ABC The Drum
Up until the very end, Mitt Romney genuinely seemed to believe he would win the 2012 US presidential election.
As the prospect of war looms in the Pacific, we can only hope that Kim Jong-un is not acting under a similarly false belief in his abilities to win, writes
We have recently edged closer to nuclear war in the Pacific. North Korea threatened to turn American cities into smouldering wastelands, which then provoked Washington to respond with its own sabre-rattling: First by flying nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers on a not-so-stealthy flight over South Korea and then deploying missile defence warships to the region.
Observers have been scrambling to try and make sense of Pyongyang's increasingly bellicose behaviour and rhetoric.
They have mostly assumed that Pyongyang realises that it is likely to lose any confrontation with South Korea and its allies. This belief, however, might be misplaced. Recent events within the Republican Party should make us think hard on how closely an organisations' view of the world matches the actual arithmetic.
Commentaries on North Korea have largely fallen into one of two schools of thought.
One group of analysts paint Kim Jong-un's bluster as part of a well-rehearsed game. He is a rational populist employing hyperbolic rhetoric to appeal to a domestic audience. They see him as a youthful and inexperienced leader who not only needs to consolidate his position within the regime but also to reassure the North Korean people that a strong and stable government is in place.
From an international standpoint, this school of thought is comforting. Kim understands that North Korea lacks the means to defeat South Korea, let alone Japan and the United States. As such, Kim will do what is necessary for domestic consumption without letting international escalation spiral out of control. After all, the regime's current behaviour is motivated by survival.
Subscribers to the second school are far more worried. They hold that Kim is engaged in a high-stakes gamble. Like Robert De Niro playing Russian roulette in the Deer Hunter, Kim is in a weak and desperate position. He is completely disempowered and willing to risk it all for concessions from the United States. Last week, John Kerry called Kim "reckless". In other words, Kim is a gambler chasing the big but unlikely payoff.
Both these current views share one thing in common: That North Korea realises it is weak and would be quickly and comprehensively defeated in any shooting war with South Korea, the United States and their allies.
What if there is a third and more terrifying option? What if Kim Jong-Un is like Mitt Romney?
It has now been widely reported and accepted that Mitt Romney expected to win the 2012 US presidential elections. On election night, believing victory was assured, Romney still had not prepared a concession speech.
He was genuinely shocked as the results began to roll in.
This is despite the fact that the eventual election result was remarkably close to most poll predictions. The polls had not moved much throughout the year and virtually all delivered Obama the victory — the only disagreement was over the size of Obama's winning margin.
Romney thought he was going to win for three reasons. First, Republican internal polling was too optimistic. While reputable published polls were squabbling over 3-4 points, largely within the margin of error, the internal Republican Party pollsters were reportedly coming back 10 to 15 points above those of the published polls. Internal pollsters were showing that the Republicans were going to win Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, along with other swing states.
Second, jetting directly from one group of mass Republican fans to the next reinforced the sense in the Romney camp that support for the campaign was both passionate and widely held. The Washington Post reported that when Romney made a final unannounced stop in Pittsburgh airport he discovered "hundreds of fans cheering him on from a faraway parking garage" which only reinforced the "sense of destiny".
Finally, Romney possessed an inexorable belief in his own ability to win. He believed that if he was to lose it was going to be because the public hadn't had a proper view of the real Mitt. In the primaries, he needed to track right and present himself as more conservative. But, by the end, he was satisfied that the public saw him the same way he sees himself: as the moderate conservative problem solver.
How could he lose?
Keeping Romney and the Republican Party in mind, look over the recent images of Kim in North Korea. Could Kim's generals not be playing a similar role of Romney's pollsters? Can they not be wildly exaggerating their capacity to win a war against the South? Or, à la Romney, is it unreasonable to believe that bouncing from cheering crowd to cheering crowd will not distort Kim's sense of the population's preparedness to fight? Finally, if one is aware that they were born to rule, it is likely they will possess unrealistic assessment of their own abilities to win?
The scariest thought of all is that Kim Jong-un might be genuinely surprised by the results of the Second Korean War as they start to roll in.
This article was originally published at ABC The Drum