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Behind the smoke screen?

President Trump’s tweets and what seem to be off the cuff remarks are providing a perfect smoke screen for the media that want to focus on what they think is outlandish rather than do good journalism and find out what is happening behind the smoke screen.

Behind the smoke screen and the bluster and the magician act that the President is using to focus attention there seems to be a lot going on.  Hate for Trump, which the President thrives on, is allowing strategic activity that would remind one of the Kissinger days when the bureaucracy was busing doing busy work while real strategic moves and ground work were occurring behind the scenes.


                                                        National Security Adviser                                                                Lieutenant General H R McMaster

If one follows the National Security Adviser LTG H R McMaster there is not much to see until this last week. During the annual Munich Security Conference he seems to have emerged and has laid down several markers:

  • Used the incontrovertible truth that Russia sought to sow instability in the US elect ion process as a background to say that it was impossible for the US to work with Russia on cyber issues.
  • Called for action against Iran while scolding those states that traded with Iran for giving the terrorist sponsor a blank check
  • Called for action against Syria for using chemical weapons again

In addition he orchestrated the current Olympics lowering of the volume with North Korea.  One can readily see the North Koreans using the very fragile détente with South Korea coming out of the Olympics as an excuse for a “delay” in missile testing.

One can be sure that both LTG McMaster and Secretary of Defense Mattis, who has also adopted a low profile, are very aware of the trategic weapons growth by the Russians and Chinese and are laying long term plans to address the potential imbalances.

As the remarks in Munich indicate relations with Russia and the current sanctions will not improve until Russia makes a positive move in the Ukraine or elsewhere. In the meantime the nuclear modernization announced by the President will go on unabated.  Is the ground work being laid for a new round of arms control negotiations in 2019?

If the naval armada that has gathered in the South China Sea as a deterrent to North Korea starts migrating towards the Persian / Arabian Gulf one can anticipate the screws being applied against Iran.  Obviously Secretary of State Tillison and LTG McMaster’s trips to Turkey and discussions with the Saudis and Israelis have laid the groundwork for such actions.  These discussions also have further provided the venue for a consensus on how to deal with the continuing Syrian debacle.

In the first year of the Trump Administration while working behind the Trump smokescreen Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS), was put together by McMaster’s team. It champions a realpolitik worldview that puts American national interests first and sees the world as a competitive stage. “The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world,” the NSS states.

Additionally, it has a focus on “revisionist powers” China and Russia and “rogue regimes” North Korea and Iran as acting in ways that are against American interests. “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence. At the same time, the dictatorships of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran are determined to destabilize regions, threaten Americans and our allies, and brutalize their own people.”

The strategy development in which the entire national security apparatus –State, Defense, and Intelligence Agencies etc.—participated took a year.  The media has given little attention to this strategy complaining that it is lacking in detail.  One is now starting to see the details based upon that the interests and objectives that were clearly defined and agreed to across the government.  In their most likely timeline now is the time for the deliberate but well thought out execution behind the smoke screen provided by the President.

It will be fascinating to see the media reaction as they see behind the smoke.  Or will they given their Trump hatred?

Nuclear weapons and their employment–media deception

The media, amid rising nuclear tensions with North Korea and concern over the potential for war, has captured some unfortunate discussion by the Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander. He reportedly said that he would resist President Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.  What an illegal launch of nuclear weapons is was never clarified.

STRATCOM is the command that controls the strategic weapons commands of primarily the Navy (submarines and carrier based aircraft) and the Air Force (bombers and silo based missiles).  It is STRATCOM that would issue the orders to the selected commands to employ selected weapons system against selected targets.  These targets and systems are each accounted for in the Strategic Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).

Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), reportedly told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada that he had thought a lot about what to say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten reportedly said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

There are two issues about this story that are worrying:

  1. The media attempt to characterize the president as unstable and reckless has only the folk image that it is trying to create as a basis for such a portrayal.  Such characterization when it involves nuclear weapons would be truly damning.
  2. Both the question and the answer do not do justice to the way that nuclear weapons would be employed.

As mentioned above, nuclear weapons are targeted based on the Strategic Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). The SIOP is a master list of targets and these are allocated weapons and delivery systems for multiple different scenarios/contingencies/situations.  A president cannot just tell the Secretary of Defense or a field commander to “nuc” a desired target.  That is just not how the system works.

The SIOP has matured and changed since the beginning of the nuclear era in 1945.  There are numerous personnel from each of the services involved in building and refining the SIOP on almost a continuous basis.  Targets change, weapons system availability changes, and contingencies change making the process extremely dynamic and closely controlled and tightly held.  When the president would order the execution of some part of the SIOP it would be based upon a situation and the best advice that he could get from both the intelligence and operational communities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other agencies.  It is not a unilateral decision done in the “dark’ as the question and answer would imply.

Unfortunately for the STRATCOM commander the details of the process of using nuclear weapons is highly classified and could not be part of his answer.  If he was thinking he probably would have said something to the effect of implying reckless behavior on the part of the president is not something that it is useful to discuss.  At this time if I was the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff I would have a “chat” with General Hyten.

It is deplorable that the effort to demean President Trump has reached this level of reporting—the creating of false implications and news.