Trump’s first for­eign pol­icy cri­sis proves a vex­ing one

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - MATT MACKOWIAK Matt Mackowiak is the pres­i­dent of Austin, Tex­as­and Washington, D.C.-based Po­tomac Strat­egy Group, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant, a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and Bush-Cheney re-elec­tion cam­paign vet­eran and for­mer press sec­re­tary to two U.S. sen­a­tors.

It is gen­er­ally be­lieved that for­eign ad­ver­saries de­lib­er­ately try to test a new U.S. pres­i­dent early in the first term. Just past the 200-day mark for Pres­i­dent Trump, we had not yet seen a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional for­eign pol­icy cri­sis. That all changed with this week’s sud­den and star­tling news con­cern­ing North Korea.

On Satur­day, U.N. Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley, a ris­ing star in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, skill­fully marshalled a new round of sanc­tions against North Korea in a 15-0 Se­cu­rity Coun­cil vote, no­tably in­clud­ing sup­port from Rus­sia and China. This round of sanc­tions, which will cut North Korean ex­port rev­enues by one-third when fully im­ple­mented, is widely seen as the tough­est in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions pack­age ever passed against Py­ongyang.

This vote was timed to lead into the ASEAN Sum­mit in Manila, where even North Korea’s for­eign min­is­ter made an ap­pear­ance. Fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful vote at the U.N., the sum­mit fea­tured pro­duc­tive diplo­matic ses­sions on how to fur­ther iso­late the North and pro­mote re­gional se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity.

But land­ing like a hand grenade in the mid­dle of the sum­mit was an ex­plo­sive re­port that the North may have al­ready suc­ceeded in mak­ing a nu­clear weapon small enough to fit on a bal­lis­tic mis­sile that could reach much of the U.S. main­land. The find­ing, based on an anal­y­sis com­pleted last month by a sin­gle U.S. in­tel­li­gence agency, the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency, soon dom­i­nated the ca­ble news net­works and caused a do­mes­tic panic.

This story pro­voked Pres­i­dent Trump’s now-famous re­sponse at an opi­oid roundtable meet­ing at his golf club in Bed­min­ster, New Jersey, where he warned that “North Korea best not make any­more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

This state­ment was quickly con­demned as “bel­li­cose,” “un­help­ful” and other sim­i­lar ad­jec­tives by a range of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and even some Repub­li­cans like Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain of Ari­zona.

North Korea’s state-run news agency re­sponded to Mr. Trump’s words sev­eral hours later by sug­gest­ing that the North Korean regime would tar­get the U.S. ter­ri­tory of Guam, home to more than 6,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers.

While White House aide Se­bas­tian Gorka told Fox News the show­down was “anal­o­gous to the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis,” cooler heads quickly pre­vailed. Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son, who was co­in­ci­den­tally headed to Guam for a re­fu­el­ing stop, told re­porters, “I do not be­lieve that there is any im­mi­nent threat” from North Korea and that “Amer­i­cans should sleep well at night.”

Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis also of­fered some wise and con­cise com­ments: North Korea “must choose to stop iso­lat­ing it­self and stand down its pur­suit of nu­clear weapons. [North Korea] should cease any con­sid­er­a­tion of ac­tions that would lead to the end of its regime and the de­struc­tion of its peo­ple.”

Mr. Mat­tis con­tin­ued, “While our State De­part­ment is mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to re­solve this global threat through diplo­matic means, it must be noted that the com­bined al­lied mil­i­taries now pos­sess the most pre­cise, re­hearsed and ro­bust de­fen­sive and offensive ca­pa­bil­i­ties on Earth. [North Korea’s] ac­tions will con­tinue to be grossly over­matched by ours and would lose any arms race or con­flict it ini­ti­ates.”

So where does this leave us?

North Korea’s threat to the U.S. is clearly mov­ing more rapidly than we an­tic­i­pated and, so far, in­creased diplo­matic pres­sure has not changed the regime’s un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior.

North Korea wants to pro­tect it­self and ul­ti­mately re­unify the Korean Penin­sula, an unimag­in­able fate for South Korea, our strong ally.

The short-term im­per­a­tives ap­pear to be: de-es­ca­lat­ing the rhetoric; uni­fy­ing our al­lies (Ja­pan, Malaysia and South Korea); strongly pres­sur­ing China to take more dras­tic steps against North Korea; cred­i­bly of­fer­ing a spe­cific mil­i­tary de­ter­rent to the North Korean regime; and be­gin­ning to shape what diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tion could look like.

Many ex­perts are crit­i­ciz­ing this White House, but all pre­vi­ous pol­icy ef­forts have failed. No one who has tried to solve this prob­lem has suc­ceeded.

Unity, hu­mil­ity, clar­ity and diplo­macy are needed now for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to be suc­cess­ful in re­solv­ing what has now be­come a full-blown cri­sis. The stakes could not be higher.

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