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Is the American Empire Worth the Price?

“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,” Samuel Johnson observed, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

And the prospect of a future where Kim Jong Un can put a nuclear weapon on a U.S. city is going to cause this nation to reassess the risks and rewards of the American Imperium.

First, some history.

“Why should Americans be first to die in any second Korean war?” this writer asked in 1999 in “A Republic, Not an Empire.”


“With twice the population of the North and twenty times its economic power, South Korea … is capable of manning its own defense. American troops on the DMZ should be replaced by South Koreans.”

This was denounced as neo-isolationism. And, in 2002, George W. Bush declared the U.S. “will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

Bluster and bluff. In 2006, Pyongyang called and raised and tested an atom bomb. Now Kim Jong Un is close to an ICBM.

Our options?

As Kim believes the ability to hit America with a nuclear weapon is the only certain way he has of deterring us from killing his regime and him, he will not be talked out of his ICBM. Nor, short of an embargo-blockade by China, will sanctions keep him from his goal, to which he inches closer with each missile test.

As for the “military option,” U.S. strikes on Kim’s missile sites could cause him to unleash his artillery on Seoul, 35 miles south. In the first week of a second Korean war, scores of thousands could be dead.

If North Korea’s artillery opened up, says Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the U.S. would be forced to use tactical atomic weapons to stop the carnage. Kim could then give the suicidal order to launch his nukes.

A third option is to accept and live with a North Korean ICBM, as we have lived for decades with the vast nuclear arsenals of Russia and China.

Now, assume the best: We get through this crisis without a war, and Kim agrees to stop testing ICBMs and nuclear warheads.

Does anyone believe that, given his youth, his determination to drive us off the peninsula, and his belief that only an ICBM can deter us, this deal will last and he will abandon his nuclear program?

Given concessions, Kim might suspend missile and nuclear tests. But again, we deceive ourselves if we believe he will give up the idea of acquiring the one weapon that might ensure regime survival.

Hence, assuming this crisis is resolved, what does the future of U.S.-North Korean relations look like?

To answer that question, consider the past.

In 1968, North Korea hijacked the USS Pueblo on the high seas and interned its crew. LBJ did nothing. In April 1969, North Korea shot down an EC-121, 100 miles of its coast, killing the crew. Nixon did nothing.

Under Jimmy Carter, North Koreans axe-murdered U.S. soldiers at Panmunjom. We defiantly cut down a nearby tree.

Among the atrocities the North has perpetrated are plots to assassinate President Park Chung-hee in the 1960s and ’70s, the Rangoon bombing that wiped out much of the cabinet of Chun Doo-hwan in 1983, and the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858, killing all on board in 1987.

And Kim Jong Un has murdered his uncle and brother.

If the past is prologue, and it has proven to be, the future holds this. A renewal of ICBM tests until a missile is perfected. Occasional atrocities creating crises between the U.S. and North Korea. America being repeatedly dragged to the brink of a war we do not want to fight.

As Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Sunday, such a war would be “catastrophic. … A conflict in North Korea … would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”

When the lesson sinks in that a war on the peninsula would be a catastrophe, and a growing arsenal of North Korean ICBMs targeted on America is intolerable, the question must arise:

Why not move U.S. forces off the peninsula, let South Korean troops replace them, sell Seoul all the modern weapons it needs, and let Seoul build its own nuclear arsenal to deter the North?

Remove any incentive for Kim to attack us, except to invite his own suicide. And tell China: Halt Kim’s ICBM program, or we will help South Korea and Japan become nuclear powers like Britain and France.

Given the rising risk of our war guarantees, from the eastern Baltic to the Korean DMZ — and the paltry rewards of the American Imperium — we are being bled from Libya to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen — a true America First foreign policy is going to become increasingly attractive.

Kim’s credible threat to one day be able to nuke a U.S. city is going to concentrate American minds wonderfully.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.


28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Is the American Empire Worth the Price?"

#1 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 11, 2017 @ 12:24 am

“Kim’s credible threat to one day be able to be able to nuke a U.S. city is going to concentrate Americans wonderfully.”

