The following post was written by my youngest daughter. She is lawyer in Northern Virginia and has been following the North Korea situation for many years. I would defer to her knowledge of the situation and so I offer her a forum on my blog to express her feelings.
I have been following the recent events concerning North Korea and called my Dad this morning to inform him that I wanted to write a guest post on the topic. One, because I have been researching and closely following North Korean foreign policy and human rights for about 15 years now and two, I likely would tell me Dad that anything he wrote was wrong because of XYZ reasons, so I should just save him the trouble and write the post myself.
I want to very quickly give some background on my politics because I believe that it will add credibility to what I write about North Korea and the current Administration. I am a staunch liberal, at many times to my Father’s chagrin. I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and felt that Hillary was not liberal enough, though I did check the box for her at the end of the day. I sat there in horror on November 8, 2016 as I watched Donald Trump claim the required amount of Electoral College votes (a system I strongly support). I wasn’t upset so much because of Hillary losing, but more that someone I felt was wholly inept to lead in any fashion was about to become our President. In the first 7 months, he has not done much to convince me that he is a competent leader. However, I think he has it more right about North Korea than any other President so far…….yep, I just said it….Donald Trump has something “more right.” Please note that I didn’t say he was completely right.
North Korea has developed into a viable nuclear threat in large part due to the passive approach of the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan. Despite the gross and awful human rights violations that occur daily in North Korea, what has gotten the World’s attention is their successful development of nuclear weapons. It saddens me that the people of North Korea are abused, starving, victimized, and completely helpless against their brutal now spanning 3 generation dictatorship, but no one is willing to overthrow the regime, which has lasted 67 years too long, until they are a real nuclear threat. Donald Trump is the first world leader to say in definitive, albeit hyperbolic, terms that enough is enough and they will be met with “fire and fury.” I assure you if he did not have Kim Jong Un’s attention before, he has it now, along with his cadre of supporters.
Kim Jong Un is likely very close to the caricatures of him: an overweight, unstable, brat who has his sights and finger on a button that will send nuclear weapons over the Pacific Ocean reaching Guam in less than 14 minutes. Perhaps Trump is simply falling into the right timing with Kim Jong Un and taking this hardline stance, but since no one has ever taken it before, I will give credit where credit is due.
Kim Jong Un is the grandson of Kim Il Sung, the beloved former leader and still Eternal President of North Korea. Kim Il Sung came into power in 1950 and his regime was propped up by the now defunct Soviet Union. Sung was a ruthless, but charismatic leader that was adored by his people. For the first 30 years, North Korea outpaced South Korea in terms of growth, economic development, and quality of living. With a seemingly endless flow of support and goods from the USSR, Sung could provide his people with stability free from Japanese rule. While Sung ruled with an iron first, he did so with a smile and full knowledge that his power was completely dependent on the Soviets. It was easy to hate the Americans and please those that buttered his bread.
The 1990s were a time of disaster for North Korea. Not only did the USSR and the Communist system fail and the support it provided to North Korea all but disappeared overnight, but Kim Il Sung passed away (though his people were taught and believed that he would live forever), the country suffered massive droughts which led to the rationing system failing due to food shortages, and they welcomed in a new leader, Kim Jong Il, son of Kim Il Sung.
Kim Jong Il was drastically different than his Father. He ruled from a place of fear and was generally disliked by the people. While Sung was quick to eliminate his adversaries and potential challengers to his power, he did so in a way that did not cause as many waves because it was perhaps masked by the new-found prosperity of the North Korean people. Kim Jong Il was ruthless and unapologetic in both his elimination of any dissidents, perceived or actual, and became more interested in siphoning the country’s limited resources for his own gain. While his people starved, Jong Il instead focused on expanded opioid crops, collecting expensive alcohol, and continuing to encase himself in multiple secretive palaces. Jong Il was a cruel man plagued by paranoia and here in lies the issue with Kim Jong Un.
Un did not have the luxury of being raised by a man who knew that his regime was a façade. He instead was born and raised in a full-fledged propaganda state. He was raised in relative seclusion, having never even met the half-brother that he had murdered in Malaysia. Kim Jong Un never saw struggle and likely fully believes all the insane stories about his grandfather. Whether it is his fault or not, Un was raised in an environment that almost demands a diagnosis of severe paranoia and mental illness. Therefore, Trump is correct to take a hardline approach.
Kim Jong Un likely truly believes that he is running out of options to hold on to control in North Korea. He is executing high ranking officials in record numbers, has beefed up border control to unprecedented levels, all the while finding that black markets are beginning to boom again and while his people might be starving and more interested in finding their next meal than starting a revolution, the Pyongyang elite are growing wary of him. The most recent sanctions are likely to put even more economic pressure on an already broken system. Un knows that the daily lives and comforts of the elite are going to suffer and he is being left with few options. Straight diplomacy cannot change this reality. It is one that has been decades in the making and while the people of North Korea may lack the physical means, they have starved and been abused for too long. They want to be free. They just don’t want the Imperial Bastard Americans to do it……
This is where Trump is mostly getting it right with North Korea. He is correct to take the “Fire and Fury” approach because that is the only thing that Kim Jong Un will digest. Nuclear threats from North Korea are par for the course, the difference is now they have the capability. For Un these constant launches indicate a far greater instability in his regime because North Korea’s nuclear power and “world domination” are the only cards Un has left to play given the state of the country. It would be great if diplomacy could resolve this issue, but taking a hard-line stance and threatening military action is the correct route. Un knows that there is only end result to this conflict, his regime ending. The question becomes how many casualties will be sustained in the process.
Trump now has a decision to make in order to get this conflict totally right. Should military action be necessary, and I believe it will be, then Trump needs to take total direction from people that are a lot smarter than him. If he doesn’t then I fear the death toll will sharply rise and Seoul could find itself a footprint of what it once was. Trump is doing something that no other U.S. President had the guts to do, he is actively and aggressively standing up to the constant tantrums of North Korea. If Trump takes the advice of the military on how to properly handle the intervention then perhaps we will see the end of one of the most totalitarian brutal dictatorships even seen.