Nork Agonistes

by Jonah Goldberg
If we normalize relations with North Korea, crappy regimes will recognize that nukes are the only viable insurance policy.

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Dear Reader (or at least the ones with Wi-Fi in their fallout shelters),

Analysts are trying to work out what happens to markets in the event of an all-out nuclear war https://t.co/hGEOi45G44

— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 11, 2017

Well, that’s a great tweet to get the weekend started.

From the article in the Wall Street Journal, not The Onion: “Strategists at Nordea Markets estimate that in the unlikely event of ‘a potentially uncontained military conflict’ in which global superpowers like China and Russia get involved, the European Central Bank would have to implement ‘highly dovish forward guidance’ and the yield curve would likely flatten due to weaker risk appetite.”

Oh, well, as long as the ECB will be issuing “highly dovish forward guidance” as the rest of us drink glowing puddle water and fight over rat meat, what is there to worry about?

Of course, as Bill Clinton explained about his promise to leave his wife for the Spearmint Rhino hostess, I exaggerate. I mean, where is it written that “all-out nuclear war” has to get out of hand or unduly roil financial markets? Most of us know that the best long-term financial strategy is to have a diverse portfolio of stocks and bonds and to not get caught-up in the daily volatility of the market. So, when I’m farming algae in tidal caves — the perfect hideout from the various warring tribes of marauders and eyeball-eating cults — I’ll reassure my wife not to worry: “I’m a buy-and-hold guy. Besides, Apple is poised for a huge comeback, once the Claremont McKenna militia clears the SEIU Reavers out of Palo Alto. There’s a huge pent-up demand out there.”

Nork Agonistes

On a more serious note, I don’t really think nuclear war is likely, but can you really say it’s not in the cards at all? That kinda sucks.

While I don’t agree with everything President Trump has done with regard to North Korea, this is one of those areas where he actually has solid grounds to blame his predecessors. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all deserve their share of the blame, though I put most of it on Clinton because the best opportunity for thwarting North Korea’s nuclear program was on his watch. Our relative power and status in the world was higher in 1994 — and North Korea’s vulnerability was greater — than at any time since.

Still, while presidents have an obligation to make the hard calls as commander in chief, it’d be wrong to put all of the blame on any of them. There was little-to-no will in Congress nor was there the appetite among the American people — never mind the media — to make the hard decisions when they should have been made. So, we just kicked the can and called it “strategic patience” or some other euphemism for “let the next guy handle this flaming turd of a problem.”

I want to write a column on all this next week, so I’ll save my “solution” to this whole mess for later. But I do want to discuss this idea that North Korea can be contained. Some very smart people make this case, arguing that if we could contain and deter the Soviets, we can certainly do likewise with this crappy Hellhole of a country, run by a sybaritic and sadistic dork.

The heart of the argument is that Kim Jong Un doesn’t want to die.

“In reality, while the North Korean president is a brutal dictator who does not hesitate to murder his own family members to strengthen his grip on power, there is nothing to indicate that he is irrational, much less suicidal,” writes Max Boot. “He is developing nuclear weapons for defensive, not offensive, reasons. He saw what happened to Moammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein — both overthrown by the U.S. — and he does not want the same thing to happen to him.”

It’s true that North Korea is very different from the Soviet Union or even China. The Soviets were a true expansionist empire. The Chinese are less imperial but they do have a very expansive view of “Greater China” and a palpable hunger for hegemony. Meanwhile, North Korea’s ideology is hyper-isolationist based on the mystical-nationalist hogwash of Juche. The aptly named Hermit kingdom subscribes to eugenic notions of racial purity and doesn’t want to expand its borders.

The Norks, say the advocates of more strategic patience, want to use nukes to get the world to recognize their legitimacy and normalize relations.

But it’s the prospect of normalized relations that makes me a skeptic. Even the most stable totalitarian regimes have trouble maintaining their stability in a global market order. The Soviet Union learned this with perestroika in the ’80s. The more you let your people understand that they don’t need to live in a squalid sewer system, the more dangerous the people become to the regime. China is not strictly a totalitarian regime for precisely this reason. The Communist Party recognized that if it didn’t give the people economic growth, the Communist Party would be overthrown. As it is, the Communist Party is as afraid of the people as the people are of the Communist Party.

Meanwhile, North Korea cannot afford anything like perestroika or Chinese-style markets because it would threaten the regime. The Kims ruled by closing the whole country off from the world. This political strategy yielded a very specific economic strategy. North Korea is not a kleptocracy nor is it strictly a Mafia state; it’s a de facto monarchy that operates as a criminal organization. It manufactures illegal drugs, counterfeits currency and cigarettes, and is a major human trafficker. On a broader scale, the North Korean regime is extortionist, threatening war to exact bribes from its neighbors and the West. But, unlike with the Mafia or Yakuza, it’s not “just business.” These activities are bound up with its larger ideology. And unlike in normal countries, even authoritarian ones, or even in the mafia, there are few, if any, factions that can marshal forces to counsel restraint. When you truly have one-man rule, the psychology of that one man is more important than conventional notions of national interest and “realism.”

