Politics Turn — Trump Legislative Win Critical to Avoid North Korean Strike

Politics Turn — Trump Legislative Win Critical to Avoid North Korean Strike

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Without a legislative win, Trump will initiate a war against Korea

Christopher Preble, 8-9-17, Preeble, is vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute and the author of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free [11]. National interest, This is How America Would Wage a Nuclear War Against North Korea, http://nationalinterest.org/print/feature/how-america-would-wage-nuclear-war-against-north-korea-21841

President Donald Trump has struggled in his first six months on the job. His signature legislative goals—from Obamacare repeal to the border wall—are stuck in Congress. He has managed to push through some initiatives via executive action, but these have been thwarted or delayed by the courts. Desperate for a win [3], the president may be tempted to initiate a war. After all, Trump’s decision to launch missile strikes against Syria in April won him praise and support [4]—even from some of his harshest critics [5]. There are a plethora of possible targets, including the ever-hated Iranians, and the latest Crazy Kim in North Korea, and no shortage [6] of hawks [7] in Washington urging President Trump to launch a preventive war. The president would be wise to listen to other voices urging restraint. With respect to North Korea, for example, Joseph Collins reminds us [8] that preventive war is akin to committing suicide for fear of death.

A nuclear strike collapses US allied relationships makes China and Russia permanent enemies, and destroys US global leadership

Christopher Preble, 8-9-17, Preeble, is vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute and the author of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free [11]. National interest, This is How America Would Wage a Nuclear War Against North Korea, http://nationalinterest.org/print/feature/how-america-would-wage-nuclear-war-against-north-korea-21841

Even if Trump were to resort to the nuclear option, there are questions as to how effective such an attack would be. “I guess the answer depends on how you define effective,” Holmes said. “One imagines we could take out the program with nukes, but at what cost? Even apart from the obvious loss of life and material damage, you’re talking about nuking a country that is centrally located among American allies and prospective foes.” In fact, the collateral damage to the United States’ network of alliances and Washington’s standing in the world could be catastrophic. “There would be a very real prospect of breaking our alliances with Japan and South Korea and assuring permanent enmity from China and Russia,” Holmes said. “We would also place our position as guarantor of the international order in jeopardy. As you suggest, it’s hard for an international pariah to lead by example. So my answer would be: a first strike wouldn’t be effective even if it worked. The returns don’t justify the enormous costs.”

The link only goes in one direction—the unpopularity of war won’t deter him

Christopher Preble, 8-9-17, Preeble, is vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies at the Cato Institute and the author of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free [11]. National interest, This is How America Would Wage a Nuclear War Against North Korea, http://nationalinterest.org/print/feature/how-america-would-wage-nuclear-war-against-north-korea-21841

Kriner and Shen ponder whether public opinion will prove a stronger check on presidential warmaking than Congress and the courts. I’m skeptical. “The significant inroads” they write, “that Trump made among constituencies exhausted by fifteen years of war—coupled with his razor thin electoral margin (which approached negative three million votes in the national popular vote tally)—should make Trump even more cautious in pursuing ground wars.” Alas, “Trump” and “cautious” are two words that rarely go together. And not all U.S. wars are ground wars. The human cost of war should factor into any president’s decision to start one. But Donald Trump’s limited understanding of modern warfare and international politics might convince him that he can pick a few cheap and easy fights to boost his popularity and secure a few quick wins. Though he might be disinclined to initiate a major conflict, that doesn’t mean that Trump is reluctant to use force. And those superficially limited military engagements have a nasty tendency to morph into honest-to-goodness full-blown wars. That means that while there is public sensitivity to combat casualties, what Cato colleague John Mueller over a decade ago labeled as the “Iraq syndrome [10]” has clearly constrained Washington’s warmaking, and it likely isn’t strong enough to stop all dumb wars.

