At last, wide awake at the White House

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

The pres­i­dent is busy this morn­ing at the economic sum­mit in Ham­burg, the guest of An­gela Merkel, with a lot more to talk about than numbers, trade deals and graphs with lots of squig­gles and up-and­down ar­rows.

The real stuff is go­ing on at the mar­gins, in con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Don­ald Trump and Vladimir Putin, be­tween the pres­i­dent and Xi Jin­ping. The bot­tom line is about do­ing some­thing about the crazy fat kid with his new toys in North Korea.

Back home, right on cue, the usual mag­pies are ea­ger to un­der­cut the only pres­i­dent the nation has, with tales of gloom and doom about his op­tions to halt de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of Kim Jong-un’s nu­clear-tipped in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­siles. An an­a­lyst at The Wash­ing­ton Post, where ed­i­tors and re­porters mostly worry about ex­haust­ing the sup­ply of ways to say how much they de­spise the pres­i­dent, is pleased to re­port that “Trump never had a plan for deal­ing with North Korea.”

No doubt true. That’s why the pres­i­dent and his men are try­ing to come up with one now. He could have gone back to sleep while the North Kore­ans bus­ied them­selves with their deadly am­bi­tions, like Bill Clin­ton, Ge­orge W. Bush and, above all, Barack Obama. Mr. Trump’s pre­de­ces­sors took com­fort that pre­vent­ing catas­tro­phe might not be nec­es­sary be­cause prob­a­bly noth­ing would likely hap­pen any time soon.

Those weasel words — “prob­a­bly” and “might” and “not likely” — abound in the con­ver­sa­tions of those who see Don­ald Trump, not Kim Jong-un, as the great threat to civ­i­liza­tion as we know it. The “ac­tual” threat to the Amer­i­can home­land, one of these an­a­lysts writes in a bit of Post pun­ditry, “is still un­clear.” North Korea claims it can mount a nu­clear bomb on such a long-range mis­sile, “but many ex­perts doubt that.” Oh, well: if “many ex­perts” doubt it, and the threat is “un­clear,” it’s prob­a­bly safe to go back to sleep. Be­sides, if the threat from North Korea is elim­i­nated, Don­ald Trump might get credit for it. It’s bet­ter to lose San Fran­cisco or Seat­tle than to let the an­tiChrist get credit for sav­ing the day.

The good news is that some­one who un­der­stands the sit­u­a­tion is awake at the White House, and ei­ther the gang that some­times can’t shoot straight has been tak­ing tar­get practice, and the fir­ing is well co-or­di­nated, or there’s a di­vine Prov­i­dence at work. Nikki Ha­ley, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the U.N., is giv­ing both the Rus­sians and the Chi­nese a snoot full, ac­cus­ing them of hold­ing Kim’s fat lit­tle hand, chid­ing them for op­pos­ing a Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the North Korean provo­ca­tion and im­pos­ing greater economic sanc­tions. The sanc­tions would be pun­ish­ment, such as it is, for Py­ongyang’s “sharp mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion.”

Fur­ther, she told the Rus­sians and the Chi­nese what they prob­a­bly al­ready know, that North Korea is “quickly clos­ing off the pos­si­bil­ity of a diplo­matic so­lu­tion, and sug­gested that the United States would con­tinue to con­sider mil­i­tary ac­tion if nec­es­sary.”

Mrs. Ha­ley does not usu­ally speak in the lace-panty lan­guage beloved by di­plo­mats. “One of our ca­pa­bil­i­ties lies with our con­sid­er­able mil­i­tary forces,” she told the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil this week. “We will use them if we must, but we pre­fer not to have to go in that di­rec­tion.”

When a Rus­sian of­fi­cial of­fered the usual quib­ble and cavil, ques­tion­ing whether the North Korean mis­sile fired Tues­day was ac­tu­ally an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­sile, or merely an in­ter­me­di­ate range mis­sile, the tough-talk­ing lady late of South Carolina replied firmly: “If you see this as a threat, if you see this for what it is, which is North Korea show­ing its mus­cle, then you need to stand strong. If you choose not to, we will go our own path.”

This is ex­actly the hon­est di­a­logue the rest of the world needs to hear, and which it rarely has in the precincts of the fear­ful and ac­com­mo­dat­ing over these past few decades with both Democrats and Repub­li­cans in charge. The la­cepanty diplo­macy of the Obama years echoed again this week in the ad­vice of Danny Rus­sel, a se­nior ex­pert on Asia at Mr. Obama’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. “What the [Trump] ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to do,” he says, “is get China and Rus­sia around an ap­proach, even if it is not as testos­terone-rich and mus­cu­lar as the United States would like.”

In­deed, testos­terone and manly mus­cles frighten the timid and the ir­res­o­lute.

The way ahead for diplo­macy will be dif­fi­cult. China yearns to see Amer­ica driven out of Asia and the Pa­cific. Rus­sia never wastes an op­por­tu­nity to nee­dle the Amer­i­cans and ob­struct Amer­i­can in­ter­ests. The crazy fat kid dreams of in­flict­ing catas­tro­phe on the Amer­i­can main­land. But when Don­ald Trump says he’s con­sid­er­ing “some pretty se­vere things,” they have to be­lieve he, un­like cer­tain ear­lier pres­i­dents, might mean it. Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

Nikki Ha­ley

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