Thursday, January 4, 2018

Not too scared

Moon goddess from the Ohoe tomb no. 4, 6th-7th century, Goguryeo (or ancient Goryeo). via Wikipedia.

I'm going to say it again: as you know, there's no button, and the procedure you need to follow to order that strike is a fairly complex one, which I think Donald Trump in his current psychological state might have a hard or even impossible time following:
From phone call to phone call — and his day, beyond organized meetings, was almost entirely phone calls — you could lose him. He could not really converse, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. (Michael Wolff)
And whatever they tell you, our military are trained carefully that they must not follow an illegal order, and I don't think there's any doubt about this one, as Marjorie Cohn was explaining a couple of months ago at the HuffPost:

On Nov. 19, Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, declared he would refuse to follow an illegal presidential order to launch a nuclear attack. “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail,” the general explained at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia. “You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”
Gen. Hyten is correct. For those in the military, there is a legal duty to obey a lawful order but also a legal duty to disobey an unlawful order. An order to use nuclear weapons ― except possibly in an extreme circumstance of self-defense when the survival of the nation is at stake ― would be an unlawful order.
I'm absolutely convinced that Hyten, and Mattis above him, are going to recognize this and have already done so. I won't say it's not scary, having a mentally incapacitated US president engaging publicly in this frantic imaginary dick–measuring contest with the mentally incapacitated emperor of Joseon, as North Korea often calls itself and China calls it, after the name of the ancient kingdom in the northern part of the peninsula that collapsed in 108 B.C.E. and the glorious Joseon Empire that ruled the peninsula from the end of the 15th to the end of the 19th century and the long Japanese occupation.

It's scary enough in any case, as I always say, with the cabinet stuffed with guys who do have an idea of how to get things done without bothering the Emperor, Pruitt, Zinke, Sessions, Ross (hardly Mnuchin, who now seems to be almost as empty a suit as the Emperor himself, or DeVos or Carson), and seem determined to do it. But I strongly believe there won't be a nuclear attack on North Korea.

Trump's tweets are "official" documents, but they're not performative in that strict sense, like the old king saying "So it has been spoken, so let it be done." They're Trump performing his critical function, as host of the reality show and master of firing bad employees, whining about what a bad government he has or congratulating the contestants on a performance that's pleased him. This one was a complaint, that young Kim doesn't seem to know his place.

Indeed, Trump may have inadvertently made the North Korea situation better this week, by driving North and South together, with the New Year speech in which Kim Jong Un proposed sending a delegation from the North to the Winter Olympics in the South next month, followed by ROK president Moon Jae-in prevailing on the Americans to cancel joint military exercises scheduled to take place during the Games:
“The Pyeongchang Olympics and the Paralympics there will become a clarion of peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Moon said on Wednesday, the day Mr. Kim also restored a cross-border telephone hotline that could facilitate such negotiations. “We must move through the crisis and toward peace like an icebreaker.” (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times)

They'd be talking if Trump was doing his job, or if Hillary Clinton was president, but this is better than nothing. But he's wrong in thinking he's influenced the North to engage; it's the South (Goryeo in the old nomenclature, after the also northern kingdom that took possession of the peninsula between the 1st and 14th centuries), realizing that the United States under Trump is not there for them, that they're essentially on their own.

He calls them "fools" for talking, as he accused Rex Tillerson of "wasting his time", but then remembers he's taking credit for it and turns around on the proverbial dime. It seems to me that there is a predictable outcome emerging at the moment, to be brokered by Beijing and Tokyo and not what "we" might really prefer, in which the North Korean nuclear arsenal comes to be quietly accepted, sanctions enforcement becomes weaker, and Kim Jong Un shows up at his smiley, clubbable best.

The relevant East Asian authorities are coming to understand that however crazy and bloodthirsty Kim may be, Trump is still more unsound and unreliable. The United States is being gently cut out of the game ("Mr. Moon talked with Mr. Trump and said that he promised to consult fully with Washington during South Korea’s talks with the North, adding that they would help induce dialogue between the North and Washington," says the Times, but the standout element is that the US won't be there), which sounds like a good thing to us old anti-imperialists, I have to say, but it is not going to de-nuclearize the peninsula any time soon. I say "us old anti-imperialists", but I don't feel that comfortable about a world in which the US increasingly abdicates responsibility to China.

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