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Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Kim Summit in its Proper Context: A Non-Hysterical Analysis

Recall ancient history, August of 2017, when Trump, "facing a growing nuclear threat from North Korea, warned the country...against any new provocations and issued his own threat of 'fire and fury like the world has never seen.'"  He added, "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.” In September of 2017, Trump mocked "Little Rocketman" in a speech to the U.N. that nearly sent the mainstream media running to psychiatric hospitals.  In October of 2017, Trump moved a third U.S. carrier strike group into the western Pacific, a move that North Korea dubbed a "rehearsal for war." In September, North Korea admitted that "international and U.S. sanctions were causing a 'colossal amount of damage,' but the regime insisted they would not work." Here is a full timeline of events since Trump took office through the end of 2017.

Tensions were so high that the left warned us that Trump's bellicose rhetoric, crippling sanctions, and military operations threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. When a false nuclear bomb alarm sounded off in Hawaii in January of 2018, "multiple celebrities — including Jim Carrey, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jeffrey Wright — criticized President Trump:" Jim Carrey tweeted:
I woke up this morning in Hawaii with ten minutes to live. It was a false alarm, but a real psychic warning,” Carrey tweeted. “If we allow this one-man Gomorrah and his corrupt Republican congress to continue alienating the world we are headed for suffering beyond all imagination.
Unhinged Jamie Lee Curtis rage tweeted:
This Hawaii missle scare is on YOU Mr. Trump. The real FEAR that mothers & fathers & children felt is on YOU. It is on YOUR ARROGANCE. HUBRIS. NARCISSISM. RAGE. EGO. IMMATURITY and your UNSTABLE IDIOCY. Shame on your hate filled self. YOU DID THIS!
Actually, Kim started this, and someone screwed up and sounded an alarm, but let's not split hairs.

While Hollywood celebrities and mainstream media talking heads wept, ARI's Trump deranged intellectuals were relatively quiet despite Trump's hawkish posture which I thought would elicit some begrudging praise (instead, we were treated to denunciations of Trump as an anti-intellectual authoritarian whom Ayn Rand's ghost surely disapproved).  Carl Svanberg documented the history of America's appeasement of North Korea by linking to Elan Journo's 2006 op-ed in which he rightly observed that "the pattern of America’s suicidal diplomacy is clear: the North threatens us, we respond with negotiations, gifts and concessions, and it emerges with even greater belligerence." In September of 2017, Svanberg reminded us that killing millions of people in a nuclear war of self-defense is not our fault, pointing readers to Onkar Ghate's 2002 op-ed "in which he addressed this very question."

In November of 2017, ARI board member Peter Schwartz, writing in The Hill, urged us to properly define the meaning of "America First" in terms of self-interest, rhetorically asking, "are we to make decisions by the standard of America’s self-interest, or are we to surrender our interests for some other, 'higher' objective?" According to Schwartz, America should define its interests in terms of how to protect American's freedom concluding: "The ultimate goal of American foreign policy — the end to which all alliances and confrontations are the means — is the preservation of Americans’ freedom against attacks from abroad. 'America first' is a policy of taking action to defend the individual rights of Americans — the rights to their property, to their liberty, to their lives — when they are physically threatened. Concomitantly, it is a policy of refusing to sacrifice those rights by elevating the needs of other nations above our own."  (This was a good piece of theory, and while Schwartz makes sure we know he is "repelled by Trump", next time he should tell ARI to apply the same self-defense principles to immigration policy.)

In the real world, Trump agreed to meet with Kim in a summit held in June, an event which sent ARI's usual suspects, along with Craig Biddle of TOS, into a hysterical rage.  Although a few minutes ago, ARI told us we are not supposed to care about "higher objectives," and we should only focus on protecting America's self-interest (our freedom), while not caring about nuking millions of people, ARI's Ben Bayer's revealed his main concern to be that Trump's summit betrayed the victims of North Korea's dictatorship.   In an op-ed titled, "Trump-Kim Summit Betrays Victims of Dictatorship," Bayer quotes a Korean woman concerned that "no one cares about their plight."  Ok, but I thought the highest priority was America's plight? As to Trump, Bayer wrote:
Some might argue that Trump’s reticence and flattery were merely part of his diplomatic cunning. But a real statesman would realize that we have nothing to gain from North Korea. If he wanted them to stop threatening us and our allies, he would realize that the threat they pose is itself entirely fueled by decades of material and moral concessions of the type Trump has now delivered in bulk.
What exact "material concessions" has Trump delivered "in bulk?"  Bayer doesn't specify, but besides a hotel room in Singapore, I'm pretty sure it's nothing.  Bayer quotes Ayn Rand's thoughts related to Nixon's China talks concluding, in perfect rationalist form, that "every word of this applies to Trump’s meeting with Kim." Every word? More on this later.

