Monday, March 31, 2014

Artillery Diplomacy - North Korea Tensions (Analysis)

Today, tensions on the Korean peninsula are at their highest levels since late 2010.

As of this posting (03:20 EST), North Korea has fired a number of artillery shells into South Korean waters near the Northern Limit Line (a traditional flashpoint area). RoK forces have responded with reciprocal artillery fire and have launched Combat Air Patrols into the area. 

The incident apparently began at about 12:15 local time (MON)/23:15 EST (SUN).

I have a number of thoughts.

1) This is North Korean strategy 101

Over the past two weeks, the North Koreans have been signaling their intention to increase tensions on the peninsula. This intent has been specifically evident both in North Korea's threats to conduct a ''new form'' of nuclear test and in recent missile launches. 

Now we have the artillery diplomacy.

It's an old game.

After all, North Korean political strategy has long resided upon a foundation of extortion. Believing that the international community lacks the confidence to compel them to alter course, the North smokes the air with the specter of war. 

North Korea thus uses its military as a kind of tolling booth for international security - 'Want peace? Then pay up.'

Of course, there's more at play here than random blackmail.

As I see it, the North probably had two specific motivations for sparking this latest crisis. First, the North Korean leadership wants to send a message of anger to the US/RoK in reference to war games. Second, the North Koreans want to remind the international community that the world does not begin and end with MH370 and Ukraine. 

Regardless, like any good extortionist, the North Koreans know that they have to be predictably unpredictable in order to succeed.

2) The potential for escalation is real

It's easy to regard the North Koreans as perpetual bluffers.

But that would be a serious mistake.

In fact, two factors make this latest crisis an especially dangerous one.

First, it's pretty clear that the North Korean regime is beset by growing factionalism. As the public purge of Chang Song-thaek illustrated back in December, Kim Jong-un remains obsessed by a ''factionalist filfth'' in the ruling elite. And while Kim has asserted greater control over the military, he appears to remain somewhat insecure. Correspondingly, the North Korean leader may consider that by increasing tensions with South Korea, he can consolidate his credentials as a strong leader. In flowing vein however, internal tensions in North Korea will make it much harder for Kim to back down if the South responds with confident resolution.

And this speaks to the second point.

The incumbent President of South Korea, President Park, is no 'sunshine-esque' Kim Dae-jung. Indeed, many in Park's party - New Frontier - are calling for an far tougher policy stance towards North Korea. As a result of this, we shouldn't expect the South Koreans to yield (nor should we). Still, the fact that the North Koreans gave South Korea advanced warning about this artillery 'exercise', could suggest that they want to avoid precipitous escalation. 

Nevertheless, it's critical to remember that the North Korean regime exists in a perpetual condition of near psychosis - incidents like the 'tree hacking attack' aren't just history. Rather, they are testaments to a totalitarian dynasty that is capable of just about anything. 

It's in this sense that the ultimate key to restraining North Korean aggression is not China. Instead, as I've argued before, North Korea can only be deterred by one thing - unwavering American resolve.

3) The Obama Administration/International Community have encouraged Kim Jong-un

From my perspective, the greatest failing of President Obama's foreign policy is the manner of its vacuum-like existence - the President seems to think that American adversaries pay no attention to US policy around the world. 

Except that the evidence is clear - the opposite is true. 

For one example, consider Russia.

During Putin's invasion of Georgia in 2008, President Bush helped restrain Russia by sending US Military flights into Tblisi. Conversely, as I argued last week, President Obama's hesitation has rewarded Putin's aggression in Ukraine. Yesterday, we saw the limits of Obama's rhetoric - ''a frank exchange''.

For another example, consider Iran.

Alongside Iran's continuing deception with regards to their nuclear program (see the latest IAEA reporting), the Islamic Republic has decided to appoint a new Ambassador to the UN - a man who once stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. 

It reeks of what it is - utter disdain for American power.

And North Korea sees all of this. 

