The threat of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions looms large in Seattle.
PROBABLY no American city is more at risk than Seattle to North Korea’s predacious nuclear ambitions.
The threat is real. Former CIA director Michael Hayden last fall predicted that North Korea may be able to hit Seattle — the closest major American city to Pyongyang — with an intercontinental ballistic missile within four years. A 10-kiloton nuclear warhead — smaller than the Hiroshima bomb — dropped on downtown Seattle would kill more than 80,000 people.
Last weekend, North Korea took the doomsday clock closer to midnight with a new midrange missile test. North Korean state media proclaimed — and outside analysis appears to confirm — the missiles tested used solid-state fuel, which would make them more mobile and harder to detect. South Korea and Japan are even more imminently at risk from the pariah state run by an isolated, nuclear-armed dictator.
Standing between us and that catastrophe is Donald J. Trump.
As a candidate, Trump absurdly encouraged South Korea and Japan to become nuclear powers, and huffed and puffed about bullying China into shutting down North Korean ambitions. Not encouraging.
President Trump’s necessary pivot from campaign bombast to competent management of delicate international relationships is a work in progress, to put it nicely. He responded to a New Year’s Day threat by North Korea to test a long-range missile with a taunt: “It won’t happen!” he said on Twitter.
But Trump appears to have learned “there’s not an easy way out of this,” said Scott Snyder, a North Korea expert on the Council on Foreign Relations. “There’s no point to trade threats with Kim Jong Un.”
With the new provocation, Trump showed restraint. He pledged to stand “behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent” during a hastily called news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The Pacific Northwest congressional delegation should do all it can to encourage Trump’s restraint, because options are limited. President Obama’s “strategic patience” approach with North Korea did not seem to work. Sanctions have effectively quarantined North Korea, but the rogue state’s nuclear program has accelerated. Military options would involve catastrophic loss of life.
China, North Korea’s principal ally, holds the keys to a solution, but brokering a multilateral deal requires diplomacy, and that’s not Trump’s strong suit so far.
Trump and diplomacy are not words easily strung together. But citizens must encourage careful vigilance and firm diplomacy from the president.