North Korea cannot afford anything like perestroika or Chinese-style markets because it would threaten the regime.

If we normalize relations with North Korea, it will not suddenly embrace normal rules of trade and the free flow of capital and information for precisely the reasons I laid out above: Doing so would undermine the power of the regime as literally personified by Kim Jong-un. The more likely scenario is that Kim would simply double and triple down on the strategy that has kept his family in power for generations. When crazy has worked for you all your life, you don’t abandon it. The Norks have been brazen outlaws for decades without a credible nuclear deterrent. Why do we assume they’ll become Swiss once they have one?

This scenario is untenable and unreliable for a lot of reasons. But the biggest of them is that if North Korea is rewarded for its nuclear ambition, nuclear proliferation will go into overdrive. Already, very smart people, such as Charles Krauthammer, argue that the answer to this problem is for more countries to have nuclear weapons. And, while I think Charles is probably right that Japan and maybe South Korea will have to nuclearize, that’s not my main concern (the problem has never been nuclear weapons, but who has them).

First: A lot of unstable, crappy regimes will recognize that nukes are the only viable insurance policy.

Second: Does anyone think that Kim Jong-un would have serious qualms about selling nukes to anyone with enough cash? Heck, I’m sure he’d be happy to barter. If you were to unload a cargo ship with a crap-ton of Toblerone chocolate, Courvoisier, fidget spinners, Canadian porn, daily use Viagra, and maybe a box set of the director’s cuts of all Dennis Rodman’s movies on Blu-Ray, he’d shrug and say, “Go pick out any nuke you want off the shelf. Except for that green one. I’m saving that for a radical faction of ‘Up with People!’”

Radical, Man

Like the new sex robots that can talk to you about baseball, the term “radicalism” gets misused a lot.

In everyday parlance, it just means “extreme” as in extreme burritos, radical chicken wings, etc.

But radical comes from the Latin “radix” or “root” and implies a desire to fundamentally transform the entirety of society from the roots up. People who want to tear it all down and build something new are radicals (not to be confused with the ’90s one-hit-wonder band New Radicals).

Every decade or so some new group gets called “the radical Right.” But historically this has been less an apt description and more an example of how the Left controls so much of the language. If you want to restore the constitutional order and seek a democratic government that lives within its means, that doesn’t make you a radical, it makes you a conservative or a classical liberal or a patriot or a sane person, at least in my book. The term “radical Right” appeals to progressives because they — rightly — see conservatism as an opposing and — if we were better at it — destructive force to their various projects. If you want to undo, say, the concept of the “living Constitution,” then, from a progressive point of view, you are a radical.

But that point of view is objectively wrong. Wanting to restore an old order or revive a dying tradition isn’t radicalism. If you want to put a pejorative label on it, you can call it “reactionary,” but that word, too, is freighted with much Marxist and French Revolutionary baggage.

Good Radicalism and Bad

Political radicalism was once on the side of liberty. The first use of the phrase in a political context was by the British Whigs who wanted to overthrow the status quo and implement democracy. But long before the term entered the lexicon, radicalism was riding high in the saddle. The American Revolution was a radical event. So was the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in many respects. The French Revolution was, too. Though that went off the rails.

This is why traditional American conservatives cannot be radicals so long as they stay true to the mission of protecting and defending the principles of the American Founding. Clinton Rossiter famously said that “conservatism is the worship of dead revolutions.” That’s wrong, at least in the American context. The revolution isn’t dead. Conservatism here, in America, is the effort to keep the principles of the revolution alive.

That doesn’t make us reactionaries for the simple reason that returning to those revolutionary principles is progress. I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages by C. S. Lewis:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

The New Radicals on the Right

This brings me to my point: Conservatives are not immune to the radical temptation, because conservatives are humans. But once you give in to that temptation, you are no longer a conservative. The same applies to liberals. A good “vital center” liberal ceases to be liberal the moment he sides with the radicals to his left. If Arthur Schlesinger decided it was better to work with the Communists than to fight them, he would have ceased being a liberal. So, it goes with various members of the alt-right. Once you deride champions of the Constitution as “paper worshippers,” “vellum supremacists,” and “parchment fetishists” and talk freely about the need to partition the soon-to-be-former United States into ethnic Bantustans, you’re not a conservative because you’ve lost any sense of gratitude for your country. You’re a radical.

