United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has proven herself to be one of the most hawkish U.S. representatives to the UN, likely a reflection of the increasingly hawkish veer of the U.S. President Donald Trump, who had originally campaigned on anti-interventionism. On September 5th, following a nuclear weapon test conducted by North Korea a few days prior, Haley told the UN Security Council that the isolated Asian nation was “begging for war,” adding that the “time for half measures” had come to an end and “enough is enough.” She then asserted that “war is never something the United States wants — we don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited.”
Haley’s bellicose rhetoric closely followed similar statements made by Trump on Twitter on Sunday, in which he chided South Korea and China’s “appeasement” approach towards rising tensions with Pyongyang and asserted that North Korean government officials “only understand one thing” (i.e., military force).
South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2017
Having embraced “his” generals, and with little else at hand to buoy him, Trump seems increasingly war-bent.
Most mainstream media outlets and their associated pundits have found little trouble in agreeing that North Korea’s leadership is “crazy.” Furthermore, the “ease” of a non-diplomatic– i.e., military — solution is also being touted by U.S. media, suggesting that the advantages of going to war with a nuclear power greatly outweigh the risks.
Those who have followed the U.S.’ forays into ill-fated military interventions over the last several decades may notice that this narrative sounds eerily familiar. Indeed, variations of this narrative — the “mentally ill” dictator who could be easily ousted by a quick show of U.S. military might — have preceded the U.S.’ most recent interventions, all of which have proven themselves disastrous.
A Method to Kim’s “Madness”
In U.S. political discourse, it is increasingly common to hear the words “crazy” or “nuts” in relation to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, with senior U.S. politicians like John McCain having referred to him as a “crazy fat kid.” Former South Korean president Park Geun-hye had also spoken ill of Kim’s mental state, calling it “uncontrollable.”
The corporate media has also been key in driving this narrative, where the North Korean leader is frequently called a “madman,” “nut job,” or worse. He is also accused of “killing innocents” and of committing a host of other ills — just like his father, Kim Jong Il, who apparently bequeathed his “psychosis” to his eldest son.
Prior to a regime-change operation, the corporate media frequently labels the leader targeted for regime change as a dictator — often one that is mentally ill and killing his own people, thus presenting both a “humanitarian crisis” and a danger to global stability. Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, along with Kim Jong Un, have all found themselves inductees of this “club.” As political commentator Caitlin Johnstone recently pointed out “Isn’t it a trip how mental illness happens to be so prevalent among leaders who refuse to fall in line with American interests?”
However, has Kim Jong Un shown himself actually to be “crazy”?
Many analysts, as well as high-ranking U.S. officials such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have asserted that Kim Jong Un is not actually crazy. He is instead, by all indications, attempting to prevent what he perceives as an encroachment on his nation’s sovereignty. Indeed, Kim has explicitly said that he won’t use nuclear weapons, or launch an attack unless North Korean sovereignty is directly threatened.
North Korea has also been open about the fact that it would willing dismantle its nuclear arsenal and its ballistic missile program if the U.S. were to stop its annual war games with South Korea and Japan which simulate an invasion of the isolated Asian nation. The most recent of those war games began in late August and are likely responsible for North Korea’s most recent missile and weapons tests, as Pyongyang views them as aggressive and provocative in nature.
China and Russia have attempted several times to broker a diplomatic solution where the U.S. would cease its semi-annual war games with South Korea in exchange for North Korea’s dismantling of its weapons programs and observing a development moratorium for years. The U.S., under Obama, and now Trump, has rejected that possibility at every turn.
North Korea has plenty of reason to fear U.S.-led regime change as, for them, the Korean War of 1953 technically never ended. The Korean War decimated North Korean infrastructure and claimed millions of civilian lives. Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, stated that “we killed off … 20 percent of the population” and “eventually burned down every town in North Korea.” Gen. Douglas MacArthur had wanted more and planned to win the war in just 10 days by dropping “between 30 and 50 atomic bombs … strung across the neck of Manchuria.”
While little of the Korean War remains in the collective American memory, it is burned into the North Korean psyche. With North Korea having found itself a part of former President George W. Bush’s infamous “axis of evil” and being a target of potential regime change operation for decades, is its rationale for high military investments and its weapons program really so crazy?
Undoubtedly, Kim has carefully studied past U.S.-led regime change operations — namely Iraq and Libya — and learned from the mistakes of those leaders. In those cases, both Hussein and Gaddafi had dismantled their weapons programs at the U.S.’ behest, only to find themselves essentially powerless when the U.S. chose to invade soon after.
As former South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung stated last December, those who have been really watching the situation know that Kim Jong Un’s “mental state” is not the real danger. Instead, “the fear is that the United States will back the North into a corner.”
Another “quick and easy war” ad campaign
Another point currently being touted by the U.S. corporate media is that a war with North Korea would be painless since the North Korean military is “no match” for U.S. military might. For instance, Business Insider, in an article titled “Trump says the military is ‘locked and loaded’ to strike North Korea — Here’s how it would go down” cast a U.S. military intervention as a highly probable and viable option, asserting that “at some point the world’s biggest military super power may have to step in.” In its analysis, it states that “North Korea would most likely destroy some U.S. military installations, lay waste to some small portion of Seoul, and get a handful of missiles fired— but again, U.S. and allied planners would stand ready for that.” “Nobody in this whole game is going to believe that North Korea can win a war against the U.S., South Korea, and Japan,” concluded Sim Tack of Stratfor, who was interviewed for the piece.
