by Barkley Rosser
In many areas where many were worried that President Trump would do this that or the other crazy thing he has held back for one reason or another. But one very serious location where he has recently made a total botch of things has been in Korea, a series of unforced errors. Of course before he got into it in Korea it looked like he might get in a shooting war with China, but then he decided that Xi Jinping is a great guy after the Chinese paid his family gobs of money and Trump realized that he needed to make nicey nice with Xi in order to deal with unquestionably serious problem of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, possibly the most dangerous situation in the world right now.
So then he proceeded to talk tough on North Korea, making noises about starting a war with them if they tested a nuclear weapon (which they did not, making a failed rocket test instead) with this supposedly being backed up by him supposedly sending the USS Carl Vinson to back up his threats, only to have it come out a few days later that the Vinson was sailing off into the Indian Ocean. I gather it has finally shown up in the neighborhood, but now Trump has messed up with longtime US ally South Korea, the only party involved in this arguably more important than China even.
South Korea is in the middle of a snap election happening in about two weeks or so brought about by the impeachment of now former President Park Geun-ye, daughter of former dictator Park Chung-he, who was assassinated by his top intel guy. Park is from the more conservative of South Korea’s political parties and had agreed under pressure from Trump to install the THAAD anti-missile defense system. Doing this has upset China, which has put in place a strong economic boycott against South Korea. Nevertheless Trump pushed on and has had the THAAD system installed and up and running, even though the politician most likely to win the upcoming election, Moon Jae-in of the more left-liberal party, has said that he would like to think about this and that it should not be fully installed yet. But to add insult to injury, Trump demanded that the South Koreans pay for the THAAD system, completely outraging pretty much everybody there. He has backed off that, but has now added a threat to unilaterally end the South Korea-US trade agreement. Maybe that is a bad agreement, but given everything else that is going on, this seems like an abysmally stuipid moment to bring up such an issue. The South Koreans are enraged and likely to elect Moon on an anti-US platform. Surely Trump should have been trying to make nicey nice with the South Koreans as he has with the Chinese, but maybe they have not paid Ivanka enough money yet. This is just messing up very badly in a very important and serious part of the world.
Curiously this resembles in some ways a former messup there made by then President George W. Bush in March, 2001, which I have posted about here.
In 1994 North Korea stopped pursuing a plutonium weapons program by shutting down its Yongbyan plant in exchange for various economic and security promises. This was followed by the “sunshine” policy from South Korea, still going on when Bush became president in January, 2001. Kim Dae-jung was South Korean president at the time and very much wanted support from the new administration of this policy. Some supported him, notably SecState Colin Powell, and Kim thought he had full support. He came to Washington on March 7, 2001 to meet with Bush, but at the last minute Cheney and Rumsfeld convinced Bush not to support the policy for a variety of in retrospect stupid reasons. Kim went home humiliated and angry. At the end of 2002 it was found that North Korea was starting to enrich uranium, which was not part of the agreement, but the US said that this violated the agreement and stopped shipping materials to North Korea under the agreement. This led to North Korea fully pulling out. It restarted the Yongbyan plant and made its earliest nuclear weapons out of plutonum from that plant. Of course soon thereafter most attention was taken up by Bush’s even more disastrous invasion of Iraq, but his early blundering in Korea paved the way for North Korea to get the nuclear weapons that are now such a problem.