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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – Korean Peace Edition

The Daily Escape:

Haze caused by smoke from a wildfire, Wind River Range, WY – 2018 photo by UtahPictures

Their handshake made history. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met each other at the border, then walked hand in hand into South Korea for a meeting between countries still technically at war.

Whether they can declare an end to the war will be the subject of more negotiations and trust-building over the next few months, perhaps years. They did sign an accord that commits them to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is either a huge step forward, or it is another case of false hope for a peace that has eluded the two Koreas for 65 years. Either way, it is an unprecedented diplomatic initiative between the two Koreas that could reduce global tensions.

South Korea’s peace offensive with the North has taken the US’s threat of military confrontation against North Korea off the table, unless the peace discussions should fail. Their preemptive diplomacy has left the US with no option but to move to the negotiating table without insisting that North Korea relinquish its nuclear weapons as a precondition. Is Trump behind this strategy? Historians will tell us some time in the future.

Strategically, North Korea looks like it is willing to work toward peace. They are in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased, and peace talks move incrementally to a successful conclusion, a process of socio-economic rebirth in the North (a Kim Jong-un priority) can begin.

If Trump can’t agree with Kim Jong-un, we will find ourselves at odds with our South Korean ally. In that case, China might walk away from its sanctions against the North, blaming the US for not making progress in the face of the offer by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in needs to find a middle ground between his cunning enemy to the North and his impulsive ally in the US. And no one should expect that Kim will capitulate on Trump’s key demand of total and immediate nuclear disarmament.

That’s the biggest problem. South Korea’s president favors an “action for action” strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees.

South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.

But Trump’s national security team has insisted that North Korea scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.

Moon’s position is to offer economic benefits and security guarantees incrementally, based on one small agreement after another, until both sides are comfortable. In short, his plan is: Be sensible. No one needs to be humiliated. No one has to win. No one has to lose. Deal with issues one by one. Don’t refuse to talk about anything at all. Talk. That’s what sensible people do.

No one knows where this goes. The two Koreas have struck similar agreements in the past. For example, in 1991, Pyongyang and Seoul promised to end the Korean War, but never did. And in 2005, North Korea and five other countries — including the US and South Korea — struck a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. That deal fell through.

President Moon has acknowledged that there is a limit to what the two Koreas can agree on without American involvement:

Peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved by agreements between South and North Korea alone…It has to have American endorsement.

But, nobody knows how the Trump wild card will play out.

But today’s Saturday. For now, let’s bask in a little hope. It’s spring, and buds and flowers abound. The fields of Wrong have bluebirds in two separate nest boxes sitting on eggs. We’ve over-seeded the whole 3 acres of grass to keep our world green and weed-free. Time to brew up a cup of Red Rooster Coffee’s 4 & 20 French Roast that the roaster says is dark and intense, full of complexity, with lots of spice and chocolate.

Now settle back, and listen to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, performed here by the Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Luke Gilmour, in 2011. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for this work. Here it is performed by a 13-piece orchestra, which Copland scored for the eponymous ballet, choreographed by Martha Graham. Wrongo prefers the chamber version to the full orchestra version:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Trump and Kim: Can Peace Really Break Out?

The Daily Escape:

Photo of TV broadcast by the Korean Broadcasting System, South Korea

We’ve gone from Trump and Kim Jong-un tweeting about who had the bigger nuclear missile button to possibly sitting down together in June. Joe Cirincione writes at Defense One:

Even if you politically oppose President Donald Trump and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, you should welcome Pompeo’s surprise meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un. More than anything else that has happened in the Trump presidency, this trip could bring us closer to resolving one of the most dangerous nuclear crises in the world today.

If the meeting happens, it will be the first meeting between any President Kim and a US president. The highest-level contact between the two nations occurred in 2000 between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il.

Those talks came close to forging a deal to end North Korea’s nuclear program before they had even tested any bombs. Albright’s successor as Secretary of State, Colin Powell, promised in March, 2001 that the GW Bush administration would pick up where the Clinton administration left off.

But Bush identified North Korea as one of the Axis of Evil, and he, along with Dick Cheney, killed the negotiation process. North Korea exploded its first bomb five years later. Jung H. Pak writing for Brookings, picks up the story about Kim the Younger:

For the first seven years of his rule, from December 2011 to December 2017, Kim has gone full force on his version of “maximum pressure.” He has tested nearly 90 ballistic missiles (three times more than that of his father and grandfather combined) and conducted four of North Korea’s six nuclear tests, including the biggest one in September 2017, which had an estimated yield of 150 kilotons.

