‘fire and fury and frankly power’
North Korea – the world’s most dangerous game of chicken
On Saturday the UN Security Council “voted unanimously…to impose new sanctions on North Korea, banning exports that supply up to a third of the country’s annual $3 billion earnings,” a huge blow to Pyongyang, which condemned the sanctions and said it “was ready to teach the United States a ‘severe lesson’ if it attacked.” The sanctions ban all exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood. China, whose trade with North Korea accounts for 90 percent of the latter country’s “economic activity,” claimed in a statement Monday that it would enforce the “full content” of the resolution despite the fact that it “more than anyone will pay a price” for the sanctions. China’s UN Ambassador also repeated the country’s objection to the US deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, and called for open dialogue among North Korea, the US, and other regional powers.
BONUS: This Reuters report on the Trump administration’s decision to hold off on sanctions against Chinese banks following the successful passage of the UN resolution.
At a forum in Manila on Monday, Rex Tillerson “held a door open for dialogue,” saying that the US was prepared to talk if North Korea stopped the missile launches. At the same forum, a spokesperson for North Korea claimed “it would never place its nuclear program on the negotiating table as long as the United States maintained a hostile policy against the North.”
At The Washington Post, Adam Taylor explains what the new sanctions do and expresses skepticism about their impact.
Following a report in The Washington Post claiming that North Korea “has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles” – from a July intelligence assessment verified by two US officials – President Trump threatened the Kim Jong Un regime with “fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” should North Korea continue making threats against the US. Although Trump’s comments caught aides by surprise and was, according to an anonymous White House official, “unplanned and spontaneous,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis echoed his warning on Wednesday, saying in a statement that, “the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.” Trump himself doubled down on his comments, claiming on Thursday that maybe his comments weren’t “tough enough,” and that North Korea should be “very, very nervous.”
In response to Trump’s Tuesday fire-and-fury warning, North Korea announced on its state-run news agency KCNA that it was considering striking Andersen Air Force Base on Guam with “medium-to-long range strategic ballistic missiles.” More concrete plans were announced later in the day – KCNA reported that North Korea was firming up plans to launch four missiles within 18 to 25 miles of the coast of Guam. South Korea’s military has said “there have been no indications that Pyongyang is readying a strike.” Guam, according to a CNN report, is “a key to the US military’s forward deployed presence in the Pacific.” Pyongyang’s targeting of Guam came after “The US flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula” on Tuesday morning.
At The Hill, Max Greenwood explains “5 things to know about Guam.”
In a statement sent to Reuters, China “call[ed] on all parties to avoid any words or actions that might escalate the situation.” According to another Reuters report, China is angry that its calls to calm tensions have been ignored, and “is largely sitting out the latest crisis.” China’s actions are complicated by its activities in the South China Sea, where its “construction of islands and build-up of military facilities” have been criticized and challenged by the US – most recently on Thursday, when the Navy destroyer USS John McCain carried out a freedom of navigation operation, “coming within 12 nautical miles” of one of China’s artificial islands.
At Vox, Sean Illing talks to Ely Ratner, an expert on US-China relations at the Council on Foreign Relations, about China’s options as the bluster between the US and North Korea heats up.
At The American Conservative, Scott Ritter argues against the use of military force, asserting that “it is high time Washington divorces itself from decades of failed policy formulation and instead embark on a new path.”
On the climate crisis
Last Tuesday Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland, a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency, penned a scathing resignation letter, blaming President Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for the “temporary triumph of myth over truth.” You can read the memo here.
According to a Guardian report, “staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference ‘weather extremes’ instead.”
A comprehensive new draft report “by scientists from 13 federal agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now,” directly contradicting claims made by members of the Trump administration, who maintain “that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited.” The report is due for approval from the EPA (among other federal agencies) on August 18; scientists “say they fear that the Trump administration could change or suppress the report,” according to the New York Times. Among the most notable claims the report makes (as reported in the Times story):
- “Even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century.”
- “Worldwide, the draft report finds it ‘extremely likely’ that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.”
- “The average annual temperature in the United States will continue to rise, the authors write, making recent record-setting years ‘relatively common’ in the near future. It projects increases of 5.0 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 to 4.8 degrees Celsius) by the late century, depending on the level of future emissions.”
At The Hill, Emily Aden explains the risks of ignoring climate change, arguing that “silencing dissent and basic scientific data and research, all in the name of politics, is behavior fit for a dictatorship, not a democracy.”
This week in Russia
Speaking to reporters on Sunday after meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov “described his talks with Tillerson as lengthy” and claimed he “felt the readiness of our U.S. colleagues to continue dialogue.” The meeting came just days after Russia’s decision to expel 755 US diplomats from Russian soil – Russian president Vladimir Putin’s response to new US sanctions. On Thursday, President Trump thanked Putin for slashing staff, “because now we have a smaller payroll.”
According to an ABC News report confirmed by unnamed sources, the FBI “executed a search warrant” at Paul Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Virginia on July 26, conducting the raid “in the pre-dawn hours…and seizing documents and other materials related to the special counsel investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” POLITICO reports that federal investigators were also seeking cooperation from Manafort’s son-in-law in an effort to “climb the ladder,” a strategy that “involves finding a suspected crime – false statements on tax returns or loan applications, for example – and then offering leniency on prosecution in exchange for cooperation.”
On Monday Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced the city’s intention to sue the federal government over the Trump administration’s decision to withhold federal public safety grants from so-called sanctuary cities. Hours later, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions hit back at Chicago, saying the Trump administration ‘will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety,” and that the city “stood out in its ‘open hostility’ to enforcing immigration laws.”
On Wednesday the White House slapped sanctions “on eight Venezuelan officials…for their role in creating an all-powerful legislative body loyal to President Nicolas Maduro.” Violent anti-government protests – in which more than 125 people have died – have been raging for weeks while Maduro’s new constituent assembly, along with his loyalist Supreme Court, have been purging the government of opposition leaders in an attempt to consolidate power. President Trump has condemned Maduro’s actions, and is still considering imposing sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry, which accounts for much of its revenue.
Donald Trump got in a war of words this week with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the recent GOP failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
In response to an interim report published by the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which cited “an overdose death rate of 142 a day,” President Trump announced his willingness “to declare the nation’s opioid crisis ‘a national emergency’” and promised “to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis.”