Answer: Hard To Tell With Trump
In rambling comments this morning during his visit to Poland, President Trump started out with aggressive words for North Korea, saying “I have some pretty severe things we’re thinking about.” But then he almost immediately reeled them back, adding: “Doesn’t mean we’re going to do them. I don’t draw red lines.” That then sent him veering into a slam on President Obama’s Syria policy: “President Obama drew a red line, and I was the one who made it look a little bit better than it was.”
Our opinion: If this is representative of a well-thought out strategy to keep North Korea and its supporters on their heels, it’s not a bad thing. If it’s an indication that we’re improvising as we go, that’s far less reassuring.
You can watch the entire segment here:
South Korea’s new President, also in Europe today, emphasized dialogue is the way to go, and armed conflict should not even be considered as a possibility. Moon Jae-in saying “We can never allow a war on the Korean Peninsula ever again.”
Earlier, at the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley accused North Korea of “closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution”, and said the U.S. will use military force “if we must.” And for the first time, Haley put pressure on Russia, not just China, to come down hard on the North. (President Trump so far has limited his criticism to China not pushing hard enough, despite personal promises from President Xi.) Haley seemed angered by Russia joining China in insisting the U.S. and South Korea promise to stop joint military exercises in exchange for North Korea stopping nuclear tests, and criticizing the U.S. for installing an anti-missile system in South Korea.
Let’s Break Down The North Korea Situation, And Why It’s So Important
(What special insight do we claim? None. Except we’ve been to North Korea.)
• North Korea will not give up its nukes. No way, no how. Why? Because it’s all they’ve got. And it’s not just their only bargaining chip: it’s a source of national pride that helps hold the regime together. Without nuclear weapons, nobody cares about them, their anemic economy just rots, and their people suffer in oblivion. (Which might be enough to spur regime change). So if your opening position is they’ve got to give up all their nuclear weapons, then you’ve got no opening position.
• Provocative missile launches and doomsday rhetoric are are not things North Korea invented in January to taunt President Trump. South Koreans absorb them on almost a daily basis. Yes, the threat level has grown immensely with the latest launch. But is the U.S. over-reacting? South Koreans appear to believe Kim Jong-un would not obliterate the entire peninsula just to prove a point. At the same time, it’d be difficult to function on a day-to-day basis if you felt you might be wiped out in a nuclear explosion at any time. Remember, Seoul is just 35 miles from North Korea, about the same distance as Santa Monica to Pasadena.
• It’s also related to Iran. With North Korea successfully accelerating its nuclear weapons program faster than anybody expected, perhaps the Obama administration’s deal with Iran to slow its nuclear capabilities is looking a little wiser. In fact, one way out of the current crisis could involve a similar deal: essentially, cash for a deceleration of North Korea’s nuclear program (but not an end to it). But Trump once described the Iran plan as the “worst deal ever.”
EU Seems Ready To Take The Trade War To Trump (And Grab Back A Few Headlines)
Maybe Trump’s meeting with Putin won’t steal the spotlight at tonight’s meeting of world leaders in Germany.
Instead of waiting around for President Trump to make good on his promise to punish trading partners for unfair practices, many of the biggest appear to be preemptively working on trade deals amongst themselves that lock out the U.S. These new deals, which will be discussed over the next couple of days at the G20 trade summit in Germany, serve the dual purpose of insulating against any potential trade penalties imposed by the Trump Administration.
For instance, Japan and the EU today will announce a free trade agreement which should allow more European cars to be sold in Japan and more Japanese cars in Europe, at least partly to the detriment of U.S. automakers. Right now, European cars make up a tiny percentage of auto sales in Japan (mostly luxury Mercedes models,) and Japanese automakers lag way behind U.S. automakers in Europe.
This as President Trump is demanding changes to all kinds of trade deals, from renegotiating NAFTA and a free trade deal with South Korea, to considering penalties against Germany for selling too many cars in the U.S. (Even though as we continue to point out, German car makers produce more cars in the U.S. than they sell there, making them net exporters.)
Trump’s meeting with Putin, scheduled for tomorrow has been stealing the spotlight so far. Trump today again refused to put the blame for election hacks squarely on Putin stating: “I think it was Russia, I think it could have been other countries.”
Qatar Just Says No
A showdown between Qatar and 4 Mideast countries led by Saudi Arabia turning into a stalemate, with Qatar rejecting a list of demands in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Those demands include shutting Qatar’s Al Jazeera global news network. Saudi Arabia says it will now consider increasing sanctions.
Although Saudi Arabia insists the conflict is all about Qatar’s support of terrorism (and Trump’s jumped on that bandwagon), this also has to do with Iran, and controlling that country’s spreading influence in the region. Qatar has tried to strengthen relations with Iran, while at the same time remaining within a close-knit group of Arab gulf countries.
Qatar says it has found the embargo–which includes closing off its only land border–not that difficult to live with, since Turkey, and yes, Iran, are helping compensate for shortages in food and other imports.
We also should remember we are talking about some of the wealthiest countries in the world, who are paying for some of the best public relations money can buy. That’s at least partly why stories like this, about a report linking Saudi Arabia to extremism, have found prominence in the last couple of days. We’re not denying it’s true, just that it’s getting more “play”, and that’s probably not a coincidence.
Worried About Qatar Funding ISIS? What About Hobby Lobby?
In a really bizarre story, the crafts mega-chain is paying a fine of $3-million and surrendering nearly 3,500 artifacts likely stolen from Iraq, including hundreds of cuneiform tablets. Here’s the U.S. Attorney General’s summary of the action.
While Hobby Lobby chalks it up as a “regrettable mistake” and there is no explicit link to terrorist groups, there is no doubt ISIS has made the sale of pillaged antiquities a major source of income, especially in Iraq.
Hobby Lobby argued the dealer it purchased the artifacts from provided documents saying they were legal. However, an outside consultant employed by the company strongly advised against the purchase. Hobby Lobby went ahead anyway. The artifacts would have been part of a collection by the company’s founders, intended to become part of a bible museum they’re planning to open in DC this fall. Hobby Lobby says all the other antiquities it’s purchased for that project are OK.
What is cuneiform? It’s a kind of ancient Sumerian script. This is one of the surrendered pieces:
Hobby Lobby is most famous for the Supreme Court case bearing its name. The challenge brought by the company made it OK for companies not to offer birth control as part of their health coverage if in conflict with their religious beliefs.
Backlash Against Release Of Personal Data To Trump’s Election Commission Grows
What’s so extraordinary about the response, is it’s so extraordinarily bipartisan.
44 states so far say they will provide little or none of what Trump’s Commission investigating alleged voter fraud, led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence, is asking for. And that must be coming as a huge surprise to the Trump Administration, especially with 33 states boasting Republican governors.
The definitive response as far as we’re considered, still comes from the Republican Mississippi Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, who told them: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”
In the Washington Post today, George W. Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff brings up another good reason aggregating all this voter data isn’t a good idea: having it in one place makes it much more vulnerable to theft. He points out holding it in many different places all over the place as it is now, “is one way to reduce the vulnerability of the overall database.”
As far as Trump’s Tweeted question: “What are they trying to hide?” No one has to answer that at least until Trump releases his tax returns.
Follow-Up To Yesterday’s Editorial About How The Resistance Should Use The American Flag More
One of our readers found this (thank you!) Our original editorial is available through this link (it’s at the bottom):