They say that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and by our lights the Donald just proved that in spades with his spur of the moment acceptance of Kim Jong Un’s proposal for a summit meeting. It is no exaggeration to say that the shock of it nearly sent Imperial Washington into cardiac arrest – as was surely attested to by the storm of censorious harrumphing that poured out of the mainstream media over the weekend.
The gravamen of all this high-toned blather is that Trump made the decision all on his own without asking his advisors – mainly a bevy of failed generals and recycled Washington war hawks – for their opinion. And that’s to say nothing of not grinding it through the NSC’s interagency paper mill for months on end or a prolonged ordeal of pre-summit diplomatic ping-pong about the shape of the table.
That prospective absence of bureaucratic foreplay was all that the Trump-o-phobic New York Times needed to belittle the most hopeful breakthrough for peace in years, if not decades, as just another case of Trump’s impetuosity and unfitness for office.
After noting that Mr. Chung, the South Korean envoy, had taken pains to "open with flattery, which diplomats have discovered is a key to approaching the volatile American leader", the Times wasted no ink before slamming the Donald’s purportedly rash decision:
Mr. Trump accepted on the spot, stunning not only Mr. Chung and the other high-level South Koreans who were with him, but also the phalanx of American officials who were gathered in the Oval Office.
Mr. Trump brushed them off (generals Mattis and McMaster). I get it, I get it, he said.
Where others see flashing yellow lights and slow down, Mr. Trump speeds up. And just like that, in the course of 45 minutes in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump threw aside caution and dispensed with decades of convention to embark on a daring, high-wire diplomatic gambit aimed at resolving one of the world’s most intractable standoffs.
The two bolded words capture the essence of the matter because there is nothing at all intractable about the Korean problem. It was born, bred and perpetuated in Washington all along, and could be unmade with alacrity in the same corridors of Imperial power.
So the Donald’s instincts were absolutely correct to immediately accept Kim’s offer with the single proviso that the North Koreans had already conceded to their South Korean interlocutors – namely, a moratorium on nuclear testing and rocket launches ahead of the meeting.
Yet Trump’s singular act of statesmanship has the mostly unelected War Party bureaucrats in high dudgeon because our duly elected President didn’t ask their permission first; and because the entire case for not meeting with the leader of North Korea is rooted in a 68-year old Washington propagated tissue of errors, lies, pretense and duplicity.
Apparently, the nation’s once-and-former pro-peace progressives and liberals has been to the Imperial City’s reeducation camps on the matter, too. There us nothing more indicative of that sad fact than the rabid anti-Trump blindness of the increasingly insufferable Rachel Maddow.
Her indictment was that none of the other "peacemakers" who occupied the Oval Office before the Donald – presumably including Lyndon Johnson, Dick Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – had ever agreed to meet with the North Koreans:
“You might think another president in this circumstance, you can imagine a president asking himself or herself, ‘why has no other American president ever agreed to do this? Why has no sitting American president ever met with a leader from North Korea? Why has that never happened in all the decades North Korea existed as a nation? Should I take that to mean that this might be particularly risky or even an unwise move?’”
Well, no, Rachel. Take it to mean that to a man US presidents have been taken hostage by the Warfare State apparatus and the Imperial City’s stultifying groupthink.
The fact is, however, the Korean peninsula never had anything to do with American security. Its partition was an accident in the final days of WWII; the 1950-1953 war was utterly pointless and unnecessary; and the prolonged US occupation of the southern half of the peninsula was at once a provocation, a massive waste of treasure and a prime example of what imperial rulers do once bivouacked astride a global empire.
That is, like Imperial Rome, they puff themselves up with self-importance and busy-body rule for its own sake. So doing, they invent self-serving rationalizations for hegemony, such as the insidious "indispensable nation" conceit – even as they extract the taxes and issue the mountains of debt required to fund the endless fiscal needs of the state’s machinery of war and foreign domination.
