Every year I hear the same news story: North Korea threatens World War III. You know the tale by now. The dictator of North Korea is a madman ready to end the world if he doesn’t get his Ann Takamaki body pillow on time. While Kim Jong-Un lavishes himself in luxury and delusion his people suffer, then he threatens to nuke the world because he's desperate for respect. Let’s all point and laugh at this pathetic nation and its weird dorky leader.
Right now we’re in the latest round of this semi-annual ritual. Kim Jong-Un is going to make some apocalyptic threats, the news will dutifully spin the story for maximum panic. Then in a week this will all pass over. So it goes year after year.
The eyes of the media are still focused on Syria thanks to a grand piece of theater on Donald Trump’s part last week. But while Syria has been a festering ulcer for years now, it isn’t an immediate danger. North Korea is. Kim Jong-Un's threats to nuke the United States are dubious but his threats on cities like Seoul and Tokyo are very real. North Korea has been the most dangerous flashpoint of the world for decades. Any time it heats up, no matter how ridiculous the threat, is something that needs to be a taken seriously. Taking things seriously is something our current president Donald Trump just doesn't seem to do. Now in 2017 you have the unpredictability of the Trump administration facing off against a nuclear state with its back against the wall. This is deeply worrisome.
North Korea is a terrible nation that rightly should be evaporated off the map forever. It’s one of the final evils that Communism has left behind. (Thanks, Stalin.) But no matter how bad the other side is, this newest crisis is one largely of our own making. For no good reason the US is suddenly acting very aggressively in the region. We now represent a considerable threat, even if we don’t realize it. Trump’s chaotic governing style is no longer just a problem for Washington, it’s a problem for everybody.
Last week it should have become obvious that the underlining philosophy of the Trump foreign policy is… nothing apparently. His stance on global matters is as incoherent as everything else in his presidency. For years Trump ran a narrow-minded but at least consistent line of "America First". His economic policy was from the nineteenth century, he rejected any notion of American Exceptionalism, and he was clear that he wanted nothing to do with Syrian intervention. With people like Steve Bannon on his team, the Trump policy seemed to be nothing less than tearing down Pax Americana, the global order led by the US since the end of WWII. Replacing it was somebody else's problem, I guess.
Then suddenly last week Trump fires missiles at a Syrian airbase because he feels bad about the poor children dying of gas attacks. This is a completely different Trump than we’ve seen before. Don’t forget these are the same children who the president has worked to keep out of this country. He never gave a shit about them when Assad was murdering them with normal bombs. I’m glad to see that America is not going to retreat from the world but I’m also not clear what the heck this was supposed to accomplish other than posturing. And as what was the posture anyway? It sure looked good for Trump to appear to oppose Assad, and thus Vladimir Putin, when his presidency is being tormented by accusations of treason.
But this is a wild flip-flop of Trump’s entire worldview. It has now become impossible to guess what the president will do next. He went from isolationist to NeoCon in the span of three days. Who knows where he'll be next week?
And inconsistency is a consistent element on every level with this president. He has grand plans and huge promises but is always lacking in details. Because those details don’t exist. The Republican Healthcare debacle is a great example. Both the president and even the Congress seemed actively unprepared to reform Obamacare decide years of promises. Their Ryan/Trump/RINO-Care managed to unify a deeply partisan nation – against it. Trump seems to have taken no real role in creating the bill, did little to endorse it, and was ambivalent to its fate when it failed. The same pattern is repeating in tax reform, where last time I checked there’s something like half a dozen separate plans floating around Washington, none of which seem likely to become law. The first 100 days of this presidency are very likely to pass without a single keynote legislation.
It isn’t Democrats who need to complain about the president golfing, it’s Republicans. They badly need leadership from the president which they are not getting. But really, the entire country needs to get worried now, and as of last week, the entire globe. It’s one thing when the scandal is a stupid tweet about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower, that’s just a Washington problem. But when we’re talking a game of nuclear annihilation here, Trump can’t fly off to Mar-a-Lago and pretend the world’s problems don't exist. You can't half-ass this.
This is a president who has never shown a serious level of commitment to his own office or his own policies. He refuses to either understand the issues, work towards intelligent solutions, or take responsibility for his actions or falsehoods. He has deep-seated personality flaws that are obvious to everybody. When this kind of a man is running the global superpower, even a single misspoken tweet could be ruinous.
