That damned North Korea – just what I need, Donald Trump must be saying to himself. That is, if he isn’t completely absorbed by narcissism and by the feeling he’s bound to win with his “America First!” motto. Not against North Korea. This is not a defense of Kim Jong Un and his regime, it is a simple statement of fact.
If the current tensions were to grow into a hot war, America would lose, morally speaking. It would catch blame from its allies (Japan, South Korea) and from its rivals (China, Russia), from Western progressives to the entire Third World. And if it were perchance to use a nuclear weapon, even only in response, in the eyes of the world and of the domestic public, it would be guilty of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of South Koreans (Kim’s North would still be able to carry out a missile, ground, naval or chemical attack) and of having jeopardized a considerable portion of the planet Earth.
Unlike Trump, Kim enjoys the luxury of presenting to the world, day after day, the existence of a land that, no matter how small, poor and ostracized, is still capable of standing up to the superpower. And indeed, in such a way that it will remain at least a moral victor, while Washington will be defeated no matter how it behaves. If it flinches, it will be branded a weakling; if it attacks, a madman.
Kim Jong Un is in Fidel Castro’s role, but a league higher. Castro was a provocateur who demanded nuclear weapons from Moscow, but when the going got tough, when the Cuban missile crisis broke out, John F. Kennedy came to an agreement with Nikita Khrushchev, disregarding Castro. He was the one to feel defeated, because he was no longer considered a threat to the U.S. without Soviet missiles. But try to imagine how the Caribbean crisis would have turned out if Castro had had his own nuclear missiles in 1962, and if he had blackmailed not only Washington, but also Moscow.
Kim is in just such a position now. He would be crazy if he actually fired a missile with a nuclear warhead at American Guam. He would risk an unpleasant loss of face if the missile malfunctioned. Of course, he could do it. But if he is guided by any sort of rationality, he will be satisfied with being menacing. With being able to threaten America without allies and foreign bosses, in a way that Castro would never have dreamed. The advanced world more likely applauds him for getting Trump into a bind. Who else can make such a claim?