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Preemptive Strike on North Korea: Is Trump Wagging the Dog?

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Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson
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The following is the transcript of an interview of Lawrence Wilkerson by The Real News Network's reporter Sharmini Peries. The video of this interview was first broadcasted at The Real News Network.

SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Last Wednesday's test launch of an intercontinental ballistic rocket by North Korea appears to have had its desired effect, rattling Washington. White House National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, when asked about the test, said:

"Has the potential of war with North Korea increased since this latest launch? I think it's increasing every day."

SHARMINI PERIES: On CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said preemptive war with North Korea is more likely:

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"We're getting close to military conflict because North Korea is marching toward marrying up the technology of an ICBM with a nuclear weapon on top that can not only get to America but can deliver the weapon. We're running out of time. McMaster said that yesterday. I'm going to urge the Pentagon not to send any more dependents to South Korea. South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour. It's crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea given the provocation of North Korea, so I want them to stop sending dependents. I think it's now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea...The intelligence community can tell you that better than I can but I have an extensive discussion with the administration about this topic. The policy of the Trump administration is to deny North Korea the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tipped missile, not to contain it. That now means preemptive war as a last result. That preemption is becoming more likely as their technology matures. Every missile test, every underground test of a nuclear weapon means the marriage is more likely. I think we're really running out of time. The Chinese are trying, but ineffectively. If there's an underground nuclear test, then you need to get ready for a very serious response by the United States."

SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about this with me is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. He's a retired US colonel and former chief of staff to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining me, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here with you, Sharmini.

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SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, let's take up what Senator Graham just said. First, that dependents and children of US military should not accompany them to the bases in South Korea, where there is some 28,000 US military personnel carrying out various extensive wargames in the region. Second, that a preemptive strike is near. How serious is this?

LARRY WILKERSON: I can only interpret what Lindsey Graham just said from two possible perspectives, very different perspectives: one, that he's trying to do what people say Donald Trump is trying to do in a very strategic way, and that is scare the devil out of Kim Jong-un and his North Korean military so that they'll come to the negotiating table, abjectly surrender in other words or he's just as dumb, as strategically inept as I think the entire administration is. I don't know which interpretation to put on it but increasingly I'm thinking, after having visited with the Senate and visited with representatives in the House for a number of other reasons and talked with them, that there are not a lot of people with a lot of smarts over there in the Congress.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, do you really believe that McMaster and other advisors to President Trump including the Pentagon, will allow Trump to carry out a preemptive strike on North Korea?

LARRY WILKERSON: They're all provocations. We may say that they're to keep our troops ready and exercises are just routine, and so forth but the timing of them makes them provocations. Anybody can crawl into Kim Jong-un's head and the collective head of North Korea for that matter, and see that they're provocations.

Let's just back up for a moment, though and let's examine what Lindsey said. You'll understand why I interpret it more on the one side than the other of those two alternatives I gave you. First, there are 210,000 plus Americans already on the Korean Peninsula. Some of them are sponsored by the military. Others just came there, which is permissible. They came there to live in Seoul and be near their loved one, who's in Pyongyang or Pyeongtaek or someplace else in the US armed forces. There's almost a quarter of a million Americans already there. There are 50,000 Japanese. There are a million Chinese.

Lindsay, how are you going to get all these people out of South Korea? How are you even going to get the Americans out of South Korea? By the way, Lindsay, if you do it over time, which your remarks suggested you might be smart enough at least to do, then it's going to take time. You're going to have to do it over civilian aircraft mostly, so you're going to get all these flights going and you're going to get all these people out of South Korea. That signal alone is going to be provocative to the maximum.

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I've done this. I've done the war planning. I've done the war. If you evacuate all these people from South Korea, the South Koreans are going to know what you're contemplating. Whether you're contemplating it by starting it yourself, which sounds increasingly like the case, when you listen to Trump and Graham and others, or by provoking North Korea to do it so that they can destroy half of Seoul before you even get your act together, is irrelevant in terms of the destruction that's going to come to the peninsula. This is the kind of idiocy with which we're dealing now in Washington, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, when President Trump was in China a couple of weeks ago, he urged the Chinese to do what it must to contain North Korea. Does this new missile test meaning that China is failing in its efforts to contain Pyongyang?

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