TBR News December 1, 2017

Dec 01 2017

Vol XII, No. 1  December 1, 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 1, 2017: “We will be out of the office until December 2, 2017. Ed”


How Hillary Clinton Screwed Honduran Democracy

US meddling supported the military junta, undermined civilian rule

December 1, 2017

by Justin Raimondo

Hillary Clinton’s legacy at the State Department lives on – and it isn’t pretty. Take a gander at the spectacle of slave auctions in Libya – a nation “liberated” by NATO at Hillary’s instigation: remember “We came, we saw, he died”? Behold the blood-soaked ruins of Syria, where her regime-change plans caused the US to fund the very jihadists we’re supposed to be fighting. Add to this the not-so-bright idea of Washington jumping on board the abortive “Arab Spring” bandwagon, and it all this adds up to the worst record of any Secretary of State in modern history.

Less well-known than the above-mentioned disasters, however, is the key role she played in turning Honduras over to a murderous dictator who is now provoking yet another crisis in that long-suffering country – and sending thousands of refugees, including many unaccompanied minors, into Mexico and over our southern border.

Honduras has always been an American plaything, to be toyed with for the benefit of United Fruit (rebranded Chiquita) and the native landowning aristocracy, and disciplined when necessary: Washington sent in the Marines a total of seven times between 1903 and 1925. The Honduran peasants didn’t like their lands being confiscated by the government and turned over to foreign-owned producers, who were granted monopolistic franchises by corrupt public officials. Periodic rural revolts started spreading to the cities, despite harsh repression, and the country – ruled directly by the military since 1955 – returned to a civilian regime in 1981.

Yet the military influence, far from receding, manifested its power ever more aggressively, engaging in forcible conscription of young villagers, and targeting left-wing opponents and trade unionists with violent repression. Throughout the Reagan years, Honduras was used as a convenient base for the Nicaraguan “contras,” a military formation organized by the CIA to overthrow the Sandinista government. American aid poured into the Honduran military, whose officers were trained by the US. The real rulers of the country were the Honduran officers’ corps: the elected “President” and the national legislature were just window dressing.

Real change didn’t occur until 2006, when Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, a moderate conservative and head of the Honduran Council for Private Enterprise, was elected President. Hardly a left-wing radical, he nevertheless instituted a number of reforms, especially in the realm of public education and direct aid to the destitute, that provoked outrage from the right. The final straw was Zelaya’s attempt to shift power away from the military and strengthen the presidency: he launched a campaign to change the Constitution in order to allow him to serve a second term.

Such a direct challenge to the military was unprecedented, and impermissible: at dawn one day President Zelaya found himself being bundled into a helicopter still clad in his pajamas and, a few hours later, out of the country.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the State Department, instead of forthrightly denouncing the coup as a setback for the cause of Democracy and Goodness, as is their wont in other quite similar cases, uttered ambiguous noises about “reconciliation.” Behind the scenes, longtime Clinton confidante Lanny Davis was hired by the coup leaders to plead their case in the corridors of power. While Team Clinton agreed with him in private, the State Department colluded with the coup leaders and legitimized the subsequent “election” that a number of Latin countries refused to recognize. The oligarchs and the military retained their iron grip on power until a new challenge arose in the form of Salvador Nasralla, the leader of a united left-right “Coalition Against Dictatorship.”

The earliest returns had Nasralla ahead by five points, but after the initial announcement by the Electoral Commission, controlled by National Party candidate Juan Hernandez, the counting process abruptly halted: the reason given was “technical problems.” Yet there is no conceivable technical explanation for the delay in announcing the totals since all the results were electronically transmitted from local voting stations as the polls closed. After a long and unexplained silence, the authorities announced more returns: it was now neck and neck, with Hernandez eventually pulling ahead.

All in all, as democracies go Honduras is the archetypal banana republic: yes, it was the inspiration behind O’Henry’s coining of that phrase. So far, the US has done nothing but mouth pious platitudes about peaceful reconciliation and respect for democracy, but this hardly addresses the wholesale fraud the Hernandez regime is trying to pull off. They got away with it under the Obama administration, with Hillary Clinton’s State Department legitimizing the 2009 elections, which were marked by violence, intimidation, and brazen fraud. Now Hernandez – who is doing what Zelaya wanted to do, and that is run for a second term – is testing Washington to see if the policy of enabling petty tyrants and obsequious satraps is still in effect.

