North Korean Millennial Got Trump’s Goat
August 11, 2017
The person occupying the most powerful office in the world should act like he really is the most powerful person in the world, but, this week, Donald Trump played right into the hands of a crazy 30-something year-old Millennial.
We have all endured (mostly) incoherent early morning Twitter messages from Trump where he brags about his electoral victory, belittles political opponents, and generally takes credit for things he really had nothing to do with.
Although most of his 140-character messages are annoying but harmless, this week Trump fell into the trap set by the other most unpredictable leader of a country, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Since his ascension to power in December 2011 after the death of his father, the then 20-something year old leader has executed countless people, including his dad’s brother, and worked to build up his own image as a revered leader, following in the footsteps of his dad, and his grandfather, the first ruler of North Korea.
Kim, who’s birth date is still unclear in the West, was born sometime between 1982 and 1984, making him 33-35 years old today.
In the past six years since he became the leader of North Korea, Kim has set out to become a player in the world of geopolitical giants, on par with the U.S., Russia, China, and Germany.
Although his country is facing devastating economic sanctions that have crippled the lives of his citizens, Kim has continued a path toward joining the most exclusive of clubs: countries with nuclear weapons.
Kim knows that building and testing nuclear weapons, he can eventually get to the big boys’ table and negotiate better terms with the other world powers when he really had no leverage to begin with. For his national followers, Kim continued the posture of “Military-first” started by his father, even though it has left millions of his people on the verge of starvation.
Although Kim first said his country would only deploy nuclear weapons if attacked, in recent months he has made threats to launch preemptive attacks against the United States, and this week, threatened to fire missiles at Guam, a strategic U.S. military base in the Pacific. This year, Kim has launched nine missile tests, each with increasing success and range, proving that his goal of obtaining a deployable nuclear ballistic missile is close at hand.
The U.S. has long dealt with erratic leaders that want to show their own people that they can take on the most powerful nation on Earth. From Manuel Noriega to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, U.S. interests have been threatened by megalomaniacs hell bent on playing chicken with the most powerful military in history.
Those leaders eventually ended up out of power, but the U.S. president did not engage them in a personal tit-for-tat of threats and chest-pounding. When diplomatic channels were eventually exhausted, military force was either directly or indirectly used to remove the threat, such as they were.
But, this week, Donald Trump took the bait laid out by the young Kim, when Trump declared during a press availability that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea attacked the U.S. or its allies. That bluster, delivered with crossed arms and a clenched jaw, showed the world how easily Trump can be goaded into responding directly to a challenge, much like a spoiled child.
U.S. presidents never agree to speak directly to hostile leaders without careful pre-meeting negotiations to ensure predictable results. Simply meeting with or even engaging a hostile leader elevates that person to the level of the most powerful leader in the world, and rewards the bad behavior they had engaged in to get the attention.
In the case of North Korea, who may have a few deployable nuclear weapons, an all-out war with the U.S. would lead to assured destruction. Its conventional artillery and missiles could pose an immediate threat to South Koreans and U.S. personnel in the area, but the prospects of annihilation should deter them from launching a first strike, just like all other nuclear powers.
But Trump’s thin skin also reveals to other adversaries how easy it is to provoke the U.S. president into erratic behavior. Russia’s Putin, a former KGB spy, is only one of the many world leaders watching and learning from Trump’s responses to an asymetrical threat.
So, we’re really watching a schoolyard stare down between two bullies, with each one threatening to punch the other out. One is much stronger, and should know better than to give in to the taunts of a much weaker punk. But, the little guy also knows he looks tougher by standing up to the big school bully.
When the Russians placed nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962, John F. Kennedy didn’t pound his chest and threaten to unleash hell on Earth. Kennedy played it smart, sent stern but measured messages, and defused a crisis that had two world powers on the brink of World War III.
Trump should take the high road, and let China and Russia, both having much to lose with a nuclear armed North Korea, help defuse the situation.
Now is not the time to let egos run amuck, and push the world closer to a war no one can afford to wage.
Now is the time for cooler heads to prevail, and to work toward a solution that does not escalate into a war with nothing but losers.