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Thursday, September 21, 2017


Donald Trump stood before the General Assembly of the United Nations and threatened to kill 25 million North Koreans.  He is a war criminal.  I do not have anything witty or insightful or scholarly to say about him or about the scores of millions of people who elected him.  We must do whatever we can to limit the damage he is able to inflict on this country and on the world.

Obviously no one of us can do much, but we have to do something.  Does anyone think it would be helpful for me to resurrect the Friday Lists?


s. wallerstein said...

I will not defend Trump, but is he a war criminal?

Is it a war crime to threaten to exterminate a country?

Talk is cheap, especially the talk of bully and braggart like Trump.

Now if Trump is a war criminal, he is a war criminal in the sense that Obama is one, for the drone policy.

Jerry Fresia said...

Well, it is a violation of the UN Charter, Article 2:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

Unknown said...

Trump’s rhetoric is deplorably overblown, but bad as he is, and as ill-advised as that speech was, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that North Korea’s actions constitute a threat to the peace.

Lobbing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads (or for that matter, conventional warheads) over Japan is certainly a threatening and provocative act. The right of self-defense kicks in at some imprecise point. A big worry for me is what’s going on privately in ROK and Japanese defense ministries. So far as we know, until recently at least, they relied on the US defense guarantee and agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons--something both are well able to do technically.

If they think they can no longer rely on the US guarantee--would we really risk a nuclear attack on our own country in order to retaliate for an attack on Korea or Japan?--they certainly will be tempted to acquire their own nuclear capability.

At best, this would add to the number of nuclear nations, and set-back any international effort to reduce the number of those nukes. It could also lead to the crumbling of the Non-Proliferation Agreement if it became known that one or both of them had acquired nukes, and then all bets are off.

Unknown said...

Just saw this:

“Dozens of legislators and their staffers met behind closed doors Tuesday to hear a briefing by state Emergency Management Agency officials on preparedness for a North Korea nuclear strike on Hawaii.”

“Some lawmakers who attended stressed that the secret meeting was not called because of any immediate threat to the islands. Instead, it was a discussion of how to help the public prepare.”

RedRosa said...


I also saw (yesterday?) Colin Powell's advice that the most impactful thing we could do to get under North Korea's skin would be to ignore them. This makes a great deal of sense, especially considering that to most valuable asset to an authoritarian regime is an outside enemy and we are playing right into their game.

More importantly, our past actions and current rhetoric makes the argument that the most rational action North Korea can take in terms of short to mid-range regime survival is to possess a credible nuclear threat.

As for the security of Japan, if we were really concerned about that we would stop stirring up trouble in their neighborhood.

Unknown said...


I agree that the best tactic probably would have been to ignore them, although there is the possibility that they just would have kept going until they got our (and the world's) attention. But as to where fault lies on this situation, I believe it belongs totally to the North. They could have just quietly developed a weapon, a la Israel, and said nothing. What both the North and Trump are doing is violating cardinal rule of diplomacy--not to personalize the dispute, not to make into a question of who is more macho. A Colin Powell, hell, even a George W. Bush, would have said things like "serious consequences." This diplomatic talk for the same result, but it leaves room for people to cede ground in the argument. It denies the other side a graceful way to back down--and that is a dangerous thing to do.

RedRosa said...


We will have to agree to disagree on ultimate fault, but I think we certainly agree that having two childish braggarts with nukes is not an optimal situation...

LFC said...

They could have just quietly developed a weapon, a la Israel, and said nothing.

That would have served one of the NK regime's purposes -- i.e., bolstering deterrence and making some kind of preemptive strike by the U.S. less likely -- provided it wasn't shrouded in *so* much secrecy that US intel agencies couldn't become aware of it.

But it seems reasonably clear, at least to a non-expert outsider, that the regime is also using its nuclear arsenal to bolster its domestic legitimacy, and for those purposes it has to be public, i.e., the population has to know about it. Even an iron-fisted dictatorship has to worry to some degree about its domestic support. This may also account for what have apparently been some steps by Kim Jong Un toward loosening the grip on the economy and allowing more entrepreneurship etc. Not that I expect it to go far in that direction, but in a country w a largely poor, rural population and one being hit by an array of economic sanctions, however inconsistently enforced, even some marginal changes in this respect may increase the regime's domestic legitimacy.

Trump is probably the worst president one can imagine when it comes to dealing well with this situation. I still think the bullet will be dodged, so to speak, but it will be for 'structural' reasons, not because of Trump's handling of the situation, that's for sure.

LFC said...


A regime like NK's gains by presenting itself as surrounded by hostile powers and set upon from all sides -- in other words, it gains from rhetorically exaggerating its already real isolation. By presenting itself as an embattled small country determined to preserve its system against a host of external enemies (incl. the world's most powerful country), and by developing a long-range missile capability and firing missiles over Japan etc. and using inflammatory language (which has been true for years), the regime diverts the world's attention from the subject on which at least some attention might otherwise focus: namely, its political and economic oppression of its own population.

It's understandable that the GW Bush 'doctrine' of preventive war and regime change made NK even more quasi-paranoid than it already was and increased its determination to develop its nuclear capabilities so that the US cd not do to NK what it did to Saddam Hussein in 2003 et seq. Any notion that the GW Bush admin might have had that NK would be cowed or made more pliable by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein ('demonstrative compellence', one writer dubbed this notion) backfired rather spectacularly. What's done is done, however, and that whole recent history cannot be rewritten.