Here’s what set me off:

Now, you’d be forgiven for missing the full incandescent stupidity of this. It took me a while to get it too. Maybe if I had stuck a fork in my frontal lobe, I would have groked it instantly.

Anyway, let me explain. An editor for Breitbart (God, I wish they’d change the name to Bannon.com), saw this Vogue cover photo showing Jennifer Lawrence in front of the Statue of Liberty and immediately assumed it was an attack on MAGAism.

How insane is it that a movement that claims to be the champion of Real America® and vows to restore American greatness now considers an image of the Statue of Liberty to be an assault on its values?

As Aristotle famously said, “WTF?” Is Mt. Rushmore an illegitimate American icon too now because it doesn’t have Donald Trump on it?

Philosophically, I have no major problems with the White House’s immigration proposal. I do have enormous problems with any movement that claims to be conservative that thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol that only belongs to the Left. Where does that “thinking” end?

I do have enormous problems with any movement that claims to be conservative that thinks that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol that only belongs to the Left.

That I even have to explain such a thing is too depressing to dwell on. So, instead, let’s focus on the idiocy. Forget the impossibility of winning over the Left, liberals, or even moderates to your cause when you insist you need a trigger warning before being exposed to the Statue of Liberty. How many conservatives do you think want to be part of that movement? Conservatism in America isn’t the same thing as patriotism, but conservatism without patriotism simply isn’t conservatism. Unless radicals seize the government and impose their will on the majority — as Bolsheviks and Nazis succeeded in doing — radicalism always loses in a democracy because radicalism’s obsession with purity and revolution will always turn off more people than it attracts.

So, by all means, set up your shadow culture. I can’t wait for the ad campaigns for Sean Hannity’s new, ultra-musky cologne “Counter Punch.” Who wouldn’t want to see big, glossy photo spreads of Tomi Lahren wearing nothing but a panda-bear fur coat and a camouflage bikini unveiling her new Fall line? “110 percent American for 110 percent Americans!” (Fine print: Designed in America, assembled in China.)

Even the term “shadow cultural industry” makes the point. I’ve been arguing for 20 years that conservatives need to give up on the idea that we should set up a “parallel culture” for the simple reason that it’s our frick’n culture too. Ceding the commanding heights of our society — Hollywood, universities, journalism, etc. — to the Left is exactly what the Left wants us to do. But at least that argument was about tactics, not ideology. Now the new nationalists are taking this argument to its natural conclusion. And in the process, they’re shedding anything that can rightly be called conservative.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: The beasts are in fine form. The weather has been good in D.C., Orb be praised, so we’ve been getting in a lot of workouts. The Dingo continues be needier for affection, I think partly because she thinks the Spaniel gets too much attention in the form of tennis-ball work. In fact, Pippa is getting a bit too confident that Zoë has abandoned any desire to kill her. But it does make me feel bad sometimes because it’s hard to play with Zoë outside. I mean I can’t dress up in a giant squirrel outfit and have her chase me, not least because she’d catch me.

Zoë’s definition of “work” is very primitive: Hunt, kill, and protect (turn up the volume). Pippa’s is pretty much confined to fetching, at least until I take her bird hunting, her true vocation. She’s sort of like the geographer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She signed on to flush quail, which she was good at when she lived in Alaska and went on trips to North Dakota with my father-in-law. But just as the geographer ended up working as a French translator (for a guy who actually spoke English), now her job to is retrieve tennis balls.

Personal Update: I leave Monday for an extended trip out West. I have a speech in Jackson Hole on Tuesday and then the Goldbergs are driving out Oregon way to catch the eclipse. If vampires don’t seize the opportunity and kill us, my wife will fly back home, and my daughter and I will do an extended Daddy-Daughter adventure in Southern California. We haven’t worked out the details yet. I don’t know whether I will be G-Filing or not.

Last week’s Q&A G-File.

My continuing quibbles with Game of Thrones.

Our two-party system is stuck.

What to do about North Korea.

Abortion, slavery, and Schrödinger’s cat.

The Google controversy isn’t about diversity, but conformity.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

Shipwrecked Doritos

Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others?

Maps of music fandoms

Exclusive San Francisco street bought by San Jose residents

Flying to McDonald’s on a paramotor

Chinese city demolishes 36 buildings in 20 seconds

Accused burglar doesn’t flush toilet, leaves DNA for police

What is your opposite job?

Unmeltable ice cream?

Dog really doesn’t want to leave a park

Bear hijacks car

Corgi pup meets tennis ball for the first time

Harlem Globetrotter makes shot from 210 feet above hoop in a helicopter

Florida family discovers six-foot boa constrictor living in attic

World War II, depicted in detailed video map form

Man dressed as a Bigfoot-like creature for other reasons mistaken for actual Bigfoot by Bigfoot investigation team

The G-File

By Jonah Goldberg