Steve Bannon Admits There is No Military Solution with North Korea; Wants Economic War with China

It is pretty amazing to me that someone from the White House would just call up a random reporter and be this open about their views, but as we have seen there is nothing conventional about Steve Bannon:

Steve Bannon

“We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”

Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.

Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim.

“To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”  [The American Prospect via a reader tip]

You can read much more at the link, but in regards to threat to Seoul Mr. Bannon is correct that it continues to restrain US actions against North Korea.  The fact that Bannon is willing to consider a freeze deal with North Korea in exchange for the removal of US troops I find very interesting.  I think everyone pushing for the freeze deal are now going to push it even harder if they see an opening that the White House might accept it.

Bannon in the article also talks about trying to get more hawks into the administration that don’t want to play nice with China.  He feels there are too many people in the government that think playing nice on trade with China will encourage them to help us with North Korea.

As far economic war with China it seems to me that a lot of the economic problems are self inflicted with the exporting of manufacturing jobs to China.  I don’t know if someone can even live a modern life any more if they made a conscious decision to not buy anything made in China.

President Trump Calls Guam Governor to Reassure Him of US Commitment

The phone call between President Trump and Guam Governor Eddie Calvo may have been about assuring the island the US government completely supports them, but it is amazing how many news headlines I saw that focused on the joke Trump made about how the current tensions will improve Guam tourism:

Eddie Calvo

If there’s one thing that Guam does not have to worry about while the tiny island is in the nuclear cross hairs of North Korea, it’s tourism, President Trump told the island’s governor in a phone call made public on Saturday.

The threat by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to create “an enveloping fire” around the tiny United States territory in the Western Pacific will bolster Guam tourism “tenfold,” Mr. Trump said in the recorded conversation with Gov. Eddie Calvo.

The recording was put on the Republican governor’s Facebook page and other social media accounts.

Mr. Trump said: “I have to tell you, you have become extremely famous all over the world. They are talking about Guam; and they’re talking about you.” And when it comes to tourism, he added, “I can say this: You’re going to go up, like, tenfold with the expenditure of no money.”  [New York Times]

You can read more at the link and watch the video of the phone call below:

US Secretary of State Backs President Trump’s Comments on North Korea During Guam Visit

Secretary of State Tillerson provides some context in regards to President Trump’s recent comments about North Korea:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played down President Donald Trump’s incendiary warning to North Korea on Wednesday, saying he was just trying to send a strong message in language its leader would understand.

Tillerson, speaking to reporters before landing in Guam, a U.S.-held Pacific island that Pyongyang threatened to strike, said he does not believe there is an imminent threat from North Korea.

“I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” he said.

 Trump on Tuesday warned North Korea it would face “fire and fury” if it threatens the United States, prompting the nuclear-armed nation to say it was considering firing missiles at Guam.

“I think what the president was just reaffirming is that the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and our allies, and we will do so,” Tillerson said.

The international community had a “pretty good week” with respect to North Korea, he said, citing new U.N. sanctions and strong statements coming out of a meeting of world leaders in Asia.

“In response to that, North Korea’s rhetoric is just ratcheted up, louder and louder and more threatening,” Tillerson told reporters. “So I think the president, what the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language.”  [CNBC]

You can read more at the link, but the media is of course in full freak out mode not because of Kim Jong-un, but because of President Trump.  My guess is that President Trump in an unconventional way is trying to make it clear to Kim Jong-un to not miscalculate North Korea’s response to the recent UN sanctions that were passed.  Additionally I think the President may be sending a message to China to make sure North Korea does not miscalculate as well because it could lead to an outcome the Chinese leadership does not want to happen.

Remember that the Ulchi Focus Lens US-ROK military exercise is coming up later this month which is typically when a North Korean provocation cycle happens.  Whatever the North Koreans have planned this year they may have to be reassess based off of President Trump’s warning.

