The Cable

SitRep: Trump to U.N. As White House Beats War Drums; Trump’s Pentagon Education

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Trump to the U.N. On the eve of a critical U.N. General Assembly meeting that kicks off on Monday, leaders from around the world have prepared their own strategies for how to handle President Donald Trump’s America first agenda as the White House beats the war drums in ...



By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Trump to the U.N. On the eve of a critical U.N. General Assembly meeting that kicks off on Monday, leaders from around the world have prepared their own strategies for how to handle President Donald Trump’s America first agenda as the White House beats the war drums in North Korea and Iran, and continues to threaten to pull out of trade and climate deals.

FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer will be on the ground in New York this week to track the comings and goings of the delegates. Lynch writes today that there “could be reason to pay heed to the rest of the world: The divisions over Iran and climate change complicate efforts by the Trump administration to rally the world behind a tougher response to North Korea, which has tested powerful nuclear devices and long range missiles.”

Show of force. There was some international cooperation on Sunday, when U.S., South Korean, and Japanese warplanes staged a major show of force over the Korean peninsula, releasing live weapons during a joint training exercise. The flight was “in response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate range ballistic missile over Japan on September 14,” according to a statement from the U.S. Pacific Command. The mission included two B-1B Lancer bombers, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightnings, four South Korean F-15K fighters, and four Japanese F-2 fighters.

“North Korea will be destroyed.” The exercise came hours after U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned Sunday that if Pyongyang continues with its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, “North Korea will be destroyed. And we all know that. And none of us want that. None of us want war…we’re trying every other possibility that we have, but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table.”

Haley later told CNN that if the Washington exhausts its diplomatic options on North Korea, the U.S. military would “take care of it.” Haley continued, “We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first. If that doesn’t work, General Mattis will take care of it.”

U.S. Russia meet early. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Sunday evening in New York where they discussed Syria, “reducing the violence, and creating the conditions for the Geneva process to move forward,” State department spokesperson Heather Nauert said. The Russian foreign ministry added that the two “discussed cooperation on the Syrian crisis and other aspects of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the status of implementation of the Minsk agreements,” in Ukraine.

Russians bomb U.S. allies in Syria. The meeting came a day after the U.S. accused Russian aircraft of bombing U.S.-backed forces and their American advisors in Syria, a strike that injured six Syrian Democratic Forces, but left the Americans unhurt.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., told reporters in Europe on Sunday that an existing hotline between the two sides “didn’t work,” during the incident, leading to a call with his Russian counterpart, Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces, Gen. Valery Geramisov Saturday night. Dunford proposed that the countries’ battlefield commanders in charge of forces in Syria should be in closer contact as U.S.-backed, and Russian-backed forces converge on the last Islamic State stronghold in Deir Ezzur to “address the fact that the enemy moves freely back and forth across the Euphrates River.”

POTUS Pentagon cram session. During a late July trip to the Pentagon, Trump’s national security team, “alarmed by the president’s frequent questioning about the value of a robust American presence around the world,” slipped a larger, globally-focused briefing into his update on the plan for Afghanistan, the AP reports. More:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “organized the July 20 session to lay out the case for maintaining far-flung outposts — and to present it, using charts and maps, in a way the businessman-turned-politician would appreciate.”

To be successful, “Mattis and Tillerson decided they should use talking points and commentary with which they believed Trump would be most familiar: the role that the military, intelligence officers and diplomats play in making the world safe for American businesses, like The Trump Organization, to operate and expand abroad. American troops provide stability, diplomats push rule of law and anti-corruption measures and the intelligence community provides context and analysis that drive the first two, the briefers explained, according to the officials.”

More Pentagon and Trump. The Pentagon asked President Donald Trump to hold off on his talk of Islamic terrorism during his recent speech there commemorating the 16th anniversary of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. And people are noticing that he has mostly dropped the word “Islamic” when talking about terrorism lately. Not everyone is thrilled, and as usual, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is taking the heat.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

The Four Nos. “We do not seek regime change, we do not seek a regime collapse, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, and we do not seek a reason to send our forces north of the demilitarized zone,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on CBS’s Face the Nation reiterating what he calls the Four Nos of U.S. policy towards North Korea.

Cuba. Tillerson also said a proposal to close the newly-opened U.S. embassy in Cuba is “under review” in the wake of a series of bizarre attacks on American diplomats that have caused hearing loss and brain injuries. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered,” Tillerson said.

Defectors. South Korea is witnessing a drop in the number of defectors arriving from North Korea with 780 North Koreans fleeing to the South in the first eight months of 2017 — a 13 percent drop over the same period last year. The vast majority of defectors, around 57 percent, are simple laborers with only around 4 percent defecting from the North Korean military.

London. British authorities have arrested two men in connection to what they say was a terrorist bombing on the London Underground on Friday, an attack subsequently claimed in a statement from the Islamic State. Britain downgraded its terrorism threat level from “critical” to “severe” following the arrests.

Foreign fighters. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says a 16 year old German girl found in Mosul after fleeing home to join the Islamic State could face the death penalty under Iraq’s judicial system. “You know teenagers under certain laws, they are accountable for their actions especially if the act is a criminal activity when it amounts to killing innocent people,” Abadi said.

Election. Hamas says it’s ready to allow new elections for the first time since 2006 and open to forming a unity government with rival Palestinian political party Fatah following negotiations with Egypt. The concessions, similar to those made in previous negotiations with Egypt, come as Hamas has become increasingly reliant on the Egyptian government to provide humanitarian aid for residents of the terrorist group’s enclave in the Gaza strip.

Your move. In the face of escalating rhetoric from the Trump administration about its displeasure with the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and Tehran’s compliance with it, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says “any wrong move” by the U.S. on the nuclear issue will meet with a stiff response from Iran.

The slows. “We are almost positive that, a lot of time when these [Iraqi] commanders got a case of the ‘slows’ as, as Lincoln would say about [General George B.] McClellan, we could trace that back to Iranian pressure” — an unnamed senior U.S. military official tells Defense One that the U.S. suspected Iran had pressured Iraqi commanders to slow down military operations against the Islamic State in order to allow Iranian-backed Shia militias to take the lead.

Qatar. Qatar has signed a letter of intent with British defense contractor BAE to buy 24 Typhoon jets in what British officials are calling their “first major defense contract with Qatar.”   

Myanmar. In a Facebook post, Commander in chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces Gen Min Aung Hlaing pushed back against the growing international condemnation of military operations against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state, calling Rohingya “extremist Bengalis” and denying them recognition as an ethnic group. The ongoing military crackdown against the small insurgency led by militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, however, has radicalized a number of Rohingya, helping the group recruit more fighters across Rakhine state.  

Cold War hero. Retired Soviet Air Defense Force Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, the man who may have very well saved all human life on earth during a little-known incident in 1983, passed away in May according to his son. Petrov was on duty at a Soviet early warning radar system during an especially tense period in the Cold War when an alert signaled that a satellite had detected the telltale flash of American nuclear missiles being launched — only later proven to be reflected sunlight misinterpreted by the system. Petrov’s recognition that the warning was likely a false alarm helped prevent the Soviet Union from rushing to order a counter-attack and triggering a nuclear war.


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