US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Yes, let's put health care on the table (Star Tribune)

Putting states in charge is a great start, writes Amy Lange. Just remember it's not all broken.

2. 5 rules for faith and politics 2012 (USA Today)

David Saperstein and Oliver Thomas propose guidelines for protecting religion and democracy.

3. No Holiday (New York Times)

This NYT editorial argues a tax holiday would be a windfall for major corporations at the expense of everyone else, and it would raise the deficit.

4. Obama's Re-Election Model Is FDR (Wall Street Journal)

President Obama is cozying up to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, intending to make resentment of big business a central theme of his re-election campaign. Paul Moreno writes that similarly, with the economy sinking in 1937, Roosevelt accused business of sabotage.

5. Can we build great things again? (New York Daily News)

Eighty years ago today, with great fanfare, the George Washington Bridge was opened. As Americans celebrate the anniversary of that great span connecting Manhattan and New Jersey, we must swallow a sad truth: If today we wished to build an American-made steel bridge as grand, we simply couldn't, writes Joan Marans Dim.

6. A true believer on defense (Boston Globe)

Will a hawkish stance quell GOP doubts about Romney's candidacy? asks James Carroll.

7. City Hall's embrace of Occupy L.A. (Los Angeles Times)

It's hard to rebel against those who are mostly intent on embracing you, says Jim Newton.

8. The budget shirkers (Washington Post)

Clinton and Bush owe us an apology, writes Robert J. Samuelson.

9. Stop spamming Cuba (Los Angeles Times)

An American company last month began sending thousands of unsolicited text messages a week to cellphones in Cuba under an $84,000 annual government contract. This editorial says: "That's dumb."

10. Why Washington needs a laugh (Politico)

Cappy McGarr and Jeff Nussbaum ask: Why is it that Washington evokes all sorts of laughter, but does so little laughing itself?

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Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.