North Korea and the Carnival of Stupid

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North Korea, Trump Maladministration

I’ve been struck by the sheer amount of stupid coming from both Right and Left regarding North Korea.

From the rightie fringe, meet evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, who has been ranting that God wants Trump to bomb North Korea and that the Bible gives Trump authority to do this. (I say that if God wants Kim Jong Un taken out, it ought to be easy to arrange a lightening bolt to do the job neatly and quickly. Intercontinental nuclear warfare is so messy.)

On the other side, the Eternal Ditz Jill Stein weirdly absolves Kim Jong Un of any responsibility whatsoever in the ongoing tensions regarding his nuclear program. She thinks that if the U.S. and South Korea weren’t so mean to KJU all the time, he’d happily stand down. Just dismantle the military systems protecting Japan and South Korea and send Kim Jong Un some flowers and a gift certificate to Olive Garden, and he’d be nice as pie.

A variation of this comes from a guy I bumped into on social media — “North Korea is not a real threat to you and I. It only threatens the 1% and their interests…now watch them drag us all into their pissing contest again.” Another common theme is that They (the U.S. government plus mainstream media) are lying to us about North Korea to distract us from what They are doing. And, you know, They lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so They must be lying to us about nukes in North Korea now.

I don’t think the Right will ever grasp that under most circumstances, bombing people we don’t like usually gives us worse problems down the road (see consequences of the invasion of Iraq for examples). It’s the stupid on the Left I want to address right now.  I’d like to propose two theories that will be immediately hooted down by a lot of lefties:

  1. Not everything that happens in the world has to do with the machinations of the infamous 1 percent.
  2. Not everything that goes wrong in the world is the fault of the U.S.  Sometimes people in other countries screw up all by themselves.

Yes, it’s absolutely true that past U.S. decisions played a huge role in the creation of North Korea. However, don’t forget that the USSR played an equally large role. It’s also possible that had Korea not separated, the despotic Kim family would be in charge of all of Korea now, not just North Korea, and today we’d be arguing about how dumb it was to let that happen without a fight. But since we can’t go back 70 years and re-do the past, this is water under the bridge.

It’s also the case that over the years, U.S. policy has fluctuated between chest-thumping and genuine conciliation. No rightie will admit this, but in the 1990s President Clinton made some real progress with easing tensions between North Korea and everybody else. Righties will tell you that the Agreed Framework negotiated by Jimmy Carter in 1994 was a disaster, but in fact it worked pretty well, if not perfectly. Basically, the North Koreans agreed to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for aid. And lo, the North Koreans gave up processing plutonium and submitted to IAEA inspections.

So what happened? George W. Bush happened. At the time Bush II became president in 2001, the IAEA was still inspecting North Korea and reported that the plutonium processors were still sealed. But for a lot of reasons, Bush and the neocons and Republicans generally wanted the Agreed Framework to fail, and they accused the North Koreans of secretly processing uranium. This was never proved, but it was the excuse the Bushies used to end the Agreed Framework, and North Korea had a nuclear arsenal in a few short years. For more on this, see:

It’s also the case that the U.S. invasion of Iraq told North Korea it had better not disarm. The lesson the North Koreans took from Iraq was that the only way to avoid being invaded by the U.S. is to be a nuclear power.

So, yeah, the U.S. has made a lot of blunders regarding North Korea. However, no one with any knowledge of international relations or the Kim regime thinks that if the U.S. were to fold up its tents and completely retreat from Asia, North Korea would stop being a threat. North Korea is a threat because its leaders are despotic and paranoid. Michael Hirsch wrote,

Even more than other dictatorships, it is sustained by pure xenophobia, a paranoia about threats from the outside world, even as Stalinism has become a yellowing chapter in the history books elsewhere. Pyongyang’s statement that its nuclear forces “represent the nation’s life” sounds ridiculous. Yet it is a true description of the regime’s life. …

… Out in the real world, the Soviet Union collapsed, its former satellites democratized, the Chinese opened up and reformed, and even the Arab autocracies began to reform or topple. Inside North Korea, it is still 1953, and I’m not just talking about Kim Jong-un’s hairstyle. The regime’s ideology, called juche, is often simplistically defined as Korean self-reliance. In fact it has proven to be a kind of ideological superglue–a compound of traditional Korean xenophobia and nationalism, Confucian respect for authority, and utopian Marxism-Leninism that is able to resist the solvents of economic urgency or democratic modernization.

