The threat of nuclear war has again sharply escalated owing to North Korea’s apparent successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), albeit one that traveled only 600 miles, not the 6,000 miles needed to reach California.
Likewise, it was only a two-stage ICBM not the three-stages needed for extended range delivery. And there was no testing at all of the missile’s capacity to drop a guided warhead through the intense heat of reentry without burning up.
Nor did this week’s test involve any evidence that the clunky A-bombs Pyongyang has tested underground have been successfully miniaturized in order to fit atop its rockets.
So while any actual threat to the US mainland is still years away, the bellicose response of Imperial Washington and the mainstream media is the more pertinent aspect of the current contretemps. It shows that the Washington War Party has completely captured the Donald – even as it has no clue about why the Fat Boy of Pyongyang keeps rattling the nuclear sword or what it would take to get him to stop.
In this regard, we heard General Wesley Clark on the War Channel (CNN) this AM rattling on with the usual establishment propaganda. That is, the claim that America had kept the peace for 64 years on the Korean peninsula, that it must remain nuke free at all costs and that the only solution is an enhanced package of sanctions, UN resolutions, diplomatic pressures and threats of military action.
Oh, Puleese! Imperial Washington has been doing that for years, but it hasn’t worked yet and a more robust version – ornamented with tweets and bluster from the Donald – won’t work now.
That’s because Washington’s half-century long occupation of South Korea and its current 29,000 lethally armed troops stationed there have not actually kept the peace; they have merely prolonged the political division of the peninsula and provided the external threat that has kept the miserable dictatorship of the Kim family in power since the 1950s.
Moreover, ever since Washington went into the "regime change" business under Bush the Younger, the unnecessary conflict in Korea has sharply escalated and the Pyongyang regime – especially after Kim Jong Un took power in 2011 – has dramatically intensified its quest to develop a nuclear deterrent.
To be sure, we have no brief for the brutal, erratic despot who now rules the country. But then again, Kim Jong UN surely believes that he has been targeted by Washington for its next exercise in Regime Change and that the consequences for him personally would not be pleasant.
After all, Saddam Hussein was ceremoniously hung on worldwide TV by Washington’s occupation, and the outcome for Muammar Gaddafi was even more hideous.
Admittedly, the image below is not pleasant to see, but that’s what Washington did with him – even after he had turned in all of his nuclear weapons.
As Hillary Clinton famously said, "we came, we saw, he died". For some reason she didn’t bother to add the "savagely" part.
Needless to say, Kim Jong UN is delusional if he thinks a couple of nukes and fleet of wannabe ICBMs will protect him from Gaddafi’s pitiless demise. If Washington concludes that Regime Change is the only solution to the North Korean nuclear threat, it will happen sooner or later.
Then again, there is no reason to believe the Fat Boy is suicidal and that rather than nuclear deterrence, his purpose is to rain nuclear war on America or its allies.
Indeed, the idea that North Korea is an expansionist threat to anybody, but most especially its kinsmen in South Korea, is a ridiculous joke.
After all, the GDP of North Korea is $17 billion and that of South Korea is $1.38 trillion. So the economy of the latter happens to be 81X bigger than the GDP of the former.
Likewise, South Korea’s population of 50 million is 2X larger than the North’s 25 million. And that’s to say nothing as to South Korea’s advanced technology, millions of skilled industrial and tech workers and absence of the abject poverty and even starvation which is rampant on the northern side of the DMZ.
So that gets to the heart of the matter. Namely, why is the US still occupying South Korea, thereby creating the pretext for Pyongyang’s fears that it is targeted for Regime Change and that it’s only hope of survival is to become a rogue nuclear state not to be tread upon?
As we will document further below, any one not wearing the Imperial City’s self-serving blinders and false history can see that deterring Washington is the real reason for North Korea’s dangerous campaign to become a nuclear power.
So if that is the aim rather than the preposterous idea of attacking Japan or blackmailing South Korea with nuclear weapons, why can’t the latter be allowed to defend itself, and pursue its own resolution of the divide?
That is, exchange a peninsula free of Washington’s military occupation and threat to the Pyongyang regime in exchange for a peninsula also free of nuclear weapons.
Under a nuclear-free arrangement, South Korea, which has been growing by leaps and bounds for a half-century, could surely defend itself from a two-bit industrial backwater run by a certifiable nut job.
