The Winter Olympics optics of North and South Korean athletes marching under a unification flag should not take the focus off Pyongyang's threat to the world, let alone its own citizens. Because the "Hermit Kingdom" is deliberately opaque, images of Kim Jong Un's brutal rule are rare and should not be eclipsed by last week's images of red-clad North Korean cheerleaders clapping rhythmically, if not robotically, the same way Kim is greeted in the North.
Some news organizations also have been accused of cheerleading. CNN ran a story with the unfortunate headline: "Kim Jong Un's sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics." In reality, Kim Yo Jong and the dynastic, despotic Kim clan have stolen their nation's future and any sense of security in East Asia.
The Trump administration made the right call ramping up sanctions and restating the objective of a nonnuclear Korean Peninsula, actions that may have helped bring about the opening that brought North Korea to the Olympics Opening Ceremony and may bring more direct diplomacy after Kim's sister extended a summit invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The South Korean leader wisely stopped short of unconditionally accepting but said that he hoped "to create the conditions for such a summit to take place." The conditions are not ideal — now, or likely anytime soon, given Kim's unrepentant, unrelenting internal repression and external threat. But that's precisely why Moon should make every effort to accept the invitation to try to peacefully defuse the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Pyongyang's gambit may be mostly about driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington, which would weaken the multinational effort to pressure the North Korean government. Nevertheless, the Trump administration should not try to thwart a diplomatic dialogue.
Nor should the administration continue to consider a so-called "bloody nose" strike on any North Korean target(s) in an attempt to bring Kim to the denuclearization negotiating table. A more likely scenario is that Kim would respond to the bloody nose with a counterpunch that could spiral into the worst warfare in generations.
That scenario clearly concerned Victor Cha, who served as director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. After his nomination to serve as Trump's ambassador to South Korea was withdrawn, he wrote in a Washington Post commentary that "if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on the adversary's rational understanding of signals and deterrence?"
Indeed, global diplomacy is the best if not only response to this crisis. The Olympic opening should be explored — cautiously, to be sure — but with an acknowledgment that the alternative is unacceptable, if not unthinkable.