This issue is about more than just the United States and North Korea. Remember that Korea was occupied and oppressed by a militaristic Japan for a long time before the U.S. got in any way involved. But since World War II our military has ostensibly been protecting the much-resented Japan. Whether we should still have military bases in Japan today is an excellent thing to debate, and I’m personally very open to rethinking the whole Pax Americana thing. But that’s not going to help us with the immediate crisis.

Here’s the immediate crisis, reported today:

In the escalating game of chicken between North Korea and the US, North Korea is showing no signs of flinching: Pyongyang has announced detailed new plans for firing four ballistic missiles that would fly over Japan and land between 19 and 25 miles off the shore of the US territory of Guam.

North Korea says the plan could be ready for sign-off by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un within a week. If he does decide to launch the missiles, it would raise questions of whether the US would attempt to intercept them using the THAAD missile defense system it has stationed at Guam.

If the US intercepted the missiles successfully, it would make the US look stronger, but if it failed, it would be a humiliating spectacle and a blow to the credibility of US power. So it’s not hard to see how firing missiles so close to Guam raises the stakes in the US-North Korean standoff in way the North’s previous ballistic missile tests haven’t.

Trump just had a press conference full of more tough talk. However, I don’t think the biggest thing we need to worry about is whether Trump will order North Korea to be nuked. NK borders Russia and China, and neither Russia nor China would support Trump in this. Certainly, neither China nor Russia would tolerate a U.S.-controlled state in North Korea occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t much like Kim Jong Un, but they tolerate him for the sake of stability.

Indeed, although people make noises about how China ought to do something about North Korea, it’s odd that nobody talks about Russia doing something about North Korea.

North Korea does not have many friends.

It has China and, to a lesser degree, Russia, both of which oppose unilateral American military strikes on sovereign countries. The two countries believe that any US move would destabilize the region and harm their own interests. North Korea borders China and Russia, and any crisis on the peninsula would add extra strain to those borders.

(Fun fact: Did you know that if you want to drive from Finland to North Korea, you could drive only through one country? Yeah: Russia is that large.)

On its own, Russia also helps North Korea with its economic woes. Russian Railways is in discussion with the government in Pyongyang to expand the rail connections between the two countries. Moscow also invests heavily in North Korea’s energy sector and gives Kim’s regime hard currency, which it needs to purchase foreign goods. There are also around 10,000 North Koreans in Russia as part of a guest worker program providing cheap labor to Russia.

Maybe we should be grateful for whatever dirt Vladimir has on Donald, because Vladimir sure as hell does not want a U.S. strike on North Korea.

And, frankly, I’m not seeing anywhere near the kind of relentless propaganda campaign that sold Americans on the idea that invading Iraq was a good idea, and I don’t think the Trumpettes are capable of carrying out such a campaign. They’ve made too many enemies in media and in other conservative circles to pull it off. A new CBS News poll shows only 29 percent of Americans think that striking North Korea now would be a good idea.

But here’s the thing — we’ve known for a long time that North Korea has nuclear weapons. This is not a new thing the Trumpettes just thought up. North Korea set off its first nuclear bomb as a test in October 2006. What’s new is that now North Korea has missile capability to deliver those weapons somewhere we don’t want nuked.  And no one who knows anything about North Korea thinks it can be persuaded to give up nuclear weapons now. We had one shot, and Bush blew it.

My sense of things is that if somebody could duct-tape Trump’s stupid mouth for awhile, and if the U.S. were to back off and let other nations take the lead in smoothing tensions with North Korea, maybe this will blow over. For now. But these crises will keep happening until the Kim regime collapses, and I don’t much think there’s anything the rest of the world can do to force that to happen without making things worse.

And while I don’t think that the U.S. would actually strike North Korea preemptively — Trump’s stupid mouth notwithstanding — there’s always the possibility that North Korea would. And that would be a genuinely terrible thing that could easily touch off a world war, especially with Trump in the White House.

So, lefties, please stop tweeting that there’s no real danger and that They are lying to us about North Korea just like they lied about Iraq. It’s annoying.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Ed  •  Aug 10, 2017 @9:04 pm

    Tillerson has allowed himself to be contradicted on TV by Sebastian Gorka. What kind of SOS tolerates being contradicted by a WH employee who has no official status in the government? A normal SOS would say to the president, “You fire him or I resign.” This has not happened.

