Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fire and Fury

When Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury,” politicians and media commentators started quaking in their boots. If the words were designed to provoke fear, they did so. We do not know what Kim Jong-un thought but a legion of weak-kneed Americans was terrified beyond reason.

Many of them evoked the steady hand that John F. Kennedy played while dealing with the Cuban missile crisis. Conveniently, they forgot that JFK himself had precipitated the crisis by seeming to invite Soviet leader Khrushchev to put the missiles in Cuba. But, as they say, never let an inconvenient fact get in the way of your narrative.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning:

The President’s point was that the North’s escalating threats are intolerable; he didn’t set any red lines. True to form, Pyongyang responded by putting the U.S. island of Guam in its cross hairs. Mr. Trump may be guilty of hyperbole (quelle surprise), but that is far less damaging to U.S. credibility than Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his prohibition on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. The foreign-policy elite who claim to be shocked also don’t have much credibility after their policy across three Administrations led to the current North Korean danger.

Let’s see. Bill Clinton masterfully negotiated the North Korea nuclear deal. Aided and abetted by Jimmy Carter Clinton bears the most responsibility for the current situation with North Korea. About that, no one cares.

The Journal reminds us of where this all started:

Yet in 1994 then-President Bill Clinton used the threat of military action as he tried to force the North to give up its nuclear program. But former President Jimmy Carter exceeded his diplomatic mandate and maneuvered Mr. Clinton to accept a deal that propped up Pyongyang without adequate inspections.

Barack Obama knew all about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and did nothing. Everyone considers that to have been the height of great diplomacy, but those who adore Obama never allow themselves to criticize anything he did. His policy of strategic patience was really another way of saying: let someone else deal with the problem. Kicking the can down the road was the hallmark of the Obama presidency. How did it work out in Syria? 

Among the reasons why North Korea refuses to abandon its nuclear program: it saw what happened to Libyan leader Qaddhafi when he gave up his nuclear program. He was deposed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The American action in Libya produced anarchy and more terrorism in that country. It elicited waves of refugees invading Europe. And it convinced Kim Jong-un that it was a bad idea to give up nuclear weapons. Why did Obama and Clinton do it? Because Hillary needed to show that she was tough enough to be president.

Let us also point out that South Korea recently elected of a weak appeaser as president. Former human rights lawyer President Moon Jae-in told America to shut down its installations of THAAD missiles in his country and offered an olive branch to Kim Jong-il. We know how well that worked out. At the least, America has been taking the lead because South Korea elected a weak president.

As for Trump’s words, yesterday Defense Secretary Mattis told the North Koreans that he was ready to destroy both the regime and the people of North Korea. No one was saying that his remarks were intemperate and undiplomatic.

Trump did not lay down any red lines, of course. The Journal suggests that, after decades of failed diplomacy, Trump was trying to find words that the North Korean leader would understand:

While the President’s words were unusually colorful, the Communist-style language may have been part of the message: Kim Jong Un isn’t the only one who can raise the geopolitical temperature. The U.S. has military options to neutralize the regime’s nuclear threat if it continues to develop long-range missiles, and the U.S. is considering those options.

As for diplomatic subtlety, Trump’s message was also addressed to China. The Chinese president had promised to do something about North Korea. He did not. Last weekend China agreed to a U. N. Resolution putting more sanctions on North Korea, but there was little chance of their working. Does anyone really believe that China or Russia will adhere to them?

The Journal suggests:

The China reference is a tip-off that the main audience for this rhetorical theater is in Beijing. Kim Jong Un won’t stop now that he’s so close to his goal of a nuclear deterrent. But China might restrict the flow of oil to the North, for example, if it believes that stronger action on its part could forestall a U.S. pre-emptive strike.

The audience for Trump’s remarks, the Journal writes, is also the group of people surrounding Kim. If they feel that the threat is sufficiently credible they might act to remove him from power.

Of course, there’s more that America can do, beginning with action against Chinese banks and companies:

One statement isn’t going to change minds in Beijing or Pyongyang. The Trump Administration can also signal its seriousness by imposing secondary sanctions on more Chinese companies, financial institutions and individuals. The U.S. also needs to move more military assets into the region to make the use of force credible.

That is the entire point. The threat has to be credible. For it to be credible people must believe that the people who made it might just be crazy enough to do it.


trigger warning said...

SS: "there’s more that America can do, beginning with action against Chinese banks and companies"

There certainly is. In fact, it's a strong likelihood that, while the Chinese don't "control" Kim, they continue to see him as a useful cat's paw as they expand their military hegemony into Pacific shipping lanes.

Even William Galston, the indefatigable defender of all things Clintonian and Obamanesque, penned a column in yesterday's WSJ entitled "Second Thoughts on Trade With China". As one of the architects of the Clinton gift to China, WTO membership, Galston's comments are stunning. The Chinese theft of intellectual property, currency manipulation, and mercantilist trade practices, combined with American and EU-nik "strategic trade patience", have vaulted the Communists into the top tier of global commerce. With respect to intellectual property, Galston notes:

"Existing legal tools may not suffice to end these discriminatory practices."

