Last week's boogeyman, North Korea, didn't get much attention this week, as neo-Nazi marchers and Confederate statues captured the news cycle. But Washington and Pyongyang are taking slow but hopefully steady steps toward a diplomatic resolution.
President Trump's "fire and fury" comment came and went, making waves in domestic and foreign media but ultimately not changing much about the reality on the ground. As the North Korean regime gradually increases its nuclear capabilities, it is still far from an existential threat. Trump's off-the-cuff threat was, at its most basic level, a reiteration of the mutually assured destruction policy, albeit without the mutuality.
Kim Jong-un responded to Trump last week by announcing his regime was contemplating a strike on Guam. The governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, dismissed the threat, and residents of the territory seemed to be staying calm. This week North Korea backed down, saying it was no longer considering an attack on Guam but would strike if the "Yankees persist." Trump praised Kim for chainging course, tweeting that it was a "very wise and well-informed decision."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated this week that the door to negotiations remains open but that it is up to Kim to act. An achievable short-term goal would be the resumption of the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S, which began in 2003 but ceased in 2009 after North Korea launched a launched a satellite and was slapped by increased sanctions.
Yesterday, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomed their counterparts from Japan to Washington for a security summit, where Mattis re-iterated the American, and Japanese, promise of an "effective and overwhelming response" to any hostilities from North Korea. Tillerson, Mattis, and their Japanese counterparts also said they would urge China to take "specific measures to make North Korea change its behavior." Tillerson warned of a bleak isolation if North Korea did not reengage the international community.
In short, the U.S. and North Korea remain as far from war, or as close to war, as at any time in the last decade. Diplomatic efforts could still bear fruit.
The ISIS and Afghan wars, on the other hand, continue apace. Two U.S. soldiers were killed during combat operations this week in Iraq, where American troops withdrew in 2011 before returning a few years later to battle the Islamic State. Iraq, meanwhile, admitted that its soldiers "abused" civilians and tortured ISIS militants during the campaign to re-take Mosul from ISIS. And Trump casually commented last friday that he might start a war with Venezuela too. That has only emboldened the regime of Nicolas Maduro, providing him with a useful scapegoat to invoke when demonizing the democratic opposition.
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