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Don’t Mention the (Libyan) War

Pence repeated Trump’s reckless threat against North Korea yesterday:

US Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea that it could end up like Libya if it fails to make a nuclear deal with Washington.

“There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence said Monday.
When it was noted that the comparison could be interpreted as a threat, Pence told Fox News: “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”

It was bad enough when Trump blurted this out last week, but saying it a second time on purpose makes things worse. Repeatedly bringing up the 2011 Libyan war in connection with North Korea diplomacy is either proof of the administration’s ineptitude or an attempt at deliberate sabotage of the negotiations. When Pence says that “this will only end like the Libyan model ended” if Kim doesn’t make a deal, he is repeating a threat to attack, overthrow, and kill Kim unless he surrenders his government’s nuclear weapons. Kim assumes that Gaddafi’s error was in agreeing to dismantle his much less advanced nuclear program in exchange for normalization and security guarantees, so he is not going to take his chances by handing over nuclear weapons. He certainly won’t do that when he is being threatened with an attack if he doesn’t play ball. The threat is as obnoxious as it is crazy, and if it were carried out could even lead to a nuclear exchange. It will just confirm the North Korean government in its belief that it needs a nuclear deterrent for self-preservation, and it will poison the atmosphere at the summit if the threat isn’t retracted publicly.

The best thing that every member of the Trump administration could do from now on is to stop mentioning Libya and stop making comparisons to what happened to Gaddafi for the rest of Trump’s term. They obviously don’t understand or don’t care how alarming all this Libya talk is to the North Korean side, and the more they bring it up the worse it will be for making any diplomatic progress. What makes this “Libyan model” talk especially worrisome for the U.S. and its allies is that Trump and Pence may be seriously contemplating launching an attack on North Korea if the negotiations don’t yield the impossible results they expect. The administration’s dangerous rhetoric needs to be identified and called out for what it is, and members of Congress need to make clear that the president doesn’t have the authority to order an attack on North Korea on his own.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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