H.R. McMaster Says Kim Jong-un “Should Not Be Sleeping Well” At Night

I tend to think that Kim Jong-un is probably sleeping very well considering he is nearing his strategic goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon with a reliable delivery system.  Once this goal is achieved he pretty much guarantees himself the ability to prevent outside regime change.  Additionally the whole world is not against North Korea, they have enough partners internationally that they continue to bring in enough revenue and components to advance their nuclear and weapons programs:

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster

McMaster told MSNBC in an interview, “I think he should not be [sleeping well] because he has the whole world against him… He’s isolated on this.”

He described North Korea’s missiles as a “grave threat” but declined to confirm that the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile the North tested recently can reach New York. “I’m not going to confirm it,” McMaster said. “But as I mentioned, really, whether it could reach San Francisco or Pittsburgh or Washington — how much does that matter, right? It’s a grave threat.”

He added it is intolerable for North Korea have nuclear weapons that could threaten the U.S., and all options including a military option should be on the table.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the previous day that the U.S. is willing to hold talks with the regime and added, “We do not seek regime change.”

But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal the same day, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence ruled out direct talks. The U.S.’ strategy doesn’t involve “engaging North Korea directly,” he said.

The shambolic Trump administration has frequently made it difficult to discern any clear line in the fog of obfuscation and braggadocio that emerges from it.

McMaster, an Army lieutenant general, is seen by some in the U.S. mainstream media as the most rational in the national security team and is thought to stand his ground against President Donald Trump if necessary.  [Chosun Ilbo]

By the way the past week has had a lot of White House intrigue involving H.R. McMaster.  Factions in the White House are unhappy that McMaster has been cleaning house in the National Security Council.  He even fired a staffer named Ezra Cohen-Watnick that an article last month in the Atlantic proclaimed him as,  ‘The Man McMaster Couldn’t Fire.’

Now right wing elements want President Trump to fire McMaster because of his house cleaning.  However, President Trump has come out and supported McMaster today.

Is Victor Cha A Bad Candidate for US Ambassador to South Korea?

That is what this editorial in the Korea Times is claiming:

Victor Cha

This means that who the next U.S. ambassador to Seoul will be is ever more important. He or she should be communicative with Koreans and have Trump’s trust ― giving a nudge when the president wobbles and making sure it gets noted. In that sense, Victor Cha, a former Bush operative and professor at Georgetown couldn’t be a worse candidate, according to five people in the know.

Putting their suggestions together, the result is Cha, who would act as if he were Caesar the Conqueror, trying to get his way no matter what at the risk of a great deal of friction with the Moon Jae-in government. That would be possible and dangerous because he, if appointed, would exert influence at key junctures when his boss was distracted, and the North’s asymmetric threat will peak. Some say that it is better now without a resident at Habib House in Seoul than Cha in it.  [Korea Times]

You can read the rest at link, but basically since Cha is not a supporter of engagement with North Korea the academics the Korea Times spoke with think he is a bad choice for US ambassador.

From a military perspective something that I know Victor Cha has pushed for in the past is to have Seoul take over OPCON of Korean forces.  This is something that left wing ROK presidents wanted in the past and then when the US called their bluff on this issue they started playing delay games until a conservative president took power and put it off entirely.  I think Cha would probably also be a strong advocate for the ROK to pay more for the US-ROK alliance which is another key President Trump initiative.

House of Representatives Passes Defense Bill Increasing Missile Defense Spending By $2.5 Billion

It looks like missile defense will continue to be a growth industry for US defense contractors:

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a defense bill calling for increased spending on missile defense programs amid North Korea’s evolving threats.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810) passed 344-81 to order US$696 billion for defense in the fiscal year 2018, including some $12.5 billion for missile defense programs.

“The Committee continues to be a strong supporter of a robust missile defense program given the increasing threats against our homeland and regional allies posed by North Korea, Iran and others,” the House Committee on Armed Services said in a summary of the bill posted on its website. “The bill adds $2.5 billion above the President’s budget request to meet critical missile defense needs. It also recognizes the increasing quantitative and qualitative nature of the ballistic missile threats we face as a nation.”  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

CIA Creates “Korea Mission Center” to Focus on North Korean Nuclear and Missile Threats

Another example of the urgency the Trump administration has put on stopping North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

The Central Intelligence Agency has created a special team dealing exclusively with North Korea in an unusual move underscoring the seriousness the United States attaches to the nuclear and missile threats from the communist nation.

