November 21, 2018

U.S. Aiming for Second Trump-Kim Summit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands after signing documents during a summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The United States is working toward a second summit between President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, although the parameters are still in the process of being established.

Reuters reports Kim Jong Un had expressed his desire for a second summit with Trump after a three-day with South Korea President Moon Jae-In. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News in a Sept. 21 interview that “there’s still a little bit of work to do left to make sure the conditions are right and that the two leaders are put in a position where we can make substantial progress.”

Pompeo also told NBC News, “I’m hopeful that I’ll get a chance to travel again to Pyongyang to continue to negotiate before too long. And then before too long – and in relatively short order – I hope the two leaders get together again to continue to make progress on this incredible, important issue for the entire world.”

The two sides are planning on discussing denuclearization and an official end to the Korean War, which concluded with an armistice in 1953. However, both the United States and South Korea are concerned that an official end to the war would result in calls from Russia, China and possibly North Korea to have the United Nations Command (UNC) leave South Korea. The UNC is headed by the United States and stationed in South Korea to uphold the current armistice agreement.

Kim has been reportedly willing to dismantle North Korea’s major nuclear facility in Yongbyon in front of inspectors as well as allow inspectors into Punggye-ri, where inspectors were previously not allowed to see the dismantling of the nuclear site.

Pompeo has said that sanctions on North Korea would be upheld until “final denuclearization” takes place.

Report: North Korea Secretly Ramping Up Secret Nuclear Production

KCNA/via Reuters

Despite North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un pledging to denuclearize in a recent summit with President Trump, a new report states that the Kim regime is ramping up its nuclear production in hidden areas.

According to NBC News, several members of the intelligence community have concluded there are multiple undisclosed sites where the Kim regime has increased its uranium production. The U.S. has always known about North Korea’s main nuclear production facility in Yongbyon and another undisclosed site; this latest intelligence report is the first to reveal multiple undisclosed nuclear production sites.

“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they [North Korea] are trying to deceive the U.S.,” an official told NBC.

Another official stated that it was always believed that Kim would attempt deception, but the fact that Kim has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests is a positive development.

Kim also doesn’t appear to be ending his murderous ways anytime soon either. The Sun recently reported that a top North Korean lieutenant was executed by firing squad for providing troops with extra food and fuel rations.

Trump, Kim Jong Un Sign Symbolic Agreement

KCNA via REUTERS

President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed an agreement on the evening of June 11 in Singapore that commit the two countries to further negotiations.

The agreement featured four main points: establishing relations between the two countries, creating “a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korea Peninsula,” North Korea committing to denuclearization in exchange for the U.S. providing security guarantees to North Korea, and repatriation between the two countries on prisoners of war from the Korean War.

Additionally, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting that a “step-by-step denuclearization process” has been agreed to:

“I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past,” Trump said.

Trump also called Kim “a very talented man.”

Kim said through a translator, “Many people in the world will think of this as a form of fantasy…from a science fiction movie.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump for the summit with Kim.

“I congratulate US President Donald Trump for the historic summit in Singapore,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “It is an important step in the effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.”

The full text of the agreement can be read here.

Letters to the Editor: Iran Deal, North Korea and Natalie Portman

U.S. Scraps Iran Nuclear Agreement

Let’s start with the proposition that Iran is a very bad actor. Let us also agree that without vigorous monitoring, Iran will not strictly adhere to any agreement. That being said, it is a terrible mistake for President Donald Trump not to recertify the Iran nuclear accord.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent dog-and-pony show was long on accusations but short on specific evidence. The binders and computer discs onstage with him aren’t proof that Iran is failing to honor its responsibilities under the nuclear deal. What Netanyahu and the various authors of the commentaries and articles that support scrapping the accord conveniently overlook is that there is a large element in the Israeli intelligence/military establishment that while acknowledging it’s not a perfect accord, it is working and is good for Israel.

It is also interesting to note the other signatories to the Iran nuclear accord say Iran is honoring its obligations. The only naysayers are Netanyahu and Trump.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

Kudos to the Jewish Journal for exposing the secrets and lies of the Iranian nuclear deal. The cover story would be enough to tell it all (“What Happens Now?” May 4). Dayenu. Beyond that, the articles describe in detail the lies that were foisted on Americans that were particularly painful for American Jews.

David Suissa gave some Trump haters and, in particular, Jewish Trump haters something to think about (“Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump,” May 4). Admittedly, Trump is brash and a rude tweeter. When it comes to foreign tyrants, as Suissa stated, Trump is just what the doctor ordered. As much as we all value decency, for 16 years the United States got burned by two very decent presidents — first by George W. Bush’s trillion-dollar fiasco in Iraq, and then by Barack Obama’s naïve deal with Iran that empowered the world’s biggest sponsor of terror.

We need somebody like Trump to stare them down and back out of the disastrous Iran deal if Iran does not make further concessions.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills


The North Korean Dilemma

I disagree with David Suissa’s assessment in his column “Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump.” If President Donald Trump’s bluster had worked with North Korea, then it would have stopped testing its long-range ICBMs right away. Instead, despite Trump’s threats, they continued testing until they had proven to themselves that they had a missile that could reach most of the United States. The North Koreans offered to talk only after they had tested enough missiles to prove that their missile program was ready. Listen to the speech that Kim Jong Un delivered to his own country. This was his original intent.

Rabbi Ahud Sela via email


The Natalie Portman Issue

In her column (“Portman’s the Messenger, Not the Problem,” April 27), Danielle Berrin introduces the premise that the effect of Portman’s rejection of the Genesis Prize will lead to increased Jewish disunity on congregational matters, including political problems. Berrin warns that one of the problems is the collapse of peace talks and the promise of a two-state solution.

I have three questions for Berrin.

Does Fatah want a two-state solution?

Does Hamas want a two-state solution?

Does Hezbollah want a two-state solution?

Bernard Schneier, Marina del Rey


How American Jews View Israel

Danielle Berrin claims to rely on, but fundamentally misunderstands, Leon Wieseltier’s advice that the merit of a view “owes nothing to the biography of the individual who holds it” (“Should American Jews Criticize Israel?” May 4).

Wieseltier did not invent this notion. It is his way of restating the classic fallacy of the ad hominem attack: A good argument can’t be refuted because the speaker is bad. Nor can a bad argument be improved because the speaker is good. I have no doubt Berrin has deep love for Israel. But that does not mean her opinion has any merit just because it comes from a good place.

No, what Wieseltier is saying is that an argument — and criticism — must be judged solely on its own merits. What nuanced and insightful advice does Berrin offer for the complex military and diplomatic conundrum Israel is faced with? What is the “truth” that Berrin claims her “holy chutzpah” impels her to tell Israel? I honestly would like to know, but I’ll gladly take the advice of someone who may not love Israel as much as Berrin but has answers to challenges such as: the military land-bridge Iran is constructing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to threaten Israel; the tens of thousands of Hezbollah missiles aimed at Tel Aviv; the tunnels being burrowed under the desert to snatch Israelis in their sleep; and the diplomatic and propaganda war waged against Israel by the United Nations, the European Union and nearly every American university campus.

Perhaps Berrin’s Israeli friend really meant that Israel does not want for critics but that if you are going to criticize, don’t assume that your love substitutes for sound analysis. Contrary to Berrin’s claim, film critic Pauline Kael was not respected “because everyone knew she loved” movies. Many people love movies. Kael was respected because she was a true expert on movies.

But even Kael wasn’t good at making movies. What Israel really needs, more than well-intended critics, is smart, practical and realistic solutions to massively complicated problems.

What is the role of love in all of this? If Berrin’s love for Israel drove her to develop these kinds of solutions,

I’m sure everyone, especially her Israeli friend, would be very grateful. But love alone, Wieseltier teaches, does not a helpful opinion make.

Ben Orlanski, Beverly Hills


Leftism’s Misguided Values

Karen Lehrman Bloch’s compelling column “The Golden Calf of Leftism” (May 4) exposes a new crisis among American Jews.

We’ve all been shocked by the increase in Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism at Democratic rallies, leading to feminist organizers’ recent praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. But many Jewish Democrats still support former President Barack Obama’s white-washing of Palestinian rejectionism, terrorism and contempt for Israel. Some Jewish feminists support Linda Sarsour, despite her anti-Semitism and reported endorsement of Sharia law. Wealthy Jews, many in the Hollywood community, are bankrolling Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions promotion.

It’s a cruel irony that while thousands of French Jews make aliyah to escape rising Muslim terrorism, Jewish “progressives” are abetting the terrorists and condemning Israel, the victims’ only refuge.

Rueben Gordon via email


History Lessons in the Journal

Thank you, Jewish Journal and David Suissa for your excellent publication.

I know a “lot” about Israeli and Jewish history up until about 70 B.C.E. I knew very little after that. Therefore, a few years ago, I decided to learn more about Jews and Israel today. I’d like to be as familiar with you and your culture as I am with my own English-American culture.

Recently, I discovered the Journal: It’s like Christmas, my birthday and Yom HaAtzmaut (a term I learned in the Journal) rolled up into one. Every article I read — even the advertisements — is interesting, informative and educational.

The one major problem I have with the Journal is that I’m not finished reading it before the next issue comes out. Oy vey!

Jerald Brown, Sylmar

Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump

If you’re a Never Trumper, you probably don’t see many redeeming features in our brash and rude tweeter in chief. But hang with me for a minute as we consider how that brashness and rudeness may be just what the doctor ordered for a certain brand of foreign leaders.

In a brave essay on the NBC News website, veteran White House reporter Keith Koffler laments that we live in “a dangerous world, dominated by outsized personalities who act aggressively on behalf of their nations, including not hesitating to threaten — and even engage in — war.”

But then he adds: “Fortunately, one is President Donald Trump.”

Koffler’s claim is that Trump’s flaws — “self-indulgent, megalomaniacal, a bit paranoid, driven by self-interest and implacably domineering” — make him uniquely suited to deal with the other great tyrants of the age.

These tyrants, Koffler adds, are driven more by raw power and ambition than ideology.

“Not too long ago,” he writes, “the struggles among great nations were defined by ideology, as democracy and communism competed for allegiance around the world. During that age, a relatively non-ideological, nonintellectual man like Trump might have had trouble understanding the thinking animating Russian and Chinese communists, hampering his ability to confront them.”

Some useful things can come out of a deeply flawed president, just as bad ones can come out of a decent president.

Today, by contrast, “the president will have no problem understanding the motivations of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and the other tyrants he faces, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, newly anointed Chinese President-for-life Xi Jinping and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

Koffler concludes that Trump “has the outsized strength of personality to combat them.” In other words, it takes one to fight one.

When I read the essay, it reminded me of a game I used to play with my Never Trumper friends during the presidential election. I would ask them: “If you had to choose one person to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, who would you pick, Barack Obama or Donald Trump?” Invariably — and grudgingly — they would pick Trump.

When I asked why, they would concede that “Trump wouldn’t be afraid to walk away,” or, simply, “He’d make them sweat and get a better deal.”

Recently, I played another game. I know Trump haters who love Israel but who criticized Trump for “hurting the peace process” when he announced the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. When I asked them if they would have had the same reaction had President Obama made the decision, they admitted that, no, they probably would not. That’s how deep the contempt for Trump can go.

Indeed, it’s a difficult task to separate emotions from outcomes. If you hate a president, it’s hard to love anything he does, no matter how worthy that thing is. I have sympathy for those who have trouble seeing past Trump’s character flaws. After all, if having a decent character is essential in our own lives, how much more so for the leader of the free world?

And yet, we must recognize the reality that some useful things can come out of a deeply flawed president, just as bad ones can come out of a decent president.

Koffler’s claim is that Trump’s flaws — “self-indulgent, megalomaniacal, a bit paranoid, driven by self-interest and implacably domineering” — make him uniquely suited to deal with the other great tyrants of the age.

When Obama first ran for president, I remember being seduced by his classy demeanor and decency. But I wondered: Would he be tough enough for our dangerous world? I rationalized away that concern by assuming (hoping) that Obama had a silent killer instinct that would earn him the respect of the bullies he’d have to deal with. In retrospect, this was wishful thinking. No dictator ever feared Obama. They saw right through him. Obama was a gentleman who could never call a tyrant’s bluff.

