Friday, December 22, 2017

the punch in the nose

Word is out that the Trump administration may be planning a "punch in the nose" offensive strike against North Korea as a way to show how serious the US is in its commitment to a non-nuclear Korean peninsula. This is, of course, ridiculous on at least two fronts: first, North Korea is already a nuclear-armed state, and that's not about to change; second, you can't spend decades appeasing North Korea, then suddenly turn around and strike it while expecting that the Kim regime will take the strike as a sign of resolve, as opposed to taking the strike as a sign of the recommencement of all-out war. Imagine training a dog that way: allow it every indulgence for years, then one day declare most of those indulgences off limits, swatting it with a rolled-up magazine if it tries to transgress your new rules. How do you think the dog will react?

There is always, of course, the chance that Trump is once again engaging in the so-called "4-D chess" that his defenders like to talk about. I think his previous rhetoric against North Korea did indeed constitute a psychologically valid approach to facing down Kim. Perhaps Trump is now counting on leaks to spread the word about a potential attack: that way, he can roll back the bellicosity and play both roles as bad cop and good cop. Who knows?

An actual strike into the North Korean interior would certainly be interpreted as the restart of the shooting war (the peninsula has technically been at war since 1953, which makes all of North Korea's numerous "This is an act of war!" denunciations ridiculous). If Trump wants to strike North Korea while leaving the situation tense but ambiguous, he could hit some stray naval vessels or plunk some ordnance into North Korean waters—the equivalent of a younger brother constantly poking an older brother in the ribs for the sole purpose of annoying him. Such irritations would cause the North to ramp up its defensive/offensive posture, thus making it expend more energy in useless saber-rattling. That was basically what Reagan did back in the 1980s: stir the USSR up with his crazy-old-man routine until the big bear spent itself into exhaustion, thus proving itself to be more of a paper tiger than an actual bear.

So without knowing more information, my take is this: if Trump is seriously considering an actual strike against weapons facilities within North Korea proper, then that's insane. If, however, he's deliberately telegraphing bellicosity for the purpose of whipping the North into a spend-it-all tizzy, then I'm all for this strategy. Being a resident of South Korea, I'm obviously not all that enthused about the breakout of actual war. I'm sure you understand.

1 comment:

Surprises Aplenty said...

A political position we mostly agree on!

In general, I am skeptical of the reasons the US has used to go to war. When the US discusses military action, I am suspicious.

Except with North Korea. My default position here is that the US is doing the right thing. And so when Trump began talking and taking a hard line, I was suspicious because it was Trump. If another president had done the same, I would have been more credulous. And this made me wonder if Trump were as terrible as I, firmly liberal, had believed.

I am still wondering but our shared skepticism makes me feel more confident of my opinions about the Koreas at least.