The Korea Mission Center was established to “harness the full resources, capabilities, and authorities of the Agency in addressing the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea,” CIA said in a statement. “The new mission center draws on experienced officers from across the agency and integrates them in one entity to bring their expertise and creativity to bear against the North Korea target.”

A veteran CIA operations officer has been selected as the new assistant director for Korea and presides over the mission center, the statement said without identifying the officer, adding that the team will work closely with the intelligence community and the entire U.S. national security community.

“Creating the Korea Mission Center allows us to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said. “It also reflects the dynamism and agility that CIA brings to evolving national security challenges.”  [Yonhap]

Senator Lindsey Graham Backs A Pre-Emptive Strike On North Korea

The comments from Senator Lindsey Graham are probably not going to go over very well in South Korea that would take the brunt of any war with North Korea:

A ranking U.S. senator said the U.S. should launch a preemptive strike on North Korea if that’s what it takes to stop Pyongyang from building a missile capable of hitting America, even though such military action would mean war.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made the argument during an interview with NBC News, saying that war would be bad for South Korea, Japan and other countries in the region, but won’t reach the U.S., while an intercontinental ballistic missile could do.

“It would be terrible but the war would be over here (there), wouldn’t be here,” Graham said with a gesture with his fingers. “It would be bad for the Korean Peninsula. It would be bad for China. It would be bad for Japan, be bad for South Korea. It would be the end of North Korea. But what it would not do is hit America and the only way it could ever come to America is with a missile.”

Asked if he would support a preemptive strike on the North, Graham said, “If that’s what it would take.”  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Congressman Calls for Shooting Down North Korean ICBM

Once again people that do not understand missile defense are calling for the shoot down of a North Korea ICBM test:

The United States should be prepared to shoot down a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile in the event the communist regime test-fires one as threatened, a U.S. congressman said Monday.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) made the remark in an interview with CNN as tensions on the Korean Peninsula are running high with the U.S. sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the waters off the divided peninsula to guard against North Korean provocations.

“That battle carrier group has been in the region before. I think Kim Jong-un, he has the ability to kill hundreds of thousands of people right now in South Korea with the push of a button. He will stop at nothing to have an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Hurd said.

“We have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do when we see a potential test of an ICBM? Are we going to try to shoot that ICBM down? Are we going to let the test go on unimpeded? These are some of the questions that should be asked when it comes to Korea,” he said.  [Yonhap]

You can read the rest at the link, but it seems like every time North Korea threatens to do an ICBM test someone says the US should shoot it down.  What people don’t realize is that certain missile defense systems are designed to shoot down certain threats. For example a Patriot battery or even a THAAD in USFK cannot shoot down an ICBM. The only thing the US military has that can shoot down an ICBM is the GMD system that protects CONUS, Alaska and Hawaii. If North Korea fires an ICBM on a test trajectory to the south like they have done in the past the GMD system is not going to be able to shoot it down.

If North Korea fires an ICBM at US territory where the GMD system has to engage it the shoot down of its ICBM will be the least of its worries because that would be an act of war.

Trump Announces Changes to National Security Council, Bannon out; Joint Chiefs Chairman Back In

That didn’t take long for LTG McMaster to shakeup the National Security Council and oust Bannon:

Steve Bannon

President Donald Trump reorganized his National Security Council on Wednesday, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and downgrading the role of his Homeland Security Adviser, Tom Bossert, according to a person familiar with the decision and a regulatory filing.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was given responsibility for setting the agenda for meetings of the NSC or the Homeland Security Council, and was authorized to delegate that authority to Bossert, at his discretion, according to the filing.

Under the move, the national intelligence director, Dan Coats, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, are again “regular attendees” of the NSC’s principals committee. [Bloomberg]

You can read more at the link.