Trump seems energized by tyrants. He must identify with their passion for power. It’s a brutal, primal game he knows well.

As Maureen Dowd wrote last week in The New York Times, “President Trump’s peculiar form of diplomacy — a combination of belligerence, bluster, name-calling and ignorance of history — has somehow produced a possible breakthrough in North Korea that eluded his predecessors.”

Koffler doesn’t deny that Trump’s indignities are the “crass work of an uncouth man.” But he thinks voters in the last election “eschewed elegance because, they calculated, a blunt and even predatory individual is what the country needed at this moment. A man who, Kim, Xi, Khamenei and Putin will all suspect, might just be brutal and dark enough to stand his ground against them and counter their own ruthless agendas.”

As much as I value decency, I also know that, for 16 years, America got burned by two very decent presidents — first by George W. Bush’s trillion-dollar fiasco in Iraq, and then by Obama’s naive deal with Iran that empowered the world’s biggest sponsor of terror.

I doubt that our brash and rude president would have been suckered into those deals. How much is that “outcome” worth? We’ll find out soon enough.

We Need a New U.N.

Photo from Flickr.

Another week, another Israel bashing session at the United Nations.

Following the Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday that resulted in at least 16 dead, the U.N. Security Council responded by drafting a resolution calling for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to be investigated for the various Palestinian deaths. The resolution was vetoed by the United States, but the fact that the U.N. yet again put the blame on Israel instead of on the terror group Hamas, who are using civilians as human shields in an attempt to wage a war with Israel, is disgraceful.

This is par for the course for the Israel-hating U.N. On March 23, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Israel due to the Jewish state’s so-called “occupation” of East Jerusalem. The UNHRC has a bad habit of denouncing Israel at least once a week, the same UNHRC that consists of countries like Venezuela, China and Cuba, which aren’t exactly halcyons of human rights.

Then there are the reported anti-Semitic Facebook posts from United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) teachers, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron as belonging to the Palestinians… the list goes on and on.

The statistics prove it too: CNN’s Jake Tapper pointed out in December that the U.N. General Assembly adopted 97 resolutions that singled out a specific country from 2012-15. The number that singled out Israel: 83.

“Considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?” Tapper said.

I would go a bit further: what does the U.N. do well, exactly?

It certainly doesn’t do well addressing actual human rights abuses, like the ones Tapper cited. Former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has admitted that the international body “could have done much more” to stop the Rwanda genocide.

What about Russian and Chinese aggression? The U.N. tribunal’s 2016 ruling that China has no sovereign claim over the entirety of the South China sea has done nothing to stop Beijing from ramping up military exercises in the area. Similarly, the U.N. has done little to curb Vladimir Putin’s intervention into the Crimea.

Reminder: Russia and China wield veto power on the U.N. Security Council, preventing any real action to be taken on Syria, North Korea and Iran.

What about global poverty? A 2012 study conducted by New York University’s William Easterly and Mississippi State University’s Claudia Williamson concluded that the U.N.’s aid practices are toward the bottom among aid agencies worldwide. And as Chelsea Follett of HumanProgress noted, the U.N. is touting top-down, centralized government programs as the source for the decline in global poverty when in actuality it is economic freedom that has caused the dramatic decline in poverty.

The environment? A 2017 New York Times article detailed how the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund was established to help impoverished countries deal with climate changes, yet the money raised by the fund have gone toward questionable private sector projects instead of those countries. And the U.N.’s prized Paris Climate Accords’ impact on the climate would be negligible while harming the U.S. economy.

Peacekeeping? How can the U.N. be trusted in this area when their peacekeepers have been accused of sexually abusing women and girls in various countries and have been cited as the cause of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti?

With all this mind, is the U.N. really worth the nearly $8 billion that the U.S. allocates toward the international body?

The unfortunate truth is that the U.N. is a far cry from the bastion of freedom that the Allied powers intended when they first formed the international body in 1942 to fight the Axis powers. Freedom-loving countries like the U.S. and Israel are the minority in the U.N.; so long as that is the case, no reforms will solve the structurally flawed nature of the incompetent and immoral U.N.

 

This is what I’d love to see on the Global to-do list: Creating a new world body that will do justice to the ideals of the United Nations, an organization that has dishonored its very mission.

Trump Names John Bolton As His New National Security Adviser

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S. February 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

President Trump announced on Twitter on Mar. 22 that former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton would be his new national security adviser.

Trump tweeted that Bolton would be instated on April 9:

 

 

The New York Times originally broke the news, reporting that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Trump had been discussing him leaving the job for awhile now but the timing was accelerated to end the speculation and to ensure that Trump had the security team he wanted before he meets with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

McMaster and Trump have been clashing for quite some time.

“General McMaster’s serious, somber style and preference for order made him an uncomfortable fit with a president whose style is looser, and who has little patience for the detail and nuance of complex national security issues,” the Times reported. “They had differed on policy, with General McMaster cautioning against ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran without a strategy for what would come next, and tangling with Mr. Trump over the strategy for American forces in Afghanistan.”

McMaster also seemed to be less of a friend to Israel and softer on radical Islam than Trump, as McMaster had reportedly viewed Israel as “an occupying power” and screamed at the Israelis for their concerns over Hezbollah.

Bolton, on the other hand, is as pro-Israel as it gets. In November, he wrote an op-ed for Fox News calling for the American embassy to be moved to Jerusalem as soon as possible and in May, Bolton told the Jerusalem Post, “I don’t think the two-state solution is viable anymore.” Bolton argued that Judea and Samaria should be divided between Israel and Jordan and the Gaza Strip should be given to Egypt. When Bolton was assistant secretary of state from 1989-1993, “he coordinated the effort to rescind the United Nations resolution from the 1970s that equated Zionism with racism,” according to Hank Berrien of the Daily Wire.

The former U.N. ambassador has also detailed a lengthy exit strategy for leaving the Iran nuclear deal, suggesting that there is an increased likelihood that Trump will pull out from the deal altogether. Bolton has also been a staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in February titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.”

Can Trump Pull Off a Deal to Disarm North Korea?

Last week, the United States and North Korea stunned the world as they announced their plan to have a summit for their two respective leaders. This surprising diplomatic turn has prompted far more questions than answers, some of which seem like they should have been asked in the tone of a soap opera narrator’s voice-over. Here are a few:

A Question on South Korea:

Did South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an ambitious politician who recently came into office, flatter the leader of the free world into meeting the dictator of North Korea as a means of pushing Moon’s vision of reunification on the Korean peninsula?

A Question on North Korea:

Did the North Korean regime commit to a pre-summit conditional freeze on launching missiles or to a firm promise to negotiate denuclearization of its weapons program, or was the South Korean national security adviser’s representation of Kim Jong Un’s oral offer a bluff?

Questions on the U.S:

Did President Donald Trump, without input from his National Security Council, impulsively reward the Kim regime with a long-sought diplomatic opportunity without any guarantee of compromise? Did Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign and aggressive foreign policy cause Kim to fear for his regime’s survival and to sue for a quick agreement, or is Kim closer to marrying his nuclear weapons with intercontinental ballistic missiles and confidently playing from a perceived position of strength?

A Question on China:

Will China be pleased at negotiations aimed at stability on the Korean peninsula, or will it resent Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs and Kim’s meeting with Trump before meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping?

Questions on objectives:

What would a “good deal” look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality? What would be the U.S. goals at such a summit? To restart negotiations aimed at stability on the Korean peninsula? To accept regime preservation in exchange for denuclearization? Even if the regime relinquished its “treasured sword” — the nuclear program its leaders believe guarantees regime survival — would North Korea continue its brutal human rights oppression, illicit global drug activity, supplying of chemical-weapons-production materials to Syria and others, and counterfeiting of currencies?

A Question on Trust:

How can we “trust but verify” future inspections of closed reactors and the promised cessation of weapons production and testing when North Korea has previously cheated on prior framework agreements and is in the last stage of work on missile re-entry capability as the final piece of a decadeslong effort to protect its regime with a nuclear umbrella? Is Kim distrustful of the U.S., as he is well aware that Libya relinquished its nuclear assets after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, only to see its dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, overthrown a few years later?

Real answers will have to wait until further details are known. But drawing on the past and looking into the future, it would behoove us to take some lessons, experiences and nuances into account.

The American Experience

Some commentators viscerally judged Trump’s quick acceptance of the invitation to meet Kim before the end of May as “impulsive” and a “granting of prestige” never before extended by a sitting U.S. president to the Pyongyang regime.

Within hours, the Trump administration clarified that scheduled military exercises with South Korea would go on, that sanctions were not being lifted, and that “concrete” steps from North Korea would be required as a precondition to any meeting.

As he plans for a potential summit, then, Trump might wish to draw lessons from the protracted Arms Control Treaty negotiations conducted by President Ronald Reagan, who was willing to disappoint Western commentators issuing rushed “victory” or “failure” report cards on his administration’s summit meetings with the Soviet Union.

In 1986, Reagan walked away from the Reykjavik Summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, sensing that the U.S. could achieve better results for arms control and human rights by maintaining its commitment to missile defense, which the Soviets vehemently opposed. Gorbachev soon gave in. Sometimes, short-term setbacks set the stage for improved results.

But even Reagan’s success, which led to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR, did not end our competition with Russia, which has rebounded to assert its regional ambitions and desire to be a significant player on the world stage. Russia is still a dictatorship, and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently bragged about the country having weapons so powerful that “now you will notice me.”

What would a “good deal” look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality?

Some deals might not be worth making. On July 14, 2015, President Barack Obama announced the Iran nuclear deal. While that deal has halted or significantly reduced Iran’s nuclear bomb-making capability, it has done nothing to deter the Mullah terror state from aggression in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon and, indeed, its continued collaboration with North Korea. Trump has castigated the Iran deal. Time will tell if he can make a better one with North Korea.

The Korean Context 

South Korea — officially the Republic of Korea — is a robust democracy featuring pro-American “free Koreans” and more “independent Koreans” who support President Moon Jae-in — elected in 2017 after the highly controversial impeachment of his opponent, Park Geun-hye. The split in South Korea over American troop presence and close alignment is profound. Moon leans left, and his vision for peninsula reunification is not universally shared.

The Korean peninsula was ruled by Imperial Japan from the early 20th century until the end of World War II. The day after the 1945 American bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, the Soviet Union invaded Korea, dominating the region north of the 38th parallel. U.S. forces moved into the south, ending Japanese rule.

North Korea — officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — invaded the South in 1950. In the “see-saw war,” Seoul, the South’s capital, changed hands four times. As part of a “police action,” the United States, with the backing of the United Nations, finally pushed up to the Yalu River on China’s border, provoking the Chinese entry on the side of the North. A “war of attrition” lasted until the armistice of 1953, which created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). No peace treaty was ever signed, and the DMZ has been anything but demilitarized since, with numerous violent skirmishes over the decades.

In 1968, 31 North Korean commandos crossed the DMZ in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee at his residence in the Blue House. Fighting tied to attack resulted in the deaths of 68 South Koreans, three U.S. servicemen and 28 of the North Korean commandos.

However, two days later, North Korea seized a U.S. Navy spy ship, the USS Pueblo, in disputed waters, killing one American sailor and taking prisoner 82 others who were tortured over an 11-month period until their eventual return across the DMZ’s “Bridge of No Return.”

Other cross-border raids included the infamous “Axe Murder Incident,” in which two U.S. Army officers were killed by North Korean soldiers on Aug. 18, 1976, in the Joint Security Area (JSA). The officers were surrounded and killed as they attempted to trim an overgrown poplar tree that was partially blocking United Nations observers’ views across the bridge.

Seeking to enforce the armistice, the U.N. Command, supported by U.S. and South Korean forces, conducted Operation Paul Bunyan, which succeeded in cutting down the tree and re-establishing deterrence against the North. One of the soldiers who participated was Moon Jae-in, now the president of South Korea.