This New Yorker piece – which, you’ll note, nowhere mentions the key role played by Hillary Clinton in Zelaya’s undoing – reports that Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff and “keeper,” is very pro-Hernandez, supposedly on the grounds that he’s reduced the crime rate and kept a lid on the influx of Honduran refugees. Yet Honduras still has one of the highest crime rates in the world and the government is rife with corruption.

US support for Hernandez and his backers in the military creates the very conditions that have so far sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Honduras: the breakdown of the rule of law, economic instability, and the rise of organized crime. The victims of our Latin American policies besiege our southern border, mere children showing up on our doorstep, and the very people whose policies made that floodtide possible cry out: “How did this happen?”


US foreign policy is more continuity than change, even under the Trump administration, which promised to turn our geopolitical and diplomatic priorities upside down. That’s why I don’t expect any real turnaround in our Honduras policy. Yet perhaps the fact that Nasralla is a populist, and a former talk-show host, who has never held elective office, will cause the Trump team to look on him with some sympathy. And I would add that there’s a certain political advantage in taking on the Honduran military clique and their front man: this is another bad outcome that Trump can trace back to the previous administration, and specifically back to Mrs. Clinton.




From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 84

December 1, 2017


Short-term funding of the government is currently set to expire on December 8. If funding is not extended by Congress, then most government operations would have to cease.

The processes and procedures by which such a shutdown would be executed, as well as its broader implications, were described in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Government shutdowns have necessitated furloughs of several hundred thousand federal employees, required cessation or reduction of many government activities, and affected numerous sectors of the economy,” the CRS report said.

“The longest such shutdown lasted 21 full days during FY1996, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. More recently, a funding gap commenced on October 1, 2013, the first day of FY2014, after funding for the previous fiscal year expired.” It lasted 16 days. See Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, November 30, 2017.

And see, relatedly, Funding Gaps and Government Shutdowns: CRS Experts, November 28, 2017.

*    *    *

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Deficits and Debt: Economic Effects and Other Issues, updated November 21, 2017

The Trump Administration and the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, November 29, 2017

Nuclear Energy: Overview of Congressional Issues, updated November 27, 2017

Repair or Rebuild: Options for Electric Power in Puerto Rico, November 16, 2017

Federal Role in Voter Registration: The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and Subsequent Developments, November 28, 2017

Social Security Primer, updated November 30, 2017

Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the 115th Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Statute of Limitation in Federal Criminal Cases: An Overview, updated November 14, 2017

Contested Elections in Honduras, CRS Insight, November 30, 2017

Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated November 14, 2017

Iran’s Expanding Economic Relations with Asia, CRS Insight, November 29, 2017

New Zealand: Background and Bilateral Relations with the United States, updated November 13, 2017

Federal Disaster Assistance: The National Flood Insurance Program and Other Federal Disaster Assistance Programs Available to Individuals and Households After a Flood, updated November 28, 2017

Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 30, 2017

Killing Endangered Species: What’s Reasonable Self-Defense?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 29, 2017

Who’s the Boss at the CFPB?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 28, 2017


Flynn pleads guilty on Russia, reportedly ready to testify against Trump

December 1, 2017

by Sarah N. Lynch


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia’s ambassador, and prosecutors said he consulted with a senior official in Donald Trump’s presidential transition team before speaking to the envoy.

In an appearance at a courtroom in downtown Washington, Flynn became the first member of Trump’s administration to plead guilty to a crime uncovered by the special counsel investigation into Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Flynn, a former Army general and member of Trump’s campaign team, admitted as part of a plea deal that he gave false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his contacts with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak before Trump took office.

ABC News said Flynn, facing up to five years in jail, was prepared to testify that before taking office Trump had directed him to make contact with Russians.

Reuters could not immediately verify the ABC News report on Flynn testifying, which could put the Republican president in an uncomfortable spot after he has denied any collusion between his campaign team and Moscow.

Stocks and the dollar fell sharply after the ABC report, with the benchmark S&P 500 index last down 1.2 percent, the dollar last down 0.4 percent and bond yields falling with the 10-year U.S. Treasury note US10YT=RR yielding 2.32 percent.

Flynn’s decision to cooperate with the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, marked a major escalation in a probe that has dogged Trump’s administration since the Republican president took office.

The White House said Flynn’s guilty plea on Friday implicated him alone.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” Ty Cobb, a White House attorney, said in a statement on Friday.

Flynn was forced out of his White House post in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the ambassador.


ABC News cited a confidant as saying Flynn was ready to testify that Trump directed him to make contact with Russians before he became president, initially as a way to work together to fight the Islamic State group in Syria.

If Flynn testifies that before taking office Trump directed him to contact Russian officials, that might not necessarily amount to a crime.

