It’s one thing to bomb Syria. The only consequence, apart from spending $59 million to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles, is pissing off Putin. And if you’re a skeptic like me, you probably aren’t buying the “Russian / U.S. tensions are at their highest level in years” bullshit to begin with. If you’ve ever watched the Godfather II, you know this is just another Trump misdirection to get people off of the real story: the Russian collusion criminal investigation that the FBI and the Senate are conducting.
But North Korea is another thing altogether. Kim Jong-un is no Bashar al-Assad. He’s not just your typical, run of the mill psychopath; he’s a psychopath with nukes and a rather large conventional army less than 50 miles from the capital city of South Korea. Bombing him can be hazardous for the health of the entire globe. Forget what the Chinese might do, Kim Jong-un can, in a matter of minutes, reduce Seoul to rubble and kill perhaps a million people, not to mention take out the 11th largest economy in the world. And that’s just for starters.
This isn’t merely foolishness personified; it’s outright insanity. Playing chicken with someone like this is like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun. There’s no way this ends well, not for us, not for South Korea, and not for the roughly four billion people who inhabit this planet. Someone has to convince Trump that this isn’t some Celebrity Apprentice episode. He’s not firing Gary Busey or Meat Loaf here; he’s considering launching a preemptive strike against a nuclear power. Even Dr. Strangelove would’ve walked away.
I have spent a considerable portion of the last year and half documenting the many flaws that Trump has: from his xenophobia to his shady financial dealings to his lack of intellectual curiosity. But the worst flaw by far that Trump possesses is his incredible thin skin. The things that tend to bounce off others as mere nuisances, stick to Trump like Velcro. He considers the smallest of slights as a personal attack and he never forgets or forgives anyone who crosses him. It’s bad enough that such a trait is anathema to a successful business career; as a world leader it is a disaster waiting to happen.
We have already seen examples of Trump’s ill-suited temperament when he dissed the President of Mexico and openly called NATO obsolete. His refusal to even shake hands with Angela Merkel in the Oval Office last month was the sort of thing even a child would know not to do. But as embarrassing as those episodes were, they pale in comparison to a confrontation with North Korea. You can shake and make up with rational people; you can’t with a mad man. And that is what Kim is: a mad man with a lot of fire power and the willingness to use it. You don’t provoke people like this. Just the opposite: you do everything possible to deescalate the situation before something happens that can’t be undone. I’m not suggesting appeasement, but throwing the first punch should never be the first option out of the gate.
A lot of years have come and gone since the Cuban – missile crisis pushed the word to the brink. We were days away from nuclear Armageddon. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and doomsday was averted. We could be 48 hours away from a repeat of that scenario. Only this time Kennedy and Khrushchev aren’t in charge. Frick and Frack are. One thinks he's God; the other knows it.
At the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had one thing in common: they were smart enough to know that if either one of them attacked the other, both would be wiped out. That deterrence was called MAD (mutually assured destruction) and, ironically enough, it kept the lid on the nuclear arsenals of both super powers.
There is no such deterrence at work here. Not only are we dealing with a maniac who doesn't know that his provocations could lead to his own destruction, he probably welcomes it. Only an overly insecure and naive person would encourage him.
- An earlier version of this posting said the U.S. fired 50 Tomahawk missiles at a cost of $59 million. It was actually 59 Tomahawk missiles at a cost of $59 million. I have made the correction.