In 1994, the Clinton administration negotiated an “Agreed Framework” that sought to freeze and replace North Korea’s plutonium nuclear weapons program with two light-water reactors. The Yongbyon nuclear reactor was shut down, and the North agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the U.S. and South Korea suspended “team spirit” military exercises in the region and offered North Korea financial assistance, relaxed economic sanctions and 500,000 tons in annual deliveries of heavy fuel oil to use for energy production. All parties pledged to seek to normalize relations.

In a recent private meeting, Bush shared his regret at “kicking the can down the road,” explaining it was his most difficult security problem.

President George W. Bush tried to restore a path to nonproliferation and briefly removed North Korea from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. By 2002, though, he declared North Korea part of an “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq. The North then kicked out U.N. weapons inspectors and continued its march to a deliverable nuclear weapon.

In a recent private meeting, Bush shared his regret at “kicking the can down the road,” explaining it was his most difficult security problem. He feared the North would respond to any preventive military action by annihilating innocent South Koreans in Seoul who live within a 35-mile range of some 15,000 tube and rocket artillery burrowed into granite mountains and protected behind blast doors.

Finally, years of “Six Party” talks attempted again to encourage North Korea to shut down nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel aid and a path to normalized relations. These talks broke down after the 2009 North Korean satellite launch over the Pacific Ocean, which was essentially an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test. Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” did not address the rising North Korean threat over his eight years in office that followed.

Know Your Adversary

Kim Il-Sung, variously called “Great Leader,” “Heavenly Leader” and even “The Sun,” was installed by Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin in 1948, and he indoctrinated the North Korean population through a 46-year reign. A new calendar was introduced that used 1912 — the year of Kim Il-Sung’s birth — as year 1.

Kim Jong-Il was considered not just his son and successor but his reincarnation. Known as “Dear Leader,” he sat at the center of a similar cult that asserted he could control the weather. Hundreds of memorial statues dedicated to the Kims dot the countryside, despite devastating famines and systemic poverty. A massive mausoleum outside of Pyongyang houses the embalmed bodies of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

Kim Jong Un was officially declared the “supreme leader” following the state funeral of his father in 2011. In 2013, official North Korean news outlets released reports that, due to alleged “treachery,” Kim Jong Un had ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek and many of his children, some by use of flamethrowers. Kim is also widely believed to have ordered the February 2017 poisoning assassination of his brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia.

In recent years, Human Rights Watch asserted: “Abuses in North Korea were without parallel in the contemporary world. They include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions, and other sexual violence. North Korea operates secretive prison camps where perceived opponents of the government are sent to face torture and abuse, starvation rations, and forced labor. Fear of collective punishment is used to silence dissent. There is no independent media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom.”

In 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Council charged North Korea with crimes against humanity.

In the six years since Kim Jong Un, at the age of 27, assumed power as only the third leader of the DPRK, he has tested dozens of missiles, far more than his father and grandfather.

On July 4, in both 2006 and 2009, North Korea tested short- and mid-range missiles. On July 4, 2017, the North passed a major threshold by launching its first ICBM, which experts said had the capability of reaching the U.S. mainland.

In the same period, Pyongyang has also tested nuclear warheads, including a “successful” test on Sept. 3, 2017. The fastening of a nuclear warhead onto a long-range delivery system is a red line that could provoke an American preventive strike.

American policymakers are generally united in asserting the unacceptability of the North Korean nuclear threat and its ability to transfer or trade nuclear technology to nonstate actors. Even the threat of attack on American allies or interests caused Secretary of Defense James Mattis to warn of “a massive military response.” At the DMZ in October 2017, Mattis asserted “our goal is not war, but rather the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Trump’s Approach

Prior to his inauguration, Trump received a briefing from Obama that North Korea was a particularly complex issue. Trump reportedly acknowledged to advisers: “I will be judged by how I deal with North Korea.”

On April 4, 2017, U.S. military intelligence observed Syrian planes from the Shayrat Airbase drop munitions of sarin gas on the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib Governorate.

Trump viewed the pictures of dying children and decided to act, later telling reporters that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

By the morning of April 6, 2017, senior administration officials had briefed congressional leaders and Russian forces in Syria of a potential military strike on Syrian air defenses, aircraft, hangars and fuel supplies. At 3:45 p.m., in a makeshift war room at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., country club, Trump consulted his national security officials and approved the immediate launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the USS Ross and the USS Porter warships in the Mediterranean Sea.

“I will be judged by how I deal with North Korea.” — President Donald Trump

Trump then welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping for several hours of discussions, which included a thorough exchange of views on North Korea.

The leaders and their wives then enjoyed a private dinner, after which Trump excused himself to receive a briefing from Mattis.

When he returned, Trump advised the Chinese leader of the attack just underway in Syria.

(Since that early meeting, Trump has touted a respectful personal relationship with the Chinese leader and lobbied for cessation of Chinese deliveries of regime-sustaining goods to Pyongyang. Xi appears to be going along with Trump’s approach to North Korea so far.)

A week later, on April 13, 2017, a U.S. Air Force Lockheed MC-130 dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) on ISIS-Khorasan militant forces and tunnel complexes in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. Trump asserted that he had given U.S. commanders “total authorization” to defeat ISIS.

The Trump foreign policy has certainly been aggressive: Syria. Afghanistan. Special Operators against ISIS. Support for Israel and pressure on the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Even acceding to increased domestic spending in exchange for the end to sequestration limits on American military budgets.

Watching all of this was Pyongyang, the target of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” through increased sanctions, cyberhacking, freezing of North Korean assets in foreign banks, aggressive military drills led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier along with the South Korean navy, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and plenty of bluster (“rocket man” on a “suicide mission” who will face “fire and fury”).

Addressing South Korea’s National Assembly on Nov. 8, 2017, the first anniversary of his own election, Trump delivered a stern message: “This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past. … Do not underestimate us. And do not try us. … We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not be intimidated.”

In the closing section of his Jan. 30 State of the Union address, Trump addressed all parties with clear messages of warning, resolve and passion to confront “the ominous nature of this regime.”

“Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” he said. “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

Trump then went further, paying respect to the Warmbier family, whose son and sibling Otto, a student at the University of Virginia, was arrested, charged, tried and sentenced to hard labor in North Korea. Upon his return home in June 2017, his injuries resulted in his death.

Time will tell if Mr. Trump remains loyal to first principles and invests in the long process of deterring, containing and reversing the North Korean nuclear threat, or instead seeks a quick deal with a tough adversary that merely makes for interesting TV.


Larry Greenfield is a fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

Week of Mar. 16, 2018

Why We Can’t Talk About Trump

CELEBRITY APPRENTICE -- Red Carpet Event at Trump Tower -- Pictured: Donald Trump -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

I have a dear friend who feels nauseated anytime she hears the word “Trump.” It’s a physical reaction. She feels so disgusted by the man that she’s unable to consider whether he’s capable of doing anything good. Her Trump Derangement Syndrome is rooted in the man’s character flaws — all of the offensive, impulsive and mendacious behavior that has dominated American airwaves for the past two years.

The truth is, we’ve never had a president like Donald Trump. It’s not even close.

In May 2017, I wrote a column quoting historian Max Boot: “The problem with writing about Donald Trump is that the outrages come so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up.”

My point was that Trump was still mired in the “emotional staples of reality television, the junk food of entertainment, where cat fighting, backstabbing and manufactured drama rule the battle for ratings.”

Having been the star and executive producer of “The Apprentice” for 14 years, Trump couldn’t seem to shake the habits of a world where the greater the chaos, the higher the ratings. “That was the lesson Trump inhaled from reality TV,” I wrote. “Outrage is not just the norm, it’s the key to success.”

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

Of course, it’s one thing to act like a narcissistic loudmouth when the stakes are television ratings, and quite another when the stakes are the welfare of your nation and the world.

Whereas his old antics might have offended a character or two on his reality show,” I wrote, “today, those same antics could lead to nuclear war …  and other such unpleasant things.”

In fact, for many months after I wrote that, there was talk of Trump’s impulsiveness triggering a nuclear war with North Korea. Even my hairdresser — who never talks politics — asked me if we were headed for a nuclear war.

On the food chain of Trumpian nightmares, a nuclear war takes the crown.

So, you can imagine the cognitive dissonance last week when we got word that North Korean President Kim Jong Un might be interested in negotiating nuclear disarmament. Talk about a reversal: from fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

Needless to say, we’re still far from success. As you’ll read in our in-depth analysis by Larry Greenfield in this week’s cover story, there are many complex questions to consider, among them:

“Did the North Korean regime commit to a pre-summit conditional freeze on launching missiles or to a firm promise to negotiate denuclearization of its weapons program, or was the South Korean national security adviser’s representation of Kim Jong Un’s oral offer a bluff?”

“What would a ‘good deal’ look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality? … Even if the regime relinquished its ‘treasured sword,’ the nuclear program it believes guarantees regime survival — would North Korea continue its brutal human rights oppression, illicit global drug activity, supplying of chemical-weapons-production materials to Syria and others, and counterfeiting of currencies?”

“How can we ‘trust but verify’ future inspections of closed reactors and the promised cessation of weapons production and testing, when North Korea has previously cheated on prior framework agreements?”

So yes, it’s complicated, but it’s still far better than the nuclear brinkmanship we had a few months ago. As Greenfield reminds us, Kim Jong Un must have paid attention to Trump’s policy of maximum pressure through “increased sanctions, cyberhacking, freezing of North Korean assets in foreign banks, aggressive military drills led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier along with the South Korean navy, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and plenty of bluster (‘rocket man’ on a ‘suicide mission’ who will face ‘fire and fury’).”

Maybe Trump’s unpredictability was just what was needed to get a brutal dictator’s attention. Maybe it takes a coarse bully to scare off another coarse bully. But now that he’s got Kim’s attention, will Trump have the tenacity and patience to follow through? And if he does pull off the ultimate deal, how will Trump haters react?

Talk about a reversal: From fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

When I bring up “positive outcomes” with my Trump-hating friend, it makes little difference. Her disgust precludes her from entertaining any positive thoughts about Trump, even a Trump who would pull off a near-miraculous deal to disarm North Korea.

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

And yet, having said all that, it would still be amazing to see Trump pull off a deal to denuclearize North Korea. And, while he’s at it, it’d be equally amazing if he could renegotiate the Iranian deal that currently allows an evil regime to build nuclear weapons at the end of the agreement.

When the stakes are so high, it’s OK to hope for results, even from a rude and impulsive TV star who craves ratings.

Trump to Meet with Kim Jong Un

FILE PHOTO - A combination photo shows a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) handout of Kim Jong Un released on May 10, 2016, and Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA handout via Reuters/File Photo & REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

President Trump is reportedly set to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sometime in May.

South Korean officials issued the announcement on Mar. 8, stating Trump was doing so as part of an invitation from the South Korean government to get the hermit kingdom to talk about possible denuclearization.

Chung Eui-yong, the national security adviser to the South Korean government, stated that Kim Jong Un “pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear missile tests” until the talks take place and that the North Korean dictator had been yearning to meet with Trump.

Chung praised Trump’s handling of North Korea as the reason for the hermit kingdom agreeing to such a proposition and was hopeful that North Korean denuclearization could actually occur.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Trump will indeed meet with Kim Jong Un.

“President Trump greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation and [South Korean] President Moon,” Sanders said in a statement. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of North Korea.”

However, Sanders added that “all sanctions and maximum pressure must remain” for the time being.

Trump tweeted about the scheduled meeting:

Prior to this announcement, Trump and Kim Jong Un had been throwing barbs each other, most notably Trump warning the North Korean dictator that he would face the full “fire and fury” from the U.S. if North Korea struck the country and Trump tweeting that he had a larger nuclear button than Kim Jong Un.

Trump would be the first sitting president to meet with a North Korean dictator.

CNN Anchor Hammers U.N. for Anti-Israel Bias

Photo from Flickr/nrkbeta.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper criticized the United Nations for being biased against Israel in a segment on Thursday, as he blasted various countries for criticizing Israel despite having “questionable records.”

Tapper began his segment by summarizing the U.N.’s vote to condemn the Trump administration’s Jerusalem move by a margin of 128 votes in favor of the condemnation, nine against and 35 abstentions. The anchor proceeded to review the records of some of the countries who voted to condemn the move, starting with Venezuela.