Trump attack on Korea will trigger a war with China

Preeble, 8-16-17, Christopher Preble is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and blogs for The Skeptics at The National Interest Trump Must Tread Carefully with Preventive War in North Korea, http://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/trump-must-tread-carefully-preventative-war-north-korea-21926

North Korea backed away modestly from its threat to surround Guam with a ring of fire on Monday, a surprising de-escalation in the war of words that seemed late last week to be building toward an actual armed conflict. The Wall Street Journal provides a useful timeline of the crisis here [3]. In the accompanying story, the Journal noted that Pyongyang made its announcement “hours after China took its toughest steps against Pyongyang to support U.N. sanctions,” including a pledge to “ban imports of North Korean coal, iron and seafood.” It is possible that such economic pressure convinced the DPRK to rethink its approach. But a less-noticed Chinese statement might have had a bigger impact—both on Pyongyang, and hopefully here in Washington. Last Friday, China’s Global Times explained [4] that Beijing should not come to North Korea’s aid if the hermit kingdom launches missiles against the United States, but that China would have North Korea’s back if it was the victim of U.S. or South Korean aggression. As the Washington Post noted [5], the “comments reflect the 1961 Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance [6], which obliges China to intervene if North Korea is subject to unprovoked aggression—but not necessarily if Pyongyang starts a war.” The Global Times’ editorial, believed to reflect official Chinese government policy, clarifies the frequently muddled difference between preemption and prevention. The former is a legitimate right of self-defense. The latter is functionally indistinguishable from aggression. A country that has knowledge of a direct and imminent threat to its citizens is not obligated to wait until after the missiles fly or the bombs fall before taking action. If a country launches a war in order to prevent a future threat from materializing, however, such actions are likely to be roundly criticized—and, in this case, would activate the Sino-North Korean alliance. Make no mistake: China was issuing a deterrent threat to both the United States and North Korea. The distinctions between preemption and prevention frequently become blurred, and are often deliberately misconstrued. In his speech [7] at West Point in 2002, for example, President George W. Bush said that Americans had “to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives,” but the war he launched in Iraq less than ten months later was a classic case of preventive war. Bush used military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government, not because [8] he had evidence of an imminent attack against the United States, but “to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” Of course, Bush’s father had attacked Iraq twelve years earlier, but he had launched that war to reverse Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. Not so surprisingly, the first Gulf War enjoyed broad international backing. Bush 43’s Iraq War, by contrast, engendered strong opposition abroad. Mindful of the reaction that naked aggression is likely to evoke, many past leaders and rabble rousers have capitalized on minor incidents as a pretext for war (think, for example, of James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor in Texas [9], 1846; William Randolph Hearst and “Remember the Maine [10]” in 1898; and LBJ and the Tonkin Gulf [11] in 1964). Still others have manufactured bogus cases of aggression by others. In September 1931, Japanese soldiers planted explosives near a Japanese railway in Mukden (Shenyang), China [12], and then used that as a justification for launching a notoriously brutal war. Adolf Hitler asserted that Poland started the war against Nazi Germany in late August 1939, a claim so transparently untrue—based on a series of false flag operations involving Germans dressed up in Polish army uniforms—that it is often forgotten. However, the fact that some of history’s most ruthless aggressors would go to such elaborate ends to create the appearance of having acted preemptively, as opposed to preventively, demonstrates the importance of that distinction. The psychology of preemption versus prevention is equally relevant in interpersonal disputes. When schoolyard scuffles or battles between siblings break out, “He/she started it!” is usually the first thing that a teacher or parent hears. It is the critical piece of evidence to adjudicate guilt or innocence. To defend oneself is noble; to attack others is treacherous. Alas, there are likely to be numerous instances in which U.S. and North Korean forces could come into contact in the near future. Donald Trump could seize upon any one of them, initiate a wider conflict, and claim that he was acting in self-defense (i.e. preemptively), in order to rally the public here at home, and fend off international criticism. But if Trump is determined to launch a preventive war, in order to secure a quick win, or boost his flagging popularity, or merely because he doesn’t like the young punk with the bad haircut [13], he should tread carefully. China has clearly stated that it won’t sit idly by if the United States is responsible for starting a new war in Asia.