Trump, the un­guided mis­sile

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Don­ald Kirk Don­ald Kirk (www.don­ald­ has been cov­er­ing war and peace in the re­gion for decades.

WASH­ING­TON — We hear a lot about North Korea’s mis­siles but some­times for­get our own un­guided mis­sile. That would be Don­ald Trump, who’s likely to go shoot­ing off in any and all di­rec­tions with lit­tle or no warn­ing or plan­ning.

The in­abil­ity of any­one, in­clud­ing Trump’s clos­est ad­vis­ers and cab­i­net mem­bers, to an­tic­i­pate his next move makes life ex­tremely un­cer­tain for friends and al­lies. The fact that Trump would just as soon do away with al­liances, or at least down­play such re­la­tion­ships, is ca­pa­ble of turn­ing un­cer­tainty into panic.

Most re­cently, Trump’s de­ci­sion to order Amer­ica’s small but highly trained and fo­cused force from north­ern Syria dra­ma­tizes the point. In de­fense of Trump, he prob­a­bly didn’t know what he was do­ing and didn’t com­pre­hend the con­se­quences. Had he asked any­one who knew the risks, he might have known that with­drawal ex­posed thou­sands of peo­ple, the Kurds whom U.S. forces were de­fend­ing, to the dan­ger of an­ni­hi­la­tion by a preda­tory power, namely Tur­key.

It’s pos­si­ble, how­ever, that Trump did not re­ally care about the fate of the Kurds. As he re­marked at one po­lit­i­cal rally, the peo­ple in that re­gion have been fight­ing for hun­dreds of years. The im­pli­ca­tion was plain: they’re free to fight and kill one an­other, who cares? If the Turks want to at­tack the Kurds, let them. Why should Amer­i­cans worry about who’s killing whom 7,000 miles away from Fortress Amer­ica?

Im­plicit in that rea­son­ing is a dire warn­ing for Korea, which hap­pens to be a few thou­sand miles from the U.S. west coast.

Just as Trump be­trayed the Kurds, so he might just as soon be­tray the Kore­ans, that is, the South Kore­ans, whom U.S. forces have been here to de­fend since turn­ing back the North Kore­ans and then the Chi­nese in the Korean War.

Why waste lives and funds wag­ing war for one bunch of Kore­ans

against an­other? Let them all slaugh­ter one an­other, might be Trump’s rea­son­ing, and if an over­weight strong­man winds up rul­ing them all, so what? Crazy ques­tions, but the fact is, in the crunch on the Korean Penin­sula, there’s no guess­ing which way Trump would go.

He’s al­ready shocked the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ments in the U.S. and Seoul by aban­don­ing war games fea­tur­ing com­bat forces in ac­tion on the ground, bombers and fighter planes over­head and ships off the coast. Play­ing war games on com­put­ers may be fine, but they’re no sub­sti­tute for mil­i­tary units grind­ing away in the field as they were ac­cus­tomed to do­ing an­nu­ally un­til Trump fell for Kim Jong-un at their sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore in June 2018.

Stupidly, Trump says he’s not at all con­cerned about North Korea’s short-range mis­sile tests and yearns for an­other meet­ing with Kim after which he would claim one more suc­cess in get­ting him to give up his nukes and mis­siles. He does not ap­pear at all both­ered by mount­ing North Korean rhetoric against the South or Moon’s fail­ure to get Kim to come to terms be­yond the happy talk sur­round­ing their own meet­ings.

Part of the prob­lem seems to be Trump’s in­fat­u­a­tion with strong­man lead­ers. Hav­ing been taken in at times by Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, Trump seems to want to be­lieve Tur­key’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan is ca­pa­ble of act­ing in good faith. Er­do­gan, how­ever, is not go­ing to let up in the op­por­tu­nity Trump has be­queathed him to wipe out the Kurds, whose re­bel­lion has long been a se­ri­ous an­noy­ance.

The prob­lem with Er­do­gan is quite dif­fer­ent from that with North Korea. It’s easy to for­get that Tur­key, far from hav­ing been hos­tile to­ward the U.S., is an Amer­i­can ally, the site of im­por­tant U.S. bases and a long-time NATO ally. Er­do­gan may have had good rea­son to ex­pect that Trump would not feel in­clined to pres­sure him, be­yond im­pos­ing fee­ble sanc­tions, to come to peace­ful terms with the de­spised Kurds.

Fan­tasies about Er­do­gan’s ba­sic loy­al­ties, how­ever, should have dis­si­pated with the deal he’s just reached with Putin whereby Tur­key and Rus­sia will be the main play­ers in Syria. The U.S., that is, Trump, asked for this hu­mil­i­a­tion, this de­ba­cle, made all the worse in view of Tur­key’s on­go­ing al­liance tie with the U.S.

Oh, that’s right, Trump doesn’t much like NATO ei­ther so won’t have a prob­lem with a NATO part­ner shar­ing pol­icy goals with Rus­sia. Maybe some­one had bet­ter tell Trump NATO was formed orig­i­nally against the for­mer Soviet Union. Putin would like to re­vive Rus­sian in­flu­ence over all its neigh­bors, in­clud­ing Korea, with which Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests were in­ter­twined un­til the Ja­panese de­feated the Rus­sians in 1905 at the out­set of Ja­panese rule over the Korean Penin­sula.

It might be too much to ex­pect Trump to read up on the his­tory, but at least his ad­vis­ers should make him aware of the forces at play be­fore he goes off with an­other, much worse, more shock­ing be­trayal of a long­time ally — that is, Korea.

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