Time and North Korea

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

1973 Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon 

The media and DC politicians call it “kicking the can down the road”.  In real life outside the Swamp, it’s called procrastination, paralysis by analysis, or just plain ole cowardice. Making the hard decision is well…hard; previous cowardly indecisiveness has frittered the hours away and now its time to pay the piper.

No issue more showcases this can kicking reality than North Korea. It is an existential global threat, built over time. North Korea’s desire to own nuclear weapons has been known since the early 90s. Throughout that time, Foggy Bottom has had the lead, so diplomacy, sanctions, and bribes in the form of foreign aid have been our go-to solutions. From Clinton through Bush to Obama, the cycles of the past 15 years of North Korea problem solving could be described as laughable if not so dire. North Korea blusters, threatens and bluffs, Congress gets their panties twisted in a knot, the media ratchets up noise, and the White House promises to find a livable solution.

The cycle then goes through the UN, sanctions, and threats of more sanctions, all the while North Korea becomes more and more bellicose. Eventually, the White House folds, and the State Department is tasked with diplomatic bribery. Millions and millions of aid and cash, based solely on North Korea’s promise to stop pursuing nuclear weapons. Once they are satisfied they have bled us dry, we get their promise to be good global citizens, and voila, the crisis is averted. Until the next time. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. All the while, they are lying through their teeth, working like a rented water buffalo to achieve their nuclear goals, and getting closer and closer to success.

Success for North Korea has arrived. Time’s up. The clock has run out, the can has been kicked all the way to the end of the road. Which leaves us with one of two very different scenarios.

The first is a continuation of the past two decades, and fittingly Susan Rice puts it most succinctly: (Business Insider)

“We need to be very measured, very careful, very planned in our rhetoric. I hope that we will see more measure out of the administration and out of the president as he approaches this very real challenge. A pre-emptive attack by the United States would be a very, very poor choice, a very dangerous choice,” Rice said.

It is plain this scenario is premised upon the acceptance that North Korea is a nuclear power, Susan Rice makes this very plain in her latest interview: (CNN)

“The issue now is what to do in a world where North Korea, led by Kim, possesses some of the most destructive weapons in history.”

By now, its glaringly apparent China and North Korea are banking on this dovish acquiescence. Their long term gamble has been based on their long-held belief Washington is more hot air than spine. Given China’s decision to allow Kim Jong Un to carry on unfettered, it appears they haven’t moved off of this position.

Enter Team Trump with phrases such as “fire and fury” and “destruction of its people”; or to put it in a more colloquial manner: “Oh hell no!”  Let’s hope they stay true to their initial instincts, time’s running out.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over
Thought I’d something more to say

DETAILS: North Korea Successfully Tests ICBM

On Tuesday, North Korea conducted its first successful test of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The missile was launched at a high angle to ensure that it would fall into the Sea of Japan following its 37 minute flight, rather than cross over another country’s airspace.  Therefore, the missile reached an altitude of over 1500 miles above the earth (for comparison, the International Space Station orbits at an altitude ranging from 205 to 270 miles and the now-retired Space Shuttle program had a maximum orbit of 600 miles above the earth).

If the North Korean missile were fired at a more normal angle of launch, then it would have an estimated range of 4,000 miles, making it capable of reaching Alaska and all points in-between.

In response, the U.S. has called for a closed-door meeting with the United Nations Security Council to discuss what to do with the endlessly-belligerent North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un.  Russia and China jointly released a statement calling for North Korea to cease its tests of nuclear weapons and missile technology and for the U.S. and South Korea to refrain from its long-standing joint military exercises.

The Trump administration is expected to put increased pressure on China to reign-in North Korea, with President Trump already tweeting to this effect (although his subsequent tweets seem to assume that China will be of little help).  Trump will also be meeting with Russian President Putin at the G-20 Summit in Germany on Friday.  U.S. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster has said:

The threat is much more immediate now.  So it’s clear we can’t repeat the same failed approach of the past.  So the president has directed us not to do that, and to prepare a range of options — including a military option, which nobody wants to take, right?

Another Sign China May Be the Future of Christian Civilization

Studying and living in Europe for the past eight months, I have experienced what so many have reported in recent decades: the welcoming people, the great history and the many sights of the continent aside, it is for the most part spiritually dead. Christianity, the primary force for the creation of the greatness of Europe when it predominated, is now a relic mostly practiced by the oldest generation. Cathedrals and other religious buildings and monuments are preserved as part of history and for their beauty, but with little regard for their spiritual significance.