For a regime that resides upon the appraisal of power as an end in itself, it's a catastrophic dynamic. Where Kim Jong-un senses weakness, he also sees opportunity. In turn, alongside the ludicrous dysfunction of the international community, President Obama's hesitation is empowering the worst instincts of authoritarians across the planet. While we gut our defense budgets, they continue their advance. I worried that this would happen.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The President, the Pope, and a new challenge for the GOP

The President has just visited with the Pope.

Normally this would be pretty basic story. One leader paying homage to another. But not today. 

In this trip to the Vatican, President Obama has an eye to the November elections. 

Here's why it makes things difficult for the GOP.

First, with his emphasis on wealth inequality, Pope Francis has put the GOP in an uncomfortable identity position. By his words, Republicans have been forced to confront accusations that their social conservatism does not extend to the war on poverty (see Paul Ryan being challenged on Catholic TV). Conservatives are thus also being forced to balance their political faith in a more difficult relationship with American Catholicism - traditionally a strong voting bloc. At a thematic level, the Pope's inequality narrative will force the GOP to face up to new thinking in social politics (something I've previously written on here).

Second, Obama's visit has given him a major forum from which to assert his domestic inequality agenda. Post this visit, for example, you can be confident that the White House will employ a budding message - 'The Pope supports Obama, so shouldn't you?'. As an extension, Obama's visit will force the GOP to assert a countermanding, front page inequality narrative. While the GOP has such a narrative (again, Paul Ryan has done great work here), a campaign that focuses on poverty doesn't flow with the GOP's favored electoral strategy - focusing on ObamaCare as its core (perhaps even singular) issue. Regardless, recognizing the political power of Catholicism in America (especially among Hispanic American voters), the GOP knows that it cannot afford to repudiate the Pope with one liners.

For my own thoughts, the GOP should focus its response in two areas - rebutting the assumed social utility of a welfare state and providing serious health care alternatives. 

My thoughts on these concerns can be found here, here and here.

'Alice in Arabia' - The Foul Idiocy of Censors

'Alice in Arabia' - The Foul Idiocy of Censors - My latest @ The National Review Online

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Regarding the Ukraine-Russia crisis, here are my thoughts. I'll update this page as more work is published, so please ignore the date code. Thanks for reading!
Obama's Sanctions Elixir - National Review
The Demise of the U.N. - National Review
Why Ukraine vindicates the NSA - American Spectator
The Nuland Call - National Review
Globe in Partes Tres - National Review

My further writings on Russia can be found here.

* One week ahead of CNN!
My work has been recommended by the UK Parliament, the American Enterprise Institute, the BBC, +BBC +BBC, the Council on Foreign Relations, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, the Foreign Policy Initiative, The Week magazine, The Wire + The Wire + The Wire + The Wire, the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, and Real World Politics/Real Clear Politics. My examination of US security challenges at the end of 2013 was reviewed as the global ‘‘must read’’ of the day by the BBC.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Speaking MH370 with Mark Davis

It was my pleasure to join Mark Davis in a discussion surrounding the disappearance of MH370.

If you're interested, a selection of my other TV/Radio hits can be found here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

World Cup Corruption

The Daily Telegraph is reporting an exclusive on something we've long suspected - that Qatar did indeed bribe FIFA officials in order to win the World Cup. As I've noted here, this incident doesn't just encapsulate the endemic corruption of soccer's governing body, it illustrates the utter absurdity of English defamation law. Public debate was stifled by authoritarianism.

And now...

Come 2018 it's Putin's kleptocracy, then it's on to Qatar...
Warning: This video is amusing, but rather profanity laden...

MH370 and the silent question of Islam

MH370 and the silent question of Islam - My latest @ The National Review

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Obama threatens Putin...

President Obama has just warned of a ''cost'' if Russia doesn't back down on Ukraine. 


Not many people are listening. Here's why.

What we're seeing in Ukraine and around the world is a testament to international relations - that power must be practiced in order to be real. Instead, the President's foreign policy is rapidly descending into an absolute shambles. Devoid of perceivable strength and absent any notion of consistent grand strategy, the White House is spinning in the wind. It's a tragedy.

And a celebration for our adversaries.