If it were proven that Trump directed Flynn to lie about his contacts to the FBI, that would be a crime but legal experts disagree over whether a sitting president can be indicted.

Many say the only clear punishment for a president who has committed criminal acts is impeachment by Congress. The Constitution provides that impeachment, which requires a simple majority in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate, is warranted for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which Congress is free to define as it sees fit.

Moscow has denied what U.S. intelligence agencies say was meddling in the election campaign to try to sway the vote in Trump’s favor. Trump has called Mueller’s probe a witch hunt.

Prosecutors said that Flynn and Kislyak last December discussed a diplomatic dispute over economic sanctions that Washington had imposed on Moscow, and an upcoming vote in the U.N. Security Council regarded as damaging to Israel.

Flynn admitted falsely telling FBI officials in January that he did not ask the ambassador to refrain from escalating a diplomatic dispute over U.S. sanctions on Moscow.

The Obama administration, which was still in office at the time, had imposed the sanctions on Moscow for allegedly interfering in the election.

Flynn also lied about asking the envoy to help delay a vote in the U. N. Security Council that was seen as damaging to Israel.

Flynn consulted with a senior member of Trump’s presidential transition team about “what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian ambassador about the U.S. sanctions,” prosecutors said in a court document.

Flynn called a senior official of Trump’s transition team who was with other members of the team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the prosecutors said,

”Flynn called the Russian ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. sanctions in a reciprocal manner,” the document said. It did not name the senior official in the Trump team.


Flynn appeared calm as he pleaded guilty in a packed federal courtroom in Washington. His wife, Lori, sat in the first row of benches in the courtroom.


The GOP Plan Is the Biggest Tax Increase in American History, By Far

December 1 2017

by Ryan Grim

The Intercept

The tax bill moving its way through Congress is routinely referred to as a $1.5 trillion tax cut. And, in some ways, that’s true: on net, it would reduce the amount of taxes collected by the federal treasury by about $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

But that figure masks the eye-popping scale and audacity of the GOP’s rushed restructuring of the economy. Most immediately, the plan will take a large chunk out of state and local revenue that isn’t factored into that total. But more broadly, the bill cuts taxes by a full $6 trillion over a decade.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Friday afternoon Senate Republicans have the votes to pass the plan, which gets referred to as only a $1.5 trillion cut because it raises $4.5 trillion in taxes elsewhere. But the key question is who gets a tax hike and who gets a tax cut. Put simply, the bulk of the tax cut is going toward the rich, while the tax increases go to everybody else.

And so the bill, properly described, is two things: the largest tax cut — and also the biggest tax increase — in American history.

Republicans have spent years describing the Affordable Care Act as the largest tax increase in U.S. history, ignoring the fact that the tax increases were balanced out by subsidies to pay for health coverage. In that respect, the ACA was a significant transfer of wealth from the top to the middle and bottom, which earned it the ire of the GOP. But all told, it raised less than $1 trillion in taxes over 10 years to pay for all that. The relative stinginess, in fact, is what fueled its unpopularity, as premiums and deductibles remained too high. But what Republicans lambasted as a historic tax hike represents just one-fifth of the tax increase of the new GOP bill.

Where’s that money going?

The Tax Policy Center estimated that about 80 percent of the benefit of the tax plan will go to the top 1 percent, who will enjoy the following elements of the tax cut:

A full $1.5 trillion alone is going to slash the corporate tax rate. CEOs have said repeatedly they plan to pocket that money rather than invest it or give workers higher wages.

The alternative minimum tax, paid almost exclusively by the rich, is also eliminated. That’s a $700 billion giveaway.

Another $150 billion goes to repealing the estate tax, which currently exempts the first $11 million of the deceased’s estate, so nobody even remotely middle class pays it. The repeal benefits so few people you can practically list them out.

More than $200 billion in cuts goes to a provision that allows a greater deduction for dividends on foreign earnings. That’s not for you.

Roughly $600 billion goes to reducing taxes on “pass-throughs” and other businesses not set up as corporations, which law firms, lobby shops, and doctors’ offices often benefit from. Poor and middle-class people do not tend to set themselves up as pass-throughs.

Under current law, many tax credits phase out at low-income thresholds. The GOP plan changes that by raising the threshold so richer people can also claim the credit. That provision alone is, by definition, a $200 billion tax cut for the wealthy.

