On February 9, in a scenario that would have been unimaginable to most Americans a month ago, North and South Korean athletes will march into the opening ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games under a single blue-and-white flag meant to signify the symbolic unity of a country divided since 1945.
The historic event will culminate an intense month of diplomacy and delicate negotiations that began on January 1. That was when North Korea’s “Supreme Leader,” Kim Jong-un, accepted South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s longstanding invitation to participate in the Games, the first Olympics to be hosted by South Korea since the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.
But the competition will take place in the shadow of a deepening confrontation between the United States and North Korea over Kim’s nuclear and missile program. That conflict, which seemed to reach a breaking point in January with a false alarm about a pending missile attack on Hawaii, has moved the world closer to nuclear war than at any time since 1953, according to the famous “Doomsday Clock” calculated every year by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
“With every threat, every reckless or contradictory tweet from the Commander-in-Chief of our military, we get a little bit further from a diplomatic solution and a little bit closer to war,” Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War combat veteran from Illinois, said in a January speech at Georgetown University shortly after returning from a trip to South Korea.
Trump upped the ante Tuesday night in a State of the Union address that completely ignored the hopeful drama about to unfold in South Korea.
Instead, his speech demonized North Korea as a “depraved” regime, echoing language previous presidents have used before launching wars. Taking a page from recent claims by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump announced that North Korea’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons could very soon threaten our homeland,” and described his “campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.”
Rewriting history once again, Trump repeated his criticism of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations for trying to use diplomacy to resolve the crisis. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” Trump said. “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”