Remarkable Trump threat against Russia – via Twitter

Donald Trump is well known for his controversial use of Twitter to communicate with the world, but this is one of his most remarkable – and worrying – tweets.

This has the potential to escalate into war between the superpowers, but the US has also been directly involved in the civil war in Syria, so has been effectively a partner with the Syrian regime.

This tweet appears to be in reaction to a Russian warning they had the technology to shoot down any missiles.

Reuters: Trump signals strikes against Syria, lays into Assad backer Russia

Trump was reacting to a warning from Russia that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria over the deadly assault on a rebel enclave near Damascus would be shot down and the launch sites targeted.

His comments raised fears of direct conflict over Syria for the first time between the two world powers backing opposing sides in the seven-year-old civil war, which has aggravated instability across the Middle East.

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump tweeted, referring to Moscow’s alliance with Assad.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said: “Smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not towards the lawful government”.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said any U.S. missile salvo could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the reported gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma, for which Damascus and Moscow have denied any responsibility.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, striking a cautious tone hours after Trump’s threat of missile strikes, said the United States was assessing intelligence about the suspected attack.

Asked if he had seen enough evidence to blame Assad, Mattis said: “We’re still working on this.”

He did not elaborate but added that the U.S. military stood ready to provide military options, if appropriate. It was unclear whether his remarks reflected any unease about Trump’s apparent move toward military action.

In Moscow, the head of a Russian parliamentary defence committee, Vladimir Shamanov, said Russia was in direct contact with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff about the situation.

After Trump’s tweet, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said pro-government forces were emptying main airports and military air bases.

The US has already launched a previous (last year)  token missile strike against a Syrian airport, but with the Trump versus Russia and threats over the last few days this has the potential to blow up into something far more serious – and it could be made worse by Trump’s tweeting.

This follows on from recent claims by Trump that the US would be “coming out of Syria, like, very soon”.

Time: Why the Syrian Civil War Is Becoming Even More Complex

The situation in Syria only grows more complicated.

Donald Trump says he wants a U.S. troop drawdown; his advisors and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince (a U.S. ally) disagree. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani met last week in Ankara to plot a way forward—and all that was before the Assad regime launched a chemical attack in a rebel-occupied Damascus suburb over the weekend, killing at least 42 and drawing international cries of outrage, Trump’s among them.

The U.S. has about 2,000 troops deployed in Syria and has already spent nearly $30 billion waging war there—it’s requested an additional $13 billion for fiscal year 2018. The Pentagon wants to keep U.S. forces in Syria indefinitely (as did Rex Tillerson’sState Department), but Trump’s recent remarks at an infrastructure speech in Ohio that “we’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon” threw the U.S. security establishment for a loop. Meanwhile, Trump’s military advisors argue that pulling out of Syria now will only give ISIS the oxygen it needs to re-expand.

Last week, the White House walked back Trump’s pullout comment. But reports over the weekend that Assad deployed chemical attacks to break the rebels’ hold of Douma, a suburb of the country’s capital, drew Trump’s fury: “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump tweeted, before adding that Obama shoulders part of the blame for not living up to his own declared red lines in Syria. Trump is not wrong in that regard. The real question is what the U.S. does next.

And what Russia does next or in response to any US military action.

Trump: ‘the calm before the storm’

Donald Trump talked big and tough during his campaigns, and he has talked big and tough as president. But so far (fortunately) it has been all bark.

Is this about to change? Trump was obviously trying to send some sort of message in a media stunt.

Reuters: In meeting with military, Trump talks of ‘calm before the storm’

After discussing Iran and North Korea with U.S. military leaders on Thursday, President Donald Trump posed for a photo with them before dinner and declared the moment “the calm before the storm.”

“You guys know what this represents?” Trump said after journalists gathered in the White House state dining room to photograph him and first lady Melania Trump with the uniformed military leaders and their spouses.

“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” he said.

What storm?

“You’ll find out,” Trump told questioning reporters.

Earlier in the evening, while seated with the top defense officials in the cabinet room, Trump talked about the threat from North Korea and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

“In North Korea, our goal is denuclearization,” he said. “We cannot allow this dictatorship to threaten our nation or our allies with unimaginable loss of life. We will do what we must do to prevent that from happening. And it will be done, if necessary, believe me.”

During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month, Trump said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if needed to defend itself or U.S. allies.

Meanwhile:

North Korean missile test

North Korea has successfully launched a test ballistic missile that could have a range of at least 4,000 km – two thirds of the distance to the US.

BBC: North Korea carries out new ballistic missile test

Japanese officials say the missile, which launched from north-western Kusong, reached an altitude of 2,000km.

The nature of the launch is still being determined, but analysts have said the test could suggest a longer range than previously tested devices.

The Japanese defence minister said it flew for about 30 minutes before falling in the Sea of Japan and could be a new type of missile.

Tomomi Inada said it covered a distance of about 700km (435 miles), reaching an altitude of more than 2,000km (1,245 miles) – higher than that reached by an intermediate-range missile North Korea fired in February.

If the Japanese analysis of the trajectory is right (that the missile reached an altitude of 2,000km), North Korea appears to have advanced its technology markedly.

Experts quoted by Reuters say the altitude meant the missile was launched at a high trajectory, limiting the lateral distance it travelled. They say if it had been fired at a standard trajectory, it would have had a range of at least 4,000km.

The US Pacific Command said in a statement the type was being assessed but that its flight was not consistent with that of an ICBM, which would have the range to reach the US mainland (more than 6,000km).

This will raise concerns and tensions.

South Korea’s newly elected President Moon Jae-in, who is seeking deeper engagement with the North, said it was a “reckless provocation”.

The White House said President Donald Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” because the missile did not land far from Russian territory.

A Kremlin spokesperson later said Russian President Vladimir Putin was concerned by the test.

China, North Korea’s only major ally, called for restraint by “all relevant parties” in the wake of the latest test.

I’m not sure that either Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump are able or willing to exercise restraint, at least with their rhetoric.