With the primary source of the eventual worldwide spread of Christianity lying in a spiritual coma, a vacuum exists for a successor. For some time, the United States has filled that space, but one wonders for how much longer. Looking across the political spectrum, one finds that left-leaning Christians are mostly made up of people who prefer Jesus to other religious figures, but do not grant him the exclusivity that is biblically prescribed. The Christian Right appears increasingly interested in elevating a political program over real relationship with Christ. Certainly, from the growing mass of disillusioned American Christians, a revival might arise, but if it doesn’t, where will be the next locus of Christian civilization?

Once again, there is evidence that it might be China. Faithwire reports that “100,000 new believers are coming to Christ every year in China…” The Bible, formerly banned there, is now a bestseller. This is happening despite an increase in human rights violations, among which is the suppression of freedom of expression.

It is ironic, though not unprecedented, that Christianity seems to be thriving in an atmosphere of persecution. In Europe it is legal, if treated with indifference, and in America it is the primary religion to which people self-identify, but in both places it is in decline in terms of sheer numbers. But in China, where it is most tested by fire, it is not only walking in the flames unscathed, but it is growing.

The U.K. Telegraph reported in 2014 that China is on pace to become the largest Christian nation in the world by 2030.

Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.

By 2030, China’s total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world, he predicted.

“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Prof Yang said. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”

China is not the only officially atheist Asian country seeing Christianity grow in spite of persecution. Faithwire also reported earlier this year that a North Korean defector named Kim Chung-Seong said he witnessed it in his own country. Faithwire goes on to detail the atmosphere in which the expansion is occurring.

The 2017 World Watch List compiled by Open Doors lists North Korea as the “most oppressive place in the world for Christians” due to the country’s totalitarian regime and surveillance state that forces Christians “to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors, and often, even their own spouses and children.” While most of North Korea’s 25 million citizens are considered atheists, Open Doors estimates the Christian population to stand at about 300,000.

If Christians are caught, they are imprisoned or sent to hard labor camps, even killed, but defectors like Kim Chung-Seong have found creative ways to penetrate the North Korean darkness with the light of the gospel; he hosts a radio program in Seoul, South Korea, which reaches some parts of the North. He reiterated the notion that North Korean Christians’ faith “is actually strengthened by the persecution.”

Perhaps Asia will be for the future what Christian Europe was for the past. In America, the Church must detach itself from the politics that has done its best to subordinate Christianity to itself, that made the label easy to hold, while distancing it from the unriviled following of Christ. Faith must be strengthened in order to thrive, and the case of China shows that once it is strong, oppression cannot destroy it. It is that sort of faith that American needs to recover widespread and that Christians everywhere must pray continues to grow under hostile regimes.

Few Lasting Achievements From Trump’s First 100 Days

As the Trump Administration passes its 100-day mark, the most striking thing is how ineffective the new president has been thus far. In spite of a plethora of Executive Orders that undoubtedly please most on the right, President Trump has put few lasting marks on the country at this early point in his presidency.

Even though President Trump has signed many bills in his tenure as president, most have not been laws that have lasting significance. For conservatives, passing laws is not an end unto itself. Laws should roll back government and make it smaller and less intrusive on the American people. Politifact notes that several of the bills that Trump has signed are business-as-usual type laws that designate memorials and name buildings, for example.

Not all of Trump’s new laws have been trivial, however. About half of the 28 bills signed by Trump so far were passed under the Congressional Review Act. This law allows Congress to review and rescind last-minute Obama-era rules by federal agencies. The law provides for a 60-day window to review bureaucratic rules that begins when Congress is notified that a rule has been finalized. The Daily Signal has a list of Obama-era rules that run the gamut from gun control to environment to education that have been rescinded by President Trump and the new Congress. Nevertheless, the laws merely preserve the status quo and do not break new ground in shrinking government or rolling back Obama’s legislation. Additionally, the window is now closed to rescind other rules from the Obama Administration.

The most notable legislative story of Trump’s 100 days is the failure to advance a bill repealing or reforming Obamacare. For seven years, Republicans have railed against President Obama’s trademark health entitlement yet, under President Trump’s leadership, Republicans in Congress have failed to advance even a watered-down version of bill reforming Obamacare.

President Trump’s answer was to pivot from health care to tax reform, but he is likely to have the same result and for the same reasons. The Trump coattails left Republicans with tiny majorities in both houses of Congress. The Republican Senate majority cannot defeat a Democrat filibuster and the House Republicans are too divided between Tuesday Group moderates and Freedom Caucus conservatives to pass a health reform bill. Tax reform is likely to be no different.

