Being Nice to Dictators

Being Nice to Dictators

This is what American foreign policy has come to. We give dictators whatever they want in order to keep the peace and to keep migrants from flooding Europe and by extension, eventually, America (and for oil). Today Trump announced that he will end the sanctions against Turkey in exchange for a cease fire in the land grab against the Kurds in Syria and to end the presence of a minority group despised by Turks for reasons that are rooted in ancient animosities. Ending sanctions may not be a done deal yet, but it most likely will be. Next the Russian sanctions will end by executive decree because Trump likes to imagine that he is a strong man, despite the fact that he is just a corrupt bombastic pawn.

Once again the president exerts his executive power as if Congress does not exist. He does not see this as breaking an oath to uphold the Constitution because he sees the executive branch as all-powerful and he finally has a Chief Justice who agrees with this self-serving interpretation of our founding documents. Once again the president of America chooses to please Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey, both “strong men.”

We have been wary of backing these men because their goals in Europe (and now in the world) are imperialistic as well as political, and because the spread of authoritarianism was something we have opposed for decades as democracy offered the world more freedoms. Now that capitalism has spread everywhere, perhaps we see that greed was our true goal, and now that we achieved our economic goals our humanistic goals of encouraging nations towards democracy have become expendable.

So we remain silent as the citizens of Hong Kong demonstrate to preserve freedoms they already own from being taken away. China’s business is China’s business, until one day in the not-so-distant future it becomes our business. We don’t want a war with China, but we should take a principled stand in support of human freedoms and telegraph that we mean what we say. We do not usually knuckle under to dictators until now when the economy of the entire world is so tied to the new capitalist China that stock portfolios trump humanitarianism.

China has also become a bit scary. It is so big and it is a giant machine run by one man. There is no way to be disloyal to the leader in China except from jail or from exile. Capitalism run by one leader is intimidating enough; the thought of a military with unlimited human resources run by one leader who demands absolute loyalty is terrifying. If we are afraid to stand up to China on the small things, I think we can one day expect to have to face this giant on some fairly big things, or perhaps we will just capitulate and keep our thoughts to ourselves. Isn’t love of freedom the reason we are usually not nice to dictators?

Of course we can’t have this conversation without a few words about North Korea and the mythic-dispenser-of-cruelty-to-his-own people, and dictator supposedly in a “love affair with our President. Sometimes people are so convinced of their own deity that no amount of “tough love” will change the way they behave. North Korea is a bit quieter but it could be a silence that is covering up a plan to treat the world to some future dastardly deeds with killer results.

It is difficult to believe that someone as egomaniacal as Kim Jong-Un plans to go peacefully into the sunset. Exactly what his plans are it is difficult to discern but if he ever teams up with Russia, China, and Turkey he will have access to some pretty enormous pieces of world real estate and whatever assets and weapons the leaders of these nations choose to grant him. Perhaps this is the reason that Trump thinks cozying up to all of these nations is a necessity right now. Sadly what seems to be the case is that he would like to become a member of this “strong man” group.

Goodbye freedom. Goodbye Republic. Goodbye democracy and free speech, including freedom of the press. Learn to follow orders blindly and just do the tasks assigned to you by the Big Brothers and you will be fine. Life will be a grim business and mercifully short. This could be our future if we don’t figure this out now. This is what being nice to dictators wins us.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – BBC

Trust and Peace in Korea

Moon jae in and Kim Jong un big vox

After the stories we get, all too infrequently, out of North Korea – after the prison camps, the cult of “Dear Leader” that citizens are initiated into at birth – after the famine and the fear that the slightest misstep could bring imprisonment with torture and hard labor or even death – after all that and more, if you were a citizen of South Korea how would you feel about the possibility of ending Korea’s decades-long separation? Do you trust your new President with his goofy, light-hearted smile to stand up to a man who learned how to rule from his father Kim Jung-il a man who ruled by emotional whim, sometimes acting beneficent and sometimes vicious, paranoid and cruel. Kim Jong-un seems to govern in that same bipolar style. Would you want to cozy up to a guy who just threatened to bomb half the known world out of existence?