Sherlockian, eh? :-D

North Korea must be stopped, Chinese support or not. As the WaPo fretted yesterday (though not precisely with respect to the demented Communist murderer Kim Jong Un) "He has the nuclear codes!"

Ares Olympus said...

When I heard Trump say "Fire and Fury" my thought was W's "Shock and Awe" that was intended to frighten Baghdad Bob into surrendering.

And I think it is fair assume "Fire" means nuclear weapons, although its open to interpretation. But there's no world where we'd launch a preemptive nuclear attack against North Korea, right? Well, with any ordinary human being, we'd say no, but with Trump who knows? And maybe he's trying to be a Goldwater, which Johnson silenced with his daisy commercial, while they were only 20 years since WWII, while we're a long way from the last city incinerated by a mere atomic bomb.

Myself, I'd feel much safer if we declared the conditions we'd launch nuclear weapons against foreign cities. But of course my conviction is there is no scenario where the U.S. should launch a first strike, if only because we have much greater conventional weapons which can more effectively take out military targets.

But even if we did offer to destroy all our nukes, I admit that won't convince small time tyrants like N.Korea to do the same. Nukes will still be the great equalizer. MAD will always remain in the hearts and mind of any dictator who cares more about his own power than the safety of his people.

It's almost shocking that no one has used nuclear weapons in war and I'm not betting our zero streak will continue. There is some insanity in humanity that we can't just hope will be kept down by mere mutual madness.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

"no one has used nuclear weapons in war"-- you must be joking... or know nothing about history...

Sam L. said...

Obama is PURE and HOLY. Let no one diss da Homey!

James said...

You know there has to be point when you have to wonder how many launch vehicles do the North Koreans still have.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The reality is that Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans are threatening to use nuclear weapons against the United States.

We should use every means at our disposal to take these guys down. But a conventional attack seems unlikely, because the large North Korean army will move across the DMZ, and Seoul is not that far away. It'd be a disaster. If we can take them out with a diplomatic solution, fine. I just don't see how one is possible. If we can stop them through tangled economic pressures with China, great. But if we need to resort to military force, it should be overwhelming, fierce and unpredictable -- at a time of our choosing. That means pre-emptive means have to be on the table.

When people use nuclear weapons as a deterrent, the threat of nuclear war/annihilation is implicit and understood. That's not what the North Koreans do. They make explicit, specific threats. This is getting way out of hand.

There is nothing wrong with a pre-emptive attack if the threat of a North Korean attack on the United States is credible and real. This has to stop. We can't live in fear of a country with a nominal per capita GDP of $1,000 per year.

The ridiculousness carries real danger. The risk of doing nothing is that this problem will go on, and on, and on. We simply cannot have it.

And it's not over if we eliminate the North Korean threat. We are eventually going to have to deal with Iran, too. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

And people made fun of Bush for the "Axis of Evil" speech. Seems prescient today. Certainly more meaningful than Obama's "red lines" and Jimmy Carter's intrepid diplomacy.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart Schneiderman said... "no one has used nuclear weapons in war"-- you must be joking... or know nothing about history...

I apologize for my sloppy wording. I should have clarified thermonuclear weapons, hydrogen bombs, which have existed since 1952. Tactical atomic bombs were considered immediately after WWII, but once we proved we could make hydrogen bombs of unlimited yield, and our MAD world was born.

It is surprising to see the number of nuclear tests performed during the cold war, at a high rate through the 1980s. A Time Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945 by Isao Hashimoto

We created this death-cult status game that "made war obsolete", and as long as we have them, others will aspire to copy us for their own "security".

Ares Olympus said...

Along with wanting to be the father of peace in the middle east, Trump would like to denuke the world, but until then we have to keep all ours, and modernize them, just in case. I'm sure N. Korea completely agrees with this logic.
President Trump told reporters on Thursday of his desire to rid the planet of nuclear weapons, even as his rhetoric against North Korean aggression intensifies.

"I would like to de-nuke the world," Trump following a security briefing in at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J.

He added, "Until such time as they do, we will be the most powerful nuclear nation in the world, by far." Trump also mentioned Thursday afternoon that he will push for more funding to go towards anti-missile defense due to the threat of North Korea and other countries.

Ridding the world of nuclear weapons is a task in which the U.S. would need to lead by example. The U.S. currently has 6,800 warheads, according to data from the Federation of American Scientists. Nearly 3,000 are retired, while 4,000 are stockpiled and 1,800 are deployed. Russia, meanwhile, has 7,000 warheads in their inventory.

The United Nations has developed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which has been criticized by some countries, including the U.S. as being unrealistic.

Of course a year ago he was promoting a new cold war in Asia.
"At some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world. And unfortunately, we have a nuclear world now. And you have, Pakistan has them. You have, probably, North Korea has them. ... And, would I rather have North Korea have them with Japan sitting there having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case. In other words, where Japan is defending itself against North Korea, which is a real problem."
He added later in the same interview: "If Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us."

Anonymous said...

Ares Olympus doesn't know what a thermonuclear weapon is.