Saturday, March 18, 2017

How Many Minutes to Midnight?

Now we’re getting to the real meat of what the recent election of Donald Trump was all about. On Friday, March 17, the President’s new Secretary of State finally gave voice to his boss’s policy, and it wasn’t pretty. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned of a possible first strike on North Korea to eliminate that nation’s emerging nuclear capabilities. He said that “all options” are being considered to counter North Korea’s latest moves, including its recent ballistic missile tests. Tillerson tried to couch his threat in diplomatic language, but his message seemed clear to all who heard it:

Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict. We’ve been quite clear on that in our communications. But obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that will be met with an appropriate response. Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended.

Notice that Tillerson didn’t say, “if North Korea takes actions against us or our allies.” No, he said “takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own..” Which is a way of saying that ‘a threat can be anything we say it is.’
The following day, Saturday March 18, in China in a meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Tillerson reiterated his warning, saying that the nuclear ‘threats’ from North Korea had reached danger level, though, in an apparent effort to reassure the Chinese, he refrained from repeating his first strike threat: “I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions in the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level,” he said (never mentioning, of course, the American-South Korean joint military exercises that contribute heavily to that “tension”). Minister Wang Yi tried to further calm the waters, saying that the issues should be resolved by talks: “Now the situation on the peninsula arrives at a new crossroad, where it could be further escalated into conflicts, or finding a way to restart negotiations by strictly implementing relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions,” he said. But the U.S. Secretary of State had already said that “the policy of strategic patience” had ended, meaning, presumably, that mere talks weren’t enough anymore.
Though one would think that the chief diplomat of the United States would have at least some faith in talks for resolving conflict, his sentiments are quite in line with the thinking of Tillerson’s master, President Trump. The new President doesn’t much like talk. He prefers action, and, if necessary, military action, and if really necessary, nuclear military action. What’s the point of having nukes, he is reported to have said, if you don’t use them?
So now we have what may be the most dangerous nuclear situation since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Then, the United States and the Soviet Union stood toe to toe over the Soviet placement of ballistic missiles in Cuba—only 90 miles off the coast of the United States. The United States set up a naval blockade to stop Soviet ships from putting the final touches on the missile batteries, and demanded that the Soviets dismantle the ones already built. The Soviets refused and kept its tankers headed toward Cuba, with nuclear submarines as escorts. No one knew what would happen when the tankers met the American blockade. American generals like Curtis LeMay had already urged a quick first strike to knock out the missiles, but President John F. Kennedy waited, hoping that some contact with his adversary in Russia, Nikita Khrushchev, would resolve the crisis short of nuclear war. And at the last minute, Khrushchev did, in fact, communicate his willingness to dismantle the missiles if Kennedy would do the same with American missiles in Turkey. This negotiation averted the nuclear crisis, even though neither Kennedy nor subsequent presidents lived up to the quid pro quo.
Now, however, the two main actors, Donald Trump in the U.S. and Kim Jong Un in North Korea, are quite different characters from Kennedy and Khrushchev—both of whom were seasoned politicians and men of considerable sanity. Trump and Jong Un, by contrast, are rank amateurs, and worse, among the most unstable national leaders on the planet. Both have the emotional and intellectual maturity of teenagers. Both are driven by a narcissism so extreme that it would be considered pathological in any healthcare setting (though in politics, narcissism seems almost a required trait). And both seem similarly driven to prove to the world that they are big, and bad and as brave and fearless as their fathers. In short, we have two mentally- and morally- and emotionally-stunted leaders sitting in control of the most fearsome weapons ever invented, and eager to demonstrate that they are quite willing to use them. They remind one of rival gorillas circling each other for control of a pack, stamping loudly, growling to show their teeth, pounding their chests to display their fierceness. Only that, with gorillas, it is only one or both who could be torn to pieces. With our paranoid primates in charge of our two benighted countries, it’s half the world that could be drowned in wreckage and fallout. Not to mention the millions of bodies on site that would be incinerated.
What’s worse, in Trump’s case, is that North Korea is a perfect target for this bully. A tiny underdeveloped nation, it has alienated most of the world with its policies and bluster and recklessness; with its total disregard for its people’s health and welfare, preferring to waste its treasure on nukes and missiles and a standing army of millions. Of course, the United States demonstrates a similar penchant, especially under Trump, to prefer guns over butter (witness his recent budget draft), though not to the same extreme degree. No matter. North Korea will not gain much sympathy throughout the industrial world, and that makes it a perfect target. So does the fact that in the West, concern for Asians never amounts to much in the first place. With huge populations, Asians seem quite dispensable to many Americans—witness the attitude towards killing Vietnamese in our recent war there. Eliminating a few million in North Korea might seem quite appropriate to many of our Neanderthal brethren.
Add to that the tendency for Donald Trump to divert attention away from intractable problems by initiating what seem to be unthinkable thoughts or actions—such as the recent totally unfounded tweets accusing former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during the election—and you have an almost perfect case for initiating the perfect distraction: a military action against a universally hated foe. Who would want to pursue alleged connections between Trump and the Russians or worry about his monstrous healthcare plan or obscene budget when a nuclear strike is threatening or happening in Asia? No one. The best way to rally the nation round the flag is to start a new war. George W. Bush knew that. Hitler and Goebbels knew that. And Donald Trump knows that. Stir up fear in the homeland and everyone salutes the flag and rushes to enlist. The wall to be built on the Mexican border uses the same fear in a smaller arena. But a nuclear strike against North Korea? That would have them running to erect statues of the Donald in all the parks in the land. Wouldn’t it?
In truth, it’s really quite insane. And that’s what makes it even scarier. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would see that diplomacy must be used to the very end, and beyond, before nuclear threats. Even the Chinese Foreign Minister saw that, and said so. But in America at this stage of the game, common sense is the least available commodity. And so, here we are. With two teenaged boys displaying their nuclear penises and engaging in a pissing contest whose outcome no one can predict. Because no one knows if either one of these little assholes really has a lick of courage or not.
And that, my friends, may be the most dangerous element of all.

Lawrence DiStasi

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