  2. Swami  •  Aug 10, 2017 @9:18 pm

    From the rightie fringe, meet evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, who has been ranting that God wants Trump to bomb North Korea and that the Bible gives Trump authority to do this.

    The sad part of that statement is that the Bible does give Trump authority to bomb North Korea.

    “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans 13:1

    I suspect that that passage was included in the Bible just to keep the heat off from the existing authorities while trying to get Christianity launched. Sorta like first century political correctness. An insurance policy?

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 10, 2017 @9:44 pm

    North Korea v. Cuba:
    (Chicken’s, home, roosting – or, nuclear roasting):

    NK is Cuba:
    -Without the beautiful, hot, bikini-clad women and beaches (Korean women are, generally, imo,very attractive – but no one looks good in a Mao-uni – not even Mao!).
    -Without the great auto mechanics, working on pre-1961 US cars.
    -Without Cuban sandwiches (YUM!!!) and other dishes: Like slow-roasted pork.
    Etc…

    I still can’t get over that “…fire and fury…” line…
    Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesn..

  4. csm  •  Aug 10, 2017 @11:51 pm

    “So, lefties, please stop tweeting that there’s no real danger and that They are lying to us about North Korea just like they lied about Iraq.”

    Indeed, you’d have to be Barney Frank’s table leg to not see the real danger here, with two unstable lunatics having the ability to unilaterally launch nuclear attacks. And especially since Trump’s bluster and recent comments about Russia doing us a favor by letting our diplomats in the US Embassy there go is proving him to be weak and stupid(er), which surely embolden’s Kim. Worse yet, Tillerson seems to realize tough talk and saber rattling is not helpful, but hes being undercut by Trump and the generals.

    I suspect that the solution to this calls for a level of creativity and rationale that we just don’t have right now.

  5. Swami  •  Aug 11, 2017 @1:04 am

    I’m surprised that Trump didn’t say to Kim: I’m rubber, you’re glue, anything you say to me bounces off me and sticks to you!
    Trump is a big juvenile bag of rooster dookie. Actually Trump has more in common with Kim Jong- Un’s father.. Seems they’re both ill. But with Trump it’s just mentally.

  6. Bonnie  •  Aug 11, 2017 @1:14 am

    “despotic and paranoid” describes trump.

  7. Bonnie  •  Aug 11, 2017 @1:23 am

    I forgot I meant to add that not only should trump’s mouth be duct taped; but, someone needs to duct tape his fingers so he can’t tweet. too.

  8. Doug  •  Aug 11, 2017 @9:10 am

    We have been here before – the Cuban Missile Crisis. What if we declared an embargo? Use the USN to prevent ships from entering or exiting N. Korea. Use drones to shut roads and rail to and from the mainland. I’m unconvinced that they have a warhead they can put on a missile – yet.

    We would lift the embargo when the nuclear & missile program is shut down & UN inspections are allowed. Yes, we’d commit to a response in kind to an attempted nuclear strike, but we’d try to do this with conventional weapons and avoid a strike at their population centers.

  9. maha  •  Aug 11, 2017 @4:34 pm

    Doug — I’m pretty sure North Korea’s chief trading partners are China and Russia. If China and Russia chose to not go along with an embargo, this could lead to bigger problems.

  10. Swami  •  Aug 11, 2017 @10:11 am
  11. csm  •  Aug 11, 2017 @10:11 am

    “We have been here before – the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

    Yes we have, but the difference is we had a leader in JFK who was thoughtful, compassionate and intelligent enough to think through the situation and understand the options. Which is what makes this current scenario scary. There are ways out of this, if only we had a sane leader in the white house.

  12. elkern  •  Aug 11, 2017 @11:40 am

    Doug – embargo can’t work. Patrolling 300 mile land border with China & Russia is impractical at best, and dangerous at worst. Don’t give Trump any ideas; he’d love this one.

    My “Trump Tower Pyongyang” comment yesterday was only partly in jest. NK is a failing state with a big military; that’s a dangerous combo, especially when a bozo inherits the throne. The trick is to give the leaders a way out, a path toward a better – or at least good – position for themselves and their descendants, so they have some reason to relinquish power peacefully.

    That’s especially hard when Dear Leader is a 1st-class narcissist, feeding off the world-wide attention he gets by rattling swords. That’s why I joked about giving him a Reality Show; most Despots can be bought off with a big mansion on a quiet island & a lifetime supply of young playmates (whichever way their pleasure tends), but KJU wants to be in the limelight. That will be hard to arrange, partly because it complicates the security problem (bad ex-Despots rightly attract assassins).

