No, not you and me but everybody who’s anybody, the powers that be from Washington to Beijing. First let me tell you what I know about China, I’ve never been there but I know something about China history not many know.
In the summer of 1976 Richard Nixon made a special request to his Secret Service detail, to arrange a secret meeting. He’d told the Secret Service “I just want to meet this man, see his face, shake his hand.” The man Nixon wanted to meet was the CIA counter intelligence agent whom Nixon viewed as being largely responsible for the thaw in US-China relations, culminating in Nixon’s famous China visit in 1972.
Nixon wanted to end the war in Southeast Asia and he wanted to use China as leverage over the Soviet Union but the US had nothing in China. After Mao Tse-tung took over China, the FBI – as they say in the intelligence community – had tried to “get in” with the Chinese for 20+ years to no avail. One man changed all of that. Through a lot of shadowy diplomacy, contacts in Romania, Japan, an outfit called 7-Air Santini, the New York mob, the head of the Trans-Siberian railroad, FTZ24 in Pittston PA, a CIA counter intelligence agent named Bert succeeded in “getting in” with the Chinese in a period of 2.5 years, leading up to the Nixon visit to China.
As it were, right about when the Secret Service set up the meeting Nixon had requested, Viktor Belenko flew his Mig-25 to Japan and sent the US intelligence community in overdrive. The meeting didn’t happen and to my knowledge Nixon never met the CIA agent he felt had been responsible for the thaw in US – China relations.
I knew Bert well, he was my best friend when he died. Even though 1972 was a long time ago you can be sure not much has changed in shadowy diplomacy and back channels.
So who’s all winning in this North Korea “crisis” you ask?
NPR asks “How much can China actually do to help influence the situation in North Korea?”
Seriously? If you believe that I can make you a great deal on a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. What’s probably more accurate is that the Chinese recognized despite all of President Trump’s personal shortcomings that his anti-globalization platform does resonate with many in the US and beyond and this could hurt Chinese leadership where it matters, in their pocketbook. So explicitly or implicitly the Chinese encourage the jerk in North Korea to ratchet up his belligerence a notch and now there’s leverage.
Eventually there will be back-channel concessions to the Chinese and their global ambitions in return for the jerk in North Korea ratcheting down his belligerence. The Chinese score a win at home, no hit to their pocketbooks. Washington turns it into a win at home, “we got North Korea to bow down”. It doesn’t matter if it’s still the Donald or somebody else by the time this all calms down, the powers that be are fairly nameless.
The winning doesn’t end in Washington and Beijing.
How about Japan and the Philippines? It’s fair to say both of those countries have a good deal of internal issues at the moment and there’s nothing better for shaky regimes to shore up domestic support than a big bad bogeyman threat next door.
But don’t think the winning ends with political regimes, no.
Cha-ching! The military industrial complex is liking this “crisis” already. Did you read that Australia should upgrade their missile defenses in light of this threat? I’m sure that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
But it’s all very dangerous. At the height of the so called Cold War there was very real fear of a war that would end all wars. As a young adult Bert had gotten badly hurt in the US Navy, he knew war was not pretty. And despite all his failures Nixon understood that war was not the desired outcome either.
If the jerk in North Korea realizes one day in a bad drink that he’s been played like a cheap violin by everybody who’s anybody he might just do something stupid. Let’s hope there are enough people in today’s intelligence community who understand that war is not the outcome we want.