The Tr-mp Doctrine? Are You Kidding?

“The Trump doctrine? Don’t do what Obama did” 

—Chris Cillizza, writing for CNN

People forget that we are technically still at war with North Korea. In July of 1953, fighting on the peninsula stopped due to the signing of an armistice agreement that was supposed to “insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” There has been no “final” settlement and there have been plenty of “acts of armed force” since 1953.

In 1956, the old Soviet Union first introduced the North Koreans to nuclear technology, via training its scientists and engineers. The Soviets continued over the years to help Image result for korean peninsula at nightnurse North Korea along in this and in other ways (along with the Chinese). In the late 1950s, under President Eisenhower, the U.S. introduced real nuclear missiles into the mix, which was a abrogation of part of the armistice agreement (click on this link for an interesting look at “How the Korean War Almost Went Nuclear” in 1950, under Truman; for a look at Ike’s mixed views on the use of nukes, read Chapter 12 from Ira Chernus’s “Faith and Fear in the Fifties“).

Since Eisenhower’s actions in the ’50s (George H. W. Bush unilaterally withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea in 1991), the biggest worry in the region has been the nuclear issue and whether the North Koreans would become a big-time nuclear power. With the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1989, North Korea essentially lost one of its lifelines. It became poorer, more desperate, and more dangerous. The American Security Project put the situation in these terms:

This begins the rebalancing of power within the North-South Korean dyad later noted as one of the systemic factors driving North Korea’s nuclear program.

Since then, various attempts were made to curb the development of that nuclear program and the testing required. Threats were issued, deals were offered, joint statements were made. But all those things depended on the assumption that there are reliably rational actors on the North Korean side. There is little evidence of that, however. Early in 2013, the North conducted another nuclear test, causing the UN to issue a resolution, complete with sanctions, condemning the test. As the BBC reported back then,

South Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Kim Sook, said it was time for North Korea to “wake up from its delusion” of becoming a nuclear state.

“It can either take the right path toward a bright future and prosperity, or it can take a bad road toward further and deeper isolation and eventual self-destruction,” he said.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the sanctions would “further constrain” North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear programme.

She warned that the UN would “take further significant actions” if Pyongyang were to carry out another nuclear test.

These responses, the sanctions and the threat of more sanctions, is what people mean when they use the term “strategic patience” toward North Korea. After all, it is either patience or war, a war that would result not just in the deaths of American soldiers stationed in the region (and more soldiers that would be subsequently deployed there), but potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Korean civilians living in places like Seoul, which sits about 30 miles away from the border with the North. The Seoul Capital Area, which includes the city of Seoul, is home to around 24 million people, making it the fourth largest metro area in the world. Resuming the war with North Korea would mean certain death for an uncertain number of civilians. Thus, strategic patience.

Since Tr-mp has no experience with patience, strategic or otherwise, the first time we officially heard from this administration on the matter was from a very inexperienced diplomat who also happens to be our Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. He issued a warning in March that our “policy of strategic patience” with North Korea “has ended.” Out came another middle-school tweet from Tr-mp:

North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!

On April 9, we found out that an American Navy carrier strike group was headed for the waters near the Korean Peninsula. Tr-mp, sounding like Kim Jong-un, the dangerously wacky kleptocratic criminal running North Korea, told Fox Business Network:

We are sending an armada. Very powerful. We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.

“Armada?” Tr-mp was either displaying his extensive knowledge of 16th-century Spanish-English warfare, or he just thought the word “armada” sounded cool. Likely, it was the first time he had uttered the word in his life, unless he used it during his promotions for the History of European Conflicts and Their Affect on Real Estate Acquisitions, a little-known part of the extensive course offerings at Tr-mp University.

In any case, besides his strange use of Spanish words, there have been, of course, the stupid and dangerous Tr-mp tweets. He said on April 11:

I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!

North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.