Indeed, Washington has long ago forgotten how its global empire came about or why the Korean frontier has remained a vestigial Maginot Line – long after the "enemies" it was designed to contain disappeared from the pages of history.
We are referring, or course, to the Soviet Empire, which is no more; and the Red China Menace, which has morphed into a colossal Red Ponzi scheme of debt, malinvestment and speculative building madness that is a danger mostly to the 1.3 billion Chinese caught up in history’s craziest economic freak show.
So whether by inadvertence or blind impulse, the Donald has now opened the door to sweeping away six decades of Washington duplicity and double-speak. The fact is, the Korean problem is not complicated or some kind of imponderable riddle that baffles even the so-called "experts".
To the contrary, both a visiting Martian and an attentive reader of history not enthrall to the groupthink of Imperial Washington can see that the key to "de-nuclearizing" Korea is to demilitarize it and de-internationalize it at the same time.
That is, if Washington ever wishes to de-escalate its current dangerous nuclear brinksmanship with the Fat Boy Of Pyongyang, it needs to get its 29,000 troops off the peninsula and end the constant war games and practice invasions of the North Korea; and to also tear up the Washington imposed mutual security agreements, and let the two halves of the "Hermit Kingdom" restore their own version of the pre-1945 status quo ante.
Or better still, to revert to a modern version of the Korea-for-the-Koreans arrangements that existed before Japan annexed Korea in 1910; and before Teddy Roosevelt (TR) told Japan that it would be ok to invade Korea during the 1905 Portsmouth conference that TR ostensibly staged to end the Russo-Japanese War but which was really a theatrical bid for his Nobel Peace Prize; and even before the Japanese extracted trading and extra-territoriality concessions from Korea in 1876, just as Admiral Perry and his black ships had inflicted upon Japan in 1854.
At the same time, Washington needs to renounce once and for all any interest in Regime Change in the north – no matter how much the Kim family’s brutal dictatorship offends the sensibilities of Washington do-gooders and democracy uplifters.
After all, ever since Washington went into the "regime change" business under Bush the Younger, the long-festering 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.
We have absolutely no brief, of course, for the brutal, erratic despot who now rules the country. But then again, Kim Jong Un has surely come to believe 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 from the gallows 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 technology.
As Hillary Clinton famously said, "we came, we saw, he died". For some reason she didn’t bother to add the "savagely" part.
So perhaps the Donald’s bold gesture will rattle the stultifying Washington consensus sufficiently to at least get the pages of history re-opened, and to reveal how Washington needlessly took the wrong path time and again over the decades.
Likewise, sunshine is said to be the great disinfectant – so perhaps President Moon’s courageous effort to restart the "sunshine policy" with the North that was deep-sixed by Dick Cheney and his neo-con war mongers in 2002 will help further clarify that free Koreans of the south do not need an imperial nanny in Washington to manage their security and relationship with Pyongyang.
The historical truth of the matter begins with the fact that today’s fraught partition at the 38th parallel was an utter accident of history. It occurred literally during 30 minutes on August 10, 1945 when Japan suddenly agreed to surrender after having been nuked twice during the proceeding week.
Prior to that there had only been a loose Big Three agreement at the Cairo Conference of 1943 to establish a temporary international "trusteeship" once Korea had been liberated from its 35-year occupation by Japan. As memorialized at the time:
The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.
Related to the above was Stalin’s promise to join the war against Japan once Germany surrendered and to mobilize Soviet forces to help clear the Japanese army from Manchuria, Korea and perhaps the Japanese islands themselves under the going assumption that there would be a prolonged and bloody Allied invasion of Japan.
But Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed all of the in a historical nanosecond. Since Japan’s armies would be suddenly surrendering everywhere in north Asia, the vague discussion about who would do what in Korea between Truman and Stalin at Potsdam three weeks earlier was suddenly in need of instant clarification.
