Escalation Nation: New War Chief ‘Likes Blowing Things Up’; US Adds a New Regional War Command

December 8th, 2014 - by admin

Simon Maloy / & Jason Ditz / & Dan Lamothe / The Washignton Post – 2014-12-08 00:11:10

In the 1990s, Ashton Carter Wanted to Bomb
A North Korean Nuclear Reactor —
Even If It Meant All-out War

Simon Maloy /

(December 5, 2014) — Today, President Obama announced that he’s nominating Ashton Carter to be the next Secretary of Defense. Carter has had a long career in national security, including two stints at the Pentagon, and most media profiles of him note that he’s widely respected on the right and probably won’t face too much opposition from Senate Republicans at his nomination hearing.

Part of the reason Republicans are so keen on him is that Carter, the words of the New York Times, “may advocate a stronger use of American power,” which is to say that he’s a fan of blowing things up. He’s especially fond of blowing things up in North Korea, and there’s already been quite a bit of discussion about a 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed he co-authored advocating that the US “immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.”

Less remarked upon, however, is this 2003 interview Carter gave to PBS, in which he related how he, as a member of the Defense Department under Bill Clinton, gamed out airstrikes on a North Korean nuclear power plant (and suspected plutonium processing site).

Such an attack, Carter said, would risk a broader conflagration on the Korean peninsula which would cost tens of thousands of Korean and American lives, but it would be worth running that risk to halt Korea’s nuclear development.

For the layperson like myself “airstrike on a nuclear plant” sounds like a very problematic idea, what with the Chernobyl-like implications of violently disrupting the normal operations of a nuclear reactor. But Carter was confident that there wouldn’t be a meltdown or fallout . . . most likely.

CARTER: We looked into the possibility of compelling them by force to set back their nuclear program. We designed a strike of conventional precision munitions on Yongbyon [nuclear plant], which we were very confident would destroy the reactor, entomb the plutonium and that we could mount such a strike and carry it out without causing the reactor to create a Chernobyl-like radiological plume downwind, which was an obviously important concern.

INTERVIEWER: It is a Chernobyl model plant. Correct?

CARTER: It is graphite-moderated like the Chernobyl plant. It’s a smaller scale, but it does have flammable graphite in it. So you need to worry that a fire could start that would sweep all this radioactive junk up from the core and cause a radiological problem downwind. We were very confident we could avoid that.

But, Carter elaborated, a little bit of nuclear winter wasn’t the major concern. The biggest thing to worry about was the likelihood that North Korea would respond by mobilizing its huge standing army to attack South Korea, leading to a broader conflict and widespread death and devastation. But, he added, that was a risk worth taking:

CARTER: We reckoned there would be many, many tens of thousands of deaths: American, South Korean, North Korean, combatant, non-combatant. So the outcome wasn’t in doubt. But the loss of life in that war — God forbid that kind of war ever starts on the Korean Peninsula. The loss of life is horrific.

Everyone could appreciate the magnitude of the damage that North Korea could do, if it chose to respond to a strike on Yongbyon [by attacking South Korea]. Now, if we did it properly, if it came to this option, one would say to the North Koreans in advance, “Yes, you can lash out at South Korea after we mount this attack. That will be the end of your regime.” So after the strike on Yongbyon, the ball’s in their court.

Now what we couldn’t do was assure anyone, and I’m sure the secretary of defense couldn’t assure the president, that North Korea would not, irrationally lash out and begin that war. They say they would. So we would be calling their bluff. Therefore, there were substantial risks associated with carrying that out that attack, although it would surely set back their nuclear program. That was a risk that I certainly felt at the time, and feel now, was worth running in light of the enormous risks to our security associated with letting North Korea go nuclear.

“It is such a disaster for our security in many ways to allow North Korea to go nuclear,” Carter added, “that we needed to run then – and I think we need to run now – substantial risks to avoid the greater danger of a nuclear North Korea.”

Simon Maloy is Salon’s political writer. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @SimonMaloy.

New US Command Signals Escalation in Iraq, Syria
Jason Ditz /

(December 5, 2014) — The Pentagon has announced today the creation of a new military command, dubbed Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, which will oversee the war against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.

The new command, and by extension the war, will be placed under the charge of Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, who was previously in charge of a V Corps, US ground troops in Germany.

The Pentagon seemed to be trying to downplay the significance of establishing a formal command specifically for the war, saying only that it would mean press releases about the war would come from the command instead of from Centcom.

But the US doesn’t establish new conflict-centric military commands, particularly for ones spanning multiple countries, just every day, and the move reflects the continued escalation of the war in both size and length.

This is not just any old US military intervention at this point. Rather the war on ISIS now spans thousands of US troops, with more coming all the time, and a battle expected to last many, many years.

Establishing a command is far more than a move to get Centcom out of filing some press releases. It’s an indication that the war is becoming too big to be managed at the regional command level, and with escalation seemingly the only constant in the war, it was only going to get more unwieldy.

New US Military Command Established
For Iraq and Syria Operations

Dan Lamothe / The Washignton Post

(December 5, 2014) — The US military has established a new command that will oversee operations in both Iraq and Syria, military officials said Friday. Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve has taken charge of the mission in both countries. It is led by Army Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commanding general of US Army Central. That organization oversees Army operations across the Middle East, including in Iraq.

Terry was expected to provide a briefing to the media on the changes on Friday morning at the Pentagon, but it was postponed as President Obama was announcing former deputy defense secretary Ashton B. Carter as his nominee to be the next secretary of defense around the same time. Terry is based in the Middle East, defense officials said, but they declined to say in which country. The United States has a military presence in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Irbil, and in neighboring Kuwait.

The military has provided few details about the new task force, but said in a news release Friday that it will replace US Central Command as the organization releasing information about the mission.

The United States has launched hundreds of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State in recent months. From Dec. 3 to Dec. 5, US attack and bomber aircraft launched six airstrikes in Syria. The US, in conjunction with other countries, also launched 14 airstrikes in Iraq from Dec. 3 to Dec. 5 in Iraq, US military officials said.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.

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