Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bret Stephens Solves North Korea

Image via Sizzle.
Shorter Bret Stephens, "On North Korea, Trump's on the Right Track", July 7 2017:
All the boring and conventional thinkers are trying to get Trump to take a path in the middle between the usual two extreme options for dealing with North Korea's nuclear weapons program—more sanctions or military strikes. Because how can more sanctions accomplish what fewer sanctions have failed to accomplish? And military strikes are off the table because of something I think Michael O'Hanlon probably says at some point in this very long piece, though I haven't found it yet. What they really want him to do is split the difference and put more diplomacy into it. But all these people are seeing the problem wrong. We don't need to get rid of the nukes, we need to get rid of the regime. This always works. How do we change the North Korean regime? All we have to do is persuade the Chinese government to cut off fuel supplies to the country and put Kim Jong-un under permanent house arrest in Beijing when he comes over to complain. Then everybody in Pyongyang will breathe a sigh of relief and be normal and keep their nukes to themselves instead of using them to upset everybody and probably selling them to Iran and so on. How do we get the Chinese to do this? Sanctions on Chinese banks, of course, and frightening them by selling more arms to Taiwan. Which is exactly what Trump is doing, I think. Now all they need is a grand strategic reason for doing it, and looks like I just took care of that myself!
Swear to God:

1. Two paragraphs citing Henry Kissinger's dictum that your advisers generally offer you two unpalatable extremes in order to get you to adopt a plan midway between them.

2. A statement in para 3 of the three options on North Korea presented to Trump by the conventional wisdom:

more sanctions on Pyongyang, renewed diplomacy or military strikes. The first option can handicap the regime but has not stopped its nuclear drive. The last option is only responsible as a last resort.
If this isn't meant to present diplomacy in the terms of Kissinger's formula as a midway option between extremes, what is it? (And how is he saying that a future sanctions program "has not stopped" DPRK in the past? It's what hasn't been used yet!)

The O'Hanlon link is really mysterious, because that piece doesn't mention the idea of military strikes on North Korea at all. It's an argument, very reasonable by O'Hanlon standards (he played a truly disgraceful role in the Iraq War, aware of what a disaster it would be in 2001 and then giving it full-throated support from 2002 until its utter failure couldn't be denied any longer around 2007, when he announced he had always been a "harsh critic"), for a package of stronger sanctions plus more aggressive diplomacy, including the tuning up and down of joint US–South Korean military exercises, and a firm idea of what the outcome could look like, which is something that's actually negotiably on offer in the real world:
Some North Korean officials, including the country’s ambassador to India, have suggested an openness to a freeze, temporary or permanent, on North Korea’s testing of nuclear and long-range missile forces in exchange for a parallel freeze on United States-South Korean military exercises on the peninsula — in particular, the large-scale exercises called Ulchi Freedom Guardian and Foal Eagle, which involve upward of 20,000 troops. If the North Koreans would extend the freeze to the production of nuclear materials and it can be made verifiable — with China and Russia providing inspectors, along with Swiss or other neutral parties — Washington should take the deal.
Something that is really being put on the table by DPRK and is structured to avoid the noncompliance (by North Korea and US) that marred previous deals.

3. Five paragraphs on how the possibilities of sanctions and/or diplomacy are bound to fail (North Koreans "always cheat", their economy is in better shape and hence more resistant than you think, and Kim Jong-un is irrational).

4. Four paragraphs dismissing the idea of the "nuclear-free peninsula" as an aim, including O'Hanlon's proposal (linked to a USA Today write-up instead of the Times version he linked to above), and introduction of the "regime change" proposal as an alternative.

5. Two paragraphs on how easy it would be to get this done with Chinese acquiescence, using the pressure tools the Obama administration has been using recently.

6. A couple of paragraphs on how the Trump administration is doing exactly what Stephens is suggesting, except that they don't seem to have a rationale for doing it and they're not pushing China hard enough—

What’s missing is the articulation of an overall strategy and a renewed invitation to the Chinese to be a part of the solution, not the problem. 
—and Rationale is Bret Stephens's middle name! See 5-6 above, overall strategy articulated, available with a discount if you call today! Emperor Trump's on the right track, but only I know the name of the station he's getting off at!

Stephens's only real subject, here as elsewhere, is how fucking clever he is. He's an utter fool.

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