I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primary, and then Hillary Clinton (to my chagrin) in the US Presidential Election. I am no champion of President Donald Trump, his general behavior, or most of his specific policy proposals. I am at least as far left as Senator Sanders and war revolts me.
And yet, I come close to spraying out a spit take when people accuse Donald Trump of “playing into the hands of Kim Jong Un,” as talks of another war on the Korean peninsula become more alarming.
The argument suggests that the Kim dynasty thrives off Trump’s bellicose speech (like that of his recent United Nations message) and that his warnings of annihilation (often considered “threats” by his detractors) end up supporting Kim Jong Un’s interests more than the world’s security.
For starters, if Trump were to attempt directing courteous diplomatic speech to a dictator launching missiles over our Japanese allies’ heads, the media and most Americans would lambast him. Many did just that when he was a bit too courteous to our Saudi Arabian allies, who notably treat women as something far lower than second class citizens. Imagine that kindness being given to the madman in North Korea, our enemy, who preaches doom and gloom for America and South Korea!
Importantly, it must further be admitted that the Trump administration is not responsible for any propaganda Kim’s regime creates using the president’s speeches. It is, however, the responsibility of the president to accurately estimate the cost of any potential war and to announce it publicly to the people of the world, Americans especially.
We should be thankful that Trump is warning he will “totally destroy” North Korea, rather than pretending it will be a surgical strike situation with limited cost.
A war with North Korea would be devastating to the entire Korean peninsula and other nations. Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis has been similarly forthcoming about the awful casualty predictions for total war, and it seems to me that the administration wishes to avoid such a war.
The true sole option in that conflict would be complete overwhelming force: the potential annihilation of an entire nation-state. This is largely because we do not have accurate estimations of their current nuclear capability, nor where those capabilities are housed.
The fact that Kim Jong Un feels pressed to launch more missile tests in the aftermath of Trump’s first UN Speech to the General Assembly, does not prove poor tactics on Trump’s part. It proves that Kim Jong Un is as fragile a dictator on so shaky a house of cards as our worst fears indicate.
If increasing the frequency of missile tests is a leader’s only tool for keeping his population faithful to him, it could indicate that he may be considering real targets, next. Well, it is important that he understands what the United States military is prepared to accomplish in that event, lest he be under foolish spells that convince him he might get away with torching some small island.
It may not always be right to mirror your sparring partner’s aggression because it can lead to unnecessary escalation. Sometimes it is more appropriate to suggest calming down. But when your sparring partner, despite 69 years of training, has never learned self-restraint, is it not appropriate to warn him that such escalation can result in serious injury?
Perhaps the warning of a brutal counterpunch with the full weight of a military superpower behind it will be the anti-war incentive such a sparring partner as Kim Jong Un requires.