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McMaster’s ‘Messianic Fervor’ on North Korea

John Feffer comments [1] on the abortive Cha nomination and the possibility of a U.S. attack on North Korea:

The rejection of Victor Cha is a very disturbing sign of the thinking inside the Trump administration.

“I thought the Trump administration was bluffing on a preventive strike,” says Tom Wright, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings. “But the news about Cha no longer being nominated is the type of costly signaling that convinces me I may have been wrong. They are seriously considering it.”

That comment from Wright reminded me of this Susan Glasser article [2] that I read earlier this morning. Glasser writes:

Another veteran U.S. government North Korea watcher told me recently that McMaster and other White House officials shared a “messianic fervor” about confronting Kim on his nuclear weapons that made them much more serious about a military course of action. “They view it as a moment in history,” the former official said. “If people have to die it may be better to let them die now.” [bold mine-DL]

That description may sound like an exaggeration, but it lines up pretty well with what we have heard from McMaster and other public supporters of an attack on North Korea. One of the recurring themes in their statements [3] is the idea that the U.S. is “running out of time,” [4] as if North Korea didn’t already have nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. That suggests that the advocates of an attack imagine that there is still an opportunity to “prevent” a threat to the U.S. from emerging. They are wrong about that, but they aren’t paying attention to the evidence that they are. Another ugly notion that keeps cropping up among hard-liners is that it is better to attack North Korea now so that people die “over there” [5] instead of here in America. If McMaster and other officials in the White House take for granted that North Korea is undeterrable and a major war is inevitable, they might actually believe that it is better to start the war sooner. This is fanatical thinking that is misinformed by a deeply flawed understanding of the North Korean regime, but we need to take seriously that this is how top officials in the Trump administration are thinking about this issue.

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "McMaster’s ‘Messianic Fervor’ on North Korea"

#1 Comment By Centralist On February 12, 2018 @ 10:09 am

It is easy to start a war, harder to end it. I think a war in Korea will likely break our military in a way we do not understand yet and prove to our allies we can not be trusted. The final rise of China seems a promise if their leadership plays it right. I am thinking Teddy during the Russo-Japanese War. Though my logic maybe wrong.

#2 Comment By Gates On February 12, 2018 @ 10:17 am

“I think a war in Korea will likely break our military in a way we do not understand yet and prove to our allies we can not be trusted.”

Our treatment of Turkey is already undermining allied trust in the United States. If we can’t back a NATO ally as it fights terrorists on its own borders, what the hell can anyone else expect from us? It’s starting to look as though the real way to get the US to reliably help you out is to use the Israeli approach: buy American politicians.

#3 Comment By rayray On February 12, 2018 @ 11:44 am

@Centralist
This may explain some of the Chinese quiescence during all this madness. I’m not an “America First” person because what this generally seems to mean is fearful bigotry and the empowerment of the worst.

That said, one can only speculate on the success we would have if we stopped playing self-important bully the foreign theater for a moment, cut the defense budget in half, and with some modicum of fiscal integrity, began to re-invest in our own country. What would be the effects of a pivot over to investment in education, alternative energy, a new GI bill, infrastructure…

Maybe America would be great again.

#4 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On February 12, 2018 @ 12:32 pm

Hubris brings nemesis. “Shining city on a hill”? “The only superpower”?

Notions that, if not taken with nuance, will lead to disaster.

“plato told

him:he couldn’t
believe it(jesus

told him;he
wouldn’t believe
it)lao

tsze
certainly told
him,and general
(yes

mam)
sherman;
and even
(believe it
or

not)you
told him:i told
him;we told him
(he didn’t believe it,no

sir)it took
a nipponized bit of
the old sixth

avenue
el;in the top of his head:to tell

him”

Old ee told him, but he probably hasn’t even read it . . .

#5 Comment By b. On February 12, 2018 @ 12:52 pm

Mattis et.al. think North Korea does not yet have ICBMs capable of hitting the continental US in sufficient numbers to overwhelm the 50% GMD and with sufficient accuracy to hit US cities, and they think they are dealing with boosted fission warheads, not full-out H-bombs.

