As if more evidence were needed that there are distressingly few, if any, grown-ups presently working within the confines of the West Wing, the final days of 2017 saw the emergence of several reports that the Trump administration is considering launching a preemptive attack on North Korea.
Reports have surfaced that planning has commenced, and is being pushed by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, for what has been called a “bloody-nose strike.” Indeed, the “bloody nose” option (i.e., the launch of a preemptive war on a nuclear-armed state) would seem to be in keeping with President Trump’s inclination to shun diplomacy in favor of the bluff and bluster of Twitter.
The looming prospect of American unilateral military action against North Korea, and its likely consequences, have been met with concern on the part of a growing group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill who in recent months have been alarmed by Trump’s aggressive military posture in Yemen, Syria, and Niger, countries that are, at best, tenuously connected to core US national-security interests.
Last Thursday, California Democrat Ro Khanna, along with over 30 co-signers from both parties, sent a letter to the president, which hopefully someone, perhaps General McMaster, will read to him.
Khanna and his House colleagues have requested that the administration reestablish a channel of military-to-military communications between the United States and North Korea, arguing that, given the current atmosphere of increased tensions, Washington “should do all in its power to avoid misunderstandings that could escalate to a greater conflict, including nuclear war.”
The letter goes on to note, alarmingly, that “North Korea is the only nuclear-armed country in the world with which we do not have a military-to-military exchange of information,” such as the one that, as the signatories observe, “we maintained with the Soviet Union for decades.” The letter urges the administration to “make every effort to avoid actions that could contribute to a breakdown in talks, and continue to search for confidence-building measures that are conductive to dialogue.”
In a further step, Khanna has reintroduced HR 4837, the “No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act” that had previously been introduced by the now-retired John Conyers in the House and Senator Ed Markey in the Senate. The resolution, which has garnered a bipartisan group of 65 co-sponsors, would “prohibit the introduction of the Armed Forces into hostilities in North Korea without a declaration of war or explicit statutory authorization, and for other purposes.”
In a meeting with reporters on Capitol Hill last week, Khanna asserted that the goal of establishing military-to-military communications with the North Koreans “should not be controversial.” It is, said Khanna, incumbent on elected officials to do what they can to “avoid the escalation of war because of some mistake or miscalculation,” particularly when dealing with a regime like North Korea “that is paranoid about the US.”
Khanna went on to note that if the South and North Koreans can agree to such a channel, as they did in early January, then there is no reason the United States couldn’t or shouldn’t.
The California Democrat has also urged the administration to send a high-level negotiating team to help contain the burgeoning crisis.
In an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle this week, Khanna proposed that “the president, in consultation with statesmen such as Bill Perry, Richard Lugar and George Shultz, should appoint a bipartisan group of diplomats who understand the stakes of nuclear war. They should be empowered to engage in a dialogue about the scope of our joint military exercises and put forth a framework to achieve denuclearization and end the hostilities between our two nations.”
In the end, it is Khanna’s belief that, given the fact that US combat troops are currently engaged in no fewer than 14 countries around the world, it is past time that the United States adopt the ancient injunction to “first, do no harm” as an operative principle of its foreign policy.