My friend Steve Bannon did the world an inestimable favor in his final dictum from the West Wing of the White House by telling The American Prospect that there is no military solution to North Korea’s nuclear provocations. In an Aug. 17 interview, Bannon stated: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
Bannon is right, of course; despite public remonstrations to the contrary, the whole of the Defense Department agrees with Bannon.
During late July and early August I met with Bannon twice in the West Wing office at his invitation, to discuss means of reversing America’s strategic decline. Although I do not agree with Bannon on every detail, he has a brilliant grasp of grand strategy and a deep sense of urgency about its implementation. Because I was advising Bannon rather than interviewing him, I cannot report his remarks.
But I can state unequivocally that he has a better understanding of America’s vulnerabilities than any senior official I have met in a generation, and some excellent ideas about how to get out of the mess. There was no mention of any antagonism or rivalry in the Administration in these meetings, which were focused strictly on policy matters.
His departure is a loss for the Trump Administration, but not necessarily for the country. As he told associates over the weekend, he had influence at the White House, but as executive chairman of Breitbart News, he has power.
A hostile press portrays Bannon as a bomb-thrower. His Parthian shot last week, on the contrary, qualifies him as the most level-headed realist in the Administration, and the only one with the guts to stand up to the president.
According to Newsmax and other media, President Trump was “furious” about the American Prospect interview, which deflated the president’s “fire and fury” threats against North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis the next day warned of a military response if North Korea “initiates hostilities” by attacking America or its allies.
Press accounts portrayed this as a rebuttal to Bannon, who said something quite different: the departed White House strategist warned that there was no military means to prevent North Korea from acquiring a nuclear arsenal. I don’t know whether his remarks on Korea or some other issue prompted Bannon’s departure, but it was well that he made them.
Trump’s bellicosity apparently reflects the kind of negotiating technique that he elucidated in “The Art of the Deal,” and used to some effect in his real estate business: start with a tantrum and outlandish demands in order to move the goal posts of the negotiation. That’s well and good for bankruptcy lawyers, but irresponsible in the extreme for a president dealing with a rogue regime led by the volatile Kim Jong Un. The military option is imaginary.
As I wrote Aug. 14, “If the United States conducted a limited conventional strike on North Korea, North Korea would fire an artillery barrage at the South Korean capital of Seoul, just 35 miles from the border. A nuclear strike on North Korea could destroy the regime and silence its artillery, to be sure, but the fallout would kill a lot of South Koreans as well.” One could hear the sigh of relief across the Pacific after Bannon pointed out that the president has no clothes in the matter.
Korea is a sideshow, Bannon added in the American Prospect interview:
“We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”
The economic war is not a matter of dumping steel or aluminum, or even pirating American technology: China is establishing a dominant position in high-tech manufacturing, including a new US$50 billion plan to build a domestic semiconductor industry. The nub of what I presented at our West Wing meetings in late July is now available in the just-published Fall 2017 issue of the Journal of American Affairs. I wrote:
China and, to a lesser extent, other Asian competitors employ the full resources of state finances to fund capital-intensive manufacturing investment in the way that the West subsidizes basic infrastructure. In addition, China will commit $1 trillion to building infrastructure overseas to support its foreign trade, including exports as well as raw material supplies. The problem is not merely the dumping of artificially cheap goods into American markets, but a state-supported capital investment program that erodes returns for American investors. As a result, investment in the United States seeks capital-light venues such as software and avoids capital-intensive sectors such as chip production. We are being shut out of the global market for high-tech exports.
America still produces about a quarter of the world’s integrated circuits, the industry that China now has in its sights. Other high tech products invented in America – light-emitting diodes, flat panel displays, solar panels, solid state sensors, and flash memory – no longer are produced in the US. That portends not only economic decline, but critical strategic vulnerabilities. In a world of high-tech war, losing our production capacity in these industries is like losing our steel production in the age of cannon.
To fetch production capacity back to the United States after so many years of deterioration will take drastic measures. I proposed that “the United States should use a range of measures to force parts of the high-tech supply chain back to the United States. A first step would be to require 100% American content for semiconductors, flat panels, sensors, and other key components of defense equipment.”
More broadly, the United States should support innovation in critical defense technology on the scale of the Kennedy Moonshot or the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative.
Without attempting to characterize Steve Bannon’s views, I can report that we had a freewheeling, detailed and action-oriented discussion on these and related themes. A former Navy officer who served as an aide to the Chief of Naval Operations during the Reagan Administration, Bannon has extensive background in the subject matter and a sharp grasp of the problems.
