Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Size Matters

--Gen. Colin Powell and his pictures at UN (2003)

 ~How long do you think this can go on 
before something happens?
~It's a circus, isn't it?
--The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

Sometimes... believing is all we have
--Team America: World Police (2004)

"I'm not reading this. This is bullshit."
--Colin Powell on his UN speech, before he read it,
as reported by U.S. News and World Report (2003)

We at RAW try an avoid the daily news cycle (the media having proven that it is outrunning the facts). But the North Korean manufactured crisis du jour requires comment.

The question is not, "Does NoKo have a bomb?", but, "Do they have a miniaturized bomb that could be delivered via missile?" If we believe United States intelligence, then the answer is, "yes".

If so, the question becomes, "How did NoKo come to build and minitaturize a bomb?" Further, "Can it be delivered by means other than missile?"

Beyond that, "Can NoKo's intent to deploy the missile be verified?" If the possession and the intent has been confirmed, then, "Why do we always wait to counter such threats until they become a crisis?"

Of course, this is the same U.S. intel community that assured us that Saddam Hussein had mobile miniature bacterial warfare production facilities, run by a Frau Farbissina ominously dubbed, "Dr. Death". Because we had been so traumatized by the incessant media coverage of the events of 9-11-01, the Greatest Nation on Earth believed laughably cheap artists's renderings on an easel as evidence to strike up a war.

We and our representatives failed to demand photo intel to verify Powell's assertions. We saw the General's stripes and believed that he was telling the truth, and that he and his would protect us. He gave us what we thought we wanted and needed.

It was easy to follow him since false media-promulgated events like "The Sinking of the Maine!" and the Gulf of Tonkin (sans the Teddy Roosevelt spirit) which sparked other wars had predated Powell's presentation of the (not) Death Mobiles.

Beyond the bombastic rhetoric of Kim Jong-Un, an autocratic leader like Saddam who promised the U.S. the "Mother of all wars" in a show of unrealistic strength for the benefit of his countrymen, what have we?

RAW does not trust one bit of data filtered to us through the press, and especially nothing got via supposed government leaks.

We may use Kim's words as a casus belli, much as President George Bush did with Saddam's. Or, we may simply ignore the bravado as the posturing which it most likely is.

Let us hope the U.S. leadership takes the latter position.

Size matters, but so does intent.

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Anonymous David said...

It's amazing how all of America's enemies are simultaneously irrational crazy people but also the masterminds of large schemes that pose an existential threat to our civilization.

I don't know whether this is the security state trying to steer the administration, or the administration trying to steer the public, but either way, it's obvious this information was leaked to create a public security crisis and build support for war. I wonder who thought they'd stand to benefit from such a thing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 2:56:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Ael said...

The North Koreans have done 5 nuclear tests. Other countries have had compact nuclear warheads after this number of tests. It is not unreasonable to expect that the North Koreans are telling the truth that they have one.

North Korea has flown a missile which is capable of of hitting Chicago. They have given out high resolution images of the missile launch. Computer models of this missile show that it ought to be capable of carrying a compact nuclear warhead to Chicago. Therefore it is not unreasonable to expect that the North Koreans are telling the truth when they say they can mount their warhead on the missile.

There are some doubts about guidance and re-entry vehicles, but there were doubts back in the sixties that the Chinese had adequate RV technology. This caused them to put a warhead on a missile and launch it, generating a very loud and very convincing counter-argument that they had the technology.

Do you want the North Koreans to do the same by digging a large temporary hole in the Sea of Japan, or are you willing to take their word for it on this one?

It happened because no one took them seriously enough to come to a negotiated settlement a couple decades ago. Now, any negotiated settlement is likely to be at a much worse price (i.e. acceptance of them as a nuclear power). Any attempt to deal with the problem with an immediate application of force is likely to kill an awful lot of people.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 5:03:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...