What the US now shd be privately saying to NK is: (1) we have no interest in overthrowing the regime by force and even if we did it is not a practical possibility given NK's military profile, so (2) if you (NK) stop provocatively firing missiles over Japan and freeze your development of long-range missiles, we will ease or end the sanctions and sit down w you and S Korea (and probably China) and find a way to finally bring a formal end to the Korean War (still technically in an armistice stage) and reduce tensions on the peninsula and increase exchanges of various kinds between N and S Korea. That arguably wd be in everyone's interest, incl. probably, in the long run, in the interest of the oppressed population of NK. This is the kind of 'win/win' negotiation that should be possible and that Trump has bragged that he is good at. But, as the saying goes, don't hold your breath.

Unknown said...

Regarding the "Bush Doctrine" this letter to the editor in the current NY Review of Books from Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago is pertinent:

"Jessica T. Mathews’s fine essay on North Korea and Iran, “Nuclear Diplomacy: From Iran to North Korea?” [NYR, August 17], contains several excellent points, particularly the special salience of two common words for the leadership of both countries: respect and dignity. The details on the “around-the-clock supervision” of Iran’s nuclear facilities by IAEA inspectors are notably useful at a time when President Trump is casting about for reasons to torpedo the Iran nuclear agreement. “A ‘failure’ like this,” she then writes, “would be an unimaginable success in North Korea.”

"Yet in 1994 that same IAEA inspection regime began for North Korea, placing all of its plutonium and related facilities under strict controls. Six years into the process, the Clinton administration also worked out a deal to mothball the North’s medium- and long-range missiles.

"The incoming Bush administration abandoned the missile deal, gratuitously put the North into its “axis of evil,” and in September 2002 announced its preemptive attack strategy, otherwise known as “the Bush Doctrine.” It was made immediately clear that the target list included not only Iraq but also North Korea, and administration officials went on to force the breakdown of the 1994 freeze. The subsequent invasion of Iraq is now recognized as a catastrophe, but experts are curiously quiet about a second catastrophe, looming almost as large: Bush’s insensate blunders that have yielded a North Korea armed with ICBMs and multiple numbers of nuclear weapons."

s. wallerstein said...

It's hard to believe that the Chinese want a nuclear weapon on their borders.

Isn't there a possibility of a regional peace agreement, with the participation of the Chinese, the Japanese, the South and North Koreans which would guarantee non-aggression between all parties and that the U.S. does not seek regime change in North Korea?

In order to work, the pact would have to tacitly or explicitly (somehow) imply that the U.S. accepts China as the hegemonic power in the region, which seems like good sense to me.

As long as the U.S. strives to control the world and to mold it to its will, they are going to have problems.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

The worst case scenario is that Kim Jong-Un really is hellbent on taking South Korea at all costs, in which case an attempt at containment will be as useless as it was with Hitler. Military conflict will be unavoidable. That seems unlikely to be the case, but you never know.

The second-worst case scenario is that NK has no such ambitions, but that the mutual bluster between T***p and Kim continues, thus increasing the the likelihood of conflict. It largely passed unnoticed, but about a week ago Mathis floated the idea that the US could hit NK without precipitating mass retaliation. That's not comforting.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

"Mathis" should be "Mattis" of course.

LFC said...

@ D. Palmeter

I wrote a long comment in response to yours, but it got eaten (which I think was my fault, but the explanation would take too long).

Shorter version: thanks for the Cumings letter, with the gist of which I agree.

For some further thoughts on related matters, see this Jan. 2009 blog post of mine:

There are probably various 'lessons' here, but one takeaway, it seems to me, is that if you make an implied threat-by-signal (as GW Bush did vis-a-vis North Korea by toppling Saddam) and if you have no intention of carrying out the threat (and I don't think Bush/Cheney ever had any intention of attacking N. Korea, for very good reasons), then you probably shouldn't make the implied threat in the first place. The failure of the Bush/Cheney foreign policy was nowhere clearer than in their approach to the three 'axis-of-evil' countries, and as Cumings points out, the consequences of that failure are still being felt.

Jerry Fresia said...

Adding to the comments of D. Palmeter and LFC:

- Americans are rarely given attention to how the North Korean leadership might understand its situation. The US has already destroyed the north and much of the south (1/3 of the population of the Korean peninsula was killed during the lifetime of many who are now still alive on the peninsula) and has also shown its utter disregard for the welfare of South Koreans by installing, post-WWII, absolutely brutal dictatorships in the south for decades. When I arrived at "freedom's frontier" as an intel officer in 1971, the US dictator Pak Chung Hee was repressing the south feverishly all the while I briefed pilots on the many targeted cities that "our" F-4Ds, armed with nuclear weapons (parked and ready to go just yards from where I worked) stood ready to obliterate. Do you think any of this might have informed the current NK leadership's sense of their own security?

Since the Korean war, the US has invaded, aggressed, armed and supported death squads in dozens of countries and in the process "we" have killed roughly 10 million people (a conservative estimate: And North Korea? They have invaded no one.

Jimmy Carter just days ago wrote: "During all these visits, the North Koreans emphasized that they wanted peaceful relations with the United States and their neighbors, but were convinced that we planned a preemptive military strike against their country. They wanted a peace treaty (especially with America) to replace the ceasefire agreement that had existed since the end of the Korean War in 1953, and to end the economic sanctions that had been very damaging to them during that long interim period." Only the imperial mind doesn't grasp the David and Goliath nature of the relationship of North Korea to the US and/or the rationality of North Korean threats and their lobbing of missiles into nearby oceans .

And as LFC rightly points out, with regard to the domestic population, "our" policies, in addition, give the regime cover. Sad.

Jonathan Strassfeld said...

Responding to s. wallerstein at the top:
There is also Section 2 of Article 51 of the 1977 Protocols to the Geneva Convention:

"The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited."