Trump fails to out bully the Korean bully

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

Are Don­ald Trump’s bel­li­cose threats to a rogue na­tion part of a strat­egy? Or are they just the lat­est — and most se­ri­ous — ex­am­ples of a pres­i­dent gone rogue, who can­not sum­mon the in­tel­lec­tual or emo­tional ca­pac­ity to of­fer co­her­ent pol­icy? Is Trump play­ing the bad po­lice of­fi­cer while his Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son plays good po­lice of­fi­cer and plays down the threats? Or is Trump low­er­ing him­self to the level of North Korea to speak lan­guage they un­der­stand?

When warned of “fire and fury”, was he re­fer­ring to nu­clear ca­pac­ity, as his later tweets im­plied? Or was he talk­ing about more than just nu­clear re­sponse, as in a strong non-nu­clear mil­i­tary re­sponse that could as eas­ily dec­i­mate North Korea with mis­siles, bombs, airstrikes and ar­tillery?

Scan­ning the in­ter­net and cred­i­ble me­dia sources, there are as many in­ter­pre­ta­tions as there are pun­dits to of­fer them. The bot­tom line is no one, other than, per­haps, the pres­i­dent, knows what he re­ally meant.

Per­haps he meant the threats as a “red line” that, if crossed, will lead to … what? If that was his strat­egy, he’s more dense than his critics sug­gest con­sid­er­ing North Korea stepped across the line within hours threat­en­ing to at­tack Guam, an Amer­i­can as­set.

So within 24 hours, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un called Trump’s bluff and made new threats. If Amer­ica doesn’t re­act, it ap­pears weaker. If it does re­spond mil­i­tar­ily, it jeop­ar­dizes the Korean Penin­sula, and per­haps the en­tire world. Kim Jong Un has his own red but­ton, and based on his er­ratic be­hav­iour and para­noia, he may not be afraid to use it.

Is there any com­fort­ing news here? It turns out, yes. One, Trump is largely iso­lated in the White House. Sur­round­ing him are com­pe­tent bu­reau­crats and lead­ers like Tiller­son. The new boss of the White House, John Kelly, is a highly re­garded mil­i­tary veteran not given to hy­per­bole and non­sense.

And as crazy as Kim Jong Un ap­pears to be, he and the other oli­garchs who con­trol and en­slave mil­lions of North Kore­ans don’t ap­pear to want to lose their to­tal­i­tar­ian regime. If they were to pull the first trig­ger, the rogue na­tion would be dec­i­mated — no more regime.

Then there’s China. It holds the big­gest stick of all when it comes to deal­ing with North Korea. It backs the lat­est sanc­tions, and not long ago im­posed lim­its on im­ports and ex­ports that hit Kim Jong Un in the wal­let. China doesn’t ap­pear ea­ger to al­low its part of the world to be desta­bi­lized or even badly dam­aged by some nut­bar in Py­ongyang. This has hap­pened be­fore, al­beit with­out the de­struc­tive in­flu­ence of Trump. There’s rea­son to hope China will step in, again.

None of this means we have noth­ing to worry about. We do. Per­haps the big­gest worry? If this is how Trump op­er­ates when the world’s safety is at stake, it’s go­ing to be a long three-and-a-half years.

Howard El­liott

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