Trump won’t nominate Victor Cha to be the ambassador to South Korea at least partly because he didn’t support launching a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea. Cha explains in an op-ed why the “bloody nose” option is a very bad and dangerous one:
Some may argue that U.S. casualties and even a wider war on the Korean Peninsula are risks worth taking, given what is at stake. But a strike (even a large one) would only delay North Korea’s missile-building and nuclear programs, which are buried in deep, unknown places impenetrable to bunker-busting bombs. A strike also would not stem the threat of proliferation but rather exacerbate it, turning what might be a North Korean moneymaking endeavor into a vengeful effort intended to equip other bad actors against us.
Cha is certainly more hawkish on North Korea than many other critics of the administration’s policy, but attacking North Korea is still a bridge too far even for him. The fact that he is going public with his objections to an attack tells us that he believes that Trump and his advisers are seriously considering doing just that. It has been comforting to think that Trump, McMaster, et al. must be bluffing about military action against North Korea because it is such an obviously crazy and reckless option, but there have been too many warning signs that it is not a bluff. They may actually think they can get away with attacking a nuclear-armed, paranoid dictatorship without provoking disaster.
While Trump did not explicitly threaten preventive war or regime change last night, there are some eerie parallels between his administration’s rhetoric on North Korea over the last few months and the Bush administration’s push for invading Iraq. We see this in administration officials’ rejection of deterrence and the suggestion that preventive war is an appropriate option, we see it in their conflation of the regime’s crimes against its own people with its supposed willingness to attack the U.S. and our allies, and we see it again in their dismissive attitude towards anyone who actually knows something about the relevant region. There is the same demagogic manipulation and fear-mongering at work that we saw in 2002, and there is the same glib belief in the efficacy of military action to fix international problems. Once again, we have an ill-informed, inexperienced president who is easily manipulated by his advisers into endorsing aggressive measures.
It might have seemed far-fetched in January 2002 that the U.S. would be invading Iraq in the spring of the following year, but the groundwork for an attack was already being laid. We should take administration officials seriously when they tout the so-called “benefits” of preventive war, and Americans should be organizing against an attack on the assumption that this administration intends to launch one in the future. The last time an administration argued that deterrence was inadequate and preventive war was the answer, they followed through on their belligerent rhetoric. We ought to assume that Trump will do the same until he gives us compelling reasons to think otherwise.