In looking at the history of the North Korean problem, I am reminded of the British comedy, Yes, Minister. In one episode the chief departmental bureaucrat explained to the Minister how things work in government when there is a problem. He explained the stages of action, or more correctly, inaction.
Stage One. Deny there is a problem.
Stage Two. Admit there is a problem, but nothing bad will come of it.
Stage Three. Admit there are potential bad outcomes, but there is nothing that can be done to solve it.
Stage Four. Admit there are things that could be done to solve it, but it is not up to us to do so.
Stage Five. There are things we should have done, but now it is too late.
For many years after the cease fire, North Korea was not considered much of a problem. It was a piddling little nation that was sinking into desperate poverty at the hands of a vicious dictator. It ceased to pose any threat to its southern adversary that was shielded by the military might of the United States. Under the principles of democracy and free-enterprise, South Korea was developing into one of the world’s stronger economies. In other words, we embraced Stage One. North Korea was not a problem.
As North Korea started to develop its military and doing a little saber rattling, we entered Stage Two. Yes, they are a problem, but not a serious one. Nothing bad will come of it despite the bellicose rhetoric and threats of nuclear armament emanating from Pyongyang.
When North Korea started to develop more serious nuclear ambitions, the United States, the United Nations and the civilized world began to see a potentially bad outcome. In response, we entered Stage Three by again declaring that a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable, but nothing could be done about it. That was when the meaning of “unacceptable” changed.
Rather than implementing our avowed foreign policy by taking out the North Korean nuclear program with military action, if necessary, the United States slipped into Stage Four by kicking the ball over to the UN and even China. It was not up to us to solve the problem. Consequently, North Korea entered the nuclear club.
The issue at hand is Stage Five. The old guard foreign policy and intelligence community argue that we must simply face the fact that there is nothing we can do to take away North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. At best, we can hope that North Korea would be willing to limit their nuclear arsenal rather than build it up. Yes, we could have and should have done something in the past, but now it is too late.
This where President Trump comes in. He is holding to the old policy that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable in the strictest meaning of that word. While he roundly criticizes the policies of the past that brought America through Stages One to Four, he does not accept Stage Five.
The most important thing Trump has done is to put meaning behind the longstanding policy claim by successive American presidents and UN secretary generals that a military option was on the table. That was the policy – at least by lip service — of the United States under presidents all the way back to Kennedy.
If the American and UN policy of denuclearization is to be implemented, the threat of the military option must be credible. In other words, Kim Jong-un must believe to his soul – should he have one – that there is only a binary choice – give up the nukes or face the annihilation of the three-generation Kim regime.
Past strategy emanating from the foreign policy establishment is that it is okay to make the threat to Kim, but we must, at the same time, assure the world and the American public that we would not really take military action. It is hard to imagine that intelligent people could see that as a viable policy. But the old guard does even though it is grossly illogical in theory and, after several generations of failure, provably ineffective.
One can argue about Trump’s belligerent style, but there can be no doubt that his tough talk has motivated both Russia and China to take a harder line against North Korea’s nuclear program – the hardest ever. Trump has brought North Korea to the table. The talks between North and South Korea and the friendly “consultation” between Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping are all preludes to proposed talks between Kim and Trump. In many ways, Xi is functioning like a Mafia godfather telling one of his caporegimes not to do something that would cause a bigger problem for the organization. As a result of Xi’s intercession, Kim seems to be hedging on his claim that North Korea will never give up the big bombs and those intercontinental missiles.
While the appointment of hardliner John Bolton as National Security Advisor has resulted in hyper anxiety in the domestic appeasement community, it is having the desired effect – scaring the Hell out of both China and North Korea. Bolton is not undermining any peace process, but rather enhancing the prospects for peace by adding additional credibility to the already credible military option.
Although it was not given much coverage in the media, Secretary of Defense James Mattis made comments that we can be sure were not overlooked by the folks in Pyongyang and their sponsors in Beijing and Moscow. He declared that there are many options under the military option umbrella. This was important because it pushed back against the major scare tactic of the Chicken Little left – that the ONLY option was full-blown nuclear war.
Though it is only an interim phase, we can say this much for the Trump North Korean policy. Kim is no longer testing bombs and missiles and Trump is no longer calling the Prince of Pyongyang “Little Rocket Man.” It would seem that Trump’s words have trumped Kim’s fireworks.
Trump is re-writing Stage Five. It is NOT too late to do anything about it. Belated and risky as it may be, thanks to the pathetic policies of the past, Trump is again declaring that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable and this time if Kim does not dismantle the program, the United States will lead an alliance to take military action – or take it unilaterally. Kim would be very foolish to think Trump is bluffing.
JUST A RANDOM THOUGHT. In an interview with Stephen Strang, who wrote the book God and Donald Trump, CNN New Day’s Alisyn Camerota got pretty aggressive in questioning how any person of faith could possibly support the President. Camerota went so far as to say that supporting Trump’s policies, if not his hedonistic history, is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. She intimated that to gain forgiveness, Trump would have to confess to the media, not just God. Is the arrogant anchor actually saying that every person of faith who supports Trump’s family-friendly and religious policies are apostates – bad Christians? Yep! There is no other way to interpret Camerota’s remarks. And they wonder why fly-over-America disdains the elitist left.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at email@example.com.