Individual and family tax rates are cut by about $1 trillion, and some regular people will indeed see some of that money as a tax cut — but not much. As the New York Times noted, by 2027, people making between $40,000 and $50,000 would see a combined increase of $5.3 billion in taxes. Where would that money go? Folks earning more than $1 million would see their taxes collectively cut by $5.8 billion a year.

The list above brings the total well close to $5 trillion in tax cuts almost exclusively for the wealthy. The last major element of the bill, the doubling of the standard deduction, would benefit a broader range of people, but it comes at the expense of states, cities, and towns.

Where does the money to pay for all of this come from?

While Obamacare was a transfer of wealth from the top to the bottom, this bill sends money back the other way.

Even some of the ways the plan “raises” taxes on the rich wind up being a tax cut. Some $300 billion is raised by allowing companies who stashed profits offshore to repatriate it at a much lower rate. That repatriated cash will go straight to dividends for shareholders and stock buybacks — but it gets counted as a tax increase, which then allows the GOP to give an equal $300 billion cut on the other side of the ledger. It’s neat how that works.

The bill raises $1.6 trillion by repealing the personal exemption everybody gets on their tax returns. Getting rid of it across the board is extraordinarily regressive, since it gives the same benefit to the likes of Jared Kushner as it gives to people who have much less money than he does, so they’re hit much harder.

It raises another $1.3 trillion by going after deductions for state and local taxes, mortgage interest, charitable contributions, interest on student loans, medical expenses, teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses for paper and pencils for students, and a bunch of other nickel-and-diming of the middle class. No change drawer in the car, couch cushion, or plastic piggy bank is going untouched in the hunt for money to pay for the tax cut.

(The state and local deduction is effectively a subsidy for state and local spending on things like schools, roads, and police departments. Removing that will pressure states and cities to cut spending, so future teacher layoffs at your neighborhood school will be used to pay for the tax cuts, but because that happens at the state and local level, it isn’t factored into the Congressional Budget Office or Joint Committee on Taxation analyses.)

The plan gradually raises $128 billion in taxes by changing the way inflation is tabulated, so that your taxes slowly creep up over the years as the brackets come down.

And then, of course, the plan adds about $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years. That gets you most of the way to $6 trillion, with a handful of smaller tax hikes thrown in, some of which won’t obviously hurt the middle class. The domestic production deduction, a $96 billion boondoggle, is repealed, for instance, and $54 billion is saved by ending the credit for testing cures for rare diseases.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., went on NPR on Friday morning to try to defend the largest tax hike in American history.

“What does it say that — in practice according to independent analyses, I mean you do have winners and losers, not everybody gains, businesses gain, people with large estates to leave to their heirs gain, high-income people gain — but a lot of middle-income people do not gain in terms of money,” NPR’s Steve Inskeep said.

“I disagree with that. The average tax cut for a middle-class family is going to be $1,182,” Ryan responded.

Inskeep pushed back. “Lily Batchelder of New York University took some numbers from the Joint Committee of Taxation, bipartisan part of Congress as you know very well, and concluded that something like 100 million households in this country under the House bill, and even more under the Senate bill, would either get no tax cut or would get a tax increase,” Inskeep said. “Does that sound right to you?”

It didn’t sound right to Ryan.

“No, it doesn’t sound right unless it’s a person that’s not paying taxes already,” he said. “I think some people are cherry picking statistics.”


The New Saudi Arabia: Absolute Power in the Hands of a Crown Prince

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has embarked on a path to reform his country. But to achieve his goals, he is quashing all forms of critique. That is the wrong way to go.

December 1, 2017

by Jamal Khashoggi


Two days prior to his arrest in early November, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal sent me a long text message reprimanding me for op-eds I’d written for the Washington Post and the Financial Times. In those pieces, I had dared to criticize Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for, well, making arrests!

Al-Waleed, a billionaire investor and hotel owner, is a nephew of the Saudi king and he was my boss when I was head of the Al-Arab news channel, which he funded. After three years of development, we launched from Manama, Bahrain in February 2015 – but we were only on air for 11 hours before the Bahraini government shut us down. Why? Likely because we gave just as much airtime to a Shiite activist and politician as we did to the Sunni government.

I had heard from Al-Waleed less frequently in the 12 months prior to his arrest, though that wasn’t much of a surprise. I’d been banned from writing my column in the Saudi Arabian daily Al-Watan and, more recently, blacklisted by the pan-Arab paper Al-Hayat, which is likewise under Saudi ownership. I had also been told to stay off Twitter after I was repeatedly critical of the government’s decision to embrace U.S. President Donald Trump.