Other countries, even Israel, probably had more resources available to develop their programs. I don't mean you're wrong. Historically, security analysts have proven amazingly narrow-minded on these questions. It's not just the Chinese; they were also surprised by the Soviets, although in fairness, the Soviet scientists did have some help in the form of intelligence.

As for ways out, though, I think the idea of negotiation misunderstands the strategic situation from the North's perspective. They probably began their nuclear program thinking of it as a bargaining chip they could keep taking on and off the table, but clearly it is now something more. Actual, usable nuclear weapons would guarantee regime security. The regime is paranoid that the Americans are going to come back and finish the job. Ergo, nuclear weapons provide ultimate security. Look at what happened to Saddam and Gaddafi when they abandoned their programs!

So what negotiated settlement could give the North Korean regime the same safety as nuclear weapons provide?

I'm always in favour of negotiations rather than killing people, but it seems to me it has to be part of a broader diplomatic strategy that somehow reduces the value of nuclear weapons to the regime.

I don't think, frankly, the Trump team can pull it off. None of them have diplomatic experience. They haven't bothered to appoint the needed diplomats. Heck, there isn't even an ambassador in South Korea because they fired the last one and haven't bothered to replace him.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 6:39:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Ael said...

The next step for the North Koreans is to test Thermonuclear Weapons. Yup, genuine planet busters. I would be in a hurry to cut some sort of peace treaty quickly where we promise to not invade them, in exchange for them to not do any more nuclear tests. I figure that getting North Koreans to heavily interact with South Koreans is the best way to settle the problem. They will work it out for themselves.

Also, I know that Iran has cooperated with North Korea on ballistic missile technology. I would not be surprised if they also have assisted North Korea on the nuclear stuff in exchange for access to information, but do not know of any specific facts supporting this speculation.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 9:08:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got to disagree with you on this one. I'm with AEL.

I mean your points about Powell and the IC have much merit, yet at the same time KJU/NoKo is a different situation and each situation has to be analyzed on its own merits.

NoKo has nukes. they have missile delivery systems. they are making threats.


Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 9:50:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

hot damn.
of course they hv nucs and missiles.
so do we, but nobody seems concerned about that.
one us navy carrier group is a death star roaming our planet.no one cares.

i guess we're back to square one.
-if you wave a red flag in front of a marine he's gonna see red.
-forget your training. ignore the flag-all of this is manufactured crisis.
-ALL. it benefits the noko's and the US.everybody gets a star on their foreheads.

-remember capability and intent.
-the two are not of any meaning unless combined in a realistic scenario.
-if kim would start a real war how would he get his niementhaler cheese imported into noko?
-it is totally insane to answer insanity with any response.
-i just can't decide which leader is the insane side of the equation.

now to ael.
it'd be my estimation that pakistan was in this picture some where along the line.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 10:26:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...


It's not that I disagree with you in principle. I think it would be great to have a world without nuclear weapons. However, what treaty guarantee could the U.S. possibly give North Korea that was more comforting to that regime than having its own ICBMs? "We promise not to invade"? Really? Look at it from their perspective.


What threat specifically do you have in mind?

North Korea's "threats" are, consistently, that if America tries to remove the regime, North Korea will retaliate against America and its allies. If this threat is backed up by actual nuclear weapons and actual delivery systems for those weapons, I suspect the window for a good preventative attack has already passed.

I further suspect this occurred to whoever leaked this supposed assessment of the North Korean nuclear situation. They want to have a war now while they still can.


The only way to de-nuclearize North Korea short of a war that would probably destabilize the regime and lead to a long and expensive occupation plus diplomatic fallout that would make Iraq look minor would be a diplomatic strategy to reduce the value of missiles to the survival of North Korea's regime. I am not sure this would be achievable. Even to try it would require an extremely complicated diplomatic push.