Those two tweets sound like a teenage hacker got into Tr-mp’s Twitter account and, with Lee Greenwood’s godawful song playing in the background, decided to exercise juvenile notions of toughness, sort of like using the word armada to describe a U.S. carrier group. But, no, those were Tr-mp’s words. And they constitute threats, even if they are playground threats. The New York Times, being the New York Times, referred to this sort of dopey diction as “intemperate talk.” Well, okay. Whatever you want to call it, they are threats. The Times editorialized the obvious:

It would be risky for Mr. Trump to let overconfidence and bombast, expressed in tweets and public statements, box him into some kind of showdown with the North’s ruthless leader, Kim Jong-un, who has displayed similarly macho traits. South Korea, Japan and even Russia have urged both sides to avoid a devastating miscalculation.

Mike Pence, lapdog for the “broad-shouldered” testosteronic Tr-mp, is obviously not afraid of “devastating miscalculation.” Echoing Tillerson, he told the world, while standing on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone:

All options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country…There was a period of strategic patience but the era of strategic patience is over.

But that wasn’t the scariest thing Pence said. This was:

Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.

I don’t know about you, but a man-crushed Pence using Tr-mp’s “strength and resolve” to challenge the crazy leader of North Korea doesn’t bring me much comfort that this thing will end well (even if we remember that Tr-mp ordered that cruise missile attack on Syria while having chocolate cake at Mar-A-Lago and he had nothing to do with the MOAB use in Afghanistan). So, we have the image, broadcast widely, of a tough Pence “staring down” the North Koreans at the demilitarized zone while offering tough Tr-mp talk, but then in comes our National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, who is supposed to be the adult in this administration. It was widely reported what he said on ABC on Sunday, during an interview with Martha Raddatz: “this problem is coming to a head.” Uh-oh. That short quote makes it sound like our strategic patience really has run out. War seems inevitable if North Korea doesn’t give up on its nuclear program, an issue that’s been around since the 1950s. Tr-mp’s recent statement that “North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of,” wasn’t just bluster.

Except here is what McMaster said in context:

RADDATZ: You know, you sound very confident. President Trump of course sounds very confident. But one final question on this: every president since Bill Clinton has said the U.S. will not tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea, and North Korea has only grown stronger in their capabilities. So why do you think President Trump will have a different outcome?

MCMASTER: Well, as you mentioned, this is a problem that has been passed down from multiple administrations. But our president, I think, it’s really the consensus with the president, our key allies in the regions — Japan and South Korea in particular, but also the Chinese leadership — that this problem is coming to a head. And so it’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.

And so we’re going to rely on our allies like we always do, but we’re also going to have to rely on Chinese leadership. I mean, North Korea is very vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese. Eighty percent of North Korea’s trade comes from China. All of their energy requirements are fulfilled by China.

So in the coming weeks, months, I think there’s a great opportunity for all of us — all of us who are really under the threat now of this unpredictable regime — to take action short of armed conflict, so we can avoid the worst.

Now, if you look back at the history of our relations with North Korea on the issue of their obtaining nuclear weapons that actually work, what McMaster said sounded very much like what everyone else has said. In other words, what he said sounded very much like strategic patience. Earlier in that interview he said about “Tr-mp’s aggressive tweets”:

MCMASTER: I think it should make clear to the North Korean regime that it is in their best interest to stop the development of these weapons, to stop the development of these missiles, and to denuclearize the peninsula. And so I think while it’s unclear — and we want to — do not want to telegraph in any way how we’ll respond to certain incidents, it’s clear that the president is determined not to allow this kind of capability to threaten the United States. And our president will take action that is in the best interest of the American people. […]

I mean, what Kim Jong-Un is doing is a threat to all people in the region and globally as well. I mean, this is someone who has said not only does he want to develop a nuclear weapon, but he wants to use it to coerce others. He’s said that he was willing to proliferate nuclear weapons once he develops them. And so this a grave threat to all people.