  13. zoomar2  •  Aug 11, 2017 @1:26 pm

    I’d like to know what plans we and our Asian allies have for securing their nuclear arms and facilities when the regime eventually collapses. Russia and China have equal interests in keeping that stuff from going into the wrong hands.

  14. Doug  •  Aug 11, 2017 @5:44 pm

    CSM – agreed, Trump doesn’t have what JFK did, but I was discussing a theoretical option which brings down the NK regime before they actually have the capability to launch nukes. I’m not in the briefings on classified stuff, but the payload an ICBM can loft is pretty small.

    Russia would love to see us brought down and China would move up if the US crumbled. SO no matter WHAT we do, they will whine but if the US doesn’t go nuclear, they won’t go nuclear. I don’t have the inside info on drones, but I think they could play havoc with rail lines and regular roads. We might have to sink a couple of NK subs to protect our fleet offshore. It looks doable – not too expensive compared to our previous wars and it could be kept conventional unless NK goes nuclear.

    If we don’t try a military intervention without nukes, what other options are likely to play out? NK would like it to play out that the world accepts them as a superpower and pays tribute not to be on the receiving end of an ICBM. That isn’t going to happen and I don’t see them backing down. Given time they WILL be able to lob nuclear tipped ICBMs, and at that point, intervention with non-nuclear arms becomes more problematic.

  15. MNP  •  Aug 12, 2017 @3:14 am

    A few years back, I think when Obama was trying to get Russia to do something Russia admitted to him that they basically have no leverage over North Korea anymore and it’s all China. I don’t know if that true, I’d have to see what connections are there but accept for not blocking UN moves I’m not sure what Russia can do.

  16. maha  •  Aug 12, 2017 @12:00 pm

    MNP — I don’t think China has any more leverage over North Korea than Russia does.

  17. Procopius  •  Aug 13, 2017 @9:50 pm

    Looking back to when Korea was partitioned, I don’t think Stalin really intended to let Kim Il Sung become a permanent fixture, but I do think that if he had managed to take over the Southern part we would be happily dealing with Kim Jong Un now as the legitimate leader or our great freedom-loving ally. From the little I know about the history, I don’t think Kim Il Sung was much worse than our boy Syngman Rhee, and certainly no worse than Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlevi.

    Plus 100 for the comment that China has no more leverage over North Korea than Russia does. Trump complaining that China has not done enough is just silly. It’s like thinking America could order Paraguay to do something they didn’t want to do.

    NK borders Russia and China, and neither Russia nor China would support Trump in this.

    What does that have to do with the price of rice? Do you think The Donald cares whether any other country “supports” him in this? The point is he has the legal authority to order a military strike. Given that the command structure of our nuclear forces evolved to respond to a possible first strike in which we would have 15-20 minutes warning, would any military officer dare to refuse the order to launch? Any discussion of such an obstruction within the military would be a form of insubordination, maybe rising to the level of mutiny.

  18. maha  •  Aug 14, 2017 @1:44 pm

    “The point is he has the legal authority to order a military strike.” Yes, he does. Would Russia or China just sit around and complain about that, though? There are some who think China would join forces with North Korea if the U.S. ordered a pre-emptive strike. But surely by now Trump has received Putin’s orders to stand down.

  19. Swami  •  Aug 14, 2017 @4:09 pm

    I think Trump would be wise to conclude the war in Afghanistan and our involvement in Iraq and Syria before reigniting the Korean war.
    The problem with Trump is that he’s a big bag of shit who runs his mouth without giving any thought to the practical application of what he says. He just makes idle threats in the extreme to hide his intellectual insecurity and ignorance. His impotence.
    He’s alluded to the use of nuclear weapons to counter a problem he’s incapable and unwilling to intellectually grapple with.
    Does he think that North Korea is going to squander a first strike advantage in a nuclear exchange that will result in their annihilation by targeting Guam? Does he think that an attack ( either conventional or nuclear) on North Korea’s missile sites is going to destroy their technological knowledge? Does he think there will be no response to an attack that won’t cost possibly million of lives and severely upend the South Korean economy?
    I guess when you’re a big bag of shit the best option to take is to toss out a macho sounding lock and load and then change the subject and move on hoping North Korea cowers to your threat. Oh, look, let’s ban transgenders from the military or declare a war on opioids.

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