I’ve been repeatedly asked: “Who was it who told you?” The answer is government officials and their allies. And their message is clear, one well known to those of us who have crossed the line before: You either cease and desist or risk the consequences. First you are unable to travel. Then comes house arrest. And then perhaps even jail.

From the decades I have spent crossing that line, I know from experience that there is now no distance between the official government position and what we as citizens are allowed to say. We had far greater latitude in the past – not quite free speech, but also not a demand for total, blind obedience. And often, it wasn’t the leadership that had a problem with what we wrote or said, but the Ulama, the religious leadership, which is far more sensitive.

I Was Warned

Now, though, it is the government that has no tolerance for any form of criticism, whether it is political satire of the kind practiced by now-jailed businessman Jamil Farsi, or demands for democracy and greater tolerance from well-known religious leader Salman Al-Ouda, who was detained in September. Ever since Mohammad bin Salman, often referred to simply as MbS, has been crown prince, retribution has been swift and sudden. So when I was warned, I backed off. I became mute, but not deaf – and since then, I have grown more and more concerned.

Al-Waleed keeping his distance didn’t bother me. His message, sent literally 48 hours before his own arrest, could not have been more supportive of MbS. Al-Waleed encouraged me to back the crown prince’s project: “The fourth Saudi state is being built under the leadership of my brother, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and our country needs sharp minds like yours. You must come back and share it with us.”

Before I had a chance to reply, he was arrested, along with 10 additional princes and several dozen officials, for corruption, bribery and money laundering. The detentions dominated the headlines, but they were far from the only ones. In the past three months, more than 70 notable intellectuals, businessmen and clerics have been jailed on charges that were clearly designed to quiet any form of criticism. Most of them are unknown outside of Saudi Arabia, unlike those “imprisoned” in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. Most are not radicals; many support the reforms, including allowing women to drive.

An online campaign launched by a senior official in the royal court named Saud Al-Qahtani has the aim of blacklisting such people. He has called on Saudis to denounce each other and his campaign even has a Twitter hashtag. It is a despicable effort, not unlike what the Stasi secret police did in East Germany. Indeed, you only hear voices anymore that are favorably of MbS – because nobody else dares to speak publicly.

Absolute Power

What’s happening in Riyadh today is sweeping change that could, in fact, produce a more equitable system of governance. That, though, is not what has occurred, at least not yet. Instead, we have in MbS a supreme leader who isn’t even the actual head of state yet, but who has, by way of his wave of arrests, assumed absolute power – both civilian and military.

A friend called me a few weeks ago and asked me why I was so critical of MbS given his vision and the country’s hunger for change. I asked why it wasn’t also possible to express oneself, as we used to do. I was also told by a Western-educated Saudi who is part of the MbS power structure that we have to tolerate the arrests as a necessary side effect of the larger goal: reform and prosperity.

Really? Do I really have to watch friends be arrested for no greater crime than speaking their minds? Must I proclaim that all actions of the government are good and noble? What century do we want to live in? The 21st or the 17th?

In 2011, after Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire, hundreds of millions of Arabs rose up. They wanted jobs, yes, but they also demanded to be heard, not silenced. Jobs without a voice: that may be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s model. But I, along with most Arabs, prefer the model of Angela Merkel. I hear from young people that that they are deeply troubled with how MbS has been acting. They want to see change, but they also want to be part of the process of bringing it about. Agency, taking initiative and having a voice is important to them.

Saudi Patronage

My country has not seen this level of paranoia since 1979. MbS is not merely trying to succeed his father, he is trying to present himself as the equal of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the country’s first king and founder. His supporters are even calling MbS the country’s “second founder.” When he enters a conference or a meeting, he always walks in alone with everyone else following behind. He is only ever shown in pictures with his father, the 81-year-old King Salman, without whose support, MbS would be unable to continue his daring – some might say dangerous – ventures.

While MbS has upended royal protocol, he has kept basic elements of the country’s patronage system intact. When he was named crown prince in June, pushing aside his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef in the process, he appointed more than 40 young royals to various positions. Prior to that, when he was deputy crown prince, he had already made 30 appointments. In doing so, MbS made sure that they represented all branches of the family. And these people are his acolytes, not his partners, and likely regard him with considerable trepidation, not wanting to displease or offend him. If they behave, if they are viewed as steadfast allies, they may advance to an even higher position. These young princes are another sign of change; they are now controlling levers of power that used to be reserved for more senior family members. Absolute power, however, is the wrong path, no matter how smart the ruler, how sincere his reform path and how much the country is yearning for salvation. We Arabs have had bad experiences with seemingly sincere patriotic leaders who all-too-quickly morph into dictators. Most of our suffering, predicaments, defeats and civil wars started because of these leaders.