Not to be outdone, Craig Biddle posted an image of creepy Trump and Kim dolls holding machine guns (don't ask where he got this) writing that Donald Trump and Kim are "enemies of human life."  Yes, you heard that right.  According to Biddle, the man who is threatening to nuke Kim into oblivion and Kim, the man who enslaves and tortures his population, are morally equivalent monsters.  Biddle tells us that "the only legitimate justification for meeting with a creature such as Jong-un would be either to kill him or to abduct him for political leverage." Granted, this would be a really cool Chuck Norris style move, but I fear that might create some thorny precedents for future American diplomats.  Biddle then tells us:
Regardless of what happens in the short term, Trump’s appeasement of this monster will lead to more human suffering, more torture, more starvation, more slaughter. This expansion of human suffering and death might happen in North Korea, or it might not. And we might hear about it, or we might not. But it will happen. It will happen as surely as we live in a causal world.
Wait, he says "it might happen or it might not" but "it will happen," because "we live in a causal world."  I'm confused.  (And, related to causality vis-a-vis human beings, someone might want to tell him to read the chapters on free-will.)  Nixon met with the Chinese, Reagan met with Gorbachev, and now Trump met with Kim.  How did it all work out?  Did these meetings absolutely cause more death and suffering as Biddle tells us it must (because of causality)?  He doesn't say. Anyway, he goes on:
President Trump has made America morally complicit in the future evils of Jong-un’s regime—and in the future evils of any other tyrants who are emboldened by Trump’s presidential appeasement of tyrants. 
This is a low point in American history and Western civilization.
So, according to Biddle, anytime an American meets with foreign bad guy, even if its for us to assert our own interests under threat of military action, unless the American diplomat shoots the bad guy in the head or "abducts" him, America is complicit in the future evil of that regime along with "any other tyrant" emboldened by such non-killing and non-abductionery.

I fear that both of these gentleman suffer from a condition I analyzed in depth here: context dropping leading to acute rationalism.

In this particular case, their formulaic method consists of the following: 1. Dictators are evil 2. Kim is a dictator 3. Here is the way we always deal with every dictator in every situation.    Recall Bayer claiming that "every word" of Rand's writings related to Nixon's China meetings were applicable - not general principles that must be applied contextually to a given set of facts - but "every word."  As further demonstration of my point, note they don't offer any actual analysis of the factors that actually exist in this particular situation.  Bayer simply laments the plight of North Koreans who have been "betrayed" by Trump.  And, if we "abduct" Kim as Biddle suggests, who would replace him?  Maybe someone worse?  Kim fired three generals before the summit, perhaps indicating that he is fighting an internal battle against his own military.  What if they are even more of a threat?  If we attack Kim, how many missiles could he launch at the U.S. or our allies before we annihilate him?  What would be the response of China be to our actions?  Does any of this enter their thinking?

Furthermore, what is Bayer and Biddle's actual solution?  "Moral condemnation." Remember Trump's speech to the U.N. where he morally condemned North Korea and threatened them with total annihilation?  "Don't give him a propaganda victory."  Really?  The North Korean people are immersed in propaganda 24 hours a day in a way that would make Orwell blush.  Does anyone in the world, outside of North Korea, not know this guy is a fat little communist thug?  It almost seems the goal of these authors is the administration of some kind of "cosmic justice" on these tyrants.  But it is not the job of the U.S. government to police the world, it is their job to protect America's interests, right?  We should isolate and starve him.  I agree, we have isolated and starved him, so much so that he is now virtually begging for his own life, but that strategy is not an end in itself - now you must begin to dictate terms and force him into compliance.

