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Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea

On August 8th Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” He ordered the Pentagon to prepare for all military options. In the interim, he has ordered mock invasion war games with South Korea on North Korea’s borders and coasts, sent nuclear weapons-capable bombers to fly over the Korean Peninsula in a clear sign to Kim Jong Un he is prepared to follow through on his threat, and has ordered three US aircraft carrier armadas to the oceans just off North Korea’s shores, while escalating his belligerent rhetorical exchanges with his North Korean nemesis.

Hampshire College Professor Michael Klare, writing in The Nation, suggests, this extraordinary naval buildup could provide Trump with the sort of military extravaganza he seems to enjoy and/or to prepare for a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea. It may also trigger a North Korean response that will serve as a pretext for military aggression.

As if these developments were not alarming enough, the Washington Post reports that in the last week the Pentagon sent a letter to members of Congress in which it said the only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites with complete certainty is through an invasion of ground forces.  In the event of conflict, the generals said, Pyongyang might also resort to biological and chemical weapons, raising the specter of great American casualties.

Given the mercurial bellicose character of the Commander in Chief, and his view that diplomacy is a “waste of time”, the generals’ letter could provide Trump with just the excuse he needs to unleash US nuclear weapons on North Korea – “to save (American) lives” (as if bombing or invasion were the only alternatives available to him). ‘Saving American lives’ was a justification offered by Truman for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A single 150 kiloton nuclear armed cruise missile fired from our off-shore fleet at Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, is predicted to immediately kill a half million Koreans.  More than another million would be severely injured.  That estimate of the initial death toll alone is approximately equivalent to wiping out the population of Oakland or Tucson.

Kim Jong Un has no incentive to attack the US first unless convinced the US is about to attack North Korea. He might be provoked to preempt or answer it with an attack of its own.  With the nuclear weapon and intercontinental ballistic missile it has already developed (assuming it can miniaturize the bomb to be carried by its ICBM) its missile could hit a U.S. West Coast city like San Francisco, where almost 225,000 would die immediately and another 330,000 would suffer horrific injuries and radiation sickness, many of whom would die later.  Seoul, South Korea, a city of 25 million people, is just 35 miles from the North Korean border. If it were targeted with a nuclear bomb, immediate casualties could easily top one million.

This is what’s at stake in the game of nuclear chicken Donald Trump seems to want to play with Kim Jong Un. We have to stop it.

Recent polling demonstrates that more than two-thirds of the American people believe that the United States should attack North Korea only if North Korea attacks first. But Donald Trump doesn’t think much of the ‘will of the people’ if our will doesn’t coincide with his ambitions or interests.

It is imperative that Congress enact a law that prevents Trump from ordering such a premeditated attack without prior consent of Congress, as required by our Constitution.

A bi-partisan letter to President Trump has been initiated by Congresswoman Barbara Lee reasserting Congress’s role in authorizing and overseeing military actions, and Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), joined by more than 60 other members of Congress, introduced new bipartisan, bicameral legislation to do just that.  The No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017 (H.R. 4140/S. 2016) restricts funds available to the Department of Defense or to any other federal department or agency from being used to launch a military strike against North Korea without the prior approval of Congress or the imperative to respond to an attack against the United States or its allies.

This legislation has been endorsed by a broad array of peace, veterans, faith, civil liberties, social justice, Korean American and other civil society organizations.

Contact your member of Congress and Senators to urge them to cosponsor and vote for this critical legislation. Defense of our Constitution, our national security and global peace require members of Congress on both sides of the aisle do their duty, pass this legislation and restore the separation of powers dictated by our Constitution.

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Michael Eisenscher is National Coordinator Emeritus of US Labor Against the War.

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