The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Team of 9s

The usual elites on both the Left and the Right keep telling us that there are no good options when North Korea is to be considered and/or confronted. They imply that the only viable strategy is to continue their failed approach, kicking the can down the road and hoping against hope that something will change for the better. Unfortunately, "Hope is not a strategy."

During the Obama administration, I derisively called his foreign policy people the Team of 2s. Led first by Hillary Clinton and then by (nincompoop) John Kerry, they did nothing right and many things wrong. Collectively, they damaged our position in the world, creating instability and chaos in many regions by applying a combination of very bad decisions and feckless "strategic patience."

For all of the derisive comments leveled at Donald Trump by the political and academic elites, he has assembled a foreign policy "Team of 9s." Rex Tillerson at State and 'Maddog' Mattis at DoD, along with Nikky Haley at the UN and an excellent supporting cast have actually begun doing some things right. To quote Tillerson, "the era of strategic patience is over."

Today, the primary foreign policy focus is North Korea. But our actions there are a harbinger of how we'll address the growing threat of a nuclear Iran. Barack Obama's "Iran Deal" was nothing more than kicking the can down the road (while transferring billions to the world's dominant sponsor of Islamic terror), a pathetically bad deal for the US and the Middle East region. It was what you'd expect from a Team of 2s.

But back to North Korea. Austin Bay provides an optimistic, but coherent view of Trump's efforts to reign in the NoKos:
The acronym for the four elements of geo-strategic power is DIME: “Diplomatic,” “Information,” “Military” and “Economic” power. Coordinating these elements creates a synergistic force whose sum is greater than its parts ...

Unfortunately, coordinating the elements of power is very difficult. The U.S. government’s civilian agencies don’t play well together—protecting their budgets and their political turf in the Washington swamp is their first priority. So in the field the military does it all ad hoc. Company, field grade and general officers become diplomats in helmets. Combat engineers are developmental aid experts.

Yet the Trump administration is using all elements of power in a coordinated effort to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Start with the D for Diplomacy. The U.S. has forged a solid alliance committed to Korean denuclearization. The U.S., Japan, South Korea and Australia are the principle front line nations, but western European nations and key members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) add economic and political weight. India is in the background. China is the man in middle, and it knows India is in the background ... U.S. diplomats have also succeeded in getting the UN to impose harsh economic and political sanctions on North Korea.

I for Information began in earnest with Tillerson’s declaration that the era of strategic patience with the Kim regime is over. Trump’s threats of fury and fire mock Kim Jong-un. Yes, Trump outraged the pearl-clutchers in the American foreign policy establishment. American presidents aren’t supposed to talk like that!

Except they do. Take Harry Truman for example.

The theater of threat is a key element in North Korea’s intimidation and extortion routine. Trump’s fiery threat pushed Kim Jong-un off center stage. Now Trump has the rhetorical threat initiative, not the fat kid.

Trump also has a track record for following through on a threat. In April, he punished Syrian President Bashir al-Assad for using chemical weapons. Trump isn’t seeking a legacy like Bill Clinton; he isn’t bogged down in Iraq like George Bush; and he isn’t a faculty lounge poseur like Barack Obama touting red lines then failing to back words with deeds. Trump has demonstrated that he will act. That’s important information from the bad cop ...

M for Military: The U.S. and its allies have massive and modern forces. They are full spectrum forces employing everything from the bayonet to ballistic missiles, anti-ballistic missiles and cyber weapons. South Korea’s ground forces are highly-trained and well led. Japan has quietly developed offensive strike capabilities. The allies have deployed a missile defense “thin shield” that is capable of shooting down a volley of North Korean IRBMs. Trump would use the entire arsenal if he had to, and China knows this.

E is for Economic, meaning sanctions and financial restrictions. However, the most pertinent policy tool can be summarized in a tweet. Recall that Trump indicated China would have a better trade deal if it helped curb North Korea.

How is the Trump team managing to pull it off? Here’s my guess: Trump and Tillerson aren’t from the D.C. swamp. Mattis was a combat soldier who also served as a diplomat with a helmet.
If the Trump Team of 9s can pull this off without war (and that remains a big if) it will be a foreign policy achievement that eclipses those of many past presidencies. Of course, the Democrats and their trained hamsters in the media won't acknowledge it, and the #Nevertrump GOP will downplay it, but it will be a significant achievement nonetheless.

Whether you like him or not, on the foreign policy front Trump has done what good managers do. He has hired excellent people who can execute his vision. It's an impressive team. We'll see if they can pull it off.

A small but very important symbolic victory was reported this morning. The Wall Street Journal notes:
SEOUL—North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has decided not to launch a threatened missile attack on Guam, Pyongyang’s state media reported on Tuesday, but warned that he could change his mind “if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions.”
Gee, maybe tough talk punctuated by behind-the-scenes sticks (and carrots) might actually be a viable strategy. Maybe Trump isn't quite as unhinged as the elites allege? Maybe strength trumps weakness every time? Maybe putting pressure on a bully is the right way to proceed? Maybe putting actual pressure on China (including the threat of trade sanctions) is a viable approach? Maybe a strong leader who projects that strength is better than a feckless leader who prefers kicking the can?

Yeah. Maybe.

Trump should keep the pressure on the Puppet Kingdom. They blinked. We didn't.