The campaign to end corruption may be underway, but it is more like chopping off one of Medusa’s head as another grows in its place. I want a real war on corruption, not one that is selective – which only succeeds in rattling investor confidence and wrecking the economy. I want to stop radicalism, but I do not want to replace religious fanatics with fascists that extol the virtues of the “Great Leader” and ruthlessly quash dissent. I want my country to confront and stop Iran’s sectarian expansionism in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, but without risking an open war that could destroy both countries. I want Saudi Arabia to be assertive and influential in the region, but without bullying small states.

We need to embrace the spirit of the Arab Spring instead of fighting against it.



North Korea’s New Missile Is Bigger and More Powerful, Photos Suggest

November 30, 2017

by Choe Sang-Hun

The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — The intercontinental ballistic missile North Korea launched this week was a new type of missile bigger and more powerful than any the country had tested before, South Korean officials said on Thursday.

Photos from the North’s official Korean Central News Agency are providing valuable clues about the capabilities of the missile, named the Hwasong-15. North Korea said it carried a “super-large heavy warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the U.S.”

North Korea’s Hwasong series represents the most successful and formidable part of its ballistic missile arsenal, and photographs of the test suggested improvements over the Hwasong-14, a missile first tested over the summer that showed the country’s capacity to strike the continental United States.

“We believe this is a new type of missile,” said Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It looks clearly different from the Hwasong-14 in the external looks of its nose cone, the linkage between its first and second stages, and its overall size.”

South Korean officials said the launch suggested that North Korea’s missile program was advancing faster than previously believed.

Private analysts agreed that the Hwasong-15 looked bigger and more powerful than the Hwasong-14.

Kim Dong-yub, a defense analyst at the Seoul-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea appeared to have built the Hwasong-15 by upgrading the second stage of the Hwasong-14, which carries the missile through space after the first-stage booster drops off.

Mr. Kim also reported an important discovery: He said the Hwasong-15 appeared to have two engines for its first booster stage, giving the new missile greater range than previous models.

Tal Inbar, head of space research at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, agreed in a message on Twitter.Mr. Kim said, “This is indeed a new type of missile.”

He said that if the missile’s first stage was in fact powered by two engines instead of one, it would dispel earlier speculation among some analysts that North Korea might have loaded a very light mock warhead on the Hwasong-15 so it could fly farther.

Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University near Seoul, alsosaid two Hwasong-14 booster engines were bundled together to propel the Hwasong-15, giving it the true range of an ICBM. North Korean engineers may also have helped the Hwasong-15 fly farther by fitting its thicker second stage with more fuel or more thrusters, which are secondary rocket engines commonly used for adjustments and velocity of a missile, he said.

The new missile’s size and heft have required North Korea to build a bigger transporter-launcher vehicle. The new vehicle featured nine axles, compared with the eight-axle truck used to carry the Hwasong-14.

South Korean defense officials say North Korea runs more than 160 mobile missile launching vehicles and is building more. Such vehicles make it easier to hide and transport missiles and harder for the United States and its allies to track signs of imminent missile attacks.

North Korea claims to be able to launch its missiles from anywhere, anytime. As if to drive its point home, each of the three ICBMs North Korea has launched so far was fired from a different location.

The photos also revealed that the Hwasong-15 has a rounder nose cone than the Hwasong-14. In Russian and American ICBM designs, such nose cones often mean that the missiles carry multiple warheads, analysts said. But they doubted that North Korea had the ability to hit an intercontinental target with a warhead yet, much less deliver multiple warheads on the same missile.

Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, drew similar conclusions in his analysis of the photos and video released by North Korea. In a report published Thursday, Mr. Elleman said his “initial calculations indicate the new missile could deliver a moderately sized nuclear weapon to any city on the U.S. mainland.”

But he also said the North Koreans would need to conduct additional tests to establish the Hwasong-15’s reliability. And like other aerospace experts, Mr. Elleman pointed out that North Korea had yet to show it had mastered technology to ensure a missile warhead survives the rigors of violent re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Still, he said, “if low confidence in the missile’s reliability is acceptable, two or three test firings over the next four to six months may be all that is required before Kim Jong-un declares the Hwasong-15 combat ready.”

During a phone conversation with President Trump on Thursday, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said that the Hwasong-15 was “the most advanced North Korean missile yet, in all aspects,” according to his office.

But he said it had not proved that North Korea has accomplished re-entry technology, or an ability to guide the warhead to its target.

