Much has been made of the silly, weird, contrived hairstyles of America’s president and North Korea’s Dear Leader.
The incredible gold helmet that finds no parallel in nature. The side-shaved mop top that astonishes with ugliness.
Unfortunately, the comparisons do not stop there.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were both spoiled rich bullies growing up with unusual appetites for food, expensive toys and women. They both had father complexes. They both crave daily doses of flattery and adulation. And they each think ominous, untempered threats are the way to more power.
So how serious is this new crisis?
North Korea is fast developing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles and likes to rattle sabers even though it’s probably not quite ready to deliver a warhead to U.S. shores. Trump, barely seven months into his presidency and with no major wins since taking office, sees his job approval rating is plummeting. He relishes making bellicose threats. Is war possible? Nuclear war?
Our instincts are to say that’s ridiculous. But history is littered with evidence of stupid, pointless wars started because of miscalculation, hunger for power, fear, and rhetoric that quickly escalated beyond control, ending in death and destruction.
Experts warn that Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before” is counter-productive. They also warn that, yes, we could blunder into a devastating war, killing millions and destroying the idea of America as a peacekeeper and beacon of hope and democracy.
What good are nuclear weapons if they are never used, Trump famously asked with a shrug during his presidential campaign. Did he mean it? Who knows? Years ago on NBC, he said that he would launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea.
When he took office, he said North Korea would not get a nuclear warhead that could threaten the United States “It won’t happen,” he tweeted with certainty. It’s happening. He’s piqued. He once promised he’d be “honored” to negotiate with Kim Jong Un. But Trump’s self-proclaimed amazing skills in the art of the deal won’t do much good in working with a guy who has regularly cheated on the international stage.
The people Trump calls “my generals” - his chief of staff, the secretary of defense and his national security adviser- did not sign off on Trump’s fiery rhetoric and red line. (Didn’t we have enough ridiculous red-line drawing under former President Obama?) Trump’s generals know there is no good military option in dealing with North Korea. No president, including Richard Nixon, responded to North Korea’s provocations with military strikes.
Kim is a tyrant who thinks he is a supreme being, a man with no concern for the lives of others. He runs a dictatorship and promises to “pre-emptively annihilate” anyone who threatens the regime’s “supreme dignity.” He sees North Korea’s nuclear weapons as the only way to ensure the survival of his family’s dynasty. He has hidden bunkers, 1,000 missiles, 1.2 million soldiers, 10,000 artillery tubes, and biological and chemical weapons 35 miles and three minutes away from Seoul.
The United Nations Security Council’s new sanctions on North Korea, supposed to eliminate $1 billion to $3 billion in annual trade with other nations, must be enforced, with China being the key. The good news is that China and Russia both voted for tougher sanctions.
Trump should make clear in a prime time TV speech - using teleprompters - that the United States will not start a pre-emptive war. He should assure Japan and South Korea he will consult with them before he does anything and reassure them and the world the United States will always be a protector. It is also to be hoped that Kim knows war would spell the end for his debauched life.
We have lived with a nuclear Russia, far more dangerous to us than North Korea. We have lived with a nuclear China. It requires restraint and compromise. But in more than half a century, there has been no nuclear war. It would be catastrophic to yield to provocation and go to war with a criminal regime that will not last forever.
This is another reminder that elections have consequences and that sometimes what you see is what you get - on the head and inside it.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.