“Fire and fury such as the world has never seen”. Wow, where to start? While there is a significant amount of “this is reckless rhetoric” coming from mainstream media, there is also a fair amount of “Perhaps this is a tactic to influence the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and China, and Japan.” In this second idea is an attempt to lend legitimacy to President Trump’s wild, hyperbolic threats of nuclear war. I find those attempts deplorable. They should stop immediately. The press, by trying to lend legitimacy to this rhetoric, is furthering the problem. In my article Unpredictability Is a Bad Thing in a President, I make clear how action in North Korea is going to end badly.
But I’ve already written about how wildly bad it is for the President to make these statements. And, as thoroughly reckless and dangerous as this escalation of rhetoric is, I have (without very good reason) faith that this will not escalate to actual war. I think quieter efforts by China and Japan will pressure the United States to arrive at a different solution to this crisis. They don’t want that conflict either, and in that region, there are no greater powers.
I’d now like to say something about the domestic consequences. Clearly, Trump had two motivations: one is his shallow, impulsive, and petty desire to strike back at everyone who tries to lessen or weaken his image. The other is that he is trying to pander to his nationalist base. These “Murikans” are upset that a country like North Korea could besmirch American honor with their threats. That insult must be avenged, even if it costs the lives of 20 million South Koreans, and tens of thousands of loyal, honorable servicemen and servicewomen. Trump’s rhetoric will certainly play well to those people.
What is worth reflecting upon is how the rest of the country will react publicly to this outrage. The president has “drawn a red line” for the DPRK. As I heard on last night’s news, “The DPRK is running through US red lines so fast, they must be made of tissue paper”. So when it becomes clear that the US hasn’t unleashed “Fire and fury such as the world has never seen” on North Korea, what will happen?
In President Obama’s tenure, he drew a red line to the Syrian government about the use of chemical weapons. Famously, nothing happened, and all of punditry since has referred to this as a failure of Obama’s presidency. Gone is the fact that he went to Congress to authorize a strong military response. Gone is the fact that Congress refused that authorization. Congress has historically treated such actions by running as fast as they can away from the topic. They did no different in this case. But now that has been lost to the dustbin of unused facts, and it is Obama’s fault that nothing happened. From the Right: “Bad, bad, bad Obama. Awful, awful, awful Obama; progenitor of all of America’s problems”. From the Left: “It remains one of Obama’s greatest mistakes. The middle east continues to suffer”.
So my question is: what will punditry do when this Trumpian red line whooshes by like so much ill wind? Will they talk about the manifest failure of Trumpian policy? Will they talk about how weak this revealed him to be? Will they, in their willingness to absolve Trump of any blame, go back and take back all of the flaming rhetoric that was applied to Obama? We know the answer….not bloody likely.
Making sure I am clear: I understand that sometimes you publicly take a hard line to influence the behavior of your opponent. I don’t categorically oppose that strategy, but it is a very dangerous strategy in all cases. It puts your credibility on the line. I always like to use common examples to illustrate my points, as what I say should pass the “common sense test”. As a parent, I never made too much fuss about those behaviors of my kids that I simply could not control. Telling them to “stay away from that person at school or I’ll ground you” is such an example. I wouldn’t know if that happened. Threatening punishments over actions which could all too easily be hidden from my knowledge only lessen your credibility. It conveys that you disapprove, yes. But it lessens the idea that you will do as you say. It encourages a view that you are a paper tiger who blusters and is to be disregarded.
Trump should suffer permanent loss of credibility for these actions. The only thing that is worse than the loss of US credibility for failure to act is the catastrophe that would result from acting. Even those in the alt-right who don’t care about lives in the Korean peninsula should know that South Korea has an economy that represents 11% of the world economy. If that were to be destroyed in war, what would that mean to America? Not only that, but wars cost money, typically measured in trillions of dollars. That would be a direct addition to the national debt, which republicans never act to lower, but continually decry as the most likely issue to destroy America.
Main stream media, and cable pundits of all stripes: Make your top priority the exposing of this rhetoric’s horrible nature and consequences.