I wouldn’t hold my breath as Trump seems hellbent on seeing a war started.

#2 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 11, 2017 @ 12:25 am

“Kim’s credible threat to one day be able to be able to nuke a U.S. city is going to concentrate Americans minds wonderfully.”

I wouldn’t hold my breath as Trump seems hellbent on seeing a war started.

#3 Comment By G Harvey On August 11, 2017 @ 7:05 am

The answer is: NO!.

The American Empire costs far too much in wasted lives and spiritual decay unto death.

#4 Comment By Kurt Gayle On August 11, 2017 @ 8:17 am

Pat speculates: “As for the ‘military option,’ U.S. strikes on Kim’s missile sites could cause him to unleash his artillery on Seoul, 35 miles south….If North Korea’s artillery opened up, says Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the U.S. would be forced to use tactical atomic weapons to stop the carnage. Kim could then give the suicidal order to launch his nukes.

FULL STOP! How might China be seeing all this?

Yesterday (Aug 10) the widely read state-run Global Times [China], published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily – but which may not necessarily represent precise, official Chinese government policy — published an editorial entitled “Reckless game over the Korean Peninsula runs risk of real war”:

“The US and North Korea have both ramped up their threatening rhetoric. The Pentagon has prepared plans for B-1B strategic bombers to make preemptive strikes on North Korea’s missile sites. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued an ultimatum to North Korea on Wednesday to ‘cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and destruction of its people.’ Meanwhile, North Korea issued plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles to land 30-40 kilometers from Guam and claimed it would finalize the plan by mid-August. Some people in Guam have already expressed panic for the first time after the end of the Cold War. The US has already got the worst of the confrontation with North Korea. Many people believe the possibility of war is very low. If war really breaks out, the US can hardly reap any strategic harvest and North Korea will face unprecedented risks. North Korea aims to propel the US to negotiate with it, while the US wants to put North Korea in check. Neither can achieve its goal, so they compete to escalate tensions, but neither wants to take the initiative to launch a war. The real danger is that such a reckless game may lead to miscalculations and a strategic ‘war.’ That is to say, neither Washington nor Pyongyang really wants war, but a war could break out anyway as they do not have the experience of putting such an extreme game under control. In the near future, it would be highly sensitive if US B-1B fighter jets fly over the Korean Peninsula or North Korea launches missiles in the direction of Guam. Both sides would upgrade their alert to the highest level. The uncertainty in the Korean Peninsula is growing. Beijing is not able to persuade Washington or Pyongyang to back down at this time. It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand. China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the US 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. China opposes both nuclear proliferation and war in the Korean Peninsula. It will not encourage any side to stir up military conflict, and will firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China’s interests are concerned. It is hoped that both Washington and Pyongyang can exercise restraint. The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should try to be the absolute dominator of the region.”


#5 Comment By Jon S On August 11, 2017 @ 8:31 am

Sign me up, Mr. Buchanan, sir.

#6 Comment By Liam On August 11, 2017 @ 9:25 am

“Halt Kim’s ICBM program, or we will help South Korea and Japan become nuclear powers like Britain and France.”

That’s no less a form of imperium (or hegemony). And China would be right to interpet it so. That Pat Buchanan can’t see that is a sign that the residue of empire has long legs even in himself.

#7 Comment By Sean Nuttall On August 11, 2017 @ 9:33 am


#8 Comment By mel profit On August 11, 2017 @ 10:01 am

My guess is it’s that “credible threat to one day nuke an American city” that has certain policy makers thinking. If NOT today, then logic suggests that now indeed is the time–maybe the last chance–to take out the chubby fella with the bad haircut.

If I were the South Koreans and Japanese, I would worry. Because the other thought tempting that certain policy maker is: just how many in Seoul and Tokyo can be acceptably sacrificed to put this matter to rest?

#9 Comment By Karen On August 11, 2017 @ 10:37 am

Uh, Mr. Buchanan, the US is positioned in South Korea not as much to defend that bisected nation but to counter the soaring Chinese influence (economically, as well as the contested island bases, etc.)

