The Writer

Frank J. Yacenda, a life-long writer, has been a journalist, editor, publisher, a science writer, a diplomat, and a public relations practitioner. See more about him here.

Let Me Be Your Editor

Frank J. Yacenda is a broadly experienced writer and editor who will help you conceive, perfect, produce, and promote your fiction or non-fiction writing project. See more here.

Check Out My New Book

Buying America the Right Way tells overseas real estate investors -- and U.S. ones, too -- what they need to know to get it right when buying in America. See it here.

Tag: China

Another Swing, Another Miss Part III

Another Swing, Another Miss Part III

This is third part of a posting, Another Swing, Another Miss, that I initially put up on Oct. 2. Part II appeared on Oct. 4 and, ostensibly, this will be the final installment in the series. If the points made in these postings aren’t clear to you by the time you’ve gotten through this third part, we’re both wasting our time.

In the first part I predicted that the Democrats’ latest attempt to pin something, anything, on President Trump would fail, as did all their previous times at bat against him. In that part I promised to explain what “there” there is in the Ukraine imbroglio, the latest incarnation of the Dems’ attempt to undo the results of the 2016 election – a “there” not with Trump, but with former VP and current presidential contender Joe Biden. I kept that promise in the second part and then went on to say there is a much bigger “there” in which Biden and his son Hunter are involved.. Now, in this part, I will explain that biggest “there” of all, which involves China.

If you haven’t read the first two parts in the series yet you should now, and then go on to read this part. All this will make much more sense to you if you understand what leads up to it.

A Profitable Family Outing on Air Force Two

On Dec. 4, 2013, then-Vice President Joe Biden, son Hunter Biden, and Finnegan Biden, Hunter’s daughter and Joe’s granddaughter, stepped off of Air Force Two into the chill winter air of Beijing. They were greeted by children bearing flowers before being whisked off to meetings with top Chinese leaders. With the trappings of a family outing – all, of course, on the U.S. taxpayer’s nickel – the Bidens had arrived on what turned out to be not just a high-profile state visit, but a most lucrative few days for Hunter.

Hunter, Joe, and Finnegan Biden tour Hutong Alley during December 2013 visit to Beijing. What back alley deals did Hunter make during the visit? Photo by Andy Wong – pool/Getty Images. Used under Fair Use.

Ten days after the visit, during which Hunter Biden’s meetings with high-ranking Chinese officials went largely unreported, Rosemont Seneca Partners, the hedge fund in which the younger Biden is a principal, concluded a deal, initially valued at $1 billion but later expanded to exceed $2 billion, in which Bohai Capital, a subsidiary of the Chinese government-owned Bank of China, agreed to invest in Rosemont Seneca. Together, they formed a new entity called Bohai Harvest RST.

Remember in Part II of this series I asked you to remember the name “Bohai”? Well, there you have it: Bohai – the name of the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea – represents the Chinese government’s investment in the private fund headed by the son of the then-VP of the United States. The other principal in the fund was Christopher Heinz, the stepson of then Secretary of State John Kerry. Together Bohai Capital and Rosemont Seneca formed Bohai Harvest RST (BHR). The RS stands for Rosemont Seneca and the T stands for the Thornton Group, headed by James Bulger, the nephew of notorious Massachusetts gangster Whitey Bulger. James Bulger’s father, younger brother of Whitey, Billy Bulger, longtime leader of the Massachusetts state senate and ally of John Kerry, serves on the board of the Thornton Group.

So, what you have is the Chinese government making a major investment in a fund headed by the sons of some of America’s most connected officials. While Chris Heinz later denied any involvement with the Chinese deal or with Bohai Harvest RST, Hunter Biden’s role in the fund and the deal has been well documented, largely through the work of investigative author Peter Schweizer. The body of Schweizer’s work has been widely quoted and recognized for its in-depth quality and accuracy, most prominently including his previous book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How Foreign Governments and Businesses Made Bill and Hillary Rich. Now some sources, like Politifact, reported that Bohai’s investment in the fund was much less than originally envisaged, topping at “just” $425 million. But that number comes directly from Hunter Biden’s attorney, George Mesires. It is challenged by another investigative reporter, John Solomon, who says that the BHR web site showed Bohai’s investment in the BHR venture at more than $2 billion, before the fund suddenly took down the site as the Biden controversy emerged recently. So much for the “fact checking” done in this case. But we risk getting lost in the weeds. The point is, a deal worth a significant sum of money coming from the government of one of America’s prime competitors went to the son of the Vice President of the U.S. on the heels of a high-level state visit.

