The Korean Powder Keg II
New U.S./South Korean Provocations
URGENT APPEAL: Korea remains a tinderbox which could blow up at any minute, exactly as it did (after South Korean military provocations) in June of 1950. We must inform people and raise a protest, beginning with the peace movement and Left who seem clueless on this issue. Please contact http://www.endthekoreanwar.org/ and please, post and to pass on this article so that the information goes beyond my small (if select) circle of friends.
The Korean Powder Keg II
Why is the Obama Administration, bogged down in the Iraqi and Afghani quagmires, still playing ‘chicken’ with a trigger-happy nuclear-armed North Korean regime? Far from allowing the crisis following last month’s deadly artillery duel to die down, the U.S. and South Korea have ratcheted up the saber-rattling, extending the massive mobilization of their troops for a prolonged live fire military ‘games’ deliberately designed ‘to effectively deter North Korean aggression and strengthen the joint capabilities to respond.’ (This according to a Dec. 7 joint statement by South Korean Chief of Staff Han and his U.S. counterpart, Admiral Mike Mullen.)
More frightening still are the recent statements by South Korea’s new, far-right defense secretary Kim Kwan-jin, who threatens to launch South Korean air-strikes at the slightest N. Korean provocation. The appointment of the bellicose Kim represents a sudden and dramatic revolution in South Korean military strategy. Korean policy has been hardening since the 2008 election of hawkish President Lee, who scrapped his predecessor’s President Roh’s conciliatory ‘Sunshine Policy’ (under which South Koreans were able to communicate with family members in the North for the first time in 60 years).
The South Korean electorate, haunted by memories of the bloody 1950-53 War, has long been anti-militarist, content to bask in their increasing prosperity and let the N. Koreans rattle their cage from time to time over the years. ‘North Korea has nothing to lose, while we have everything to lose’ explained a professor of politics at Seoul National University recently quoted in the N.Y. Times. Now, in a striking reversal, we have trigger-happy Defense Minister Kim, backed by Admiral Mike Mullen and his atomic fleet, publicly declaring his policy of giving ‘more authority to commanders in the field’ including to ‘shoot first’ (in the case of aerial dogfights). According to a senior South Korean military analyst quoted in the Times,‘the new rules of engagement would also allow pre-emptive strikes on the North if there are indications of a possible attack. . .’ Given the North’s superior ground power, the South Koreans will rely on “using the air force is a way of balancing the power in the region.”
Possible Consequences of Miscalculation
The slightest miscalculation on the part of trigger-happy South Korean officers or their paranoid-for-a-reason North Korean counterparts could re-ignite the still-unresolved 1950-1953 Korean conflict, involving South Korea and the U.S. in an Asian land-war of major proportions with a military power whose nuclear umbrella (and alliance with China) would preclude the use of U.S. nuclear might. Far from backing down in the face of U.S. posturing, the North Koreans, like the North Vietnamese forty years ago, know they are in a position reduce America to what a desperate Nixon called a ‘helpless giant.’ They are confident of prevailing and, like the North Vietnamese Communists before them, they are prepared to pay the price of such a ‘victory.’
As we noted last week, (see ‘The Korean Powder-Keg I’ attached below), North Korea’s deliberate lethal shelling of a costal island, following upon the sensational revelation of her new, advanced atomic facilities, were not ‘irrational’ outbursts, much less pointless, isolated ‘provocations,’ but a carefully calculated responses to massive U.S./South Korean ‘live-fire’ military exercises carried out in disputed coastal waters in the context of an aggressive U.S. policy openly aimed at the DPRK’s overthrow as a ‘terrorist state’ (the Axis of Evil) and ‘regime change.’
Does Washington have a Strategy?
Is there any geo-political strategy behind these bellicose imperialist posturings? Apparently South Korea’s hawkish new President and the clueless Obama Administration, have been ratcheting up the tension in the mistaken belief that increasing outside pressure will somehow cause the rigid Stalinist regime to crack, with U.S. and South Korean troops being greeted as liberators by N. Korean maidens holding flowers. However, historical experience indicates that outside pressure only serves to harden national feeling (London under the blitz, N. Vietnam under the B-52’s) and to strengthen dictatorial regimes (from Hitler’s to Castro’s). In 2003 Bush and Cheney dreamed up and then stage-managed such a ‘liberation’ in Baghdad (famously faking the toppling of Saddam’s statue) with disastrous long term results for U.S. power and prestige. But at least the Bushies had the excuse of Far-Right ideology, native stupidity and self-imposed ignorance.
