Remember those horrifying images of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi being hounded down a sewer, captured, bloodied and sodomised with a bayonet? Some scenes from world history sear into our consciousness forever, even though we have nothing to do with that part of the world or the characters involved. People react differently to such events—some rejoice, others pity. All were glad that they were not in the shoes of this once powerful, glamorous dictator, legendary for his gold-buttoned uniforms and women bodyguards.
Far away, in a remote land, a young man watched the brutalisation of Gaddafi and decided never to allow such a fate to befall himself. And, never to allow his country to become another Libya. His determination to avoid this destiny pushes the world to the brink of a second nuclear war. Kim Jong-un was not yet 30, when he saw the Gaddafi footage. His father, then the reigning despot of North Korea, too, was scarred by the images of the mighty Saddam Hussein’s humiliating end—dazed, unkempt with bushy white beard and matted hair, dragged out from an underground “spider hole”. To prevent the US from engineering regime change in the Korean Peninsula, there is only one weapon of mass deterrence: nuclear missiles.
Given America’s track record of raising and razing dictators around the world over the last century, can anyone blame the Kim dynasts? Tomes have been written about the world’s sole superpower bullying, meddling and invading nations to pursue its strategic interests under the guise of “championing freedom”. The cruelty of this hypocritical righteousness is glaringly evident as local institutions collapse in the wake of their interventions, condemning the local people to treachery, tyranny and terror—in Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.
Does anyone doubt that the US would have knocked Kim off his pedestal by now, if he didn’t have nuclear capability? Mutually assured destruction is what has deterred the fat fingers of the “two mad men of world politics” from pressing the nuclear button. Trying to project a forceful “don’t-mess-with-me” image, Donald Trump threatened from the United Nations’ rostrum to “totally destroy” North Korea. Trump has turned out to be a terrible dealmaker, a dishonest broker, the wrecking ball of multilateral agreements and alliances and a vainglorious braggart of empty threats. Still, it is frightening that such a threat is made by the reckless commander-in-chief of the only nation that has dropped nuclear bombs to kill.
Right under Trump’s nose and for all the world to see, his “little rocket man” continues to fire missiles. And, they are getting bigger, better, and closer to the US. Meanwhile, Russia and China let Trump roast in his own rhetoric. While Trump thunders about “fire, fury and power, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, mumbles rapprochement. The US has climbed down from its high horse of lese-majeste. No longer must North Korea give up nukes to start dialogue, it suffices, as Tillerson pleads, for a “cessation of threatening behaviour.” Trump won’t fire you, if you don’t fire missiles.
But, what fires Kim’s imagination? Two months before he was anointed North Korea’s dictator upon his father’s death, Kim witnessed Gaddafi’s end. On December 30, Kim will complete six years as ‘supreme leader’, demonstrating to the world he is tough, wily, ruthless and determined to avoid Gaddafi’s destiny. But, what awaits Kim in 2018—peace or war? This force majeure depends upon Trump, whose one year in office demonstrates that, he is unpredictable and unprincipled. But, he is brilliant at deflecting attention from his sins and blunders while simultaneously riveting global focus on him. Donald Trump is the world’s deadliest weapon of mass distraction.
Pratap is an author and journalist.