Let's be clear. America would have been far better off with Mitt Romney as Commander in Chief. On that note... I'm sick of hearing the President's defenders crow about Neptune Spear. As if that one incident (achieved by CIA*/JSOC) somehow defines this White House as an institution of national security omnipotence. The ultimate reality is that Obama took months to authorize the Bin Laden raid - waiting and waiting. The President thinks he can make the tough calls, but it's increasingly obvious that he can't.

* - An organization that Democrats now seem happy to throw down the river (please see my latest @NRO).

Related thoughts in blog bio.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Favorite movie ending

In response to Friday's post, a couple of readers asked me for my favorite movie ending. 

It's the one below. 


Because it speaks to the American tradition of honorable sacrifice. Giving everything in return for nothing, save the hope that those who receive the benefit live in honor of that noble gift.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Six Instructive War Scenes

Something slightly different today.

Below are a few of my favorite war movie scenes. Under each video, I explain why I pick these in particular. My comments flow from my own research, my time as a student at King's and my conversations with friends who serve or have served in the military. Please note, I don't post these videos as a celebration of war- as I've written here and here, I subscribe to the notion that war is hell.

Midway - ''I want that fourth carrier''

Here, Nimitz illustrates why he was such a successful leader - his willingness to take risks in order to maximize the strategic impact of his battles. His intention was to eviscerate Japanese power-projection capabilities. By pursuing that object with aggression, he won an astounding victory at Midway.

Patton - ''Nuts''

In his rapid assault to relieve General McAuliffe's 101st Airborne, Patton hears that the surrounded American forces will not surrender. To me, in this event, both McAuliffe and Patton represent the best of the US Army's action in Europe. McAuliffe was able to apply a small group of highly skilled soldiers in defense of a critical strategic objective. At the same time, Patton's aggression gave him the confidence to rapidly take territory and move forwards against the enemy.

Zulu - ''Keep working''

Here, the British garrison at Rorke's Drift stand on the verge of a breakdown. Outnumbered by thousands of Zulu warriors and absent the prospect of support, the soldiers fear for their lives. Then, in the finest tradition of an NCO, Colour Sergeant Bourne steps forward to keep the men moving. His objective is clear - to maintain the sense of order and purpose that is critical to a military unit. He knows that he cannot let the men dwell on the predicament that they face.

Zulu - ''Rank!''

This scene illustrates the success of the British Army over the ages. Combining discipline, composure and professionalism, the heavily outnumbered force is able to repel a Zulu attack and win victory at Rorke's Drift.

Zulu - ''Officer Commanding''

The final scene of 'Zulu' provides a list of those decorated with Britain's highest military award at Rorke's Drift. Fittingly, Lieutenant Chard, the officer commanding, is given the last scene. The closing landscape, the shield and Chard's tired demeanor perfectly encapsulate the extraordinary responsibility of an officer. In the end, the officer must retain command and lead with confidence - Chard did that and saved his men.

The Longest Day - ''History''

This scene from the longest day is perhaps my favorite. In the context of history and politics, in one moment, it explains why the US was so instrumental to the allied victory in World War Two. The United States may not have had the history of art or culture that defined Europe, but what it did have was eminent courage and an unsurpassed ability to project power. That, and a sustaining belief in the cause of good against evil.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

One week later, what Obama should say on Ukraine

‘‘Good evening.

Last Thursday, without warning, military forces from the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine.

This invasion has been calculating and patient; moving deliberately to seize control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and destabilize Ukrainian society.

Over the last few days, in conversations with the United States and our allies, Russia’s leaders have claimed that they took this action only in order to protect their citizens.

They say they had no choice.

That is a lie.

Let me be clear. I recognize that the political situation in Ukraine is tense and uncertain. I’m also fully aware of the Russian government’s fears – many ethnic Russians live in eastern and southern Ukraine. The Russian Navy has traditionally relied upon Crimean ports as the base for their Black Sea fleet. In the aftermath of the recent revolution Russia has an obvious desire to protect its interests.

But fear is no excuse for an invasion.

