Monday, April 17, 2017

The Provocation of Kim Jong-un

By Robert Wenzel

Nutjobs with nuclear bombs worry me.

First on my list is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It is not clear how close he is to developing an intercontinental nuclear missile but he is trying to get there.

Next on my list is President Donald Trump. He has the nuclear arsenal that can reach any spot on the planet. His erratic leadership and alpha-militaristic leadership style are concerning.

Libertarians who have supported Donald Trump have done so with the argument that Hillary Clinton would have gotten us into a nuclear war with Russia.

But it would take two to get into a nuclear war with Russia and I consider the Russian leadership to be more stable than that of North Korea and that of the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be a very careful, very shrewd leader who certainly recognizes the dangers of even getting close to a nuclear confrontation. Second in command in Russia is Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He appears to be even more sound than Putin, and Hillary likes him.

The theater of greatest danger is North Korea where Trump and Jong-un are playing a reckless game of military chicken.

Just last week, we heard that

 Trump advisers were telling reporters that Trump would respond to any missile tests by North Korea. If  Jong-un was going to blink, it would have been following this warning, which most assuredly was relayed to him directly via China, But a blink is not what happened. that Trump advisers were telling reporters that Trump would respond to any missile tests by North Korea. If  Jong-un was going to blink, it would have been following this warning, which most assuredly was relayed to him directly via China, But a blink is not what happened. He attempted a missile launch which failed, possibly because of U.S. sabotage.

In other words, there is no indication that Jong-un is willing to back down, and a failed missile launch most assuredly does not sit well with him. Can some new test be far behind?

But is the provocation of Jong-un by Trump the way to go?

It would appear that an all out peace effort would be the first attempt by a cautious, calculating and shrewd new U.S. leader.

Invite the kid to the White House, Let him show his people back home that he is a big deal on a global level. One must remember, this is a guy who was excited to have Dennis Rodman visit the country.

But North Korea has been nothing but abused by the United States. As Eric Margolis notes:
North Korea is a small, backwards, dirt poor nation of 25 million that has been under a fierce US-imposed sanctions regime for over half a century. Call it a North Asian Cuba. Without modest economic and military help from China, North Korea would likely have collapsed long ago. It remains under constant siege by the US and allies...

To many Koreans, particularly young ones, North Korea is the authentic Korea while South Korea remains a well-off but politically powerless American semi-protectorate. The humiliating collapse and impeachment of South Korea’s first female president, scandal-ridden Park Geun-hye, only reinforces the South’s image as a rudderless ship in stormy seas.
But here's the thing, as poor as North Korea is, it is highly weaponized. Margolis again:
A consensus of military experts now accepts that North Korea has at least ten nuclear devices, and maybe possesses up to 30. Some have been miniaturized so they can fit atop the North’s medium-ranged missiles, thus threatening South Korea, much of Japan, Okinawa and perhaps the major US Pacific base at Guam.
Why would you want to taunt this guy?

Send him to the breaking point and the damage in South Korea and parts of Japan will be horrific.

Why not open trade with him and stop the harassing military exercises and build up?

But instead of peace and trade, this goes on (via Margolis)
Kim calls on the US and South Korea to stop their huge annual military exercises practicing for a land and amphibious invasion of North Korea.  Each fall these very provocative war games send North Korea into a frenzy of bloodthirsty threats and sabre rattling.   Meanwhile, South Korea’s intelligence agencies pump out all sorts of gruesome stories about the Kim regime, many of them totally fake, that are eagerly amplified by South Korean and American media.
And now we learn that Trump wants to tighten the noose by putting an oil embargo on North Korea.

Has Trump no knowledge of history?

It was an oil embargo on Japan that ultimately pushed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor.

From another Margolis essay:
Roosevelt, whose sympathies lay far to the left in spite of his patrician background, understood that only a surprise attack would provoke Americans into war.

At the time, the US supplied 80% of Japan’s oil, 100% of its aviation fuel, and much of its metal. Roosevelt demanded Japan vacate China that it had invaded, or face an embargo of these vital strategic materials on which Japan’s industry depended. Japan’s fascist military government refused, as Washington knew it would. A US embargo ensued.

Japan had a one-year strategic reserve of oil.  Its stark choice was either run out of oil, fuel, and scrap steel over 12 months or go to war while it still had these resources. The only other potential source of oil for Japan was the distant Dutch East Indies, today Indonesia...

Japan’s leading naval strategist, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, gloomily predicted before Pearl Harbor that Japan was going to war for oil and would be defeated because of it. He was absolutely correct.  America was ten times more powerful than Japan and had a huge industrial capacity.

It was a suicidal war for Japan in all aspects.  Japan’s powerful army, deployed to occupy China and perhaps fight the Soviet Union,  cared nothing for the Pacific.  By contrast, the  Imperial Japanese Navy had no interest in China.  Its goal was the conquest of the oil-rich Dutch East Indies, British-ruled Malaya,  French-ruled Indo-China and the US-ruled Philippines and Pacific territories.  Making matters worse,  Japan’s navy and army ran separate wars, without any coordination, unified industrial policy or common strategy – in short, two different wars for a nation that was not even up to one conflict at a time...