That was especially the case because the Red Army had already entered Manchuria and the northern end of the Korean peninsula, as Washington had insisted. This rapidly advancing Soviet occupation of Korea was part of a division of responsibilities for uprooting the Japanese army that a suddenly emboldened Truman had embraced when the A-bomb test in New Mexico succeeded in late July 1945; the Red Army’s mopping-up assignment in Korea, in fact, was now seen as a way to keep Stalin out of Japan in the post-war world.
So here’s exactly what happened 73 years ago, and why the Donald’s impulsive response last Thursday afternoon in the Oval Office may have finally lifted the dead hand of history’s clammy clutches:
As Japan asked for surrender terms on August 10, Washington made one final attempt to prevent unilateral Soviet occupation of Korea. Secretary of State James Byrnes instructed the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC) to construct a plan for the joint Soviet-American occupation of Korea, with the line as far north as possible.
Late the evening of August 10, meeting in the Pentagon, Col. Charles H. Bonesteel (later to command U.N. forces in Korea) and Col. Dean Rusk (later Secretary of State) were given thirty minutes to devise a plan for dividing the Korean peninsula between the U.S. and USSR. What Bonesteel and Rusk kept in mind was that the nearest American troops were 600 miles away in Okinawa, while the Soviets had already entered northern Korea.
The issue for them was how to quickly create a surrender arrangement which the Soviets would accept while preventing their seizure of all Korea. Bonesteel wanted to draw the division around provincial boundaries so that the Japanese would clearly understand the demarcation. The only map of Korea available to them was a 1942 National Geographic map of “Asia and Adjacent Areas,” which did not denote provinces, only latitude and longitude. Rusk later confided that they had seriously considered drawing the line between Pyongyang and Wonsan, at the narrowest waist of Korea and north of 38° latitude, but their map’s limitations precluded doing so with accuracy. Instead, they chose the 38th parallel. Moreover, the two colonels believed the division line was further north than they thought could realistically be reached by U.S. forces if the Soviets disagreed, but felt it vital to include Korea’s capital, Seoul.
Needless to say, these temporary occupations by the US and the Soviets on their respective sides of the 38th parallel remained in limbo as the Cold War materialized in 1947-1948, and then became hardened in place after China fell to Mao’s communists in 1949.
Still, prior to the June 1950 outbreak of hostilities, Secretary of State Acheson had aptly called the 38th parallel boundary a mere "surveyors line" and had explicitly (and correctly) said during his famous speech at the National Press Club on 12, January 1950 that the entire peninsula was outside of America’s sphere of strategic interest . As one scholar noted,
In it, he defined the American "defensive perimeter" in the Pacific as a line running through Japan, the Ryukyus, and the Philippines. This denied a guarantee of US military protection to the Republic of Korea (ROK)….
Yet as US/Soviet tensions heated up in the late 1940’s, the American occupation authorities 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.
…….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 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".
As it happened, however, there wasn’t anything "red" about the north Korean invasion by Kim Jung Un’s grandfather. It was just a power grab by a widely-heralded lifelong Korean nationalist and revolutionary who understood that his 35-year battle against the brutal Japanese occupiers gave him bona fides with the Korean people that Washington’s puppet, Syngman Rhee, could not hope to match.
More importantly, the now open Soviet archives show that Stalin time and again thwarted Kim IL Sung’s request for aid to invade the south; and also that Mao was even less interested in a war against the US on his recently established and tenuously held doorstep.
So there was no reason for the bloody slog that incepted in June 1950; the so-called invasion by the north was only another move in an already raging civil war that would have sorted itself out in due course, anyway.
And whatever the outcome might have been, so what?
The successor to Mao’s Red China is now the Red Ponzi – supposedly the economic salvation of the world and a model of financial success that causes Wall Street to nearly foam at the mouth with excitement. Why would a Korean state un-threatened by American land, sea and air forces been any different.
As it happened, the only thing that Washington’s counter-invasion actually accomplished was to put the Kim family into business permanently as the heirs to a patriotic resistance to the utter destruction that was visited upon their country by the American air force.