The Chinese venture also comes into play in the Ukraine story since, as we noted in Part II of this series, Burisma Holdings paid a reported $3.4 million to a company named Rosemont Seneca Bohai LLC. When you have money behind you, you can cast a very wide net, unhindered by oceans or national boundaries.

One might consider that, just as Hunter Biden had no experience with Ukraine or the energy sector when he made his lucrative deal with Burisma, he had no experience with China (other than a couple of visits preceding the Dec. 2013 trip to meet with top Chinese financial executives) or investment banking when he struck the even more lucrative deal with the Bank of China in formation of BHR. Keep in mind as well the point I made in Part II, that it’s not just impropriety that is the issue, but even the appearance of impropriety that public officials should avoid, an imperative seemingly lost on Joe Biden.

Now here is a little quiz for you: If you think this China deal was completely coincidental and not indicative of Hunter Biden’s leverage of his father’s position and influence, as some members of Congress and of the mass media would have you believe, I’d ask that you rate yourself on a scale of 0-10, where “0” equates to “I am hopelessly naive,” “5” equates to “I am profoundly dense and incapable of connecting the dots,” and “10” equates to “I am a staunch Democratic stalwart and believe only Trump and Republicans can do anything wrong.”

Not Just Some Gaffe: “You Know, They’re Not Bad Folks, Folks”

As questionable as the ethics of Joe Biden might be in allowing his son to leverage his position as VP in the deals Hunter Biden engineered in China and Ukraine, it’s important to consider how his son’s financial pursuits appear to have influenced the senior Biden’s view of global realities, particularly in regard to China. This is particularly critical given Biden’s bid to fill the highest office in the land.

In May of this year, Biden made a statement at a campaign stop in Iowa that boggles the mind of anyone even remotely familiar with the strategic threat China poses to the U.S. and, in fact, the world.

China is going to eat our lunch?” rhetorically asked the former VP and man that would be president. “Come on, man. They can’t even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the east, I mean in the west. They can’t figure out how they are going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what, they’re not competition for us.”

It’s a bit ironic that Biden refers to corruption in China, but even that mention is embedded in the bigger muddle represented by those six sentences. And lest you write this off as just another of Biden’s gaffes, consider that, a couple weeks later at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Biden doubled down on his earlier remarks.

What are we doing? We’re walking around with our heads down, ‘Woe is me,’ ” Biden told the crowd gathered to hear him. “No other nation can catch us, including China. I got criticized for saying that. I’ve spent as much time with Xi Jinping as any world leader has.”

Joe Biden, right, shares the stage with John Kerry, in front of the flag of Singapore. Photo by AP. Used under Fair Use.

There might be some element of truth in that last claim, but the time Biden spent with China’s president certainly didn’t seem to provide him with any clarification of Xi’s intents or those of the country he heads. Criticism of Biden’s comments came from across the political spectrum, ranging from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to Bernie Sanders, one of Biden’s competitors for the top office.

I’ll stick with the language in our national security strategy and our national defense strategy, which identifies China as a strategic competitor,” said Randall Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia. And FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said that China “ . . . in many ways represents the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counterintelligence threat we face.”

Even Trump, who regularly is accused by his detractors of not being fully conversant with global geopolitics, chimed in with the obvious: “For somebody to be so naive, and say China’s not a problem — if Biden actually said that, that’s a very dumb statement.” Indeed.

The issue of Chinese investment in Hunter Biden’s equity group becomes a problem for the U.S. when one looks at some of the investments made by Bohai Harvest RST. These include investment in a technology the Chinese government can use to surveil and repress its Muslim minority, as well as in an automotive firm, mining companies, and various technology ventures. Just one of those investments was the $600 million acquisition of Henniges Automotive, an American automotive supplier developing dual-use technologies with military applications, which was headquartered in Michigan. BHR took a 49 percent stake in the venture, with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), a Chinese state-run military contractor, acquiring the majority and controlling interest in the company.

