Brinkmen Kim and Trump

Contrary to what John McCain and others in Washington are saying, North Korea’s nuclear program is not a “Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.”  Nor does tough talk from President Trump mean he’s about to launch preemptive strikes against Kim Jong-un.  Where would be the profit in that?  North Korea is not a cripple like Syria: The U.S. risked no obvious retaliation from blowing up one of Assad’s airfields.  Pyongyang, on the other hand, has a wealth of targets to strike if the U.S. acts rashly: Seoul can be shelled from across the DMZ; our bases in South Korea and Japan are as much hostages as they are military assets.  The trouble with empire, as always, is defending its perimeter.

If Trump and Kim have something in common, it’s not that either is crazy enough to risk his own survival, political or otherwise.  They both have a flair for the dramatic and aren’t averse to backing up words with a display of force.  But they are also shrewd calculators eager for symbolic victories, and they know that war between the U.S. and North Korea would be a losing proposition, to say the least.

Brinkmanship, on the other hand, is nothing but upside.  It’s an opportunity for Kim to keep stronger powers off balance while extorting more aid from abroad.  For Trump, it means he gets to appear presidential and firm, striking a contrast to the vacillation...

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