Why then would we vacate S. Korea? (Our troops are but collateral pawns — as are in the Lithium fields of Afghanistan and Oil-rich Iraq.)

#10 Comment By Michael Kenny On August 11, 2017 @ 10:41 am

The interesting question is why Kim (or Putin!) would want to nuke a US city. Cities are useless as military targets and attacking one does not disable the enemy’s capaticy to hit back. For that very reason, nuclear weapons are militarliy useless. Their only purpose is terror. The kind of terror Mr Buchanan believes Americans will capitulate to. If Kim (or Putin!) nuked a US city would Americans really capitulate or would the reaction not more likely be a Pearl Harbor-9/11 type reaction? Kim (and Putin!) have to allow for the latter possibility and that will concentrate their minds wonderfully.

#11 Comment By Dan Green On August 11, 2017 @ 10:53 am

Seems like the initial disaster of the Korean war, and inventing the DMZ, is upon us. So it looks like it is North Korea’s call, if they choose to strike first. While we may not retaliate for fear of western Democracies turning on us, who knows, if the possibility exist we could incinerate North Korea, and face the wrath of the western world. Reality is western Democracies could care less if Americans die in a conflict. We have a history of liking wars.

#12 Comment By David Walkabout On August 11, 2017 @ 11:02 am

Is the American Empire Worth the Price?

No, it is not!

#13 Comment By dee On August 11, 2017 @ 11:12 am

The problem here is that trump desperately needs a war to deflect from his Russia connections/scandal.. Korea would be more justifiable for him than Iran so that is what he will try to provoke. The bombastic language plays well to his base but wont take out the russia scandal.

#14 Comment By bacon On August 11, 2017 @ 11:45 am

“Why not move U.S. off the peninsula…” Because who pays, says, and we as a nation insist on being the one who says, everywhere, all the time. Never mind crumbling infrastructure, a society devolving into the rich and the just barely making it, poor education for the poor and rich education for the rich, no meaningful penalty for a pharmaceutical industry that makes billions from pain and despair by fueling an opioid crisis. Our political class is marinated in the myth of American exceptionalism and will always be willing to send other people’s children off to die to maintain that perceived exceptionalism.

#15 Comment By ukm1 On August 11, 2017 @ 12:18 pm

“Kim’s credible threat to one day be able to nuke a U.S. city is going to concentrate American minds wonderfully.”


How about American prestige on the world stage?

Will other nations ever respect American military power or will show respect for any American president if our current president fails to pre-emptively strike North Korea?

In the end, everything comes down to American prestige and American exceptionalism!

American govt. has to show other nations with pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea that American govt. is now ready and willing to kill millions of Korean and Japanese in order to uphold American prestige on the world stage.

What value of a human life is there if a human cannot protect, preserve and uphold his/her prestige of a lifetime?

American empire is only 75 years old and cannot just go away like the almighty British empire, like the mightiest Third Reich, or like the most brutal Roman empire!

Now, American empire must prevail at any cost where all other past military empires disappeared in the course of time.

#16 Comment By Don On August 11, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

Yeah, China is going to let us install nukes in South Korea just about as much as we let Russia do it Cuba. Isn’t happening and really shows how shallow the thinking in this article is.

Why not just write–I really could care less if the South was swallowed by the North, if they can not defend themselves, life’s a bummer. That would be an honest assessment and at least be a point to start the real debate

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 11, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

Why even sell the South Koreans weapons? Let them build their own, even if it means weaning Wall Street off the lucrative wamaking business. Weapons sales inevitably feed conflicts, and create the tit for tat escalations that we are now fearing.

#18 Comment By James Sheridan On August 11, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

Pat, the Korean AXE MURDER INCIDENT took place on August 18, 1976, which resulted soon after in what was known as “Operation Paul Bunyan”. This occurred when FORD was president, not Carter. Please be more careful in getting your facts straight.

