Belmont Club

Better Judgment

Better Judgment
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for the official opening of the Ryomyong residential area, a collection of more than a dozen apartment buildings, on Thursday, April 13, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

News stories about the expected North Korean nuclear test have created a crisis of expectations.  The public expects something to happen and, in a perverse way would be disappointed if nothing did.  Reports that carrier strike group 1 is headed for Japan and the blood curdling warnings from Pyongyang have acted like a kind of movie trailer for a feature film whose release is momentarily expected.  CNN and other news agencies have even sent correspondents to the scene in case something — they know not what — happens.

Ironically everyone would be best served if nothing happened.  No nuclear test.  No American response.  Nothing.  Nothing that is, but negotiations.

Both sides appear to be seeking a way to avoid a head on collision.  Kim Jong Un ostentatiously opened a public housing project pointedly describing it “as important as 100 bombs” in what might be the first sign a negotiation track exists.  China has been furiously waving caution flags, turning back North Korean coal exports  and hinting they might even embargo oil supplies to the hermit nation.

However momentum may be against it.  North Korean preparations for a test are well underway and Pyongyang may be too poor to let such an investment go to waste. Washington for its part, may have been trapped by its own preparations and rhetoric.  Readers will recall how the German mobilization schedule in August 1914 forced the Kaiser to reject last minute peace overtures.

Moltke was distressed at the prospect of this being undone and his mobilisation schedule being wrecked. ‘Once settled it cannot be altered,’ he told the Kaiser. … One army corps alone – out of the total of 40 in the German forces – required 170 railway cars for officers, 965 for infantry, 2,960 for cavalry, 1,915 for artillery and supply wagons, 6,010 in all, grouped in 140 trains and an equal number again for their supplies. From the moment the order was given, everything was to move at fixed times according to a schedule precise down to the number of train axles that would pass over a given bridge within a given time.

Yet by forcing matters to the brink Trump has ensured everyone has to do something while calibrating their actions finely.  Too far and disaster ensues.  Too little and the other side wins.  The problem of moving just enough was perfectly captured in the dialog between Sam Spade and Kasper Gutman in the Maltese Falcon.

Sam Spade: If you kill me, how are you going get the bird? And if I know you can’t afford to kill me, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?

Kasper Gutman: Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

Sam Spade: Yes, that’s… That’s true. But, there’re none of them any good unless the threat of death is behind them. You see what I mean? If you start something, I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.

Kasper Gutman: That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. Because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.

Sam Spade: Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.

Kasper Gutman: By gad, sir, you are a character.

North Korea and the United States will probably do something in the coming days to signal each other’s intentions in the matter of Pyongyang’s nuclear program.  The trick from Kim’s point of view is to make his play strong enough to tie Trump up, but not make him mad enough to bump him off against his better judgment. Trump’s problem is to make him give up the nuclear bird without precipitating conflict on the Korean Peninsula.  In this Trump is helped by the fact that he doesn’t have a reputation for high mindedness.  Trump has been trying to convince Xi that the Korean Wilmer should be sold out.

China stands to gain if Korea is reunified under the South, provided it is demilitarized in some way to avoid posing a threat.  Japan would be relieved to see Kim gone.  Trump is arguing the North Korean dictator is bad for business.  Together China, Seoul and Washington might buy the Kims and their retainers out in a net gain.  Maybe Xi isn’t convinced it will work but he’s thinking about it.

Let’s give them the gunsel. He actually did shoot Thursby and Jacoby, didn’t he? Anyway, he’s made to order for the part. Look at him! Let’s give him to them.

By gad, sir, you are a character. That you are! There’s never any telling what you’ll say or do next……but it’s bound to be astonishing.

It’s our best bet. With him in their hands…

But, my dear man, can’t you see that if I even for a moment… thought of doing such a thing… That’s ridiculous.  I feel towards Wilmer here just exactly as if he were my own son. Really, I do. But if I even for a moment thought of doing what you propose… …what in the world would keep Wilmer from telling the police… …every last detail about the falcon and all…

Let him talk his head off. I’ll guarantee you nobody’ll do anything about it.

Well, what do you think of this, Wilmer? Mighty funny, eh?

Mighty funny.

Kim now knows this scheduled nuclear test is different from those conducted in the past.  It’s become an inflection point not just for the world and the region, but also for himself.  China is now hinting the road to a negotiated settlement is open but only for the moment. Ironically the liberal media campaign against Donald Trump depicting him as a soulless, opportunistic, transactional SOB may finally allow him to seize the opportunity.  If anyone can stoop low enough to convince Kim Jong Un he’s being sold out it will be DJT.

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For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.


Who Lost Russia?: How the World Entered a New Cold War, by Peter Conradi. Published April 11, 2017. When the Soviet Union collapsed on December 26, 1991, it looked like the start of a remarkable new era of peace and co-operation. Some even dared to declare the end of history, assuming all countries would converge on enlightenment values and liberal democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conradi argues that we have consistently failed to understand Russia and its motives and, in doing so, have made a powerful enemy.

The Modern Russian Army 1992–2016, by Mark Galeotti. Published February 21, 2017. Using rare photographs and full-color images of the army in action, profiles of army leaders and defense ministers, as well as orders of battle and details of equipment and dress, this is a vivid account of the army’s troubled history and of its current character, capabilities and status.

In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, by Eric R. Kandel. How does the brain create memories? Nobel Prize winner (2000) Kandel intertwines the intellectual history of the new science of the mind — a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology — with his own personal quest to understand memory. It brings readers from Kandel’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna to the forefront of one of the great scientific endeavors of the 20th century: the search for the biological basis of memory.

Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9, by Jim Kozubek. Would you change your genes if you could? As we confront the ‘industrial revolution of the genome’, the recent discoveries of Crispr-Cas9 technologies are offering, for the first time, cheap and effective methods for editing the human genome. Tracing events across a fifty-year period, from the first gene splicing techniques to the present day, Kozubek weaves together the fascinating stories of many of the scientists involved in the development of gene editing technology, demystifies how the technology really works and provides thought-provoking reflections on the ‘commodification’ of life.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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