Virtually every city and town above hamlet size was fire-bombed and leveled into heaps of rubble. More than one million civilians in the north were killed or maimed, while agriculture and industry was extinguished entirely and famine and disease stalked the land for years to come.
In a word, Kim Il Sung’s crude form of proletarian communism hadn’t been needed to destroy the economy of North Korea; the US air force had already done the heavy lifting. So doing, however, it also deposited a legacy of hatred among the surviving North Koreans the enabled the rise and perpetuation of the hideous tyranny that rules in Pyongyang to this day.
As Justin Raimondo further reminds, the Korean War had 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.
In this regard, we heard all weekend over the War Channel (CNN) and elsewhere that America has kept the "peace" on the Korean peninsula for 65 years after the 1953 armistice, but more nearly the opposite is actually true.
The US unnecessarily kept the peninsula divided for six decades because like the armies and imperial apparatus of Rome, Imperial Washington needed frontiers to defend and enemies to justify the massive fiscal cost of its permanently mobilized Warfare State.
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 build-up 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 build-up was that America needed the capacity to fight tw0-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 work-out 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 blood-thirsty 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 roll-back 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 U.S. and South Korean forces, as they do annually; or all of the huffing and puffing presently about the vastly exaggerated Korean nuclear threat.
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 $30 billion and that of South Korea is $1.80 trillion. So the economy of the latter happens to be 60X 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, Pyongyang’s rational fear that it is targeted for Regime Change and that its only hope of survival is to become a rogue nuclear state not to be tread upon. Indeed, anyone not wearing the Imperial City’s self-serving blinders and false history can see that deterring Washington is the real treason for North Korea’s dangerous campaign to become a nuclear power.
So if that is North Korea’s real aim – rather than the preposterous idea of attacking Japan or blackmailing South Korea with nuclear weapons – then the Donald now has a historic opportunity.
That is, to 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.
Then again, no one in Washington has bothered to notice that since 2002 South Korea’s economy has grown every eight 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. That is, until it was shutdown by George Bush’s neocon hatchet men.
And it is the stated policy of the new Korean government – which is the real reason it brought the Kim Jong Un summit to the Donald’s doorstep.
Ironically, the only real argument for the huge U.S. presence in South Korea, of course, is that it provides a trip-wire 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 60X 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 at the end of the day, the dangerous Korean impasse up until last Thursday afternoon was 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 American homeland.
Suddenly, however, the Deep State’s false, self-serving narrative about why the American imperium remains decamped on the 38th parallel has gotten exposed in the most unlikely manner.
What perhaps can now finally become evident in the wake of Trump’s decisive move, and what staunch non-interventionists like Senator Robert Taft and Congressman Howard Buffett (R-Nebraska and Warren’s father) knew even way back 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.
To wit, why does the U.S. maintain a vast armada of warships, bases and military occupations throughout East Asia 73 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?
The above depicted insanity is the real handiwork of the Imperial City. It didn’t make us secure; it merely hastened the nation’s fiscal bankruptcy and put the world in harms’ way for no good reason.
Donald Trump may not know much about Korea, but apparently – and unlike Imperial Washington – he knows at least that much.
David Stockman has agreed to send every Antiwar.com reader a free copy of his newest book, Trumped! when you take his special Contra Corner offer. Click here now for the details.
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.
Read more by David Stockman
- It Didn’t Take a Village of Deep Staters – Just The Donald – June 14th, 2018
- Why the Empire Never Sleeps: War Finance Made Easy, Part 3 – May 17th, 2018
- Why the Empire Never Sleeps: The Indispensable Nation Folly, Part 2 – May 16th, 2018
- Why the Empire Never Sleeps: The Indispensable Nation Folly, Part 1 – May 15th, 2018
- The Deep State First – Madness On Both Ends of the Acela Corridor – May 11th, 2018