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Why Does the U.S. Cling to an Impossible Goal on North Korea?

Walter Russell Mead doesn’t think [1] denuclearization of North Korea is an unrealistic goal:

All this is to say that the effort to denuclearize North Korea is an uphill climb. That does not mean the effort is futile or should not be made. Sometimes diplomacy is about taking a series of small steps without having the summit in view. As you trek patiently upward, new paths appear—and new choices have to be made.

Mead doesn’t explain why pursuing denuclearization isn’t futile, but just takes for granted that it isn’t. There is intense resistance among American policymakers and pundits to admit that it is never going to happen, the longer it takes us to acknowledge reality the harder it will be to craft an appropriate, relevant policy to address that reality. When a policy goal is unreachable, or if it can be reached only at extraordinary cost, it is incumbent on supporters of the existing policy to recognize that it can’t work and make the necessary changes to adapt it accordingly. There may be times when stubborn persistence pays off, but this isn’t going to be one of them.

Admitting that the last two and a half decades of North Korea policy have failed is not an appealing prospect, but we have long since passed the moment when we needed to reach that conclusion. To borrow Mead’s image, trudging up a mountain when the peak cannot be reached safely is neither admirable nor smart. It is a dangerous obliviousness to the pitfalls of continuing on the current path. The U.S. should stop listening to the people urging our government to keep marching blindly ahead towards a goal that will always remain out of reach.

Besides the embarrassment of failure, why is there such an aversion to accepting that denuclearization won’t happen? It is not because the U.S. has never had to cope with a hostile, nuclear-armed state before. The U.S. has been facing far larger threats from nuclear-armed, hostile dictatorships for decades, and it has managed those threats successfully all this time. I suspect that many people insist on denuclearization out of habit, others echo this line simply because it is the consensus view, and all of them prefer not to challenge that consensus for fear of being seen as “soft” on North Korea. My guess is that the fear of not appearing “tough” has a lot to do with this clinging to an impossible goal. For many policymakers and pundits, it is politically safer and easier to endorse a policy goal that can’t be achieved because it is considered “tough” even if it creates a more dangerous situation for the affected countries. Our foreign policy debates create and reinforce these perverse incentives, and our diplomacy needlessly suffers as a result.

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5 Comments To "Why Does the U.S. Cling to an Impossible Goal on North Korea?"

#1 Comment By Kent On February 13, 2018 @ 11:29 am

The New World Order cannot accept a new, nuclear armed nation that doesn’t fall strictly within the orbit of The One Indispensable Nation. All nations must eventually fall within the New World Order. All nations must follow the Liberal, Rules-Based Order.

To allow even one nation to be able to defend its choice to pick a different future, means others will attempt to do so. It is therefore a requirement that The One Indispensable Nation, use its power to override the Liberal, Rules-Based Order and use force, if necessary, to ensure all the peoples of globe fall within the New World Order.

#2 Comment By b. On February 13, 2018 @ 12:21 pm

“Mead doesn’t explain why pursuing denuclearization isn’t futile, but just takes for granted that it isn’t.”

What is his take on denuclearization of the US? Apparently, North Korea is not the only nation opposed to “Zero”. Would the outlook be better if we negotiated for Global Zero instead of “Local Zero”? Would North Korea feel any safer if nobody had nukes on this planet?

Would the US?

#3 Comment By b. On February 13, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

“I suspect that many people insist on denuclearization out of habit”

I suspect that Mead et.al. took the headline of “shattered dreams” for a reason. A lot of US posture, pose and published opinion is projection, assuming that the other is planning and doing as the US has planned and done. The US elites, after the end of the Cold War – or its intermission – decided that theirs was an age of the “Great Leap Forward”, the unipolar moment in which the US could become the new Rome, entrenched in supremacy and dominance for centuries to come.

These inbred elites can no longer conceive of acquiescing to a uncontested return to a world in which the US faces a peer – hence the endless scheming regarding China – or a nation with control over more territory and resources than the US that might benefit from climate change as the US suffers – Russia – or a nuclear power capable of destroying the US – Russia again – or mortally wounding it – China’s minimum means of reprisal – or another continental union – hence the endless dismissal of Europe. The US claimed imprudence and impunity as its birthright with Bush’s declaration of the first target nations, and his invasion, occupation and manipulation of Iraq.

The Iraq War happened, despite the the lies, despite the risks, despite the crimes, despite the failure, because those inbred elites understood, and approved – from the war profiteers and opportunistic careerists to the true believers. They have never been disavowed, they have not been ostracized, their privileges have not been revoked, and they are still here, and they are continuing their bipartisan project. A second tier player like Clinton can push for a target of opportunity like Libya, Obama can safely exploit openings in Ukraine, Syria or Yemen, and now Trump and the neocons/libs stand ready to proceed to Iran and North Korea – the order forced upon them by the advances the latter made.

This is not “habit”, this is an addiction to power, real or imagined, it is a fixation, a derangement that has infected almost all of the incompetent arrogance we refer to as our “political class”.

These people opinioned us into the Iraq War, aiding and abetting in a colossal circle jerk every step of the way, and they have never stopped. If they can find a way to get us into a war with North Korea, they will not hesitate.

#4 Comment By Realist On February 15, 2018 @ 3:26 am

“Why Does the U.S. Cling to an Impossible Goal on North Korea?”

To provide more wealth for the warmonger Deep State.

#5 Comment By Andrew On February 19, 2018 @ 12:37 am

Mr. Larison has brought about a question that I have never seen before. It’s true that the U.S. has dealt with nations in the past and present who have nuclear weapons that are hostile to us and the West in general, and has come out unscathed, physically at the very least. So why is our government hell-bent on a policy that makes America seem pathetic, and without a sense of direction on the world stage? Neocons and the new Liberal at play? Anyone who reads this, you should look up Greg Gutfield’s (from The Five on Fox News) comment on North Korea acting out the way it is. He provides a truly unheard of opinion.