The Problem With “Red Lines”

The problem with the so-called “red lines” that U.S. presidents like to draw is that if you draw your line across an imaginary space, then real world actions can never actually cross it. This quickly teaches your adversaries that as long as they continue to act in the real world, rather than in your imaginary one, they are safe.

Donald Trump carelessly shifted his “red line” regarding North Korea a couple of weeks ago, declaring that if the North so much as utters a threat — which he simultaneously acknowledged they have been doing for decades — they will face fire and brimstone. Great. Now North Korea has fired a missile directly over Japan, which, it seems to me, transcends “uttered threats” and strides right into the territory of direct taunts, as in “What are you going to do about it?” 

So what is Trump going to do about it? To do nothing, apart from yet another sternly worded official statement, is to embolden the NK regime further. The UN, a communist-sympathizing organization which has NK’s chief ally and protector as a veto-wielding member, is a joke, and the regime knows it. This leaves Trump with an absolute imperative to act, but no good options whatsoever — a dilemma of his own creation, since there was no need to shift his red line as he did. It was sheer mental laziness from a man who never understands the issues on the table, or the size of the stakes.

Through this laziness, he has either given North Korea another reason to feel chuffed, or he has given himself and his military an impetus to take action merely to save face, never a healthy motivation. North Korea is betting that Trump doesn’t mean what he says. Go figure.

Isn’t it remarkable that they can see what so many previously intelligent Americans cannot see about Trump? I guess when you have your own cult you are immune to the charms of someone else’s.

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