There is a decent chance that they are right about that.

So yes, they have decided – already, at the beginning of this campaign of confrontation – that it is better to *make* not “let” people die, and that it is better to sacrifice South Koreans now then be constrained in their impunitive “freedom of operations ops” soon.

We would also to well to consider that Trump is obsessed with his “standing” and, as the clock is running out on his presidency by 2020, that will more and more translate into leaving his mark in the history books, given that he will never be adequately loved in the present. What easier way to get into the history book then as the first President since Truman to conjure a reasoning for using nuclear weapons?

#6 Comment By b. On February 12, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

So yes, both the US and Trump are indeed running out of time, as long as one takes their unreasonable demands for compliance as a given.

#7 Comment By Jay C On February 12, 2018 @ 1:06 pm

Another ugly notion that keeps cropping up among hard-liners is that it is better to attack North Korea now so that people die “over there” instead of here in America.

What makes it even uglier is that (as McMaster and the other hawks in the Administration surely know) in said scenario, most of the dead “over there” are likely to be Korean – from either side of the border – casualties whose cavalier dismissal by too many US officials is certainly not going go play well “over there”. As if the Trumpoids care….

#8 Comment By Cornel Lencar On February 12, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

Looking into South Korean and Japan news, the nuclear threat posed by North Korea seems very low. Only the US is hysterical about it.

I give a high probability that if the Americans do something very drastic with NK, with lots of people dying, the popular feeling in SK, having their blood relatives cruelly killed by the imperial force occupying their country, will dramatically turned against the U.S. and asked for their immediate departure.

But probably, as in the invaded Syria, US will claim that they are just defending themselves. 1984 – George Orwell – double speak – war is pace – attack is defense.

It appears to me that the former USSR was never the evil empire.

#9 Comment By Richard W. Bray On February 12, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

@ Grumpy Old Man

Ah, yes. e.e. cummings is awfully relevant these days:

as freedom is a breakfastfood
or truth can live with right and wrong
or molehills are from mountains made
—long enough and just so long
will being pay the rent of seem
and genius please the talentgang
and water most encourage flame

#10 Comment By O’Brien On February 12, 2018 @ 2:59 pm

If Korea truly fears an American attack, they will do everything they can to get their nuclear warhead and missile designs spread to the four corners of the world. America will be faced with the necessity of launching preemptive attacks on a dozen countries. McMaster will create a hydra headed monster of Islamic and Asian nuclear proliferation, because it will be obvious that the United States will not hesitate to use those weapons on “them.” I don’t think this is the kind of target rich environment the US wants to create.

#11 Comment By Matt D. On February 13, 2018 @ 2:38 am

How depressing. I mean, on the one hand, it really would be pathetic if we toppled Saddam purportedly over WMD but we let NK get them consequence-free. But this really is not about us. This is bigger than our petty sense of pride. We are a major nation, not a spoiled teenage brat.

If we launched a preemptive attack, I feel that we would be grievously in the wrong. God would punish us.

#12 Comment By cka2nd On February 13, 2018 @ 6:39 pm

Cornel Lencar says: “It appears to me that the former USSR was never the evil empire.”

Many Afghans would appear to agree with you, judging from the recent spate of articles on the state of Soviet-era infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. There’s also apparently a residual sense of good will in Africa for North Korea dating back to its support for the anti-colonial struggle and assistance to emerging states of post-colonial Africa. One can never forget or allow to be repeated the numerous crimes, foreign but especially domestic, of the Stalinists, but he world is a far worse and more dangerous place with ONE capitalist and imperialist superpower, RAMPANT and triumphant.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 13, 2018 @ 11:23 pm

“White House take for granted that North Korea is undeterrable and a major war is inevitable, they might actually believe that it is better to start the war sooner. This is fanatical thinking that is misinformed by a deeply flawed understanding of the North Korean regime, but we need to take seriously that this is how top officials in the Trump administration are thinking about this issue.”

And for that they would need to get a declaration of war from Congress.