Sunday, April 16, 2017

Nightmare scenario: Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump playing "I dare you" with nuclear weapons?

That heading is not much of an over-statement.   Kim and Trump both have nuclear weapons;   they both have final say over whether they're used.   They're both erratic, unpredictable, inexperienced rulers with enormous power that could be unleashed within minutes.  They both like to bluster and brag and taunt.

In Trump's case, he's woefully ignorant of the history, culture, internal politics, and military options and implications.   He thought he could easily make a deal:  get China to put pressure on North Korea in exchange for a slightly sweeter trade deal.  After meeting with China's President Xi, he shocked the world by saying that Xi explained to him the history of Chinese-North Korean relations;   and, "after about 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy as I thought."    Shocked in the sense that:  (1) he didn't know that already (just as he didn't know health care policy was "so complicated");  and  that (2) if it so easy to learn in 10 minutes, why hadn't he allowed his own people to brief him before meeting with President Xi?

Yes, keeping North Koresa in check is difficult.  At the same time, because of their trade relations, China is in the best position to influence Kim's decisions.   Perhaps he will;  but, right now, the government controlled press in China is busy ridiculing Donald Trump as an ignorant buffoon.  Why would Xi want to appear to be going along with him?

Now that the Founder's birthday celebration is over and Kim did not set off another nuclear test, as he had hinted, tensions have eased a little.  At least thus far, Kim seemed content simply to parade some new-looking, perhaps more advanced, ICBMs.   The birthday celebration, in grand communist style, was an elaborate display of heavy weapons and tightly disciplined parading of hordes of soldiers in perfectly matched movements  (symbolizing mighty power and perfect control?).  The Founder being celebrated was Kim Jong-un's grandfather, who established North Korea in 1953 following the end of the Korean War.  It was a fine display.

Meanwhile, Trump was spending yet another weekend at Mar-a-Lago, golfing and relaxing in his lavish monument to excess and to Himself.  (Taxpayers paid $3 million for that little indulgence.)   Not exactly our image of a war-time commander-in-chief, is it?    Maybe it's for the best.   I'm a strong supporter of the idea of having the military under the ultimate control of civilians -- the Secretary of Defense and the President, along with his National Security Adviser. But Trump has appointed generals in both those positions;   and he, himself, is probably worse than no help.   Maybe he should just play golf.

No, actually, that is not a good long-term resolution.   We should have ultimate civilian authority over the military.  Congress should debate and approve policy for our role in both the Middle East and North Korea.   If Trump can't do the job, he should resign.

Short of that unlikely scenario, I'd settle for a wise, experienced, benevolent counselor who would whisper in Trump's ear;  someone who would be more committed to principles of democracy (freedom, equality, brotherhood, and social justice) than to political advantage.   Someone other than Stephen Bannon and Steve Miller and Jeff Sessions -- and someone with more government experience than Jared and Ivanka Kushner.  There is no such desired counselor currently in the White House.

Actually, with anyone else who is so unprepared, I would say the president should spend his time studying briefing books and having long tutorials with his learned advisers.    That's probably not going to work with Trump.  He cannot focus and does not learn that way.   The best we can hope is that he gets good advice and that he listens and acts accordingly -- until the FBI revelations about Russia -- and other assorted "crimes and misdemeanors" -- rise to the impeachable level.


PS:   The 2018 Winter Olympic Games open in less than a year in PyeongChang, South Korea -- not to be confused with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.   PyeongChang, however, is only 60 miles from the border.   Worrisome?   Or perhaps an impetus to stabilize relations?

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