For the past year, Donald Trump and his chief advisers have responded to North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program by warning that “everything is on the table”—including war. That is not true. Missing from the table is the one option that could avoid catastrophe: the drawdown and eventual withdrawal of the US military encirclement of North Korea.
A majority of Americans, according to the polls, oppose the proliferation of US military interventions abroad. Yet, as Gallup reports, a majority also support a preemptive attack on North Korea if “the U.S. cannot achieve its goals by more peaceful means first.”
“Goals” in this case are assumed to be defensive, i.e., to prevent the North from launching a nuclear first strike as soon as it perfects a missile capable of reaching us.
It’s no surprise that Americans feel so threatened. Long before Donald Trump began trading schoolyard insults with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump’s predecessors—Clinton, Bush, and Obama—relentlessly demonized North Korea as a rogue state run by a dynasty of brutal tyrants who are out to destroy us. The presumed menace justifies our garrison of some 25,000 troops in South Korea, 65 years after the Korean War and a more than a quarter-century since the Cold War ended.
It also justifies the US refusal to take up Kim’s offer to negotiate. Our response has been: We don’t trust you, so first give up your nukes—and then we’ll talk. Kim’s response: I don’t trust you. Once I give up my nukes you’ll come after me like you came after Libya’s Moammar El-Gadhafi after he stopped building his.
A decade of harsh economic sanctions has not forced Kim to back down. So the lunatic logic of this standoff is pushing the public into accepting that we must destroy his missiles before he uses them on us.
We’re not talking here about some antiseptic surgical drone operation. As Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wrote two Democratic congressmen last October, “The only way to ‘locate and destroy—with complete certainty—all components of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs’ is through a ground invasion.”
Since China would clearly not accept an occupying US force across its border, such an effort by Trump to clean out Kim’s missiles could quickly topple the dominos into a Korean War Redux—this time with three nuclear-armed combatants.
Cooler heads may in the end prevail. But with both sides’ front-line military on hair trigger alert, the chance of war by accident or mistake has also escalated. A high-level North Korean defector told a congressional committee last November that their officers “are trained to press the button without any further instructions from the general command if something happens.”
Yet, as the clock ticks toward doomsday, Congress, the mainstream media, and therefore the public remain passive—stupefied by the cartoon image of the monstrous Kim, lusting to drop his bomb on us as soon as he can deliver it.