In order to avert a government shutdown, President Trump even had to give in and omit funding for construction of his wall and crackdown on sanctuary cities from the spending bill that will carry the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. Trump said repeatedly that Mexico would pay for the wall before asking for taxpayer funds.

Trump has done better with Executive Orders. The president has issued many orders that will slow the growth of government and streamline government regulations. An early Trump Executive Order reinstated President Reagan’s Mexico City policy that banned federal funds from international groups that promote abortion. President Obama had rescinded the policy in 2009. Other Executive Orders, such as the travel ban, seem poorly conceived from the beginning.

Good or bad, Executive Orders are limited. The president cannot legislate from the Oval Office with an Executive Order in place of Congress. Executive Orders may also last only as long as the president who signed them. An incoming president could sign Executive Orders rescinding Trump’s orders as easily as Trump reversed Obama’s.

On foreign policy, President Trump, whose views in the campaign ranged from promising a plan to destroy ISIS within his first month to neo-isolationism in other regions, launched what is largely considered to be an ineffective attack on a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack before turning his attention to North Korea.

For several weeks, Trump suggested that he would make trade concessions to China in exchange for help in dealing with North Korea. As recently as April 30, Trump suggested on CBS News that he was open to dealing with China on trade, saying, “Trade is very important. But massive warfare with millions, potentially millions of people being killed? That, as we would say, trumps trade.”

Today that has changed. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross seemed to walk back weeks of diplomatic overtures in an interview with CBS, saying, “I don’t think he [Trump] meant to indicate at all that he intends to trade away American jobs just for help on North Korea.”

One hundred days into Trump’s presidency, there is also still no detailed plan to defeat ISIS.

To date, the Trump presidency can be described as lurching from one crisis to another. Some of these crises have been self-inflicted, such as the president’s tweets about wiretapping by the Obama Administration. Others, such as North Korean missile tests and Syrian chemical warfare, have been outside the president’s control. Still others, such as the division among congressional Republicans, reflect a lack of leadership from President Trump.

The one unqualified success that President Trump has had is with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch seems to be as solid a conservative jurist as anyone could possibly have picked. Nevertheless, the confirmation came at the cost of the filibuster. This was necessary due to unreasonable Democratic obstructionism, but may haunt Republicans in the future.

To have a lasting and positive impact, President Trump is going to have to develop a cogent and consistent worldview on both domestic and foreign policy. So far, the president has been inconsistent on numerous issues in both realms. He needs to make up his mind as to what his goals are and concentrate on those items.

The president also needs to learn to work with Congress. Donald Trump was elected partly on claims that he is a world-class dealmaker. His deal-making skills are sorely needed in hammering out compromises on Obamacare and tax reform, but so far President Trump seems to have little interest in the details of policymaking. The president should realize that the qualities that made him the Republican nominee and that enabled him to win the election don’t necessarily make him a natural leader and statesman.

None of this means that he will have a failed presidency, however. President Trump has assembled a very qualified and capable team. With a few exceptions, the Trump cabinet can truly be called a “conservative dream team.” President Trump should listen to their advice and consider it carefully.

As someone who was a Never Trump conservative and a third-party voter during the election, I must admit that Trump, with all his foibles, has not been the worst-case scenario that I feared. So far, he has undoubtedly been better than President Hillary (shudder) would have been. Neither has he been a valiant, steely-eyed, conservative leader. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

So far President Trump has been erratic and ineffective, but he has trended toward the right. In some cases, such as backing away from his plans to terminate NAFTA, his flip-flops have even be reassuring. In other cases, such as his saber-rattling against North Korea, his actions are downright scary.

After 100 days, the jury is still out.

North Korean Propaganda Video Threatens Destruction Of White House

North Korea has released a propaganda video promising the destruction of the White House, and threatening that “the enemy to be destroyed is in our sights.”

The film, complete with cheesy production values and music straight out of a 70s action flick, includes an aircraft carrier in crosshairs and the threat that,  “We will show you what a strong country that leads the world in nuclear and missile technology is capable of.”

The release of the video comes on the heels of escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States and South Korea, both of whom promised “swift punitive measures” against the Communist country.  The video made its debut on Thursday, just a few days after another similar video played before a concert in Pyongyang with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in attendance.