But c’mon, folks! Why should Americans be concerned about transfer of these kinds of technologies to the Chinese? You know, they’re not bad folks! And why would a $2 billion-plus deal to his son’s benefit color the senior Biden’s view of the Chinese? I mean, Hunter’s other antics and failings (I’m being exceptionally kind not to call them misdeeds – this piece is well worth reading if you want to learn more about those) haven’t affected Joe’s support of his younger son. Why should anything else do that? And after all, the administration Joe Biden was part of didn’t see any problem in delivering $400 million in cold hard cash to the murderous regime in Tehran. So what’s to see here, folks?

Go along to get along might be Biden’s motto. Money makes the world go ’round, doesn’t it?

Pelosi’s Invention

So now, getting back to where all this started, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intel Committee Chair Adam Schiff want to Impeach Donald Trump for wanting to look into Joe Biden’s role in his son’s profitable business dealings in Ukraine and China. In any sane world this would appear to be beyond the bounds of reason, much less decency. But this isn’t a sane world. Rather, it’s the whack-o and thoroughly corrupt world of U.S. partisan politics.

Actually, while Schiff, who has his own questionable Ukraine connections, has been annointed head of the “impeach Trump” bunch in the House (keep in mind that impeachment usually falls to the House Judiciary Committee, headed by the incompetent Jerry Nadler, not the Intelligence Committee), Speaker Pelosi has held back from actually calling for impeachment. Her solution is to create what she calls an “impeachment inquiry.” Keep in mind that there is no Constitutional provision for anything called an “impeachment inquiry.” Nor is there any law that provides for such a thing. The whole concept is Pelosi’s invention. Ostensibly this is her way of bowing to pressure from within her caucus and to keep up harassment of the President, of continuing to throw whatever accusations, no matter how specious or lacking in basis, at him, all of which will be dutifully reported by the sycophantic mass media, while avoiding putting the whole matter to a vote.

It’s obvious to Pelosi that, lacking anything of real substance, even if the House votes to impeach Trump, there is absolutely zero chance that the Republican-controlled Senate would convict him and remove him from office, especially given polls that show little public support for impeachment. Such an outcome would represent a political embarrassment to Pelosi and a potential disaster to the Democrats, and one that would come in an election year that could not just doom the Dems’ hope to re-take the White House but even their chances of retaining control of the House. It also helps detract from the utter lack of anything of substance coming out of the Democratic-controlled House, leading to public approval ratings of Congress at and below an abysmal 19 percent level. Thus, we have this so-called “impeachment inquiry.”

Joe and Hunter Biden at Georgetown-Duke basketball game with the senior Biden’s boss, Barack Obama. Photo by Nick Wass/AP. Used under Fair Use.

In the midst of the ongoing firefight I think it would be naive not to expect the power-hungry Hillary Clinton from trying to exploit the whole morass and climb back on to the wagon she hopes will lead to her nomination as the Democratic candidate in 2020 and, ultimately, the presidency, which she sees as her birthright. Never mind how this might play out with voters. This is a matter of Hillary’s imperial, even divine, vision she has for her place in history. She already has been making her presence known after relative silence over the past three years. Again, the reality that whether it benefits Hillary or not, the current brouhaha will blow back on Joe Biden is not lost on Pelosi. As I earlier postulated, I think Pelosi and other influential Dems have realized that Biden can’t beat Trump and so are trying to knock him out of the race. It will be interesting to see what is thrown at him by his fellow contenders at the next Democractic Presidential Debate on October 15.

Meanwhile, wrongdoing by Hillary, other Dems, including those highly placed in the Obama administration, as well as by those within the FBI and the intelligence community, are under investigation by Attorney General Bob Barr and federal prosecutor John Durham. It’s entirely possible that Pelosi and Schiff are pushing things forward so they can beat Barr to the punch. And Barr and Durham’s punch looks like it could be devastating to the Dems.

Of course lots of things might change in the coming weeks and months. Little is a given in politics, all the less so in the overwrought atmosphere presently prevailing. But all things being equal, this is how things look at this juncture, and thus my prediction that, for all the hoopla, the current wailing and gnashing of teeth will equate to one more swing and one more miss for the Dems as they flail about in their attempt to bring down the duly elected President of the United States.