“The U.S. imperils global peace, says the representative of Venezuela, a country in a humanitarian disaster,” said Tapper, “with violence in the streets, an economy in complete collapse, citizens malnourished, dying children being turned away from hospitals, starving families joining street gangs to scrounge for food.”

“On what moral platform does the government of Venezuela stand today?” asked Tapper.

Tapper also noted the irony of Syria and Yemen condemning the U.S. despite the fact that their citizens have been ravished by the civil wars plaguing each country, as well as other countries like Myanmar, North Korea and China condemning the move despite their heinous human rights abuses.

The anchor proceeded to highlight some statistics from U.N. Watch reflecting the U.N.’s bias against Israel.

“The United Nations General Assembly from 2012-2015 has adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country, and of those 97, 83 of them have focused on Israel,” said Tapper. “That is 86%.”

Tapper added, “Certainly Israel is not above criticism, but considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel is deserving of 86% of the world’s condemnation?”

“Or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations? Something that allows the representative of the Assad government lecture the United States for moving its embassy.”

The full segment can be seen below:

North Korea Fires Another Missile

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) on April 25, 2017. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS

North Korea has fired yet another missile, indicating that the hermit kingdom’s pause in missile provocation has now ended.

The missile was fired from Sain Ni at around 3:17 am local time and stayed in the air for around 50 minutes and traveled 620 miles before landing in water that Japan claims exclusive economic rights.

The missile that North Korea fired is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and reportedly went as high as 2,800 miles, 10 times higher than the NASA international space station. It’s reportedly capable of striking any location in the United States.

South Korea responded to the missile launch with their own “precision missile strike drill,” where they launched a missile that traveled the same distance as North Korea’s ICBM.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the launch by calling in his national security council for a meeting.

“We strongly urge North Korea to change their policy as there will be no bright future for North Korea unless they resolve such issues as the abductions, nuclear program and missiles,” said Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary.

President Trump simply said in a press conference, “We will take care of it. It is a situation we will handle.” Defense Secretary James Mattis called North Korea’s actions as a danger to “world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.”

Tuesday’s missile launch was the seventh time this year North Korea has conducted such tests, with the previous test occurring in September. The United States believes that North Korea could develop a missile capable of holding a nuclear warhead by 2018, and South Korea is warning that the hermit kingdom is “developing its nuclear weapons at a faster-than-expected pace.”

“We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea could announce its completion of a clear force within one year,” said South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.

How to Avoid a Nuclear War with North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA in an undated photo. Photo from KCNA/via Reuters

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea is often described as the most dangerous place in the world. It’s a no man’s land 160 miles long and 2 1/2-miles wide, wrapped with electrical fencing and laced with antipersonnel mines.

At the so-called Joint Security Area, North and South Korean soldiers stare holes through each other, with the South Koreans behind reflective sunglasses. Almost 30,000 American troops are stationed there as a tripwire. If the North invades the South — as it has in the past and for more than five decades has sworn to do again — its soldiers will have to go through ours. You can go there today as a tourist from the South Korean side, a mere 35 miles from the capital Seoul, and nothing is likely to happen to you; but if war breaks out, this place will explode so catastrophically it will make the Iraq War look and feel like a lazy afternoon nap.

In mountainsides just north of the DMZ, the North has buried thousands of artillery pieces that can pound Seoul’s urban area, home to more than 25 million people, with as many as half a million shells in an hour. More than a million people could be killed, practically in an instant, even if nobody on either side uses nuclear weapons.

We haven’t been this close to total war with North Korea since the 1950s.

The North’s tyrant leader, Kim Jong Un, has dozens of atomic bombs (no one is entirely sure of how many) and claims he’s ready to test an exponentially more destructive hydrogen bomb. And for the first time ever, his intercontinental ballistic missiles may be capable of striking mainland United States.

The North Korean missile crisis, which these days feels like the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion, already has taken us well beyond the most dangerous threshold. North Korea isn’t an aspiring nuclear power. It already has arrived. Kim can kill as many American civilians in cities from Seattle to Chicago as he can in Seoul. It is too late to stop him. During a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in late September, retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s former supreme allied commander in Europe, said he believes there is a 10 percent chance of a nuclear war breaking out between the United States and North Korea, and a 20-30 percent chance of them engaging in a conventional war.

Kim also has a massive stockpile of chemical weapons and has proven that he’s willing to use them. In February, two young women — one from Vietnam, the other from Indonesia — assassinated his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in the international airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with the ultratoxic VX nerve agent.

South Korea and Malaysia have accused North Korea of being behind the killing. If that was the case, Kim removed a potential rival, reminded the entire world that he has chemical as well as nuclear weapons, and demonstrated to all that he’s willing to use them. And if he’s willing to use them against his own family, what’s stopping him from using them to kill complete strangers in the United States, Japan and South Korea?

In 1994, North Korea committed itself on paper to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the so-called Agreed Framework between Pyongyang and Washington, agreeing to replace its nuclear power infrastructure with light-water reactors that couldn’t be used to produce nuclear weapons. In exchange, President Bill Clinton’s administration agreed to deliver half a million tons of heavy oil each year. The purpose was to prevent North Korea from building nuclear weapons without going to war. It failed.

A Gallup poll released in September found that 58 percent of Americans favor military action against North Korea if diplomatic options continue to fail, including 37 percent of Democrats. The United States absolutely could mount a preventive war against North Korea and would certainly win. Let there be no doubt about that. Let there be no doubt also that the cost would amount to a textbook example of a Pyrrhic victory, where the price of victory would be so high that it would be indistinguishable from outright losing.

Millions could die in South Korea alone, mostly in and around Seoul. Hundreds of thousands could die in Japan, too, if Kim, in a fit of malicious pique, nuked the Japanese. There’s no telling how many would die on the northern side of the Korean border. That would depend, in part, on whether the United States used nuclear weapons. And we might as well write off most of the 30,000 American troops stationed near the DMZ as potentially lost right at the outset.

North Korea’s conventional military power is no match for that of the United States and South Korea, but the early hours of a war would be so spectacularly destructive that using nuclear weapons might be on the table. President Donald Trump has made serious threats twice already.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” the president said in August in front of the news cameras. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

He did it again in September. “The United States has great strength and patience,” he said in a prepared speech at the United Nations, “but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Kim, for his part, called Trump a mentally deranged “dotard,” said the Korean War was back on, and was moving military assets into place to shoot down American planes over the Korean Peninsula — even if they don’t fly over his airspace.

We haven’t been this close to total war with North Korea since the 1950s. Blame President Trump’s bellicosity if you want, or blame Trump and Kim equally, but the truth is that we’d be in crisis mode now even if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had won the election last year. Between 1984 and 2014, North Korea tested 53 missiles. Since 2014, it has tested more than 100 more, an increase from an average of two per year to more than 30 per year since Kim Jong Un assumed power from his late father, Kim Jong Il.

It’s not America’s fault that we are where we are. It is, however, up to Americans to decide what to do about it.

But what to do? None other than Trump’s hyperbelligerent former chief strategist Steve Bannon seemed to take the nuclear option off the table earlier this year. “There is no military option,” he said to Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect magazine shortly before the president fired him. “Forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here. … They got us.”

Indeed, they “got” us. But we’ve also “got” them. The United States can’t possibly lose a war with North Korea — not today, and not in the future, not even if we get nuked, and not even if we get nuked first. North Korea can wreak an unspeakable amount of havoc, but only at the price of total annihilation. We can choose Pyrrhic victory. Kim can only choose suicide.

Blame Trump and Kim equally, but the truth is we’d be in crisis mode now even if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had won the election.

He doesn’t want to kill himself and his country. He is not a suicide bomber. ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in all likelihood would ignite an apocalyptic war if he could, but Kim just wants to survive and lord it over his totalitarian prison-state until he dies in his bed at the age of 90. And therein lies the least terrible option in a range of terrible options.

There is only one thing in the entire world that the North Korean and American peoples and governments agree on. We all want to survive, and to do so without perpetual angst.

Contrary to what most Americans believe, the Korean War never officially ended. It merely paused in 1953 with an armistice agreement. From the American point of view, the war has been over since before most of us were born. From the Korean point of view, though, it always has been a pyre doused with gasoline, awaiting a match.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un visits the Mangyongdae Revolutionary Academy on its 70th anniversary, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang October 13, 2017.

The Korean War was fought far from our shores, but it was fought inside Korea, often in the backyards of those old enough to remember it. Most citizens of the North have been living with a feeling of existential dread that Americans could surge over the horizon at any moment and resume the bombing and killing. They have been brainwashed to believe this. The regime has spent decades unifying its people with a diet of deranged anti-American, anti-Japanese and anti-Seoul propaganda. It’s not just a big put-on, however. The Kim family watched as Americans demolished the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s Arab Socialist Baath Party in Iraq, and Muammar Gaddafi’s lunacracy in Libya. North Korea’s people feel, deep in their bones, that they might be “next,” just as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad did before the Russians flew in to save him.

They are almost certainly wrong about this. A war with North Korea would be so utterly devastating that there’s virtually no chance any American president would mount an Iraq-style regime-change operation in Pyongyang, even if Kim had no nuclear or chemical weapons, unless he invaded South Korea or hit us with missiles. The United States and its allies in Asia already are completely deterred by the thousands of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul.

Kim doesn’t need nukes. He just doesn’t know it or doesn’t believe it. The Mexican standoff between him and Donald Trump isn’t doing anything to settle his nerves.

Kim has erected a doomsday machine, and there’s no way we can destroy it without setting it off. Washington needs to think and behave like a hostage negotiator, which starts by managing and calming the emotional state of the hostage-taker.

The least terrible choice out of a range of terrible choices isn’t regime-change, which would set off Kim’s doomsday device; nor is it brinkmanship and gunboat diplomacy, which could inadvertently convince him that we’re coming for him and frighten him into setting it off prematurely. The least terrible choice is negotiating an end to the Korean War once and for all and guaranteeing the survival of his regime in perpetuity. Nobody who cares a whit about human rights wants to underwrite the indefinite existence of a totalitarian gulag state, but we’re not going to shoot Kim out of his palace anyway unless he starts a war. So, at the end of the day, what difference does it make?

Don’t count on the Chinese to save us. Yes, they can pressure Kim to the negotiating table, but the notion that Beijing can convince him to give up the nuclear weapons and missiles he already has is a fantasy. North Korea won’t give up its nukes for the exact same reason the United States won’t — there is no better deterrent on Earth. Even if Kim were to hand over or destroy the weapons he already has, his regime already has acquired the knowledge to build them and can always build more at any time. There is no rewind button, and toothpaste doesn’t go back in the tube.

Pressuring Pyongyang with threats of war and economic sanctions always had to be part of the picture. Kim would have far less incentive to negotiate if he did not feel compelled. But cooler heads need to prevail here, and sooner rather than later. The odds that Kim and his circle will be the first to act like the adults in the room are vanishingly close to zero. That’s our job, and Washington needs to snap to it.


Michael J. Totten is a contributing editor at World Affairs and City Journal, a Middle East Forum writing fellow, and the author of eight books, including “Tower of the Sun” and “Where the West Ends.” 

Coroner contradicts Trump, Otto Warmbier’s parents on torture claim

Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang on March 16, 2015. Photo by Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images

An Ohio coroner said that a post-mortem examination of Otto Warmbier, the Jewish-American college student who died after being imprisoned in North Korea, did not show any obvious signs of torture.

The Wednesday statement contradicted President Donald Trump and Warmbier’s parents, who claimed the 22-year-old was tortured by North Korea. Trump said Warmbier “was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”

Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, the Hamilton County coroner, painted a different picture.

“I felt very comfortable that there wasn’t any evidence of trauma” to the teeth or jawbone, Sammarco said Wednesday, according to CNN. “We were surprised at [the parents’] statement.”

Warmbier’s father, Fred, said Tuesday that his son’s “bottom teeth look like they had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged them.”

