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Commentary: Trump 'leading from behind' as world reacts to (latest) North Korean nuclear test
Published on February 17, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Here is how I framed this recurring international “crisis” just months ago in “Groundhog Day: North Korea Tests Nukes and World Explodes with Outrage … Again,” September 9, 2016.
 

_____________________

North Korea is commanding world attention again, after testing another nuclear bomb. Duly spooked, leaders from China to America are reacting like alarmed parents chastising an unruly child for playing with fire, for the umpteenth time.

These leaders have been reacting with similar alarm to similar tests for years, most recently in January. They invariably impose sanctions, which North Korea invariably accepts as more reward than punishment.

And so the kabuki nuclear dance begins again -- complete with world leaders denouncing Jong-un as insane. But Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Therefore, those calling Jong-un insane would do well to look in the mirror.

_____________________

You could be forgiven for thinking that yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea signaled a new determination to end this menace once and for all. Most notably, it urges members, namely China, to reinforce sanctions against this rogue hermit kingdom. Reports are that North Korea depends on China for nearly 90 percent of its imports and exports.

hall.jpg
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com
The problem, however, is that this follows six similar resolutions, each of which North Korea has flouted with patent contempt. What’s more, even though China led the torrent of condemnations, it is no more inclined to impose crippling sanctions than North Korea is to stop testing its nukes. For the prevailing fact is that China fears triggering a migration problem that would make Europe’s look like a Sunday stroll.

Oh, but silly me, there’s a “new sheriff in town -- as President Donald J. Trump himself would say. Therefore, you’d expect him to seize this first opportunity to distinguish himself in this respect from his feckless predecessors, namely Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

This compels me to note here how Trump and Republicans spent much of Obama’s presidency criticizing him as a weak leader for “leading from behind.” It hardly mattered that, as with most of their criticisms, this one had no basis in fact.

After all, even in dealing with their stalking horse -- Syria, Obama demonstrated both strength and intelligence. Warmongering Republicans repeatedly tried to goad him into another Libyan-style misadventure -- to defend his so-called “red line.”

Instead of allowing them to do so, however, Obama called their bluff. He challenged them to provide congressional authorization for launching strikes against Syria in accordance with the War Powers Act. But Republicans were too spineless to put their votes where their mouths were, fearing political backlash if/when the sh*t hits the fan. Obama ended up using brain instead of brawn to force Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons.

Even so, nothing betrayed their criticisms of Obama as a weak leader quite like the way Republican defense secretary, Robert Gates, hailed Obama for going into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden:

I’ve worked for a lot of these guys and this is one of the most courageous calls -- decisions -- that I think I’ve ever seen a president make. It was a very gutsy call.

(60 Minutes, May 15, 2011)

That said, enter Sheriff Trump.

After North Korea threatened on New Year’s Day to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, Donald J. Trump, then president-elect, reacted with characteristic swagger, [tweeting] ‘It won’t happen!” …

But six weeks later, after North Korea defiantly launched a missile into the sea, Mr Trump, now president, reacted with surprising restraint.

Appearing before cameras late at night on Saturday in Florida with his golfing guest, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mr Trump read a statement of just 23 words that pledged American support for Tokyo without even mentioning North Korea.

(New York Times, February 12, 2017)

But I need to spell out those 23 words for you to fully appreciate Trump’s weak and cowardly reaction to North Korea crossing his “red line.” And, as you read them, bear in mind his tweet from just weeks ago that: It. Won’t. Happen!

I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.

(CNN, February 13, 2017)

That’s all folks! And if that isn’t leading from behind, nothing is. You should also bear in mind that Trump is on record declaring North Korea one of the biggest threats the United States faces. Yet he’s standing “behind Japan 100 percent” when it comes to dealing with it?!

Meanwhile, Republicans are playing deaf, dumb, and mute about Trump’s retreat to conventional fecklessness with respect to North Korea over nukes. Which actually follows them playing the same in the face of similar retreats with respect to China over Taiwan, Russia over military taunts (on land and at sea), and Mexico over that wall. Surely it must be dawning even on these dullards that Trump is, well, all hat and no cattle.

