Foreign Affairs

Trump Weighs Limited Strike on North Korea

“As one sign of how fraught the confrontation with North Korea remains despite the tentative onset of diplomatic activity, consider this: U.S. officials are debating whether it’s possible to mount a limited military strike against North Korean sites without igniting an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The idea is known as the ‘bloody nose’ strategy: React to some nuclear or missile test with a targeted strike against a North Korean facility to bloody Pyongyang’s nose and illustrate the high price the regime could pay for its behavior. The hope would be to make that point without inciting a full-bore reprisal by North Korea.”

“It’s an enormously risky idea, and there is a debate among Trump administration officials about whether it’s feasible. North Koreans have a vast array of artillery tubes pointed across the Demilitarized Zone at Seoul, the capital of South Korea, with which they could inflict thousands of casualties within minutes if they choose to unleash all-out barrage.”

We’re Losing the Digital War

Haroon Ullah: “Last year, Russia and its allies engineered a rift between truth and lies, fact and fake news, humans and bots – and the bots are winning. They’re winning because social-media firms profit from all traffic – whatever the source – and governments are simply too slow to counter this threat.”

“Russian disinformation – like its more overt Islamic State cousin – is designed to fuel animosities and exploit existing cleavages. The people behind it are not only hate-filled but also experts on audience segmentation. Although diametrically opposed to each other on social, ethnic, political and religious grounds, Russia and the Islamic State are ironically employing the very same techniques to further their respective agendas.”

“This battlefield – social media and the dark web – is the least understood piece of a new conflict. In essence, both the Russians and the Islamic State have weaponized information. The online ecosystem and their disaggregated strategy have kept them one step ahead of adversaries.”

Tillerson Says He Has No Plans to Leave

“Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he fully intends to remain in the Trump administration through 2018, casting concerns about his future at the State Department as overblown,” Politico reports.

“Speculation surrounding Tillerson’s job security and a potential departure — a so-called Rexit — has run rampant since NBC News reported in October that he had called Trump a ‘moron’ during a meeting with Pentagon officials.”

Meanwhile, Tillerson insisted to CNN that he has never questioned Trump’s mental fitness.

Quote of the Day

“The portrait of an unfit president in a dysfunctional administration at a time the world is characterized by mounting disarray adds up to a truly dangerous moment in history. The best that can be hoped for is drift. The worst to be feared is a disaster of some magnitude somewhere.”

— Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, on Twitter.

North Korea Re-Opens Communication with South

Associated Press: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years Wednesday as the rivals explored the possibility of sitting down and talking after months of acrimony and fears of war. The sudden signs of easing animosity, however, came as President Donald Trump threatened Kim with nuclear war in response to his threat earlier this week.”

“The recent softening of contact between the rival Koreas may show a shared interest in improved ties, but there’s no guarantee tensions will ease. There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, but even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations and stalemate.”

Trump Threatens to Cut Off Funding to Palestinians

President Trump suggested that the U.S. should consider cutting payments to the Palestiniana, saying their officials “don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel,” Politico reports.

“It was unclear which payments to the Palestinian Authority the president was questioning. But the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said earlier Tuesday that Trump planned to withhold money for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the entity tasked with aiding Palestinian refugees, if their leaders did not fully engage in the U.S.-led peace process with Israel.”

It’s Worse Than You Think

Susan Glasser: “By the time the dinner was over, the leaders were in shock, and not just over the idle talk of armed conflict. No matter how prepared they were, eight months into an American presidency like no other, this was somehow not what they expected. A former senior U.S. official with whom I spoke was briefed by ministers from three of the four countries that attended the dinner. ‘Without fail, they just had wide eyes about the entire engagement,’ the former official told me.”

“Even if few took his martial bluster about Venezuela seriously, Trump struck them as uninformed about their issues and dangerously unpredictable, asking them to expend political capital on behalf of a U.S. that no longer seemed a reliable partner. “The word they all used was: ‘This guy is insane.’”

America and the Great Abdication

Richard Haass: “When great powers fade, as they inevitably must, it’s normally for one of two reasons. Some powers exhaust themselves through overreach abroad, underinvestment at home, or a mixture of the two. This was the case for the Soviet Union. Other powers lose their privileged position with the emergence of new, stronger powers. This describes what happened with France and Great Britain in the case of Germany’s emergence after World War I and, more benignly, with the European powers and the rise of the United States during and after World War II.””To some extent America is facing a version of this—amid what Fareed Zakaria has dubbed “the rise of the rest”—with China’s ascendance the most significant development. But the United States has now introduced a third means by which a major power forfeits international advantage. It is abdication, the voluntary relinquishing of power and responsibility. It is brought about more by choice than by circumstances either at home or abroad.”

Coming next week from Haass: A World in Disarray.

Senators Scrap Russia Trip After Kremlin Snubs Shaheen

“Two Republican senators have called off a planned trip to Russia after the Kremlin denied a visa to a Democratic colleague, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen,” Politico reports.

“Shaheen, an outspoken backer of a Russia sanctions bill that Congress approved overwhelmingly earlier this year, had been scheduled to visit Russia along with GOP colleagues Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Barasso of Wyoming. But a Shaheen spokesman said the senator believes the Kremlin has placed her under a travel sanction, prohibiting her visit.”

Haley Tricked by Russian Crank Call

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley “may have been fooled by a pair of Russian pranksters pretending to be the prime minister of Poland. The duo, known as Vovan and Lexus, claims to have arranged a crank phone call Thursday with the former South Carolina governor,” the Charleston Post and Courier reports.

“The pair, whose real names are Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, posted a nearly 22-minute video clip this weekend in which a woman who sounds like Haley speaks to a man who she thinks is the new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Between questions about Ukraine and Russia, the fake prime minister asked Haley about Binomo — a fake island that does not exist.”

“You know Binomo?” the prankster said.

“Yes, yes,” Haley responded.

“They had elections and we suppose Russians had its intervention,” the joker said.

“Yes, of course they did, absolutely,” Haley said.

Trump Breaks With 70 Years of American Foreign Policy

New York Times: “Nearly a year into his presidency, Mr. Trump remains an erratic, idiosyncratic leader on the global stage, an insurgent who attacks allies the United States has nurtured since World War II and who can seem more at home with America’s adversaries. His Twitter posts, delivered without warning or consultation, often make a mockery of his administration’s policies and subvert the messages his emissaries are trying to deliver abroad…”

“Above all, Mr. Trump has transformed the world’s view of the United States from a reliable anchor of the liberal, rules-based international order into something more inward-looking and unpredictable. That is a seminal change from the role the country has played for 70 years, under presidents from both parties, and it has lasting implications for how other countries chart their futures.”