For 65 years, Americans have been scared of North Korea. Last time we dealt with the Kim family, we suffered a bloody war, which, though it’s fading into history, still screams “caution.” We don’t want to put South Koreans “in harm’s way” or start a war with the Chinese.
A bit of history. The battle-hardened U.S. Army and Marines executed a classic flanking maneuver in the fall of 1950, culminating in the 1st Marines landing at Wonsan and advance to the Yalu River.
The Chinese Communist People’s Liberation Army struck the 1st Marines on a bitterly cold 27 November, 1950. As eight divisions of the PLA attempted to destroy the Marines, they fought a fierce withdrawal, suffering 4,000 casualties–but inflicting nearly 25,000 on the Chinese forces.
Despite committing nearly a half-million men to the task, the Chinese were not able to destroy the 1st Marines. As the battle slogged into 1952, despite peace negotiations, fighting continued until the truce of 27 July went into effect at 10 p.m. (2200) local time. A state of war, technically and legally, still exists between the two Koreas, with only the truce holding.
Truly, everyone in South Korea is, and has been in harm’s way for 65 years.
The Chinese have moved somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 troops to the North Korean border, according to numerous news reports. That’s not to come sweeping down on American and ROK forces as they charge to the Yalu River. It’s to keep a million or more North Korean refugees from flooding across the river into northeast China.
China wants just a few things, which President Trump is in a position to (mostly) guarantee.
First, they don’t want a million North Korean refugees streaming into China. Second, they don’t want a hostile government controlling a country on the Korean peninsula bordering China. Third, they don’t want an unstable situation in North Korea where they have to spend money and manpower achieving the first two things. (One more thing, they don’t want nukes popping anywhere near their borders, for the obvious reasons. This includes Seoul or anywhere on the peninsula.)
For the scaredy cats: one day, the world is going to have to deal with a unified Korea. This isn’t a far-off, neverland thing. An isolated, nuclear-armed, ICBM-equipped North Korea has to be a nonstarter for everyone at the table, including the Chinese. Even the scaredy cats at the Washington Post acknowledge “as long as North Korea remains a giant prison camp, the long-term problem will not have been solved.”
I believe Trump aims to solve the long-term problem of North Korea’s nuclear/ICBM ambitions. Either the Norks won’t have a nuclear/missile program, because the U.S. and/or China will deny it to them, or there will be regime change in North Korea. China hates the thought of all-out war on the Korean peninsula. But they may not have the level of influence and control over key “wants” of the Kim family to diffuse this.
It could be more in China’s interest to overthrow Kim and replace him with a China-friendly military junta, which is willing to give up the nukes and missiles, and even pursue some more friendly relations with South Korea, than to back Kim. Backing Kim would only embolden him in his war stance and extreme invective.
Kim stated Monday, “[The increased U.S. naval presence] has created a dangerous situation in which thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and poses a serious threat to world peace and security.”
Thermonuclear war? The Norks can barely field a first- or second-generation atomic weapon. Thermonuclear (H-bomb) weapons are well beyond their capability. Obviously, any kind of nuclear weapons is a nightmare scenario, and Kim might find himself desperate enough to take steps closer toward a confrontation with the U.S. using whatever weapons he possesses.
That would be a mistake. Trump means what he says, whether it be Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Tillerson, or Trump’s own tweets. If Kim tries to bluster or brinksmanship his way out of what it considers a normal cycle of U.S. threats and condemnation, he will fail, and Trump will order actual military attacks. Those attacks will make what happened in Syria look like an ROTC drill.
The Norks will not know what hit them. The U.S. military has its assets ready and in the theater for this strike. The Chinese are taking Trump seriously.
It’s really not the time for scaredy cats like Walt Shapiro to advise Trump to “resist his inner MacArthur.” Yes, yes, we know that the Korean War became a quagmire and a stalemate because U.S. leaders didn’t believe that the Chinese would join the war. Yes, we know that the Chinese don’t want American forces charging up from the 38th parallel to the Yalu River.
But this time it’s different. The Chinese are more on our side now, because a nuclear and ICBM-equipped North Korea makes it more likely, not less, that an unfriendly government will rule the Korean peninsula (or the whole region will be a sea of glass, which is far worse).
It’s time to deal with North Korea–sorry, scaredy cats. Trump said we’d do it with or without the Chinese. He really means it.