Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Playing the Propaganda Game


Singing the song of One Korea

It didn't take long for the American media to push back on Sister Kim.  Seems a lot of folks are very unhappy with the reception Kim Yo Jong got in PyeongChang, and are now reminding us of the brutality of the North Korean regime and how we shouldn't be appeasing its tyrannic leader.  All well in good except for the inconvenient fact we support tyrants all over the world and don't seem to bat an eyelash at their atrocious human rights records, so why should we get so angry with Rocket Man?

I think this is largely due to the fact Kim Jong Un outsmarted the United States, which sadly isn't very hard to do in the Age of Trump.  Kim seems to be much more aware of the wave of feminism sweeping the planet and very cleverly sent his sister to represent him in South Korea.  The cheerleaders were a nice touch as well. 

According to the agreement reached between the IOC, South Korea and the United States, Trump was expected to send a high level delegation to PyeongChang, to match that of North Korea.  The White House not very smartly sent Mike Pence, when it just as easily could have sent Ivanka, who would have helped soften the situation.  She will be on hand for the closing ceremony, but it is too little too late.

Most of the White House genuflecting is aimed for a domestic audience, which has been led to believe the fate of the free world hangs on ousting Kim Jong Un from power, much like we turned Saddam Hussein into Boris Badenov back in the early 2000s.  Treating Kim Jong Un as the "World's Greatest No-Goodnik" has largely failed because without the help of China and Russia there is very little pressure the US can exert on North Korea short of a military strike, one that very likely would trigger a World War.

North Korea is not as isolated as we would like them to be.  They have numerous other allies as well, as far flung as Bulgaria, Benin, Congo and Madagascar.  If there is anything this country has learned to do over the last 70 years it is how to survive, largely thanks to a very enterprising ruling family, which has made friends in the strangest places.

If we take exception to North Korea's human rights record, we must also question the atrocious human rights records in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan and Israel, among other nations we count as our allies.  North Korea didn't even make the Top Ten of Amnesty International's Worst Attacks on Human Rights Across the World.

What upsets us about North Korea is that they have not so quietly amassed a potent military force with a small but rapidly developing nuclear arsenal that challenges our hegemony in Northeast Asia.  Of course, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea wouldn't be in this position had they not received military support from the former Soviet Union, which was looking to counter the American presence on the Korean peninsula.  In a large sense, we are still fighting the Cold War here with Russia continuing to support Pyongyang.

For decades, we accepted North Korea because we didn't see the country as a major threat beyond the peninsula, but in recent years Kim Jong Un has upped the stakes by showing he has ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads far beyond these boundaries.  Obama had too many things on his foreign policy plate to tangle with the Rocket Man.  He was busy trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran and re-open diplomatic relations with Cuba, which incensed traditional Republicans.

Trump came into office vowing no more appeasement of any kind and quickly launched twitter attacks on North Korea, Iran and even Cuba, but it was North Korea that really got his goat as Kim Jong Un answered his twitter attacks with test missiles.  What's a petulant president to do but issue more hollow threats.

I'm really impressed the IOC and South Korea got the Trump White House to tone down its incendiary rhetoric during the Olympics.  This was mostly Moon Jae-In, who appealed to Trump's ego by saying that all those empty threats brought Kim Jong Un to the negotiation table.  We all know  the IOC and South Korea pulled off this diplomatic detente largely on their own, but it doesn't hurt to give Trump some credit.  This is a very Asian way of doing things.

In the meantime, the Trump White House tries to play it both ways, pushing a hard line while saying it is open to negotiations, as though its "tough talk" is a real factor in the "thaw" taking place on the Korean peninsula.  Similarly, the media lets its talking heads carry out the debate in a public forum in true reality show style.

The only thing saving the Trump White House at this point is that Kim Jong Un doesn't really want confrontation, seizing the opportunity to show the world that he can play nice.  It goes without saying we can't trust him, but then is he really any different than the other strong arm leaders we do business with around the world?  As George F. Kennan noted a long time ago, foreign policy is about containment and avoiding open conflict.  This is the attitude that had guided American foreign policy for decades until George Bush tried to make a "just war" out of Iraq.  Even Trump saw the folly in the Bush Doctrine during the 2016 campaign, and he would be wise not to repeat the same mistake in North Korea, which really does have weapons of mass destruction.

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