Again, those words could have come from George H. W. Bush or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama. All of them recognized that no matter which little freak is running North Korea that a nuclear North is “a grave threat to all people.” That is why there has been a lot of tough talk over the years but a lot tougher practice of strategic patience. McMaster seems to know the value of that patience. His boss, though, doesn’t. His boss, an unhinged tweeter, thinks he can tweet his way through this tough problem, perhaps break his adversary’s will with words like “armada” or threats like “North Korea is looking for trouble.” But on the other side, there is Kim Jong-Un, himself also clearly possessing a basketful of personality disorders. He just might read Tr-mp’s tweets both literally and seriously, not merely seeing them as the rantings of a seventh-grader going through a tough, late puberty. Calling the North Korean regime “unpredictable,” McMaster said of Kim:

This is someone who has demonstrated his brutality by murdering his own brother, by murdering others in his family, by imprisoning large numbers of people in horrible conditions for no reason, for political reasons.

Tweeting stupid comments aimed at playing a game with someone like Kim Jong-un, someone who does appear to do things “for no reason,” or at least no discernible Image result for kim jong unrational reason, is a dangerous game. Conducting diplomacy around the North Korea nuclear problem is hard enough for the few professionals still around the State Department who are trying. It’s almost impossible to conduct such diplomacy when an amateurish, even childish, man in the White’s House has his finger on a keyboard that can provoke a military crisis in an instant.

Rather than act like they are fast running away from the doctrine of strategic patience, when there appears to be no better place to actually run to, perhaps the adults in this administration ought to demand of the “president” that he practice some strategic silence on Twitter.

Before someone, a lot of someones, get hurt, if the Korean peninsula catches fire.

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7 Comments

  1. I know from his book that McMaster has a good sense of political and military history, so it will be interesting to see what effect he can have on Tr;mp’s impulses. It could be that his replacement of Michael Flynn was one of those crucial turning points that lead to very different realities in a multiverse.

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    • I hope you’re right but I don’t see the kind of strategic patience I would have expected, Jim. In fact, I see the opposite, to the extent there is anything coherent going on with this administration’s foreign policy. It is really scarier than I imagined.

      The highest “civilian” command in the White’s House either didn’t know where it was or what a carrier group was doing, or it deliberately lied about where it was and what it was doing. And it scared the shit out of people in the region. McMaster, for whatever good he is accomplishing, isn’t accomplishing enough. Or maybe he is also part of the problem. Maybe, like Anson, he thinks “tough talk” is worth the risk of hundreds of thousands of dead South Koreans and who knows how many American soldiers stationed in and around Korea. Maybe he thinks “tough talk” is worth the risk of getting a reactionary zealot elected in Iran as our SOS goes out and makes a needlessly provocative statement at such a crucial time in Iranian politics. Or maybe McMaster has little control over what is going on. Who the hell knows at this point. There may be a dart board in the Situation Room for all we know and Tr-mp throws a dart at a spot marked with a certain tactic, rhetorical or otherwise, and that’s the plan for the day. Jesus.

      Duane

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ansonburlingame

     /  April 18, 2017

    Duane,

    Your brief history of our dilemma in North Korea, since 1950 is instructive, but very brief as well. Probably the closest America has ever come to actually using nukes (after 1945) was when “Gen. Mac” demanded permission to use them against the Chinese and NK armies at the Yalu River and Truman fired him as a result.

    The world knows that deterrence is the cornerstone of American policy. But for deterrence to work, the President MUST show the willingness to use force if………… As well those dots CANNOT be filled in with the details in public, despite demands for openness and transparency.

    Probably the best statement I have seen in decades related to deterrence is when Mathis just announced “The United States is aware of the failed test of an ICBM by Nk. The President has no further comment.” That beats the hell out of Bernie saying “The civilized world now DEMANDS…….”

    Of course the President, and America had “another comment”. It was the action taken to put a carrier battle group right THERE. That is action to partially fill those dots with more dots to come, if………. As well another “comment” recently “heard” was the installation of a modern (and robust I hope) anti-missile battery in SK. Another “comment” was getting China itself to start to threaten NK. “Stop doing ……..” was China’s statement to NK, a real first for China to take that public action.

