Trump’s junior high school taunts give Kim a reason to stand firm. Never make it harder for you or your adversary to climb down from a tall tree.
We give President Trump high marks for putting the North Korea nuclear challenge at the top of the international agenda, and injecting urgency into coping with a serious threat that has defied the efforts of three previous administrations. Let’s call it “strategic impatience,” the opposite of the Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience. But on almost every other aspect of Crisis Management 101, Trump is failing the course — and the consequences could be deadly.
Denuclearization is an unrealistic goal
Trump said this week that his goal is “complete denuclearization” of North Korea. Maybe this is the well-known Trump tactic of staking out an extreme position that he will eventually abandon. But if it is his real objective, we might as well plan on a military option.
For decades the Kim family has defined getting nuclear weapons as crucial to its survival — to deter U.S. efforts at regime change and to preserve its independence toward China. Pyongyang also probably harbors the goal of using nuclear weapons to coerce South Korea to end its alliance with the United States and expel U.S. forces from South Korea — and possibly even to force South Korea to achieve unification of the peninsula on North Korean terms.
Every time the administration talks about denuclearization, Kim Jong Un hugs those weapons more tightly. In reality, the best Trump can do is to test whether Kim would be willing to freeze his nuclear and missile testing and production in exchange for sanctions relief and security guarantees. And this will only come about if the U.S. starts talking to North Korea and not just about it.
Trump is floating non-existent military options
In a crisis you can get away with a fair amount of brinkmanship, but only if you intend to carry through on the threats you make. Almost every Trump administration official from the president on down has publicly opined that the U.S. has military options. Trump raised the…