Given that Trump and Tillerson have not even seen fit to get an ambassador confirmed for South Korea or an assistant secretary to run east Asian affairs, and that Trump has already done much to destabilize good relations with China and will do more if he opts for economic nationalism and challenges China's blatant violations of international trade norms, it's probably safe to say that this option is out, too.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 10:48:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Ael said...

David, I agree.

KJU effectively already has ICBM and nukes. He won't let go of them.
However, I think active diplomacy could get him to not build bombs with enough energy to cause mass extinction. The price would be a peace treaty.

I further think if we can get North Koreans and South Koreans together then long term stability is possible. If the elites of both countries have grand kids in both Pyongyang and Seoul, there will be little incentive to turn both cities into parking lots.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 1:11:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...


Again I agree with you in principle. This is what I've been thinking about a lot lately, trying to see how it might shake out. I admit most of the following is at best educated guesswork.

My own guess is that North Korea doesn't have a usable nuclear missile and warhead combination but is obviously getting closer by the month, and that this is behind the leak: either the Trump administration or the military intelligence community wants to start a war now while they think they still can. It's possible that the administration is just trying to distract everyone from its own political problems by starting the war. I think that is the least likely of the three possibilities.

Meanwhile, the U.S. policy of escalating missile defenses effectively pushes North Korea to do the only thing they can do to counter that: try to build new missiles faster than the Americans can deploy new missile defenses.

So again you have to ask: what would be enough to convince the North Koreans that more nuclear weapons, or any nuclear weapons, would be a threat to their regime rather than their ultimate security?

One way is to threaten to go to war against North Korea. Trump took this route recently. However, genocidal threats to invade and destroy the Korean people are only credible to the extent the U.S. would be willing to accept the costs of that option, so North Korea will respond by trying to raise the costs as high as possible, hence the threat to Guam, hence the ongoing missile and nuke R&D.

The other way is to starve the regime through economic and financial sanctions on the clear understanding that the moment they abandon the nukes and agree to open inspections, the sanctions are off, the U.S. pledges not to invade, and the Chinese promise to guarantee their security. Today there is no question in my mind the North Koreans would reject that deal, but under enough economic and diplomatic pressure, it might work.

To do that, however, you would need to get China onboard. I doubt China wants North Korea to have nukes, but from China's perspective, the bigger threats are (a) a collapse of the North Korean state from either war or the effects of the sanctions, which would send millions of refugees across the river into China and force them to occupy North Korea as a nation-building project, and (b) an American/South Korean takeover of the north.

So then the next question obviously is: how do you persuade China to help us at such risk to themselves?

China will certainly have no interest in doing such things while the Trump administration maintains its will-we-won't-we threats to target the Chinese economy with trade and currency sanctions.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 1:50:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim et al,
I am unmoved by various arguments here. I have no problem with roving death stars as long as they are my roving death stars. In a dog eat dog world, I want to be the biggest baddest dog. IMO, fairness has nothing to do with it. KJU doesn't get to have a nuke just b/c we do. That's not how it works.

I do not like tin horn fat boy dictators being in possession of death rays.

You have to hang your hat somewhere. I will hang mine on the superior rationality of western civ.

Everyone is giving "fat boy" (interesting since that was the name of one of two nukes that were actually dropped on human beings) an excuse.

He has other options than building nukes and threatening the world with them. He could open relations with SoKo and the rest of the world, but especially SoKo. He could begin a friendly reintegration process. However, that is not the path he has chosen. He is holding to personal power like a crazy autocrat. He clearly has no interest in doing what is best for the Korean people, North or South. I don't understand the excuse making.


Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 2:39:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to what should be done? It won't be easy, but KJU should be killed by whatever means necessary once a more friendly replacement has been identified.

That or he should be pressured by China and Russia to begin reintegration with SoKo. Perhaps KJU could eventually enjoy power as the commissioner of the Korean basketball league or something.

I am worried KJU will start something in Korea, but more worried that he will exert influence by passing nukes to jihadis, etc.