Given the hysteria expressed in these posts, you'd think that Trump just granted Kim the Sudetenland ala Neville Chamberlain or sent him billions of dollars in cash to Iran on pallets like Obama/Hillary (btw, the same Hillary these ARI intellectuals urged us to vote for).  Of course, as I noted in my post, Objectivists Disintegating, this kind of hysteria is the hallmark of the rationalist:
This scenario helps to explain the level of anger and intransigence displayed by the out-of-context thinker.  He believes that he knows the unassailable formula, e.g., "mysticism is anti-reason and anti-reason is anti-life so a mystic is always and everywhere as bad as any other."  No amount of facts or context can shake this "dogma in a void" as Peikoff puts it, because his judgments are not tied to the full set of facts and reality - they are tied to disconnected abstractions.  Whereas the contextual thinker can be reasoned with, because other facts can be presented to alter the conditions of his judgment, the floating out-of-context rationalist cannot be reasoned with, because his mind only contains unassailable universal abstract formulas.   
So what was the context of this meeting? First, we must understand that North Korea is a classic example of a hostage situation, with "Seoul the hostage and the North Korean artillery the guns pointed to the hostage's heads," to quote a friend. As my friend further points out, "the morality of negotiating with an evil person or persons is CONTEXTUAL. If there's a bank robber in a bank with no innocent bystanders, the police would send in the SWAT team immediately and kill him. That's obvious. But if the bank robber was holding a bunch of innocent people hostage, the SWAT team would ONLY go in if they had credible evidence that the hostage takers were going to start executing the hostages. If there were no evidence of this, and there was evidence that the hostages were safe for the time being, the cops would negotiate, play for time, try to convince the hostage-taker to come out on his own."

Keep in mind, North Korea has real weapons pointed at Seoul which is a short distance away, and China is a formidable ally to the DPRK.  Any action we take against them could wind up killing not only North Koreans, but innocent civilians in South Korea, Japan, and maybe even Guam or Hawaii.  Our first priority is protecting the United States from ballistic missile threats.  The second priority is our allies in the region, and the third priority is the treatment of North Korean slaves.  Negotiation does not mean giving in to Kim's demands, and there is no evidence that Trump has done so other than temporarily ceasing war games in the area.  Unlike Obama, who sought anti-American compromise on principle, is there any doubt that Trump/Bolton/Pompeo would return to a militarist posture at the first sign of substantive North Korean duplicity?  Writing in The National Review, Matthew Continetti asks:
Does anyone doubt that the mercurial Trump won’t restart the maneuvers at the first sign of North Korean intransigence? This is the same president, after all, who called his new friend “little rocket man” at the U.N. last year and who backed out of the Singapore confab just weeks before it ended up taking place." 
Rather than approaching this "hostage situation" with appeasement, Matthew Continetti notes:
Trump altered the formula. Vowing “fire and fury” and implementing drastic sanctions, he reestablished a military deterrent that had eroded during the Obama years. Instead of following his predecessors along the circuitous route of multilateral negotiations, however, he went for bilateral, personal diplomacy to coax Kim out of isolation. Then, rather than having the North Koreans commit to precise actions, he settled for vague aspirations that, by their nature, are harder to break. And he did so without lifting a single sanction.
In other words, like any good hostage negotiator, the Trump administration has threatened and starved Kim into talking, instead of lobbing missiles at Japan, without reducing the sanctions or really giving them anything in return except some flattery.  Daniel Greenfield goes further in this article, distilling "Trump's 5 Rules for Ruling the World," in a fascinating analysis that sheds some light on why Trump has been effective in this context.

Finally, if Trump starts caving to the North Koreans like his predecessors, I will be the first to criticize him, but Trump's unorthodox approach should not be dismissed or attacked because it does not fit some rationalistic universal formula for international relations. 


Michael Neibel said...

Good points. I do think context dropping is going on by some O'sts and certainly by the media. But Trump's pragmatism worries me. Keeping fingers crossed.

Amanda Gleason said...

At first I agreed with Ben Bayer's article, but I now I can see that it is somewhat superficial and neglects context. Also such claims that Trump delivers material concessions in "bulk," without any evidence for that bugs me. It's weak writing, to say the least. Also good point on his applying an Ayn Rand quotation word for word to a present day situation, with a totally different context. He's making an emotional appeal with little analysis here.

Amanda Gleason said...

I urge and strongly encourage Ben Bayer, Fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, to always consider context and provide clear examples when making claims.

The Rat Cap said...


Exactly! I think so many Objectivists just nod when they read stuff like Bayer's piece, and they do not realize how awful their intellectual output has become. Thanks much for you comment.


Narayanan said...

To call it Context dropping is being polite.

Have any shown grasp of what is context?

Context should be laid out first before offering argument or reasoning.