The parents opposed doing an autopsy on their son, so the coroner’s report and Sammarco’s statement were based on an external examination.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, which has denied torturing Warmbier, shot back at Trump, calling the president an “old lunatic” in a Thursday statement, BBC reported.

Warmbier died in the United States in June, days after after being sent back here in a coma. In 2016, North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster while on a student tour there. North Korea released Warmbier, saying his health had deteriorated after a bout of botulism. Warmbier’s doctors in the U.S. said he suffered extensive brain damage.

Prior to Warmbier’s death, JTA reported that he had been active in the Hillel at the University of Virginia. Following his death, it was revealed that his family hid their son’s Jewishness from the public as negotiations for his release took place.

A family spokesman, Mickey Bergman, told The Times of Israel that the family chose not to disclose Warmbier’s Jewish background as negotiations went forward so as not to embarrass North Korea, which had announced that Warmbier stole the poster on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

Trump: Otto Warmbier ‘was tortured beyond belief by North Korea’

Otto Warmbier confessing to stealing a political poster in North Korea on Feb. 29, 2016. Screenshot from YouTube

President Donald Trump said that Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died earlier this year after being imprisoned in North Korea, had been “tortured beyond belief.”

Trump’s comment on Tuesday followed an interview with Warmbier’s parents on “Fox & Friends” in which they described their son’s condition when he was released in June.

“Otto had a shaved head, he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, he was staring blankly into space, jerking violently,” Fred Warmbier said in the interview. “He was blind. He was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him, it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

On Twitter, Trump called the interview “great” and made the claim about North Korea torturing Warmbier, 22.

Warmbier died in the United States in June, days after after being sent back here in a coma. In 2016, North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster while on a student tour there. North Korea released Warmbier, saying his health had deteriorated after a bout of botulism. Warmbier’s doctors in the U.S. said he suffered extensive brain damage.

Prior to Warmbier’s death, JTA reported that he had been active in the Hillel at the University of Virginia. Following his death, it was revealed that his family hid their son’s Jewishness from the public as negotiations for his release took place.

A family spokesman, Mickey Bergman, told The Times of Israel that the family chose not to disclose Warmbier’s Jewish background as negotiations went forward so as not to embarrass North Korea, which had announced that Warmbier stole the poster on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

Jewish groups condemn new US travel ban

President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on Sept. 26. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Several Jewish groups criticized the Trump administration’s new travel ban, which tailors restrictions on eight countries — three more than in the current ban being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The executive order signed Sunday by President Donald Trump replaces one that detractors said was an attempt to keep Muslims out of the country.

The new ban adds citizens of Chad and North Korea, as well as some Venezuelan government officials and their families, to Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It goes into effect Oct. 18.

On Monday, the Supreme Court signaled it may dismiss the challenge to the ban after the White House announced the new order, Reuters reported. Legal experts said the new restrictions stand a better chance of holding up in court.

But the Anti-Defamation League was among the Jewish groups that stood against the new ban.

“Another day, another discriminatory #TravelBan. We’re standing firmly against it,” the ADL said in a tweet.

In a statement, the group added, “This new proclamation, like the first two travel bans, tears families apart and runs counter to our values as a nation that has stood as a beacon of hope for people around the world.”

J Street called the revised travel ban “ill-conceived, discriminatory and dangerous.” The liberal Middle East policy group’s statement noted that the ban likely would not prevent the entrance to the United States of real terrorists.

“Rather than making Americans safer, the travel ban will further erode the United States’ image around the world, helping the cause of terrorist organizations which promote anti-American sentiment,” it said.

Bend the Arc Jewish Action CEO Stosh Cotler said in a statement that the ban “undermines fundamental American and Jewish values with its explicit bigotry and xenophobia.”

U.S. courts have struck down earlier bids by Trump to install a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

Iran claims successful test of missile capable of reaching Israel

A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Iran announced that it successfully tested a new medium-range missile capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf.

The announcement was made Saturday by Iran’s defense minister, Amir Hatami.

“As long as some speak in the language of threats, the strengthening of the country’s defense capabilities will continue and Iran will not seek permission from any country for producing various kinds of missile,” he said in a statement Saturday.

The missile, dubbed Khoramshahr, reportedly has a range of 1,250 miles and can carry multiple warheads.

Footage of the missile test, including from a camera mounted on the missile, was shown on Iranian state television, though it did not say when the test took place.

Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called the missile test “a provocation to the United States and its allies, including Israel,” as well as “further proof of Iran’s ambition to become a global power that threatens not only the Middle East, but all the countries of the free world.”

“Imagine what would happen if Iran would obtain nuclear weapons, which is where she is headed. We cannot let this happen,” Liberman said in the statement, which he posted on his Facebook page.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to renegotiate or to dump the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement between world powers and the Islamic Republic, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Following Iran’s announcement of the missile test, Trump on Saturday tweeted disparagingly of the deal.

“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!” he wrote.

Oct. 15 is the next deadline for Trump to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal, which the president must do every six months under U.S. law.

During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the altering or scrapping of the deal.

5777: Coping with a year of rage

White supremacists, foreground, face off against counterprotesters, top, at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

We hear the word “high” a lot during the High Holy Days — and it’s not just because we live in pot-friendly California.

This time of year is supposed to elevate us, lift us up. It’s so integral to the mission of the holidays, and it’s embedded into the choreography of the service: The ark is opened and we rise; the shofar calls us to stand and wake up; the fast on Yom Kippur alters the chemistry of our brains. Prayer itself promises to bring us “higher and higher,” inching us closer to the profound mystery at the heart of the universe we call God.

Everything about this 10-day annual ritual titillates us with the promise of spiritual intoxication: If we take the holidays seriously enough — if we repent, return, forgive — Jewish tradition tells us we can change our lives; that everything we thought lost is still possible. Begin again, we’re told. It’s a new year. 

But for so many of us, the task of getting high this year seems especially hard because this last year was so full of personal and global anguish. How do we reclaim a space for the spirit when life can be so profoundly dispiriting?

Most of the major events of 5777 have given us reason to worry, rage and fear. We lived through the most polarizing election in our lifetimes, followed by the installation of an equally polarizing administration. We learned about Russian subversion of our democratic process. We endured nuclear threats from North Korea and the rising threat of economic imperialism in China. We watched the Syrian civil war and genocide spread into its sixth tragic year. We divided ourselves over Israel, agonizing about the challenges it faces within and without. We witnessed terror in Europe.

And, most recently, we watched with utter helplessness as the wrath of nature devastated American cities and communities, and as DACA was rescinded, putting the futures of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in limbo. All of this courtesy of the constant churn of the 24-hour news cycle that knows no Shabbat. 

For these reasons and others, we feel drained. Can prayer and community have any impact on healing these wounds? And what if the very polarizing politics we wish to escape appear in our rabbi’s sermon?

For those of us who already are politically engaged, philanthropic and working with great devotion to fight injustice in this world, we hope the High Holy Days will pour some light onto the canvas of our aching souls.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, I asked Rabbi Mordecai Finley, the spiritual leader at Ohr Hatorah in Venice who teaches and counsels through the prism of psychology and philosophy, how we can move from a year of rage, grief or simply exhaustion to a period of spiritual elevation.

His answer was surprising — and kind of Buddhist.

“Every philosophical system that takes morality seriously detaches wisdom from emotions,” he said over warm apple pie at Sophos Café, the Italian-coffee hangout that serves as the lobby at his shul. (I had to put aside my extreme satisfaction with the pie to understand his point.)

But aren’t you angry about what you see happening in our country, or in the world, I asked?

“I don’t get that emotional [about it],” he said. “Anybody who is that upset [over politics], I’m wondering how efficacious their spiritual practice is to begin with. When people say to me, ‘It’s been the worst year ever,’ I say, ‘1862 was a bad year for our country [it was the Civil War and the Union was losing]. 1942 was a bad year for the world.’

“There are those who love divisiveness and get all emotional. It’s a choice you make. I’m among those who find [President Donald Trump] repugnant, but if I talk to somebody on the other side, I don’t bring that into the conversation. I say, let’s have rational conversation based on moral values. For people who say politics is personal, I think they like to be angry.”

Finley admitted that different people seek different things on the High Holy Days. Some people want and need to vent about politics.

“It can feel extremely satisfying when your leadership vents what you’re feeling,” Finley said. “But when people are venting, they don’t want to process. My congregation is populated by people who want an oasis during the High Holidays. I’ve asked, ‘Would you like me every week to rehash the new litany of Trump’s latest outrages?’ They say, ‘No, we get that from The New York Times.’ They’re after personal depth and transformation. They want leadership there.” 

Finley believes that for most of us, the way to a better world is through higher consciousness, by cultivating what he calls “the higher self,” or the soul. And the best way to test and exert the functioning of our higher self is through interpersonal relationships.

“There’s a moral framework in which we live that for most people, the first place they experience it is interpersonally,” he said. “You’ve been hurt by others; they’ve been hurt by you. That’s the first thing we have to deal with.”

It’s a lot harder to take on the problems of the world if we’re suffering at home. So for those of us who are grieving, heartbroken, angry or stuck, the holidays are a time to examine and refine our most sacred relationships.

Simple acts of being kinder, more generous and more compassionate can make our broken world a little brighter and bring us higher — indeed, closer — to God.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Why Trump’s U.N. speech thrilled Netanyahu — for the moment, anyway

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The number of times President Donald Trump mentioned Iran or its derivatives in his U.N. speech?

Twelve, and each time to emphasize its threat.

The number of times he mentioned the Palestinians or derivatives? That would be zero.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, paying Trump the rare leader-to-leader gesture of attending his speech and applauding throughout, was clearly pleased.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” Netanyahu tweeted immediately after the 40-minute address on Tuesday. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

Short term, Trump delivered big time on the Netanyahu wish list: He came closer to pledging to kill the Iran nuclear deal reviled by the Israeli leader and did not even mention peace with the Palestinians, which Netanyahu does not believe has traction at this point.

But wait, there’s more. Trump mentioned the word “sovereign” and its derivatives 21 times on Tuesday, the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York.

Long term, Netanyahu and Israel may not be as enthused by Trump’s dream of a world in which nations make a priority of “sovereign” interests — or as the president put it, repeating a campaign phrase that unsettled many U.S. Jews, “America First.”

Trump’s overarching theme was a retreat from the robust interventionist role that to varying degrees has characterized U.S. foreign policy since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed, that undergirded the U.S.-led effort following World War II and its devastation to establish the United Nations.

“Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity and peace for themselves and for the world,” Trump said. “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government.”

What that means practically is not clear, much like the rest of Trump’s foreign policy nine months into his presidency. But Israel’s security establishment has been wary of an American retreat from world affairs, especially when it comes to its war-torn neighbor Syria and the alliance between Syria’s Assad regime and Iran.

Trump’s emphasis on Syria — the thrust of much of his speech — was the routing of the Islamist terrorist threat embodied there by the Islamic State. Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah share that goal.

Secondarily, Trump said he would intervene when what he called the “criminal” Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

What Trump did not say — and what the Netanyahu government had demanded — was whether he would seek the removal from Syria of Iran and Hezbollah, which launched a war against Israel in 2006 and appears to be building a missile arsenal ahead of another war. (Trump did twice attack Hezbollah as a terrorist organization that threatens Israel.)

More broadly, Israeli Cabinet ministers — especially the defense minister, Avigdor Liberman — repeatedly expressed the concern that the Obama administration diminished the U.S. profile in the Middle East. Israel has long considered a robust U.S. profile in the region as key to its security.

On the Iran deal, Netanyahu could only be pleased at what he heard.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said of the 2015 agreement, which trades sanctions relief for rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear program. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Netanyahu said from the same podium several hours later.

He lavished plenty of praise on Trump in his speech. Referring to Trump’s visit earlier this year to the Western Wall, Neyanyahu said, “When the president touched those ancient stones, he touched our hearts forever.”

Netanyahu also said “we will act to prevent Iran” from establishing a permanent base in Syria, developing weapons to be used against Israel from Lebanon and Syria, and establishing a terrorist front against Israel on the Lebanon border.

The Israeli, who had a long meeting with Trump in the days before the General Assembly launched, suggested that his message was congruent with Trump’s.