At the same time, he refused attempts by the US, South Korea, and China to engage, refusing to meet with any foreign head of state. Until now. Back to Joe Cirincione:

The Pompeo trip is an effort to correct the mistakes of the past. His talks with Kim, and the high-level talks between North and South Korea in preparation for their own summit, clearly establishes new, serious momentum towards deals with Pyongyang.

And now, Republicans and a few neo-cons are offering strong support for the very negotiations they slammed when Democrats (and Powell) tried them. Now that the GOP has the presidency, negotiation with North Korea is no longer appeasement. Cirincione concludes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

This is why Republicans do arms control better than Democrats. They are not smarter nor do they strike better deals. But when a Republican president supports arms reductions or peace talks, he takes three-quarters of the party with him and the Democrats swing solidly in support. That delivers the bipartisan consensus needed for sustained national security policy. Republican presidents have led the way in nuclear reductions.

Will Trump and Kim meet? Probably, but where is a big question. The NYT reports that Kim doesn’t have a plane that can travel more than 3,000 miles. The Times quotes Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who worked on Korea issues:

We know he has a plane, but it’s an old plane….No one really knows if it works.

Imagine: His missiles can fly for 8,000-12,000 miles, but his plane can’t.

Should we have any faith that Trump can work with South Korea to finally end the Korean War and de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula? Lots could go wrong, and the summit won’t take place until June. That is years away in Trump time.

It is difficult to imagine that North Korea will give up its nukes any time soon. What assurances can Trump give Kim that North Korea would not be sacrificing its security if it denuclearized? Is the US credible if Trump says he’ll guarantee North Korea’s security? Of course not.

Maybe both win just by having a meeting, even if it fails. Kim can be seen as continuing to call the tune in North Asia, while Trump can say that he tried a bold move to achieve a lasting peace, without losing anything strategically.

Would the two sides agree to a verifiable freeze of North Korea nuclear programs? And what would the US give in return? Remove its troops from South Korea?

A grand bargain may be impossible, but isn’t walking towards disarmament better than running toward nuclear war?

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 5, 2018

The Daily Escape:

-15° sunrise through Hollow Rock, Grand Portage, MN. The sun lines up perfectly only twice a year – 2018 photo by Tuckolson.

Sunday brought a Super Bowl victory by the Eagles, as Wrongo predicted. The week begins with Mr. Market in charge of our financial destiny after the Dow dropped 666 points last Friday. Adding 200,000 new jobs and higher wages, possibly because of minimum wage rate increases in 18 states, should have been good news. But Mr. Market thinks wage increases mean wage inflation, and that weakens corporate profits, which cannot be tolerated. So we must be punished.

This week, the focus shifts to the Winter Olympics in South Korea (SK). And, the Trumpets plan to ratchet up their rhetoric about North Korea (NK). The Guardian reports that VP Mike Pence is leading the US delegation, and he plans a war of words on NK’s participation:

Vice-president Mike Pence will stop North Korea “hijacking” the Winter Olympics, an aide said on Sunday, by using his own presence at the Games to remind the world “everything the North Koreans do at the Olympics is a charade to cover up the fact that they are the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet”.

Axios quoted another WH source:

North Korea wants to make this about cute photo ops. The vice-president is countering North Korea’s desire to control the message…We’re not going to cede two weeks of world media to North Korea.

So, no dice on cooperation between NK and SK. But, the reality is much, much worse. The NYT points toward signs that a war with North Korea may be coming. They say that the White House is frustrated by the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide Trump with options for a military strike against NK. HR McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, believes that for Trump’s warnings to NK to be credible, the US must have better tactical military plans, including a bloody nose” option. From the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.

Think about it: Our military leaders think that if they work up more tactical plans for striking NK, Trump will want to use one of them. And they think that would be a strategic mistake, since it will trigger a shooting war with NK that could kill millions on the Korean peninsula. It would almost certainly also threaten Japan, and draw in China as well.

Connecting the dots includes the disclosure that the White House decided not to nominate Victor D. Cha, a Korea expert, as ambassador to SK. Mr. Cha thinks he was sidelined because he warned the administration against a bloody nose military strike.

Then there is this: The WaPo’s Tokyo Bureau Chief, Anna Fifield flagged a report by a SK news outlet, Hankyoreh: (emphasis by Wrongo)

NSC Asia director Matthew Pottinger told Korea experts that a limited strike on the North ‘might help in the midterm elections’…

Fifield identifies Hankyoreh as “left-wing”, and says that it is the only news outlet currently reporting this. So, it could be nonsense, but it fits the messaging that the Trumpets are spooling out about NK. People keep wondering when Trump will reach rock bottom. Starting a war partially because you want to win the midterm elections would be it.

