With Secretary of State Tillerson widely expected to leave the administration soon, why is President Trump reportedly considering moving CIA Director Mike Pompeo to State and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton to CIA? Pompeo is doing an excellent job at CIA, and the President needs a strong hand whom he trusts heading up that powerful agency. Senator Cotton’s senatorial term doesn’t expire until 2020. If he moves to State, Arkansas’ Republican governor can replace him with an interim Republican appointee to the Senate, but the appointee will have to face the polls in 2018, with the possibility that a Democrat wins.
A far better option would be for the President to appoint John Bolton, an experienced diplomat whose hard-line foreign policy views are close to the President, as opposed to Tillerson’s. The British newspaper Independent has speculated that the media-conscious President doesn’t like Bolton’s mustache. If that’s all that’s preventing the appointment, someone should send the former ambassador to the UN a razor. If Henry IV famously converted to Catholicism to become French king, muttering “Paris vaut bien une messe” (Paris is well worth a mass), surely the post at State is worth a shave. But the story may be apocryphal.
The more important East Asian theater
Bolton, Pompeo, and Cotton are all hard-liners on Iran. But the important action is in the Pacific. The world is awash with oil now, so Mideast oil is no longer so strategically critical to the US and Europe. The US in recent decades made matters worse by intervening in the Mideast, with its never-ending sectarian and tribal wars. This could have been avoided with smarter policies, but it’s probably too late for that now. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, with quiet backing from the US in hardware and intelligence, should be able to balance Iran, especially if Turkey comes around — and this seems to be the logic of Trump and Tillerson’s distancing the US from the Kurds. Previous US support for the Kurds in Iraq and especially Syria greatly antagonized Turkish President Erdogan. With that difficulty out of the way, it’s hard to imagine Turkey being comfortable as a second-string player in an Iran-dominated Middle East.
Ambassador Bolton two days ago on Fox News stated that it was too late now to expect additional sanctions to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ICBM program:
“Absent some dramatic action by China, which I don’t see at the moment, we either have to decide that we’re going to use military force to destroy [North Korea’s] nuclear weapons program, or we better be prepared to live with North Korea with a capability to drop nuclear weapons on any American city that the leadership chooses. That’s going to be the choice in very short order,” Bolton added.
If the latter — a strategy of deterrence rather than prevention — the US should (1) state clearly and repeatedly that any hostile action by North Korea will be regarded as an act of war by China itself and (2) the US will meanwhile provide China neighbors, including Taiwan, the military means for protecting themselves, including anti-missile systems and nuclear weapons. These will be the consequences China will suffer for abandoning non-proliferation for the sake of its North Korean proxy.
In the interim, tactical nuclear weapons should be returned to South Korea until that country has its own nuclear deterrent.
US defense stifled by bureaucracy
The seriousness of the present situation should not be underestimated. Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman warns that the US faces the danger of a “New Pearl Harbor from growing cooperation between China, Russia and Iran that is marked by increased military and technology sharing.” What might entice enemies to launch such an attack?
Lehman sees an urgent need to quickly develop and deploy new US weapons systems. But he says a tortuous, decades-long acquisitions process involving the Pentagon, defense contractors, and Congress, makes many US planes, ships and supporting systems obsolete by the time they are operational….[I]t takes the US more than 22 years to get a major weapons system up and running. Russia and China, he says, can do it in about 6-7 years. He notes that new Congressional legislation is needed to streamline and simplify the procurements process.
Tax bill being swamped
Republican disunity and The Resistance of the Democrats are seriously jeopardizing US national security. The US needs sustained economic growth, investment, and domestic savings if it is to make the investments necessary to upgrade its military and infrastructure. The tax reform bill, while flawed, has enough positive features that it should be passed without further dilution.
Florida Republican Senator Rubio comes from a state with a famously large swamp to the west of the Miami district where he started his career. His and Mike Lee’s demand for making the child tax credit more generous will do nothing to increase economic growth but instead the opposite, for it can only be financed at the expense of the pro-growth features of the tax bill: the 20% corporate rate, the lower pass-through rate, and immediate expensing of investments. Thus, Rubio, notoriously on the take in the past from Florida’s sugar interests, is not representing his state or nation so much as the DC equivalent of the Everglades.
Senator McConnell believes he now has the votes to pass the bill. We hope he’s right and that the bill hasn’t been too badly weakened to make this possible.