#19 Comment By Aren Haich On August 11, 2017 @ 4:51 pm

Americans seem clearly not to care much about the safety of people living in Seoul or Tokyo: They keep shouting dire nuclear threats to North Korea over the heads of South Koreans and the Japanese.
There should now be growing talk of ‘nuclear sovereignty’ in Japan and South Korea to, independently of America, deter North Korea. US presence in the region is posing a mortal danger for the people in the region.
Japan and South Korea can very quickly manage their own defenses and make their own nuclear arsenal without American help.
Initiating independent nuclear weapon capabilities for both South Korea and Japan will ensure peace in the region for a long time to come. It will most likely also promote economic and cultural relations on the peninsula.
Mutual nuclear deterrence is what has prevented wars breaking out between Pakistan and India for several decades now.
Americans should realize that increasing impotence on the part of their empire, to dictate terms to other nations, is making the world a very dangerous place to live in.

#20 Comment By John S On August 11, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

“…let Seoul build its own nuclear arsenal to deter the North”

Sure, let’s just give up on non-proliferation and give every country nuclear weapons. That will be fun.

#21 Comment By John K Sharpe On August 11, 2017 @ 5:49 pm

My only disagreement with Pat’s article is the equivalence of Russia/China nuclear programs with the North Korean program. The previous situations with Russia/China pointing nukes is NOT the same thing having North Korea pointing nukes at you. Also, how many countries pointing nukes at you are too many? How many openly hostile countries with unstable/unpredictable leadership pointing nukes at you is too many?

#22 Comment By Murray Antoinette On August 11, 2017 @ 11:51 pm

The ax murders occurred in 1976, and were thus during the Ford administration. Who knows, they may have contributed to the election of Carter.

#23 Comment By Todd On August 11, 2017 @ 11:59 pm

You make a compelling case. My concern is that with the president we have in power, any move in this direction would make him look week – that he is fleeing in response to kim’s threats. It is a psychological hurdle that I am not sure he could contend with, even if it would be a defensible thing to do in terms of US security.

#24 Comment By Vietnam veteran On August 12, 2017 @ 9:08 am

In my lifetime, America has engaged in three major wars that ended in stalemate or defeat: Korean War, Vietnam War and the current wars in the Middle East. These ventures should be sufficient to show that American military power, vast as it may be, cannot always prevail. Yet, we continue to rely on military power as the final solution.

Mr Buchanan is correct to question whether America is now over-committed worldwide. It is not merely that we could be dragged into a war we don’t stand to gain from, it is that we don’t have the resources to engage in multi-theater conflict, and even if we did, we have plenty of evidence that despite the most courageous efforts of our fighting men and women, our undertakings do not necessarily result in success.

I note that China, which has a lot more military power than the US, does not go around the world intervening or even threatening to intervene; China builds the alliances it wants by economic, not military, power. I really cannot understand why the US cannot do the same.

#25 Comment By EK On August 12, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

If no one else will say it, I will: No the empire cost us everything worth fighting for.

I add, that Buchanan himself was one of the people who set us on this path with his mindless support of Nixon’s war in Vietnam and Kissinger’s realpolitik.

#26 Comment By David Skerry On August 13, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

Once again Pat’s got it right.Korea
belongs to the Koreans. Let them duke it out. Same reasoning applies to North Africa,a/k/a “Mideast.”

#27 Comment By SteveK9 On August 13, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

Is it worth the price? No. America has no enemies, other than those we insist on creating to keep executives at Lockheed Martin happy. We also have no need for an empire. Oil is often given as the primary reason for having one, but uranium can eliminate the need for imported oil, if we have the will. About 20 years would be sufficient (even though we have recently proved our incompetence at building these, we can correct that).

#28 Comment By chs On August 14, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

It is a no win situation. We are stuck in a situation that we can’t get out of. The only way to get out of it is through China. If we can build enough of a good relationship with Russia to concern China, then we can possibly get China to allow us to rid North Korea forever of the type despost that is now in control. But then we would have to leave South Korea – which is a good thing. But we don’t know how long South Korea would remain free from China. In the mean time we would no doubt be allowing millions of Koreans the “right” to immigrate to the United States. It is a no win situation. If we had what it took we would simply leave the region after allowing Japan to build itself up militarily.