clean up the remark and say we didn’t exactly mean this. We want to have talks, go to the U.N. etc.

POST: What should people who are paying attention to the North Korea situation for the first time know?

KELLY: I would say two things.

Consider that for 70 years, North Korea has had the opportunity to do major damage to South Korea, later Japan, eventually the United States, both against American forces in the region and now against the American homeland. It’s had opportunities for a long time and has never gone after them.

North Korea now has a long history of restraint, actually. It has a long history of tactical provocation. But North Korea has never gone over the edge. It has always pulled back.

And that leads a lot of us in the analyst community to believe that the North Koreans do not intend to use nuclear weapons. So all of this hysteria, this “World War III is around the corner” kind of stuff, is highly unlikely because the North Koreans have had the opportunity for a while. Look at North Korea’s past behavior as a predictor of future behavior.

The second thing I would say is that if there really is war coming, the big reveal for that would be an evacuation or call for evacuation of Americans living in South Korea. That is the big red flag. So if you see the Americans are told to get on a ship at Busan and go to Japan, you know the American airstrike is coming.

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