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Why Trump’s Words on North Korea Matter – normalising nuclear war

No Laughing Matter: Why Trump’s Words on North Korea Matter, New Yorker, By Evan Osnos1 Oct 17 When I visited North Korea in late August, I left with a sense that, for all the hostility, the confrontation with the United States would lead to talks, not violence. I’m less hopeful of that now, because of President Trump’s seemingly irresistible urge to mock and threaten North Korea’s leader, against the advice of his national-security aides. For months, aides who briefed the President on the conflict had advised him not to personalize the dispute. Unlike in the American arenas where Trump had honed his faith in his instincts—reality television, business deals, political primaries—in North Korea a nickname would not be received as merely a playground jab. At first, Trump complied; in May, he even complimented Kim, calling him a “smart cookie,” and expressed a willingness to meet with him. In Pyongyang, a government official told me that his peers had taken notice of Trump’s tendency to criticize other opponents, but not Kim, a fact that they interpreted as a deliberate effort to maintain the basis for an eventual negotiation.

Then, in mid-September, Trump jumped the guardrails erected by his advisers. He started to mock Kim, calling him Rocket Man, even during a formal address at the United Nations, in front of scores of heads of state—an especially humiliating setting for Kim. In a line that was reportedly added after national-security officials had read the draft, Trump said, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime”; Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States or its allies were attacked, and in a tweet, a few days later, Trump said North Korea’s leadership may not “be around much longer” if it continues its threats. By extending the taunts to his own Secretary of State, Trump might imagine that he is playing the bad cop to Tillerson’s good cop. At its best, it might be a ham-fisted effort to make Pyongyang more pliable to Tillerson’s entreaties. But this is not a police procedural. In national-security terms, Trump was undermining Tillerson’s credibility in the eyes of his North Korean counterparts. Why should they offer concessions to Tillerson when his boss clearly doesn’t support him?

Trump‘s personalization of the conflict has introduced a new playbook that seems almost perfectly engineered to trigger Kim’s paranoia and animosity.

Kim responded to Trump’s U.N. speech by calling him a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” a comment that drew laughs here for invoking an obscure term. But, to American specialists on North Korea, it was ominous: Kim’s rhetorical blasts are usually sent out by the state media, but Kim personally delivered this message in a video that was broadcast on North Korean television. It was an unprecedented gesture that has staked his name and his stature on his refusal to back down. More than anything else, Kim’s personal rebuttal signals that the two leaders—each a national-security neophyte navigating his first crisis of this scale—are now locked in a war of egos…….

The most far-reaching effect of Trump’s language may be the one that is easiest to dismiss as just rhetoric: the gradual normalization of talk about nuclear weapons. ……..


October 4, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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