Pyongyang, with its nuclear escalation, is winning the game against Trump.
No one wants war, not even the hereditary communist dictatorship of North Korea, which is endeavoring to ruin the peace. If it comes to a blowout, that will be who loses and the regime will disappear, even though it is not at all clear what could come next. China does not want war but, would find itself at the beginning of a difficult-to-manage North Korean exodus and at the end of a unified Korean Peninsula full of geopolitical drawbacks. Neither does South Korea, with Seoul, with 10 million inhabitants, with only 50 kilometers from the 38th parallel and within range of northern armed forces. Nor does Japan, a pacifist country whose economy and population would suffer very quickly.
Reason tells us there won’t be a war, but the heart reminds us of the steps driving us toward one. The bets cannot continue forever; the ridges of reality can be found on the current path, where calculations stumble and produce accidents. The missile that crossed the sky over Hokkaido on Aug. 29 could have accidentally fallen on an inhabited area. The greatest failure has already occurred with the foul-mouthed and incompetent president of the United States and his inflammatory and out of control statements.
Even though there isn’t a war, the Korean crisis has already modified reality. Kim Jong Un scoffed at Trump in his warnings. He has demonstrated that the words of the U.S. president have no value. Washington is visibly losing its credibility. Japan and South Korea will wake up to an uncertain future. Trump puts the alliance system in doubt and threatens to close the nuclear umbrella that defends Seoul and Tokyo, his two strategic alliances in Asia. Once in the White House, he changed his position and has lavished friendly gestures and threats on Pyongyang that reality has deflated.
Trump also has lost the game with China. The reeal estate tycoon’s diplomacy has been a New York fairy tale that is bringing U.S. foreign policy to ruin. The deal with Xi Jinping consisted of replacing bilateral commercial agreements with pressure on Pyongyang to renounce its nuclear weapons, and so far we’ve seen neither.
The result is that North Korea is already in the restricted club of nuclear powers. It would be fitting to apply the doctrine of containment, as was done with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but North Korea will hardly give up its weapons. The best lesson to learn is to not repeat our mistakes. Trump has contributed to the disaster, but the blame must be shared with his predecessors, with the exception of Bill Clinton, who in 1994 had an armistice with North Koreans in Pyongyang and was on the verge of obtaining denuclearization of the peninsula thanks to a wise combination of diplomacy and threat. George Bush carelessly ended this, and Barack Obama limited himself to practicing strategic patience without dissuasive effects.
Trump still hasn’t reached the peak of his incompetence: He will succeed if he breaks the nuclear agreement with Iran, obtained through coercive diplomacy and therefore inviting the Ayatollah’s try for success the North Korean way.