North Korea: Does Trump want to attack?
“Donald Trump has provided no shortage of ominous signals about his intentions for the Korean Peninsula,” said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. But in recent weeks, the president has dropped strong hints he is ready to move beyond his heated “fire and fury” rhetoric. Last week, the White House scrapped its plan to nominate respected Korean academic Victor Cha as ambassador to South Korea, after Cha spoke out against a “bloody nose” attack on Kim’s regime reportedly being considered by Trump. Cha said the plan to send a message to Kim with a limited attack was “strategically incoherent,” and would likely get “tens of thousands of people killed.” During Trump’s State of the Union speech, the president sent more alarming signals, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. To generate rage, Trump invited the parents of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died following his brutal imprisonment in North Korea. To generate fear, Trump then warned that Kim’s ICBMs will soon “threaten our homeland.” It sounds like “Trump is serious about starting a war.”
In theory, giving Kim a bloody nose is an “appealing notion,” said Jamie McIntyre in WashingtonExaminer.com. The next time the bellicose dictator launches a missile or nuclear test, “the U.S. military would flex its massive military muscle” and remind him who’s boss. In reality, though, even a limited strike “would be a major gamble” and might result in all-out war. Indeed, the Pentagon is reportedly reluctant to give Trump any detailed military options for fear he’ll order one of them. Kim would see any U.S. attack as a humiliation and an existential threat to his regime, said Jay Bookman in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In response, the young despot would likely unleash his artillery and rockets on Seoul, killing as many as a million people.
We need to remember that Kim’s main priority is his dynasty’s survival, said Isaac Stone Fish in TheAtlantic.com. The odds that he’ll launch a preemptive attack that would guarantee his own regime’s annihilation are “vanishingly slim”—with one “very rare exception.” Kim will strike first only if he believes a U.S. attack on him is imminent. As the Trump administration “hypes the North Korean threat” and openly threatens to attack Pyongyang, it’s increasing the likelihood that Kim will panic—risking the “first great war of the 21st century.” ■