Could This Be the One?

Under the Heading Giving the Devil his Due.

President Trump has potentially achieved two things no President has ever done before. He’s created an opportunity for the formal end of the Korean War and the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

But, as history shows us, this is not the first time this has been tried. Let’s hope the formal negotiations come to a swift, successful, and verifiable conclusion.

As Mark Twain (allegedly) once said, “History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes”  We can turn to history for a perspective on negotiations with the Hermit Kingdom.

The number of agreements with North Korea that have been successful.

One*

*(The Armistice ending open hostilities of the Korean War. Technically, the war is still on-going.)

The number of agreements, in particular, those seeking to prevent the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, that have succeeded.

None*

*The number of agreements made, and broken, by the North Korean are too numerous to count.

This piece from the Arms Control Association (www.armscontrol.org) gives an interesting chronological perspective on negotiations and agreements with North Korea.  I’d include it here, but it would run to almost forty pages.

Click here for the full article https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron

If I were inclined to bet, I’d say the odds ain’t good for the world’s greatest dealmaker.  There is hope, and we all should embrace it in the interest of world stability, but the hope is tainted by the reality of this administration.

All we have so far is our unilateral decision to end joint US-South Korean military exercises (a decision that surprised both South Korea and our own Pentagon and Defense Department.)

ChosenI suppose Kim Jong-Un can argue the first step to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be the withdrawal of US forces. He seems to have maneuvered us into the first stages without giving much up except an offer to continue talking. (Remember, the peace talks at Panmunjom took two years to reach a conclusion that paused the Korean War in 1953 with a promise of a formal end that has never happened.)

Somehow, in the last few weeks, our new BFF is Kim Jong-Un and North Korea and our new worst enemy is Pierre Trudeau and Canada. This is the frightening reality and mindset of those who are negotiating this agreement.

A success here would be a major accomplishment for this administration. A failure here will make the Iran Nuclear Agreement look like an unconditional surrender by Iran. If it does succeed, we can move all those troops from the 38th parallel and put them on the Canadian Border.

 

Thermonuclear Tweets (A Modern Day Version of Rome Burns while Nero Fiddles)

In the latest round of tweets out of the President, we have him mocking diplomatic efforts in North Korea and engaging in a juvenile name-calling tirade against a highly respected Senator.

neroHere are the tweets from @realdonaldtrump if you missed the latest.

Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars & getting nothing. Policy didn’t work!

Bob Corker gave us the Iran Deal, & that’s about it. We need HealthCare, we need Tax Cuts/Reform, we need people that can get the job done!

I suppose if you consider avoiding war while slowing the development of nuclear weapons a failure, he has a point. But tweets as a platform for policy pronouncements is about as useful as a poem on an underground wall or graffiti on a railroad car. The choice of broadcasting the messages says more than the content.

Finding a way to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea has failed. It’s where the leadership of President Trump takes us now that is the wild card. There is a vast chasm between nuclear proliferation and nuclear war. Wise counsel offers a chance to avoid the later, it’s the absence of wise counsel that concerns me.

Herein lies the real issue. The President’s public tantrums about any criticism of his policies, no matter how accurate the criticism, offers little hope for a considered and rational policy. The nature of war, in a world of nuclear weapons, has changed. And It is not just the nature of warfare that’s changed, it is the essence of what would constitute victory that’s different. If the death toll in five minutes of a nuclear exchange could exceed that of World War II and be considered a victory, it is Pyrrhic at best.

In the book, On War, Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “war is the extension of politics by other means.” The book is considered must reading for those who would engage in warfare, particularly as a commander. But, written in 1832, it concerned a world of weapons much different than today.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was a US-born philosopher. She became famous for her work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, as one of the first to propose that Nazism and Stalinism have common roots. Her work, On Violence, published in 1970 offers a remarkable insight into today’s volatile nuclear-armed world.

She wrote in a world where the nuclear “club” had fewer members, but her words are prophetic.

The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict. Hence, warfare—from time immemorial the final merciless arbiter in international disputes—has lost much of its effectiveness and nearly all its glamour. The “apocalyptic” chess game between the superpowers, that is, between those that move on the highest plane of our civilization, is being played according to the rule “if either ‘wins’ it is the end of both”; it is a game that bears no resemblance to whatever war games preceded it. Its “rational” goal is deterrence, not victory, and the arms race, no longer a preparation for war, can now be justified only on the grounds that more and more deterrence is the best guarantee of peace.

She spoke of the world of warfare described by Clausewitz, and it’s changing nature.

