While America was firing off fireworks to celebrate its independence, the nutcase regime running North Korea was testing yet another intercontinental ballistic missile. According to the United States Pacific Command this one went 1,700 miles into space and landed 580 miles away from its launch off the South Korean coast line, so if you flatten that trajectory it could have landed in Alaska, which complicates what had already been a darned complicated situation for more than 50 years.
President Donald Trump defiantly responded with a “tweet” taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by asking “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” It’s a valid question, of course, but we doubt Trump’s “tweets” will deter Kim from his nuclear ambitions any more effectively than they’ve deterred Mika Brzezenski from criticizing Trump on her early morning cable news show, and Trump’s “tweeted” promise as president-elect that the North Koreans wouldn’t dare an ICBM test when he got into office obviously hasn’t come to pass. Trump hasn’t yet declared any red lines or stated any demands or ruled out any possible options, which suggests that the more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his well-regarded defense secretary and and his widely-respected national security advisor are exercising some control over the presidential “twitter” feed, and for now we hold out hope for an old friend of ours who lives in Anchorage.
America’s options were always limited to a narrow range of bad to worse, though, and Tuesday’s test seems to have narrowed them further. A pre-emptive first strike on the nutcase North Korean regime’s missile launching sites always carried the risk of devastating retaliatory strikes on nearby American allies South Korea and Japan, the South Korean capital of Seoul could be easily shelled from the the demilitarized zone with World War I-era artillery, and geography has given always the North Koreans an unearned that advantage that made any miscalculation catastrophic. Even if you’re so ruthlessly American First that you’d ignore the humanitarian consequences of bombs landing on such densely populated places as Seoul and Tokyo, you’d have to admit the economic consequences would eventually be felt deep in the heartland. With the North Koreans seemingly in missile range of Alaska and maybe even such densely populated places as Los Angeles and San Francisco, even such a seasoned head and steady hand and instinctive first-strike hawk as well-respected former defense secretary William Perry is saying “it changes every calculation.”
There are still plenty of potential diplomatic solutions, of course, but all of those have always been darned complicated and are lately more complicated yet. China’s President Xi Jiping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement proposing that North Korea refrain from further missile tests in exchange for the United States canceling a planned joint military exercise, which sounds reasonable but is pretty darned complicated. Trump ran on a China-bashing platform but has been remarkably friendly to China ever since Xi visited Mar-a-Lago and granted some long-sought patents to Trump’s daughter’s business, and by now everyone knows that his relationship with Putin is endlessly complicated, and even his relationship with South Korea has been complicated by his protectionist rhetoric and insistence that the country pay more for a missile defense system that might shoot down something pointed at Alaska. That joint Sino-Russian proposal was a hard enough call in any case, aside from the embarrassing fact it had two leaders Trump has sucked up to colluding against him. Accepting would be a sign of weakness, and undermine a longstanding American-South Korean alliance, and refusing might now prove that that catastrophic miscalculation that the the past 50 years of American presidents have sought to avoid.
Given the situation we’re now in there’s argument to be made that all of those presidents of the past 50 years made some miscalculations. President Harry Truman was the first president who waded into the Korean Peninsula, although that was largely a result of his predecessor’s actions and those of presidents going back to Theodore Roosevelts first adventures in Asia, and for all the historical debate at least it ended up with a capitalist and mostly democratic South Korea and all those great K-Pop videos.
Those communist and totalitarian China and North Korea regimes lingered through the Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and then the cold warrior Republican President Richard Nixon famously went to China. After Vietnam and Watergate the Republican Ford and Democratic Carter administrations maintained the stalemate on the troublesome peninsula, and although the Republican administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush brought down the Soviet Union they didn’t much change the situation with the commies on the Korean peninsula. The Democratic President Bill Clinton struck a bargain with the North Koreans that looks dreadful and will perhaps look worse in the history books, Republican President George W. Bush didn’t rectify that, and the latest headlines in even Te New York Times and The Washington Post admit that Democratic President Barack Obama also failed to definitively solve the problem.
Now we find ourselves with President Donald Trump facing these complications, and hoping those more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his will somehow prevail at least enough to kick this can further down the road.
— Bud Norman