    Things are happening around the world right now with America once again starting to back up diplomatic words with a show of strength and resolve. That drives liberals nuts for sure and it drives our opponents in the world nuts as well.

    To put a sound bite to what I am suggesting is “strategic patience” must now be replaced with “strategic resolve”. Military power is in fact a part of our geopolitical arsenal and not just a element of such power that sits on a shelf as an idle threat.

    NO, I don’t call for “nuking NK” or even shooting a tomahawk or two at them. But it is time for us to say our “patience is wearing very thin and we will use all means at our disposal to prevent NK from ………” With China saying the same thing, well those are all deterrrent-like words I like to hear in Asia. Next step if NK fails to listen is …………

    Anson

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  3. ansonburlingame

     /  April 18, 2017

    To all,

    To hold a meaningful discussion one must understand tactical options as well. If NK shoots ……. at South Korea (or “us”) can we counter such an option. The sound bite question is do we have any defenses against a NK missile attack aimed at ………..

    Part of deterrence is deploying such tactical assets. I can only write of what I know we have based on public knowledge. One the Patriot system that worked quite well when Iraq shot SCUDS at Israel. So we still AT LEAST have that system.

    Recall the Israeli “Iron Dome” used to counter Hamas missiles several years ago. Think we have something like that?

    Then there is new system whose name I don’t remember recently deployed to SK. Such deployment was arranged on Obama’s watch but Trump delivered them, or at least his administration. Good thing to do?????

    Aegis cruisers and destroyers are floating radar stations of the highest order to protect battle groups and they work, quite well. Such ships are fully capable of shooting down ICBM if they go into terminal flight near such a ship. If such ships are just off the NK coast my guess is they can shoot down an ICBM during initial powered flight as well. Should we put such ships in international waters just off NK, just in case?

    If an ICBM is headed to Japan should we now begin to destroy them while they are in flight? Can China do the same? “What if China and America agreed to do so “together” just to back up the “don’t do it again” direction now provided to NK???

    Bush I withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from SK. Think Trump, et al might decide to “put’em back”? Is that a good idea?

    I am not suggesting the administration (military) tell the public all the arrows in our quiver. But they are there for a good reason. When I ask should they be used, for defensive reasons, not a direct attack on the NK landmass.

    Next up, what SHOULD we do when NK again conducts an illegal test of a nuclear weapon? Should a MOAB be used before, during, after such a test or NEVER? What if China used one against NK instead? Is that too farfetched an idea in today’s world? What should we do if that happens?

    Just offering some options to think about while you continue to tell me how crazy Trump might be.

    Anson

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    • Anson,

      What you are advocating here, and what Tr-mp is doing, is very dangerous. It is highly risky and it can only lead to war, if someone doesn’t pull back from the brink.

      I guess you don’t give a shit that Tr-mp and his administration, including those on his team you admire so much, either lied about that “armada” steaming toward the peninsula, or they had no idea what they were talkinga about. In either case, it pissed off a lot of South Koreans and rightly scared them to death. I imagine the Japanese were a bit shaken, too. The bottom line is this, Anson: you treat Tr-mp like he’s normal, like he is some kind of three-dimensional chess player out there in the world making these well thought out strategic moves. Or at least you think his NSA team is. Well, they’re not. As Tillerson proved yesterday, as he contradicted himself on the Iran deal and offered up rhetoric that seemed to be designed to help get a right-wing reactionary elected in that country (which would increase the risk of war with Iran, something this administration seems to be hell-bent on doing, just like the Bushies wanted a war with Iraq), there is no strategic coherence to any of the things we are seeing. It’s all on-the-fly bullshit. And it is goddamned dangerous.

      I’m going to quote something you said, something I find signifcant, in terms of how dangerous a game you want the United States to play:

      Military power is in fact a part of our geopolitical arsenal and not just a element of such power that sits on a shelf as an idle threat.