Indeed, we’re witnessing today is a cold echo of a former era that was defined by fear.

 In the images of tanks and soldiers and ships crushing dissent, President Putin is dishonoring his nation and pillaging the traditions of international law that he claims to cherish.

This must not stand.

And so, today, I want to outline a number of steps that my Administration is taking in order to support our Ukrainian friends and compel Russia to return to the table of peaceful diplomacy.

First, I have instructed the State Department to begin consultations with our G7 allies towards expelling Russia from the G8. With what we’re seeing; both in Ukraine and in Russia’s continuing support for the dictator in Syria, the Kremlin has clearly lost interest in a constructive partnership with the international community. While I hope that Russia will return to the community of nations, we must accept reality in the moment. Correspondingly, America cannot accept the G8's credibility as legitimation for this injustice.

Second, I’ve spoken with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress in order to begin laying out a targeted sanctions response against those Russian leaders and institutions that are involved in this invasion. But it won’t just be America. We’ll work with our partners around the world in order to make sure that Russia understands the whole world stands against them. Russia’s leaders must realize that their access to the international economy is not a fait accompli. That trust and cooperation are earned. We will not allow these leaders to profit while the specter of war blankets Ukrainian society.

Third, paying close attention to Russian troop movements inside Ukraine and along the borders of Poland and Lithuania, I’ve ordered our military to move certain key assets into the region. Again, let me be clear, these deployments are precautionary and defensive. We do not seek a conflict with Russia. Nevertheless, we’re aware of our responsibilities under NATO. We won’t tolerate intimidation without answer. So let me emphasize this fact – although we stand ready to talk at any time, our allies should feel confidence that their friendship with America has meaning.

Underlying these actions is a simple policy consideration. History. Over centuries of conflict, we’ve learned that aggression cannot be appeased by equivocation. So while it’s tempting to believe that words of condemnation would provide an effective response alone, the truth of this invasion is harder. Russia must be made to understand that every action has a reaction. A reaction beyond anger.

America seeks friendship with Russia but we will not accept a dominion of fear.

This speaks to something else- only Russia can make the choices that are necessary to defuse this crisis.

Russia is better than this.

Two weeks ago, the world applauded as Russia delivered a flourish of internationalism – an Olympic games defined by human excellence and mutual respect. Those games defined Russia at its best – proud, talented and passionate.

But today, the world is seeing a very different Russia.

Today, just a little more than two hundred miles from Sochi, we’re being reminded of another, darker testament from history – that the balance between greatness and ignominy is a sharp one. That the face of a nation is not measured by the prestige of one moment, but instead by the legacy of its actions.

My fellow Americans, in this moment, Russia has made its choice. Now we must make ours.

With resolve in our power and confidence in our values, we are now taking a stand for the freedom of a friend and for the peace of the world.

Good evening and may God continue to bless America.’’

Monday, March 3, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ukraine and the Tombstone of the Reset

What's happening in Ukraine represents the tombstone for President Obama's reset. As I've argued before, (here and here) the Russian Government has successfully manipulated US foreign policy over the past five years. Cognizant of the President's international trepidation (an issue I've also written on here), Putin has advanced Russian strategic interests at the cost of both American prestige and influence. As I see it, the Russian surge into Crimea has two specific purposes - to deter western intervention and support for the new Ukrainian Government and to ensure that Russia's access to its Black Sea naval bases is sustained.

Still, this is about more than power politics. In part understandably (considering the ethnic make up of Crimea), Russia is deeply concerned by the prospect of appearing to abandon its key supporters. Russia wants to ensure that their opinion is represented by the new government.

Again, it's absolutely crucial to note that Russian foreign policy is always focused on local domination in service to the central authority of the Kremlin.

But of course, this is also about Putin's willingness to use military force in order to achieve his political objectives (see the video below from 13.58). Putin wagers that the US and the EU lack the constitution to restrain his intimidation. He may be right. In the days ahead, it is critical that President Obama show Putin that there are limits to Russia's power. In essence, the American President must restore Russia's faith in American power.