Cartoons are no place for foreign policy

Democrats should feel no remorse egging on President Trump’s taunting of Kim Jong Un. It was a Republican senator who said in 1947 that “we must stop partisan politics at the water’s edge,” and the trigger-happy North Korean bully terrorizing the world deserves to be publicly dressed down. In the current bizarre and banal war of words, we have a champion. Public shaming is in Mr. Trump’s wheelhouse.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” said the U.S. president at his first major speech before the United Nations, which took place four days after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan.

“There is a saying that the marching goes on even when dogs bark,” North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said in response. “If he was thinking he could scare us with the sound of a dog barking, that’s really a dog dream.”

Ri Yong-ho is not on Twitter, obviously, and is weak, as his riposte likening Trump’s threat to destroy the North Korean regime to the “sound of a dog barking” suggests. Americans love dogs more than missiles. There is nothing remotely similar to dogs in the current scenario.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea had much better luck in translation when he chimed in: “North Korea has continued to make provocations, and this is extremely deplorable.”

Trump: “I’m very happy that you used the word ‘deplorable.’ I was very interested in that word. … That’s been a very lucky word for me and many millions of people.”

n Rocket Man: Trump is a “mentally deranged dotard” and his speech to the U.N. “unprecedented rude nonsense. … I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech.”

n Trump: “Foreign banks will face a clear choice: doing business with the U.S. or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea.”

n Rocket Man: “I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue. Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation. I will surely and definitely tame (Trump) with fire.”

n Trump: “I want to thank President Xi (Jinping) of China for the very bold … and somewhat unexpected move,” claiming that China had imposed a financial embargo on Pyongyang. (China is reportedly imposing U.N. economic sanctions on North Korea to an unprecedented level but says it hasn’t cut all financial ties.)

Sticks and stones can break bones and names can make and break spirits, as our pugnacious president knows and demonstrates often. While I do not support war, I do support a good verbal thrashing of our enemies now and again, but leave the dogs out of it.

With due respect to the U.S. president, who professes to have a sense of humor, the best caricature of him is not canine, and “dotard” won’t stick. Donald Trump is the cock of the roost on the world stage right now. He is the Foghorn Leghorn, not the Dawg.

Foghorn Leghorn was the good ol’ boy cartoon rooster known for saying things like “He’s so dumb, he thinks a Mexican border pays rent.”

Sound familiar? Now picture Foghorn Trumphorn saying to Rocket Man, “I say, boy, pay attention when I’m talkin’ to ya, boy.”

“What’s it all about, boy? Elucidate!”

Too bad the exchanges we hear today between the American and North Korean presidents are real life instead of an animated cartoon. Who knows whether the saber-rattling “banter” between the two countries will eventually drown out or lead to something more dangerous and violent? War with North Korea is something nobody in good conscience wants. Rooting for Trump to win the battles of words and economic sanctions is not assenting to the use of brute force or encouraging the reckless use of the military.

Name-calling is a powerful psychological weapon when it’s used efficiently in a battle of wits. Branding the enemy as weak and out of touch belittles it. Defining the opposition on your own terms destabilizes it. .Donald Trump uses this classic technique of dominance ruthlessly and sometimes effectively. A rocket man is a toy.

Kim Jong Un’s threats of nuclear war preceded Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump inherited a festering problem that Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush. Time will tell whether calling the North Korean leader out and shaming him pays off. In the short term, it appears to have emboldened other countries to crack down, to start to sever economic ties and to make public pronouncements condemning the North Korean leader. It’s the long term I am worried about, after the show when the lights go down.

Maybe President Trump’s hard bargaining and tough talk will cause international shunning of North Korea and eventual denuclearization. That would be very good for humanity and very good for cartoon artists.

“Foghorn Trumphorn” could be a very lucky word.

Published in PPH 9/24/17