      Replace that term “Military power is” with “Nuclear weapons are” and let’s see what we get:

      Nuclear weapons are in fact a part of our geopolitical arsenal and not just a element of such power that sits on a shelf as an idle threat.

      That sounds like what Tr-mp said during the campaign: What do we have all these nukes for if we’re not going to use them?

      What you have said here is very disturbing to me. You are willing to put hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Koreans at risk, not to mention the thousands of our own troops stationed in the region. You are willing to risk starting another war in the Middle East, this one with Iran, at a time when your side keeps saying our military is depleted and Tr-mp calls it a “disaster.” And you are willing to do all this just because our “patience is wearing thin.”

      Jesus Christ, Anson.

      Duane

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  April 20, 2017

    Duane,

    Last exchange from me in this thread. Basically my point is simple. Our only real defense, at least for some almost 70 against the actual use of nuclear weapons is deterrence against anyone choosing to use them. All the sweet talk in the world doesn’t work with the likes of ……….. For deterrence to continue to work strategic resolve, the unquestioned idea that America will ……, if we use a nuclear weapon. Treaties be damned to the likes of …….., including the former Soviet Union who would have gladly marched across western Europe unless………..

    IF your term “strategic patience” worked I would support it. But over the long haul it has failed to work with NK, Iran, etc. So if patience, international “demands” etc. don’t work, well what next. If the answer is more strategic patience then the only question remain is what to do after NK, Iran, etc. mate warheads and delivery systems and we now face another nuclear power in the hands of ………..

    Strategic resolve means “we mean it when we say don’t …..” and her are a few things not done before that might make you think twice this time around. It does not mean immediately pushing launch buttons, etc.

    But again, won’t explain further and of course we will disagree in such matters sometimes.

    Moving on to other topics in the future, now.

    Anson

    PS: The missing carrier battle group simply made me laugh out loud to coin a phrase. What a culster fuck that was. “Send in an Armada” and people think Spain might invade NK. Oppps, send in a carrier instead. Ok, but then some dummy in Washington forgot to tell the carrier what to do. Inept, laughable, stupid, you name it. But in the end the point is being made. Her now COMES our carrier (not here IS our carrier because we haven’t found it yet). I also note no nuclear test has been done in the last few days or weeks now.

    Progress not perfection, but at least no test for a while longer!! Thanks China, by the way for the help.

    Anson

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    • Anson,

      Okay. Our last exchange.

      Of course the other side, whoever that happens to be, has to know that annihilation will follow any use of nuclear weapons against the United States. But deterrence only works with rational actors. It worked with the Soviet Union because as bad as their leadership was, it understood the stakes involved and backed away from nuclear holocaust. It works with Putin for the same reason. But it might not work with North Korea, whose leader has given us no reason to believe he is sane. And it might not work with a radicalized Iran, if the hardliners get back complete control of that country.

      Your guy, Tillerson, likely precipitated the use of chemical weapons by Assad via his careless remarks about Syria weeks ago. It was an amateurish mistake perhaps. Or maybe it was on purpose. Who knows. What we do know is that you don’t play around with this stuff. You don’t assume the guy on the other side of your tough-guy rhetoric is going to respond the way you think he will or want him to. It is a dangerous game to play cowboy with someone like Kim Jong-un or the jihadists who may one day get control of a nuclearized Iran, especially because our tough-guy rhetoric against Iran at a crucial moment may change the outcome of their upcoming election.

      Strategic patience has worked in both North Korea and Iran. It is not a doctrine that will last forever, obviously. But it has proven, through successive administrations, to keep us out of a nasty war or two. That’s worth something. The time will come, if North Korea continues on its current track, to do something more robust. We aren’t there yet. And as for Iran, they are, thanks to Obama’s dealings with them, unable to produce a nuclear weapon anytime in the near future. That has lowered the risk of all-out war in that region. But your guys, with their big-hat talk, are fast on their way to ruining all that and, I am afraid, of generating a war with Iran.

      Duane

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