Trump, North Korea escalate threats
The U.S. and North Korea exchanged threats of military action this week, as the regime of dictator Kim Jong Un made a bristling display of its ballistic missiles and Vice President Mike Pence warned, “The era of strategic patience is over.” At a parade in Pyongyang to celebrate the birthday of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, North Korea displayed dozens of medium- and long-range missiles, including rocket canisters big enough to fit intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which could carry a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland. Satellite imagery had led U.S. officials to fear that Kim planned to mark his grandfather’s birth with the nation’s sixth underground nuclear bomb test. But after fierce warnings from the U.S.—and rumors of a pre-emptive strike—the regime instead tried to launch a ballistic missile, which crashed within seconds of liftoff. Some analysts suggested that U.S. cybersabotage may have caused the failure.
President Trump has said he would not allow North Korea to build an ICBM, and on a visit to South Korea, Pence warned the Hermit Kingdom not to test Trump’s “resolve.” Trump has been urging China, North Korea’s main economic partner, to use its leverage to curb the country’s nuclear program. In an embarrassing admission, the White House was forced to acknowledge that its claim last week that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was on its way toward the Korean peninsula was false; the warship was in fact heading south to engage in naval exercises off the coast of Australia, and won’t arrive in the Korean region until next week. The White House blamed interdepartmental miscommunication.
What the editorials said
“Strip away the bravado and hype,” and the goal of Trump’s notso- veiled threats is clear, said The Washington Post. He’s trying to “crank up the pressure” on China to rein in its client state, “then push for a negotiation” in which the U.S. will offer to leave Kim in power if he agrees to halt his nuclear program. But this strategy has been tried by previous presidents, “without much success.” If that history is repeated, what then?
By threatening North Korea with unspecified “action,” the Trump administration is playing “a dangerous game,” said The BaltimoreSun. China won’t impose economic sanctions severe enough to cause Kim’s regime to collapse, because then Beijing would lose its geographical buffer against Western-backed South Korea. North Korea won’t back down on its nuclear and missile development; Kim’s aides frequently cite the fact that Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi was ousted and killed after giving up his own nuclear program. A preemptive strike on Kim’s nuclear facilities would trigger a North Korean counterattack against Seoul, and result in hundreds of thousands of casualties. There really are “no good options.”
What the columnists said
U.S. administrations “have kicked the North Korea can down the road since the 1953 armistice,” said James Robbins in USA Today. But if we leave it much longer, one of the most unstable regimes in the world will “have the capability to kill millions of Americans at a stroke.” That’s why the Trump administration is reportedly considering “a decapitation strike” to take out Kim and his top commanders. Trump’s tough talk appears to have gotten China’s attention, said John Pomfret in The Washington Post. A worried Beijing threatened North Korea with “unprecedented ferocity” if it tested a nuclear device last weekend.
Amid all “the nuclear brinkmanship,” the farcical mix-up over the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson is alarming, said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. The dysfunctional Trump administration is evidently so incapable of communicating basic information between the White House and Pentagon that it can lose track of an aircraft carrier. What happens when the stakes are much higher?
Americans shouldn’t panic over North Korea, said Max Boot in CommentaryMagazine.com—not even if the nation develops “an ICBM with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching Washington.” Kim is “not suicidal”—indeed, his only goal is survival. He knows that he and his country will be obliterated if he ever does press the nuclear button. The West’s best move is to ratchet up diplomatic and economic pressure and wait for Kim’s “illegitimate and impoverished” regime to implode—be it in seven months or 70 years. “As the experience of the Soviet Union showed, even having the ultimate weapon will not stave off regime collapse.” ■