Back on North Korea, despite all the news you hear of famines and assassinations, the country has remarkably managed to be relatively stable for years now. The Kim Dynasty has survived two changes in monarch, the end of the Cold War, and Seth Rogan, all without collapse. It is not in any worse of a position in 2017 than it was years ago. But this is still a desperately poor nation with a population living in miserable conditions. Kim Jong-Un is not delusional enough to believe he could ever conquer South Korea let alone the United States. And as crazy as he looks, there’s a clear logic to his nuclear threats.
Kim Jong-Un is treated like a cartoon villain both in our movies and in our foreign policy. Yet no matter how evil this man is, he has managed to hold onto power in the decaying ruins of North Korea which is impressive in of itself. He also knows that actually using his nuclear weapons will mean the end of his regime. He would never be so suicidal as to launch a first strike. If he’s suddenly talking nukes again, it is because he feels threatened. Remember, an American army is camped right outside North Korea’s borders, not the other way around. We are a bigger threat to them than they are to us. These yearly crises are probably also invaluable to the North Korean propaganda machine.
Any change in presidents has to be a worry to Kim, especially when his biggest enemy is now ruled by an unpredictable man like Donald Trump. I’m not saying Kim Jong-Un is a good man or even an entirely rational man, but if you don’t even try to understand his position, you are going to make terrible mistakes dealing with him.
Ultimately, North Korea’s government has the same strategy with their nukes as we do: they’re for deterrence. When Kim Jong-Un is talking of missile strikes, he’s making a clear statement: "If you take me down the same you did Saddam or Gaddafi, I’ll make the world pay." We treat him and his nation like a joke, but he is absolutely serious when it comes to his weaponry.
Trump, however, can only hear the stated threat, not the "if". So he stupidly answers North Korean threats with more threats of his own. Already Trump is demanding Chinese support on an ominous-sounding "solution" to North Korea. And he’s backing up his bellicose tweets with a naval build-up in the area. This is a huge show of force for a president that until last week apparently didn’t care about the rest of the world.
But the bigger worry I have is that the Trump Administration is particularly unprepared to deal with a situation like this. Donald Trump only believes media channels that support him, and he thinks the intelligence agencies are out to get him, so his view of the world is already badly warped. He also has let the State Department run understaffed, since he also believes "career bureaucrats" are against him. (It's a desperate insular worldview of a man under siege, I bet Trump and Kim Jong-Un would get along famously if they weren't mortal enemies.) So the president is at war with the very executive branch he’s supposed to be controlling, meaning his intelligence and diplomatic arms are weakened.
You remove your diplomacy option and then you have only with one option left: going to war.
Eventually a solution will need to be found for the Korean nuclear issue, but why now? The general American public is not screaming for war, neither is the Republican base that elected Trump. The Alt-Right are facing a crisis of faith now that their "God Emperor" has gone "globalist". We definitely don’t have the stomach for the massive cost a war in North Korea would have or the still larger cost of rebuilding a nuclear-annihilated Seoul if things go badly. Speaking of which South Korea is also not begging for our help. North Korea has done nothing in particular to start this crisis with us. Their position remains the same one it always has been: "stay away". Donald Trump all on his own decided to poke at the wasp hive that is North Korea.
More likely than not this latest Korean episode will simply fade away like all the others before. But it’s a crisis we never needed to have in the first place. We could be at war tomorrow over nothing. There’s still four years of Trump rule to go at least. This won’t be the last disaster to be narrowly avoided, I’m sure. Hell, we still have a whole other mess in Syria right now, which makes starting a diplomatic scuffle on the other side of Asia make even less sense.
In general as well, both of the current foreign policy concerns lack a coherent strategy. Nobody knows what Trump is thinking to do in Syria, and nobody knows what he's trying to do in Korea. I doubt even Trump knows - blindly yelling and pointing fingers got him this far, why stop now? This is all a sign of the greater non-leadership we’ve gotten from the president. He’s never taken his role seriously. It is a matter of doubt whether Trump ever thought he would be make it this far or if he ever wanted it to begin with. But now he’s the most powerful person on the planet. And so far his carelessness has made for lots of fun news in Washington. However thing have changed. Trump's incompetence is dangerous now for a lot of a people.
This isn’t just local American political chaos anymore, this is global chaos.