The Cable

SitRep: Pentagon, Cabinet Make Ignoring Trump the New Normal

  Same as it ever was. After a week of incendiary tweets and comments from President Donald Trump threatening war with North Korea and Venezuela, his cabinet and top military advisors did what they’ve grown accustomed to doing: moving past the noise emanating from the Oval Office. “An attack from North Korea is not something ...

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14:  U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (L) talks with South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo (R) during their meeting at the Defence Ministry on August 14, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. Dunford is in South Korea to discuss the North Korean nuclear and missile threats with South Korea's defense minister and the military chief.  (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 14: U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (L) talks with South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo (R) during their meeting at the Defence Ministry on August 14, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. Dunford is in South Korea to discuss the North Korean nuclear and missile threats with South Korea's defense minister and the military chief. (Photo by Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images)

 

Same as it ever was. After a week of incendiary tweets and comments from President Donald Trump threatening war with North Korea and Venezuela, his cabinet and top military advisors did what they’ve grown accustomed to doing: moving past the noise emanating from the Oval Office.

“An attack from North Korea is not something that is imminent,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. Appearing later on “Fox News Sunday,” Pompeo went further. “I’ve heard folks talking about being on the cusp of a nuclear war,” he said, but there is “no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today.”

Pentagon on the line. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, is in Seoul, South Korea to meet with officials and military leaders. He also took a more measured approach. “As a military leader, I have to make sure that the president does have viable military options in the event that the diplomatic and economic pressurization campaign fails,” he said. “We are mindful of the consequences of executing those options, and that makes us have more of a sense of urgency to make sure that we’re doing everything we absolutely can to support Secretary Tillerson’s current path.”

“We’re all looking to get out of this situation without a war,” Dunford said.

Cabinet pushes diplomacy. On Sunday night, an op-ed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and also urged a diplomatic approach:

“The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to deepen diplomatic and military cooperation, and to hold nations accountable to their commitments to isolate the regime. That will include rigorous enforcement of sanctions, leaving no North Korean source of revenue untouched. In particular, the U.S. will continue to request Chinese and Russian commitments not to provide the regime with economic lifelines and to persuade it to abandon its dangerous path.”

FP’s Paul McLeary and C.K.Hickey worked up a map to pinpoint where U.S. missile defense and radar systems are in the Asia Pacific region.

Tough talk limits options. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said over the weekend that Trump’s talk of “fire and fury” doesn’t help the situation on the Korean peninsula. “It’s an incredibly difficult, complex problem, and we have rhetoric, some very strong rhetoric, coming from both North Korea, as well as from the United States,” he said. “And that rhetoric, it seems to me, has taken away options or it’s reduced maneuver space, if you will, for leaders to make decisions.”

Another front. On Friday, president Trump also threatened Venezuela with military action, catching Washington off guard. Appearing on ABC News on Sunday, national security advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster was asked if he thought there was the possibility of U.S. military action in Venezuela. “No, I don’t,” he answered.

Later, on Fox News, Pompeo waved the question away, while Sen. Lindsey Graham said bluntly, “I have no idea why we would use military force in Venezuela.” A self-described “hawk,” Graham took a stronger line when it came to China and North Korea. “The next time that President Trump gets lectured by the Chinese president about how he talks regarding North Korea, I hope you will remind the Chinese president that you’re 100 percent responsible, China is, for North Korea in its current state. You owned their economy.” he said.

Where did Pyongyang get its missiles? From the NYT: “North Korea’s success in testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that appears able to reach the United States was made possible by black-market purchases of powerful rocket engines probably from a Ukrainian factory with historical ties to Russia’s missile program, according to an expert analysis being published Monday and classified assessments by American intelligence agencies.”

Trump fails to condemn Nazis. President Trump has yet to condemn the violent attack on anti-white supremacist demonstrations over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va. that left one woman dead and several others seriously injured. A White House statement emailed to reporters Sunday quoted an unnamed White House official — remember this next time the president tweets that anonymous sources are invented by reporters — as saying the president “condemns all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred…of course that includes white supremacists, K.K.K. neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.”

The IDF backs McMaster. Two former former senior Israeli military officials, Yaakov Amidror and Eran Lerman, took to the Jerusalem Post to push back against attacks launched by Breitbart — the conspiratorial Web site once led by Trump advisor Stephen Bannon — against H.R. McMaster.

“Such an attack is not mere opinion; it is an offense against the truth, against basic decency and against the best interests of Israel as we see them. In the opinion of many in the professional Israeli defense establishment who have come to know Gen. McMaster over the years, directly and indirectly, the general is a friend.”

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary. We’re flying solo this week, as Adam Rawnsley gets some much-needed R&R.

Military pushes back on Trump’s transgender ban. (The Hill)

Less than half of the US bomber fleet is ready to ‘fight tonight.”’ (Military Times)

Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism force looks to rebuild. (Military Times)

Iran eyes more funds for missiles, Guards after U.S. sanctions. (Reuters)

Taliban seize key district in northern Afghan province. (NYT)

In the Syrian province of Idlib, a dumping ground for refugees becomes an al Qaeda stronghold. (NYT)

China issues order to implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea. (Reuters)

Russia-West balancing act grows ever more wobbly in Belarus. (NYT)

 

 

Photo Credit: Song Kyung-Seok-Pool/Getty Images

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