Just like alcohol and guns don't mix, maniacal dictators and nukes don't mix. It's a really bad idea and you might get away with it for a while, but eventually there is going to be a tragic incident.


Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 2:48:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...

I remember when Trump supporters claimed they wanted to get America out of the business of foreign wars and empire-making.

Be that as it may, I would prefer what you view as excuse-making to what I view as the unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people.

Even so, I would be curious on a couple of points. First of all, you've repeatedly claimed Kim is crazy. If you're right, then the logic of deterrence can't be expected to hold. So I'd be interested to see why you think this is the case.

Second, I'm curious about how you view the latest intelligence assessment. Is it that you think the regime lacks usable nuclear weapons and therefore its threats are irrelevant? If not, what level of civilian and military casualties are you, in your mind, willing to risk for the sake of destroying North Korea?

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 2:54:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...


Disregard my last comment if you want since I saw your new post just as I clicked submit just now.

I agree Kim should be replaced, but again the question is how to do that. You want to invade the country and do some nation-building? Welcome back to the mainstream of imperial foreign policy!

You want Russia and China to do it for us? Okay. China probably could. But then there will be a diplomatic and economic price to pay there. To simply matters immensely, should America take on China over its manipulation of international trade, or should it expect China to help change the regime in North Korea? I don't think America should sacrifice its economic interests for the sake of foreign regime changes. What about you?

Why would the North Koreans pass nuclear weapons to Islamists? They worked pretty hard to get them and they don't owe any debts to them that the Islamists could collect on. Kim wants a steady supply of North Korean girls and Western liquor, cars, and basketball stars until he dies happy, probably years before his time due to a heart attack or a stroke by the looks of him. Starting a nuclear war doesn't give him that. Quite the opposite, his real fear is and has always been that the Americans will come take his toys away from him.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 2:58:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want China to do it. I do not want US troops committed (maybe an SOF group here or there, but no more). Nor do I want to engange in nation building. I see no need. SoKo can and would work on that. I won't even pretend to understand what levers could be pulled, deals cut, etc nor what the price would be. That is all work for state dept, DIA, CIA and assorted diplomats. I'm sure there is a way that makes sense, is viable and comes in at the right cost.


Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 3:58:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...

1. Why on earth would China do this for you?

2. Ditto South Korea.

3. If the State Department and assorted diplomats were needed to do this, then the deal is almost certainly off. As I have pointed out, the Trump administration so far hasn't shown much interest even in appointing the political people who would be necessary to oversee such deals. Trump himself plainly lacks the patience and familiarity with foreign affairs necessary to oversee it himself. He's left to try and micromanage from a distance a bureaucracy that, let's face it, has uncertain loyalties at this point.

I'm not sure why you think I am "making excuses" for the Kim regime here. As I see it, this leak was a distraction from people in either the administration or the intelligence community that want a pretext for a war. In the meantime, the Trump administration's original goal in Asia -- securing America's economic interests by stopping China's manipulation of international trade -- are going to have to go by the wayside for the sake of imperial interests in the region. Sounds like bog-standard imperial foreign policy, to me.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 4:32:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

neither of us has the information necessary to decide why China would or would not assist.

I am assuming there are ways that they would because as China emerges as an increasingly global capitalist player their interests become more business oriented; and war is bad for business; especially large scale war with nuclear potential.

China is a very rational actor.


Friday, August 18, 2017 at 9:23:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

please give an example of regime change in which we found a more benevolent and democratic replacement model.
what gives us the legal right to even consider such a thing?
why do we even have a UN?
it ain't our job?
why us SOF in noko?
pls explain what socom or centcom has achieved lately?
if noko goes hot by being nuked , u can bet that Kim will survive. he may be insane ,but he ain't crazy.
i've been in a bunker in usaeur that will support a complete Bn. for 6 months and protect them from the fall out and blast ,and that was 30 years ago.
so why wouldn't Kim have the same?
i'd wager that his defenses are 3 generations old and improved daily.