Why did the Japanese,  an intelligent, clever people, think they could defeat the US and its allies? My view after long studying this question is that Japan’s militarists, boxed into a corner by Roosevelt’s crushing embargo, had to choose between a humiliating surrender to the US and giving up China, or a suicidal war.

Japan’s samurai culture that infused its armed forces saw surrender as the ultimate shame. Death in battle was preferable to surrender and the only honorable course for warriors.

And so we have Trump boxing in Jong-un. We have no idea what his breaking point is and what that means. China has offered to protect NK, if it gives up its nuclear program but the Korean kid has not accepted this. Is there a point where he will think death in battle is preferablr to surrender?

Trump is pushing Kim Jong-un in the direction of having to contemplate that choice. It is a mad Trump policy effort that could get many killed.

Why not try trade?

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. The Robert Wenzel podcast is on  iphone and


More provocation. Vice President Pence visits the DMZ.

Via Dana Bash at CNN:
The vice president was supposed to stay inside the enclosed glass of what is known as the Freedom House, which is adjacent to the military demarcation zone (MDL) that technically separates the Korean Peninsula. But when he found himself getting briefed about the North Korean military with soldiers standing little more than 100 feet away, he wanted to go outside and really see if for himself.
That sent those of us in the media traveling with him, and more importantly, his security and the military personnel, scrambling.
It also sent the North Korean soldiers into motion. They had already sensed that a dignitary of some sort was about to come, because a South Korean military cordon was preparing to go outside, as is the protocol for a visiting VIP.


Via The Globe and Mail:

“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” Pence said in a joint appearance with Hwang.

“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said.


  1. Brilliant article, Robert! However, I'm left with the impression that you're a bit confused about the Korean name order convention. In Korea (as well as China, Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia), last names generally come first. Therefore, Kim is the last name of the current North Korean dictator, not Jong-Un.

    1. Or it could be that Wenzel is aware and flouting convention.

    2. Could be, but I doubt it. How often does he call Trump "Donald", Putin, "Vladimir", or Xi "Jinping"?

    3. Wenzel seems to use unconventional name usage when there are several family members under general discussion.

      For example, he uses Ivanka and Melania frequently as he does Rand for Rand Paul.

      With Kim, Kim Jong-un is the third KIm leader in a row, not to mention the Kim half-brother that was just assasinated.

    4. Makes sense. Thanks Felix.

  2. If going to war with Syria doesn't doom the US economy, restarting the Korean war will

  3. "Why not try trade?"

    Sheesh! Trade is so boring. Building and deploying spectacularly destructive weapons is way more fun, as is pushing around everyone on the globe. If America starts taking on a "peace and commerce" attitude, who is going to do flyovers of football games? Try to imagine a world without destruction and saber rattling: think of how dull it would be. What would people get excited about? RW needs to get with the program.

    1. Could always contract United to do a flyover.

  4. I think the analogy of what FDR did to provoke the Japanese into attacking the US in WW2 and what is now being done to with the NK regime is a little flawed.

    The japanese samurai culture of WW2 era that would prefer suicide in battle to surrender is not possesed by the North Koreans, and most likely not by Kim Jong.

    So if NK does do something, i don't think it will be for the same reason as the Japs did with Pearl Harbor. The outcome will be the same if it occurs, but the reasons why i'd argue would be different.

    1. You are making a distinction without a difference.

      The fact is North Korea is boxed in as was Japan. Oil imports being important for both of them and Kim Jong-in with his latest attempted wrong launch has shown his willingness to stand up to Trump.

  5. Thank you Robert for an excellent exploration of the relationship between how FDR cornered Imperial Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor, and how the U.S. Government has cornered North Korea into a lethal confrontation with the U.S. military.

    For over 30 years the U.S. Federal Government has shown zero interest in conversing with our supposed adversaries, but instead has chosen to dictate from afar how a particular situation can be resolved to the satisfaction of the U.S. Federal Government. To acknowledge an adversary by conversing with them is seen as a sign of weakness by the serial killers who have a stranglehold on the levers of power here in the America.

    You can tell how the story is going to end by looking at the distinct lack of dialogue between the U.S. Federal government, and anyone they want to murder in cold blood. The U.S. Federal Government is like a serial killer who reaches a frenzied state, and can only be sated by more blood, followed by the ritual posing of the corpse in some grotesque manner for all to see.

    Last night at the checkout stand I saw a rag sheet with the title "Trump Declares War on Dictators", and below were the photos of Putin, Assad, and Kim. The line that appeared with their photos was the walking dead.

  6. Seems to me like Trump is trying to get NK to disarm by involving China. I'm not so sure that Plan B isn't MOAB'em however.

  7. There is nothing libertarian about a crazy fat kid running a brutal dictatorship. Now that he has threatened the US with nuclear war, the safe option is kill him and his leadership team before he grows stronger. That gang of criminals deserve a slow agonizing death.

  8. Breakdancing would be a much better way of reaching out to the North.

  9. Why not hire the North Koreans to build and man the wall between USA and Mexico? Walls could be their export industry!