The mainstream American media and the president finally have one thing in common: they are both perpetuating a false image of North Korea and Kim Jong-Un. And if we have any interest in pacifying the North Korean threat, we need to stop upholding this image of Kim Jong-Un as an unhinged madman who by chance inherited a massive arsenal, and plans on using it to satisfy his fanatical hatred of all things democracy. We need to see him for exactly what he is: a master provocateur who is using his ferocious reputation to extort foreign aid and political immunity, while consolidating his own power.
We must be blunt: we are coming close to a point where we will no longer be able to ignore the North Korean threat. There has been decade upon decade of appeasement, of ransom, of tension and of toleration of a brutal regime. I am not of the opinion that war with North Korea is necessary, but I do believe we are running out of time to explore options. And to come to the best possible resolution, we first need to think logically about what is before us. If we are to do that we must begin by dispelling the popular image of Kim Jong-Un as a crazy warlord whose mouth is constantly foaming at the thought of the destruction of democracy. Again, we must be blunt. More importantly, the president must be direct about our situation.
President Trump’s attempts to gather international support against North Korea have been utterly humiliating and ineffective. President Trump’s threats of “fire and fury” have alienated the international community, and his brandishing of Kim Jong-Un via Twitter as a “madman” has made a laughing stock of a very serious situation. He is failing as a leader and he is failing our allies in South Korea and Japan, whose stake in this matter is far higher than our own.
We are doomed to go farther down the rabbit hole, unless we begin thinking and speaking about North Korea as it really is: an extortion plot. It has been noted by many publications, ranging from the Cato Institute to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) that despite North Korea’s weapons proliferation, it continues to receive foreign aid, against concerns that the regime may be using the aid to develop its missile program. Between 1995 and 2008, the U.S. gave North Korea over $1.3 billion in aid, according to the FAS. Despite the United Nations voting this weekend to put sanctions on North Korea (with China’s vote as well), South Korea has decided that it will be sending humanitarian aid anyway. That is because it is more than aid; it is ransom. The U.S. has a luxury of being able to take a hardline on South Korea this way; the U.S. is not within North Korea’s reach. Former President Barack Obama received nearly unanimous support for his sanctions against the regime. But South Korea is their neighbor, and the threat for them is very real. South Korea is being held hostage. It is widely acknowledged that a military confrontation would not turn out well for North Korea, but with a clause of upwards of millions of people in South Korea would also be collateral damage. And with North Korea’s recent missile tests near Japan, the Japanese people may be the next hostages.
If a peaceful solution is to be sought, it will require nuanced diplomacy and international support. But we cannot get the international community to throw in on our bargain as long as the president fails to take a reasonable, serious, and realistic approach. Trump’s clownish ravings may have won him votes on the campaign trail, but now he has the office and it is time to serve.
Tensions with North Korea will eventually reach a boiling point, and we need to find a reasonable solution soon. First, the president needs to sacrifice his own image of political-narcissism. Stone-throwing and bullying will not win us the international support that we need, and it will not help us, our allies, nor the subjugated people of North Korea itself. It is time for a closer re-evaluation of North Korea, and that begins by acknowledging Kim Jong-Un not as crazy, but as a crook.