Friday, August 18, 2017 at 11:43:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been in one of those bunkers too (it's actually a massive improved cave system)INCONUS. Pretty amazing. Germ free and stocked with food and water, medical supplies...weapons and ammo....you name it...and a rail system to move people and materiel around...and commo systems too, of course. That was more than 30 years ago too. I have no doubt that KJU has similar such. Probably much nicer. That said, he can't run the country very well while living existence as a mole. I don't think that anyone is going to be waiting for him to re-emerge to hand him back the reins of the country after he's been down there a while.

I am not suggesting that we nuke NoKo. Also, agree that it is not our job to remove him. We could lend a hand or give an approving nod, though.

IMO, success of the mission (operation slim fast?) depends on the attitude of the NoKo people. If they desire to begin reunification, then it would have a chance.

Agreed though that US success rate has not been high....something in the decimal point zone, actually. I would leave the post regime change architecture to the Korean people.


Friday, August 18, 2017 at 1:52:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

what makes So. Korea a beacon of democracy.
they are corrupt and before and after US troops died in 1950-53 the gov't was not democratic.
so why do we care who runs the show.
both are olig kingdoms.

Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 7:33:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only really care about the USA.

"beacon of democracy" is a relative term. It has a sliding scale. I guess we try to have more of it than less of it, but shooting for perfection is probably a utopian fool's errand. So we operate within the framework of choosing better over or worse.

The big question you raise is, "Why is anything across any sea the concern of the USA?". That's a tough one. As you know, I'm an isolationist. IMO, if Americans want to go on crusades to liberate people from concentration camps, or free people from Islamic extremism or save gay unborn whales, whatever, they should individually make the choice to join up with a relevant country's foreign legion.

That said, there are two caveats:
1. Where US industry or other economic sectors have become dependent on some other country that is under attack. A least a thorough cost benefit analysis must be done to assess whether or not the US wants to put its military thumb on the balance. Of course, it would be better if such intense economic dependencies were avoided, or minimized, in the first place.
2. Nuclear weapons that can fly across the seas and hit major US cities. I think there is a solid argument that if the US is isolationist, then no one will have reason to target the US with nukes.

I think the real problem is #1. Interestingly, it is the progressives that want more #1. Well, that means there are going to be a lot of eggs to crack before the omelet can be completely made.

But we are where we are.....and that is facing both 1 and 2. It has to be dealt with somehow.

I'm reading a great book right now (about half way through it). Loving every paragraph. Thx


Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 10:09:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...


If it's relevant to this discussion I'd be interested in the book.

You've put your finger exactly on the problem I think with number 2. Why is it that decades on, tens of thousands of U.S. troops are defending South Korea from the North? I suspect the North wouldn't even bother with ICBMs, let alone targeting the U.S. with them, but for that. Presumably at some point the time will come when the South Koreans can defend themselves. This is precisely the sort of complication from foreign entanglements that you have noticed yet seem to be a complete mystery to many "experts" in foreign policy.

On point 1, it seems to me that the balance of U.S. interests is better served by relying on deterrence rather than a costly invasion or destruction of North Korea on the one hand, and then confronting Chinese economic manipulation on the other. This is precisely what Trump promised during the campaign and I am waiting in vain for it to actually happen. The cost of getting China to cooperate on North Korea will presumably be, at a bare minimum, continued tolerance of its ripping off of Western economies writ large but the U.S. in particular.

Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 12:36:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read a lot of US foreign policy papers, etc. The US FP establishment is utterly transfixed with the US as global hegemon. This appears to be the result of the outcome of WW2. These people are true believers that the US is the shining city on the hill. A beacon for all others with a duty - a holy mission - to save and enlighten the world. In fact, so entrenched is the idea, that it simply assumed at this point. BTW, this is one reason they HATE Trump so much w/his isolationist rhetoric and desire to make good w/ Russia; a country the FP est. see as both rejecting and interfering in their plans .