Then again, no one in Washington has bothered to notice that since 2002 South Korea’s economy has grown every four months by more than the entire current GDP of North Korea. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground and the overwhelming case to permit Korea to be run by the Koreans under whatever state arrangements they can agree to.
That was the exact aim of the South Korean governments after the cold war ended when they pursued "sunshine policy" rapprochement with the North (see below). That is, until it was shutdown by George Bush’s neocon hatchet men.
And it is the stated policy of the new Korean government – even amidst the brinksmanship now at loose.
Ironically, the only real argument for the huge US presence in South Korea, of course, is that it provides a tripwire deterrent that puts the North Korean ruler on notice that an attack on South Korea is an attack on Washington. But with respect to a potential conventional attack, that’s just plain malarkey.
If South Korea with 81X the economy, twice the population and infinitely more industrial base and technological sophistication can’t or won’t defend itself from the "potemkin" economy and military north of its border, why should the American taxpayers and soldiers be called into the breach?
And "potemkin" is the right word for it. Most of North Korea’s military equipment is 40 years old and is more suited to internal repression of uprisings, not offensive action against the South.
Thus, one of the few new aircraft it has purchased since the 1980s is the Russian Su-25 Frogfoot, which is a ground-attack aircraft similar to the American A-10.
Needless to say, South Korea’s modern F-5, F-15 and F-16 fighters would turn the slow and heavy Frogfoots into an exercise in shooting fish in a barrel. Then again, the real job of the Frogfoots is not to attack South Korea anyway; but they are just the thing to put down a coup by other North Korean forces.
Likewise, the 1,000,000 soldiers in the Korean People’s Army spend more time as conscript construction labor and get far more practice with shovels than Kalashnikov assault rifles. Some of them are also quite skilled at goose-stepping parade entertainment for the country’s otherwise catatonic masses, as we saw once again during Kim Jong Un’s most recent parades.
So here’s the thing. The dangerous Korean impasse of the moment is as much the result of Imperial Washington’s self-serving blinders and revisionist history of how we got here than anything that is remotely relevant to the safety and security of the homeland.
During the 2016 campaign, the Donald actually sounded if he might grasp that reality when he essentially said that the South Koreans should defend themselves. But the man has now become the latest political tourist in the Oval Office to succumb to the Deep State’s false, self-serving narrative about why the American imperium remains decamped on the 38th parallel.
So this drift into a doomsday confrontation with a nut job backed by an impoverished, technologically stillborn economy that amounts to 8 hours of US annual GDP is likely to play out its baleful course.
Yet given this reality, how in the world is a fiscal blood bath to be avoided in the months ahead? And, more importantly, on what plausible grounds can Wall Street continue to price-in a scenario of awesome stability and regenerate growth?
The answer to those questions is obvious. But meanwhile it would be well to recall the contrafactual in order to fully grasp the avoidable nightmare unfolding dead ahead.
To wit, the realized truth of modern history is crystal clear. Washington had no business intervening in a quarrel between two no-count wanna be dictators (Syngman Rhee and Kim il Sung) on the Korean peninsula in June 1950, and surely has no business still stationing 29,000 American soldiers there 67 years latter.
For sure, it was never about the real estate. After 40 years of brutal and predatory Japanese occupation, postwar Korea was an economic backwater with the GDP of perhaps Cleveland, Ohio.
It had been divided at the 38th parallel by Truman and Stalin as an afterthought at Potsdam (July 1945). Far from any intent to create separate nations on a peninsula that had been ethnically and politically unified for centuries, the line only marked a convenient staging grounds for the impending final attack on Japan that Stalin had committed to aid.
In fact, Washington’s suave original cold warrior, Dean Acheson, had described the Potsdam demarcation as a mere "surveyors line".
But as US/Soviet tensions heated up in the late 1940’s, the US occupation forces in the south encouraged the puppet government they had established under ex-pat and Washington dandy, Syngman Rhee, to cleanse the country of left-wing influences and prepare to eventually rule the entire peninsula.
