Realism demands that, if one had not already done so, one must abandon – or store in a very hard-to-reach place and hope to one day bring back out – the notion that a presidential election is a chance for citizen-voters to select and endorse a set of skills, policies and experiences embodied by a particular candidate and/or party, and – by electing that candidate who possessed those experiences and ran on those policy proposals – voters will put those skills and ideas to work for the common good of the nation.
I try to be a realistic idealist. I hope I’m not particularly naïve. I know that candidates make promises they won’t keep, or can’t keep even if they try. But before this past year, I still thought there was a significant role for the part where the candidates lays out a policy vision and then, if elected, tries to deliver on most of it and expects to be judged by the results.
Let’s apply some of those standards to perhaps the biggest story of the last couple of days, the demonstration that North Korea has developed an ICBM (inter-continental ballistic missile), capable of carrying a nuclear warhead (and Pyongyang is working on making those, too) capable of reaching Alaska and perhaps advancing to a range of the lower 48 states.
I don’t view this is a good development for the continuation of life on earth. I don’t assume that, if he had the capability, North Korea’s ultimate leader Kim Jong Un would nuke Alaska. He might be a bit crazy, but he’s not that crazy. I do think that all nuclear proliferation increases the odds that someone will use such a weapon for the first time since the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
I also note that this development undermines the hopeful notion that the dangers of nuclear proliferation are under control and/or that the United States or the United Nations has an effective means of deciding who does and doesn’t get into the nuclear club. (In my lifetime, the list of nuclear states has grown from two to the current seven, not even counting the former (South Africa), the unconfirmed (Israel) and now the – what shall we say? Almost? (North Korea).
President Barack Obama gets credit in my book (and there is an opposite book subscribed to by President Donald Trump and many Republicans) for finding a way to keep Iran out of the nuclear club. Obama also tried to deter the North Korean program, in ways that made sense to me but ultimately left Pyongyang on the brink.
But, to loop back to where I started, I also think we must take this as another significant instance where Trump’s campaign platform and utterings and tweetings have not held up at all and everything he said and tweeted about how he would handle the issue of North Korean nukes, and why it would work, was wrong and beyond wrong — but seemingly does not bother his admirers and supporters.
During the campaign, Trump said and tweeted repeatedly that:
- The solution to stopping North Korea’s progress toward a deliverable nuclear missile was obvious.
- It was to get China to do it,
- which China could definitely and easily do,
- but which China was unwilling to do
- because China did not “respect” Obama enough to do this for him;
- but that once Trump, whom China would respect, took office, China would see the benefits of curbing the North Korean program, and would do so because of the new respect they would feel for the new oh-so-respect-worthy occupant of the Oval Office.
He said all these things many times. They appear, at the moment, to be rubbish (and plenty of experts thought so at the time). They were mostly in the category of magical thinking and even more magical boasting that worked so well for Trump.
Thanks to the miracle of the worldwide web and to Trump’s twitterishness, just click through to this excellent Washington Post review of Trump’s tweets and statements over the past years of how easily China would rein in the North Korean nuclear program if America had a president China respected to compel them to do it. You will find the tweets in which Trump laid out his diagnosis, prognosis and plan, and you will find that your estimation of his insights and his plans have not risen.
If Trump, the great dealmaker, can swing a deal, without blowing up the world, to get North Korea to repudiate its nuclear ambitions and dismantle its program, and to agree as Iran did to allow international inspectors to confirm that it is complying with said deal, I will do what the current incumbent never does, namely retract this piece, apologize for its snotty tone, and acknowledge his accomplishment.
Until such time, this goes into the category of Trump claiming to know things he didn’t know and making blowhard promises he couldn’t keep. But I hope I’m wrong.
Late morning update: Speaking in Poland as part of his current trip to Europe, Mr. Trump was asked about the latest North Korean missile test and what he was inclined to do about it. Per the New York Times coverage of the president’s remarks, Mr. Trump said that he was weighing “some pretty severe things” to do to North Korea, and called on all nations to confront what he called the “global threat” from Pyongyang. “We’ll see what happens — I don’t like to talk about what we have planned — but I have some pretty severe things that we’re thinking about… They are behaving in a very, very serious manner, and something will have to be done about it.” He referred to discussion with other world leaders about “the threat from North Korea, and that’s what it is — it is a threat, and we will confront it very strongly.” The United States and nations around the world must “demonstrate that there are consequences for their very, very bad behavior,” he said.