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Making sense of the nonsensical

Pacific Reflections By Gabriel McCoard

Shortly after Trump took office, when North Korea was threatening Guam with nuclear annihilation, I managed to convince people back home on the mainland that nuclear war had in fact already broken out in the islands.

I was sitting on my very small balcony overlooking my office in Chuuk state, looking roughly to the northwest, the general direction of Guam, as a thunderstorm grew into an elongated mushroom on the horizon. The tell-tale cumulonimbus caught the setting sun, which gave it a distinct orange glow that looked like an explosion burning through its core.

With some imagination, the picture I took from my dying phone looked like a mushroom cloud rising from a nuclear explosion.

At that moment, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was testing nuclear missiles, scratching his head and mentioning Guam. Trump was calling Kim Jong Un Little Rocket Man. Tensions ran high. A few months later they decided to be friends. Tensions still ran high.

I mention this because Valdimir Putin recently made his own visit to his compatriot in North Korea. Tensions are running high again.

When have tensions ever not run high?

Why Putin was in Pyongyang was, at first, perplexing. Then photos emerged showing the pair doing the types of things they’re both known for: driving cars and looking stiff in front of large crowds. Some details have surfaced, disclosing the cooperative agreement they’ve worked out giving the middle finger to the U.S. and its alliances— mostly in the form of a mutual defense agreement that could involve Russia providing more arms to North Korea. Or vice versa.

South Korea has countered with the possibility of supplying arms to Ukraine. Russia countered the counter by shaking its head and saying something about using nuclear weapons in a preemptive strike for self-preservation in a move oddly reminiscent of George W. Bush’s move to invade Iraq to pre-empt threats against the U.S.

And of course, there’s the whole destabilization of the Korean Peninsula.

The Korean War is an unfinished chapter. The ceasefire agreement from 1953 ended the immediate warfare, but did not technically resolve anything. Perhaps paradoxically, the ceasefire has lasted longer than most peace treaties, but the war itself has not.


What exactly does this have to do with the islands, other than territories being proxy pawns of world powers?

Writing in Foreign Policy, Robert O’Brien, one of Trump’s national security advisors, floated the idea for the U.S. to deploy the entire Marine Corps to the Pacific, away from the Middle East and everywhere else, arguing that U.S. bases in the region lack adequate protection.

If there’s one takeaway from the state of the world that I’ve noticed in the media, it’s this: The complacent optimism the U.S. carried into the 21st 21st century is long gone. The ironclad victories of allied democracies —the inevitable victory of superiority, no doubt!— have given way to fragmentation, stagnation and doubt.

Even the diplomatic afterthoughts of the COFA nations have been drawn into this limbo. The whole Blue Pacific ripe for Chinese-influence theme has been beaten to death, and will continue to be, so I won’t add to it. Not at this moment at least.

I consider it the normal ebbs and flows of nation craft. American foreign policy has two settings: a giddy complacency from a momentary success, or high tension.

Perhaps it’s arrogance or simple human nature, but sometimes you have to accept that we are just riding a wave that goes where it wants.  

In my youth, I attempted to make sense of world developments. I quipped that current events on the world stage were a convergence of nothingness. My teacher said he didn’t think that concept was possible.

Gabriel McCoard is an attorney who previously worked in Palau and Chuuk State. Send feedback to


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