“Even more conclusive than this simple reversal proposed by the anonymous author of the Report from Iron Mountain—instead of war being “an extension of diplomacy (or of politics, or of the pursuit of economic objectives),” peace is the continuation of war by other means—is the actual development in the techniques of warfare. In the words of the Russian physicist Sakharov, “A thermonuclear war cannot be considered a continuation of politics by other means (according to the formula of Clausewitz). It would be a means of universal suicide.”

History is replete with examples of nations advancing their political policy through war. In the United States, for most of our history, we have gone to war to defend ourselves and our principles. There were exceptions, Vietnam being the most obvious although a strong argument can be made against our Iraq incursion.

This is meaningless in a nuclear engagement. The war game scenarios contemplating the results of a nuclear exchange with North Korea are bleak at best, and cataclysmic at worst.

Millions of people will die. The long-term environmental, geopolitical, and economic effects are unpredictable. The conscience of the nations that launch missiles will be tested.

When we need the best and the brightest guiding the nation and making deeply considered and crafted decisions, we have a tweeting fiddler fueling the fire.

For my entire life, my generation and those who followed have lived in a nuclear-armed world. As a child, the most significant threat I feared from atomic weapons was Godzilla. If the godless commies in Russia or China attacked, I had only to duck and cover and wait for the recess bell.

Now I know better. Now I know that, while not perfect, brilliant minds have so far steered the world away from nuclear conflagration. We can only hope the “child care workers” known as the President’s advisers can keep order in the White House adult day care center.

Or will we tweet our way to living with killing millions of people because we lack leaders with imagination and conscience?

Soothing the Savage Beasts: Trump vs.Kim Jong-un

William Congreve wrote in the play, The Mourning Bride, that “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.”  The line is often twisted into “ soothe the savage beast” which may be more appropriate to this piece.Trump Jong

Our saber-rattling, questionably stable President is engaged in a contest with a questionably unstable Kim Jong-un.

Both men control nuclear weapons. The United States arsenal is immense, the North Korean’s minuscule. But even a small nuclear weapon can unleash unimaginable destructive power.

While both are armed with weapons of mass destruction, one must question if they are equally equipped with intelligence, rationality, and demeanor to solve this peacefully.

Near the end of the Cold War, the artist Sting released a song called “Russians.”  Here are a couple of lines from that song.

In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.
MIster Krushchev said, “We will bury you.”
I don’t subscribe to this point of view.
It’d be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too.
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence.
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too

It made many realize that ideological differences do not mitigate the similarities of our humanity. We are all human.

Even Misters Trump and Jong-un

Many would argue the Kim Jong-un is the more dangerous of the two. He must be insane to challenge the US. Perhaps he holds a messianic view of challenging the Great Satan as some others refer to the US.

I think not. Kim Jong-un’s history has been one of consolidating his power to survive and hold onto his position. Even if he doesn’t realize launching a nuclear weapon at Americans would cause the annihilation of his country, there are many others within the North Korean military that do. It is why Kim Jong-un purges the leadership on occasion. This is evidence of disunity within the command structure. Of some disagreement on policy. It is evidence of rational hope.

China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and other countries within striking distance of North Korea missiles have a vested interest in containing this challenge.  These countries will do what is in their best interest, and understand when we do what is in ours. But they will also look to us to act like a superpower, not a super-bully willing to decide international policies by bellicose tweets and empty, grammar school level rhetoric.

This is a geopolitical test of our President for which I fear his experience, demeanor, and unwillingness to listen to sage advice makes him ill-prepared. A misjudgment based on emotional militarized slogans puts millions of innocent people at risk.

This is not the time to beat plowshares into swords, but the sheath the swords to let rational discourse save the planet.

There is another song, by the Rolling Stones, which fits both the man in the White House and the cellar dweller in North Korea.

If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop
If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop

I’ve been running hot
You got me ticking gonna blow my top
If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop
Never stop, never stop, never stop

You make a grown man cry
You make a grown man cry
You make a grown man cry
Spread out the oil, the gasoline
I walk smooth, ride in a mean, mean machine
Start it up

If Kim Jong-un fires the first shot, it will be his last. But we would be guilty of using a bomb to kill a fly. It is incumbent on us to remember that along with that fly we would kill millions of humans who love their children.

When diplomacy, rational toughness, deliberative thinking, and consensus building is most needed, we have a WWE Wrestling buffoon for a President.  Our only hope is he hasn’t bothered to read the instructions on unleashing the nukes.