No doubt Bush holdover Gates still harbors such illusions concerning the ‘liberation’ North Korea, but our wonk of a President and his sophisticated Secretary of State have also been advised by former President and Special Envoy Jimmy Carter, a former Ambassador to S. Vietnam, intelligence experts and veterans of the Bill Clinton State Department (which negotiated a treaty with N. Korea in 1999 but at the last minute failed to sign it). They know perfectly well that the North Koreans sincerely want peace and will reliably give up nukes for diplomatic recognition and a treaty to end the State of War which the U.S. continues to impose on them. Yet the Obama Administration has made a point of refusing to talk with the DPRK, even in the context of the six-partite regional peace forum sponsored by the Chinese.
The China Factor
Clearly, much of this U.S. naval muscle-flexing is aimed at the Chinese, who naturally consider as part of their sphere of influence the South China Sea, with claimed coastal waters extending 200 miles out into the gulf. The Chinese can only view the presence of a huge naval armada in their private lake the way Americans would view a Russian fleet headed by the nuclear aircraft carrier V.I. Lenin steaming into the Gulf of Mexico to conduct joint live-fire exercises with Castro’s Cuba, including an amphibious landing in Mexico. The explicit purpose of this show of fore, according to U.S. Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, is to pressure the Chinese to take a public stand condemning the North Koreans.
China’s official position, in its peacemaking role as the major regional power, is to invite the U.S. back to the six-party talks it is sponsoring – talks which the Obama Administration is for some obscure reason boycotting. For China to condemn North Korea under the threat of U.S. naval pressure in her coastal waters would be an unthinkable loss of face, a betrayal of the 60-year alliance between the two Asian Communist neighbors, and an abject submission to U.S. imperialism. Highly unlikely.
So why is Obama playing Teddy Roosevelt style gunboat diplomacy in the South China Sea, signaling an abrupt rupture in America’s peaceful relation with China, the U.S.’s biggest economic partner and its major creditor? Can’t Obama see that the rising, nuclear-armed Asian superpower will be harder to intimidate than Nicaragua? What is the pressing geo-strategic advantage of risking a major break with China and involvement in another land war in Asia over the North Koreans, who are basically rattling their cage in order to get the U.S. to talk to them? Why are the Americans, who failed to win the first Korean War, were beaten in Vietnam, and are now quagmired in Muslim West Asia, once again acting out John Wayne at the Alamo, this time with Obama as an unlikely Davy Crockett and N. Korea’s Kim Jing il in the role of the Mexican General Santa Ana?
The short answer is this: after 60 years U.S. imperialism is still unwilling to admit it lost the Korean War, beaten by an Asian people and forced to withdraw because U.S. public opinion would no longer sustain it. The ‘Korea syndrome’ was the grandfather of the ‘Vietnam syndrome,’ and U.S. imperialism, like a macho who is worried about sexual impotence, keeps trying obsessively to ‘prove himself’ after each failure. Indeed, ‘getting over’ the Vietnam syndrome was one of the Bush Administrations avowed aims in invading Iraq.
The roots of the ‘long answer’ go back to the origins of the Cold War and the ‘Hidden History of the Korean War’, which my boyhood hero I.F. Stone was the first to reveal. I explore these roots in my next article. Meanwhile, don’t forget to click on http://www.endthekoreanwar.org/ and to pass on this article to others.
Comments always welcome.
Cordially, Richard Greeman
‘Mullen Criticizes China Over N. Korea’N.Y. Times, Dec. 8, 2010.
‘South Korean Outlines Muscular Military Posture,’ N.Y.T. Dec. 3, 2010.
‘South Korea Reassesses Its Defenses After Attack’, N.Y.T.Nov. 26, 2010.
‘Obama's Only Choice on North Korea’ by Tim Shorrock, the Daily Beast, Nov. 24, 2010. Headline: ‘As the U.S. dispatches a carrier to the region, experts who have recently visited Pyongyang warn the Obama administration that the only choice to resolve the conflict is direct negotiations.’
‘Mullen Criticizes China Over N. Korea’N.Y. Times, Dec. 8, 2010.
As Richard Slotkin points out, in the movie Wayne (as Davy Crockett) tricks his followers into joining him in what he knows will be a suicidal mission, knowing that once inside the Alamo, the sense of honor and group loyalty will keep them fighting to the death. This duplicity duplicates that of Johnson involving the U.S. public in the Vietnam war ‘for our own good,’ after which withdrawal would be seen as a sign of weakness or betrayal.