North Korea is known for its bombastic rhetoric and exaggerated propaganda, but it has ramped up its output in recent weeks as tensions have risen.

During a concert held April 16 and attended by Kim, a video was broadcast showing missiles arcing over the Pacific and leaving a U.S. city in flames, followed by images of a burning American flag and a cemetery filled with white crosses.

Similar videos showing attacks on U.S. cities were broadcast last year and in 2013.

American officials have promised to prepare a military response to North Korea, along with sanctions against the country. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson will arrive at the Korean Peninsula this weekend, and the submarine USS Michigan arrived off the coast of South Korea earlier this week.

South Korea is working with both the United States and United Nations to put the heat on its neighbors to the north.

“The two sides pledged that in the event of additional strategic provocation by the North to swiftly take punitive measures including a new UN Security Council resolution that are unbearable for the North,” the South’s presidential office said, following the call.

China has also offered to help pressure Pyongyang to stand down and back off its rhetoric, but officials in Beijing are unhappy about the THAAD missile defense system the U.S. has begun installing in South Korea.

Stay tuned as we keep our eyes on the growing tensions in this part of Asia.

Note To North Korea Scaredy Cats: Trump Means It

For 65 years, Americans have been scared of North Korea. Last time we dealt with the Kim family, we suffered a bloody war, which, though it’s fading into history, still screams “caution.” We don’t want to put South Koreans “in harm’s way” or start a war with the Chinese.

A bit of history. The battle-hardened U.S. Army and Marines executed a classic flanking maneuver in the fall of 1950, culminating in the 1st Marines landing at Wonsan and advance to the Yalu River.

The Chinese Communist People’s Liberation Army struck the 1st Marines on a bitterly cold 27 November, 1950. As eight divisions of the PLA attempted to destroy the Marines, they fought a fierce withdrawal, suffering 4,000 casualties–but inflicting nearly 25,000 on the Chinese forces.

Despite committing nearly a half-million men to the task, the Chinese were not able to destroy the 1st Marines. As the battle slogged into 1952, despite peace negotiations, fighting continued until the truce of 27 July went into effect at 10 p.m. (2200) local time. A state of war, technically and legally, still exists between the two Koreas, with only the truce holding.

Truly, everyone in South Korea is, and has been in harm’s way for 65 years.

The Chinese have moved somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 troops to the North Korean border, according to numerous news reports. That’s not to come sweeping down on American and ROK forces as they charge to the Yalu River. It’s to keep a million or more North Korean refugees from flooding across the river into northeast China.

China wants just a few things, which President Trump is in a position to (mostly) guarantee.

First, they don’t want a million North Korean refugees streaming into China. Second, they don’t want a hostile government controlling a country on the Korean peninsula bordering China. Third, they don’t want an unstable situation in North Korea where they have to spend money and manpower achieving the first two things. (One more thing, they don’t want nukes popping anywhere near their borders, for the obvious reasons. This includes Seoul or anywhere on the peninsula.)

For the scaredy cats: one day, the world is going to have to deal with a unified Korea. This isn’t a far-off, neverland thing. An isolated, nuclear-armed, ICBM-equipped North Korea has to be a nonstarter for everyone at the table, including the Chinese. Even the scaredy cats at the Washington Post acknowledge “as long as North Korea remains a giant prison camp, the long-term problem will not have been solved.”

I believe Trump aims to solve the long-term problem of North Korea’s nuclear/ICBM ambitions. Either the Norks won’t have a nuclear/missile program, because the U.S. and/or China will deny it to them, or there will be regime change in North Korea. China hates the thought of all-out war on the Korean peninsula. But they may not have the level of influence and control over key “wants” of the Kim family to diffuse this.

It could be more in China’s interest to overthrow Kim and replace him with a China-friendly military junta, which is willing to give up the nukes and missiles, and even pursue some more friendly relations with South Korea, than to back Kim. Backing Kim would only embolden him in his war stance and extreme invective.

Kim stated Monday, “[The increased U.S. naval presence] has created a dangerous situation in which thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and poses a serious threat to world peace and security.”

Thermonuclear war? The Norks can barely field a first- or second-generation atomic weapon. Thermonuclear (H-bomb) weapons are well beyond their capability. Obviously, any kind of nuclear weapons is a nightmare scenario, and Kim might find himself desperate enough to take steps closer toward a confrontation with the U.S. using whatever weapons he possesses.