Set your alarm for Nov. 3, 2020, and stay tuned to this space meanwhile, if you can bear to watch as more of this pathetic drama plays out.

Featured image: Joe, Finnegan, and Hunter Biden deplane from Air Force Two in Beijing. Photo by Telegraph.co.uk. Used under Fair Use.

Another Swing, Another Miss Part II

Another Swing, Another Miss Part II

This is a continuation of a posting, Another Swing, Another Miss, that I put up on Oct. 2. If you haven’t read it yet you should now, and then go on to read this part. What follows here will make much more sense to you if you understand what leads up to it.

In the first part I promised to explain what “there” there is where Joe Biden is concerned in the Ukraine imbroglio which certain members of Congress are attempting to pin on President Trump. I will explain the Ukraine “there” in this segment, which serves as a preface to what, in my estimation, is a far greater “there” where Biden and his son Hunter are involved: China.

Now, let’s look at where the Ukriane “there” that is, is. And it lies with the Bidens, Joe and Hunter, and Hunter’s associates, including the stepson of former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry. Reverting back to the senior Biden’s braggadocio about his threat to the Ukrainians, with which I began Part I, Biden claims it was the consensus of the U.S. government that the prosecutor that was the object of his threat, Viktor Shokin, was corrupt and had to go. But recent investigations by reporter John Solomon found that Shokin has sworn to a European court, under oath and penalty of perjury, that he was in fact investigating Burisma Holdings, the energy exploration and production company that had taken Hunter Biden onto its board.

In his statement to the court, Shokin said, “The truth is that I was forced out because I was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas firm active in Ukraine and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was a member of the Board of Directors. On several occasions President Poroshenko asked me to have a look at the case against Burisma and consider the possibility of winding down the investigative actions in respect of this company but I refused to close this investigation.”

Consider that Hunter Biden had no experience either in the energy sector or in Ukraine, and yet he was brought on as a board member and hired as a consultant and paid up to $50,000 a month for this “expertise,” with much larger sums going to his private equity firm. This came within weeks’ of his father being named by Barack Obama as U.S. “point man” to the Ukraine. Even The New York Times reported in December 2015 that Burisma and its oligarch-billionaire founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, were under investigation by the Ukraine Prosecutor General’s office. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Plausible Deniability?

Joe and son Hunter Biden, right, play golf with Burisma board member Devon Archer, far left, in August 2014. Used under Fair Use.

It’s a general principle that liars often trip themselves up because they can’t get their stories straight. While Joe Biden insisted he had no knowledge of this son’s business dealings and never discussed them with his son, Hunter said he did discuss them with his father – albeit only once, according to Hunter. And then, lo and belold, Fox News political commentator Tucker Carlson this past week revealed an August 2014 photo of the senior Biden golfing with son Hunter and fellow Burisma board member and Hunter business associate Devon Archer. Archer had joined the Burisma board in April 2014, with Hunter Biden coming aboard the Burisma board the following month. Ever hear of “plausible deniability”? Apparently that’s what the senior Biden was hoping for until the plausibility of his denial got blown.

But wait! It gets better!

Hunter Biden and the stepson of then Secretary of State John Kerry, Christopher Heinz, had formed Rosemont Seneca Partners, a $2.4 billion private equity firm, with Archer, a former college roommate of Heinz, who was the managing partner. The New York Times has reported that, after adding Archer and Biden to its board, Burisma paid $3.4 million to a company known as Rosemont Seneca Bohai LLC (remember that last name, “Bohai,” which forms the basis for the bulk of the Biden iceberg). Apparently one of the three business associates, at least, saw the potential conflict of interest in this arrangement. Shortly after Biden and Archer’s association with Burisma was announced, Heinz, who had been a major fundraiser for his stepfather, sent an email to two of Kerry’s top aides at the State Department insisting he had no involvement with the Burisma deal. The conservative think tank Citizens United obtained a copy of the email through a FOI request.

“This email raises a lot of questions,” Citizens United President David Bossie said to the Washington Examiner. “Why would Chris Heinz distance himself from Hunter Biden’s decision to join Burisma’s board in an email to John Kerry’s senior staff at the State Department? It’s time for Joe Biden to answer questions about his family’s business in the Ukraine and what his own role was in those dealings.”

