We’re Not in 1939 Anymore (or 1994)

We’re Not in 1939 Anymore (or 1994)

by Jonathan McGeachen

In my last post, I made some off-the-cuff statements about the North Korea situation without providing a framework. I was surprised that multiple responses suggested I wanted “appeasement,” and I feel a need to rebut this in detail.

I’m not talking about appeasement. Appeasement is satisfying demands in the vain hope that the opposing party will stop making demands. Of course this doesn’t work, because they just keep making more demands.

But let me ask a question: what demands is North Korea even making? They just keep improving their missile technology.

For this reason, this situation is not like Chamberlain and Hitler. That comparison also ignores the huge difference of WMDs.

Also brought up was Bill Clinton’s effort to give oil to NK in exchange for them dismantling their nuclear program. I agree that this was naive, but I file that blame away under “fun facts,” because it doesn’t help us now.

This is uncharted territory, because we’re trying to disarm a nation that has already acquired the ability to strike us and has every incentive to keep that ability, even if we give them nothing.

Are You Ready For Some Football Analogies?

Almost no one is professionally involved in football, yet everyone feels entitled to comment on a poorly chosen play. This is because they have some idea in their own mind of what good football strategy looks like. There’s nothing wrong with this, they just call it the way they see it.

This is roughly the feeling I have watching the North Korea drama unfold.

Let me defend my last post using my limited knowledge of football:

It’s as though the coach insists that the offensive line (missile interceptors) is airtight and will protect the quarterback (the homeland). Even though spring training and pre-season (system testing) have shown, repeatedly, that it’s not airtight. To be polite, they have a lot of work to do, but they’re the best they were able to draft. But the coach insists that the QB cannot be sacked, and wants to build strategy around this “fact.” We can reasonably expect, in that situation, that the QB would be sacked repeatedly. There’s just no avoiding it. Any viewer would say this coach is, to be polite, “mistaken.”

Are You Ready For Some Bank Robbery Analogies?

Let’s use another analogy to describe the broader situation. Suppose there is a bank robbery in progress, and the police have surrounded the building. The robbers (Kim regime) have taken hostages (potential nuclear targets) in an effort to gain leverage.

The police (USA) don’t currently have a clear shot to take them out: if they take a shot and fail to take them out, the robbers may execute hostages. But the police could try, and the robbers know it.

The robbers probably won’t execute the hostages for no reason, because then there’s no reason for the police to hold back. The hostages are the only thing saving the robbers. But the robbers could execute hostages, and the police know it.

And so there is a standoff. Enter the police negotiator. Except all he says through his megaphone, over and over, is: “DROP YOUR WEAPONS OR WE WILL COME IN AND KILL YOU.” This is certainly a tough thing to say. He’s really going to stick it to them, and the pride of our great city will be restored. The robbers reply, over and over, “if we even think you’re about to come in, we will execute all the hostages!”

Can we expect this negotiator’s strategy, at this moment, to result in all the hostages (and officers) coming out OK? Because that is really the goal, not to pat ourselves on the back for how tough we were.

Using a more nuanced approach doesn’t mean telling the SWAT team to take the day off. The police snipers can keep setting up positions on adjacent buildings. Maybe they’ll get their clear shot. But they don’t currently have it, and to bluff about it risks lives needlessly.

Back To The Real World

My point is that tactical restraint is not appeasement. Sometimes we need to not scare the bad guy into doing something stupid. This doesn’t mean making him safe. It means making him feel safe, while actually making him unsafe. There’s a huge disconnect in this area between Trump’s real NK policies (flawed but defensible) and his Twitter game (counterproductive).

Trump is employing the Art of the Deal, but he should consider the Art of War:

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” and

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” -Sun Tzu

I’m just glad Mattis has surely read that.


Never Tell Me the Odds, Kid

Never Tell Me the Odds, Kid

By Jonathan McGeachen

This post was originally going to be a comment on this article in Foreign Policy, but I figured content is content!

Do read the article, though, or you won’t understand what I’m talking about.

I figured the President’s 97% figure came from [(chance of one interceptor failing)^4= chance of any 4 interceptors failing], which contains plenty of optimistic assumptions.

I’d heard the 25% success rate before too. But: 100% minus 25% success rate= 75% failure rate per interceptor. 75%^4= 31.6% chance that any 4 interceptors will fail, or conversely, 68.4% chance that at least one per four will succeed. That’s assuming that a complex system that has never been tested without notice under real-world conditions will function as expected on the first try.

*Those are really bad odds considering what’s at stake. Do not rely upon it.*

Edit: actually, that’s just the odds for a 1-missile scenario. For an 11-missile scenario, it would be 68.4%^11= a 1.5% chance of intercepting every single one, firing 4 interceptors at each missile!

But I do also disagree with the article’s final implication that the only way to avoid war is through implicitly unconditional diplomacy, because there is still such a thing as old-fashioned *deterrence.* That’s the whole reason Pyongyang, Seoul, Tokyo, Guam, Pearl Harbor, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle are still on the map through all this mad posturing.

I just wish the guy with the bigger button had a bit more chill.

The Top 4 Reasons I Think the North Korea “Standoff” is Being Overhyped.

The Top 4 Reasons I Think the North Korea “Standoff” is Being Overhyped.

By Jonathan McGeachen

While buying tires today, I had to sit in a waiting room with the news on TV, and it reminded me why I don’t watch TV news. Turns out the world is on the brink of thermonuclear war! I even had a brief discussion with the tire guy about it. Don’t head down to your bunkers just yet.

1.) The news is turning the rhetoric up to 11, but still talking about other things.

What would be more urgent: thermonuclear war, the Facebook killer guy, or the potential ramifications of the congressional special election in Georgia? Listening to CNN, you’d think they were roughly equal. If they actually thought something was going down, they wouldn’t be talking about anything else.

2.) They sent Pence to the DMZ.

Can you imagine if North Korea killed the Vice President of the US with its opening salvo? If that idea brings you joy, please set aside your feelings about this specific one. This is a huge calling-out of the Kim regime.

3.) North Korea is completely full of it.

I mean seriously, have you been paying attention for the past 20 years? Every week there’s a new, creatively-worded threat.

4.) They’re not ready to substantially hit the mainland U.S.

Foreign Policy had a handy infographic:


This was as of a month ago, but only so much can change in that time. The way a war would play out is: they hit a couple US targets, maybe, and then they get glassed (I love that verb).