The hubbub about the US missile strike against Syria sort of came and went in the media amidst the seemingly daily whirl of controversy the Trump White House generates. News outlets were abuzz with speculation that the missile strike may have negatively impacted the US-Russia relationship, thereby, in my opinion, playing into the hands of the White House, who wishes to distance Trump from any connection with Russia. From my perspective, I don’t see any appreciable degradation of the US (Trump)-Russia relationship yet, but I guess we’ll see.
A far more volatile situation now is North Korea. In his 2012 book The Impossible State: North Korea, past and future, Asia expert and former NSC official Victor Cha wrote, “I believe that the forty-fifth president of the United States will contend with a major crisis of governance in North Korea before he or she leaves office,” and it appears that crisis may already be beginning. The question is: does Trump have the team he needs to deal with this crisis? In my estimation, the answer is “no.”
Trump himself has already shown himself to be a big dummy when it comes to Asia. He’s going to need smart people with knowledge and experience of east Asian policy and the temperament to deal with the hot-headed North Korea. But it appears that Trump does not have this team and according to an article by The Washington Post, the White House has even disregarded some Asia experts based solely on their opposition to Trump. From the article:
Some top Asia experts have been deemed persona non grata in Trump world because of their opposition to the president during the campaign. Other top former officials were more careful talking about Trump but are nevertheless in limbo. Former NSC senior director Victor Cha has been discussed internally for a top position but was never offered a job or explicitly told he was not wanted. Ashley Tellis, a top India expert, was initially considered strongly for ambassador to India, but was later taken out of consideration for allegedly not disclosing some of his anti-Trump statements.
If you disregard people who disagree with Trump, well, that’s a lot of people. A lot of smart people. This pettiness-and let’s face it, that’s what it is- can’t help the situation and may very well make a bad situation worse. Every region, whether it be Europe, Africa, South America or wherever, has a complex history and set of relationships. North Korea’s isolation and almost cartoonish belligerence belies its complexity and position in the region and the world. Donald Trump’s tough talk about North Korea might be great for cable news, but it sucks for getting things done.
The danger of North Korea needs to be looked at realistically. Despite a couple of ridiculous films like 2012’s Red Dawn remake and the 2013 film Olympus Has Fallen, North Korea ain’t invading the US of A anytime soon. They can barely feed their own people. But they do have the capability to inflict devastating damage to South Korea and Japan, which would be a human and economic catastrophe that would be felt around the world.
The North Korea problem is not reality TV: it’s reality. And it’s not going away unless Trump can get over himself and hire some smart people with cooler heads.