So we're kinda stuck w/ point 2 for the foreseeable future. And point 1 follows.

It's these people, usually Ivy league educated, that are the source of our woes. Now that they have us in these situations, what do we do? Actions must be taken to follow things to their logical conclusions.


Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 5:41:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...


This was one of the things I was hopeful for about Trump but also one of the things I am not surprised to see fall by the wayside. You're right: to the so-called foreign policy "centre," an actual anti-imperialist candidate was a threat. It was weird to have one come from the right rather than the left, I think, but a threat all the same.

What I've never been sure is whether Trump was just offering a bill of goods the whole time, or whether he meant what he said but lacked the political skills to make anything of it in time. Either way, the result is the same, just as it was when Obama arrived in Washington promising to roll back NAFTA and end foreign wars: after a brief transition period of uncertainty, the empire just continues right on.

We like to think that the post-World War Two nation-building projects were the successful ones, but given that we're over 60 years out now from the Korean War and the South is still dependent on America to defend it from what is now a much smaller and weaker northern neighbour, I have to wonder.

Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 7:19:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little forgiving of Trump re; FP.

It's sort of like the healthcare debate. The US went down the path of private provision a long time ago. Now everything is based on that mode. In order to switch to socialized there would first have to be a lot of honest assessment of what the means and lots of thorough cost/benefit analysis. Then, if the decision is "go", there would have to be a lot of thorough planning on to most smoothly make the huge shift in infrastructure, lot's of contingencies and lots of pain in the process. Finally, there would have to be a paradigm shift in thinking.

FP is in about the same shape. In 1941 we decided down a path we're still following.

There is no way Trump can transition to isolation/America first in a few months, or probably even a few years. He can probably start the trend and that's about it. That would be at best and if he had cooperation. He doesn't have cooperation.

So I am pleased that he is still silently working w/ Russia in many ways despite the sabotage. I'm glad he has decided to not make Syrian regime change a policy or focus. I think he's making signals that he wants out of NATO....maybe a few other things. But he gets so much resistance from behind. Perhaps, at best it will be what Trump doesn't do that is more critical than what he does do.


Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 9:04:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...


Re your third paragraph

I see where you are coming from in all of this now. Personally I would have preferred a more intentional and planned dismantling rather than hoping for the chaos that will come from what you've called leadership by jester, but I think I see what you mean.

I suppose we will wait and see tonight re Afghanistan.

Monday, August 21, 2017 at 12:24:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good. I'm glad you finally understand my position. I try to be a realist.

I am not hopeful concerning Trump's talk tonight. If I had to bet on it, I'd put my money on increasing troops. I totally agree w/ Jim on Afghanistan. There is no reason to have any troops there at all. It's already cost us $1 trillion - $2 trillion. We are no more in control of anything there than we were 15 years ago. I see no reason to believe that another year or two or ten is going to change anything. + The US economy cannot support it. The Ts don't need Afghanistan as a base. Even *if* we could deny it to them, they'd just go somewhere else.

IMO, it may be that we have enough infrastructure there in terms of HUMINT and other intel sources that we *should* withdraw except for some special forces types. Then, if actual international terrorists (not local Taliban) attempt to form bases of operation there, we have a better chance of scooping them up as opposed to them being in some totally new country or underground. In fact, we should make a deal with the Taliban that we will leave them alone if they agree to not aid and abet real Ts. They would get paid for informing us.

Maybe Trump has a plan along those lines?


Monday, August 21, 2017 at 3:07:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...

If Trump did have a plan along those lines, I'm quite certain he was firmly told by Mattis and company that the military and diplomatic establishments have other plans.

Still, I cling to some shreds of optimism even with Trump. In contrast, if it was Clinton as president now, I could probably write her upcoming speech on Afghanistan myself, and so could you, for how predictable it will be.

Monday, August 21, 2017 at 3:12:00 PM GMT-5  

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