“Today I will say things that the rulers of Iran and the people of Iran will remember always,” he said in Hebrew in a social media post two hours ahead of his speech. “I think they will also remember what President Trump says.”

Israel condemns North Korea nuclear test

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Sept. 4. Photo from KCNA

Israel condemned the nuclear test conducted by North Korea calling it a continuation of the country’s “pattern of defiant activity.”

North Korea carried out the underground test on Sunday, later claiming that it had set off a  hydrogen bomb. The explosion was felt in South Korea and China, making it the most powerful bomb that North Korea has ever set off.

“North Korea must comply with all Security Council resolutions on this issue and refrain from testing and developing weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems,” Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement issued on Monday. “Only a determined international response will prevent other states from behaving in the same way,” the statement also said.

Following news of the nuclear test, the Trump administration warned that even the threat to use such a weapon against the United States and its allies “will be met with a massive military response,” the New York Times reported.

President Donald Trump in a series of tweets also said that North Korea’s “words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States” and that “North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success.”

Trump also tweeted that the Unites States is considering stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.

Zen and the art of nuclear war

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

In the contest between crisis and calm, oy has an edge over om. Case in point: Just as I was giving meditation another try to take my mind off Donald Trump, the North Korea fire-and-fury horror show broke out, and Trump’s itchy finger on the locked and loaded nuclear trigger made my strategy for sanity look awfully iffy.

Even so, I’d rather be triggered to think about the risks of nuclear weapons, which don’t distract me nearly as much as they should, than be trolled by whatever random trash talk Trump tweeted 10 minutes ago.

Meditation is all about letting go of your thoughts. That’s hard enough to do for any of us whose attention is the plaything of stress about work and money, love and sex, sickness and sadness, not to mention unwanted desires, unbidden memories, undone to-do lists and other anxieties ad infinitum. Which is to say, just trying to kiss your ordinary, everyday thoughts goodbye is hard enough for all of us.

Now add all-Trump-all-the-time media to the mix, and the stress makes my head want to explode. Within hours of his nuclear saber-rattling, not only did he refuse to call out white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, he located them among “many sides,” setting up a moral equivalence between those thugs and the peaceful marchers
protesting those hate groups in Charlottesville, Va. His fake moral leadership 48 hours late only underscored how morally shrunken his own instincts are. What fresh hell is next? Each day’s news rubs our faces in how corrupt, deranged, deceitful, ignorant, impulsive and unfit for office the president is.

That surplus stress we’re under, the Trump news mental health penalty, piled on top of life’s usual worries and distractions, has hijacked my mindful attention, and maybe yours, since the election. Meditating regularly — not sporadically, as I’d lapsed into doing — seemed my best shot at escaping its clutches, short of moving to an ashram or bingeing on “The Bachelor.” But only a handful of days into resuming a daily meditation practice — boom! Armageddon is on the table and the end is nigh. Even for just 20 minutes at a time, try letting go of a thought like that.

The bright side, if there is one: The game of nuclear chicken Trump is playing with Kim Jong Un, despite its toll on our national nerves and its disruption of my try at zen, offers a teachable moment about something we’d all rather not think about.

When I was growing up, I was so crushed when my father showed little enthusiasm for building a cinder block fallout shelter in our cellar that I wrote to the Civil Defense Administration and received the how-to instructions in a self-addressed stamped envelope. His objection was cost, my father said; it’d be money down the drain, spent to protect us from something that was never going to happen.

Looking back, I suspect cost was a proxy for denial. Who could handle the truth about nuclear war? Our saltine-stocked refuge would have been incinerated instantly, along with our family, our house and every other family and house in Newark. Accepting the folly of protecting us from a Soviet H-bomb also would have required admitting the dementia of the duck-and-cover air raid drills my brother and I, like kids across the country, practiced at school.

Today, nine nations possess a total of nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons; the United States and Russia account for 93 percent of them. Protecting ourselves from them is as quaint a pipe dream now as it was during the Cold War. The consequence of those stockpiles: Three risks haunt the earth, and they might get the attention from us they deserve if denial weren’t our default way to deal with them.

The first risk is nuclear terrorism. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a black market in fissile material. Bomb blueprints are posted on the internet. The technology to build a bomb can be had for a few hundred thousand dollars. In former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry’s nightmare, one nuclear weapon detonated on a truck in the heart of Washington, D.C., coupled with nationwide panic sparked by terrorist threats of more bombs in more cities, would bring America to its knees within days.

The second risk is a false alarm, like a spurious warning of an incoming missile attack, which would activate a launch-on-warning counterattack by the (un)attacked nation and a retaliatory barrage by the other. This is not a hypothetical example. In 1980, an alarm at the Pentagon’s Raven Rock Mountain command post in Pennsylvania warned that Soviet submarines had launched 2,200 nuclear missiles toward the U.S. It was caused by a malfunctioning computer chip that cost 46 cents. But no one knew that until only seconds before President Jimmy Carter would have ordered a massive counterstrike. Luck is not a plan.

The third risk is ego. Reckless leaders make escalating threats, masculine identity disorders run rampant, some accident happens — and the adults in the room are powerless to prevent a temper tantrum from blundering the world into millions of casualties. Macho histrionics get airtime and grab headlines, but what really warrants attention, expertise and public support today is the quiet, patient, backroom zen of negotiation, diplomacy and statesmanship.

Ironic, isn’t it, that what we most need now is for the art of the deal to trump Trump.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School
for Communication and Journalism.

North Korean nukes: Has President Trump reached his “Leit Breirah” moment?

People walk in front of a monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Previous U.S. Presidents have kicked the proverbial North Korea nuclear can down the road. Now it appears that President Trump may soon have to choose between continued “deterrence and containment” or some form of military action to stop Kim Jong Un from having an arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBM’s targeting America’s heartland.

During the Cold War, MAD (mutually assured destruction) worked to straitjacket nuke-laden adversaries. But who’s to say if mad Kim Jong Un can be deterred? Every president from Bill Clinton on thought they could make a deal with the Kim dynasty and in the end got played. That hasn’t stopped Republicans and Democrats alike weighing in with advice and warnings to President Trump.

Perhaps a good place to for Trump to look for perspective is the 1981 decision by the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Against prevailing world opinion and Middle East expertise, he ordered the Israeli Air Force’s incredibly daring raid to take out Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor. 

That damaged facility wasn’t totally destroyed until the U.S Air Force did it during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Ironic, since earlier the Reagan Administration joined the rest of the UN Security Council in condemning Israel and even delayed delivery of new F-16s. Yet what Israel did in 1981 was a game changer. You don’t have to be a general to understand how different the world would have been in 1990 if a nuclearized Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Still, a recent front-page New York Times article evaluating Trump’s options quotes experts who, incredibly, criticize Begin’s bold move for two reasons: Jerusalem violated a UN Security Council resolution and the Israeli PM could have delayed any action until there was a verifiable “imminent threat.”

The President of the United States, cognizant of his oath of office to defend and protect the American people cannot take cover behind “experts” or sanctimonious UN resolutions in face of a looming existential threat.

Setting up “imminent threat” as the standard or litmus test for taking action sounds reasonable—but not when you are confronted by perpetrators of unimaginable evil. Back in the 1930s, experts and elites in England lined up behind Neville Chamberlain as he pursued just such an approach with “Herr Hitler.” Some of the appeasers were fascists, some on the left. Rationale people, remembering WWI carnage, even had every reason to avoid another war. The problem was, instead of taking early and painful action against the Nazis, Chamberlain and Company allowed the cunning Hitler to constantly move the goal posts until it was too late. Chamberlain’s unwitting “delay of game” strategy would lead to 55 million dead in the catastrophic WWII.

Let’s be honest. For years, the U.S. allowed the Kims to move the goalposts, constantly re-defining what is an “imminent threat.”

It’s now left to the Trump team, which includes seasoned military leaders to draw a real red line on Pyongyang to ensure that Americans wake up tomorrow to embrace the future, not confront a nuclear holocaust.

President Trump may also want to read up on Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir who had to consider launching a nuclear weapon strike when the Jewish state—the victim of sneak attack by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, 1973, was in danger of being overrun in the early stages of that bitter war. Meir later admitted that her “heart was very much drawn” to a preemptive strike—like Israel’s in 1967 against Egypt’s Nasser— but was scared: “1973 is not 1967, and this time we will not be forgiven, and we will not receive [American] assistance when we have the need for it,” Golda later testified.

Thankfully, Israel was able to prevail sans nuclear weapons—but at a very high cost of dead and wounded. Golda Meir made mistakes in the lead-in to the Yom Kippur War. Unclear after all these years is exactly what those “mistakes” were. Was she right—or wrong—to refrain from a preemptive strike? One thing is clear that Israel has always been willing to deploy “a secret weapon”—in Golda’s words— Leit Breirah”: “we have no choice but to act” when our survival is at stake.

Today, President Trump does have choices about the NK nuke threat—none easy. Has he arrived at a Leit Breira moment that could trigger preemptive action? Or can he afford—and for how long—to give diplomacy one more a chance?

And will more words and more sanctions convince Kim to back down or prove to him that the US lacks the guts to act.

The answers to these questions will have grave consequences not only for Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, and Americans, but also for the Gulf States, Egypt, and Israel who are being menaced by an aggressive Iran emboldened by sweetheart nuclear deal with the P5+1 led by President Obama.

Think and say what you may about Donald Trump’s presidential style or choice of words. At this moment, we should all pray that he and his team take the right path…

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Will you risk Los Angeles to deter North Korea?

People walk in front of a monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Every discussion of North Korea ought to begin with a short reminder. In the last thirty years, policy towards North Korea has been a resounding failure. American policy specifically, but also the policies of other countries dissatisfied about the prospect of a rogue and incomprehensible regime armed with nuclear warheads.

It was a failure that rests on two main pillars.  There was a lack of urgency – the crisis with North Korea never reached a point that compelled the U.S. to use its much superior force, and make the necessary sacrifices, to stop this country’s rush to arm itself.  There was also the belief in the power of diplomacy – time and again American leaders and diplomats fooled themselves into thinking that North Korea is a problem they can negotiate away.

Obviously, they could not. Writing earlier this week, David Ignatius described American  objectives as follows: “Washington’s diplomatic goal, although it hasn’t been stated publicly this way, is to encourage China to interpose itself between the United States and North Korea and organize negotiations to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. threat is that if China doesn’t help the United States find such a diplomatic settlement, America will pursue its own solution – by military means if necessary”.

This of course sounds reasonable, except for the fact that this has been Washington’s  diplomatic goal for three decades, to no avail. It did not succeed with either Democratic presidents, like Clinton, who thought (or pretended to think) that his understanding with North Korea will hold,  or with Republican presidents, like Bush, who thought that mixing in a more aggressive approach would deter the leaders of North Korea. Successive administrations failed to achieve their objective, and now it might be too late. North Korea achieved its own objective, of having the ability to shoot a nuclear armed missile far enough to reach the United States. The bizarre, seemingly irrational, misunderstood, ridiculed, clownish leaders of North Korea proved more cunning and determined than the empire foe.

Defending past presidents, we should admit that North Korea was never an easy problem to solve. It is even more complicated today, as Reva Goujon of Stratfor explained in a long article about the U.S.’ looming foreign policy crisis. “In trying to forgo military action”, he wrote, “the United States will be forced to rely on China’s and Russia’s cooperation in sanctions or covert action intended to destabilize the North Korean government and thwart its nuclear ambitions. Yet even as Washington pursues this policy out of diplomatic necessity, it knows it is unlikely to bear fruit. Because as much as they dislike the idea of a nuclear North Korea on their doorstep, China and Russia do not want to face the broader repercussions of an unstable Korean Peninsula or open the door to a bigger U.S. military footprint in the region”.

There are lessons to be learned from this developing situation, and priorities to be set. The main lesson – relevant to Israel no less than it is to the US – is that diplomacy and international pressure cannot prevent determined countries from getting beyond the point of no return. What North Korea did Iran can also do. What Iran can do, other countries in the Middle East can do. The only obstacle standing between countries and nuclear weapons is their own risk assessment – how much they need the weapons, and what price they are willing to pay to get it. If, like North Korea, they come to the conclusion that their survival depends on getting the weapons, North Korea proves the world is not competent,  unified and determined enough to prevent this from happening.

