Why There’s No Reason to Worry About War With North Korea

Photo by John Pavelka | CC BY 2.0

I think it best to assume that the sanctions against North Korea imposed by the UN with PRC and Russian support will not deter Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. The North Korean economy has been growing in recent years; even if it’s hit by declining coal exports it will muddle on.

The people are long-suffering, and religiously conditioned to revere the Kim dynasty that Washington loathes and insults. Having survived the economic impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the effects of the famine years from 1994 to 1998. They are probably able to accept more economic hardship if it’s imposed by foreigners who seem to oppose the DPRK’s right to self-defense. The fact is, the U.S. has long sought regime change. (What did Dick Cheney say about North Korea, as he derailed talks in 2002? “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it.”)

But now the State Department is denying that it seeks regime change, and that it is willing to talk with Pyongyang—meaning it’s willing to return to a practice abandoned fifteen years ago, with the repercussions we’ve seen. Trump even made that unusual statement in May that, “If it would be appropriate for me to meet with [Kim Jong Un] I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it, if it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.” It will be necessary for somebody to do that, the alternative being a military strike condemned by China, Russia, and the world in general, followed immediately by the destruction of Seoul. (Pyongyang has threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”)

Logic would suggest ruling out a military response to North Korean nuclear tests and missile launches. But Sen. Lindsey Graham has told NBC that Trump has “told me to my face” that reports that “there is no military option” are “just false.”

“There is a military option: to destroy North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea itself. He’s not going to allow — President Trump — the ability of this madman [Kim Jong Un] to have a missile that could hit America. If there’s going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here — and he’s told me that to my face.”

He doesn’t mention how many thousands. But North Korea has a (conventional weapons) arsenal on its side of the DMZ that could rain 300,000 rounds on the south during the first hour of a counterattack. We’re talking tens of thousands of Korean civilians, dying over there, supposedly to protect America.

Nah. Won’t happen. Can’t happen.

China’s Xi will use his friendship with Trump to dissuade him from any rash move. (Oh, but you say, Trump has given up on China, either because he’s realized China doesn’t own Korea, or because he’s decided its unwilling to bully its neighbor to Washington’s satisfaction. So he will have to—how did he put it?—“handle North Korea” himself.)

What did he say last month? “We’ll handle North Korea. We’ll be able to handle North Korea. It will be handled. We handle everything,”

A recent Zogby poll found that 52% of Americans—who can for a time be persuaded of anything—would support a “preemptive strike” on North Korean nuclear facilities. It would surely boost Trump’s approval ratings (now at around 35%) for a few days….until China angrily sells off its U.S. Treasury bonds and destroys the U.S. economy. And until the images appear on people’s laptops, if they still function, of a once-city of ten million as moonscape. Again, to protect America.

It is so trying and stressful to live in a country that extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, protected by oceans and non-threatening neighbors, with the most destructive military arsenal any nation has ever possessed, and troops stationed abroad in over 100 countries, accustomed to random military interventions anywhere anytime—–and yet, so threatened by North Korea and the prospect of a nuclear attack on Honolulu or Denver that it may have to—for “existential” reasons or whatever—cause Seoul to become a sea of fire. And maybe unless heads cooler than his prevail initiate World War III.

What did Trump ask a foreign policy adviser three times during a briefing, in connection with nuclear weapons?

“If we have them, why can’t we use them?” (Why not just one of those small tactical nukes, on the Yongbyon Research Center? To show we mean business?)

Won’t happen, though, no way. Just too irrational to imagine.

The new South Korean leader Moon Jae-in with U.S. support will engage in a renewed “sunshine policy.” He will visit Pyongyang and share toasts with Outstanding Leader Kim Jong Un. The Chinese proposal supported by Russia to trade Pyongyang’s suspension of its nuclear program in exchange for reasonable U.S. concessions will win Sen. Graham’s enthusiastic support. Everything will he happy.

It will be handled. So relax.


1:00 Tuesday. Wolf Blitzer: “The nuclear stakes just got higher!”

Oh gosh. Pentagon correspondent (and de facto spokesperson and apologist) Barbara Starr on CNN now saying “It’s hard to know where President Trump can go” now that the Washington Post reports, and CNN broadcasts as “breaking news,” that the U.S. intelligence community (which enjoys such global repute) says North Korea is making miniaturized missile-ready nuclear weapons.

So Trump has no alternative but to do something, urgently, to show he’s strong… didn’t Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev just call him “impotent”? What makes a 71-year-old malignant narcissist with deep apparent sexual insecurities and size anxiety issues feel more potent than dropping bombs and launching missiles?

Blitzer on the North Korean nuke problem: “It seems to be moving very quickly.” More than anyone hitherto knew. “Now things have changed so dramatically,” says his learned expert guest—-who just stated that all historians outside of North Korea agree that the U.S. was not responsible for the Korean war. I guess that means it will not be responsible for the next one.

Everybody just stay calm.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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