“Fire and Fury”: With North Korea, Trump Plays To The Brink In A Game He Doesn’t Understand

 

First 30 Cities To Be Nuked

The Badlands seem nice this time of year

 

It is hard to say the world has been peaceful over the last 6 months, but it has more or less maintained the status quo. That’s been the only sigh of relief in the Trump Administration. The terror has been his rampage against our democracy, both by who he is and the actions of his administration, namely the DOJ. He hasn’t, as we say, been “tested”.

That’s over now.

North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.

That Washington Post story was just the first terrifying news of the day. The second was the reaction of Donald Trump.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Now. North Korea having the capability to launch nuclear missiles is not Donald Trump’s fault, despite his belligerence and incompetence. It was not Barack Obama’s fault. It wasn’t even absolutely the fault of George W. Bush, who pulled out of a treaty and essentially ignored NK while they developed their first weapon.

In some ways, this was inevitable. There is a limit to the force the international community can put on a country that is content to be lawless and ignore, when needed, the basic needs of its citizens. The regime calculates exactly what pressure it can withstand internally and externally. It knows China doesn’t want it to collapse, and the military might it projects, no matter how briefly, onto Seoul makes the thought of war nearly unbearable.

That isn’t to say it had to play out this way, and I am sure that actual NK experts could have gamed out other scenarios. But what happened, with NK consistently pushing the envelope and withstanding sanctions, was probably the most likely one. Options were very few.

To say that Donald Trump doesn’t understand this is redundant; he doesn’t understand anything. He knows nothing about North Korea except that he could maybe get a better deal there, whatever that means. And he knows nothing about history or military strategy. He just knows that he needs to sound tough.

In a way, there is a case to be made for his rhetoric today. Right now, we are playing a very delicate game, where the regime needs to be appeased, and hopefully back down. In order to do that, they have to be convinced that they have crossed a very dangerous line and that they are in existential danger. Because Kim Jong Un isn’t a madman. He’s done an incredible job of maintaining and consolidating power despite being seen as a weak poof when entering office. And he’s not suicidal.

So the trick is to convince him that he needs that pushing this further would be suicidal while hoping that new sanctions, including by Russia and China, work (getting them on–board with sanctions is more a matter of North Korean intransigence and menace, but if the Trump admin wants to claim a diplomatic victory, I’m happy to give it to them. It isn’t entirely unearned). But you want to do this without stumbling into war.

That’s what frightens me. Going to the brink only works if you think the other guy is going to blink. It only works if you know the exact level of menace you can enact without crossing the line into actual nuclear war. You have to understand your enemy, and you have to act with a level head while pretending not to.

Both sides are doing this. One is led by a child dictator (who while not a madman can’t be seen as a genius, either). The other is led by a monomaniacal know-nothing who thinks he’s tough. This is very delicate, and I don’t know if Un has the ability to play it right. I know Trump doesn’t.

There are a few mitigating factors. One is that, despite some hysteria, I do think Trump knows that nuclear war is bad. He’s not eloquent about it, and he sometimes likes to talk about it like it is NBD, but that’s just to seem tough. I think he’d be too scared to pursue things. I also think he’s too lazy to really want to do anything other than issue tough-sounding statements. He wants to outsource actual problems to other people.  that Kelly, Mattis, McMaster, et al have a protocol to keep him from doing something

And, if I am wrong on that, I’m banking (hoping, even praying) that Kelly, Mattis, McMaster, et al have a protocol to keep him from doing something catastrophic.

But even these comforts are really very cold. He is the President, and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He has to be taken seriously, even if he shouldn’t be. What he says and does matters, and he doesn’t know anything, refuses to learn anything, and acts entirely based on how he thinks it will make him look.

This is the real horror of the idiot Presidency. That nuclear war depends, to a large or small extent, but inarguably to some extent, on the most shallow, vain, and ignorant man in American public life, and maybe overall. This is the terror wrought because some people want to piss off liberals.

They’ll cheer for him with this. They’ll think this ridiculous baby is tough. I hope it works, obviously. I hope that the new sanctions force Un to back down while saving face. But Trump is making it nearly impossible for him to have a face-saving out. And that’s when things start to explode.

Water Diversions and War

 

Image result for fury road water

Spring Break, 2030! 

 

Here’s the term you are going to need to know in the next part of your life and the life of the planet: hydro-political strife. From Science Daily. 

More than 1,400 new dams or water diversion projects are planned or already under construction and many of them are on rivers flowing through multiple nations, fueling the potential for increased water conflict between some countries.

A new analysis commissioned by the United Nations uses a comprehensive combination of social, economic, political and environmental factors to identify areas around the world most at-risk for “hydro-political” strife. This river basins study was part of the U.N.’s Transboundary Waters Assessment Program.

Researchers from the United States, Spain and Chile took part in the analysis, which has been recommended by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe as an indicator for the U.N.’s sustainable development goals for water cooperation.

Results of the study have just been published in the journal Global Environment Change.

The analysis suggests that risks for conflict are projected to increase over the next 15 to 30 years in four hotspot regions — the Middle East, central Asia, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, and the Orange and Limpopo basins in southern Africa.