In another cheery prognostication, a video recently produced by CNN compares the military strength of the U.S. and its regional allies to that of North Korea and China, suggesting that the “technologically superior” U.S. would be the clear victor of a potential conflict. The video, however, is incredibly simplistic in its analysis. It neglects to mention both the huge loss of life that South Korea would likely incur within minutes of a military altercation, due to North Korea’s conventional artillery and nuclear capabilities, and of course the potential of such a conflict to spread into a wider, and potentially global, war.
Such gung-ho forecasting has, of course, been buoyed by statements from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who stated that the U.S. and South Korea possess “the most precise, rehearsed, and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth.” However, even Mattis noted that a potential war would be much “more serious in terms of human suffering,” a caveat largely overlooked by a media ever hungry for war.
Of course, the American people have heard this “easy victory” line before, just as in the case of the “mentally ill” dictator who kills “innocents” narrative. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated that U.S. involvement in Iraq would last “five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that” and rejected concerns that a war in Iraq would be a “quagmire.” In Syria, media pundits asserted in 2012 that Syria’s Assad would fall to the U.S.-backed opposition “within weeks.”
The elite media's coverage of North Korea is almost as bad as its coverage of Iraq in 2003 and just as dangerous https://t.co/nHcBqqNB5D
— Jon Schwarz (@tinyrevolution) August 25, 2017
Libya was a slightly different case, as the U.S. asserted that Gaddafi’s government was not being targeted despite the bombing of Gaddafi’s personal residence and the fact that his ouster was the motivation behind the U.S.’ intervention. It was instead framed as an exclusively “humanitarian” war.
There is little reason to think that a military confrontation with North Korea would be any better. In fact, it is likely to be much worse. As opposed to Gaddafi and Hussein, who had dismantled their weapons programs prior to being invaded, Kim has strategically gone the opposite route and leads the third largest military in the world — one equipped with over 300,000 tanks, 10,000 artillery pieces, and 600 jet fighters. That’s not to mention its Scud missiles or chemical and biological weapons cache — or indeed the nuclear weapons that are allegedly the main reason for the U.S. considering intervention in the first place.
In addition, were the U.S. to lead a military intervention against North Korea, it would most likely mean going to war against China as well. In early August, China stated that it would intervene on North Korea’s behalf if the U.S. and South Korea launch a preemptive strike to “overthrow the North Korean regime.” China further noted that it would “remain neutral if North Korea were to strike first.”
In the aftermath of Haley’s UN speech, the Chinese – along with the Russians – have also rejected further U.S. demands for sanctions, after the last round saw both Russian and Chinese companies sanctioned despite their governments having cooperated with the U.S. in passing those sanctions.
Then, on Wednesday, the Chinese carried out military exercises near the Korean peninsula to practice defending against a “surprise attack” coming from “over the sea.”
“They’re not going to die here” — unless . . .
China is clearly taking the U.S.’ increasingly bellicose rhetoric very seriously — and they should. Indeed, the U.S.’ real motivations in removing North Korea’s current leadership are directly related to the U.S.’ policy of China “containment,” with the added bonus of causing chaos on both the Chinese and Russian borders. With North Korea out of the picture, the states bordering China would be largely hostile to it and full of U.S. military assets and bases. This has been a long-standing goal of American neo-conservatives and neo-liberals, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s promise that the U.S. would “ring China in missile defense.”
Of course, there is the added benefit of increased U.S. weapon sales. Much of South Korea’s and Japan’s military assets are U.S.-made and the rising tensions recently led Trump to loosen restrictions on South Korea’s maximum payload for missiles, a move that Trump noted was worth “many billions of dollars.”
While the media and the U.S. political establishment are seeing only the potential advantages to be reaped by a military invasion of North Korea, they are willfully dismissive of the millions of lives that could potentially be lost, as well as the total devastation such a war would likely bring to the Korean peninsula.
Their mentality is encapsulated in the words of the war-loving Senator Lindsey Graham, who noted:
If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here.”
This mindset is gravely concerning and suggests that those at the helm of the U.S. military and government have few qualms about re-enacting, or even exceeding, the carnage of the Korean War, with its death toll of over 2 million.
Now, they are selling that war with the same narrative as Iraq and Libya in an attempt to convince Americans that North Korea is not only necessary but also an easy win. And this is to say nothing about the grotesque precedent such a conflict would leave in its wake.
Without the sales pitch, Americans would be unwilling to support the potential deaths of millions just to further their government’s China containment policy and desperate clinging to global hegemony.
Top photo | U.S. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of Combined Forces Command, center, salutes with incoming Deputy Commander Gen. Kim Byung-joo, left rear, and outgoing Deputy Commander Gen. Leem Ho-young, right, in a car, at a U.S. military base, in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 11, 2017. U.S. and South Korean military officials later engaged in large-scale military exercises later that month. (AP/Lee Jin-man)