Do we hope that the spirit of Dennis Rodman is motivating Kim Jong-un to find his “Hangover” happy place as an adopted American frat boy? Does he hope to share Western pleasures with his people? Does he want sanctions lifted and an economy that can flourish as a serious leader of dependent people might? Will North Korea become more like South Korea or vice versa? Did the welcome his delegation received at the Olympics warm the cockles of his previously impervious heart? Does he wish to rebrand his nation from the “Hermit Kingdom” to something new? Perhaps seeing how far out ahead South Korea has managed to go in terms of modernity, technology, and prosperity he either wants to haul South Korea back to a harsher, simpler lifestyle or get some of that prosperity for his own nation. North Korea has always seemed to eschew modernity and critique the depravity of developed nations, America in particular, as being soft, self-indulgent and greedy. Perhaps this has just been a way to rationalize the advantages of starvation and strife.

No – if I were a South Korean citizen I would be quite leery of any abrupt attempt to reconcile North and South Korea. I would want to know exactly how such a relationship would function. Would a certain degree of détente still apply? Would Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in form some kind of coalition government? Would it just be a matter of loosening control along the DMZ? Both leaders seem to want the American military presence in South Korea to go away but if I were a South Korean I think I would say, “not so fast.” What is bringing on this new impulse to reunite the Korean people given the danger inherent in such move? What does South Korea have to gain from this reunion beyond squishy nostalgia for a past that would, perhaps, be difficult to recapture.

Was the collapse at the North Korean nuclear test site worse than we thought, making some move towards reconciliation a distraction to appease Kim Jong-un’s own people? What happened when the “Dear Leader” went to China on that slow train? Was he ordered to go hat in hand? Or did he go on his own to discuss his next moves with President Xi Jinping? The problem with secrecy is that it makes people wonder why such secrecy is necessary. What is being hidden? In this case we have had glimpses that what is being hidden is so terrible that it would raise outcries around the world if the truth of it were known. It gives me shivers to think that the South Koreans would want anything at all to do with this young man who knows how to smile so beguilingly while ordering death for dissenters or imagined dissenters.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is a liberal, he leans to the left. He even was imprisoned once in South Korea for activism. He wants to stimulate the South Korean economy and generate jobs. Corporate families like Samsung have disproportionate privilege and influence in South Korea. He would like to spread this power out, allow more businesses to share the wealth. And he would like to see a reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. He would like, as we would, to end the threat of nuclear war, which would certainly have negative effects on South Korea which might be subject to nuclear fallout or find itself in the margin of error of foreign retaliation. Kim Jong-un could be playing South Korea and Trump by meaning what he says but not telling everything. Nations that keep secrets can do that. Could he agree to not use nukes but never bring up bio-weapons if negotiations did not go there. Does he have a sincere desire to rejoin the world or is this all a power ploy? Hard to be a “player” and then expect public opinion to turn around on a dime and accept you when you suddenly act all sincere; hard not to suspect this could be a trick. Is President Moon Jae-in seeing what he wants to see? Is he correct to open his country up to a man who could still be a monster? I would not want to be the President of South Korea who has to make this decision. But if he is right he will be remembered fondly forever.

And then we put Trump into this mix which already has so much potential for duplicity. Trump wants a Nobel Peace prize. He has his people chanting “Nobel, Nobel” at his rallies. Peace is a good thing. None of us is happy when a possibly unstable leader of a secretive nation is threatening to nuke us all. We can sympathize with the people in a divided nation who wish to make their country whole again. Perhaps two unstable men can produce a stable and peaceful outcome much as two negatives can make a positive. It shouldn’t matter who brings peace as long as the peace is real. I am having difficulty accepting that such a flawed President as ours could leave us any legacy that will not have to be overturned as soon as we come to our senses. Part of me loves peace so much it will even accept 45 as the prince of peace, but part of me wishes that this was happening in any other administration. I will get over myself. Peace is peace and each little bit of it that is negotiated in this contentious world of ours is valuable. But can we expect one cruel leader, one hopeful liberal, and one old-reprobate-white- supremacist-con man to produce a truly trustworthy and lasting peace. It is a tough stew to swallow.

