Current Events: War by Thursday? How Rational Are We?

The United States could be at war with North Korea by Wednesday.  The scenario, as laid out by Ambassador Wendy Sherman at The New Yorker Festival’s North Korea panel, could go something like this.

Tuesday, October 10: North Korea tests a new long range missile to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the communist party and to show it can hit the United States.

Wednesday, October 11: Donald Trump decertifies the Iranian nuclear treaty, despite reports from the International Atomic Energy Commission that Iran is complying.

Thursday, October 12: The United States pulls out of the Iran deal, and war starts with North Korea.

Ambassador Sherman served as special adviser on North Korea to President Bill Clinton, and was the lead American negotiator the Iran nuclear deal. She did not specify what the spark would be that could touch off a war with North Korea or who would initiate it, but instead pointed out that the danger was an escalating cycle that would override the rationality of the two sides.

Ambassador Sherman was on the panel with James R. Clapper, Jr., the former U.S. director of national intelligence, having held the position under President Barack Obama from 2010 to 2017, Suki Kim, is the author of the Times best-seller “Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korean Elite” and the novel “The Interpreter,” Robert E. Kelly, a professor in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University, and the famed BBC dad, and Sue Mi Terry, the senior adviser on Korea for BowerGroupAsia, and who was formerly a senior analyst for the C.I.A., focusing on Korean issues. The panel was moderated by New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos.

This distinguished panel did have some good news. They say that nearly everyone who studies North Korea agrees on two points.

  1. Kim Jong Un is not suicidal, and is primarily concerned with preserving his regime, which leads to…
  2. North Korea is not going to attack the United States directly.

These conclusions are based on the notion that Kim Jong Un is rational person. That rationality also means that he will not give up his nuclear weapons, because he is worried about suffering the same fate as Muammar Gaddafi, who gave up nuclear weapons and ended up deposed and dead, Ms. Terry said.

So the question becomes whether or not the United States could live with a nuclear armed North Korea that is capable of sending a nuclear tipped ICBM to the United States. The question becomes one of living in a kind of cold war existence with the North Koreans. On one hand, there is a belief that the North Koreans would be unlikely to ever do anything of the sort because they know that it would be the end of their country. On the other hand, there are some observers who believe that the North Koreans would try to blackmail the United States with its nuclear arsenal so that U.S. troops would leave and North Korea could try to take over the whole peninsula.

Prof. Kelly dismissed the second idea as unlikely because the Koreans would never be able to absorb the South Korean people into their society even if they could beat South Korea’s larger, and better equipped army. The South Korean people would never accept a repressive regime, and being far more numerous would overwhelm the North Korean culture. Additionally, they would never buy the notion of King Jon Un as a god-like ruler, not having been indoctrinated into that notion since birth.

The indoctrination of the North Korean people is what makes the problem of North Korea more difficult. Ms. Kim pointed out that the people of North Korea are somewhat infantilized by the constant control and that they have no context to think about their regime from the outside world. So, it makes sense for the average north Korean to believe that the United States is an enemy poised to attack them at any moment and that the dear leader is the only one who can save the people. She believes the long term strategy for dealing with Korea is to try to get information into Korea about the world outside so that they can rethink their situation, but she and the rest of panel admit this is a long play and not enough to deal with the current nuclear situation.

Mr. Clapper said that there are signs of hope in that the a member of the younger generation had said to him on one visit that “I have been to Seoul and I have seen what is there” in a way that made him think that the official had second thoughts about how great North Korea is. Mr. Clapper also pointed out that unless there is some kind of carrot to go with the threat of sticks, there would not likely be much movement in the situation. He thinks that the North Koreans will need to be accepted into the nuclear club and told to act like grownups now that they are in it.

One further complication in all of this is that China wants North Korea as a buffer against South Korea, the United States and Japan, despite being South Korea’s largest trading partner. Convincing China that a regime change in North Korea would be ideal is probably the easiest bet for change, but that is a tall order.

Ultimately, the panel agreed that it will take more than one thing to solve the North Korea problem successfully. As Ambassador Sherman said, the United States will need to use every tool it has, diplomacy, the credible threat of force to support diplomacy, sanctions, public diplomacy to the North Korean people, cyber warfare, and even basketball diplomacy with the likes of Dennis Rodman.