Added Bossie, “These are questions that congressional oversight committees should be demanding answers to.” Should be, but so far haven’t, choosing instead to pursue Trump.

Archer would subsequently resign from Rosemont Seneca and Burisma when he was arrested by federal agents in May 2016 on charges of defrauding a Native American tribe. A federal judge later overturned Archer’s conviction on the charges, citing insufficient evidence. But meanwhile, part of the investigation of Burisma being conducted by Prosecutor Shokin, whom the senior Biden managed to have fired, involved looking into the role the company played in the loss of $1.8 billion of the $3 billion in aid the U.S. provided to the Ukraine under the Obama Administration. And any responsible member of Congress, or any citizen, really, would question that the President of the United States would want this matter investigated? Really?

Joe Biden reminding former Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko that Poroshenko was paying for lunch, at the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington in March 2016. Former SecState John Kerry, left, looks on. It was more than a lunch that Biden’s son managed to take out of Ukraine. Photo by Jonathan Ernst, Reuters. Used under Fair Use.

The official rules governing State Department employees require not just the avoidance of impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety in their dealings. I wonder how much the former Vice President thought about the appearance, much less the substance, of what was going on as he dragged son Hunter along on his official coattails. As a Foreign Service officer, I used to have misgivings when someone or other would offer to buy me lunch. I’d usually reciprocate the gesture, anyway, and it would have taken a lot more than a bowl of pasta or a plate of grilled fish to influence me in execution of my duties to look after the interests of the U.S. taxpayer. But I guess not having a well placed daddy, as Hunter Biden did, might have deprived me of entrée into opportunities much more lucrative than a lunch.

We’re not even getting into the role that Ukraine played in the Hillary Clinton campaign and its attempt at smearing candidate Trump in the 2016 campaign. Or the Ukraine connections of House Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, so intent on skewering and bringing down Trump using the President’s conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which we dealt with in the Oct. 2 posting, as pretext. Or what John Brennan, CIA Director under Obama, was doing in Ukraine, traveling under a false passport in April 2014. All that may have to wait for other days and other postings.

The intricately interwoven net of connections and corruption involving highly placed members of the Democratic Party that come together in Ukraine defies any ability to diagram it. You, gentle reader, may wonder why the second poorest country in Europe should figure so highly in U.S. politics. It is more than that Ukraine is a surrogate in the West’s antagonism with Putin’s Russia. What is more salient is that the country is one of the world’s most corrupt. Transparency International gives Ukraine a rating of 32 points out of a perfect score of 100, ranking it as the 120th most corrupt country out of 180 ranked. Corruption is endemic in the former Soviet republic, which The Guardian rates as “the most corrupt nation in Europe.” What better place to pursue corrupt schemes than where the ground has already been prepared and sown?

Now you may recall how I asked you, higher in this piece, to remember the name “Bohai,” as in Rosemont Seneca Bohai LLC, the company in which Hunter Biden is a principal and which was paid $3.4 million by Burisma Holdings. That is the link to an even bigger “there” there for the Biden father-son duo than the Ukraine deal, and it leads us to a much bigger actor on the world stage: China. Stay tuned for Part III along the trail as we go from Kyiv to Beijing and the biggest payday yet for the younger Biden.

Getting Out of Stalemate With North Korea

Getting Out of Stalemate With North Korea

Anyone can be excused for thinking the stalemate we find ourselves in with North Korea is a bloody mess without any really good outcomes, and they might well be right. It isn’t the first time we’ve been stalemated with North Korea, though the stakes and potential consequences are rising with a nuclear DPRK. So here I come to wade into this situation, which has proven intractable since the Korean War drew to a close on July 27, 1953, not with a victory for either side, but with an armistice that stopped the fighting and left both North and South in a state of war that has continued until today.

I don’t claim to be a Korea expert, and neither am I a proficient war gamer or military planner, so I want to make that clear up-front. But I do know a bit about international relations and can see what often works, and doesn’t work, in dealing with rogue states like North Korea, and also have peripherally followed U.S. dealings with Pyongyang over the past couple of decades. So those are my bases for offering the analysis that follows.

