Many have tried for a week or so to convince me that Pres. Trump should tone it down with North Korea, that he must stop threatening back. I have heard it on the radio, on TV; I have read it everywhere, including on my own Facebook page. They have all done a mediocre job. There may be good reasons to not talk back to the fat little fascist in North Korea, Kim, but I have not heard it yet (08/13/17).
The urge to pipe down come from two main sources. First, are the usual liberal suspects who always think the US must be wrong, somehow. The same admonitions come, second, from libertarians- and especially from Libertarians. (And trust me, I feel very ashamed that I have – several times – described Libertarians as “pacifists in drag.” And I will do my best to avoid this facile formula in the future.)
Liberals’ reprimands are not interesting because they are so predictable. They are in two parts. First, in any hostile encounter, the US must be guilty, or guilty of something. Second, we must never stoke the fire by responding to threats with threats. I will show below the emptiness of this position.
Libertarians’ attempts to tamp the fire are more interesting because they are based on analysis, even if it’s on a fallacious analysis anchored in imagined facts rather than in real facts. Libertarians believe that all war, even all armament, even all national defense preparedness invariably increase the scope and power of government. This happens to the detriment of individual liberties of course. I share this analysis but that’s not the end of the problem.
A libertarian intellectual I admire on the whole pointed out to me recently that experts don’t think Kim is suicidal. That may well be true although I don’t trust mental health experts who pronounce without examining the patient or even talking to him. This may well be true but one can simply become suicidal. Hitler was not suicidal until he was suicidal. He appeared to have believed in the feasibility of a military miracle even when the Red Army was only fifty miles from Berlin. And then: “Bang! And fuck you all Germans!”
Still, let’s assume Kim is not suicidal. This implies that his threats are bluff. Could be. After all, bluffing Americans worked well for his father. I am concerned about the possibility of his miscalculating, and miscalculating in particular the resolve of an angry America, of an America that has been attacked, or where the administration thinks it’s about to be attacked. I am much more worried about Kim in this respect than I ever was about the Soviet Union or about Cuba. There are two major significant differences.
First, what’s the likelihood that Kim has advisers who are both well informed and trustworthy? This is a man who executed his own uncle with an artillery piece. (You read this right.) This is a man who assassinated his own brother with poison a few months ago. He did it with maximum brazenness, in a public place, outside the country he rules. How would you like to disagree with such a man? How would you like to incur his displeasure by allowing him even to suspect that you don’t share his vision?
Second, people in general commonly become prisoners of their ideology. (Watch the millions of liberals who have not come around six months later to realizing that Democrat identity politics lost them the 2016 elections – plural.) Totalitarian ideologies may make one an especially severely restrained prisoner, one laden with heavy thick cognitive chains. If you accept this premise, you must ask what’s the likelihood that Kim, or his generals, or his surviving and cowed civilian cabinet, are sufficiently well informed to gauge correctly eventual American responses to his provocations? Many Americans and, I think, the bulk of the European intelligentsia still don’t understand why Mr Trump got elected. The same people don’t understand him at all (although he is easy enough to understand for those who frequent bars in the US). The Soviets were always well informed about the US. They had hundreds or thousands of English speaking agents who did nothing but study America. The Cubans totalitarians were, and are still even better informed, for obvious reasons. Anyone who would dare make the bet that Kim knows what he is doing is insane or he/she knows something important that I don’t know and would like to know. (Tell me now, please.)
The libertarians’ responses I am aware of are, in the end, based on the same false premises as the liberals’: 1 He does not mean it; 2 There is always time for talk. No need to point out, I think, that we don’t l know if he does not mean it. In general, when someone keeps saying he wants to kill you, you should give him your full attention, in case he does mean it. And then, we did talk to that deadly regime for twenty years. In 1994, on his own, Pres. Clinton went into an agreement with North Korea to supply that country with energy in return for its closing its bomb-capable nuclear facilities. The N. Koreans promptly cheated. There were other peaceful attempts. (See Wikipedia.) Pres. Clinton and several of his followers’ pacific efforts gave North Korea the space to develop nuclear devices and missiles that now make the country a realistic deadly threat to the US. How long do you try the same thing when it keeps coming back and biting you in the ass?
By the way: There is much talk of pursuing “diplomatic” avenues with Kim in preference to bellicose ones. That’s complete nonsense. Does it imply talking to Kim so he becomes nicer? Does it imply that we find something that he wants and that we can give him? Oops, we tried this. (See above.) Does it mean that we should threaten Kim only quietly? That strategy makes sense in general but not with him. The American response to Kim’s threats must be muscular, loud, clear, and colorful. The reason is that we don’t know what information N. Korea’s ruling circles receive. We must do the utmost to insure we get trough. Somewhere in that country, there is a quartet of generals who have recovered from ideological infestation and who want to see their grandchildren grow up, irrespective of Kim’s mental condition and miscalculations. At this point, they are our best hope, they and single bullet to the head.
China is not worried or motivated enough to help, it appears. The Chinese Communist Party, that astonishingly successful mafia, could almost certainly live with an old-fashioned but calm military dictatorship on its door-step. It would be less likely than the current N. Korean regime to trigger unwanted events from which China would also suffer. The Chines ruling group is well informed. It knows this.
Those who are unable to think coolly about such things should not worry about the likelihood of an American nuclear first strike. It’s just not in the cards because of the extreme vulnerability of both South Korea and Japan. If we are hit first though, all bets are off and I hope the South Koreans and the Japanese are aware of this. It might motivate them to become more active than they appear to be right now.
There are other vigorous solutions to avoid war without submitting. I described one on my Facebook page a couple of days ago. (“An answer to my own question,” posted August 9 2017) We seem to be collectively paralyzed by fear and suffering from a dearth of imagination. Now, that’s really dangerous.