Guest: MIT nuclear proliferation expert Vipin Narang; Also: Flooding, evacuations in AR, MO; GOP pushback against Trump's new Mexican tariff scheme; The necessity of continuing to talk about impeachment...
By Brad Friedman on 5/31/2019, 6:44pm PT  

On today's BradCast, we really tried to talk about something other than impeachment...and we mostly did! You're welcome! But don't expect it to last. [Audio link to show follows below.]

First up today, as predicted, during a very brief pause in the record severe weather that's been afflicting the central U.S. for weeks, flooding continues to be a major problem today and is getting worse. Mandatory evacuations are now in place in both Arkansas and Missouri after levees have breached, been topped or may do so soon both states. Thousands of homes are threatened there and elsewhere as some 80 different river gauges in 10 different states indicate the highest category of major flooding, with more severe weather predicted in the days ahead for rain soaked Oklahoma, Kansas, North Dakota, Louisiana and other Midwestern states.

In politics today, Republicans and major business groups are pushing back at Donald Trump's surprise announcement on Thursday evening that he plans to impose unilateral new taxes on all goods coming in from Mexico, in hopes of forcing our southern neighbor --- in some fashion --- to stop the flow of migrants coming into the U.S. from Central America. The new tariffs --- which are taxes paid by American importers and consumers (despite the President mischaracterization) --- would begin at 5%, and increase by the same amount until reaching 25%under Trump's scheme. A number of GOP lawmakers, particularly in farm states such as Iowa, are blasting the proposal, and warning that it is likely to derail Congressional ratification of Trump's updated NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada. It is also likely to cost billions to American businesses --- particularly in the automobile and agriculture sectors --- and threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Meanwhile, calls for official impeachment proceedings to begin against the President get louder each day following Special Counsel Robert Mueller's statement this week clarifying the evidence in his report of serious obstruction of justice crimes by the President and a need for Congress to take action. A stunning reported comment from an attendee at a town hall held this week in Grand Rapids by Michigan's Republican Rep. Justin Amash underscores the necessity to continue informing the public about Mueller's findings. (So, yeah, we're gonna have to continue doing so. Sorry.) Amash remains the only Republican member of Congress, so far, to call for impeachment proceedings and, perhaps, clearest and most effective voices among Rs or Ds in Congress as to why taking action to hold the President accountable is so crucial.

But outside of Congress, a group of former high-level GOP attorneys are also making their voices heard, with a new video detailing several of Trump's obstruction crimes highlighted by Mueller. The group, Republicans for the Rule of Law, says they plan to begin airing a shorter version of their new ad on TV outlets such as Fox "News", where --- at least according to that attendee at Amash's town hall --- only fake news, falsely claiming Mueller exonerated Trump, is being heard.

Finally today, after several months of relative calm during negotiations with Trump, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un began testing missiles again in early May. While Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton has described the tests as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and South Korea sees the tests as a potential violation of recent agreements between the two Koreas, Trump has continued to downplay --- or completely deny --- Kim's actions.

At the same time, as the North fires ballistic missiles and continues to amass nuclear weaponry, Trump --- who spent the Memorial Day weekend in Japan to discuss this and other matters --- still seems more obsessed with Iran, who does not have nuclear weapons, but is now said to be increasing their fissile material enrichment program in the wake of Trump pulling out of the seven-nation anti-nuclear agreement struck during the Obama Administration. Trump now says he'd "like to make a deal" with Iran, but Iran says they see "no prospect" of such a deal with this American President.

We're joined today by VIPIN NARANG of MIT's Security Studies Program to try and make sense of what is or isn't going on on the Korean peninsula, and how the Trump Administration is or isn't responding to both North Korea and Iran. That, after Trump sided with Kim, while on foreign soil in Japan last weekend, to attack former Vice President and 2020 Presidential hopeful Joe Biden --- and amidst unconfirmed reports from South Korean media that Kim has executed his top nuclear negotiator and four other senior Foreign Ministry officials following the failed summit between him and Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam last February.

Among the very clarifying information from Narang on North Korea, he warns: "The risk now is that by [Trump] green-lighting North Korean tests short of ICBMs, it may encourage or embolden Kim Jong Un to continue testing more frequently, and maybe longer-range missiles. We've seen Trump flip very quickly, so if Kim Jong Un makes a mistake of pushing the line just a little bit too far, or testing one missile too many, President Trump can flip and feel betrayed very quickly." He adds: "If you get a missile test that really pushes a line, then we could end up back [like] in 2017 [with threats of 'fire and fury'], but without the possibility of a diplomatic off-ramp."

Narang, who focuses at MIT on nuclear proliferation, strategy and South Asian security, is the author of the award-winning Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. Among the insights he offers regarding Trump's on-again, off-again chest thumping against Iran: "It's very difficult to envision a deal with Iranians that is better than the JCPOA ... You're not going to get everything you want in a deal, and that's what the Iranians were willing to accept. And then you have to ask yourself, is a world with the JCPOA in that incarnation better than a world without? And I think it was. It was working."

In both cases, in North Korea and Iran --- as well as the United States --- Narang warns that "dysfunction within the [Trump] Administration" is allowing hardliners to gain the upper-hand against peace initiatives. "The irony is that the hardliners in the United States that want to press Iran, and press North Korea, forget that those countries have hardliners, also." Our actions, he cautions, are now serving to embolden them.

"The horse is out of the barn in North Korea. You're not going to take away their nuclear weapons. The aim should be to avoid a war," he argues. "In the medium term, the risk with this strategy is that North Korea miscalculates, or that Iran miscalculates, and then Trump flips...In the long run, the problem is if this dysfunction isn't sorted out, we are setting ourselves up for crises in both areas."

Download MP3 or listen to complete show online below...

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