As Justin Raimondo succinctly chronicled this period:
…….the Korean war started during the American occupation of the South, and it was Rhee, with help from his American sponsors, who initiated a series of attacks that well preceded the North Korean offensive of 1950. From 1945-1948, American forces aided Rhee in a killing spree that claimed tens of thousands of victims: the counterinsurgency campaign took a high toll in Kwangju, and on the island of Cheju-do – where as many as 60,000 people were murdered by Rhee’s US-backed forces.
Rhee’s army and national police were drawn from the ranks of those who had collaborated with the Japanese occupation during World War II, and this was the biggest factor that made civil war inevitable. That the US backed these quislings guaranteed widespread support for the Communist forces led by Kim IL Sung, and provoked the rebellion in the South that was the prelude to open North-South hostilities. Rhee, for his part, was eager to draw in the United States, and the North Koreans, for their part, were just as eager to invoke the principle of "proletarian internationalism" to draw in the Chinese and the Russians.
The last underlined sentence tells the whole story. When hostilities broke out between the two Korean sides in June 1950, Washington instantly transformed it into a proxy war against the Soviet Union and its fledgling ally in China, which had just fallen under Mao’s control the previous year.
As Truman baldly put it, he was not going to lose another country to the "reds".
What we know today, and what staunch non-interventionists like Senator Robert Taft and Congressman Howard Buffett (R-Nebraska and Warren’s father) knew even then, is that 1950s style communism could take care of its own self-destruction. America only needed to militarily secure the homeland, and then wait out the eventual demise of the wretched states that had temporarily fallen victim to communist misrule.
That is to say, a vastly different foreign policy would have emerged if it had been rooted in an understanding of the inherent superiority of free market capitalism and the inexorable certainty that centralized socialism would fail. Such a policy would never have been duped into the folly of a proxy war on this economically and strategically irrelevant Asian littoral.
As it happened, the Soviet Union did destroy itself from within in a matter of decades. And just in the nick of time, Mr. Deng discovered that Mao had nearly destroyed China on the false belief that it could be collectivized from the barrel of a gun.
Instead, Deng not only rescued Mao’s calamity by turning from firing squads to a hyperactive printing press, but spawned the greatest Ponzi scheme of borrowing, building, speculation and malinvestment in human history. It is surely a false and unsustainable prosperity, but for the moment it rings out a great irony.
Rather than a threat to America’s security, Mr. Deng’s great Red Ponzi is considered by Wall Street to be the very engine of "growth" in the modern world and the suzerains of Beijing the very model of unfailing prosperity management and economic "stimulus" if, as and when needed.
That begs the question, of course, as to what would have happened when the Chinese army poured across the Yalu River in November 1950 if it had not been impeded by American GIs.
Would it have made any difference in the grand scheme of history if China had ended up with 35 rather than 34 provincial-level administrative units. That is, 23 provinces, 4 municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing) and 8 rather than 7 autonomous and special administrative regions.
Would that contrafactual outcome not have been a big "so what!"
After all, had Korea ended up as number eight among China’s "autonomous and special" administrative units exactly why would that imperil the safety and security of the citizens of Lincoln, NE or Worcester, MA any more today than does the current Chinese rule over Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Ningxia, Xinjiang or even Hong Kong and Macau?
So if there would be no threat now, why then? Why ever?
The fact is, the seven decade confrontation on the 38th parallel is an artifact of empire, not a necessity of homeland security. It is the handiwork of a Warfare State served by a permanent political class that derives its power, purpose and resources from the faithful pursuit and stewardship of an American Imperium.
Stated differently, American soldiers are provocatively stationed on the 38th parallel – where on the other side of the line they have kept the Kim family tyranny in business for seven decades – for one overwhelming reason.
Namely, Imperial Washington, like Rome, needs purportedly imperiled frontiers to justify its rule and heavy draft of military and economic resources.
As it happened, therefore, 36,500 American soldiers died in Korea not turning back an existential threat to the homeland – or even in extending the reach of democracy.
As Justin Raimondo further reminds, that is a fairy tale. The Korean War quickly descended into a bloody slog essentially to protect the corrupt, authoritarian regime of Syngman Rhee – a tyranny that even the Korean people soon rejected:
We were fighting on behalf of Syngman Rhee, the US-educated-and-sponsored dictator of South Korea, whose vibrancy was demonstrated by the large-scale slaughter of his leftist political opponents. For 22 years, Rhee’s word was law, and many thousands of his political opponents were murdered: tens of thousands were jailed or driven into exile. Whatever measure of liberality has reigned on the Korean peninsula was in spite of Washington’s efforts and ongoing military presence. When the country finally rebelled against Rhee, and threw him out in the so-called April Revolution of 1960, he was ferried to safety in a CIA helicopter as crowds converged on the presidential palace.