With any luck, we all won’t be singing the blues about Sad News from Korea.

Advertisements

Current Events: All the President’s Reporters Over Simplify America

What is the role of the press in U.S. politics? How did it do during the 2016 presidential election?  How is it doing covering President Trump?

These are some of the questions that a panel of experienced reporters attempted to answer during The New Yorker Festival’s “All The President’s Reporters” panel.

The panel, which included Jo Becker, from The New York Times, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame and now at Vanity Fair and CNN, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, and Greg Miller, of the Washington Post, had a lively discussion with the moderation of David Rohde, the news director of the thenewyorker.com.

The discussion moved me to do something I rarely do at events like these, and that is get up and pose a question to the panel. In their conversation, they covered Russian interference in the election, the ideological divisions in the country, and the repeated assaults on the new media by Donald Trump, who nevertheless remains very concerned about his coverage.

David Rohde asked whether or not the media had somehow failed in its coverage of Donald Trump and of the presidential election as a whole.

Jo Becker said that the media had covered things about Donald Trump’s business dealings and personal scandals but that none of it seemed to matter very much. Greg Miller added that it seemed that the media had been used as a tool of the “Russian operation” and that there were limits to what the media could be expected to report in real time.

Carl Bernstein made an important point, which was that “I don’t think it is our job to keep Donald Trump from being president of the United States or to see that he has has a premature exit. Our job is to learn what the hell is going on.”

But in all of this, whether it is a Russian attempt to influence the election, a divided electorate that searches for news that reinforces its preconceived notions, the discussion continued as though Hillary Clinton had not won the popular vote by 3 million votes. The idea of Russian hacking or people not learning about the scandals of Donald Trump start to fail when you consider that most of the people in the United States did not vote for him. Half of the people didn’t vote, and of those, fewer than half voted for him. Even among the quarter of the population that voted for Donald Trump, there was a significant group that voted for him strictly as a protest vote, those that voted for him because they thought Clinton would win regardless, and those that voted for him because he was the Republican, not because of the candidate himself.

I feel there is a condemnation of the American people based on an electoral system glitch. To her credit, Jo Becker did point out that Obama had been elected twice and that one of the things historians would need to grapple with is how the country could go from voting for him twice to electing Donald Trump.

While I believe that Carl Bernstein was correct that cable news gave Trump too much free airtime and that Jo Becker was right that Trump was not taken seriously enough, I do believe that in a country where he got less than 25 per cent of the vote and where this week 64 percent of the country says the United States in on the wrong track in a USA Today poll, we should not be too quick to say that Trump won thanks to some combination of American racism and Russian meddling. Our country is far more complicated and sophisticated than that.  Our panel, as accomplished and distinguished as they were, and the rest of the press, should adjust their reporting to account for that complicated picture.

It’s Time to Change the Conversation

The United States is in a strange place right now. With the inauguration of Donald Trump, it seems like every conversation has become political and many people are living in a state of permanent distraction.

On the right, considerable gloating could and can be heard about the changes that are supposed to come and the over throw of the old system. As the opposition grows more vocal, so do the growls of retaliation from the administration and its supporters. A sense of discomfort is settling over the right as they realize they have no mandate and less support than they thought.

On the left, the election results were met with disbelief and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was concerning to hear people say that they could not function in their daily lives. If the results lay them out, then how will they be able to take the hits that will come? Now people speak of resistance and with cautious hope that occasionally dips back into despair. Meanwhile, a riptide of violent talk and action is starting to filter through the left. People talking about (and actually) punching Nazis and trying to establish their violence bona fides from their history of fighting at punk concerts.

At the center of it all, however, remains one constant topic — Trump himself. This central position is what gives him so much power. By becoming the locus of all the efforts, energy, and attention, all the moves become his. Everyone else is reduced to reaction. So, he is setting the tone and the agenda for the entire country. He runs the conversation.

It is time to change the conversation.

The president is not the only political actor in the country. The Federal Government is not the only political actor in the country. Yet the reactions point to an ugly truth that maybe no one wants to hear — perhaps the left really has become to dependent on the government.