This is a view from the cheap seats.

Yikes! Will It Be War?


Yikes! We may find ourselves at war with North Korea. Soon. Kim
Jong-un has verbalized his intent to target four American cities with nukes. We
are assured that we have a system of anti-missile missiles which will explode
these nukes high above the Pacific Ocean. Even if we do manage to bat the nukes
away as if we have our own personal superhero, we will probably have to go to
war with North Korea. How can we ignore such a provocation?

I must admit that I am terrible at playing chicken. I think
the game makes no sense. Either someone backs down, thus crushing his/her
(usually his) tender ego or some terrible outcome becomes reality. We have been
playing chicken in Washington for the past four and ¼ years and it has gotten
old and we are ready for a new game. But at least our politicians have not been
playing chicken with nukes.

Does Korea want to dominate the world, to be the new #1
nation? Well I would guess that they have to get in line. There are quite a few
countries ahead of them and unless they all form a coalition (yikes10)
North Korea seems least likely to gain most powerful nation status. Do they
just want some respect? Do they want sanctions lifted? All they have to do to
get those two things is to join the slew of nations who do not feel the need to
surround themselves with seven veils of secrecy. All nations are, of course,
somewhat secretive, but at least they don’t isolate themselves and wall
themselves off from the nations who share this tiny (vulnerable) planet. Most
countries maintain somewhat civil diplomatic relationships with others. Most
countries use their words, not their nukes.


Unless Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans win world domination
what positive outcomes do they see coming from an attack on the US (or even an
attack on South Korea which will be like an attack on the US.) They apparently
see themselves as a warrior nation with imperialistic plans. How can we defuse
this escalating situation? How can we appeal to a nation that has hedged itself
within such a powerful defensive stance that there are almost no opportunities
to make a deal that is mutually beneficial, that will allow North Korea to stand-down
their ego and will allow the rest of the world to share the wealth? How would
the leader of North Korea ever back down now?

We seem to have the advantage militarily but we have not
done so well in our recent wars. Observing this may be raising Kim Jong-un’s confidence
level. But we had problems in Afghanistan and Iraq that we will not have in
North Korea. We were at war with the leader or with one faction in those Middle
Eastern nations, and yet not at war with the people of those nations. We were
trying to keep civilian deaths to a minimum. We were also dealing, in each of
these cases, with sects within these nations that were at war with each other.
Complicated hatreds and alliances made sorting out issues more difficult. In
North Korea this will not, I assume, be the case. Since the people of Korea
seem to be firmly behind their leader, whether by choice or by duress, being at
war with Kim Jong-un will mean being at war with the entire nation of Korea. We
also take nukes off the table when we fight modern wars. North Korea is leading
with their nukes and that means weapons of mass destruction are on the table, although
I believe America will try to avoid using them unless given no alternative.

Whatever happens this is a sad state of affairs. It benefits
no one. Not America, not North Korea, not the North Korean people and not the
world. The truly manly thing to do would be to find a way to deal with the
world that did not involve nuking it. There is still time. Take the bold approach
that opens up your nation, frees your people from military endeavors so they
can turn their zeal to living productive and happy lives with their families,
and be the patriarch of a happy nation. You will probably be flooded with
modern technology. It is inevitable. It is like a gas which spreads to all
available empty space until equilibrium is reached. It is a mixed blessing and
I can see why a nation might want to hold on to the traditional. However, I
think we are highly unlikely to put this genie (or Pandora) back in the box.
Don’t nuke us, join us. We will all try to keep the worst aspects of the high
tech revolution at bay together.