The two presidents reaffirmed their determination to maximize sanctions to stop North Korea from further advancing its technologies and to pressure it to return to nuclear disarmament talks, Mr. Moon’s office said.

Other pictures showed North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, celebrating the launch with his key missile scientists, Jang Chang-ha and Jon Il-ho. Both Mr. Jang and Mr. Jon are important players in North Korea’s efforts to build a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

Mr. Kim was also accompanied by Jo Yong-won and Yu Jin, top officials from the Munitions Industry Department of his Workers’ Party. The party agency oversees the country’s weapons development.

When the department submitted a plan for this week’s test of the Hwsong-15, Mr. Kim approved it with his characteristic handwriting: “For the party and for the fatherland, launch the missile bravely!”

William J. Broad and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.


Little Rocket Man’s Risky Game

December 1, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan


In the morning darkness of Wednesday, Kim Jong Un launched an ICBM that rose almost 2,800 miles into the sky before falling into the Sea of Japan.

North Korea now has the proven ability to hit Washington, D.C.

Unproven still is whether Kim can put a miniaturized nuclear warhead atop that missile, which could be fired with precision, and survive the severe vibrations of re-entry. More tests and more time are needed for that.

Thus, U.S. markets brushed off the news of Kim’s Hwasong-15 missile and roared to record heights on Wednesday and Thursday.

President Donald Trump took it less well. “Little Rocket Man” is one “sick puppy,” he told an audience in Missouri.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council that “if war comes … the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.” She than warned Xi Jinping that “if China does not halt the oil shipments” to North Korea, “we can take the oil situation into our own hands.”

Is Haley talking about bombing pipelines in North Korea – or China?

The rage of the president and bluster of Haley reflect a painful reality: As inhumane and ruthless as the 33-year-old dictator of North Korea is, he is playing the highest stakes poker game on the planet, against the world’s superpower, and playing it remarkably well.

Reason: Kim may understand us better than we do him, which is why he seems less hesitant to invite the risks of a war he cannot win.

While a Korean War II might well end with annihilation of the North’s army and Kim’s regime, it would almost surely result in untold thousands of dead South Koreans and Americans.

And Kim knows that the more American lives he can put at risk, with nuclear-tipped missiles, the less likely the Americans are to want to fight him.

His calculation has thus far proven correct.

As long as he does not push the envelope too far, and force Trump to choose war rather than living with a North Korea that could rain nuclear rockets on the U.S., Kim may win the confrontation.

Why? Because the concessions Kim is demanding are not beyond the utterly unacceptable.

What does Kim want?

Initially, he wants a halt to U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which he sees as a potential prelude to a surprise attack. He wants an end to sanctions, U.S. recognition of his regime, and acceptance of his status as a nuclear weapons state. Down the road, he wants a U.S. withdrawal of all forces from South Korea and international aid.

Earlier administrations – Clinton, Bush II, Obama – have seen many of these demands as negotiable. And accepting some or even all of them would entail no grave peril to U.S. national security or vital interests.

They would entail, however, a serious loss of face.

Acceptance of such demands by the United States would be a triumph for Kim, validating his risky nuclear strategy, and a diplomatic defeat for the United States.

Little Rocket Man would have bested The Donald.

Moreover, the credibility of the U.S. deterrent would be called into question. South Korea and Japan could be expected to consider their own deterrents, out of fear the U.S. would never truly put its homeland at risk, but would cut a deal at their expense.We would hear again the cries of “Munich” and the shade of Neville Chamberlain would be called forth for ritual denunciation.

Yet it is a time for truth: Our demand for “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” is not going to be met, absent a U.S. war and occupation of North Korea.

Kim saw how Bush II, when it served U.S. interests, pulled out of our 30-year-old ABM treaty with Moscow. He saw how, after he gave up all his WMD to reach an accommodation with the West, Moammar Gadhafi was attacked by NATO and ended up being lynched.

He can see how much Americans honor nuclear treaties they sign by observing universal GOP howls to kill the Iranian nuclear deal and bring about “regime change” in Tehran, despite Iran letting U.N. inspectors roam the country to show they have no nuclear weapons program.

For America’s post-Cold War enemies, the lesson is clear:

Give up your WMD, and you wind up like Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein. Build nuclear weapons that can threaten Americans, and you get respect.

Kim Jong Un would be a fool to give up his missiles and nukes, and while the man is many things, a fool is not one of them.

We are nearing a point where the choice is between a war with North Korea in which thousands would die, or confirming that the U.S. is not willing to put its homeland at risk to keep Kim from keeping what he already has – nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them.


