Look­ing for win in cri­sis of North Korea

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION -

On his way out of the White House, then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama warned his suc­ces­sor that his great­est for­eign pol­icy chal­lenge would be posed by North Korea. Pres­i­dent Obama knew what mil­lions of Amer­i­cans have learned since — it’s hard to see a way, short of a bru­tal war, to forcibly take away North Korea’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity.

Di­plo­macy still has a chance, but if it fails, there are no good options left, and Pres­i­dent Trump will have to se­lect one.

So far, on his piv­otal trip to Asia, Trump has mostly done as well as any­one in his po­si­tion could do with re­gard to the North Korea cri­sis.

Trump’s crit­ics think he has gone over­board in taunt­ing the regime in Py­ongyang. In fact, de­spite in­dulging in heated rhetoric from time to time, he has bent over back­wards to open a path to­ward a peace­ful so­lu­tion.

On the cam­paign trail, Trump made China a cen­tral fea­ture of his prom­ise to fix the im­bal­ance of power that Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal estab­lish­ment, by his ac­count, had let get out of hand.

Com­par­ing Bei­jing to a rapist, and the United States to a vic­tim, Trump promised to pun­ish China and re­assert Amer­i­can dom­i­nance.

Now, on the ground in China, Trump has been con­cil­ia­tory. No diplo­matic push against North Korea will work with­out Chi­nese sup­port. But Py­ongyang’s in­tran­si­gence means the most the U.S. can hope for might be re­luc­tant Chi­nese ac­qui­es­cence to the in­evitabil­ity of war.

None of Ja­pan, South Korea, nor China want to see a war break out be­tween the U.S. and North Korea.

Amer­i­cans are un­der­stand­ably ea­ger to en­sure that the home­land is safe from at­tack by the world’s most pow­er­ful to­tal­i­tar­ian regime, but few are champ­ing at the bit for a de­struc­tive war that would cost the lives of at least tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can troops and per­haps many more Kore­ans.

Still, Trump’s estab­lish­ment ad­ver­saries in Wash­ing­ton are in­creas­ingly con­vinced that if war comes, it won’t be be­cause of Trump’s reck­less­ness.

If North Korea were will­ing to ac­quire nu­clear weapons and keep them as a mere in­sur­ance pol­icy in de­fense of the sta­tus quo, war would be all but out of the ques­tion.

An­a­lysts are also con­cerned, how­ever, that the North wants to use its nukes to try to force re­uni­fi­ca­tion with the South — as well as help Amer­ica’s other en­e­mies gain ac­cess to weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

The U.S. could not cred­i­bly main­tain its strate­gic po­si­tion, and pro­tect that of its friends and al­lies around the world, if North Korea were al­lowed in ef­fect to an­nex the South through nu­clear black­mail.

And that’s to say noth­ing of the cost of the global con­flict Py­ongyang could fuel by arm­ing Amer­i­can foes in the Mideast and be­yond. In sum, North Korea has more con­trol than the U.S. over whether a war is com­ing.

That’s why Amer­ica needs as much sup­port or ac­qui­es­cence as pos­si­ble from the North’s neigh­bors. It’s a painful dis­play of the lim­its of Amer­i­can power, and an es­pe­cially chas­ten­ing mo­ment for Pres­i­dent Trump.

De­spite his lim­its as a leader and a ne­go­tia­tor, Trump’s big­gest frus­tra­tions over the cri­sis would be shared by any pres­i­dent.

Though he should re­dou­ble his ef­fort to speak and act with the ut­most care, there is no play­book for con­fronting the cur­rent threat, and Amer­ica needs a win.

— Or­ange County Reg­is­ter, Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

Pres­i­dent Obama knew what mil­lions of Amer­i­cans have learned since — it’s hard to see a way, short of a bru­tal war, to forcibly take away North Korea’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity.

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