Hello BMG! Before I plunge into the topic, I want to thank you all for building up this forum for the exchange and refinement of progressive ideas and policies. I also want to introduce myself.
I’m Alexandra Chandler, running in MA-3 to succeed Niki Tsongas. And though I am running with an ambitious and comprehensive 13-point progressive agenda which I recommend you look at (https://www.alexandrachandler.com/issues/) and I would very much welcome your support and your vote if you live in 3D– I am here today because I want to share my perspective as a former intel analyst with you, such as it might be useful in your debates with The Other Side on the Trump-Kim meeting, and an inital look into how the Tillerson firing further increases the risks here.
My bona fides are as follows. After having lived through the 9/11 attacks in NYC, I decided to join the Intelligence Community and started work in 2004. I spent 12 of my 13 years in the Intelligence Community as an analyst or leader of analysts working to prevent North Korea and other “states of concern” from spreading its WMD and missile technology to other countries. I authored and edited intelligence analysis on these topics for customers including President Bush, President Obama, Secretaries of State, US ambassadors and military commanders around the world. Based on that experience, I offer this perspective, reflected in a press release I issued yesterday. I welcome your comments and questions though I apologize in advance it may take me a little time to respond because I’m juggling a full-time Congressional campaign and being a mom of two little boys during our endless nor’easters. 🙂
Though I welcome diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula, I am extremely concerned by the news that President Trump has accepted an offer from Kim Jong-Un for direct talks on “denuclearization”. I have seen close up how the North Korean government tried to manipulate earlier rounds of lower-level talks under both the Bush and the Obama Administrations.
When North Korea offers talks on “denuclearization”, they have previously stated this to mean the U.S. should first cancel all joint exercises with the South Korean military, withdraw all troops from South Korea, abandon the pledge to defend South Korea and Japan from North Korean attack, and then — North Korea could consider giving up its nuclear weapons. North Korea has also previously committed not to seek nuclear weapons— in 1992, 1994, and 2005, and then having broken those commitments, not to test nuclear weapons in 2012. America can’t afford another deal like those.
I wish President Trump success, for the sake of America’s security and the security of our allies— but I am not optimistic he is setting himself or America up for success. If President Trump and Kim Jong-Un meet and their objective is a deal on denuclearization, and there is no deal or North Korea makes and breaks new commitments at the highest level, either leader may believe that diplomatic options have been exhausted and war is the alternative. Both President Trump and Kim Jong-Un personally thrive in an atmosphere of conflict, but America’s security interests do not thrive— they suffer.
The most promising way to keep America safe from the North Korean threat and to protect our allies is through a less dramatic approach. We must keep up the economic pressure on North Korea that is inflicting real damage on the North Korean elite. We must do this in parallel with enhancing our regional missile defense capabilities, and most importantly with multiple tracks of diplomacy between South Korea and North Korea, between the U.S. and North Korea, between North Korea and other parties, including China, and a renewed global effort of nuclear weapons states toward reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons. The combination of these efforts will create a dynamic where time improves our negotiating position and leverage over North Korea. A shared aim of these talks should be to reduce tensions and achieve a verifiable freeze on future expansion of the North Korean nuclear program and its ability to strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons. Only once progress has been made toward that end should President Trump meet with Kim Jong-Un.
I urge the Administration to take several specific steps to improve President Trump’s chances of success.
President Trump must finally nominate an Ambassador to South Korea with unimpeachable expertise and diplomatic acumen.
The Administration must also reverse the drain of experts and leaders — some of whom I know personally — from the State Department’s arms control and nonproliferation bureaus, so as to reinvigorate the bipartisan tradition of U.S. leadership in global nuclear disarmament once embraced by Presidents as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Even though Tillerson was a highly ineffective manager and not good for morale at State, his abrupt firing by tweet has not helped the cause of morale and retention at State. Congress must make this brain drain their business too through oversight and hearings.
Finally– further referencing the late breaking news of Trump firing Tillerson and Pompeo being nominated at State– the Administration needs to stop the saber-rattling about the Iran Deal if they want a diplomatic solution on the Korean Peninsula. This is where these stories link together.
Trump’s own comments this AM on firing Tillerson cited Tillerson wanting to remain in the Iran Deal and Pompeo being an Iran Deal skeptic as justification for his decision. This only increases the chance we will not come to a diplomatic solution with North Korea. Yes, there are more things we must do to combat Iran’s support to terrorism in the region and other activities against US interests– we can apply different forms of pressure and eventual incentives without disrupting the Deal. Pompeo, like Trump, ignores the views of the overwhelming number of proliferation and terrorism experts in and out of government who understand this. And if in our rhetoric and actions on the Iran Deal under a Secretary Pompeo, we give North Korea more and more reason not to believe an agreement on their nuclear program is worth anything– with obvious parallels to Iran– *and* Trump’s behavior with regard to agreements ranging from Paris to the NATO Treaty to numerous unilateral actions ignoring *allies*, let alone our enemies– is already not helping– why will they ever sign an agreement with us?
There’s much more to say re Tillerson– including that Congress and the American people must relentlessly inquire in hearings for Pompeo as to why he was fired the day after he called out Russia for trying to murder civilians in the UK– and we have not even touched the matter of Gina Haspel as the new Director of the CIA yet, whose nomination I find concerning as a former Intelligence Community analyst and leader myself. There are tough questions about her past work that she needs to answer in order to earn confirmation. But this seems enough for now.
Stay safe and warm amidst this dangerous storm, and I look forward to getting to know you better!