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Editorial: Miscalculating Trump and North Korea's fear of nuclear war

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Posted on October 12, 2017 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



When Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who once supported Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, now says that Trump is “out of control,” and that the White House has become “an adult day care” with a few key people watching over the president’s every action to try to contain the damage, what are Americans supposed to think?

Is this more of the harsh blowback against an increasingly unpopular president who is upending politics as usual — even among those who should be his political allies?

Sen. Corker makes a good case that Trump’s actions, his continuing refusal to become informed and knowledgeable about the issues, his impulsiveness on Twitter, and his irrational thought process — along with his incessant need to threaten other world leaders — not only makes him unfit for office but poses a recklessness that could thrust the nation and world into World War III.

Not to be alarmist, but that’s more than a passing comment.

Sen. Corker, after all, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He understands the risks involved in Trump’s bellicose and offensive behavior. What Corker is trying to do is capture the nation’s attention and get Americans to understand the dangers at our doorstep — and that danger is Trump.

The solution, Corker suggests, is that Congress must take charge and limit the president’s ability to create harm.

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When it comes to the prospect of WWIII, what makes the situation particularly alarming is the Korean mindset.

New York Timesreporter Nicholas Kristof filed a report this week after being granted a visit to North Korea and the opportunity to speak with top officials about the death of American student Otto Warmbier and the escalating rhetorical war between Trump and North Korea’s 33-year-old “supreme leader” Kim Jung-un.

Readers may know that North Korea is one of the most tightly controlled dictatorships in the world and that it has a very effective propaganda machine to keep its country indoctrinated to the leaders’ mission.

Senior ministry official Choe Kang-il, for instance, insisted to Kristof, that Warmbier was released in a healthy state and that the Trump administration, “or some people with a certain intention, let him die…. To foster and spread anti-Communist hatred within America.”

Choe derided Trump as “a crazy man,” “a thug” and “a pathetic man with a big mouth.” It was an interview sure to spark a retort from Trump, who is so thin-skinned he most likely won’t be able to contain himself, therefore intensifying the rhetorical battle of insults that’s been going on since Trump took office.

Kristof noted that he has been “covering North Korea on and off since the 1980s, and this five-day trip has left me more alarmed than ever about the risks of a catastrophic confrontation.

“Far more than when I previously visited, North Korea is galvanizing its people to expect a nuclear war with the United States,” he continued. “High school students march in the streets in military uniform every day to denounce America. Posters and billboards along the public roads show missiles destroying the U.S. Capitol and shredding the American flag… This military mobilization is accompanied by the ubiquitous assumption that North Korea could not only survive a nuclear conflict, but also win it.

 “If we have to go to war, we won’t hesitate to totally destroy the United States,” explained Mun Hyok-myong, a 38-year-old teacher, to Kristof. Ryang Song-chol, a 41-year-old factory worker, “looked surprised when I asked if his country could survive a war with America,” reported Kristof. “We would certainly win,” the factory-worker said.

The quotes from such people, Kristof noted, were highly controlled, so their comments should be seen as “reflecting a government script — in this case, a disturbingly jingoistic one.”

But the message is stark: North Koreans, rather than worry about being wiped off the face of the Earth, think they could win and would be doing the world a favor to put America in its place with a lethal strike that would cripple, if not destroy, our world leadership.

And that’s the scary part. Americans have long believed that North Koreans would be crazy to launch an attack on America for fear of being annihilated; Trump believes this too. But that could be his biggest miscalculation, and as military experts concede, an accidental conflict (say two fighter jets of opposing sides firing warning shots at each other) could lead to a trigger-happy Trump or Kim making the first move with millions of lives lost in a nuclear flashpoint and the devastating aftermath.

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To that end, some national leaders are now seriously considering how to limit the president’s authority. Corker could actually hold hearings concerning the threats Trump poses to national security, and Congress could bar the president from launching a first strike without a formal congressional declaration of war.

Others are calling on senators from both sides of the political aisle to assert their congressional power in other ways, such as telling Trump they’ll not advance his political agenda on tax cuts until he stops threatening nuclear war with North Korea and pulling out of the Iranian nuclear arms agreement. But based on Republicans’ failure to stand up to the president so far, that seems far-fetched.

Still, the burden falls most heavily on those Republicans who assured the nation that Trump would become “more presidential” once he was in the Oval Office and not on the campaign trail. That hasn’t happened, and this country and the world (from reversals on climate change to trade wars to immigration to threats of nuclear war) are the worse for it if Congress doesn’t step up to rein-in the reality-show egomaniac currently occupying the White House.

Angelo Lynn

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