What then should be done now? Prioritization is key. And telling North Korea that it will be obliterated if it launches a nuclear attack on the US is not a priority. The leaders of Korea seem wise enough to understand this on their own – and don’t seem to have any inclination to attack the U.S. Like all other countries who have nuclear weapons, they need this measure as a deterrent against attacks, not as a mean with which to initiate war.

Disarming the North is a desirable goal, but it does not seem to be feasible at this time. The current crisis is not “analogous to the Cuban missile crisis,” as one of President Trump’s advisors said, because the North, unlike the USSR, is no superpower battling against America. Thus, disarming Korea is not the most urgent goal now. A more urgent goal is to draw the red lines for which the world (that is, the U.S.) will be going to war against Korea.

On principle, these red lines are not complicated to draw:

North Korea cannot use its newly acquired capabilities to attack its neighbors, or blackmail them.

North Korea cannot become a proliferator of nuclear weapons.

In practice these red lines invite North Korean provocation, and involve risks of miscalculation. What if the U.S. topples an airplane carrying nuclear scientists from Pyongyang to Syria? Will the Koreans respond in taking down an American military base? And how will the US respond to such action? Will it go as far as risking a nuclear attack on Los Angeles to prevent Syria from getting the knowhow and material to build nuclear weapons?

I have no answer to such a question, but there is one thing I do know. The leaders of North Korea must believe that there is such possibility – that the US is willing to take huge risks to prevent Korea from crossing these two red lines. That is where the bold language and infamous temper of Donald Trump could be useful. As scary as this sounds, the leaders of Korea must believe that the leader of the U.S. is bold and aggressive enough to ignite a nuclear war. Otherwise, they will eventually call America’s  bluff as they have been doing for the last thirty years.  And they will cross yet another point of no return.

In Hiroshima, thinking of North Korea

Paper cranes made by people from around the world decorate the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Shrine. Photo by Rob Eshman

I spent my birthday in Hiroshima.

We didn’t plan it that way, it’s just where we happened to end up in the midst of a summer trip to Japan. It didn’t occur to me what it would mean, or how I would feel, to be celebrating my birthday in a restaurant at the foot of the Aioi Bridge.

The Enola Gay was aiming to drop Little Boy above the bridge, but missed by 800 feet. Instead, the world’s first atomic bomb used in combat exploded 1,900 feet over Shima Surgical Clinic on Aug. 6, 1945.

From Caffe Ponte, where we chased our pizza Margherita with sake shots, we could see the shattered remains of what had been the city’s Product Exhibition Hall, its skeleton now preserved as a memorial.

It wasn’t hard for me to imagine what the rest of Hiroshima looked like that day, because that afternoon we had visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

In a flash, the city was obliterated. About 150,000 people died, many in that instant, more from injuries and radiation poisoning. For miles around, the Exhibition Hall was one of only a few buildings left standing.


Left: Hiroshima, Japan, after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the city, August 5, 1945. The standing building is now preserved as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Right: Genbaku Dome was the only building left standing near the hypocenter of the A-bomb’s blast. Every year, thousands gather at the iconic dome, now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Photo by Rob Eshman


If you’ve been to Holocaust museums and memorials, you’ll feel a sense of déjà vu visiting the one in Hiroshima. Yes, of course, the circumstances of destruction couldn’t be more different. But even so, we have a limited vocabulary for recalling carnage.

There are the relics of dead children — a charred tricycle, which a grief-stricken father buried alongside his 2-year-old son killed in the attack. There are the photos — of the fireball, of blackened bodies, of huddled survivors. There are the video testimonies of survivors — the woman who woke from a blinding flash to find her house had disappeared around her, leaving only her son and daughter behind, both dead. There is an Anne Frank whom kids can relate to — Sadako Sasaki, a girl whose diary became the basis for the book “One Thousand Paper Cranes.”

And there is the abiding theme of “Never Again,” in this case framed as an emphasis on nuclear disarmament.

But for humans, “Never Again” turns out to be a difficult ask.

Since the Holocaust, there have been many genocides. And 72 years after Hiroshima, the world is again on the brink of a potential nuclear conflict. Japan, hard as it is to believe, is again a potential ground zero.

Just as we were leaving Japan, on July 4, North Korea launched a KN-17 liquid-fueled missile that landed in the Sea of Japan, in the country’s exclusive economic zone where fishing and commercial vessels are active.

It was that nation’s first successful flight of a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as North America. Experts say North Korea, which already has eight to 10 nuclear bombs, is a couple of years away from developing the technology to fit them on a warhead that could reach us. No one wants North Korea President Kim Jong Un to be able to do that.

“What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it’s been memory,” John Hersey wrote. “The memory of what happened at Hiroshima.”

Hersey traveled the desolate city shortly after we dropped the bomb; his reporting became the basis for his masterful book, “Hiroshima.”

But he’s wrong, unfortunately. Of all the tools President Donald Trump has at his disposal to control North Korea’s weapons, sending Kim Jong Un to the Peace Museum may be the least effective.


A lone floutist plays on the banks of the Ota River, just at the foot of the Aioi Bridge, the initial target of the first atomic bomb.  Across from him is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  Video by Rob Eshman


As the Journal reported in a 2014 cover story, the concentration camps President Kim maintains around North Korea — where tens of thousands of dissidents are tortured, abused and executed — are not the work of a man who cares about anything but his own individual survival. His murder of Otto Warmbier last month is yet another demonstration of Kim’s insolent evil.

But what to do? If you haven’t read or heard any of the hundreds of pundits and experts weighing in on North Korea, let me cut to the chase: There’s no good option. That’s what they all conclude.

The three bad options are: 1) a preemptive strike obliterating the country’s weapons of mass destruction and taking out the regime; 2) a smaller “warning” strike; 3) more diplomacy and sanctions, to induce the Supreme Leader to compromise.

After running through the scenarios, all but a handful of experts end up on No. 3. Military options would provoke North Korea into launching devastating attacks on Japan and South Korea. Casualties could reach a million. I’m no expert, but I’ve now seen Tokyo at rush hour. It’s what they call a target-rich environment.

Little Boy was highly ineffective, using only 1.7 percent of its fissionable material. The power and number of bombs we have today would make the Korean Peninsula and Japan look like one endless Hiroshima.

If the people of Hiroshima were concerned about North Korea’s newest provocation — or the fact that their fate is in the hands of Donald Trump — they didn’t show it. The city thrums with energy. The malls are packed. Buzzed salarymen stroll from bar to bar, lovers embrace by the riverbanks, cars stream toward Mazda Stadium to see the Carp play another baseball game, and tourists line up for the famous okonomiyaki noodle cakes. It’s a river-crossed Phoenix of a city.

We crossed the Aioi Bridge on the way back from dinner, stopping at a memorial for the thousands of children killed in the blast. Never again? We’ll see.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

 

 

 

Pro-North Korean website in Los Angeles promotes anti-Semitism

Roh Kilnam, Glendale-based editor of a pro-North Korean website, during a visit to North Korea in 2014, receives the Kim Il Sung Prize. Photo from Facebook

Though few in number, North Korean loyalists in Los Angeles are dedicated and prolific in their public adulation of the brutal dictatorship, now flexing its muscles as a nuclear power. Woven into their Korean-language propaganda is the idea that Jews manipulate the international order, turning it against their beloved tyrant, Kim Jong Un.

At least two L.A.-based contributors to a local, pro-North Korean website, Lee Insook and Yai Joung-woong, are using the platform to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Similar groups based on the East Coast and abroad also participate in spreading outlandish stereotypes of Jews, drawing on age-old tropes such as “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

“The black shadow government of the United States Jews is said to approve a civil war on the Korean peninsula,” Yai wrote in May on the Korean-language propaganda site Minjok Tongshin (minjok.com), which translates to “National Communication.”

With its ever-expanding nuclear program and missiles now judged powerful enough to reach the United States, North Korea has become a top policy concern for the Donald Trump administration as it searches for strategies to thwart its nuclear ambitions.
The country has grabbed recent headlines through high-profile missile tests and by repatriating a comatose Jewish American, Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned for more than a year. He died shortly after he was released to his family in Ohio.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s apologists in Los Angeles have been busy singing its praises.

Yai, a naturalized American citizen who pled guilty in 2003 to acting as an unregistered agent of the North Korean government and served two years in prison, currently resides in Los Angeles.

Speaking by phone through an interpreter, he said he has a “certain respect for Jewish people,” adding that “they are brilliant, they are easy to understand and they are very liberal.”

Rather than originating the conspiracy theories, he said he mostly reads them on blogs based in China and merely repeats them, saying that he has a “tendency to not believe, but to follow the stories.”

He said that while he doubts that Jews secretly manipulate world events, he nonetheless believes Jews wield a great deal of power in the United States and worries they could use that power to the detriment of North Korea, which he admits he holds in high regard.

Lee, a nurse, lives in Torrance.

Writing on Minjok Tongshin, she has asserted that Israeli Jews are responsible for the creation of the Islamic State and that Jews in general are a Satanic race.

“The God of the Jewish race created by Israel does not really exist, but is an abstraction and a devil which has made the world a living hell,” she wrote recently on Minjok Tongshin in an article titled “Demons hate the work of angels.”

Lee could not be reached for comment.

Roh Kilnam, who runs Minjok Tongshin out of his Glendale home, distanced himself from the two writers while defending their freedom of speech.

He said in a telephone interview they were “just freelancers,” but declined to say whether he had reviewed the anti-Semitic material before it was published.

Asked if he stood by the writers, he said, “We don’t support the content, but there’s freedom of press, you know. They have their own ideas and their own right to express.”

But Roh appears to enjoy a close relationship with both contributors.

After Yai was imprisoned, Roh visited him at the Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. Yai has since appeared as a keynote speaker at events organized by Minjok Tongshin.

Lee wrote more articles than any other contributor in 2014 and 2015, and Roh presented her with an award for her writing, the website reported.

Roh declined to answer additional questions and hung up after a three-minute conversation.

A Facebook page in his name posted a laudatory statement last week about North Korea’s July 4 test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which read in part, “The test launch did not have any negative effects on the world’s safety and the safety of the surrounding countries.”

Roh’s website speaks frequently in adoring tones about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un. The editor has claimed in media interviews to have visited the rogue state dozens of times. During a visit in 2014, he received the Kim Il-Sung Prize, named for the country’s founding leader.

Lawrence Peck, an L.A.-based expert on pro-North Korean activism in the United States, said Minjok Tongshin has “direct, strong, ongoing ties to the highest levels of the North Korean regime.”

He said the ties most likely run through North Korea’s United Nations mission. Requests for comment by the mission were not returned before deadline.

Roh Kilnam. Photo from Facebook

Peck, who is Jewish and earns his living trading stocks, has spent more than two decades monitoring groups and individuals who either openly or covertly work to advance North Korean interests in the United States. He called his watchdog activities “a 24-hour hobby” that often involve media interviews and speaking trips to South Korea.

He said anti-Semitism among overtly pro-North Korean elements such as Minjok Tongshin is widespread, though it goes mostly unnoticed by the Jewish community.

“Because it’s only in Korean, it flies under everyone’s radar,” he said in an interview at a Koreatown coffee shop.

Peck brought the issue to the attention of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a local human rights group.

In 2014, during a flare-up of anti-Semitism in pro-North Korean media tied to Israel’s incursion into Gaza, the Wiesenthal Center issued a statement condemning the rhetoric. It pointed to anonymous comments posted on Minjok Tongshin message boards, such as, “Is there any difference between Jews and Nazis? No. No. No.” and “It is beyond doubt that Jews control the U.S. media.”

In a recent interview with the Journal, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said that while North Korean anti-Semitism wasn’t an immediately pressing issue, “I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.”

“Korean Americans and Jewish Americans have a good relationship,” he said. “If you have a steady flow of invective that comes down, that spills over into part of the overall scenario here in California. It’s not something we would like to see happen, to say it mildly.”