Unfortunately, in the current situation it’s easier to engage in Monday Morning Quarterbacking, to look at all the things done wrong by previous administrations rather than offering any reasonable alternatives looking forward. But those past bad decisions can offer some guidance about what doesn’t work with North Korea, if not what might.

I’d like to start by debunking some of the myths that people hold about North Korea and its leadership. Perhaps the most common one is that Kim Jong-un, the chubby 33-year-old with the funny haircut who serves as current Supreme Leader of the DPRK, is a madman, deranged, or some sort of a nut case. While no one can argue that he’s not idiosyncratic or a tad bizarre, that is a long way from being mentally deranged. Was Hitler, or Saddam, or Stalin, or Mao, or any of the other mass murderer-leaders of the past century, mad? On some level, perhaps, but that does not mean they did not run their respective states according to a plan and set of objectives that they had set out, and drove toward them with a singular purpose of mind and relentless brutality. It is no different with Kim Jong-un, really, and a huge mistake to simply write him off as a nut job.

The other thing I think it’s important to understand, and which even I have only recently come to better appreciate, is that the common goal of all of North Korea’s leaders, including its current one, is reunification of the Korean peninsula and people under one government – theirs. While Kim Jong-un threatens and goads the U.S., it is more because he sees the U.S. as a threat to his regime and his goal of Korean unification. The flip side of that, of course, is that the U.S. stands as the major defender of South Korea’s existence and freedom, and relinquishing that role is really not an option. So we are pitted in an intractable face-off with the North Korean regime.

One would think that the prosperity and progress South Korea has made in recent decades would serve to bolster the South’s position and eventually lead to the demise of the North from within. Still, it’s estimated that something like 30 percent of South Koreans would like to see unification with the North, and a large proportion of the North’s population, brainwashed as they might be, are staunchly loyal to their country, as well as to its regime and ideology. The thought that we might see a popular uprising that leads to the overthrow of Communism in the North, such as what we saw in Eastern Europe, is at best wildly optimistic and, at worst, delusional. What we see in North Korea is not just imposition of a social, economic, and political system, but a cult of personality, built around the Supreme Leaders, and the pervasive feeling of persecution and misunderstanding by the outside world.

Which leads us to the current stalemate and how to approach it. Arguably, previous administrations never should have allowed North Korea to become a nuclear state. The time to take firm action to prevent this really goes back to the Clinton administration, but instead of direct action that administration resorted to wishful thinking, offering concession after concession to North Korea, instead of standing firm and not allowing itself to be duped. Things weren’t much better under the Bush administration, and of course the Obama administration preferred to ignore the whole thing rather than stand up to Pyongyang. So now it falls to the Trump administration to try to clean up the mess it has inherited from previous administrations.

There has been much drivel issued in the media about how Pres. Trump’s threats to Kim Jong-un are inflammatory and risk destabilizing things. It’s hard to imagine how things can be any more destabilized than they were anyway, and that destabilization lies with North Korea. Trump was just trying to term things in the same kind of rhetoric as Kim Jong-un uses. I don’t know if the President actually expected that to get through to the Supreme Leader any more effectively than the usual diplomatic garble does, but it’s more humorous than anything, since what Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans do and say goes beyond rhetoric. Like any bully, they can use any kind inflammatory language they like, but speaking back to them in their own language doesn’t deter them from being any more of a bully than they are. So like North Korean rhetoric, I have to assign Trump’s rhetoric as being issued for public consumption rather than anything operational.

My big concern about the President’s threats is that they verge into the category of Obama’s useless “red line” threats to Bashar al-Assad in Syria. It’s not a good strategy to make threats one can’t or won’t enforce, just like it’s not usually a good idea to pretend you have a gun when dealing face-to-face with an armed gunman. The temptation is there to call the question, and Kim Jong-un showed himself as perfectly willing to call that question, just as Assad did with Obama, when he threatened to send missiles near – though notably not at – Guam. Not the threat of a madman, but the carefully calculated response of a clever actor on the world stage.

The administration did score an enormous victory this past week in getting an unanimous vote of the UN Security Council – including China and Russia in support – approving massive new economic sanctions against North Korea. This was a real accomplishment on the part of our UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley. Now one might wish that more than the third of the DPRK’s exports would be subject to the sanctions, but I would think that the limitation was important to gaining the support of China and Russia. Additionally, I think China’s oil exports to North Korea were not subject to the sanctions for the same reason.