One problem is that the economic ascent of China has been the biggest and most profitable trade for multinational corporations during the past few years. Most American companies are happy to trade know-how for access to the Chinese market, an exchange that boosts their bottom line within the tenure of the average CEO, but weakens the United States in the medium-term. Any attempt to restrict technology transfers to China will be met with the “fire and fury” of industry lobbyists, and most of all from the tech companies.
Another problem is that the list of major defense contractors has shrunk to a handful – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics – and they are used to operating as a comfortable oligopoly. A concerted effort to restore America’s edge in military technology would draw funds away from profitable current products, and, even worse, favor prospective competitors. The defense industry won’t like it.
To restore America’s strategic position would require a visionary president and a powerful Secretary of Defense with a single-minded determination to undo a generation of damage. Steve Bannon has that kind of vision, but his services in the West Wing no longer are required. He did the world a favor by defusing the North Korea problem – but that, as he said, is a “sideshow.”
America is still unprepared for the main event.
Actually, American soldiers have no place in Korea. Korea is not American territory. By occupying the Southern part of Korea, USA is invading Korea. So long as the USA keeps invading Korea, there will be tension in the Korean Peninsula. The only solution is for the USA to remove all its soldiers and its military equipment out of Korea. The Koreans are wise and smart enough to sort out any differences they have among themselves without the patronage of the Americans. The Americans have murdered enough Korea (several millions were massacred by the Americans) and have destroyed enough infrastructures. The Americans soldiers must vacate Korea and USA must compensate Korea for all the wrongs done to them since 1950. The wrongs include the invasion of Korea in 1950, the massacre of millions of Koreans from 1950 to 1953, the destruction of the equivalent of trillions of dollars of infrastructures from 1950 to 1953, the occupation of part of Korea from 1950 to date, and inciting the UN to impose sanctions on the Koreans.
" Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics operating as a comfortable oligopoly. A concerted effort to restore America’s edge in military technology would draw funds away from profitable current products, and, even worse, favor prospective competitors. The defense industry won’t like it".
Correct David, the tail is wagging the war dogs while the silk caravan is doing business, and getting rid of the US$. Go China, go Russia, go !
The hegemon already exists.. And it is not a nation.. It is globalization, unleashed by corporate america, to enrich itself (1%) and consequently the 1% elsewhere that makes part of this scheme.
Spengler seems to have came back to a cooler, saner vision of things American. Welcome back.
in a reality check,the wars in afghanistan and iraq,and libya have been a catastrophic disaster,on an unprecedented scale,giving the usa and europe a blowback,through isis,refugees,one wonders wether japan or south korea would ever remain allies of the usa if an event the usa would cause on north korean war repurcussions.it would be worse loss than syria
"The problem is…a state-supported capital investment program."
The solution is laissez-faire in America. Forcing Americans to purchase anything from anywhere, whether or not they intend to use it in manufacturing or consumption is no business of the federal government. Trampling the individual rights of Americans doesn’t solve the fact that other governments trample their citizens’ rights, steal their wealth and spend it.
In 2225 when someone studies the history book of the 21st century….he will conclude the era as era of lies & cheating…..they will declare it as the dark age of human madness & fake news
I don’t agree with this article int he least. Frist of all, how the hell does anyone expect a military option not to involve South Korean casualties. And maybe a lot. Why does that preclude a military option? It’s ridiculous.
Second, the alternative is a nuclear NKorea at some point. On the one hand, if North Korea uses a nuke in the future, speaking from an American perspective, it could mean the deaths of millions of Americans. So what good is it, from an American perspective, to save some number of Korean lives now at the expense of American lives in the future. Second, NKorea could nuke SKorea directly, and Japan, etc. So what good does it do to wait? Absurd.
Third, NKorea is already a serious and dangerous proliferator. The nuke plant in Syria that Israel bombed was of NKorean design. NKorea is right known to be working with Iran, helping them go nuclear. And from there, nukes will get further passed around, including to terrorists.
So what good is the short term patience for long term strategic fragility, danger and potential massive death? The military is right, in that SKorea could take a large hit. That may be a military fact, that we can mitigate somewhat but not a lot.
However, that does not mean the military option is not the best option. The article is short sighted. I love Bannon, but on this issue he is too.
Question: At what point do short term politics, or should short term political considerations, not determine policy. I say, nuclear weapons.
