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How have we reached a point where the fate of the world depends on two caricatures of comic-book superheroes? Neither Kim Jong-Un nor Donald Trump seems able to resist inflammatory taunts of the other; each of them can only escalate the rhetorical war. Both are so obsessed with themselves that they will go to war rather than be humiliated.

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There is, for sure, no honor in backing down. Obama learned that when he was so imprudent as to draw a “red line” in the Syrian sands, then had the good sense to realize that there was actually nothing he could do about Bashar al-Assad if he didn’t want to repeat the folly of George Bush’s occupation of Iraq.

Now we have two macabre clowns drawing lines in the sand, and absolutely no evidence that ether one can see any way out other than total capitulation of the enemy.

Now we have two macabre clowns drawing lines in the sand, and absolutely no evidence that ether one can see any way out other than total capitulation of the enemy. Neither one will do what Obama did to avoid doing something even more stupid.

Fareed Zakaria had me convinced that Kim Jong-Un is in fact quite rational; he may indeed be more rational than Donald Trump—but that’s not saying much.

But let’s consider that from his point of view, the US has been threatening the security of North Korea, not just since the Korean War, but even before that to the late stages of World War II, when the US intervened to prevent the Soviet-backed Kim Il-Sung (his grandfather) from occupying the whole Korean peninsula. The Korean War followed from that, and there has never been a peace treaty to settle that war. Hence Kim’s perception that he must have nuclear weapons as a guarantee against US aggression.

Trump’s point of view, oddly, for him, reflects the consensus of what’s left of the US foreign policy establishment that Kim Jong-Un is a loose cannon who must never be permitted to have nuclear weapons with which to threaten his neighbors.

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There is no common ground in these two perspectives.

But there is a way forward to finding common ground. This is founded on two indisputable facts. The first is that if there really were a nuclear exchange, North Korea would be obliterated. They might first devastate South Korea and Japan, they might successfully strike US targets, but that would not save them from incineration. The rational Kim Jong-Un must know this.

The second indisputable fact is that the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and decades of diplomacy backed by sanctions and threats, have not prevented North Korea from achieving the capability to launch intercontinental nuclear strikes. In light of the experience of Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kim Jong-Un is not going to give up those weapons.

The narrow path to a solution would require North Korea to recognize South Korea and give up the goal of unifying the peninsula on its own terms. In return, the US and South Korea must finally sign a peace treaty with the North that accepts its nuclear capability as a fait accompli (much as we accepted India and Pakistan into the nuclear club). A nuclear North Korea assured of its own security would be less of a threat to world peace than India and Pakistan, which are locked into a perpetual cold war with each other.

Will rational heads prevail, or will we just lurch on, escalating the conflict until war is inevitable?

john peeler

This is not the Game of Thrones, people. Millions of lives are at stake.

John Peeler

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