No matter what my friends and supporters say,
I retire when my present term of office ends,
and I shall not serve again. I shall be eighty
years old ...
I welcome an opposition party in the
Mexican Republic...If it appears, I will regard
it as a blessing, not as an evil...I will stand by it,
support it, advise it and forget myself in the
successful inauguration of complete democratic
government in the country.
-- Mexican President Porfirio Díaz, interview
with James Creelman, 1908 --
What could a poorly-written puff-piece interview by an unknown journalist in an obscure magazine with "the greatest man on the continent" -- the despot Porfirio Díaz -- over a hundred years ago possibly reveal about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un today?
The first thing to do in politics is to put yourself in the shoes of your opponent. That exercise is all the more vital if your opponent is also your enemy.
It is an exercise at which the FBI, CIA, White House, Pentagon and NSA time and again have proven themselves inept. If the bombs start falling, if millions of people die in Korea and beyond, Washington´s inability to understand the enemy will be a key factor.
Here is one concrete example:
Think back to the buildup to the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. Among the causes President Bush cited on March 22 for going into that country was "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction."
How did Bush know Iraq had those weapons?
In January, 2003, only two months before the invasion, British Prime Minister Tony Blair summarized the buildup to war in a manner that will no doubt succinctly refresh millions of memories:
" ... when we went down the United Nations route, we passed Resolution 1441. And I think it really repays reading that, because we said very clearly that Saddam had what we said was a final opportunity to disarm, and that he had to cooperate fully in every respect with the U.N. weapons inspectors.
As Dr. [Hans Martin] Blix said in his report to the Security Council earlier this week, [Saddam Hussein] is not doing that. And therefore, what is important is that the international community comes together again and makes it absolutely clear that this is unacceptable. And the reason why I believe that it will do that is precisely because in the original Resolution 1441, we made it clear that failure to disarm would lead to serious consequences ...
Saddam Hussein is not cooperating with the inspectors, and therefore is in breach of the U.N. resolution. And that's why time is running out."
Why was Saddam obstructing the investigation of weapons of mass destruction? According to Washington logic, there was only one explanation:
Saddam was guilty. He was hiding nuclear-chemical-biological weapons.
Only later did we discover he had no WMDs. That indisputable fact leaves us with a puzzle without a picture on the box:
If Saddam was innocent, why was he behaving as if he were guilty?
The answer is Saddam lived in a tough neighborhood. To have shown he had no WMDs would have made manifest for all to see the truth: the strong man was weak.
Not only did Saddam have Iran to worry about, he had to watch his back at home. He lived by his army. That meant he could die by his army.
Had he thrown open the doors and let the UN look wherever and whenever it wanted, death would have been swift and thorough by people either just around the corner or at home.
You may doubt that outcome; Saddam did not. Door Number 1 or Door Number 2? He chose death by the U.S. It was probably less certain, definitely less painful.
Washington is incapable of understanding that in governments such as Saddam´s or Kim Jong-un´s -- or Porfirio Díaz´s -- the word might not only means military might but also possibility. You, dear reader, might be a traitor -- after all, anything is possible -- which is why such governments honestly believe it is reasonable to throw you in jail whenever they want.
The more totalitarian the regime, the more the two meanings of might coalesce.
Unlike Washington, Saddam understood the situation perfectly. To forestall his enemies, he had to let them think he might have weapons of mass destruction. You are looking at his formula for survival. When all is said and done -- which it was -- not bad dramaturgy.
The Díaz-Creelman affair in 1908 brought to the surface the inner necessity of any dictatorship. Díaz´s statement about wanting democracy and an opposition party proved to be a spark that set fire to a tender box. When he broke his word and announced he was running for re-election, the Mexican Revolution broke out. After over 30 years in power, the despot had to flee for his life to France.
What Washington has never comprehended is that in a dictatorship there are no intermediate positions to slow, much less prevent, a fall from power. It´s all or nothing. Díaz learned that lesson the hard way.
In North Korea today, as in Mexico under Porfirio Diaz and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, everything revolves around the army. To abandon the nuclear weapons program would mean giving into the enemy. Peace, even as a suggestion, would deprive the massive North Korean army of its reason for being and all the privileges that go with it. Kim, too, would lose his raison d´être. Ergo, Kim would go.
Kim Jong-un simply cannot give in and give up his nuclear weapons program. Washington´s working on China to pressure Kim to stop his program is important and necessary for domestic political reasons -- "The key to this is China," according to Senator John McCain -- but in the end could only be ineffective.
We just explained why the key broke, why Kim did not listen to his closest and indispensable ally. But why is Kim so brazenly going full-speed ahead with developing nuclear weapons?
* * *
Recent events reveal why Kim is speeding up.
It is the same reason why the Venezuelan opposition to President Nicolás Maduro is staying in the streets.
Keep the pressure on. HEAT! HEAT! HEAT! Unrelenting, searing, in-your-face heat makes Mr. President in Caracas or Washington make king-sized mistakes.
Some people feed on pressure; they love it. It energizes them. Neither Maduro nor Trump are in that category. On the contrary, it saps them, exhausts them and the people around them, starting with their families.
You can be sure Kim knows all about Trump´s problems in Washington with the Russian connection. Every day brings new revelations; the noose is tightening.
Kim is hoping that Trump will be tossed out of office or quit. Heat logarithmically increases the chances of that happening.
Kim´s goal is simple: President Pence.
Pence is an Obama let´s-keep-kicking-the-can-down-the-street politician. A chronic reconciler.
A hope-nobody´s-looking-nobody-knows guy.
Kim´s appraisal of Pence is correct.
Of Trump, too.
* * *
If Kim miscalculates -- if he backs down and gives up his nuclear program -- look for a coup d´etat or a bullet in the head just as surely as Mexico had a revolution.
All such men sleep with a dagger under the pillow. When "they" come for him anyway, he will utter the same words all such men -- notably Stalin´s secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria -- utter when the moment of truth in the form of a trip to the basement arrives:
"I should have killed you when I had the chance."
As did Saddam, I suspect Kim would prefer death by America to death by his own generals.
That means ...
All or nothing. Everyone or no one.
That is what happens when might and might fuse.