The power of words. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. [North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un] has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before,” said President Donald Trump from his golf club in New Jersey on Wednesday. Reporters were escorted to a meeting the president was holding with advisers about the opioid crisis sweeping the country — but were given that threat for the cameras, which rattled around TV airwaves almost instantly.
Why now? Perhaps it has to do with the U.S. intelligence community’s recent conclusion that North Korea has a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop one of the ICBMs it has been testing. Via the Washington Post, here.
Parsing the statement. Many observers noted a similarity between Trump’s words and North Korea’s habitual bombast, although the Toronto Star noted the president’s longtime fondness for the phrase “…the world has never seen before.” He even used it earlier on Tuesday in that opioid meeting to describe his security posture on the U.S. southern border. But toss in “fire and fury” and, the Star writes, “the phrase suddenly became a threat of nuclear war.” Of particular concern to natsec practitioners, Trump broke U.S. nuclear-policy precedent by vowing to retaliate for mere threats — which are, in a sense, North Korea’s main export.
Sure enough, on Tuesday, Pyongyang said it will “closely watch Guam, the outpost and beachhead for invading the DPRK, and necessarily take practical actions of significance to neutralize it.” The radio statement did not mention Trump’s Aug. 9 words, but rather the recent U.S. Air Force ICBM test out of Vandenberg, Calif.; and the recent flight of B1-Bs over the Korean peninsula.
That brought Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Guam for a surprise visit. “I do not believe that there is any imminent threat, in my own view,” he said this morning. “Americans should sleep well at night, and have no concerns about this particular rhetoric over the last few days.” Buzzfeed News has more on the contrast between Trump and Tillerson’s rhetoric, here.
Former DNI James Clapper said it’s time for a frank acknowledgement: “We need to have dialogue with [North Korea]. But accept the fact they are a nuclear power.”
And regarding the televised war of words, the former Director of National Intelligence told CNN, “I would also appeal to those in the media to tone down the rhetoric as well, because the rhetoric itself now has become quite incendiary, and I just don’t think it’s very productive to engage in this dueling banjo rhetoric back and forth, which is quite provocative.”
One more thing about Trump’s rhetoric: “I don’t pay much attention anymore to what the president says because there’s no point in it,” Sen. John McCain told Arizona radio station KTAR on Tuesday. “It’s not terrible what he said, but it’s kind of the classic Trump in that he overstates things.”
But the worry is how Kim Jong-Un understands it. Politico: “‘They might think he means we would strike first. That could escalate out of control,’ said Jon Wolfsthal, who was senior National Security Council official in the Obama administration. ‘Publicly he should say very little other than ‘we will protect and defend ourselves and our allies.’ In just that calm a way. Privately, we should tell North Korea directly that their weapons are unusable and any attack in us or our allies will bring about the end of the North Korean state. Their only option is to not use these weapons and return to negotiations.’”
From Defense One
ISIS Says Secret Weapons Await Coalition Forces In Battle for Raqqa // Patrick Tucker: The terror group makes some big claims about its homegrown arsenal in the latest issue of its online magazine.
Here’s How the US Military Wants to Counter ISIS Drones and Roadside Bombs // Marcus Weisgerber: Predictive algorithms, deep machine learning, directed energy, and more are all on the Pentagon’s shopping list.
Does the US Military Need a Space Corps? // Russell Berman: A proposal in Congress would create the first new uniformed service in 70 years, but it faces opposition from the Pentagon.
Easing A Flashpoint for War in the East China Sea // William Morris: U.S. leaders must lay the diplomatic groundwork for long-term solutions — or risk falling into conflict, World War I style.
Why Trump Is Wholly Unsuited to the North Korea Crisis // David A. Graham: The president confronts a situation that calls for a trustworthy, careful, decisive leader drawing on all available expertise.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1945: The second atomic bomb used in combat obliterates Nagasaki. Here’s the front page of The New York Times on that day. Have something you want to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
An Iranian drone nearly collided with a U.S. Navy Super Hornet over the Persian/Arabian Gulf, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said Tuesday.
Their account: “Despite repeated radio calls to stay clear of active fixed-wing flight operations in vicinity of USS Nimitz, the QOM-1 [unmanned aerial vehicle] executed unsafe and unprofessional altitude changes in the close vicinity of an F/A-18E in a holding pattern preparing to land on the aircraft carrier. The F/A-18E maneuvered to avoid collision with the QOM-1 resulting in a lateral separation of approximately 200 feet and a vertical separation of approximately 100 feet.”
The episode marks “the 13th unsafe or unprofessional flight incident involving Iran this year,” a U.S. defense official told Military Times.
Tuesday U.S. airstrikes in the Raqqa offensive killed more than 29 civilians, including more than a dozen children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Reuters reports.
Another alleged coalition strike killed 36 Iraqi Shi’a militiamen and 75 others — including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards — near the border with Syria on Monday, Reuters reported separately. The U.S.-led coalition denied responsibility for that strike on Tuesday. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said it appeared “Daesh carried out a breach using artillery and car bombs.” More here.
U.S. special operators are helping the Lebanese army “in preparation for an upcoming confrontation with the Islamic State group along the Syrian border,” Haaretz and AP report. The news comes as ISIS reportedly fired GRAD rockets into Lebanon on Monday, and shortly after Hezbollah announced it will begin a counter-ISIS operation on the Syrian side of the border. Another complex battlezone to watch. Read more about what could come next, here.
Want more info on Erik Prince’s mercenary plan to save Afghanistan? USA Today has some details. Among them: “5,500 private contractors, primarily former Special Operations troops,” would advise the Afghan National Security Forces, along with “a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support.”
And the costs? “Prince said the plan will cost less than $10 billion a year, significantly lower than the more than $40 billion the Pentagon has budgeted this year.”
The Daily Beast has a dissenting view, framed largely around the input of “a knowledgeable former senior [Pentagon] official,” here.
Pentagon to service members: Think twice before you go to Russia. Stars and Stripes has why, here.
Finally today: More details on last week’s fatal Osprey crash in the Pacific. “The Marine Corps MV-22B that went down off eastern Australia last week struck an U.S. Navy amphibious platform dock ship (LPD) before it crashed into the ocean, according to the Naval Safety Center,” Seapower Magazine reported Tuesday. “The MV-22B crashed around 4:30 p.m. Aug. 5 during routine training while operating from the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard… Of the 26 personnel onboard the Osprey, 23 were rescued by small boats and helicopters. Three personnel, two from the aircraft’s crew, have been declared dead.”