Whomever controls the water has enormous power over their neighbors. It’s a pretty terrifying situation when you think about it: just because your weird and arbitrary border has a river in it, you get to control the lives of people across that line? You can divert it, shunt it, dam it and drain it?

But really, that’s the way it always has been. America, of course, has its fair share of problems with that, like how we pretty much shut off the Colorado from Mexico (a situation that has been slowly and promisingly remediated, though no one knows what a Trump presidency will do to it).

That’s the way it has always been, sure, with resources being the reason for and tool of war, but that doesn’t mean we’re not entering scary new times. There are more people and less water. Climate change is going to be scything across the globe like a whirlwinded Queen of Hearts. Resources will be hoarded and dams will lead to war. An irrigation ditch can be a casus belli. We all know that in the 21st-century, water is war. But I don’t think people recognize just how hair-trigger and volatile it is going to be.

Think of how complex the Waukesha Diversion was. And how peaceful it was. Now imagine how difficult and fraught diversion negotiations will be when it is the life and death of a nation at stake. Think of how easy it will be to boil over into violence. Think of how that has happened in America’s past. That’s tomorrow’s world. Unless we actually come up with a legitimate mechanism for handling these situations, which means a de facto dissolving of some measures of national sovereignty, there is no chance.

 

Reminder: We’ve Been At War for 15 Years. This is Just a Different One

 

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Image from The Guardian, come on…

This is what I was getting at in today’s first post, when worrying that CBS was trying to reassure its viewers that the only reason Colbert was making fun of the President is that he didn’t know we had struck Syria.

One can see the telltale signs of a media gearing up to make war normal. Flashes of missiles launching through the darkened foreign night, the President huddling with advisors, reading a stern statement with a serious face, maps and graphics across innumerable cable screens, “experts” who just heard of Idlib this week talking about the strategic importance of sending a message.

I ultimately don’t think much will come of this. Trump is too chaotic and unfocused, and too deeply unpopular. I don’t think there will be much flag-wrapping across the country. I don’t think he’s going to grow significantly more popular because of this, except in a very few knee-jerk quarters. In a week, we may forget this even happened (though it did, with real consequences, but I am just talking domestically for this post).

But it is broadly disturbing how quickly the media gets on its own war footing, which not only has the effect of making Trump seem like a normal President, but shows something dark about our character, and about the last 15 years.

We’ve been at war since 2001 in one country or another, and usually several on some level. But most of those go unnoticed. They don’t get the banner treatment or the blaring chyrons. This is different, because it is against a President, which means it is against a real country, which means it is a real war (regardless of how limited). That’s exciting! That’s newsworthy. The rest? Background noise.

It’s really a dual danger. The first danger is that we get so excited to be at a real war, because that is what stirs the American character. It does so in other countries as well, though America seems particularly susceptible, at the same level as, say Russia. The idiot media is a reflection of that. It doesn’t just prime the pump. But the other danger is that war is so entrenched in our story, and so inextricable from the present moment, that it takes something extraordinary to even stir out attention. It’s ingrained now, in ways we haven’t begun to understand. We’ve always been at war, and always will be.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, and The Hajj: The Middle East’s Overwhelming Power Struggle and the US Election

middle_east_1914_english

I’m not saying that to be a successful President you have to understand what this map means. But you actually kind of do… (Image from Vox.com)

In which the ludicrous complexity of a region in historic transformation is nearly impossible to understand. 

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Remote Control ISIS Weapons: Probably Not Good

WaPa

While the advantage of remotely operating a direct-fire weapon such as a machine gun or sniper rifle is obvious, remote weapons can also make small bands of insurgent groups seem stronger and better equipped. The report covers one instance in which Kurdish troops attacked an Islamic State remote-controlled sniper rifle, losing men in the process while the shooter remained protected in a bunker nearby. Instead of using men to protect the remote weapon, the Islamic State instead tied up dogs around the system.

Experts are increasingly impressed and worried with the level of technological sophistication of tele-weapons used by militant groups in Iraq and Syria, especially ISIS. Mowing down Kurdish fighters with a remote-operated gun protected by dogs seems like a perfect combination of ISIS’s patented brutality and technological sophistication.

But really, it’s only the dogs, and the relatively crude-but-successful nature of the operation that make it any different from the way violence is changing, and becoming more remote and even automized. It’s one of the main issues of our day, and I don’t think it will ever be possible to have a real discussion about it, since we rush forward, and any attempt to say we shouldn’t have a weapon is lost in a deafening drum circle of retrograde chest-thumping.

Look for example at the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System. Even just the name makes it sound like a bad idea, but saying “this will protect the lives of Marines”– which could very well be true!– makes its deployment essentially a done deal. It needs human control now, but that’s just the first step.

 

This is the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, or MAARS for short. It's an unmanned ground vehicle that can be outfitted with a medium machine gun or a grenade launcher.

This makes me uncomfortable. Image from Tech Insider

 

There will be a point one day soon when robots will make the kill decision, algorithmically. I’m not a person afraid of a robot takeover, but I am apprehensive of them making what are essentially moral decisions. I’m also concerned that adopting higher and higher tech makes it impossible for us to condemn it, and keep it out of the hands of even worse actors. But barring high-level political action, I don’t see this as a road off of which we’re going to veer.