- - Wednesday, July 5, 2017


The Children’s Hour at the White House is over, and it’s time to get serious about North Korea. The consequences that nobody wants to think about are finally at hand. The peril is great and the hour is late.

A succession of presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — confronted the challenge of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and went down swinging, looking at the third strike. Wringing of hands, decrying Pyongyang’s dream of building an ICBM to take a nuclear bomb first to San Francisco and Los Angeles and then to the likes of Chicago, St. Louis, and ultimately Philadelphia and New York, all availed nothing, as the wringing of hands always does.

The usual voices are peddling the usual cliches about “bringing North Korea to the table,” and “negotiating in good faith” as if a lack of good will is all that’s needed to resolve the dispute. “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war,” as Winston Churchill eloquently put it, but a prudent man recognizes a wolf if it shows up at the door.

There was a certain comfort level in high places in the speculation that, after all, it would take Kim Jong-un, the crazy fat kid who presides over his growing inventory of nuclear warfare like a petulant boy counting his toys in the nursery, many years of work to get California in his sights. Diplomacy would fix everything.

But the successful firing of North Korea’s Hwasong-14 intercontinental missile this week has brought Washington to full attention. This missile, designed and developed from scratch in North Korea, was far more advanced than earlier missiles assembled from bits and pieces of Russian and Chinese missiles, and demonstrated that it is capable of hitting targets in Alaska.

The Hwasong-14 and its successors await only a nuclear weapon for its nose. Pyongyang has 20 such weapons in its inventory, waiting only to be miniaturized for the ride to doomsday. President Trump, of course, knows all this, and like three predecessors, says he’s on it and there’s nothing to worry about.

Nevertheless, sane and thoughtful men and women do worry about it, and Mr. Trump must put aside his war against the press, as deserving as many editors and reporters may be of his tweets, insults and asides. But there is serious business afoot and he no longer has the luxury of indulging idle pleasures. It’s not clear how the United States deals with the threat, but what is clear is that China has no compelling reason to help. An emergency meeting of all hands at the United Nations is probably necessary as a gesture to the rest of the world, but the nations of the world will be of no help, either. They never are.

The Trump administration must conclude, and perhaps it already has, that whatever it does to protect America from North Korean atrocities it will ultimately do it alone, in concert with the South Korean government, soft and naive but maybe willing to learn.

The Chinese, for all their lip service to Marxist dogma, are at heart the hardest-eyed capitalists of small conscience. North Korean trade with China is booming, up by more than 34 percent in the first quarter of this year. Good merchants know better than to upset good customers. The good news for us is that the president seems to be coming to terms with the truth that there is little art in a deal with the robber barons in Beijing.

At a minimum, the United States must strengthen deterrence, strengthen missile defense, harden its diplomacy, shoot down further missiles (and brush aside the quibblers), and figure out how to bring down the Kim dynasty. It’s a difficult and thankless job, but someone has to do it.

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