Trumplomacy: Why Rex Tillerson is in trouble

December 1, 2017US

by Barbara Plett Usher

BBC News

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dismissed as “laughable” on Friday reports that his job security is uncertain.

But rumours that the White House is considering a plan to replace him because of tensions with President Donald Trump have swirled in Washington DC for months.

In a tweet, Mr Trump categorically denied the rumours as fake news, saying Mr Tillerson was “not leaving”. The State Department has said it is business as usual.

Meanwhile, the drama is further disrupting the already dysfunctional way foreign policy is run in this administration.

So here are my takeaways on where things stand.

Takeaway 1: A complex relationship

It clearly has not been a happy one since the summer, starting with Mr Trump’s politicised speech to the Boy Scouts of America, an organisation that Mr Tillerson used to head.

The secretary of state also distanced himself from the president’s equivocal response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Then there was that extraordinary moment in October when Mr Trump suggested an IQ-test challenge after a report that Mr Tillerson had called him a moron (which the latter denounced but did not deny, although his spokeswoman eventually did).

Trump challenges Rex Tillerson to IQ test

The two have also aired striking policy differences in public: several times Mr Trump has openly undermined Mr Tillerson’s positions with his tweets.

Yet the president has quietly accepted his secretary of state’s diplomatic strategy on some issues, such as dealing with North Korea tensions, co-operating with Russia for a political settlement of the Syrian civil war, and agreeing to punt the Iran nuclear deal to Congress rather than abandoning it outright.

He also gave Mr Tillerson a shout out during his recent trip to Asia, where the two men shared plenty of quality time. But they are chalk and cheese in temperament and the way they work, which matters to a president who operates on instinct and interaction.

And Mr Tillerson has not really learned to play the game of Washington politics – nor does he seem interested in doing so. Which means that if this is a game to try and force him out, it is not clear if he will follow the rules.

CIA director Mike Pompeo is being lined up to replace Mr Tillerson, according to the Beltway rumour mill.

Mr Pompeo plays it well and has cultivated a relationship with Mr Trump, making a point of delivering his intelligence briefings in person. His positions are also much more in line with Mr Trump’s tough approach to national security.

Takeaway 2: A deeply dysfunctional house

I am struck by the parallel universes inhabited by the secretary and his critics at the state department. According to Mr Tillerson, it is functioning well – figures show about the same number of Foreign Service Officers now as this time last year.

It is not being hollowed out, Mr Tillerson says: such reports offend him on behalf of the hardworking career diplomats who have stepped into acting roles during an excruciatingly slow process of appointing political nominees.

As for his controversial redesign of the department, he says changes to its organisation and technology are badly needed. No one disputes that the state department needs to be dragged into the 21st Century.

And at least one anecdotal report from someone who is engaged with the “employee-led” process sounded upbeat about the prospects for organisational reform. But we don’t hear much from these employees leading the process, we do not hear much of anything at all.

More importantly to veteran diplomats, Mr Tillerson has not spelled out what strategy and priorities lie behind his drawing board: the department will be smaller and more efficient, but what will it be for?

And even if the numbers are stable, the expertise is draining away. Dozens of senior officials have been removed from their positions or taken early retirement. Hiring and promotion freezes mean they are not currently being replaced. Communication is a serious problem: between Mr Tillerson’s staff and the rest of the building, and with the press.

Those of us who travel with the secretary find him personable, straightforward, and seriously engaged with the issues. But there is no importance placed on delivering his message to the wider public.

He travels in a smaller plane, which means a scaled back staff that does not give regular updates about his movements, and turns the trips into logistical nightmares.

Morale at the state department is rock bottom.

Takeaway 3: How can he do his job?

The political intrigue that may unseat Mr Tillerson is separate from the state of the state department, but together they have undercut the effectiveness of US diplomacy.

And all this has contributed to confusion about what America stands for. “The whole administration suffers from not having articulated a clear vision for what American foreign policy is beyond the bumper sticker slogan of America First,” Harvard international affairs professor Stephen Walt told me. Nor have they articulated how they will achieve that with a reformed state department.

Mr Tillerson has begun to try and define policy in a more systematic way region by region. His recent speech on Europe was the least “America First” one I have heard from this administration – extolling historic ties and emphasising the importance of and commitment to the transatlantic alliance in the face of a resurgent Russia.

But when he travels to Europe next week, will he be taken seriously? How much weight will governments there give his words if he does not appear to have the president’s confidence? And how much longer can he operate this way, even if he is not sacked?

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