June 25, 2019 | 73° F

COUTO: Country can only hope that common sense takes leadership

Opinions Column: Through the Looking Glass

President Donald J. Trump’s opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week has created a certain degree of anticipation regarding how far the president of the United States is willing to go in order to restrain North Korea’s efforts to become a nuclear superpower.

However, on Sept. 21, no more than two days after President Donald J. Trump delivered yet another characteristically bleak and ominous speech, the president revealed a new executive order that will “cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s” nuclear program: China, a longtime ally of North Korea, has “agreed to limit financial transactions with the isolated communist nation,” writes Kevin Liptak, a CNN White House Producer.

As someone who is by no means a Trump supporter, I am surprised to admit that I find this new approach toward North Korea rather intriguing. Previous attempts at diplomacy have obviously failed to prevent North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, from continuing to test the potentiality of his nuclear arsenal.

Therefore, one must question what — if anything — can be done to put an end to Kim Jong-un’s relentless quest for military superiority and domination. The answer has yet to become clear, but perhaps Trump is onto something with his most recent executive order: maybe it’s time to engage in a more vigorous set of tactics to hopefully control North Korea’s dangerous practices. Believe me, no one is more shocked than myself to see those words coming out of my very own mouth.

On the last day of the UN General Assembly, Trump, in his official address of this new executive order, elaborated that the “order enhances the Treasury Department’s authorities to target any individual or entity that conducts significant trade in goods, services or technology with North Korea … I am very proud to tell you that … China, their central bank, has told their other banks … to immediately stop doing business with North Korea.” He also went on to add that “it is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime.”

While this strategy does seem to add an extra layer of necessary pressure to restrain North Korea, the real question is whether China — a known, longtime ally of North Korea — will genuinely follow through with its promise. In other words, what is China’s actual reason for agreeing to such a plan? Evan Osnos of The New Yorker writes that “Chinese leaders have decided to increase pressure substantially but are not — and probably will never be — willing to help Trump strangle North Korea into submission. China doesn’t trust Kim Jong-un — but it trusts Trump even less.”

Moreover, can this new executive order (and any future ones) ever be fully effective if Trump refuses to change his rhetoric? Enforcing sanctions is one thing, but to further provoke a power-hungry enemy with taunts such as “Rocket Man” and the promise “to totally destroy North Korea,” well, now Trump is just playing with fire.

Kim Jong-un, in his first direct speech to President Trump, responded through a televised address in which he ensured that “the highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” would be imposed, in addition to describing Trump with a few colorful insults of his own creation, perhaps the most notable being “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Frankly, it’s ridiculous that this is what it’s come to: who can threaten the other with the most degrading — and quite honestly pathetic — insults. It’s petty, immature, and one would expect more from two grown men of substantial leadership positions. But then again, considering who these men are, maybe this is exactly what we should be expecting of them. To expect anything more would only lead to inevitable disappointment.

Overall, even though Trump and Kim Jong-un may act like ill-tempered bulldogs barking at each other from across the street, we know that if the North Korean leader promises to wreak havoc, it’s no bluff. Has Trump, with his “tough-guy” persona and taunting rhetoric, finally gone too far by poking the sleeping giant? Some might argue that the U.S. has been overdue for a heated confrontation with North Korea, the tensions that amounted in previous years finally coming to a boil. Whereas others might say that this is exactly what we need to shut down a senseless, nuclear-armed threat.

Yet is there really any sanction — or world leader — that possesses the power to contain North Korea’s ambition and unpredictability? It’s unfortunate that in a post-Cold War era we must still grapple with these uncertainties. We can only pray that there is enough common sense left in the world to avoid nuclear catastrophe a second time.

Ana Couto is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and journalism and media studies. Her column, "Through the Looking Glass," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Ana Couto

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