President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis deserve high praise for stern warnings to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who threatened to launch missiles at Guam and surround that U.S. territory with "a ring of fire."
President Trump warned North Korea "faces retaliation with fire and fury unlike any the world has seen before." Secretary Mattis declared missile strikes would result in the North’s destruction.
Hostile reporters condemned President Trump’s "reckless" language. But now credit Trump’s strong words — along with threatened sanctions against China for intellectual theft, that allegedly moved Beijing to pressure Pyongyang — with making Kim Jong-Un "blink" and retreat from the nuclear brink.
Unfortunately, this narrative misinterprets what really happened.
North Korea’s dictator probably never intended to attack Guam. Kim Jong Un’s rhetorical nuclear brinksmanship was intended to high-pressure the U.S. and its allies into surrendering to the fact of a nuclear-armed North Korea.
The technique is called "de-escalation." Kim escalated the nuclear crisis over Guam, so he could retreat (promising he might strike some other day) to give the U.S. an excuse to return to the failed path of diplomacy — while Kim deploys more ICBMs.
Under the psychological pressure of North Korea’s nuclear threats — our side cracked.
While President Trump didn’t blink the Democratic Party, many Republicans, and South Korea did.
Susan Rice blinked. President Obama’s former national security advisor, Rice wrote in The New York Times, on Aug. 10, "History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War."
Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence, General Clapper, "blinked." Clapper told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, because Pyongyang’s ICBMs can hit the U.S., we must learn to live with a nuclear North Korea.
Many Republicans blinked saying there is no practical military option for disarming Kim Jong-Un. So we must learn to live with a nuclear North Korea.
South Korea "blinked." President Moon Jae-in, according to an Aug. 14 headline in The New York Times headline "South Korea’s Leader Bluntly Warns U.S. Against Striking North." On national television, President Moon declared, "No one should be allowed to decide on a military action on the Korean Peninsula without South Korean agreement.” Moon promised he would, "Say no to the Americans."
Since Seoul would veto a U.S. disarming strike, South Korea is resigned to living with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Many foolishly celebrated when Beijing’s mouthpiece Global Times editorialized, "China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral." As if China’s public refusal to support a North Korean nuclear first strike against the United States is some sort of victory.
China has clandestinely helped North Korea become a nuclear missile threat so Beijing can conduct nuclear blackmail, and if necessary wage nuclear war, by proxy. So, of course, it should be no surprise, and is no act of friendship, that in a nuclear war against the U.S. started by North Korea, China "will stay neutral."
The press gives less attention to the next sentence in Beijing’s Global Times editorial, "If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so."
In other words, a U.S. strike on North Korea means war with China — learn to live with a nuclear-armed Kim Jong Un. So much for wrong-headed claims by U.S. analysts that China so abhors North Korea and shares our fears about the North’s increasingly aggressive nuclear threats that Beijing might support regime change.
Significantly, China probably would not publicly threaten to go to war to defend North Korea — unless Beijing believes there is little or no prospect of a U.S. disarming strike.
Given the above described retreat from the nuclear brink by Democrats, Republicans, and South Korea, China is making a safe bet that the U.S. will probably ultimately decide to try living with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Thus, President Trump’s increasingly lonely disavowals to the contrary, the result of the Guam missile crisis appears to be abandonment by the U.S. of its longstanding policy of 23 years that a nuclear-armed North Korea is unacceptable and must be prevented, if necessary by military force.
Now there is little talk of military options — except to describe their impossibility. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is begging, almost daily, for North Korea to return to the negotiating table.
We are exactly where China, Russia, and North Korea want us.
U.S. credibility is in tatters. Alliance relationships between the U.S., South Korea, and Japan are strained to the point of breaking. All are in domestic turmoil over North Korea’s nuclear threats.
We cannot live with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and should not try. During the Cold War, nuclear deterrence nearly failed many times. Our survival was miraculous.
Mr. President, the serial killer running North Korea has only two satellites and less than a dozen ICBMs that could threaten the U.S. with an EMP apocalypse. Disarm the monster — while you still can.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of "Blackout Wars."
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