This isn’t academic history or a wistful exercise in "could have been, should have been." After 1960, there were numerous times that Washington could have evacuated the peninsula, but one imperial project after another prevented the return of the Korean peninsula to the Koreans to settle their differences as they saw fit.
In the 1960s and early 1970s it was the folly of the Vietnam invasion that kept the fear of falling "dominoes" alive in the Imperial City and American forces bivouacked on the 38th parallel in order to keep the two Koreas divided.
Likewise, during the 1980s the giant and unnecessary Reagan defense buildup was predicated on the myth of a globally resurgent "Evil Empire" in Moscow, meaning that the South Korean frontier required military reinforcement, not the rational course of abandonment.
Indeed, we recall well that the predicate for the massive squandering of resources in the Reagan buildup was that America needed the capacity to fight two-and-one-half wars simultaneously – the "half" war part being on the Korean peninsula.
Yes, China had just been enfeebled by Mao’s famines and the madness of the cultural revolution and the Soviet economy was lapsing into the entropic decay of over-centralization and militarization. So the two-and-one-half war fighters never did say who it was that would occupy the Korean peninsula other than some variant of the Korean people.
Then came the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Mr. Deng’s massive shift to export-mercantilism a few years later to save China from an economic and civil collapse that would have ended the rule of the communist party. At that point, there was zero chance of a renewed proxy war.
So surely that was the very time to bring 29,000 American servicemen and women home, thereby enabling the former Hermit Kingdom to workout a 21st century arrangement for either the reunification of all Koreans or at least their co-existence in autonomous zones of self-governance.
But that didn’t happen, either. And the reason is not hard to resurrect from the history of the 1990s.
Bill and Hillary were far more intent on gaining a second term in the White House than in carrying out the assigned mandate of their 1960s generation. That is, to dismantle the American Empire and bring the possibility of general peace to the world for the first time since August 1914.
So they temporized, thereby precluding a readily available peace settlement in Korea – the better to keep unreconstructed GOP hawks and newly ascendant neocons at bay.
After that chance was blown, the South Koreans themselves attempted to normalize the peninsula and pave the way for an end to the American occupation.
As indicated above, between 1998 and 2006 they diligently pursued what they called the "sunshine policy". And it did begin to thaw the tensions between north and south for the first time in 50 years – including humanitarian aid from the south, family reunifications and the beginnings of cross-DMZ flows of trade and investment.
At length, the policy failed, but there should be no confusion as to why. The bloodthirsty neocons of the George W. Bush administration killed it in the cradle by naming North Korea to the axis of evil, when, in fact, it was an accident of history long past its sell-by date.
Rarely has there be a stupider act of foreign policy than the hideous refrain inserted into Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address by a speechwriting twit named David Frum, who apparently invented the "axis of evil" from wholecloth.
That the Fat Boy ended up as an impetuous, bellicose rogue on the Kim throne in 2011 is as much the responsibility of Frum and his fellow neocon belligerents than anything else.
Still, after all those blown chances to rollback what is really an illicit forward frontier of Imperial Washington, there is still no reason for any American presence at all on the Korean peninsula. And that’s to say nothing of the massive 350,000 soldier war game rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea just completed by US and South Korean forces, as they do annually; or all of the huffing and puffing presently about the vastly exaggerated Korean nuclear threat.
Indeed, on the question as to why Washington still has more than 29,000 troops in South Korea, we would add another.
To wit, why does the US maintain a vast armada of warships, bases and military occupations throughout East Asia 72 years after the Japanese empire was reduced to rubble and cinders; and also after the cold war disappeared into the dustbin of history a quarter century ago and after the red suzerains of Beijing hostaged their continued rule (and perhaps physical survival) to the daily flow of $2 billion of exports to America’s ports.
This is the real handiwork of the Imperial City. It doesn’t make us secure; it merely hastens the nation’s fiscal bankruptcy and puts the world in harms’ way for no good reason.
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David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America and TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.