But Russia deserves special notice. Not least because Trump spent much of his presidential campaign telling the American people that Russia continually taunted (and occasionally defied) the Obama administration because President Putin thought Obama was weak and had no respect for him. He invariably added that he is strong and that Putin will respect him. Wrong!

After all, Russia is already taunting his administration in similar fashion, and Trump’s cowering in the face of it is speaking volumes:

A Russian spy ship was spotted patrolling off the East Coast of the United States on Tuesday morning, the first such instance during the Trump administration -- and the same day it was learned the Kremlin had secretly deployed controversial cruise missiles inside Russia and flew within 200 yards of a US Navy destroyer.

(Fox News, February 14, 2017)

At least Obama can say he didn’t repeatedly kiss Putin’s ass in a misguided attempt to woo his respect.

Donald Trump’s defense of Vladimir Putin’s homicidal history isn’t sitting well with fellow Republicans. …

Trump’s repeated expressions of admiration for Putin was already a sore spot for Republicans who consider the Russian leader a threat to the post-World-War-II global order. The president’s latest statement has put the breach right back in the spotlight.

(Politico, February 5, 2017)

I will only add that the nature of Trump’s bluster has been such that it’s only a matter of time before Putin’s emasculating taunts turn him into a (bro)man scorned -- with all of the kinetic dangers that portends. I telegraphed this inevitable day of reckoning in “The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected Outcome of US Election…,” December 12, 2016.

Returning to the main point, the leadership Trump is demonstrating in the face of this North Korean nuclear threat is laughable when juxtaposed with the leadership Obama demonstrated -- in the face of everything from the great financial crisis to the Iranian nuclear threat.

That said, here is how I advised Obama -- in “North Korea to The World: Nuke Off!” December 13, 2012 -- is the only sensible way to deal with the menace North Korea’s missile testing poses.

__________________

Obama should convene a coalition of the willing among Asia-Pacific countries (APEC) to forge agreement on the following resolution, which, significantly, would not be subject to a UN-style veto by any country (namely, China or Russia):

APEC

Recognizing that the United Nations is unable or unwilling to stop North Korea from violating its resolutions (most notably, res. 1718 against conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles) with impunity;

Finding that these violations pose an untenable threat to the Asia-Pacific region;
Resolves that:

1. Instead of continuing the feckless practice of bribing North Korea with cash, oil and food to get it to stop these violations, APEC shall henceforth impose the severest possible sanctions, unilaterally;

2. If, either as a result of misfire or deliberate intent, any of North Korea’s missiles even threatens any APEC country, the United States shall lead the bombardment of all of its nuclear and missile facilities until they are incapable of even setting off firecrackers, let alone launching nuclear missiles.

All else is folly.

__________________

Trump would be wise to follow the same, especially given the following, which characterizes Kim Jong-un as surely as it did his father, Kim Jong-il:

North Korean President Kim Jong-Il is a temperamental and insecure man. Only this explains his habit of making nuclear threats from time to time. Whenever he does, he commands the international attention he craves so pathologically and extorts the aid his people need so desperately. …

When it comes to psychological warfare, this North Korean gnome is one Chicken Little who manages to jerk the world’s chain every time. Indeed, true to form, statements of concern from world leaders about what Jong-Il might do followed his antic declaration with Pavlovian predictability. But one wonders why -- given his record of idle threats -- world leaders even give him the time of day?!

(“Why Do World Leaders Give North Korea’s President Time of Day,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 4, 2006)

Alas, like father, like son. And, where reaction to North Korean nukes are concerned, plus ça change.

Related commentaries:
Groundhog Day
Europe migration problem
The Issue … US election
Why do leaders give Kim time of day
NK commanding attention
NK craving attention

* This commentary was originally published at The iPINIONS Journal on Tuesday, February 14

 
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