What should the conversation be?

Instead of making everything about Donald Trump, we need to start thinking about the issues facing our nation and our world. We need to start with facts and data, identify the problems, and begin working on the solutions. Since the federal government is no longer going to be of much help, it is time to find state, local, and private solutions to problems we face. There will be some federal battles to fight.Those are important, but for this discussion let’s think about the things that can be solved.

With the Democratic party unable to provide leadership, the resistance will be local.

We are starting to see some signs of this. For example, in Massachusetts, there is a bill that would require the state to get all of its energy from renewable resources. At the same time, Governor Charlie Baker, a republican, has said that if the Affordable Care Act goes away, then he will work to reinstate the previous universal coverage bill in Massachusetts that the ACA was based on (also known as Romneycare).

Money Magazine took a look at 17 programs that the Trump administration wants to cut and calculated that the cost per American citizen is $22.36 per year. This includes funding for things like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ($1.37), the National Endowment for the Arts ($0.46), and the Minority Business Development Agency ($0.11). All of these are worthy programs, but given the amount in the budget, maybe it is time to remove them from the political football field. This way, instead of being kicked around, they take the loss of federal funding, use it as a call to action, and build up their own private endowment. Call it an “Ice Bucket Challenge for the Humanities.” We can get people to kick in a little extra. I realize that not everyone can afford to donate — the battle cry of the left whenever someone suggests that people should do some of their own funding — but it becomes a case of from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her need. What would it cost to cover five Americans? About $111.80? I’ll cover myself and four others.

Yes, private funding can be fickle (so can government funding). But really, the question now is what do we value, and are we willing to support it, whether through our state and local governments or our own efforts.

The point of these examples is not the examples per se. It is that solutions exist, and they don’t need Donald Trump or the federal government to bless them. Maybe by changing the conversation, we can start to prevent some bad things from happening by creating sustainable, smaller scale solutions.

Did White Women Suddenly Wake Up in 2017?

The left has once again begun turning on itself and succumbing to infighting. On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States. On January 21, 2017 more than two-and-a-half million Americans joined Woman’s marches around the country to protest various aspects of the Trump administration’s plans.

img_20170121_125919156_burst000_cover_top

By January 22, 2017 the members of the left began to complain about the march. “Where have all these people been? Why were white women only marching now? Where have they been before this?”

First of all, let’s start with the election itself. Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

Clinton: 65,844,610

Trump: 62,979,636

(http://www.cnn.com/election/results/president)

So, a lot of the women at the marches were there for round 1 and they were showing up for round 2, and the painful rounds to come.

I made this point in response to a critique of the marches, and someone said that white women have not been present for a lot of social justice fights. The assertion was that these marches were the first time white women have cared of thought about social justice.

Nonsense.

They have been there all along. What do people think Hillary Clinton has been doing all her career? (Trump supporters don’t need to bother to answer. This is a conspiracy-free post.) What do people think Elizabeth Warren has been fighting for all these years?

Maybe those people are too high profile? Too big? What about all the white women who were out there protesting for the the right to vote and part of anti-slavery societies? Harriet Beecher Stowe? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Susan B. Anthony?

Maybe those don’t count because they are too far in the past?

All right, let me give two recent examples of people I’ve met.

Gale Cincotta was a community organizer in Chicago who was famous for giving banks a hard time about redlining communities — particularly minority communities — on Chicago’s west side. Her work led to the creation of the Community Reinvestment Act, which required banks to make loans and investments in low-income communities. She was a tough character, but she was also mentoring younger women and trianing them to join the fight for social justice for all groups of people.

Second is Mary Houghton, one of the four founders of ShoreBank, which helped to launch the community development banking movement both in the U.S. and around the world. The mission was to make loans and provide financial services in underserved communities, starting with the south side of Chicago.

I could go on, because there are many others. But the point is this, the left needs to stop turning on itself and start paying attention to its own history. Maybe someone’s particular problem wasn’t solved, but grassroots movements are often local and don’t always get the attention they deserve.

So, did white women suddenly wake up to social justice on January 21, 2017?

No.

They continued the work they have been doing for along time.

So the left should stop turning on one another and start working together to keep the positive momentum going.