That would be a mistake. Trump means what he says, whether it be Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Tillerson, or Trump’s own tweets. If Kim tries to bluster or brinksmanship his way out of what it considers a normal cycle of U.S. threats and condemnation, he will fail, and Trump will order actual military attacks. Those attacks will make what happened in Syria look like an ROTC drill.

The Norks will not know what hit them. The U.S. military has its assets ready and in the theater for this strike. The Chinese are taking Trump seriously.

It’s really not the time for scaredy cats like Walt Shapiro to advise Trump to “resist his inner MacArthur.” Yes, yes, we know that the Korean War became a quagmire and a stalemate because U.S. leaders didn’t believe that the Chinese would join the war. Yes, we know that the Chinese don’t want American forces charging up from the 38th parallel to the Yalu River.

But this time it’s different. The Chinese are more on our side now, because a nuclear and ICBM-equipped North Korea makes it more likely, not less, that an unfriendly government will rule the Korean peninsula (or the whole region will be a sea of glass, which is far worse).

It’s time to deal with North Korea–sorry, scaredy cats. Trump said we’d do it with or without the Chinese. He really means it.

Pence Visits Korean DMZ to Demonstrate U.S. Resolve

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates North and South Korea.  While at the DMZ he made a series of remarks aimed at North Korea in order to reiterate American resolve in “denuclearization of  this peninsula and for the long term prosperity and freedom of the people of South Korea.”  He noted that although the U.S. seeks a peaceful resolution to the issues, “all options are on the table” and “the era of strategic patience is over.”

Indeed, the U.S. has been ramping up pressure on North Korea lately in a bid to encourage its leadership to tone down its rhetoric and cease its nuclear program and weapons tests.  The U.S. has sent the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the region (both China and Russia have deployed “intelligence-gathering” ships to the area in response in order to monitor American movements).  The U.S. has also been encouraging China to help reign in North Korea, which it appears to be doing, having previously stopped coal shipments from North Korea to China and recently deploying troops along their border with North Korea.

This pressure may be having an effect.  North Korea had threatened to test a nuclear weapon over the weekend, but instead simply attempted to launch a medium-range missile, which failed.  However, North Korean leadership (Kim Jong-un, in particular) appears to base its legitimacy on the strength of its belligerence towards the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.  How they will respond as the U.S. and China work to tamp down this belligerence remains to be seen.


North Korea Clings to Nukes After Syria Strikes

In response to the recent U.S. missile strikes against Syria, North Korea has expressed their trust in their nuclear weapons as a deterrent to U.S. action against them.  North Korean officials have dismissed the Syrian airstrikes, acknowledging that they are meant to be a warning to North Korea but instead stating, “We will bolster up in every way our capability for self-defense to cope with the U.S. evermore reckless moves for a war and defend ourselves with our own force.”

This is consistent with previous statements by North Korea in which the government increases its hostile rhetoric whenever it feels threatened.  Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, in particular has much to worry about.  Over the past decade and a half, the U.S. has removed leaders from Iraq and Libya and is currently working to remove Assad from power in Syria, to say nothing of past and current intervention in other countries such as Afghanistan.

To what lengths would Kim Jong-un go in order to remain in power?  Would he use one or more of the couple dozen estimated nuclear weapons he possesses?  It is hard to say for certain, although a recent high-level defector says that Kim “would not hesitate” to do so.

Nuclear activity on the Korean peninsula is, of course, in no one’s best interest.  For Kim to actually use nuclear weapons would seal his fate, for not only would the U.S., Japan, and South Korea (the countries Kim sees as enemies) respond in force, China would likely do so as well.  China has acted for decades as a check on North Korean volatility.  They do not want to see the country descend into chaos and have to deal with the mess on their borders.  Nor do they want to see a war, much less a nuclear one, in their backyard.

In fact, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State, said yesterday that China has agreed that North Korea and it’s nuclear program is a problem and “… that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken.”

What this action will be is, as of yet, undetermined.  The U.S. is sending a carrier strike group to the region as a deterrent to North Korea.  Perhaps the combination of U.S. overt pressure and Chinese back-room pressure on Kim can reduce the present tensions.

A long term solution is elusive, however, especially since an end goal is not clearly stated by all parties (U.S., South Korea, Japan, China).  Nor is the same goal likely shared among them.  Is the goal to remove Kim and allow another dictator-in-waiting to take over?  Is the goal to coax North Korea into the modern era and have it open up (this probably involves removing Kim as well)?  Is the goal to simply contain North Korea and let it continue to determine its own destiny?  The problem of North Korea has existed since 1953 and is likely to continue for some time.