The problem with any sanctions is that, with a regime such as North Korea’s, most of the impact falls on the general population rather than on the regime itself. North Korea has shown repeatedly that it’s willing to let its people starve to death rather than give in to demands of the outside world. This time will probably be no exception to that. So I wouldn’t put a huge expectation on the sanctions making any difference.

From anyone’s perspective – including even that of China and Russia – the real danger that North Korea poses is its nuclear capability. It certainly is a real and immediate danger to South Korea and the other countries of the region, and once it develops a means of delivering a nuclear warhead, a real danger to the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. And that delivery capability might not be that far off.

Much has been said that the North Koreans don’t have an ICBM that would enable a nuclear warhead to survive re-entry, and also that their ability to aim their missiles is less than competent. But they are making strides, and resolving these issues is clearly on their agenda and possibly within their grasp. But given these shortcomings, the North Koreans may still be able to inflict severe damage on the U.S. with only one, or a few, nuclear warheads that they send into orbit and detonate while over the U.S. This would lead to the dreaded electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which would effectively cripple our entire electronic and electric infrastructure, putting us into something close to the Stone Age. And we are completely unprepared for such an attack. A North Korean satellite already passes over the U.S. every 12 hours, so that capability is not simply notional.

There also is the threat of cyber warfare, for which we’re also not particularly well prepared, and in fact North Korea could already be engaging in that kind of attack against us.

Again, arguably, it fell to the Clinton administration to have eliminated North Korea’s developing nuclear capability at that time, when it was far less evolved, dispersed, and dug-in than it is now. But that didn’t happen, and the carrots offered then were ineffectual, so now we have to deal with it. The question for the Trump administration – or any administration, really – is whether we can live with a nuclear North Korea or not. Given the risks as I’ve outlined them, I think we might have a real and, if not present, future danger in allowing North Korea to further develop its nuclear capability. In saying that, I know similar things were said about Soviet, and then Chinese, and even Pakistani and Indian nuclear capabilities, and of course now Iranian nuclear capability, too. The one thing that differentiates the DPRK and Iran from the other cases is that we’re dealing with what have proven themselves to be rogue states. Whether that makes them any more prone to using nuclear weapons than the world’s other nuclear bad actors is a key question, but one I’m reluctant to delve into at this point given its scope.

If we are to attack North Korea militarily and not inevitably cause a blood bath in the South – the 10-plus million people living in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, are just 30 miles from the DPRK border, across which lie enormous artillery batteries that would rain death on Seoul – it would have to be a kind of blitzkrieg (lightning war) to simultaneously take out North Korea’s conventional military capability along with its nuclear and launch infrastructure. I think initially it is more critical to take out the conventional capability and then go back and finish rooting out and wiping out the nuclear infrastructure.

One problem is that North Korea today is not Poland in 1939, when Hitler conducted his blitzkrieg against it, and then against France and the Benelux Countries in 1940. How we could mass sufficient air, sea, and land power to make such a coordinated attack against North Korea before the North figured out what was going on and mount a preemptive strike against the South is, at best, an open question. One hopes that our intelligence about North Korea is better than it appears, but the North almost assuredly has its own intel capability, augmented by whatever support it would and does receive from China and Russia. While if we ever felt the need to launch a military attack against the North this – in my assessment – almost certainly would be how it would need to be done, it admittedly still isn’t a great answer.

Anyone who reads my essays knows that I like to offer solutions to the problems considered. I wish I could do that in this case. Alas, I don’t feel I can, other than in general prescriptive terms. I think we do need to keep North Korea from further developing its nuclear capabilities, for the reasons presented, but how we achieve that remains elusive. I think it will take action – diplomatic, economic, political, or other – by China to influence its maverick neighbor to curb its activities, but while that possibility might be growing closer, it’s still not something we can count on any time in the immediate future. Perhaps in the trade off of favors, threats, benefits, and costs the President is engaged in with the Chinese, something could be on the table to achieve this.

So there we are, in stalemate, with neither side about to resign, as they might were this simply a game of chess. Comments, thoughts, countervailing or other arguments welcomed.

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here, and if you like the post please comment and share it.