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Posted by on Aug 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 4 comments

Ersatz Experts Spewing Nonsense on North Korea

 

 

Ersatz Experts Spewing Nonsense on North Korea:  

A By-the-Decades Look as to Why the United States Had Few Other Options in Dealing With the World’s Emerging Nuclear Pariah

 

Plenty of ludicrous comments about the North Korean nuclear crisis are floating around social media right now.

They’re being spewed mostly by ersatz experts — petty armchair partisans who have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about.

Some of these crackpot ideas can be dismissed easily and perhaps should even be ignored.  However, given the appalling lack of mainstream knowledge about the unique history of this part of the world, now seems like the perfect occasion to examine things from a broader perspective.  My goal in this article is to try and disprove and then correct this false narrative which I believe undermines any solution to what has become a very dangerous problem.

The most widespread criticism (and naivete) goes as follows:

We should have done something much sooner about North Korea.  

In other words, the United States (with or without its allies) should have taken some decisive measure to deter — if not demolish outright — North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and stymie its intercontinental missile system.  What military action we should have taken precisely, and when exactly, isn’t really clear.  But, we’ll get to these sticky issues a bit later.

President Donald Trump and his legions of imbeciles point an accusatory finger at the previous Administration for the problem.  They claim President Barack Obama (and their favorite punching bag — former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton) didn’t do nearly enough to prevent North Korea from reaching this dangerous apex of military advancement.  Trump’s partisans also accuse other previous presidents, namely George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, of kicking the nuclear tin can down the highway for the next guy to deal with.

At first glance, this complaint might seem to have legitimacy.  However, the claim is demonstrably false and illogical, as I’m about to prove.

Let’s be clear.  The Korean War did not end.  The Korean War even continues to this day.  Sure, the United States (and other UNC forces) stopped fighting way back in July 1953 when a fragile armistice was signed on both sides of what’s now become the DMZ.  However, both North and South Korea are still technically intertwined by hostilities and remain locked in a perpetual state of conflict.  Let’s not project the advantages of our geographic distance away from the conflict (some 6,000 miles) onto a common people divided by politics and ideology who might have to bear the terrible cost of our miscalculations, if things were to spin out of control.

The fragile political and military balance which has existed on the Korean Peninsula for the past 64 years since the last shots were fired is far more complicated today by South Korea’s burgeoning economic success.  This makes them perilously vulnerable to destruction if a war were to break out.  Seoul, which is South Korea’s biggest metropolis, lies exposed only 37 miles from the North Korean border and could probably be wiped out within a half hour if the asinine “fire and fury” ramblings of the President were to come true.

Accordingly, I pose the following questions to those who insist that “we should have done something sooner.

[1]  What precisely should or could have been done to prevent the current crisis?  Please point to the exact year when North Korea should have been invaded by U.S.-led forces with the objective of overthrowing that detestable regime.  Give me WHEN, as in the year.

[2]  Provide details as to how we should have gone about invading North Korea.  Let’s remember, three years of bitter hostilities between 1950-1953 cost nearly 55,000 American lives, and failed to accomplish this objective.  Give me HOW, as in how things would turn out differently the next time.

If you’re drawing a blank, but still want to pin the blame on previous Administrations, then let me provide a historical timeline, by decades.  Allow me to examine some of the alternative options of attack, along with my conclusions:

1950’s — The United States reached the height of its military and economic power and influence during the ’50’s.  Much of the world was either in rebuilding phase after the destruction of World War II, or was in disarray.  However, with so many potential flash points emerging given the spread of communism around the globe (especially in Asia and Latin America), the U.S. could not continue waging the Korean conflict without enormous costs and risks, especially with Red China backing the Northern side with both military support and manpower.  Conclusion:  The U.S. had already tried to unite the two divided Koreas, but failed.

1960’s — As things turned out, the United States did engage in a catastrophic land war in Asia lasting nearly a decade, but it wasn’t in Korea.  It was Vietnam.  That costly war resulted in the loss of 57,000 American lives and ended in defeat.  We found out that the old conventional ways of fighting wars didn’t work as well anymore, particularly in jungles and among cultures we didn’t understand.  Conclusion:  If anyone thought invading North Korea would be easy, just remember what happened in Vietnam.

1970’s — Had the United States foolishly launched an attempt to invade North Korea during the 1970’s, the consequences could have been disastrous.  Detente (the world’s first nuclear arms agreement between the US and USSR) would certainly not have taken place.  Moreover, President Richard Nixon’s opening of diplomatic and trade relations with the People’s Republic of China would clearly not have happened, at least until many years later.  An invasion of North Korea might have brought the world to the brink of World War III, instead of being a period of peaceful transition and successful diplomacy.  Later, the downfall of the Shah of Iran in 1978 would also lead to an entirely new regional conflict for America.  Conclusion:  There’s no way the US would have invaded North Korea after its bitter experience in Vietnam.  

