The New Phase of the Korean War–a possible explanation
The United States has had difficult relations with North Korea, ever since Harry Truman refused to permit the American military to end the Korean War in victory. Truman’s lack of resolve, coupled with the American elite’s obsession with global Americanization, has meant a long string of failures: Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Iran, and Iraq. Ever since I grew old enough to think I had the right to answer questions of such scope, I have given the same answer, whenever anyone has asked me what to do: Fish or Cut Bait! Either leave other people alone or, if we have to fight, then let us not waste money and resources and moral authority by fighting for anything less than victory.
How the Bushes or Obama could look parents of dead soldiers in the eye and say, “Your child did not die in vain” without laughing, I cannot imagine. Of course they died in vain and for nothing, though that does not mean that their willingness to fight for what they imagined to be their country’s security and interest is not worthy of respect. On the contrary. Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, they did what the leaders of their country asked them to do. Too bad that neither American presidents nor American leaders have the slightest concern for the American people.
We never signed an actual peace treaty with North Korea, and, ever since the inauguration of Donald Trump, the North Koreans have been upping the ante. Many normal Americans—and by “normal” I mean people whose minds and soul have not been rotted by ambition and greed, in other words, non-politicians and non-journalists—have been asking: Why? Some of them are foolish enough to ask me. What do I know? I hardly know any more than Sean Hannity or Anderson Cooper, whose ignorance is something astounding. So, I am not going to pretend to know anything except, perhaps, what a detective writer might conjecture, if he were writing a novel or screenplay. In the famous formulation of Sherlock Holmes, the detective must eliminate all the impossible clues and suspects until he finds the answer, no matter how improbable.
In my scenario, then, we begin by eliminating the most obvious impossibility. The first is that the entire Korean regime consists of madmen who are either desperate to commit suicide or else think, in a nuclear conflict, toe-to-toe with the Americans, they can conquer the world. Maybe Kim Jong Fortunecookie (I am sure everyone gets this allusion) is as nuts as Barack Obama—and for the same reason: Sycophants have done their best to isolate him from reality. But, even if he is, surely not all the people who are actually running that prison camp are insane.
Suppose we concede some degree of rationality to the North Korean regime. Why do they insist on developing both long-range missiles and nuclear weapons? The answer to that one was given some years ago by an Indian Prime Minister. After the US illegally and immorally bombed Belgrade and Novi Sad in Serbia, some reporter asked the PM if, considering the history of tense relations between India and the US, he feared a strike on his own country. He answered simply and to the point: India has nuclear weapons, and no nuclear power had to fear US aggression. North Koreans do in fact have good reason to develop their weapons systems, but the most elementary prudence dictates discretion and diplomacy rather than provocation and apocalyptic rhetoric.
One conventional speculation—one that I agree with—is that Kim, like most tinpot dictators, has to spring these stunts for domestic consumption, to show that he really is a threat to major powers. That is certainly a strong underlying motive, which partly explains the bizarre behavior of Saddam Hussein among others. But he has gone much farther than Saddam in actually threatening the use of force against the United States, both generally—claiming to be able to hit major American cities—and specifically, that he is about to launch a missile strike either on or near Guam, a third of which is occupied by US military installations. A certain amount of posturing is de rigeur for dictatorial regimes, but Kim has gone much too far, if the only point is saving face with his terrorized subjects.
Guam, lying roughly halfway between Australia and Korea, is an excellent point of attack for anyone wishing to challenge American hegemony in the Pacific. Suppose—and this is somewhere between highly improbable and impossible—suppose the US could be bullied out of Guam. Who stands to benefit? China and to some extent Russia, though in the latter case, they must certainly fear the Chinese at least as much as they fear the Americans.
But, we can go further with this cui bono line of questioning. In general, in whose interest is it to reduce or even eliminate American influence in Asia? Again, the only real answer is China. Does that mean that China is egging North Korea into nuclear war? Of course not. But what if they have made a deal with Kim? His part would be to create as much furor as he can all the way up to the threat of war. All the Koreans have to do is to let Kim be Kim, a leader as ridiculous and vain as his pal Dennis Rodman. For their part, the Chinese need only sit back and make quiet noises about the need for more discrete diplomacy from the Trump administration, implicitly equating the crazy Kim with the equally crazy Donald. Finally, when the situation seems out of control, the Chinese will step in as honest brokers and produce a solution that will impress all of Asia with the superior wisdom and power of the Children of Heaven.
This ending to the crisis would probably not result in a complete defeat of US influence in Asia, but, viewed in retrospect fifty years hence, it would mark a decisive turning point, when South Korea and Japan began to realize that they could no longer rely on their American big brother to protect them against the emerging hegemonic power.
Long ago, some wise guy tried to summarize the reasons for the American defeat in Korea. He said, the Americans played chess, while the Chinese played Go. In chess, the point is a disciplined aggression to seize the king, while in Go, the object of both parties is to develop major and minor lines of force, because, while concentrating your power in one sector, a player also must insert distractions into his opponent’s sector—sort of like what the Chinese did in sticking their fingers into the Panama canal and elsewhere in our hemisphere. Of course, all aggressive countries do the same thing—hence the struggle over control of the Ukraine—but the Chinese do it consistently and rigorously. Perhaps this wise guy was a complete fool, but, after losing hundreds of games of Go to a mentally unbalanced friend who could not touch me in chess, I developed a healthier respect for Chinese and Japanese strategists.
Years ago, a friend of mine in military intelligence and a student of what he calls “strategic deception,” explained to me that Nixon’s trip to China, which seemed like a great American victory, was actually a propaganda victory for the Chinese. The Chinese leaders should have walked out on the tarmac to greet the American President. Instead, Nixon had to walk—being filmed all the way—to pay homage and obeisance (as it was portrayed in the press all over Asia) to his feudal superior: one more act in a never-ending drama of barbarians submitting to the enlightened rule of the Emperor.
I am far from claiming that that my little scenario provides the answer. There may be no one answer, only answers. It may be that Kim is crazy enough to be playing a lone hand, while the Chinese are merely “instrumentalizing” the crisis for their own purposes. It hardly matters, because the Chinese are playing the long game, as usual, and, as usual, they are playing to win.