Trump’s Achilles Heel

Pride and Vainglory

We find ourselves uneasy with the sight and sound of the President of the United States matching Kim Jong-un bluster for bluster.  It is not just that it is unseemly.  It is rather that such behaviour undermines the threat Trump is delivering.  It can be seen  far too easily as braggadocio and empty boasting, designed to augment Trump as a showman, a role-playing announcer at a pro-wrestling match, or the mouthing of a cheap Grade D actor.

Ironically, that’s precisely the way Kim Jong-un comes across.  By trading blusters, Trump has descended into the ring of puerility.  But it is not just the optics.  Rather, when braggadocio enters the ring, cool-headed calmness coupled with relentless execution evaporates.  The showdown can deteriorate into pride and vainglory so very easily.  When the schoolyard bully (Trump) is called out by a vainglorious idiot (Kim Jong-un) what then?
 The vanity and ego of the bully requires “shock-and-awe” military force.  Such things have repeatedly led to war in the ignoble history of mankind.

If one were to inquire what the best longer term outcome would be within North Korea it would probably include regime change of one kind or another.  But if one wants North Korean authorities and people  to rise up against dictatorship in general and Kim Jong-un in particular it’s best to follow a course which highlights the war-mongering guilt of the Korean leader.  To achieve that, it would be far, far better to talk softly whilst carrying a big stick.

The present scenario Kim is threatening involves firing four missiles at the vicinity around Guam–a US Pacific territory.  This is theatre.  No loss of life is likely; no property will suffer attack or destruction.  But the act is unlawful.  The proportionate response is to shoot the missiles out of the sky, which, we understand, is well within the technological capabilities of the US.  Then say nothing.  No grand threats need be spoken; the response itself speaks volumes.

If it becomes apparent that the trajectory of the missiles showed a clear intent and plan to hit Guam itself, the proportionate response would be to bomb something of significance to the boy-king in North Korea–such as one of Kim Jong-un’s luxury hideaways–coupled with a clear statement that North Korean belligerence will always be met with the appropriate, measured response.

The Secretary of Defense, James Mattis has put the matter succinctly and clearly:

U.S. military strategists at the Pentagon have a military solution in place to address the growing threat emanating from North Korea, but they are holding their fire in favor of ongoing diplomatic efforts by Washington and its allies, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday.

The Pentagon chief remained largely mum on the details of that military solution, which theoretically would curb Pyongyang’s efforts to develop a nuclear-capable, ballistic missile arsenal, except to say any military option would be a multilateral one involving a number of regional powers in the Pacific.  “Do I have military options? Of course, I do. That’s my responsibility, to have those. And we work very closely with allies to ensure that this is not unilateral either … and of course there’s a military solution,” Mr. Mattis told reporters en route to meet with senior leaders in the technology sector in Seattle and California. 

No bluster.  Measured.  Very unlike Kim Jong-un.  Or Trump, for that matter.
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