The Middle East is roiling, as usual. The war in Syria (remember that?) carries on with daily casualties and additional fleeing refugees, but it may be winding down due to ISIS losing its foothold in Syria and Iraq. Great news? Hardly.
Russia will remain ensconced on the eastern Mediterranean coast, with a warm water port and arch-villain Bashar Assad as its puppet. Hezbollah troops, loyal proxies of the Iranians, will be situated in Syria (borders yet to be set) as well as Lebanon, further threatening Israel. Iran will likely have achieved its “Shiite Crescent,” stretching all the way from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, a major achievement. The Kurds, the best possible allies in the region for Israel, may be denied a state, or even autonomy, due to realpolitik practiced by Turkey and Iran. Obviously, not a promising situation.
Outside of the region, the big news is North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s threat to fire missiles at the US territory of Guam, home to American citizens, a large military base, and thousands of soldiers. Is this the “end of the world,” or could some good come of it?
The problems mentioned above can all be laid at the feet of previous American administrations, Republican and Democrat. Russia was a failing “gas station” whose clout had waned in the Middle East, but the US let Vladimir Putin back in. Bashar Assad foolishly, but fortunately for Israel, rejected Israel’s American-inspired overtures to sign a peace treaty which included the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. (Things could always be worse.) Iran could have been stopped in its tracks by increased sanctions instead of being thrown a life rope with nuclear capability assured down the line. The Kurds could have been supported with the heavy armaments that were needed to defeat both Assad and ISIS. But none of these steps were taken.
Now, Kim Jong Un is testing the strength of the US in the Far East, gambling that America will, once again, choose hot air (more negotiating) over the use of its awesome power – as it has repeatedly done. What’s different this time is that there’s a neophyte in the White House, Donald Trump, who isn’t bound by the niceties or rules of Western diplomacy. What Trump knows, is that if yet another North Korean dictator threatens the US and has the means to back up the threat, it’s not a taunt that can be fixed by more rounds of meetings, which have always ended in an agreement that North Korea has no intention of honoring. In that sense, North Korea is very similar to its close ally, Iran, which has played the same card.
Many American politicians want to somehow blame President Trump for this tense standoff, which is ridiculous. Kim Jong Un doesn’t need the excuse of bellicose language from the American president (in reply to North Korea’s uncalled-for threats of war) to take action. Kim Jong Un is warmongering for one of two reasons: he believes that the US will “jaw, jaw, jaw,” until it ultimately accedes to the rogue state; or, he mistakenly thinks that he can fire weapons at American territory with no drastic response. My guess is that both of these reasons are mistaken.
In reality, North Korea is a pimple that the US can burst by hardly lifting a finger. After all, the rogue state may have a nuke or two, but America is the most heavily armed, and defended, nation that the world has ever seen. (Israel may be the best-defended state.) It could annihilate North Korea before breakfast while helping South Korea to deflect the expected North Korean counterattack. China and Japan would likely back the US in the defense of North Korea because they too have security interests at stake.
It’s a happy circumstance that Israel, for a change, isn’t being blamed for any of this. Guam’s distant location and North Korea’s apparent disinterest in the Middle East precludes any possible excuse to point the finger at Israel’s “treatment” of the Palestinian Arabs or the “settlements.” But Israel does have a dog in this fight.
If the US stands tough against its pygmy opponent and squashes Kim Jong Un and his supporters, it will be a potent, unforgettable sign to Iran that the same fate could await it if Iran were to attempt a nuclear, or even non-nuclear, attack on American territory (the Big Satan) or Israel (the Little Satan), both Iran’s sworn enemies.
Dore Gold is the former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is the current president of the influential Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Gold says, “If Iran sees that the US stood strong against North Korea, and North Korea blinked first, then the Iranians will have to think twice about escalating their own challenges to Washington in the future.”
Former American presidents failed to confront North Korea. Perhaps President Trump will act before it’s too late and North Korea becomes a bona fide atomic-armed power, if not a hydrogen one.
A resurgent US can take advantage of this opportunity to disgrace the tin-pot dictator of North Korea while warning off the perhaps more potent adversary, Iran. At the same time, China and Russia will be quick to notice that the reticent, weak American government has been replaced by a resurgent America ready to resume its status as the most powerful nation in the world. Two birds, or even more, will have been hit with one stone.