Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the March 6, 2017 edition:
North Korean Missile Test
In a second provocation in as many months, North Korea test fired four ballistic missiles on Sunday night. The missile tests, at first glance, appeared to be successful with three of the missiles flying as far as the Sea of Japan. Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe quickly condemned the test as “completely intolerable” and noted that the Japanese would be working closely with the United States and South Korea to urge the North Koreans to act with restraint.
There was another missile test last month while Prime Minister Abe was meeting with President Trump at the President’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Both the President and the Prime Minister had strong words of friendship between the United States and Japan and a condemnation of North Korean provocations.
This test comes on the heels of the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un’s ordering of the assassination of his older brother, Kim Jong-Nam while the latter was in a Malaysian airport. Only days after the hit, the younger Kim ordered the execution of several security officials in Pyongyang.
All of this information, taken with the suggestion that the President has been advised that North Korea is currently the gravest threat to international security, indicates that these actions shouldn’t just be written off as a loose-cannon despot saber-rattling to get attention. Certainly, North Korea has, routinely, tried to get more attention on the world stage by being overtly belligerent. This time is, likely, no different. However, after talks with President Trump, China shut down its buying of North Korean coal, a huge monetary hit to Pyongyang. This was followed quickly by the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, long rumored to be a Chinese check on the younger Kim’s power in North Korea (basically, if China wanted to, the theory goes, they could replace Kim Jong-Un with Kim Jong-Nam). With the elder brother removed from the picture, the younger Kim now has a safer hold on power and has removed a threat from Beijing.
The trouble with North Korea isn’t necessarily that there would be a North Korean invasion of the United States, or even that the provocative regime would start World War III. Rather, the problem is that North Korea has the capability, even if a war would mean its total annihilation, to kill hundreds of thousands of people in the first minutes of a conflict. Whether the opening salvo would come against Seoul, the South Korean capital that sits precariously close to the border, or against Japan, the potential casualties, especially if the North uses nuclear weapons (this still may be years away—yes, they have atomic weapons, but detonating a weapon in a test is far less than equipping it to a missile). Even with conventional weapons, the American and South Korean response (probably to neutralize the North’s offensive capability) would still take hours. In that time, there would be catastrophic damage (and, if you’re thinking, cynically, that this is a terrible outcome but not really America’s concern, the markets would immediately suffer huge losses and there are thousands of American troops in South Korea and Japan).
As with most North Korean provocations, this is likely not the prelude to open war. However, the fact that the reclusive regime continues to develop its war-making capabilities means that it presents a growing international threat (especially if they start selling the technology and weapons to rogue states or non-state actors).
The President broke some news over the weekend about apparent spying orchestrated by the Obama Administration against Mr. Trump during the campaign. According to Mr. Trump’s tweets, the former Administration was tapping the phones in Trump Tower, Mr. Trump’s signature property and campaign headquarters. The implication from the President was that this was a McCarthy-style witchhunt begun by Obama in an effort to link Trump to Russia and delegitimize his election.
Given what we know from information leaked by Edward Snowden and others about the domestic spying capabilities of the United States government, Mr. Trump’s conclusions do not appear to be at odds with the operational capabilities of the intelligence community. Further, it continues to validate the ongoing, quasi-conspiratorial, narrative that there are Obama loyalists deeply entrenched in the Federal Government who are leaking information and spying for the former President. Mr. Trump’s claims of wiretapping have yet to be substantiated by concrete evidence, but, one hopes that, if the President is willing to make this type of bombshell assertion, that he has more than a hunch. There were reports that this story was generated by the Breitbart news organization (the new way the left throws cold water on any story that could be gaining traction). However, it’s still completely unclear if this story gave rise to Trump’s suspicion or if suspicion from Trump and his team made it into Breitbart’s reporting.
The FBI Director, James Comey, with whom the Left has waffled back and forth with whether he’s a fascist or a hero, has called on the intelligence community to rebut the President’s claims. This, again, feeds into the storyline that the President is at odds with his intelligence community. However, the deeper story may be the number of people who have been held over from the previous Administration who are locked into their dystopian myopia of hating Donald Trump.
This story is still in its infancy, so it remains unclear exactly what, if anything, will come of it. Sure, there’s the chance that this was angry bluster from the President (something that he really should keep off of Twitter). However, if there is even a chance that the former President had undertaken covert sabotage (or, worse, attempting to get blackmail information) against a Presidential Candidate, then this would be the biggest story of the decade.
Travel Pause II
We’ve reported several times on the President’s decision to sign a revised version of his immigration pause from nations that don’t have adequate security and screening of potential terrorists. This signing was pushed back after the President’s well-received Joint Address to Congress and his staff took more time in the drafting to make sure that the language complied with the concerns of several courts across the country that have expressed reservations about the executive order.
The President’s first immigration pause (erroneously called a “Muslim Ban” in order to produce an inflammatory response) was met with widespread criticism from the Left and was rolled out under less-than-coherent circumstances. The order was blocked by a Federal Judge in Seattle pending a full review. That block was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While the Administration will continue to fight that action, the President realized the national security need to enforce immigration law and enact extreme vetting, so he has drafted a new order that takes the Courts’ concerns into account.
The ACLU, without having even seen the new order, has already vowed to sue over it once it is signed. Expect a cohesive rollout with all of the relevant agencies knowing what they are supposed to do and functioning better than the first order.
Polls Ticking Up
Following his speech to a Joint Session of Congress last week, the President’s job approval numbers from both Gallup and Rasmussen have ticked upwards while disapproval has gone down. While the President is still underwater in Gallup 43-50, it’s better than the 38-56 two weeks ago. While job approval ratings are largely irrelevant (and, as Mr. Trump proved in the campaign, polling has a less-than-stellar track record), it does give a snapshot of people’s concerns at a given time. Most every poll showed wide-approval of the messaging of Mr. Trump’s Joint Address with even hardcore-liberals begrudgingly acknowledging it was “Presidential.” It remains to be seen if Mr. Trump can continue to ride a wave of support or whether constant dogging stories put out by the press will drag him back into fights (and get reporters their sought-after “clicks.”)
Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.