The pro-North Korean community seems to account for a relatively small number of Korean Americans.

“There are over a half million Korean Americans in Southern California. Mostly they are pro-South Korea and pro-USA,” Korean-American journalist Tom Byun wrote in an email. “Among them, it is a small group that has pro-North opinions.” 

Byun, who spent four decades as the editor of America’s largest Korean daily newspaper, the L.A.-based Korea Times, added that most Korean Americans hold favorable views toward Jews, and relatively few frequent sites like Minjok Tongshin.

“Many Koreans in America do not know of the existence of the Minjok Tongshin site,” he wrote. “Ordinary people of LA Koreatown do not recognize the names of Roh Kilnam, Insook Lee and Yai Joung-woong.”

But Minjok Tongshin is not alone among U.S.-based, pro-North Korean groups that engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric. A group called the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC) wrote in a July 3 Korean-language statement that “American politics serves exclusively to benefit Jews and capitalists.”

One of the leaders of KANCC is Kil-sang Yoon, a Methodist minister in the Inland Empire’s Moreno Valley. Lee also contributes frequently to KANCC’s website, sometimes reposting the same articles on Minjok Tongshin.

The roots of Jew-hatred among pro-North Korean elements appear to be various.

One reason for the rhetoric, Cooper said, is North Korea’s alignment with anti-Israel elements such as the Iranian and Syrian regimes and the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Peck echoed Cooper’s reasoning, adding that pro-North Korean elements in the United States tend to ally themselves with far-left groups critical of Israel’s government.

Pro-North Korean anti-Semitism could also come from a general tendency to believe conspiracy theories, he said: Someone who mistakes a brutal dictatorship that starves and tortures its own people for a humanistic and benevolent government may be willing to adopt other peculiar ideas as well, such as Jews controlling the world order.

“Whenever you’re dealing with fringe elements, nuts, extremists, you always find that anti-Semitism is present,” Peck said.

Although careful not to overstate the impact of anti-Semitism from pro-North Korean websites on the Korean-American community at large, he said they can sometimes wield influence on the margins.

“There are people who are reading this garbage, and they are being influenced more so than if these sites didn’t exist and they didn’t see that rhetoric — because they wouldn’t necessarily go to the Stormfront neo-Nazi page,” he said, referencing the nation’s most popular white supremacist website. “But if it’s in Korean, they’re more likely to see it.”

How the Dems can lose 2018

Activist Linda Sarsour in New York City on June 29. Photo by Joe Penney/Reuters

Last week, the Democrats released a new bumper sticker for their 2018 Congressional campaign: “I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

It’s not a bad political notion so far as it goes — opposition in politics is an effective tool, as Democrats learned from Republicans, who campaigned against Obamacare and Democratic spending policies to the tune of 1,000 state legislature seats, 12 governorships (including in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts), 10 Senate seats and 63 House seats. Now Democrats hope to reverse the math.

But there’s something else going on here, too. Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings. That’s because for all the talk by Democrats about Republican extremism, Republicans actually have moved closer to the center on policy, while Democrats have embraced an ugly combination of Bernie Sanders-style socialism and college campus-style intersectionality.

Leave aside the boorish antics of President Donald Trump and the incompetence of Congressional Republicans. Here is the fact: Trump is the most moderate Republican president since Richard Nixon. He has successfully passed almost no major policy in seven months. His foreign policy on North Korea and Syria is barely distinguishable from former President Barack Obama’s. His approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been praised by Palestinians and former Obama officials. He’s the most pro-LGBT Republican in presidential history; his stance on abortion has been vague; his White House chief strategist has openly embraced higher taxes on upper-income earners, as well as a massive infrastructure spending program; he has embraced the central premises of Obamacare. Trump may act in ridiculous ways that defy rationality — his Twitter feed is littered with stupidity and aggression, of course — but on policy, Trump is closer to Bill Clinton of 1997 than President Obama was.

Democrats, meanwhile, are moving hard to the left. When former Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times calling for Democrats to move back to the center, he was roundly excoriated by the leading thinkers in the Democratic Party. He was an emissary of the past; he had to embrace the new vision of the leftist future. That leftist future involved radical tax increases, fully nationalized health care, and — most of all — the divisive politics of intersectionality. Sens. Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may own the policy side of the Democratic coalition, but the heart of the Democratic coalition lies in polarization by race, sex and sexual orientation. Forget a cohesive national message that appeals to Americans regardless of tribal identity: The new Democratic Party cares only about uniting disparate identity factions under the banner of opposing Republicanism.

The clearest evidence for that alliance of convenience came earlier this month, when Democratic darling and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour was caught on tape promoting “jihad” against Trump. Sarsour said that the sort of “jihad” she liked was “a word of truth in front of a tyrant or leader.” But she deliberately used the word “jihad” because of its ambiguity, not in spite of it: Sarsour has stated that pro-Israel women cannot be feminists; she supports the imposition of “Shariah law” in Muslim countries; she has stated of dissident and female genital mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she wishes she could take her “vagina away”; she has long associated with the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood; she opened her “jihad” speech by thanking Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who has repeatedly advocated for a violent form of “jihad.”

Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings.

Democrats rushed to her defense nonetheless, hoping to preserve the intersectional concerns that animate their base. Never mind that Sarsour is no ally to LGBT rights, or that she blames “Zionists” for her problems. She represents an important constituency for Democrats, and so she must be protected. More than that, she speaks anti-Trumpese fluently, and thus is an important figure for Democrats.

This isn’t rare on the left anymore. Much of the Democratic establishment supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a longtime Nation of Islam acolyte who spent years defending that group’s most extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric — a man so radical that he openly associated with the Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which recently labeled Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) an “Israel Firster.”

Even as the Democratic Party embraced Sarsour and defended her ambiguous use of the word “jihad” — after all, she was opposing Trump the Impaler — leftist spokespeople rushed to microphones to denounce President Trump’s speech in Poland, in which he called for a defense of “the West” and “our civilization.” Leftist columnist Peter Beinart labeled the speech racist. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review points out, we now have a Democratic Party that spends its time defending the use of the word “jihad” against the president but labeling the phrase “the West” a problem.

Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it works out.

And so Democrats must focus on President Trump. They must hope that he smacks himself in the face with a frying pan. They must bank on some sort of Trump-Russia collusion revelation. They must pray that the focus stays on Republicans rather than turning back to Democrats. After all, Sanders-Sarsour doesn’t sound like a winning combination.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Otto Warmbier, American student detained in North Korea, dies

Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang on March 16, 2015. Photo by Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images

Otto Warmbier, an American student who was held in North Korea for over 17 months and returned home comatose to Ohio last week, has died. He was 22.

“It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home,” Warmbier’s family told ABC News on Monday. “Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20 p.m.”

The Cincinnati native and University of Virginia undergraduate was traveling on a student tour of North Korea last year when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for taking down a propaganda poster.

When he was released last week in a coma, doctors said that all regions of Warmbier’s brain had suffered extensive damage.

“It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds,” the family said in a statement. “But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person.”

JTA reported last week that Warmbier was active at the University of Virginia Hillel after participating in a Birthright trip to Israel in 2014.

The university’s Hillel director, Rabbi Jake Rubin, called him “a beloved member of our Hillel community.”

Nikki Haley’s chutzpah

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on April 25. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Nikki Haley has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for only a few months, but she’s already achieved something virtually no other political figure in recent years has done: She’s united the Jewish community.

That’s saying a lot for someone appointed by a controversial president who managed to alienate 70 percent of the Jewish vote even as he claimed staunch support for Israel and his Jewish grandkids.

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche: “Nowhere has the U.N.’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel.” She was confirmed 96-4, even as other Trump appointees were stonewalled, grilled and flayed.

At a time when fractious political divisions have split many Jews, Haley has emerged as a unifying figure. If there’s anything both progressive and conservative Jews can agree on these days — and there isn’t much — it is the longstanding hypocrisy of the U.N. Security Council, which routinely “condemns,” “deplores” and “censures” Israel for its actions while ignoring more egregious abuses of power elsewhere.

“It was a bit strange,” Haley said of her first Security Council meeting in February. “The [Security Council] is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hezbollah’s illegal buildup of rockets in Lebanon … not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists … not about how we defeat ISIS … not about how we hold [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.”

That speech sealed broad Jewish support for Haley — and affirmed the conviction of right-leaning Jews that Trump would be a stalwart defender of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Haley’s “unequivocal support” and praised her agenda to put to rout the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias. “It’s time to put an end to the absurdity in the United Nations,” he wrote on Facebook.

At the AIPAC policy conference in March, Haley received a hero’s welcome, with a standing ovation that lasted long enough for her to bow, sit, then stand up again.

But even as Haley’s message was widely celebrated, I wondered whether they really were her words. Does her stance on Israel reflect her own personal values and commitments, or is she just one voice among many in an administration that often puts forth opposing views? How much freedom does Haley have to speak her mind?   

Apparently, too much.

Last week, The New York Times reported that Haley’s assertive voice is beginning to rankle those who outrank her in the White House.

As one of the few women in Trump’s cabinet and that rare non-white appointee, she is often “the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues,” the Times said. Her strong criticisms of Syria and Russia (sometimes at odds with her bosses) and her prescient observations about the link between human rights abuses and the eventuality of violent conflict have swelled her status as a voice of conscience. But they’ve also overshadowed her superior, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Now, the State Department is trying to rein her in. According to an email the Times cited, Haley was encouraged to use predetermined “building blocks” when issuing public remarks and was reminded to “re-clear” her comments with Washington “if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, or [North Korea].”

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche.

How ironic that an administration led by the reigning king of running his mouth, a president who disavows formalities and prides himself on speaking freely, openly and often coarsely, would seek to silence one of its most eloquent spokespeople. How ironic that the target of this hushing is a woman, descended from immigrants.

Perhaps this is all part of Trump’s foreign policy plan to remain unpredictable. Better to beam out mixed messages and retain the element of surprise so that provocative foreign powers like Russia and North Korea are kept in the dark, guessing. But another read on his plan is this: A predominantly white male administration needs to remind the world who the real masters are by diminishing the star of its most promising woman (sorry, Ivanka).

The climate of fear and anxiety Trump wants to cultivate abroad, he cultivates at home.

Last week, when Haley accompanied 14 members of the U.N. Security Council to the White House, Trump put her out on the ledge.

“Does everybody like Nikki?” the president asked his guests, knowing they were the ones she had criticized. “Because if you don’t, she can easily be replaced.”

The council members laughed.

“No, we won’t do that, I promise,” Trump said. “We won’t do that. She’s doing a fantastic job.”


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

North Korea threatens Israel with ‘merciless’ punishment

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arriving for a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea threatened Israel with “merciless, thousand-fold punishment” and labeled it the only “illegal possessor” of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

The Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang issued a statement Saturday blasting Israel after its defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, in an interview with the Hebrew-language news website Walla! called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a “madman” who is in charge of a “crazy and radical group” that is “undermining global stability.”

Liberman said that Pyongyang “seems to have crossed the red line with its recent nuclear tests,” according to Walla!.

Also Saturday, North Korea conducted a failed ballistic rocket test, the second test of a long-range Scud-type missile this month, which also failed. The test came as the United States began joint naval exercises with South Korea just after the U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Carl Vinson entered the Sea of Japan.

North Korea could be ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test, according to reports.

In its statement slamming Israel, North Korea called Israel the “only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East, under the patronage of the U.S.”

“The reckless remarks of the Israeli defense minister are sordid and wicked behavior and a grave challenge to the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea),” the Foreign Ministry’s statement read.

“This is the cynical ploy to escape the world denunciation and curse as disturber of peace in the Middle East, occupier of the Arab territories and culprit of crimes against humanity.”

The statement threatened Israel and anyone who “dares hurt the dignity of its supreme leadership,” will face “merciless, thousand-fold punishment.”

“Israel would be well advised to think twice about the consequences [of] its smear campaign against the DPRK,” the statement also said.

Over the past few decades, North Korea has armed and trained countries and groups that are hostile to Israel, including Iran. Reports also have surfaced that North Korea  helped Syria build a nuclear reactor that was destroyed in an attack believed to be by Israel in 2007.