While the news cycle is fully absorbed with the competing Congressional train-wrecks of healthcare reform and conspiratorial wiretapping, and the Old Fool is doing his best to distract us with outrageous tweets and not-so subtle insults towards European leaders, that faceless amateur he picked to head State is out up-ending over 60 years of policy in the far east. In other times, our hair would be on fire; but now, nobody’s paying attention.
Every other Secretary of State in recent memory, when away from home on a mission to show the flag, has traveled about with much hoopla and a full regalia of hangers-on – including a sizable gaggle from the Washington press corps to keep an eye on things. Not so the newest minted Secretary of State.
Rex Tillerson, who has yet to hold a press conference or even answer a rope-line inquiry, and who has never released a single word of his personal thinking on any subject not connected to big oil, is essentially traveling alone. He has his trimmed down personal staff, but not the cadre of experts from within the department on each of the countries he expects to visit and each of the subjects he intends to address. And there is but one single individual from the press included in the entourage, a journalist with the “Independent Journal Review,” a little-known Internet website of conservative news and opinion. She is not a pool reporter, and is under no obligation to share her stuff, or even to report objectively.
The Secretary’s destination is Beijing, with stop-overs in Japan and South Korea. His trip to South Korea is occurring in the midst of the annual joint military exercise being conducted by U.S. and South Korean forces to, essentially, rehearse the invasion of North Korea – an actual pre-planned operation against North Korea in the event of sufficient provocation, which the military runs every few years as its annual exercise. These goings-on have been with the strident protests from North Korea, accompanied this year by the obvious counter-demonstration from its burgeoning inventory of medium range ballistic missiles.
All this is occurring at a time when the civilian government is in the process of reforming itself upon the ouster of its impeached president, Park Guen-hye. In a somewhat unexpected act of independence from the conservative core of powerbrokers, the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to impeach Park, and the National Court, made up entirely of Park appointees, followed with an also somewhat unexpected ruling, unanimously upholding the legislative action.
One wonders if this was truly the time and place for the U.S. to throw gasoline into the fray? Nonetheless, into this potentially chaotic political turmoil stepped the undaunted Secretary Tillerson last week to proclaim the United States’ intention to toughen up on its policy towards North Korea, to take a more aggressive efforts to eliminate that country’s nuclear weapons capability, and to declare in rather generic terms, that the old ways were no more. This meant, the Secretary warned, that the U.S. was definitely putting pre-emptive military action back “on the table.” He even suggested that we might provide nuclear weaponry to South Korea. Just in the re-telling of these events, one has the surreal impression that he might be winging it all, as one might do for an after dinner speech at Toastmasters.
The United States has recognized for years that China was essential link to a stable North Korea. Chinese trade and foreign aid keep its economy afloat, making any economic sanctions that do not involve China ineffective. And every time we have tried to raise the specter of military action, China responds to take North Korea’s back. China has been steadfastly unwilling to force Pyongyang’s hand on the international stage. Unilateral action by the United States against North Korea in the past, without multi-national participation and cooperation from China, has proved to be fruitless.
However, with North Korea’s developing nuclear capability and its aggressive posturing towards South Korea – which China views as an increasing security risk and destabilizing to the economy generally – there are indications that China may no longer be willing to support North Korea with the same stoic resolve as before.
The huge question is whether it is better to try to muscle China into changing its position with North Korea, to muscle North Korea directly in the expectation that China will come around, or slow down and work the diplomatic channels, ratcheting up sanctions and covert actions, to allow the gradual processes through China to continue until the North Korean regime eventually topples from internal pressure within.
The latter, patient resolve, was the way of the Obama administration, but the Old Fool is determined to shake the box. So, he put Tillerson out there to scare the bejesus out of everyone who is paying attention. Tillerson released his verbal firebombs in Seoul Friday, then departed for Bejing where he will be this week. We need a passel full of skeptical, by-line hungry, street-wise news hounds like Mike Isikoff or Andrea Mitchell, or even a tested newbie like Kayce Hunt, to unpack this stuff, poke around some, and tell us exactly where China is going.
Instead, our fly on the wall is an unknown, untested and probably ideologically tainted writer for the IJR.