Here is what a professional American psycologist has to say:
In a previous brief publication I discussed the diagnosis “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” While I mentioned no name (adhering to the psychiatric admonition that one should not diagnose a patient without having completed a direct thorough examination), it was perfectly clear about whom I was referring. I now believe that not only does he fulfill all of the criteria for this disorder to a remarkable degree, but that his behavior has become worse than I thought and that not all of this can be ascribed to his personality disorder, but there is adequate evidence of deteriorating brain function.
Sharon Begley in a brief but wonderful paper, (MEDPAGE TODAY Neurology-General Neurology, “Does the Way Trump Speaks Reveal an Underlying Problem?” By Sharon Begley, STAT News, May 23, 2017) presents compelling evidence of Trump’s cognitive decline. She bases her opinion on several studies that analyze his previous language productions that were articulate with sophisticated vocabulary and construction as contrasted with his current verbal productions and tweets that are frequently incoherent, often rambling and never, except in reading prepared material, display any of his previous superior use of language. This contrast between past and current functioning is detailed strikingly in this paper and I urge everyone to read it.
The other striking phenomena that I observe is that President Trump’s productions are frequently destructive of his own goals and contrary to many earlier positions including earlier warm and complimentary statements about Hillary Clinton and recent vicious attacks continuing long after the election. His obvious and frequent lies, often are so obvious as to lack any degree of credibility and often at the sophistication and intellectual level of a young child. He also attacks almost everyone of importance to him in a self-destructive manner. These are not behaviors of a rational individual.
Sadly one is forced to the conclusion that we have a president whose brain health is not what we would want of our leader. This seems particularly dangerous because of his bellicosity as well as his resistance to advise.
Ms. Begley’s paper also briefly comments on President Ronald Regan’s speech suggesting decline in brain function prior to his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
I have specific memories of personal concern about Reagan. When it came out that serious and illegal activities had occurred under his watch his genial good disposition and willingness to accept advice precluded violent opposition. The reaction was more like “there goes goofy but beloved grandpa again.” I didn’t realize it at the time but there seemed to be a belief that he was under the control of a well-functioning administration. If anything the public anger was principally directed at wayward staff members and the president was given a pass.
The situation with Trump is quite different. I believe that he has a serious personality disorder as well as a brain disorder. I believe that it is time to call a spade a spade. This man is not only not fit to be the President, but he is a serious menace to the whole country.
I am terribly frightened. The amount of power that this man can unleash may produce a disaster of totally unprecedented proportions. The threats he issues have a grade school mentality. This has escalated in their potential severity in his childish “I dare you” responses to North Korea. As the polling numbers drop further, and I believe they will, President Trump is likely, in my opinion, to attempt to achieve the popularity and status he desires by an act of war and, I predict it will not be on the scale as our silly invasion of Grenada.
What should we do? This brief paper is my way of speaking out. I ask everyone with similar views find ways to speak out, including writing to your congressional representatives. I believe that this man is serious disturbed and dangerous and must be removed from office. Are there grounds for impeachment? I sure hope so.
Too bad he didn’t put in some parting words about Afghanistan but then Brannon always looks like he is stoned
Shawn Napper , thank you for taking time away from your antifa activities to comment on my comments. Of course, I disagree with you substantively both on the Korea issue and on the matters of my mental capacities and character. Anyhoo, don’t let me keep you from your lattes. Have a good day. P.S. ALM, All Lives Matter.
Luca Taramelli, thank you for taking time away from your antifa activities to comment on my comments. Of course, I disagree with you substantively both on the Korea issue and on the matters of my mental capacities and character. Anyhoo, don’t let me keep you from your lattes. Have a good day. P.S. ALM, All Lives Matter.
the notion that "10 million people in Seoul … die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons (in a NorK attack)" is so silly I suspect it could be a Chinese information operation.
1. please see this estimate of the efficacy of NorK artillery in conventional war: partial answer: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/could-north-korea-annihilate-seoul-its-artillery-20345?page=2
2. I have read that hundreds of children of senior Chinese officials attend university in Seoul. Hard to believe the NorKs would open fire on them.
3. If the extensive US/RoK intel assets give a warning of 12 to 72 hours of a Nork attack, civilians could be sheltered/evacuated and/or the US/RoK could strike first, significantly attriting NorK capabilities. Trump has, at least, given the impression that he’s the sort of person that might do that, unlike Obama.
I’m all for big US military R&D and trade competion with China, but as a military analysis the Sauron-level NorK artillery meme is nonsense.
You seem to forget that the current truce is with the United Nations not the US. American troops are there per the terms of the truce agreement signed by both China and North Korea and the United Nations not the US.
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