This sounds like something we need to know MUCH more about, and very quickly. The motives behind a preemptive strike transcend teaching Kim Jong Un a lesson. Trump might be thinking it would ward off Mueller’s possible charges, or the possibility of impeachment, if a Democratic Congress was seated in January 2019.

The quote may be fake news, but it’s not implausible that Trump’s administration could be thinking this. And it’s not clear which is more terrifying, that this thought is in the air in DC, or that some in SK are scared enough to make this up.

We need a serious discussion about preemptive war with NK. We are already living with the consequences of the unnecessary war George W. Bush started in Iraq, and we will pay for that for the rest of our lives.

We can’t let Trump start another.

Wake up, America! Time to find out what the truth is about giving NK a bloody nose. To help you wake up, here is My Morning Jacket with their 2008 tune, “I’m Amazed”:

Takeaway Lyric:

I’m amazed the lack of evolution
I’m amazed at the lack of faith
I’m amazed at the love we’re rejecting
I’m amazed what we accept in its place

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here

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America’s Negotiations With North Korea are Similar to Israel’s With Palestine

The Daily Escape:

Lake Waramaug, Litchfield County CT. It is the second largest natural lake in the state.

Our problems with North Korea (NK), and the impossible negotiating position we have with them, brings to mind Israel’s relationship with Palestine. Both NK and Palestine:

  • Had their borders drawn by other powers after WWII
  • Had been invaded many times by their neighbors
  • And they have fought wars with them ever since
  • Are anti-US, and anti-Israel
  • Are allies
  • Have a large benefactor that props them up economically. Iran in the case of the Palestinians, and China in the case of NK

And both countries appear unwilling to negotiate with their sworn enemies towards a peaceful solution. We officially ended the Korean War in 1953. The parties to the Armistice tried to negotiate a withdrawal of foreign forces from the peninsula and settle the question of who would rule a reunited Korea. Talks took place in 1954, but broke down over how to hold fair elections for a unified government.

The Armistice specified that no new weapons would be introduced on the peninsula, but in 1957, the US informed NK that it would no longer abide by that part of the Armistice agreement. In January 1958, the US deployed nuclear missiles capable of reaching Moscow and Beijing, in South Korea.

We kept them there until 1991, and tried to reintroduce them in 2013, but South Korea refused. NK conducted its first underground nuclear test in 2006.

NK has very close relationships with many Arab countries. From the Diplomat:

North Korea…actively supported Arab countries in their military operations against Israel. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War…North Korean pilots staffed Egyptian MIG-21s…During the 1980s, North Korea shifted [to] arms…sales to Israel’s enemies in the Middle East. The DPRK exported missiles to Iran, Syria, and Libya and assisted both Syria and Iran in their attempts to develop nuclear weapon capabilities.

NK’s relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) began in 1966. NK today recognizes the sovereignty of Palestine over all territory held by Israel, except the Golan Heights, which NK considers Syrian Territory. The Diplomat says that NK helped Hezbollah build underground tunnels in Lebanon.

Quartz reports that NK helped Syria build a nuclear facility (that Israel destroyed in an air raid in 2007). In 2014, Syria asked NK to help monitor its presidential elections. In 2016, NK sent two units to fight in the Assad regime’s civil war.

Al-monitor reports that NK also cooperates closely with Iran. Israel believes that Iranian scientists were present at most of NK’s nuclear tests. Iran’s Shahab missiles were developed with the assistance of NK, and are based on the NK Nodong missile.

Where do we go from here? After 63 years, we have failed to successfully negotiate with NK. Even Steve Bannon gets it:

There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it…Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.

KAL’s cartoon captures the problem:

We are stuck in the moment, and we can’t get out of it, just like Israel and Palestine.

Our history with NK tells them that we are not trustworthy. Barack Obama replaced direct engagement with pressure tactics, called “strategic patience.” He also rejected negotiation with NK without a prior commitment to denuclearization.

And here we are. We won’t talk to them unless they give up the bomb. They already have the bomb, so they won’t be giving it up. We can’t move against them without huge damage to Japan and South Korea. Would we sacrifice either country to save the US homeland from a NK nuclear-tipped missile?

What should we do now? Will we accept the fact that NK is a nuclear power? Will we continue to rely on sanctions?

Would we commit to a no-first-strike policy that might reduce tensions with NK?

Would we agree to stop the provocative war games?

What will the Trump administration do to avoid nuclear war?

Nobody knows. Here is U2, live in Boston in 2001 with their Grammy-winning “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” from their 2000 album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”:

As you sing along, remember the song was written to persuade someone that suicide wasn’t the answer.

Takeaway lyric:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better…

Now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

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