1980’s — The Reagan-Bush years brought an era of tough talk, but turned out to be a relatively peaceful period.  By decade’s end, many once-hostile governments to the West had been overthrown (the USSR and most communist governments of Eastern Europe collapsed by 1990).  There were genuine reasons for optimism that China, too, might undergo a revolution.  Recall Tiananmen Square.  Predictions of communism’s implosion even extended to North Korea.  Given so much of its military and economic support had come directly from the USSR and PRC (both in a state of flux), many experts thought it was just a matter of time before hardliners in North Korea met the same fate of other dictators, such as Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu, a Kim Il-sung protege who was shot after being overthrown in a mass uprising.  Conclusion:  Once again, there was no compelling reason to invade North Korea at the time, given the events happening throughout the world which were very good for democracy.

1990’s — In the aftermath of communism’s collapse in many countries, it seemed that either one of two things would happen in North Korea:  (1) It would experience its own revolution, or (2) Kim Il-sung, who had been the country’s only premier since its inception in 1948, would finally die and be replaced by a more moderate leader.  “Dear Leader” did indeed die in 1994, and for a time, even though he was replaced by his son Kim Jong-il, it did appear that North Korea might be moving towards reform.  For instance, the North Koreans signed a new disarmament agreement, a first for the regime.  The country also experienced a terrible famine lasting four years that killed over a million citizens, leading many to believe the regime would not be able to stay in power much longer.  Conclusion:  Though North Korea was arguably at its weakest point ever during this decade, it remains hard to justify why an invasion and/or overthrow of the government would have been necessary.

2000’s — America’s vision of the world and its future changed completely on 9/11/01.  In light of the worst attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor, the national focus pivoted to the Middle East, not Asia.  Military units were dispatched to Afghanistan, and later to Iraq (under false pretenses that should have been prosecuted).  Those two pointless wars stretched our military capabilities to their limit.  Hence, while it’s easy now to blame the Bush Administration and ask why something wasn’t done about North Korea, perhaps the better question to ask would be what was the whole point of waging two trillion-dollar wars with no end in sight in the Middle East?  In 2002, North Korea pulled out of the non-nuclear proliferation agreement it had previously signed.  Conclusion:  The U.S. already had its hands full with two brutal wars in the Middle East, threats of domestic terrorism, and couldn’t afford another major war in Asia.

2010 — present — President Obama inherited two of the longest-lasting wars in American history as well as the worst economy since the Great Depression.  By 2012, Egypt had been overthrown, Libya fell and exploded into chaos, the Syrian Civil War began, and ISIS was formed.  Iran also ramped up its nuclear ambitions (which were suspended following successful negotiations resulting in the Iran Nuclear Deal — which appears to be working).  Given all the attention on the Middle East and the emerging scourge of global terrorism, just how or where the United States could have possibly come up with the money or manpower to overthrow another nation which up to this point had been contained for six decades is anyone’s guess.  Conclusion:  Simply put, anyone who looks back at the events of the past eight years and still insists the U.S. should have invaded North Korea has to show where was the imminent danger and where the money and manpower would have come from.

Naturally, hindsight is far easier than foresight.  Anyone can boldly claim now what should have been done earlier.  But even if we knew back then what we know today, I’m still perplexed as to when any previous Administration could have opted for a successful military option in dealing with North Korea.  Again, if anyone thinks otherwise — please point to the precise year and exact means of producing regime change.  Propose an alternative.  I’m all ears.

The bottom line is this:  There never was a good time to invade North Korea nor to overthrow any of the three Kim regimes.  The current state of affairs — a North Korea with nukes — was probably even inevitable given so many other international conflicts and priorities, combined with our painfully naive exaggeration of supposed American military superiority.  Any belief that North Korea could be defeated easily is folly, proven by our dismal past failure in Vietnam and the continuing costly military stalemate in Afghanistan which appears to have no end.

 

4 Comments

  1. Outstanding! A thorough, thoughtful and level-headed statement on a geopolitical topic that some think is “easy” to solve. Now if we only had personnel in the WH that could manage to rub two brain cells together and think the same way.

  2. Interesting and quite possibly correct as pertaining to the past. But the only question we are presented with today is ‘what do we do now’. The answer is – assuming China does not stop this guy – we must take out their nuclear capabilities. ‘That’ we can do in large part. There will not be retaliation of any consequence as their leader will be eliminated by their generals or China as they will not be willing to commit suicide for ‘the fatherland’. With 99.8% probability, the supposed question – and outcome – is a no-brainer. Kinda like the Gulf War, i.e. minimal casualties on our side. We (and Seoul) win. East Asia will be reasonably stable for awhile, which it would never be if that guy gets nukes.

    • That is so far from reality it sounds like a Trump tweet.
      What about the 15,000 hardened artillery pieces aimed at South Korea with up to 25 million civilians in range, as well as almost 30,000 US troops and their families. The first bomb goes off anywhere, they all launch.
      And what if they have a Masada like plan where they detonate a nuke on the South Korea border to wipe out Seoul along with half their country?
      Minimal casualties? Minimal thinking.

  3. Good analysis, but ignores the main practical point, which is: What could we have done, diplomatically or economically, to persuade China to cooperate in reining in North Korea?

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