For some jobs, only a homicidal maniac will do.
On February 2, it was reported that Korea expert Victor Cha had been removed from consideration for American ambassador to Seoul. The New York Times said that Cha believes he was dropped because he opposes a US attack on North Korea.
The US has had no South Korean ambassador since Donald Trump became president. Cha, a distinguished expert on Korea who is well-known and liked in South Korea, had already been approved by Seoul. Cha possesses two traits not normally found in Trump appointees: intelligence and competence. The 56-year old Cha was Director of Asian Affairs in President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. Currently, Cha is a professor at Georgetown University and the author of several well-regarded books on Asia.
Cha is a Republican and a hardline hawk. The Times does not say that it was President Donald Trump who ordered Cha dropped. However, Trump wants to attack North Korea and Cha doesn’t. That would make Cha insufficiently hawkish in the president’s eyes.
Cha gave his reasons against a US attack in an op-ed in the January 30 Washington Post. The news of Cha’s dismissal broke a few days later. We can assume that Cha had already been removed from consideration and that the administration decision was not a response to Cha’s op-ed.
Cha writes that the US would have to strike multiple nuclear sites “which are buried in deep, unknown places impenetrable to bunker-busting bombs.” (Edward Luttwak, of whom more later, estimates that the US would have to strike 36 North Korean nuclear manufacturing and launch sites.) Even if the US successfully takes out the sites, Cha says that that would likely only delay the North Korean nuclear program by a few years. (The same can be said of an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.)
Even a small scale US attack, Cha writes, would likely be catastrophic. Cha is referring to the so-called “bloody nose” option now circulating in Washington. Giving Kim a “bloody nose” with a small scale attack, so the thinking goes, would avoid the risk of retaliation and escalation. It would not eliminate Kim’s nukes, but it would send a strong message, one that would send Kim scampering to the bargaining table.
Never mind that Kim already says he is willing to negotiate. And never mind that the North might mistakenly conclude that it is under full scale attack. Or that Kim might retaliate even if he realizes it’s a small scale attack. And try not to think of what form Kim’s retaliation would likely take. Seoul is within 35 miles of the armistice line with North Korea. Seoul’s 10 million inhabitants, the February 2 New York Times story points out, are within range of the DPRK’s “8,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers positioned along its border with the South. North Korea could rain up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack.”
It isn’t only Koreans who would die in the counterattack. Cha writes:
Some have argued the risks are still worth taking because it’s better that people die “over there” than “over here.”
Professor Cha does not say so, but Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the Today show last August that President Trump had made this remark to him. It’s a fair bet that Trump meant that the people killed in an American attack won’t be White. Cha is too tactful, too…diplomatic…to say this. Cha wipes the smirk off Trump’s face with his next sentence: “On any given day, there are 230,000 Americans in South Korea and 90,000 or so in Japan.”
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The news that Cha was out of the running came at the same time as news that the Pentagon has been dragging its feet over presenting President Trump with an attack plan for North Korea. Even the Pentagon is afraid that Trump will do something rash.
The New York Times said that “For now the frustration at the White House appears to be limited to senior officials rather than Mr. Trump himself.” The Times does say who those “senior officials” are. However, the Times observes that according to unnamed “officials”: “The national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, believes that for Mr. Trump’s warnings to North Korea to be credible, the United States must have well-developed military plans….” General McMaster is known to look more favorably on US military action against North Korea than do two other high-ranking members of the administration, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who urge diplomacy. President Trump has publicly belittled Tillerson’s attempts at diplomacy with North Korea.
President Trump is terrifyingly eager for war. The president has repeatedly threatened North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Recall Trump’s near-Biblical threat on August 8 to rain down on Kim “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” An editorial in the February 2 New York Times said that in his State of the Union message, President Trump
Seemed to be building a case for war on emotional grounds, invoking the case of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who died last year after being detained by North Korea. “Tonight we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with total American resolve,” [Trump] said. The Warmbier family was among the president’s guests in the gallery.
The Times added:
What makes Mr. Trump’s latest comments most alarming was the context. They were delivered as South Korean efforts to dial down the tension with the North, through dialogue and joint participation in the Winter Olympics, appeared to be bearing fruit.
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The US still has no Ambassador to South Korea. Let me help. I propose the renowned military strategist Edward Luttwak. Luttwak would bring many advantages to the job. The 75-year old Luttwak will make the 70-year old Trump feel young. Better yet, Luttwak possesses the martial spirit Victor Cha lacks. Just read Luttwak’s January 8, 2018 article in Foreign Policy: “It’s Time to Bomb North Korea.”
Like Victor Cha, Luttwak acknowledges the likelihood of a devastating North Korean artillery barrage on Seoul in the event of an American attack. Cha, however, does not berate the South Koreans for not moving their capital farther from the front lines. Luttwak does. Luttwak writes that the South Koreans had decades to relocate Seoul, build bomb shelters, and install missile defense systems. They didn’t. If South Koreans do not care about their own survival, then neither should the US.
Cha’s op-ed does not discuss China. Luttwak does. You will be glad to know that China will not intervene when the US attacks. Why, China will positively welcome the destruction of the DPRK. North Korea has gotten too “independe[nt] from Chinese influence,” Luttwak writes. Once Kim’s regime is a heap of glowing cinders, North Korea would “becom[e] a Chinese ward.” Luttwak predicts that South Korea would (voluntarily) become a Chinese, rather than a US, satellite. US strength in the Pacific would wane along with Japanese power. Then shouldn’t Luttwak be opposed to an American attack? Luttwak seems not to realize that he has undercut his own argument by showing that a US attack on North Korea would weaken, not strengthen, the US.
The ambassadorship to South Korea is one of just thousands of posts which remain unfilled twelve months after Donald Trump took office. In the State Department alone “seven of the top nine jobs” are empty, according to Bloomberg. This reflects a trend which antedates Trump’s presidency: the sidelining of diplomats in favor of the military. And it reflects Trump’s arrogance. When it comes to setting foreign policy, Trump says: “I’m the only one that matters.” And Trump doesn’t just think that about foreign policy.
In truth, the American Empire really doesn’t need a State Department. All the US needs is the Pentagon, CIA, and the National Security Advisor. That’s all the US needs to dominate the world—and to destroy it.